Birder Meets Whooping Cranes

“Striking, serene, graceful. Hungry. Nonchalant.” Those are the words that confirmed birder, Dale Bonk, used to describe whooping cranes.

I had asked Dale, a member of the Wisconsin Birding Facebook group, to suggest three words he’d use to describe the wild whooping cranes he’d just seen, and he gave me five. One could probably think of plenty more, he added.

Dale had spent an early November day observing and photographing a pair of whooping cranes in Dane County, and he was happy to share his strong impressions from the sighting. But maybe the best thing that sums up his experience are the first words that went through his mind that day. He shared, via email: “Wow! Holy Jebus! They’re there; they’re actually there! …And they’re not flying away. Let’s hope the camera works.”

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

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

His camera worked just fine. He later admitted on Facebook that he had been “a little shutter happy” and had taken “something like 400 shots.”

About a week before Dale’s encounter, a number of other members of the Wisconsin Birding group had seen the pair and there was quite a bit of chatter about them on the Facebook page, including where to find them. As is the practice among birders, those reporting the sightings were as precise as possible about locations – it’s a courtesy to other birders who hope to see for themselves. It didn’t take long, however, before someone questioned if this was the right thing to do for birds that are members of an endangered species.

In fact, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership issues precise guidelines about observing cranes in the wild, and shortly after the Facebook discussion about this, the Wisconsin Birder page moderators published a request they had received from WCEP to restrict the location reporting to county-level-only. They’ve also included a link to use to report all sightings to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

For Dale what makes whooping cranes so special is that “they were so close to extinction , and yet, somehow, humans managed to ‘save’ them. For nature lovers, having a ‘success’ story is a wonderful feeling.” Dale is a self-described “outdoorsy person” and always has been, “but I’ve only gotten into birding in the past year, and intensely with the camera and scope in the past 6 months.”


He selected 21 of the best among the many pictures he made of the whooping crane pair and published a Facebook album, to which he added: “This sighting makes me unbelievably happy. What gorgeous birds!”

A final note: The Badger and the Whooping Crane is grateful to Dale Bonk for the use of his images. Both photos clearly show the birds’ leg bands and identify the birds as members of the WCEP population. These bands lead to a wealth of information on each individual bird compiled by WCEP. Doesn’t that sound like good material for another post, another time?