As thousands of cranes move into region, proposal for hunt is a head-scratcher

One of Midwest's most awe-inspiring natural phenomena is getting under way right now.

“Our ability to perceive quality in nature begins, as in art, with the pretty.  It expands through successive stages of the beautiful to values as yet uncaptured by language. The quality of cranes lies, I think, in this higher gamut, as yet beyond the reach of words.” -Aldo Leopold, “Marshland Elegy”

Anyone who’s experienced the thrill of seeing a large flock of Sandhill Cranes wheeling high in the air can relate to Leopold’s poetic words. 

However, some folks in the late conservation legend’s home state of Wisconsin view these members of the Order Gruiformes quite differently. Wisconsin corn growers have concerns about the damage caused as the cranes consume germinating corn or seeds.

“We’ve done a great job in the state of Wisconsin of protecting (the cranes) and bringing our numbers back up where it’s no longer on the endangered species list,” said State Sen. Mary Felzkowski, sponsor of a crane-hunting bill. “It’s time now to manage that resource, just as we do with all our other waterfowl and birds.”

It’s a cruel irony for a species that was almost hunted to extinction in the 1800s.  

The Baraboo, Wis.-based International Crane Foundation (ICF) and other groups oppose the Sandhill Crane hunt. Yes, Sandhill Cranes do cause crop damage in the spring. Even as other states do have Sandhill Crane hunts, this policy would strike at the heart of crane breeding territory, “Cranes evoke a strong cultural and spiritual connection,” says the ICF website. Worse, it’s likely the highly endangered Whooping Crane could be mistakenly targeted as well, something that’s happened with all too much frequency in the past. 

Just a couple weeks ago, I delighted in my first Whooping Crane sighting in Illinois as the birds paused along the Illinois River:

ICF notes that a chemical deterrent known as Avipel can offer an effective alternative for reducing crop damage due to cranes. 

One fact that stands out is how sloooowly Sandhill Cranes reproduce. Only one crane hatchling survives to fledge once every three years. That such a recovery has taken place is a credit to ICF and so many other organizations and government agencies. 

There must be a better management solution here, a solution that doesn’t put cranes at risk.

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Averting another Bell Bowl Prairie-type situation

If you’ve been following this newsletter, you know that Rockford’s Bell Bowl Prairie has been granted a temporary reprieve at Chicago Rockford International Airport. It’s welcome news for one of Illinois’ last remaining dry gravel prairies, one that’s home to Bobolinks, Dickcissels and the endangered Rusty-patched Bumble Bee.

If you’re wondering how this situation came to pass—a state natural area facing development—the past few days have offered some insight. George Covington, Chair of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission (INPC), wrote a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times that appeared Saturday. In it he states that the all-volunteer commission’s lacked a Director for the past six years. The letter implies that with that position filled—and there is a search under way—that the INPC would have greater authority to act, though the situation in Rockford was out of its hands (there’s a very big distinction between dedicated nature preserves and natural areas on private land).

It does seem that the airport authority tried to sneak this through to some extent, and that its environmental assessment was flawed. The reality is that thousands and thousands of acres of high-quality natural areas are located on private land. While a situation quite like this may never happen again, the fight to save Bell Bowl Prairie may be instructive in the future.

Save the date: New beer, trailer release and more

On Saturday, Nov. 20, Imperial Oak Brewing will release Marsh Hawk Red Ale as a tribute to the state endangered Northern Harrier, aka the Marsh Hawk, a slim hawk of Illinois marshes, prairies and farm fields. A percentage of proceeds will benefit the Great Lakes Flyway Project, a not-for-profit organization that I’m starting with a few other birding fans. This is a follow-up to Piping Plover Pale Ale, which Imperial Oak has released the last two years.

But wait, there’s more! On the 20th, we’ll also show the trailer for The Magic Stump, the new documentary that I’ve been working on, featuring the mysterious stump where a variety of rare raptors, including Marsh Hawks, appear in wintertime. The trailer release will take place at the brewery (501 Willow Blvd., Willow Springs).

And finally, that morning I will lead a bird walk at Willow Springs Woods, just a quarter-mile from the brewery. The walk will conclude just in time for us to head over to the brewery for the new beer release at 11 a.m.; the beer will be on tap as well as available in cans to go.

The bird walk does require an RSVP. Otherwise, please save the date and I hope to see you on Nov. 20 at the beer/trailer release! 

TWiB Notes

With winter approaching, Lake Michigan water temperatures can affect lakefront birding, especially when it comes to waterfowl. Warm water temperatures mean less ice in-shore. That means ducks, geese and other waterbirds closer to shore; a frigid winter can push them way out past the ice……The Kirtland’s Warbler Alliance reports that the rare Michigan warbler’s population is stable in its most recent census. The Kirtland’s Warbler was only recently taken off the endangered species list….The American Bird Conservancy has issued an action alert regarding the destruction of habitat by Elon Musk-owned SpaceX at a site near South Padre Island in Texas. The bird species being affected by SpaceX include the Red Knot, Piping Plover and Aplomado Falcon…..Author Cindy Crosby takes a walk on a remnant prairie in Downers Grove and contemplates the future of Bell Bowl Prairie in this fine post.

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