Saturday, September 20, 2008

Whooping Crane Festival

I pulled out of the driveway at 5:30 this morning on my way to Necedah, Wisconsin for the 8th Annual Whooping Crane and Wildlife Festival. I got down to LaCrosse, Wisconsin around 6:30 and had the chance to capture this DWOO (driving while otherwise occupied) shot--out my speeding car window--of pre-sunrise over the Mississippi.

I arrived at the festival shortly before 8 AM.
Uh-oh, looks like there's already a pretty good crowd!

As I was walking to the entrance gate, I noticed that there was a variety of license plates (in addition to the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois visitors you would expect).

I was able to hop aboard the 8:00 tour bus. Our trip leader was Caitlyn, who's been working at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NNWR) as an intern this summer. She's also been leading lots of other groups this year and was really knowledgeable about the whooping cranes and everything that goes into raising them here at NNWR, not to mention all the additional information she shared with us regarding the other plants and animals within the NNWR.

Hey, what's that bird over there?
That's no's one of the ultralight aircraft that Operation Migration uses to help the whooping cranes make their migration trip to Florida. The pilots were just finishing up their early morning flight training sessions. If I had gotten an earlier start and made it on the 7:30 bus, I might have been able to see the whooping cranes flying along with this aircraft.
Could you imagine flying all the way to Florida in one of these? Caitlyn told us that the program will continue until approximately 100 whooping cranes have been raised and followed the ultralight aircraft during fall migration. She said they're currently at just over 60 whooping cranes that have been taught to migrate this way.

Here's one of the enclosures where the young whooping cranes are being raised this summer. It's in an area of the refuge where the general public isn't allowed to go, so this bus tour gave us a chance to see it when normally you wouldn't be able to. You can learn more about the whooping crane project by clicking on this link for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

I did manage to catch a fleeting glimpse of one whooping crane flying. They are a striking white color--especially when you compare them to the sandhill cranes which are quite common and in some fairly large flocks within the NNWR.

This is just another view within the refuge. On our bus tour through the refuge we were treated to the sight of many red-headed woodpeckers. I've never seen so many red-headed woodpeckers in one place!

The festival had several speakers lined up throughout the morning and afternoon, but since I was anxious to get back out to the NNWR, I only stayed to listen to Keith Kennedy give a talk about nature photography. I picked up a few pointers but came away with a longing for a new camera and longer lens (yes, size does matter!)

I then visited the big tent featuring informational booths on whooping cranes and also vendors selling a variety of goods. I resisted the urge to purchase another t-shirt or sweatshirt, but couldn't resist some new whooping crane "bling" for my binocular straps and my earlobes.

It was a fun day for me, but I realized after I got to the festival that it wasn't quite what I expected. It was a festival celebrating the whooping crane and I went expecting it to be more of a birding festival. I believe I was the only person there with a spotting scope and must have looked like a total dork walking around toting all my birding gear! Caitlyn did mention that NNWR has field trips geared more towards birders where we would actually be able to visit viewing blinds and see the cranes, so next time, I'll have to check out that possibility if I want more of a "birding" experience.

Stay tuned for my next post where I'll be taking you through the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and sharing some of the amazing things I saw there on my own.


Mary C said...

Ruthie, it already sounds amazing! Did you go just for the one day? That's interesting that this festival was actually very focused on the whooping cranes. The Festival of the Cranes in New Mexico has grown to almost a full week of activities/events, etc, and definitely focuses on so many more things than just sandhill cranes. BTW, did you get any photos of red-headed woodpeckers? That is something special to get to see so many in one place. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mary,
Yes, just a quick Saturday trip over to Wisconsin and back! On my drive home I was imagining what sort of birding/nature festival could be planned for the NNWR. I wished I could spend many more days there exploring.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers in the next installment!

Red said...

Sorry it wasn't quite what you expected Ruthie... but it looks like you had a lot of fun anyway. Beautiful sunrise you saw!

I awarded you an excellent blog award, so swing on by and pick it up :)

Jayne said...

There is a refuge in this area too which I've never visited (The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge) and now I think I'll have to make a trip up there just to see it. :c) They take a rest there on their way from Wisconsin to Florida. Even though you didn't get to see all you wanted to, it's nice to see you got some nice bling. ;c)

Shellmo said...

It sounds like a fun experience - I would've brought all my camera gear too - so I guess I would've been the second dork - LOL!

Lisa at Greenbow said...

What a beautiful sunrise. I hope you have the best time. CAn't wait to hear all about it.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Red,
Thanks for the award! :-)
I stopped over for a quick look, but hope to have more time later this week for an official award pick-up & transfer!

Hi Jayne,
Caitlyn told us the whooping crane departure date from Wisconsin is around Oct. 18. The Operation Migration website has tons of information about the trip. Hopefully once they start flying there will be a tracking map we can follow too. I hope you get a chance to see them. It's pretty amazing!

Thanks Shelley. I think you would have enjoyed the festival and the refuge too.

Hi Lisa,
I wish the picture wouldn't have been so blurred, but what I really wanted to capture were the was such a gorgeous sunrise reflecting off the waters of the river.

Marsha said...

How fun to be able to go to this event! I bet it was wonderful to see those magnificant birds up close.

Windyridge said...

That is soooooooooooooooooooo cool!!!!!

nina said...

Ruthie, this is so cool!
Can you imagine being the pilot who steers that ultralight!
What a great conversation starter!

Meggie said...

Love the bling, Ruthie! The earrings are really cool!

Ruth said...

I have never seen a Whooping Crane or a Red-headed Woodpecker. I should consider adding an Ontario licence plate to your collection. Interesting post!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Marsha,
It was a fun event and a beautiful day to be outside.

Thanks Windyridge!

Hi Nina,
If I remember correctly, there are 4 pilots who fly shifts. It would be so amazing to fly with whooping cranes!

Thanks Meggie!

Oh Ruth, I hope I have the chance to meet you in Wisconsin someday! I know you wouldn't be disappointed.