It rained most of the day. Participants in Sunday’s field trip could imagine a bit how cranes walk in wetlands, as the group was stepping carefully in and out of puddles and through wet spongy grass. Alex Kerr, International Crane Foundation Conservation Outreach representative and AJ Binney, new ICF Alabama Whooping Crane representative, explored with 16 eager participants the PicnicPoint marsh area, a heaven for water fowl, frogs, and birds. They also visited the Eagle Heights Community gardens where the Preserve’s resident Sandhill cranes often forage with much success.
Cranes, Alex explained, are one of the oldest birds, going back 300 million years. Today they are one of the most endangered species. Of the 15 kinds of cranes in the world, 2 species live in Wisconsin, the now quite common grayish-brown Sandhill crane and the white feathered Whooping cranes,, both with a red spot on the crown. Thanks to the enormous efforts of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), which moved to Baraboo in 1983, and partner organizations, there are now about 100 Whooping cranes in Wisconsin, up from zero.
The intrepid "walkers in the rain" marveled about the clever nesting strategies of cranes to protect their eggs from predators. They build their nest high enough above the water level not to get wet - they can't swim - but away from solid ground and predators like foxes. They return every year to the same nesting area. In the Preserve are now two such areas of Sandhill cranes, one at the rather inaccessible south side of the Marsh of 1918 and one here in the Pond area at Picnic Point. The colts of both the Sandhill cranes and Whopping cranes have protective colors, gray and brown. It is quite a sight to see them take off for their first flight led by their ever watchful parents.
While we didn’t see any cranes on this walk, AJ Binney spotted plenty of other birds for us to enjoy. The Pond marsh is frequented by many warblers in spring and fall, and we were treated to the sight of a Redstart and Golden winged warbler, as well as Chickadees.. We watched a Downy wood pecker peck away at a low tree truck and a Red bellied woodpecker high up. It was special to watch a pair of Wood ducks on the other side of the marsh, photographed by our youngest visitor, 11-year old Sarah. The final treat was a Red-tailed hawk at the Community gardens. Friends host was Gisela Kutzbach, Photos by Doris Dubielzig and Sara Mcclish.