Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Flying Shame


Ever heard of a Ducky Derby? You can buy a chance on a rubber ducky that will be released into a body of water with everyone else's ducky, and whosever bird meanders across the finish line first wins. It's a raffle, and usually a fundraiser. The Wisconsin Department of Justice has been of the opinion that this constitutes illegal gambling, and at least one Wisconsin lawmaker has decided to take a few seconds off from obliterating unions to rectify the situation by proposing it be legalized.

Shouldn't be too controversial. The rubber duckies are captive-bred and are not abused in any way--maybe they get one good weeka weeka squeeze for luck and then it's a nice float down the river. It's a shame they can't keep squeaking all the way. It would be uplifting.

But not as uplifting as sandhill cranes. First time I heard those, I was standing in a wetland with my sister and the most amazing cascade of clattering fell out of the sky, like some crazy carillon from Venus. The angels had nothing on them. They were singing in exultation. The sandhill crane, like other cranes, has a windpipe so long it has to be looped up to fit inside the bird. And when it gets a notion, it rattles that trachea from hallelujah to kingdom come. We were rooted to the spot, gazing up with mouths agape--not recommended--while blessing after blessing tumbled out of the sky, voice first, followed by dangling feet and wings atilt. There's nothing in the bible to beat this.

They hootled out of heaven and toppled to the ground, folding up sedate some distance away. And
Margaret and I, cameras in hand, began a slow, stealthy stalk. Whatever distance away they were, it never changed. Without appearing to move at all, they melted away from us like a good idea we'd once had and couldn't quite remember.

Not a hundred percent sure why anyone would want to take a shotgun and blast them out of the sky, but people do. Sandhills are our most common crane but they're only abundant in comparison with recent history. By the turn of the century--not this one, the last one--they had been hunted nearly to extinction, but began to make a comeback after the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Now there are enough that some states think it's cool to harvest them again. Supposedly they're tasty. If you go to the Wisconsin Sandhill Crane Hunting page on facebook, you can find a recipe for Sandhill Crane Nuggets wrapped in bacon. Not to be argumentative, but you could cube a canvas grocery bag and wrap it in bacon and it would be good. While you're on the site, you can dip into any number of grammatically inventive comments, plus this from one Lela Best: "crane poop is worse than goose poop. Take them all." Obviously, sensibilities on this issue differ. What is angel poop like?

There are a few problems with "taking" sandhill cranes. Cranes do not pump out a clutch of eggs every year like most birds. They generally produce two colts and on average only one of them survives to adulthood. If you shoot Mom, you're likely dooming the colt too. It's a slow replacement rate. That's how they got in trouble in the first place. How many is too many? Who gets to decide? Me or Lela?

The other problem is the chance that a hunter will bag a whooping crane. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, in its proposal for a crane season, insists that hunters are "exceptionally skilled" in bird identification and "not likely" to make a mistake. Which is a relief, because whooping crane numbers have tanked from over ten thousand before the Europeans invaded to fifteen--fifteen individuals--in 1938, although now their ranks have ballooned to a proud few hundred. They're so rare you'd think sheer math would work in favor of them not being carved out of the sky, but no. Several have already been murdered, including the first captive-raised and -released whooper to raise a colt to adulthood. Eighteen-year-old kid in Indiana posed with that one, and got fined a buck for it.

And just last year, in Texas, one juvenile whooper (out of 34 in existence) was killed. Notice to that
effect was posted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for a few nanoseconds, by mistake. It was supposed to be a secret. Not really the public's business. That's at least the sixth oopsie-whooper committed by exceptionally skilled Texan hunters so far.

All but one of the states in the Central Flyway promote a sandhill crane hunt now. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that if there must be a crane harvest, only properly licensed hunters will shoot cranes, will know the difference between whoopers and sandhills, will be sober at all times, and will give a shit; and that every whooping crane makes it to the finish line.

But if you ask me, that's gambling.

63 comments:

  1. One of the things I love the best about your posts is that you never get preachy, but you always get your message across. Unfortunately, those crane hunters are not reading your blog, I'll wager. Sure wish I had your irony skill, Murr.

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    1. I keep it in my irony skillet. Hey, one of the things I like best about my posts isn't my posts--it's my readers. I can count the number of comments in which someone got really upset at me on one hand.

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  2. We're on crane flight space and some stop for a day or a week. In y twenty five years here, many of their runways and marshes have been obliterated. We have a marsh/lake nearby that has federal protection because some nearly extinct darter fish lives in it. The freeway overpass and exit ramp were years on the drawing board until DNR approved the umpteenth set of plans. Last summer several great white cranes rested there a week or so, and the little two lane county road was thick with sightseers. We are on the sandhill crane flight path, but I don't recall ever seeing one.

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    1. I haven't seen one either, but I'm not on their route. And, as someone has pointed out, there ain't that many of them. There are many, many reasons people will regret paving over our wetlands.

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  3. Today is foggy and wet and to the advantage of our geese hunters. I hear them in the distance shooting their quota.

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    1. I guess I don't have much of a beef with goose hunters. Or deer hunters. Or, you know. Reg'lar hunters.

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  4. George Carlin said that we pick the animals we like and then get to kill the rest.

    If you are killing the wolves to save the moose so you can kill the moose - you are probably living in Alaska.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. If you're killing them from a helicopter, you probably used to be the governor of Alaska.

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  5. We've had that yellow duckie event a couple of times here, employing a little stream that runs by the Chamber of Commerce building. Usually when we see cranes -- and they are rare -- we see only one or two. We see and hear lots of geese and love them. But now I'm all keyed up to hear cranes singing.

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    1. I like to hear geese too. In fact the first flyover of the fall gets me good, especially if they're obscured by fog. I stand there with my neck cranked back and listen till my head snaps off.

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  6. Enough booze and some hunters will blast the rubber duckys thinking they are sandhill cranes.

    Not a hunter, don't hate it, but plenty of deer, geese, ducks, and Turkeys, maybe we could just concentrate on them for a while...I doubt a crane tastes any better than a turkey. I've never seen a crane maybe I should go on a crane watch while it is still possible.

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    1. They call them "ribeye in the sky," but I'm not tempted.

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  7. Judging by the skill level exhibited by Texans (and Kentuckians for that matter) at everything else (electing public officials comes to mind) I am not optimistic about their capability to distinguish between cranes of one ilk or another.

    One can just hope that the clutch of grinning gits pictured above clutching handfuls of dead birds might drink enough Celebratory Bird-Shooting Libation to shoot one another in the feet and waste all their ammo.

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  8. And, as you won’t be asking me, I’ll tell you for nothing: In a country obsessed with guns and the killing they do - or so we’re told - it’s a wonder any creature makes it into adulthood.

    Right, now you’re all going to hate me,

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  9. In one well created post, you are able to make me angry about our nation's stupidity and to make me double over in laughter because of your clever language. And just for good measure you provide all kinds of info...did not know about sandhill cranes' breeding cycle, for example. Keep up the good work, Murr. And may the birds keep hootling out of heaven for all the right reasons.

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    1. Oh I am the Informatron. I just stay one-half step ahead of Wikipedia.

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  10. Apart from my few friends who live there,I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find something good about your countrymen,Murr.
    We have cranes here;the indigenous name is brolga and, while I sometimes see small groups around here, I've never seen their fabled dance.Youtube probably has films

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    1. I've never seen the dance either. I would swoon.

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    2. I've seen them dance on our dried up dam in Trangie, NSW. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. We saw them often, but only dancing one. To imagine that anyone would shoot them ( or for me, anything at all really) is unbelievable.

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  11. The first time I heard sandhills was just ouside of Austin, Texas. It was clear blue sky and they flew overhead in huge 'v' formations of 40 or 50 individuals, and scores of 'v's. We were obviously on a flyway, and it was migrating time. I have never been so moved by anything like the sight or the sound of them. This is a proper use of the word 'awesome'. The information in this post breaks my heart.

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    1. I can't add anything to that. The states involved should hear from us. Maybe I'll try to come up with some contact information.

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  12. Oh Murr. Hiss and spit is about the most printable thing which comes to my emotionally leaky eyes here today. A fine of a dollar? Oh. Oh. And rather a lot more...

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  13. Great post about one of my favorite bird species. I was blessed with getting very close to a feeding pair the day before Christmas.

    But I noticed that you had one fact wrong - the number of whooping cranes.
    For the migrating wild cranes, here is the latest information I could find. - There are probably about 250 at Aransas this year. They did have a terrible year last year since the waterways got too salty for the blue crabs and the wolf berries didn't produce due the drought. But the suite against the Aransas River Authority ( I think that's their name) resulted in them having to move the cranes up op on their priority list and they will have to release more water to the bays in the future.

    Also I'm always of two minds about hunting. I believe that a hunted species is more likely to not go extinct than will a non-hunted one.

    This is due to several factors:
    First, hunters have to pay taxes on their hunting equipment and buy permits, the funds from which are used to manage the habitats and the species.
    Second, the numbers of species that are hunted are monitored and hunters may not be able to harvest as many individuals in a year when the count is low.
    Third: Hunted species are seen as having more value and thus are better protected during non-hunting season. This contrasts with species considered nuisance species which may be killed at any time. This category includes wolves.

    And the best way we can all celebrate all wildlife is to buy a duck stamp each year. You can even buy them at the post office. Ninety-eight cents of every dollar goes to buying and improving wetlands. This helps many species of birds and animals.

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    1. I think the hunting/habitat protection thing works well with ducks and deer and such. I don't think we have cranes to spare, though.

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  14. Whoops. I meant to give you the link to the Aransas-wintering birds. There is another hand-raised flock that flies to Florida each year. Not sure how many that is but probably about 50 or more by now. http://www.fws.gov/refuge/aransas/science/whooping_crane_activity_report.html

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  15. I just started to check on the fines for killing a whooping crane and found this article, which also gives much higher numbers for the total number of whooping cranes.
    http://www.justice.gov/usao/txs/1News/Releases/2013%20March/130306%20-%20Wiles.html

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    1. It does cost more to (get caught shooting) shoot a whooping crane now. The one-dollar fine was accurate, though, and I think I just pegged the whooper numbers at "a proud few hundred," so I'm sticking with that. Thanks for the links!

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  16. Here in Saskatchewan, Canada, we get very careful about Whooping Cranes, and trying to get the population to expand. They tend to spend their summers here. Very careful about them! I think they're worth more than a dollar.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!

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    1. Too bad they have to migrate across the United States.

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    2. It seems that, these days, everyone lives dangerously. Not because they want to do so.

      Next, NSA will try to Cranes them as drones. Sigh!

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    3. What if amazon.com drafted cranes as delivery drones? I'd order SO much merchandize.

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  17. We live quite close to a National Wildlife "Refuge" where there are many sandhill cranes at some times of the year. We also live on a part of the Upper Mississippi River which does not freeze over in the winter. There are Trumpeter Swans which winter here A gift.

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    1. Locally, we have a nearby island with swarms of tundra swans, sandhill cranes, eagles, and other feathered whatnot. I love it there. No whoopers though.

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  18. The good news is that the number of people in the United States who actually hunt is steadily dropping. Fewer hunters, fewer people taking potshots at sandhill cranes.

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    1. I'm cool with hunting, especially since I am a carnivore, and am not proud of the conditions that my meat is often raised in. My ignorance is an excuse. But we shouldn't hunt every damn thing. We just shouldn't.

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  19. I am not a violent person, but by the time I finished reading I was in a fairly murderous frame of mind. Grrrrrr

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    1. You could try sending a letter to the gov or appropriate authorities in Wisconsin, which I believe is still thinking about a crane season.

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    2. Hah! Think they'd listen to a Canuck?

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    3. You could threaten to withhold maple sugar. That would work on me.

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  20. It's a crying shame that beautiful birds with angelic voices are tasty too. There seems to be a clear visible difference between the sandhill and whooping cranes, how could they shoot the whoopers by mistake? I'm feeling quite annoyed at hunters.

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    1. They shouldn't be able to mix them up, but people taking out the trash are always being mistaken for deer, too, and the fact is--whooping cranes are getting shot.

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  21. Yes, I have heard of Ducky Derby. We have one in our local park every summer. As to sand hill cranes, I was once privileged to observe 60,000 of the noisy things in a field. (DNR number, not mine.) It never occurred to me that anyone would shoot them, much less eat them. I bet there are purely logical arguments on both sides of that hunting issue. Well, thanks for raising my awareness level.

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    1. Personally, I would not want to shoot a sandhill crane out of the sky, because they're more valuable to me up there than in my belly. And although there are lots of them, they aren't anywhere near historical numbers. But given the certainty of whooping cranes being shot--that ship has sailed--nope. Pull the plug on that "harvest." We can eat something else.

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  22. When I was a child in Colorado, I don't remember the time of year, but the sandhill cranes were flying over the house towards Adams Lake. I was awakened every morning for a while. Now they have a Dancing Crane Festival in Alamosa, Colorado.

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    1. Awakened by cranes. That would make a morning person out of me.

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  23. Wonderful post, Murr. You make me laugh and cry at the same time.

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  24. You remind me of the day in Denmark when I heard swans fly overhead. Wonder and delight! And I do love to listen to the Canada Honkers barking as they pass. I'm surprised the city hasn't promoted goose culling in Westmoreland park.

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    1. Nobody likes the goose poop. I find it fascinating, but then again, I never go barefoot. Not since the Slug Incident of 1961.

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  25. Well said, Murr. Dredged in humor and laid out lightly, you never preach, which gets this pragmatic Minnesotan right where she lives.

    Pearl

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    1. I'm glad to hear you say it, because I feel mighty preachy on the inside a lot of times.

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  26. Every time we "manage" a species we seem to eff it up. I am sure that in Texas the Babble tells them to have dominion over all the critters they want to shoot, so it's okay. Deer have been managed into nuisance status so we HAVE to kill them. We can't control our own population, so we take it out on other species.

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    1. Oh deer. We do love to be the top (or only) predator, don't we?

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  27. We passed a sandhill nest, invisible in the bush beside our path, in breeding season. The parents set up a racket that sounded to me more like a broken washing machine than anything else. It took me ages to figure out what that was.

    What was really shiver-inducing was the time a half-dozen sandhills flew directly overhead and landed in the lagoon a few yards away. They weren't talking, but their wings creaked like rusty hinges. Probably feathers rubbing together as they adjusted for landing.

    The thought of anyone shooting one of these beauties drives me up the wall. "Grinning gits"! Grinning witless gits.

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    1. You reminded me of a time we were hiking in a narrow trail in a thick Douglas Fir forest and a raven flew about three feet overhead. I'm not accustomed to hearing the sound of just the wings. It was great.

      And yeah--it's one thing if you've got to come up with dinner and there isn't any other way, but do we have to shoot EVERYTHING? Can't some things get a pass?

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