News briefs: Dates & updates

Look here, at the end of every week, for a collection of short news items and links to stories, events, and issues regarding Wisconsin’s whooping cranes, conservation issues, get-outdoors opportunities, and, perhaps other nature-based happenings.

Nesting Updates

Impatient for news of whooping crane chicks hatching, The Badger & the Whooping Crane is obsessively checking the Facebook pages of the International Crane Foundation, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, and others.

Eggs are incubating in captive populations and wild whoopers are incubating their own eggs on nests in Wisconsin. The only news, though for today, is the not-unexpected report from Louisiana that a nest built and eggs incubated by one 3-year-old pair (in the new Louisiana Non-migrating Flock) has, after a month, been determined to hold infertile eggs. The fact that the very young pair was able to produce eggs and incubate them faithfully for the full month it would take for a chick to hatch, is still a fact to celebrate.

Dates to Save

Take your mom to the International Crane Foundation Sunday for Mother’s Day. She’ll get in for free! It’s regular price  ($9.50 for adults; $5 for children, 6 – 17) if you’re not somebody’s mom . . . . Another special day is planned at ICF for Endangered Species Day, Saturday, May 17; you’ll get all the details about ICF’s big role in helping bring the Whooping Crane species back from the brink of extinction, and THEN help REintroduce whoopers into the wild right here in Wisconsin . . . .

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening ith the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo - or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

A Grey-Crowned Crane, one of the 15 species of cranes you will meet at An Evening with the Cranes at ICF in Baraboo – or anytime you visit! (Photo courtesy ICF)

And yet another special ICF event to put on your calendar: Buy your ticket ($50 per member, $60 non-members) and reserve your space at An Evening with The Cranes, Saturday, June 21st, from 5 to 8 p.m. at ICF in Baraboo.  You’ll meet the dedicated people who make ICF a worldwide leader in conservation today, and you’ll enjoy a gourmet dinner, craft beers, and wines from around the world (just like the cranes)!

Doesn’t the last Saturday in June sound like the perfect night to plan a backyard campout? That must have been what the National Wildlife Federation was thinking when they picked June 28th for the 10th annual Great American Backyard Campout. Get outside in your favorite backyard or park and enjoy the wonders of the natural world, and know that you’re helping to keep it wonderful. The NWF board of director’s and other NWF friends will give $2 for everyone who is out camping. The money goes to NWF’s wildlife conservation fund.

American Wetlands Month Updates

Do you own a little lakeshore property? Or know someone who does? Here is an opportunity to learn about the “living shoreline” and erosion control practices that protect the natural structure and function of shorelines through the strategic placing of such materials as native plants, sand, and stone. In celebration of American Wetlands Month the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering this free webinar, “Living Shorelines – Types , Tools and Techniques,” online Wednesday, May 14, from 1 to 3 p.m. . . . .Here is a report from the Ashland Daily Press on the presentation that Wisconsin Wetlands Association’s Executive Director Tracy Hames is giving around the state on the role of wetlands in the Penokee Hills in northern Wisconsin. This particular presentation, which more than 70 people attended in two sessions in the Town of Morse last Friday, and the Town of Delta on Saturday, was sponsored by the Bad River Watershed Association.

Egg Harbor: Eco-Town!

Egg Harbor in Door County has become the first municipality in that tourist-rich region to become a certified Eco-Municipality. It joins 24 other municipalities and 4 counties in Wisconsin that have received this certification. This is a program that began in Sweden in 1983. In 2005 Washburn, WI became the first American city to adopt the eco-municipality principles of reducing a community’s “encroachment on nature” while “meeting human needs fairly and efficiently.” Today Wisconsin has more eco-municipalities than any other state in the country.



Whooping Cranes Sitting on Nests!

Coming soon to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership: newly-hatched crane chicks!

The eggs are being incubated (gathered from whooping cranes in the captive populations at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation); add to that the good news that paired whooping cranes in the wild are sitting on nests in both Louisiana and Wisconsin. Those who work professionally on behalf of the whooping crane species, and those who just love them from afar – all are collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what the immediate future for whooping cranes is going to look like. Will the coming year be filled with more hopes than worries? Or the other way ’round?

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo couresty USGS Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

Whooping Crane eggs in incubators (Photo courtesy Patuxent National Wildlife Research Center)

For starters, the number of chicks hatched in captivity, then costume-reared, will once again be split among 3 different release programs: a group that will be trained to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration, another group for Direct Autumn Release, and a third group that will be released with the new non-migrating flock in Louisiana. While there is always the hope for a bountiful crop of chicks to be shared by all three programs, there is also the real possibility that each program will have to settle for less than the hoped-for number of chicks.

The true hope for WCEP is represented by those cranes building nests in the wild – they’re the key to WCEP’s main goal of establishing a new, self-sustaining flock of wild whooping cranes. They are also the cause of so much of the breath-holding and anxiety regarding the breeding season for the Eastern Migratory Population of whoopers.

Over the years, the EMP whooping cranes have engaged in an impressive amount of nest-building in Wisconsin, but with little to show for it. According to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, only 29 chicks have been hatched from the more than 100 nests built since 2005, and few of those hatched chicks have survived. The WCEP partners are engaged in various studies, including a recent effort at Bti suppression of black flies (in 2011 and 2012) which have been seen harassing the nesting cranes, and a just-launched 3-year intensive study of the whooping cranes’ nesting habits at Necedah NWR.

Look closely for the two eggs on the whooper nest! (Photo courtesy, international Crane Foundation)

Hopefully, successful breeding seasons will soon result, as the WCEP partners discover more answers. I asked WCEP co-chair, Peter Fasbender, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officer based in northeastern Wisconsin, about this, and he told me, via email:

“Wisconsin whooping cranes are doing some things well. Their survival rate is good. Their migration patterns are well-established in both spring and fall. They appear to arrive back in breeding territory in good physical condition as indicated by what appears to be normal courtship, breeding, and nesting habits.”

Then he added: “Here is where whooping cranes begin to have issues. While many are successful in laying eggs and initiating incubation, very few make it to egg-hatching phase. Black fly emergence during the incubation phase contributes to failure in this area, but our study has shown this is only part of the problem.”

Peter Fasbender had more to say about nest failure, and what WCEP is doing this year, instead of more black fly suppression. The Badger and the Whooping Crane will cover this and include more information about the pesky black flies, in a second post about the 2014 nesting season next week.

I’d be remiss, though, not to mention right now two especially newsworthy nests that are being watched for chick hatchings: in Louisiana, the newly reintroduced non-migratory flock has a pair of 3-year-olds that are sitting on a nest with two eggs. The prospective crane parents are young to successfully raise a chick, and it’s possible that the eggs are not fertile. But the nest was first observed in late March, so if a chick is to hatch from it, there will be headlines about this very soon.

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

Whooping crane pair with a tiny chick on the nest. (Photo couresty Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership)

And in Wisconsin, another pair of 3-year-old cranes appears to have a nest in the White River Marsh release area. Operation Migration announced it earlier this week on their Facebook page. The project to train young chicks to fly with the ultralights of Operation Migration was moved from Necedah NWR to this release area in 2011, and these cranes are from the first class trained in this new location. The nest at White River Marsh is a “first,” and a very exciting development for the 2014 breeding season!




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.







International Crane Foundation Seeks Help to End Whooping Crane Shootings

The International Crane Foundation has added its prestigious voice to the call for apprehension of those killing endangered whooping cranes, and strong penalties for those found guilty. In a letter to all ICF supporters, ICF President Dr. Rich Beilfuss, referenced the most recent shootings of whooping cranes – 2 shot in Kentucky late last year, and 2 discovered in Louisiana, February 7th. “In the past five years, at least 16 whooping cranes have been shot,” Dr. Beilfuss writes, adding that the shootings have happened in all three of the whooping crane populations that exist in the wild.

Dr. Beilfuss urged the friends and members of ICF to get involved by contacting federal officials to ask for stronger sentencing that would recognize “the significance of these crimes.” He cited approvingly, one South Dakota  case in which the perpetrator was sentenced to pay an $85,000 fine, and serve two years on probation, and suggested it be used as “a model that should be considered in all Whooping Crane shooting cases to maximize deterrence.”

The Louisiana shootings have occurred since The Badger and the Whooping Crane published “It’s a Federal Crime to Kill a Whooping Crane” about the Kentucky shootings and eight others. Money was immediately offered for information leading to arrests in the Louisiana case, – $1,000, at first, and within days the reward had grown to $15,000 – the same amount that is being offered for information in the Kentucky cases.  The people who devote their lives to issues involving conservation, wildlife, and in particular, the endangered whooping crane have all been eager to contribute to these reward funds. All earnestly hope for arrests and sentencing of those responsible.

One injured crane survives the most recent Louisiana shooting.  The Advocate of Baton Rouge, LA, reports on the lengthy surgery the bird has undergone, and the long rehabilitation ahead.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

It’s a Federal Crime to Kill a Whooping Crane

In the time I’ve been following what I sometimes call “the whooping crane drama,” 8 of these beautiful birds that belonged to our Eastern Migratory Population have died by gunfire. Though most of these deaths are unsolved cases, both the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and those in the law enforcement community who have investigated the deaths, believe these are not accidental shootings, but wanton, senseless killings. Now two more such killings have been reported – so 10 whooping cranes in the EMP, which nests here in Wisconsin, have been destroyed this way.

The bad news arrived mid-January in the form of a press release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and it spread fast, re-broadcast by the International Crane Foundation, WCEP, Operation Migration, and other whooping crane partners. An injured crane had been discovered, and ultimately euthanized in late November, in Hopkins County, KY, and the body of its mate was recovered in Muhlenberg County, KY, on December 13, 2013. The Louisville Courier Journal reported that wildlife authorities had delayed announcing these killings “while they gathered evidence” and put together a reward package in order to ask for the public’s help in finding the perpetrators.

A Broadly-supported Effort to Encourage Public Input on Crane Killings

Is there anything that is more frustrating and unnerving to those who devote a good part of their lives to  preserving the endangered whooping crane? I don’t think so. The reward money, for anyone who gives information that directly leads to arrest and conviction of those responsible,  has steadily grown from  $7,200 to over $15,000. All kinds of groups are contributing to it, and in addition to those directly involved, these include the Kentucky Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Friends of Wheeler NWR, and more.

The killings are violations of both the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.  The International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration are both urging their friends and followers to share widely the following “Help Us Save the Whooping Crane” public service announcement:

Eight More Whooping Crane Shootings

Here’s a brief rundown of what is known about the deaths-by-gunfire suffered by eight other birds in the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes:

At the end of 2010 – December 30th, in Georgia – the bodies of 3 young “Direct Autumn Release” cranes were found in Calhoun County. The cranes were on their first migration from Wisconsin, learning the way from older birds.

Early in 2011, two whooping cranes believed to have been shot were found at Weiss Lake in Alabama. The body of one was discovered on January 28th, and the second crane’s body was recovered in mid-February less than a quarter-mile away from where the first was found.

In the spring of 2011 a juvenile shooter and the adult that accompanied him were charged and sentenced in Indiana for the 2009 killing of an EMP crane. USFWS officials welcomed the closure to this case, but they got little else. The unusually light sentence imposed on the shooter in the Vermillion County, Indiana court left anger and disbelief among so many in the wildlife conservation community.

The year ended with the bad news of a second whooping crane shot in Indiana; its remains were discovered near Crothersville, Dec. 30th, 2011.  And while the new year was still fresh – on January 21, 2012 – someone in the Indiana DNR received a tip from a citizen that led to the discovery of a third whooping crane shot in Indiana.

Some justice, at least, seemed to prevail when two shooters were held responsible for the third Indiana whooping crane killing. Jason McCarter and John Burke, each of Knox County, were sentenced to 3 years of probation, 120 hours of community service at a state wildlife area, and a donation of $5,000 to the International Crane Foundation.

There have been some illegal shootings of whooping cranes outside the Eastern Migratory Population as well, and a recent case in South Dakota earned a 26-year-old shooter a truly stiff sentence: the requirement that he make $85,000 in restitution payments and serve 2 years of probation with no hunting or trapping rights. This news cheered wildlife conservationists and raised hopes that the message will spread to other potential shooters:  it really IS a crime to take the life of these birds.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s Highest Honor Presented to Dr. George Archibald

World citizen George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, has been presented a new and distinguished high honor. At a ceremony in December in Ottawa, Ontario, Dr. Archibald was presented with the Order of Canada, on behalf of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

George Archibald, after a speaking engagement at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County in July 2012.

George Archibald, after a speaking engagement at The Ridges Sanctuary in Door County in July 2012.

A press release from ICF called this award “the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System” and noted that it was awarded to the ICF co-founder in recognition of “his visionary leadership in international conservation efforts over the past 40 years.” Dr. Archibald, who has become a global citizen through his work on behalf of endangered cranes, is a Canadian native, and also a long-time resident of Wisconsin.

In recent years he has been presented many prestigious honors including the first Dan W. Lufkin Prize from The Audubon Society last year. In 2006, Dr. Archibald was chosen as the inaugural winner of the then-brand-new Indianapolis Prize, created by the Indianapolis Zoo to recognize extraordinary efforts in animal conservation.

For more than a century, Wisconsin has been a state that can boast of strong ties to some of the giants in the field of conservation, and Dr. Archibald adds more weight to that legacy. Inspired by his new honor, during January, The Badger and the Whooping Crane plans a series of posts about our conservation icons, including John Muir and Aldo Leopold. More will be written about George Archibald, too. These posts will all be headlined “Wisconsin’s Conservation Legends.” I hope you will look for them!

Plenty of Drama, Some Tragedy, and Some Triumph for the Crane Colts at Horicon

As the temperatures plunged in Wisconsin last week – into the teens and then single digits and below-zero lows – crane watchers held their collective breath over the fate of the half-dozen young DAR crane colts who were still thought to be at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

Already one of the nine birds that had been released to the wild at Horicon in late October had been killed by a predator, and on December 2nd, a second crane death at Horicon, was reported. Another DAR bird (DAR means “Direct Autumn Release”) had singly begun migration in the company of sandhills and was reported November 25th to be safely in Tennessee. But six remained at Horicon, and this was giving fits to the nervous craniacs who were searching the Facebook page of the International Crane Foundation for good news.


When would the remaining birds finally migrate, everyone wanted to know. What was the latest recorded date of the beginning of migration? (December 9th, the ICF staff answered.) Were there still enough remaining Sandhill cranes for the young whooping cranes to travel with? (Yes.) And the unanswerable: Why hadn’t they left yet? What would happen to them as the wetlands froze over?

Then last Tuesday, December 10th, more bad news; two more crane deaths – one on December 4th, and another December 7th, were posted. Also posted was the assurance that the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (of which the ICF is a founding member) “has been working round the clock this week to find the best solution for relocating the birds as soon as possible.”

And Answers

Finally there was good news reported December 12th, and documented by photographer Tom Lynn. The previous day WCEP staff members went to Horicon to capture and relocate the birds. Instead, they found the signal from radio transmitters on each bird indicated they were finally on the move and headed south on their own – what Lynn calls “the best outcome possible.”

A fourth crane, however, soon abandoned the migration attempt and returned to a frozen cornfield near Horicon, where WCEP staff executed a chilly, yet thrilling capture/rescue in the frigid temperatures.

Here is one of Tom Lynn’s photos of Kim Boardman cradling the captured crane, who is called “Latka”. When it came to actually retrieving the crane, Latka gave little resistance. “It was basically an easy capture,” Tom reported.


Read about the rest of the events of that day, at Tom Lynn’s blog, and enjoy all of his fascinating photos of that chilly capture.

On Friday, there were happy pictures of Latka on the ICF Facebook page (posted December 13th); these had been sent back from her new home at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Check them out, and notice her proud wingspan and the prominent still-juvenile coloration – a mix of baby cinnamon feathers, not yet overcome by her new white adult plumage.