On October 2nd, a friend of Sue’s left a message on our phone that he had seen a whooping crane with sandhill cranes about three miles from Goose Pond, about 100 yards from the intersection of Kampen and Harvey Roads, east of Highway 51. He had an excellent look could see that the whooping crane was banded with colored bands.
Mark checked out the area the next day and finally found the whooping crane about a half mile south of Kampen Road not far from Highway 51 along with 230 sandhills. At that distance, the whooping crane easily stood out.
The following day, Mark found the whooping crane late morning within a few yards of where it was the previous afternoon. He called Graham and the seed collecting fall employees, and they were all treated to a life bird. At that time the color bands were recorded and reported to the International Crane Foundation. Later that afternoon, Mark was lucky to see the whooper flying about one mile to the east.
Most people know that whooping cranes reached a low of 15 birds in the wild in the 1940s and were close to extinction. This population of cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Last winter, that population totaled 504 birds including 13 young. We really enjoyed our visits to Rockport, Texas to view the whooping cranes up close.
In 1991, Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that there were a few bird whooping crane records from southeast Wisconsin in mid 1800s along with enormous flocks of sandhill cranes. Kumlien and Hollister spoke of “unquestionable breeding to some extent,” however nesting was never confirmed. Sam mentioned that the last historic whooping crane record was from 1878 in Green County that included a specimen.
The next record for Wisconsin was in April 1959 when Owen Gromme observed two birds in Waukesha County. The wild population was still very low and these birds were about 500 miles east of their migration route.
The Robert Lerch family sold Madison Audubon the first parcel of land at Goose Pond Sanctuary in 1968. We remember Robert talking about seeing a whooping crane in back of their house in 1959. The only record of that sighting was Roberts note of the sighting on the back of the passage door for their garage. Robert was a waterfowl hunter and trapper with very good observational skills.
On October 4, 2010 many bird watchers observed and photographed three adult whooping cranes about five miles southeast of Goose Pond at the farmed wetland at Harvey Road and County DM.
A few years after that we spend many evenings looking for the whooping crane that spent the summer at the Anderson Waterfowl Production Area on Highway K, east of Highway 51.
On March 26, 2014 Matt Giovanni, Wildlife Biologist, and Richard Armstrong, Wildlife Photographer were out searching for snowy owls around Goose Pond and both reported spotting a whooping crane. The next day we observed the whooping crane with 10 sandhill cranes just north of the Goose Pond. That evening, Mark was heading out looking for snowy owls and he ran into George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation.
George was out with three Russian crane researchers looking for snowy owls. Mark told them he was searching for a whooping crane. They were surprised to learn of a whooping crane at Goose Pond. The Russian researchers had never seen a snowy owl and one had not seen a whooping crane. Mark and George split up to search a larger area. Not long after that Mark called George and said he found a snowy owl that was in the farmed wetland in Jill’s Prairie. Mark called George and when they arrive they set up their scope and everyone had excellent looks at a whooping crane. Mark said, “I thought you were interested in seeing a snowy owl.” George said they “were interested in seeing a snowy owl and wondered where the owl was that you reported.” Mark said look in your scope at the whooping crane but look past the crane and you will see a snowy owl! They were thrilled to see a snowy owl and shortly after that two more owls were found including one they photographed from their van at 40 feet.
The International Crane Foundation, the Department of Natural Resources, and Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership has worked from many years restoring a population of whooping cranes in Wisconsin. The International Crane Foundation reported, “The [September 2019] estimated population size is 85 (40 F, 42 M, 3 U). This includes three wild-hatched chicks from 2019. To the best of our knowledge, as of October 1, at least 73 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 4 are in Michigan, 1 is in Iowa and 1 is in Illinois.” There is a long story with the reintroduction history with this population that would take pages to cover.
We hope that you visit Goose Pond area in the next month and hopefully you will find a large population of sandhill cranes and one white crane.
Written by Mark Martin and Susan Foote-Martin, Resident Managers, Goose Pond Sanctuary