Senseless Killing Brings Silver Lining to the Dunes

Bird migration is ramping up in the duneland area.  Throughout the sites Beyond the Beach, thousands, if not millions of birds are winging their way from South America to nest in the prairies, forests, and wetlands in the dunes.  For many of these birds, this journey is a promise, a promise to return to where they were born.  A promise to start the cycle of life again.  Our winged friends are now riding the south winds to arrive back from their wintering grounds as far south as Patagonia!  A round trip for many of our bright warblers, tanagers, and vireos may include over 13,000 miles in one year.

In the course of our avifauna history in the areas Beyond the Beach, a Whooping Crane at Indiana Dunes State Park, April 2010.  Photo by Ken Brockstaggering 365+ species have been recorded along the shores of Lake Michigan.  It’s an amazing 88% of the total species checklist for all of Indiana!  These include the common robins, blackbirds, and goldfinches that are moving through in April and early May, but also the rare and spectacular megafauna that wow birders of all ages.  Take the federally endangered Whooping Crane.  The large scale crane reintroductions going on in Wisconsin are a testament to our love for these prehistoric birds.  As the population grows, and the first adults begin to nest not far to our northwest we will hopefully see more Whooping Cranes migrating along Lake Michigan.  The photo on the right was taken by Dr. Ken Brock in 2010 at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Many nature lovers heard of the horrible killing of a Whooping Crane in southern Indiana in late 2009.  Known simply as “217,” she was the matriarch of the first family of Whooping Cranes to breed in Wisconsin since the reintroduction. She was what one crane expert called, “the most important bird in the entire eastern migratory population.”  Her death brought a reward of up to $10,000.  The mortality of cranes and other migratory birds only shows the ever present danger of migration.  A danger brought by the urge to return home to the dunes.

If there can ever be one up-side to 217’s story, the US Fish and Wildlife Service have know concluded the investigation, have charged the person responsible, and are in the process of transferring 217’s body to an education center who can forever tell the story of not only Whooping Cranes, but all of the bird life seen during migration.  The Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center will receive 217 in the next month and start the long process of restoring her for education programs at the state park.  Taxidermy and glass cases do not run cheap.  One way that Beyond the Beach folks can help to raise the $1000+ that it will take to complete this is through the State Park/Friends of Indiana Dunes Birdathon done each year.  By pledging a fixed amount per species found by the State Park birding team, you can help bring 217 to the dunes!  They average around 130 species, so a pledge of .25 a bird would come to $32.50.  You can find pledge forms at or by visiting the State Park Nature Center.  Do it today, while it’s on your mind.  Deadline for pledges is Friday, May 13.  Let’s bring 217 to the Indiana Dunes!

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