Synthesis

Vitamin D deficiency being the diagnosis du jour (whether that’s an actual thing for most of us is subject to debate1), I spent the morning synthesizing it from sunlight.

You might think that’s no big deal, but November in this neck of the woods is normally dank and dreary. It being 65º (18 C) at 9 AM and severe weather in the PM forecast meant it was time to get to work.

You might think that’s no big deal, but synthesizing vitamin D while simultaneously synthesizing ATP as fast as one can, while also beating one’s heart and breathing, leaves little time or brain power for thinking. That may be a good thing, as what passes for thinking in these parts seems to be what has gotten us into so much trouble. As both a bicyclist and a Krebs cyclist, I had a busy morning. By the end of a 40 mile (64 km) ride the temperature was hitting 70 (21 C).

There was a 15-20 mph (24-32 km/h) wind blowing from the south, so I headed into the wind. If I’m riding for exercise, what better than to ride into a stiff breeze? If I’m riding for fun, what better than to ride home pushed by a stiff breeze? Win/win, in my book. As of last night, the forecast was for high winds and large hail by the afternoon. As of this afternoon, the forecast is for possible showers overnight. The temperature is to drop 40º overnight – freezing tomorrow. We’ll see. Was this the last warm day of the year? I noticed the local bike club just listed another ride for Sunday. I think that might be the third ride I’ve seen that was the last one of the season. The season doesn’t seem to want to end. With an overnight low of 22 (-5.5 C) and a high just above freezing in the Sunday forecast, we’ll see about that, too. Of course, those who have followed this blog for a while know there is no such thing as a “season” for riding.

This weekend is the Great Midwest Crane Fest hosted by the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold Center. That sounded like a great way to spend my Friday until I saw that the $30 registration would not get me into the “Guided Sunrise Crane Viewing Tour” (an additional $50 and sold out), the “Guided Sunset Crane Viewing Tour” (same), “Evening Crane Congregation Tour” (an additional $100 and sold out), or the “Wildlife Photography” workshop (an additional $25). It would let me walk through the prairie of the International Crane Foundation and see Aldo Leopold’s shack.

Photo by Monica Hall, from Madison Audubon Society

I suspect I’ll walk through a prairie on my own and see the Sandhill cranes that wander around freely. (As a retired person not yet on Social Security, I am pinching my pennies. This is not to dissuade others from giving some money to the Crane Foundation and going to the festival. Since registration is required, it doesn’t look like I can change my mind and just head out there tomorrow.)

Sandhills were once hunted nearly to extinction. (In 1936 there were a dozen breeding pairs left in Wisconsin.) That we see them wandering around town seems weird to us only because they were so close to extinction that we never saw them when I was younger. I’m hoping that seeing Whoopers in the wild will come in my lifetime.

1 The link is to the abstract. I can’t grant you access to the full text. The article is by US Preventive Services Task Force and published in JAMA. While vitamin D deficiency is a global public health issue, whether it is actually an issue for the average adult in the US and whether screening is worthwhile is the topic of debate. Vitamin D deficiency is known to cause rickets (a pediatric bone disease). It is a suspected player in multiple other conditions but evidence to support those hypotheses and whether supplementation is beneficial is lacking. I know several people who take vitamin D supplements in hopes of preventing or treating other conditions and have read lay articles recommending supplementation for almost everyone, hence the “diagnosis du jour” notation in the opening sentence. I am not a doctor and nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice. If in doubt about your own circumstances, contact your primary provider. Should you use sunscreen all the time? Expose yourself to sunlight in a controlled fashion to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight (the main natural source), drink milk (which is supplemented with vitamin D), take a supplement? That’s not for me to answer for you.

Cranes

The State of Wisconsin is contemplating opening a Sandhill Crane season. Cranes are said to be tasty – they have been dubbed the “ribeye of the sky” and “quite the prize for the savvy hunter”. Since I have been within 5 feet of them, I don’t think it takes a lot of savvy.

Sandhill Cranes outside a hospital in Madison WI

I live near the International Crane Foundation, where they have been working for years to bring the Whooping Crane back from the brink of extinction. The work has included humans in crane costumes raising chicks to avoid imprinting on humans, and acting like cranes to teach them crane behaviors. Ultralight aircraft have led new flocks to teach them their ancestral migratory route.

Image from US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Whooping Crane population has dipped as low as 16 birds and was up to 826 in February, 2020, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. While Sandhill Cranes are not currently endangered, will hunting them endanger the rare Whooper?

Whooping Crane image from International Crane Foundation

In the news today, hunters in Oklahoma killed four Whooping Cranes. Speculation is that they misidentified them as Sandhill Cranes, for which Oklahoma has a season. We don’t really know how many have been shot. We just know that these four were shot, abandoned, and found by Game Wardens. At least a dozen have been killed in Louisiana, according to the Times-Picayune. The International Crane Foundation identified 15 shootings from 2010-2014.

Are poachers shooting Whooping Cranes deliberately? Are they shooting them by mistake, thinking they are Sandhills while hunting legitimately? Do they think they are poaching Sandhills and getting Whoopers accidentally? If legal hunting of Sandhills further endangers the nearly-extinct Whooping Crane, is it worth it? I just want to see and hear Sandhills on bike rides in the country. I hope to live long enough to see a Whooping Crane in the wild. If you really want a ribeye, I’ll buy it for you.