With the recent mortality of 819, the maximum size of
the Eastern Migratory Population is 77. In the notes below:
female; D = Direct Autumn Release bird.
One of the chicks in the 2009 Direct Autumn Release cohort, D939, has had
leg issues since mid August. When ICF’s Marianne Wellington took the bird to
Dr. Barry Hartup, his examination didn’t reveal any specific injury.
Subsequently the chick seemed to be improving as a result of
In September, Marianne reported the bird stumbled and may have fallen quite
awkwardly, so D939 was again examined by Dr. Hartup. X-rays did not show any
fracture or significant muscular displacement but Barry did drain fluid
around the left knee, and suspected that a portion of the quadriceps muscle
was ruptured. Dr. Hartup said, “Perhaps the previous vague issues and recent
falls were related, as the bird finally ruptured the involved muscle.”
With the consensus being that the muscle tear left D939 not releasable, it
was transferred to the Milwaukee Zoo on October 1. Reports indicate that the
other nine DAR birds housed at Site 3 on the Necedah refuge are all doing
Eastern Migratory Population News In Brief…
Trackers noted that during the last reporting period, pair 105 and 501* had
separated as had 316 and D742*. Subsequently, 316 was observed in a
courtship display with 501* and so far they remain together. D742* has taken
up with D627.
707 and D739* have been reported in Waseca County, MN, and 727 in a Sandhill
staging area in Indiana. 733 is staging with Sandhills in Clark County, WI.
The wayward D527* was observed on the refuge with 412. She had last been
observed on the refuge on June 9, also with 412.
Other Unpaired adults and sub-adults in the core included:
101, 412, 416, 506 - last observed Sept 1
509, 511 - last recorded May 11
514, 520* - last reported in Jackson County June 16
524, D628 - last detected June 23
713 - last detected in Wood County Sept 17
724 - last detected June 26
706, 712 last detected May 6
Other Unpaired adults and sub-adults outside the core included:
107* - in Dodge/Fond du Lac Counties
D528* - in Marathon County
703 – may have been the Whooping crane reported in Lac Qui Parle County, MN
727* - was reported in Lagrange/Steuben Counties, IN Oct 3. She had last
been reported in Marshall County, IN Sept 2.
D737 - last reported in Jackson County, MI June 14.
D533* - may have been the Whooping crane reported in Van Buren County, MI
Class of 2008 (all in WI on last observation/detection)
804, 805, 812, 814, 818*, 824*, 827, 828, 830* - Dodge County
813* - Lincoln County
829 – NNWR before moving to unknown location
D831, D836, D838* - Columbia County
Neither 516 nor D744* have been found in 2009. Both usually summered in MI.
WCEP’s Tracking Team consists of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara
Zimorski, and Jess Thompson.
October 8, 2009 - Entry 1
It's that time of year again and Whooping Crane weather has arrived.
of the migration crew have been at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge all summer
training birds and doing a thousand other things to get ready for migration.
Some of us (mostly us volunteers but other 'regular' workers as well) are
about to head out or have already headed out. I'm leaving (today)--on a jet
plane--must be a song in there somewhere).
I get on my jet plane in Pensacola, FL this morning and will arrive in
Atlanta, GA just after noon. John Cooper, another volunteer like myself,
will meet me at the airport. From there, we will drive together to Tellico
Plains, TN to Jack Wrighter's home.
Jack is the owner of "Plane-Plane" (there's a story in that name), a
Cessna 172 that he donates the services of and serves as top cover pilot for
the first part of migration. John and I will swap off as top cover
John and I will be driving Jack's motorhome from Tellico Plains to
Necedah, WI and hopefully we'll arrive safe and sound sometime late Friday.
Jack and spouse Judi will fly Plane-Plane up to Necedah (alas--much quicker
then we will drive up) and we will all meet up with the entire migration
crew, who by that time will all be on site.
We will have been on an adventure even before migration starts, but hey -
isn't that what life is all about? You never want to end life in
pristine/beautiful condition. You want to end it ragged, worn out, used up,
sliding in sideways and shouting, "Whoooeeee what a ride."
October 7, 2009
Tellico Plains, TN
Cover One, reporting for duty-----I think!
It is nearly time for the 2009
migration to get under way and here we sit in eastern Tennessee, waiting for
weather good enough to fly my Cessna to Necedah to begin this year’s
migration top cover duties. I hope this is not a sign of things to come. We
planned enough extra time for weather contingencies, so I am sure we will
all be on site for the migration launch.
This year’s top cover duty for the first half of the migration will be
manned by John Cooper, Gerald Murphy and me. The southern boys are heading
north. Gerald is from Pensacola, Florida, John is from Marietta, Georgia,
and I am from Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
I have always had a vast array of experienced spotters over the years.
Dave Mattingly flew with me for the first two years. Dave is a retired Delta
pilot and currently president of the “Touch our Planet” organization. In
addition to his valuable contribution to OM, he also is heavily involved in
whale conservation, and is currently heading a group working to launch an
L-1011 airborne hospital. Dave’s early flying was with Air America during
the early 1970s. If you ask him what or where he flew, you might get an
answer similar to the one he gave me. “Oh, we flew here and there, mostly at
night, but never where we were not supposed to be”. Right. Dave has a full
plate of duties now, so he won't be participating in this year’s migration.
Tom Miller came on board two years later and provided a valuable service
for two years. Tom is also a retired Delta pilot with an exceptional talent
for photography. Tom provided many excellent photographs from the top cover
vantage point. Several were used in the field journals and there probably
would have been several more had it not been for his intense concentration
on his pictures and not on his camera - which resulted his dropping it out
of the airplane while deplaning one afternoon. His very cool and
professional response was, “Oh well, I needed a new one anyway.” Tom has
another obligation this year and will be missed.
So, it looks like it will be Gerald, John, me, and 'Plane-Plane', my
Cessna 172. I have flown with both John and Gerald on past migrations, and
they both are very interesting persons.
John Cooper is also a retired Delta pilot, and he too has a military
background. John was a navy pilot flying F-16s from aircraft carriers. It is
always interesting to listen to John when returning to base after a
migration leg. He always had amusing comments such as, “If you lost your
engine here, you could land in that little field over there. It is almost as
long as a football field." Or, “Hey, look at that train. We are in a perfect
position to make a practice strafing run.” Strafing run?!?!?
Gerald Murphy is a retired air force pilot who spent most of his service
career flying B-52s. He has been a valuable member of OM's ground crew for
several years, but was asked to become my spotter/copilot midway through the
migration last year when Tom Miller had to return home due to a family
emergency. His first comment when getting into my airplane was “Hey, you
only have one set of engine instruments. I’m used to eight.” He quickly
became proficient in my airplane and was a valuable asset, even though he
had to accept flying in an airplane with seven less engines than normal for
So that leaves me, a general aviation pilot who has not flown anything
larger than a Beechcraft Bonanza, flying with these two highly professional
jet pilots. John has about 700 zillion hours of flying time, and Gerald has
about 699 zillion. Now, here they are flying with me with only a couple
thousand hours time in general aviation airplanes.
Remember the story about the kid who was not the most experienced
baseball player but who always got to play because he owned the baseball and
bat? Same story here....I own the airplane! Not only that, but these heavy
metal jet jockeys have to ride in the copilot seat and call me Captain. But
it is all in jest as we focus on our duties in promoting an umbrella of
security over our beloved ultralights and young Whooping cranes. Actually,
we get along very well and having been brought together by our years of
association with Operation Migration, we have become very good friends.
Bring on the good weather. We are ready! Necedah...here we come!
October 6, 2009
by Southern Company,
our advance EarlyBird e-bulletin of the 2009 migration season went out to
all OM members and all
Give a WHOOP!
As of October 10, our target departure date with the Class of 2009, OM's
EarlyBird e-bulletins will start arriving in members’ email boxes daily - -
and will continue to arrive each morning throughout the migration. Members
are the first to receive the news of the day, and be alerted to the
potential of seeing the morning’s action via our
‘flydays’, members also receive a second email notifying them when the Lead
Pilot’s report has been posted, here, in the Field Journal.
If you are an Operation Migration Supporting, Sustaining, or Allied
Member - or you gave a WHOOP! and did not receive yesterday’s advance
EarlyBird e-bulletin, please contact
email@example.com. It is possible we don’t have your
email address or the correct one.
Give a Whoop! and get on the EarlyBird e-bulletin email list. Or, if you
are not already a member of OM, why not
become one today?
You can either use this link to sign up via PayPal, or call Chris in our
office toll free at 1-800-675-2618.
Records are made to be broken, or so the saying goes. But as I remember it,
mine only got scratched and jumped ahead a song or two. “Who’s been playing
my records?” I’d query my siblings accusingly, to which they would reply,
“Try dancing more smoothly and they won’t scratch so bad!
If only our
recent record of almost three weeks of consecutive training days in
September could just skip magically to our proposed migration departure date
of October 10 as easily as the needle on my record player.
It was an incredibly lucky run, and the birds responded with some
exciting and memorable flights, filling us with excited expectations of an
early departure. But I’ve always been wary of good luck because it usually
seems to drag some of the bad kind along behind it. And that is just what I
see staring back at me as I look skyward this morning; a dark, rain-soaked
blanket of grey hanging low and menacing over our happy little camp that
seems to say, “Payback time!”
So here we sit, our little band of half a dozen, soon to swell to
migration strength of more than twice that within the week. But there is
still much preparation work to be done and so we are scuttling around in
The scene is, in fact, an all too familiar one because we repeat it every
year. Yes, we too are afflicted by the curse of procrastination which hangs
on our shoulders like a pirate’s parrot, chortling devilish reprimands and
incriminations at waiting until the last minute to……..! In fact, if it is
true that procrastination is the thief of time, we should have called 911
long ago. But we just put it off.
There are away-pens to finish modifying to accommodate our this year’s
larger flock, rolling stock to make roadworthy, and aircraft airworthy,
wheel bearings to grease, propane tanks to fill, bird feed to load, and then
there’s packing….. always packing. It is the constant of constants.
So constant, in fact, that this cruel master is so fond of exerting its
complete dominance of will over our own that it leaves no time for even
fleeting thoughts of actually unpacking. Each of the project’s unique
seasonal tasks demands a re-pack to match its differing requirements, and
our bags of personal gear constantly throb and convulse in a usually futile
attempt to accommodate. And then some of us move from one camper into
another and must re-conform our physical and emotional geometries to synch
with our new “containers.”
In short, there’s much to be done. And during it all, the tension, the
stress, the anxiety builds, filling each effort with a sense of increased
urgency; adding to its weight. But we, each one of us, also enjoy a sense of
optimism which comes from the sure knowledge that this is a dance we have
performed many times before through the years. We know the steps…and know
that each contains a its own small measure of satisfaction which energizes
and consoles, each step building upon the last and leading to the sight of a
large flock of endangered birds following a smaller flock of aircraft and
vehicles on a migration to Florida…and to Recovery… an endeavor perhaps
worthy of just one more skip of the needle.
October 4, 2009
WE NEED YOUR HELP TO MAKE IT HAPPEN!
What does it take to impart a migration route on a flock of young Whooping cranes? It takes 16 people; each of whom leaves family members and friends for an unknown period of time. Each will miss birthday celebrations, Thanksgiving dinners, anniversary’s, Christmas preparations, and perhaps even Christmas at home with their loved ones.
They'll wake around 5am each day, inside a cramped camper, or motorhome parked on property provided by willing stopover hosts and often forget the date, or the day of the week, and at times, even where they are.
Each has a list of duties; whether caring for our feathered charges; piloting an ultralight; driving a vehicle and hauling a large trailer, or RV; looking after outreach responsibilities, or operating the CraneCam; each member is an integral part of the team that carries out the migration.
It takes roughly 25 landowners; each willing to provide a private area of their property for the young cranes to overnight, and another area of their properties for the team to set-up camp. They don't know when, or if we'll arrive, because if we get a good tailwind, well, we have to keep going. Once we do arrive, they don't know when we'll leave. Yet they open their homes to us; allowing us to shower, do our laundry, use their electrical and water hook-ups, and some make incredible homemade dinners, for this team of 16 that misses home.
The migration covers 1285 miles in 7 states and despite the generosity of some of our migration hosts along the way, we still incur expenses. Be it fuel for the ground vehicles and the aircraft, maintenance costs to keep them in working order; food and treats for the cranes and the team; or road atlas maps so we know how to get where we're going; This ultralight-guided migration business can be costly, but we're reintroducing the most endangered bird in North America; Is it fair to this bird to put a price tag on that.
Last year, despite the fact that we travelled a good portion of the journey in areas we’d never seen before, we actually reduced our expenses by about $5000.00 Each year around the 1st of April we launch the MileMaker campaign in hopes of covering the costs of the upcoming migration. The current campaign has been running for 6 months now and 61% of the trip has yet to be sponsored.
The miles in Wisconsin have again been completely sponsored (Thank you!) but there are still 783 unsponsored miles in the remaining 6 states. It would take a great deal of pressure off the shoulders of the 16 team members if all of the miles were sponsored by December 1st.
Here's the breakdown of available miles: Illinois: 202 | Kentucky: 61 | Tennessee: 71 | Alabama: 258 | Georgia: 47 | Florida: 144
And just a reminder, if you are a MileMaker, you will have received a secret URL address where you can access monthly E-calendar images for your desktop – The October image is stunning so be sure to load it today, if you haven’t already! This is our way of sending a special thank-you for your commitment in helping to ensure that the fall migration will be funded.
If you haven't yet selected, or sponsored a mile (or 1/4 or 1/2 mile), or would like to learn more about the MileMaker campaign, please visit this page. Once we receive your MileMaker pledge, you too will receive a link to the Monthly E-calendars, reserved only for MileMakers!
If the donation amount for the MileMaker campaign is simply beyond your means, perhaps you'll consider helping us to celebrate logging our 10,000th air-mile while guiding Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida.
To celebrate with us we invite you to Give a WHOOP! and show the world you care about wildlife, and especially Whooping cranes. Our goal is to collect 10,000 WHOOPS from around the world; one WHOOP for each of the 10,000 migration miles we’ve flown since 2001
For just $10 you can Give aWHOOP! When you do we'll list your name on this online honor roll, which when complete will be sent to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Show that YOU care about the future of this magnificent species and join our worldwide WHOOP!
When youGive a WHOOP! you will:
1. Receive OM'sEarlyBird e-bulletin.
2. Receive an invitation to join OM's online worldwide WHOOP! It Up celebration.
3. Be entered in multiple draws for a limited edition "I Give a WHOOP!t-shirt.
4. Be entered in a draw for one week accommodationat Pelicans Beach House, Fort Myers Bch, FL.
5. Be entered in a draw for a five day, all expense paid Backstage Visitwith OM's Team at Necedah, WI.
We’ve made it easy for you to help us spread the word of the Give A WHOOP celebration to your friends and family. Click here to reach an online form that you can send via email to those in your contacts list.
In closing, I’d like to introduce those 16 very special people to you who in less than a week from now (weather permitting) will be hitting the road, and the skies with the Class of 2009 – At 21 birds, it's the largest group of young Whooping cranes we’ve ever led on their first southward migration.
5 pilots: Joe Duff, Richard van Heuvelen, Brook Pennypacker, Chris Gullikson and newcomer, Matt Ahrens. 6 Ground crew: Bev Paulan, Geoff Tarbox, Erin Harris, Gerald Murphy/Walt Sturgeon, and David Boyd. 2 top-cover pilots: Don and Paula Lounsbury/Jack Wrighter and John Cooper. 3 education and outreach people: Liz Condie, Linda Boyd and Heather Ray.
We'll do everything we can over the next few weeks to get the Class of '09 to their new winter home on Florida's Gulf coast but we could really use your financial help to do it...
CRANE POPULATIONS - Overview -Part 2
Tom Stehn, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the Whooping Crane
Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and also
co-chairs the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, along with Brian
Johns of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Tom recently sent along a summary report on
North America’s three populations of Whooping cranes; the Aransas/Wood
Buffalo population, the Florida non-migratory population, and the Eastern
Migratory population. Below is Part Two of Tom’s report. Part One appeared
in the Field Journal entry for October 1st, .
WHOOPING CRANE NUMBERS IN NORTH AMERICA (Oct. 3, 2009)
Subtotal in the Wild
A The peak population for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock
in the 2008-09 winter was 270. However, 23 birds died during the winter,
leaving 247. B 52 chicks hatched in Canada in 2009 but only 22 fledged.
They will not be added to population numbers until they arrive at Aransas in
Research Center, Laurel, MD
Foundation, Baraboo, WI
Conservation Center, Calgary, AB
Calgary Zoo, Calgary,
New Orleans Zoo, New
San Antonio Zoo, San
Wildlife State Park, FL
Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa,
Milwaukee County Zoo,
Subtotal in Captivity
C The captive numbers do not reflect the 34 chicks
hatched in 2009 and that are in reintroduction programs in Wisconsin.
TOTALS (Wild + Captive) 384 + 152 = 536
WHOOPING CRANE STATS
5 feet, the tallest bird in North America
Males 16 pounds; females 14 pounds
A trumpeting kerloo ker-lee-oo, can be heard for miles
15 in 1941
Whooping cranes mate for life, but will find a new mate if one dies
Dances appear to keep the pair's bond strong
Cranes normally lay 2 eggs, but usually only one chick survives
2009 - Entry 2
Dr. Richard Urbanek advised late yesterday that the Eastern Migratory
Population had suffered another loss. He reported that the remains of 819
had been found on September 30th, in a field south of the Necedah refuge.
The heavily scavenged remains, which were collected for forwarding to the
National Wildlife Health Center in Madison for necropsy, had been scattered
over a distance of more than 200 feet. Richard noted that a companion
Whooping crane, 829, had left the area around September 25. He believes that
819’s demise occurred sometime between that date and September 28.
Although numerous coyote tracks were seen in the vicinity, the cause of
the mortality cannot be determined until the necropsy is completed.
2009 - Entry 1
"Having to put a coat on to go to the bathroom is just wrong!”, protested a
crewmember in cumulative frustration as she headed out the trailer door and
into the cold morning darkness on an all too familiar journey to the Annex
bathroom, a short but roundabout walk away.
No sewage hookups here at
camp, so the morning 'march of shadows' to and from the bathroom constitutes
our 'Rush Hour'. It occurred to me on this morning of no training due to
wind and approaching rain, that our updates have reported much about the
birds, their activities, their daily routines, but very little about the
realities of crew/camp life, and what answering Nature’s Call, with all of
its incumbent situational intricacies, offers as an illuminating glimpse
into this life.
Conventional wisdom has always dictated that for a person to really
understand the life of another, they must walk a mile in their shoes. But
this is incredibly unfair - because that person needs his shoes!. Walking
barefooted in a parking lot is no fun. Those little stones get between their
toes and, “OUCH”! No! And if your feet are bigger than theirs, the
shoes get all stretched out and they no longer fit him properly
It is far more enlightening to follow that person to the 'bathroom' in
the morning, because it is this universal endeavor that reveals the most
about one’s life, one’s economic condition, one’s culture. But I must
caution here that one must never follow a woman to the bathroom, because,
one, they don’t like it, and can throw things which can land with incredible
accuracy, and two, because there are stiff legal penalties for stalking in
Here at camp, we have access to two bathrooms in the Annex building, each
containing a toilet of a different design, each with it own personality,
likes and dislikes, and temperament. One is conventional, if it can be said
that anything is conventional these days. Lever, chain, plunger….simple. The
other is a high tech low water high pressure unit , truly Space Age, whose
technological ancestor was designed by NASA and was actually aboard the
Lunar Lander when it touched down on the moon in 1969.
Just prior to CraneFest a few years ago, both toilets decided the
upcoming influx of new faces was more than they could handle and they went
on strike. Bad timing indeed. But man is made great not by birth, but by the
great challenges he or she overcomes in life. And with this in mind, we
rolled up our sleeves and went on the attack.
First, Barb Claus of Patuxent rose to the occasion on the conventional
side and replaced the broken chain with a piece of string - which soon chose
early retirement - but was soon replaced by stronger and stronger lashings
until by the end of the week the lever was joined to the plunger with a
hawser thick enough to anchor a medium sized yacht and hold it into the wind
in a strong sea.
There was even a wooden stick in the system somewhere presumably to
increase the leverage. The system grew into such a curious assemblage of
parts that every time I flushed the toilet the bathroom wall would move
closer to the toilet. Then the Refuge Game Warden would suddenly appear and
ask to see my fishing license.
The Space Age wonder, also in rebellion, demanded a different approach.
It was a massive conglomerate of valves, O rings and plastic, the operation
of which could have been a four credit college course in some engineering
school. “It’s no wonder the man on the moon eats green cheese!” No manual to
be had, and the words, “No guts, no glory,” whispering to me in my deaf ear,
I charged ahead and soon had the entire bathroom floor covered in parts,
some of which required the use of an electron microscope to find, and the
hands of a surgeon to pickup.
It was at this point I was hit with the 'flashback' of the time, in a
flurry of naive enthusiasm, I 'rebuilt' my first car engine as a kid. Our
'spare car' developed a cough which only I could fix, and soon the garage
floor, like the floor of the bathroom, was covered in engine parts. It was
then that the door opened and my father looked in to offer a reality check,
“You do remember how it goes back together don’t you?” “Not a problem, Dad!”
About a month later my father and I were at the gate of the local junk
yard, the spare car in tow, its back seat and trunk filled with a dozen or
so oil soaked doubled up grocery bags, each packed with its special cargo of
engine parts. The owner of the yard emerged, looked at the car and me ,and
in an amused, knowing tone exclaimed, “Rebuilt your first car, did ya,
As I walked away in disgrace, when my father wasn’t looking, I turned and
gave the guy the 'Hawaiian Peace Sign,' the one where you hear the late
native son and tourist attraction, crooner Don Ho sing his signature song,
“Tiny Bubbles” and small bubbles begin to ascend skyward from the end of
your middle finger.
But that was then and this was now, and in time I had this monster back
together and was ready for the test flight. With great anticipation I hit
the flush lever and all was quiet. “Failure!”, I cursed. I hit the lever
harder, and nothing. But as I was putting my tools away…the ones I hadn’t
already thrown out the door and into the woods in frustration… a slightly
audible sound began to emanate from somewhere down in the bowls of the
earth, rising rapidly upward in a roar of crescendo and vibration until the
birds started falling out of the trees, the hands of all the clocks in town
stopped their movement, my shoe laces came untied, and survivalists in
Montana began loading their semi-automatics and burrowing into their
I felt like I was standing next to the launch pad at the Cape beside an
Atlas Rocket as it was taking off. “Incoming!” I hollered in panic. “She’s
gonna blow!” I shouted as I ran into the hallway and assumed my best second
grade well practiced cold war “Duck and Cover” position.
I could feel the needles of earthquake monitors in China dancing a jig on
the Richter Scale. The US Military, thinking the Russians were firing “the
Big One, "went to Red Alert. (Why do they always use the color Red anyway?
Did some General in Procurement have a brother-in-law who was a red paint
But as quickly as it began, it was over. I ran my hands over my body
feeling for missing parts. All there. I crawled back down the hallway,
opened the bathroom door and was astounded at the sight of a bathroom which
looked like it had been autoclaved…gleaming with the smile of a Cheshire
Cat. Ceiling, walls , floors….spotless. With relief so intense I could taste
it, I looked out the window to see the birds back in the trees singing, and
could hear the clocks ticking and the survivalists complaining, “More
I left that bathroom a different man, a proud man, a man that had
successfully completed a rite of passage for every man…the one which states
a man must fix at least one toilet and start one chain saw in his life if he
is to achieve any degree of fulfillment.
And as I walked back to my trailer, I could see flags waving, soldiers of
every nationality saluting, crowds cheering, little children tucked into
their beds holding their Teddys safe, and Mrs, Dobson, my 3rd Grade teacher
giving me a thumbs up… and that’s when I heard the voice of the astronaut
Neil Armstrong announce to all the world in his mechanical, otherworldly
voice, “One small sit for man. One giant flush for mankind.”
Tom Stehn, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the Whooping Crane
Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and also
co-chairs the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, along with Brian
Johns of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Tom sent along a summary report on
North America’s three populations of Whooping cranes; the Aransas/Wood
Buffalo population, the Florida non-migratory population, and the Eastern
Migratory population. Below is Part One of Tom’s report. Part Two will be
posted here on Saturday, October 3.
The year 2009 was a struggle for
the Whooping crane that remains very endangered. A record 270 Whooping
cranes had arrived at Aransas in the fall of 2008, but they faced harsh
conditions from the ongoing drought. Their favorite foods of blue crab and
wolfberry were in short supply due to the salty conditions in the marsh. A
record 23 Whooping cranes, or 8.5% of the flock, didn't make it through the
winter, with some of the cranes found to be emaciated.
In the past 20 years, the 2008-2009 winter ranks as the worst in terms of
mortality. These were the worst conditions I have ever observed for the
cranes at Aransas, with some birds looking thin and with disheveled plumage.
The Service, for the first time in over 40 years, dispersed corn from game
feeders to try to give the flock a boost of energy and pull them through the
hard times. Only 247 Whooping cranes made it through the winter.
Upon returning to north to nest, the survivors found that habitat
conditions looked great, with lots of water on the cranes’ nesting grounds
in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada’s Northwest Territories. However,
only 22 chicks fledged from 62 nests, a below average production year.
Perhaps the weakened condition of the birds from the previous winter had
taken its toll.
With the drought continuing in south Texas into the fall of 2009,
wildlife officials are leery of what conditions for the flock will be like
at Aransas in the 2009-2010 winter. Water holes were re-conditioned on the
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to ensure the cranes will have fresh water
if the marshes remain above the threshold salinity of 23 parts per thousand
when Whooping cranes must find fresh water to drink.
Threats faced by the Whooping crane flock are growing. In addition to
ongoing sea level rise that would make the marshes too deep for the cranes
to use, decreased inflows from the Guadalupe River due to water withdrawals
for human uses threaten to reduce bay productivity and negatively impact
blue crabs, the main food of Whooping cranes. Housing developments are
springing up next to marshes where wintering cranes have foraged in the
past, and wildlife officials are questioning whether the Whooping crane
flock will have enough room to expand to reach recovery targets.
In the migration corridor, the cranes are facing a proliferation of wind
farms and associated power lines. Collisions with power lines are the number
one cause of mortality for fledged Whooping cranes, and the miles of lines
continues to grow substantially.
The Whooping cranes spend every winter at the Aransas National Wildlife
Refuge and nearby marshes, with the first birds arriving starting in
mid-October and staying through mid-April. Twice a year they complete a
2,500-mile migration to and from their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo
National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada.
In North America, the total number of Whooping cranes in both the wild
(384) and in captivity (152) has reached 536. Young Whooping cranes bred in
captivity are being reintroduced in the wild in two flocks in the eastern
In the fall of 2001, in a historic return to their former range, eight
Whooping cranes were flown behind Operation Migration’s ultralight aircraft
between Wisconsin and Florida. Five of the cranes survived the winter and
started the migration back north on their own in April 2002.
Additional birds were reintroduced in the next eight years, with 78
Whooping cranes now migrating in the eastern U.S. However, the birds are
struggling to hatch young with the adults abandoning their nests just prior
to hatching the eggs due to swarms of black flies bothering the adults.
Officials are planning to experiment with controlling black flies, and/or
may look to find suitable habitat free from the pests.
The second wild flock consists of 29 remaining non-migratory Whooping
cranes in central Florida. That reintroduction effort has been abandoned as
the cranes struggled with poor rates of reproduction and low survival,
mostly tied to recurring drought.
The path to recovery for Whooping cranes remains rocky. It will take
increasing vigilance by man if this species is to survive and provide a
thrill for your great-great grand children to see, just as they provide
enjoyment for Texans and the thousands of visitors from around the world who
annually visit Rockport to see this magnificent species.
Gearing Up for Migration
With our scheduled migration departure date (Oct. 10) quickly approaching,
the crew has been working around the clock, trying to get as many tasks done
Richard put his talented metal sculpting skills to work by
creating six new panel frames, (three for each pen trailer) and many metal
support poles, to expand the travel pen for the 21 chicks in the Class of
2009. Last week, Geoff and I spent a day at the hangar, cleaning and
painting the metal frames and support poles. Fortunately, we were able to
get more paint on the metal, than ourselves. Bev has been doing pen trailer
inventory, making sure we have all the supplies that we need for both the
trailer and the chicks.
With Cohorts 2 and 3 getting along fairly well, with some occasional
reminders from 924 that he’s the dominant chick, it was decided this was the
perfect time to integrate Cohort 1. On Saturday, Robert and I were at the
Canfield Site, getting it ready for the new arrivals. We completely blocked
off one of the dry pens, and we held off separating the wet pen until we
received the new chicks.
Playing musical chicks did not go as well as we would have liked. At the
North Site, Brooke and Chris were trying to get all nine birds to follow,
while Bev and Geoff were trying to keep the chicks from landing. Brooke was
able to get five of nine chicks to follow him, and they successfully made
the long flight to the Canfield Site. Robert and I were standing on the
runway, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our oldest chicks.
Once everyone landed safely, Robert, Brooke, and I put the chicks into
their new home. Brooke went back to the North Site to help Chris with the
stragglers. Four chicks kept returning to the comfort of their pen. Finally,
Chris was able to keep one chick on his wing, and they flew over to the new
pen. Once the chick was safely tucked away, Chris took off, back to the
The Canfield site now housed six of Cohort 1's nine chicks. 910 had
Brooke’s wing all to himself, and both of them completed the long flight. It
was then decided that 903 and 911 would remain in their “5 star hotel” at
the North Site, until we got a chance to fly them over to join up with their
group. (Hopefully Cohort 1 will be completely at the Canfield Site today.)
Robert and I entered the enclosure to replace the barrier in the cold
water of the wet pen so that both groups can access it. After the pen
maintenance was completed, Robert volunteered to stay behind to chick-sit,
and I went back to camp to thaw out.
Migration is the third and final stage to a long journey that takes a
huge amount of dedication from many people to create. The journey begins
when the chicks are hatched at Patuxent, and are taught the basics of life.
The next step is to ship the delicate chicks in crates to Necedah NWR to
learn how to stretch their beautiful black and white wings, and take to the
skies. Once these majestic birds are soaring like eagles, they begin one of
the biggest adventures of their lives; migration.
I feel very fortunate to be a part of every stage in this unique journey
in a Whooping Crane chick’s life. From watching them grow when they are a
wet, awkward moving, ball of fluff, to when they are graceful, flying
adults. The completion of our journey will be a successful migration to
Florida, and the release into the wild of the Class of 2009.
September 29, 2009
INTRODUCING - BUILD YOUR OWN OM CALENDAR!
Many of you have asked when we’ll be producing another calendar, and while both the 2004 & ’05 calendars were very well received, producing one is an expensive and time-consuming undertaking.
We’ve discovered what we believe to be the answer for those looking for a beautiful wall calendar featuring Whooping
cranes, which will not break the OM bank. We hope you’ll take a moment and check out our new calendar building tool.
This interactive and user-friendly tool walks you through the steps required to create your own one-of-a-kind 2010 Wall Calendar – for yourself, and as a truly personal gift for those closest to you, and just in time for the coming Holiday Season.
It’s easy to use – once you access the calendar builder, open the drop-down menu (‘my pictures’ – top left) and then click on ‘all categories’ to see the many beautiful images we have posted for you to choose from.
Select the picture you would like to feature for each and every month from the ones we’ve provided, or upload your own
favorite images. Next, add family birthdays, anniversaries, and other events you need to remember right into the ‘date’ boxes of each month.
You can even save your calendar and come back later to finish it but once your calendar is finished, simply confirm your order and your calendar creation will be professional printed and shipped directly to you.
Of course, if you don’t have time to create your own, you can also choose to order our 2010 Calendar Pre-Printed.
We hope you’ll enjoy this new experience. Look for the ‘Build Your Own Calendar’ button in the Marketplace and in other locations on our website.
28, 2009 - Entry 2
MOVES TO CANFIELD SITE - almost
It has been an odd year weather-wise here in Wisconsin. We started out with
above average snow melt and precipitation. July and August are usually the
hottest months, but this year, the headlines were, "Coldest July Ever.”
usually have many consecutive training days during the summer months, but
that was reduced this year - up until September that is. September 1st began
a training marathon that lasted up until CraneFest on the 19th. Nearly every
day we were greeted with fog and calm conditions.
Despite the fog delays, we were able to take advantage of the calm
conditions and train every day for the first 3 weeks of September. However,
we now seem to be paying for that stretch of great weather, with Sunday’s
storms replaced with howling winds of 30+ mph.
Cohorts 2 and 3 at the Canfield site have been getting along and living
with each other in peace since CraneFest. This past Saturday was our first
opportunity in a week to fly, so we took that opportunity to ‘try’ and lead
Cohort 1 over to the Canfield site. I say ‘try’, because we only succeeded
in bringing seven of the nine birds over.
Brooke tried to lead the nine over while I flew chase, but one bird broke
formation on the way over. As I attempted to pick up this wayward crane,
several more left Brooke and headed for ‘home’. He managed to get five to
land at Canfield while I tried to lead four birds away from their home at
the North site.
There were two pairs of adults in the area that were distracting the
chicks, and at one time I had five birds on my wing - three chicks and two
adults. I eventually led these 3 away from the North site and got them
almost to Canfield before two of them broke off to once again head for home.
I still had one bird on my wing, so I continued on to Canfield where I
landed and watched as the ground crew and Brooke quickly got this sixth bird
into its new temporary home.
Brooke and I took back off and flew over to the North training site.
Numbers 903, 910 and 911 were there waiting on the runway as I landed. I
shut the engine off to observe the young birds for any signs of distress,
and fed out a few grapes. Satisfied that they looked in good shape and ready
for another attempt, I took off with the three trailing behind me.
Looking back, I could just tell that they were not into this flight. They
were not climbing much above 10 feet and were trailing me by a couple
hundred feet. One bird broke to fly back to the site and soon the other two
followed. I carved a quick 180 degree turn in time to see Bev and Geoff
dancing on the runway underneath tarps in swamp monster-esque fashion. This
seemed to get the chicks attention. They veered away from the scary duo and
I began leading them off to the west. They were still lagging behind me so I
radioed to Brooke to pick them up if could lure them away far enough.
Brooke managed to pick up 910 but 903 and 911 seemed very reluctant to
go, and instead, appeared to be looking for an alternate landing zone. We
radioed to the monsters to clear the site, allowing 903 and 911 to land.
Brooke was able to lead 910 over to Canfield, but the other two will remain
at the North site until our next opportunity to fly - which appears could be
Let's hope that the three weeks of perfect weather are not followed by
three weeks of bad weather. We have to get these birds flying as a group so
we can leave this place in a couple weeks!!
28, 2009 - Entry 1
It is our hope to host as many, if not more departure flyovers as we did
last year on this fall’s migration. With luck, there will have been no
changes of consequence on the landscape at last year’s flyover locations,
and we will be able to use them again this year.
As we reach each
stopover, we will be checking out the previously used locations just to be
sure, but keep in mind that in most cases this can only be done a day or two
in advance at best. As usual, we will post the location and directions to
each flyover site here in the Field Journal once they have been checked out.
Meeting folks at flyovers is almost as exciting for us as it is for you
to get a personal look at the Class of 2009 being led by our ultralights. We
are hoping for even larger turnouts this season and look forward to seeing
both 'old' and new faces.
As our target departure date approaches, (Saturday, October 10th) a
reminder note to folks along the migration route may be in order. In order
to protect the birds and our stopover hosts’ property and privacy, we never
reveal our stopover locations beyond the county level. To ensure WCEP’s
isolation protocols are observed, there is NO accessibility or opportunity
to view or photograph the young Whooping cranes in the Class of 2009 other
than at flyovers.
Keep in mind too, that because our ability to advance each day is
entirely weather dependant, we never know where we will be when….or, is
that, when we will be where. To give you some idea of the unpredictability
of this, check out our
Migration Timeline page. This webpage shows the progress of every
migration since 2001. Of course you can follow our daily progress, or lack
thereof, by checking each day's Field Journal entry. We post to the Field
Journal every day during the migration – in fact, on many days there are
likely to be several postings.
New to OM’s Migration crew this year are husband and wife team, David and
Linda Boyd of Rhinelander, WI. David will be driving one of our vehicles for
us, and Linda will be assisting me with outreach and at flyovers. We are
delighted to have their help and extend a warm welcome to David and Linda to
the OM Team. Very soon their photos and bios will be added to our “Meet the
Team” webpage so you will be able to ‘meet’ them too.
The countdown to target departure is on. Will the Team and the young
Whoopers be ready? Will the weather cooperate? Stay tuned.
THE CRANECAM – NO MEAN FEAT
Thanks to the CraneCam, the countless Field Journal entries written over the
years by OM team members describing the activities of the day, have been
brought to life with live video. Bearing out the old adage, “A picture is
worth a thousand words,” are the many messages we’ve received from folks
telling us how watching the CraneCam has given them a better understanding
of what goes on.
The CraneCam gives viewers the opportunity to see these
special birds in a way never before possible. Since its launch at the end of
July, OM’s CraneCam has attracted a growing audience of devotees. In August
alone, more than 26,000 people tuned in to watch our pilots perform taxi
training and flight training with the young Whooping cranes in the Class of
Operational from dawn to dusk, the CraneCam also provides viewers with a
ringside seat to watch the antics and behaviors of the chicks while in the
pen, as well the interaction between them and the costumed handlers. Equally
interesting have been the views of the adult Whooping cranes that have
visited the pens. (509 continues to visit the Canfield pensite daily.)
It takes a lot of equipment to bring you these live feeds. From the video
camera in the field, to the server that converts the video images, and relays it all over the world via the
Internet, bringing live CraneCam images to your computer is a marvel of
science and ingenuity.
The CraneCam (at the Canfield pensite) is several miles from where the DSL transmission line is located. The signal first travels
to there wirelessly before being beamed to Holland where the broadcast server is located, and from there it gets sent to South Africa for eventual public broadcast via WildEarth.tv. The camera’s distant location, and
vagaries of the equipment and connections, inevitably produce breaks in
transmission now and then. Weather also can play havoc with transmissions,
and on more than one occasion we have been knocked off the air by electrical storms.
Chris Gullikson, our on-the-scene troubleshooter, is backed up by Heather
Ray who troubleshoots all the issues that arise that can be dealt with
remotely. Between them, this duo handles all the problems that can be worked
out at our end, as well as alerting the folks at WildEarth to issues with
which their assistance is needed in order to resolve. Throughout what has
essentially been a ‘learn as you go’ process, Chris and Heather have been
doing a remarkable, if not positively outstanding job.
But there is more to it than just locating and aiming the CraneCam. The
camera has to be ‘manned’. Without an operator to pan and zoom, just as one
would with a hand held camera, there would be nothing to see but a static
view of the pen. You may not realize it takes a full team of camera
operators to keep the video coming to you. Because the dawn to dusk hours of
operation precluded OM staff from taking this on in addition to our regular
responsibilities, a cadre of volunteers was recruited.
Working in shifts, our CraneCam ‘Drivers’ operate the camera remotely
from their home computers. The pan and zoom functions are controlled using
their computer’s mouse or touchpad. What the Cam Driver sees on their
computer screen looks very much like the remote for your TV. Clicking the
directional arrows on the device displayed on their computer screen moves
the camera left or right, up or down; the more clicks, the further the
camera moves. There are also two button controls; one for zooming in and one
for zooming out. Doing that is not as easy as it might sound. Getting the
hang of it all takes considerable practice.
And there is a catch. The amount of movement the clicks generate isn’t
always consistent. Sometimes it is as if the CraneCam has a mind of its own,
and the two or three clicks that practice has shown should move the view
several feet in one direction or another, can cause the camera to jump way
beyond the scene the Cam Driver is trying to capture. If you’ve been
watching the action only to be suddenly confronted with a view of nothing
but vegetation, or the sky, that unexpected jump is the reason why.
Equally frustrating for Cam Drivers are the occasions when the CraneCam
freezes. Sometimes the freeze lasts for just a couple of seconds, sometimes
longer. This isn’t so bad when the camera is focused on the birds in the
pen, but when the Cam Driver is trying to capture all the action of flight
training, every second the camera is frozen is agonizing - for both Driver
Operating the CraneCam during flight training can be a toughie. The Cam
Driver has to try and anticipate what the pilots will do, when they will do
it, which way they will go, and try to click/pan both to the side and up
quickly enough to keep them in frame. Add to that the unpredictability of
the young cranes and the course corrections the trike pilots make as a
result, and you can begin to understand how difficult a task our Cam Drivers
can face. The pressure is on - guess wrongly, or lose track of the trike,
and we disappoint viewers.
Bringing you live video via OM’s CraneCam is yet another example of what
could not done without the assistance and commitment of volunteers. Some of
our Cam Drivers (see photo) recently travelled to Necedah and went above and
beyond the call by helping to man our booth for CraneFest.
OM's CraneCam Drivers
Back Row - Left to right:
Darlene Lambert, Nekoosa, WI; Dave Kitzman, Port Richey, FL / Stacy,
MN; Heather Ray, OM staff; Cindy Loken, Nekoosa, WI; Colleen Reidy-Chase,
Front Row - Left to right:
Joe Duff, OM Staff; Liz Condie, OM Staff.
Mary Woolitz-Dooley, Plainfield IN.
Absent when photo was taken:
David Howell, Tallahassee, FL; Marilayn-Sue Walsh, Brooksville, FL.
Gratitude and applause go to all our CraneCam volunteers. Without
their enthusiasm and dedication the wonders that unfold before your eyes
would go uncaptured.
If you have a website and would like to embed the broadcast on your site for your visitors to see, please send an email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org Heather will send you the code needed to embed the broadcast.
September 24, 2009
Our protocol is that on the third non-fly day, we bring the birds out onto
the runway to exercise them. Since that day fell on Tuesday and we were all
attending the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership meetings, exercise day was
postponed until Wednesday - which started as foggy as most of our days have
Geoff, Brooke and I headed to the Canfield site to supervise the
younger chicks, while Erin, Richard and Robert Doyle of Patuxent went to the
chicks all came running out of the gate, escaping the confines of the pen
and leapt about enjoying their new found freedom. Some playful chasing and
bluff jump rakes kept us entertained. To encourage the chicks to fly, we ran
down the runway flapping a loose sleeve, and soon all but 925 were airborne.
The birds flew south into the misty sky, gracefully carving a wide arc,
creating their own circuit. Some of the less strong flyers peeled off and
headed back to the runway, while the stronger ones stayed aloft for a few
moments longer. Soon, chicks were landing all about us, puffing from their
exertion in the very damp air.
Much probing and poking ensued while they gained their breath. Once they
started leaping about again, off we ran for one more flight. This time 8 of
the chicks took off to the north.
was difficult to see the chicks against the white, hazy sky, especially
looking through our fogged up visors. Some chicks are more white than brown
now, especially their wings, and very quickly they were out of view. We all
stood looking north. And looked. And looked. For what seemed like an
Brooke looked at me and I shrugged my shoulders in an, “I don’t know
where our babies went to” response. He headed down the runway with his
vocalizer blaring. As we started to become concerned, lo and behold, our
wayward chickies appeared, first as mere dots, then took shape into the
graceful fledglings that they are.
they lowered their landing gear, cupped their wings and tilted their way
down to the ground. We let them relax, catch their breath and poke around
for as long as it took. Again, we tried to entice them into flight, but they
had had enough and were very content to stay on the ground.
and I looked at each other and nodded, signaling it was time to put them
away. Not quite as eager to go home, the chicks lagged on the runway, but
eventually all followed into the pen. With a few strategically placed
grapes, the stragglers were enticed through the gate, and after a beak count
to ensure all chicks had made it inside, we closed the gates behind us and
wandered back up the hill to the truck.
After a quick glance back at the pen, I asked Geoff what he thought. In
his philosophical manner, he cocked his head to the sky, squinted, and with
one word managed to describe not only the morning’s exercise session, but
the morning, the entire project, and the species as a whole. “Beautiful,” he
said. And we walked the rest of the way in silence, all of us smiling.
Watching the Canfield site /
Return of the Plant Man
I was awoken by the sound soft pitter-patter on the roof of my trailer, thus
putting a kibosh on the third straight day of training. At first, I was okay
with having a few days off, what with training a few weeks straight now. But
now, I was getting a little bummed out. I’ve been itching to see Cohort 2
and 3 fly together ever since they were finally integrated, and Barb saw ten
of the twelve birds fly ‘round the pen. Oh, well. Another dream, for another
day, I suppose.
Yesterday was destined to be another slow day for this
worker bee. The higher-ups were attending more WCEP meetings, the lucky
dogs. The travel pen trailers were all hosed down and cleaned up. And we
can’t practice putting up the travel pen until the doors on one of the
travel pen trailers is patched up. But I got to see the Canfield site Gang
around noon when Bev asked me to run some food out there and make sure
everyone was still playing nice.
Sure enough, everyone at Canfield was just fine. No birds were stomped in
the mud, and no one had flown the coop when I got there. Generally, the kids
all behaved pretty well. There were a few stare downs / chases every now and
then, but no bodily injury, which is all I was asking for.
Interestingly, I watched the always meek and timid 914 boss around 928. I
figured she wouldn’t have it in her to throw her weight around anyone else
but 925, another equally passive bird. But then again, I guess it isn’t hard
to push around a smaller, younger, asthmatic chick. Even though 914 herself
sounds like Doc Holiday from Tombstone.
After watching the babies for a half hour, I went to check on a few
babies of my own: the wooly milkweeds growing along the North site's back
road. True to my word, I’ve been making a routine out of checking on them,
plucking any split, burst or popped seedpods for Rich King. I’ve honestly
lost count how many I’ve pulled.
Most of the time, I come home with one to three pods, though I have come
home with as many as five. Every now and then, I leave empty-handed. But
it’s not uncommon for me to go up there, pluck one or two pods, then find
two more that I missed before. So I’m always having to tell everyone that
there’s roughly two dozen of them up there.
When Rich said this was the best
spot in Wisconsin to find woolies, he meant it. More than even he realized.
Unfortunately, today was a slow day, even for the woolies, and I left
empty-handed. But since I found and marked two MORE undiscovered woolies,
and I’ve nabbed nearly a dozen over the weekend, who am I to complain? Odds
are, this is going to keep me busy until migration, which is aces with me.
But that isn’t all Rich King found to keep me busy. As I was bringing in
a hefty haul a week ago, Rich asked me to look into a few more projects
going on the side. One of which was checking on Virginia meadow beauties
(AKA: Handsome Harry, Rhexia virginica) growing along the Boghaunter trail
for any seedpods. (see photo)
This is a striking, low-growing herbaceous plant with four-petalled, very
lavender flowers, and equally vivid yellow, almost-tentacle like stamens.
You can spot it in sandy swamps, wet ponds, or along sandy, acidic soils
during the late summer, early fall. Rhexia is simply a name used by hotshot
Roman naturalist Pliny to describe an unknown plant, while virginica Latin
for ‘of Virginia’. Here in Wisconsin, it’s a plant of “special concern”,
which means it’s on it’s been hit hard by habitat loss, pollution and
disturbances, and is on its way to being threatened.
I saw them by chance, growing along the middle of the trail as I was
wrapping up a twilight hike ‘round Boghaunter Trail. So I knew exactly what
Rich was talking about and where to look for them. While they had finally
just finished blooming, none of them were ready to come home, so I left them
Item number two was another state-threatened plant known as
rattlesnake-root and white lettuce. Unfortunately, there are a number of
plants answering to the names “rattlesnake-root” and “white lettuce”. I
didn’t think to ask which specific rattlesnake-root Rich wanted, since I
thought there was only one around here. Silly me. So until I have a better
idea which rattlesnake-root/white lettuce Rich is looking for, I can’t
really talk intelligently about this one. At least not in this entry.
Either way, Rich told me that there might’ve been the state-threatened
rattlesnake-root spotted growing along the parking lot at none other than
the West site, Cohort 2’s old kicking grounds. Unfortunately, the picture he
had of it wasn’t entirely reliable since there weren’t any pictures of its
leaves (a key factor in telling rattlesnake-roots apart), and he asked me to
look into it. I also pointed out that Bev and I might’ve spotted the
rattlesnake-root in question growing along Boghaunter Trail (or at least
some kind of rattlesnake-root), which seemed to get his attention.
So once more, back into the breach. As I meandered towards my meadow
beauties, I kept a sharp eye out for the rattlesnake-roots I saw earlier on
Boghunter trail. As luck would have it, I found not one, but four of them
growing along the trail, one of which had been mowed recently (!). I made
sure to snap some pictures of my rattlesnake-roots, leaves and all for Rich
to examine at his leisure. Whether they’re the mythical, long-lost
threatened rattlesnake-root, or just another weed remains to be seen.
Unfortunately, the search continues for the West site rattlesnake-root.
This one’s actually kind of embarrassing to me since I’m fairly certain I’ve
seen it there before. And you’d think the guy who practically has a sixth
sense for wooly pods would have no trouble finding a tall plant with oodles
of nodding pinkish-white flowers. You’d be wrong. Try as I may, I couldn’t
spot it along the parking lot, or along the road to and from the site. But
that doesn’t mean it’s seen the last of me. Since the West Site is along the
way to my woolies, I’m content to keep dropping by until I spot it again.
With my plant excursions wrapped up for the day, I retreated back to my
cozy tornado chew toy to await roost checks. Around five, I slithered out to
Canfield to tuck Cohorts 2 & 3 in to bed. I watched them for another half
hour through the blind, just to make sure no new wars were declared in my
five hour absence. Thankfully, the kids were just as mellow and agreeable as
they were earlier that day. After sweeping up some spilled food, checking
the feeders, and braving 929’s too-faithful rendition of Shakespeare’s
“Julius Caesar”, with me as Julius, I returned home.
The world is safe again. But…For how long?
September 22, 2009 - Entry 2
The Fall meetings of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) are
traditionally held during the week following the Necedah Whooping Crane
Festival. It is the time when all the partners and participants in the
reintroduction project gather to both review the past year and plan for the
This fall’s meetings are particularly important as reports are being
presented on the several studies undertaken earlier in the year. Among
those, are reports on Nesting, Behavior and Energetics, Black Fly, and Food
Availability. One of the reports reviewed yesterday, produced by Dr. Richard
Urbanek, was on the structure of the current population. Readers may be
interested in this summary.
Adult breeding pairs which have produced eggs (12 pairs/24 birds)
105 and 501*
211 and 217*
212 and 419*
213 and 218*
317 and 303* (sibling pair)
403 and 309*
310 and W601*
311 and 312*
318 and 313*
401 and 508*
408 and 519*
505 and 415*
Adult pairs which have built nests (3 pairs/6 birds)
307 and 726*
402 and D746*
707 and D739*
Sub-adult and newly formed adult pairs (4 pairs/8 birds)
216 and 716*
316 and D742*
512 and 722*
709 and 717*
This gives the population the potential of having 19 breeding/nesting
pairs for the Spring of 2010.
Unpaired cranes that summered in the central core reintroduction area
containing other Whooping cranes (13 males / 0 female)
101, 412, 416, 506, 509, 511, 514, 524, D627, D628, 703, 713, 724
Unpaired cranes that summered in areas without other Whooping cranes (4 males / 6 females)
706, 712 (location unknown), 733, D737 (Michigan) / 107*, 520*, D527*,
D528*, D533* (Michigan), 727* (Indiana)
Richard's report highlights the current gender imbalance in the Eastern
Migratory Population. Excluding the 2008 yearlings, there are 17 unpaired
males and just 6 available females. With only four females in the Class of
2008, the ratio of unpaired males to unpaired females becomes even more
disparate. Adding in the ’08 yearlings produces an almost 3 to 1 ratio of
males to females; 28 males / 10 females.
The group composition of the 15 yearlings in the Class of 2008 is: (11 males / 4 females)
804, 814, 818*
805, 812, 824*, 827, 828, 830*
819, 829 (only group summering in the core area)
D831, D826, D838
Long-term missing are 516 and D744.
September 22, 2009 - Entry 1
IN THE NAME OF WHOOPING CRANES
The education facility at Necedah, commonly referred to as the Classroom,
sits on a rise overlooking an expanse of pristine wetland dotted
occasionally with Whooping cranes. Standing on the rise, you can see them
off in the distance looking as natural as a Whooping crane can. Five feet
tall in stark white with a red crown and black wingtips they are the obverse
of camouflage. Like an overt statement of defiance, they dominate the
landscape and reinforce that presence with a call that can be heard for
Their existence here on the refuge is the reason the Classroom is
filled to capacity this week as the world’s leading experts on Whooping
cranes gather to discuss their future.
Dr George Archibald, co-founder of the ICF has taken time from his world
travels to be here, and Sammy King, USGS Louisiana has joined us. Tom Stehn,
Whooping Crane Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service travelled
from Texas. Terry Peacock, Refuge Manager at St Marks NWR is up from
Florida, along with Marty Folk from the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Dr. Peter Adler from Clemson University is the leading expert on black
flies and is here to advise us, along with John Christian, USFWS Senior
Advisor for WCEP. Dr Phil Miller, SSC / IUCN is the leader of the volunteer
WCEP Review Panel and he is here to observe and eventually to provide this
group with an evaluation of the efforts so far.
There are many others with equal credentials, along with the field teams
from ICF, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and Operation Migration. In
total, 63 people crammed the Classroom. All here to protect those white
birds so oblivious to the efforts undertaken on their behalf.
The Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane Reintroduction is facing a serious
challenge, but with the combine expertise that has gathered in this room we
can’t help but feel optimistic. After all it is only one more hurdle in a
long series that are now behind us.
I stood on the observation tower last week to watch the training and
spoke with a group of wildlife experts from Louisiana. They were here to
observe in hopes of eventually starting a population in their home state. As
Richard van Heuvelen led Cohort one over our heads the crowd grew silent,
and I heard from behind me, “If at first it doesn’t seem outrageous -- it
is likely of little consequence.”
Angels with Dirty Faces
Tonight will be the first night we let cohorts 2 and 3 stay together all
night. I am sure everyone of the handlers will have a sleepless night
wondering how all the chicks are getting along. Will 924 leave 919 alone?
Will 927 get his tail kicked, or will he survive the evening unscathed? Will
914 leave 925 alone while she is roosting? These are all the worries we have
and then some.
Yesterday morning, since we didn’t fly, we went to the pen
to join up the cohorts. We opened the pen gate and they all eagerly came
onto the runway. Before I knew it, all but two of the chicks were airborne
flying southbound. I looked after them, marveling at their grace and beauty
and hoping like heck they would come back.
Truth be told, I was stunned that they flew. These two groups had never
flown together before, and I was impressed by the loose formation. 928, the
last chick out of the pen, remained on the ground as did one other bird
who’s transmitter band was so dirty we never could tell who it was. Judging
by the predominance of white feathers, it had to be one of the older birds;
either 913 or 918. Four of the younger chicks returned to the runway while
the rest continued their circuit, eventually returning to land all about us.
As we stand on the runway, the chicks turn towards us, initially dropping
their legs into a landing position, then cupping their wings as they glide
to the ground. They tip back and forth as they stall out their wings, losing
lift. Soon they are on the ground, running a step or two before stopping.
They slowly walk about , poking and probing in the dirt.
The ground is terribly hard, not surprising considering the lack of rain
this last month. They continue probing, occasionally stopping to ruffle
their feathers back into place after the flight. They stop and look at us as
they pass by, each with varying amounts of dirt on their faces.
Most of the overt aggression has passed, but there is still the stare
down or chase. We keep a close eye on our charges, making note of who is
chasing whom, and who needs to be calmed down. 919 is the tough guy of the
morning and I sidle up next to him, proffering a grape to sooth the savage
beast, so to speak. He calms, and I walk away.
929 seems to stalk me. I crouch down to seem less threatening and he
starts to peck at my costume. My nemesis seems to have lost his imagined
grudge against me and never pecks hard. He pecks at the puppet, at my
costume, at my sleeve, my helmet. He looks up at me, dirt all over his face
and I fall in love all over again. And just like a real mom, I forget all
about how badly my child has acted and wish I could do nothing but hug my
dirty faced angel.
From the morning's flight training to the weather to the terrific
turnout, we have to rate this year's CraneFest as all round just SUPER!
The fly-bys at the Observation Tower were thrilling. Watchers had a rare
view of three trikes all in the air at once, all leading birds. Absolutely
magical. The pilots gave the crowd gathered below quite a show, leading the
birds past on numerous occasions, and even a couple of passes right over the
tower. It was a three Kleenex morning.
Center Photo: Pilot Matt Ahrens led a single bird on several passes
by the tower. The young crane found the sweet spot off the wing and
soared effortlessly behind the trike.
We always look forward to this day every year. It is so great to have the
opportunity to renew old acquaintances and to make new ones. It is a
marvelous day full of hugs and handshakes. So many of OM's friends and
supporters come year after year, and as the day wears on we find ourselves
asking each other, "Have your seen so and so yet?"
One of the faces that we, and many others dearly missed seeing this year,
was our good friend Nancy Drew. Nancy hails from North Dakota and
unfortunately wasn't able to attend. Nancy, we want to let you know that we
weren't the only ones who missed having you with us. You'd be very surprized
and no doubt touched at how many people were asking after you.
Each year, it seems that CraneFest draws more and more people from
farther and farther afield. This year was no exception. We talked to folks
from both coasts - California and New Jersey. And from north to south -
Minnesota and Florida, and folks from a generous sprinkling of States in
between. How rewarding to know how much this Project and Whooping cranes
mean to so many people!
Those of you who purchased a raffle ticket on the Heritage Square pattern
quilt crafted and donated to OM by Lorraine Gray from Urbana, IL, will be
interested to know the outcome of the draw. Kimberly Lacy from Masonville,
CO did the honors, and the name of the winner she pulled out of draw box was
Karin Zachow of Miami, FL.
We continually say that just about everything OM does is only possible
with much help and support from our volunteers. Cranefest is no exception.
Pictured in the photo to the right are a just a few of OM's terrific and
hardworking volunteers who helped to 'man' our booth.
Left to Right: Mary Woolitz-Dooley, IN (CraneCam Driver); Colleen Reidy-Chase,
FL (CraneCam Driver); Vi White, IL (Migration Trivia Chief); Dave Johnson,
IL (Sec/Treas of the Board); Cindy Loken, WI (CraneCam Driver); Walter
Sturgeon, NC (Director of the Board, Migration Ground Crew).
Today is the Necedah Lion’s Club annual Whooping Crane Festival. After a
trip to the Observation Tower on the refuge in anticipation of being able to
watch morning flight training, we will scoot over to the fairgrounds to host
the booth we have set up there. Drop by for a visit, a chat, and pick up
some OM Gear at ‘event prices’.
Sunday morning, once again after a trek to the tower, we will be at the
Classroom on the Necedah NWR to host the Annual General Meetings of Members
of Operation Migration Inc (Canada) and Operation Migration USA Inc. Join us
for the meetings and some delicious homemade refreshments compliments of
Craniac Margaret Howden.
If you can’t join us in person, today or Sunday maybe you'll have time to
Give a WHOOP!We still need more than 8,000 WHOOPS! to reach
our goal of 10,000. We are hoping to achieve that number before we fly the
Our 10,000th mile leading young Whooping cranes on their first migration
will be flown somewhere over LaSalle County, Illinois. In past years we’ve
reached that area as early as October 24th. To do that we need an average of
1637 people to WHOOP! each week for the next five weeks!
If you’ve already WHOOPED! you can help by encouraging others – click
here for a
printable page of four Give a WHOOP! fill-out forms you can use
for this purpose. If every one of our Craniacs used this page to solicit
just four WHOOPS! we would reach 10,000 in no time flat.
As of June 30th of this year, the population of North America was
341,831,831. Add to that the population of the rest of the world
(6,426,973,337) and it means our little planet sustains almost 7 billion
people. Surely it can’t be difficult to find a mere 8,000 who care enough
about Whooping cranes to help us sustain them by giving a WHOOP!
Please Give a WHOOP! today. Click here
to see what you could receive in return.
TO 'PLAY NICE'
At this time of year, socialization of the cohorts takes up the most of our
time. Right now, we are working with Cohorts 2 and 3.
We flew Cohort 2
over to the Canfield site on September 5th. Since then, we have tried, every
morning, to amalgamate the groups. Unfortunately, we have two extremely
tough, big, and dominant birds that want to rule the roost.
924 and 919 are our biggest males in the younger cohorts. They are also
the most dominant in their respective cohorts. This means that they
absolutely positively will not back down to anyone. No way, no how. They
each think they will rule the roost. They are each over 4 feet tall, with
the infamous 7” beak Brooke spoke of in his last update. Neither one is shy
about exerting his dominance. In fact, when in the company of these two
magnificent chicks, the testosterone is almost palpable.
When we finish training for the morning, we bring both cohorts onto the
runway for their social time. Usually four costumes are present, sometimes
only three, but assuredly enough to supervise. 924 is always the aggressor
and 919 always picks on the smaller chicks; and Richard, too. Every time
Richard is one of the costumes, 919 tries to bully him. Not unlike 929 going
after Erin or I.
Chicks jump, flap, scatter. Handlers try to keep an eye on the
interaction. It is difficult with 12 flapping chicks running about. Throw in
an adult for fun (509) and it gets very busy.
Today the decision was made to put the chicks into the pen all as one
group. The pilots took down the barrier dividing the wet pen and the group
was allowed free reign. Well, to a point. A costumed handler carefully
supervised this process from the anonymity of the blind. First Barb, then
Geoff, gazed through the one way window, ensuring no blood would be spilled
as these young frisky chicks tried to work out their differences.
Throughout the day, both 924 and 919 would take turns stalking the other,
testing the waters so to speak, to see who would come out as top dog.
Slowly, but surely, they worked out their differences and by the time we had
to divide the group for roosting, 924 seemed to be on top. 919 walked away
several times from the younger, but obviously tougher chick.
Meanwhile, the other chicks were all working out their differences as
well. 925 and 914, the two most submissive chicks were going beak to beak;
sort of a fight for the lowest position. At the end of today, it was still
an unknown, although 914 had taken a good peck at 509 who got in her way on
The saga continues and we don’t know who will be at what position when we
show up tomorrow. All we know for sure is that by dividing the cohorts up
tonight, we would ensure the safety of the chicks for at least one more
night. No major battles will be fought , or if they are, it will only be
through the fence tonight.
Craniac Merel Black from Stevens Point, WI recently sent us an interesting
excerpt from the 1959 publication, “The Complete Field Guide to American
Wildlife” by Henry Collins Jr. We reproduced it below for your reading
WHOOPING CRANE Grus americana
This is our only tall, long-necked white bird with black wingtips; very
Description: size, 50 in.; wingspread, 7 1/2 ft. Adult: head with naked red
area, bill dark with yellow base, legs black. Immature: tan above, no naked
red area, bill all dark. Note: Snow Goose has much shorter bill, neck, and
legs; White Pelican is heavy, not tall and slender; egrets lack black
wingtips; White Ibis is much smaller and has curved bill. Habitat: marshes.
Habits: very wary; moves about marsh on foot; in flight, wing beats slow,
flies in single file; sometimes spirals to great height and performs aerial
evolutions. Voice: loud vibrating trumpeting. Food: seeds, plants, reptiles,
amphibians. Eggs: 2, buff blotched with brown, 3.9 x 2.5 in. Range: formerly
bred from Mackenzie to Minnesota and south to Iowa; also in Louisiana; today
breeds in se. Mackenzie, winters in Aransas Wildlife Refuge, Texas.
This huge bird was a tempting target for the man or boy with a gun; then its
breeding grounds in the West were taken over by the farmer. Now only about
40 individuals are left alive. America watches with bated breath as
scientists, press, and public, by all known means of conservation, try
desperately to save this magnificent bird from extinction.
In her message to us Merel said, “I think the author Henry Collins, Jr.
would join with all of us to say how proud we are of what you have
Our thanks to Merel for sending along the flashback to 1959, AND for the
very kind words.
photograph to the right is the last thing a frog sees before he begins the
next chapter of his journey on the great cosmic organic continuum, which is
to say, he caught the last train to “Dirtville." Because as every frog will
tell you, “It’s all about the beak, brother."
You see, looking down the
business end of the beak of a Whooping crane is like looking down the barrel
of a loaded rifle, where at the far end you see the cold, hard squinting aim
of the hunter’s eye as the forces of focus and bloodsport collide to place
you in the crosshairs.
It is said that nothing focuses the mind quite like facing a firing
squad. If so, the poor little frog’s focus must surely equal that of the
crane’s, for at the end of a crane’s beak there sits two very large eyes -
eyes which do not face sideways as one might imagine but which stare
straight ahead, just like our own. And in those eyes there is no hint of the
past or future…..no wouldas’, couldas’, shouldas’….only the laser-like
energy of the moment with its compliment of power and magic.
One might expect the wings of a crane to be the most cherished part of
its anatomy, but I believe this assumption to be false. It is the beak, I
would say, that holds this distinction. The beak, after all, is for the
crane the gateway to the senses. It unites with the eyes and with the brain
to form a single organ giving all that the crane experiences its true
meaning. Not only is it the mouth,, the portal of nourishment, and the
corridor of breath , but it is also a weapon, and a probe, and a chamber of
the voice and, perhaps most amazing of all, a pair of hands.
Watching a crane eat is like watching a pie eating contest at a county
fair, where each pie is Ground Zero and the target of the contestant’s Face
Plant. (“You ain’t gettin' in my pickup lessin' ya wash that pie off your
face, ya hear me Bubba!”) But that is really unfair, because the truth is
that the beak is capable of amazing grace and dexterity. It is the absolute
master of the most gentle caress, while brandishing the potential of the
most brutal and lethal stabbings.
The very act of a crane eating is a motion, or a collection of motions
resembling a kind of kinetic poetry; like when it eats its beloved crane
chow. The beak closes ever so gently yet with incredible accuracy as the
very tip pinches down on a single pellet. Then in a ballet-like motion
almost too fast to see, it flings it up into the space between its now open
beak while simultaneously jabbing its head forward to catch it in its throat
and swallow it as the next pellet is picked up and the motion repeated. As
for the frog? I leave that for the next episode of “Wild Kingdom”.
But as I mentioned, the beak is also quite a weapon should the crane
decide to use it as such. Seven or so inches of pointed power driven by the
hammer-like thrust of its angry head is no fun for man nor beast. In fact,
there is a story, an urban legend perhaps, of a man in India who had a great
future managing a motel in New Jersey had he not tried to catch a crane. The
crane, as the story goes, drove its beak into the man’s eye and brain,
turning off his “ No Vacancy” sign for the last time.
Once, while helping Bev with a school program, one of the kids asked me
the unexpected question, “Can a crane kill you?” Not wanting to lie to a
group of trusting fourth graders, I said, “Well, once upon a time in India
there was this guy……….” That was the end of that program because for the
rest of the period, the only questions the kids asked were about this tragic
event and all the creative ways the poor Indian man could have saved
The power of the crane’s beak is incredible. Recent studies at the
University of Whoknowswhere tested the bite pressure of a crane and found it
to be many times greater than that of a crocodile, great white shark, and
Mike Tyson. Five kazillion tons, they said, In fact, the pressure is so
great that last year we financed the entire project by placing small lumps
of coal in the crane’s beak, blowing a hair dryer on him while giving him
the old 'Poop Sample Squeeze’ which resulted in him spitting out a perfect
multi-karat diamond which we immediately sold to a guy from South Africa who
had the habit of muttering under his breath, ‘diamonds last forever'.
A recent unpublished paper - unpublished as yet because the authors are
fighting over who will be listed as Senior Author and Junior Author - wrote
of how the crane beak is an important tool in its ability to migrate. Cranes
use their beaks to navigate, the authors hypothesize, by pointing it where
they want to go then following it. To test this theory, they implanted a
miniature GPS TOM TOM into the tip of a crane’s beak and chose the has-been
actor, Mr. T as the voice of command. As the bird took off on migration, the
researchers could hear the voice of Mr. T giving the poor bird directions.
”Turn right, FOOOOOL”, “Hang a U’ee, SUCKAAAA”. The bird arrived on a sound
studio in Hollywood a month later and immediately got into a fight with the
director. The GPS manufacturer gave us free units to put in our trikes and
sent Mr. T out here to shoot a promotional spot, but when we put our
costumes on, the poor guy took off and we haven’t seen him since.
And so, it is in the words of the late, great philosopher and naturalist,
Jimmy Durante as he pointed to his oversized proboscis and would say with a
shaking head, “The nose knows!” And if you don’t believe Jimmy, just ask any
Refuge Manager Larry Wargowsky and his staff recently hosted a group of
dignitaries, volunteers, and members of the public at Wisconsin’s Necedah
National Wildlife Refuge. The attendees gathered to witness the unveiling of
the architectural design and ceremonial ground-breaking for a new Visitor
Center and Headquarters facility.
of the approximately 150 people present for the event was Craniac and
long-time OM supporter, Darlene Lambert from Nekoosa, WI. “What made the
event most memorable for me,” said Darlene, “was spotting a pair of adult
Whooping cranes right from where I was sitting listening to the speeches.
Imagine – a Visitor Center where it will be possible to actually view the
cranes that have already made the refuge famous!” Darlene also provided the
photo shown here of an artist’s rendering of the new Visitor Center.
Each year, nearly 150,000 people visit the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
to hike its trails, watch and photograph wildlife, or, hunt and fish. We
encourage you to become one of them.
OF LAST WEEK
Writing an update twice a week is a good thing for me. It forces me to be
more aware of what I do on a daily basis, be more present as the modern day
gurus say. It also forces me to review my week; to think over what has
transpired and what I have seen. Today I can write about things that
happened last week.
When I think back to last week, there is only one thing that is in my
head, and that is losing 922. It has become a part of this project, which is
life in a micro environment, to lose birds. We have had bad springs at
Patuxent. We have lost chicks here at Necedah, on migration, and of course I
will never forget February 2, 2007.
We all handle grief in our own way. We all go through the 4 stages of
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory. Barb grieves openly, the first to shed
tears. Erin and Geoff, who accompanied us and 922 to ICF were visibly
shaken. The look on Geoff’s face would break the iciest of hearts. Me, I get
stuck in the anger. It's not directed at anyone - there is no one to blame.
But like so many who grieve, I am mad at the situation; mad that one of our
beautiful charges is gone too soon. I stand, stoic on the outside, but
wailing on the inside. We all left ICF for the drive back to Necedah and
were, for the most part, silent. Lost in our own thoughts and remembrances
I think back to her as a small chick at Patuxent. Then I think of
Brooke’s beautifully written update about her. The one where he wrote,
“Today we form our partnership.” I announced in voice only mind could hear.
“You, me, and this silly looking contraption of black and yellow. And
together we will climb up into the above; that other world of wind and cloud
and height, the world where you are the citizen and I the clumsy visitor.
And after a time, it will no longer belong to us, only to you, and you will
soar high and away carrying on your strong wings our hopes and dreams for a
better tomorrow. Think you can handle all that extra baggage, little guy?
Trust me. You can.”
The tears begin to flow and I am thankful I am wearing my sunglasses so
my comrades don’t see me. I push the update out of my head and continue to
drive staring intently at the road. Once back at Necedah I keep busy, doing
small tasks while everyone else heads back to their campers.
I scurry about while Brooke watches. Finally he comes up to me and says
simply, “Stop.”. He escorts me into the trailer, sits me down, and only
looks at me. I see the look on his face, the same shell- shocked expression
we all wear. I manage to tell him about the day, then I tell him about
training the day before.
When we mixed cohort two and three on the runway, one bird walked down
the length of the mowed field to the furthest parked trike. Barb and I
watched the chick strut around the trike, stiff legged and showing the crown
as if to say, “I am the dominant one you machine. I will be the one to fly
as you do your poorest imitation of flight. You don’t scare me, never have
and never will.” I laughed silently at myself at the bravado of the chick,
doing her best to scare off the yellow and black beast. I admired the
courage 922 had to stand up to the trike. As I told this story to Brooke,
the tears flowed freely and I let go of the anger, falling into the grief.
It is never easy losing a bird. No matter what our appearance, we all
grieve our loss, each in our own way. But then we move on and focus on the
21 other chicks we have in our care. We rededicate ourselves to our task and
try to remember that even in the wild population there are losses, yet the
birds keep going and thankfully, the population keeps growing.
MATH - TARGETING A DEPARTURE DATE
By adding up the number of days between the hatch-date of the youngest bird
from every year and our migration departure date for that same season, you
can calculate an average age of 134 days.
Average age at departure
If you apply that figure to this year, you arrive at a potential target
date of October 18th. Oddly enough, that is later than we have ever left
before. Partly that’s because for some unknown reason the breeding season of
the captive flock is getting later each year. It is also a result of
accepting younger birds each season.
Back in the early years we only worked with the first birds to hatch each
spring in an attempt to give ourselves more time to prepare for the
migration. As we improved our techniques, we began to push the envelope and
work with younger and younger birds.
The other factor is that the dates in this chart are the days on which we
actually left, and not the date we targeted to leave. A target date is when
the team is assembled, the volunteers have arrived and everything is set to
go. The weather dictates if that will be any time soon.
So all that historic data is completely open to interpretation, or in
other words - useless. Instead, we will pick an arbitrary date - like
October 10th, and hope we aren’t twiddling our fingers for too long
MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
The WCEP Tracking Team’s update as of September 5th, reported no change
in the size of the Eastern Migratory Population EMP. The locations of the
majority of the birds in the Eastern Migratory Population were known, and
for the most part unchanged from the trackers’ previous update. * = Female;
D = Direct Autumn Release
Last recorded in Wisconsin but not recently located
520* - last reported on June 16
D628 -last detected June 23
724 - last detected June 26
416 - last observed July 30
703 - last detected Aug 11
Last recorded in Michigan but not recently located
D737 – last reported June 14
D533* - (possibly) last reported Aug 18
Long Term Missing (more than 90 days)
D744* last detected in Paulding County, OH Nov. 18, 2008
516 last confirmed in Marion County, FL Dec. 22, 2008
706 - last detected in WI May 6
712 - last detected in WI May 6
511 - last recorded in WI May 11
D527* - last observed in WI June 9
WCEP’s Tracking Team consists of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara
Zimorski, and Jess Thompson.
September 11, 2009
Driving out to the North site yesterday morning to assist with the health
checks on Cohort 1, I marveled at the predawn refuge. The fog was thick in
some spots, slowing my drive to a crawl, then suddenly it would open up
revealing a pink sky, deer ambling across the fields, ducks lazily swimming
across the mirror like surface of the pools.
A pair of adult Whooping
cranes announced their displeasure at my passage, loudly protesting before
taking wing. To watch the adults fly is to watch poetry come alive. Their
tall graceful bodies become even more graceful horizontal. The beautiful
black tipped wings stroke the air almost like a caress, slowly, seemingly
without effort, just a flick at the top before beginning the powerful
arrived at the parking area well ahead of the vet team, allowing us to make
the final preparations. The birds had to be brought into the wet pen, the
table and chairs set up and the final supplies carried out. Once we were
finished and gave the all clear, the veterinary staff drove out in their
white van. The vehicle crept slowly down the runway trying not to create
noise and upset the chicks. The fog, still thick, provided extra cover.
After everything was set up, the dance began. Three gray costumed
handlers followed Geoff and I to the pen.
I stayed with the birds to be checked on one side of the pen, shuttling
them out the door one by one as the handlers replaced whichever bird was
just examined. Geoff stood on the ready in the other half, receiving the
chicks and watching over them to ensure all were in good shape post-exam. He
hovered over them as a protective mother would, and reported any
abnormalities to me. Luckily there was nothing serious, just a lot of legs
shaking, trying to dislodge the new transmitters and copious amounts of
feather ruffling trying to get everything back to just so.
bird is given a quick physical, blood is taken, an identification chip
injected into its neck, and the transmitter put on. Each check takes a very
quick 10-15 minutes. Doesn’t sound like a long time unless you are the one
holding a 10-15 pound ticked off struggling young bird. I’m sure for the
handlers is feels like 10-15 hours per bird. (Note: All the birds are
hooded so they are not exposed to equipment or people. This allows the Vet
Team to work unencumbered and with a clear field of vision. The Health team
wears grey costumes so the birds will (hopefully) not associate this
activity with our white costumed handlers.)
Soon the nine birds were all examined and all were proclaimed to be in
good condition. The vet staff packed up quickly and made their way back down
the runway before we allowed the birds back into the wet pen. (All the pens
are set up so that once confined to the dry pen, the birds have no view of
Richard, Brooke and Erin had just finished socializing the birds at the
Canfield site, and in no time at all they appeared to help us break down and
carry out the visual barriers and shade shelter.
As I looked back at the runway, the only evidence of anything having
transpired was some brown tipped white feathers scattered in a six by six
area where the exams took place.
September 10, 2009 - Entry 2
A Mentor For All of Us
At the tender age of nine my daughter still looks up to me but I expect that will change shortly as she moves into her teens. I’m told I will be lucky if she still speaks to me in a few years. I hope in her life she finds a good mentor, someone she respects and admires and whose advice she might heed when she won’t listen to mine. You don’t get to select your father but you do pick your mentors. I hope she chooses well.
I’ve been lucky to have had several mentors in my lifetime. My first was a commercial artist whose talent was reflected in the design of his home. Wall murals and black ceilings in his modern city bungalow where in contrast to the wallpapered country living of my family. My uncle Ron likely didn’t know it but his example launched my thirty-year career in the arts.
Bill Lishman, the other co-founder of Operation Migration and the first person to fly with birds was another of my mentors. His unconventional ideas were the foundation of Operation Migration and the basis of the work we do today.
When I first began working with cranes I took advice from Dr. George Archibald, Co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and the world's leading crane expert. Later, I came to admire him equally for his ability to engage people, and his fundraising skills.
All of these people have influenced the course of my life but Dr. Jane Goodall has been my greatest inspiration. She came to visit us in Necedah a few years ago and spent some time with the birds. We took her flying with them and she has been a supporter ever since.
I had the honour of driving her to the airport at the end of her all too short visit. I was heading home for my daughter’s birthday and she was continuing her hectic lecture schedule and our flight was delayed for a few hours. I have always been grateful to that airline for the day I got to know Jane Goodall.
Her simple philosophy is to give the world hope, for without it nothing can be accomplished. She acknowledges the problems of the world and fights hard to change them but the weapon she uses is hope. She travels over 300 days a year to spread that message but it’s more that just a lecture slogan. An hour with Jane leaves you encouraged and your spirit is lifted. And anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a spiritual person.
Jane has written a new book entitled Hope for Animals and Their World. She highlights the wonderful work being done around the world to safeguard endangered species and recalls her time with the Whooping cranes. She has begun her U.S. lecture tour and I encourage you to see her if you can. I’m sure like me you will fall under the wonderful spell of Jane Goodall.
Listen to a recent interview with Jane Goodall on National Public Radio
SUCCUMBS TO INJURY
Every year at this time the birds must undergo a pre-migration health check.
Why we have to examine them when millions of wild birds make the same trip
south without the need of leg bands or blood test is an often asked
question, and there are many answers.
WCEP is responsible for introducing
these birds, and all the consequences of that action. So we must ensure they
are not spreading disease or parasites. In the course of their confinement,
bacteria could build up in the wet pen and we could be unwittingly
distributing an isolated strain of salmonella or contaminating wild birds
with any number of illnesses.
The medical examinations give WCEP's Health Team an opportunity to
collect base line data. This gives them a record of the size, weight and
condition of each individual bird, and it can be compared to any data
collected later on.
But birds aren’t like mammals. They don’t take well to petting or being
held, and it takes great skill to hold a bird properly. Even the experienced
handlers who volunteer to assist during the health checks have problems
sometimes. Larger birds struggle more and can hurt themselves.
Number 922 was like that. The bird struggled mightily soon after being
picked up. The handling technique was standard for young Whooping cranes and
properly applied, but before the exam had begun, a “pop” was heard and the
bird ended up lame on the left leg. The bird was transported to ICF for
x-rays and assessment. Before surgery could be performed the bird suffered
cardiopulmonary arrest and could not be resuscitated.
September 9, 2009
Each one of our three pensites on the Necedah NWR has an enclosure built on
high ground we call the dry pen, and another built into the marsh where the
birds have access to the wetland.
Prior to moving Cohort 2 over to the
Canfield site and penning them next to Cohort 3, we took some time to cut
the runway grass, do some maintenance, and divide the wet pen.
In the past when integrating two cohorts, we kept the two groups
separated while they slowly got accustomed to each other by giving one
cohort access to the wet pen, while the other was restricted to the dry pen.
We alternated them, but invariably the birds confined on the dry side paced
the back fence trying to get to the water. Fences haven’t been a big part of
their 60 million years of evolution so they are not equipped to deal with
them. They pace relentlessly back and forth leading with their faces and can
often get severe beak abrasions.
We tried vinyl covered fencing to make it softer, but the real cure is to
somehow give them both access to the marsh. By dividing the pen length-wise,
which is what we did this year, they have much more opportunity to see each
other, but are calmed by foraging in their favorite spot. The two groups are
still trained separately but are both released onto the runway when training
is over. This way the pilot and experienced handlers can jump in to deal
with any fights that get serious.
It’s a balancing act, because a little aggression is important so they
can establish a social order. If you intervene in every confrontation, you
only postpone the inevitable until one day when you aren’t looking. The
largest birds are now over 4 feet tall so you have to know what you are
doing before stepping between two leaping, flapping birds, raking forward
with one inch claws, each bent on suppressing the other.
But so far that has not happened with these two groups of birds. It could
be the access they now have to the wet pen, or maybe they are comfortable
with each other already. Whatever the reason, there have been very few signs
of aggression either in the pen or on the runway.
The pre-migration health checks will begin today, Wednesday the 9th. Each
bird will be fitted with a temporary leg-band radio device and undergo a
quick but thorough medical check. [Due to the heath checks, there will be
no flight training this morning and we will take advantage of this
opportunity to perform regular maintenance on the CraneCam. It should be
back online by ~ 1 to 2pm.] After a few days recovery we will make a
judgment on when to remove the divider and make Cohort 2 and 3 into one
flock. Then we will bring in the oldest birds and house them on the newly
vacated side of the pen.
Whooping cranes are not colonial birds. They don’t gather together in
large numbers like Sandhills. The sub-adults do form bachelor cohorts prior
to reaching breeding age and finding a mate, so you may see five or six
together. But it is not the norm.
We have more birds than ever before this year, so once we remove that
final divider we will have assembled the largest flock of Whooping cranes to
ever take flight together.
2009 - Entry 2
Just a note to let Cranecam viewers know that they can sleep in tomorrow
There will be no training on Wednesday because the chicks
Cohorts 2 and 3 will be having their pre-migration health checks. The Heath
Team will be going to the Canfield pensite around 6:30am CST and it will
take them a good part of the morning to check over all 13 birds.
We are going to take advantage of this opportunity to pull the CraneCam
from the field at dusk and take it to our aircraft hangar to charge up the
batteries overnight. This will also allow us to do some routine maintenance
in the morning.
We will have the CraneCam back at the pensite and up and running as
quickly as we can. Our guess is that the CraneCam should be back beaming
video to you by no later than 1 or 2 o'clock CST.
For those unaware of the
crucial role played by Rosalie Edge (1877- 1962) in American bird
conservation history, it’s probably because no full biography of her life
has ever been written until now. The recently released ROSALIE EDGE: HAWK OF
MERCY, by Dyana Z. Furmansky (University Press, 2009), portrays the
implacable and resilient woman whose small, yet powerful, Emergency
Conservation Committee (ECC) made an indelible contribution to bird and land
New York socialite and experienced suffragist, Rosalie Edge did not
engage in conservation issues until 1930 when she was in her early fifties.
In a very readable book, the author covers Edge’s fearless battles with the
Audubon Society, her band of advisors and close colleagues, her skills at
reaching thousands of supporters from the lowly to the highly-placed, and
her virtues as well as her foibles. The first two chapters may appear
tedious for those who wish to see Edge in action, but the wait is all part
of the story.
No matter how well one knows the history of American bird conservation,
readers cannot help but learn something of value in Furmansky’s book. For
example, there is information about the near-secret cooperation between
Edge’s Committee and FDR’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.
Or readers will find out that during the Congressional hearings in the
early 1930s, literally while some conservationists were testifying that
hawks needed no laws to protect them because they were common, Edge’s
mentor, Willard Van Name, leaned over to her and whispered, “But the time to
save a species is while it is still common.” Edge was astute enough to seize
the idea, call her ECC printer, and launch the summation of her guiding
conservation principle: “The time to save a species is while it is still
common. The only way to save a species is to never let it become rare.”
Despite a few minor errors, the book is packed with stories about major
resource battles, shifting alliances, loyal friends and disappointing
betrayals, indomitable direction, and awkward family relations that can add
up to lessons for any reader.
September 7, 2009
My absolute favorite part of the summer season is when we have to mow the
runways. This very obviously has nothing to do with riding a mower, rather,
the fact that I get to be with the birds when we take them away from the
I know it’s a tough job, but someone has to stand with the chicks for two
hours in a cool pond while the other team members have to slave away on a
hot, loud, smelly machine. What a sacrifice I make.
This last week we mowed both the runway at the North site where Cohort 1
is, and the runway at the Canfield site where Cohort 2 and 3 are housed. On
Wednesday, we took care of the very overgrown North site. At one spot on the
runway, the big bluestem grass was higher than the pilots seated in the
trike. Definitely was time to mow.
After training in the morning, we reconvened in camp to divide up the
duties between chick-sitting and operating the mowers and weed whacker.
Barb, Brooke and I chose the bird duties and headed out ahead of the mowing
team consisting of Chris, Geoff and Joe. We parked our truck at the road and
walked the mile to the pen, so the birds wouldn’t catch a glimpse of the
parked vehicle when we walked them halfway back out to the designated
opening the pen gate, the birds shot out, seemingly in anticipation of
another flight. Eager to go, some took wing and flew part way down the
runway, while others leapt about and pirouetted on the runway. Brooke took
the lead to entice the chicks to follow, I stayed in the middle and Barb
brought up the rear stragglers.
When we arrived at the pond, we waded into the knee deep water and the
chicks all followed. They seemed excited at the prospect of being in a new
spot, unlike chicks in years past that were very hesitant to follow. The
chicks roamed around, poking and prodding, even completely submerging their
heads in search of whatever tasty tidbit lay in the mud. Even when an adult
flew in and perched on a mud pile nearby, they only looked on in curiosity,
but never gave chase.
After what seemed like only moments, we received the all clear text
message and walked the chicks back to the newly shorn runway. Most flew, but
some walked, and all eagerly went back into the pen (enticed by a few well
The Canfield runway mowing was scheduled for Friday and this time Erin,
Brooke and I were to walk and hide the youngest chicks. As we approached the
pen, we heard the excited peeps of chicks seeking the freedom of the wide
As we opened the gate, they filed out and started leaping, jumping and
flying. They followed us on the long walk to our hiding spot, but were not
quite so eager to follow us into the pond. It took quite a bit longer to get
them into the water than it did with the older birds. Once we had the seven
in the pond, they poked and prodded for awhile.
We were able to keep their attention for just over an hour when we had a
mutiny. First one chick, usually 929, would walk up the bank through the
cattails, then, as soon as we would corral him, another would pop out of the
tall grass. The “pop-up” show kept on for quite awhile.
We would wade out of the pond to round up our stray, just to have another
pop up further down the pond. Soon enough, two of us were on shore and one
in the pond, but even that wasn’t good enough. Sloshing around after the
wayward chicks, we quickly realized that we had a full scale rebellion under
took 929 and 926 further down the path away from the mowers and had their
attention for several minutes before the other chicks realized that there
was freedom to be had from the small pond. Soon other tawny heads popped up
from the pond with white costumes in pursuit. We decided via sign language
that a walk was in order and off we trooped. Slosh, slosh and flap, flap
were the sounds of the morning. Chicks wandered into the long grass, chasing
dragonflies and frogs.
As soon as we were under way, we got the all clear from the mowing team
and we immediately turned about face and headed back. All was going smoothly
when two youngsters took wing and flew the half mile back to the pen. 927
and 928, training buddies since the beginning, soared over the marsh, landed
at the pen, tired of waiting for the flightless leaders. Then they flew back
to get us.
Soon we had all chicks on the fairway, I mean runway, and without much
ado, back into the pen. As always happens during mowing, I learn more about
my chicks, their personalities and behaviors, than they ever could learn
from me. And, as always, the time goes way too quickly and I am very
reluctant to have the time end.
September 6, 2009
BECOMES TWO - INTEGRATING COHORTS
Some of our birds are over 4 feet tall and it’s hard to believe they have
only lived 100 days. It wasn’t that long ago they were fluff balls. Now they
are formidable. They have all fledged, even if the younger ones are only
flying a circuit or two. We have reached that stage in the season when we
begin mixing them together with the ultimate goal of one cohesive flock.
They have spent more than half of their 100 days in the company of their
small group of flockmates. Through pecking and posturing they have
established their social order, and it is now hard to tell which bird is the
most dominant. Displays of aggression are uncommon because every member of
their society knows their place and few corrections are needed.
All of that changes when we mix them, and we can only guess what kind of
trauma that upheaval causes. It started with a routine flight like on any
other morning. Brooke led Cohort 2 over the pen and west in a big circle
before taking a course to the northwest. He covered the distance in only a
few minutes and all the birds followed him in for a landing; not one drop
out or turn-back.
The flight to Canfield is 2 miles or better. In the past we led them a
much shorter distance to the now retired east pensite and always had to
struggle to get them that far.
I remember a season when I retrieved one bird that had dropped out and
turned back. He finally formed on the wing just before reaching his home pen
and was encouraged to stay there by the swamp monster on the runway. He
followed all the way back to the new site where all his flockmates waited
patiently. On the final approach he broke again and headed back home. He
made the round trip five times before exhaustion overruled trepidation and
he eventually landed with the trike.
There have been seasons when we have left a reluctant bird in his home
pen alone overnight before he grudgingly followed to the new site the next
day. This is the first year I can remember that none turned back of dropped
Naturally, the first cohort to fly is the oldest. In fact, at this stage
they can stay airborne for half an hour or more. We could easily lead them
to another pensite, so it would seem logical to try and mix them first. But
we couldn’t integrate them with the youngest birds because their flying
ability is too diverse, plus there is a huge size difference. That means we
would have to mix them with the middle age group as their abilities would be
more compatible. If we followed that procedure however, it would leave us
with one large group of the oldest, best flying birds, and a small, young,
still developing cohort. Mixing them would be challenging, and with that
disadvantage, they would likely never integrate properly. In fact a few
could be lost to aggression.
Instead, we will let the older group stay together for a couple more
weeks while the middle group from the West site is mixed with the youngest
birds at the Canfield Site. Once they have adjusted to each other we will
bring the older, Cohort 1 birds over. They may still be bigger and better
established, but they will face a larger group on unfamiliar territory. That
balance will help assimilation, and with luck everyone will get along.
Chris trained the oldest birds Saturday morning, leading them around the
marsh for 20 minutes or so. He coaxed them up to a few hundred feet - which
seems a lot higher than the tree top altitudes the birds of years past were
able to reach by early September.
The longer flights, higher altitudes, and fewer dropouts are all a result
of better weather. A huge high pressure system is stalled over Wisconsin
creating a succession of cool, still mornings. We have flown six days in a
row. Now all we need is a month or so just like this.
September 5, 2009
AUCTION OPENS TODAY
very special piece of designer handicraft deserves a very special treatment.
The quilted wall art pictured here, crafted and donated to Operation
Migration by award winning quilt designer Roberta Williams of Milwaukee, WI
will be given the ‘silent treatment’ – via a Silent Auction that is.
Professionally appraised by Carol Butzke, quilt historian and an appraiser
recognized by the American Quilt Society, its valuation came in at $2,500.
See more photos, read all the details on the hanging itself, and learn how
you can place a Silent Bid by visiting OM’s
Silent bids will be accepted up to 5:00pm EST on the evening before the
last flight of this fall’s migration. (The last flight leg is from Marion
County to Citrus County, Florida.)
All bids will be opened on the morning of the final flight and the
highest bidder and winner of Roberta’s fantastic work of art will be
announced in the Field Journal that same day.
2009 - Entry 3
Assuming the weather and the young cranes in Cohort 2 cooperate, tomorrow
could be 'moving day' for them. (Sounds just like a migration morning
Field Journal entry doesn't it?)
Today some of the crew walked the Cohort
3 chicks away from their Canfield pensite to get them out of sight and
hearing of the rest of the crew so they could bring in the mowers and
Whipper Snippers to cut the runway and grass bordering the pen.
Our CraneCam caught all the action. Viewers saw the costumes lead the
chicks away; the crew doing the unglamorous job of groundskeeping; and, were
able to watch Joe and Chris erect the fencing inside the pen that will keep
Cohort 2 separate from Cohort 3 until they've socialized.
It was fun to watch the chicks' seeming reluctant return to the pen. They
must have had fun out in the marsh with their costumed friends. In fact, out
of nowhere, two of the chicks suddenly appeared on the runway, presumably
having flown ahead rather than hiking back with the gang. After looking
around for a few minutes, they took off flying low to the ground, back
toward the spot where they and their pen-mates had been whiling away the
Tomorrow is Saturday, a day on which many like to enjoy a little
sleep-in. But if you are up early (6ish CST and 7ishEST), tune in to the
CraneCam. We will try to capture the arrival of Cohort 2 at the Canfield pen
site for you and the reaction of the chicks in Cohort 3. A word to the
wise...we have been experiencing some delays while the pilots wait for fog
to burn off (see photo in today's Entry 1), so it's possible you'll have
lots of time to dash away and put the coffee pot on.
So, as my Grandma used to say, "Lord willin' and if the crik don't
rise..." for the first time ever, we'll get to see for ourselves what
happens on 'moving day'.
September 4, 2009 - Entry 2
Music of the Refuge
The refuge can be a very magical place on a foggy morning. Lately it has
been almost more magic than we can handle since every morning has been
foggy. In fact, as I type this, we are driving out through the fog to start
our waiting game. It is while we play this game that we get to experience
the sounds of magic.
It is as if the refuge itself were being played like
a living orchestra. The underlying buzz of insects, providers the rhythm
section, keeping time for the rest of the players. First I hear the brass
section, well represented by the geese honking their bassoon like calls.
Next entering in are the French horn tones of the Trumpeter swans. Then the
Coronet quacks of the female mallard punctuate the foggy morning, each quack
echoing across the marsh.
Ravens croak in the distance never revealing their exact position. Their
atonal notes, each repeated twice, hint at a saxophone terribly out of tune;
perhaps a tenor sax. First two croaks, then two roarks, then two barks, as
they form a staccato beat.
As the swirling mists of the fog raise then lower, thin out then thicken,
the music changes tone. Sounds travel further, it seems, in fog, so
something that seems in reach, eludes visual identification. We have to rely
solely on our hearing to figure who the players are, not unlike listening to
a concert on the radio. So I sit down, close my eyes to remove my foolish
vision, and take in the sounds.
A woodpecker strikes a new rhythm, overpowering the insect chorus.
Rat-a-tat-tat goes the Pileated. A Bald eagle flies above the mists and its
chirps provide the piccolo. Soon, the sun, which is now higher in the sky,
starts to burn through the fog. The warmth caresses my face and I lie back,
enveloped by the sounds. The somnambulant buzzing of the insects soon works
it effects and I am floating.
A new sound penetrates my brain. It is a louder, but still far off
buzzing and I dozily wonder what large insect is heading my way - most
likely to come and take a bite of my prone body. I sit up, slightly dazed,
blinking at the quickly brightening, but still misty sky. I then am able to
discern the sound of two loud buzzes. Then my brain becomes fully engaged as
I realize it is trikes I am hearing. They have lifted off from the airport
and are heading out to inspect the refuge.
This morning it has cleared from east to west, so training commenced at
the West and North sites. I hear each trike land, and then become airborne
again with vocalizers blaring. I can envision the chicks trailing behind
each machine, jockeying for the coveted wing position. I hear the trikes
circle and circle and then one becomes quiet. The chicks at the West site
don’t fly as long as the older birds, so their training session finishes
I stand up, awaiting the pilot's voice over the radio to inform me of his
imminent arrival at the Canfield site. As I don my costume and start walking
towards the pen, I hear the final voice in the orchestra—the one I have been
waiting for, the voice that always gives me chills. Repeated, I get goose
bumps. The very trumpet-like unison call of adult Whooping cranes echoes
across the marsh, not only completing the orchestra, but somehow also
completing the wilderness experience and giving that finishing touch to the
morning concert on the refuge.
2009 - Entry 1
GIVES PHOTO OPS
In addition to thrilling Craniacs and new viewer converts to the Whooping
crane project with the CraneCam, we continue to capture other video and
still images to share with you. Here are two from Thursday's training.
This is the fog layer that greeted our trike pilots as they
approached the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge enroute to perform
Thursday morning's flight training. There was a short wait, but it
lifted in time for training to proceed.
Snapped from the cockpit of his trike, Chris Gullikson captured
Cohort 1 trailing off his left wingtip. These are the oldest birds
in the Class of 2009 and it looks like they've got it down pat.
FOR AN EXCITING ADVENTURE
Dave Davenport and Walt Sturgeon are still looking for a few people to take
the trip to Patagonia they've organized .” Looks like they are just five
short of being able to declare the “Odyssey to Patagonia” being a go.
Enjoy a thrilling adventure to the bottom of the world and at the same time
help Operation Migration - EcoQuest Travel will donate $200 to OM for each
participant. ‘Odyssey to Patagonia’ leaders Dave and Walt will be joined by
Chilean naturalist Claudio Vidal.
Scheduled for January 15 – 29, 2010 the trip includes stops in Santiago,
Chile’s bustling capital; the Punta Arenas and the spectacular World
Heritage Site of Torres del Paine National Park. From the glaciers of Torres
del Paine you will ply the Straits of Magellan, then on to Ushuaia,
Argentina and the forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park. Although
designed to highlight the wildlife of Patagonia - with a particular emphasis
on bird diversity - every opportunity to see mammals will be taken advantage
of as well.
EcoQuest Travel also offers a fantastic post-trip extension that
concentrates on the wildlife of the Atacama Desert and high Andes Mountains
of Northern Chile. For a complete itinerary or for answers questions, you
can contact Walt
Footnote: Craniacs Vi and Ed White emailed to advise that they had
travelled to that part of Chile in the past and said it was one of their
most memorable trips. "The scenery is variable and unsurpassed; the food was
good; and the people of Chile are some of the friendliest anywhere on the
globe," said Vi. "I'd rate it definitely as a five star journey!"
2009 - Entry 2
CraneCam watchers will be greeted with a different view as of
today....assuming the fog ever lifts.
In anticipation of integrating
Cohort 2 from the West pensite, with Cohort 3 at the Canfield site, the
CraneCam was taken offline yesterday afternoon so it could be moved across
the refuge. Prior to the actual re-location, Chris Gullikson repaired some
lightening damage while Joe Duff charged the batteries and cleaned the lens.
The Canfield pensite is an extra two miles from our DSL tower and there
are many trees in the way. To get the best signal, Joe and Chris hoped to
position the camera on high ground next to the blind, but they found that
spot was too far away. They then moved the CraneCam closer to the pen only
to find that location was too low and they couldn’t get any signal at all.
They moved it twice more before finding what they believe is the best of
both worlds – as close to the pen as possible yet still within range of the
Another consideration was of course to keep the camera out of depressions
to avoid the potential of it being in standing water, as well as to keep it
far enough from the runway that it would not be a hazard to the trikes.
From the CraneCam’s current position it is difficult to see inside the
dry pen, and the angle to wet pen is low. So, Chris and Joe will be
investigating the possibility of installing a second camera in the pen.
(Keep calm viewers….the key word here is 'possibility'.) This would allow us
(hopefully) to switch from close up shots inside the pen to wide shots to
pick up flight training.
All of this is new to us and we are still learning as we go - - so bear
with us folks. We are doing everything we can to give you the best viewing
2009 - Entry 1
Now that it's September that means back to school. We thought it timely to
let teachers and students following the Whooping crane project know that we
have just over 100
kits left. Once they are gone, that will be it for the season.
This afternoon - likely around 2:00 - 2;30PM EST, we will be cutting off the
CraneCam video broadcast of Cohort 2 at the West pensite.
This is being
done so we can take the camera back to our aircraft hangar for some regular
maintenance. Once this is accomplished, the CraneCam will be relocated to
the Canfield pensite.
While we have learned the hard way that technology, like the weather, is
never totally predictable, we are hopeful of the CraneCam being back up and
running before the day is out - or at worst - early tomorrow.
Before the week is out, the team will be moving the mid-age chicks in
Cohort 2 from the West pensite (current CraneCam location) to the Canfield
site. Cohort 2 will be housed alongside, but separate from the year's
youngest chicks who comprise Cohort 3. Once the Cohort 3 chicks and those
from the West site have had an opportunity to socialize and establish a new
dominance structure, they will be fully integrated.
With the Cohort 2 birds' flight training progressing nicely, it is likely
moving them to Canfield will take place opportunistically, that is, on the
first day good weather coincides with them flying cohesively and following
the trike well.
Moving the CraneCam to the Canfield site will give viewers their first
opportunity to see how the youngest chicks in the Class of 2009 are faring.
It will also be interesting to watch the two Cohorts interact - which
initially will take place through a fence dividing the pen in half. Pilots
and crane handlers will be on hand to supervise when they are allowed
outside the pen to socialize.
As with the West pensite, the Canfield site also has visiting White
Birds. This too is likely to provide some interesting viewing.
2009 - Entry 1
931 disappearing act
928 and 931* are two of the youngest birds in our flock this year. Maybe it
is their tender age or just their trusting personalities but both of these
birds stick close to the aircraft – in fact too close.
During our taxi
training their favorite place is right beside the pilot, one on each side.
Unfortunately that’s just ahead of the back wheels and all of us, at one
time or another this summer, have had our hearts in our throats.
It is even more dangerous now that they are beginning to fly. At the
start of a high speed taxi run you inch your way forward checking one rear
wheel then the other. Often you have to use the puppet to gently push one of
them away from the wheels in order to move forward. Once you are clear you
accelerate down the runway making sure you stay ahead of them.
When it’s time to stop at the other end they will sometimes keep flying a
few inches off the ground and land right in front of the trike. While they
can come to a stop in only a step or two, the pilot has to stand on the
brake and the locked nose wheel slides on the wet grass. We age a year in
those few seconds.
Yesterday morning 928 landed directly in front of the trike and the pilot
veered to the left in a desperate attempt to avoid him - but unfortunately
931* was right there. Her long legs slipped under the wheel and the momentum
of the aircraft carried it over her delicate body.
She was immediately transported to ICF with a severely broken leg and
unknown internal injuries. Barry Hartup, DVM of ICF set her leg but 931 did
not revive after the anesthesia.
Twenty-three birds were transported from Patuxent to Necedah this spring,
and until yesterday our survival rate was 100 percent. When you think of the
number that would have been lost if these birds has been raised in the wild,
or how complex their care and training has been so far, you soon realize it
is unrealistic to target that number – but we try.
I am glad to be sitting down while I write this Field Journal update. Sunday
was a long day, starting with the early morning weather check (too windy,
back to bed for some), preparing to mow one of the runways (wind got worse,
birds stayed in the pens), then a nice long walk enjoying the late August
The only real work of the day for me came when it was time for roost
checks. Last night it was my turn to check the youngsters at the Canfield
site. 928 is still receiving medication for his respiratory condition, so a
smelt was stuffed with a pill prior to jumping into the truck for the drive
out to the pensite.
It was a clear, calm evening on the refuge, hinting toward fog for the
morning. It was a beautiful drive out, lots of ducks, Sandhills, and even
two pairs of adult Whoopers dotting the marshes. The lowering sun and
quickly dropping temperatures, coupled with a profusion of golden rod and
asters gave every indication that in spite of the calendar date, fall is
Walking up to the pen it was very quiet, and no chick was in the dry pen
when I opened the gate. Soon all the chicks were walking up to me, except
for 928. As is his M.O. he was standing in the far back of the wet pen.
Trying to capture his attention with a waving puppet and having no luck, I
waded back towards him. He met me half way and in swallowed the smelt
quickly while I fended off potential thieves.
After medicating 928, I walked back into the dry pen to check over each
of the other chicks. One by one, I looked them up and down, carefully
checked, eyes, beaks, feathers, feet and attitudes. Everyone looked great
and everyone had a great attitude with the exception of one chick.
929 has turned into the typical teenager. He is big for his size and
likes to throw his weight around. If he could talk, he would be giving lots
of lip. Because he can’t, he uses his beak to communicate his belligerence.
He pecks the puppet very aggressively and doesn’t back down when it is
raised above his head. (As the chicks work on their hierarchy, the first
step is always trying to be taller than the other indicating dominance, thus
we do it by raising the puppet above the chick.) He still tries to be tall.
When I crowded him, he refused to back down and continued to jab with his
beak. I bumped him gently and he stuck out both wings and stomped his feet
at me using all the moves he knows at this age. When he finally calmed down,
I walked away to check the other chicks.
Because the chicks are still young and short, I must bend over to give
each a good look. As I was looking at 922, I felt a sharp blow to my temple,
momentarily saw stars and was rocked forward a step. Temporarily confused, I
stood up only to see my newly created nemesis, 929, standing tall beside me,
challenging me with beak held high.
I towered over him, glowering down through the visor, daring him to try
it again. I kept walking at him and he kept backing away, but not down. None
too happy with my rebellious teen, I backed him into the fence at which
point he had no choice but to turn and walk away from me.
Chalk up one victory for this crane mama. And, as I dizzily write this
with the bottle of Advil in my hand, am I ever glad I don’t have real
Become an OM member
Membership in Operation Migration is a great way for you you to enjoy some
exclusive benefits, and at the same time support our work in the Whooping
Supporting Members receive:
• A complimentary copy of INformation, our semi-annual member-only magazine
• Discounts on OM gear and other items in OM’s Marketplace
• Migration News via our EarlyBird e-bulletins e-mailed directly to your
InBox first thing each migration morning
• An invitation to attend OM’s General and Annual Meetings
Cost is just $50 per year, or take out a two year membership at $90 and
Sustaining Members receive all of the above, and in addition:
• A complete copy of our Audited Financial Statements
• An opportunity to help govern and guide the organization through voting
privileges at OM General and Annual Meetings.
Cost is $125 per year.
You can become an Operation Migration member in three easy and convenient
- Online Join (or renew) your membership online using PayPal.
- By Phone Call our office toll free at 1-800-675-2618
- By Mail Download and print a copy of our Membership form and fill it
out and mail it with your check to:
Operation Migration, 639-1623 Military Road, Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745
Operation Migration, 3-174 Mary Street, Port Perry, ON L9L 1B7
What are you waiting for? Take a moment and join now.
We wanted to commemorate the remarkable feat of flying 10,000 miles leading
and teaching young Whooping cranes a migration route AND, we wanted to
celebrate that milestone with YOU, the folks who care so deeply about this
We wanted Give
a WHOOP! to be meaningful, which is why we set a goal of collecting
one WHOOP! for each of our 10,000 air miles, AND, although $10 for a WHOOP
is modest, the collective potential is large-scale and would greatly boost
our ability to continue our wildlife conservation work.
Give a WHOOP!is as much about a public show of support as it is
To illustrate the huge and widespread interest in
safeguarding Whooping cranes, we will be sending all the names on the Honor
Roll to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP); to the International
Whooping Crane Recovery Team; to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and to
the Department of the Interior – the agencies on which this project, and
Whooping cranes, depend. From this perspective, one $10 WHOOP! from 10,000
people is better than 100 WHOOPS! from 1,000 people.
While the dollars are important, not everything is about money. By
helping us to achieve our goal of 10,000 WHOOPS!, you will be sending
a message of solid support for the conservation of wildlife, and especially
for the work being done to safeguard the Whooping crane from extinction.
If you haven’t already, please show WCEP your support of their work, and at
the same time, invest in the conservation of wildlife for the future.
Please give a $10 WHOOP! today.
Training COHORT 3 at Canfield
This morning Erin and I headed out to the Canfield site to assist in the
training of the youngest chicks. Whoever goes there in the morning goes out
a little earlier than the others in order to divide the cohort into 2 groups
- the flyers and the non-flyers. As you would imagine, as the chicks are
maturing the non-flying group is shrinking.
This was the second morning that the latter group consisted of just 928
and 931. Both of these youngsters are just starting to fly, but just barely,
and not well enough to keep up with the older ones.
When we first got to the pen, half the cohort was in the dry pen already
and half was in the wet pen. Peering through fog dimmed visors, we squinted
to see which chick was where. As is usually the case, 928 was in the far
back of the wet pen, 931 somewhere in the middle of the wet pen, and all the
others either near the gate or already through it. We quickly sorted out who
was who, closed the appropriate gates to ensure the chicks remained
separated, and walked back out of the pen to await the arrival of 'our'
This morning Chris appeared from the east and was soon on the ground in
front of the pen giving us the thumbs up. Erin and I swung open the gate and
out tumbled 6 very enthusiastic, energetic chicks. We hurriedly closed the
doors behind us as we hid back inside the pen.
We heard the trike rev up and soon were treated to the sight of six
flapping chicks following closely behind. Chris made a few circuits. Each
time, at least one chick would fly right over the pen to land on the runway.
What a fantastic view it is from immediately underneath this six foot
wingspan, only a few feet over our heads.
Too soon, that session ended and it was time to put the flyers away and
swap fencing to let the smallest two have their turn with the trike.
Once again, we awaited Chris’ thumbs up, then swung open the gate. 928
was the first out, although it was not quite the excited sprint of the older
birds. Soon he was dancing anxiously beside the trike while we waited for
little miss pokey, aka 931, to grace us with her presence. She took so long
Chris decided to shut off the trike engine, at which point 928 took off on
his own short, erratic flight. Lacking the strength to control his
direction, he yawed off the runway and landed in the bush. At that moment,
after a few perfectly placed grapes, 931 finally emerged and Chris started
up the trike.
After rolling down the runway all of 50 feet, he once again shut off the
engine to assist 928 back onto the runway. Both birds now where they
belonged, Chris once again fired up and led the way down the runway on a
high speed taxi. 928 was airborne the entire way, albeit only a few feet off
the ground. 931, running behind with all the speed she could muster, soon
became like an Olympic 'hop, skip and jump' competitor. Her strides became
longer and lighter, bouncing her into the air with an unexpected grace. She
began flat footed, got onto her toes, and then in the blink of an eye, was
actually flying, complete with air between her and the ground. First one
pass down the runway, then another.
It is always a joy to watch a first of anything; whether a baby’s first
step or a crane’s first foray into the air. Pride is the central emotion
that is experienced. Not only pride at the discovery of a form of
locomotion, but also a prideful glimpse of the future.
First a hop into the air, then circuits, then before we know it migration
legs. And awaiting all of us at the end, the future really begins - - that
first thermaling flight in Florida when the chicks finally leave us and
become the wild Whooping cranes they are meant to be.
Wood Buffalo/Aransas Population Brian Johns, wildlife biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service,
reported to us that he and Kathy St. Laurent had completed surveys for
fledgling Whooping cranes in the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population. They found
22 family groups, each with a single young.
Johns advised that with water
levels higher than he had ever seen them at this time of year, habitat
conditions were excellent. “In order to achieve these high water levels a
much higher than average amount of rain fell during June (113.6mm, or 2.5
times normal) and July (86mm, or 1.5 times normal). Although the rain was
welcome it came at a time when the young were still vulnerable to cool wet
conditions and may have contributed to the lower than average survival of
chicks to fledging age (0.35 chicks/nest vs 0.47).” He noted however, that
the high water levels will ensure that spring 2010 conditions were
In summary, Brian said, “Given the number of young produced this year,
and the number of adults and sub-adults that were lost last winter, the Wood
Buffalo/Aransas Whooping crane population number will suffer a decline in
Click here to read a
recent article re Wood Buffalo/Aransas population quoting Tom Stehn,
co-chair of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team and Whooping
crane Coordinator at the Aransas.
Eastern Migratory Population
As of August 22nd, WCEP’s Tracking Team reported that the maximum size of
the Eastern Migratory Population was 78; 47 males and 31 females. * =
female; D = Direct Autumn Release bird.
58 Whooping cranes were last recorded as being in central Wisconsin
within the core reintroduction area, and 15 birds were at other locations in
Wisconsin - or were last recorded as such. Two birds were in Lower Michigan
(D737, and possibly D533*), one in Indiana (727), and the locations of two
others (516 and D744*) have not been recently recorded.
Of note…727* who was last been recorded as being in Winnebago County, WI
in late May, was reported in Marshall County, IN on August 19.
WCEP’s Tracking Team consists of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara
Zimorski, and Jess Thompson.
Richard van Heuvelen
Fog kept us down ‘till 9:30am Sunday morning, and then when I went to test
the air it was too rough to fly. It was predicted to be foggy again Monday
morning, however, when we got up, it was only patchy, so we headed off to
the hanger to find out for ourselves whether or not we could fly. As we flew
toward the refuge we saw only a patch near the Canfield site, so it was
decided that we would train at the West and North sites.
Chris headed for
the West site and Cohort 2 and I landed at the North site to train with
Cohort 1. Geoff let the chicks out at my thumbs up and we were off with all
nine chicks trying to catch the trike. As I turned back west, the chicks
caught up and we headed out over west Rynearson pool. Tiny wisps of fog rose
up from the water. Ducks, geese, swans, and other water fowl swam about on
their morning feeding, looking up occasionally as if to say, “Hey, where are
you going? The food is down here.”
Some of the chicks began to straggle behind, so the rest of us circled
around to let them catch up. This worked well as the stragglers caught up.
They then took the lead positions and we were once again on our morning tour
of the refuge. As we headed over the south end of east Rynearson pool some
more chicks began to straggle, so we circled again to let them catch up. But
this time was less than perfect. The stragglers had anticipated my move and
were now way ahead of me, and, not being used to being so far from home
wanted to go back.
The problem was that the West site was between them and home and they
decided to fly over to that pensite. Thankfully, Chris was done training
there. and as we flew over I caught up and led them away. But as I looked
back I saw 905 circle back and land at the West site. I continued on with
the other eight and took them back home for a well deserved rest.
After Geoff and I put up the chicks it was off to the West site to
retrieve 905. This would not prove to be easy as upon landing he hid under
some tall brush and no amount of searching by land or air could find him.
After some alone time however, he finally came out on his own and followed
Chris and his trike back to the North site.
Meanwhile I headed for the Canfield site for some more fun and
excitement. The first six birds came out, promptly got in front of the
trike, and just stood there blocking me from taking off. Puzzled by my lack
of initiative, some of them took off on their own, circled around and came
back to land next to the trike. With my way now clear, we pushed off and
were soon airborne for a slow circuit off the south end of the runway.
Dodging around a large tree we came back and landed on the runway were
they were given some treats and a rest. Break’s over! Off we went again with
five chicks in tow this time. 929 who is younger, landed at the end of the
runway. The other five followed nicely and as we landed on the other end of
the runway, 929 flew down to join us. The chicks, now tired from two
flights, followed the trike walking. After putting them up in the pen, we
let 928 and 931 out for some training. As they were coaxed out of the pen
924 escaped and eagerly came up to the trike for some more exercise. Not
wanting to confuse the younger chicks we let 924 participate too.
The two younger chicks ran and flapped behind the trike, sometimes
flying, while 924 flew past the trike to do a short circuit on his own. We
did this a couple more times from end to end of the runway. With 931 and 928
less developed than the rest of the birds they did well by getting airborne
but stayed with the trike on the ground as 924 flew around in the air
showing off his flight skills. Florida is a long way off buddy!
TIP OF THE MONTH: STOP BY THE OFFICE
Wherever you go birding this month – a park, a refuge, a state forest,
whatever – you should take the time to stop by the agency’s office.
Sometimes the visitor center or office isn’t open when you arrive in the
morning, but it’s usually open when you are ready to leave. Perhaps you
already picked up a map and checklist from an outdoor kiosk, but a brief
visit is still recommended.
The staff should know that you’re birding there; they should be made
aware if you had a good time, and you should consider leaving some of your
bird sightings if they have an observations clipboard.
If you don’t tell them you’re birding there, they will never know that
you came. We all need to reinforce the message: Birders use the location and
the staff should respond to birder needs.
All’s well that ends well is a term we use frequently. Especially on
migration. It seems nearly every fly day, some adventure pops up that
requires the team to scramble. Whether a flat tire or a bird gone missing we
band together, every team member doing their part. And everything always
During the summer training season, fewer things go wrong, yet they
sometimes still manage to. Saturday was one of those days.
It started out a beautiful morning. Clear and relatively calm. Leaves
were rustling slightly, but the guys decided to give it a go. Erin and I
headed to the Canfield site to help train the youngest birds. I wanted to go
there, because the last time we trained at that site, 929 landed on the top
netting of the wet pen on the first circuit, then landed out in the marsh on
the second. I felt it was best to have an experienced person there, just in
case he did it again.
Chris was the designated pilot for Canfield Saturday morning and Erin
and I separated the cohort into the flying group and the non-flying group as
he approached the runway. As soon as Chris taxied up, we opened the doors
and out charged the flying birds (922, 924, 925, 926, and 929).
We watched as he led the chicks on a circuit around the marsh, then saw
him fly further taking his fledglings on the longest flight of their short
and new lives. As he made the turn behind some trees, we saw one bird flying
very low, struggling to remain airborne. Lower and lower he flew until I saw
him disappear behind the dike to the west of the pen.
Chris returned to the runway with 4 birds, pulled to a stop and shut off
the trike giving the birds a needed rest. After a very short time, he was
airborne again, flying in the direction of the missing bird. Often, by doing
this, the bird that landed out, will take off from his hiding spot and
follow the trike back to the runway. From our position inside the pen,
neither Erin nor I could catch a glimpse of the wayward chick. What we did
see though, was Chris returning to the runway with now only 3 chicks in
After pulling to a stop in front of the pen, we quickly put the three
away and commenced a search for the missing twosome. Soon another trike
appeared from the south and I quickly established radio contact with
Richard. As Erin, Chris and I walked to where Chris saw one of the birds
drop out, Richard yelled over the radio for us to look to the right and sure
enough at the north end of the runway was 929, eagerly walking our way.
One down , one to find. As Erin escorted 929 back to the pen, Chris and
I walked across the water filled ditch and proceeded down the dike where I
last saw the chick. Chris stayed on the dike as I wandered into the marsh,
willing my baby to be there. With vocalizer screaming, I struggled across
fallen trees, waded through knee deep water and bushwacked through grass
taller than my head. Soon I heard Robert Doyle’s voice over the radio,
quickly followed by Brooke asking if we needed more assistance.
Soon the whole team was on site mounting what must have appeared to be a
major man, or in this case, chick-hunt. Two trikes were circling with pilots
peering through tinted visors into long grasses, ground crew wandering up
and back and across, searching, searching for the missing youngster.
As I radioed up to Richard to give me a bearing back to the dike, I
scrambled my way back, somehow knowing that the chick was not where I last
saw him. The search continued north of the runway and soon I heard a voice
over the radio, that the still tawny chick had just appeared walking his way
back towards the runway. It turned out it was 924 and he was a mixture of
happy (which, before I can be accused of anthropomorphizing, he was trilling
the contented, happy sound) and tired.
Once I sloshed my way back to the pen, he was safely ensconced inside
and we could continue with training the non-flyers (927, 928 and our
youngest, smallest, 931). 929 was none the worse for wear and 924 was
standing with wings drooping indicating he was pooped, and boy could I
relate to that feeling.
And, as it always goes, all’s well that ends well.
OM’s CraneCam is beginning to attract quite an audience. As of August 20th
there were 128 sites referring visitors. The CraneCam has so far garnered
15,620 unique viewers; a number that grows daily. Our GuestBook and email
inboxes are filled with comments expressing your delight at being able to
watch the CraneCam and your gratitude to Duke Energy for helping to make it
This appeal is directed especially at CraneCam viewers. If every
CraneCam viewer would give just one WHOOP! it would put our Give a
WHOOP! campaign over the top. Please take a moment right now to
Give a WHOOP!
Give a WHOOP! in celebration of our soon to be achieved 10,000th
mile in the air teaching generations of young Whooping cranes a migration
route, and at the same time, let the the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
know that you support their work to safeguard the Whooping crane from
Our Give a WHOOP! campaign has a dual meaning and purpose. It is
as much about people indicating they care about the survival of Whooping
cranes as it is about raising funds. A
list of names of 10,000 people who have said that they care about the
future of Whooping cranes will send a clear and strong message like no
MIGRATORY POPULATION LOCATION UPDATE
Beth B. Kienbaum, Whooping Crane State Coordinator for the Wisconsin Dept.
of Natural Resources sent along this summary report on the mid-August
locations of the Whoopers in the EMP. ~ 78 Birds (47 M, 31 F) * = female; D
= Direct Autumn Release, NNWR = Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
NOTE: Unidentified cranes reported in MI -
May/18/09 Van Buren Cty; May/13/09 Eaton Cty; May/7/09 Tuscola Cty
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETINGS
On Sunday, September 20th, (the day after the Necedah Whooping Crane
Festival) the Annual General Meetings for Operation Migration Inc, and
Operation Migration USA Inc will be held at 9:00am in the Classroom adjacent
to Headquarters on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.
The primary items
of business to be transacted at the Annual General Meetings will be:
• Report on the affairs of the corporations for the completed fiscal year
• Membership motion instructing the Board to meet government insurance
• Presentation of the 2008/2009 Audited Financial Statements
• Ratification of the actions of the Board over the last fiscal period
• Appointment of the organizations’ auditing firms for the 2009/2010 fiscal
• Election/Acclamation of Board of Directors
• Announcement of the Volunteer of the Year
Why not plan to be on the Observation Tower for early morning flight
training and then join OM staff and our Board of Directors for the meetings.
Coffee and light refreshments will be offered.
Our thanks go to Refuge Manager Larry Wargowsky and his team for kindly
allowing us the use of his facility.
The True Meaning
As usual, the annoying sound of my alarm woke me up around 4:45am. Time
to start another day! By 5:30am we’re huddled together, trying to figure out
the agenda. As we are handed our aircraft radios so we can hear the cheerful
talk between pilots, we are discussing which site we would like to do
training at. Once decided, we all scramble into vehicles to make it out
before the pilots get there. Today, I had the pleasure of training at the
North site with the oldest chicks.
When I arrived at the site, I peeked through the peep holes drilled into
the wood panels to see what the chicks were up to. Even though the view is
limited, I heard lots of peeping, so I knew my presence had not gone
unnoticed. With the aircraft radio in hand, I could hear the pilots talking,
so I knew they were on their way.
Shortly, I saw 3 trikes, all following each other like geese in a row.
The first and third trikes veered off to travel to their destination, while
the middle trike flew to the North site. I hid the radio, turned my
vocalizer on, and stepped into the pen to get all the chicks ready to go.
After all the chicks were at the ‘starting gate’, I stepped outside to wait
for the pilot to land.
Once Brooke landed, and gave me the all clear signal, I opened the door,
and out came 9 beautiful Whooping Crane chicks, full of excitement and
grace. Since we were not able to train Tuesday due to high winds, they all
flew to one side of the runway, stretching their wings, as if to say, “I’m
free!” Once they all flew back and got in formation, Brooke floored the
trike, and off they went.
Brooke flew over the marsh behind the pen with all 9 chicks in tow. I
stood in the pen watching in awe. The first flying session lasted around 10
minutes. One by one, the chicks start to tire, and fly back to the pen. As
Brooke was flying with the 4 strongest chicks, I was peeking through the
holes, keeping my watchful eye on the 5 chicks on the ground. I had not yet
seen the resident adult pair that call the North site home. Then I heard the
sound of wings; wings much more powerful than the chicks’.
The adult pair flew onto the runway and immediately started to display
threat postures. My heart started to race, but I did not run out there
immediately because they were not doing any physical harm to the chicks. The
threat postures soon turned into the adults trying to chase the chicks and
that’s when I knew it was time to protect “my babies”.
While Brooke was still in the air, I came marching out of the pen, puppet
held high, and chased the adults back into the marsh. This was not easy! The
adults got separated because they ran in opposite directions. I chased one
into the marsh, and then turned my attention on the other one.
While I went after the second adult, I noticed some of the chicks not too
far behind me. They were my backup crew. Once both adults were in the marsh
I walked back into the pen, not to be seen again until training was
completed. The adults left the chicks alone for the remainder of the
Brooke landed, and all 5 chicks that hadn’t followed him quickly flew
over to the trike for treat time. He taxied the chicks to the other side of
the runway and was off again, this time with only 7 chicks in tow. 901 and
907 decided to stay behind and watch everybody else do all the work.
It wasn’t long before they were joined by other chicks that dropped out.
When Brooke landed for the last time with the chicks he gave me the signal
to open the doors, and we got all 9 chicks back into the pen safe and sound.
Watching the chicks follow the trike is an iconic image and reminder of
why we are here. This sends a message that humans are here to show Whooping
Cranes the way to survival. It reminds me of a quote that I saw at ICF,
“Endangered means there is still time.”
That’s why we are here….because there is still time.
MOONLIGHTING AS A PLANT KILLER
Even though my mind was still trapped in a semi-conscious stupor, I could
tell the morning was off to a shaky start as I shambled out of my trailer. I
could feel a gentle breeze blowing against my face, and the tops of the
trees were shaking. Never a good omen. Still, we decided to give it a whirl
seeing we had nothing to lose by trying, and the kids would need checking up
on anyway. By the time I reached the West site the wind was really picking
up and the tops of the trees and grasses were dancing, so we had to call off
training for the day.
Thankfully, the kids were fit as fiddles. They were
all milling about out in the pen, ready, willing and eager to stretch their
wings. Even the infamous 918 was cooling his heels in the dry pen, waiting
for me to throw the doors open and turn him loose on the morning sky…or turn
him loose on the marsh, so one of us could swim after him.
Unfortunately, their excitement would have to wait another day as I went
about looking them over. As I went about my business, the pair of adults
residing at the West site watched me intently and disapprovingly, as though
I were an alligator swimming in the community pool. But thankfully, they
remained silent, and didn’t unwittingly scare the chicks. After restocking
their food, cleaning up the spilled pellets, and making sure no one was
limping, wheezing, bitten, or badly bruised, I slinked on back home to camp
to await a less blustery day.
With the high point of my day a bust, I turned to another project I had
going on the side. As an intern, my day mostly consists of training at
sunrise, roost checks at sunset, and a host of other odd jobs in between,
like repainting feeders, or cleaning water pans. While this is easily the
most rewarding and horizon-broadening jobs I’ve ever taken, it’s anything
but hectic or fast-paced once the birds get as independent as they are right
now. Looking for something to keep me occupied, I got my hands dirty with
some ongoing invasive plant management on the refuge.
A month ago, one of the refuge biologists, Rich King, heard about my past
stints as a paid plant killer, and asked me to yank up a patch of spotted
knapweed on the back road to the North site. This is a nasty, invasive
little sucker that first snuck into the US in the early 1900s through
contaminated hay from Eastern Europe. It takes over by helping itself
to every drop of rain and groundwater with their taproots, while
contributing to erosion and wildfires. (Note:
Click here to read Geoff's
bio and his exploits as a plant killer.)
Add to that, these plants are allelopathic, meaning that they emit
chemicals from their roots that slow down the roots of other native, more
beneficial plants. This lets them waltz in and take over the place. And as
if this plant wasn’t genuinely unlikeable enough, its stems and leaves are
coated with a substance similar to poison ivy that can cause ugly reactions
to anyone who’s allergic to it. It’s pretty hard to get a good handle on
this stuff, since it spreads pretty quickly, makes a mess, and is hard to
kill since it is (in my experience) fairly resistant to garden-variety
Folks at the refuge were worried that these invasive varmints would creep
their way to the runway at the North site, get lodged in the wheels of the
trikes, and cause all sorts of mischief as their seeds are carried to other
locations and over the refuge. Normally, the refuge tries to stay on top of
the invasive plants themselves. But since this patch was growing on a
stretch of road overlooking the North pensite, they couldn’t go up there
without costumes. So, they offered me the job instead. Never one to turn
down a chance to terrorize invasive plants, I happily agreed.
But before I left, Rich also told me to keep a sharp eye out for wooly
milkweeds (Asclepias lanuginose), a species of low-growing, green-flowered,
fuzzy-leaved milkweed that’s threatened, here in Wisconsin. Normally, they
make their homes in dry prairies, or in sandy or gravelly soils - which
Necedah is in no shortage of. By the by, its fancy-shmancy scientific name,
Asclepias is a reference to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and
healing, since milkweeds were frequently used to treat a myriad of
afflictions, including heart disease and pulmonary ailments'; Lanuginose is
Latin for wooly or downy, much like its leaves are.
Necedah is one of the few and proud places where you can see these unique
and elusive wildflowers. No one had seen them grow along this back road in
years. But Rich asked me to keep an eye out for them anyway, since it had
been a hotspot for them in the past. Four garbage bags of knapweed later, I
was on cloud nine to find not one, not two, not even a dozen, but just shy
thirty wooly milkweeds; twenty of them with pods.
That was back in July. A month later, I returned to the scene of my
greatest triumph this season. Rich had asked me to check up on the
milkweeds, and bring him any ripe pods so that he and his staff could
cultivate them in captivity. After yanking up some more knapweed rosettes
that snuck past me the first time, I checked up on my stand of milkweeds.
Sadly, a few of them had wilted away, but those that did were under the
weather to begin with.
The rest of the plants were in rare form though, and some of the pods had
turned browner and riper since I last saw them. One of them had even split
open and released some of its seeds. That pod is now in Rich's hands so that
its seeds can be grown and nurtured under his watchful eye.
I plan to make checking on these fellas a daily ritual. Some of them look
like they could be ready in a day or so, tops. And with any luck, the wooly
milkweeds will bounce back much like our beloved Whoopers. Besides, I’m
already helping one threatened/endangered species get back on its feet. Why
not help another if I can?
MADISON AND BACK
Rain pounded hard hard on the little rectangular aluminum box we call home
as another, “No training - rain” went into the log book. Coffee’d and
showered, up as usual at the still dark hour, I’m visited by that all too
familiar, “all dressed up and no place to go,” feeling. But thoughts of the
previous week’s highlights come to mind. The ‘highlightest’ of which was
Monday’s trip to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine
with our proud, but ailing little 928. His breathing has sounded lately like
the ‘Little Engine That Could’ climbing up a steep grade, so it was decided
a CT scan was in order to better diagnose the problem.
Sadly, since test
results are not always favorable, such journeys to Madison in the past have
often been one way trips for the birds. So it was with great trepidation
that Robert, Erin, 928 and I headed to Madison after morning training on
The waiting room looked like the bar scene from Star Wars with animals of
every size and description patiently waiting with their owners for what
could have been the boarding call for Noah’s Ark. Soon we were greeted by
Barry Hartup, our ICF vet, and his assistant Betsy. Their professional,
competent, and assured demeanor immediately seemed to lift some of the
weight of worry from our shoulders as we wheeled the box containing 928 to
the awaiting CT scanner.
Because of my unfortunate propensity to place my body into places where
my body has no business being, I am no stranger to these machines. In fact,
I have taken so many rides in these noninvasive diagnostic wonders that I
was awarded Frequent Flier Miles for each ride. Perhaps 928 and I should
plan a trip to Hawaii after the project, or….Florida!
After a few, “put your hands here, put your head there,” the staff was
costumed up. With Robert and Betsy holding 928, anesthesia was administered
and his migration to ‘Z Land’ commenced. Erin and I felt like we were at the
aquarium watching divers wearing white and fish with wings as we observed
the action from the adjoining glass-walled operator’s room. Captain Nemo
would have been proud.
As we watched, a vet student entered to also observe. A brief
conversation revealed her to be in her fourth year of vet school which she
began after four years of undergrad and five years of grad school earning
her doctorate in genetics. She said she was going to specialize in Exotics
and wanted to use her education and talents to make things better. Feeling
the need to respond, I informed her of my own academic achievements, the
highlight of which was the two years I had spent in the fourth grade.
Soon the procedure was over, and Erin and I stared at the results like
dogs watching television as blotches of light and dark stared back at us
from the computer screen like a child’s chalk scribbles on a blackboard.
“Good news!” it said in code too soft for us to hear until Barry amplified
its message into audible relief. “No mass in the lungs.” Erin broke into a
broad smile which expressed better than could any words the emotion which
immediately filled the room. No lottery winner ever smiled with more
And in no time we were on the back runway at the Canfield site walking
928 back to the pen and a reunion with his cohort mates. If this were a
cowboy movie, they would have already given away his boots and saddle and
given his horse a new name. But not today, for he, and we, had dodged a
bullet and we knew it. No spinning plate has fallen from our juggler’s stick
to smash into pieces on the stage, though the performance does continue and
the vigilant spin continues.
As we returned to the van, I couldn’t help but think of those folks back
at the University of Wisconsin and ICF, and how they, for that brief but
special time, had made our bird their own; how they had used their
education, their skills and their competence to such positive effect. And I
even began to entertain the prospect of going back to school myself. Only
this time, I think I’ll repeat the 9th Grade!
For those of you who have been watching early morning flight training of
Cohort 2 (the mid-aged chicks) at the West pensite, you will have noticed a
change in the behavior of 918 and that of 213 & 218, the visiting adult
pair. 918’s attitude/attentiveness to the adults seems to have cooled off
somewhat. Now that he’s flying, his visits to the marsh have waned, and he
excitedly follows the training trike along with his pen mates.
In previous Field Journal entries, Joe has explained why 918 could not be
‘handed over’ to the two White Birds, however, he is working on a draft
protocol for WCEP’s consideration should a similar opportunity present
itself in the future.
Cohort 1, the oldest chicks in the 2009 generation, are flying larger and
longer circuits. (Bev provided these images captured during this morning's training session with the oldest group)
As you’ve likely seen mornings via the CraneCam, the Cohort
2 birds have all fledged, but they are only flying brief, short circuits so
far. At the Canfield site, the youngest chicks, with the exception of 931,
are all starting to fly in ground effect. Despite not yet finding air, 931
ensures he is not left out and runs enthusiastically behind the trike.
Several of the young cranes have been carefully monitored for health
issues. 928 was recently checked out via a CT scan for a respiratory issue
and he is being treated with meds. 901 and 914 both have a cough, but so far
it does not appear to impede them in any way. 927 has a swollen hock, which appears
to be on the mend.
Once Cohort 3, the youngest birds, are flying, Cohort 2, the mid-aged
birds will be moved to the Canfield pensite to join them. (OM’s CraneCam
will be relocated from the West pen site to the Canfield site when Cohort 2
is moved to there.) After the two youngest groups have been socialized and
have had an opportunity to establish a new pecking order, the oldest birds –
those in Cohort 1 – will be moved there as well.
WCEP’s Health Team will soon be setting dates for the Class of 2009’s the
pre-migration health checks....a sure sign migration departure is around the
corner. Where did the spring and summer go? I've got to stop blinking!
According to Dave Arnold, one of the Necedah Lion's Club members who does
much of the organizing of the annual
Necedah Whooping Crane
Festival, things are falling into place for the September 19th event. In
this the 9th year of the Whooping crane project, and the Lion's Club is
marking their 9th consecutive year hosting the festival.
Dave tells us
that in addition to a roster of speaker presentations (including "Flying
With Birds" by OM's Joe Duff) there will be activities for the young folk,
displays of arts and crafts, and a number of raffles and silent auctions.
You won't go hungry as the Necedah Lion's Club offers a variety of food for
sale throughout the day, finishing with an evening BBQ dinner featuring live
entertainment to kick up your heels to. Click here to to visit the
CraneFest website and
get all the details.
Operation Migration, along with several other member organizations in the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, will be exhibiting at the event. We
invite all attendees to stop by OM's booth where we will have a trike on
display, as well as all sorts of OM gear and other merchandise for sale. (If
you haven't become a MileMaker sponsor or given a WHOOP! by then you can do
that there too.)
At the close of the event, OM will be making the draw for the gorgeous
quilt crafted by Lorraine Gray of Urbana, IL. Click here if you haven't as
yet got your
All in all it is a fun-filled day and an opportunity to rub elbows not
only with fellow Craniacs, but with many of the folks involved in WCEP. Hope
to see you there!
In addition to the 20 plus Whooping crane chicks designated for the
Ultralight Class of 2009, Whooper chicks were also assigned to the Direct
Autumn Release (DAR) operated by the International Crane Foundation (ICF)
and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Three recent posts to ICF’s website by
Marianne Wellington, Aviculturist and WCEP DAR Co-chair, document
information on the DAR cranes included in that program. Marianne introduces
four DAR chicks here; the
here; and the
last three here.
Assuming the continued well being of all the ’09 generation of chicks, this
fall’s release will see the largest ever number of Whooping cranes added to
the Eastern Migratory Population in one season.
August 11, 2009 - Entry 2
Give A WHOOP!
The Give A WHOOP! celebration kicked off almost 3 weeks ago and since, we've heard 1165 celebratory WHOOPS! from thirty-six of the fifty U.S. States; six of the thirteen Provinces and Territories in Canada, and from as far away as South Africa!
We'd really appreciate your help in spreading the word to get as many WHOOPS! from around the globe - Take a look at the promotional video below and forward it to your friends and family, and in turn, ask them to forward it to their social circles. 10,000 airmiles is something to WHOOP! about--it's almost the equivalent of flying halfway around the world!
If you haven't WHOOP'ed why not visit this page to make your voice heard?
If you can help by forwarding this video to your friends please copy this link: http://bit.ly/BopAu
MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
As of August 8, the maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population was 78;
47 males and 31 females. The majority of the Whooping cranes, 59, remained
in the core reintroduction area. In this update - * = female; D = DAR/Direct
Autumn Release birds.
Recent Locations Undetermined
506 – last detected June 5
509, 511 – last recorded May 11
516, D533*, D744* - have not recently been recorded. (One of these birds is
believed to be in lower Michigan.)
524 - last confirmed July 26
D527* - last observed June 9
706, 712 – not detected since May 6
727* - last recorded May 25
D737 – last reported in Michigan June 14
WCEP’s Tracking Team consists
of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski, and Jess Thompson.
Every evening two of us go out to the pensites to do roost checks. This
consists of going to each site, checking each bird by looking at its eyes,
beak, legs, toes and feathers. We also replenish food and clean up any
spilled food under the feeders.
Each group of birds behaves differently.
The youngest stay with us the longest at roost check. Milling about us, they
trill contentedly, poking at our costumes, preening at our feet, stretching
their strengthening wings. As we walk away from the pen at the Canfield site
after completing our chores, we can hear the chicks still peeping after us.
The mid-aged birds at the West site are the most independent group. This
is obvious during training, and in the evening. We stand in the pen for
several moments before they lazily wander our way. 915 is always the first
one into the dry pen, followed by 912, 913, 914, 919, and last but certainly
not least 918.
All birds accounted for, feeders filled and spilled food cleaned up, we
depart the pen. I stand in the middle of the runway waiting for my partner
to lock the gates when I look up and notice an adult Whooper on the runway.
The bird struts towards me, then leans forward, and with a powerful beat of
its wings, becomes airborne flying right at me. I hold my breath at the
beauty and majesty and stand in awe as it flies past me and into the marsh.
It lands behind the wet pen and trumpets loudly, declaring its territory.
At the North site where Cohort 1 is penned, the chicks come running into
the dry pen every evening when we walk in. They gather around us, jockeying
for position, peeping and trilling. After we check over each chick, we turn
off our vocalizers and let them do as they please. Soon one chick starts to
flap and jump and before we know it, the entire cohort is flapping. One bird
will run into the wet pen and very quickly the others follow,
enthusiastically flapping and skipping across the water. Loudly splashing,
the chicks run back and forth through the water, before settling in the back
of the pen for the evening.
At each site there is an adult pair. The most aggressive pair is at the
North site. They disturb training in
the morning and they really give us the business at roost check time.
The pair, 726* and 307, stalk us as we walk away from the pen. 726, whom I
raised from an egg, is the more aggressive of the two. She runs up behind
us, stamping her feet and stabbing at us with her long stiletto like beak. I
turn and face her, remembering her as a cute fuzzy little chick, running
enthusiastically behind me, waving stubby wings trying to keep up. I
remember feeding her meal worms, coaxing her to follow the trike and
not be afraid. Now, I have to stand up to her, and chase her from the runway
where she learned to
behind that very same trike. (Right: Before photo -726* as a chick)
She greets us with a crouch threat, laying all the way down on the ground
in anticipation of leaping up and jump-raking us. Then she turns and struts
with stiff legs, showing her glorious red crown, trying to intimidate. She
then goes through every threat posture possible, telling us that this is her
territory, and chicks or not, she is staying put. I stand my ground, mostly
because I am so impressed by this incredibly beautiful, incredibly graceful
creature that I helped nurture. She is now truly wild, doing the things a
wild bird would do, acting the way a wild bird would act. Trying to scare
off the intruder even if it was her 'mama'. (Left: After photo - 726* today)
As we walk away, leaving the two adults on the runway, I look back at the
pen full of chicks and can’t help but wonder if in a couple of years, if
these chicks be will doing the same thing; giving their 'mama' guff? And I
think to myself - - I certainly hope so.
As if the days of rain weren't enough, today it was too windy for training
with the Class of 2009 at the Necedah refuge. The team stood down around
5:45am. The weatherman is forecasting a 60% chance of thunderstorms for
tomorrow but currently is calling for clear skies and light wind for
Tuesday. Looking like it could be a great morning for training.
from the August
BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN - BIRDING: DEMOGRAPHICS AND ECONOMICS Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released “Birding in the
United States: A Demographic and Economic Analysis.” The report gleans the
birding information available from the larger 2006 “National Survey of
Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.” This invaluable
birding survey includes numbers of birders, their age distribution, income,
education, gender, race, regional distribution, and birder expenditures.
The survey indicates that around-the-home birders in the U.S. number
42 million and away-from-home birders 20 million. The most significant trend
in the area of avidity since 2001 is the increase in the number of
away-from-home birders - an increase of eight percent.
In general there are large numbers of birders who are well-educated,
almost equally balanced in gender, fairly well off financially, not
particularly young (slightly more than half are older than 45), and spend
oodles of money on our pastime.
Click here for
August 8, 2009
The fact that we are not allowed to talk while in costume does not prevent us from uttering a few choice words to ourselves. In fact the inside of my helmet was blue
yesterday morning, which went nicely with fog on the visor from my exaggerated breathing, the mud on my face and the thirty or so mosquitoes trapped in there with me.
I was hoping to help out Bev, who was handling the birds, and Chris who was
doing the flying at the West site. Our plan was for me to show up early and try to flush the adults;
213 & 218 away from the back of the pen. Then I was to make my way out into the marsh, find an appropriate spot to hunker down into the tall grass and wait for my opportunity to discourage number 918.
Yesterday morning I was the DSM - Designated Swamp Monster.
I think everyone on the team has written something colorful about 918. Coerced by the adult
pair who have laid claim to the territory and everything in it, he often wanders off into the marsh to join them. Since acquiring tentative wings he now follows the aircraft to the end of the runway; then turns right and the team spends the next 30 minutes coaxing him out of the water. So far it’s been a pleasant experience for him--He gets to fly with the aircraft, play with his buddies and then go visit his adoptive parents in the wetland. After that the costume comes out to feed him treats and convince him its time to come home.
Yesterday, I had hoped to make it a little less enjoyable.
At night birds are always wary of nocturnal Fpredators and are sensitive to any kind of disturbance. My arrival before first light put everyone on alert and set the tone for the morning. I did manage to chase off the older pair but only till my back was turned. They took my change of direction as a sign of cowardice and heralded my retreat and their victory by unison calling – which heightened the level of anxiety in the pen.
With a puppet in one hand, a vocalizer in the other and the swamp monster tarp stuffed under my costume I must have looked like a billowy white cloud with dirty feet tripping and splashing across the back of the pen to my hiding spot in the tall grass.
There is no high ground in that area of the refuge. All of it is wet. If you walk on the grass and reeds you have a better chance of not sinking up to your knees but not much.
When Bev arrived I was in plain view from the back of the pen. As she tried to move the chicks into the dry pen I thought it was best to simply stand there quietly instead of donning the tarp and scaring them into an uncooperative frenzy. When Chris arrived in the aircraft I crouched as low as possible and quietly slipped under the camo-tarp. I sat on my haunches for 20 minutes and struggled with my pocket knife until finally cutting a slit in the tarp to see what was going on. CO2 bailed from the slit like a chimney and a fog of mosquitoes formed a queue to get inside. They joined the hundred or so I’d already trapped by covering their little patch of wetland. My thighs burned and my toes cramped in rubber boots filled with water while my feet sunk deeper until my butt was submerged in mud. The heat, the sweat and the moisture fogged the visor and there wasn’t an inch of dry material to wipe it clean. I slipped off the helmet and peeked out of the slit.
Bev was still encouraging a bird from the back of the pen but he kept staring in my direction. Chris had taxied to the north end of the runway. He was waving
his puppet toward two birds that had landing in the grass a hundred yards beyond him. And I was in the middle; wet, frustrated and absolutely worthless to either of them; in fact I was a hindrance. So I slipped out from under and left my tarp in the grass as I sloshed back to the runway and out of the way.
As it turned out 918 was with Chris the whole time--It was 914 and another bird that landed past the end of the runway and 913 who was late coming out of the wet pen.
With each encounter we learn a constant truth. No plan involving Whooping cranes is guaranteed and I make better mosquito bait than a swamp monster.
August 7, 2009
ON THE STEP
When an airplane equipped with pontoons begins a takeoff run it ploughs through the water with its full weight on the floats. As it speeds up and the wings begin to take some of the load, the floats lift up onto the surface and begin to hydroplane like a speed boat. The reduced friction with the water allows the aircraft to gain enough momentum to finally become airborne. That process of skimming over the water before the transition from boat to aircraft, is called running on the step. Our youngest cohort is at that stage. They are running on the step and will soon cease to function in 2 dimensions and begin to live in three.
When our birds first arrive in Necedah they are intimidated by the new surroundings and pay close attention to the handlers -- at least for a while. Once we let them into the wet pen and they discover what must be Whooping crane nirvana they soon forget about us. We regain their interest when we lead them out to the runway but even that losses its appeal with familiarity. Their personalities seem to change dramatically as they evolve from clingy to nonchalant and back with each new experience. Life if good when they follow well but holding the attention of a disinterested Whooping crane is as frustrating as keeping your 2 year old focused on his Cheerios.
Number 922 has recently been the last to come out of the pen in the morning and often had to be coaxed. Once out he will follow the aircraft but only from a distance and all the while he stares out into the marsh. We’ve been paying special attention to him to make sure his experiences outside are positive. He gets more than his share of treats but something in the marsh mysteriously holds his interest and he’s always the first one back in the pen. That’s all changed in the last few days because he has discovered flying.
A fixed action response is the scientific term for what we call instinct. When faced with a particular stimulus, all members of a species will react in the same manner. It’s that mechanism that compels them to open their wings whenever they run even though for the first few months they are awkward, heavy appendages that serve no purpose except to throw them off balance.
They can’t know that these cumbersome accessories that make up more than half their size will one day carry them aloft. But as muscles strengthen and feathers grow their wings begin to take the load.
We have the privilege of witnessing that revelation as we taxi beside them. Running on the step with their wings stretched and their feet barely touching we can look them in the eye and see the penny drop. It’s the moment when they understand that the burden they have been carrying really has a function and what has encumbered them for so long is about to become their greatest asset -- and the envy of every pilot.
August 5, 2009 - Entry 2
Just a reminder to all of our existing MileMaker's that it's time to download the August E-calendar for your desktop! (thumbnail view of August)
If you are a MileMaker, you will have received a secret URL address where you can access the E-calendar images each month - this is our way of sending a special thank-you to you for your early
commitment in helping to ensure that the fall migration will be funded.
If you haven't yet selected, or sponsored a mile (or 1/4 or 1/2 mile), or would like to learn more about the MileMaker campaign, please visit this page.
Currently 326 miles have been paid for, which means we still have 959 miles available to sponsor. Here is a list of the flyway states, which the migration will pass through, and the number of miles still available in each. We hope you'll help out with your own sponsorship, or by passing this along to someone you know.
August 5, 2009
In order to keep our birds wild we have to limit human access – even our own. The only people allowed near the birds are pilots, handlers and veterinarians.
The young Whooping cranes are housed in a closed area of the refuge, isolated during the migration, and on their spring return trip, the nearest info you will get from us is the county level.
All of these restrictions can sometime add to the mystique of an already rare and precious animal. Supporters have had to live vicariously through the writings of the crew and occasional flyovers at Necedah or along the route south. That, however, has changed.
Thanks to the generosity of Duke Energy we now have a CraneCam that broadcasts LIVE video of the early morning training. You can also watch the interactions during the day as the chicks forage in the roosting pen and draw the attention of a pair of wild adults who have claimed it as their territory.
This project uses a lot of modern technology like MP3 players for the crane-call vocalizers and GPS units for navigation but it’s not all off the shelf.
Our camera was custom built in South Carolina by Netvision Mobile. It is a self-contained trailer with several hundred pounds of batteries, a 30 ft. tower to elevate two cameras and an onboard computer. It was designed originally for security purposes and had to be adapted for internet broadcasting and that became Chris Gullikson and Heather Ray’s job. They both worked hard to make the needed adjustments.
Once the camera is in the field it has three methods of transmitting the images it captures. We can use the wireless signal from the router if we are close by or for longer distances we can use a cellular aircard. That’s the little plug in device you can put into your computer to reach the internet via the local cell phone tower. We also have a booster antenna for that but the problem is most cards are limited to 5 gigabytes of data each month and when dealing with streaming video... well it adds up quickly and we could only bring you a couple of hours or so each day.
The final method uses a 900 Mhz radio. A yagi antenna atop the 30 ft. tower sends a signal over several miles to another yagi connected to a DSL line. That is the system we are using at Necedah now but it is not without the occasional weather-related glitches.
Two nights ago, we lost our router during an intense storm which brought almost constant lightning. That’s all repaired now and each morning before we arrive at the training site we will text Heather back in Canada. She can pan, tilt and zoom the camera remotely to follow the birds and the aircraft. In fact she will leave it running in the corner of her computer screen most of the day and re-focus it when something interesting catches her eye.
Once we have reached the DSL line the image is sent to the
ZapLive server in Holland before being picked up and broadcasted over the internet by WildEarth.tv in South Africa. So we have a Canadian organization deploying an American camera and sending the signal to a Dutch server, which is then broadcasted by a South African host.
Putting a camera where there is no power or internet connection used all of our expertise and a little help from our friends. There will be times when it is unavoidably down. We will do our best to get it back up but in the interim you could check the other wildlife broadcasts on
WildEarth.tv – In fact they just began streaming live from a wild dog den!
It’s all exciting stuff and we’re still testing some other situations such as the possibility that during the migration we can take a camera with us into the air and broadcast the video feed back to the camera trailer via the wireless router, which would in turn, send the images to you. We’re also looking into connecting to a scanner so you could listen to all the radio conversations between our pilots and groundcrew.
We will keep improving this system so that we can, for the first time, bring you with us, so come and join the adventure and tell your friends.
August 4, 2009
At this time of year the weather in central Wisconsin is generally hot with cool, still mornings. Instead we have had more than our share of rain and the winds feel like mid-September.
We are used to consecutive days of training until you almost wish for rain but lately it has been blustery in the morning with heavy, low clouds that like to eat ultralights.
Last night we had so much rain that even though it was fairly calm at sunrise there was standing water on all three runways so we couldn’t fly. And it was likely the lightning from that storm that took out the
router for our DSL line and shut down our crane camera. (it should be back up in this morning
We have 23 birds this year in three cohorts, all at different stages of development. The oldest ones are flying circuits around the pen while the birds at the Canfield site are still running behind the aircraft.
Every year we have a certain percentage of dropouts that for whatever reason can’t or won’t follow us to the next site. Leading birds with an ultralight is like having them all attached to the wingtip with a very thin thread. If you pull too hard the thread breaks. With 23 birds there will be a higher percentage of dropouts and the only cure for that is to practice with them now in the early stages when the weather is good and we can get lots of airtime in.
Maybe we will get all the bad weather now and in the fall we get a good long Indian summer just in time to start the migration.
August 3 -
6:20am CST: The CraneCam is back online...the onboard computer just needed a
Joe advises there will be no training today however. It is too
windy and too wet. Hopefully they will have better weather tomorrow.
2009 - Entry 1
5:40am CST: The CraneCam is offline. The crew at Necedah is aware there is a
problem and are checking it out. At this point we don't know whether or not
it will be back up in time for views of training this morning. Please check
2009 - Entry 2
The CraneCam was down for a while this morning but technical difficulties
have been resolved and it is back broadcasting live video now.
Many of you have emailed to ask what time training takes place in the
morning so you can tune in. Here is your answer, although I’m not sure it’s
one you’re going to like to hear.
As with our departures on migration mornings, taxi and summer flight
training with the chicks at the Necedah NWR takes place shortly after dawn.
The CraneCam is focused on the West pensite which houses the mid-aged
cranes, Cohort 2, and the time training begins there – again not unlike
migration mornings - depends on several things, not the least of which is
weather. Rain, wind, or fog can mean a delayed start as the crew wait for
the condition(s) to improve. (Assuming the weather isn’t bad enough to call
training off all together.)
Another factor that can affect the time training starts is how many pilots
are on duty, whether all three Cohorts are able to be trained
simultaneously, and which Cohort is trained first. Moreover, when one pilot
has to train at more than one pensite, the time before he can get to the
second group can depend on anything from how quickly the first group came
out of the pen to how well their training session progressed.
Soooo, the answer is, that similar to when we are on migration, we’re never
sure what’s going to happen on any given day, or at what time, until the
last minute. Our best suggestion is that like us, you tune in around 6:00am
CST, keeping in mind you could have a wait until training begins.
2009 - Entry 1
UPDATE - AND - COOL VIDEO CLIP
CraneCam viewers were give a special treat this morning as they watched
training with Cohort 2 at the West pensite on the Necedah NWR. The treat? We
saw almost all of the chicks take to the air - and not just flying in ground
effect! What a sight!
This morning's session went well despite the adult
pair's attempts to lure the chicks away. Although a couple of the chicks
looked very tempted at times, costume and trike won out today as they
maintained the chicks' loyalty.
Chris Gullikson shot
a short video the other day which you'll undoubtedly enjoy. He was at
the North site for training with our oldest Whooping cranes, the nine birds
in Cohort 1.
His camera captured 307 and 726* chasing off an unidentified interloper. Watch rare
footage of them threat posturing and stamping their feet - and then listen
as they trumpet their triumph.
If we live to be as old as Methuselah, I doubt we’d have as many wrinkles as
we encountered in trying to work out the myriad of details necessary in
order to be able to provide you with live video via our CraneCam. (See
camouflaged camera and trailer pictured below)
After months of research, learning, testing, and much scrambling, the
wrinkles finally all got ironed out and we were able to ‘go live’ yesterday.
The entire process entailed a steep learning curve on several fronts, and
primarily for Heather Ray and Chris Gullikson, who took on the brunt of the
load, and, as a consequence also bore the majority of the frustrations.
Although it might seem as simple as sticking a camera on a pole and
aiming at the pen, it sure was NOT. This project has involved more than you
could ever imagine. And, we’ve learned that it will take more time and
effort than WE ever imagined to keep the video coming to you.
This aside, the rewards have already started as many of you have already
written to express your pleasure and delight at witnessing the
Those of us engaged in this project continually say, “It’s all about the
Whooping cranes.” In the case of the CraneCam however, it’s something we’ve
done for YOU. If you enjoy watching the CraneCam there would be no better
way to express your pleasure than by giving us your support.
Sorry to those who were hoping to watch training early this morning on
our new Cranecam. We had a technical glitch on opening day – a problem that
did not materialize during weeks of testing. The cameras are controlled from
a remote location (currently our office in Port Perry, ON) and one of the
cameras decided it would ignore its pan/tilt/zoom functions.
On Wednesday I trained the mid-age cohort at the West site. As usual, 918
was slow coming out of the pen, and while Erin and I gently coaxed him out
using positive reinforcement (treats), 12, 13, 14, and 15 took to the air
and flew half the length of the field in ground effect.
918 soon joined us on the runway, coming out on his own to grab a grape
that was tossed near the door. There are times when it is necessary to
physically guide a bird by holding the tertiary feathers of both wings and
walking along behind the bird, steering it like a wheelbarrow. This can be a
negative experience for the bird and make it gate shy, we much prefer to
have the bird come out on its own.
I waited for the four birds to re-join us back at the pen then quickly
taxied east with all six following well and flying in ground effect. I shut
off the engine at the east end of the runway and was not surprised to see
918 wander out into the marsh. While I fed out a few grapes to the five
chicks who were hanging out with me near the trike, one of the adult birds
flew from the rear of the wet pen and landed near 918. For some reason, and
to the delight of my still dry boots, 918 decided to slowly amble back to
the runway and accept a few grapes from my puppet head.
I took this opportunity to fire up the trike’s engine and taxi back west,
with all 6 once again following well and with some flying in ground effect.
As I passed the beginning of the two foot flight fencing that helps keep the
young chicks on the runway, I looked back, fully expecting 918 to dash off
into the marsh instead of staying on the runway. To my surprise (and delight
of my boots) he continued to follow, albeit a bit slowly.
I parked the trike near the pen with the wing lowered, trying to get 918
to take treats from the puppet head and poke and prod at the wing like the
other chicks usually do. His interest quickly waned and he went back to
pacing the flight fencing, the lure of the marsh just too strong.
I cut the session short, wanting to end this on a positive note for 918
(and my boots). I gave Erin the signal to open the pen doors and we soon had
the six back inside their beloved wet pen.
Today I trained the oldest group, Cohort 1 at the North site. I have been
gone for the past couple of weeks and have not trained them since they have
been flying. I was excited to fly with birds again, and they were excited to
see the trike – they busted out of the pen as soon as Geoff opened the pen
I quickly powered up to stay out ahead of the lead birds and looked
behind me to see a flurry of flapping wings. I eased the trike off the grass
strip and made a gentle left turn out over the marsh, about 20 feet over the
sedges and small trees. Eight of the birds landed at the end of the runway
while one bird continued on flying.
I increased the angle of my left turn to fly back over the grass strip
where I had become airborne, closing the distance to the lone chick who was
trying to catch me. The eight birds on the runway took back off as I flew
over, with three of them joining up with me for a circuit of the field.
With chicks scattered about on the runway, I had nowhere to land and
continued flying short circuits about the field with birds taking off to
join me and others landing out to take a rest. After the fifth circuit or
so, I finally had the northeast runway to myself and landed short, my front
tire skidding in the wet grass as I jammed on the brake to avoid hitting any
chicks who were now flying directly at me.
I shut off the engine to count heads and feed out a few grapes. One bird
appeared from out of the marsh while another slowly ambled up from the south
end. Once I was sure I had all nine accounted for, I went to deal with the
lone adult number 509 who had just shown up as I landed.
This bird has been a frequent visitor lately, and he likes to interrupt
the training session. I tried to get him to fly off by acting like a crane –
walking tall and slow with my puppet head held high in an aggressive pose.
This did nothing and I ended up looking like a fool as I uselessly chased
him around the trike, some of the chicks joining in the chase. I hopped back
in the trike, fired up the engine and taxied back to the west, 9 chicks and
one adult in tow.
Once stopped at the west end of the runway, the adult pair that frequents
this site came out of the marsh and quickly accomplished what I had been
unable to do – chase off 509. Their unison calls and ability to fly
convinced him that he was trespassing, and after a brief chase by one of the
adults, he went flying off to bother us another day.
I did a quick high-speed taxi back to the northeast with all birds flying
with me, then led them back to the pen and signaled to Geoff to open the pen
doors. These young Whooping cranes always become a challenge to get back
into the pen after they fledge. As pre-fledglings, most will always follow
you right into the pen after training. Once they have experienced the joy of
flight however, they are often reluctant to go back inside and prefer to
poke and prod at the trike or just forage in the short grass.
While Geoff blocked the doors from escaping birds, I coaxed the remaining
six or so back into the pen using strategically tossed grapes from the
puppet head while cutting of their escape route with my body and crowding
them towards the door until they walked inside on their own.
Once airborne I looked over to the west site and saw that Brooke had
finished up training with Cohort 2 and was on his way back to the hangar. I
landed at the site to investigate the CraneCam and soon had it working on
Hopefully the rain will hold off tomorrow and you early risers will be
able to see us train!!
Cohort 1 chicks
forage on the runway after training at the North Site
307 on the
right and 726* on the left make a visit to the North Site runway
2009 - Entry 2
LIVE VIDEO STREAMING NOW
After an early morning technical glitch, the Cranecam is NOW broadcasting
live views of Cohort 2 in their pen at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.
2009 - Entry 1
CRANECAM TO LAUNCH TODAY!!
The Duke Energy Foundation and Operation Migration are proud to
announce the launch of the world’s first Whooping Cranecam!
Duke Energy’s generosity, Operation
Migration’s CraneCam will be streaming video and audio around the globe,
providing never-before-seen views of one of the world’s most endangered
birds - the majestic Whooping crane.
Currently located on Wisconsin’s
Necedah National Wildlife
Refuge, the CraneCam’s first focus will be on the young-of-the-year as
they are prepared for their ultralight-led migration south this fall.
CraneCam viewers can watch as Operation Migration’s pilots and crane
handlers condition the young Whooping cranes in the Class 2009 for the
biggest adventure of their lives – their first migration.
To tune in, click
(or click on the graphic link to the right)
Come migration time, early to mid October, viewers will be able to watch
each morning’s departure as the cranes and planes make their way south - a
journey of over 1,280 miles. Viewers will also be able to watch the Class of
2009 in their travel pen at the conclusion of each migration flight leg. (At
all times, ability to broadcast will be dependent on connectivity at our
On completion of the migration, the CraneCam will be trained on the young
Class of 2009 Whooping cranes at their winter release site, Florida’s
St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.
Viewers will have an unprecedented opportunity to watch them mature over the
winter and the CraneCam will provide a ringside seat to witness their “soft
release” into the wild.
Duke Energy, sponsor of Operation Migration’s CraneCam, has a
distinguished record of support for endangered birds, including significant
support for habitats and the wildlife that depend on them. Julie Griffith
with the Duke Energy Foundation said, “We join with environmental groups
such as Operation Migration to protect our natural resources because the
company can accomplish far more in partnership than alone. We see this
project as an opportunity to reach people who might not otherwise be aware
of this critically endangered species.”
Thanks to Duke Energy, busy people like you and I can connect with nature
and vicariously enjoy the outdoors. We think it will be difficult for people
not to become wildlife conservationists after spending some time watching
these rare and beautiful birds.
As exciting as simple viewing is, we also expect the CraneCam video to be
put to other good uses. Teachers can use the CraneCam to educated children
about places and birds they may never see in person. Researchers and
scientists can use it as a resource to document behavior and changes in the
birds as they mature. Archived video footage may also provide WCEP project
personnel with otherwise unavailable insights.
It is important to remember that we may not always manage to keep up a
constant stream of live video. Keep in mind the challenges we face obtaining
and sustaining internet connections from the ‘middle of nowhere’ under
unpredictable and often extreme conditions.
Operation Migration welcomes the world to its
hope you enjoy what we believe is the very best of reality viewing.
QUESTION OF 918
One of the greatest pleasures of my life is watching the personality of my
nine year old daughter emerge as she gets older. Each day there is a subtle
difference in her perception, her view point, and the way she handles life.
Watching Whooping crane chicks mature is a little like that, but it happens
In the early stages they can grow an inch a day and their
personalities can change as dramatically. A few positive experiences and new
found confidence moves them up a level in the dominance hierarchy. A lost
battle and they can instantly lose that advantage.
Crowding them through the pen gate for early morning training may
inadvertently cause anxiety and make them gate shy. If unchecked or
unnoticed this can lead to reluctance to leave the pen, then missed
training, and eventually an unwillingness to follow the aircraft.
We watch closely for all the telltale signs of trouble and apply a
variety of cures. Eventually, after a lot of work, they come around, and in
the nine years we have worked with Whooping cranes so far we have never lost
one because it wouldn’t follow us.
Our current problem lies with 918. Already independent by nature, that
only increased when the adult pair began interfering at the west site. Torn
between the familiarity of its flock mates and the lure of the marsh, he
will often abandon training to wander out to where the adults are calling.
Still influenced by their parental instinct to nurture a chick, this pair
have become possessive of their visitor and seemingly are trying to ‘adopt’
him. That complicates everything, makes it harder to properly train that
bird and the others, not to mention the ‘up to his pockets’ retrieval that
Richard recently described in his Field Journal entry.
We have reported on the difficulties of number 918 a few times in our
Field Journal and that has prompted the obvious question. Why not simply let
this attentive pair adopt 918?
In fact, this idea has been proposed before. Glenn Olsen DVM,
veterinarian at Maryland’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, suggested that
WCEP conduct a parent-rearing study. Under such a program, a few chicks
would be raised by captive parents in Maryland and sent to Necedah in the
fall well after they have fledged. They would be released with established
pairs in the hope that they would be adopted. This is similar to the Direct
Autumn Release (DAR) project, except the costumed human element would be
removed or greatly reduced.
Based on the behavior of 213 & 218 at the West site and other adult
pairs, we suggested a variation to this study. Rather than captive parents
raising the chick in a pen at Patuxent, why not release it at Necedah when
it is much younger to foster parents who are still feeling in a parental
mood after their nest failed.
We have always thought the ultralight program could accommodate 24 birds,
and thanks to a tremendous effort by everyone - especially the team at
Patuxent - this year we are very close. The more birds we can release, the
more will survive to reach breeding age, and the more chances they will have
of producing young and growing a self-sustaining population. Also, the more
birds we can put out there the greater the return on the dollars you donate
to this cause.
Those simple equations have driven us to be ‘bird greedy’. But our
ambition has always been to maximize the number of birds released into the
wild in Florida, not just to maximize the ultralight flock. A parent-reared
bird achieves that same goal with all the advantages that a wild parent
provides naturally and we only try to mimic.
There seems to be obvious advantages. So, back to the question of why
don’t we simply let 918 wander into the marsh and be adopted by 213 & 218?
The answer is that the risks are too high. Back in the spring we proposed
releasing a Sandhill chick to see if the pair would adopt it. But without
such preliminary research, it’s a huge risk to let this pair take over the
care of a rare and valuable chick. They abandoned one nest, and who is to
say they won’t lose interest again. In the dense vegetation around the pen
area we couldn’t monitor them very well, and an abandoned chick would be
lost in minutes without the protection of attentive parents.
Without having tried it with Sandhills first the results are completely
unknown. Considering we have no idea of what would happen if we simply
released it, I think the chances of it surviving and making it to Florida
are greater with us than with wild foster parents. It’s all a matter of
playing the best odds.
MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
In the WCEP Tracking Team’s most recent update (for the period ending July
25th) it appeared that once again little had changed from their previous
The maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population remains static at 78;
47 males and 31 females. 59 Whooping cranes were located in the core
reintroduction area, with 15 also in Wisconsin but outside the core area.
One crane was in Michigan. The location of the last three birds has not be
determined since ~April.
2009 - Entry 2
NAMES DRAWN FOR GIVE A WHOOP! TEES
Give a WHOOP! launched last week the WHOOPS! have been
bonging in. YEA!!
On Thursday, once the first 50 WHOOPS! arrived, we made
draw number one for an I Give A WHOOP! t-shirt, and draw
number two was made on Friday.
With the number of WHOOPS!that came in over the weekend
(now over 700) we needed to play catch up today. It meant making 12 more
draws for thank you gifts. Emails notifying the 12 folks whose names were
drawn this morning (and asking for their preferred t-shirt size) are going
out today. Visit the Give a WHOOP! Names
Drawn page to see the latest additions.
Thanks to everyone who has already WHOOPED! Your names have been
added to the Honor Roll. We're still a loooong way from our 10,000 WHOOP!
target, so if you haven't yet WHOOPED! ..... All it takes is a
2009 - Entry 1
Richard van Heuvelen
It’s been an exciting few days here at Necedah as chicks begin to fly.
excitement started several days ago when I was training Cohort 1 at the
North site. 903 flew the entire length of the runway with 904, 905 and 908
close behind. The next day I decided try flying a short circuit.
When Robert Doyle let the chicks out of the pen all nine came out
promptly and we all took off simultaneously. We were airborne quickly and I
turned south over the swamp. As we did so the chicks, confused with a new
training procedure, began to land at the end of the runway as they were used
to doing in the past. But as the trike continued to circle around they got
the message that we were going flying, and wings flapping they gained back
While a couple of them did land, some attempted to follow the trike. As
it came back around they circled, each landing at different spots along the
runway. 903 however, flew along and landed with the trike at the end of the
runway. We waited there as the others either walked or flew to the trike.
After resting and having some treats it was time to try again. All nine
birds chased after the trike as it took off and they tried to keep up as I
circled to the north. This time all of them followed as I circled around -
903 was off the wing and 904, 905 and 907 were close behind.
As we came back over the runway some of the other chicks began to land.
903 again landed with the trike and this time 904, 905 and 907 came right
behind. As we turned on the ground to see where the others were, 908 flew in
so low over the tall grass she almost somersaulted as her legs got tangled
in the long grass. Then, having got airborne again, the other 4 chicks came
in and landed as well.
The next day I trained at the Canfield site with Cohort 3. All eight
chicks came out of the pen well with the exception of 922 who had to be
coaxed out after the trike and the other seven chicks had left.
The seven chicks followed eagerly and they gobbled up their treats when
we reached the end of the runway. As 922 seemed to just hang out at the pen,
I taxied down to the pen area to let her join the training session. She
followed as we taxied to the north, but stopped part way down refusing to go
to the end of the runway. When we taxied back to her ‘comfort zone’ she came
up to the trike for some treats.
After settling her down we headed to the far south end of the runway, and
she seemed comfortable with that end. On subsequent attempts she would
follow to the south but would not follow all the way to the north end. When
the others were returned to the pen, we kept 922 outside for some alone time
with the trike. Although this worked well, she still refused to go to the
north end of the runway.
On Saturday I trained at the West site with Cohort 2. As usual, 918 was
slow to come out of the pen and we left on the first lap down the runway
without him. The other eight chicks followed well.
On the return leg, 918 now outside the pen doors, greeted us and followed
to the south. Then, with 918 hugging the short fence that separates the
runway from the swamp, we taxied back to the north. He followed to where the
fencing ends at which point he met up with the swamp monster (deployed from
the trike by yanking on a string attached to a broom out in the swamp.) That
convinced both 908 and 914 who had decided to join him to run back out of
the swamp. They leapt over the fence as if it wasn’t there and were back on
With all of the chicks now following extremely well, we charged down the
runway to stop south of the pen. We were almost finished for the day, when
918 leapt over the fence and went off into the marsh. As the other chicks
watched in envy I revved up the engine and sped back to the pen - and all
After penning the five, Erin Harris and I went after truant 918. While
Erin attempted to coax him back to the runway I tucked the swamp monster
tarp under my costume and snuck around the other side in an attempt to get
behind the wayward bird. I hid behind some bushes to transform into
monster-man and then ran out into the swamp myself. I expected 918 to join
Erin back on the runway but instead he just hunkered down. Erin and I turned
and looked at each other as we realized that plan wasn’t going to work.
Dejected, I went back to my bush and took off my super hero/monster
outfit and came back out a crane. We then had to follow him around the
perimeter of the pen and extricate him from the adult pair who had now taken
possession of him. Because I was plodding through water and mud up to my
pockets I was much shorter than the adult Whooping cranes. And, they knew
it! But at long last, after much jump-raking and many back and forth threats
we managed to get 918 away from the pair and back into the pen.
With boots full of water I flew back to the hangar pondering life without
the superhero/monster tarp and - - maybe without 918!
GIVE A WHOOP! T-SHIRT GOES TO WISCONSIN
The Give a WHOOP!
campaign got off to a running start yesterday and it wasn't long before the
first 50 WHOOPS! had come in.
That meant it was time to make the first draw for one of our limited
edition I Give a WHOOP! t-shirts. We asked Joe Duff to do the honors, and
from the 50 names in the WHOOP box he pulled out that of Jan Sutton
from Poynette, WI. We've contacted Jan to ask her size preference and her
tee will be on its way to her soon.
How delighted were we to hit 100 WHOOPS! today!? With a second 50 WHOOPS!
recorded on our Honor Roll it was time for another draw and this time Chris
Danilko dipped into the WHOOP box. Very shortly, Mary Dooley of
Plainfield, IN will be sporting her new I Give a WHOOP! t-shirt.
Jan and Mary's luck may not end here however. Their WHOOPS! have
gone back into the WHOOP box. This means they are still in the running for
more t-shirt draws, the week's accommodation in Florida, and that all
expense paid 5 day Backstage Visit to Necedah.
Hope this tells everyone that WHOOPING! early means you'll have
more chances to have your name drawn.
On this fall’s journey south, (somewhere over Illinois) we will mark the
10,000th mile Operation Migration has flown leading endangered Whooping
cranes on their first migration. Imagine, 10,000 miles! – that’s the
equivalent of flying almost halfway around the world!
CELEBRATE WITH US
To commemorate this monumental milestone we're inviting you to Give a WHOOP!
Our goal is to compile an honor roll consisting of one ‘WHOOP!’ for
every migration mile we’ve flown leading young Whooping cranes. That’s
right, we’re reaching out to people all over the world in hopes of receiving
For a $10 contribution you can Give a WHOOP! - either online, or by
mailing your check marked, ‘GAW’ to our Canadian or USA address. Visit our
new Give a WHOOP! webpage for all
Give a WHOOP! and
- You will be added to OM’s email list to receive our 2009
- You will receive an invitation to participate in our live, online
worldwide 10,000 mile WHOOP! IT UP celebration.
- You will have 200+ chances for your name to be drawn to receive a Give a
WHOOP! thank you gift. Potential gifts include:
> limited edition I
Give a WHOOP! t-shirts
> one week's
accommodation at Pelicans Beach House in Fort Meyers Beach, FL
> a five day, all expense
paid Backstage Visit for two with the OM Team in Necedah, Wisconsin. Click here for all the details
This is going to be great fun! What are you waiting for Craniacs? C’mon, Give a WHOOP!
July 21, 2009
TIME AT NECEDAH
On Monday, July 13, around 6:30am, Brooke and I set out the long drive from
Patuxent in Laurel, Maryland to Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife
Refuge. The further west we went, the more beautiful the scenery. It went
from the rolling hills of western Maryland, to the gorgeous mountains of
West Virginia, to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, then to Wisconsin.
Once we got
to Ohio, the earth went completely flat like a pancake. We stopped in
Bloomington, IL for the night, then continued our journey northward towards
Necedah. We traveled for over 12 hours to Illinois, then another 6 to
Wisconsin. This was my first time traveling this far west. All I could think
was, “Wow!” I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
When we finally got closer to our final destination, Brooke said to me,
“What does that sign say?” In my 'very excited that the drive was almost
over' voice I said, “Necedah!” I thought the drive was never going to end.
When we finally got to our campsite, I settled in to my new home away from
home. I live in a camper known as The Fox, the same camper that Trish
Gallagher and Bev lived in before me.
Later on that evening, I went with Bev and Brooke to do a roost check. My
first thought was, “Oh my goodness! This refuge is amazing!” As we were
driving, I got the grand tour of the different habitats. It was incredible
to see Sandhill and Whooping Cranes in the wild. I was also shown some
carnivorous plants such as Sundews and Bladderworts. I was amazed at how
small they were.
When we visited the pen sites, I was in shock over how much the birds had
changed, especially Cohort 1. When I last saw Cohort 1 at Patuxent, they
were starting to get white feathers and their primaries (the black wing
tips). Now, their bodies and wings were mostly white, and their primary
feathers almost fully in.
Cohort 2 chicks were also starting to turn white, and their primaries
slowly but surely growing. Ditto for a couple chicks in Cohort 3, but the
younger chicks were still brown, although their primaries were starting to
make an appearance.
Fast forward to today. Cohort 1 is flying! Most of the chicks fly only a
foot or two off the ground, but they are starting to get the hang of it. 903
flew at the height of the wing! Cohorts 2 and 3 are still on the ground, but
are making wonderful progress.
I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of this whole project, from
assisting in the care of these chicks in the ICU to their release in the
wild. The way I view this, is that we all have 23 babies that think we are
the best parents in the world. We keep them out of danger, teach them to
play nice with others, and make sure they have a constant supply of gourmet
This is my second season as an OM intern. Last year, I only worked at
Patuxent because I had not yet graduated college. Now that college is
completed, I have the opportunity to go the whole way. I admit, releasing
the birds in Florida is going to be tough because you can’t help but get
attached to them. When they are released, we can only hope that we have
prepared them the best we could for life out in the wild.
July 20, 2009
NOW FLYING / COHORT 2'S 918 IS PROBLEM CHILD
Richard van Heuvelen was the duty pilot today at the North and West
pensites. He told us that all the chicks in Cohort 1 left the pen eagerly
this morning, with two of them flying off a little way when they exited.
They joined the group when the trike passed by however, and all nine
completed a length of the runway. Although all the Cohort 1 birds are now
flying, Richard stuck with taxi training this morning due to low lying fog.
After doling out some treats, he made a high speed run down to the grass
strip with 903, 904 and 907 flying the entire way. 905 and 908 landed just
behind them. 901, 910 and 911 landed part way down the strip before running
and then flying the rest of the way to the trike.
More treats preceded another training leg as Richard taxied all the way
to the opposite end. This time, 903, 904, 905, 907 and 908 flew the entire
length. The rest flew three-quarters of the way, landed, and then ran the
rest of the way. When training time eventually ended Richard taxied back to
in front of the pen doors. Only 903 needed coaxing from intern Erin Harris
to go back into the pen.
With Cohort 1 tucked away, Richard flew to the West pensite to train with
Cohort 2. When Robert Doyle opened the doors, all the chicks but 918, the
perennial truant, sauntered out. Richard taxied away with the five following
fairly well. Trike and chicks paused at the dogleg in the runway to give
Robert time to shoo 918 outside. When he emerged 918 ran along the fence
line toward the trike, but in the lull before Richard could taxi in his
direction to ‘pick him up’, 918 veered off into the marsh.
In hopes of drawing 918 out of the marsh, Richard and the other five
chicks carried on past him down to the end of the runway. The strategy
didn’t work. Back the other way with the five chicks following well, but
again appeal of the marsh was stronger than 918’s attraction to the trike.
After completing training with the cooperative five chicks Richard and
Robert put them back in their pen. Then Richard taxied up and down the
runway hoping to draw 918 out, but by then he said he could no longer even
see him. Finally, he spotted the chick over by the wet pen, with – you
guessed it – the adult pair 213 & 218*.
Pulling the trike close by and leaving the vocalizer on, Richard
dismounted and headed into the marsh. Robert came to lend a hand to herd 918
away from the adults and back inside. As Robert shepherded the chick from
behind, 213 boldly strode up practically right on his heels. It took threats
from Richard’s puppet to make 213 back off. Once away from the adult, and
wanting to end on a positive note, Richard led 918 under the wing of the
trike for treats before returning him to the pen.
Wonder what tomorrow will bring.
2009 - Entry 2
For the second day in a row it was too windy at Necedah for the team to
train. Not sure if the cold front brought the wind – it was just 57 degrees
there this morning – or if the wind brought the cold front.
Bev said that although there was no taxi-training today the crew would still
be working with the birds; most particularly socializing Cohort 3. Yesterday
the entire cohort spent much of the day in their wet pen and they all got
along well. Despite their seeming congeniality, Robert Doyle and Barb Clauss
felt it prudent to keep them separate overnight. 924 had the entire wet pen
to himself. In the divided-off dry pen were 922, 927, and 929 on one side,
with 925, 928, 926, and 931 on the other.
Training is going well with Cohort 1. Richard reported to Bev that to
varying degrees, every bird is now getting airborne in ground effect.
Overall the cohort is doing well, and 908, who was returned to this group
when she belatedly arrived at Necedah with Cohort 3, has fitted right in as
if she’d never not been there.
Taxi-training with Cohort 2 is progressing but not without its challenges
due to incessant visits by the adult pair, 213 & 218. 918 still
prefers the marsh to the runway, not at all a bad thing in the long run of
course, but for now he needs to pay attention and ‘learn his lessons’.
is off for a bit of a respite so for the next few days our updates and
postings will be coming from Brooke, Richard and Erin.
July 17, 2009
According to word received from USFWS Tracking and Monitoring team member
Dr. Richard Urbanek, Wild901, has disappeared.
Wild901, the first of just
two wild-hatched Whooping crane chicks in the Eastern Migratory Population
this season, was last observed with its
foster parents 212 & 419* on their territory in Wood County on July 12.
When the family was next checked on July 15 the chick was not found.
2009 season's other wild-hatched chick, Wild902 the offspring of First
Family parents 211 & 217*, disappeared in late June.
BUSY, BUSY AT NECEDAH
Things have suddenly gotten very busy here at Necedah. We are training at
all 3 sites every morning, as well as socializing Cohort 3.
Most of the
birds in Cohort 1 are up and flying in ground effect. 908, who was held back
due to an injured leg, has healed nicely and is indistinguishable from the
rest of her cohort during training. She runs just as fast and is getting air
each morning. The recuperative powers of these birds never cease to amaze.
The Cohort 2 birds are where the problem children reside. 918 loves the
marsh and spends the entire training session running along the fence that
separates it from the runway. Richard spent a good deal of time this morning
trying to maneuver the trike between 918 and the fence. He was successful,
and the chick even followed the trike for a pass before becoming distracted
by the siren song of the wetland.
We also have a pair of adults at the West site. These adults are very
attentive to the chicks and seem to have excellent parenting instincts.
Whenever a costumed handler approaches the pen, the adults are right there
trying to intimidate us away.
Once we are in the pen, they stand adjacent to the fence and alternately
alarm call when we approach the chicks, or are trying to draw the chicks
away from us. During training this gets to be a problem and sometimes the
trike is employed as a chaser to drive the adults off the runway.
Yesterday we integrated Cohort 3 for their first joint training session.
They did beautifully, all following with no attention to one another, only
the trike. There is a large age spread in this cohort, and thus a large size
difference. 922 is the dominant bird and only will peck at 924, who wants to
be dominant. 924 in turn, full of displaced aggression, will peck any and
all other chicks. These two are the largest, and since 931 is still so young
and very small, we are keeping the 5 oldest on one side of the pen and the
three youngest on the other.
Throughout the day, we try different combinations of chicks to see who
gets along with whom. So far it seems, if we remove 924 from the equation,
all the other chicks get along fine. As I type this, 924 is by himself in
the wet pen and all the other chicks are together in the dry pen
socializing. I expect in no time at all, the entire cohort will be
integrated and peace will reign o’er.
Brooke and Erin arrived yesterday from Patuxent and Chris left. We gave
Erin a tour of the refuge and led her through a dry run of a morning release
at the East pensite. This morning she was right up to speed and assisted in
the release of the chicks at the West site. Brooke taxi-trained the youngest
chicks while Richard flew into the North and West sites to train the older
The rest of the day will be taken up by socializing Cohort 3, grocery
shopping for the two new crew members, and getting them signed into the
refuge. Before we know it, we will be doing roost checks and the day will be
over. Then the mosquito patrol begins!
July 14, 2009 - Entry 2
MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
As of July 11th, the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consisted of a
maximum of 79 birds; 47 males, 31 females, and 1 wild chick. According to
trackers, distribution at the end of this report period had not changed
since their previous report (see June 27 entry below).
Legend: * =
females; D = direct autumn release; NFT = non-functional transmitter, & =
Pair; B = Breeding Pair.
Locations Unknown 416 (last observed April 19) 516, 524, D533* and
D744* (A bird reported in Van Buren County, MI in April was likely
one of these birds.)
D527* (last recorded June 9) D528* 706, 712 (not detected since May) 727* (last recorded in May) 733, D737 (last reported in
805, 812 (locations unknown as of June 27) 824*, 827, 828, and
830* (last detected in Juneau County June 25)
This report was compiled from data supplied by the WCEP Tracking Team
consisting of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski, and Jess
Parents 212 & 419* with foster chick, Wild901.
Photo by Jess Thompson, ICF
2009 - Entry 1
Wisconsin DNR sent along a photo of
Wild901 taken on July 8th by volunteer Perri Liebl. W901 is the foster
chick of parents 212 and 419* that was hatched at their nesting site in Wood
As you can see from the photo, between the chick's coloration
and the long grass, it is well camouflaged. Perri reported that while she
only caught a few glimpses, parents and chick seemed to be doing fine.
In other 'chick news' The International
Crane Foundation (ICF) currently has 11 young they are raising for the
2009 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program. The DAR chicks are housed at
Baraboo in ICF's isolation rearing facility. Prior to the end of July they
will be shipped to the Necedah NWR where they will be penned at Site 3.
In his report Marty said, "I’ve been waiting to announce that our chick
fledged. The chick is 111 days old today [July 9]. It is likely the chick
fledged long ago, but I haven’t reported it yet, because we have not
"There are at least several reasons - this is a relatively immobile pair
that doesn’t go anywhere. Apparently their territory supplies everything
they need; there is no hurry to fly. Secondly, about the time the chick
would have been fledging, the male shed his flight feathers. (It takes 44+
days to re-grow them.) Because crane families like to stick together, this
means the family is grounded for a while. We expect the male to be
flight-capable again in a couple weeks."
Marty said that the FNMP nesting season concluded with 4 nests and 1 chick.
TRAINING COHORT 2
This morning when pilot Chris Gullikson pulled his trike up to the front of
the pen, the doors opened and out popped five chicks with no prompting.
While Chris crouched down under the wing with the five, Patuxent's Robert
Doyle and Intern Geoffrey Tarbox went back inside to coax 918 out.
later, engine revving, the trike with six chicks in hot pursuit zoomed down
the runway. At the midway point (read, a stop for treats), the two usual
visitors (213 & 218*) appeared walking through the marsh just along the edge
of the runway. They had been calling and calling earlier. One can’t help but
wonder what the chicks make of it.
Carrying on down to the end they went, and as Chris stopped and
dismounted to turn the trike around, all the chicks but one gathered round
for more treats. One lolli-gagger - who else but 918 - stood off to the side
of the runway tempting the adults to head for him. Chris, alert to potential
trouble, strode toward them, and the white birds backed off.....a few feet.
Their retreat was short-lived.
Back at the trike, Chris crouched down and the chicks gathered closely
around him. Meanwhile, the white birds kept edging closer. Chris again went
over to them, waving his arms in an attempt to chase them off. They
retreated, but only a few yards, and in a “I’ll show you who’s boss”
fashion, began to call, and call.
Chris re-started his engine, and like champs, the chicks gave their
loyalty to the trike as it set off back down runway. Two chicks led the
group displaying a flurry of cinnamon, white, and black wings. The others,
wings folded, trotted behind until they caught up to make the last ‘hundred
yard dash’ in an almost straight line off the left wing.
Past the pen they went to the other end of the runway and another stop
for a reward for good behavior. The white birds again began calling as they
hurriedly trekked their way through the marsh to be with the chicks. As they
called, all the heads of the curious chicks swiveled in their direction.
Spooked, 918 took off into the marsh.
Although the two adults seem captivated by the chicks, aggressive or
harmful behavior is always a possibility, and the crew doesn’t want to take
any chances. So, leaving the five chicks beside his trike, Chris went after
918. Despite his height, he almost disappeared from sight as in places, the
grass is as tall or taller than him. When he re-emerged shepherding 918,
there was a blur of white. You guessed it. The determined and obviously
chick-infatuated white birds were right there too.
The chicks’ attention was drawn to the white birds as they stood sentinel
on the other side of the runway fence. Taking control, Chris manually pulled
his trike away and all but two chicks followed. They were totally focused on
the adults, now just feet from the runway fence and calling to them.
Eventually, Chris and the trike won the tug-a-war for their attention
With the trike now back in front of the pen doors, Chris gathered the six
chicks around him. Costumes Robert Doyle and Geoff Tarbox opened the pen
doors, and, seemingly as if they’d had enough for the morning, five chicks
eagerly strolled back inside. The sixth stood and stared at the adults for a
minute or two, but the costumes waved their puppets, and it too soon
followed them inside.
The adults in the meantime had moved about as close to the pen fencing as
they could get without actually being inside. Chris decided to take another
stab at hazing them off. It was a stand off of sorts for a few moments
before the birds finally backed down and although not far, moved off. The
white birds are clearly not intimated by the costume despite it being the
While the presence of the adults made for a shortened training session
this morning, it was nonetheless successful. For the most part, and even
though it’s early days, the chicks displayed remarkable loyalty to the trike
despite the tempting distractions.
Good for you chicks – and good for you too our patient crew.
July 12, 2009
THIS WEEK IN PICTURES
Bev sent in some lovely photos taken this past week when Cohort 3 arrived in
Wisconsin at the Necedah National Wildlife
Refuge. (click on
thumbnail images to see larger)
922 & 924 extend their heavy and growing wings.
Geoffrey Tarbox spends some time with the new cohort searching for tasty
928 runs excitedly while extending his wings.
Geoff runs alongside the newest (and youngest) members of the
July 10, 2009 - Entry 3
IS WESTWARD BOUND
There's a country and western song with the line in it, "Don't see nothin'
but the taillights." It's about a guy whose girlfriend drove off in his
pickup truck leaving him standing on the side of the road at night; a
situation which would have been much worse had she taken his dog or his beer
cooler, but that's another song.
This musical masterpiece did, however, start playing in my head as I
watched the Patuxent van heading out through the gate for the last time
carrying Cohort 3 to the airport. They were off to meet the Windway plane
for the trip to Necedah on the next leg of their journey into the great
"Kind of sad, isn't it?" Dr. Olsen said, as we watched the van disappear
carrying our little friends away. "Sure is," I sighed.
Patuxent is a place of beginnings and endings, with enormous amounts of
concentrated effort, hard work and wide emotional swings in between. And the
reason, the focus, the purpose of all of this has just left us; each bird
resting comfortably in its crate just forward of those taillights.
The crew at Patuxent, truly the unsung heroes of this project, have
passed the torch to the rest of us, and our job now is to not let them down.
Word from Bev at Necedah is that the thunderstorms predicted for the
Necedah area have moved south which should make for a smooth flight. Now,
all our little friends have to contend with is the In-flight movie, "Fly
Away Home"! Our sympathies go with them - (grin).
July 10, 2009 - Entry 2
As I was laying in bed this morning listening to the wind and rain I thought
there would be no way we would be training today. When I looked at the time
and realized it was only 4am, I rolled over and went back to sleep. When I
was rudely awakened by my alarm an hour later, I realized that the only
sound I heard was that very alarm. No more rain, no wind, just beautiful
silent calm air.
I dragged myself out of bed, got dressed and met the rest
of the crew. Robert Doyle greeted me with the message that I would be
training the Cohort 2 chicks at the West site. My eyes lit. I felt my face
break into a large smile and I was almost running for the truck. What a nice
This is my fourth summer here at Necedah and I have never gotten to taxi
train the birds. I train them all spring at Patuxent, but once here, I am
relegated to opening the pen for the pilots. Needless to say, I was ecstatic
at the prospect.
After driving out to the pensite and as we pulled up to the parking area
and looked down the drive to where the trike was parked, we saw a weasel
jumping and running around the trike as if to say, “Hurry up, you got chicks
waiting!”. His energetic movements got me revved up and I jumped out of the
truck ready for action.
The taxi training trike, sans wing, sat waiting for me, and after having
Robert help me to start it, (I injured my back recently and the pull start
was more than I could handle) I was off and rolling out towards the runway.
My first task was to chase the resident pair of adult Whoopers off the
runway. After successfully intimidating them, I pulled in front of the pen
and doing my best trike pilot impersonation, gave Robert the thumbs up to
open the door. I’m not sure who was more anxious, the chicks to get
training, or myself to train them.
Four of the six practically leapt out of the pen and quickly joined me
and the trike. 918 was a little more hesitant, but was enticed out with the
promise of a grape. 914 never did materialize and Robert closed the door. We
didn’t want to waste the energy of the other birds by waiting too long for
the one lagging behind.
Off we went down the runway, trike leading and five gangly chicks
flapping in trail. I paused at the end after turning around, fed some grapes
to the birds, then took off again. What a thrill it was to train here. The
wide open runway with no fence, the marsh on all sides of us, the adult
cranes standing off to the side of the runway, it made for a beautiful
morning. The seat of the trike is a much better place to view training than
peering through a peep hole from inside the pen.
918 is our little water rat, and just as he does every morning, he
wandered into the marsh. This morning, though, he didn’t go far, and after
leaving him for one pass with the other chicks, he came out as soon as I got
back to the spot where he stood. The chicks followed well, and 20 minutes
went by in the blink of an eye. Too soon I pulled up in front of the pen and
Robert, right on cue, opened the door and the chicks all filed in. After
helping check and clean wet feeders (pilots take note!)I restarted the trike
and taxied it back to its parking spot. Pulling the tarp over it, I couldn’t
help but smile broadly over this wonderful, surprising morning.
2009 - Entry 1
TO YOUR QUESTIONS
Libby from Philadelphia wrote in our GuestBook, “Could we please have an
update on the birds, and who is still left behind at Patuxent? I can't
figure out which of the cohort #1 was left behind, or why (genetic
holdback?). OM seems to have a great crop of birds this year, and I'd like
to update my own records...Cheers to all crane wranglers!” Not long after,
Peter from Santa Fe emailed to ask if there was going to be a Cohort 3 this
The answer to Peter's question is, yes, there will be a Cohort 3. In fact
those chicks are being flown by Windway from the Patuxent Wildlife Research
Center to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge today. This also partially
gives Libby the information she was looking for. This is the last shipment
so there will be no cranes for the ultralight-led program remaining in
Maryland after today.
Leg injury. Held back when Cohorts 1 & 2
shipped. To be reintroduced into Cohort 1 post arrival at NNWR.
Parents 309* & 403.
Having leg problems
In total, 31 chicks were
hatched at Patuxent this season. Below is a summary of the chicks that for
reasons shown, will not be a part of the Class of 2009.
Weak since hatch.
Research holdback. Parents sibling pair 303* &
Euthanized due to blindness
Euthanized due to unspecified condition
Weak since hatch
July 8, 2009
Yes, believe it or not, the wind has caused taxi training to be cancelled
for this morning.
But why is that? The chicks aren't flying yet - haven't
even fledged you say. Pilot and trainer Chris Gullikson has the answer for
"We have rain slowly approaching the refuge this morning, and while that
mightn't be an issue, we also have surface winds out of the east blowing
about 10mph. Winds of that velocity can cause the wing on the trike to move
around quite a bit. Because the chicks are so new to having the wing in
place, wind driven unexpected movement can spook them. Rather than give them
what could be a negative experience and potentially cause a setback, we
decided to forego training this morning."
July 7, 2009
- Entry 2
DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD...
It's great to be back in Necedah and working with these beautiful young
This year we have 8 cranes making Cohort 1 at the North Site, and
6 cranes at the West site. We have some concerns for 901 who has had a
respiratory issue and coughs occasionally. She is under close scrutiny but
has shown promise the past few days with very little coughing noted and she
is training quite well with the trike.
We introduced the winged trike to Cohort 1 last Friday, and as usual
there was the typical shyness as they checked out the giant delta-shaped
wing that suddenly appeared on their noisy escort. This morning things were
all back to normal and as I rolled up to the pen and gave Bev the thumbs up
to open the doors.
All but 901 and 910 came quickly out to join me. This is usual behavior
and just something we deal with every year. At this stage, some of the young
cranes prefer their independence and the comfort of the wet pen. Bev soon
coaxed these two outside and I began a taxi to the northeast end of the
runway with 8 gangly cranes trotting behind, their heavy wings held out
displaying their developing black primary feathers.
After feeding out a few grapes with the engine turned off, I again fired
up and repeated the procedure to the southwest end of the runway. Back again
to the northeast I noted that a few stragglers were beginning to lag behind
and stare longingly back at their wet pen. This was my cue to taxi back to
the pen doors where Bev waited in hiding. We soon had them back inside where
they took a cool drink and began foraging around in their expansive wet pen.
You know the rest from Liz's earlier update, although that was not Bev
but me she saw dumping muddy water out of my boots. 918 is going to be a
challenge as he has a history of exploring the marsh in search of water.
Just another day, just another pair of boots to be dried out...
July 7, 2009 - Entry 1
With pilot Chris Gullikson performing double duty this morning - that is -
doing taxi training with both cohorts, I took the opportunity to watch the
Cohort 2 chicks in their West pensite while I waited for him to arrive from
the North site and training with Cohort 1.
At 6:33am my phone beeped with
a text message from Bev telling me to get ready; Chris's ETA at the West
site was in 5 minutes. Ain't technology cool? When it works that is.
And right on time at 6:38 there was Chris in his trike and two costumes
opening the pen doors. Once again, three birds immediately came out, quickly
followed by two others - no coaxing for them needed today. The costumes went
back into the pen to shoo the one slowpoke out.
Heather, also here in Ontario, is manipulating the pan and zoom of the
camera from her computer until those functions can be automated, and she
focused in on the chicks converging on the trike. Holey speeding bullet!
Just like that they were off! At the midway 'treat station', two chicks
wandered off to the edge of the runway and it looked as if they might head
into the marsh. Quick thinking Chris, turned around on a dime and headed
past them back toward the pen. That convinced the wannabe wanderers to
rejoin their buddies.
Down at the far end of the runway, Chris turned off the engine,
dismounted, and manually pulled his trike around to face back in the
opposite direction. As he crouched down under the wing all the chicks
eagerly clustered around to receive the now expected treats.
Heather zoomed the camera out to include a view of one of the costumes
hiding inside the pen and peering out through the fencing to watch how the
chicks were behaving.
Not long and engine revving, they were off again. Chris did a quick turn
and back they came. Up and down. Down and up. When the trike finally
stopped in front of the pen doors, some chicks stayed with Chris but some
strolled off, appearing to be headed for the marsh. To attract the gypsy
birds, Chris started up the trike and moved a short way down the runway. Aha
- he fooled some of them. Pay attention Class!
When taxi training time drew to a close there were two little critters
who wanted to stay outside to play. Bev offered treats, waved her puppet and
flapped her arms, but the chicks weren't impressed. It was like they were
teasing, strolling back and forth along the edge of the runway just 30 or so
yards from the pen. Okay, on to the next strategy. Chris fired up his trike
to see if they would follow.
Partial success as the costumes rounded up one chick and led it into the
pen. In the meantime the other truant had ventured deeper into the marsh.
The costume in pursuit moved slowly through the water, mud, and long grass,
eventually catching up with the little devil and then shepherding it along
the pen fence line. Then, as it rounded the corner of the pen it saw the
open gate, and just like a horse who spots the barn, galloped inside.
The next minute or two was spent watching the costume (Bev?) taking off
her boots to empty out the water that obviously flowed in over the top on
her marsh excursion. Hope the accumulation was only water and there were no
creepy crawlies in there. Ewww. The costumes went into the pen to perform
their duties, and with the morning's taxi training done, Chris took to the
Once Chris has had time to get back to the hangar and then look after his
trike, I'll give him a call to see if I can cajole him into writing an
update on how things are going over at the North site with Cohort 1. On
second thought, perhaps I'll wait a while. Maybe he'll be more receptive if
I let him have time for some breakfast first.
July 6, 2009
It was just a minute or two after 6am when a costumed Geoffrey appeared
outside the pen doors at the West pensite. Inside the pen, several of the
chicks in Cohort 2 could be seen moving around, the odd peep-peep carrying
softly in the cool dawn air.
Small skifts of wispy morning mist hung low over the marsh, a few escapees
tried valiantly to cling to the ground along the edge of the grassy runway
in front of the pen. It was a serene, quiet vista until the waking sounds of
the many denizens of the refuge floated through the air; honks, quacks, caws
and chirrups. Bev joined Geoffrey at the pen, and before long, the buzz of
man’s machinery joined Mother Nature’s morning symphony as the familiar
sound of the approaching trike reached our ears.
Chris Gullikson waited beside his trike just in front of the pen doors.
Chris had the wing on the training trike - the first taxi training day with
the wing on. Bev and Geoffrey opened the doors and two of the chicks
immediately came out to investigate. Encouraged by Bev’s arm flapping and
puppet waving, a third followed. Waiting, waiting, waiting. While one
costumed crouched by the doors, the other went back into the pen for the
other three who were obviously needing some coaxing to come out.
All three costumes crouched down under the wing, coaxing the chicks close
with treats to give them an opportunity to become comfortable with the wing
overhead – and the shadow it cast. While one chick hung back for a time,
gradually they all clustered beneath the wing, seemingly unconcerned.
it was 7:15am and time to get down to real business. Bev and Geoff moved off
to hide in the pen so the birds wouldn’t be distracted. Chris fired up his
trike, slipped into the seat, and with his puppet stuck out to one side,
started rolling slowly down the grass runway. And quicker than you can say,
‘Unison Call’, the chicks formed up off the right wing and the morning’s
taxi training was officially underway.
Off they went, and I watched as they became small brown and white dots in
the distance. At the far end of the mowed strip they stopped, and I waited
not so patiently through the pause which I knew was a stop for Chris to
dismount and dispense treats. Then back came the trike, closely followed
by….oops…. only four of the six chicks were following back down. Where did
the other two go? Ahhhh, into the marsh.
Another stop midway for treats then the trike and four birds were back in
front of the pen doors. How cool is this!?! Oh, oh. What’s that? Two white
birds coming for a look-see. Bev kept an eye on them while the other
costumes quickly herded the four chicks back into the pen. Chris tried
hazing the adults away and off the opposite end runway. I think they were
laughing at him as they nonchalantly kept just steps ahead of him.
Into the marsh went Bev and Geoffrey to round up one stray. Successful, they
led the delinquent into the pen. Back into the marsh they went yet again for
the last escapee, and with considerable coaxing, it too was returned to the
pen to join its mates. Whew, just in time, because there came those two
curious and determined white birds again.
Reluctant to see the end, end it did as Chris taxied down the runway and
took to the air to return to the hangar.
Are you wondering why the heading for this Field Journal entry shows that I
am at OM’s main office yet it seems to be written as if I’d seen the action
myself? Very observant of you. The answer is simple. This morning I was
watching all the action live via our new CraneCam. While there are still
a myriad of things that have to be resolved, we are in what we are hopefully
calling, the ‘final testing’ stage.
Thanks to the generosity of DUKE
ENERGY, in the not too distant future you too will be able to
experience never-before-seen views of not just taxi training and flight
training, but of the chicks in their pen (exactly what is they do when no
one’s around?), and of course you will be able to share the excitement of
migration – the next best thing to being there!
We have no firm timeline for going live as yet, but watch this space for
more on the CraneCam in the coming days. Already it has taken an enormous
effort, countless hours, and much hair pulling. It also presented us with a
gigantic and very steep learning curve, most particularly for Heather Ray,
and for Chris Gullikson our resident meteorologist and also teckkie.
We are thrilled and excited about the CraneCam, and we’re betting you will
be too. Now, cross your fingers that the remaining tasks and hurdles can be
overcome in short order. Oh, how about uncrossing them long enough to post
an entry to our GuestBook to make sure
DUKE ENERGY knows how grateful and excited you all are at the prospect?
July 5, 2009
In an email update received yesterday, Dr. Richard Urbanek advised us of
the loss of the First Family's chick, Wild902.
Hatched near Site 3 on the Necedah refuge ~June 15 to parents 211 & 217*,
Urbanek said that, "Chick W902 was last visually confirmed at 1:00pm on June
28th. The parents were last observed in apparent chick attendance behavior
around 7:00pm on June 29th when views of the chick were obscured by marsh
Richard reported that, "The parents were first observed behaving as if no
chick was present shortly after noon on June 30th, and subsequent movements
of the parents have confirmed the loss."
As of the most recent visual observation which was made at 1:00pm July 4th,
Wild901, the chick being fostered by 212 & 419* continues to do well.
Progress on Protecting Birds from Wind Turbine Collisions - Winds of Change Begin to Blow at Wind Farms
Pressure from ABC and other environmental organizations to make
wind energy bird
friendly and therefore truly green is showing some initial signs
of changing the attitude and behavior of wind developers and the federal
government. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee has now
begun the task of writing recommendations to protect birds from habitat
destruction and collision risks associated with wind farms, but much work
remains to be done to convert an industry and their regulatory agencies that
have long viewed wind power as environmentally benign.
the full story here.
July 3, 2009
TRAVELLING IN STYLE
Cohort 2 had the VIP treatment this morning.
the fleet of aircraft operated by Windway’s Aviation Department, their
Cessna Caravan is best suited for transporting birds. It’s a single engine
turbo prop (jet engine powered propeller) and can carry about ten passengers
in comfort. The seats can also be removed to carry any like of cargo, and
Caravans are often used as bush planes or by delivery companies. It’s like a
million dollar pick up truck or more accurately, a luxury station wagon with
fold down seats. They also have a Cessna Citation which is more like a
Most often they use the Caravan to deliver birds from Patuxent to
Necedah. The trip takes about 5 ½ hours with a fuel stop at their home base
in Sheboygan. Today, because of crew work load and the fact that they were
already on the East Coast, they picked up the birds in the Citation at about
10 AM Eastern.
By 10:45 AM Central they were rolling to a stop at the Wisconsin Dells
airport just north of Baraboo. That’s one hour and forty five minutes at a
cruise speed of just over 500 miles per hour. Of course the chicks were
standing in their transport crates the whole way, oblivious to the leather
seats and wood paneling that surrounded them. I guess luxury for a Whooping
crane is a pond full of mud with lots of wrigglely things in the bottom.
The normal Windway destination is the Necedah airport, but they chose the
Dells Airport for two reasons. Their determining factor was the much longer
runway; ours was its proximity to ICF. If something untoward happened, the
International Crane Foundation with its full veterinary facilities is only
minutes away. Because that option was so readily available, Barry Hartup DVM
took the opportunity to check one bird that was down in its crate.
Normally they stand the entire way, but 918 was sitting on his hocks.
This could have been a sign of injury and Barry wanted to make sure before
it endured the one hour van ride to Necedah.
It only took a minute to stand the bird up. It was alert and steady and
we had only just started our drive when it sat down again. As long as there
is no injury it is likely a safer way to ride except for the possibility of
overheating. We took care of that by cranking up the A/C to max. My fingers
turned blue on the steering wheel but that’s a small price to pay for
Besides it was only an hour and you can survive anything for that long. Just
ask any pilot who has led birds over the Cumberland Ridge, or handler who
has stood vigilant over the birds in 90 degree temperatures in full costume.
Once we arrived at the pen the crates were loaded onto a weight scale.
After the birds were released into the pen the crates were re-weighed. For
the rest of the afternoon we took turns watching the birds from the blind.
Before long it looked as if they had always been there. Just before roost
check a pair of white birds flew in to check on the chicks too. It looks
like they are going to fit right in.
Note: Making the trip yesterday were: 912, 913, 914, 915, 918, and
July is the month to buy your new Migratory Bird Hunting
and Conservation [Duck] Stamp at your local Post Office, National Wildlife
Refuge, or various sporting outlets. Some 98 percent of the proceeds go to
secure National Refuge System wetland and grassland habitat, and the Stamp
also serves as a pass for refuges that charge for entry.
To highlight this fact, we draw your attention to a new, revised listing of
Migratory Bird Conservation Fund amounts (MBCF) is sustained by Stamp
dollars plus other funding - some import duties, permits, fines, etc.) as
percentages of the funding used to acquire individual refuges in the past.
The list is very revealing. For example, here are some of those percentages
for a small selection of popular and much-birded refuges:
Parker River in Massachusetts - 99.3%
Bosque del Apache in New Mexico - 99.2%
Pea Island in North Carolina - 99.2%
Quivira in Kansas - 99.1%
Horicon in Wisconsin - 98.7%
Muscatatuck in Indiana - 98.9
Santa Ana in Texas - 94.9%
Okefenokee in Georgia - 88.2%
Laguna Atascosa in Texas - 86.0%
These past investments and the continual use of Stamp funds for refuge
habitat are outstanding examples of reasons to buy a Stamp.
July 1, 2009
MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
As of June 27, the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) consists of a
maximum of 80 birds; 47 males, 31 females, and 2 newly wild-hatched chicks.
According to trackers, the distribution at the end of this report period
was: approximately 60 birds in the core reintroduction area of central
Wisconsin, 15 at other locations in Wisconsin, 1 in Lower Michigan, and 4
with no recent record of location (at least 1 of these was in Lower
In this report, * = females; D = direct autumn release; NFT =
non-functional transmitteR, & = Pair; B = Breeding Pair.
In Core Area
101, B105 & 501*
B211 & 217*, B212 & 419*, B213 & 218*, 216 & 716*
307 & 726*, B310 & W601*, B311 & 312*, 316 & D742*, B317 & 303*, B318 & 313*
B401 & 519*, 402 & D746*, B403 & 309*, 412, 416,
506, 509, 511, 512 & 722*, 514, B515 & 415*, 520*
703, 707 & D739*, 709, 713, 717*, 724, also 706 and 712 but neither have
been detected since May. Class of 2008
804, 814, and 818* in Jefferson County thru June 24.
805 and 812 location unknown as of June 27
813* Lincoln County
819 and 829 Clark County
824*, 827, 828, and 830* last detected south of the refuge on June 25.
D831, 836, and 838* Dane County
Outside Core Area
727* (last found in May), 733, D737 (last reported in Michigan)
Reports of 824*, 827, 828, and 830 being in a garden in Juneau County were
investigated and mylar ribbons were deployed. The birds did not return to
516, 524, D533* and D744* (A bird reported in Van Buren County, MI is likely
one of these birds.)
This report was compiled from data supplied by the WCEP Tracking Team
consisting of Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski, and Jess
In a recent GuestBook entry, Lisa Johnson wrote, “The issue of genetic
diversity and "hold backs" of whoopers is a fascinating subject to me. What
I truly don't understand is this: If, at one point, the overall population
of Whoopers was nearly wiped out how than there be possibility be enough
genetic diversity that some chicks are considered "genetically" valuable.
Don't get me wrong -- it's indeed a miracle. I have been under the
impression that in order to retain (maintain) true genetic diversity that
once a population to less than 2,000 or so contributing to the gene pool
that genetic diversity is next if impossible. Any input on that issue from
To shed some light, we’ve updated an article from a past issue of our member
magazine, INformation, “GENETICS – key to a sustainable future”
Despite there now being a total of +300 Whooping cranes migrating between
different summering and wintering grounds in two separate flocks, it goes
without saying that this species still has a way to go. However, by any
standard, the Whooping crane is at least part of the way along the road to
The modest success of this reintroduction number-wise allows us to pay some
attention to ‘quality’ as well as quantity. That is, while striving to keep
the number of birds to be reintroduced at the highest possible level, WCEP
is also focused on ways to improve the genetic makeup of the Whooping cranes
being added to the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP).
Because every living Whooping crane stems from the 15 birds still surviving
in the 1940’s, significant inbreeding has obviously occurred. This makes
genetic diversity an even important consideration for the species’ human
helpers, because numbers alone won’t ensure the flock’s ongoing viability
As the eggs released to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
reintroduction project (WCEP) for use in establishing the EMP all originated
from the captive breeding population, the ancestry of all the reintroduction
project’s birds is known - with the exception of instances of indeterminable
paternity. By charting the ancestries, university biologist and WCEP
geneticist, Ken Jones, keeps a demographic and genetic analysis of the
Demographics – Growth and Gender
As of 2005 the EMP, which then stood at 64 birds, was growing at an average
of 12.8 birds per year. Dr. Jones projected that if this rate could be
maintained, the goal of 125 birds could easily be met by the project’s tenth
year. His analysis at that time also revealed that then ratio of males to
females, (36 to 28) was originally skewed in project years three and four as
the result of an attempt to correct a similar gender imbalance in the
Ken’s genetic analysis of three years ago indicated that 52% on the EMP
stemmed from only two females. The remainder of the population was split
between 12 other female lines. Because this represented a disproportionately
high number of offspring from two half-sibling females the genetics of the
EMP flock had become heavily skewed towards the ancestry of these females.
To quote from Ken’s 2005 report: “This genetic skew has produced a flock
with a higher mean kinship than that of the other two populations: Eastern
Migratory = .06; Florida Non-Migratory = .04; and, Captivity = .02. As the
mean kinship of a population is equal to the inbreeding expected in the next
generation of breeding, the over-representation of these female lines is
producing a population where, under an assumption of random pairing, a high
rate of sib-sib matings should be expected.”
In his 2005 report Ken noted, “Other than a temporary reduction in females
that were available for release in 2003-2004, the EMP is in good shape
demographically.” It was Ken’s recommendation that, “With the demographics
of the population in a stable situation, attention should now be turned to
the long term genetic health of the population.” However, Ken was quick to
point out that high levels of inbreeding, that is sib-sib matings, are known
to produce a decline in hatchability and juvenile fitness in many species of
birds. For this reason, he strongly recommended WCEP work to correct the
genetic skew in the current population.
“In order to make these corrections,” said Ken, “WCEP’s Project Direction
Team will need to suspend the release of offspring from over-represented
females, and preferentially, release chicks from females currently
under-represented in the flock. Doing this will increase the gene diversity
of the population, and ultimately reduce the overall inbreeding realized in
the population as a whole.”
Genetic diversity is one of the three forms of biodiversity recognized by
the World Conservation Union as important for conservation. It is important
to conserve genetic diversity because it is necessary for evolution to
occur; and, because genetic diversity directly correlates with population
strength. Inbreeding, per se, isn’t bad. It is the consequence of inbreeding
that is bad. Inbreeding results in loss of the alleles* which allow genetic
diversity, and without which reproductive fitness is reduced.
The recommendations drafted by Ken Jones in 2005 included:
1) To ensure the population maintains a healthy female population the
release cohorts should contain an approximate 50/50 sex ratio.
2) To improve the overall genetic health of the population, the genetics of
the EMP should be analyzed annually in parallel with that of the captive
population, and the resulting analyses be used as the basis of annual chick
allocation. In general:
a) Retain half of chicks genetically valuable to both populations for future
captive breeding, and release the remainder for reintroduction into the EMP.
b) Do not release chicks that would significantly decrease the gene
diversity of the WCEP population into the reintroduction program.
c) Allocate all chicks for reintroduction that would reduce the gene
diversity of the captive flock but bolster that of WCEP’s flock.
i) With 21 surviving offspring in the reintroduced population, chicks
from captive female 1135 should no longer be released
ii) Chicks from captive female 1136 should only be released if sufficient
numbers of chicks are not available from other more genetically suitable
iii) Until the population grows sufficiently to assure a low occurrence,
full sib matings that do occur should be discouraged. Possible methods
iv) Allow the related pair to continue breeding and to swap the eggs
produced with those of an outbred pair. (This would alleviate the problem in
the short term, however, removing the eggs from a particular pair selects
against the genes of that family line.)
v) Removal of the male alone of the pair from the population. This would
permanently solve the inbreeding problem caused by that pair. By removing
only one of the two birds, we would allow the genes of that family line to
be contributed into the population. Additionally, as sib-sib matings are
likely to occur only when a family line is highly over-represented, removing
the male would also help equalize family representation in the population.
So yes Lisa, we are working with an extremely narrow gene pool, but that
doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to ensure as much diversity as humanly
possible. Last season at least one captive female laid that had previously
never produced an egg. Such diversity is important given the species’
limited genetics. However small the measure, everything that is believed to
have a chance at improving the species’ well being for the future is worth
* Allele: An alternate sequence of a gene. For example, there are
different sequences of “eye color” genes that code for brown and blue eyes.
Recessive versus Dominant Alleles: Most genes have multiple alleles that
code for different variants. (i.e. When an individual carries two different
alleles, only one of the two variants will manifest in the individual. In
the case of eye color, even if both parents have both brown and blue
alleles, you will have brown eyes because brown alleles are dominant. Blue
alleles are always recessive and are masked by the brown. The only way to
get blue eyes is to have two blue alleles.)
BUFFALO/ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATE
Lea Craig-Moore who is with the Species at Risk Recovery Unit of the
Canadian Wildlife Service provided an update on the Wood Buffalo/Aransas
population's nesting season.
June chick surveys were conducted June 16-20
in Wood Buffalo National park by Jim Bredy and Tom Stehn from the US Fish
and Wildlife Service, and Lea Craig-Moore from the Canadian Wildlife
Lea advised that, "a total of 52 chicks were seen from 62 nests (61 nests
had been found in May, and one additional family was found in June). Two
chicks were seen at ten nests, one chick at 32 nests and 18 nests had no
young. Two nests were still being incubated on the last day of surveys. This
year's June production is 0.84 chicks per nest which is on target with the
long term average of 0.8 chicks/nest."
The surveyors also noted that May's water conditions had been excellent,
but had dropped over the past month due to negligible precipitation. The
next survey is scheduled to begin about the 18th of August.
Arriving at Necedah
Cohort 1 and I both arrived at Necedah on Thursday. I got introduced to my
new pen, which is an Arctic Fox camper complete with an air conditioner, and
Cohort 1 got introduced to its new pen. I think they’ll be happy here once
they get over their plane ride.
I have spent the last year traveling, so I
am quite familiar with the indignities of air travel. However, it’s a
different story for OM’s young charges. While they don’t have to deal with
the TSA or find room for their carry-on bags, they get lured into crates and
have to stand up the whole time. Then they get lifted into a van and driven
somewhere, loaded onto a plane and flown somewhere, and then driven again –
all without seeing what is going on or hearing human voices. And while a few
of them traveled to Patuxent by plane before they hatched (from other
breeding sites, including Calgary Zoo, San Antonio Zoo, and the
International Crane Foundation), until Thursday they had a relatively
and Joe already described their trip here, which was adventure enough, but
at the end of it there was a new pen too.
What is the new pen like? There is a wet pen - which I will tell you about
in my next entry - and a dry pen. The dry pen is probably about 40 feet by
80 feet with a top net. It has a fence down the middle with gates at either
end so birds can be separated if necessary. There are two shade shelters
with feeders, one on each side of the fence.
There is a big tub of water that is hooked up to a solar pump so the
water is continuously refreshed while the sun is out. If you look at Joe
Duff’s pictures from June 25th, you can see two costumed handlers standing
under one of the shade shelters. The tub of water is in front of them and
the other shade shelter is directly behind them. To the left is the wet pen.
How was the cohort introduced to the new pen? After the crates were
opened, Robert Doyle, a member of the crane crew from Patuxent, showed them
around. He showed them the feeders and the water and walked around the pen a
few times. We always do this when we introduce the chicks to something new,
just like their parents would in the wild. We dip the puppet bill in the
water to attract their attention to it and do the same with the feeders. We
also walk around the perimeter of the pen to encourage them to explore the
full extent of the pen.
Robert stayed in the pen with them for about an hour and then moved to
the observation blind. Geoff Tarbox, another intern, and Chris Gullikson
relieved Robert and then it was my turn to go out to the pen with Joe.
I sat in the blind observing the chicks for about 90 minutes. Joe
instructed me to look for aggression and also to make sure they were all
behaving normally. Most of the chicks were sleeping, but not 905. She was
crying nonstop. Peep! Peep! Peep! That’s not normal. I sent her comforting
thoughts, but it didn’t help. Peep! Peep! Peep! I was surprised that it
wasn’t 907, who tends to be a worrier, but she was taking a nap. That’s not
normal either. She usually paces. Peep! Peep! Peep!
This went on the entire time I sat in the blind. I resisted the urge to
go in and comfort 905. I imagined she was saying “Where am I? This doesn’t
look familiar! Where are the earthworms?” The rest of the chicks ignored her
for the most part, although they sometimes would halfheartedly join in and
peep once or twice. Maybe they were too tired to protest, but not 905. Peep!
After a while, the rest of the chicks woke up. Maybe 905’s peeping
finally got to them too. There was lots of stretching and unfolding of
wings, which is always a beautiful sight. 903 took a bath. 904 had a snack
and wandered around. 901 and 910 had a staring contest while they were
standing next to each other at the feeder, but one of them backed down and
wandered away. That was as close as they came to a conflict.
There was lots of pecking at their new leg bands. Some even investigated
the bands of other chicks. And 905 cried on. I worriedly listened to her
peeping as I walked away, but Robert later reported that she eventually
settled down and went to sleep. By the next morning she was back to normal
as if nothing had ever happened.
In my next posting, I’ll tell you about introducing the chicks to the wet
Earlier in the week, Perri Liebl, a volunteer for Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources, captured a photo of parents 212 & 419* with their foster
chick, W901. The first to hatch in the wild this season, W901 is from an ICF
egg placed in the pair’s re-nest when their own eggs were found to be
Our thanks to Beth Kienbaum, Whooping Crane State
Coordinator for WI DNR for sending these photos along.
The monitoring log for June 24th gives us some insight into what a
day in the life of this family is like.
11:30am - Signal from 419* picked up coming from her usual
foraging area. Had a visual of 212 on thin strip of marsh east of nest site
near woods. 11:50am - 419* flew in from east. 212 standing in one place preening,
many head-shakes, head rubs – no sign of chick. 12:20pm - 212-02 flew to near foraging area. 12:30pm - Tried to find a good observation spot from woods without
cranes seeing me. Saw parents , but no chick. 1:20pm - 212 returns. 1:45pm - Changed locations. Both parents visible across water. 1:50pm - Visual of chick through spotting scope! Chick standing
between adults. Saw one of the cranes put beak down toward chick while chick
craned neck upward (feeding?). One crane (usually 419*) always stayed close
to the chick. Both adults foraging and doing a lot of head rubs,
head-shakes, pecking at legs. 3:10pm - 212 flew to near foraging area. 419-04 standing in one spot,
couldn’t see chick.
As exciting as spotting the new chick must have been for Perri, think of
this scenario. The humidity was high and temperature that day was around 90
degrees. Imagine yourself all alone sitting as still as a statue hidden in
the woods/marsh. You stay dead quiet, even as you swelter and are feasted
upon by mosquitoes and deer flies, and, you do this for hours on end.
From hatch at Patuxent through to release in Florida and beyond, this
reintroduction would not be possible without the tremendous contribution of
time and effort by dozens and dozens of volunteers. OM sends out three
cheers for the dedication of every single volunteer on this project.
We, that is the organizations involved in the reintroduction, unfailingly
recognize and thank all our financial supporters, and rightly so. But maybe
it's time we shone the spotlight too on all of our hard working volunteers,
who, more often than not, go unnamed and unsung. Many have even been around
longer than some of our project's staff!
Let's all of us give them some well deserved acknowledgement and
recognition. What about an honor roll of past and present project volunteers
WCEP? Wouldn't that make a great addition to the
"Just Another Manic Monday" was a tune running thru my head today. A popular
80s hit by the Bangles, I re-titled it "Another Manic Thursday".
are our busiest day here, and not just because Cohort 1 shipped out
yesterday. Any normal Thursday consists of feeding the entire Patuxent
flock, some 180+ birds strong, and we always have a staff meeting at 1pm to
go over everything. This is on top of the usual weighing, training,
swimming, walking, and socializing of all the chicks we normally do.
Yesterday everyone showed up by 6am to help box up Cohort 1 for their big
trip. Brooke and Barb were here by 5:30 to bring the chicks back to the
propagation building from their communal ponded pen. By 6, the chicks were
in individual pens with crates sitting by the gates. By 6:30 all the birds
were boxed and loaded on to the van and ready to be driven to
Baltimore-Washington Airport. By 7:30 the chicks were on board the plane,
and shortly thereafter were airborne on their first flight.
Costume gently encourages the chick to the specially designed
costumes slowly and carefully move a crated bird to the van for the
trip to the airport .
Charlie Shafer checks Windway's precious cargo prior to takeoff.
Brooke trained the rest of the birds, and as soon as he was done, birds
were shuttled from the white series communal pens back the prop so all the
white series, including the ponds could be mowed. While mowing, I swam some
birds and footbaths got cleaned.
The mowing finished in time for a lunch break just prior to the meeting.
As soon as the meeting was over, Cohort 2 was taken to the ponded pen for
socialization time. This cohort consists of 912, 913, 914, 915, 918 and 919.
918 and 919 are little stinkers. 914 is the queen of the group, and they
forget their place which leads to confrontations. 919 has quickly learned
you don't mess with the queen, but 918 is a slow learner. Luckily he is also
smart enough to know when to back down, so there were not too many battles
today. After three hours of supervised social time, we brought the chicks
back to their pens and called it quits for the night.
The underlying feeling here today, besides mania, was one of a very
subtle sadness. I couldn't put a finger on it, but all morning I was feeling
kinda blue and was a little weepy. Not sure of the cause, I kept about my
business. When I had a chance to talk to Erin, who had accompanied the
chicks to the airport, she said how sad she felt at watching them go.
That was it! The feeling I couldn't quite tap into was sadness. I was sad
to see the birds go - although I will be seeing them next week when I arrive
at Necedah. But I always have a feeling of sadness and a little worry when
they travel. Like any mom, I worry if they will be safe. I worry if they
will adjust to their new home. I wonder what they are thinking as they
experience flight for the first time via airplane. I worry if they can
handle change. (I tend to project human emotions on them and think they hate
change as much as people do.) I worry if their pent up energy from travel
will result in aggression towards the other birds. (It hasn't.)
I just plain and simple worry. And I get teary. I can't help it. I have
been one of their mamas since they hatched and along with the entire crew
here at Patuxent, I have grown to love these birds. I know their
personalities like I would a child. I know who is brave, who is chicken, who
is independent, who is dependent, who is adventurous and who is a mama's
boy. I call them by name (now you know where my vote was) and I wish them
well. I guess it is not unlike letting go of your child when they go to
college. And I guess that makes me a helicopter mom, hovering over and not
To say I can't wait to get to Necedah next week would be an
understatement. At least then some of the worry will subside. And a whole
brand new bunch of worries will start.
June 25, 2009
This is year nine of the Whooping crane reintroduction project. If you count the Sandhill cranes we led south to test the migration route in 2000 we have trained birds at
the Necedah NWR, ten times. Through it all Windway Capital of Sheboygan, Wisconsin has supported us in many ways, not the least of which is providing flights between BWI
airport in Baltimore and Necedah 'International' Airport.
That first year we only had two cohorts
but every season thereafter, we worked with three. That’s a total of
twenty-three round trip flights without a single injury--Today they made their 24th.
In their turbo prop Cessna Caravan the flight from Maryland to Wisconsin takes approximately 5 hours with a fuel stop in Sheboygan. During that short layover they checked on the thunderstorm,
which was building over central Wisconsin and decided to divert to the Wisconsin Dells Airport; 40 miles to the south.
There was a good possibility they could have safely reached Necedah airport but if the weather closed in and they had to choose an alternate while enroute they wouldn’t be able to contact us until they were on the ground. Then of course they would have to wait for us to arrive and all the while the birds would be in their crates. Once the aircraft is shut down the air-conditioning not longer works and with an outside temperature in the mid 80’s it wouldn’t be long before we had overheated birds.
The weather did clear over Necedah and hindsight is always 20/20 but a professional pilot always makes the wise choice and there is no question about the skill of the Windway pilots.
We loaded eight young cranes, each in individual crates into a pre-cooled van and took
an hour and 13 minutes to carefully drive back to the refuge. Cruising along at highway speed we could make good time but we had to slow for corners and prepare for stop signs about a quarter mile out. The last few hundred yards into the pensite are the worst. Smoothing the bounces over a rutted road built out into the marsh takes patience but before long we pulled up in front of the pen.
Sara Zimorski and Betsy Reichenberg from the International Crane
Foundation were on hand to check the birds for signs of stress. As they were offloaded from the aircraft to the van they checked to ensure they were still standing by peering through one of the ventilation holes. Once the crates were moved into the pen the birds were released into their new home. It only took a moment or two before they lost their wobbly legs and looked quite at home.
We took turns in one hour shifts watching the birds for signs of aggression but they were a very sociable group and seemed relaxed with each other. Most spent the afternoon lying in the cool grass. Robert Doyle from
Patuxent stayed till almost dark.
Tomorrow we’ll get them out onto the runway for the first time and maybe Saturday we’ll introduce the aircraft again.
Work is progressing nicely on the west site in preparation
of the arrival of Cohort Two on July 2nd; thanks again to Windway Capital. The 2009 season is in full swing.
Click the thumbnail image or
here to view images from today
Boy oh boy, did I screw up. I recently upgraded my MS Outlook, and in
typical hit the ground running fashion, worked on adjusting the settings on
the fly. Bad move. My calendar settings - where I keep my appointments and
list of tasks - were off. The result was that I thought that Friday was the
25th, and as that was the shipping date for Cohort 1, that is what I
previously posted here. Not so.
Today is the day that Windway picks
up the first group of the Class of 2009 at Baltimore airport for transport
to the refuge at Necedah. Cohort 1 had been designated as chicks 901, 903,
904, 905, 906, 907, 908, 910, and 911, but last night we heard that it was
possible only eight would be shipped.
Until we hear from Bev this morning we won't know for sure if a group of
eight or nine will be travelling. Check back later for a further posting.
My going away party
Saturday was my last day at Patuxent. I am going out to Necedah for the next
two weeks to be a caretaker for Cohort 1 and then my internship will be
over. I am excited about the time I will spend at Necedah, but I am also
very sad that my time with the chicks is almost over. I don’t care whether
the birds are named or not, after six weeks of being with them five days a
week and worrying about them on the weekends, you get attached.
I got to
do a lot of my favorite things during my last week. I spent a lot of time in
the ponded pen with Cohort 1, watching the dynamics while they got more used
to being together as a group. I spent time watching them take baths and
forage for worms and trying to decide on my current favorite – was it 904 or
905 or 910? I also paid a lot of attention to 907 and 908 because they are
the worriers in the group and they pace sometimes, but I think it’s 905 that
I love most today – no maybe 910. And 911 is fine, but I never fully
recovered from that time he ran away from me.
I also got to sit with 912-915, who are the oldest chicks in Cohort 2. I
had a wonderful time sitting with them in the white series. 914 is a feisty
little bird who wants to be the queen, but the others have learned to back
down when she gets pecky, so there is little bickering that goes on when
they are together. I watched 914 take a bath in the small footbath we put in
the pen – it holds about 2 gallons of water and is just big enough to fit a
month-old crane in it, as long as her legs are all folded up.
I also got to walk lots of chicks – in groups and singly – which is one
of my favorite treats. I love the way they stop to peck at worms and then
notice that you are farther away than they thought. They come running, full
speed ahead, wings stretched out as if they’re going to take off. It’s so
hard not to laugh out loud.
I saw 925 pick up a worm that must have been 4 inches long and he was
trying to figure out how to eat it. 926 saw it too and took it away from
925, so 925 had to get it back. I think they might have pulled it enough
that it broke in half and then each one of them could manage the size of it.
And remember when I told you that 919 is a big crybaby? That hasn’t changed
a bit. He’s much bigger now, but still cries all the time. Peep! Peep! Peep!
And there’s nothing wrong except that you’re not paying attention to him.
And then it was time for me to go, but Barb Clauss said she wanted to
give Cohort 1 a smelt and grape party and did I want to stay for it? She
knew I would say yes, and now I think maybe she wanted to give me the party
as a going away present.
Brian Clauss and I got a bunch of grapes and cut a bunch of smelt in half
and made our way out to the ponded pen. Brian warned me that they would
fight over the smelt and try to take it away from each other, so I was very
careful to make sure each bird got some.
I wasn’t very coordinated as I tried to stick the puppet beak in my
pocket and grab smelt out of the ziplock bag, so I usually had 3 or 4 chicks
around me as I held the smelt out in the puppet beak. I tried to get each
bird away from the others, so its treat wouldn’t get stolen by a faster
chick, but it was nearly impossible.
907 wasn’t too quick with eating hers, so it took me 4 tries before she
managed to eat it before it got stolen. Then I moved on to the grapes,
tossing them around so the chicks would find them later. There were happy
trills all around as the day ended and we left the pen. The birds went back
to foraging while I said my goodbyes to the crane crew.
Please, may I do this again next year?
In a recent article, journalist Renee Schoof wrote about wind farms in
Texas. The tag line, "Texas
wind farms" deploy radar so
birds - not feathers, can fly will give you some insight into her story's
content. Click the link above to be taken to the article.
2009 - Entry 2
Flights of Fancy
When I am training the chicks, I have to admit that sometimes my mind
wanders. Brooke admits to this too, but usually his wanderings are more
practical than mine. This is actually very easy to do, especially now that
we are training most of the chicks at the Half Moon field – a long straight
away training site that keeps a fence between the trike and birds ensures no
The first order of business is just getting the chicks to
the field, and due to the very wet conditions and throngs of worms, that’s
not easy. No time for fantasizing here. Lots of cussing under the breath,
but attention is very focused on getting the birds through the puddles.
Yesterday it took 30 minutes just to walk the birds 100 yards from pen to
field, so you can see what we are up against.
Once at the field with the chicks safely on one side of the fence, I step
over, turn on the vocalizer and start the engine. I then mount up and off we
go, trike in the lead and chicks trailing behind flapping heavy wings and
jostling for position.
I feel like Walter Mitty at times and the fantasies begin. I imagine
myself in the pace car at the Indy 500 or, in another scenario, I am in the
starting gate at the Kentucky Derby with nine high-strung thoroughbreds
dancing in anticipation of the starting gun.
In between these flights of thought, I am scanning the chicks looking for
limps, leg issues, wing issues, hierarchy struggles. If they stop and stare
skyward, so do I, looking for an airborne predator. And there I go again, on
patrol on some unnamed island in the pacific, sitting in a foxhole with my
young comrades looking for enemy aircraft. Seeing no aircraft, …er,
predators, I resume taxiing down the straight away, chicks running to keep
Looking over my shoulder at my charges, I imagine I am Queen Boudica
astride my trusty steed, leading my soldiers to battle, sword thrust out
before me. Okay, so it’s only my puppet and I am only fighting a battle
against the worm hoards, but, hey, it’s my fantasy.
After turning the trike around at the end of the field, which is no easy
maneuver (picture turning the trike 180 degrees in a tear drop course while
trying to keep the chicks from pecking each other and flipping a 4 foot long
puppet to the other side) while eyeballing all of my motley crew. Then it’s
off we go again, racing for the other end. This time I am Santa Claus in my
sleigh with my 9 reindeer. I call them by name, urging them on and on and
fly away home.
When I turn the trike to the west and look back, my breath is momentarily
taken away. No more fantasy. It is much more spectacular than that. With the
early morning rays of the sun catching the soft down of the chicks, they are
enveloped in a golden halo, each glowing brightly as they trot along behind
They are magical creatures from a far off time and land. They transport
me to a place of peace and beauty, and for a moment, I am so awestruck that
my mind goes still and all there is are my glowing chicks floating above a
green field. And a tear comes to my eye as I try to imprint this image in my
mind permanently before resuming training.
Increasingly, birding festivals have become THE gateway
to birding experience for many new observers. Festivals are overwhelmingly
family-friendly, welcoming, and geared to introducing budding new bird
watchers to the birding experience. As such, it’s a good time for all of us
to consider taking a mildly bird-curious friend to a local birding festival
in the next few months.
We are not promoting any particular festivals – large or small – in the
E-bulletin for obvious reasons. There are many deserving attention, but we
simply don’t have the space to give them all adequate exposure. Nonetheless,
there are a number of interesting-looking festivals coming up in the next
few months which certainly deserve your attention.
The states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio,
Texas, Virginia, and Washington all have some great birding festivals, but
there are even more. We urge you to explore some of them online, but more
importantly, support them by going to one, and by all means, take a friend.
2009 - Entry 2
Whoop It Up for the First Family!
Two Whooping cranes from the
ultralight-led Class of 2002, pair 211 & 217 (aka the First Family), have
successfully hatched a chick! The product of a re-nest, chick Wild902 is the
First Family's second successful hatch.
In 2006 the First Family hatched twin chicks, Wild 601* and Wild 602. The
latter was predated on the Necedah Refuge in early fall. Wild601* fledged
however, and made its first migration with her parents that autumn. W601*
has since made two complete migrations and is currently mated with 310.
As early as June 14 the parents' behavior seem to indicate that
they were tending to a chick, but due to the vegetation around the nest
site, it wasn't until June 18 that visual confirmation was made.
The First Family hatch means the Eastern Migratory Population now has two
families engaged in chick rearing. June 12, also the result of a re-nest,
the pair 212 & 419* hatched a chick. Their chick, Wild901, came from an egg
taken from ICF's captive flock and placed in the pair's nest to replace
their two infertile eggs. (Photos by Richard Urbanek, USFWS)