Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow day good for reflection

By David Horst 
There’s something magical about a snow day even when you haven’t had to go to school for more than 30 years.
It’s like bonus time — unplanned hours. Time to decorate the tree and order those last-minute gifts. It also gives us the outdoors reborn with a fresh coat of beauty.

The office for my day job shut down because of Thursday’s snow. I would have made it in OK, but eight hours of heavy snowfall and gusty winds would have kept me from getting back up the steep driveway that takes us up on the sandhill we call home.

I’ll take some of the bonus time to look back on random events from the year in nature.

•  Wisconsin has 110 fewer wolves after the first hunt since reintroduction. Hunting wolves was always going to be a reality to stay within the goals set by some real smart guys at the DNR. My objection is that more than half of the “harvested” wolves had to endure leg-hold traps before being dispatched.

•  We have one more eagle than we might have. When an adult bald eagle flew into the grille of Brian Baker’s pickup truck as he traveled down State 10 in Weyauwega last June, it seemed the bird had no chance. Baker called the sheriff’s department, which called DNR warden Ted Dremel, who gingerly pulled the eagle’s head from the plastic shards of the grille. New London bird rehabber Pat Fisher and vet Jim Ziegler nursed the eagle back to health and, a month later, I was able to watch it leave Ziegler’s gloved hands and fly back into nature. The story was picked up by CNN and a picture Baker snapped with his phone made the DNR’s top 10 list of wildlife photos for the year.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Expert says crane hunt inevitable

By David Horst

The offer was more than I could refuse. Sit on the bank of the Wisconsin River on pioneering environmentalist Aldo Leopold’s former farmstead, watching thousands of sandhill cranes with an international expert on the big birds.

The evening, and the conversation, didn’t go as expected.
Stan Temple         Aldo Leopold Foundation photo

The program was offered by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, located between Portage and Baraboo. The expert is Stan Temple, a retired University of Wisconsin professor of wildlife ecology. He has helped in the recovery of many bird species, including the sandhill, peregrine falcon and California condor.

It was a great opportunity to talk with a man who held the same seat the great Leopold had 80 years earlier. I asked him how cool that was. Temple said it was so intimidating that he didn’t mention it much when he had the job. Now that he has retired, he uses it for instant woods-cred.

He also rubbed elbows with “Silent Spring” author Rachel Carson as a boy working at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He remembered being thrilled by getting a set of birding binoculars that were the same model Carson used.

Unfortunately, there was little to interrupt the conversation, especially cranes. It was Sandy’s fault. Winds from the hurricane made the bend in the river where the observation blind is located inhospitable for cranes. Complicating things further, an imposing adult bald eagle was perched above the cranes’ usual evening hangout. First time I ever regretted seeing an eagle.