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Success: Birders spot Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane in Wisconsin

Kirtland's Warbler, Adams County, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Sandi Morey.
Kirtland’s Warbler, Adams County, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Sandi Morey.

Earlier this spring, for the second year in a row, we teamed up with the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin to offer birders the extraordinary opportunity to see two endangered species — Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane — on the same day, and to do so in the company of biologists who work closely on the species’ recovery efforts.

Kirtland’s Warbler and Whooping Crane are two of North America’s most endangered bird species, two of the 10 birds that our readers said in 2013 that they want to see most, and two of the state’s most prized residents.

The field trip took place on Friday, May 15, and Saturday, May 16, and as you can read in the following report, written by Great Wisconsin Birdathon coordinator Diane Packett, it was wildly successful. Twenty-one birders from nine states took part.

Whooping Crane, Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Jody Hess.
Whooping Crane, Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Jody Hess.

The festivities began on Friday evening, when Jeb Barzen, director of field ecology with the International Crane Foundation, and Kim Grveles, coordinator of Kirtland’s Warbler monitoring with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, gave talks on efforts to recover the species in Wisconsin.

May 16 was a perfect day for birding. The first stop was a private tract of managed pine in Adams County, in the center of the state, where an environmental consultant had first heard a singing Kirtland’s Warbler, in 2007. We were met by Grveles and Rich Staffen from the Wisconsin DNR, Sarah Warner from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and nest monitor Ashley Hannah.

Seven of us went no more than 50 yards down a dirt track through the rows of pines when the first bird sang. We quietly followed Ashley and Sarah until he was in sight, silhouetted against the clear blue sky at the tip of a jack pine. After a few moments, we moved closer — and a second bird sang. “They’re having a little territorial dispute,” Ashley explained.

Golden-winged Warbler at Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Fred Dike.
Golden-winged Warbler at Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Fred Dike.

So intent were the warblers on their mutual competition that all three groups of visitors were able to spend time watching them silently through binoculars and scopes. The quiet gave way to excited chatter back at the vans, as everyone compared photos and recordings.


The next stop was Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where Anne Lacy, research coordinator with the International Crane Foundation, updated everyone on the status of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes.

Jeb Barzen brought out the radio-telemetry equipment used to track the birds, and as we walked the path along the edge of one of the ponds, we were able to see a pair of nesting cranes and an individual in the distance and hear their signals. Farther away, two additional cranes landed in the marsh, moving in and out of the vegetation. Sometimes our only clue to their whereabouts was the beep of their transmitters.

We spent the remainder of Saturday afternoon cruising the refuge and taking short hikes along the trails in search of migrants. Baltimore Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were plentiful, as were Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers and Willow Flycatchers.

Highlights were excellent looks at Yellow-throated Vireo, Golden-winged Warbler (above), a pair of Sandhill cranes with a colt, and a dozen Red-headed Woodpeckers dancing among the snags at a savannah.


We arrived back in Wisconsin Rapids for a short rest and dinner before a talk by Randy Juriewicz, co-coordinator of the Wisconsin Trumpeter Swan Recovery Program with the Wisconsin DNR. He spoke about the successful reintroduction of Trumpeter Swans to the state. — Diane Packett, coordinator, Great Wisconsin Birdathon

Birders at Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Barb Barzen.
Birders at Necedah NWR, Wisconsin, May 16, 2015, by Barb Barzen.


As of June 12, at least 13 Kirtland’s Warbler pairs and five nests (some with chicks) were present in Adams County. Four males, two of them paired, were in Marinette County, north of Green Bay, and in Bayfield County, in northwestern Wisconsin. As monitoring continues, these numbers may change. Check for developments at the project website and Facebook page.

The Whooping Crane Reintroduction Project reported 93 adults birds in the Eastern Migratory Population, a record of 37 nests, and nine newly hatched chicks. And there’s been an interesting development in the project: the birth of a Whooping Crane-Sandhill Crane hybrid at Horicon NWR. Its name? Whoopsie.


Read about the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin.

The website of the International Crane Foundation.

Read about the Great Wisconsin Birdathon.


Originally Published

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