Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Whooping Cranes

Over the weekend, Val and I checked out the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which is only a couple of hours north of Rockford. It is the only place in the world that breeds all 15 of the world's crane species, and where one can see all of them. I believe we saw  11 different types of Cranes, including the endangered Whooping Crane.  Fossilized remains of the Whooping Crane date back several million years and shows that Whooping Cranes were once scattered throughout a much wider geographic range, extending from central Canada to Mexico and from Utah to the Atlantic coast. The species' range shrank rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century. Loss of wetland habitat, westward expansion of settlers, unregulated hunting for sport and food, and the popularity of egg and specimen collecting at the turn of the century were the major factors leading to its decline. The only remaining natural, self-sustaining flock of Whooping Cranes breeds in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories, Canada, and winters in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Texas). This flock reached a low of only sixteen birds in the winter of 1941-1942.  In 1999 several organizations united to establish a new, migratory flock of Whooping Cranes to the core part of their historical breeding range. This flock now migrates between Wisconsin and coastal Florida. To re-establish this natural migration route that was completely lost, Whooping Crane chicks from the ICF are raised and conditioned to follow an ultralight aircraft which guides them on their first migration south on a 1200 mile journey to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. The birds spend the winter in Florida and return unassisted to Wisconsin in the spring.

At the ICF in Baraboo, there is very nice habitat with natural tall prairie grass and a large pond for the Whooping Cranes, but this doesn't necessarily gaurantee the visitor to see one as the area is quite large. We entered the observation deck twice. The first time we just missed a pair of Cranes that disappeared into the long grass. Whooping Cranes grow up to 5' tall - this shows how tall the grass was. When we returned for a 2nd try, we didn't see any Cranes, but then I saw one with its head sticking out of the grass (Above, 7-31-10). We waited to see if they would move and eventually they crossed through the grass toward the pond (Below, 7-31-10).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I really need to get to your neck of the woods, this place sounds awesome! I saw Val's pic last night and yours are beautiful too...I love that first shot of the crane peeking through the grasses! Beautifully done!