THE MAGIC OF MIGRATION

by Cadell Walker, Director of Philanthropy for The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky

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After working at The Nature Conservancy for many years, I am familiar with the annual Sandhill crane migration which takes place a few states away in Nebraska – smack dab in the middle of the country. This year I had the honor of witnessing this annual wonder first-hand.

I arrived in Grand Island, Nebraska on a Monday evening and upon debarking the plane was treated to hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands, of snow geese. I saw more near the hotel, where they congregated at a makeshift wetland caused by recent flooding. Pictures couldn’t do justice to the sheer numbers of waterfowl, especially the distinct sound….and the smell. I suspected that maybe they were the opening act for what was to come.

After settling in, I attended a presentation by the Conservancy’s Nebraska State Director, Mace Hack, who spoke about Sandhill crane migration. I learned that this annual gathering attracts more than 500,000 Sandhill cranes – about 80 percent of the world’s population – to Nebraska’s Platte River each spring. In fact, their arrival queues local residents in to the official beginning of Spring.

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Why Nebraska? Evidently the state offers perfect conditions for Sandhill cranes embarking on their long journey to locations as far north as Alaska and Siberia. Waste from farm fields and small invertebrates inhabiting the river and surrounding marshes provides lots of opportunity for putting on the weight required for the trip. It is not uncommon for a Sandhill crane to add 20 percent to its weight during a two or three week visit to their Platte River Sandhill crane resort.

The Platte River also provides Sandhill cranes with good protection at night. Wide and shallow, the river allows the birds to stand in the water and avoid coyotes and other predators. Come morning, they return to the fields in communal song after a safe night’s sleep.

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This year, due to the cold winter, there were fewer Sandhill cranes than usual. But the show was no less spectacular. After driving along some country roads, we reached the bird blind located on the Conservancy’s property. Then came the magic. After one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen, we witnessed thousands of Sandhill cranes, Canadian geese, snow geese and bald eagles in front of the blind and they stretched out for miles and miles beyond the horizon.

As night fell and the Sandhill cranes left for their posts in the river, our group quietly departed through a cornfield lit by the moon and stars. I left not only with a check mark next to an item from my own personal “bucket list,” but with pride in being part of an organization which plays a role in conserving river habitat critical to wildlife. I couldn’t wait to return to Kentucky to focus in on our own unique species and places back in the Bluegrass State.IMG_1025

Treating Ash Trees in the Palisades

by Ken Brooks, Volunteer Preserve Monitor & Land Steward

The Nature Conservancy is faced with calamitous circumstances regarding some trees located at its Kentucky nature preserves. For example, the Chapter staff and a handful of dedicated volunteers has been treating many of the hemlocks under attack from the woolly adelgid at the Bad Branch Nature Preserve in Eastern Kentucky at a few selected trees at the Baylor Hickman Nature Preserve in south central Kentucky. Recently a new invasive problem has been reported attacking walnut trees.

Treating Hemlock wooly adelgid at the Bad Branch Nature Preserve © TNC Staff

Treating Hemlock wooly adelgid at the Bad Branch Nature Preserve © TNC Staff

In our neck of the woods, in the Palisades, ash trees are experiencing invasion from the emerald ash borer. Since entering the United States in 2002 from East Asia, this insect has now spread to 22 states including Kentucky. Ash trees represent, by some estimates, one quarter of the trees in our big cities and are a huge percentage of the trees in Lexington. They also have a significant presence in our Palisades nature preserves where some trees are already dying. In fact, you can spot the dying canopies in these trees as you visit the preserves.

Ash Borer on Leaf © University of Kentucky

Ash Borer on Leaf © University of Kentucky

In an effort to reverse a troubling trend, our nature preserve steward, Zach Pickett and myself recently treated 10 ash trees at the Brown/Crutcher/Wallace Nature Preserve. The trees chosen are all near the Brown Trail, the three-mile loop trail that eventually goes all the way to the Kentucky River. These trees will need to be treated regularly until the borer dies off – likely once virtually all the untreated ash trees have died and there is no more food to support the population. Our goal is to have a few survivors that can then help to repopulate our nature preserve.

The trees treated vary from less than 6 inches to about 2 feet in diameter. If you hike the trail, you can possibly identify the treated trees by the large blue dot painted about chest height on the trunk. Zack also treated ten trees at the Dupree Nature Preserve, including the HUGE ash tree near a picnic table where the main trail joins the Brooks-Schwantes Trail, likely the largest ash on any of the Palisades nature preserves.

Green Ash Tree at Dupree Nature Preserve © Craig Dooley

Green Ash Tree at Dupree Nature Preserve © Craig Dooley

Without treatment, we can expect nearly all the ash trees to die. Is there any hope? Two pieces of encouraging news lead us to believe there is:

1) Blue ash trees seem a bit less vulnerable and some of these seem to be surviving.
2) New trees are sprouting where the mature ash population has been killed.

We can only hope that when the infestation has passed that new seedlings will emerge from the soil, allowing these spectacular trees to return to our Palisades.