Meghan and I spent a fantastic weekend watching cranes in Wisconsin. One of the biggerst perks of being a zoo keeper is getting tours of other facilities the general public couldn't even pay for. We started out with a guided, behind the scenes tour at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo. The curator first toured us around the office area and we got to see the camera monitoring system that can check all the cranes in their breeding facility, Crane City. We also got to watch whooping crane chicks being "trained" to be adult cranes by costumed workers. This was also via camera because the chick area requires total human silence, visible humans in costume only, etc. Whooping cranes are the world's most endangered cranes and ICF is playing a huge role in restoring wild populations. The curator had sort of implied that this would be our tour and even stated he'd send us to tour the public part of the facility on our own. Our excitement and interest must have made an impression because before we knew it, we were in a van headed to Crane City, where few non-employees/researchers ever get to go.
Crane City is a vast area with dozens and dozens of yards and houses for breeding cranes. The majority of the Crane City cranes are whooping cranes because they are so highly endangered, but the other crane species are represented as well. ICF is the only facility in the world to house all 15 species of cranes. It was already a HUGE thrill to be in this off-limits, behind-the-scenes area, so imagine our excitement when we got to enter a house and see a super-cute, fuzzy hooded crane chick up close! We stopped to check out several other cranes as well, including the most genetically valuable pair of whooping cranes in the world. Again, we must have shown a proper level of excitement and interest because after we left Crane City, the curator gave us a personal tour around the entire public area. It was excellent because the cranes all came up to him and displayed. We did get to see all 15 crane species.
We were so excited about our tour we almost immediately set out for Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to see wild whooping cranes. We hiked a hot and buggy trail, drove for miles around the 40,000 acre site and climbed to the top of a lookout tower. We saw lots of sandhill cranes and even an adorable chick, but no whoopers. We left the refuge and found a dinky but decent mom and pop motel in the nearby town and had a late dinner at the bar/restaurant next door. We were early to bed, early to rise and hit the refuge again in the morning. We went right to the lookout tower and were rewarded with some great views of a pair of whooping cranes! We watched as they browsed for food and chased off a sandhill crane. It was excellent! We saw and identified 50 wild bird species on our trip as well as several flycatchers, sparrows and warblers we couldn't positively ID from a quick look. Maybe a few years from now...
After one last walk around the boardwalk trail by the visitor center, we headed back into town and had an excellent breakfast at the Little Crane Cafe. We moved on to Wisconsin Dells and visited the Deer Park where we fed crackers to deer and got to see lots of adorable fawns. We hit a cheese store on the way out of town where I bought some silly and fun toys for the kids for our upcoming South Dakota road trip. We started home around noon and arrived home ~4pm. It was a perfect weekend trip and we both had a blast.
Meanwhile, Gene had a very busy Saturday morning with the kids. Kaylin and two of her friends sold her Flufferdoodles (feather hair clips) at the Riverfront Market. They sold 57 and were thrilled! This was my dad's big adventure and he supervised, but Gene went very early to set up their table. Gene then left and took Logan to his baseball game where Logan hit a game-winning three-run homer! Go Logan!