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Date: March 28, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Craniac Medical Alert J

Location:

Main Office

We thought you would enjoy reading the letter we received today from long time OM supporter Charlie Robinson.

Dear OM,

I want to thank you for sending me some Craniac Patches to try. Since this is a new product I used it in various manners and conditions for a trial period. I must say it did help, but I found that at times there were some adverse reactions you might want to warn Craniacs about.

1) When I wore the patch on my lower leg I had a tendency to walk in mud or wade into puddles.
2) When I wore it on my upper thigh or buttock I had the irresistible desire to strut around.
3) When I placed it on my arm I kept wanting to flap my upper limbs.
4) When I wore it on my forehead, people kept asking if I was alright or, how I you hurt myself. Also, I found I was inclined to raise my head and trumpet like a Whooper at the most in appropriate times.

My best advice to fellow Craniacs is for them to buy Craniac t-shirts, or hats, or other OM gear. Then they can wear them proudly in public and perhaps influence others to become OM members or donate to this worthy cause.

Yours truly,
Patuxent Charlie

Date: March 27, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Eastern Migratory Population Update

Location:

Main Office

This update was compiled from information provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley (ICF), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

* = Female; DAR = direct autumn release. Estimated size of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) is 61* individuals, 35 males and 26 females. (*Number has been reduced by one. In their last report, trackers noted that 524 was 'missing' and that mortality was a possibility.)

"Only 10 birds, all in Florida, were confirmed as remaining on their wintering areas at the end of the week," said Dr. Richard Urbanek. He added, "At least 29 whooping cranes had completed migration to the core reintroduction area in Central Wisconsin by March 26th."

Still in Florida: 105, 509, 510*, 511, 512, 516, 519*, 523, 615, DAR627.

In Wisconsin: (on the Necedah NWR unless otherwise stated)
-     The First Family (211, 217* and W601*) began migration from Hernando County, FL on 23 February and arrived by 20 March. Observation during a March 23rd aerial survey indicated that the W601* had separated from her parents by this date. The juvenile was observed alone at Site 3 on 26 March and roosted that night nearby.
-     101 was confirmed back on 26 March. He was observed alone on 26 and 27 March. The status of his mate, 202* is unknown.
-     102* and 307 were observed unison-calling and in territorial behavior on 26 March.
-     107* was reported in Adams County on 26 March.
-     201* and 306 were confirmed in Juneau County during an aerial survey on 23 March (awaiting visual confirmation of 201* due to nonfunctional transmitter).
-     205 left Pasco County, FL on 22 or 23 February and arrived by 19 March.
-     213 and 218* were detected in flight over Columbia County on 23 March and completed migration later that day.
-     216 was found on 26 March, and with 412 at Site 4 on 27 March. He had separated from 102.
-     303 and 317 were confirmed back during an aerial survey on 23 March.
-     307 remained on or near Necedah NWR during the week. He arrived by 12 March.
-     No. 310 arrived by 19 March and remained there during the week.
-     Nos. 312* and 316 were detected in flight over Marquette County during an aerial survey on 23 March. They apparently arrived in Juneau County later that day or shortly thereafter.
-     No. 313* had been wintering alone on Goose Pond FWA, Greene County, Indiana, through January. She was next reported after completing migration to Necedah NWR by 12 March. She was observed on 26 March apparently associating with 310 and 205.
-     401 and 520* arrived by the night of 22 March but were no longer present when this location was checked on 26 March.
-     402, 403 were confirmed roosting on Necedah NWR on the night of 26 March.
-     412 (nonfunctional transmitter) was observed the March 2 with 216.
-     DAR528* and DAR532 were confirmed on Necedah NWR during 23 March’s aerial survey. DAR532 was not found when the refuge was checked on 26 March.
-     A pair observed in Wood County on 19 March may have been 212 and 419*. To be confirmed. Presumably this same pair was later reported in wetlands some distance away.

Still on Spring Migration:
-     209* and 416 were next reported with a small number of Sandhills in Newton County, IN during 13-15 March.
-     309* and 407 roosted in Randolph County, IN 26 March.
-   301 and 311 apparently left Colleton County, SC on migration 24 March.
-     318 remained in Georgetown County, until 19 March. He may have been the Whooping crane spotted in Kalamazoo County, MI on 21 March.
-     408, 501*, and 514 left Hillsborough County, FL 19 March. No subsequent reports have been received.
-     415* is believed to have been observed in Madison County, FL 19 February. Her transmitter is nonfunctional, and she cannot be tracked. No subsequent reports have been received.
-     420* remained in Jackson County, IN at least through 6 March. No subsequent reports have been received.
-     502, 503, and 507* were still in Jackson County, Indiana as of 27 March.
-     505 and 506 have been in Cumberland County, TN since 17 March and through the week.
-     508* roosted in Knox Co., IL 23 March. She had last been confirmed in Tangipahoa Parish, LA 4 March.
-     DAR527 was reported in Jasper-Pulaski, IN 18 March.
-     DAR533 roosted in Oceana County, MI 26 March.
-     DAR626 and DAR628 roosted in Davidson County, TN 26 March.

The partnership thanks Theresa Dailey, Gator Gates, Bryan Woodward, and Rich King (FWS), Jim Bergens (Indiana DNR), Dean Harrigal (South Carolina DNR), Larry Armstrong (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myers (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), Anne Lacy (ICF), Bryson McCord, and Dan Kaiser for tracking or monitoring assistance.

Date: March 23, 2007 - Entry 3 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

A Family Effort

Location:

Main Office

We are sending out a special thank you to Abby Studnicka and daughters Nadia and Eve in Illinois. Here's why....

Hi,
My name is Abby Studnicka, and I just wanted to let you know just how inspirational the entire crew at OM has been in my daughter’s lives. My nine year old, Nadia, has been studying the Whooping crane reintroduction for quite some time now with our home schooling. She was at the computer at 6:00 each morning to read the field journals, and follow her beloved class of 2006.

We were all of course devastated by their loss, and vowed to find a way to help. We have set a goal of making 1,000 origami cranes, and selling them for $2 each. When our goal is reached we will donate all the money to OM. As of today, we have made over 800 cranes, and $1,200. We have been extremely busy, going door to door, selling at our local grocery store, 5 local businesses carry them, nature center concerts, schools, and many friends and family have all contributed.

We are invited to set up at the annual Illinois Audubon conference in April, and an Earth Day celebration. I know our message about the cranes has reached many, many people.  The article written about my girls can be read if you go to the Journey North site, and click on the media coverage part. http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/Studnicka_Home.html

I am hoping that after we reach our goal, the girls could personally deliver a check to the crew in Wisconsin this summer. Thank you for your dedication, and for being a hero to my kids.

Sincerely, Abby Studnicka

Visit Craniac Kids, IL

Not enough can be said about the gratitude OM feels for the many of you who have turned your hands to creative projects to support our work. We are deeply appreciative of all the the imagination and hard work that folks like Abby, Nadia, and Eve put in to help Whooping cranes.

Horray for all Craniacs!!!!

Nadia and Eve's origami crane 'production line'.

Date: March 23, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Wood Buffalo/Aransas population update

Location:

Main Office

Tom Stehn, USF&WS Whooping crane coordinator, reported that on his March 14th aerial of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 75 birds; 64 adults and 11 chicks. Pilot Jim Bredy and observer Patrick Walther accompanied Tom as the crane observations were recorded during a scheduled monthly waterfowl survey. The total flock size remains an estimated 237.

"The highlight of the flight," said Tom, "was finding the North Cottonwood family group that had apparently been exposed to oiled water during the fall migration and had gotten stained.  I had been unable to find them on my last two flights. I identified the family from a color band seen on the right leg of one of the adults.  Although I could not get a look at their bellies, no staining was apparent on the feathers on the upper leg, indicating that the birds have lost some of the staining present last fall."

Tom noted that his priority for this last flight was to look for any juvenile mortality that may have occurred, and to document use of uplands and prescribed burns. He said that no evidence of crane mortality had been discovered this winter.

"I hope to conduct flights every 7-10 days in April to document the upcoming migration," stated Tom. "So far, 3 Whooping cranes were observed starting the migration on March 8th from Aransas, and a single Whooping crane was confirmed as being on the Platte River in Nebraska March 16th. This single may be the Whooping crane, now in its third winter, that has never been to Aransas and was seen this past winter in January near Bay City, Texas.

Date: March 23, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

Update from Florida

Location:

Florida

Time is a funny thing. It either drags or it speeds by so fast you get whiplash. As my time here in Florida winds down, it is definitely speeding up.

The longer our list becomes, the less time we have to do things, or so it seems. Both travel pens have been sent back north packed up with all the supplies for the summer and the '07 migration. New wheels have replaced the spares on both the aircraft trailer and the second travel pen. You may remember that both of these trailers lost wheels on the '06 migration, just after we crossed into Florida.

Brooke is busy overhauling the new training trikes that will be used at Patuxent. Mufflers on our flying trikes have been removed, sent away for coating, and the engines are being tuned in preparation for the new season. The old engines will be used on the trikes at Patuxent for circle pen training as they are now for ground work only and will never be flown again. Interns are being sought, found, interviewed, and prepared for the start of the season.

So, as you can see, things are not all fun and games here in paradise. Not to mention the fact that we have to do all this in 75-80 degree temps, with clear skies and light breezes (what tortureJ) -  but those breezes haven't been strong enough to chase away all of the bugs!

One of the great parts of this job is the people. Being down here where people love to vacation allowed us to meet some wonderful folks. Just in the past three weeks, we have been treated to visits from Caroline and Augie Wirkus from Eau Claire, WI, Charlie and Tracey Muise and their son Allan from Georgia, and OM's top cover pilots extraordinaire, Don and Paula Lounsbury. It was a great pleasure seeing these people, making new friends, and catching up with old friends and family. Thanks to all for the visits.

Last but not least, we keep up with the birds. It has been a nerve wracking season and every day we wait for news of 615 and how he is doing. I know I will finally breathe easier when I know his journey has begun.

Time to go back to cleaning the trailer and packing up my belongings for my next step. Thanks Chass - and look out Patuxent – here I come.

Date: March 20, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Update – Eastern Migratory Population to March 17

Location:

Main Office

This update was compiled from information provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley (ICF), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

* = Female; DAR = direct autumn release. 524 is 'missing' and mortality is a possibility. (**See note below**) The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) therefore consists of either 62 or 61 individuals, 36/35 males and 26 females.

Distribution at the end of the week was:
2 – Alabama: 213 and 218*
0-1 – Louisiana: 508* (Last confirmed Mar.4; no subsequent reports have been received.)
3 - South Carolina: 301* and 311; 318.
1 – Tennessee: DAR528*
0 - 4 – Indiana (Wintering) 209* and 416 (Last observed Mar. 12)
17 – Florida: 105, 402, 403, 412, 415* has non-functional transmitter and was last reported Feb.19th, 509, 510*, 511, 512, 516, 519*, 523, 524 has non-functional transmitter and his status is unknown. DAR 626, DAR627, DAR628. 615 is still in Florida.

**523 remains in Levy County, FL.524’s transmitter is non-functional and his status is unknown. He was last observed with 523 on February16. The next observation of 523 was March 1 during an aerial survey and he was alone at that time. Richard Urbanek noted that voluntary separation of the two wintering cranes during the interim, although possible, is unlikely. “The area they were in is former cypress swamp, cutover many decades ago. Because of vegetation and water conditions,” he said, “if 524 died there, finding his remains without the assistance of a transmitter would be almost impossible.”**

On Spring Migration

Bird

Began Migration

From

Last Known Location

DAR532

~ March 18

Highlands County, FL

Levy Cty, FL

505, 506

March 13

Citrus County, FL

502*, 503, 507*

March 18

Levy County, FL

408, 501*,514

March 19

Hillsborough County, FL

401, 520*

March 13

309*, 407

March 19

Alachua County, FL

307

March 8

Alachua County, FL

101, 202*

March 13

Citrus County, FL

102*, 216

March 5

Pasco County, FL

Greene County, IN

107*

March ?

Meigs/Rhea Counties, TN

Starke County, IN

201*, 306

March 7

Volusia County, FL

312*, 316

March 5

Marion County, FL

DAR533*

Meigs County, TN

Jackson Cty, IN

DAR527*

~February 12

Meigs County, TN

Jasper-Pulaski, IN

303*, 317

~March 5

Marion County, FL

420*

Greene County, IN

Jackson County, IN

Confirmed migrating Whooping cranes were reported from Tennessee (1), Indiana (6), and Illinois (1). An unidentified Whooping crane was reported with Sandhills in McHenry County, Illinois on 12 March.

9 – Wisconsin
205, 310 arrived Necedah NWR ~March 19.
211, 217*, and Wild601* arrived Necedah NWR ~March 20. (The First Family!)
313*, 307 arrived Necedah NWR ~March 12.
212 and 419* (verification pending) arrived Wood County ~March 19.

”Large migration movements of Sandhill cranes occurred in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin during the week,” said Dr. Richard Urbanek. “Reports of Whooping cranes in addition to those noted in this week’s report were received from all three states, but most species identifications were not verified, and identities of those sightings believed to be Whooping cranes could not be confirmed.”

Thanks to Theresa Dailey, Gator Gates, Bryan Woodward, and Rich King (FWS), Jim Bergens and Brad Feaster (Indiana DNR), Dean Harrigal (South Carolina DNR), Larry Armstrong (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myers (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), Marty Folk (Florida FWCC), Kelly Maguire (ICF), Wayne Hall (Wisconsin DNR), Bryson McCord, and Dan Kaiser for tracking or monitoring assistance.

OM is receiving lots of emails reporting sightings of Whooping cranes on the move northward. These reports are much appreciated and a great help to the Tracking Team. Please continue to report your sightings.

Date: March 20, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

First Family arrives at Necedah!

Location:

Main Office

News just in..... The First Family, (211, 217* and Wild 601) along with at least 6 other Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population have returned to the core reintroduction area in central Wisconsin.

The information from the weekly report from the Tracking Team is being compiled and will be posted this evening.

Date: March 16, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

307 and 313 complete spring migration!

Location:

Main Office

There is still snow on the ground, but 307 (departed Alachua County, FL on March 8) and female 313* have made their way back to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.

Biologists at Necedah NWR picked up the radio signals of 307 and 313*, two birds from the ultralight-led Class of 2003, on March 15.

313* wintered alone on Goose Pond State Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, IN after losing her mate, 208, in late December. 208 was found under a power line in a marshy area in Green County. Immobile with a broken leg and in shock, he was taken to the Indianapolis Zoo veterinary hospital where he later died.

According to trackers, at least 17 other Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population have also begun their spring migration, including the First Family. (211, 217*, and their chick, now a juvenile, Wild601)

Date: March 14, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

The OM Team

Subject:

Update on Review of Unusual Mortality Event

Location:

Main Office

WCEP's Project Direction Team has undertaken a comprehensive review of the events leading up to the February 1st loss of 17 Whooping cranes at the Chassahowitzka pen site as the result of the severe overnight storms that swept through the area.

All facts surrounding the mortality, including weather reports; tidal information; lightning strike data; necropsy results; and firsthand site reports from personnel, have been compiled for the Team's review.

Thus far, two half-day telephone conference call meetings have been held to assessed and evaluated all available data with a view to producing recommendations for any necessary changes to protocols, procedures, facilities, or pen location, that might minimize risk of future losses due to extreme storm events.

The review and recommendation development process continues. Once concluded, the Project Direction Team will produce a Summary Report, including any resulting proposed changes. The Summary Report will be released to the public via a posting to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s website.

Operation Migration along with our eight WCEP partners appreciates everyone's understanding and patience. Fast is easy; fact based, well thought out decisions take time.

Date: March 13, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

 Eastern Migratory Population update to Mar. 10

Location:

Main Office

 This update was compiled from information provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 62 individuals, 36 males and 26 females. Distribution at the end of the week was:
0-2 – Georgia: 212 and 419* (Last observed Feb.19. No subsequent checks have been made.
2 – Alabama: 213 and 218*
0-1 – Louisiana: 508* (last confirmed Mar.4)
4 - South Carolina: 301* and 311; 310, 318.
1 – Tennessee: DAR528*
0 - 4 – Indiana (Wintering) 209* and 416 (as of Mar.7), 420* (as of Mar.6), 313 wintered alone in Greene County through January. A report of a Whooping crane in the area Feb. 20 may have been 313*.)
31 – Florida: 101 and 202*, 105, 307, 309*, 401, 402, 403, 407, 408, 412, 415* has non-functional transmitter and was last reported Feb.19, 501*, 502*, 503, 505, 506, 507*, 509, 510*, 511, 512, 514, 516, 519*, 520*, 523, 524 has non-functional transmitter and his status is unknown. DAR523 DAR 626, DAR627, DAR628. 615 is still in Florida.

Spring Migration
-
102* and 216 began migration from Pasco County, FL on Mar.5 but no subsequent reports have been received.
- 107* is believed to have migrated from her wintering area in Meigs and Rhea Counties, TN. Her transmitter is nonfunctional, and she cannot be tracked. No subsequent confirmed reports have been received.
- 201* and 306 began migration from Volusia County, FL Mar.7. No subsequent reports have been received.
- 205 left his wintering area in Pasco County, FL approx. Feb.22 or 23 and was next reported Mar.2 in Jackson/Scott Counties, IN where he remained at least through Mar.6.
- 211, 217* and W601*, the First Family, began migration from Hernando County, FL Feb.23. No confirmed reports have subsequently been received.
- 303* and 317 and 312* and 316 began migration together from Marion County, FL Mar.5. No subsequent reports have been received.
- DAR527* began migration from Meigs County, TN after Feb.12 and roosted in Pike County, IN on Feb.21. No subsequent reports have been received.
- DAR533* began migration from Meigs County, TN on an unknown date and arrived Jackson County, IN Mar.1.

OM has received numerous emails reporting sightings of Whooping cranes on the move northward and has passed them all along to the Tracking Team. These reports are both much appreciated and a great help. Please continue to report any sightings.

There were large migration movements of Sandhill cranes in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin at the end of last week, and some viewers reported seeing a Whooping crane(s) in their midst. Without banding data however, it is impossible to identify which bird was seen.

In his report, Richard Urbanek noted that the Tracking Team has also received reports of Whooping crane sightings from Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. "Most sightings could not be verified," he said, "so the identities of those birds believed to be Whooping cranes could not be confirmed."

Thanks to Theresa Dailey, Gator Gates, and Bryan Woodward (FWS), Dean Harrigal (South Carolina DNR), Wally Akins and Larry Armstrong (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myers (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), Marty Folk (Florida FWCC), Bryson McCord, and Dan Kaiser for tracking or monitoring assistance.

Thanks also to Scott Terrell, Scott Tidmus, and Laurie Grady (Disney Animal Programs), Jamie Miller (Univ. of Florida), and Paula Urbanek and Brad Downen for capture assistance for transmitter replacements for 309 and 407.

Date: March 10, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

 3 Intern Positions Open

Location:

Main Office

Operation Migration is looking for three interns for the approaching season. Click the following link to view the job posting.

Date: March 8, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Northward bound

Location:

Main Office

Tom Stehn, USF&WS Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge emailed this morning to let us know that the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population has started out on spring migration – maybe.

"A family group of 3 Whooping cranes was seen this morning at 10 AM climbing up to 1,000 feet and heading north," said Tom. "The sighting was made a mile north of the refuge's northern boundary, so the cranes had already left their normal winter range."

This is about 2 weeks early for Aransas Whooping cranes to be starting their spring migration, but Tom said it was not unprecedented. "It is also possible," he said, "that the three cranes were doing a 'test flight' and that they may return to the refuge later today – but I'm thinking they actually initiated migration."

Tom noted that, "Conditions at Aransas today are ideal for migration, with mostly sunny skies, temperature in the 70's, and moderate southeast winds."

Tom said he hopes someone will sight and report this family group as they progress along the flyway.

Date: March 7, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Raise $$$ for OM without effort or cost

Location:

Main Office

iGive.com, an online 'shopping mall' of more than 400 trusted retailers, offers shoppers a new, no-cost way to support their favorite charity.

How does it work?

The retailers/stores on igive.com automatically donate a pre-determined percentage of each item's sale price (some as high as 26%!) to the charitable organization of the purchaser's choosing. (Which we hope will be Operation Migration of course!)

So the next time you are making an online purchase from retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Sears, Macy’s, or Kmart, why not use iGive.com?

Date: March 7, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Eastern Migratory Population update to Mar. 3

Location:

Main Office

This update was compiled from information provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

Thanks to Susan Knowles, Theresa Dailey, Gator Gates, and Bryan Woodward (FWS), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myers (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), and Marty Folk (Florida FWCC) for tracking assistance.

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 62 individuals, 36 males and 26 females. Distribution at the end of the week was:
2 – Georgia: 212 and 419* (Last observed Feb.19)
4 - South Carolina: 301* and 311; 310, 318. (318 was last observed Feb.26)
1 – Tennessee: DAR528*2 – Alabama: 213 and 218*
1 – Louisiana: 508*
2 – Indiana 420. 313 wintered alone in Greene County through January. A report of a Whooping crane in the area Feb. 20 may have been 313*.)
39/41 – Florida: 101 and 102*, 105, 201* and 306, 307, 309* and 407, 521, 519*, 401 and 520*, 402, 403, 412, 408, 501*, 514, 415*, 502*, 503, 507*, 505, 506, 509, 510* 511, 516, 523, DAR532, DAR626, DAR628, DAR627. Unknown: A search flight on Mar. 1 confirmed the departure of the First Family (217*, 211, and W601*) from west-central Florida. No subsequent reports have been received. Locations of other potentially migrating birds are undetermined.

Spring Migration
- 102* and 216 left Pasco County on migration Mar. 5.
- 303* and 317 and 312* and 316 began migration together Mar. 5.
- 107* is believed to have migrated from her wintering area in TN. Her transmitter is nonfunctional, however, an unconfirmed sighting on Mar. 2 in Fond du Lac County, WI may have been 107*.
- DAR533* began migration from Hiwassee, TN Mar.1 and roosted that night in south east IN.
- 205 left Pasco County Feb. 22/23 and was reported in IN Mar. 3.
- 209* and 416 who wintered in Indiana were last found Feb. 11 and may have begun migration.
- DAR527* began migration from Hiwassee, TN Feb.12 or after. She was reported in Indiana Feb. 21 but no subsequent reports have been received.

Date: March 6, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

615 is FREE!

Location:

Florida

This past Saturday Brooke and I drove out to Halpata for what we hoped was the last time. The plan was to box 615, and drive him to a site to be chosen by Richard Urbanek. We had attempted to release him two days prior by letting him out of the pen, but he just ran off into the woods and wouldn't fly. This was not acceptable due to the woods being the favored habitat of bobcats. So back in the pen he went.

In his defense the woods do surround a nice pond, but unfortunately said pond is dried up due to the drought conditions. Once 615 was boxed up, we called Richard and he told us to meet him out in a coastal marsh for the release. In fact, this marsh was where 615 had been seen flying when we found him after the storm, so I figured it would be a good spot for him. We drove to the site and even though it was raining, Richard and Brooke walked the box to the edge of the marsh and released the bird.

According to Richard, who stayed to monitor the chick, he spent the afternoon exploring his freedom, flew around, and seemed at home. It has been a long, strange journey, but finally he is where he should be. Free. Godspeed, little one, on the next step of your adventurous life.

Other news: This last month has sped by - luckily. I have ridden, as has everyone, an emotional roller coaster that has gone from the lowest of professional lows I have ever experienced, to the highest of highs when we found 615 alive and well.

There have been a lot of trips back out to the pen site for clean up, analysis, measurements and general pondering. It has been a difficult time, but the support we all have received has helped us to get through this.

Besides making daily trips out to Halpata to care for 615 and 105, we are trying to get organized for the next stage. Prepping trikes, organizing the away pen, and trying to recruit interns have managed to fill the days.

While 105 was at Halpata, Richard Urbanek wanted to replace his damaged transmitter prior to his release. Marianne, Brooke, and Richard all pitched in to do the job, and I helped too. We took blood and fecal samples to make sure he was in good health before the release.

Richard determined the spot for 105's release, and last Monday (the 26th), we captured and crated him. Marianne and Brooke drove the bird to his new home, while I went to the Homossasa State Park just in case he went back looking for his new love, Peepers. Luckily, he stayed put at his new location and is still there today. Thus the days progress.

Some birds have already started their northward journey and we anxiously await news of their travels. I, for one, will be breathing a lot easier when our rebellious little 615 starts north and reaches Necedah safe and sound.

View the photos here in the 2007 Spring photo journal.

Date: March 5, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Craniac Kid Gets Creative

Location:

Main Office

Six year old Emily Black of Orillia, Ontario designed a note card to help Operation Migration raise money in memory of the Whooping Crane 'Class of 2006'. Emily's mom is Margaret Black, one of the three original teachers in OM's Craniac Kids/Teacher Network. Emily and Margaret have donated 200 finished cards complete with envelopes to OM, and asked us to sell them at $2 each. You will find Emily's note cards on our Merchandise page.

Emily is also involved in other wildlife conservation efforts including sponsoring animals at the Muskoka Wildlife Centre. She also designed a note card to help the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre raise funds to care for '‘J.J., an injured Trumpeter swan.

In the spring, Emily will be illustrating the 2007 Gordon Black Memorial Camp-Sponsorship Fund flyer. Over the past four summers, this campaign, established in memory of Emily's late dad, has provided 53 underprivileged children with an opportunity to attend day camp.

We hope you will support Emily's efforts and add one (or more) of her note cards to your merchandise orders.

Date: March 5, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Wood Buffalo/Aransas Population

Location:

Main Office

Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, sent the results of his most recent (Feb. 27) aerial survey. Making this possible was pilot Fred Roetker, of USFWS – Migratory Birds based in Abbyville, LA.

As a sea fog rolling over the barrier islands cut the flight short after 3 ½ hours, Tom's census found only 180 Whooping cranes; 145 adults and 35 chicks. He estimates however that the total flock size remains at 237. The areas covered during his limited flight time were: the Aransas refuge, Lamar, San Jose Island, and the southern third of Matagorda Island.

"Census flights in 2007 have been limited to one a month due to the increased cost of certified aircraft" said Tom. "My priority for this flight was to look for any juvenile mortality as experience has shown that juvenile mortality has a greater chance of occurring in adult pairs with 2 chicks."

Tom said he located 5 of the 7 sets of 'twin' juveniles on his flight. "One set was overlooked in spotty coverage of their territory due to fog, and one twin family located on Welder Flats was not searched for at all," Stehn said, "so it looks like all 7 twin families have so far survived the winter."

The family group that it is believed to have gotten oiled plumage on their fall migration was not located for the second consecutive flight.  "However," said Tom, "sea fog was rolling in and the search for this family had to be ended. He said that finding this family will be made a priority for his next flight scheduled for mid-March."

"Habitat conditions have been fairly good for the cranes this winter," said Tom.  "In February, lots of cranes were observed in open bay habitat, presumably feeding primarily on clams. On this flight, 8 of the 180 cranes were in open bay habitat.  No cranes were located at sources of freshwater, an indication that the bay salinities ranging between 16-20 ppt are just below the threshold when cranes are forced to seek out freshwater to drink."

Date: February 28, 2007 - Entry 4 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Florida Non-migratory Flock

Location:

Main Office

Florida Fish & Conservation Commission's Marty Folk advises that marsh water levels continue to be very low in central Florida.

"However, there is water in some marshes in Polk County," he said, "and we've had a pair of Whooping cranes working on a nest platform there. They could lay any day if they decide to."

Marty noted that in Osceola County another pair also has enough water for nesting, whereas Lake County, where four chicks fledged last year, is still very dry. "Any nesting there would necessitate the pairs pioneering new marshes in new territories, and that’s not likely to happen, Folk said."

Some Sandhills are nesting according to Marty who reports seeing one successful hatch of 2 eggs. “It appears to be a slow year,” he said, “even for Sandhills.

Date: February 28, 2007 - Entry 3 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Update on 105 and 615

Location:

Main Office

Late Sunday, Dr. Richard Urbanek (USF&W) and Sara Zimorski (ICF) co-chairs of the Tracking & Monitoring Team, made the decision to release 105 from the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve. 105 was taken to the Paynes Praire area for release. He has remained there since, 'hanging out' with several other Whooping cranes currently stopping there.

Prior to 105's release the two captive birds at Homosassa State Park were removed from open display just in case he decided to re-visit that location in search of food or a lady friend.

With 105 removed from the equation, it is anticipated that 615, who is being held in the other half of the Halpata pen, can be released. Brooke, who has been monitoring 615 on a daily basis, advised us this morning that according to the T/M Team, 615 could be let out as soon as tomorrow. With spring migration time approaching 615 needs both exercise and time to hone his survival skills in preparation for his journal back north.

Date: February 28, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Craniac a Winner

Location:

Main Office

OM extends its congratulations to Craniac Mark Chenoweth of Kissimmee, FL. His breathtaking shot of a flight school training session at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge was selected as one of the finalists for the Nature Conservancy's 2006 first ever digital photography contest.
When we spoke to Mark he said, "They had thousands of entries from all over the world, so being one of the 9 finalists in their Best Nature Photo category is an honor.

Mark's photo is of Joe doing flight school training at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

"
There is no monetary prize or anything material," said Mark, "but the photo appears on their website for millions to see, and, I believe it will be in their 2008 calendar. "

"I hope the photo brings more attention for OM and their great work. If it does, that is reward enough," he said.

Click the following link to view other finalists' photos. Mark’s Winning Photo

Date: February 28, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Project Featured

Location:

Main Office

The April 2007 issue of Birder’s World Magazine featuring Whooping cranes and the efforts of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, is available in newsstands now. The article, written by associate editor Matt Mendehall, covers behind the scenes activities at the refuge and includes information on the First Family. To view Birder's World recent online news coverage visit www.birdersworld.com

Date: February 27, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Eastern Migratory Population update to Feb. 24

Location:

Main Office

This update was compiled from information provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 62 individuals, 36 males and 26 females. Distribution at the end of the week was:
2 –Georgia
212 and 419*

4 - South Carolina
301* and 311; 310, 318

2/3 – Tennessee
DAR528*, DAR533* and a bird believed to be 107*. Sandhill migration was underway during the week, and it is not known if 107 remained in the area as she has a non-functional transmitter.

2 – Alabama
213 and 218*

1 – Louisiana
508*

5/6 – Indiana
420*. PTT readings for DAR527* indicate that she has begun migration and is in Indiana. A report of a Whooping crane in Greene County, IN Feb. 20 may have been 313*. Numbers 209* and 416 were not found during the week of Feb. 11 and they may have begun migration. Reports of other Whooping cranes in Indiana during the week may have been some of the cranes that had wintered in Indiana or Tennessee.

45 - Florida
Notes -
105 remains at the Halpata pensite where his transmitter was replaced due to a broken antennae. Release is pending. 615 also remains at the Halpata pensite and will be released once the situation with 105 has been resolved.

205 was not found on his usual wintering grounds and may have begun migration.

211, 217* and W601* (The First Family) left their location in Hernando County after Feb. 22. A local resident stopped feeding them on that date. Their current location has not yet been determined.

The Tracking Team thanks Susan Knowles, Theresa Dailey, Gator Gates, and Bryan Woodward (FWS), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myers (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), and Marty Folk (Florida FWCC) for tracking assistance.

Date: February 22, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Eastern Migratory Population update to Feb. 17

Location:

Port Aransas, Tx

Greetings from Port Aransas, Texas where Joe and I are guests of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce to take part in their 11th annual Celebration of Whooping Cranes & Other Birds. The theme of this year's five day event is, Eyes to the Sky. OM will be giving three presentations, and participating in the 'Bird's Nest Trade Show'. Our booth features a visual display of OM's project work, and we will hand out educational materials as well as offer visitors OM branded merchandise for purchase.

We hope people within driving distance will attend the event - and look forward to meeting and greeting you at our booth.


The information compiled in this report was provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

Mortality
The EMP has suffered another loss. The remains of 521* were found in Citrus County, FL on Feb. 20. Telemetry data indicated that her death occurred between 9 and 12 February. Remains were distributed on animal trails through sawgrass and in dense undergrowth in adjacent woodlands. Only feathers and bone fragments, mostly minute, were found. Bobcat predation is suspected and the remains have been forwarded for necropsy.

521* had been wintering in Citrus Colunty with 505 and 506 who remain in the area, but not at the location of the mortality. This is the third death of a released female in 2007.

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 62 individuals, 36 males and 26 females. Distribution at the end of the week was:
45 - Florida
2 -Georgia
: 212 and 419*
4 - South Carolina: 301* and 311; 310, 318
4 - Tennessee: DAR528*, DAR527*, DAR533* and a bird believed to be 107* (non-functional transmitter)
2 - Alabama: 213 and 218*
1 - Louisiana: 508*
2 - Indiana: 209* and 416 were found approx. 10 miles from their previous location. (They apparently did not leave the area in response to a major cold front as the Tracking Team believed and previously reported.)
2 – Unknown: 420*, 313* (A report of a Whooping crane in Green County, IN on Feb. 20 may have been 313*)

The Tracking Team thanks Bryan Woodward (FWS), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myer (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), and Marty Folk (Florida FWCC) for tracking assistance.

Date: February 16, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

The OM Team

Subject:

A Letter from the OM Team

Location:

Main Office

Dear Friends – old and new,

Your wonderful emails continue to come in; so many in fact that MS Outlook occasionally gets overwhelmed and crashes our computers. We continue to respond as quickly as we can - which, due to the volume, is admittedly not all that fast. At the same time we are trying to cope with our day to day responsibilities, so please bear with us.

Many of you are also writing looking for answers.

What was the cause of the 17 birds' deaths?
The catastrophic storm which caused the deaths of the birds, the second worst of its type in Florida history,  overwhelmed all protocols and precautions that were in place. Until the complete results of all the necropsies are in and the pensite is fully examined, speculation remains that the deaths were as a result of drowning or electrocution from a lightning strike.

What's happening?
WCEP is in the process of conducting a full review of the mortalities with a goal of outlining possible actions, and, as may be necessary, revise or develop new protocols that could minimize the potential for a catastrophic loss of birds due to a storm.

Why doesn’t WCEP…..?
We can't speak for other WCEP partners, but here at OM we have received a number of emails with suggestions for changes or improvements. Some have merit, some are impractical, but all assume drowning as the cause of death. Regardless, we are compiling them into one document and will provide them for consideration as part of the review process.

What's next?
What is next is year 7 of the project. While the loss of the young birds was an enormous setback, we must continue to help ensure this magnificent species is around for generations to come.

With your support, Operation Migration will be at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the spring to rear, imprint, and do early training with the Class of 2007. Operation Migration will be at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in the summer to further the chicks' socialization skills, taxi-train them, and conduct 'Flight School'. And in the fall, Operation Migration will conduct an ultralight-led migration to teach a 7th generation of young Whooping cranes a migration route south.

What won't be done?
We WILL NOT give up.

Date: February 13, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

 Eastern Migratory Population update to Feb. 10

Location:

Main Office

The information compiled in this report was provided by the Tracking and Monitoring Team consisting of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and Richard Urbanek (USF&WS).

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 63 individuals, 36 males and 27 females. Distribution at the end of the week was:

4 – South Carolina
301* and 311, 310, 318
4 – Tennessee
DAR527*, DAR528*, DAR533*, and a bird believed to be 107* whose transmitted is non functional.
2 – Alabama
213 and 218*
1 - Louisiana
508*
8 – Unknown
209* and 416, along with 313* and 420* have not been detected since departing Indiana early last week.
212 and 419* have not been detected since departing Wisconsin on migration Nov. 30.
303* and 317 have not been detected since leaving the Chassahowitzka pensite Jan. 28.
44 – Florida
The First Family: 211, 217* and Wild601*
Citrus County: 101 and 202*; 505; 506; 521*
Pasco County: 102* and 216; 205; 401 and 520* DAR626; DAR628
Volusia County: 201* and 306
Alachua County: 307; 512; 519; 309* and 407; 312* and 316; 510*; 511
Taylor County: 402; 403; 412
Hillsborough County: 408; 501*; 514
Levy County: 502*; 503; 507*; 523; 524
Lake County: 509
Marion County: 516, 105 and 615, (being temporarily held at Halpata Tastanaki Preserve pen site – see note below)
Madison County: 415* (non-functional transmitter)
Lafayette County: DAR627
Highlands County: DAR532

Note re 615: He moved frequently early in the week but was mainly stayed in Citrus County. Feb. 4 he roosted with small numbers of Sandhills in Hernando County, was up north in Gilchrist County Feb. 7, and was flying along the coast of Citrus County Feb. 8. He returned to the Halpata Tastanaki pensite Feb. 9 and remained to roost perhaps attracted by 105 who is being held at the pen site. He remained there again on Feb. 10. As a precaution against nighttime predation trackers retrieved and placed him in a sub-divided area of the pen.

The Tracking Team thanks Windway Aviation, Wildlife Trust, pilot Martin Sobel, Bryan Woodward (FWS), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), Randy Myer (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries), and Marty Folk (Florida FWCC) for tracking assistance.

Date: February 11, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

 News received today re 615

Location:

Main Office

Trackers continued to monitor the whereabouts of 615 throughout the week. He kept company with both Sandhills and Whoopers and was very active, flying from county to county. He ranging as far north as Gilchrist and stopping in on more than once occasion at the Halpata pensite. In fact, he was found to have over-nighted there. He was roosting outside the pen on dry land. As he appeared determined to keep returning there, and because he was dry-roosting and high susceptible to predation, trackers decided to capture him and move him to safety.

105, the bird that was twice removed from Homosassa State Park, is being held in the pen at Halpata, so the Tracking Team divided the pen into two sections and moved 615 into the newly created half. Both birds are supplied with food and fresh water and are being checked daily.

The Project Direction Team has a conference call scheduled for tomorrow, (Monday) at which time they will be discussing options regarding 105. Once a determination re 105 is arrived at, they will undoubtedly discuss what the alternatives are for 615.

View the photos here in the 2007 Winter photo journal.

Date: February 9, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

The OM Team

Subject:

 The Week Past

Location:

Main Office

2007 started off with a crash that resounded throughout the Whooping crane community and around the world.

The news of the loss of 17 Whooping cranes in the recent storms that ravaged central Florida reached the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, and the Whooping Crane Conservation Association at our annual meetings, held this year in Louisiana.

Brooke Pennypacker broke the news via cell phone, and we had the sorrowful task of making an announcement to each of the groups convened in several meeting rooms. Shock and disbelief gave way to emotion, and the hotel concourse quickly filled with tear-streaked faces as individuals emerged seeking solace and offering condolences.

The devastating news came on the heels of a very positive meeting.
OM reported that the migration, although long, was the most successful yet. The survival rate from start to finish was 100%, and more birds than ever before made the entire trip without being crated. Geneticist Ken Jones reported that the pedigree of the class of 2006 had greatly improved the genetic diversity of the eastern flock and increased the odds of proper breeding in the future.

Then elation turned to desolation, and WCEP member partners had little more than minutes to absorb the shock before gathering information, notifying their teams, and start to make arrangements.

This disaster threw a powerful spotlight on the Whooping crane reintroduction project; one that far exceeded the attention garnered by the good news story of the 'first hatch of a wild migratory chick in the U.S. in more than a century'. The death of the 17 young birds resulted in hundreds of media stories throughout North America, around the world, and news coverage on virtually every major television network.

If there is anything that resembles a silver lining in this black cloud, it is the heightened awareness for the plight of the Whooping crane, as thousands of people previously unacquainted with WCEP and Operation Migration were made aware of our efforts to safeguard the species  from extinction.

Special thanks to those who have donated to the 'Remembering the Ultralight-led Class of 2006' fund, and for encouraging others to do so. Your contributions will help us overcome this setback and carry on in the coming year. We are immensely grateful. It is reassuring to know we can count on you as we focus our dedication and commitment on the soon to be hatched chicks for the Class of 2007.

Messages of sympathy and encouragement continue to come in. We lost track of how many when the number passed the thousand mark. It may take us some time, but we will individually acknowledge each and every one.

While very small in number, we also acknowledge the critical and angry emails we and other WCEP partners have received. We understand this reaction. With few exceptions, the majority appear to be from individuals not familiar with the project and its protocols. For this reason we thought it appropriate to once more provide some background information.

*************************************************************************************************

When the migration is finished and the birds have been led to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the next step is what is called a 'gentle release' into the wild. The juveniles are housed in a 4 acre pen that is well out in the salt marsh in a closed area of the refuge to keep them isolated from humans.

The enclosure has 8 foot high walls and is protected from predators by an electric fence but it is not top netted. The birds soon realize this and begin flying out during the day, slowly learning to be wild birds in a natural environment. In the evening they come back to the pen, attracted by the costume handlers who check them twice a day and ensure they have a constant supply of food and fresh water.

This is a measured way to slowly acclimate them to the wild; one that has worked well for a number of years. But we now have 5 generations that have spent their first winter at the Chassahowitzka pen, and for many, it is their first stop in Florida at the end of their fall migration. If they arrive before the ultralight-led migration is finished and the pen is devoid of activity, they move on to their final winter territory. But if there are chicks in the pen when they get there, they are often attracted by the free food and they stay. This is why we began to short-stop the migration at the Halpata site near Dunnellon. It allows the older birds more time to disperse from the Chassahowitzka pen.

Whooping cranes are territorial, and the adults are often aggressive to the inexperienced chicks. You may remember that in 2005 one of our birds was killed during the migration as a result of a such a confrontation, so the aggression can be serious. The adults will also monopolize the feeding station and roosting areas, and sometimes force the chicks out of the pen altogether. We have lost yearling birds to bobcat predation because they were driven from the pen at night by older birds.

In the mud and tall grass it is impossible to chase the older birds off, and we can’t 'harass' them away, as everything we do to get them to leave will affect the chicks as well. The only option left is to move the chicks into a top-netted pen. This puts the food source out of reach of the adults, and removes their access to the targets of their aggression. They usually leave in a day or two and the chicks can be released again. Normally, by the end of January, the chicks are free to spend the winter in the release pen.

The top-netted pen is built outside the large 4 acre enclosure and is situated on high ground that gets wet only at high tide. It is built to be wind proof and secure from predators.

The flock was checked on Thursday, February 1st just before sunset. The feeders were topped off and fresh water provided. The weather was overcast with a light breeze and everything seemed normal. A thunderstorm was forecast, but the birds had spent many stormy nights in the pen and there was no reason to believe this would be different. Even the airboat driver, a refuge employee with many years experience in the coastal waters of Florida, did not see any indication that the weather was about to turn nasty. In fact no one predicated it.

The severe weather warning came well after midnight, and the swath of destruction that cut through central Florida killed 20 people and was described as the second worst storm of its type to hit the state. Through all this, the experienced handlers who monitor the birds did not expect to find any damage at the pen. Birds are adept at weathering storms, but it was the storm driven tide that caused their death. It was un-forecasted and unprecedented, and even with all of o
ur experience, none of us can say that we could have done anything differently.

With the amount of energy, and the time Operation Migration and other WCEP partners spend with these wonderful birds, we cannot help but become emotionally invested. But we are cognizant too of the many others, from supporters, to bird lovers to the school children who follow the project, who are feeling no less bereft.

"The loss of the seventeen 2006 chicks was a huge blow and a setback," said John Christian, co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. "It is also a graphic illustration of why additional discrete populations are needed. "This project WILL carry on – and we WILL succeed."

In mourning the loss of the Class of 2006 we in no way minimize the storms' human cost. Larry Wargowsky, Refuge Manager at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, perhaps said it best. "Those storms also killed 20 people. Our loss is minor compared to that."

"This event is a reminder of how close the species came to extinction in the past, and, what it has already endured," said Joe Duff, Operation Migration's CEO and senior pilot. "The captive flock will soon be producing the chicks that will become the next generation, and we, and every other member of WCEP will be there for them."

Date: February 7, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

 White Bird Update to Feb. 3

Location:

Main Office

We know you have been anxiously awaiting a report on the welfare and whereabouts of the adults and DAR birds in the Eastern Migratory Population. Through the night, we received the Tracking and Monitoring Report compiled by Dr. Richard Urbanek from the information gathered by the Tracking and Monitory Team consisting of: Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and Richard himself. The team deserves special thanks. They have not had an easy week.

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 62 individuals.
Distribution at the end of the week was:

4 in Tennessee
DAR527*, DAR528*, DAR533* and a bird suspected to be107*. (non-functional transmitter)

4 in South Carolina
301* and 311, 310. On Feb. 2 a Whooping crane believed to be 318 was reported in Georgetown County in the same wintering area he occupied last year. He had last been located in Michigan in early December.

2 in Alabama
213 and 218*

1 in Louisiana
508* (see photo below)

7 in unknown locations
212 and 419* were last detected Nov. 30 in WI. The four birds previously in Indiana, 209* and 416, 313*, 420*, departed during the past week apparently in response to the passage of a massive cold front. No subsequent reports have been received.

45 in Florida

Florida Notes:
The First Family remains safe and well in their same location.

> 102* and 216 had been at the Chassahowitzka pensite since Jan. 29 but have relocated in Hernando County and are safe.

> 303* and 317 moved from the Chassahowitzka pensite to an unknown location on Jan. 28.

> 309* and 407 last detected on Jan. 14 were found Feb. 1 in Alachua County  and had apparently been present for at least a week.

> Last recorded Dec. 26 in Lafayette County, 402, 403, and 412 were found in Taylor County during an aerial survey on Jan 30.

> A Whooping crane believed to be 415* (nonfunctional transmitter) was recently observed in Madison County.

> 105 was at the Chassahowitzka pensite at the beginning of the week. (His mate, 204 died on or about  Jan. 9.) He moved to an open exhibit pen in Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park the morning of Jan. 30 where he attempted to court a female Whooping crane on display. He was captured Jan. 31 and relocated some distance away where he remained for slightly more than an hour before heading back northward to roost that night at the Chassahowitzka pensite. On the morning of Feb. 1 he returned to Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park where he was again captured that night and moved to a remote pensite where he is being held pending resolution of his attraction to the captive female.

> DAR532 No reports have been received since last detected in flight Nov. 22 in Dixie County.

Mortality
DAR632* was last observed Jan. 18 in Lafayette County. She apparently died before next checked on Jan. 22. Her remains were found in a wet prairie and Bobcat predation is suspected.

Due to the presence and aggression from adult birds, the 18 juveniles in the ultralight-led Class of 2006 were kept in a top-netted enclosure at the Chassahowitzka NWR pensite each night through 1 February. With the exception of 615, all members of the cohort died as the result of the severe storm that passed through the area in the early hours of Feb. 2 bringing heavy rain and high winds resulting high tides.

Found Safe
615's radio signal was detected east of the Chassahowitzka pen on Feb 3rd. On Feb. 4 he was detected in the air several times between the Chassahowitzka and Halpata Tastanaki pensites, and eventually found foraging with two Sandhill cranes in Citrus County by tracking aircraft.

The T&M Team thanks Windway Aviation, Wildlife Trust, pilot Martin Sobel, Theresa Dailey & Bryan Woodward (FWS), Brad Feaster (Indiana DNR), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), and Randy Myer (Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries) for tracking assistance.

View the photo here in the 2007 Winter photo journal.

Date: February 5, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

The OM Team

Subject:

Remembering the Class of 2006

Location:

Main Office

Dear Friends, both old and new,

The OM team thanks you for the hundreds of messages of sympathy we have received. It has been heartening to hear from so many of you and we take solace in knowing that others share our sorrow. We also know you share our joy and celebration at the survival of 615. What a bright spot he is in this sad time.

We wanted to let you know that the deaths of the chicks in the Class of 2006 is being investigated. All the remains have been collected for freezing, pending necropsy. At this point the cause of their demise is still unknown, although either a wind driven tidal surge, or lightening strikes reported nearby are suspected.

Our hearts are aching for the young birds that were lost. These chicks were like our children; the start of a new generation of life for the species. We also lament the loss of a year's work by the many dedicated people who helped to raise them from eggs, and of the funds so generously given by so many.

In response to your requests, we have created a fund in memory of the Class of 2006. Contributions to the Remembering the Class of 2006 Fund’ will go a long way to help us recover from a costly setback that amounts to a year of time and effort and approximately $500,000.

One of OM’s wonderful Craniacs suggested donors consider contributing $18 - that is, one dollar for each of the lost chicks, and $1 in celebration of 615's survival. Of course contributions of any amount, small or large, are appreciated, and all will be recognized on a Remembering the Class of 2006’ acknowledgement page we are creating on our website.

If you would like to contribute to the Remembering the Class of 2006’ fund using PayPal, click the 'Contribute' button on the brown feather to the left, and then scroll down to 'Other Contribution'. In the 'Note related to donation'box, simply type the word, Remembering. If you prefer, call the office (Monday to Friday) at 1-800-675-2618. (Please note we only have one toll free phone line so be paitent.)

Without doubt, the reintroduction project has suffered an enormous setback. But we have not forgotten the years of successes. With your help, your morale and financial support, we will begin the 2007 season with renewed strength and commitment.

Sincerely,
The OM Team

Date: February 4, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Update - We have a survivor!

Location:

Main Office

615 has been found with 2 Sandhill cranes in a relatively inaccessible area with good habitat. The Tracking Team will carefully monitor the juvenile. This is very good news on what has otherwise been dark days for us all.

The body of number 615 was not found in the pen with the rest. Initially he was assumed to be buried in the mud, but a signal from its transmitter was picked up earlier today. Tracker Tally Love (ICF) apparently made visual contact during an aerial survey.

An NBC news crew did some filming today. We expect the story to be aired on NBC Nightly News at 6:30EST.

Date: February 4, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

A Ray of Sunshine

Location:

Main Office

The signal of 615 was picked up today, first in the area around the Chassahowitzka pensite, then later in a prairie area some miles away. No confirming visuals as yet, but trackers are on on their way, honing in on the transmitter's signal.

We will post again here as soon as we have news.

Date: February 3, 2007 (1:10am EST) Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Catastrophic Loss

Location:

Main Office

We regretfully announce the loss of the 18 juvenile Whooping cranes at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The cranes died as a result of the storms that swept through central Florida during the evening and early morning of February 1 and 2. 

 

The WCEP partners are in the initial stages of determining the cause of death of the 18 Whooping cranes, which comprised the ultralight-led 'Class of 2006' that arrived at the Chassahowitzka NWR in mid January. Following standard protocol, WCEP personnel checked on the cranes the evening of February 1. Due to the magnitude of the storm and the location of the pensite, personnel were unable to safely check on the cranes until the afternoon on Friday, February 2nd, at which time the birds were found dead in their enclosure.   

 

While this is a setback for the Whooping crane reintroduction project, WCEP has faced challenges in the past and we plan to move forward with our effort to return this highly imperiled species to its historic range in eastern North America. 

 

"My heart is aching both for the young birds we lost and for the dedicated people who have devoted so much of themselves to this project, only to see the lives of these cranes end in this devastating manner", said John Christian, co-chair of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. "These birds were the start of a new generation of life for the species, but we will recover and continue our work. Our thoughts also go out to those in central Florida who suffered personal losses as a result of these storms."

"We know this tragic loss will be as devastating to OM's supporters and those of the project and its partners as it is to us," said Joe Duff, OM's CEO and WCEP co-chair.

The founding members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership include:
International Whooping Crane Recovery Team

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center
International Crane Foundation
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin
and Operation Migration

Note: The news came to the partnership as we were all in the closing sessions of our winter meetings in Louisiana.  Everyone will appreciate there is much to be done and arranged, but we will do our best to post any further information as it is available. This has been a shock to us all, and mourning and recovery will take us some time.

Date: January 31, 2007 - Entry 2 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

New Video Clip

Location:

Main Office

Click the link to watch a few seconds of 'Splish splash I was taking a Bath' filmed by Bev at Chass.

Date: January 31, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Weekly Update to Jan. 27

Location:

Main Office

Tracking and Monitoring Report

* = Females; DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of 81 individuals (43 males and 36 females).

Distribution at the end of the week was:
4 in Indiana – 209* and 416, 313*, 420*
4 in Tennessee – DAR527*, DAR528*, DAR533* and a bird suspected to be107*.
3 in South Carolina – 301* and 311, 310
2 in Alabama – 213 and 218*
1 in Louisiana – 508*
3 in unknown locations - 212 and 419* last detected in WI Nov. 30; 318 last detected in MI in early Dec.
64 in Florida (includes the 18 juveniles in the Class of 2006).

Florida Notes
105
was at the Chassahowitzka pensite until Jan. 25. He and 303 and 317, who had been there since Jan. 21 moved to Hernando County but returned to the pensite the following day and remained there the remainder of the week. Due to the White Birds’ presence, the Class of 2006 was let out for exercise during the day three times during the week, but kept in the top-netted pen at night.

309* and 407 were not found during the week. They were last found Jan. 14 in Hernando County.

DAR632* has not been observed since Jan. 18. Her transmitter is nonfunctional and she cannot be tracked.

In addition to thanks going to the Tracking and Monitoring Team of Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Sara Zimorski, Marianne Wellington (ICF), Bev Paulan (OM), and to Dr. Richard Urbanek who compiles the team’s information for this report, thanks also go to Windway Aviation, Wildlife Trust, pilot Martin Sobel, Theresa Dailey (FWS), Brad Feaster (Indiana DNR), and Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), for their tracking assistance.

Date: January 28, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

In, then out - Out, then in

Location:

Main Office

Friday, Brooke, Marianne, and I went out to check on the chicks. All were fine, albeit muddy. The adult birds were still hanging out in the pen, looking peeved they couldn't get to the food. After topping feeders, cleaning out the waterer, and eyeballing each chick, we hopped in the airboat for the trip back in.

We had visitors. Long time supporters of OM, David and Suzanne Johnson called to say there were in the area. Avid birders, the Johnsons operate a Wild Bird Center store in Fox Grove, Illinois and usually visit us Necedah at least twice during the summer flight training season. We all went for lunch and had a delightful but much too short visit before they left to do some birding – hopeful for a sighting of the Red Cockaded Woodpecker.

View the photo here in the 2007 Winter photo journal.

Date: January 26, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

In, then out - Out, then in

Location:

Main Office

Poor little chickies. First we put them in a very muddy top netted pen. Then we let them out so they have the pleasure of coming and going as they see fit. But wait a minute, who are those big white birds hogging the food and water? Mean ol' nasty adults. Leave the chicks alone. Go away.

But no such luck. They hung around for days and the chicks had to be back in the top netted pen once again.

Well, a cold front finally came through and drove off the adults. Yea! The chicks got let out for exercise yesterday (we heard the signals of the adults nearby even though we couldn't see them) so they were out for only a short time. But long enough to flap and jump and bathe in clean water. Happy chicks until it was time to go back in.

When we got out there this morning, no signals and no adults to be seen. Yippee! Out came the chicks, hopefully for the duration. They were so happy, flying and flying and flying some more. When we finally left the pen after some maintenance, they were all back, preening and bathing.

Marianne and I were planning to go back out for roost check at about 4:30pm. At 3:00 my phone rang with the disappointing news that the adults' signals were once again in the vicinity of the pen. So we mounted up on the air boat once again and raced out to rescue our little ones. Sure enough, the adults were at the pen; and sure enough, hogging the food and water. So back in the chicks went.

Most went back in fairly easily, but 623 was up to her old tricks and no way - no how was she going back in. It took every trick in the book to get her corralled and back in the pen.

And boy, were all the chicks hungry and thirsty. Bad adults!

Note: Bev sent along a short video clip which we will try to post soon.
 
View the photos here in the 2007 Winter photo journal.

Date: January 23, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

EMP report to Jan 20/07

Location:

Main Office

* = Females. DAR = direct autumn release. The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) contains 35 males and 28 females for a total of 63 birds. Once the 18 ultralight-led juveniles housed at the Chassahowitzka Refuge are released from their top netted enclosure the population will number 81; 43 males/36 females.

Locations at the end of last week were:
4 in Indiana
209* and 416, along with 420* remained with large numbers of wintering Sandhills in Jackson County. 313* (mate of deceased 208) remained in Greene County.

4 in Tennessee
DAR527* and DAR533* (reported as limping with an injured left leg) remained with thousands of wintering Sandhills on Hiwassee WR during the week. DAR528* remained with large numbers of wintering Sandhills in Weakley and Obion Counties. 107* last confirmed as being in Jackson County, IN prior to 7 December, is believed to be the unidentified Whooping crane at the Hiwassee Refuge.

3 in South Carolina
301* and 311 remained on their winter territory in Colleton County. 310 remained on his winter territory in Colleton County.

2 in Alabama
213 and 218* remained on or near Wheeler NWR, Morgan County.

1 in Louisiana
508* was  observed Jan. 16 with 6 Sandhills in Tangipahoa Parish.

3 Unknown
212 and 419* were last detected Nov 30 in Wisconsin. 318 was ast detected in early Dec in Calhoun and Eaton Counties, MI.

64 in Florida
> Because of recent publicity and resulting increased vulnerability, until they depart their current location activities of the First Family (211, 217* and W601*) are no longer being reported by the tracking team.
> 105 remained at the Chassahowitzka pensite during the past week. Necropsy results for his mate, 204*, are still pending.
> 309* and 407 have not been detected since Jan. 16.
> 402, 403, and 412 have not been detected since Dec. 26.
> The radio signals of 408, 501* and 514 were briefly detected in Hillsborough County during an aerial search on Jan 20 but their locations were undetermined during the remainder of the week.
> A Whooping crane believed to be 415* (non-functional transmitter) was recently observed among wintering Sandhills in Madison County.
> 524’s transmitter became non functional during the previous week.
> DAR532 has not been located since being detected in flight in Dixie County Nov 22.

(See map by Richard Urbanek below)

Thanks to the Tracking and Monitoring team Richard Urbanek (USF&WS), Tally Love, Stacy Kerley, Sara Zimorski, Marianne Wellington (ICF), and Bev Paulan (OM) for sending along the information for this report. We join the Tracking Team in thanking Windway Aviation, Wildlife Trust, pilots Martin Sobel and Jorge Neumann, Theresa Dailey (FWS), Brad Feaster (Indiana DNR), Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA), and Eric Baka (Louisiana State University) for tracking assistance.

Date: January 22, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

Class of '06 update

Location:

Main Office

Saturday evening, I went out to the pensite with Marianne Wellington (IC) to do a roost check. This was probably the most important check I have ever done, as on Friday, the chicks were let out of the top-netted pen and left alone for the majority of the day.

I have heard stories about chicks not wanting to come back to the pen to roost and having to chase them across the marsh. Did I sigh a loud sigh of relief when we walked into the blind and counted all 19 birds! Wait a minute. 19? Oh yeah, 105 is still hanging out with them.

Ten of the birds were outside the pen and we decided to walk around the outside with vocalizers blaring to entice them back in. This worked like a charm. The birds actually took flight and flew several laps as Marianne and I sprinted back into the pen. Eventually, they all landed inside, ate, drank, and followed us down onto the famous oyster bar.

Sunset came and went as the birds foraged, splashed, bathed, and generally goofed off. The thin sliver of a moon became visible and reflected in the pool inside the pen, and quiet descended as the birds settled in for their evening's roost.

Date: January 19, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Bev Paulan

Subject:

Mud, glorious, mud!

Location:

Main Office

Mud - that is definitely the theme out at the Chass pen. I've never seen so much mud in my life. And all sorts of mud. Solid mud I can step on. Soupy mud that splashes as I walk. And the worst kind of mud; quickmud. This mud sucks you in and down faster than you know what hit. So far I have only gotten really stuck once, but the season is young.

The fall-o-meter, (which measures how many times I have fallen) already registers five and I've only been going to the pen for a week. Again, the season is , and I'm sure I'll be registering in the triple digits by the time I head up to Patuxent.

I'm sure you're wondering at this point how the birds like the mud. Well, they tend to be smarter than I and avoid the quickmud. They also weigh slightly less than I do and don't tend to sink as far as I. They like to probe and forage getting their beaks thoroughly muddy; they actually ‘skip’ through it, actually flapping/running over it giving the appearance of skipping; and their whitening plumage is quickly becoming quite dark again!

Overall, the health, appearance and attitude of all the chicks is great. They seem to enjoy (I know I'm anthropomorphizing here) being in their new surroundings. At least there is lots of water, unlike Halpata that just had a puddle. The plan is for us to let the birds out from under the top net tomorrow and let them be free to fly about with nightly checks to get them back in the pen. Hopefully all the little chickies will just loooove their new home so much that they just can't wait to get back into the pen every evening making our job all the easier. Well, I can hope, can't I?

105 has been a regular visitor to the pensite, keeping watch over the chicks. Perhaps he will find a new mate in this year's crop of females. There are some beautiful birds to choose from, especially 602 with her almost snow white plumage and ebony mask. I'll keep you posted on the love life of this one!

View the photos here in the 2007 Winter photo journal.

Date: January 17, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

2002 Bird Mortality

Location:

Main Office

In an overnight communication, Dr. Richard Urbanek, (USF&WS) advised that the remains of adult female Whooping crane 204 (mate of 105) were found yesterday in Hernando County, FL. Currently suffering from extremely low water levels due to drought, the location was the pair's primary winter use area. Approximately a week ago, 105 had appeared alone at the Chassahowitzka pensite.

During the past two breeding seasons 105 and 204* maintained a territory on Sprague Pool at the Necedah NWR. Although no nesting activity was documented, the area they used was not accessible for monitoring.

"The remains of 204 are being transferred to Dr. Marilyn Spalding, University of Florida, for necropsy," Urbanek said. This mortality reduces the size of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) to 63 birds. (The 18 'ultra-chicks' currently held in at the pensite on Chassahowitzka NWR, will soon be added to population numbers.)

Between predation, powerline strikes, and causes unknown, the mortality of 204* brings the number of birds lost to the EMP during the past year to seven. While we understand that some mortality is inevitable, that knowledge never seems to soften our feelings over the loss.

Date: January 16, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

White Bird report to Jan 13/07

Location:

Main Office

Thanks to trackers Richard Urbanek USF&WS, Tally Love, Stacy Kerley and Sara Zimorski ICF for this report. Thanks also to Windway Aviation, Wildlife Trust, pilot Martin Sobel, Theresa Dailey (FWS), Brad Feaster (Indiana DNR), and Wally Akins (Tennessee WRA) for tracking assistance.

(* = Female; DAR = direct autumn release)

The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) contains 64 birds, 35 males and 29 females. Locations at the end of the week were:
4 in Indiana - 209* and 416, 420*, 313* (mate of deceased 208),
4 in Tennessee – DAR527*, DAR528*, and DAR533* who was reported as limping with an injured left leg, and an unidentified bird believed to be 107*.
2 in Alabama – 213 and 218* (parents of 602 who was part of the Class of 2006 ultralight-led migration)
1 in Louisiana – 508*
3 in South Carolina – 301* and 311, 310
3 Unknown - 212 and 419* have not been detected since departing WI Nov 30th. 318 was last detected in MI in early Dec.
47 in Florida

Florida Notes
First Family parents 211, 217* and their chick, Wild601* remained in a residential area in Hernando County, FL Florida during the past week. They were observed in backyards only a few yards from houses feeding under bird feeders and in flower beds.

105 and 204* roosted at the Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan 8 and 9. 105 remained there throughout the week but 204*’s signal has not been detected since and an airboat search failed to locate her.

On Jan 12th 309* and 407, along with 520 and DAR birds 626 and 628 stopped briefly at the Chass pensite where 309* and 407 disassociated, as did 520. After a short stay, the three birds moved on as did the two DAR birds later the same day.

Also moving to the Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan 12 were 401, 408, 501* and 514. All but 514 moved on the same day.

524’s signal has not been detected since Jan 10.

DAR532 was last detected in flight over Dixie County on Nov. 22.

Date: January 15, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Joe Duff

Subject:

Last Legs - Lead Pilot Report

Location:

Main Office

Joe’s belated but nonetheless interesting lead pilot entries from the final flights, January 11 and 12.

Recently I read about a subspecies of swift that migrates over 38,000 miles in a year. It wanders back and forth across the Pacific, flying almost continually. Sometimes our migrations feel like that, and here we are back at it, trying to lead the birds to their final wintering site in what could be called the migration that never ends. In fact, as it has extended into the new year, I guess it could be called the 2006-2007 migration.

Moving Day #1
Because I missed the final leg that brought the birds to the Halpata site, the team let me lead. I landed next to the pen while Beverly Paulan and Tally Love (ICF) released the birds. They all took off with me, but their loyalty only lasted a minute. They broke off, turned back, or fell behind until the air was full of Whooping cranes and ultralights in what appeared to be a demonstration of the chaos theory.

It was been almost a month since they had even seen the aircraft, let alone flown with it, and now have a stronger allegiance to each other than they do to us or the ultralights. When one bird turns back, the others seem more apt to join it. And there were lots in the flock willing to start that process. Despite our best efforts, three birds were determined to land. Thanks to Stacey Kerley (ICF), a swamp monster appeared next to the pen to discourage them, so they landed in a field to the west instead.

Brooke announced that he had 3 and was leading them away to lessen the confusion. Richard reported that he and another 3 birds had reached smoother air at 300 feet and was on course.

Chris and I took turns intercepting the remaining birds as they headed back to the pen. After 20 minutes it was obvious that the normal methods were not working so we decided to try a new strategy.

Our plan was to land them in a field and give them a rest. Then, when we departed from this new location, there would be no pen or handlers or other reason for them to turn back - or so we hoped.

Chris selected an isolated field that looked smooth enough and landed on a farm track. Seven birds landed next to him and two passed overhead, circled to the left and landed on the other side of a barbed wire fence. The only gate between the fields was locked so I moved up behind each bird and gently tossed it into the air. They popped open their wings and parachuted down next to the aircraft. That was about the only thing that worked well that day.

When we left, all the birds followed - for a while. They would break into groups and fall behind and we were never able to gain enough altitude to find the smooth air. Several times we had to turn back to collect them.

Eventually, 8 formed on my wing after a fashion, but one dropped behind. Chris tried to pick it up but it landed in a forest, obviously very tired. With that one disruptive bird now out of the formation, the others seemed more eager to follow. We finally reached smooth air and headed for the Chassahowitzka pen site 26 miles away, just as Richard and Brooke announced that they were passing the Wal-Mart parking lot in Homosassa Springs where a small crowd of observers had gathered.

Things seemed to be coming together as Richard and Brooke dropped off their 6 birds to Sara Zimorski (ICF) who was out at the pensite to call them down. Chris and I were 10 miles out when we passed over a number of ponds in open fields and the birds simply broke from the aircraft and began to glide down into the turbulent air.

We circled and dove but could not keep them on course. Only a mile away is Post Oak which is a property owned by the Cunningham family where we had often parked our aircraft. This location has a wide grass strip and is very isolated despite being within Crystal River city limits. The owners are very generous, and although we had not made prior arrangements, we knew they would understand if we dropped in.

Luckily all 8 birds landed with us. Chris taxied to the far end to speak to the farm manager and I stayed with the birds. After 20 minutes I took off again but the birds broke almost immediately so I too turned back. This time when I landed only 6 birds came with me. Brooke and Richard joined Chris in the search for the other two and soon found them in a field a half mile away.

We all gathered at Post Oak to regroup and eventually decided that the birds were done for the day. We had six at the Chass pen (605, 607, 611, 612, 613 and 619), six with us (601, 610, 614, 615, 618, and 620), three back at Halpata pen near Dunnellon (604, 606 and 623), one in the woods at the half way point (622) and two more in a field close by (602 and 608).

Chris took over guardianship of the birds while Richard begged a ride back to Halpata to disassemble the pen and move it one more time. Beverly and Tally tracked down the bird in the woods, and Brooke walked cross county in the direction of the two he had seen from the air.

In full costume, Brooke climbed barbed wire fences and cut across back yards until he reached a field that looked familiar. He marked the entrance for the ground crew with a discarded kid’s toy, and found the birds right were he expected. He led them to a small clearing behind some trees to avoid being discovered, and sat with them for the next four hours.

Being alone in a strange place with birds is a precarious situation. If you are discovered by a curious passer-by you have no choice but to explain the circumstances of your predicament. As you can imagine running away with the birds would only create suspicion, and hand signals to a stranger can't properly convey the message. By the time you explain yourself, the birds have been conditioned to tolerate people.

This is when the birds are at their most vulnerable. You are trespassing on private property and could be approached by hunters or landowners, stray dogs, or ATVs. An hour into his vigilance Brooke’s nightmares materialized as a dirt biker turned into the field and began ripping up the grass not more that a hundred yards away. For over an hour he and two frightened birds hunkered down to avoid detection.

I walked the perimeter of the Post Oak property to find a place to hide the birds when the pen arrived, then delivered some water to Chris. I was headed over to see how Brooke was doing when Bev called to tell me Stacey was on her way with the bird they found in the woods. I directed Chris and the birds to a small pond out of sight of the runway, and guided Stacey to a drop off spot. We off-loaded the crate and she left with the van. Once she was clear, I released the bird (622) and led it over to the others. Chris went with Stacey to find Brooke while I led the group of 7 birds off to their hiding place.

An hour or so later Brooke arrived with his two birds, and Sara brought in the 3 she had transported down from Halpata for us. We now had all twelve birds in one location - all we needed was a place to put them. It was late afternoon by the time the pen was assembled and ready. We had been standing with birds for 8 hours and were glad to see the day end.

Moving Day #2 – the final flight
It's hard to believe that we selected a date in January to finish our migration, gathered the crew and assembled the aircraft and then had two flyable days in a row. It's like the divine gods of migration and weather finally decided to smile on us.

The location where we had been forced to land the previous day was less than perfect, but it offered isolation and security. In the true spirit of cooperation, the farm manager called everyone he knew who might drop in, and asked them to postpone their visit. The aircraft were tied down at the north end of the runway and we wiped to dew from the wings.

I led the birds from Halpata the first day but was not able to get them all the way to the Chassahowitzka pen, so technically, it was still my lead. At least that’s the excuse I used to convince the other pilots and they magnanimously agreed.

The 500 acre ranch we were on is home to 65 head of cattle who wander at will. As I taxied to the pen I had to herd a few of them off the runway. Then, two farm dogs decided to follow me, so I raced to the pen, turned into position, and signalled for the release of the birds before chaos ensued.

The birds witnessed the cow chase and the dogs' approach, and were more than willing to follow me out of there. When the gates opened they were airborne right beside me. I headed north into the wind for the take off and turned hard to the right to go on course.

The stragglers cut the corner, and I passed over the pen with all birds in formation and no need for the swamp monster that stood at the ready. We only had 10 miles to go and once we climbed to a few hundred feet, the air smoothed out and we picked up a gentle tail wind. We passed near the Wal-Mart parking lot where a few dedicated Craniacs gathered, and were treated to the best flyover of the season.

The 18 short minutes it took us to reach the pen site were probably the most enjoyable moments of the entire migration. There was no exhausting rough air or frustrating headwind. We didn’t have to tolerate freezing temperatures or an extended period of extreme tension. There were no worries about bird endurance or our fuel consumption. All we had to do was enjoy the last time we would ever fly with these birds.

There are always mixed feelings on the last leg of the migration. We spent the better part of a year nurturing these birds. We try to remain aloof to convey the message that these are wild creatures and not pets, but it’s hard not to become attached. You pick your favourites - sometimes because they are such good birds, and other times because they are not. Personally I have a fondness for number 10. He can be identified in the air by the minor damage to the primary feathers on his right wing, or just because he is always in the lead.

Seldom content to follow, 610 constantly charges ahead to challenge the aircraft for the leadership. Most often he moved to the opposite wing from the rest of the birds, and when he flies in front of the leading edge you can feel the pulse of his wing beats. He is so predictable that I could monitor the birds on my left wing and know he was still on my right simply by the feel.

610 is one of the birds that made the entire trip to Florida under his own steam. He never dropped out and had to be crated, and never refused to follow us. This morning, on our last flight together, he was in his usual place. We were not airborne 10 minutes when he was up to his usual tricks so I let him lead us to the pen.

The ground around the release pen is rough and often submerged in high tides so we can't land. Instead, we drop the birds off to a handler on the ground using a loudhailer broadcasting the brood call. We circled the pen, slowly losing altitude. We made a wide approach with all the birds following closely. Sara was on the ground and we used her white costume as our target. We slowed just like we were landing. The birds dropped their legs in preparation and just as we were about to touch down I added full power and climbed out as hard as I could.

Most of the chicks tried to follow me but could not ascend nearly as fast so they gave up the chase and turned their attention to the familiar call coming from the ground. One bird continued to fly while all the others landed. Richard, Brooke, Chris and I watched from 500 feet overhead as he began to make wider circles.

After 10 minutes Sara reported that he was not coming down but slowly gaining altitude so I dropped down one more time and collected him on the wing. He was panting with the exertion of flying in warm air and we set up another long slow approach.

This time when I added power, he tried to follow but was too tired. He circled a few more times and reluctantly landed next to the others. I made a point of not looking at his primaries, and although it could have been any bird, I like to think it was 610.

View the photos here in the 2006 Migration Photo Journal.

Date: January 13, 2007 - Entry 1 Reporter:

Liz Condie

Subject:

Settling in for the winter

Location:

Main Office

The young Whooping cranes in the Class of '06 will soon settle into a daily routine on their isolated salt marsh on the Chassahowitzka NWR. Over the winter, they will be under the watchful eyes of their caretakers; Bev Paulan, OM's Supervisor of Field Operations, and members of WCEP's Monitoring Team.

 

What exactly does the 'caretaking' team do? Each morning and early evening the crane caretakers make the airboat ride out to the pensite. On arrival in the morning they first do a head count, and note the whereabouts of any young birds not inside the enclosure.

 

Their next job is to check and record water depths and salinity levels. Then they have to replenish the dry land gravity feeders with high protein crane chow, and inspect the water bubbler to ensure it is providing a supply of fresh water in the event the salinity count rises above the acceptable level of 21 parts per thousand.

 

Before departing after the evening check, they do another head count to ensure all the cranes are safely in their predator-proof pen. To deter predators, the bottom of the pen enclosure is gator-proofed with heavy wire screening, and other predators are discouraged by three strands of electric wire, one, several inches from the top of the fence and two others, nearer the bottom.

 

The large oyster shell bar constructed in 2002 (see top left pic below) provides the birds with a graduated roosting area. It was built to compensate for wildly fluctuating tidal levels. In the past, the birds could be roosting in 9" of water one night, and the next, face a depth of 3 feet. Okay for swimming maybe, but not for roosting.

 

The oyster bar accommodates any level of tide, and ensures the young birds of a place to roost in water, a vital survival skill they need to learn. If a predator moves in under the cloak of darkness, the splashing water signaling its approach will alert the birds and they can move to safety. (The Chass pen is not top-netted.)

 

We will continue to keep you posted on the Class of 2006, so don't overdose on the Craniac Patch. The reports provided over the winter are always interesting, often having details about individual birds, and the twice daily contact generally yields an out of the ordinary story or two, not to mention some fabulous photos. (see top right pic below)

Top Left:
Some of the Class of 2005 cavorting on the oyster bar.

Top Right:
Mark Nipper never did figure out exactly how these '05 chicks got so mud covered, but he said they had a whale of a time cleaning it off.

Bottom Left:
Relieved OM crew members pose for Mark Chenoweth's camera on their return to base camp after delivering the last 12 Whooping cranes to Chassahowitzka yesterday.

Hip, Hip Hooray guys and gal! Well done!!

And thanks too to Sara, Tally and Stacy. Couldn't have done the last legs without your help.

 

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