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Ranching + Birding = Mountain Plovers

Think for just a moment about a typical birding festival.

Well, alright, each bird festival is special in its own way, proving once again that the brilliant and diabolical opening sentence of Anna Karenina is the greatest lie of all time. Nevertheless, there are a few points of commonality among bird festivals: a registration table, a vendor area, and a hotel or motel to stay in.

Welcome to the Karval Mountain Plover Festival.

Your approach from Denver takes you east along I-70 to the hamlet of Limon. At Limon, instead of continuing east along the interstate, you head south, south, south along lonely state route 71. Eventually, your GPS tells you to turn left (east), and you’re thinking to yourself: There can’t possibly be a motel out there.

Welcome to Karval - Will GallagherYou’re right. The only lodging in the prairie outpost of Karval is families’ homes. At the turnoff to the dirt road into Karval, folks are waiting for you. They get out and greet you, you get back into your car, and you follow them into their homes. That’s how lodging works at The Mountain Plover Festival.
Left: Young birder Will Gallagher welcomes us to Karval, Colorado, home of The Mountain Plover Festival. Photo by © Seth Gallagher.

Don’t get the wrong impression. They may not have hotels—they may not have much of anything—out in Karval, but The Mountain Plover Festival is for real.

Do you want to see a Mountain Plover? Then go to the high plains of eastern
Colorado in late April, when birds are returning to the breeding grounds.
That’s easy to say. But there’s so much of eastern Colorado, and, alas, so few
Mountain Plovers.

And that brings us to the real point of the Karval Mountain Plover. Sure, it’s “just” a bird festival—with all the attendant merriment, zaniness, and great birding. But it’s also a gutsy bid to strengthen the link between the ranching and bird conservation communities.

Come again? Ranching and conservation? Aren’t those typically portrayed as antagonistic forces? Perhaps they used to be. But times are changing.

In his “News and Notes” column in the May/June 2013 Birding (pp. 26–28), Paul Hess quotes Colorado cattleman Grady Grissom: “Thirty-five years ago one would not hear ranching and conservation in the same breath unless the speaker was describing opposing forces. Today, these words are often used in a symbiotic context.”

Schmoker ploverHess also quotes Chris Pague, Senior Conservation Ecologist with The Nature  Conservancy in Colorado: “Perhaps the most astounding changes have come from the conservation community, which increasingly recognizes ranchers as stewards of species like the Mountain Plover. We are all committed to the success of the plovers and their stewards.”
Right: Photo by © Bill Schmoker.

Front and center in the establishment of common ground between ranchers and bird
conservationists is The Mountain Plover Festival. The key idea here is one of  partnerships: the ranching families in Karval, the birders who visit, and the agencies and nonprofits that are increasingly gravitating toward the idea of unity in diversity. Some of the diverse players in promoting Mountain Plover recovery in eastern Colorado include Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and the Colorado Birding Trail.

Photo - Folks birding at festival You’ll “get your bird” if you attend the Karval Mountain Plover Festival. But you’ll
also get something else, something more valuable and enduring. You’ll come away
with an invigorating sense for the possibilities when different communities and
subcultures get together for the shared purpose of enjoying and conserving populations of wild birds.
Left: They’re on the bird (and wondering why it’s not called a Prairie Plover) at the Mountain Plover Festival. Photo by © Seth Gallagher.

Visit the website of the Karval Community Alliance, Inc., and learn about birding in general and Mountain Plover finding in particular in eastern Colorado. The Karval Mountain Plover Festival is held each year at the end of April. If you’re looking for a bird festival that is literally off—way off—the beaten path, give Karval a whirl.

Thanks to Seth Gallagher with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory for supplying some of the information for this post.

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  • Paul Hess

    Speaking of Mountain Plovers, the State of the Birds 2013 publication reported by Jennie Duberstein on the ABA blog July 3 (full report linked above) includes a two-page spread on the species. See pp. 12-13 for a good summary of how private landowners are helping to protect the species’ habitat and nesting success.

  • Commenting on the Mountain Plover’s Future article. USFW estimates 20,000 birds. OK, so human population drops to 20,000 on the planet. No worries says USFW, plenty of people. We can fill a highrise in Chicago – just one – so even if the rest of the world is empty of humans, that highrise has good occupancy. Case closed.

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