This survey’s for the birds
Crane count set for April 13
By Greg Seubert
What started out as a high school biology project has turned into an annual event covering six states, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of birds.
The International Crane Foundation, based in Baraboo, will hold its annual Midwest Crane Count Saturday, April 13.
The ICF organizes the count, held in more than 90 counties in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Volunteers travel to their local wetlands and favorite birding locations to participate in the annual survey of sandhill and whooping cranes.
That list of counties includes Waupaca County. Last year, 12 counters in 14 locations throughout the county recorded 133 sandhill cranes.
Dean Johnson of Ogdensburg is coordinating this year’s county survey and met with volunteer counters March 23 at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Counters throughout Wisconsin recorded more than 8,500 sandhills last year, he said.
“Six states encompass the whole count, but most of those birds are counted in Wisconsin,” he said. “I think a lot of it comes from having the International Crane Foundation here in Wisconsin. We’re a major nesting area. That brings a need to find out how many there are what their distribution is. Why are they in these wetlands and not these? A lot of different information is gathered.”
Waupaca County includes prime habitat for sandhills.
“There seems to be a lot,” Johnson said. “I know people that count hundreds of cranes at a time. I don’t know, I think that’d be too much for me. It’d be a little overwhelming. You’d have to have a trained ear for that.”
Volunteers need to know a little about sandhills before participating in the survey. Besides knowing what they look like, they also need to be familiar with their sounds.
There’s a good reason the count is held from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. the birds are active and feeding.
“We’re all doing it at the same time in six states,” Johnson said. “They’re not flying over to the next guy’s spot.”
Counters then report their findings to the ICF.
“The counters gather all the data,” Johnson said. “It used to be the (county) coordinator’s job to gather all the data and submit it, but now with computers and modern technology, it’s all done online. It all goes to the International Crane Foundation. I don’t even see the results, but I do like to hear from the counters, with what they saw out there.”
Although it’s important to record any sandhill sightings, it’s just as important to report a lack of birds.
“It’s also important to report if you don’t see anything,” Johnson said. “That goes to the distribution aspect. There were cranes in this wetland before, they’re not here now. Is there some reason that forced them out?”
The ICF has more than 100 designated survey sites throughout the county. Seven of them are within a mile of the village of Iola, but most of them are located in the southern half of the county.
“It’s really pretty simple,” Johnson said. “Anybody can get out and do it. It’s a great thing to do with kids and grandchildren: get them out and show them the importance of being out there with nature.
“That’s how I got started,” he added. “I read it in the paper and took a niece. Nature gives so much to us. It’s nice to be able to give back.”