Happy New Year! Here is an update to one of The Badger & the Whooping Crane’s most visited posts – and the longest one ever – about the Cow Pond Whoopers – a special pair with an unusual winter territory near Tallahassee, FL – and Karen Willes, Citizen Scientist; it was published in March, 2015.
Not long after my post about them, the cow pond pair returned to Wisconsin, nested and hatched a chick. Their fans in Tallahassee and the many who follow them through Karen’s posts on Facebook, had cause to be jubilant, but it didn’t last long. Like many vulnerable creatures in the wild, the chick survived only a short time; even worse, for the whooper fans, this popular pair split up, and Mrs. Cow Pond Whooper (known specifically as 15-09) is following another mate.The fate of the male of the pair (11-09) and of future visits of whooping cranes to the cow pond on the edge of Tallahassee was uncertain. But Karen Willes, busy with birding, and the Apalachee Audubon Society, and other citizen science activities that occupy her days, held out hope for more whooping crane visits during the 2015-2016 migration season, and male 11-09 did not disappoint. Late in the afternoon of Christmas day 11-09 swooped in to reclaim “his” cow pond, and delight the Tallahassee craniacs who had been on the lookout for just such a moment.
Karen missed the precise moment by just 30 minutes. She had just passed the pond on an outing, “but nothing was there,” she told me in an email. “About a half hour later I got a call from a resident who lives directly across from the pond. As soon as I saw her caller ID, I knew . . . . We immediately went to the pond and put out signs. So the documentation began on Christmas Day!”Karen’s interest in the whooping crane pair wintering so close to her home began with photographing them and has steadily grown in different ways. Two years ago she made sure there were signs around the area, and information cards about whooping cranes that people could take with them. In this way she educated people about the plight of this endangered species, and explained the need for curious onlookers to keep a respectful distance from these birds. From there Karen’s interest developed into keeping records of the comings and goings of the cow pond duo, and their various behaviors, using her proximity to them to observe and document the habits of these wild creatures.
Then Karen submits her work to the professionals she has come to know at the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration. this helps them keep track of, and better understand, the behavior of the wild whooping cranes they are working to save.
But back to 11-09: what’s next for this lonely-guy, single whooping crane? Karen sees some hope for him finding a mate in Florida. “There are five whoopers from previous years already at the pen at St. Marks,” she said. “He knows the way to the pen (about 25 miles to the south) . . . Perhaps if he decides to strike out on his own, he may find a lovely mate down there. That is our hope!”
St. Mark’s, of course, is the national wildlife refuge that is the destination for the young ultralight-led cranes, and “the pen” is an enclosed wetlands area where the young birds are lightly monitored until they leave on their own first migration north in the spring. Some of them, like 11-09, always return to this part of Florida.Meanwhile, 11-09 has been spending nearly every day since his Christmas arrival foraging around the cow pond, and delighting the visitors that have been gathering as the word of his arrival – and Karen’s Facebook posts about him – have spread. Though without a mate, he seems to have plenty of companions – even attracting a cohort of nine sandhills to his territory earlier this week. There are also ducks, geese, and yes, even the cows, that he’s interacting with! You too can follow this bit of wildlife drama from afar by checking Karen Willes’ daily posts to Facebook. If there’s any news of 11-09 finding a new whooper mate to join him at the cow pond, I’ll be sharing that right here, too!