Whooping Crane Encounters

Have you ever seen a whooping crane? Many of the people I know would be the first to admit they know little about whooping cranes, and almost nothing about the fact that there are whooping cranes right here in Wisconsin. But as our re-introduced flock grows (the current count of our Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes has just been established at 108 birds) the very slim chance that you would see one increases a a little.

So, would you know what to do? There are two very important things you should know, according to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

First, keep your distance – whooping cranes are wild creatures, and big; but the real concern about human and whooping crane interactions is that the crane’s natural fear of humans will diminish with each exposure. Their fear is an important survival mechanism and must be preserved.

The second thing to do, if you are ever lucky enough to sight a whooping crane is to report it. Here is a link to an online reporting form at the US Fish & Wildlife Servicer. It’s a page long, but filling it out looks like a fairly short and sweet process. Basically USFWS wants as much information as you can supply, but if all you have is the date, and the county where you sighted the crane, that will do.

Some interesting November whooping crane encounters here in Wisconsin have been reported in blogs and facebook groups. See the re-blog post that follows. It is from Dancing Bird Studio, where blog author, Darcy, writes about a new family – 2 adults and a juvenile – of whoopers, and how it came to be; with dramatic photos, too.

Adopt a Whooping Crane

Dancing Bird Studio

This year a new technique for reintroducing endangered Whooping Cranes into the wild was added to the tool chest. A parent reared chick (24-13) was raised at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. This juvenile was released at Necedah NWR near the territory of an adult pair (2-04 M and 8-09 F) that did not have a chick this year. They accepted the young bird and the three have been together ever since. Ted caught a glimpse of the new family near the International Crane Foundation in early November as they fed in the agricultural fields along with the more abundant Sandhill Cranes.
Remember to report any sightings of banded cranes – Whooping or Sandhill – at Savingcranes.org


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Bird Watching Daily Reports on Wisconsin and our Cranes

The editors at Bird Watching Daily have covered the story of Wisconsin’s whooping cranes twice this fall. This recent post at birdwatchingdaily.com discusses the DAR (Direct Autumn Release) chicks at Horicon Marsh and environmental photojournalist Tom Lynn.

The chicks were released near adult cranes at Horicon on October 24, and will hopefully soon be following the adults to Florida. Lynn, from Milwaukee, has been granted what Bird Watching Daily calls “unprecedented access to the DAR birds,” and hopes to follow them and document their journey south.

Earlier this fall, Bird Watching Daily’s managing editor, Matt Mendenhall, attended the annual Whooping Crane Festival based in Berlin, WI, with side trips to Necedah, Baraboo, and Green Lake. Over that weekend, he reports, he saw a total of 17 whooping cranes – a number that would have been unheard of a short time ago. He called the weekend a true celebration of the efforts to re-introduce the cranes here, and his report, “A Weekend for watching and celebrating Whooping Cranes” is well worth a look.

Meet the Partners for Whooping Cranes

“It takes a village . . . , ” we often say, using those words to describe any complex project whether it’s raising a child, or building a house, or creating a new community organization. Or something else entirely.


When it comes to the efforts to restore an endangered species to a region from which it has long been absent, it takes a world of professionals and volunteers willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve the goal. In the case of the whooping cranes that are now being re-introduced into Wisconsin that “world” is made up of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, a true partnership between public and private entities working to protect the whooping crane species.

Over the years people have opened their homes to others who are working directly with the cranes. Private individuals and entire businesses have opened their wallets. And it seems everyone who learns of them, has opened their hearts to the whoopers and their story of survival.

On it’s Who We Are webpage, WCEP lists literally dozens of private individuals, organizations and corporations, as well as a myriad of government agencies, as partners and supporters of this effort. A list of the nine original WCEP partners, and a minimalist description of each follows:

International Whooping Crane Recovery Team – This is the governing body charged with responsibility for the species, and comprised of 5 scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and 5 from the Canadian Wildlife Service.

Private, Non-profit Organizations

International Crane Foundation – Founded in 1973 in Baraboo, WI, the ICF is dedicated to the conservation of all of the world’s 15 crane species, and preservation of their habitat.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Established by Congress in 1984, NFWF is one of the world’s largest conservation grant-makers, having raised more than $1.4 billion in private contributions and grantee matching funds.

Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin – A non-profit organization based in Madison, WI, the foundation boosts private sector investment and involvement in Wisconsin’s natural resources.

Operation Migration – Every year since 2001, OM has imprinted a new generation of whooping crane chicks on its ultralight aircraft, and then led them from Wisconsin to Florida on their first migration.

Government Agencies

US Fish & Wildlife Service – This bureau within the U.S. Department of Interior, is charged with conservation and management of the nation’s fish and wildlife resources, and the protection of endangered species.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey – Located in Laurel, MD., Patuxent raises about 2/3 of all whooping cranes raised for release to the wild, and provides research and logistical support for the Wisconsin release.

USGS National Wildlife Health Center – Founded in 1975, the NWHC, located in Madison, WI, is a biomedical laboratory dedicated to assessing the impact of disease on wildlife.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – Wisconsin was the first state to officially partner with the WCRT and the USFWS in an effort to establish an eastern migrating population of whooping cranes, and has also supplied much of the environmental data used to assess the suitability of the Wisconsin sites for the cranes’ release.

You can read a more detailed description of the WCEP partners here, or visit each partner’s own website for information in-depth.

Train to Become a Wisconsin Master Naturalist in Door County this Winter

Yes, you read that correctly – in Door County, this winter.

While Door County is a go-to destination for so many of us in Wisconsin, I think very few give it a thought in the winter months. But if you’re anywhere near Ellison Bay, and have a passion for the natural world, and the time to pursue a certification that recognizes your skills and knowledge, here is a special opportunity.

The new Wisconsin Master Naturalist program will be offering its training course at The Clearing this January and February. The Peninsula Pulse has the sign up info and more about the schedule, which includes 40 hours of instruction in the classroom, with field trips, and a service learning component.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest - Northern Unit.

At Long Lake in the Kettle Moraine State Forest – Northern Unit.

That may sound like a heavy committment, and the cost of the course, $250, is significant too. But also significant is the knowledge of geology, ecology, plant life, aquatic life, wildlife, and 3 more topic areas, that you will be acquiring. So is the fact that when you successfully complete the course, you will be joining an elite new corps of informed volunteers dedicated to education and service within our Wisconsin communities and wild places.

Environmental Education Specialist Kate Reilly, the director of this new program, said that since launching in the spring of this year, two training courses, one at Saukville and one in Milwaukee have been completed, and two pilot training sessions (in Madison and Ashland) were completed in 2012. As a result there are currently 72 certified Wisconsin Master Naturalists and 16 trained instructors in the state.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay.

Reilly added she is hopeful that 25 more (the maximum class size) will be trained at The Clearing. The Wisconsin Master Naturalist program is similar to Wisconsin’s well-known Master Gardner program, and also modeled on Master Naturalist programs in 25 other states.

Will the Whooping Crane Partners Opt for Black Fly Suppression?

By 2005, four individual birds in Wisconsin’s growing flock of whooping cranes had formed pairs and made a first attempt at nesting. No one was surprised when the two nests that resulted were unsuccessful – these were still young and inexperienced birds. When one of the pairs succeeded in 2006 in welcoming the first wild whooping crane hatched in Wisconsin in more than a century, the wildlife community was jubilant. And optimistic that more such successes would naturally be following in succeeding years.

Parent and chick: Wisconsin is yearning for more of these - in the wild. (Photo courtesy of ICF)

Parent and chick: Wisconsin is yearning for more of these – in the wild. (Photo courtesy of ICF)

But three very long years would pass before even a single wild chick would once again hatch in Wisconsin, and four years before another one hatched and survived. Instead of chicks hatching, what was happening during this time were mounting numbers of “nest abandonment.” Over time it was observed that many pairs, after forming and building a nest together, were suddenly leaving that nest and not returning.

WCEP Studies Nest Abandonments

By 2009 this problem was being actively studied and various hypotheses were put forward by officials of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – the actual folks responsible for bringing the whooping crane back to eastern North America, and Wisconsin, in particular. These included theories that maybe the cranes were too inexperienced in the wild, or were undernourished, or too stressed by predators, or harassed by biting black flies, or something else.

I don’t think it took long for the biologists involved in closely monitoring the nesting whooping cranes to notice large numbers of black flies on some of the incubating cranes. But it has taken a while for this, and the various other hypotheses to be tested – science, after all, takes its time, and the scientists, understandably, want to get it right.

Are More Bti Treatments the Answer?

However, the citizen scientists and fans of progress for the whooping cranes in Wisconsin – myself among them – who were tuned into the Wisconsin DNR’s Ask The Experts online chat last week, seemed to be expressing a lot of eagerness for a continuation of Bti treatments to reduce the Black fly population. Bti is Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis, a naturally occurring soil bacterium – considered a good alternative to chemicals used to suppress insects. It was applied in certain areas of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in 2011 and 2012, to see if fewer black flies would result in fewer nest abandonments by whooping cranes.

It seems like it did, in fact, help. Here is a page all about it at the WCEP website. I once saw a picture of a nesting whooping crane covered with nasty looking black flies, and hoped to find and link to it for this post; while my quest for it was unsuccessful, I urge you to look closely at the eggs in the photo on the WCEP page – they are covered with the flies, and seem to tell the story!

At the Ask the Experts event, Davin Lopez, the DNR whooping crane coordinator could only say that the matter is still being studied. But he seemed to promise that a decision will be forthcoming in winter, 2014. The decision will be made by the WCEP partners, but for now Davin offered the opportunity to contact him directly, Davin.Lopez@wisconsin.gov , for those with more question or comments.

Ask the Experts – The Whooping Crane Edition

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held an online chat about whooping crane migration and other related issues last week. It took place at noon, October 31st.

It was one of the DNR’s series of Ask The Experts online events, where various DNR staff take part in discussions and answer questions about their topic of expertise. There have been sessions on walleye fishing, deer hunting, well water testing, beach monitoring, and so many other topics.

For the Whooping Crane version of Ask The Experts, Davin Lopez – the DNR’s whooping crane coordinator, was joined by 2 other partners in the whooping crane reintroduction efforts in Wisconsin. Joan Garland, outreach coordinator for the International Crane Foundation, and Heather Ray, associate director of development for Operation Migration, joined Davin in typing back answers to the questions almost as fast as we online chatterers submitted them.

Midway through the chat we learned that there were approximately 100 who were participating! As a participant you have no idea that you are part of such a large virtual audience.

Among the many dozens of questions that were asked, the topic that attracted the most attention – at least 12 questions and comments – was concerned with treatments to reduce the Black fly population (which seems to contribute to the cranes abandoning nests at breeding time) at Necedah NWR. I’ll add a separate post about that, but first, here is a list of some of the topics touched on:

– Although the ultralight-led migration began for this year’s crop of new cranes on October 2nd, there have been no reports of “on migration” sightings of any of the 100-plus adult whooping cranes in Wisconsin. Heather Ray said that generally they don’t begin migration before November.

– She also said that the ultralight migration flights begin with short flights of 5 to 20 miles in distance and gradually expand to 50 and 60 mile flights, as the birds gain experience and stamina.

Efforts to train whooping cranes to migrate with ultralights begins when the colts are very young.

Efforts to train whooping cranes to migrate with ultralights begins when the colts are very young.

– The goal of the whooping crane re-introduction campaign in Wisconsin (technically the campaign is for the entire Eastern half of North America, but Wisconsin is key, as the northern terminus of the flyway that is being established) is 100 individual birds (that goal is within reach) and 25 successful breeding pairs (not even close); actually, Davin Lopez called this “a very rough goal . . . what we need is a self sustaining, growing population.”

– Ray reported that there were 20 breeding pair in Wisconsin in 2013. Unfortunately only 3 chicks hatched from these nests, and only one has survived to fledge. (The survivor is designated #W3-13 – the 3rd chick hatched in the wild in 2013 – and will be migrating south with its parents: #9 from 2003, and #3 from 2004).

– Except for 3 surviving wild chicks (the 2013 survivor, and #w1-06, and #w3-10) all of Wisconsin’s wild whooping cranes were hatched from eggs produced each year by the captive populations at ICF and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Ray said that there are generally 30 and 40 eggs available each year from these sources, and they are split 50/50 between Wisconsin and the new <strong>Louisiana Non-migrating flock; efforts to establish this were launched in 2011.

– One participant commented about a Sandhill Crane hunt, which has been rumored for Wisconsin. He suggested that it would be hard for hunters to distinguish between young whooping crane colts and Sandhills. Joan Garland referred him to a fact sheet at the International Crane Foundation website that addresses the hunting proposal.

– As the chat closed, another guest added this personal note: “Thanks to a school presentation by Joan, my son is hooked on the whooping crane and he wants to be a biologist when he grows up!”

How lucky, that courtesy of the International Crane foundation, I just happen to have a picture of Joan making such a presentation! And here it is:

International Crane Foundation's Joan Garland gives a school presentation.

International Crane Foundation’s Joan Garland gives a school presentation.

[Photo credits: Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, and the International Crane Foundation.]

The Class of 2013 Takes Its Final Exam

That’s whooping cranes, we’re talking about here; the ones that make Wisconsin their home, and specifically, the 8 young crane colts that have been training to fly with ultralight aircraft since the day they were hatched.

As of October 2nd, this year’s class has been officially on migration – the real test of its long summer of training. This account at the Operation Migration website gives a good description of what it’s like to actually launch such an undertaking – convincing 8 juvenile whooping cranes to follow their airplane “surrogate parent” far from anyplace they’ve ever seen before. (And even though it was only 5 miles, a few of the cranes remained unconvinced.)

Since that precarious launch the group has successfully covered 120 miles, and currently remains camped out at the first stopover site in Illinois, waiting for the right flying weather.

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This necessary waiting makes the trip a long one, but we can follow it all through the field journal at the Operation Migration website. Days will become weeks, and then months, but sooner or later the young cranes and the ultralights will fly into St. Marks’ National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Tallahassee, in the panhandle of Florida, and the cranes that we think belong to us, will, for a time, be claimed by the Floridians.

This year, due to budget cutting affecting all government programs, one of the two wildlife refuges that have supported the whooping crane recovery program in Florida, has had to pass up the opportunity to host the cranes. This article in the Tampa Bay Times explains the difficult ramifications facing the manager of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, which was scheduled to be the host site this year, and the disappointment felt by local fans of the formerly annual visits from ultralights leading the year’s newest whooping cranes.

(The image above, courtesy of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, shows an earlier class of cranes flying their first migration with an ultralight.)