|Mountain plover being banded. (Colorado Parks & Wildlife)|
Some celebrate charismatic megafauna: bighorn sheep in Georgetown, sandhill cranes in Monte Vista, snow geese in Lamar.
Then there is Karval, in Lincoln County on the High Plains, linking its image to the mountain plover. Most Coloradans could not find Karval on the map, and most could not recognize a mountain plover, I am sure.
But they are trying. Here is Colorado Parks & WIldlife's news release:
The town of Karval will host its Annual Mountain Plover Festival, April 26-28. Karval is a ranching hamlet, population "about 35," in southern Lincoln County.Some day I have to get up there for it.
Despite their name, mountain plovers do not breed in the mountains, instead, they prefer shortgrass prairies. The eastern plains of Colorado are the primary breeding grounds for the mountain plover and more than half of the world's population nests in the state. Mountain plovers, are a considered a species of "special concern" in Colorado because of declining numbers.
"The Mountain Plover Festival is a great way for people to experience the authentic small town atmosphere of a rural community while watching birds and learning about the culture and history of Colorado's eastern plains," said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
"Guided tours provide an opportunity to observe plover nesting behavior and Karval residents pour on a big helping of hospitality to make certain the bird-watchers enjoy themselves," he said.
Plovers are commonly thought of as shorebirds, but the mountain plover is unique. The mountain plover breeds in the shortgrass prairies along the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies from Montana to the Texas Panhandle. They winter from central California and southern Arizona southward into Mexico. Some of their more abundant nesting grounds lie in bare patches on the short grass prairie and farm fields surrounding Karval.
Mountain plovers are about 8 - 9 inches in height, have long legs, and are sandy-brown in coloration. Breeding adults have black forecrowns, white foreheads, and a thin, black eye line. In winter, adults and young birds appear with a plain face, making their dark eyes stand out. Mountain plovers have a white wing stripe and wing linings, and a black band near the tail tip.
A bus takes participants to sites on the prairie to points near the plovers' nesting sites where people are likely to see songbirds, burrowing owls, pronghorn, deer, eagles and other raptors.
Saturday and Sunday morning tours begin at 6 a.m. with breakfast served at 5:30 a.m., so birders can get out to the prairie just when the mountain plovers are becoming active.
Koshak said the birds make their nests in bare patches on the prairie, but they also like to nest around prairie dog towns, windmills, water tanks, and spots where ranchers feed their cattle on the range. The reason is simple: Those are the spots where they can find bugs to eat.
Mother Nature has endowed the birds with very protective instincts, though, so they will dance and squirt away from their nests trying to draw anything that comes near away from their eggs or hatchlings. Bird experts from the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all of which help to sponsor the festival, will be on hand to explain the more scientific details about the birds, Koshak said.
The area around Karval is a haven for bird watchers with several sites included on the Colorado Birding Trail. In addition to seeing mountain plovers, bird watchers could see many other species, including burrowing owls, golden eagles, Wilson's snipe, lark buntings and bluebirds.
At the same time, the birders will gain more understanding of how landowners and biologists work together to study and preserve the nesting grounds for the elusive birds. Some of the ranchers they will meet are third-generation residents of Karval, the sons and daughters of homesteaders who are excellent stewards of Colorado's high plains grasslands.