This update is reprinted from the November 2014 issue of The ICF Bugle
It has been a time of reflection and celebration in the world of cranes and craniacs. We commemorated the 100-year passing of the last passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America, with a strong reminder that extinction is forever and the conservation stakes have never been higher. We shared a collective “phew” that the Whooping Crane – down to only 21 birds in the wild in the 1940s – escaped a similar fate, while redoubling our efforts to ensure that the still-fragile Whooper population remains safe on its Canadian breeding grounds, Texas wintering grounds, and along the flyways that connect them.
The inspiring recovery of our beloved Sandhill Cranes is cause for celebration at festivals across the country – one of the most successful conservation stories of the past century. I recently attended the Yampa Valley Crane Festival held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado that salutes the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes. Each morning and evening, we delighted in the flight of hundreds of Sandhills between their daily feeding grounds and overnight roosting site on the Yampa River – a path that takes them right over festival organizer and ICF Director Nancy Merrill’s home! The festival included a special session on cranes and water. I spoke about the global challenges of getting the right quantity, timing, and quality of water needed to sustain some of the most vulnerable species of cranes – including highly water-dependent Siberian, Wattled, and Whooping Cranes. Colleagues from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nature Conservancy spoke of the local challenges of maintaining adequate water conditions at Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado, a key stop-over area for Sandhills as they move further south, and ensuring that the free-flowing Yampa River remains their healthy roost site forever.
Our friends in Michigan recently celebrated their 20th Crane Fest at Baker Sanctuary, North America’s first sanctuary dedicated to the Sandhill Crane, which hosts up to 10,000 migrating cranes in the fall. Weekend visitors enjoyed cascades of trumpeting cranes returning to the marsh at dusk. Baker’s Big Marsh Lake is also where Larry Walkinshaw (author of “Cranes of the World”) grew up and learned to love and save cranes. We applaud all who make these crane celebrations possible and remain vigilant that our now abundant Sandhill Cranes avoid the unthinkable downfall of the Passenger Pigeons that once filled our skies.
And those of you who were able to join us on a gorgeous September morning in Baraboo for our Annual Member’s Day festivities helped us celebrate some really Good Eggs. ICF Director and emergency management guru Regina Phelps, volunteer extraordinaire Ted Thousand, and travel agents Al and Diane Vavra were honored with this year’s Good Egg Awards for their inspiring commitment to ICF and the cranes. We also gave educator Barb Thompson a standing ovation for her tireless efforts to foster educational and scientific exchange between teachers in Wisconsin and Russia’s remote Muraviovka Park, a haven for six species of cranes and a wealth of other rare and endangered species. I hope cranes inspire you to make the world a better place!