Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Fly Away Home, Operation Migration, Bill Lishman, Bill Lishman, Bill Lishman, Bill Lishman, Bill Lishman, Joe Duff, Endangered species, Endangered species, Whooping cranes, Whooping cranes, Sandhill cranes, Canada geese goose, Migration, Fathergoose, Reintroduction, Ultralight Flying, Jeff Daniels, Birds

Date:October 14, 2008Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:ROCK & ROLL TRAININGLocation:Main Office

Bev reported that the cranes and planes were in the air early this morning for flight training. However, it was not the best training session as it was so choppy the birds couldn’t stay on the wing. In fact, watching the trikes swing madly under the wings made even the Swamp Monster nervous.

Just two more chances for flight training left - Wednesday and Thursday - before the target departure date of Friday, October 17. Weather-wise Wednesday looks unlikely to be a training day. Thursday holds some promise, but the long range forecast for Friday isn't very encouraging.

Date:October 13, 2008Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MORTALITYLocation: Main Office

The decomposed carcass of 102*, the second oldest Whooping crane in the Eastern Migratory Population, was found on the Necedah refuge in a marsh north of the pensite (Site 3) used for the DAR birds.

Dr. Richard Urbanek said, "The mortality site is densely vegetated with willow, sedge, woolrush, and manna grass, and not far from woods on the marsh edge." He said he suspected the cause of death was predation.

Unlike previous springs which 102* usually spent in Adams County, she was present at Site 3 all this past spring. Richard noted that, “She was frequently observed at Site 3 until she was displaced by 211 & 217* [the First Family] when they moved there from their usual territory on East Rynearson Pool after it was drawn down this summer.”

“Tracking data are being examined to determine approximate date of death,” Urbanek said.

This mortality drops the maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population to 68 birds and further reduces the number of females to 29.

Date:October 11, 2008Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:TRAINING ACCOMPLISHEDLocation: Wisconsin
Surprise........we trained this morning!  After a rather windy start, the winds subsided just long enough to get a training session in. Busy, busy, busy here, but maybe one of the pilots will squeeze in writing up and sending in an update later today.

Date:October 10, 2008Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ALMOST A TRAINING DAYLocation: Main Office

Richard van Heuvelen called to tell us that an attempt at flight training was the best they could manage today. “While it started out calm, conditions rapidly deteriorated,” he said. Although Richard said that he did get into the air with all 14 birds, it proved to be a little too rough for them. “It was just too trashy for the birds to stay on the wing,” he said.

When even the trike started getting tossed around, Richard figured it was time to call it a day. He said the birds had a scant 5 minutes of airtime.

Date:October 9, 2008Reporter: Liz Condie


Boston recently joined several other cities in North America in an ambitious effort to reduce energy and avian mortality by turning off skyscraper lights at almost three dozen large downtown buildings during migration.

Toronto originally took the lead with their Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), and other cities, such as Chicago, have gradually followed suit. (Our own Heather Ray worked with FLAP and promoted several innovative bird saving ideas that were adopted by the city.) Starting early last month, Boston started having some of its tallest office buildings shut off their lights from 11pm to 5am through the end of this month. The two-month effort is intended to set an example as to how to reduce carbon emissions associated with production of electricity, while at the same time helping to save migratory birds from striking the buildings at night as a result of disorientation created by bright lights and reflective glass at tall buildings.

Boston's Mayor, Thomas Menino, some of the city's largest property owners, and Mass Audubon representatives unveiled the Lights Out Boston effort last month, and a number of other cities are carefully watching the results of Boston's efforts to save energy and reduce avian mortality.

Bird advocates are actively promoting these joint conservation efforts and have increasingly been pushing the concept of "air space as habitat. In June of last year, we reported on FLAP's recent findings concerning bird mortality and Toronto buildings.

Date:October 8, 2008 - Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:WINDY AND WETLocation: Wisconsin

It was extremely blustery this morning with drizzle falling as the sun rose. Brooke and I went to the pen and stayed with the birds while the trackers caught 509 in order to change his transmitter. They were successful, but when they snatched him, he let out an alarm call that made all the chicks run to the opposite side of the pen. It is continuously amazing to me how these things are hard wired into their DNA.

With brood calls playing and lots of grapes it didn't take long to get them all calmed down again. We stayed with them for almost an hour, and put 803, 804 and 805 in with 810 for the morning. We watched through the window for a short while to make sure all was peaceful, then left to continue our migration preparations.

Date: October 7, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:"GOOD LUCK"Location:Main Office

It’s funny how the personality of a bird comes through even though we can’t talk with them. Somehow we can accurately determine what to expect from each of them, when all we have to go on is their behavior and a little body language that we are not expert at deciphering. They establish a social structure and find their place within the flock using subtleties --- except for number 810 who uses a hammer.

There is no mistaking what he is all about. When he first arrived we heeded the warning from Patuxent that was written on the front of his shipping crate. It said Good Luck and we needed it. Despite almost constant monitoring, he managed to injure three birds; one of which died, another that had to be pulled from the project because of damaged feathers and the third that was returned to Patuxent because of his genetic importance.

After he eliminated all the birds he didn’t like, or more accurately, after the others learned how to avoid him, he lived happily at the North Site with his three remaining flock mates for a month or more. However, when he was moved to the Canfield Site in preparation for mixing with the other cohorts, his old habits resurfaced and there was hell to pay.

We expect some aggression when we release them all onto the runway for their first encounter but it only took number 810 a minute before he attacked his first victim. Any bird who was within striking range became a target until Brian Clauss physically moved him back into his isolation pen. Even while confined he would pick fights and feathers through the fence.

We only have 10 days before the migration is scheduled to begin and the question becomes what to do with him? Do we risk another loss or do we cut him out now. Even if he is as good as gold between now and departure time, how do we trust him especially once they are in the travel pen with its smaller space and lack of a wetland? We could isolate him during the migration by dividing the pen but we have found in the past that once a bird is separated they soon become indifferent to the costume and much more independent from the aircraft.

And how do we handle the early morning release? Do we let him out with the rest of the birds while we coordinate the take off? He may decide it’s payback time for being sequestered alone and our choreographed launch may turn into a donnybrook. How would one pilot handle the situation if they were forced to land with several birds including 810? And what of Florida? Would he be so aggressive as to force the others out of the pen like the white birds occasionally do at Chassahowitzka. Maybe we could send him to Chass and he could single-handedly end that problem by giving all the white birds what for.

At any rate the risk is too high and we have reluctantly decided to remove him from the ultralight cohort. We are now down to 14 so you can imagine how we agonized.

It is likely that number 810 will become a release bird using a method similar to the DAR project. He will not be counted as a DAR release so his future will not affect the project evaluation but that team will coordinate his freedom. We will care for him until our departure and hand him over. He won’t need a shipping crate for this stage of his experience but maybe someone should engrave Good Luck on his leg band. That way he would carry with him our best wishes and a warning to others.

Date:October 7, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:BY POPULAR DEMANDLocation: Wisconsin

(It seems Brooke's update fell into the black hole of one of my several seniors' moments yesterday. Apologies to Brooke - and to you folks who will have to read his report keeping in mind the time lag as a result of my 'moment'. Liz)

Good news! WC-TV is back on the air. Still only one channel, but the original cast of actors from Cohort Three from last season (which was really only a few weeks ago) are back with some fresh new faces from Cohort Two, and , as of yesterday, from Cohort One, formally appearing at the North site.

Bad news is I’m back sitting on the upside-down bucket, and I can assure you these past weeks haven’t softened up the place where the ‘rubber meets the road’. This is attested to by the screams of defiance emanating from my bottom end while my top end watches in delight the new show, “Total Amalgamation”.

‘Amalgamation’ is one of those words which kind of tastes good to say, is fun to spell, and even more interesting/nerve wracking to watch as 15 chicks get ‘Up Close and Personal’ with each other for the first time in the Canfield pen.

We flew the cast from Cohort One over from the North site a couple of days ago, and since then they have been socializing through the fence dividing the pen - in preparation for the true screen test which occurred this morning when we let them all out onto the runway together.

Of course our first order of business was to chase three adult whoopers off the runway. They live nearby and it’s a short commute for them to fly in and audition for a part in the production. Two of them are the parents of 810 and studio policy strictly forbids the presence of ‘stage parents’ on the set. Too disruptive. So we get our morning aerobic workout chasing them off the runway, and gauging our success not by the absence of the adults, but by the degree to which the fog in our helmets has obscured our vision.

This exercise is true sport and I’m told it will be an event in the next Olympics - scheduled right after the Pairs Diving Competition. And we usually win - our costumes are whiter than theirs. But this little exhibition of territorial dominance does make our chicks a little uneasy as they observe from their pen- side seats. “Are those costumed handlers really the Good Guys,” they ask themselves?

This question weighs heavily on their minds as we open the doors and encourage them out on the runway. “Where’s the ultralight?” they ask. “Too windy!” we answer, “but come on out anyway. Us two legged trike-less handlers are going to have to do. Besides, the ball games are on today…..and NASCAR, so hurry up!”

It is now that the real drama begins and the answer to the question that has been tugging at our minds, ruining our sleep, contributing feelings of constant uneasiness to our Necedah lives, begins to be answered. ”Will 810 play nice with the younger birds, or will he lapse into his ‘Charles Manson School of Acting’ routine and attempt to eliminate even more birds from the project.

The answer came quicker than expected as he fell almost instantly into ‘type’ and attacked first one chick, then another, and then another. Like referees at a boxing match we broke up clinch after clinch as true rage took control of his little body and he chased, jump-raked and grabbed birds with his beak.

Brian finally, artfully grabbed him by the wings and walked him back into the divided pen while the rest of the birds returned to their world of simple bird play; taking short flights, mock jump-raking, and socializing with light, “Hey, what’s happening?” pecks, as they amicably introduced themselves to each other.

No more outbreaks occurred, so we led this now united cast into the other side of the divided pen; the birds from all the cohorts together save 810, and posted our sentry, (Brian) for a two hour shift in the ‘Viewing Box’, i.e. feed shed, to be relieved by Bev, then me.

That was this morning.

Now it’s 2pm and I’m back on the bucket watching the show. It’s raining hard and the drops are beating out the theme from the movie, “The River” on the metal roof while the wind pushes bits of wet stuff at me through the board and batten minus-the-batten shed walls.

Still, the show before me has a mesmerizing quality to it as the birds perform their socializing routines. This placid scene is unfortunately punctuated by the antics of 810 as he paces in visible belligerence and gitation along his side of the pen fence, opportunistically picking through- the-fence fights with any and all passing chicks.

His behavior fills me with disappointment and dread, for we must now weigh the prospect of continued efforts of integration with the danger of him attacking and injuring yet more chicks. This decision is made even more urgent by our fast approaching migration departure date.

On another screen in another time on another Sunday, another show cast its glow into the living room of my childhood. The Ed Sullivan Show. Every Sunday night, Ed stood on his black and white stage, his arms folded tightly in an exaggerated self-embrace and announced the promise of a “Rally Big Shoe” Which always set me to wondering if under those crossed arms, beneath that suit coat, behind the tie and white shirt there existed a really big SHOE which at any moment would drop heavily down unto his feet with a resounding THUD, crush his toes and send him, in the best tradition of performance art, off to the hospital.

Then the parade of talent would begin with the likes of Elvis, whose gyrating pelvis would fill young girls’ minds with evil thoughts, or the Beatles just embarking on their quest to corrupt the youth of America with their long hair and English ways, or the comedian Bill Dana with his politically incorrect (in hindsight) Jose Jiménez alter ego. And I can’t forget Senor Wenzlas and his bearded friend, the head in the box, periodically agreeing, ”Sawright!”

But my favorite act by far was the unnamed juggler who kept all those plates spinning at the end of all those tall sticks as he ran in desperation from one stick to the other, giving each just the right turn of hand and maintaining the chorus of “spin.”

It may be that time has clouded my memory here but I seem to remember a performance when one of the plates wobbled helplessly until it fell from its lofty perch and crashed down, shattering on the hard, unforgiving stage floor as the audience reacted with a collective “AHHHH”. The occurrence was no less shocking than if it had been a high wire artist falling to his death. But the juggler just kept juggling, attending to his other plates as if nothing had happened, and to me, it was in that action that lay the genius of his act……for during the tenure of his performance, he surely lived in the moment, playing the cards he was dealt, embarrassing the Eleventh Commandment –‘The Show Must Go On’.

His act was, and is my favorite. Perhaps more now than ever because it is the one I can truly identify with. Our project…our act…is like his. Each bird a plate spinning high on the end of a stick of hope, each rewarding our vigilant efforts and sacrifices while cruelly penalizing our slightest mistake or lapse of focus. It is a reality we must live with and one we must accommodate. Whether or not 810 remains a spinning plate or the alternative lies in question before us.

Stay tuned.

Date:October 7, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie

As of October 4th the estimated maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population remained unchanged at 69 birds (39 males - 30 females). Trackers reported that 41 of the population were on the refuge at Necedah and 17 at other locations in Wisconsin. There were 4 in both Minnesota and Michigan, and one last reported in Indiana. Richard Urbanek said, "Two additional birds with nonfunctional transmitters have not been recently located, but both previously summered on or near Necedah NWR."

Two birds, 213 and 216, were captured at the West site in order to replace their non-functional transmitters.

Marshall County - 727* last reported Sept. 13

Jackson County - 516
Van Buren County – DAR533*
Allegan County- DAR740*
Alpena County – DAR744*

Lincoln County – 703, 707, DAR739*, DAR742

Necedah NWR
101, 102*, 105NFT & 501*
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 216NFT
303* & 317, 307 & 721*, 309* & 403, 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*, 313* & 318
401NFT & 508*, 402, 408 & 519*, 412, 415*NFT & 505,
509, 511, 512, 514, 524NFT
709, 710, 716*, 717*, 722*, 726*, 724, DAR737, DAR746*

Burnett County - 706, 712, 713,
Wood County - 212NFT & 419*NFT – last reported Sept. 18
Monroe County – 416NFT
Rusk County – 420* - last reported Sept. 19
Adams County - 506
Jackson County - 520*NFT
Waupaca County – DAR527*
Marathon County - DAR528*
Chippewa County – 733 – last reported Sept. 18

LONG TERM MISSING (more than 90 days)
107*NFT last reported in Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties June 12
205NFT last recorded at Necedah Oct. 16/07
316NFT last observed on the Necedah refuge March 30

Update compiled from data supplied by WCEP's Tracking Team.

Date:October 6, 2008 - Entry ThreeReporter:Liz Condie
Subject:RECOVERY ACTIVITIESLocation:Main Office

International Whooping Crane Recovery Team (IWCRT) co-chairs, Tom Stehn (Whooping Crane Coordinator, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge) and Brian Johns, (Wildlife Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service) sent along the recommendations that came out of the IWCRT meeting recently held in Wisconsin. Click here to read their report.

Tom also forwarded his summary report of Whooping Crane Recovery Activity - November 2007 to September 2008. We think readers will find both documents interesting and informative.

Date:October 6, 2008 - Entry TwoReporter:Liz Condie
Subject:KEEPING TRACKLocation:Main Office

We received an email from OM supporter Fred Dietrich of Tallahassee, Florida the other day. For the past few years he’s been creating a cool graph that allows Craniacs to chart the progress of the migration and compare it against the average timeline of the previous seven trips south.

Fred’s interactive graph is in the software program Excel, and if you think you’d enjoy keeping track of the planes and cranes in the Class of 2008 and plotting their progress this fall, click here to download.

On behalf of our Craniacs….thanks Fred!!

Date:October 6, 2008Reporter:Liz Condie

Now in its eighth season, the project to reintroduce migratory Whooping cranes to eastern North America has passed the half way point of its estimated 10 to 15 year timeline. Each year, just when the project’s participants think the learning curve is flattening out somewhat, either Mother Nature or the birds themselves throw something new into the mix.

As much as we continue to learn with every passing year, and as much as we develop ways to tweak our methods and improve our protocols, we recognize that much of our knowledge comes from what went before. The Grays Lake experiment and the Florida Non-Migratory reintroduction laid the ground work and provided the third attempt – the Eastern Migratory reintroduction project – with invaluable lessons and data.

Our project’s other major source of information and data collection comes from the only naturally surviving flock; the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. Thanks to Canadian Wildlife Service biologist Brian Johns, for providing his 2008 Whooping Crane Nesting Season Summary for us to share with Craniacs and Field Journal readers.

Date: October 4, 2008Reporter: Chris  Gullikson
Subject: Flight Training UpdateLocation: Wisconsin

It was an incredibly beautiful morning over the Necedah refuge. With temps in the upper 20's and clear skies, a heavy frost was forming on every surface and the ice scrapers were busily cleaning off the windshields of refuge vehicles. With such cold temps and calm air, fog was likely to be forming over the relatively warmer waters of the refuge's many pools.

Brooke and I bundled up in our cold weather flying gear and headed out towards the refuge which we could see had areas of dense fog rising above West Rynerson. Seven wolves have been spotted recently from the observation tower, and I took this opportunity to scan the area for these elusive animals. This is my fourth year working on this project and I have only had the opportunity to see one wolf - about a month ago.

A crowd had gathered at the tower and I could see they were jumping up and down, pumping their arms as I passed closely by. They must have been doing exercises to keep warm. I powered up and lifted over a dense fog bank that was building over West Rynerson and set a course for the Canfield site, catching glimpses of ducks and geese below me.

Once I got north of the pool, only a thin layer of fog about 75 feet high blanketed the northwestern half of the refuge. Fog can be quite deceiving from the air, looking almost transparent from aloft. Once you get down to its level however, the horizontal visibility becomes almost zero. We would have to wait this out. A hole in the fog nearly a mile long allowed Brooke and I to land at the pensite and we spent the next 45 minutes being entertained by 803 and 813 trying to chase off 509 who had stopped by for a visit.

When it looked like the fog had burned off sufficiently I got back up into the air for a better look at the rest of the refuge. I radioed down to Brooke that it was clearing rapidly and watched him as he tried taking off to the north with the 11 birds from Cohorts Two and Three. Several birds were slow coming out of the pen and Brooke had a loose string of 9 birds flying behind him, with the last 2 birds staying back on the runway.

Brooke quickly got 5 birds on his wing, presumably the older birds from Cohort Two, and he did a wide 180 degree turn back to the south to try and pick up the following stragglers. It was somewhere around this point that I saw an adult white bird fly onto the runway and start harassing the 2 chicks that were left behind.

While one of the ground crew went out on the runway to break up a potential fight, Brooke continued to struggle to keep birds with him as they kept wanting to go back to the runway and join the ground crew and adult birds. He would circle back over the pen with some birds leaving, and others trying to join back up, eventually only having 1 bird faithfully following (presumably 813 who we’ve nicknamed Cosmos for her dedication to the trike). Brooke landed back on the runway to regroup and tried another a takeoff with only a few birds following before they too turned back.

It was decided that there was just too much distraction with the adult birds on site so we put the chicks back in the pen to give the 4 older birds of Cohort One a chance to fly. Brooke got airborne to watch from overhead and I gave the signal to Brian and John to open the doors. We were soon aloft and began a slow climb to the south, 4 birds locked onto my left wing.

We had just moved these 4 birds over from the North site yesterday, and I should have known better then to lead them back towards their familiar territory, but I knew there were a bunch of shivering people who had made long drives in the wee morning hours to see us fly with the birds. As I made my way closer to the observation tower, two birds made a 180 degree turn towards their familiar home and the rodeo started.

I quickly turned back to the north to chase down the 2 wayward birds and soon had all 4 back on the wing. But now we were much closer to their home, and a pair of adults were on the runway adding to the invitation to land. I turned west taking 2 birds with me while Brooke moved in to pick up the other 2 who seemed quite determined to land. My second bird broke from me to head towards Brooke, leaving me with just 810 on my wing.

I pressed on towards the Canfield site knowing that number 10 could potentially get freaked out and start a fight in the presence of the older birds. I got within 1/4 mile of Canfield when 810 did an about face and made a beeline back to his buddies at the North site. Four times I was able to turn him back west towards Canfield but every time I got him back on course, he just broke and headed back to his familiar home.

Meanwhile, Brooke was flying low circuits around the North pensite trying to keep his birds from landing – and having very little success. As I approached with 810, I could see the 3 chicks landing on the runway next to the 2 adults and observed some jump raking going on. Brooke and I quickly landed and were able to separate the adults from the chicks with our trikes before a potential fight broke out. We herded the 2 adults away from the chicks with our trikes and they took off and flew behind the wetpen, out of our way.

Bev was on her way over from the Canfield site with her swamp monster outfit. Brooke went and hid in the food shelter and I tried to launch the 4 chicks but they really had no interest in flying with me. I think they missed having their own pen to themselves.

With my engine running, I waited for Bev - aka swamp monster - to walk out onto the runway. I kept my eye on the birds, who were hunting for grasshoppers around Brooke's trike, as a clue for when they spotted the swamp monster. 804 was the first to spy the hideous monster, and within a few seconds the others were warily watching the approaching beast. I quickly got airborne, hoping the chicks would follow suit, but they seemed to not be as alarmed as I was. It took a few blasts from the scary creature’s air horn to finally convince the four of them that it was much safer aloft.

I soon had all four on my wing, and after they flew a quick circuit of the site to verify that Bev really was a legitimate threat in her camouflage 8X10 plastic tarp, we turned on course back to the west. The air was getting just a bit rough and I did not want to risk having them go back to their old home so I led them straight back to Canfield where Brian and John were patiently waiting.

These 4 older birds will be separated from the other 11 for a few more days to get used to each other presence. With lots of rain in the forecast for the next several days, we will likely not be able to fly. Instead we will let the birds out for exercise and let the 15 birds socialize together on the runway.

Date:October 3, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:SOME MUCH NEEDED AIRTIMELocation: Main Office

Wind, rain and all the other stuff that autumn can throw at you has kept the team and the birds on the ground for what seems like weeks. Because of late hatched chicks, we are running behind any of the previous years so it is not surprising that we still haven’t mixed all the birds.

The combined Cohort Two and Three is now a cohesive group. They are not all flying at the same endurance, but they are getting along. Today the team was finally able to fly the oldest birds (Cohort One) over to the Canfield site and pen them next to the others.

This group of four birds includes number 810 so we will take turns monitoring him all day for several days just to make sure. He is greatly outnumbered and in unfamiliar territory so we hope that will intimidate him slightly. It will be a while before we are confident enough to take down the barriers and let them mingle.

The latest date that we have ever mixed in the oldest birds was September 28 - and that was last year. Already we are five days behind and it’s still going to be a week or so before the barrier comes down and we can actually call them one flock.

Maybe we can postpone Christmas this year!

Date:October 3, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:CREW CHANGELocation: Main Office

For the first time in our nine year history of this project we have lost our interns before the migration begins.

Every year we hire interns to be a vital part of our team and I can’t understand why it’s so difficult. All we ask is that they work their butts off cleaning up after cranes while wearing a costume in the hot weather of a Maryland spring. Patuxent is located between beautiful Washington DC and Baltimore and there is plenty of opportunity for sight seeing in the ten minutes a day they have off. Thereafter they get to spend the summer living with six other people in a ‘luxury’ RV in Wisconsin. They get to leap frog halfway across the country during the migration setting up and taking down the same pen repeatedly, and all of this for room, board and a weekly stipend.

We begin recruiting interns in the fall for the next year and rarely do we have more than a few applicants. Most students can’t begin when we need them in April, and must return to school in September just when they become really valuable to us.

Occasionally, the celebrity of this project or the mystique of Whooping cranes attract a graduate student. Once we had a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine spend a full season with us. She was a terrific help, in fact we didn’t lose a single bird that year. But we soon burned out all that enthusiasm and we haven’t been as lucky since. This year we hired a retired couple, Garry and Claire Foltz. Accommodation, especially during the migration, is always a problem for us and having a couple along would have some advantages. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out for them and in September we had to scramble to find replacements.

John Martineau from Minnesota came highly recommended. He has worked on several bird projects including a recent raptor study. He joined us the weekend of the Crane Festival and with all the visitors, flights, meetings and fundraising going on it was a trial-by-fire but he seems to have survived. He is young, enthusiastic, seems to learn fast and we welcome him to the team. We are very grateful to Claire and Garry and wish them well.

Date:October 2, 2008 Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:BITS & BITES FROM NNWR Location: Necedah

Another morning in Necedah in early October. That must mean it’s either windy or rainy, eliminating any chance for training. And the answer this morning was…..wind, with rain not too far to the west. That meant we have not trained for a whole week. The guys got the birds out Tuesday for some much needed exercise, and a trip was made into Mauston to pick up some attention diverting pumpkins. The plan for the next time we fly, assuming that is that we ever fly again (it gets depressing after a week!), will be to take the oldest birds to the Canfield site to mix them with the rest of the chicks. With 810’s potential behavior under suspicion, we want to make sure there are many things for all the chicks to keep busy with. So besides pumpkins and eared corn, Brooke took some extra fencing out to the site in case we have to isolate 810.

In other news, 811 left yesterday to make her trip to her new home at the Milwaukee Zoo. It has been one of our favorite parts of the day when we go sit with her to try to tame her down. We talk to her, feed her out of hand, and slowly remove our costume (Photos). This has been complicated by the fact that there are three adult Whoopers hanging around the pen. So we are constantly on the lookout for them, while trying to ensure an easy transition for 811. We will miss her. She has always been a sweet bird, very calm and laid back. She should make a very good display bird at the zoo.

I recently returned to camp after being in Rhinelander, WI doing school presentations. Thanks to the teachers, principals and students at Northwoods Charter School, James Williams Middle School, and Nativity School. The kids were all very attentive during my talks, and kept me on my toes asking good questions. OM also received some good media coverage with a front page article in the Rhinelander Daily News and a spot on the local NPR station. This is most definitely one of my favorite parts of my jobs. Nothing like spreading the word of the Whooper!

And last, but definitely not least, I want to say a personal thank you to Claire and Garry Foltz. They ended their internship with us on Tuesday. They were a huge help in raising the chicks and we never would have gotten the new pen at the Canfield site done without Garry's shovel and Claire's needle. Thanks, you two, and hope to see you on the road!

Date:October 1, 2008Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Change4Cranes DRAWLocation:Main Office

At the beginning of September we announced that the 2008 edition of the Change4Cranes initiative was ready to launch. All teachers who registered prior to September 30th would be entered into a drawing for a class visit from the OM team.

Joe returned from Necedah this morning for a pre-migration break – just in time to make the drawing. And the winning teacher/school is…. (drum roll) Lisa Harrison and the University of Chicago Lab Schools!

This is the second year that Ms. Harrison and her students have participated in the C4C program so we're looking forward to dropping in on them sometime during the upcoming migration.

Many thanks to all the teachers and classes participating in this student driven fundraising initiative. If you would like to enroll in the program, please click here, or to see what Ms. Harrison's class and others accomplished last year visit this page.

In crane news... well, there really isn't any. The weather has kept the birds and pilots firmly on the ground for all but two days since the Necedah Crane Festival, which took place on September 20th. With the target departure date only 16 days away, we could really use a little bit of cooperation from Mother Nature.

Date:September 29, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff

It’s not that your forecasting skills improve in the fall, it’s just that if you predict that the weather is going to be crappy, you will be right more often than not. I wish we could migrate in mid summer when we sometimes fly for 5 and 6 days in a row. We have our share of blustery days, but the mornings seem reserved for ultralight pilots.

Each stage of their training is important but preparing the birds for migration in the fall is critical. Just when we should be mixing the groups and giving them lots of flight time to figure out their order, we get stuck on the ground with the clock still ticking.

You would think that after 8 years we would have learned to live with our weather limitations. If we were normal we would sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. But a lot of people have invested a great deal of time and effort into those 15 birds and now it’s up to us. There is not much we can do to change the weather but worrying seems proactive.

Date:September 29, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:GROUNDEDLocation: Main Office

It was pouring rain this morning in Necedah and as a result the team was unable to do any flight training again today. The forecast for tomorrow looks somewhat more promising though - at least it is not calling for any precipitation until the early afternoon.

Joe advised that the youngest birds are now flying for 7 - 8 minutes and building stamina with each flight. Cohort One has yet to be integrated with the already combined Cohorts Two and Three, but he feels there's still enough of time. Last year the final integration didn't happen until September 28, two weeks before departure.

Date:September 26, 2008Reporter:Bev Paulan

This morning was another one of those magical mornings. As I drove out onto the refuge with John Martineau, our new intern, a thin layer of fog created a mosaic over the pools and grasslands. The sun, just having crept over the horizon, was a deep blood orange, softly diffused by the fog and doubled by its reflection on Rice pool. The number of waterfowl and Sandhill cranes has grown exponentially and the air was filled with a cacophony of honks, quacks, squawks and calls.

Luckily, the fog was not thick enough to preclude training and the chicks at the North site eagerly followed the trike upon release. For some reason 805 wasn’t very interested in sticking with his flockmates and soon returned to the runway. A call over the radio from Richard requesting the swamp monster got me moving. 805 would not be deterred from landing and after much running, flapping and panting (all on my part), he landed in the marsh and the swamp monster, defeated, crawled back into the shed. 805 was quickly lured back onto the runway and put in the pen while the other three birds continued to fly.

In the meantime… I always monitor the radio while the birds are being trained. Not only does this give me the ability to be “Johnny on the spot” if needed to chase adult birds or become swamp monster, but it also allows me to hear what else is going on at the other sites. This morning, it was decided to fly the combined chicks of Cohorts Two and Three together for the first time. Three of the four pilots were in camp and it was a perfect morning to try this. Joe led with Brooke flying chase. I really didn’t hear a lot of the flight, but I heard enough to know that a bird had dropped out a couple of miles north of the Canfield pensite.

After training was finished at the North site and all birds were put away, John and I grabbed a bird crate and headed up to see if we could help retrieve the dropout. Via Brooke’s radioed instructions, we found Claire, Garry and Joe already on site. Joe was standing with the wayward chick and Claire and Garry were looking for another chick that had also dropped out. It was discussed and decided that instead of crating and risking injury, I would walk 826 back to the pen. The spot where he had dropped out was a straight shot north, about two miles across a short grass sand prairie. 826 was already trying to walk back on his own, so I hopped in front to give me the illusion that he was following instead of leading.

It is indeed a most special part of my job to be in the company of such a majestic being. 826 has always been one of my favorites and as a young chick always kept me laughing with his antics. This morning, however, he was content just to walk by my side, occasionally pecking at a seed head or ducking when a butterfly flitted by. The prairie was beautiful, beginning to look very fall like. It always amazes me how people can overlook a prairie and not see the seasonal changes. The woodlands always catch the eye, in its very ostentatious show of color. The prairie is more subtle. The goldenrod still bright yellow, the aster a pale lavender, the little bluestem turning a beautiful russet red. I even spied a late blooming blazing star, brilliant purple against the quieter golds and lavenders.

Two miles is a long way to walk, slowly, in full costume complete with rubber boots, but it was going quickly and I tried to savor every moment. I thought back to Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and how he described, much more eloquently than I ever could, the very habitat I was walking through. The sandy soil with the British soldier lichens growing side-by-side with carpet moss. The bright blue Wisconsin skies. The Sandhill cranes calling their prehistoric call; the Red Tailed Hawk screaming his intentions as he launched from a tree. What he missed though, was the company of a juvenile Whooping Crane who patiently followed his surrogate “mama” until we were in site of the pen. Then in the open once again, and with a stiffening south breeze, he flew the last hundred feet or so to the pen, where Claire was waiting with 827 (who had returned to the pen on his own). Both chicks went easily inside and we locked up the pen and headed back to camp.

Another magical morning. Am I lucky or what? (Photos)

Date:September 25, 2008Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A BREAK IN THE WEATHERLocation:Main Office

Once the fog burned off from most of the Necedah wetlands, training was able to commence for Cohorts Two and Three. These two groups are now combined into one group of 11 for everything except training. The reason for this is the disparity in flight ability. A full week in hatch dates separate the youngest member of Cohort Two from the oldest of Cohort Three, which may not seem like a great deal but when it pertains to Whooping crane chicks, and other large birds, it can make huge difference.

Somehow Brooke and Joe came to an agreement over which would take the shorter training flight with the youngest group. Joe won out and got to take Cohort Two group on a 27 minute flight, covering a large portion of the refuge, including the crowded observation tower where two busloads of visitors were taking a break from the North American Crane Working Group meetings in hopes of catching a crane-training session.

Joe also mentioned that this wasn't the only group he flew over this morning -- As he approached the north end of West Rynearson Pond he counted 10 brilliant white Whooping cranes converged in one group.

Brooke, Meanwhile, stayed back at the Canfield site with Cohort three and once Joe was off with his group, Brooke took off, leading his group of six youngsters north, away from their familiar enclosure. In all this group managed a 7 minute flight. Not their first time airborne for that long but noteworthy nonetheless as the weather has kept everyone grounded since last Saturday.

While all this was going on Richard was over at the North training site - sitting on the ground, waiting for the fog that had moved in as soon as he landed, to lift and allow him to train the oldest group; Cohort One. Eventually, it did burn off and he led them on a flight which lasted more than half an hour.

The countdown is on... only three weeks until the planned departure date (gulp)

Date: September 24, 2008 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject: CRANEFEST WRAP & New Items Location:Main Office

I returned late yesterday from attending another successful Whooping Crane Festival hosted by the Necedah Lions Club. This was the eighth annual event and it just keeps getting better and better. It's always fun to reconnect with long-time supporters and get a chance to meet and welcome new craniacs to the fold. Yet again, the weather held and allowed early risers to watch a training flight unfold over the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. even though it was a bit confusing for the pilots to keep track of the cranes on Saturday, the large crowd on the tower and those on the early morning bus tour thoroughly enjoyed the show!

We'd like to extend a HUGE thank you to Jan Doudna, who at January's arrival event in Florida, approached us to contribute a gorgeous quilt she had made. We began selling raffle tickets through our online merchandise page and are thrilled to report that Jan's stitching efforts generated over $600 for the Class of 2008!

The draw for Jan's quilt was made over the weekend in Necedah with Deke Clark pulling the winning ticket, which belonged to Marilyn Fleming of Missouri - This beautiful handmade quilt is on its way to you Marilyn!

I'd also like to let everyone know that we are again carrying the lovely embossed Whooping crane greeting cards from Pumpernickel Press. These arrived late last week and have been a popular item since we first came across them in 2004. These always sell out so be sure to order yours soon! All net proceeds from the sale of merchandise help to support the reintroduction work. While you're at the merchandise page, be sure to have a look at some of the other recently added items, including the third annual Nancy Drew quilt raffle!

Date:September 23, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: MISCELLANEOUS NEWSLocation: Wisconsin
Not an auspicious start to the week with the planes and cranes grounded both yesterday and today. Wind was the culprit.

Bev reports that Cohorts Two and Three continue to get along and socialize well with no aggression problems whatsoever. Because of the difference in flying abilities between the groups, it will still be a while before Cohort One can be integrated. The oldest birds are able to train for 45 minutes; the middle group for around 20; but the youngest birds aren't yet flying much more than a circuit or two.

Today was the last day of the Fall Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership meetings. Some of the topics for our Plenary Session included an update on the population's genetics; criteria for consideration in dividing the Class of 2008 between the two wintering sites; and, a presentation regarding nest monitoring studies for 2009. The input of all the partners' team members on these and other topics has gone to the Project Direction Team for their review and analysis and decision-making.

Date:September 23, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie

As of September 20th the estimated maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population was 69 birds (39 males - 30 females). In the highlights below females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. NFT = non functional transmitter.

There was little change in locations since the last report. “Of note,” said Richard Urbanek, “is that this is the first summer since the reintroduction began that the majority of yearling birds summered outside central Wisconsin’s core reintroduction area.”

Marshall County - 727*

Jackson County - 516
Van Buren County – DAR533*
Allegan County- DAR740*
Alpena County – DAR744*

Lincoln County – 703, 707, DAR739*, DAR742
Isanti County – 706, 712, 713 This group had last been confirmed in ND in early June.

Necedah NWR
101, 102*, 105NFT & 501*
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 216NFT
303* & 317, 307 & 721*, 309* & 403, 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*, 313* & 318
401NFT & 508*, 402, 408 & 519*, 412, 415*NFT & 505,
509, 511, 512, 514, 524NFT
709, 710, 716*, 717*, 722*, 726*, 724, DAR737, DAR746*

Wood County - 212NFT & 419*NFT
Monroe County – 416NFT
Rusk County – 420*
Adams County - 506
Jackson County - 520*NFT
Waupaca County – DAR527*
Marathon County - DAR528*
Chippewa County – 733

LONG TERM MISSING (more than 90 days)
107*NFT last reported in Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties June 12
205NFT last recorded at Necedah Oct. 16/07
316NFT last observed on the Necedah refuge March 30

Update compiled from data supplied by WCEP's Tracking Team.

September 20, 2008Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:TWO MANY NUMBERSLocation:Wisconsin

This report will have a lot of numbers in it so good luck trying to follow us. Maybe you should get a pen and paper to keep score.

First of all it was Necedah CraneFest weekend so the tower was filled to the legal limit, with the rest of the crowd spilling into the marsh. Brooke was set to lead the four birds from Cohort 1 and I was flying in the chase position with a passenger.

We have been noticing four white birds hanging around together on the refuge and they decided to land on the runway just as the chicks came charging out of the pen to follow Brooke. Many of you are familiar with our aggressive number 810 and we were all worried that he might pick a fight with the intruders, despite being outnumbered.

While I watched from above, Brooke managed to separate them using the aircraft and led the chicks to the north away from the pensite. The temptation, however, was too great and they circled back for another visit.

This happened several times so I left Brooke to sort it out and headed for the Canfield site to see if I could help there. I intercepted Chris who was leading the five birds from cohort 2 south, away from Canfield. Together we flew by the observation tower and were heading back when two birds broke from him.

I moved in and collected them but was flying a little too fast because of the extra weight. Just then Brooke was launching once again with his four birds and one of the birds that was following me decided it was easier to follow Brooke. Chris and I led the remainder of Cohort 2 back to Canfield while Brooke headed for the tower with one extra bird. I joined up with him on the return flight and we landed back at the North Site with four birds from Cohort 1 and one from Cohort 2. Bev was our ground crew for the day and she rushed out of the pen to help prevent 810 from picking on the younger newcomer.

This unexpected mixing went well so after a few minutes we put the four Cohort 1 birds back in the pen. Bev stayed in there with them while Brooke and I closed the gate and prepared to lead number 14 home. Maybe it was all the excitement or just force of habit but for some unknown reason I threw the latch locking the gate. By this time Richard and Chris were finished with their training and circling overhead.

While Brooke and I led one lone bird back to Canfield we heard a hushed plea over the radio from Bev. Locked in the pen with four birds, she whispered a request for someone to please let her out. We were all laughing so hard we could barely fly. After many jokes at Bev’s expense, Chris finally landed and released her from the pen. I’m sure I’ll be paying for that one for a while. (Photo Journal)

Date:September 19, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter:Matt Ahrens
Subject:EARNING AIRMILESLocation:Wisconsin

September 19th dawned cool and beautiful. A soft ground fog hung over the savanna as we flew out onto the refuge. Brooke and Richard were far ahead making their way to the Canfield site while Chris and I set out for the North site where Garry and Claire were stewarding the four Cohort One birds while awaiting our arrival. Chris touched down and soon all four birds where following him up into the rising sun. Although I was flying back up today, there was mention of perhaps getting a chance to lead the birds for the first time. Needless to say I was looking forward to the chance.

While Richard and Brooke were waiting for the ground fog to clear over the Canfield site, Chris landed and soon the birds were on his wing. He flew the usual circuit with all four birds clinging closely to his wing while we made a low circle over the now fall colored grasses not too far below. Chris and I had previously discussed our flight plan - I was to stay outside of his turns in hopes that a bird or two would fall off to join me in my path. However, Whoopers being Whoopers, it was not to be so.

We continued in slow circles barely clearing the treetops for what seemed like forever and at the same time seemed instant as so often happens in exciting moments such as these. Finally we landed back at the North site and the birds settled themselves around the trikes for a short rest. Chris motioned me over and in hushed tones asked if I was ready to try leading the birds off the runway. I signaled an intrepid...yes. This was the moment I've been waiting for.

We taxied slowly to the end of the short grass strip. Even the birds were dancing in anticipation. Lifting up and flapping wildly at each other seeming to almost bounce off the ground like puppets on a string. I felt as though these birds were in tune with my experience and waiting to teach me rather than simply follow as I slowly began a takeoff roll.

In what seemed like just a few yards we were aloft and all four birds were behind me. As much as I tried, I could not seem to get them up and onto my wing. I slowed to almost stall speed, dodging treetops and swooping low over the level areas trying in vain to get them up to my wing. We began a slow circle over the refuge and as we turned I tried to get inside the corner and lure the birds closer and closer. Finally at the last moment they flew an even sharper turn and passed me on the inside. Now I was following them!

They, of course, knew exactly where they were going and led me directly back to the pen where they settled; content and stubbornly grounded on the grass strip in front of their pen. Another flight over and still not a bird on my wing... However, there is always tomorrow and hopefully another chance. As a back-up pilot for OM it's important to remind myself that every experience is a lesson and each flight a new chance to gain more knowledge that will be useful if called to join the migration en route to Florida. So until then, each morning brings a new opportunity and each opportunity a new experience and hopefully some day, a chance to fly together. (Photos)

Date:September 19, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BUSY WEEK – BUSIER WEEKENDLocation: Wisconsin

It’s been a jam-packed week here in Necedah with hosting guests and pre-migration equipment preparations taking priority. Among those we hosted this week were visitors from the Smithsonian National Zoo and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Flight training is going well, and I expect a report for the Field Journal on how the two cohorts are faring sometime between now and Sunday. It seems I’m not the only one with a half a dozen jobs on the go - everyone on the team is also juggling priorities. It’s THAT time of year again and the scramble is on.

With the recent combining of Cohorts Two and Three (the youngest birds), just the 4 birds in Cohort One (803, 804, 805, and 810) are left to be integrated. The team has built a smaller enclosure adjacent to the large pen at the Canfield site which will be 810’s ‘private apartment’ if on integration he displays any signs of aggression.

OM’s Directors have started to arrive from distant parts - like North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee. And from not so distant parts - like Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. By the end of the day everyone will be on hand for an evening Board meeting. They will be on hand at our booth at the Necedah Whooping Crane Festival tomorrow and of course also at OM’s two Annual General Meetings on Sunday.

As usual, representatives from the organizations in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) will be gathering in Necedah for meetings on Monday and Tuesday. And as usual, topics for discussion will center on everything from genetics and protocols, to data collection and plans for the future. In other words – all things Whooping crane.

Receiving special attention at the WCEP meetings will be the historical nesting data of the breeding age pairs in the Eastern Migratory Population. The various theories for nest abandonment will be reviewed and discussed, as will proposed methodologies for nest monitoring in 2009.

Date:September 15, 2008Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject: MOVING DAY Location: Wisconsin

At some point prior to the migration we have to bring our three cohorts together into one flock. In the spring we start each group separately because they are at three different levels of development, but eventually they all progress from colts to fledglings to full flying juveniles, some more delinquent than others.

This process normally begins in early September but like everything this year we are running a couple of weeks behind. Today we moved Cohort Two (our middle age group) over to the Canfield site and penned them next to Cohort Three (our youngest birds).

Richard van Heuvelen trained the birds at Canfield first while Brooke and I flew with the oldest birds at the North site. Brooke led so I really didn’t have much to do. I climbed to a thousand feet to stay out of the way. Occasionally I told him how far back the stragglers were but mostly I just watched.

I wish we could mount a camera up here on some sort of magical sky hook so everyone could watch the mini drama that unfolds. This is the prettiest time of year in a wetland. There have been ten thousand shades of green on display all summer for the very few who stop to notice. But in the fall they grow impatient with our lack of attention and explod into a million colors in one last exhibition before they’re covered in snow. Each shade of brown or yellow isn’t as impressive on its own but together they add to the drama like the performance of an orchestra over a soloist.

The familiar sound of Brooke’s engine must have caught the attention of a pair of white birds. I watched them take off from their isolated pool and head to the North site to intercept Brooke. They knew where he was going and they landed behind him. They unison called as the chicks were let out of the pen and twice Brooke tried to lead the young birds off but twice they turned back, decoyed by the older birds on the runway. They have been flying well recently, in fact up to 43 minutes, so we decided that was enough. We put them back in the pen and headed to the west site.

Brian Clauss let them out and they jumped and danced while following me to the north end of the runway so we could take off into the wind. We circled the pen once and headed west. All five caught up and began to surf on the wing, despite the turbulences. We flew past the Canfield site and another few miles north to the Sprague Mather complex at the far end of the refuge. We saw the pair of Trumpeter swans with their three cygnets, a white pelican, some egrets and a juvenile bald eagle. We passed over several pairs of Whooping cranes. You can see them throw back their heads and call to us – or against us. It’s either a greeting or a warning – or a little of both. Eventually, we circled south and landed at Canfield. I noticed that the blind was empty for once -- Too bad; they missed a great show.

It only took a few grapes to encourage cohort 2 to enter the strange pen. They hardly seemed to notice the other birds behind the chain link fence the divides the dry pen. We will train them separately for a few days and then put them together once they are used to each other.

We left one bird at the West site. Number 811, with her damaged wing feathers will eventually be a display bird in a zoo. Until then we will care for her and begin the taming down process. When the rest of her cohort left she didn’t even come out. She stayed in the back of the wet pen while the rest of them flew away. Birds don’t seem to like long goodbyes.

Date: September 14, 2008Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:TARGET DEPARTURE DATELocation: Wisconsin

Looking at every year separately and counting the number of days from the hatch date of the youngest chick until the day we started the migration, you get a low of 125 days and a high of 146. If you add those differentials to the hatch date of our youngest chick this year, you get projected departure dates of October 18 to November 8.

2007 was the season with the shortest time between hatch and departure. We left when number 735 was only 125 days old. She missed 17 miles of the third leg but flew from there all the way to Florida without missing a beat.

Based on our past experience we are targeting October 17 for departure on the 2008 migration. This equals the latest date we have ever left Necedah. That was in 2001 when we only had 8 birds and it took us just 48 days to reach Florida. Let’s hope for the best.

Date:September 13, 2008Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TWO DON'T MISS EVENTSLocation: Main Office

Saturday, September 20
The 8th Annual Necedah Lions Club Whooping Crane and Wildlife Festival is just one week away. Come join fellow Craniacs and meet the OM crew at our booth. Below is the festival schedule, but to get all the details click the link above.
7:00 a.m. Festival Opens
7:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. All you can eat Pancake Breakfast
7:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. Necedah Refuge Bus Tours (leave every half hour)
9:00 a.m. – Close Arts, Crafts, and Commercial Exhibits
9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Children's Tent
9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Speakers
10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. Necedah High School "Face Painters"
12:00 p.m. Burr Oak Winery / Buckhorn Park Tour (returns at 2:45 p.m.)
12:30 p.m. Hatch Cranberry Marsh Bus Tour (returns at 3:00 p.m.)
3:00 p.m. Chicken Barbecue Dinner (Until Sold Out)
3:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Necedah Refuge Bus Tour
4:30 p.m. Raffle Prize Drawings
4:00 p.m. to Close Whooper Brew goes on sale
5:00 p.m. to Close Live music and dancing

Sunday, September 21
Supporting and Sustaining Members of Operation Migration (and those wishing to become members) are invited to attend the Annual General Membership Meetings of Operation Migration Inc and Operation Migration USA Inc. The meetings will be held in the Classroom adjacent to the Headquarters building on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. 11:00am Registration, coffee and pastries. Meetings begin at 11:30am sharp.

Date:September 12, 2008Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:COMBINING COHORTSLocation: Main Office

Below is a chart of when we mixed the cohorts over the years. We start by integrating the middle group and youngest before introducing the oldest. That way we minimize aggression, or so we hope.

As the older birds begin to fly more than just circles around the pen, it is time to think about mixing them. This is difficult for the team because we just get them to the point where they are following perfectly - and we throw a wrench into the works. This year, our youngest bird is 5 days younger than any we have ever worked with, and this could delay uniting the cohorts into one flock or the start of migration.

Cohort Two is now flying for several minutes and are able to make it to the Canfield site where we will pen them next to the youngest birds. The two groups are at different levels in their flight training so it will be hard to get them all together. It takes them some time to figure out their social order so we have to start soon. Once that happens, we will fly in Cohort One and repeat the procedure.

The Cohort One birds are the oldest and could make the flight now, but the difference in their development would likely lead to aggression with the fledging chicks, especially considering 810 is in the oldest group. Whenever and however we mix that bird, we will have to keep a close eye on him. Maybe a little valium is in order --- and it might help 810 as well.

Cohorts United








3 with 2

Sept 13

Sept 5

Sept 15

Sep 6

Aug 14

Aug 25


3 & 2 with 1

Sept 28

Sept 21

Sep 23

Sep 21

Aug 29

Sep 16

Sep 5

Date:September 10, 2008Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:NUMBER 10 GETS ANOTHER ONELocation: Main Office

When spring arrives at the five Whooping crane captive breeding centers the flock managers conference with the Recovery Team co-chair on a weekly telephone call. At one point in their story of survival there were only 21 birds left, so genetics is an important topic even at these meetings some 60 years later. The pedigree of each egg is manipulated by artificial insemination, egg swapping or controlled pairing. Where the resulting eggs end up is all part of an overall plan to ensure as wide a diversity as possible both in captivity and in the wild.

As rare as they all are, there are some Whooping cranes that come from over represented lines. It doesn’t take long for the offspring of a good pair of breeders to outnumber the rest. And some, those rarest of the rare that only produce a few chicks in their lifetimes, become the important birds on whom the survival of the species might depend.

A chick with that precious heritage is too valuable to release. Their chances of breeding are far greater in captivity, and through no fault of their own they are burdened with the responsibility of reproduction.

Each year a few of these birds with the golden DNA are held back to bolster the captive flock. This season we had two from the same rare family line. It was decided from the start that 807 would be held back and 809 would be sent to Necedah. But at the last minute both were shipped. Along with them was 810 whose aggressive tendencies seemed to carry on long after most of the other birds had begun to form a social order.

When 810 first arrived at Necedah he was watched closely, and seemed calm and relaxed. But something triggered an outbreak, and before he was stopped he’d injured three birds. Unfortunately two of his victims were the genetically important birds. 807 died of its injuries, and although 809 survived, it was shipped back to Patuxent to ensure the preservation of its bloodline.

811 was the other bird attacked, and she was moved to ICF and eventually recovered. On her return she was added to Cohort Two to separate her from her attacker.

Flight feathers that develop on a young bird emerge from a tube like a flower. During this stage they are know as blood feathers, and if the bird is undergoing stress, the portion of the feather that is developing at the time will be compromised. The next time you find a discarded feather from any bird, take a look at the vanes - the part that interlocks together. If you see a few that are thinner than the rest, like a line across the feather that is more transparent; these are known as stress bars. They are not uncommon so it’s likely you might see a few if you find enough feathers. Stress bars provide a history of the bird’s health while the feathers were developing, kind of like the rings on a tree.

Obviously 811 was under a lot of physical and mental stress during the attack and while recovering at ICF. The results are evident in her feathers. They are now almost fully developed but the center portion looks like filigree. The bases are strong and the tips are solid but through the middle there is an area that resembles tattered lace.

In addition to the wing problem, the bird is subservient to the costume from being handled so much. It has a beak issue from the attack that left it slightly misaligned, and her right leg bows outward at the hock. She is often what we call dumpy or depressed, and appears lethargic. This is usually an indication of some other ailment. She responds well to treatment but remains a less than perfectly healthy bird.

It is such a sorry sight as she struggles to follow the aircraft flapping harder than all the rest but still not keeping up. The other birds fly in circuits around the pen while she can barely make it around once. She often lands in the marsh and slowly walks back despite her bandy leg.

There is a process called imping where a damaged feather can be cut off part way up. A strong wire or splinter of bamboo is pushed into the shaft or rachis, and cemented in place with a few inches extending out the end. A donor feather is cut to fit and slid onto the exposed end of the splint. With care, you can get the feathers to almost match. Imping is a good method of repairing a few feathers, but not likely all the feathers. It is used on raptors a lot even to improve their appearance for display purposes.

There is one story of an albatross that someone had feather clipped for who knows what purpose. It was captured and had all its feathers imped. It was released on Midway Island in the Pacific and discovered years later on a nest a couple of thousand miles away.

If poor feather development was the only problem faced by 811 she might be a good candidate for heroics like complete imping. But she has other issues. It’s not very likely she could survive on her own in the wild, and even less likely she could make the 1,285 mile trip with her flock mates.

The other sad part is because she is not one of those valuable birds with the golden DNA she will be donated to a Zoo and when she moults next year will like grow a crop of perfect feathers. But then display birds are important too. They help to educate lots of people and in a round about way, help to save the species from extinction.

So we are now down to fifteen birds and 810’s score is three.

(Side note: During the discussions that led to this decision a poetic justice was suggested. We should imp 811 using 810’s feathers.)

Date:September 9, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:FLIGHT TRAINING UPDATELocation: Wisconsin
Yesterday morning was dark and overcast but the winds were calm. It was my turn to train the North site birds. I landed turned on the vocalizer, gave Clare the OK, and out jumped four eager chicks.

Clare quickly disappeared while I waited for the chicks to settle down. They were jumping around and dancing with each other. Then one took off while the other three finally moved to the side and I was able to take off as well. I was quickly over the marsh and caught up to 804. All four birds formed up nicely on my right wing as we flew over West Rynearson Pool and  I circled around there to let the rear most chicks regain the wing.

We then took a 43 minute tour of the refuge, with geese, ducks, and Sandhill cranes flying in front of us, and of course the odd adult Whopping crane.

Today started out with a one hour wait for the fog to clear, but once it lifted, we were off. With light patches still lingering here and there I landed at the West site. There, Brian Clauss and Barry Hartup (our vet who was there to observe 811) released the chicks.

All of them took off with the trike and were quickly airborne, but 811 could not keep up and landed on the runway. With the other five strung out behind the trike I circled to let the stragglers catch up. Then, as we flew past the pensite, 811 became airborne again and tried to catch up. She couldn't, and when she landed back near the pen 814 decided to join her.

Now with four chick on the wing I decided to continue with the flight, and come back later to train the two chicks on the ground. We flew another 20 minutes during which time we were able to climb to 200 feet above ground level (AGL). We were well south of the DAR pensite when a military jet flew over head.

The chicks as well as myself did not like this so we went back down, with the chicks trying to hide under my wing. After the jet cleared the area we were fine and flew back to the pensite. As we approached the site, 811 and 814 flew up to join us, but once again, 811, although trying hard, still could not keep up and landed behind the pen in the swamp.

814, however, continued to fly, but the chicks all seemed scattered so we landed to regroup. Upon landing we taxied past the pen to look for 811. We found her already walking out of the swamp and I leapt out of the trike to help her get over the fence on the edge of the runway.

After a brief communication with Brian we decided to try one more flight with all the chicks. Off we went again into the sky and while all six became airborne, 811 with its poor feather condition circled and landed on the far end of the runway. This time with five birds on the wing we went on a tour of East Rynearson Pool.

When the wind began to pick up we headed back to leave more training for another day. Oh yes! It's another beautiful day in the neighborhood.....

Date:September 9, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:INformation MagazineLocation: Main Office

The fall issue of INformation, OM's semi annual magazine, is going to press very soon. As a perk of membership, a complimentary copy of the magazine is sent to all members.

If you are a Supporting or Sustaining Member of OM, your copy will be going out to you before the end of the month.

If you are not yet a member of OM, there is still time to get on our magazine mailing list - and you can use this link sign up. If you prefer, you can call the office toll free at 1-800-675-2618.

The upcoming issue features a wide range of topics, and includes articles from Patuxent's John Sauer, The Wildlife Society's Michael Hutchins, and Dr. David Suzuki writes about captive breeding.

We're confident you will enjoy the trilogy on the past and current reintroduction programs by three authors, and Tom Stehn's "Recipe for Species Recovery." There will also be an article on the development of the new route by Bev Paulan, as well as one about the new wintering site at St Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Another perk of membership are the Member Only discounts offered on OM Gear and other merchandise. These bargains appear on the inside back cover of each issue. What are you waiting for? Become an OM Member today!

Date:September 9, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
As of September 6th the estimated maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population was reduced from 70 to 69 birds. (See mortality info below). This leaves 39 males and 30 females in the population. In the highlights below females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. NFT = non functional transmitter.

Marshall County - 727* Until a public sighting was reported September 7, her whereabouts had been unknown since she departed Will County, IL on June 1.

Waterloo Township and Jackson County - 516
Van Buren County – DAR533*
Allegan County- DAR740*
Arenac and Alpena Counties – DAR744*

Lincoln County – 703, 707, DAR739*, DAR742
Isanti County – 706, 712, 713 This group had last been confirmed in ND in early June.

Necedah NWR
101, 102*, 105NFT & 501*
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 216NFT
303* & 317, 307 & 721*, 309* & 403, 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*, 313* & 318
401NFT & 508*, 402, 408 & 519*, 412, 415*NFT & 505
506, 509, 511, 512, 514, 524NFT which was had not been detected since departing Fayette County, IN April 16 on spring migration, was found on East Rynearson Pool on August 26.
710, 722*, 716*, 724, DAR737
Chippewa County – 733
Dodge County - 709, 717*, 726*, DAR746*
Wood County - 212NFT & 419*NFT
Marathon County - DAR528*

107*NFT last reported in Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties June 12
Jackson County, WI - 520* remained in Jackson County at least through mid-June but has not been detected since. However, a bird that may have been 520* was observed in Jackson County July 9 but has not been detected since.

LONG TERM MISSING (more than 90 days)
205NFT last recorded at Necedah Oct. 16/07
DAR527* last reported in Jackson County, IN mid March. However, an April 17 unconfirmed sighting in Fond du Lac County may have been this bird.
420* last reported in Marathon County, WI March 27
316NFT last observed on the Necedah refuge March 30

The pair 209*NFT and 416NFT were last confirmed on their territory in Munroe County, WI in early May. The female was limping severely as the result of an injured right leg. Only one Whooping crane was spotted on an aerial survey July 1 and an ultralight flight August 30 confirmed there was only one bird on the territory. Leg bands identified it as the male, 416. Dr. Richard Urbanek said, “Based on this information, 209* is presumed dead, and mortality probably occurred during May.

Update compiled from data supplied by WCEP's Tracking Team

Date:September 7, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject: Post Health Check BluesLocation: Wisconsin

We have gotten some very beneficial rain over the last few days to help moisten the soils and flush waste from the dry pens. Unfortunately this also means that opportunities to train have been limited, and with the recent health checks last week, the birds have been a bit off in their performance.

I trained at the Canfield site on Friday, and as Joe said in an earlier journal entry, most of the birds were limping around and acting like they had something stuck to their foot. The temporary transmitters that we install weigh just a bit more then the colored bands they received at Patuxent, and the antennas are a bit of distraction for a few days. 824 has been our best flier of the group and on Friday she hardly even bothered to fly in ground effect.

This morning we awoke to cold and clear skies with light winds out of the west. Fog was not an issue as it was yesterday so we got an early start, flying out to the refuge shortly after sunrise. While Brooke headed for the West site and Richard made the long flight out to Canfield, I landed at the North site and motioned for Brian to release the birds. We had to wait a bit for 803 to walk out of the dry pen, and I tossed a few grapes to 804, 805, and 810 to keep them preoccupied so they would not fly off without me.

Soon 803 was jumping around and mock jump raking with the others and I spooled up the engine and took off to the northeast with four birds in tow. 804 quickly pulled up to my right side and fell into the wings vortex, getting a free ride. 805 was close behind while 803 and 810 were further back and down low, making a turn back for the runway.

I carved a hard right turn around some trees and flew back over the pen, giving 803 and 810 the chance to get closer to the trike and hoping they would begin to follow better. They again turned back and landed on the middle of the runway. I made one more pass and 805 broke from the trike and landed with the others while 804 stayed glued onto my wing.

I landed at the south end of the runway with 804 still locked onto the wing and soon had the other three birds with me. We hung out for awhile under the wing of the trike and I doled out a few grapes and observed the birds for any signs of distress. The birds looked in great shape so I fired up the trike and took off again to the northeast. We were soon airborne and made a low left hand turn to the west to avoid some trees. 804 quickly found the wing again while 803 and 805 stayed low and behind us. 810 decided that he had had enough and was soon back on the ground next to the wet pen.

I led the birds out over rice pools but 803 and 805 were not able or willing to come up and join us, preferring to fly in ground effect over the water. I cut the flight short and brought the three back to the pen, knowing that in a few days they will likely again be flying well.

I heard from Richard that the training at Canfield went much better today with all the birds at least trying to fly a partial circuit with the trike, and 828 doing very well and flying two complete circuits. Brooke reported that 811 did the customary flight in ground effect before landing out in the swamp.

Every year the birds take a few days to get back into the swing of things after their health checks. It is a necessary task and the health team has done a great job of making them as short and stress free as possible.

Date:September 5, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A WEB-BASED FEATHER QUESTLocation: Main Office

Excerpt from the September Birding Community E-Bulletin

There is a new web-based resource for the examination and identification of wing and tail feathers of our birds. The "Feather Atlas of North American Birds" already contains high-resolution scanned images of the flight feathers of over 110 species, including many grouse and quail, hawks and eagles, long-legged waders, vultures, owls, pigeons and doves, and woodpeckers. Each scan includes a table with specific data and measurements of feather lengths.

This is an ongoing project of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory, the only lab in the world actually dedicated to crimes against wildlife. This fascinating project is designed to continually add new bird species. To sample this remarkable resource click here.

Date:September 4, 2008Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:HEALTH CHECKSLocation:Main Office

Starting early this week the WCEP Health Team conducted the pre-migration health checks and banding of our birds. The weather was cool and breezy which was perfect because it prevents the birds from overheating while they are held. Panels from our travel pen are used to create a visual barrier and a portable shade shelter for the examinations.

These items, along with a table, weigh scales, and all the vet equipment, are hauled out onto the runway before sunrise and one by one the birds are examined. A costumed handler stays in the pen and one at a time and in numerical order, corrals the birds through the front gate into the waiting arms of two aviculturists.

To pick up a crane you extend one arm over the bird’s back letting its head and neck extend under your arm and out the back. With that same arm you hold the wings from extending, and clasp the legs between your fingers just above the hock.

It sounds easy, but I can assure you it is not. The bird will rake with its feet, poke with its beak and squirm. You have to restrain it without squeezing, calm it without talking, and avoid straining muscles, twisting joints, or damaging feathers, all the while under the watchful eye of the vets and other crane experts - ever mindful that you are holding one of the rarest birds in North America in which several thousand dollars and an equal number of hours have already been invested.

Once the bird is in hand, the other aviculturist examines the eyes, beak and throat before placing a hood over its head. This allows the rest of the team to work on the bird behind the visual barrier without having to wear the cumbersome costume head gear.

After the medical examination is complete each bird is fitted with identification bands and a snap-on tracking device. Then it’s weighed, measured, and returned to the pen – all in an average of 9 minutes - where it is watched for signs of stress or myopathy and gets some sympathy for the ordeal it just endured.

Some birds take it in stride, most are sore, but some are indignant. They can take a few days before they are again greeting us at the gate. Even then, the extra band on the other leg causes them to walk like a cat with tape on its foot. (not that I would know what that looks like)

The examinations for all the birds went without surprises, just as you would expect from a team of expert crane handlers. But we all still breathed our relief... Another hurdle cleared.

Date:September 2, 2008 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Change4Cranes Launch!Location:Main Office

The inaugural Change4Cranes 2007 initiative was so successful that we are thrilled to offer it again for the 2008 school year. Any teacher or student who would like to participate in Change4Cranes will help to cover the cost of some specific and much needed items such as:

Cost of a bag of Crane chow: $26.80
Cost of eight new costumes/puppets made each year: $786
Cost of Crane “candy” – grapes, cranberries, pumpkins, squash: $32 per migration-week
Cost of propane to heat the travel trailers during migration = $150 per week
Cost of fuel for four ultralights per flying day = $72
Cost to reintroduce a new generation of Whooping cranes to the Eastern Migratory Population… Priceless!

For those out there not familiar with the Change4Cranes initiative, we’ve developed a small kit, consisting of a little pop-up cardboard coin collection box, peel and stick labels to decorate it, and a page of ideas to help get the creative juices flowing.

If you’re a teacher who would like a Change4Cranes kit for your class, or even one each for a number of students, please get in touch with us. Or, if you are a Craniac Kid and would like a kit of your own, just email us your name, mailing address, the name of your school and your grade level. Supplies are limited so we may have to limit requests as necessary. Be sure to get your request in soon!

As a special bonus, schools or classes signing on as a Change4Cranes participant before September 30 will be entered into a draw. One name will be drawn on October 1st and the winner will be offered the opportunity to have a member of the OM team come and give a presentation to your class!

To sign on and order a Change4Cranes kit(s) email:

Date:September 1, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:TRAINING UPDATELocation: Wisconsin

With three of four pilots on duty, we rotate sites and take turns training the three cohorts. My turn with Cohort One was this past Friday and all four birds followed me for 21 minutes. We cruised south until we passed by the tower but no one was there to see, so we headed north. Chris had some mechanical difficulty just before take off and was delayed getting to the Canfield site so I led the birds down the runway and over the blind to keep the tour group entertained until he got there.

Friday's lengthy flight reminded me of how late in the season it is already. The pre-migration health checks are scheduled for this week and we still have a lot to do. I think we are feeling the long term affects of last year’s migration. It extended well into January and seemed to push everything ahead. September is upon us and the migration is a month away, yet it seems like June.

Home|Our Work|Get Involved|In the Field
Merchandise|Links|Contact Us

©1994-2008 Operation Migration Inc.™ & Operation Migration - USA.™ Not to be reproduced for purposes, public or private without written consent. To obtain consent please visit the Contact Us page.

Search OM's website