Monday Night Blogging: Pictures from a Busy Weekend

It WAS a busy weekend! Visiting ICF all day Saturday, and hiking at a Door County Land Trust site yesterday, all took place in weather that felt more “late summer” than “early fall” – that’s weather we Wisconsin folk love, but can never count on.

Member Appreciation Day at ICF

On Saturday I had the good fortune to attend the Membership Appreciation Day held once a year at the International Crane Foundation – something I haven’t been able to do before because of scheduling conflicts.

A Black Crowned crane (native of West Africa) was so patient about the photographers!

A Black Crowned crane (native of West Africa) was a patient model for the photographers.

I do think that for the modest amount of the membership fee ($25 or $35 for a single; $50 for a family), if you only use it once a year – to visit the cranes on Member Appreciation-Day, it would still be a great bargain. The guided tours by the experts, the behind-the-scenes tours, and all the Q & A opportunities with the experts – that’s an amazing amount of access to the scientists who are protecting cranes all over the world for just the price of becoming a member.

Groups toured at Crane City during Membership Appreciation Day. At all other times this is an off-limits facility for visitors at ICF.

Groups toured at Crane City during Membership Appreciation Day. At all other times this is an off-limits facility for visitors at ICF.

And, or course you can also use your annual membership for free admittance for yourself and 2 or 3 guests, all season long. It’s just that on the once-a-year special appreciation day, you have the extra benefit of meeting and learning from so many of the staff.

I’ll be writing more about what I did and learned at Membership Appreciation Day, soon.

And a Short Hike at Legacy Nature Preserve at Clay Banks

I received a tip last week, through the Door County Land Trust, that a gathering of Monarch butterflies – a large gathering, I think – had been attracted to the Legacy Nature Preserve at Clay Banks, by its September-blooming fields. “Apparently they are stocking up on goldenrod nectar before migration south,” wrote the Land Trust’s Communications Coordinator, Cinnamon Rossman.

A well-defined trail through the tall grass, from the parking lot . . .

A well-defined trail through the tall grass, on a gentle up-slope from the parking lot to the top of a bluff.      

By the time I could check this out yesterday, there were no Monarchs to be found – no doubt already off on their migration. (Here is a link from the Woodland Dunes Nature Center in Manitowoc that explains the four generations of Monarch butterflies that occur in a year’s time; and the final one that is the migrating generation, the one that flies thousands of miles to forests in northern Mexico.) Despite the lack of butterflies, there was still plenty of blooming goldenrod, and it was easy to visualize how it would attract the Monarchs. We also enjoyed a good hiking trail from the parking to the top of a bluff, then down through fields and meadows to Lake Michigan below.

You can find Legacy Nature Preserve along Lake Michigan (at 1188 S. Lake Michigan Drive) in the area called Clay Banks. This is south of Sturgeon Bay.

More photos of the Legacy Nature Preserve at Clay Banks:

Goldenrod was first spotted at the crest of the hill.

Goldenrod was first spotted at the crest of the hill.

 

Then more goldenrod and Lake Michigan in the distance.

Then more goldenrod and Lake Michigan in the distance.                                                                

 

And there was a mass of goldenrod along a ridge, in either direction, about as far as the eye could see.

And there was a mass of goldenrod along a ridge, in either direction, about as far as the eye could see.

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The Accidental Craniac

Today I’m reblogging a gem from a friend, Ingrid, who blogs at Live, Laugh, RV, where she published these insights and glorious crane photos after visiting the International Crane Foundation in August.

She and I met up for a long luncheon chat at Sturgeon Bay’s busy little Bluefront Cafe right after she had been to the crane foundation. This is remarkable only for the fact that it was actually the first time we had ever met in the real world. Ingrid and her husband Al, formerly of Colorado, are full-time RV-ers, meaning that “home” for them is anywhere they point their house on wheels. For a couple of weeks this past August, it’s Wisconsin they were calling “home.”

"Seen any whoopers?" people kept asking her. (Photo by Ingrid at "Live, Laugh, RV; used with permission)

“Seen any whoopers?” people kept asking her. (Photo by Ingrid at “Live, Laugh, RV; used with permission)

When I first encountered Ingrid in the blogosphere two years ago, she didn’t quite know what a “craniac” was. In fact, she didn’t even know what a whooping crane was when she was first photographing them all over Rockport, TX – framing shot, after amazing shot – until someone said. . . . . .

Never mind. Ingrid explains it best, just below. Right there in her post, “The Accidental Craniac:”  Have a look!

On the Road: Some History, and a Walk Across the Missouri River

Over the weekend The Badger & the Whooping Crane (or rather this writer for TB&WC) took a quick trip to Omaha, Nebraska, and very much enjoyed its downtown waterfront on the Missouri River. Omaha, it turns out has a great park system – highly rated on a list of the nation’s best park systems. We had a good time at the city’s most-visited park area: the 23-acre Lewis and Clark Landing on the riverfront, just east of Omaha’s Century Link Convention Center.

Have a look at the view here across, and up the Missouri River. The city of Omaha, its convention center, hotels, etc – all that was just a short distance behind me when I took this photo, September 19th. But amazingly, I felt I was seeing a vista that might not be so different from what Lewis & Clark saw in 1804 (except for what is probably a small motor boat on the end of the island).

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This park is named, as you surely know, for the 8,000 mile, 2 year expedition led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark, (1804-06). Traveling to the west, up the Missouri River, and eventually reaching the Pacific coast via the Columbia River, the expedition was camped along the Missouri, a bit north of the future site of Omaha during early August, in 1804.

At the northern edge of the Lewis & Clark Landing is the Midwest Regional Headquarters of the National Park Service. This new (2004), innovative and LEED-certified building also houses a Visitor’s Center for the Lewis & Clark National HIstoric Trail. But we were mostly interested in another feature in the same area of the Omaha riverfront: the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge, providing a scenic walkway across the river to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Here is a view of the bridge, as it curves down to ground level, in Iowa:  

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It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and the bridge had plenty of traffic, but “relaxed” traffic, as families and hikers and bikers were making the quick trek over to Iowa and back. We all were approximately 60 feet above the Missouri River with great views in every direction.

Here are a few more bridge statistics: it opened in 2008. It is a cable-stayed bridge, meaning cables at the top of the bridge’s two tall towers fan out to attach to and hold up the bridge. It is 3,000 feet in length, and the surface walkway is 15 feet wide. Best of all, in my opinion, is that this bridge is a hub connecting to 150 miles of trails.

And another view of the bridge; in this case, looking down river, back toward Omaha:

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I found several short online reviews of the Kerry Pedestrian Bridge – mostly superlatives, but one commenter said simply, “It’s just a bridge.” That got me thinking about bridges in general, and how important they are.

Even the simplest foot bridge connects the creatures in one area to creatures and resources in another that would mostly remain inaccessible without a bridge. I was reminded too, of an article, 10 Important Wildlife Corridors, at the Mother Nature Network. It describes over and underpasses, ecoducts, corridors, and green belts that connect wildlife to each other and to protected refuges. Don’t you think that’s welcome news? Innovation for wildlife which is facing shrinking habitat in a world developed for human needs.

Next for DAR Chicks of 2015: Into the Wild

Eight tall whooping crane chicks that hatched from eggs at the International Crane Foundation this spring were transferred last week to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. This was step two in the process of creating this year’s cohort of Direct Autumn Release whooping cranes. The direct autumn release method is the second method that is used for re-introducing migrating whooping cranes into Wisconsin.

Early Training Days of the  DAR Chicks

In step one, the eight chicks were nurtured and reared from the moment of hatching, at ICF, by humans in white costumes (the same early training given to the ultralight chicks being trained by Operation Migration). The costumed-caretakers carry a very life-like looking whooping crane puppet head, and use a brood call vocalizer and gesture with the puppet head to teach life lessons – like foraging for food – to the chicks.

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

In this International Crane Foundation photo, a whooping crane parent is teaching its chick how to forage for food;  see how captive-bred chicks learn this survival skill in the photo on the right.

Wanting to understand more about the DAR program, I had an email conversation with Anne Lacy who is ICF’s crane research coordinator. Anne confirmed that ICF is the lead partner for the direct autumn release method. Just as Operation Migration takes the lead for training a cohort to learn migration by following ultralight aircraft,  ICF hatches and rears the Direct Autumn Release cohort. Both ICF and OM are among the nine founding partners of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

 A whooper chick that hatched from an egg of the captive population is then raised by disguised and costumed humans, using aids like this puppet head of an adult whooping crane. (An International Crane Foundation photo)

Using aids like the whooping crane puppet head in this photo, a costume-caretaker teaches life skills to the little captive-bred chick. Compare this to the “real thing” in the photo on the left.  (Photo courtesy of International Crane Foundation)

Now at Horicon, these eight tall DAR chicks of 2015, are still in the care of costumed caretakers. But they’ll see other wild cranes; sandhill cranes mostly, but their own cousins, the whooping cranes, too, and begin to associate with all of them. In 6 weeks, or 8 weeks, or maybe longer, the adult cranes in this environment will be leaving in groups on migration south. The expectation for the DAR whoopers is that they, too, will begin their own migration in the company of these mature cranes.

Learning to Explore at Horicon 

Anne Lacy, graciously sharing her time and expertise, filled in more details of their training at Horicon:  ” . . .they have a pen for safety with food provided, but they go out and about everyday and explore, and learn to eat the ‘real’ thing! They will be released in a few weeks (beginning of October) and then they will be considered part of the EMP and counted in the population totals.”

The direct autumn release method for teaching migration to whooping cranes that are from a captive-bred population was first tried in 2005. This was after four years of training ultralight chicks to learn the migration route by following the small aircraft. By then between 40 and 50 adult cranes were migrating reliably each fall from Wisconsin and back each spring.

Like the ultralight-trained whoopers, the DAR birds also became reliable migrating adults. There has been a DAR cohort of whooper chicks every year since, with one exception: in 2014, there were only 4 chicks available for the direct autumn release program, and WCEP made the decision to cancel it and allocate the chicks to a non-migratory flock that is being established in Louisiana.

Origin of the DAR Idea

What was the original impetus for experimenting with this Direct Autumn Release method?  Did it all start with ICF, I asked Anne Lacy?  She explained:  “It wasn’t entirely an ICF concept, more of a concept coming from the captive rearing community (of which ICF is, of course, a big part). There have been so many folks involved in captive rearing for release over the years, this method was always one that held promise and ICF was in a position to use it for the releases in Wisconsin.”

Looking at the biographical data for each chick hatched into the Eastern Migratory Population of whoopers (available at The Journey North website), I’ve counted 69 chicks that have been hatched, costume-reared, and then released to the big wide world in the autumn; 23 of those birds are mature, migrating survivors – almost a quarter of the EMP today.

With the release of this year’s 8 DAR birds, hopes are high – as always! – that the bump in population numbers provided by this cohort will be fruitful and long-lasting. And, as always, with creatures that live in the wild some will thrive and some probably not, but hopes remain high for now, for each and every one of them!

Monday Morning Blogging: What is The Great Lakes Compact?

Although there are numerous complexities to creating it, what the Great Lakes Compact does is easy to understand. It was signed into law in 2008, calling for regional management of the waters of the Great Lakes. And it bans any diversion of Great Lakes water outside the Great Lakes Basin – although “limited exceptions could be allowed in communities near the Basin when rigorous standards are met.”

On Lake Michigan: south of Egg Harbor, WI, September 7, 2015.

On Lake Michigan: south of Egg Harbor, WI, September 7, 2015.

All the Governors of the eight U.S. Great Lakes states have signed The Great Lakes Compact, so it is state law. It was also approved by the U.S. Congress and signed into federal law by President George W. Bush. In addition to the agreement among the Great Lakes states (and they are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) a parallel agreement was signed into law in Canada by the Premiers of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

On Lake Michigan: Near Peninsula State Park, Door County, WI, September 5, 2015.

On Lake Michigan: Near Peninsula State Park, Door County, WI, September 5, 2015.

The Great Lakes Compact has been in the news quite a bit lately – especially in Wisconsin where the city of Waukesha has stepped up to be the first to actually test the Compact. Waukesha, out in the western suburbs of Milwaukee, and just outside the Great Lakes Basin, would like to tap into Great Lakes water and use it for its municipal water system.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay, November 10, 2013.

Along Lake Michigan: a Door County beach, just north of Sturgeon Bay, November 10, 2013.

Waukesha claims it meets the strict criteria to be considered for an exception to the Compact’s no-diversion rule, and the Wisconsin DNR, in agreement, has given them the preliminary approval they need. Now their request moves on to all those other parties in the Compact.

Clumps of Lake Michigan Ice breaking up on Juddville Bay, in Door County, WI, Spring 2014.

Clumps of Lake Michigan Ice breaking up on Juddville Bay, in Door County, WI, Spring 2014.

But many alarms are being sounded by those who have worked hard to create the Compact and know its history. Editorials, comments, and letters, are being written across the region warning of the implications – many more water diversions to come – if Waukesha’s request is granted. You can see these at The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Akron Beacon Journal, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Toledo Blade, The Detroit News, The Waukesha Freeman, and Minnesota Public Radio, for example.

On Lake Michigan near Egg Harbor, WI, September 7, 2015.

On Lake Michigan near Egg Harbor, WI, September 7, 2015.

Last week I learned, in person, a bit more about the compact and Waukesha’s request for a diversion. This was provided at the Door County Environmental Council’s summer meeting in Bailey’s Harbor, by one of the featured speakers of the evening, George Meyer, who leads the Wisconsin Wildlife Foundation. Meyer is also a retired WI DNR chief (having led that agency from 1993 to 2001), and he described the pros and cons of granting Waukesha’s request.

Above, Lake Michigan. For readers unfamiliar with the North American Great Lakes, this is one of the five inland seas that make up the fabulous waters of this region.

The “pros,” said Meyer are that the city is very close to the Basin, and, because it has a radium problem with its water, it can show a potential need. Some of the “cons,” included by Meyer include these: Waukesha is ignoring the fact that it can successfully treat its ground water for radium, and do it for a significant savings to its taxpayers, compared to the expensive diversion plan it is requesting. An opinion column in the Detroit News by Meyer includes mo

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Monday Morning Blogging: The Whooping Crane Festival

Operation Migration teams up with the Princeton (WI) Chamber of Commerce to present the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival this week. There are lots of fun events scheduled, beginning with Thursday night’s welcome dinner at Reilly’s Bar and Pub on Green Lake, and concluding Sunday with a bird walk at White River Marsh and Birding by Boat at Horicon Marsh, beginning at 11 a.m.

You can learn all the details here, but the heart of the Whooping Crane Festival is Saturday with talks and exhibits set up at the Princeton School. The purpose of this post is to acquaint you with who is speaking.

Stan Tekiela is the creator of a popular series of state-specific Field Guides to birds, wildflowers, and trees.

Stan Tekiela is the creator of a popular series of state-specific Field Guides to birds, wildflowers, and trees.

Naturalist, writer, and wildlife photographer Stan Tekelia, is the after-dinner speaker for Friday’s Kickoff dinner which will be held in the Aboretum Room of the Comfort Suites of Royal Ridges.  Stan has authored over 100 field guides, nature appreciation books, and wildlife audio books.

Stan studies and photographs wildlife throughout the United States, and has just returned from a two-week photography trip to Alaska. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Natural History from the University of Minnesota, is a well-known columnist and radio personality and has given hundreds of talks and presentations.

Saturday Speakers at the Whooping Crane Festival

Operation Migration pilot Joe Duff, who has spent 15 years training and flying with whooping cranes, as well as talking and writing about them, will share some of those adventures with his trademark humor, and plenty of images. Joe is the co-founder of Operation Migration.

Other Saturday programs will include Pat Fisher of The Feather,  who will present a program on Raptor Rehabilitation, from 9 – 10 a.m.  The Feather is a non-profit organization dedicated to caring for orphaned and injured avian wildlife. Rob Zimmer, syndicated Wisconsin outdoor and garden writer, will present a program on Gardening for Wildlife, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Finally, in a  “kids of all ages” program, Wisconsin educator/entertainer will present three 45-minute shows; they will begin on-the-hour at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m.  David is a Wisconsin Association of Environmental Education Teacher of the Year, and also an “Aldo Leopold award winner.”

Here is one of Stan Tekiela’s images, most appropriate for this Whooping Crane Festival:  “Whooping Crane pair on Foggy Morning”

Happy Fest days to participants and attendants – one and all!

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The Chicks of 2015: DAR, Parent-Reared, and Ultralight Chicks

Today and next week,  The Badger & the Whooping Crane will feature a post about each of the three “chick populations,” of 2015. These are the captive-bred chicks, (not to be confused with the wild-hatched chicks that are the central goal of this project). These are the chicks which  continue to be the foundation of the whooping crane reintroduction into Wisconsin.

They can currently be divided into 3 distinct groups, each named for the method used to release the chicks into the wild. First are the “ultralight chicks,” that learn to migrate by following ultralight aircraft. Second are the “direct autumn release” chicks, and the “parent-reared” chicks are the newest group.

Here’s a bit of the history of the reintroduction, and the evolving release methods: It all began in 2001 with 10 captive-bred chicks that were being reared, first at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, then at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin by mute humans in white costumes. The little chicks quickly learned to follow the costumes wherever they went, eventually following them into the air behind the small ultralight aircraft they piloted.

From the Class of 2001 to Today 

One of the 10 ultralight chicks of that first year was injured in early training and was removed to the New Orleans Zoo. Another died just before the migration began, and a third died in a windstorm during the migration.  Two more died in Florida after completing migration – predated by bobcats. On April 9, 2002, the five surviving birds of the Class of 2001 left Florida together on their first unaided migration north. Ten days later, April 19th,  four of them arrived in Wisconsin, at Necedah; the fifth whooping crane arrived solo, two weeks later. Every year since, there has been a new class of ultralight chicks, ranging from 6 to 20 birds, to rear, and train, and eventually to release as free, wild whooping cranes.

[Ed. note:  It’s because of the educational website, Journey North, that I can share all those biographical details about the Class of 2001; bios are kept there for every crane in the Eastern Migratory Population.]

Whooping crane caretakers with chicks following; at the Itnerantional Crane Foundation . (Photo by ICF staff)

Whooping crane caretakers with chicks following; at the International Crane Foundation . (Photo by ICF staff)

If you follow the progress of the ultralight classes, over time it seems like each one acquires a personality or a  myth-like story of its own; some for the cooperative nature of the birds, some for just the opposite, and some for unpredictable conditions like last year’s impossible migration weather.

So far, the Class of 2015, a small one with just 6 birds is distinguishing itself by the eagerness and trainability of these young birds.  You can follow every detail of their training at The Field Journal of Operation Migration (the ultralight trainers!); here is just one of many more.  This summer’s posts have been punctuated with remarks about the Class of 2015 like this:  “They are SUCH a good class!” and “All six are doing incredibly well . .”

From the archives: 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)

From the archives: 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)

They seem to be an “Incredible cohort!” How nice is that?

Two More Release Methods

By 2005, with four classes of now-adult whooping cranes migrating to Florida and back on their own, a second release method was attempted. It was one that involved releasing captive-bred, costume-reared chicks directly into the wild near adult cranes – both whoopers and sandhills – in hopes that these “Direct Autumn Release” chicks would follow the lead of the adult cranes on migration.  (This group, the DARs, will get a post of their own next week.)  

Then just two years ago a third method for rearing and releasing whooping cranes chicks was experimented with and it has yielded some positive results. Chicks hatched at Patuxent by adult whoopers are raised by those parents until the chick is a well-established fledgling. Beginning in 2013, four such chicks were brought to Wisconsin and released near adult whoopers who – it was hoped might – foster them. The parent-reared chicks, too, deserve a post of their own, and it’s coming.