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Warming Winters Impact Crane Migration Festival

The shifting sandhill crane migration may force organizers to move "Marsh Madness" to mid-February.

  • Goose pond

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    Photo: Lindsey Wright

    Friday and Saturday mark the 8th annual Marsh Madness Festival at Goose Pond.

  • Bird watching

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    Photo: Lindsey Wright

    George Sly looks for cranes before Marsh Madness begins.

  • Marsh Picture

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    Photo: Lindsey Wright

    The sandhill’s peak migration has shifted three weeks earlier since the festival’s debut in 2009.

  • Cranes

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    Photo: Lindsey Wright

    The changing climate has event organizers like George Sly concerned about the future of the Marsh Madness event.

This weekend marks the 8th annual Marsh Madness Festival at Goose Pond. The event in Linton commemorates peak Sandhill Crane migration, where thousands of birds stop on their route to Wisconsin. However, the changing climate is making event organizers like George Sly rethink their timing.

“I think what we’re seeing here is the effects of a warming planet,” Sly says. “When the weather allows these birds to go north, they’re in a hurry to get up there.”

For the past four years, warming winters have caused the flock to leave earlier and earlier. The peak migration has shifted to three weeks earlier since the festival’s debut in 2009, but organizers have maintained the original festival dates.

In the early years, thousands of cranes could be seen during the festival, either plucking grubs from the fields or wading through the marshes. But in recent years, attendees have seen far fewer birds because most of the flock has already moved on.

“Birds respond instantly to those changes because they have to eat all the time,” says Lee Sterrenburg, Head of the Conservation Committee for Friends of Goose Pond.

Sly and Sterrenburg say next year the event will shift with the cranes. It will likely be planned for mid-February or dispersed over multiple weeks to watch the birds.

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