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”.

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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.

photo: https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/pet-advice/stick-insects-do-they-make-good-kids-pets.html

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.

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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. 

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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.

Happy to be WRONG!

A month or so ago I wrote about the flooding we we having and how sad it was to watch our Lois’ Pond pair of Sandhill Cranes desperately shore up their nest. She was off the eggs for 6 or 7 hours and I was not holding out much hope of seeing chicks from this pair, even though over this last month she was on the nest every time we peeked.

We knew if the eggs were viable they would be hatching Saturday or Sunday because Brooke and I watched them pick the spot and build the nest. We knew when she started brooding.

Monday morning we got to Lois’s Pond, Brooke peeked from the trees, ready to sneak to the nest and I watched from nearby. We both saw them at the same time and I have never been so happy to be wrong!

Two adult Sandhills in the field tending something tiny in the tall grass. We headed in oh so carefully. Remember my post about watching grass growing? After a ten minute search this is what we found! 

This is why we must be careful when looking for a tiny crane colt. It’s easy to step on them as they hunker down in the vegetation. Photo: C. Chase

The whole procedure took about 15 minutes and when we drove by a half hour later the little family was together again.

Introducing BP2.1 Photo: C. Chase

What a nice way to start the week!

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Henry and his Gal Pal

Whooping crane #5-12 hasn’t had much luck in the love department. He’s had a couple of ladies stolen from him over the past year or two so now that he’s been associating with female #67-15, I think we all have our fingers crossed that this one will “stick.”

It may be a tad early for this new pair to nest but if he can manage to hang onto her until next spring, we may just see a little Henry or two on the landscape at White River Marsh.

Lois and Ed Wargulla live near the marsh and frequently see Whooping cranes in the fields adjacent their home. In fact, either can probably tell you the goings on of these birds better than we can.

Lois is the person that named Henry so we thought it only fitting to ask her what his new gal’s name is and after giving it about 30 seconds worth of thought, she said “Patty”!

So, Here are a couple of photos I captured of Henry and Patty in flight a couple of weeks ago.

Four wings are better than two?

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Shorebirds, the World’s Greatest Travelers

On a trip to Florida years ago, I walked along the beach marveling at the shorebirds and giggling as they ran away from a wave and then just as quickly ran back as it receded to poke in the wet sand for tasty morsels.

They were such a pleasure to watch, so busy in their task, that humans walking by were of no concern to them. If they only knew how much damage those humans are doing to their coastal environment, they might not be so tolerant.

These birds are really long distance travelers with many migrating from the top of the world to the bottom of the world, often with only one break per trip. 

As I read the following article from the New York Times, I was amazed at their resilience and the conditions they have to endure.

Learn more…

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Did You Find it?

Here is either 3-14 or 4-12 incubating at White River Marsh.

The area where this pair has chosen to nest this season is within 80 meters of their nest location last year but it is surrounded by more vegetation and water. Unfortunately, for us this means no matter where we place our LIVE streaming camera, we just can’t see the nesting activities.

We hope the new nest location makes it more difficult for predators to approach the nest.

The CraneCam has been placed near the area where the pair typically feeds during the day and we’ve been fortunate to see one-at-a-time feeding occasionally since we deployed the camera two weeks ago.

In fact, the last time we saw both adult cranes together foraging in the camera area was on May 2nd and incubation can take between 30-33 days so we should have a hatch very soon.

The foraging area is approximately 600 meters from the nest location so we’re also hoping they will eventually lead their young chick(s) to this area where we’ll have a better chance of seeing them.

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Can you Spot the Crane?

Below is an aerial photo which shows either female 3-14 or male 4-12 on their nest. Can you spot the incubating Whooping crane?

Tune in tomorrow to see if you are correct!

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Wildlife Detectives

To learn anything about birds, or any wildlife for that matter, you have to spend a lot of time quietly watching. You read behavior and learn to interpret its meaning. Finding nesting Sandhill cranes or new parents with a chick, is a little like wildlife detective work.

We currently have several nests identified and on each one we have positioned a trail camera that takes an image every five minutes. These recorded images will let us confirm whether the eggs hatched or were predated. If there is only one egg in the nest, we check it again in a day or two when the second one is generally laid. If it’s there, we can estimate the initiation date and have a rough idea of when those eggs will hatch. To find those nests, you can trudge through the marsh for hours hoping to flush an incubating bird. Sometimes they will take off when you are still hundreds of feet away and other times they crouch down and stay motionless until you are within twenty feet. One pass through the marsh doesn’t guarantee you will see them so it’s not the most effective search method.

Alternatively, you can find a lookout spot and scan what appears to be good habitat while looking for telltale signs.

Setting cranes are hard to see. They sit down low, behind high vegetation, and don’t move much for hours. But once in a while when everything seems quiet, they stand to rotate the eggs or trade duties with their mate. An area of cattails which looked deserted the last ten times you scanned it, and then — there it is, an extended neck, the red patch on a head, and a good indication where the nest might be.

We also watch for birds foraging alone in fields near the marsh. That could mean their mate is incubating so you wait to see where he goes when it’s his turn. Because of the unusual spring weather-wise, this breeding season has been elongated. Some pairs have just started nesting for maybe their second or third time, while others have eggs almost ready to hatch. The oldest of the chicks that we have captured and radio tagged so far has been around three weeks of age so we spend our time searching for both hiding nesters and cautious new parents.

Friday, we drove slowly along County D and spotted a pair in an open field. We slowed and even though we were several hundred yards away, they perked up. Like any bird, cranes only get interested in passing cars if they slow down or stop. Mostly, they have a buffer zone with which they are comfortable. If you crowd that space, they will calmly walk away until they are satisfied they can be airborne before you can cause any harm. To them, we are just another predator to be kept at a safe distance.

Cranes with a chick however, use a different strategy. As soon as they spot you, they call to the chick to hide and they make a fuss, while walking in the other direction. That happens at two or three times the normal buffer zone and even though you can’t see the six inch tall chick in the grass, you can be fairly certain it’s there.

Jeff Fox first spotted the County D pair and as we pulled over, they flew a large circle calling the whole time. We grabbed our gear and ran out to where they had been last. Cranes have an amazing capacity to hide. Even pure white Whooping cranes can disappear when they need to and camouflaged Sandhill can simply vanish, especially the chicks. We paced the field looking for a chick, while the parents flew overhead three of four times calling unintelligible messages to the chick hiding somewhere in the grass.

After twenty minutes, we followed Jeff’s experience and moved back to the truck. The parents watched with concern from the periphery but stopped yelling at us as we retreated. Things got quiet and after a few minutes and as Jeff predicted, the deserted chick began to make its way back to where it had last seen Mom and Dad. He spotted the little brown head bobbing through the grass and sprinted like an athlete in waders. He covered two hundred feet in record time through grass that wasn’t much longer than a lawn in need of cutting. Still, we had to watch our step and search for a while before spotting the chick in an area we had just covered.

This chick, officially known as JD2.1 is roughly 10-days of age.

This chick was about six inches tall and so unfamiliar with humans that it relaxed almost immediately. Apart from being cupped in Jeff’s hand, nothing bad was happening, so the tagging went smoothly.

A small square of fabric which has a tiny transmitter sewn into it, is placed on the chick using glue. It will eventually fall off.

Within a few minutes, we were out of there and the chick was reunited with its parents. It was exciting to read the signs and watch the behavior and know that your instincts were correct. It like being a wildlife detective but with waders instead of a badge.

It has always been a privilege to work with birds. We have gained insight into their environment like few others and the best part is — you never stop learning.

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Hide & Seek

It has been a wet Spring here in Wisconsin. First a late blizzard then lots of rain.

About 2 weeks ago, every growing thing burst into green, and is now growing so fast, I swear at the end of the day you can see that it’s higher than it was in the morning.

Sandhill cranes bring their tiny chicks to grassy, upland areas to forage.

This makes searching for Sandhill crane chicks a challenge and an exercise in patience.

Jeff and Joe won Friday’s game!

The latest capture. Meet JD1.1


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