Monday, September 19, 2016

Crane Vacation to Wisconsin

When I needed to vacate my favorite Chicago campground in mid-June for a week (in between my two 14-day stays), I decided to head north to the Dells region of central Wisconsin.  My goal was to try and see an endangered Whooping Crane in the wild, and that's an area where they nest in the summer.

I rolled into Juneau county's Castle Rock Park (not to be confused with Adams county's park by the same name on the other side of Castle Rock Lake!) and had my pick of a few dozen campsites on a Thursday evening-- for the bargain price of just $17/night!

This county park did fill up completely on the weekend, but during the week, it was gloriously quiet.  I took nice walks along the lakefront...

and unfolded my Tern bike for a few afternoon bike rides along the lakeshore --

Ah, camping life!

But I'd really come to Wisconsin to see some cranes.  While working at the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR this past winter, I learned about the International Crane Foundation, which does outstanding work around the world to help increase endangered crane populations, raise awareness, and improve habitats.  ICF also happens to be headquartered in Baraboo, WI and has a small zoo where the public can see every kind of crane species on earth, and learn more about the Foundation's work.

A quick 30-minute ride, and I was there!  The exhibit area is in a lovely setting--

A very knowledgeable volunteer (who spends her summers in Wisconsin and winters in Texas following the Whooping cranes), conducted a terrific tour of the exhibits.

Whooping cranes, being local natives, get the largest exhibit.  But on this day, they were not easily seen on their pond.

As we waiting for them to appear, I occupied myself photographing a young Barn Swallow mama coming to feed her babies in the nest beneath the exhibit roof--

Lots of hungry mouths to feed!

Finally, the whooping cranes decided to raise their heads up out of the tall vegetation behind the pond to make a brief appearance.  First just a cautious look...

Then, finally, the periscope was fully raised...

My first view of a whooping crane!

In the short 2 hours I was at ICF, I managed to see 11 of the world's 15 crane species!   ICF does have them all, but on this hot, June day, some of the cranes were not out in their public viewing area.  But here are the 11 species I did see:

Australia's Brolga crane:

A variety of Asian cranes--

The Black-necked cranes with their "poofy" tail feathers:

The Red-crowned crane from Japan and eastern Asia:

The all-white Siberian crane:

and the White-naped crane with its beautiful head and neck markings:

My favorites, though, were the African cranes.

This Wattled crane is one of the largest and oldest at ICF--

The delicate Blue crane from South Africa:

The amazing Black-crowned crane:

and my very favorite, the Grey-crowned crane, who charged up to the fence as if she were going to attack us, then she strutted her gorgeous grey, black, white, and brown feathers for us, and finally gave us quite the comedic look when we were ready to leave!

While, it was a bit hard to see all these incredible birds in captivity, it also provided the ability to see and hear their calls much closer than ever possible in the wild.

America's Sandhill cranes gave a great performance (fellow Bosque friends know these sounds quite well)--

But not to be outdone, this pair of Siberian cranes answered back in their own dialect:

As wonderful as it was to see the whooping cranes at ICF, I still really wanted to see one in the wild.  No better place to look for them than their summer home, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.  I arrived in the early evening and had the entire place completely to myself...well, me and a wonderfully diverse collection of wildlife.

A mama American Robin was gathering a tasty supper for her chicks:

I found both a turtle and a hare, but neither were all that interested in racing on this quiet summer evening:

As I turned a corner, I found a white-tailed doe and her fawn with the trail running right in between them!

I stopped to give them a chance to move on, but neither seemed too concerned with me.  They just said "hello" with their eyes and let me walk right between them!

As I walked out on the boardwalk, expansive views of the Refuge ponds greeted me:

Rounding the next hilltop, 2 sandhill cranes suddenly flushed out from the grass about 100 feet ahead of me.  As I watched them fly over to the other side of a pond, I suddenly noticed a quick flash of white a few hundred yards up the bank... a Whooping Crane!  In the wild!!!

It wasn't the best picture, but my view through binoculars was pretty darn good!  Thank you, Sandhill couple, for leading me to the Whooper!  (by the way, do you notice how different the Sandhills look than in winter?  They color their feathers in mud to match the rust color of their colts when they are first born).

As I finished the nature walk back towards the visitor center, I was thoroughly enchanted with this refuge and its wildlife.  Sure wish they had summer RV volunteering opportunities!

On my final day at Castle Rock Park, the red-headed woodpecker that had been keeping me company all week, finally posed nicely just outside my RV window--

and the last sunset over the lake reminded me to not wait so long before my next visit to wonderful Wisconsin!


  1. WOW This was so interesting. Wonderful pictures.

  2. Great pictures as always with just the right amount of narration.
    It is sad to see many of our native species of wildlife and their natural habitats disappearing.
    We visited the Dells for the first time in 2012 and thoroughly enjoyed it. Hopefully we'll find our way back there someday.
    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  3. Fabulous post Lynne. Such a special place.

  4. Great photos, glad you were able to see the Whooping Crane in the wild! The park looks like a good place to spend some time.

  5. Living in Texas, I've taken several boat trips up the Intracoastal Waterway to Aransas NWR to see the whoopers in their winter home. Thanks for showing us one of their summer homes. Beautiful photos, as always.

  6. Lovely photos of an enchanting place! My father grew up in Beaver Dam, WI and on our way there, we stopped in Baraboo for the Circus, but I didn't realize that the cranes were there, as well. I'll have to make it a point to visit them! We, also, love the Dells. Took a water tour. Such a gorgeous place! Can't wait to return!

  7. My father was also from Beaver Dam, it is sad to admit that I have no memory of our one trip to WI. That needs to change! Beautiful pictures and narrative - thanks Lynne!

  8. Awesome pictures gotta love that area, thanks for the tour.


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