Canadian Government Commits to Wood Buffalo National Park

Last week we told you that Wood Buffalo National Park was under consideration of being added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Danger, following a 2014 petition submitted to the World Heritage Committee by the Mikisew Cree First Nation.

Last Thursday the Government of Canada announced a $27.5M investment over five years in the development of, and early implementation of, the action plan for Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site. 

“As I have said many times before, the findings and recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee represent an important call to action. Today, our Government continues to take action with this new, substantial, and long term investment. Our commitment is real and we will continue to work with all of our provincial, territorial, and Indigenous partners to secure the future of the Wood Buffalo National Park World Heritage Site for generations to come.”

The Honourable Catherine McKenna,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada 

Parks Canada is working with the 11 Indigenous communities associated with Wood Buffalo National Park through a co-operative management committee that strives to respect both the mandate of Parks Canada and the cultures and traditions of Indigenous peoples.

As one of the most significant investments in nature conservation in Canadian history, Budget 2018 will increase federal capacity to protect species at risk and put in place new recovery initiatives for priority species, areas, and threats to our environment.

READ more…

© Parks Canada / John McKinnon

Pretend Commandos

When I was young, all the kids in the neighborhood would take to the farmers fields with our BB guns to play war. We would build forts made of hay bales back when they were square and movable by one adult — or four kids. We would paint our faces and belly crawl through the crops like pretend commandos. That was before paintball guns and safety glasses so our battles were serious, or at least they were to twelve-year-olds. The memory of those carefree and careless years came flooding back last Friday as Brooke and I belly crawled through the tall grass east of Princeton.

He and Colleen had been watching a pair of Sandhills and a chick as they foraged in a field next to the marsh. Like most breeding crane parents, they were hyper-sensitive to anything unusual. They seem to understand that the chick is harder to spot than they are, so at the first sign of danger, they instruct their offspring to hide, while they move away instead of drawing predators closer. In fact, if they start screaming at you from a quarter mile away, it’s a good indication that a pair are protecting a chick or two.

In this case, we had to cross an open field to reach them and before we had placed the first step, the chick headed for the tall grass and the parents began moving off in the opposite direction. Like a needle in a haystack, it’s almost impossible to find a chick once it reaches the safety of the tall grass  – so the direct approach was not workable. The only viable option was to approach from the marsh side.

If we could get close enough, the adults would fly off, leaving the chick to hide in the shorter grass where it was far easier to find. Except that meant bushwhacking through scrub and grass for a half mile and then crawling the last hundred yards to the edge of the field. We were wearing chest waders and marsh boots with bug jackets covering the top half but it was more comfortable than it sounds. We wear nylon pants over the waders to protect them from brambles and thorns. The grass was still wet with dew so the pants were soaked and cooled my legs like an evaporator. I had my backpack on with a communication radio clipped to the shoulder strap to hear Colleen’s direction’s.

We couldn’t see the family but knew from her where they were. When we were both in position I raised my head just as one of the adults turned to look directly at me and then quickly walked away. We charged through the last fifty feet of grass and out into the open, low vegetation. The adults took off but the chick was already gone. All three of us gave up the search after twenty frustrating minutes.

Colleen had watched the entire episode through binoculars keeping her eyes on the chick at all times so she could let us know where to look first. As it turned out, our approach was perfect but we came out just as the chick went in and I likely missed it by a few feet. I was checking the open field while it was already in the tall grass, moving rapidly away from us and laughing the whole time.

It likely found a safe hiding spot to watch us walking in circles thinking to itself that we looked like pretend commandos with BB guns.

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EMP – Whooping Crane Update

July 3, 2018

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month nesting season has ended. 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). This does not include wild-hatched chicks. As of 3 July, 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.


As of 3 July, we have had at least ten chicks hatch from 7 of 23 total nests in Wisconsin. We currently have two Whooping Crane (first) nests for which we have not yet confirmed the outcome. In total, we had 18 first nests and 5 re-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 hatched from 5 first nests and 2 re-nests (not including the two unknown first nests). Chicks in bold are currently alive.

Unknown status: 3-11/7-11 in Adams County, 5-10/28-08 in Marathon Co.

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.

Did not hatch: 9-03/3-04 first nest Juneau Co, 13-03/9-05 Juneau Co, 34-09/4-08 Juneau Co, W1-06/1-10 Juneau Co, 36-09/18-03 Juneau Co, 59-13/1-11 St. Croix Co, 27-14/10-11 Marquette Co, 3-14/4-12 Green Lake Co, 32-09/19-10 Juneau Co, 2-04/25-09 Juneau Co.

W1-18 and W2-18 hatched to parents 12-11 and 5-11 in Juneau Co, WI. W1-18 is currently still alive.

W3-18 and W4-18 hatched to parents 24-09 and 42-09 in Adams Co, WI. The two chicks were confirmed on 5 June but likely hatched around 27 May. The family was seen with only one chick on 18 June. W3-18 is currently alive and with its parents.

W3-18 with #24-09 (Dad) in Adams County, WI. Photo: Lori Verhagen

W5-18 hatched to parents W3-10 and 8-04 in Juneau Co, WI. This chick was confirmed on 5 June but likely hatched around 30 May. As of 3 July, W5-18 is suspected to be dead but it is not yet confirmed.

W6-18 hatched to parents 1-04 and 16-07 by 7 June in Juneau Co, WI, and is still alive.

Two chicks have hatched to parents 9-03 and 3-04 in Juneau Co on 11 and 13 June, one of which is still alive.

One chick hatched to parents 14-08 and 24-08 on 13 June in Juneau Co, and is still alive.

One chick hatched to parents 4-08 and 23-10 on 20 June in Juneau Co, and is still alive.

These remaining four chicks have not yet been named. They will be given ID numbers once we have confirmed the fates of two nests that should have hatched in early-mid June. 

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (U) is still in Adams Co, WI, with 39_16.

W7_17 (F) was last reported in Wright Co, MN.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) are either in Marathon Co or Clark Co, WI, and have met up with 36_17 (F).

28_17 (M) is in Marquette Co, WI, near his original release area.

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

72_17 (M) is in Ingham 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.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

7_17 is still with 4_14 (M) in Green Lake Co.

3_17 was last seen in Stephenson Co, IL with 31_16 (M).

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are still in Brown Co, WI.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) have moved around quite a bit but are currently in Franklin Co, IA.


None known during June (with the exception of wild-hatched chicks – see above).

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Place Your Bets

About a week and a half ago Brooke and I were driving around in the rain, looking for Sandhill Cranes to tag.

We have not exactly been tripping over chicks, so we were ecstatic to find 5 chicks in a mile stretch of road. The bad news was the AG fields they were foraging in are a good distance from the road and back straight up to a few miles of marsh.

Photo: C. Chase

We got permission to get on property that has four of these chicks. Joe, Brooke and I were out every morning last week to make an attempt to nab a chick.

Tuesday we tagged the twins. It went really well. They were the most accessable, being at the West end of the 1st field which is on a corner.

Every other day either they were not around or they were so close to the marsh we knew it would be an exercise in futility.

Friday morning we decided give it a go. I dropped Brooke and Joe off and they slowly snuck behind the treeline, following my whispered directions through the walkie talkies. I told them the birds were in the shade of the stand of Oaks. Now, there are Oaks scattered all along that line, but a thick clump in one spot. My perspective up on the hill is way different than the guys belly crawling under the trees, so I was nervous my instructions were not going to get them to the right spot.

One of the adult Sandhills warily keeping an eye on everyone. Photo: C. Chase

To my amazement and relief, eventually I saw Brooke coming out of the trees in the perfect spot! So did the birds and they started heading to my left, Brookes right. Perfect! Towards Joe! The chick headed into the tall grass the exact moment Joe became visable. That chick disappeared and Joe stepped out at almost the same second, so close I was afraid Joe was going to step on it.

That could not have gone better! Except for one thing. We could not find the chick. We looked, we circled outwardly from the last place I saw it. No chick. Finally we gave up.

Mother Nature gave these little chicks amazing instinct and coloring. You can be a foot away and not see their frozen fluffy little tushes!

We’ll be out to try again today. I’m not sure who you should bet on!

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Wild Thang!

Last week Doug Pellerin captured a couple photos of whooping crane chick #W3-18. This young colt is the offspring of adults 42-09 (F) and 24-09 (M) whose territory is in Adams County, Wisconsin.

The same pair was successful in raising a crane in 2017 (#W3-17). They have been a breeding pair since 2012 and last year’s offspring was the first chick they kept alive long enough to lead it south to their winter territory in Kentucky. 

W3-17 wintered with the adults and then returned to Wisconsin in the spring of this year. It was then chased away from the breeding territory by the adults.

Let’s hope this pair now has enough experience to keep #W3-18 and any future offspring alive.

Whooping crane colt #W3-18 appears to be ~4 weeks old. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Dad #24-09 on the right and Mom #42-09 on the left keep the colt between them. Photo: Doug Pellerin

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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.

READ more

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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. 

READ more

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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