Sandhill cranes return to Othello for 20th annual festival

A group of sandhill cranes land in a field at dawn near Othello in 2017. The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, which celebrates the annual return of the bird, is going virtual this year.

OTHELLO — The Othello Sandhill Crane Festival will return to Othello for 2021, at least in virtual form.

Kurt Braunwart, of the festival organizing committee, said the festival’s social media sites will be used in the next six weeks.

“A lot of the festival activities are already showing up online now,” he said.

Traditionally, the festival includes a wide array of lectures and tours for birdwatchers, ranging from bird behavior to local geology. Those will continue in modified form on the Saturday of festival weekend, March 20.

Three to five lectures will be scheduled for March 20, either filmed in advance or livestreamed. Chris Braunwart, of the festival organizing committee, said lecture subjects will include cranes and crane behavior, and central Washington geology.

Advance registration will be requested, but festival organizers don’t know if a fee will be charged.

“It (the virtual festival) is a work in progress,” Chris Braunwart said.

Dan Hayes, of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will film a virtual tour of good crane-watching spots, Kurt Braunwart said. Birdwatchers can use that for a self-guided tour if they choose to come to Othello.

Festival volunteers will be scouting for cranes as they arrive, and will post locations on the festival’s social media outlets.

A video tour of Othello also will be posted, highlighting some of the things people can do when the in-person festival returns, Kurt Braunwart said.

“We’re basically trying to set it up so people can experience as much online as possible, or drive through the area and experience on their own,” he said.

The festival’s annual photo contest is underway, with entries being posted on social media.

Kurt Braunwart said festival organizers are encouraging photographers to photograph cranes arriving. But organizers also want pictures of birds in general, he said. Prizes are being awarded periodically throughout February and March.

Weekly art and craft projects are being posted as well, which will continue up to the festival weekend. They are hosted by Jenn Stevenson, festival committee member and director of the Old Hotel Art Gallery.