Nature Walk Wednesday – The trail of the Whooping Crane

I had lots of fun this week working with First UU’s Steve Molk to create this virtual bird watching trip and travelogue.  If you don’t already know Steve, he’s an avid nature watcher and explorer having led many hikes and fossil hunts as First UU Auction trips.

Here he relates his love of nature growing up and a cross-country trip he took for the purpose of adding a bird to his ‘life list’!

Enjoy,  Brian Hagemann


(Note: photos are mini slide-shows, click on the arrows to page through)

Virtual Nature Trip with Steve Molk

On The Trail of the Whooping Crane


Over the course of my lifetime, I have taken, been taken on, or led many nature hikes. Sometimes, I get to see beautiful or unusual species of plants, birds or other animals on these hikes. On other occasions, I have seen unusual natural sights by pure chance, or have carefully planned long trips to see certain species. In my “virtual expeditions”, I’d like to tell you about some of these adventures.


My interest in nature can probably be traced to my family’s vacations to national parks in the West. I remember we traveled to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in the days before the rangers became strict about not feeding wildlife, and black bears would come up to people’s cars on the road to get food. We saw bears there, and elk and bison.


Yellowstone National Park

  • Grand Loop Road, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (Acroterion)

In my early years, I attended meetings of the Junior Naturalists at Blacklick Woods Metro Park near Reynoldsburg, where I grew up. There, I learned to identify wildflowers, trees and (some) birds from the park naturalist, Jim Fry. Jim was a wonderful teacher and guide and later wrote a regular nature column for the Columbus Dispatch. Natural history became a subject that would interest me throughout my life.

Blacklick Woods Metro Park

  • Blacklick Creek as it travels through Blacklick Woods Metro Park in July (Sixflashphoto)

In the late 1970’s, after graduating from college, I held several science-related jobs for a short while, then became interested and active in the safe energy movement. I volunteered a lot of time and supported myself by delivering pizzas. This gave me the independence to take time off occasionally and travel on some wildlife expeditions.

One winter I decided to go to south Texas to see North America’s tallest bird, the whooping crane. (It is also one of our rarest birds–in 1941, the population was only 21 individuals in the wild; when I took my trip in the 1970’s, it had rebounded to 50 or 60. Now, due to intense conservation, breeding and reintroduction efforts, it is up to about 800!)

From Columbus to Texas

I drove by myself for two days to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, south of Houston. There, I climbed an observation platform and saw many of the magnificent birds in their marshy wintering area. They stand about 4 feet tall and are mostly white, with red face masks and black legs and wingtips–in other words, impossible to miss! They are famous for their mating dance, but I was not lucky enough to witness one. I WAS able to check “whooping crane” off my life list!

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

  • Three Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) in ANWR (Klaus Nigge/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Coming up next time with Steve: Striking birds seen in Florida!



About Steve:

Steve Molk is a retired science teacher and musician who went to Sunday school from 2nd grade onward at First UU. In high school he was active in Liberal Religious Youth, the youth organization associated with the UU church. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and music and a master’s degree in geology. He has worked as a high school chemistry teacher, an adjunct professor at two community colleges, and a number of other jobs. Over the years at the church he has sung in the choir for nearly 50 years, and has served on the Nominating Committee and the Green Team. He has donated nature hikes and fossil hikes to the church auction for over 20 years. He enjoys recounting his travels and experiences with birds and other wildlife.