Mother Nature, Spring Whimsy, and Whooping Crane Arrivals!

We love Mother Nature in Wisconsin, but recognize that she has multiple personalities, particularly evident when it comes to weather phenomena. So, apparently do cranes (love Wisconsin’s natural gifts), and they seem to thrive here in so many of our weather systems. Perhaps, though, it is the warmer winter that most of us in the northern U.S. are experiencing this year, that has brought us returning sandhills as early as February 21st.

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (A Wikimedia Commons photo)

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge (A Wikimedia Commons photo)

Then, on March 15th, Operation Migration’s Field Journal reported that there already were “a handful of whooping cranes back in Wisconsin, including #16 and 18-11 at Horicon Marsh.” This news was followed two days later by a report about a pair of whoopers who were dubbed “The Royal Couple,” by last summer’s crane cam watchers. That couple is home again, at White River Marsh, it is believed.

That pair, 4-year old male (#4-12) and a now 2-year old female, #3-14, seemed to bond last summer, and stay close to the White River Marsh flight training center, always watching the Class of 2015 chicks. While it is assumed they are still together, a visual confirmation is needed. Her return to White River Marsh on March 17th, has already been confirmed by the satellite tracking device that she wears. He does not have one, so his presence with her isn’t certain.

And Welcome News about the Cow Pond Whooper

Another confirmation came this week – special news for all the new (and seasoned) craniacs who follow “the cow pond whooper,” (#11-09), when he is in Tallahassee. Karen Willes posted the first confirmed sighting of him since he was last recorded at there, on February 19th. Karen, who has organized a citizen science monitoring project around 11-09 in Florida, received confirmation from staff at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge that he has now been observed on the refuge. And he’s back just in time for Mother Nature to display her whimsical side.

Whooping crane 11-09 at the cow pond near Tallahassee, where is affectionately known as Big Bird. (Photo by Karen Willes, used with permission)

Whooping crane 11-09 at the cow pond near Tallahassee, where is affectionately known as Big Bird. Last seen in Florida on  February 19th, he has now been confirmed back at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.  (Photo by Karen Willes, used with permission)

Whimsy might seem a perfect match for spring, but Mother Nature delivered hers with a twist:  after denying a White Christmas to Wisconsinites — a welcome weather feature here in December — she has now done her best to cover the new spring growth, all over the state, with cottony, white snow for Easter. But the practical side of Mother Nature will probably win out before Easter Sunday, and she’ll allow temperatures in the 40s to melt most of the white stuff. What isn’t gone on Easter will surely disappear as temps in the 50s and 60s next week – still March – will delight us before Mother Nature brings back the 30s for the first weekend in April.

When Will the Class of 2015 Arrive?

Temperature fluctuations or not, what we definitely can count on from now through April is a season of increasing arrivals and sightings of the approximately 100 whooping cranes of the Eastern Migratory Population. Most highly anticipated will be the return of the six cranes of the Class of 2015 – the cranes that only recently completed their first migration south by following the ultralight airplanes of Operation Migration.

They know the way, and they’ll make it back; but until they finally fly into the sky over St. Marks NWR, with purpose and resolutely turn north, there will be a lot of impatient watching and waiting. Then, until their signals are heard over Wisconsin, there will be a lot of collective breath-holding among those who have trained them, watched them, and rooted for them.

The Privilege of Waiting with the Chicks

“I am privileged,” wrote Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin DNR pilot, at OM’s Field Journal recently. “I have been witness to every possible personality quirk of these amazing birds from extreme shyness and submission to the most aggressive of dominant chicks.”

Using her winter leave time to volunteer for OM, and wait with the Class of 2015 for migration to call them north. Bev at times donned a white crane costume to do maintenance in their large open winter pen at St. Marks NWR. And she has written about the many privileges this fulfilling work has brought her. Among them, is this amazing scene:

“As they circled up and out of the pen, I quickly realized they were flying to me! Five elegant, mostly white birds gently parachuted down all around me . . . but it was 8-15 that grabbed my eye. She walked directly in front of me and started to dance. She jumped, pirouetted, bowed, spun . . .As I stood watching I realized that never again will I witness such stunning beauty. Never. . .” Read Bev’s full account at the Field Journal.

Tracking Migration by Satellite

In fact, though, it’s been reported in the Field Journal this week that one of the six cranes of the Class of 2015, is already on migration – #2-15! This young crane left the pensite at St Marks NWR in the company of four adult whooping cranes last Tuesday. These migrating cranes include 3 males – #5-12, #4-13, and #4-14; a 2-year old female, #7-14, and crane chick 2-15, also a female.

Only the two females are fitted with PTT devices that allow them to be tracked by satellite, and the tracking reports that Operation Migration has been getting show they have already covered enough miles to put them more than half the way home to White River Marsh.  Because none of the male birds have the good tracking devices it cannot be known for sure that they are still a group of five until someone confirms this visually. Probably that won’t happen until sometime after they get back to Wisconsin.

2 thoughts on “Mother Nature, Spring Whimsy, and Whooping Crane Arrivals!

  1. Thanks, Judy; it could be a while before they “get the call.” But eventually they will, and hopefully will enjoy safe travels all the way. It’s always interesting!

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