Thursday, April 23, 2015

Counting on a good morning

By David Horst

HORTONVILLE -- Thirty-two was the number I entered on the form under "Total number of sandhill cranes observed or heard."

It is the biggest number I've recorded in some years for the International Crane Foundation's annual Midwest Crane Count, which took place Saturday. But the most I saw on the ground at any given time was two.

My statistics were built on cranes flying in, flying out or flying over. I heard them congregating, but they chose to settle in a depression behind a few rows of last year's corn stalks, just out of my view.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Remembering Ellen Kort

This column first ran in May of 2010 in a week like this one, following the annual Midwest Crane Count. Ellen Kort died this morning. I hope she gets her wish.

Sandhill cranes lift poet to flights of fancy

How about starting your workday by getting a call from Wisconsin's first poet laureate? 

She says she enjoyed reading about the Midwest Crane Count and has something she wants me to hear. It's a poem about sandhills. It's a poem about how, when she dies, she wants to come back as a sandhill crane.

My computer is still booting up. My brain is trailing even farther behind. Then I am graced by lovely words from the trusted, calming voice of Ellen Kort.

"If there is faith at the appointed hour / if light breaks open and this time I get to choose / I will come back as a sandhill crane," she begins.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sandhill cranes are my resource, too

By David Horst

For many years, I listened to the moans of my newspaper colleagues as they went off to what they described as an endless evening covering one of the spring Conservation Congress hearings held in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties.

Sandhill cranes call in the hayfield
of Sandhill Llama Farm
Last Monday finally found me at the Outagamie County conservation hearing at Appleton North High School. I was there for the birds.

While the hearing did grind on like a tortured old winch motor, it only lasted about an hour and a half. No one shouted. No one booed. In fact, not many people even spoke. Even so, I felt like staying through the whole hearing should have earned me a cap or something.

DNR conservation warden Thomas Sturdivant dutifully read through the often minute changes in regulations for fishing in this location or trapping at that hour of the day. Then he came to proposal No. 25 on the green ballot. It was to create a hunt for sandhill cranes.

Check my email address, check the name of our farm, check my license plate and you will see I am a fan of cranes. I raised my hand and made my way to the microphone to state my case for a vote against crane hunting to a crowd I knew was not in my camp.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Keep looking up

By David Horst 

The drive to work has gotten a bit less interesting.
A sandhill crane prepares to land at Sandhill Llama Farm 

The snowy owl that had added some expectation to the trip has headed back to the arctic, but she generated a lot of interest in owls while she was here. Several more emails came in from readers with white owl stories to tell.

Robert Petri and his wife were on their way to work. As they passed a Greenville industrial park, his wife told Robert about a delivery man who talked about spotting a snowy in the area several times. The words were hardly out of her mouth when Robert pointed to the roof of an industrial building and said, "You mean like that one?"

Kathy Moderson was on her way home from the funeral for her sister-in-law -- a victim of cancer. She wasn't up to going home right away, so she and her husband went for a drive to check out the area around Outagamie County Regional Airport, where they had read snowy owls had been sighted. They saw nothing at the airport and headed down State 76. There they saw a pair of snowy owls.

"I hope and believe my dear sister-in-law had something to do with that," Kathy wrote to me.

There is something spiritual about a mysterious creature that appears only infrequently. While the snowies have left, spring brings new hope and new reasons to look up.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

More than fog hangs over crane count

By David Horst

It's a routine every April -- grab the camera, spotting scope and a notebook, dress in layers and head out before sunrise.

The International Crane Foundation's annual Sandhill Crane Count requires me to sit quietly and watch the morning come.

Saturday, April 14, I'm sitting in a lawn chair at the edge of one of last year's cornfields, waiting for cranes. The count begins at 5:30 a.m. My only company as I set up are the peeping of a killdeer and a fog-shrouded half-moon.

The usual routine is that the cranes start calling from the swamp beyond the farm field and, within an hour, start flying in one, two or three at a time.

This year is anything but routine. The count is taking place in the aftermath of a one-sided Conservation Congress vote in favor of a hunting season for sandhills.

If that were not enough, small orange flags flop in the stiff wind that often seems to accompany crane count day. They mark the corridor of a four-lane bypass highway around Hortonville that will wipe out my crane counting area and dislocate its residents.

It's 6 a.m and still no crane song. Cows down the road bellow for breakfast. Redwinged blackbirds trill their part in the morning chorus, but the lead singers have not taken the stage.