Shopping for Good: Presents for Craniacs & Others

There’s a new movement – at least I think I’m detecting one – to add some “shopping for good” into one’s search for holiday gifts. More and more, I’m seeing gift guides encouraging me to “buy local”, or “made in America” gifts, and to shop for fair-traded items.

Today, The Badger and the Whooping Crane is suggesting a slight variation on that theme, recommending two sources of gifts, and 3 book selections that are either crane-themed or “made in Wisconsin.”

No surprise here, the gift shop at the International Crane Foundation would be the source for the crane-themed: clothing items, earings, silk scarves, art and notecards, whooping crane puppets. But what might surprise you – and would surely delight someone you know – are these adorable plush, stuffed birdies – whooping crane, chick, and sandhill, available from $12.99 – 19.99:

Plush crane toys available from the ICF gift shop. (Courtesy,   International Crane Foundation)

Plush crane toys available from the ICF gift shop. (Courtesy, International Crane Foundation)

The merchandise at includes what you’re probably expecting: cheeseheads! And Packer gear. And Badger gear. But wait, that’s not all – handcrafted wood items, socks for hikers and walkers, goatsmilk soap, and gift baskets of cheese and sausage all say “I thought of you” straight from Wisconsin.

Now for some books: two are genuine “long-reads” about the struggles to bring the whooping crane back from the brink of extinction. The third is an e-book: a light-hearted gardening memoir rooted right here in Wisconsin

Until Robert Porter Allen, an orinthologist with the National Audubon Society, found the only remaining whooping crane nesting site in North America, meaningful and enduring efforts to protect the species could not really begin. The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story by Kathleen Kaska tells the story of Allen’s dogged, nine-year quest for that nesting site, finally found in far northern Alberta in 1954. Reviewers say this “reads like an adventure story.”

And Jon Mooallem’s book Wild Ones takes a close look today, at three particular endangered species: Lange’s metalmark butterfly, the polar bear, and the whooping crane. This book is one of the New York Times “notable works of non-fiction for 2013”. Reviewers say, “Mooallem makes a persuasive case that wild animals are America’s cultural heritage – our Sistine Chapel and our Great Books.”

After all that shopping you’ll be supergrateful for how easy-on-your-wallet is Chris Eirschele’s Garden Truths from My Family’s Stories. At $2.99 each, you can probably send Garden Truths to the Kindle or e-reader of each and every one of your gardening friends.

Book Cover for Garden Truths From My Family's Stories

Wisconsin native, Master Gardener, and garden writer, Chris now lives in Scottsdale, AZ where she continues to honor the best gift her parents left her: “the innate ability to grow plants.” Her book is eight short chapters of memoir, each one followed by a page or two of a “Garden Truth”. Among the Truths, Chris’ easy-going directions for “Starting from the back of a seed packet,” and “Saving Cannas, Dahlias and Gladiolus,” and planting Magnolia trees in the North and turning a room in your home into an Orangery and other flower gardening topics are all wonderful! This so-so, wannabe gardener loved it. Chances are you know someone who would too.

Plenty of Drama, Some Tragedy, and Some Triumph for the Crane Colts at Horicon

As the temperatures plunged in Wisconsin last week – into the teens and then single digits and below-zero lows – crane watchers held their collective breath over the fate of the half-dozen young DAR crane colts who were still thought to be at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

Already one of the nine birds that had been released to the wild at Horicon in late October had been killed by a predator, and on December 2nd, a second crane death at Horicon, was reported. Another DAR bird (DAR means “Direct Autumn Release”) had singly begun migration in the company of sandhills and was reported November 25th to be safely in Tennessee. But six remained at Horicon, and this was giving fits to the nervous craniacs who were searching the Facebook page of the International Crane Foundation for good news.


When would the remaining birds finally migrate, everyone wanted to know. What was the latest recorded date of the beginning of migration? (December 9th, the ICF staff answered.) Were there still enough remaining Sandhill cranes for the young whooping cranes to travel with? (Yes.) And the unanswerable: Why hadn’t they left yet? What would happen to them as the wetlands froze over?

Then last Tuesday, December 10th, more bad news; two more crane deaths – one on December 4th, and another December 7th, were posted. Also posted was the assurance that the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (of which the ICF is a founding member) “has been working round the clock this week to find the best solution for relocating the birds as soon as possible.”

And Answers

Finally there was good news reported December 12th, and documented by photographer Tom Lynn. The previous day WCEP staff members went to Horicon to capture and relocate the birds. Instead, they found the signal from radio transmitters on each bird indicated they were finally on the move and headed south on their own – what Lynn calls “the best outcome possible.”

A fourth crane, however, soon abandoned the migration attempt and returned to a frozen cornfield near Horicon, where WCEP staff executed a chilly, yet thrilling capture/rescue in the frigid temperatures.

Here is one of Tom Lynn’s photos of Kim Boardman cradling the captured crane, who is called “Latka”. When it came to actually retrieving the crane, Latka gave little resistance. “It was basically an easy capture,” Tom reported.


Read about the rest of the events of that day, at Tom Lynn’s blog, and enjoy all of his fascinating photos of that chilly capture.

On Friday, there were happy pictures of Latka on the ICF Facebook page (posted December 13th); these had been sent back from her new home at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Check them out, and notice her proud wingspan and the prominent still-juvenile coloration – a mix of baby cinnamon feathers, not yet overcome by her new white adult plumage.

Birder Meets Whooping Cranes

“Striking, serene, graceful. Hungry. Nonchalant.” Those are the words that confirmed birder, Dale Bonk, used to describe whooping cranes.

I had asked Dale, a member of the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group, to suggest three words he’d use to describe the wild whooping cranes he’d just seen, and he gave me five. One could probably think of plenty more, he added.

Dale had spent an early November day observing and photographing a pair of whooping cranes in Dane County, and he was happy to share his strong impressions from the sighting. But maybe the best thing that sums up his experience are the first words that went through his mind that day. He shared, via email: “Wow! Holy Jebus! They’re there; they’re actually there! …And they’re not flying away. Let’s hope the camera works.”

Whooping Crane photographed by Dale Bonk in Dane County in November.

Whooping Crane pair photographed by Dale Bonk in Dane County in November.

His camera worked just fine. He later admitted on Facebook that he had been “a little shutter happy” and had taken “something like 400 shots.”

About a week before Dale’s encounter, a number of other members of the Wisconsin Birding group had seen the pair and there was quite a bit of chatter about them on the Facebook page, including where to find them. As is the practice among birders, those reporting the sightings were as precise as possible about locations – it’s a courtesy to other birders who hope to see for themselves. It didn’t take long, however, before someone questioned if this was the right thing to do for birds that are members of an endangered species.

In fact, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership issues precise guidelines about observing cranes in the wild, and shortly after the Facebook discussion about this, the Wisconsin Birder page moderators published a request they had received from WCEP to restrict the location reporting to county-level-only. They’ve also included a link to use to report all sightings to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For Dale what makes whooping cranes so special is that “they were so close to extinction , and yet, somehow, humans managed to ‘save’ them. For nature lovers, having a ‘success’ story is a wonderful feeling.” Dale is a self-described “outdoorsy person” and always has been, “but I’ve only gotten into birding in the past year, and intensely with the camera and scope in the past 6 months.”


He selected 21 of the best among the many pictures he made of the whooping crane pair and published a Facebook album, to which he added: “This sighting makes me unbelievably happy. What gorgeous birds!”

A final note: The Badger and the Whooping Crane is grateful to Dale Bonk for the use of his images. Both photos clearly show the birds’ leg bands and identify the birds as members of the WCEP population. These bands lead to a wealth of information on each individual bird compiled by WCEP. Doesn’t that sound like good material for another post, another time?