Peter Matthiessen and the ends of the Earth

Earlier I linked to the International Crane Foundation’s praise of Peter Matthiessen – their longtime friend and colleague – and the story of how he came to write “The Birds of Heaven.” Now I’ve found Steve Lysaker at “Outward Hounds,” who has written this excellent meditation about Matthiessen’s “deep affection for and awe of nature and it’s wild inhabitants.” I hope you don’t miss this short, admiring introduction to the man and his works.

Outward Hounds

On a hike in Colorado’s Arapaho National Forest, we encountered this tree, which made me think of the bodhi tree. In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen describes a Buddhist temple “that stands beside an ancient pipal, descended from that bodhi tree, or ‘Enlightenment Tree.’” Matthiessen himself provided substantial enlightenment through his writing. On a hike in Colorado’s Arapaho National Forest, we encountered this tree, which made me think of the bodhi tree. In The Snow Leopard, Peter Matthiessen describes a Buddhist temple “that stands beside an ancient pipal, descended from that bodhi tree, or ‘Enlightenment Tree.’” Matthiessen himself provided substantial enlightenment through his writing.

When Peter Matthiessen died earlier this month, we lost not only a great writer but one of our most eloquent and passionate advocates for the natural world.

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News briefs: Getting outdoors in Wisconsin

More than half-way to its fundraising goal of $75,000, the Great Wisconsin Birdathon 2014 has thus far earned $38,296 for bird conservation in the state. The Birdathon is a month-long event during which birders collect donations for each bird they will identify in one 24-hour period at some point during May. Among the 8 different bird conservation projects supported, are the Whooping Crane Reintroduction Program, and the Monitoring and Management of the Kirtland’s Warbler.

Birding on Lake Michigan (Photo at Flickr by Peter Gorman)

Birding on Lake Michigan (Photo by Peter Gorman, at Flickr)

Take a Birding Blitz field trip

There are at least 3 or 4 different ways to participate in the Great Wisconsin Birdathon. One that’s particularly tailored to those who are new to birding are the Birding Blitz field trips sponsored by the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. Expert birders will be your guide through an educational morning at various birding hotspots around the state. Four Birding Blitzes still have openings, including: the Southern Kettle Moraine (Friday, May 23rd), the Buena Vista Grassland (Saturday, May 24th), Birding Hot Spots of Green Bay Bird City (Saturday, May 24th), and Birding Blitz Door County (Saturday, May 31st). A fifth Birding Blitz at Wyalusing Haunts (Friday, May 23rd) is listed as “Full,” but if that’s the one that would work for you, it never hurts to call the Natural Resources Foundation (866-264-4096) to see if there have been cancellations.

Blue mound (Flickr Photo by Jonathan Bloy)

Blue mound (Photo by Jonathan Bloy, at Flickr)

The ever-so-popular field trips of Wisconsin’s NRF

Speaking of the field  trips sponsored by Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin – both the quality and the popularity of these programs mean they fill up fast. Right now nearly 80 trips listed for June through November are listed as “full,” while only 40, or so, still have openings. In The Green Travel Guide to Southern Wisconsin, authors Pat Dillon and Lynne Diebel say “NRF trips offer expert guides, one-of a kind experiences, and remarkable low prices, making these trips among the best outdoor activities in the state. We love these outdoor adventures.”

Here are two examples from the NRF field trips scheduled for June (12 June trips still have openings):

Bluebird Trail Hike:  Come hike along an established bluebird nest-box trail, Friday morning, June 6th, at Muscoda in Iowa County;

Drawing Delights from Willow River: As noted on the schedule, this one is offered especially for artists and sketchers (novices welcome). This unique exploration combines hiking, drawing, and ecology: see and sketch waterfalls, forested slopes, spring flowers and ferns; a botanical illustrator will offer instruction for sketching with pencil, pen, or watercolor.

Flickr photo "Willow River Falls," by zman z28.

Willow River Falls (Photo by zman z28, at Flickr)


Get outdoors with The Nature Conservancy

There are many wonderful ways to “Get Outdoors” in Wisconsin, and here’s one more to consider this week. The Nature Conservancy, which has a presence in all 50 states and 35 other countries around the world, works in Wisconsin by protecting public lands and migratory songbird habitat, and by expanding protected areas, and through working with agriculture to improve water quality. Look at this page with both a map and a list of nature conservancy preserves in the Dairy State. Find a new place you would like to explore, then check out these Guidelines for Visiting a Conservancy preserve.

Peter Matthiessen, novelist and wilderness writer, lifted the cause for cranes

Novelist, naturalist, and wilderness writer Peter Matthiessen, who passed away April 5th, is credited by the International Crane Foundation’s Jim Harris with bringing “our organization and the crane cause to a new level.” After joining ICF in 1992 for a crane workshop held on a river boat on the Amur River, which forms the border between Russia and China, Matthiessen began a personal odyssey to follow all 15 species of cranes on their transcontinental migration journeys. In time a wonderful book, The Birds of Heaven, Travels with Cranes,(2001), and a national speaking tour in concert with ICF, resulted, and raised the visibility of the crane cause to new heights. Jim Harris calls this book “a significant contribution to crane literature and thought,” praising the author’s “evocation of the spirit of cranes.”

To Peter Matthiessen the cranes were “the greatest of the flying birds” and “the most stirring.” He wrote that their “clarion calls out of the farthest skies, summon our attention to our own swift passage on this precious earth.”


Just Hatched! Wild #1-14 (with Updates!)

Updated May 15, 2014

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership confirmed on its Facebook page today that at least 3 chicks have now been born in Wisconsin this nesting season, and the International Crane Foundation adds the identifying numbers of the parents of the newest-hatched chicks.  Both sets of new crane parents – a pair that includes a 2004 female and 2002 male, and a second pair that are both 2009 whooping cranes – have all had experience hatching a chick before.  In fact the older pair have successfully hatched and fledged 2 previous chicks; one of those – w#3 of 2010 is surviving today. This would seem like a promising sign for the 2014 hatchlings!


The first big news of the season! The first-of-the-year whooping crane hatched in the wild in Wisconsin was reported yesterday, May 13! This chick will be known as W#1-14 – signifying that it is the number one wild-hatched chick of 2014.

A whooping crane parent with chick; photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation.

A whooping crane parent with chick; photo courtesy of the International Crane Foundation.

In fact, W#1-14 actually hatched last week, May 8, at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, although the announcement, from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was just made yesterday. First to observe the chick was U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intern Trevor Lauber who said he was specifically looking for a chick from the nest where a whooping crane pair had first been seen incubating on April 9.  ” . . .and sure enough there was a little brown fluffball next to the parent sitting on the nest.”

The parents are a female hatched in 2003 and a 2005 male. According to The Journey North, this is the third time this pair has successfully nested and hatched a wild whooping crane. Their first chick hatched in 2011 but did not survive a month. Their second offspring was hatched in 2012 and survived to fledge and migrate south with them in the fall, and back north in the spring of 2013.

News briefs: Dates & updates

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

Nesting Updates

Impatient for news of whooping crane chicks hatching, The Badger & the Whooping Crane is obsessively checking the Facebook pages of the International Crane Foundation, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, and others.

Eggs are incubating in captive populations and wild whoopers are incubating their own eggs on nests in Wisconsin. The only news, though for today, is the not-unexpected report from Louisiana that a nest built and eggs incubated by one 3-year-old pair (in the new Louisiana Non-migrating Flock) has, after a month, been determined to hold infertile eggs. The fact that the very young pair was able to produce eggs and incubate them faithfully for the full month it would take for a chick to hatch, is still a fact to celebrate.

Dates to Save

Take your mom to the International Crane Foundation Sunday for Mother’s Day. She’ll get in for free! It’s regular price  ($9.50 for adults; $5 for children, 6 – 17) if you’re not somebody’s mom . . . . Another special day is planned at ICF for Endangered Species Day, Saturday, May 17; you’ll get all the details about ICF’s big role in helping bring the Whooping Crane species back from the brink of extinction, and THEN help REintroduce whoopers into the wild right here in Wisconsin . . . .

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening ith the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo - or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening with the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo – or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

And yet another special ICF event to put on your calendar: Buy your ticket ($50 per member, $60 non-members) and reserve your space at An Evening with The Cranes, Saturday, June 21st, from 5 to 8 p.m. at ICF in Baraboo.  You’ll meet the dedicated people who make ICF a worldwide leader in conservation today, and you’ll enjoy a gourmet dinner, craft beers, and wines from around the world (just like the cranes)!

Doesn’t the last Saturday in June sound like the perfect night to plan a backyard campout? That must have been what the National Wildlife Federation was thinking when they picked June 28th for the 10th annual Great American Backyard Campout. Get outside in your favorite backyard or park and enjoy the wonders of the natural world, and know that you’re helping to keep it wonderful. The NWF board of director’s and other NWF friends will give $2 for everyone who is out camping. The money goes to NWF’s wildlife conservation fund.

American Wetlands Month Updates

Do you own a little lakeshore property? Or know someone who does? Here is an opportunity to learn about the “living shoreline” and erosion control practices that protect the natural structure and function of shorelines through the strategic placing of such materials as native plants, sand, and stone. In celebration of American Wetlands Month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering this free webinar, “Living Shorelines – Types , Tools and Techniques,” online Wednesday, May 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. . . . .Here is a report from the Ashland Daily Press on the presentation that Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Executive Director Tracy Hames is giving around the state on the role of wetlands in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. This particular presentation, which more than 70 people attended in two sessions in the Town of Morse last Friday, and the Town of Delta on Saturday, was sponsored by the Bad River Watershed Association.

Egg Harbor: Eco-Town!

Egg Harbor in Door County has become the first municipality in that tourist-rich region to become a certified Eco-Municipality. It joins 24 other municipalities and 4 counties in Wisconsin that have received this certification. This is a program that began in Sweden in 1983. In 2005 Washburn, WI became the first American city to adopt the eco-municipality principles of reducing a community’s “encroachment on nature” while “meeting human needs fairly and efficiently.” Today Wisconsin has more eco-municipalities than any other state in the country.



What to Expect from the 2014 Whooping Crane Nesting Season

Will whooping crane chicks hatch and survive to fledge in Wisconsin this year? That’s always the question at nesting season, but the need to get a ‘Yes!’ for an answer is growing more urgent.

Add to that basic question some other urgent ones as well. Will the cranes again abandon many nests when they are driven from them by clouds of tiny, biting black flies? Will they re-nest after black fly season? It’s been a cold, frozen spring in Wisconsin – will there even be a black fly season that coincides with crane-nesting season this year? And finally, when a chick does hatch will its’ crane parents be able to protect it until it can fly away from danger on its own?

As reported last week in The Badger and the Whooping Crane, although there have been many nests built by the whooping cranes of the Eastern Migratory Population since 2005 (over 130), far too few chicks have hatched and survived. Only 29 chicks have hatched, and a mere half-dozen of those survived to fledge – 1 chick in 2006, 2 in 2010, 2 more in 2012, and 1 in 2013.

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010 - one of the few breeding seasons to yield "survivors."

A USFWS photo of a whooping crane pair with two tiny chicks at Necedah NWR in 2010 – one of the few breeding seasons to yield “survivors.”

An experiment to suppress the biting black flies that seem to be driving the cranes off their nests at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge was conducted during the cranes’ breeding seasons of 2011 and 2012. It did result in improved incubation success, but Peter Fasbender, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership co-chair told me last week in an email that incubation improvement, by itself, wasn’t enough.

WCEP Makes the Case for More Study and More Second Nests

Nine chicks were hatched in 2012 – a record for the EMP, but only two survived to fledge, and join their parents on migration. The low survival rate–particularly of chicks from first nests–is also what concerns WCEP, Fasbender said. “Black fly emergence during the incubation phase contributes to failure in this area,” (nesting) “but our study has shown this is only part of the problem.”

Fasbender added that WCEP observations show that chicks have a much better chance of surviving to fledge if they are hatched from re-nests–the second nests that whooping crane pairs sometimes build if their first nesting attempt has failed. Thus, this year WCEP, is tackling the problems of ‘nest abandonment’ and ‘low chick survival’ with new tools, one of them being an emphasis on getting at least some of the cranes to re-nest. WCEP plans to remove eggs from half the nests early in the spring. (The undisturbed nests will act as a control group, Fasbender said.) The goal of doing this is to encourage whooping crane pairs to re-nest later in the season, when the black fly emergence has passed and there is a higher chance of chick survival, as well.

The second new tool that WCEP has announced this year is a $210,000 grant that has been awarded to Necedah NWR from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Recovery Initiative, to “expand the limited understanding of multiple factors that influence nesting whooping cranes.” Necedah was one of only four refuges selected to receive such a grant this year. It will support 3 years of efforts to study and manage the cranes’ nesting season.

More History of the Black Fly Problem

Curious for more information about the black fly problems and the experiment to suppress them (and what, if anything, that might mean for the future) I visited WCEP’s webpages about its nest productivity studies, as well as “The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Five Year Strategic Plan 2011 – 2015,” and its “March 2014 Status Report & Updates.”

Two specific black fly species that target birds to feed on have been identified at Necedah NWR. I learned they emerge with the first significant warm weather every year, always seeming to coincide with the whooping cranes’ nesting season–identified at WCEP’s “History of Nesting Efforts” as late April to mid-June. By 2008 there was enough anecdotal observations of large numbers of flies near nesting cranes, and photos of flies all over eggs in abandoned nests and that, combined with “lower than expected reproductive success,” prompted WCEP to launch “detailed nesting studies in 2009 and 2010,” and also, to search for an alternate future breeding territory to replace Necedah.

Whooping crane nesting success went up in 2012, after WCEP implemented the experimental black fly suppression program in both 2011 and 2012. This involved identifying the breeding sites of the flies and treating them with Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis), described as a biological control agent. The result was that the black fly population decreased, and in 2012, 9 whooping crane chicks were hatched, though as previously mentioned, only 2 chicks survived to fledge. As committed as WCEP is to addressing the low chick survival through more study and re-nesting, a Bti Summary Statement for 2014″ reports that talks will continue within WCEP about the use of Bti as a management tool (rather than just as an experiment) at some point in the future.

A New Breeding Territory for Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin

As mentioned above, WCEP began a search for a second location for the cranes’ nesting territory once the black fly problem was positively identified with Necedah. By 2011 this alternative, free of any large-scale black fly problem, had been identified on the eastern side of the state and chicks were being trained to fly with the ultralights at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, and DAR chicks were being released at Horicon NWR. This would insure that the youngest cranes would migrate back to these areas and eventually, when mature, form pairs and build nests there.

An adult whooping crane pair in the Eastern Migratory Population. WCEP is hoping there will soon be many of these in the new breeding territory in Wisconsin. (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP)

An adult whooping crane pair that live within the captive population at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. (Photo by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP)

Today there are 15 adult whooping cranes–7 that are DAR (direct autumn release) cranes and 8 ultralight-trained birds–that were the first to start their migrations from these eastern Wisconsin locations in 2011. They are now 3 years old, and generally thought too young to form pair bonds and produce fertile eggs. But it is hoped it won’t be long now before this group does form pairs and begins to produce chicks.

In fact, it was reported at the Operation Migration Field Journal, that two of the 2011 bird have indeed paired, and built a nest in the White River Marsh SWA. It was discovered by a Wisconsin DNR pilot on April 24th, and reported by Journey North as still active April 30th. A good sign? You bet!

Please stay tuned as we learn whatever answers the 2014 nesting season may yield.

News briefs: All about May, and more

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

Eastern Migratory Population Update

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has issued the newest population update for the EMP, a period covering March 1 to April 30, 2014. It finds, “93 birds in Wisconsin, 4 not recently reported, 1 suspected mortality, and 3 long-term missing” for a possible maximum of 101 cranes.

The Badger & the Whooping Crane had focused earlier this spring on the return of the youngest cranes to Wisconsin, the ones making their first, unaided migration north, and is happy to report now that three more have been accounted for since that earlier report. The International Crane Foundation posted on its Facebook page that DAR chick, Mork, has been reported in Green Lake County, and the newest WCEP Update reports the two parent-reared chicks, # 22-13 and #24-13 back in the state.

May is American Wetlands Month

See the website of the Wisconsin Wetlands Association to learn why wetlands matter. Or visit their Facebook page to see the many reasons to explore a wetland: “Reason #1: Wetlands are watershed workhorses.” And if you happen to have any great wetland photos you’d be willing to share, email them at

May is “Magnificent whooping Crane Month” at the Patuxent Research Refuge

A series of free public programs at the Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland are planned as a celebration in May of Magnificent Whooping Crane Month. Migration stories will be shared by Brooke Pennypacker one of Operation Migration’s ultralight pilots, as the headline attraction for Saturday, May 17th. All the events (check them out at the Magnificent Whooping Crane Month link!) will be held at the National Wildlife Visitor Center, part of the Patuxent Refuge complex.


The 2014 Door County Festival of Nature, May 22 – 24

The Ridges Sanctuary is hosting the 12th annual Door County Festival of Nature. The celebration for 2014 will take place May 22, 23, and 24, and includes such diverse opportunities as a full-day birding outing on Washington Island, a chance to study lake ecology aboard a Great Lakes research vessel, a tour of the uninhabited, and usually-inaccessible Plum Island, and a tour of the certified-organic Waseda Farms.

The International Crane Foundation Celebrates Three New Honors

The Jerome J. Pratt Whooping Crane award has been presented to ICF Founder George Archibald by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. ICF’s Dr.K.S. Gopi Sunder was one of five conservation biologists in India to receive the Carl Zeiss Conservation Award, and the International Institute of Wisconsin is presenting its Corporate Citizen Award to ICF on Saturday, May 3rd.

Whooping Cranes Sitting on Nests!

Coming soon to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership: newly-hatched crane chicks!

The eggs are being incubated (gathered from whooping cranes in the captive populations at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation); add to that the good news that paired whooping cranes in the wild are sitting on nests in both Louisiana and Wisconsin. Those who work professionally on behalf of the whooping crane species, and those who just love them from afar – all are collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what the immediate future for whooping cranes is going to look like. Will the coming year be filled with more hopes than worries? Or the other way ’round?

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo couresty USGS Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo courtesy Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

For starters, the number of chicks hatched in captivity, then costume-reared, will once again be split among 3 different release programs: a group that will be trained to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration, another group for Direct Autumn Release, and a third group that will be released with the new non-migrating flock in Louisiana. While there is always the hope for a bountiful crop of chicks to be shared by all three programs, there is also the real possibility that each program will have to settle for less than the hoped-for number of chicks.

The true hope for WCEP is represented by those cranes building nests in the wild – they’re the key to WCEP’s main goal of establishing a new, self-sustaining flock of wild whooping cranes. They are also the cause of so much of the breath-holding and anxiety regarding the breeding season for the Eastern Migratory Population of whoopers.

Over the years, the EMP whooping cranes have engaged in an impressive amount of nest-building in Wisconsin, but with little to show for it. According to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, only 29 chicks have been hatched from the more than 100 nests built since 2005, and few of those hatched chicks have survived. The WCEP partners are engaged in various studies, including a recent effort at Bti suppression of black flies (in 2011 and 2012) which have been seen harassing the nesting cranes, and a just-launched 3-year intensive study of the whooping cranes’ nesting habits at Necedah NWR.

Look closely for the two eggs on the whooper nest! (Photo courtesy, international Crane Foundation)

Hopefully, successful breeding seasons will soon result, as the WCEP partners discover more answers. I asked WCEP co-chair, Peter Fasbender, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officer based in northeastern Wisconsin, about this, and he told me, via email:

“Wisconsin whooping cranes are doing some things well. Their survival rate is good. Their migration patterns are well-established in both spring and fall. They appear to arrive back in breeding territory in good physical condition as indicated by what appears to be normal courtship, breeding, and nesting habits.”

Then he added: “Here is where whooping cranes begin to have issues. While many are successful in laying eggs and initiating incubation, very few make it to egg-hatching phase. Black fly emergence during the incubation phase contributes to failure in this area, but our study has shown this is only part of the problem.”

Peter Fasbender had more to say about nest failure, and what WCEP is doing this year, instead of more black fly suppression. The Badger and the Whooping Crane will cover this and include more information about the pesky black flies, in a second post about the 2014 nesting season next week.

I’d be remiss, though, not to mention right now two especially newsworthy nests that are being watched for chick hatchings: in Louisiana, the newly reintroduced non-migratory flock has a pair of 3-year-olds that are sitting on a nest with two eggs. The prospective crane parents are young to successfully raise a chick, and it’s possible that the eggs are not fertile. But the nest was first observed in late March, so if a chick is to hatch from it, there will be headlines about this very soon.

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

And in Wisconsin, another pair of 3-year-old cranes appears to have a nest in the White River Marsh release area. Operation Migration announced it earlier this week on their Facebook page. The project to train young chicks to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration was moved from Necedah NWR to this release area in 2011, and these cranes are from the first class trained in this new location. The nest at White River Marsh is a “first,” and a very exciting development for the 2014 breeding season!