Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RoadTrip Day #3: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

7 May 2012
The new visitor center
Day three of the Project BudBurst RoadTrip! Today is an exciting day for me. We are visiting Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, one of the places I interned for during college many years ago. We’ll be talking with Biologist Rich King to find out what has changed and check out the new visitor center.

The staff, wildlife, and flora of Necedah National Wildlife have been great to us! We’ve seen lots of  wildlife, including redheaded woodpeckers, endangered whooping cranes and pileated woodpeckers. We’ve also observed several Project BudBurst plants: Chokecherry in full flower, Quaking aspen, Paper birch and Red maple in full leaf. However, little did I know, when the day began, that this visit to Necedah would also teach me a new lesson in the importance of phenological data.

“Necedah” is a Native American word meaning “land of yellow water” and the Refuge is well known for its wetlands, sedge meadows, and oak savannas. It is also home to endangered Whooping cranes and Karner Blue butterflies. As the biologist for the Refuge, Rich King is currently leading up their whooping crane reintroduction program. Turns out, one of the many challenges of the reintroduction program is phenology-related. And at Project BudBurst, we’re always interested in learning about phenology.

Wetlands at the Refuge are a great place to spot Whooping cranes
Captively-produced whooping crane eggs are traditionally used for the reintroduction program at the Refuge. When the eggs hatch, they are reared by costumed humans and taught to migrate to and from their wintering grounds in Florida. When the birds return to Wisconsin in subsequent years to nest, they often attempt their nesting in early April, a time frame that coincides with the captive rearing facility they came from. Unfortunately, most of these nest attempts fail because the birds do not incubate their eggs to full term. Some of the birds re-nest later in the summer, but so far, very few of the nests have been successful. In 2010, for example, only 1 mating pair of cranes successfully fledged a chick on their own. Most of the nesting birds needed extra help from the staff at the Refuge. Phenologically-speaking, whooping cranes that start nesting later in the season, after April 25th, are more likely to incubate their eggs to full term.

So, how do biologists working on the reintroduction program alter the phenological habits of the whooping cranes so that they start nesting later in the season? One idea, being studied presently, is to take eggs laid by a wild population of Whooping cranes (at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada) to the nesting Whooping cranes in Wisconsin to raise into adults. The Canadian Whooping cranes experience environmental conditions at their breeding grounds that are more closely related to Wisconsin breeding ground conditions than those of the captively-reared cranes the eggs usually come from. The thought is that the Canadian cranes will introduce a later-season nesting habit to the Necedah population of Whooping cranes. That, along with several other rearing challenges the researchers are addressing, will hopefully bring more nesting success to the cranes at the Refuge. Turns out, the phenological habit of the birds, in this case the phenology of the birds incubation period, is a critical piece of the puzzle for the reintroduction program. When you and I make observations of plants for Project BudBurst, we are collecting important data about the phenological habits of plants that may be useful for biologists and land managers looking to restore native plant populations as well.

A fuzzy caterpillar chillin' on a Paper birch

Ahhh….we’ve arrived in Kaukauna, WI, where we’ll be spending the next few days visiting with family and friends. We’ll pick up our Project BudBurst RoadTrip adventure again on Monday and Tuesday, May 14th and 15th when we return to Colorado.

1 comment:

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