What a difference a ten days makes. A little over a week ago the night temperatures were in minus double digits in West Bend and at Lac Lawrann. The snow was 20 plus inches deep and snowshoeing was the outdoor activity of the day, for those who ventured out. Fast forward to today and it’s 40 degrees and mostly sun. ( For those keeping score that’s almost 50 degrees warmer!) The snow is rapidly diminishing to reveal what was buried over the past few snowstorms. Still no bare ground, save for where the wind had swept it almost clean in the storms. This morning, the cardinals were slowly beginning to practice their spring song and robins were gathered on the sides of the road as I drove into town.
In a very early sign of spring at Lac Lawrann the sandhill cranes have returned. Though not strangers to snow, this is the earliest I can remember them returning to the conservancy. Courtney, our naturalist captured this group walking across “Turtle Pond on Monday morning. She also posted a great video to our FaceBook Page. (https://www.facebook.com/LLConservancy)
The Sandhills are known to mate for life and prefer nesting in the same area year after year. Though we cannot be certain they could be the same pair that nested and hatched a “colt” on turtle pond two years ago, it’s nice to imagine that they are frequent part time residents. We have also had other sandhill nesting sites in the marsh just south of Rainbow lake and on the eastern edge of Lac Lawrann itself. Cranes don’t mate until they are 4 to 5 years old, so there is a possibility that two of the group at LLC are young from previous years. On an unfortunate note, in most of Wisconsin, only 4 in 10 hatchling colts will survive to migrate south in the fall and in the last few years that number is declining rapidly. Scientists aren’t certain at all what has caused the decline and it does not appear, at least not yet, that climate “weirding” is to blame. (More on climate “weirding” in my next notes.)
Over the past few years I’ve run into and been able to observe and photograph the cranes in several different places in the conservancy at different times of the year. I’ve included a link to the Wisconsin Ornithological Society (https://wsobirds.org/sandhill-crane-hunt) that contains some good additional information on cranes and their presence in Wisconsin. As the snow melts, I will encourage you to head out to Lac Lawrann and as you hike the trails and keep a look for out for our cranes.
Take care, stay safe and we’ll see you on the trails at a safe distance.
Paul De Chant
Friends of Lac Lawrann Conservancy
P.S. If you are looking to expand your repertoire in the natural world, check out these courses from one of our partners at the UWM Field Station this summer.