by Kay Mitchell

Sandhill Cranes Sunset in West Valley - Photo Credit: Dick Walker
Sandhill Cranes Sunset in West Valley – Photo Credit: Dick Walker

One of the happiest parts of my job as your President is to be able to pass on positive and inspiring news that involves our chapter. So, allow me to share this good story with you.

Flathead Land Trust has offered our chapter the opportunity to be a partner with them in the conservation of one of the most significant and special bird places in the Flathead – the West Valley Ponds. The ponds are significant because of their use by large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds. They are special because they attract one special bird species – the Sandhill Crane, and one special mammal species – us, the birdwatchers.

Flathead Valley has a lot of wetland areas, but West Valley ponds have now been identified as the only wetlands in the Flathead where the cranes “stage,” or group up, to prepare for their long migrations. We Flathead Valley residents have the privilege of offering part of our home valley to these giant and beloved birds. The ponds are close enough to town that lots of us, Audubon members and others, can and do drive out to enjoy their magnificent mating dances, see the new chicks (called “colts”) and watch the large groups land and take off.

Many of you attended our October meeting featuring Laura Katzmann talking about sandhill cranes and Flathead Land Trust’s proposed project in West Valley. The photos were amazing and there were lots of oohs and ahhs from the audience at the sight of not tens, but hundreds, of cranes, many photographed by our own Dick Walker.

FAS has accepted Flathead Land Trust’s offer and we have pledged to raise $10,000 for this worthy project. To raise the money, we are revamping our usual end-of-year fundraising appeal. This year, every dollar donated will go directly to the Sandhill Cranes in the West Valley project. We have received one generous donation of $2,000 to provide “seed money” to get this fundraising effort off the ground. And we are asking each member to do three things to help the cranes. First is to donate as much as you are able to Flathead Audubon, knowing that 100% will go to support the crane project. Second is to tell as many other people as you can about this truly local effort. And third is to ask each other, “Have you donated yet to the West Valley Sandhill Crane project?”

As you know, FAS is a 501(c)3 organization, which means that all of your donation is tax-deductible, a nice extra perk. You can send a check or head over to our donation page to donate by credit card through PayPal.

Usually in Flathead Audubon, we lean toward the science in each issue. There’s plenty of science involved in the West Valley Sandhill Crane project, but this time, folks, the best thing you can do is follow your heart.

BJ Worth and Jake Bramante put together a video of the project below: