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Date:August 30, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject: DISAPPEARING WATERLocation: Wisconsin
Water, water was our mantra at the beginning of the season here at Necedah. It's quite a different story right now though. We are back to very dry conditions again, a la summer 2006 and 2007. All the snow melt and all the early spring rains which made our life a mixed blessing (lots of water for the chicks and lots of annoying mosquitoes) are gone, leaving quickly drying wet pens and very little water to go around.

Our lives have become a routine existence of get up, train (Yay!), eat breakfast while we talk about water, then begin scurrying about trying to do something about the lack thereof, then roost checks and bed. It hasn't varied a whole lot the last week or so. We have had very little rain here, in fact I think it has rained only once or twice in the last 3 weeks.

So today was like every other day recently - a combination of coordinating with refuge folks to release more water from the north part of the refuge, carrying fresh water jugs to the pens for the birds, priming pumps that are only sucking air, and digging holes for the foot valves so they can lie lower in the water and work better.

Why so critical you ask? Raising marsh birds to be properly behaving adults post-release means teaching them to forage in the marsh and to roost in proper depth of water. The adults prefer water ~8-10" deep for roosting to keep predators from sneaking up on them. We also need water flowing through the wet pens to keep it from stagnating and becoming unhealthy.

This is always a worry---water that is. And, I'm afraid it always will be. You see, this project is not just about bringing back the Whooping crane. but also about bringing attention to the plight of wetlands in general. It still continues to this day, the digging up, the draining, the building on. Not enough people realize just how critical wetlands are to the health of all of us; filtering fresh water and supporting myriad life forms including our beloved cranes. So those of us in the trenches, errrr marshes, worry. And will worry until wetlands become as appreciated as a forest or prairie.

And maybe then someday, we can get a new routine, one just a little bit more fun!

Date:August 28, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ODDS AND SODS OF NEWSLocation: Main Office

Brooke Pennypacker’s entries for the Field Journal seem to rebound between extremes. The last update he sent barely stopped short of being a ‘novelette’. Today’s was so brief it could be missed in the proverbial blink of an eye. Here’s what Brooke wrote today. “Rain and wind. No flying this morning.”

While the unfavorable weather means we have no training update for you, we do have some news to share as a result of yesterday’s teleconference call of the Bird Team members.

Part of the meeting’s discussion centered on the condition of 811. You will have read in recent postings describing flight training that while 811 starts out strong behind the trike, she continually lands early, usually having to be retrieved from the nearby marsh.

The crew feels that her actions aren’t likely behavioral so much as physical deficiency that is a result of the damage to her feathers sustained in the attack by 810. WCEP vet, Barry Hartup said that based on his inspection of the bird he tended to agree; that her feathers just can’t bear the load that they need to for sustained flight. The possibility of imping was discussed, but Dr. Hartup said there are likely too many feathers involved.

In layman’s language, the technique of imping involves cutting away the bird’s own feather where it is no longer structurally sound and grafting to it the same feather, of the same length, from the same side of a donor bird (or feathers collected and stored from molts). The donor feather is inserted into the shaft of the damaged feather, and then glued (and sometimes splinted) in place.

While not completely ruling the possibility of employing the technique in this instance, Barry said that imping is usually done where damage is limited to a couple of broken primaries or a few tail feathers. He pointed out that 811 had many, many damaged feathers. Both the field team and the health team will continue to monitor 811’s condition and progress and we will keep you posted.

One of the 2008 Direct Autumn Release birds, DAR834, was euthanized last week after a CT scan revealed severe respiratory disease. DAR831 was exhibiting some of the same symptoms and has been put on medication.

The pre-migration health checks for all three Ultralight Cohorts are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. The DAR birds will receive their health inspections the following week.

Departure on migration is around the corner - - - ALREADY!?!?! Doesn’t seem to matter how hard I drag my feet, just can’t seem to slow down the fleeting days.

Date:August 27, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:PERSONAL TRAINER NEEDEDLocation: Wisconsin

Another magical morning on the refuge as I drove to the Canfield site to help with training the youngest birds. Yesterday I was with the middle group and while standing in the 'tower' (really just an inverted plastic garbage can with mylar windows cut in) not only did I get to observe the Cohort Two chicks, but I got to see the Cohort One birds follow Brooke's trike for a 17 minute series of circuits. If only we had been packed for Florida.....

So it was this morning, then, that I went to see the 'little' guys. I had heard that yesterday they had been joined by not just one pair of adult Whoopers, but two pairs. No aggression took place and peace reigned o'er. Not so today.

Part of our morning equipment is a two-way radio so ground crew and pilot can remain in contact. Usually this is just so we can hear when the trikes are on the way in, so we can time our arrival at the pen. You know, the 'not too early, not too late' dance. This morning, though, I was very thankful for that extra peace of equipment. As I was peeking through my peephole in the pen side, I radioed to Brooke, "Incoming white birds at your six". Translated -a pair of adult Whoopers were flying in from right behind him.

Brooke was parked at the south end of the runway with the chicks when the adults flew in and landed right in the middle of the Cohort. 829, being the dominant chick with no one challenging him, thought he could take on the adults 313 and 318 (the parents of 810 & 811). He quickly found out that a foot taller bird is indeed a tougher bird, and before I knew it feathers were flying and he got flattened on the runway.

As quick as he was down, he was back up for another round. I didn't wait to see who was going to take this round. I went running out of the pen to defend 'my baby'. Brooke was busy trying to chase one of the adults with the trike, and I took off running after the other one.

The funny thing about chasing something with wings is that they can always out-maneuver you. As soon as you think you've got them chased, they fly over your head and land back onto the ground behind you. Luckily, it didn't take much chasing to send this pair off the runway and into the bush. Luckily mainly for me, because trying to run and chase in rubber boots and costume is not easy. And since I am so pathetically out of shape, didn't help much either.

After counting beaks and coming up with only 5, both Brooke and I frantically looked for the missing chick. I'm sure this was easier for Brooke since I was puffing like a locomotive and steaming up my visor to the point I could no longer see. We soon spotted 829 walking forlornly towards the trike. I could have sworn he was pouting. After a quick look over, we gave each other the thumbs up indicating a healthy, albeit chagrined, chick.

Training continued with 829 running and flapping enthusiastically, as if nothing had happened. I on the other hand practically crawled back to the pen listening to that ruffed grouse that had settled in my chest and wondering if any one knew of a personal trainer we could lure to Necedah.

Date:August 27, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
As reported by Brian Johns, the Canadian Wildlife Service has completed August fledgling surveys in Wood Buffalo National Park and surrounding areas. "The flying weather was great and there were more young than expected," Brian said. "Water levels looked pretty good too."

They counted a total of 41 young surviving out of the 64 chicks (counted in June) that had hatched from a record 66 nests. The 41 chicks included only two sets of twins, ten fewer sets than were found in June.
Three family groups that were present in June could not be found, so there could be one or two additional fledglings. However, additional mortality could also occur this summer or in the fall migration.

Tom Stehn, USF&WS Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas NWR said, "I'll be hoping to see the number of juveniles approaching 40 this winter at Aransas. Aransas had 39 juveniles last winter with a total record flock size of 266. I'm anticipating counting about 285 Whooping cranes this winter."

Date:August 26, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter:Chris Gullikson
Subject:TRAINING UPDATELocation:Wisconsin

For the third morning in a row we have been able to train under nearly ideal conditions. The birds love the crisp, cold air and have been very eager to join us for training. Yesterday I trained the oldest cohort at the North site and took the group on two flights of about 5 minutes each and according to the four clocks on Brooke's trike (yes, four), he led them for a long 17 minute flight this morning.

The middle-aged birds at the West site are also flying well save for #811 who has some feather issues. This bird is able to fly in ground effect but lacks the ability to fly for a sustained time aloft due to gaps in the primary feathers. We will be exploring the options to keep this bird in the ultralight program with our WCEP partners. There is a possibility that new feathers could be glued onto the existing feathers in a process known as "imping."

Five of the six birds at the Canfield site flew this morning in ground effect with #824 being the strongest flier of this group. This site has an abundance of frogs on the runway and after an upwind run it is fun to lead them slowly back downwind and watch them capture their breakfast. (see photos)

Date:August 26, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie

Since the last location update (August 12) very little has changed. As of August 23, the estimated maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population remained at 39 males and 31 females for a total of 70 Whooping cranes. In the highlights below females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. NFT = non functional transmitter.

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

Undetermined location in south western MN, 703, 707, and DARs739* and 742*

Necedah NWR
101, 102*, 105NFT & 501*
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 216NFT
303* & 317, 307 & 712, 309* & 403, 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*, 313* & 318
401NFT & 508*, 402, 408 & 519*, 412, 415*NFT & 505
506, 509, 511, 512, 514
DAR627NFT, DAR628, 721*
Chippewa County – 733
Dodge County - 709, 717*, 726*, DAR746*
Wood County - 212NFT & 419*NFT
Juneau County –710, 716*, 722*, 724, DAR737
Jackson County - 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.
Marathon County - DAR528*

107*NFT last reported in Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties June 12.
706, 712, and 713 last reported in Stutsman County, North Dakota June 5/6.
727* last reported departing Will County, IL June 1.

LONG TERM MISSING(more than 90 days)
205NFT last recorded at Necedah Oct. 16/07.
DAR527* last reported in Jackson County, IN March 16-17. 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
524NFT last reported departing Fayette County, IN April 16
209*NFT & 416NFT last reported in Monroe County May 5. The female had a severe limp due to a right leg injury. Only one unidentified Whooping crane was seen on this pair’s territory during an aerial survey on July 1.

Update compiled from data supplied by WCEP's Tracking Team

Date:August 25, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:MAGICAL MORNINGLocation: Wisconsin

It is difficult for me to put into words just how beautiful the refuge is in the morning. I don't have a poet's heart or the gift of painting a picture with words, but I will try. The mornings have been calm and cool lately, which lends to ground fog conditions. Officially, this is called radiation fog; warm air rising off the ground and hitting the cooler air above and condensing. This fog is never very thick, most times not even to tree top level.

This morning as I drove to the North site to help train the oldest birds, the combination of rising sun and fog created a magical kingdom of soft shapes and ghostly images. As I drove up the refuge road, the fog swirled and shapes shifted, seemingly alive. One moment it was so thick I slowed the truck to a crawl. The next it was as clear as a bell and I could pick up speed again.

Driving past the Rice pools the fog once again thickened, and it became difficult to distinguish between water, fog and sky. The gauzy curtain revealed nothing, enveloping everything around it in secrecy. I was thankful for the crunch of the tires on the gravel road telling me I was still on it, and not drifting towards the marsh.

As the fog swirled, lifting and falling, I would momentarily glimpse a ghostly shape in the sky, then, have it disappear before it could be identified. Soon, the fog parted to reveal an adult Bald eagle flapping slowly through the thick air, not more than 10 feet from the truck. As quickly as the fog lifted, it came back down making everything once again disappear.

As I approached my turn-off, the sky was brightening. As soon as the turn was completed I drove into perfectly clear conditions with a bright blue sky, sparkling water, and a family of Trumpeter swans gliding across the glass-like surface of the pool. This time, instead of the family of 5, I saw a family of 10, half of whom were inverted as a reflection in the calm water. I watched as they silently glided away from the approaching truck and off into the fog.

I continued on toward the parking area, driving slowly and watching the sun slowly rise. As I neared the tree-line, I could see that the fog still wove in and out of the forest. Sunbeams shot from the tops of the trees giving them a crown of the palest gold. The driveway to the North site was clear, letting me hope that the pen and runway would be also, but after parking and starting the walk to the pen, the fog thickened again.

I stood for awhile with my eyes closed, listening to the morning sounds of the marsh. Fog always plays tricks with sounds and it is a game I play trying to determine distance and direction of what I hear. I smiled when I heard a lonely wail travelling across the marsh, echoing and reverberating in the damp air. "So that’s is how they earned the name White Ghost of the Marsh,” I thought, as I recognized the alarm call of a pair of adult Whoopers. It was very ghost-like, eerie almost.

As I waited at the end of the runway for ‘my pilot’, I heard the trikes approaching. I knew that any one of our talented airmen could land in the still slightly hazy conditions. Soon enough, Chris was taxiing down the runway, stopping short of the pen. He shut off his engine, and through sign language, indicated that he wanted to wait just a little while longer for the rest of the fog to burn off.

As the sun rose one more degree in the sky, the remaining fog seemed to instantaneously disappear and Chris fired up his engine. The chicks, who were peeping from behind the pen door, became even louder as they wanted out for their morning exercise.

When I got the signal from Chris, I pulled opened the door as quickly as I could and stood clear so I wouldn't get run over by the enthusiastic youngsters. After all four birds were on the runway leaping and flapping, I closed the door behind me and watched Chris race off into the now clear air with all four chicks in tow.

I peeked through my peephole and saw the sight that never ceases to thrill me....the trike with chicks behind, flying low over the marsh - all reflected in the calm water below. I continued to watch until Chris flew off beyond a tree-line and I could no longer see the group. It was a beautiful sight, one that perfectly matched the beautiful refuge on this magical morning.

Date:August 24, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FLIGHT TRAININGLocation: Main Office

After being held on the ground for two days by weather, everyone was relieved to be able to get back to flight training this morning. Despite a little ground fog, it was very calm. Bev called it a gorgeous morning.

Joe said that both Cohorts One and Two trained well, with the birds in Cohort Two taking in a second short training session. The older birds flew and followed nicely with the exception of 811, who again dropped out and landed in the marsh. She isn't necessarily misbehaving. She was injured earlier in the year when attacked by 810, and as a result she doesn't have the feathers to keep up.

Chris flew over to the Canfield site to put the youngest birds through their paces. Bev said the chicks came out of the pen readily and trained enthusiastically. Apparently the wet weather brought out loads of frogs. They were everywhere this morning so taxi training got off to a slow start as the birds excitedly chased around the runway to catch breakfast. 824 is the first bird in Cohort Three to fledge. Two others are flying in ground effect.

Over at the North site, 810 was put back into the pen as a result of trying to scuffle with 805.

Date:August 23, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LOANER WANTEDLocation: Main Office
HELP! Migration departure is fast approaching and we find ourselves short one vehicle. We are looking for the loan of a Class ‘C’ RV – something similar to the one in the photo here. If you or anyone you know has an RV we could borrow for use on this fall’s migration, please contact me to discuss the details.

Any and all potential leads would also be greatly appreciated. Email or call my cell phone 608-542-0829.

Date:August 22, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:GROUNDED AND FRUSTRATEDLocation: Wisconsin

No flying this morning…weather. So I’ll take out my frustrations on a Field Journal update. AND, I apologize in advance.

Yesterday unfavorable wind conditions prevented training at the North and East ‘flying sites’, so I went to the new Canfield site to commune with the still ground-training Cohort Three. I sat there in the trike in front of the pen door, engine revving, vocalizer screaming, awaiting the release. Suddenly a wave of depression washed over me as it occurred to me that I was not waiting for the birds - - - I was waiting for the Canadians! You see, four out of the six birds in Cohort Three were hatched from eggs that came to us at Patuxent from the Calgary Zoo. And last time I looked, Calgary was in Canada! Bummer!

That explains it. Every time I approach the pen for roost checks I can hear the four of them (827, 828, 829 and 830) laughing. They’re telling ‘Newfie Jokes.’ You know the ones. “Did you hear about the Newfie who went ice fishing and caught 50 pounds of ice?” Now, I once hitchhiked the length of Newfoundland and back and did not hear a single Newfie joke. ( I did hear the same joke, however, but instead of a Newfie, the fisherman was an Italian guy from New Jersey.) Poor 824 and 826. They just roll their eyes and laugh politely. “When in Rome….” Then there’s the fact that every time one of them vocalizes a “Peep”, it’s always followed by “eh?” And if that wasn’t bad enough, every time I walk into the pen, the little buggers start telling me what to do!

Now what makes them think they’re so darn special just because they’re Canadian? I mean, the country has never produced a single talented singer, except for maybe Celine Dion - whose husband has to put the Big Squeeze on her in order for her to hit those high notes. Then there was Robert Goulet, who went around telling everyone who would listen he lived in the Canadian Province of Camelot! What a crock!

And as for actors, forget it. OK, there are a few; Mike Myers and Martin Short and half the cast on “Saturday Night Live”, but they’re always so dour and serious. Must be the weather. My favorite Canadian actor was Bonanza’s Lorne Green whose booming voice reigned over the famous Cartwright clan every Saturday night of my childhood. But come to think of it, what was with that show anyway?

I mean, three different looking adult sons , each from a different deceased mother who now resided in that “Big Ponderosa in the Sky”, living with their father who was widowed three times and perhaps had sent them there. You think he didn’t have trouble getting a date? Personally, I always identified with “Little Joe” played by Michael Landon, which wasn’t his real name cause his real name was too ethnic, and who came from the Jersey Shore like I did. In fact, a little known fact is that his first TV show after “Bonanza” was not “Little House On The Prairie” but “Little Pizza Stand On The Boardwalk.”

My real favorite on that show was the houseboy, Hop Sing. I don’t know for sure how he got his name, but I suspect both singing and hopping were a requirement for anyone living with a three time widower and three adult sons. I actually Googled Hop Sing for this update and found out he was really a very accomplished singer. In fact, he sang at the opening ceremony of this year’s Olympics, but since he isn’t looking so good these days, he was lip-synched by a little Chinese girl who had just graduated from the Milli Vanilli School of Music. Good thing ol’ Hop didn’t give up his day job as an executive at Wal-Mart. Google had a picture of him sitting proudly at his desk. In front of the desk sat a little placard which carried the old Confucian saying, “When staying at the Ponderosa, Little Chinese man sleep with one eye open.

Since I was on the computer anyway, I Googled the national bird of Canada which turned out to be a hockey puck. There was a picture of it on their twenty dollar bill. Right there where a picture of President Jackson is on our US twenty, is instead a picture of a toothless hockey player holding up a puck. And below it, where our bill says “In God We Trust”, are the words, “This Sucker Ain’t Too Tasty, But Man, What A Chew!”

We put out two swamp monsters at the Canfield site the other day and found the only way we could be sure the Canadian birds would be spooked by them was if we dressed them to look like hockey referees. The final straw was when the birds demanded we play the Canadian National Anthem instead of the “brood call” over the trike speaker.

As a young boy I toured through Canada with a traveling boy’s choir performing every night in a different town. We began every performance by singing what is now the old “Canadian National Anthem”, and to this day, I can still remember the words - sort of.
God save our noble Queen
Long live our gracious Queen
God save the Queen
Make her victorious
Happy and glorious
Forever to reign over us
God save our Queen.
I remember always wondering just what exactly it was the Queen needed saving from. Now I know…….THE CANADIANS!!!!!!

P.S. I’d write more but I have to call my Canadian pharmacist and see if my prescription is ready.

Date:August 22, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie

Bev reported this morning that they were once again only able to train with the youngest birds (the non-flyers) today. In addition to a low ceiling, the wind was too strong to train with the two fledged Cohorts.

Until we have more updates, perhaps you'll find the following "Class- of-the-Year Trivia" of interest.

Comparing Fledge Dates

COHORT # 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
One Aug 2 Jul 28 Jul 28 Jul 15 Jul 17 Jul 19 Aug 18 Aug 29
Two Aug 15 Aug 6 Aug 10 Aug 1 Aug 2 Jul 22 Aug 24 Sep 6
Three Soon! Aug 31 Aug 20 Aug 14 Sep 16 Jul 30 Sep 30 N/A

Comparing Hatch Dates

Hatch 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
First May 6 Apr 29 May 3 Apr 20 Apr 20 April 21 Apr 12 May 7
Last Jun 15 Jun 10 May 31 Jun 3 Jun 5 May 23 May 21 May 24

Date: August 21, 2008 - Entry TwoReporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A Quick UpdateLocation:Main Office

Joe reports that they were only able to work with the youngest group at the Canfield site this morning before the wind picked up and halted any further training.

Yesterday while Bev and Brooke were busy trudging in and out of the marsh with some of the Cohort Two birds, Charlie Shafer and Richard van Heuvelen were working the youngest group and while the youngsters are following really well, they still do so while hugging the low fence that separates the training strip from the tall grass at the edge of the marsh. Apparently, 824 was even able to experience a short flight in ground effect. (I can't help but wonder what goes through their mind when they find themselves airborne for the very first time)

Date:August 21, 2008Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject: Priorities and Values Location:Main Office

It was reported earlier this week that Michael Phelps' eight gold medals are expected to garner him $30 - 50 million a year in sponsorship deals. Not to take anything away from this young mans obvious talents and abilities, or those of any of the other athletes, but in a world where our environment is slipping away from us at an unprecedented rate, I can't help but wonder if the companies waving agreements in front of Michael have given any consideration at all to the good work that even a portion of those dollars would accomplish if invested elsewhere.

Each year Operation Migration, and many other non-profit organizations, struggle to raise the funds needed to accomplish very important work. Work that will improve our natural world and leave a lasting legacy for our children and their children... whereas these multi-million sponsorship deals being signed by our Olympic athletes will in fact last only until the 2010 Olympic games are held in Vancouver, BC.

How did we become a society that puts mega-millions into sports sponsorships and the gold, silver and bronze medals earned by the athletes, while the very air we breathe degrades, and species that have inhabited the earth long before we did are vanishing faster than it took for Mr. Phelps to swim the 200 meter freestyle... sad, isn't it?

If anyone has any connections to Speedo USA, at&t, Visa Inc., Kellogg's, or Hilton Hotels Corp., we are still very much in need of funding for the 2008 MileMaker campaign and other budget areas. That Speedo logo would fit nicely on an ultralight wing! Or, if you'd like to help us create a lasting difference with a personal contribution, please call us at 800-675-2618. We vow that your contribution will make a difference that will last much longer than the year 2010.

Date:August 20, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BEV'S STORYLocation: Main Office

I’m not too sure just when Bev had time to compose her new lyrics to replace those Julie Andrews sang in the Sound of Music. Perhaps it was while slogging through the marsh today – not once but twice.

The story, as told me by Bev, began at the East site where she waited for Brooke’s arrival to let Cohort Two out of the pen. After a slight fog delay – not enough to stop Brooke’s flight from the hangar to the refuge, but too much to risk flying with birds in – Bev got the thumbs up signal and opened the gate. And out they all came, all except 811 of course, who had to be coaxed.

Tired of waiting for 811 to make an appearance so trike and birds could take off, 819 decided he’d had enough and flew off toward the marsh….and didn’t come back. Once 811 emerged, Brooke got them in the air and the five followed well for a few circuits. Then on a pass by the pensite he noticed he only had four birds following. Guess which bird joined 819 in the marsh.

Brooke flew a few more circuits as much to try and attract 819 and 811 and entice them up as to give his four willing fliers more air time. Good plan but unfortunately there was no buy in from the two birds. That meant that after they got the ‘good little birds’ back in the pen, the seek part of the hide-and-go-seek game was on.

Trudge one into the marsh was to seek 811 and walk her back to the pen. Trudge number two was to find 819 who had found a spot he liked in the farthest reaches of the march. So far back in fact that he was nearly at the next site. Bev was in her hip waders for so long that she now thinks they’re fashionable.

Date:August 20, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:FROM 'THE SOUNDS OF NECEDAH'Location: Wisconsin

With my apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein…

Wolf prints on sandbars and porcupine youngsters
Wood ducks and kingbirds and trumpeter cygnets
Sun dappled crane chicks discov’ring their wings
These are a few of my favorite things.

Bald Eagles soaring and dragonflies darting
Dew covered grasses and otter kits playing
Mud covered crane chicks a-splashing their wings
These are a few of my favorite things.

Yellow trikes flying and bright sun arising
Chicks flying circuits and roost checks at evening
Star studded night skies resembling bling
These are a few of my favorite things.

When we can’t fly
Cuz the wind stings
Or the fog looks bad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so sad.

Date:August 19, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter:Bev Paulan
Subject:NO TRAINING TODAYLocation:Wisconsin

This morning started the same as every morning, everyone slowly wandering in to the Sierra trailer for coffee and pre-training discussions. It didn't progress any further than that though as the winds were too high for flying. After rolling over and falling back to sleep, (I'm not a morning person) for another half hour, I finally got up to go and check birds.

On the days we don't fly, we don't check the birds as early as we train. This, in theory, allows the birds to realize that when we come to the pen a little later, they aren't training and therefore don't get as excited. It works in practice too, because when we got a late training start the other morning due to fog, the chicks at the Canfield site didn't want to come out of the wet pen. We do go out early to check on them though, in case there were issues over night.

This morning, as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, I drove out to Canfield to check on our youngest birds. Today I was going to remove the divider from the pen that has kept 826 isolated because of his bee sting and the medicated water he was receiving. There was concern that after being separated for a full week, there might be aggression towards him, so I stayed to watch on CRN-TV to make sure there was no trouble. My fears were quickly allayed luckily, and after about 45 minutes of checking, double checking, and triple checking, I left to get started on the labor part of the day - prepping travel pens for migration. No rest for the wicked.

Date:August 19, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject: PERSONALITY DIFFERENCESLocation:Wisconsin

OM is rife with personality differences. Rather than an attempt to air our laundry in public, this is meant to be a commentary on the birds. Although this team is the very definition of eclectic, we all play well with others - most of the time, despite the tight quarters and long hours. My foibles, Richard’s humor and Beverly's red hair notwithstanding, most of the social drama takes place in the pen.

Each cohort is a little society that changes as the birds mature and come into their own. If it is populated with alpha birds, there is generally a lot of aggression as each challenges for the lead and none are willing to back down. If, however, there is a clear order with one dominant bird and lots of others willing to acquiesce, you end up with a passive flock, the picture of serenity.

We have three pilots on duty this week and we take turns training a different group each day. The young birds at the new Canfield site follow the aircraft well, but from a distance. They run along the low fence that keeps them out of the marsh while the aircraft taxis down the center line. Sometimes their loyalties are divided, and they run diagonally to the aircraft then back to the fence in what looks like a zig-zag down the runway.

Richard trained with cohort one yesterday morning and reported that they are all following him in circuits. His return to the runway attracted the attention of a pair of our older birds who normally stay in the marsh behind the pen. They landed on the runway while he sat at the north end with the chicks. After a rest, he took off past the older pair, but some of the chicks stopped short. As he looked over his shoulder he could see a donnybrook break out behind him. He circled tightly and landed quickly to break up the fight and eventually chased the older birds into the air.

In a classic example of displaced aggression, the chicks then started to fight each other. Richard stepped in one more time, but actually had to restrain number 810 to make him stop. You will remember that number 10 is the aggressive chick that killed one of his flock mates and injured two others. I guess that wasn’t enough to establish his tough guy reputation because he still feels he must prove himself. This is likely leftover agonistic behavior from when he was newly hatched and instinctively programmed to eliminate his siblings, but it's chilling to see this trait persist so long. When we begin to mix the cohorts together we will have to separate him while he learns to adjust.

Date:August 18, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Matt Ahrens

It’s been a few busy days here at the Necedah refuge. As a back-up pilot for Operation Migration, each year brings a few new experiences. This year it was decided that it would be beneficial for me to spend more time with the birds on the ground before the migration began in order to familiarize myself with their behavior and get to know their habits and patterns. I quickly realized these birds have no habits and patterns. While they may repeat behavior, they are still as unpredictable as the wind. One day 810 can be at the top of the pecking order; the next day he can be as submissive as a lamb.

We began each day by visiting another site and observing the birds at their different stages of development. The Canfield site is home to Cohort Three, the youngest group of six who are still taxi training. The West pensite holds Cohort Two, consisting of six of the next stage of birds that are beginning to get aloft. Lastly, we visited Cohort One at the North site where the four oldest birds were eager to show off their new found flying skills. Okay, only three were actually eager, one preferred to cavort with a pair of adults that seem to be frequent visitors to the pen.

While each day began with bird training, each evening was devoted to trike training. My first night in camp, Chris and a few others of us mounted his 'new' engine fresh from its 150-hour maintenance inspection and cleaning. The other evenings were devoted to re-con flights over the refuge reacquainting myself with the site locations, and noting any environmental changes that have taken place since last year. As usual, the beauty of the refuge was overwhelming. The intricacies and subtle alterations in habitat and color seem to constantly change before my eyes with each passing moment.

While flying is certainly one of the most enjoyable aspects of my OM experience, it’s an important safety training exercise as well. Not all trikes are created equal, and even though I flew most of the second half of the migration last year, after flying my own, getting into an OM trike is always a new experience. Unlike most recreational ultralights, OM's trikes are designed not for speed and agility, but for floating and flying with the birds. They are much, much slower, and harder to handle at the low altitudes required for the birds. It is a constant and very real reminder of the daily risk OM's pilots experience. And it's important and much welcomed training for a back-up pilot like myself. Gratefully, after a few minutes, I felt 'back in the saddle,' and as usual began to settle into a comfortable sense of assurance.

Being with Operation Migration on the ground as well as in the air is a special privilege. There is a sense of belonging that is hard to describe. It’s a feeling of being connected with the cranes and the crew, and through the Field Journal, also with all the supporters who are such an important component to the success of this endeavor. Together, each of us puts forth energy and an effort that contributes to a greater purpose. When we all function and work towards our collective goal, we create a greater good. For me at least, that is what this crazy thing called Operation Migration is all about. So, until next time, thanks for all who make it possible for me to play a small role in this grand parade. 'See' you again soon.

Date:August 17, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:NEWS ROUNDUPLocation:Main Office

Some news reported on a recent WCEP Bird Team conference call.

  • The four Whoopers (703, 707, and DARs739* and 742*) that were in Pope County, MN have now moved north into the west-central part of the state. 

  • 533* is believed to be the crane recently spotted in south western Michigan as this was where she summered last year. 

  • 826 has swelling around his left eye and is separated from the others so he can receive medicated water which seems to be helping as the swelling is decreasing. 

The pre-migration health checks for the Class of 2008 are scheduled for September 2nd and 3rd. Because past experience has shown that the birds often become intractable, wary of the costumes, and reluctant to fly after capture and handling, the health checks are no longer scheduled for just before departure. Doing the health checks a few weeks ahead of time gives the birds time to ‘come around’. 

811*, who was injured in an attack by 810 early in the season, seems to have recovered and is doing okay in training. When WCEP vet Dr. Barry Hartup examined her, he reported stress bars and notching on her flight feathers that corresponded time-wise to the time of the attack. If her feather problems affects her ability to fly or keep up on migration she will have to be pulled, and in that case would likely become a display bird at Patuxent.


Joe took this photo of the First Family pair, 211 & 217*, foraging outside the pen at the north site. They appear to be frequent visitors.

The weather has been cooperative lately so the team has been able to train almost every morning. This shot is a view of 'taxi training' from the pilot's seat.

Date:August 16, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter:Liz Condie

One of the things that has been around since the start of the Whooping crane reintroduction project in 2001 is the Necedah Lions Club Whooping Crane and Wildlife Festival.

Each September for the past seven years the Lions Club's event has drawn thousands to the Necedah fairgrounds, and this year will be no exception. They have a great line up of experts on the Speakers list, including Dr. John French from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Brad Knudsen from U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and of course OM's own Joe Duff.

If you love pancakes the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast is on from 7 to 10am. And the ever popular guided bus tours start departing the fairgrounds for the Necedah refuge every half hour beginning at 7 o'clock. As usual there will be many arts and crafts booths, as well as booths and exhibits hosted by some of the organizations in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

In addition to offering a selection of items and OM branded gear for sale, Operation Migration's booth will feature our pictorial display and will also have one of our ultralights on exhibit. Stop by and say hello. We are looking forward to greeting many 'old' friends and to meeting many new ones.

For the first time, this year's festival will include a Children's Tent - something we are pleased to see added. Click the link here to see what fun they've got planned for the younger set.

The day will start winding down around 4:30 with the winners of the many raffles that are a fixture of the festival being drawn. OM sponsors one of the most popular raffles - thanks to the hard work and creativity of quilter and Super Craniac Nancy Drew. To the right is a snapshot of the quilt Nancy is donating for raffle this year, and you can click here to read her blog.

At the day's end festival goers will again wind down (or up as the case may be) with some Whooper Brew and the traditional barbecue chicken dinner. For those with some energy left, there is room in the Pavilion for dancing to live music.

C'mon to Necedah! Get up early and join me at the refuge Observation Tower (6:30 - 7:00am ish) to watch the Class of 2008's flight training. Hope to see you there.

Date:August 15, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:TRAINING UPDATE #2Location: Wisconsin

Not only was it a beautiful morning, it was an exciting one. Cohort Two has been a handful during morning training sessions lately, with 811 still recuperating from injuries sustained earlier in the season. And then there is 818 wanting to either stay in the pen or go into the swamp rather than train. Then too there's 819 who is younger and is a little behind the others.

Well this morning all six chicks came readily out of the pen with 813 and 814 ahead of the others. The two of them had a short flight and then came back to the trike. After getting all of the chicks lined up, we took off - all of us airborne at the same time.

They all followed the trike out over the marsh. 811 and 819 turned back to the end of the runway while the rest continued to fly around. 812 landed part way down the run way, but 813, 814, and 818 landed with the trike after doing a complete circuit. 811 and 812 came to the trike, but 819 was no where to be seen. We slowly taxied back down the run way trying to locate him, but the other chicks were raring to go and could not be held back so off we went airborne again.

Looking back over to watch the chicks progress, I saw 19 come running out and join the flight. I circled tightly around to let him catch up and we all formed a group flying over the marsh before returning to land from the opposite direction. A tired 811 and 819 landed on the runway while 812, 813, 814 and 818 continued to follow around for another circle of the training area. After a brief rest 811 and 819 rejoined the group and we went for another round. 812, 813, 814 and 818 stayed with the trike, but 811, who has feather problems relating to stress from his injuries, and 819, who is younger than the rest, dropped out early.

At the end of the training session the chicks gathered around the trike for treats. While doling out grapes with the puppet, a grape bounced off 818's head. He didn't seem to mind and he promptly ate it, glad for the well-deserved attention.

After putting the chicks in their pen it was off to the North site for some more flights with the four oldest chicks. All came out of the pen and were airborne at once, but they landed as we passed the end of the runway. I circled around to land and start over, and realizing their folly, the chicks came airborne and gave chase to the trike. Circling tightly, they caught up and we did a couple of wide circuits around the training area. 810 dropped out while 803, 804,and 805 continued and landed with the trike.

After giving them a brief rest, and since they were getting very feisty, we went for another flight with all of them following for another tour of the pen area. Once they had some treats they too were put back in their pen. What an AWESOME morning.

Date:August 15, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:TRAINING UPDATELocation: Wisconsin

Training went well this morning. All the birds at the West site flew. 818, our little swamp lover, flew right with the trike the whole time. Richard said that 812, 813 and 814 flew better today than the older birds in Cohort One at the North site.

Date: August 13, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Claire & Garry Foltz
Subject: Crane Summer Olympics UpdateLocation: Necedah, WI
Dateline - Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Today we observed the conclusion of the 'Crane Summer Olympics' with the finals of the flight event.

Success in the preliminary rounds made 803 the heavy favorite to capture this event. 804, 805 and 810 rounded out the field. It was a stunning upset victory for 804 who grabbed the lead early on and led the field for five 'go-arounds'. His take-off was swift and clean, and he confidently rounded the turns ahead of the others. After gliding close to the wing in an impressive showing, 804 concluded the event with a flawless landing. His performance captured the respect and approval of the audience - Cohorts Two and Three.

With accusations of judging bias, once again controversy surrounds the final results. Although 804's winning point total was 9.35, he did receive a suspect perfect 10.0 score from his home state Maryland judge.

Accused of illegal use of a banned substance, 810's score is also under review pending the result of drug testing. Before returning to the pen he loudly proclaimed his innocence, insisting the only drugs he used were medications prescribed to treat a bee sting he received last month.

The Crane Olympics will conclude with a ceremony and banquet of wax worms and red and green grape treats. All members of Cohorts One, Two and Three continue to train in preparation for the upcoming Winter Olympics to be held in Florida.

Date:August 12, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:REPORT FROM THE FIELDLocation:Main  Office

Bev reports that although Necedah hasn't had rain for a while, the mowers have to come out again today. She said that while there's been rain in the surrounding area, on the refuge they’ve stayed mostly dry lately. Water levels remain good though, and the crew is happy as less rain means less mosquitoes. The bloodthirsty critters continue to make the crew's usual communal meals around the picnic table in camp unbearable however.

In training news: All of the birds in the two oldest Cohorts are flying now, although a couple of them in Cohort Two still only get airborne in ground effect. 811 is now following the trike well, as is 813, who Richard says has the wing figured out better than any of the other birds.

Now that 818 is flying, Bev said she is a little better behaved. Once out of the pen, she would almost always '‘do a runner' into the marsh. At the last training session though, instead of running into the marsh, she just flew there right over the swamp monster's head. (Insert big sigh from Bev the Swamp Monster here.)

Date: August 12, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie

As of August 9, the estimated maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population remained at 39 males and 31 females for a total of 70 Whooping cranes. In the highlights below females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. NFT = non
functional transmitter.

Jackson County - 516
Allegan County- DAR740*
Arenac County – DAR744*

Pope County, 703, 707, and DARs739* and 742*

Necedah NWR
101, 102*, 105NFT & 501*
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 216NFT
303* & 317, 307, 309* & 403, 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*, 313* & 318
401NFT & 508*, 402, 408 & 519*, 412, 415*NFT
505, 509, 511, 512, 514, DAR627NFT, DAR628, 721*

Dodge County - 709, 717*, 726*, DAR746*
Wood County - 212NFT & 419*NFT
Juneau County –710, 716*, 722*, 724, DAR737
Jackson County - 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.

Marathon County - DAR528*

Location Unknown
107*NFT last reported in Fond du Lac & Dodge Counties June 12.
209*NFT & 416NFT last reported in Monroe County May 5. The female had a severe limp due to a right leg injury. Only one unidentified Whooping crane was seen on this pair’s territory during an aerial survey on July 1.
506 remained in Adams County until he returned to NNWR Aug. 9 before again leaving he refuge for an undetermined location.

DAR533* last verified in Mason County, MI April 11, but a crane reported in Van Buren County since July 25 is believed to be this bird.
706, 712, and 713 last reported in Stutsman County, North Dakota June 5/6.
727* last reported departing Will County, IL June 1.
733 last reported in Iowa County, WI June 8.

Long Term Missing (more than 90 days)
205NFT last recorded at Necedah Oct. 16/07.
DAR527* last reported in Jackson County, IN March 16-17. An April 17 unconfirmed sighting in Fond du Lac County may have been this bird.
316NFT last observed on the Necedah refuge March 30
420* last reported in Marathon County, WI March 27
524NFT last reported departing Fayette County, IN April 16

Update compiled from data supplied by WCEP's Tracking Team

Date: August 10, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan

Friday was one of those perfect days here at Necedah. We woke to cool, calm skies that promised perfect training conditions; the type of morning where the birds literally leap out of the pen when the doors are opened. And leap they did. The oldest birds leapt into the sky after the trike, while the younger chicks ran enthusiastically after the trike with 813 and 814 gaining much desired altitude.

After training, the mowers were brought out and we headed out to the North site to mow a very shaggy runway. Brooke had stated that in spots the runway was waist deep, and the rest of us who are not so vertically challenged realized that even though it was only knee deep to us, it still required a much needed cut. Claire, Brooke and I went to the bird pen to lure the chicks away to an appropriate hiding spot, while Charlie, Garry and Richard waited patiently for the "All clear” text message indicating they could bring the mowers onto the runway.

While we handlers waded into the marshy pond, the chicks were slightly more hesitant and stood on the shore looking at their costumed ‘mamas’ with confused expressions. Slowly 805 took the plunge and followed us into the water. 804 quickly followed, while 803 and 810 were more cautious than their cohort mates. Soon enough all the chicks were splashing through the water and took up positions all around us.

I was lucky enough to be in the company of 810 for most of our time their. 810 is very curious and there is nothing that he won't put in his beak to see if it is edible. It was very easy to keep his attention with weeds, bugs, grapes, and even just splashed water.

804 became the most adventuresome of the group and wandered the furthest. At one point he tried climbing up on a very small tussock that gave him that perfect ‘king of the hill’ position. The tussock proved to be too small and too wobbly, so 804 was soon back in the water, and once again at the same height as the rest of the cohort.

The sky was the bluest of blue, the marsh grasses the brightest of green, and the chicks’ russet brown feathers glowed in the sunlight. The air was as pure and clean as it ever gets in Wisconsin, and it was an absolute joy to be there at that moment. But as happens to all good things it was too soon over when I received the “All clear" text from Charlie.

The chicks, once hesitant to join us in the water, were now even more reluctant to leave their new watery home. 805 and 810 followed us out of the water while 804 and 803 lingered like children at the beach. After much puppet waving and arm flapping, they actually leapt up and flew over to us to follow us back to the pen.

The walk back was livened up by much flying back and forth. It was as if the chicks were trying to encourage us to fly. But alas, we ground-bound lowly humans could only smile and laugh gently at the beautiful sight of our wards flying away, then back at us again. They all went back into their pen as easily as ever, and we walked back to the van to continue our day and contemplate the beauty that we just experienced.

Above: 804 and 805 display their wings as they alternately walk and fly their way from the marsh back to the pen.

Above: Bev's camera lens captured 803 just as he accelerated to become airborne.

Date: August 9, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A NEWS 'ROUND UP'Location: Main Office

Although he had been training with his classmates, when the last cohort shipped to Necedah 820 was held back at Patuxent due to a respiratory problem. Hatched from an ICF egg, this chick’s paternity is unknown as there are three potential sires. Once testing is done to determine parenthood, it will be decided if 820 should be a breeder or, become a role model at the Patuxent propagation facility.

2008 Season
Each year we face a new challenge from a wider age range, to younger birds. So far it has all worked out - which leads us to push the envelope. In an attempt to get more birds out into the population, every year we ask to be given more chicks. With a little more effort we could train and lead 24 birds, and that has been our standard request for several years. So far however, we have not come close.

This year, the ultralight program was allotted 27 eggs. From those, we have 16 birds ‘in training’ as part of the Class of 2008. Three chicks (809, 816, 817) have been held back due to their genetic value; two were euthanized (802, 806) due to acute peritonitis; as were five others (801, 808, 815, 820, 825) who had a variety of health issues from scoliosis and hock rotation to respiratory problems. 807 died from injuries it sustained in an attack by 810.

The Direct Autumn Release program (DAR) which started with 9 ended up with 7 birds being moved to the Necedah refuge in late July.

The gender of all 16 birds in the Class of 2008 has now been determined and the skewed ratio in the Eastern Migratory Population will be further perpetuated with just 5 of this year’s ultralight birds being female. Four of the seven DAR birds are female.

Class of 2008
OM’s field team at Necedah reports that training with all three cohorts is going well. All four birds in Cohort One (803, 804, 805, 810) have fledged, with 810 being the last chick to find his wings. The Cohort Two chicks are approximate 2+ weeks behind the Cohort One birds in development, so it will likely be at least August 20th or after before they progress from taxi training to flight training.

The youngest chicks, those in Cohort Three, have yet to even experience flying in ground effect. They still flap their gawky way up and down the runway behind the trike.

For the very first time the team skipped the process of leaving the wing off the aircraft until the chicks acclimatized. This practice was adopted so that not everything changed at once for the chicks when they moved from Maryland to Wisconsin. Joe said that the chicks didn’t seem to notice. They just walked over to the trike as if nothing was different. These six little ones have been following beautifully from the very first day, although in a call yesterday Chris said a couple of them have suddenly developed a reluctance to come out of the pen.

Missing from Wisconsin - Incomplete Migrations
We still have several birds that have not returned to the core reintroduction area. One 2007 ultralight bird, 727, was last reported in Illinois in early June. And we were beginning to wonder if 516 would ever leave Florida, but he finally turned up on his usual Michigan summering area in early July. He’s definitely either a procrastinator, or doesn’t like to travel (grin); in 2007 he and 509 didn’t initiate their spring migration until late April.

Two of the six 2007 DAR birds that were in Michigan remain there (740 and 744). The other four were captured and relocated to Necedah in June.

New Pensite
The Field Team busted their butts for the past few weeks trying to get the new Canfield pensite finished in time to receive Cohort Three. It was nothing short of down and dirty hard physical labor, with the fun of intense heat and clouds of mosquitoes thrown into the mix. The result was worth it though as Joe says it is the best of all our pensites. He has photos to share and has promised to write an update about it – so it should be appearing here soon.

Date: August 7, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen

As I flew over the refuge gazing down on the marshes, oak savannas and forest, I found my self singing Mr. Rogers', "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The abundance of wildlife activity; deer grazing, swans caring for their young, the odd wolf lurking in the savanna - and now in recent years, big white Whooping cranes foraging in the marsh. All these things put me at peace with the world as I flew over to the new pensite site.

Yes, the Canfield site. The new one, built to house Cohort Three, is finished after many days of long hours over the past two months. And now that its finished I find myself with a bit more time on my hands to write an update.

Arriving from the hangar for today's training I glided over a small fog patch to land at the new site. Stopped in front of the doors to the I turned up the vocalizer, gave the thumbs up sign, and Bev released the chicks. 829 was lying down resting, but the other five came pouring out of the gate. While the five chicks follow the trike down to the end of the runway, Bev coaxed 829 out of the pen and quietly closed the door behind him.

After some hesitation 829 came down to the end of the runway and joined us as we continued training. We blasted down to the opposite end of the training area (the chicks flapping their developing wings desperately trying to fly without success)  where we stopped. I turned off the engine, got out of the trike, and sat near the wing to give the chicks some treats. After a little rest we did it all over again - giving the chicks occasional short breaks.

At the end of training we stopped in front of the pen and let the chicks forage around the trike and wing. While sitting there, a grasshopper hopped in front of me. Being short on treats for the chicks I took a stab at it with my mechanical puppet head, and to my surprise, and to all of the chick's delight, I grabbed the beast in the puppet's beak. (Who is imprinting who here?)

A furious frenzy of activity took place as the chicks, afraid I might eat it myself, took stabs at trying to get it out of my puppet's beak. Finally one of them got it and then quickly ran away to keep the others from getting at it. When the others gave chase, it promptly threw its head back and swallowed it whole. I guess I'm not that far gone - as I didn't eat it myself.

After putting the birds back in the pen I took off in to the morning sun and headed for the North site where Gary was patiently waiting to release Cohort One for me. When I gave Gary the thumbs up all four chicks came eagerly out and got airborne at once. After trying all week to get them to leave the runway, they followed the trike past the end and we circled around once before 810 landed.

With three chicks still trying to keep up we circled again before two more landed on the runway. With one chick still flying I nudged the trike over and he got tucked in behind the wing. I circled around three more times with the young flier getting on and then falling off the wing. By this time we were getting some altitude and rough air as well, so... time to land.

With the other chicks flying from one end of the runway to the other as we circled around each end, this proved a challenge. The chick finally landed on its own as I weaved down and then I landed as well. With the wind picking up we put the chicks in to the pen and once again I headed off in to the morning sun.

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Won't you be my neighbor?

Date: August 4, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker

Television reception is always a problem on remote wildlife refuges. I mean, you either sit staring at a snow storm, squinting for sign of movement to go with the disjointed sound, or you’re so remote that by the time the Monday Primetime lineup shows come on, it's Tuesday.

So, as not to be the victims of our circumstance and disappoint Dr. Phil, Tony Robbins and the rest of the 'Prime Time Here's How To Be All You Can Be' chorus, we at OM took control, ownership, responsibility. We stopped feeling sorry for ourselves and we created our very own TV station. "CRN TV- Necedah – Where the Endangered become the Empowered."

Of course we have only one show, which can be seen on only one screen located at the new Canfield Site pen, and you have to sit on an overturned five gallon bucket with a towel on top to watch it. But the Cohort 3 Show is live, in real time, in living color, runs all day commercial free, and has only six actors to keep track of with no speaking parts to confuse the audience or interfere with the plot.

No singing, no dancing, no record contract carrots dangling above the stage as the Applause Signs burn sunspots into the viewer’s eyeballs. And it's not like watching a boxing match where you're constantly worried about one fighter biting the other's ear off while even the most introverted of fans stand up and yell, "Foul." Nor is it like watching a NASCAR Race where 200 mile per hour billboards spend three hours making a left hand turn while the fans secretly pray for at least one of them to make a right - or at least a do a blessed Ueee.

No bits and bites of computer animation, no drug overdosed tragedy or custody battles, no trailer trash confessions or Jerry Springer family brawls broken up by bald brawny Jerry Springer Bouncers. It combines the breathless drama of an ant farm with the clever plot twists of an aquarium, and the mind numbing, bubble-headed story line of "Survivor". It takes reality TV to a level never before imagined and it achieves all this with a plot so simple even a politician can follow it.

Put simply, our show asks the question, "Will 829 kick the living (bleeped) out of the rest of Cohort 3 if left alone with them in the pen unattended?" Now, if this isn't Must See TV, I don't know what is!

And what star power! Six birds, unknown talents who honed their acting skills doing summer stock productions at the Patuxent Actors Studio before coming to Necedah, make the big time.

There's 824 for example; the waterbug, preferring the wet pen to the dry, spear fishing to the more conventional feeder pecking. And 826, who spreads his wings and flaps madly at the onset of the slightest breeze, anticipating the day when he'll be free to soar the skies at will and fulfill his true destiny.

There’s 827 and 828 who enjoy both wet and dry pens equally as well as the occasional “face off” with the “King,” 829. An altercation that always ends in their cowering and slinking off in embarrassed humility. And 829, the “King”, who refuses to be voted off the island and reigns supreme over his bird world. And finally little 830, every inch the princess. So surely suspended by her easy grace and lightness of being that she literally glides from one end of the wet pen to the other without dipping so much as a toe nail in the water.

This ensemble of actors make viewing the purest of pleasures and makes you forget about just how hard a seat the bucket is and how you wished you had spent just a little more money and stayed at a better motel so you could have stolen a thicker towel to place between bucket and butt.

As you've probably guessed, our TV Station is really just a one way car window covering a square cutout in the wall of the feed shed side of the pen - providing the observer with a complete view of the entire wet and dry pens at the new Site.

No cameras to malfunction, no cancer causing EMF's to fret over, and no microphones to yell, "Testing, 1,2,3" into. In fact, the only thing we worry about is a visit from the Bubba whose Hummer Joe 'liberated' the window from in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It was parked next to an Amish horse and wagon and the contrast was just more than he could stand! Wonder what the mileage rating is on the horse? Must be a tax credit in there somewhere! (Just kidding here, but you have to admit it does make for a good story!)

Because our 'Station' goes off the air when we do, our crew mans it in two hour shifts throughout the day (I've always had a great fondness for shift work). This way, we can leave all the birds together to socialize and do their bird things while being ready to respond immediately should 829's Dr. Jekyll morph into Mr. Hyde. Then at night, we simply put our little darling in his own pen, thus allowing both us and him to sleep the sleep of the innocent and protected.

Each of us, as we are relieved when our shift ends, make the trek across the runway to the truck, passing the Refuge Viewing Blind at the top of the hill, where morning refuge tours come to observe us ultralight-train the birds and we join the cast of actors for our short scene. Like Japanese tourists taking pictures of each other as they take pictures of each other. Big Brother watching Little Brother watching Mini Brother. A wildlife 'Show of Shows'. Marlon Perkins and Mutual of Omaha - eat your heart out!!!!!!

P.S. It is with great sadness that I report our TV Station is now off the air. Yesterday morning after training, 829 was finally united unattended with the rest of the cohort all day and all night. He earned our trust and justified our faith in him by being a model crane, swearing off aggression forever and adopting the present administration’s motto, ‘make love, not war’.

But viewers, don't despair. Our actors have consented to remain in costume and character for our next big production -----MIGRATION. Stay tuned.

Date: August 3, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Dancing Cranes in the Land of the Rising SunLocation: Main Office

Up for a unique adventure? OM's own Walter Sturgeon, a crane expert in his own right, will be joining zoologist Dave Davenport, President of EcoQuest Travel, to lead an exciting Bird Watching trip to Japan in February 2009.

To quote from the brochure describing the journey - "From the crowded bustle of Tokyo and the glitter of skyscrapers to the still forests of Hokkaido and the quiet reverence of ancient temples, Japan is a land of contrasts. The Land of the Rising Sun is known more for its cultural riches, but the birdlife of Japan is rich and varied."

The February timing for the trip – which includes visits to three of Japan’s main islands, Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu - means travelers will have the opportunity to view a diversity of cranes and waterfowl.

Click here for trip details and a description of the itinerary, or visit EcoQuest Travel's website  for information on how to get quotes or to sign up. The group for this exclusive tour will consist of a maximum of 14 individuals.

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