Victor Bakhtin landscape painting–almost as good as being there.

Outside the Whooping Crane exhibit here at ICF there is a beautiful landscape mural painted by Victor Bakhtin, the same artist who painted the Platte River mural inside our visitor’s center.

The landscape is located just south of Baraboo, Wisconsin, not too far from the International Crane Foundation.  Victor Bakhtin painted it in 1994, but when does it take place? Here are some clues.

This looks like a tree full of Passenger Pigeons, but my boss says there are also Mourning Doves in there. Here is a website with ID information: http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/passpig.htm Anyone care to comment?

This looks like a tree full of Passenger Pigeons, but my boss says there are also Mourning Doves in there. Here is a website with ID information: http://www.si.edu/encyclopedia_si/nmnh/passpig.htm Anyone care to comment?

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the last two bison east of the Mississippi River were shot in 1832. This scene probably took place at least a century before then. At that time herds of bison roamed the great prairies surrounding Baraboo, and Passenger Pigeons were so plentiful that they could blacken the sky for hours as they migrated in search of acorn masts. Today’s bison herds are a mere shadow of their former greatness, and the Passenger Pigeon is a ghost. As it approached extinction, a few brave conservationists began to call for measures of protection, or for at least some limit to Passenger Pigeon hunting. Their pleas would go unanswered.

In 1857, the Ohio legislature infamously stated: “The Passenger Pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced.”

By 1900 the last wild Passenger Pigeon in North America was shot by a farm boy in Ohio. In 1914 the last Passenger Pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo. She was named Martha, after Martha Washington.

I like to use this mural while giving my talks to discuss the idea of extinction. It shows what our landscape used to look like, and foreshadows the fate of many species on the brink of extinction. The mural is filled with other species that have tenuous futures. At ICF we strive to conserve land and resources not only for cranes, but for other species that share their landscapes. And for us, because a world without biodiversity wouldn’t be worth living in.

Here are some more hidden gems from the mural. Don’t worry, there are still more for you to discover on your own.

April 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

Counting Cranes and Booming Cocks

This weekend was very birdful. I think I’m too exhausted to go into great detail, so I’ll try to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Saturday morning I surveyed cranes at Mirror Lake State Park for the Annual Midwest Crane Count. It was my second time at Mirror Lake, and I liked it so much that I went back for a third time today. I was lucky enough to steal my survey area from someone who had other commitments, but she claimed that her crane count survey area was the best in Sauk County, maybe the best in the state of Wisconsin. I believe her. It was gorgeous.

I forgot to set the focus to "automatic", but here is a blurry shot of Mirror Lake just fter dawn.

My last crane on the count, a female Sandhill Crane sitting on a nest at Mirror Lake.

Crane Count was incredible. Not only did I see 17 Sandhill Cranes, I also saw many other bird species, a muskrat, and a beautiful sunrise. I also helped contribute to citizen science. Crane Count data is continuously being compiled to add to our knowledge of crane populationt trends, which determines conservation efforts for North American cranes. This morning I found a second nesting Sandhill Crane at Mirror Lake. What a cool place.

Last night my friend Michelle and I headed to Hartman Creek State Park to camp before seeing the Greater Prairie Chickens leking near Stevens Point, Wisconsin. We had almost the entired campground to ourselves and picked a nice site overlooking a small lake. Before an amazing dinner of instant rice and Indian food, we took a slow walk around the lake. A solitary Canada Goose stood as still as a Ninja on a shoreline log, while ten or so Woodducks made passes through the lake and surrounding pine forest. A Rusty Blackbird male whistled and garbled near our campsite as we ended our short hike. After many s’mores (way too many) a Sora called once from the shoreline. My first of the year.

Four short hours of sleep and we started breaking down camp at 2:30 in the morning. We got to the meet up site near Plover, Wisconsin at 4:30, and set off to start viewing at 5:15. It was worth the earlystart.

Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) booming

Greate Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) cocks on the booming grounds

Michelle, my co-counter, and two Greater Prairie Chicken blinds next to each other.

In all we saw 15 Greater Prairie Chickens, consisting of 12 booming cocks (yes they are really called that) and 3 hens. The cocks were trying their hardest, leaping into the air, shaking and shimmying around the leking ground, lifting up their “rabbit ear” feathers, and of course, booming. The booming calls were constant for the two hours we were in the blind. Priaire chickens cocks boom by inflating their balloon-like orange air sacs and using them to resonate a low, haunting call The cocks also fought incesisently with each other, cackling and complaining and clawing instead of concentrating on the real prize, the hens. Michelle was lucky enough to witness one copulation, and she even got it on video! I can’t wait to see that. We filled out a survey form for our blind, which is another contribution to citizen science. Call me a nerd, but I love conducting bird surveys.

To say I had fun this weekend would be a huge understatement. It was phenomenal.

April 19, 2010 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment

Wetland Birding in Lake County, Illinois

On April 10th I met Joel Greenberg at Wadsworth Wetlands for some morning birding. He had a survey to fill out, while I just had time to burn and the itch to see some first-of-the-year birds. Mission: accomplished for both of us.

The early morning air sung as waterfowl whistled through the marsh. Blue-winged Teals were out in fair numbers, with the occasional scattered Green-winged Teal. I love the bright, crisp colors of male waterfowl, and their desperate attempts to round-up less than enthusiastic females. The plants were feeling the drive to reproduce as well. Some spring flowers, namely Blood Root, were blooming, and many plants were starting to show green. Everything right now is twitterpated, and I myself fall in love with the scene around me every spring.

Joel demonstrating the incredible construction tactics employed by beavers

After the bird survey at Wadsworth we decided to hit up some more Lake County birding spots. A trip to a tucked away subdivision yielded my first Rusty Blackbird in the lower 48. Its call conjured up memories of nest searching in Alaska, when I was employed as a Rusty Blackbird field technician in Yukon Flats. It’s funny how a two note call and an electronic garble can open up a flood of memories. It was a happy moment. And I was glad to see at least one Rusty Blackbird on the migration route–it gave me faith that some of them can indeed find stopover sites in Illinois.

Joel pointed out a Beaver lodge that had overflowed onto the walking path. He showed me, through some tugging and pushing, that beavers build their dams by interweaving sticks and branches and packing in mud, making them very difficult to pull apart. Clever little engineers, aren’t they?

Just before we headed back to the car, I snapped a blurry picture of Painted Turtles basking on a log. There were piles of them, like mishappen flap jacks, strewn about the wetland.

Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) basking

The last birding spot was Lake Michigan, where I encountered a FOY Common Loon. It displayed beautiful breeding plumage, but only gave us furtive glances. We stood for a while, hunting it down in a bay area while it spent most of its time hunting underwater. Once Joel and I both got good looks, we decided to call it a day.

As usual, a lot of birding only makes me feel like birding a lot more. Fortunately this works out. In a few days I will be conducting a Crane Count in Sauk County, Wisconsin. Following that experience I will be visiting a Greater Prairie Chicken leking site in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. I can’t wait.

April 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm Leave a comment

April 7th, 2010: Prairie Dropseed

2 days post burn at the International Crane Foundation

I took the above picture 2 days after a 30 acre prescribed burn at the International Crane Foundation.

12 days post burn at the International Crane Foundation

The second picture is one I took today. Less than two weeks post burn and the blackened earth is sprouting green. I was chatting with Shannon, one of the other naturalists here at ICF, and we thought that a lot of the green seen in the above picture may be invasive, cool-season grasses. But the photo posted below is definitely an image of a native prairie plant.

Spring sprouts of Prairie Dropseed

Peeking out from a blackened exterior, signs of spring (even on a dreary day like today). Prairie Dropseed (Sporobalus heterolepis) grows in clumps. One of the ecologists here calls it “Cousin It” grass, because it looks like an Adam’s Family character has been buried in the prairie soil, with just its head sticking out. The recent burn should trigger flowering in this year’s Prairie Dropseed plants, which are apparently very fragrant when in bloom. I’m excited!

I was lucky enough to experience ICF’s “burn school”, a two day course taught by our staff ecologists on the ecology and logistics of using prescribed fire as a restoration tool. Looks like the burn on ICF’s property is already working its magic on the landscape.

April 7, 2010 at 6:23 pm Leave a comment

March 20th, 2010: Sweet Home Wisconsin

It was my first weekend in Wisconsin, of what will be many to come. I decided to head out to Mirror Lake State Park, and it was the best decision I’ve made all week.

Mirror Lake is located near my new home at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Although the weather was a bit chilly this morning, the windy was calm, and the lake did indeed look like a Mirror. I stood near the shore at a boat landing. Several waterfowl species broke the glassy mirror of the lake with their paddling, and I managed to get great scope views of 6 species of waterfowl. The highlight was 14 Ring-necked Ducks, all of them bright males except for 2 females. Two brilliant male Buffleheads bobbed in and out of the lake as well. Four Sandhill Cranes circled the lake in the angled morning light, and two settled down near the shoreline. I watched the two that landed preening in unison, making me think they were pair bonding.

Like an idiot I forgot my camera, but I’ll probably throw in a photo of the lake here once I get back. Which will be soon.

I spent the rest of the morning exploring the area around Lake Delton (passing by the upside-down White House in Wisconsin Dells, as well as innumerable water parks, go-cart tracks and one deer park). I added Wood Duck to my Wisconsin list, and I could hear the bugles of Sandhill Cranes almost every time I got out of my car. All in all a very delightful morning. I am so happy that I get to spend my summer in this incredible region.

March 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm 1 comment

October 6th, 2009: Recap of Bird-a-thon

It took me a while to write this, and then I forgot about it and forgot ot post it. Here it be!

On September 21st I stepped out with PRBO’s education team for a bird-a-thon fundraiser for our organization. We called ourselves The Indicators. That is another story. This is the story of our big day.

Indicators team minus Cynthia, the photographer

We started out at 6:30 in the morning. When my coworker and I pulled up to the parking lot at the Five Brooks trailhead in Olema Rich Stallcup was already 10 species deep, his scope set up and his ears vibrating with the sounds of a foggy morning on Point Reyes Peninsula. I already knew how big this was going to be. My supervisors soon joined us, and we had started a short walk around the nearby pond.  The highlight of Five Brooks was finding the perfect spot where the sun hit the trees. Four warbler species posed in tiny windows, sparkling in the early sunlight. They fed with energy and enthusiasm, and I watched them similarly.

We piled into Rich’s car and hit Bolinas Lagoon and Stinson Beach. A keen eye caught a juvenile Peregrine falcon alight in a tree, and I had my first life-bird of the day, a Clark’s grebe. Rich nabbed our first vagrant—a Western kingbird.

Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)

An hour later and we were bouncing down Sir Frances Drake Boulevard toward the outer point. We made a pit stop at Olema Marsh, where Virginia rails and Soras gave themselves up before we could even take out a playback tape. Further down the road a Great horned owl juvenile screeched its begging call to its parents. The fog drip and chill of the morning had it holding out its wings and slumping its shoulders. It looked quite sullen.

At Chimney Rock trailhead Rich teased an American redstart (more like “yellowstart” as it was a first year female) out of the douglas firs. It flicked its fan-tail for us. A somewhat familiar sight for me, but a first for one of my Californian coworkers. A few Barn owls floated in and out of the tree tops, but a bird-a-thon is no time for aesthetics. We jumped back onto the winding road and made our lunch stop at Drake’s Beach. No new birds, but as we ate Rich chummed for a Glaucous-winged gull with french fries. Instead, we were surrounded by hungry and desperate Ring-billed, California and Heerman’s gulls. My coworker Cynthia got some excellent shots out of the group.

Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni)

Rich aimed us toward north beach on the other side of the peninsula. The Pacific was being fairly torrential, throwing white foam on giggling tourists. Mounted on the sand dune above the parking lot with a carpet of ice plan beneath our feet, we shared two scopes to scan the blue for potential new species. Loons grumbled beneath the surf. Rich laid eyes on a Common murre, and I had my big spot for the day and a life-bird as well—a Pomarine jaeger cutting fast across the distant rolling valleys and troughs. Two Sooty shearwaters disappeared and reappeared beneath the rolling sea as they followed a similar path. Another first for me. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find them after Rich found them in his scope, but they are absolutely different from anything I have seen before. The brief experience searching for pelagic with Rich made my mouth water for a pelagic trip.

Missy and Rich, Point Reyes

We determined that we had gotten as much as we would get out of the Point Reyes peninsula that day, so we head toward east Marin County for a different suite of bird fauna. At Stafford Lake we found our third and final nuthatch for the day. Rush Creek gave us a flock of feeding Black-necked stilts. But we were slowing down fast. We had started out the day in 53 degree weather, under a cloudy sky and picking up bird species at an exponential rate. Now it was 95 degrees and the bird species were largely repeating themselves. My brain was melting, but Rich seemed to harden his resolve. Probably from years of experience doing bird-a-thons in Marin County and his phenomenal love of nature. He knew there would be more to come.

At Bahia Reserve we found our fourth tern of the day—a Forster’s tern lilting far in the distance spotted by Rich. Missy, one of my supervisors, found a far away American avocet through the spotting scope. A Nuttall’s woodpecker double-called at us, and my doubting Thomas faded away. There is always more to see on a big day. We were at 135 species.

My two supervisors headed home at that point, but Rich said that he thought we could get 10 more species if we hit Las Gallinas sewage treatment plant in San Rafael. Of course, I could not resist. Just a little further was becoming our mantra. We spent about an hour and managed to pull out 11 more species, including all of our swallows for the day (3 species). As we almost hit the parking lot I asked Rich, “What’s that bird in the bush?” referring to a piece of vegetation not 8 feet from us. I thought it was a silly question as I was asking it; it was probably another Say’s phoebe.

“That’s amazing!” he said. “An Ash-throated flycatcher!” Thus bringing our total to 146 species for the day.

Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)

I probably could have kept going, but it was a good time to end. Rich had 2 more bird-a-thons to lead that week, so he needed all the rest he could get. I had seen more bird species that day than I ever had in my life.

I had my first bird-a-thon this past spring, and it is fun to compare the two experiences. Rich has been birding Marin County for many years, and he is a dedicated and talented birder. I’m a newb, and when I did my bird-a-thon in the DC area I was in a new area. I got a much lower count on the east coast, but it was still an incredible day. I knew right away after my first bird-a-thon that planning is key, and that comes with experience. I hope that the next bird-a-thon is on familiar ground, and that I will take note of how well Rich planned our bird-a-thon.

And I’m already excited for the next one, wherever that may be.

Final bird list:

Canada Goose
Wood Duck
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Mallard
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Surf Scoter
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
California Quail
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
Sooty Shearwater
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Brandt’s Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Merlin
Peregrine Falcon
Virginia Rail
Sora
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Spotted Sandpiper
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Lesser Yellowlegs
Whimbrel
Long-billed Curlew
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Heermann’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Western Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Forster’s Tern
Elegant Tern
Pomarine Jaeger
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Mourning Dove
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna’s Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Hutton’s Vireo
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse
Bushtit
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick’s Wren
Winter Wren
Marsh Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Swainson’s Thrush
American Robin
Wrentit
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
American Pipit

MacGillivray’s Warbler

Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
American Redstart
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson’s Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
Lesser Goldfinch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

October 7, 2009 at 4:47 am Leave a comment

September 10th, 2009: Redwood Weekend

I spent this past weekend travelling with friends. We drove north. North to Eureka. We made plans too close to the holiday, and so instead of camping in a pristine redwood forest we ended up really roughing it at a KOA. Ping-pong, tetherball, and $6 for a bundle of wood. The forest from which we could have obtained logs were kept out by a high fence. Made out of wood. It was strange.

Outside of the KOA fence and slightly north and south on the 101 there were some real trees. Real big ones. We spent a small amount of time putzing around Humboldt Redwoods State Park, home of the Avenue of the Giants.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

One of the days we sallied up the 101 to Arcata Community Forest. I must say, it was a real hidden gem. I was thinking originally that we would truck it to Redwoods National Park, but I’m so happy that we ended up at the much less famous community forest. Winding loops of trails were enough to get us into areas where we hardly saw anyone else. It was a small forest in comparison to some other regional ones, but large enough for 6 fairly competent (?) people to get slightly lost in.

It was my first time in the presence of the mighty coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). It was impressive and stunning. It was hard to understand. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in the wilderness, and sometimes I feel as though I am a part of it. This experience was the former. The redwoods were beautiful, but also somewhat alienating. I felt like a small town girl in the big city, but I was really a prairie girl in a towering redwood forest. There was so much going on above my head it felt as though I was being looked down upon. And I don’t mean all of this in a bad way. It was humbling to be in the presence of such ancient giants.

In awe of redwoods.

September 10, 2009 at 8:03 pm 1 comment

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