Necedah NWR, Necedah WI April 10, 2013. They say I’m the luckiest birder. I would have to say I agree. Today my traveling nude bird show brought me to central Wisconsin and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I had come this way as I’m giving a lecture tomorrow on business and I’m also giving a lecture on birds. I think birds are more fun, but my mentor at college, Professor Brooks told me that there is no money in birds. So don’t quit your business, I guess.
Necedah is the home of the experimental effort to establish an eastern group of Whooping Cranes. These cranes almost died out, going from about 1500 birds in 1870 to only 15 by 1930. These almost all were located in the Wood Buffalo National Park in subarctic Canada. Those birds and there is about 140 pairs of them or so now, winter in Texas. There are now also a few that go to Idaho and then there are these birds which come up from Florida, initially following an ultralight aircraft before they found there own way to this remote part of Wisconsin.
They have done much to try to establish these birds. They tried having them reared by sandhill cranes but those poor birds had no idea that they weren’t sandhills and wanted to breed with other sandhills. They had an entire hatchling class killed by a tropical storm in Florida and some dufous in Ohio, shot the first successful bird the grew up in the wild and had her own chick. He was fined a mere dollar by the judge. I get more of a fine from a parking ticket.
So I’m not sure really if these Wisconsin birds are ‘established’ or what but…I’m saying they are. So with a blizzard (named Walda) bearing down on me, yes a blizzard in mid-April I drove out of Dakota into Wisconsin in search of a whooper.
Freezing rain was coming down as I drove into the refuge, but the inclement weather had an upside, I could be nude and nobody was around. I drove up the muddy roads to an overlook and found no cranes but did see white birds flying about, tundra swans. I needed them and I was glad to see them. This swan migrates in a strange direction from the mid-Atlantic seaboard through the middle of the country and then up west of Hudson Bay to breed. This was just in the curve of their route. I hopped out of the car and saw a large group. There was another flock at the headquarters which although looking open had locked doors. More federal dollars at work, I guess.
I also drove around and then walked a bit at a car overlook and spotted a missing sparrow, the American tree sparrow. It has a funny dot in the middle of an otherwise gray chest. These birds were all over, in the ice covered trees, on the road. Even I could see them. I looked in the sky and around but no whoopers so I kept driving. I drove down the muddiest road, called Speedway avenue for some reason until I, unfortunately found a tree blocking my way. I was very frustrated as apparently the ice had loaded up the pine tree until it had snapped. I could not move it and unlike one a few hundred feet behind it, I could not drive around it.
I thought about walking to an open spot up the road maybe two hundred yards away but it was raining, I was lazy, and still naked and as such I decided that I would come in from the other way. I do not know why I needed to be there but I could feel the need to for some reason and so twenty two miles later, I was coming in from the east, to the exact same place. I drove through a very bad soft spot in the road that I may have gotten stuck in if I had stopped and then again two hundred feet from the open spot, there was a down tree in the road. Just my luck and I was nearly out of gas in the middle of nowhere and without a cell phone signal. Was my luck ending?
I walked out to survey the situation and look at the tree covered in a heavy sheet of ice as other chucks fell on me and my car. I pulled at the tree a little. It didn’t move. I looked at it and it looked small enough to move. I grabbed it much better and gave it a Herculean tug. The tree snapped about four feet from where I had grabbed the pine and naked I flew backwards towards a ditch filled with water.
I bounced of the lip of snow at the edge instead of going over in the murky blackness. I sat there looking up at the ice falling on me. “You stupid idiot,” I said and checked for injury. I sat up and dusted the mud and ice of my naked body. I thought, naked dead man found by broken tree. I stood up, lucky I wasn’t dead, and sighed and looked down the road and then I saw some things looking at me. Two whooping cranes, two of the rarest birds in America, two of maybe three hundred fifty were looking at me, a hundred yards off.
Am I the luckiest birder alive? Wow, I’d never seen them before and grabbed my camera. It wasn’t the best picture but I almost floated to half way to them, but I became worried a tree could come down and trap me, here. I decided that I wouldn’t push my luck and so I got out of there while I could. I had seen the rare whooper and I had seen it naked…wow. I was almost giddy. I drove to Ripon to have a celebratory Blue Moon beer and eat bluegill filets. You have to love Wisconsin, I was singing “On Wisconsin! to the bar and you also have to love three more birds, four hundred and thirty nine.
Olaf (Tundra Swans below)