I was eating supper on July 25th at the Prairie Lane residence when a car drove up and Arlene Koziol came to the door. She was excited and said “Come quickly, I have a surprise to show you.” We went to the kiosk and there were two whooping cranes on the north side of Goose Pond. This is a first for my life list!
Madison Audubon members Arlene and Jeff Koziol were photographing sunflowers in bloom at our food plot off of Kampen road when they decided to stop by the kiosk at the end of the day. Lucky for us they did, because there, on the north side of the west pond, conspicuous amongst a group of about 30 sandhill cranes, they spotted two whooping cranes! The next morning around 8:30 am Sarah and I were passing the east pond on Goose Pond Road when we again saw the pair, this time very close to the road. The two soon took flight and, wings dipping in unison, headed southeast. They pair haven’t been seen since Tuesday, though we know that last Sunday they had been seen in a Waterfowl Production Area west of DeForest on County V. It seems they are in the area, so if you come up to Goose Pond, check out the local wetlands to see if you can spot them. If anyone spots the birds or is able to see the birds close enough to read the leg bands, please call me to report the identification information at 612-227-7671. I will send the information to the people that track whooping cranes.
The pair that was seen at Goose Pond might have been too young to nest or they might have attempted nesting earlier in the season, but chicks from this year are too young to have fledged so this pair did not nest successfully this year. The pair might have been drawn to the area by the small wetlands and newly mown wheat fields attractive for feeding. Around mid-September they will begin their migration south. The pair that we saw represents an alarming fraction of wild whooping cranes; as of 2016 there were 101 wild cranes in the Eastern migratory population or flock, not including this year’s chicks. Cranes in Wisconsin are part of the Eastern migratory flock that follows a route from Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near St. Marks FL, to the breeding grounds in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. All cranes from this migratory flock were part of a breeding and reintroduction program. The main part of the reintroduction was where they were taught their migratory route by following ultra light airplanes operated by Operation Migration.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service discontinued the flights in 2015 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act since there was some speculation as to the effectiveness of the operation. There are three other whooping crane populations: the first is the Western migratory flock that travels from Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf coast to their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada; there were 308 wild cranes in this flock in 2014. The second population is a non-migratory flock in Kissimmee, FL; there were 14 wild cranes in this flock in 2015. The last population is a non-migratory flock in southwestern Louisiana; there were 39 wild cranes in this flock in 2015.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may be releasing captive raised young later this fall and try and hook them up with adult whooping cranes that would lead the young to Florida.
I hope you get a chance to find these rare birds and add them to your life list if they are not already on it. I will provide updates to the MAS website if they are relocated. We also have two great egrets at Goose Pond.
Maddie Van Cleve, Land Steward, Goose Pond Sanctuary