This Could Be Yours: A 2-Week Vacation With the Whooping Cranes

Well, ok, it IS a Working Vacation, but for the right person – and maybe that’s YOU – this could be the adventure of a lifetime. Operation Migration, which is currently training seven of the whooping crane chicks of 2014 to follow their ultralight aircraft, is seeking a corps of volunteers, each to sign up for a 2-week stretch, to assist with the fall migration.

Come late September, or maybe sometime in October, the aircraft, the pilots, the whooping cranes, and a ground crew hauling lots of equipment, will leave the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Wisconsin and begin the long journey to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Ultralight training of juvenile whooping cranes in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy, WCEP)

Ultralight training of juvenile whooping cranes in Wisconsin. This is a file photo courtesy, of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. The class of 2014 cranes have not yet progressed to flying with the ultralight, instead – for now – they follow behind as the aircraft taxis along the ground.

It’s a journey of 1,100 miles but what makes it soooo long is the necessity of perfect weather for the cranes to fly with the ultralights.  The cranes could fly faster, but they are just learning the migration route and need the OM planes and pilots to teach them.  And the ultralights could make a more efficient journey without the cranes following. But since, for the purposes of this journey they are linked together, they will wait for perfect flying conditions. Sometimes that means day, after day, after day, of grounded cranes and planes.

Operation Migration's efforts to train whooping cranes to migrate with ultralights begins with the little cranes following the ultralight as it taxis along the ground. (USFWS photo)

Operation Migration’s efforts to train whooping cranes to migrate with ultralights begins with the little cranes following the ultralight as it taxis along the ground. (USFWS photo)

If you were chosen to fill one of these 2-week volunteer slots, you would be helping to drive the motorhomes and portable pen site equipment that accompanies the birds and flight crew. You would be helping to set up the stopover sites, and maybe helping to track an occasional straying crane. You would be working with the team – the only one in the world – that is using the ultralights to teach these endangered and beautiful birds the migration route that makes possible their reintroduction to Wisconsin.

Operation Migration has always relied on volunteers: “Apart from the three pilots and outreach staff,many of the bird handlers and tracking people are volunteers,” OM pilot Joe Duff explains at the OM Field Journal. And it has always required folks with a very open schedule and a desire to commit a significant part of their year to the cause of the whooping cranes.

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

Two grown up whooping cranes photographed in Wisconsin by birder Dale Bonk in 2013.

Until this year, that is.  This year OM has decided to experiment with seeking a higher number of volunteers, for the much briefer commitment of 2 weeks.”Rather than asking you to give up an indefinite amount of your fall and early winter, we are asking you for two weeks,” said Joe. OM came up with this plan, in hopes that ” . . . a specific end date would make it simpler for people to plan ahead. . .” Joe is anticipating this will generate new interest in joining the migration team.  Many are willing to assist, he said, but have found it too difficult with the open-ended schedule and their own needs and obligations.

Whether you would actually consider this rare opportunity, or would just like to learn more about all that’s involved with it, go here, and read all about it at the Field Journal. Really, do. This is a fascinating part of the whooping crane reintroduction story.

Conservation Stories to Pass Along

Here are links to 4 conservation stories – 2 success stories and 2 cautions – of interest and concern to Wisconsinites. They caught my attention through various email sources and I’m sharing them here at The Badger & the Whooping Crane because I know others will enjoy and appreciate them, just as much, and hopefully pass them on to people that they know will appreciate them, as well.

If you only have time for one of these items today, I hope you’ll scroll down and read the last one!

EcoWatch Names Sustainability Champs

In one of my daily emails from EcoWatch – an online source for environmental news that I’m reading more and more – I found a Wisconsin organic food company named to a listing of “The 10 Most Inspirational Sustainability Initiatives in the U.S.” You’ve probably heard of Organic Valley, or know its food products, but did you know that it’s a farmer-owned cooperative based in LaFarge, a small rural community in the western part of the state?

Dairyherd - photo courtesy, Organic Valley.

Dairyherd – photo courtesy, Organic Valley.

You may not know that it began in 1988 with a handful of farmers in Wisconsin’s coulee region concerned about the future of the family farm, and today it includes over 1800 farms spread across the continental U.S. And that it quickly grew into “the number one source for organic milk in the nation.” You can learn a lot more about this organic food local success story at Organic Valley’s data rich website. It’s interactive “Find Your Farmer” tool is fun – that alone is worth a web trip.

Seeing “the big picture” with the LightHawk Pilots

I only occasionally get an email from LightHawk, but when it comes, it’s always interesting. LightHawk is an organization of 200 volunteer pilots who make flights in small aircraft in 32 states and 10 countries on behalf of conservation initiatives. Getting an aerial perspective of the land that will be impacted by a conservation issue, they believe, “changes the way we see Earth. We mobilize volunteer pilots, photographers, environmental experts and storytellers to make images, collect data, inform the public, and share their experiences.”

Their work also includes wildlife surveys and wildlife survival flights. At the website you can access this fascinating Project Map. Zoom in on Wisconsin and you’ll see that they’ve made 8 flights for the International Crane Foundation, 1 for U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and 1 for a FracTracker project in 2012 and 2013.

Wisconsin Is Putting Public Land Up for Sale?

That’s the message Ann Sayers of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is sharing with her members. Ten thousand acres of Wisconsin public land “is now being sold off to private interests . . .state leaders voted for the first time ever to require that public lands be sold off.”

The WLCV has a lot of good information about this issue at its website, including it’s page “Protecting Wisconsin’s Land,” and a link to this Wisconsin DNR site that describes criteria the DNR has developed to comply with this provision for the land sale which was included in the 2013-2015 state budget.

Last but Never Least: Dispose of Dangerous Fishing Line

And last, I want to include this cautionary tale from Kathleen Harris the Naturalist at Peninsula State Park. Although it’s last, it may be the most important item here today for everyone who is thinking of dipping a fishing line in the waters of Wisconsin – or anywhere! Kathleen’s story was published in the Peninsula Pulse in Door County in May. It ends happily enough, but if not for her quick identification of the problem, and her assistance in removing tangled, nearly invisible fishing line wound around the feet of a tiny bird, it would have been – most likely – the end of that bird.

Kathleen’s simple message: put your wasted fishing line in the trash. It’s such a little thing, but left undisposed of, it can easily harm and kill innocent little living things.







George Archibald: “Leverages the Charisma of Cranes”

Yesterday was the birthday of George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, headquartered in Baraboo, WI. George is one of those persons who are key to the progress of the whooping crane over the past 40 years – and really key to progress made for endangered cranes all over the world.

George Archibald, after a speaking engagement at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County in July 2012. (Photo by Kathlin Sickel)

George Archibald, after a speaking engagement at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County in July 2012. (Photo by Kathlin Sickel)

Many happy birthday wishes were left at the Facebook page of ICF including one that said “The world is a better place because of you and your work,” and I certainly would be one of many who would second that sentiment! George Archibald and the International Crane Foundation are known all over the world, for good reason. And Wisconsin can bask in the reflected glory since ICF is a homegrown success story thanks to this Canadian who has made Baraboo his home for over 40 years.

At the ICF bio page for Archibald, it says that “He leverages the charisma of cranes to united people of diverse cultures and countries to work together . . . for the survival of both cranes and people..”

Here is a neat photo – cranes in a farm field, a Wisconsin horse barn behind them. This is the first site of ICF, founded in 1973. (Photo courtesy of ICF):


To learn more about George Archibald, and ICF, and also Rick Beilfuss, Archibald’s successor as President of the Foundation, read “Birds of a Feather: 40 Years Later . . . published a year ago at the Portage Daily Register.

Growing Up Fast: The Baby Cranes of 2014!

Yes, the baby cranes are growing fast, and the whooping crane nesting season of 2014 is fading into history – to be studied and analyzed at length for future predictions and recommendations. The tiny whooping cranes that have resulted from this year’s eggs are quickly turning into substantial cinnamon-feathered crane kids, standing tall on the longest, skinniest legs you’ve ever seen. A baby whooping, within days of hatching, looks this – on the right:

 (An International Crane Foundation photo)

(An International Crane Foundation photo)

[ That’s a whooping crane puppet, with a days-old chick. The puppet is used to help train chicks in both the ultralight and direct autumn release programs. The chicks are costume-reared after hatching from the eggs of cranes in the captive populations.]

 (A Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership photo)

(A Whooping Crane Eastern Partnerhip photo)

Now, within weeks of hatching, it looks more like this (below), yet, the young crane colt in the picture is considerably more mature than the 2014 ultralight chicks at this time. To see exactly what they look like right now follow this link to the Operation Migration Field Journal, and you’ll find five photos taken by OM volunteer Doug Pellerin, of Wisconsin’s newest, youngest whooping cranes.

These chicks have been allotted to the ultralight-led migration training program. They hatched in May at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and have been in training there – getting used to the sight and sound of the ultralight “trike” – until this past week.

On Tuesday (July 8), as happens every year to the chicks that begin life and ultralight training at Patuxent, they were placed in individual crates, and driven silently to the airport in Baltimore, Md., then flown to Wisconsin on a private jet courtesy of Windway Capital of Sheboygan.

(Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

Although this picture shows the arrival of a whooping crane chick in Louisiana for the Crane Restoration project that began there in 2011, it is a copy of the scene that unfolded seven times in Wisconsin last Tuesday afternoon. (Photo courtesy of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries)

Their flight left Baltimore at 9:30 a.m. and by mid-afternoon, the new Wisconsin chicks were being released at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, where two large pens – one dry, one wet, will be their home, and a grassy runway will be their daily exercise and training site for the weeks from now until migration.

That’s the basic report on the life, to date, of the ultralight chicks of 2014. Of course it follows, with only small variations, the early days of all the whooping cranes that started life as ultralight trainees in the Eastern Migratory Population since 2001.

But that’s only part of the story of the whooping crane hatchlings of 2014. Eight more chicks are being raised, in other ways, to join the EMP whooping cranes. Here’s a brief rundown of who and where they are right now.

Four chicks are being costumed-raised at International Crane Foundation for the Direct Autumn Release program. They will eventually be taken to Horicon NWR and released near adult Sandhill cranes, in hopes that they will follow the adults on migration.

Four more chicks are to be released into the new (as of 2013) experimental “foster family” program. This program is officially known as the “parent-reared release program,” meaning that they are currently being raised at Patuxent by the captive cranes which hatched them. Later this summer they will be brought to Wisconsin and released near adult whooping crane pairs that have no chick, hopefully to be adopted by them and taught the migration route in that foster family.

Last, but really most important, are the chicks that hatched in the wild this year in Wisconsin.  While a record number of 11 chicks were hatched here, as of June 24th, only 2 are confirmed alive (although I believe there is still the possibility that a third chicks survives).  The survivors that have been confirmed are wild chick #1 of 2014, and #3-14.  On July 8th, ICF posted this beautiful photo of #3-14 with its two wild parents.  Don’t miss this one!



Big Media Taking a Rare Look at Rare Whooping Cranes

It’s not every week, or even every month, that big media outlets focus their resources, and devote time and real space to any of the many stories that can be told about the endangered whooping crane species, but this week the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has published a full-length feature on the status of the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes – the ones that make Wisconsin their home and breeding grounds. And, the Western flock – the Aransas Wood Buffalo Population is in the news because of a federal court ruling.

A 3-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier court’s decision that held that irresponsible water-permitting by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was responsible for the death’s of 23 whooping cranes. This Texas court case is being well-covered at the Friends of the Wild Whoopers blog, which has links at the blog and more on its Facebook page, to statements from the International Crane Foundation, the National Wildlife Federation, and The Aransas Project which was the plaintiff in the case. it also features coverage from the American Statesman of Texas. I can offer one more, from Texas Lawyer. I’ve been following that publication for more than a year, knowing that this case was on appeal, and expecting that the Texas Lawyer might comment about it one day, and here it is.

But back to the whoopers in Wisconsin. I know that Reporter Lee Bergquist, who wrote the article in the Journal-Sentinel, has covered news from the Wisconsin flock from time-to-time, but usually it’s a short notice about the beginning of the ultralight-led migration in the fall, or a report on deaths or injuries of cranes, things like that.

An adult whooping crane pair, photographed at the International Crane Foundation, by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP.

An adult whooping crane pair, photographed at the International Crane Foundation, by Joel Trick, used courtesy of WCEP.

This one is a much longer piece, well-written, and includes interviews with a couple of key figures from the world of whooping cranes, Peter Fasbender of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who is also a co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, the other co-chair, Barry Hartup of the International Crane Foundation, and Wade Harrell who is the chair of the U.S. and Canadian Whooping Crane Recovery Team. It also includes a map of the migration route for these cranes, a population graph, and a photo gallery.

All-in-all, it’s very nice coverage for any project to receive, but I know that craniacs (and I guess I’d be remiss not to say that includes me) must be cringing at the negativity implied with the word “struggling,” tossed around in the article and its headlines. I guess I’ll have more to say about this at The Badger and the Whooping Crane next week.

Keeping Score: The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Grades the Lawmakers

The new month of July has dawned with the annual Conservation Scorecard from the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters at the top of my InBox. It’s always an interesting resource, and to me it seems well worth the price of a membership with WLCV.

This one was particularly nice to get since it identifies some bi-partisan co-operation on important conservation issues and some hope for Wisconsin’s tradition of strong protections for natural resources. And it gives the credit for that renewed bi-partisan spirit not to the politicians in our state legislature, but to the thousands of engaged Wisconsinites who kept the pressure on their state lawmakers to do the right thing for clean air and water.

IMG_2451 (2)

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful: At Necedah NWR (A Badger & Whooping Crane photo).


“We were happy to see glimmers of Wisconsin’s nonpartisan conservation legacy this session” said Ann Sayers, the Program Director WLCV, noting that more than anything, this year’s Scorecard “tells the story of the power of individuals to successfully protect their air, land, and water. It’s their efforts that prevented the terrible groundwater bill and both frac sand mining bills from ever seeing the light of day.”

[The groundwater bill referred to, SB302, would have prevented the DNR from considering the cumulative impacts of high capacity wells throughout the state; the frac sand mining bills were attempts to prevent, or limit, local authorities from having any say in regulating sand mining in their communities.]

Sayers went on to say that on the biggest defensive measures – efforts to stop bills that were deemed harmful to natural resources – the conservation interests prevailed 75% of the time. The place where natural resources took a real hit, Sayers said, was the Open-pit Mining Bill “which exempted iron mines from having to meet most environmental laws. it passed despite the historic outpouring of citizen opposition.”

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful (A Flickr photo "Willow River Falls," by zman z28.)

Keep Wisconsin Beautiful (A Flickr photo “Willow River Falls,” by zman z28.)


The Conservation Scorecard 2013-2014 lists the way our elected state reps and senators voted on six bills, and assigns them a score for these votes and also a “lifetime score.” It includes A Conservation Honor Roll and a DIShonor Roll.

The Scorecard also offers an explanation of each bill, as well as an analysis of the legislative session, an enlightening Case Study (“What One Week and a Lot of Conservationists Can Do”), an analysis of the Good News and Bad News for conservation to be found in the State Budget, and tips for communicating with your legislator.

If you click on this link for the Conservation Scorecard 2013-2014, you will get the 16-page booklet as a pdf-file. If you join the WLCV, a hard copy will come in your mail. As the WLCV says: “Before you vote, know the score!”