Life in the Breakdown Lane

They say that if you really want to understand another person, walk a mile in his or her shoes. This is easier said than done. It’s just not that easy to pull the shoes off a stranger’s feet. At least not while they’re awake and walking. They get mad, hit 911 on their smart phone and start screaming, “Why Me? I didn’t vote for that guy!” And besides, it’s downright cruel. Strangers need their shoes. They won’t let you into Walmart without them.

They also say that whooping cranes are in Mother Nature’s Breakdown Lane. And so perhaps the best way to really understand what it’s like to be a Whooping Crane… or any other endangered species, is to pull your vehicle off the highway into the Breakdown Lane… and call AAA for a tow. I guarantee that after an hour or two of waiting, your “Eureka Moment” will arrive. “Now, Grasshopper… are you starting to get the picture?” I can speak of this with great authority because of what happened to Colleen, Jeff and I a little over a week ago.

It was early afternoon and we had just finished capturing and tagging a sandhill chick – the second of the day – in an area of Green Lake County so remote and unexplored that a lost, stone age tribe was recently discovered there by a National Geographic photographer who managed to take a few pictures of them before they ate him. We were heading home and feeling pretty good about ourselves. (Always a BIG mistake) when it happened. Our trusty tracking van decided it had had enough of our shenanigans. It coughed and sputtered, and carried us off the road and onto the Breakdown Lane for a “Time Out”.

“It’s those damned Russians again!” Jeff exclaimed, breaking our long silence.

“Still got your AAA card”? Colleen asked from the back seat.

“I don’t leave home without it” I answered. Santa Clause (my mother) gives me a AAA Card every year for Christmas. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” she says, always putting things in terms she thinks I will understand. And she should know. This would be the third time this year I’ve had to “make the call”.

And so I called Nancy at AAA. I call her so often these days that she thinks I’m hitting on her. “I’m married!” she hollered into the phone, exasperated. “Why don’t you just get out and PUSH”! Then she regained her composure and processed my tow request while assuring me that my life was not, in fact, over and that everything was going to turn out alright.

Before she bade me the sad farewell (“Parting is such sweet sorrow), she did inform me that the tow truck would only have room for one passenger. Colleen overheard my request for a set of roof racks and screamed, “I’m not Roof Rack Ready”. She then dialed our good friend Barry, who just happens to own the repair shop that attends to our vehicles. “Just walk up to the garage a hundred yards up the road, go inside and help yourself to a beer in the fridge just to your right,” Barry said. “I’ll be there to pick you up in twenty minutes.” Turns out Barry used to live right up the street. Small world. He had just moved closer to town in March. “Nothing to do out there,” he explained. Obviously, he had never thought of breaking down. Nor had he ever acquired a taste for National Geographic photographers.

Time slowly passed while a parade of cars stopped by with questions like, “Are you guys surveying?” and “Do you work for the FCC?” and “How many TV channels do you get with that antenna?” With the large antenna sticking out the roof of the tracking van roof, we get that a lot. Then Barry arrived, picked up Colleen and Jeff, and headed off for town. And as they did, I saw Colleen waving something at me through the back window. It was one of her fingers. Seems she didn’t appreciate my request for the Roof Racks!

Sometime later the tow truck arrived. “I know who you guys are,” the tow truck driver said as he winched the tracking van onto the flat bed. “I saw you on TV. How are those Herons doing, anyway?”

“Fine”, I replied. “Never better”.

Being towed through town where everyone knows your vehicle is like riding in a parade on the “Failure Float”. Really hard to muster up that “Royal Wave” for the fans. “Come back with your shield… or on it”, the Spartan General told his troops before the Battle of Thermopile.

Then, just before arriving at Barry’s, the driver’s phone rang. “It’s Nancy”, he said. “She wants me to stop and pick up the roof racks.”

“For Colleen and Jeff”? I asked.

“No…. For those Whooping Cranes!”

I sighed, shook my head… and pulled my AAA Card back out of my wallet.

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Being Prepared

There are a lot of things to remember just before diving from the van to run and chase a crane colt.

Sandhill crane colt #BP15.1 Photo: C. Chase

You need your backpack or fanny pack that has the essentials, a couple of transmitters, eyelash glue, cyanoacrylate, scale, measuring tape, acetone, scissor, notebook, pen, pillowcase to put small birds in to weigh, sling to weigh big chicks, walkie-talkies, phone, safety glasses. You have to have your bug jackets on most mornings and a hat.

We rarely remember them all and we are particularly hard on walkie-talkies. We lose them in the field. We lose them in the van, or we just forget them.

We have checklists here and there and they help… A bit.

We try to be organized and think ahead, but Jeff really was ahead of the game when he came prepared with the chick packed and ready!

Photo: C. Chase

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Who Knew?

Part of my vacation this past week involved helping my daughter move.  She had asked me to go to the local Tim Hortons to get coffee and breakfast for everyone as she didn’t have any food in her fridge other than bottles of water.  Normally I would use the drive thru for a quick coffee and on my way but with such a large order I actually went inside for a change. 

While I was waiting for my order I watched the television screen.  One particular infomercial caught my eye from Cottage Life about hummingbird nests.  Apparently they utilize a lot of spider webs in their nest building so that as their chicks grow the nest expands in size with them. 

So, there’s a tidbit or timbit (Canadians will get this pun) of information to start your day…

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Register Now!

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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AirVenture 2018

If you’re planning on attending AirVenture 2018 today be sure to stop by the Skyscape Theater at 11:30 to take in Joe Duff’s presentation!

Photo: AirVenture 2018

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Tagging Sandhills

Meet Sandhill crane colt #BP14.1

This little one was captured and radio-tagged last week in Green Lake County, WI.

Brooke holds the young crane colt while materials are prepped for tagging it. Photo: C. Chase

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10 Ways to Help Birds This Summer

With summer in full swing now, read up on ways you can make life easier and safer for the birds in your environment.  Right now most are raising their young but will soon start preparations for fall migration. 

Let’s give them the best possible chance to make it to their wintering territories.

Read more…

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Caption This!

Friday the 13th was a lucky day for the field team and they managed to capture this wiley Sandhill crane colt, which had evaded capture until then.

Meet Sandhill crane #BP9.1.

Jeff Fox prepares to release the young Sandhill crane now that it has a radio tracking device on it. Photo: C. Chase

Don’t you agree this photo is begging for a caption? Aaaaaaand Go! (leave your caption in the comments)

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Empty Nest Syndrome and Nostalgia

The definition of nostalgia is:

a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.

Last week was a nostalgic week.

Last summer Brooke and I were parents to seven Whooping Crane chicks. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8-17.

Last Saturday two of our chicks, 6-17 and presumably 4-17 flew over White River Marsh. In this screen grab of #6-17’s GSM hit you can see her flight path in relation to camp. I wish I had been looking up at the right moment.

Today Doug and Mako Pellerin came to camp to visit and brought me a present! Mako took two of Doug’s photos from last summer, transferred them to fabric and made pillows of them!

The day Doug snapped these photos was a fun morning, the chicks were eating Dewberries and I was trying to hide. The weaning process was different for each chick. You see my two little clingers, numbers 8 -17 and 4-17 were not ready to have mom out of sight.

One my favorite things to do with them was teach them to explore and forage. Dewberries and snakes were a favorite find. 


Brooke, who is the most patient man on the face of the Earth with birds, had to lure them into the North Pond the 1st week or so. They were nervous in a new place.

Here at the North Pond is where most of the weaning took place. At first Brooke would hide in the willows while they slowly wandered away from him. Then he sat in a camo’d blind for hours a day watching to make sure they were safe, while the chicks learned to forage and explore alone.

Raising those seven chicks from hatch to first migration was a once in a lifetime experience. I am profoundly grateful that I got to be mama to seven Whooping Crane chicks. How lucky am I? Really really lucky!

The Greek word nostos means return. Algos means suffering. So, nostalgia is the suffering caused by unappeased yearning to return. It bites hard sometimes.

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Monarch Butterflies – Another Long-Distance Migrator!

Each year in the early part of summer, these orange and black beauties begin to arrive in Wisconsin and other areas north of the 40th Parallel in search of milkweed leaves and nectaring plants. 

But did you know they make the trip from central Mexico? 

Wait, let’s back up a bit… 

Each Autumn, when days get shorter and the temperatures begin to cool off, monarch butterflies begin to leave breeding territories in the north, in search of a warm place to spend the winter. For monarchs, that overwintering ground can be found high up on just a few mountains in central Mexico. Once there, the monarchs huddle together by the millions on the branches of oyamel fir trees.

Those that survive the winter, reverse course in the spring and begin heading north. Some will make it to Texas where they find milkweed to deposit eggs on. Those eggs hatch – the caterpillars emerge and eat – a lot – before spending 10-15 days inside a chrysalis – and eventually emerging as a beautiful Monarch butterfly.

The new Monarch flies several hundred miles north, visiting nectaring plants along the way for nourishment. When the times is right, it finds a mate, and deposits fertilized eggs on Milkweed plants, before it eventually dies. The new offspring continue the journey northward. In fact it could take 4 or 5 generations to make the trip. 

Yesterday Colleen sent along the following photo, which shows two adult Monarch butterflies (and a couple other pollinators) nectaring on, and perhaps checking to see if the plant was suitable for ovipositing eggs. 

A. tuberosa (Butterfly weed) is the host plant for Monarch butterflies. Photo: C. Chase

This lovely orange-flowering plant is the lesser-known milkweed here in the north. It’s proper name is Asclepias tuberosa. Every garden needs this spectacular orange beauty. You never know – if you plant some, you may end up with some flying orange beauties during the too-brief time they spend here in the north.

READ more about efforts in Wisconsin to help the Monarch

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36 Year Climate Change Record Found in Cycle Racing Footage

I recently stumbled across this article from National Geographic. What caught my eye was the reference to cycling.  My husband is an avid mountain biking cyclist and watches The Tour de France every year.

I’ve learned about cycle racing by osmosis; just being in the same room as the television. The idea that video footage of a race held in the same place every year could show evidence of climate change was intriguing.

I just HAD to read the article. 

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Here I sit, surrounded by wildflowers, it’s one of the prettier of my hiding places.

The view from here. Photo: C. Chase

Much nicer ambiance here. Yesterday morning was a spot in the woods. It was pretty too, but hard to see the field.

Last night’s hiding spot was a piece of farm equipment. Photo: C. Chase

Hiding is an art, I  have to be perfectly still, but comfortable enough that my legs don’t fall asleep, because when the time is right there is no time to wait for the feeling to return. I can’t jump and yell when a Garter Snake drops by to visit, nor when the biggest freaking spider EVER crawls down my arm. Bug jackets are a wonderful thing.

Brooke is on the other side of this field, somewhere.

Brooke watches and waits for twin Sandhills to arrive so they can be captured and re-tagged. Photo: C. Chase

We are hunkered down waiting to catch our Lois’ Pond twins.

About a half hour ago one of the adult Sandhills came into the field, but it came alone. It’s fascinating to watch a crane so close and it not know I am here. We are hoping the whole family comes through soon. Really soon, my legs are getting tingly again. Time to oh-so-slowly shift around again.

Wish us luck!

Can you spot Colleen?

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Sandhill Crane Colt

Meet BP7.1 – the latest Sandhill crane colt captured and radio-tagged at White River Marsh and the newest participant in the Sandhill crane productivity study currently taking place.

Credit: C. Chase

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