The Green Dot

OM’s Joe Duff sits down for an interview with hosts from the EAA’s The Green Dot blog.

Have a listen…

Photo courtesy EAA


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Canada’s Largest National Park, UNESCO Site Threatened

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from oil-sands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam. 

While contaminants from the oil-sands are affecting water and air quality, water flows (from the Peace River) through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

Photo credit: National Geographic

The report warned that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters. UNESCO is meeting this week in Bahrain and will consider adding Wood Buffalo to the list of of site in danger.

Wood Buffalo National Park covers almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways. It is the breeding grounds for the only self-sustaining population of Whooping cranes.

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A Bird in Hand

Just about now, as we get into the dog days of summer, the reed canary grasses that dominate the uplands around White River Marsh should be turning brown. As the temperatures rise and the fields begin to dry out, the lush green of spring normally turns to myriad shades of brown and yellow. Not this year.

The ground is so saturated that even a light rain sits on the surface creating little lakes where we normally see corn. The rivers are high and running fast and all the wetlands have doubled in size. The state could now be a generic name for the color green. Wisconsin could be the label for the entire green spectrum as Sherwin Williams and it would cover every variation from lime to hunter.

Not only is it very green but it is growing at a spectacular rate. Grass that was sprouting just weeks ago when I left is now over my head. Back when we were still watching nests, we deployed trail cameras programed to take a photo every five minutes. Our hope was to record the incubation so we could determine if the eggs hatched or if they were predated and if so, by what. Unfortunately, everything grew so fast that instead of the once clear view of the nest only a few yards away, we recorded hundreds of images of green grass waving in the wind.

Phase one of this study was to determine how many nests successfully produced chicks. In phase two we hope to document what percentage of those chicks survived to fledge. So now we are patrolling the back roads looking for parents with chicks and as they get older, they are spending more time in the open where they are fairly easy to see – from a distance. Getting from the access road to the chick in time to have any idea where it went, is another issue.

If you know where to look you can generally see the chick when they wander into the open. But there is always a marsh or tall grass nearby, and they are instinctively programmed to head for a hiding place as soon as mom or dad give the word. In fact, that is one indicator that the adults have a chick with them. They are bothered by our presence, even at a distance and they are quick to fly off after instructing the chick or chicks on which way to run.

Brooke and Colleen have attempted to catch one chick four times without success and we did it again this morning. Colleen finds a high perch to spot them with binoculars while Brooke headed down the tree line and I circled around to the other side. We were not even close when the adults flew and we spent the next twenty minutes plotting an area a hundred meters square looking for a ten inch tall bird in five foot grass.

Brooke and Colleen spotted a pair with two chicks late last week but it was too warm to chase them down. This morning they were in an open field fifty yards from the tall grass. We knew if we approached from the road, they would just head for cover so we planned to come at them from three sides. As soon as we left the tree lines, the adult took off leaving the chicks to hide in short grass.

Joe trims the transmitter patch while Brooke holds BP5.1. Photo: C. Chase

The transmitter is placed on the chick’s back. Photo: C. Chase

It only took a minute to find them and ten minutes later they were both tagged and released. We checked back an hour later and they were both reunited with the adults – none the worse for the ordeal.

Finding adults and chicks is not difficult but capturing them is far more challenging. We made four attempts today but only managed to tag two – and they were twins. Which is why I was so frustrated on Saturday. I walked out to the camera to charge the batteries with the generator. It’s about a half mile walk and on the way I flushed a pair of adults from the tall grass. I must have surprised them because they took off when I was only thirty feet away. I stepped off the path and there were two, three-week-old chicks hiding perfectly still in the tall grass. I could have easily grabbed them both but I didn’t have my backpack with all equipment I would need. It was too warm to hold them until I could call Colleen and ask for help so the safest thing to do was to simply walk away. Adding two chicks to the study with almost no effort would have been a bonus but the safety of the birds comes first.

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Black Flies and Reproduction

Whooping cranes aren’t the only species bothered by Black flies in Wisconsin.

Photo credit: Richard Urbanek/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A new study from The Auk: Ornithological Advances presents some of the best data to date supporting hypotheses about the effects that black flies have on Common Loon nesting behavior and success.

Chapman University’s Walter Piper and colleagues monitored Common Loon nests for 25 years in northern Wisconsin.

Lead author Walter Piper comments, “Black flies, which we think of as a nuisance and no more, actually impact population reproductive success. 

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Watch this 10-second video clip of black flies (Simulium johansenni) harassing a taxidermied brood mount. (Credit: Richard Urbanek)

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Plastic Waste & Recycling

Any environmental caring person knows that plastic waste is not good for the environment and especially for our oceans. Reports are showing increasing large numbers of birds that have ingested plastic waste.

Many of us feel comfortable with ourselves, knowing that we recycle our plastic waste but are we really doing as much good as we think we are?

Find out more

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Whooping Crane Festival Time!

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Friday, Sept. 7th with a guided tour of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum where one of our ultralights is now on display!

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff and Associate Professor Misty McPhee, lead researcher overseeing research taking place at Necedah NWR. Advance reservations are required!

Saturday, Sept. 8th brings the all-day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email:

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 9, 2018 – we hope to see you there!

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EAA Museum

OM’s Joe Duff will be speaking this Thursday, June 21 at 7 pm as part of the Aviation Adventure Speaker Series.

The event is free for EAA members and $5 for non-members. 

Learn more

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Eye Rings

As I’m learning more about how to identify birds, I’ve discovered that knowing all about eye-rings is important to learn.  And here I was, only worried about how my eyeliner looked!  While women use artificial products to accentuate their eyes, birds have naturally occurring eye-rings to help not only us with identification but for other birds too.

The Canada warbler is identified by its bold eye-ring and black on yellow “necklace”.

Learn More

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Stick Bugs & Birds

Stick bugs, or sometimes called walking sticks, are without a doubt one of the most unusual looking bugs.  A variety of species can be found in all continents except Antarctica and Patagonia. 

They can’t travel long distances by themselves, even those species that have wings, yet somehow they have managed to spread over vast areas and even to unconnected islands.


Many of us are familiar with symbiotic relationship between birds and the spreading of seeds, whereby a bird ingests a seed, flies away, poops and drops the seed to the ground, germinating in a new location. 

Scientists believe this is what is occurring with the stick bugs dispersing to unconnected islands in Asia.  The bug is eaten by the bird and it was assumed in the past, that the bug and the eggs it was carrying wouldn’t survive but the eggs have a coating of calcium oxalate that seems to protect them from acidic environment of a bird’s gut, so they pass through unharmed and hatch once expelled. 

Scientists are planning to study this phenomenon more thoroughly to see if they can connect the genetics of various stick bugs and the bird flight paths.

Read more 

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Wood Buffalo National Park

The annual search for whooping crane nests in and around Wood Buffalo National Park has been carried out. After 4 days of flying grid patterns in a helicopter 86 nests were located.

John Conkin (Environment and Climate Change Canada/Government of Canada), Sharon Irwin and Lori Parker (Parks Canada) spent numerous hours airborne between May 25-29 to locate the nests in/around the 44,807 km² park.

John reports water conditions were perhaps the best he has seen in his years flying surveys. He also noted higher nest production in peripheral areas, and lower in the core area.

Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada is Canada’s largest national park and one of the largest in the world. It was established in 1922 to protect the last remaining herds of bison in northern Canada. Today, it protects an outstanding and representative example of Canada’s Northern Boreal Plains. 

© Parks Canada / John McKinnon

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Urban Living Drives Evolution

The evolutionary process is an incredibly fascinating subject and new research is proving that at least in cities, wildlife is evolving astonishingly fast. From mosquitoes, to birds, to bobcats, the adaptations that have occurred as a result of changes that humans have made to their natural habitat is very surprising and not something I had ever known about before.

I’ve always thought of evolution as being a thing that happened in the past but in reality it is occurring around us every day.

Evolutionary biologist, Menno Schilthuizen, author of Darwin Comes to Town talks to Simon Worrall from National Geographic about his book.

Read more…

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Eyes in the Sky

Bev Paulan retired from flying for the Wisconsin DNR earlier this year and while it was hoped she would be able to continue to do aerial surveys on a contract basis, unfortunately this did not pan out.

In a classic example of “you can take the girl out of the aircraft but you can’t take the aircraft out of the girl” Bev still likes to fly in her personal aircraft whenever possible. Hey, why get stuck in traffic if you have the option to fly above it!?

Last week Bev was out on a pleasure flight and snapped a couple photos which she sent along to share with you.

She found the Royal Couple! Photo: Bev Paulan

After their nest apparently failed, these two moved about a mile away – to the same location they spent time at last year when their nest was predated by a coyote.

And here is #5-12 (Henry) in the marsh near our former pen site. No, he hasn’t lost his gal pal Patty and decided to hang out with a deer. She was nearby.


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By The Numbers

Every wildlife reintroduction depends on numbers. The more animals you can release into the wild, the better the odds are that some will survive to breed. That is especially true for long-lived, slow to reproduce species like Whooping cranes. Since we moved to White River Marsh in 2011 it has been challenging to build up this population for a number of reasons.

Stochastic resilience is a term researchers use to describe the ability of a population to overcome the random occurrences that, from time-to-time, put pressure on the survival of a species.

This past spring is an example of the environmental pressure that both Whooping cranes and Sandhills had to tolerate. Above freezing temperatures in March allowed many cranes to begin nesting but a prolonged and heavy snowfall in April caused the abandonment of at least some of those nests. After the snow we were back to seasonal weather and the cranes started the second round of nesting – just in time for record rains to raise water levels and flood many nests throughout central Wisconsin.

We are currently studying the reproductive success in Sandhill cranes in hopes of determining how suitable this environment is for the Whooping cranes we are working so hard to reintroduce. At the same time we are releasing a few parent-reared Whooping cranes but the odds are stacked much higher for the latter.

So far, we have located a dozen or so Sandhill nests and radio-tagged a handful of chicks. We know there were more nests out there that we couldn’t locate but eventually the resulting chicks will get bigger and their parents will lead them out into the open where we will have another opportunity to add them to this study.

By comparison, there are only four potential Whooping crane pairs in the area that might have bred this year. We hoped that 5-12 and 67-15 (F) would nest somewhere close to the pen site but they are hard to see and often appear together or flying when they are tracked. Normally during incubation, one would be on the nest while the other is off foraging in a field nearby. It is possible cranes 4-13 and 10-15 (F) are nesting in Germania Marsh west of White River, but again, they are too deep in the wetland to see. Both of those females are only three years old so successful breeding would be an anomaly.

Whooping cranes 10-11 and 27-14 (F) nested at the Grand River Marsh, which is part of the White River complex. Their first nest was flooded out by the high water but they are nesting again and we have our fingers crossed. She is four years old so her chances or better but they are normally five or six before they are successful at producing a chick.

Numbers 4-12 and 3-14 (F), known locally as the Royal Couple, nested deep in the marsh this year. So deep in fact, that we can’t get in there to check on them or even see them from our live camera perched thirty feet in the air. They were last seen together foraging near the Crane Camera on May 3, and thereafter, only one-at-a-time was spotted foraging up until May 31st. Since then, we haven’t seen either of them in their favorite foraging field.

We have aerial shots of the nest and Bev Paulan was able to confirm two eggs. Heather predicted they would hatch on or around May 30th and we know they were still incubating, or possibly brooding, on May 27th. But by May 31st, the nest was empty and they were nowhere to be seen. 

One of the cranes is still on the nest in this image.

And in this photo – captured 4 days later the nest is empty.

It’s all very disappointing but to be expected. They are still young and need to learn by trial and error how to deal with predators, weather events and all the other threats that wildlife encounter daily.

All of these variables are considered when a population viability analysis (PVA) is done to predict whether a species will survive into the future. When there are lots of them around as in the case of Sandhills, the population can still grow, albeit slowly, went they endure a spring like this past one. But when the numbers are low like the four pairs of Whooping cranes around White River, a few losses make a big difference.

We must remember that this entire recovery effort started with only fifteen individuals and if nothing else, Whooping cranes are tenacious.  

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Bird Baths Can be Healing

We’ve all had “bad hair days” – those days when your hair is just not quite right and wants to do it’s own thing. The solution is to head out the door anyway (my choice), or wet your hair. 

Well it turns out a little water also helps to repair bent bird feathers. 

Read more

Photo: C. Haupt

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Eastern Migratory Population Update

Whooping Crane Update – June 1, 2018

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month Whooping Cranes have continued nesting season, and we’ve had our first wild-hatched chicks of the year. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate: The current estimated population size is 102 (47 F, 52 M, 3 U). As of 1 June, at least 81 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 3 in Michigan, 2 in Illinois, 3 in Iowa, and 1 in Minnesota. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month. See maps below.

Nesting: As of 1 June, we have had two chicks hatch from nests in Wisconsin. We currently have 13 active Whooping Crane nests. One egg was pulled from each of four nests at Necedah NWR, as an effort to supplement captive breeding for this year’s release cohort, and increase chick survival. Chicks in bold are currently alive.

Incubating: W3-10/8-04, 32-09/19-10, 16-07/1-04, 36-09/18-03, 25-09/2-04, 9-03/3-04, 24-08/14-08, and 23-10/4-08 are currently incubating in Juneau Co, WI. 4-12/3-14 are nesting in Green Lake Co, WI. 42-09/24-09 and 3-11/7-11 are nesting in Adams County, 5-10/28-08 are nesting in Marathon Co, and 27-14/10-11 are nesting in Marquette Co, WI.

Eggs pulled: One egg was pulled from each of the following nests: W3-10/8-04, 32-09/19-10, 16-07/1-04, 36-09/18-03.

W1-18 and W2-18 hatched to parents 12-11 and 5-11 in Juneau Co, WI. The chicks were confirmed on 7 May, but likely hatched on 4 May. On 10 May, W2-18 was not seen with the family group.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks
W3_17 (U) is still in Adams Co, WI, with 11_15, 39_16, and sometimes 29_16.

W7_17 (F) left Iowa Co, IA, and is currently in Wright Co, MN.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort
19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) went back to Marathon Co, WI, where they were released last fall.

28_17 (M) is moving around and was last seen in Dodge Co, WI.

24_17 (M) is now in Dane Co, WI.

72_17 (M) is still in Jackson Co, MI.

38_17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI, where she was released in the fall.

39_17 (F) is still in Outagamie Co, WI.

36_17 (F) is now in Marathon Co, WI, near where she was released last fall.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort
3_17 (M) and 7_17 (F) split up and 7_17 is with 4_14 (M) in Green Lake Co, and 3_17 was last seen in Stephenson Co, IL with 31_16 (M).

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are still moving around, and after spending some time in Sauk and Columbia Counties, are now in Brown Co, WI.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) left Peoria Co, IL, and are now in Hancock Co, IA.

Mortality – None known during May.

Confirmed Whooping Crane locations as of 1 June 2018.