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Honk if You Love Geeses


By Administrator

January 11, 2023

We’re quickly approaching early February, and the color of the sky overhead can only be described as azure, that cyan-blue that is so typical of cloudless winter skies in southeastern Colorado. The quiet of the afternoon is slightly disturbed by the usual soundtrack of every day noises when suddenly there’s the sound of something... different in the distance. Faint at first, those hearing it for the first time find it hard to identify the cacophony of individual voices calling out in a chorus of loud, nasally, staccato, single syllables that some describe as reminiscent of large packs of howling hounds. But as the sound grows closer and louder, it becomes more familiar. Before long, its source comes into view. And as distinct as the sound may have been, the sight overhead is remarkable.

It’s the snow geese. Thousands of brilliant white snow geese. At first, they seem to just be flying in one large mass, but it soon becomes apparent that they’re flying in a stack of “V” formations with one formation flying at progressively higher altitudes than another, their voices unbelievably loud as they pass. No sooner does that first wave pass overhead and disappear into the southern sky when another wave comes along and then another wave after that, each one as large and loud as the last. The birds are making their annual migration south. Their journey begins in the Arctic, northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia, and these birds with wing spans that range from three to four feet travel as far as 5,000 miles, searching for warmth.

Once they come to this region, the travel plans seem to change as the ponds, lakes and reservoirs found in southern Kiowa and Prowers Counties are just too inviting to pass over. So, as happens every year, a large number of the snow geese decide to hang out for a while. In fact, it could almost be said the area is a quasi-tourist destination site for these stunning waterfowl who arrive via the Western Central Flyway—a literal interstate high-way that includes Colorado, New Mexico and the Texas Panhandle.

Although the actual numbers of geese in the area is fluid with some coming, others going and yet others hanging around, the best time to see these white plumed wonders in all their glorious numbers is the first week of February. And given how hard and how far they flapped to get here, it seems only right to celebrate their arrival with a festival.

That’s exactly what happened 20 years ago when the Lamar High Plains Snow Goose Festival first took flight.

The annual festival runs from Friday, February 3rd to Sunday, the 5th and takes place in Lamar. It’s the largest bird festival in Colorado and a longtime favorite of birders (one of the fastest growing past times in the nation), and the schedule of activities at the High Plains Snow Goose Festival is loaded with activities to please birders with all levels of experience. (See program listed on page below)

Even those people who don’t consider themselves birders will make the trek to southeastern Colorado just to witness the snow geese in person. Once here, they’ll find that the festival celebrates not only the extraordinary waterfowl but the region, as a whole. There are a number of vendors, expert presenters, and tours of the area sites including new tours at Amache National Historic Site near Granada and Colorado Mills in Lamar.

But there is no doubt about it: the geese are the main attraction.

A 2020 interview by Priscilla Waggoner, Rick Gardner with the Colorado Division of Wildlife revealed a number of impressive facts about the geese that annually visit this part of the world in record numbers.

“Between 35,000 and 55,000 snow geese will come through Colorado each year,” states Rick Gardner with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “This weekend, we’ll probably have between ten and twenty thousand. And they won’t be just snow geese. There will be some Ross’s geese with them, too.”

The population of snow geese has been steadily increasing in the last few years to the point that their Arctic breeding habitat is at risk. While a number of habitat restoration and preservation programs are working to address the problem, Gardner states that the population increase is also part of nature doing its work. “The migration is really difficult,” Gardner says. “Just think about it. The birds are flying thousands of miles and they’re vulnerable to all sorts of things on the way. Weather patterns. Fifty or sixty mile an hour winds like we get here can blow geese into a structure or power lines. If they hit a strong headwind, it requires them to eat more for fuel, but if there isn’t food available, they may starve. They could also die from the lack of water along the way, too. And, of course, there are hunters and other predators, too. Lots of factors that make them vulnerable. That’s why the large numbers are so important. With a fair amount of casualties, it’s important to have high numbers to make sure the population can go on.”

There’s also a wide range of ages among the birds who are flying. “Snow geese have a life span of about twenty years, so there are some pretty old guys making the trip,” Gardner says. “And there are some really young ones, too. Snow geese hatch out in June, so some of the birds may only be about four to eight months old. That’s really young.”

There’s also a reason people see and hear what they do. The “V” formation snow geese assume in flight not only saves energy, it also uses an aerodynamic phenomenon where the birds who follow can get “free lift” from the position and movement of the bird up ahead. For that reason, geese will change position in flight, allowing those who are tired to move to the back and those who are more rested to take the lead.

And what about the geese “talk”? “We know their sounds have meaning,” Gardner states. “They may all sound the same, but they’re actually making different sounds. Some calls are associated to feeding, some are geese calling out to other. We know they’re talking to each other. We just haven’t figured out everything they’re saying yet.”

But, according to Gardner, what still astounds people the most is seeing thousands of geese in the same place at the same time. “It’s awe inspiring,” Gardner said. “Impressive and awe inspiring.”

2023 Snow Goose Festival Schedule

Register online here.

Friday, Feb. 3, 2023

1:00 PM - 6:00 PM: Trade Show & Crafts Fair

This year we will have the vendors up for both Friday and Saturday.  Come see artisans displaying their creations, including artwork, and crafts. Ask questions and see the talent through people’s creations. Information booths from all around southeast Colorado will be here as well. A must see at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street in the gymnasium. 

4:00 PM - 6:00 PM: Hospitality Gathering

Unwind after your adventurous day and pick up information if you haven’t yet.  Come meet folks, ask questions, and enjoy some food and friends. This will be held at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street. 

Friday Tours

10:30 AM -12:00 PM Colorado Mills Tour - Free

Take a tour of this unique local manufacturer of Sunflower Oil. See how it all works. This tour is free, but space is limited. Sign up to take advantage of this opportunity. Tour will be at Colorado Mills 505 Hickory Street, Lamar. Meet your tour guide there.

1:00 PM - 5:00 PM John Martin Dam Tour - Free with Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Join U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Rangers for an interpretive tour of the historic John Martin Reservoir! Learn about the history and importance of the dam as you explore the dam inside and out. There is no cost for this tour, reservations are required as there is a limit on the number of individuals that can go. Transportation is on your own. You will meet at the Dam.

2:00 PM - 6:00 PM Snow Goose TOUR - $30

Join Eric DeFonso on a tour to see the snow geese. Tour includes a school bus, snacks, water, and a tour guide. Meet at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street. 

3:00 PM - 4:30 PM Colorado Mills Tour - Free

Take a tour of this unique local manufacturer of Sunflower Oil. See how it all works. This tour is free, but space is limited. Sign up to take advantage of this opportunity. Tour will be at Colorado Mills 505 Hickory Street, Lamar. Meet your tour guide there.

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM Birding Tour with David Leatherman - Free

Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year-round. Join us for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems. Meet behind the Lamar Community College at the north end of the nature area. 

Friday Programs

All programs on Friday will be at Lamar High School in the auditorium. 1900 South 11th Street.  All programs are free to the public. 

1:00 PM Colorado Mills

The local manufacturer of Sunflower Oil is going to tell you about the operation of their heart-healthy oil. Learn about the environmentally-friendly, zero-waste, full-cycle company that is dedicated to connecting farmers and customers to their sunflower products. Learn about the innovators in the sunflower industry and their harvesting of the oil while using all byproducts in their feed and grain. Sign up for a tour of the facilities for FREE.

2:00 PM Debbie Barnes: Puff Up Your Feathers for Winter Birding

Don’t let cold or bad weather stop you from searching out our feathered friends. Come share adventures in winter birding round Colorado and elsewhere.

Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

8:00 AM - 4:00 PM Trade Show & Crafts Fair

This year we will have the vendors up for both Friday and Saturday. Come see artisans displaying their creations, including artworks, and crafts. Ask questions and see the talent through people’s creations. Information booths from all around southeast Colorado will be here as well. A must see at Lamar High School, 1900 S.  11th Street in the gymnasium. 

8:00 AM - 4:00 PM Silent Auction

Come check out the Silent Auction. Place your bid on local items and goods as well as awesome items from around Colorado. For years, this Silent Auction has been rocking our participant’s worlds! This will be set up in the gymnasium at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street in the gymnasium. 

Saturday Tours

5:45 AM - 10:30 AM Raptor and Snow Goose TOUR - $30.00

Join Debbie Barnes as we tour the grasslands in an area known for several species of raptors, and then the Arkansas River bottom for ducks and passerines. Bus included. Indoors and outdoors with minimal walking. Meet the bus at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street. 
7:00-8:00am Birding TOUR with David Leatherman - Free Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year round. Join us for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems. Meet behind the Lamar Community College at the north end of the nature area. 

9:00 AM - 10:30 AM and 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM - Colorado Mills Tours - Free

Take a tour of this unique local manufacturer of Sunflower Oil. See how it all works. This tour is free, but space is limited. Sign up to take advantage of this opportunity. Tour will be at Colorado Mills 505 Hickory Street, Lamar. Meet your tour guide there.

11:00 AM Camp Amache with John Hopper

After hearing all about the historical Camp Amache, drive down and join us for a tour of the museum. County Road 23 5/10, Granada, CO 81041. 

1:30 PM - 3:00 PM and 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM - Colorado Mills Tours - Free

Take a tour of this unique local manufacturer of Sunflower Oil. See how it all works. This tour is free, but space is limited. Sign up to take advantage of this opportunity. Tour will be at Colorado Mills 505 Hickory Street, Lamar. Meet your tour guide there.

2:00 PM - 6:00 PM Snow Goose Tour - $30

Join local birder, Dotti Russell and our Keynote speaker Alison Kondler on a tour to see the snow geese. Tour includes a school bus, snacks, water, and tour guides. Meet at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street. 

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM Birding Tour with Jill Smith - Free

Lamar’s Willow Creek is renowned for exciting and unusual birds, year-round. Join us for a tramp through the riparian area looking for these avian gems. Meet behind the Lamar Community College at the north end of the nature area. 

Saturday Programs

All programs on Saturday will be at Lamar High School in the auditorium. 1900 South 11th Street.  All programs are free to the public. 

9:30 John Hopper - Camp Amache

Come watch this unique presentation on the historic Japanese internment camp, Camp Amache. Learn about the history of this area and then drive down and take a tour of the site. Event starts at Lamar High School. 

11:00 AM David Leatherman - The Living Wonders Of Southeastern Colorado

Birds are perhaps what excite nature lovers the most about southeastern Colorado.  But this underrated corner of the state can boast of much more.  Its prairies, canyons and water features provide habitat for a unique set of plants and animals.  They are adorned with fur, scales, leaves, spines, shells and bark.  They are worth watching and protecting. We will highlight the most fascinating in this presentation.

1:00 PM Birds of Prey

Diana Miller from the Raptor Center will present lots of great information with all the wonderful raptors to see. She will be here with hawks, eagles, and owls. See the big predators in the bird world!  See the live birds from the Pueblo Raptor Center and hear of the efforts to rehabilitate injured or orphaned raptors.

3:00 PM Eric DeFonso - Snow Geese

The reason we have a festival is the abundance of the snow geese that are in the area. Join us as we hear from Eric DeFonso and learn all about the snow geese as well as other geese like the Ross’s. 

4:00 PM Pat Craig - Wildlife Sanctuary

Pat began saving captive wildlife when he was 19, becoming the youngest state and federally licensed person in the country as well as the first person to build a sanctuary dedicated to saving large carnivores. the oldest and largest nonprofit sanctuary in the world dedicated exclusively to the rescue of captive exotic and endangered large carnivores that have been abused, abandoned, exploited or illegally kept. He has also pioneered the art of building large acreage species-specific habitats, giving rescued animals the opportunity to live together and roam freely within large natural spaces.

7:00 PM - 9:00 PM Evening Keynote presentation- $15 per person or $25 per couple for just the keynote presentation

Cost for the banquet and presentation is $30 per person or $50 per couple. Children under 12 FREE with a paid adult. Flock together with us for a delicious meal and a presentation from our Keynote speaker- Alison Kondler of Birdingbyear.com. Alison will take you through her mnemonic-based learning techniques to help you build brain-bridges from the bird’s sound to your memory. A dynamic speaker on an excellent topic. The meal will offer 3 different meat options. No vegetarian options will be served. This will be held at the Lamar Resource and Senior Center at 407 East Olive Street in Lamar, Colorado.

Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023

5:15 AM - 10:30 AM Sunrise Tour - $30

Watch the snow geese wake up and fly off to their feeding grounds. Tour State Wildlife Areas and farm fields to see a variety of waterfowl including, Sandhill Cranes, ducks and shorebirds, and some Bald Eagles. Tour includes a school bus and tour guide. Meet at Lamar High School, 1900 S. 11th Street.

Extra Treat

Birders, while you are in town, visit 304 Woodland Drive. You may experience the best in backyard birding. On a good morning, you can view birds in riparian woodland (deciduous and coniferous) and plains habitats. Many mornings more than 20 species will visit the numerous feeders. There are no guarantees, but you might see Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Downy Woodpeckers, three kinds of doves, Pine Siskins, finches, juncos, and a variety of sparrows, hawks, vultures, and waterfowl.

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