Annual Midwest Crane Count is Saturday

The volunteers – about 2,000 expected across the Upper Midwest – are ready. They’ve met with their county’s Crane Count coordinators to  review the basics of visually identifying cranes, and how to identify them by sound as well. They’ve received maps of their counties, and the individual sites they will monitor, and Saturday morning, from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. the 39th Annual Midwest Crane Count will once again take to the fields and wetlands of Wisconsin, and nearly 200 sites in adjacent states, to report back to us on the status of the plentiful sandhill crane species in our midst.


A gathering of sandhill cranes (image courtesy of International Crane Foundation)

No doubt, many of the reports will echo the scenario that is found in Wisconsin’s Brown County. I talked with Mark Payne, a park ranger at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, who has served as Brown County’s Midwest Crane Count Coordinator since 1997. When he was new on the job he remembers the annual count yielding about a dozen sandhill cranes, predictably, every year.

But that number began to climb, he said, often by big leaps, beginning in 2000. That year 70 sandhill cranes were counted in Brown County. In 2009 the count was up to 286 cranes, and 324 were recorded last year. Interestingly, Mark also dug out some historical data – Brown County first joined the crane count in 1981, before his time on the job. That first year only 4 sandhill cranes were counted here, said Mark.

Last week, Mark met with the group of observers that he coordinates; about 60 to 70% of the group are repeat crane counters, he estimated, so it’s an easy orientation session. They will be monitoring at 40 sites in Brown County. He said they are encouraged to get familiar with their sites beforehand, in daylight (some individuals will monitor more than one) so they know, when they arrive in the dark at 5:30 Saturday morning, where the best observation points are. “Generally they look for a hill or a high spot where they can pull off the road and get out of their car to observe.”

The Crane Count tradition began in 1976 on a small-scale when the then 5-year old International Crane Foundation decided to survey Columbia County (to the east of Baraboo where ICF is located) in search of sandhill crane activity, and to study their ecology. Two years later Crane Count covered 5 Wisconsin counties, and in 1981 it partnered with the Wisconsin Wetlands Association and expanded widely through the state.

A sandhill crane pair; from the files of the International Crane Foundation.

A sandhill crane pair; from the files of the International Crane Foundation.

According the ICF, “The hopes of expanding Crane Count were to enhance wetland protection (Wisconsin currently retains about half of its historic wetlands) by promoting awareness, document areas where cranes were known to occur, and begin documenting the size of the crane population.” In 1994 it expanded into Minnesota and Michigan, and soon after into Illinois, then Iowa, officially becoming the Annual Midwest Sandhill Crane Count. In 2011 Indiana was added to the list.

Every year since 2000 at least 10,000 sandhill cranes, and often more, have been counted. “People know more about them, and seem to care more about the cranes now,” said Mark Payne. “I see more interest in helping to preserve habitat and wetlands.”




Looking for Signs of Spring? Check the Calendar!

This being April in Wisconsin, the signs of spring we’re all yearning for, are often unpredictable, at best, but one place you can always find some is on the calendar! There are a number of dates for interesting events – Earth Day and others – that happen only in April, and these are guaranteed harbingers of spring and the warmer, longer days ahead. Following is a summary of such dates I’ve been collecting.

April 12: The annual Midwest Crane Count

If you’re free from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, the 12th, you can join one of the largest citizen-based wildlife surveys in the world, to monitor the abundance and distribution of cranes in the upper midwest. This spring phenomenon was initiated by the International Crane Foundation in 1976 to locate and study the sandhill cranes in one Wisconsin county only. It has grown over the years, and now includes reporting on both sandhills and whooping cranes in over 100 counties spread across six upper midwest states.

Visit the International Crane Foundation, near Baraboo. (photo courtesy, ICF)

Visit the International Crane Foundation, near Baraboo. (photo courtesy, ICF)

April 15: The opening day at the International Crane Foundation’s 2014 Visistor Season

At ICF, which will be open everyday from 9 to 5 p.m. beginning Tuesday, April 15th until October 31st, you can wander hiking trails, and get acquainted with individual birds from all 15 species of the world’s cranes. ICF is located just off U.S. Hwy. 12, between Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. The following new guided tours will be offered this year: Flyways, Culture and Cranes, Whooping Cranes, and Conservation Leadership.


April 19:  John Muir’s Birthday celebration in Marquette County

You’re invited to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest naturalists of all times – John Muir – in Marquette County (where Muir once lived) with The Wisconsin Friends of John Muir.  The celebration is co-sponsored by the WFJM, the Ice Age Trail, and Marquette County Health Communities.

August flowers along the Ice Age Trail in John Muir Memorial Park (photo courtesy of Kathleen McGwin, WFJM)

August flowers along the Ice Age Trail in John Muir Memorial Park (photo courtesy of Kathleen McGwin, WFJM)

The party plans include an Earth Day clean up and guided hike of John Muir Park, on Hwy. O, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and, starting at 1:30  p.m., a family-friendly concert, featuring The Prairie Sands Band,  followed by birthday cake at Vaughhn Hall, 55 W. Montello St., in Montello. 

April 22: Earth Day conference at the Nelson Institute

Actress/activisit Rosario Dawson, British science fiction author China Mieville, leading ecologists Erle Ellis and Kevin Noone, and Paul Robbins, Director of the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (at UW-Madison) will be among the features speakers at the 8th annual Nelson Earth Day Conference. “Earth: To Be Determined” is the theme of the day-long program which will explore challenges and opprotunities presented by rapid-scale changes in the global environment. All events are at Monona Terrace Conference and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Drive, in Madison.

A campsite at Newport State Park, where am Earth Play Earth Day event is scheculed April 19.  (Photo by Nate Beaty)

A campsite at Newport State Park, where a Work Play Earth Day event is scheculed April 19. (Photo taken by Nate Beaty, July 23, 2013; accessed at Flickr, April 4, 2014.)

April 19, 26, and May 3: Work Play Earth Day in the Wisconsin State Park System

You can get your hands dirty planting, installing benches, pulling out invasives, staining picnic tables or raking up leaves and pine needles at one of the 20 state parks or forests particiapting in these “Work Play Earth Day” events planned by the Friends of Wisconsin State Parks.

(Here is a link to Flickr, for the photo above, taken by Nate Beaty.) 

Earth Day Where YOU Are

And finally, wherever YOU happen to be there’s sure to be something planned for Earth Day 2014. Where I am, for example, the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary has programming planned all weekend, April 25th, 26th and 27th. In addition to an Electronics Recycling Drive (the 25th and 26th) and a Spring Bird Hike early Saturday morning, the Sanctuary will use the occasion to educate the public about its animal resources, including its porcupines, otters, and wolf pack.

Wherever you are in the world, there is probably something similar happening  in April – a chance to do something nice for our Mother Earth, and to get outside and enjoy the gifts of the natural world.