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Give A Whoop

Date:March 21, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ARRIVALS AT NECEDAHLocation: Main Office
By March 17th, the data logger at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge had noted the presence of six Whooping cranes from the Eastern Migratory Population. By the 19th, ICF's Sara Zimorski was able to confirm eleven were present.

The 'early birds' were all from the hatch years of 2001-2005, with the first arrival being 528, a Direct Autumn Release bird. Four of the arrivals are breeding pairs that have returned to their nesting territories.

While at last word none of the Class of 2008 juveniles in either the St. Marks or Chassahowitzka cohorts had left their pensites, more of the older birds wintering in Florida were recently confirmed as headed north.

Two of the four Whooping cranes that were in South Carolina (310 and W601*) are on migration. The four 2007 cranes (703, 707, D739* and D742*) that were in Georgia have vacated their favored spots, and are presumed to be on migration as well. Two of the five Whoopers that were in Alabama are no longer present in their usual locations, and one was confirmed by PTT as being headed north. It is assumed that the other bird is travelling with it.

Five Whoopers (216 and four DARs) have left Tennessee. Only one of the five has a PTT, and it was tracked by satellite to southern Illinois.

Reports of sightings throughout the flyway have been bonging in steadily all week and we are grateful to the public for caring enough to take the time to do so. Should you spot migrating Whooping cranes, please use the link to the right to provide us what information you can.

There was no report from WCEP's Tracking Team this past week, but we expect one to come in Monday or Tuesday of the coming week. If the as yet to be confirmed sightings are any indication, there are a good number of Whoopers in Indiana. We are as anxious as you not doubt are to see how many Whooping cranes have initiated their migration and what their progress has been.

Date:March 20, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:VOICES Location: St. Marks, FL
The Whooping crane was given its name due in large part to its loud call or whoop. The reason the call is so loud is because the trachea of the crane is doubled; that is, it goes down the throat then back up. This allows for the reverberation and intensifying of sound, much as the design of a trumpet or trombone does.

This, however, does not explain why or how I get goose bumps every time I hear one of the chicks “whoop”.

The other morning, just after we parked the van and were still in the process of putting on our boots, I heard a sound that I wasn’t quite sure of at first. After hearing it again, I realized that what I was hearing was one of my babies calling in a very adult voice. We heard it several more times as we walked to the blind, grinning the whole time.

This was a milestone. All during migration, only one of our birds, 814, had developed what we called the adult voice. None of the chicks here at St. Mark’s had been close to having that when we arrived, although 812 would, on occasion, attempt a very teen-aged boy like squeak.

Over the course of our stay here all the chicks have developed some form of their adult voices. This can vary from a full blown alert call (ear piercing when you are standing next to them), to an attempt at a unison call, and the general flight call. We still hear the occasional chick peep, but I think this is more a solicitation for food and attention, very similar to any young animal begging for milk, food, or a snuggle.

We hear the calls most frequently in response to the loud hailer. When the chicks fly out of the pen in the evening and we call them back in using the brood call over a loud speaker, we always hear their response. It is almost like the childhood game of Marco Polo. We play the brood call, then stop it, and they respond. This goes on for several rounds until the chicks finally fly back into the pen.

On the night we spent with the chicks in the marsh, 812 had found his way back to the pen. He was the smart one, and kept trying to entice his cohort mates to the pen by calling to them. Calls echoed back and forth across the marsh off and on for several hours. 812’s voice was strong and clear, and the others tried to give it their best shot, but at that time the best they could do was a series of grunts and woof-like sounds. They racket finally subsided around 2:30 am when the chicks settled down to roost.

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t see a new behavior or hear a new sound emanating from the throats of my charges. It is a privilege like no other to be able to witness this maturing process. It makes all the hard work worthwhile.

One of the other reasons I do what I do is to be able to experience the thrill of hearing the call of an adult Whooping crane float across the marshes of Wisconsin. That sound will help to complete the wilderness that once was. And I, for one, will certainly “whoop” with joy when I hear it.

Date:March 18, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject: Waiting for MigrationLocation: St. Marks, FL
It seems the vast majority of our time on this project is spent waiting.

We wait at Patuxent for the eggs to hatch, for the chicks to start eating on their own, for them to get old enough to socialize. We wait at Necedah: for the cohorts to arrive; for the chicks to fly; for the weather to be good enough to train; for migration to begin. On migration, it seems we do nothing but wait. And it is always for weather.

So it is now that I find myself waiting again. This time, though, it seems more important and with more anticipation. I am waiting for that little signal. The signal from the chicks that they are ready to be on their own, ready to, literally, fly the coop and head north.

We wait. And watch. I scrutinize every movement, every subtle behavior. Are they flying more? Are they eating more? In the morning, when they are not in the pen, I breathlessly grab the receiver to listen to the chicks’ transmitter frequencies to find out if I can hear them. So far, every morning we have. But a morning will come when we won’t hear a thing but silence. That is what we are waiting for.

Yesterday afternoon we spent several hours in the blind, waiting and watching. All the birds were in the pen as they tend to be in the afternoon, foraging about, either in the pond or on the edge of the pond. Sometimes they are even lying down or hock sitting on the pond edge. Today, they were all gathered together in a small group in and very near the feed shelter. And they were all very alert. And looking skyward. A stiff breeze was blowing out of the southwest and that was the direction they were all looking.

Now, there are different reasons they could have been looking that direction. One could have been an airborne predator. Their vision is outstanding, and even though I couldn’t see a thing, there very well could have been an eagle soaring. I have seen the chicks react to an eagle like this before. Another reason could have been a ground based predator and the chicks were simply turning their heads to get a better view.

The reason I speculate about is this: was the breeze blowing just right? Was the temperature correct, the daylight the right length for migration to start? We don’t know exactly what the trigger is. I think it is a combination of all of the above.

When the length of the day is coupled with the correct weather system and winds, they will go. But what that magic combination is exactly, I don’t know. How long does the day have to be; is it the backside of a high pressure system, or the front side of a low; will the winds come from the southeast, the southwest or straight out of the south?

Only the birds know exactly. So I wait. Wait for that morning when they will not be seen or heard and I can wait once more for new chicks to hatch.

Date:March 17, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO/ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
Tom Stehn’s ninth aerial Whooping Crane Census flight census took place on March 15th. With Tom aboard, Air Transit Solutions pilot Gary Ritchey flew under overcast skies and through light rain; less than ideal viewing conditions. Just short of 4 hours in the air, the flight was aborted due to lightening, leaving parts of the crane range not flown.

Wood Buffalo/Aransas Whooping Crane Numbers
The estimated peak number of Whooping cranes in the 2009 winter flock was 270; 232 adults and 38 juveniles. Adding earlier losses to his estimate of losses that occurred at Aransas this winter, Tom said he believes the current population to number approximately 249; 226 adults and 23 juveniles.

Mortality
Tom said the March 15th flight provided evidence of 3 more mortalities since his last census. This brings the total winter mortality to an estimated 21 - 6 adults and 15 chicks - a loss of 7.8% of last fall’s record sized flock.

“Mortality during the 08-09 winter (21 birds) can be added to the 34 Whooping cranes that left Aransas in the spring of 2008 and failed to return in the fall. Thus, 55 Whooping cranes have died in the last 12 months, or 20.7% of the flock of 266 present at Aransas in the spring, 2008,” Stehn said.

Out of the last 20 years, the current winter ranks as the worst in terms of mortality, ahead of 1990 when 7.5% of the Whooping cranes (11 out of 146) died at Aransas. 1993, the third worst winter, there was a 4.9% loss at Aransas (7 out of 143).

In his report, Tom noted that, “Four dead Whooping cranes have been picked up this winter, at least two of which were emaciated. The virus IBD (infectious bursal disease) was isolated from one of the juveniles by Dr. Hon Ip at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. It is not yet known if this strain of IBD is pathogenic to Whooping cranes, but it seems probable.”

“The fourth carcass discovered this winter was an old pile of white-plumaged feathers discovered March 2nd during a blue crab count conducted by volunteer Katherine Cullen and two Chinese biologists. The two biologists, who have cranes on their refuges in China, expertly identified the feathers.”

“Observations on the latest flight confirmed that one additional adult is missing, leaving a one-adult family on Matagorda. Also, the refuge’s Pipeline and Matagorda Airport juveniles are missing and presumed dead. These last 3 mortalities had presumably all occurred prior to the February 25th flight, with observations on latest flight confirming the losses.”

Migration
Tom told us that one juvenile Whooping crane was confirmed on the Platte River in Nebraska on February 20th, and it is presumed that this is the juvenile that over-wintered in Oklahoma. It was his expectation that it moved north with Sandhill cranes. “It was still present on the Platte through March 9 and presumably is still there,” he said.

When asked how the current poor condition of the cranes may affect the migration, Tom said, “I have no idea how it may affect the timing of the migration, which seems to vary by only about one week from year to year. Low numbers of Whooping cranes start leaving Aransas the last week in March, with the majority of the cranes departing the first two weeks in April. The last of the breeding pairs are usually all gone by April 21st while a few sub-adults occasionally stay into May."

Stehn said while he expected the migration to proceed normally with birds making it all the way to Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada, mortality during the migration could increase. His next census flight is scheduled for the week of April 6th and will allow him to see how the migration is progressing.

Habitat Use
Stehn said, “Management practices are aiding the cranes this winter. Crane locations on the flight included:
7 observed at man-made fresh water sources
17 on burned uplands
33 on unburned uplands mostly foraging for tubers where feral hogs have rooted up the earth
4 at game feeders
1 on a well pad, and,
23 in open bay habitat”

Tides have risen somewhat since Tom’s February 25th flight. Salinities remain high, measured recently at 30 parts per thousand in the refuge boat canal. "The drought rated as exceptional, shows no sign of ending in central and south Texas, however, rain received in south Texas on March 14-15 helped a little," Tom said.

“Blue crabs are still scarce due to the drought. These are the worst conditions I have ever observed for the cranes at Aransas," he said, "with some birds looking thin and with disheveled plumage. I wish I had better news to report. The refuge is continuing its program of supplemental feeding with corn. A moderate response by the Whooping cranes has been observed with 76 photographs taken by remote motion-activated cameras in the past week of Whooping cranes at refuge feeders.”

“The USFWS used 2 airboats the week of February 23rd to pick up 411 abandoned crab traps in the crane area. This was done in conjunction with a program organized by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to pick up abandoned traps all along the Texas coast. Waters within the boundary of Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge have recently been closed permanently to commercial crabbing with signs posted at most entrances into the marsh.”

Date:March 16, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:CRANE 101Location: St. Marks, FL
As our youngsters are maturing in size and plumage, so too does their behavior. We are noticing very adult like postures in both aggressive and submissive displays.

When I walk into the pen, 826 is there front and center. He is always giving me the Alert Posture coupled with the Vertical-strut. The Alert posture has the head held high with the neck extended upward and slightly forward. He looks like a ski jumper ready to launch. He then begins to strut, always from my left to right, and never at or away from me. This is the lowest level aggressive display the birds can give, meaning they are not too bad, but don’t push it.

Immediately after this pose, when I don’t back down (and quite frankly, I am laughing at the poor guy), he switches into a submissive pose which is tucking his head and neck down into an almost crouch like posture, and sticking one wing out to the side. This is a very common posture the chicks give us when they are small. It is like us raising both hands in an 'I give' pose.

Another aggressive posture is when the chick stretches its neck straight up, but tucks his beak downward and presents us with the back of his head. What he is trying to do is show us the red crown. When an adult does this, they actually can inflate, to a certain degree, the red crown. This is supposed to be very intimidating, but when the head is brown, seems just cute and funny.

The other aggressive posture I am starting to witness is the Ritualized Preening. I liken this to a teen-ager turning his or her back to the parent and tapping their foot rapidly. It is a definite annoyed posture, and when you see it, you tend to back down. At least with the bird.

The chick will wrap its neck back and stick its beak under its wing, pretending to preen, but all the while keeping its eye on whomever he is annoyed with. This posture usually leads to other more aggressive actions, but so far, the chicks aren’t pushing their independence too far. We are still taller than they are!

I am constantly amazed at these magnificent creatures. The inborn instincts they have, which range from what to eat, to how to act, to what to be afraid of, never ceases to impress me. These chicks, which I saw hatch, taught how to eat and drink, are now starting to act like adults with their own body language and even their own voices. And that I had nothing to do with.

Note: Check the Photo Journal (click the link to the right) for the most recent photos we've received.

Date:March 13, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject: Trying to let go Location: St. Marks, FL
While our job down here at St. Mark’s is, for the most part, rather simple - keep an eye on the birds until they fly back north, it is full of serious responsibility. But it is also lots of fun, and I can feel it building, with some bittersweet moments as well.

One of the most important parts of our job is to let go. That is, to start weaning the chicks off the costume as we watch them venture a little further each day. We are working hard to limit our time with these youngsters. It is vital that they become independent birds, as wild as they can be.

We do our morning chores when they are out of the pen, finishing and leaving quickly if they happen to come back. We stay only long enough to ensure the health and well being of each chick. In the evenings we watch from the blind before donning our costume and heading out to the pen to encourage an oyster bar roost.

As much as I love my charges and don’t want to let go, I know I must. This is the job of any parent, whether human or avian. Wednesday night it was Brooke’s turn in the blind/pen and mine to assist the Swamp Monster. We agreed ahead of time that if the chicks stayed calm, he would remain in the blind. For the most part they were good. They took off and flew, which got the Swamp Monster up and running, but, on their very own, they flew back to the pen. All of them then proceeded to head to the oyster bar for roosting. So far, so good.

Last evening was my turn in the blind/pen and I was holding my breath. The last time I tried this, I ended up with my three bad boys. As I sat and watched, they ate, they foraged in the pond, they flapped and jumped. They seemed very content to stay in the pen. Just after sunset I could see something was up as they all gathered together and started to run. Soon they were airborne.

I held my breath as they lifted higher and higher, clearing the confines of the pen. Calmly, I walked to the loud hailer with its attached MP3 player containing the brood call. I was just about to push play when they passed in front of the blind. All seven performed a fly-by and then circled toward the pen.

Please land, I prayed, but to no avail. The chicks had other plans and kept flying. My heart was soon racing as I watched them fly in the direction of the bay. But my fears were soon allayed as they were merely circling into the wind for their final approach to the pen.

They all made a perfect landing, and as soon as their feet touched, they walked toward the oyster bar. One by one they marched out into the water and took their places. Soon they were all preening. As darkness settled around them, I could hear the distant splashing of the 'Harley leg', letting me know that at least for one more night, I could let go.

Date:March 11, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:THE GRAPES AND THE BAGLocation: St. Marks, FL
A question I frequently get asked is, “How do you get the birds to do what you want them to do?” My answer is actually a question in return, “Have you ever trained a dog?”

Training a Whooping Crane is really no different than training a dog. It is all based on the principles of classical conditioning. This is a basic training technique where the subject is rewarded for performing the desired behavior. Whether asking a dog to sit and giving it a doggie biscuit, or getting a crane to follow a very noisy, very yellow machine by giving it mealworms, it is really all the same.

When we initially start training the 5-6 day old chicks, it is already imprinted on the costume. This makes the job of training much easier as trust is already established. When we first introduce the chick to the trike, we let it walk around it and under it all the while giving it mealworms. The next step is to take it into the circle pen and play the vocalizer over the loud speaker, again giving the young bird treats. The next step is the big one; turning on the engine. If the chick stays calm while the engine is running it gets treats. If it runs away it doesn’t get rewarded. Very simple and very effective.

As the chicks mature and mealworms become passé, grapes become the new reward. At Necedah grapes are used when we first put the wing on the trike, and we repeat the procedure used at Patuxent. We let the chicks walk around and under the wing, giving it grapes the entire time. If a chick wanders away and won’t come near the wing, it doesn’t get a grape.

When we want the chicks to go back into the pen, a few strategically tossed grapes help to get all back inside. Whether at Necedah or on migration, always there are grapes. When the pilots need to ‘hide’ the chicks so we can set up a travel pen, they use grapes. After a no-fly day exercise period, once again out come the grapes and in go the chicks.

So it is down here at St. Mark’s. Grapes are the reward of choice. To help smooth feathers ruffled during the health checks, grapes are doled out to those who respond favorably to the costume. If a bird seems as if it wants to fly away during roosting time, a grape is tossed to get the potential runaway back onto the oyster bar.

The chicks are getting smarter however, and like Pavlov’s dog, they have learned the signal. We keep the grapes in a small Ziploc bag in the front pocket of our costume. We also keep our vocalizer there, a walkie-talkie, and a camera. When we reach into our pocket with the puppet to grab a grape from the bag, the bag crinkles.

They have come to associate that crinkle sound with receiving a grape. As soon as they hear that noise, they all turn and come running towards the costume awaiting their treat. This works great for getting their attention. And sometimes, I just crinkle the bag without grabbing a grape and this is also works well. The youngsters have now become so programmed to this sound that, like Pavlov’s drooling canine, every time the bag crinkles, the chicks come running. Which is now a problem.

Whenever we want to turn the vocalizer on or off, whenever we want to take a picture it’s crinkle, crinkle little bag - and run, run big hungry chick. And a four and a half foot tall bird looking for a grape and not getting it is a force to be reckoned with; one I don’t like to make angry. So to keep this effective and to keep the birds from flying away at night, I guess I’m just going to have to get a bigger pocket.

Note: Camera difficulties have been overcome, and along with this FJ entry Bev sent a few photos which hopefully, Heather will be able to process and post to the Photo Journal very soon.

Date:March 10, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
With the mortality of D740* confirmed this week, the estimated maximum size of Eastern Migratory Population is now 86; 52 males and 34 females. In the report below, * = female, D = Direct Autumn Release; NFT = non-functional transmitter.

MORTALITY CONFIRMED
The landowner in Allegan County, MI where D740* was last observed on November 17, found the bird’s scattered remains and destroyed PTT on March 9. Although the landowner no longer saw the bird, high-precision PTT readings continued to be received from that location through December 3rd and a subsequent ground search was unsuccessful. (The area was under 1.5 feet of snow.)

TRANSMITTER REPLACEMENTS
The nonfunctional transmitters of D627, 212, and 419* were replaced in early March.

SPRING MIGRATION!!
- 101 began migration from Citrus Co. FL Mar. 5.
- 211 & 217* began migration from Cherokee Co. AL before Mar. 8.
- 212 & 419* began migration from Pasco Co. FL Mar. 4, and were last detected in flight over Kentucky Mar 9 on a course toward Green Co. IN.
- 307, 408 (mate of 519*) and 514 began migration ~Mar 5.
- 309* & 403, and 520*NFT were last recorded in Taylor Co. FL Feb. 18 and are believed to have begun migration between Feb. 19-25.
- 415*NFT & 505 last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Feb. 5.
- D527* and D533* reported in Hardin Co, KY Feb. 22 but not associating.
- D528* reported in Dodge Co, WI Mar. 8.
- 727* last reported leaving Jackson Co, IN Feb. 24.
- unidentified Whooping crane reported in Barren Co, KY Feb. 16
- three unidentified Whooping cranes reported in Starke Co. IN Mar. 3.
- one unidentified Whooping crane reported in Starke Co. IN Mar. 7.

TENNESSEE: 105 & 501*, 401 & 508*, 313* & 318, 216, 506, D737, D831, D832*, D836, D838*

SOUTH CAROLINA: 310 & W601*, 311 & 312*

GEORGIA: 703, 707, D739*, D742*

ALABAMA: 213 & 218*, 412, 524 D746*

FLORIDA
- 212NFT & 418*NFT – attempted capture for transmitter replacement was unsuccessful.
- 402, 509, 511, 512
- D627, D628 (D627 was captured for transmitter replacement.)
- 706, 709, 710, 712, 713, 716*, 717*, 724, 722*, 726*, 733, D837*
- Chassahowitzka NWR: 803, 804, 814, 818* 819, 824* 827
- St. Marks NWR: 805, 812, 813*, 826, 828, 829, 830*

CURRENT STATUS/LOCATION UNDETERMINED
- 107*NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Jan. 10 (unconfirmed report of 107 in WI Mar. 8)
- 211 & 217* last reported in Cherokee County, AL but were not found when the location was checked Mar. 8th.
- 303*NFT & 317 last reported leaving Jackson Co. IN Jan. 1
- 316NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Dec. 19
- 420*NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Dec. 19
- 516 last confirmed in Marion Co. FL Dec. 22 (Was not found on subsequent search flights.)
- 519* last recorded with mate 408 in Alachua Co, FL Feb. 21. 408 has begun migration and the mortality of 519* is suspected.
- 810 last recorded in Alachua Co. FL January 26. (During an aerial flight Feb. 6 a faint, erratic, possible signal was detected but no signal was detected during a thorough ground search conducted Feb. 10 or a flight on Feb 17.) Transmitter malfunction and mortality are suspected.

LONG-TERM MISSING (more than 90 days)
- 205NFT last confirmed on Necedah NWR, WI Oct. 16
- D744* last transmitter reading indicated location in Paulding Co. OH November 18. (A report of a Whooping crane in Wayne Co. IN on November 29 may have been this bird.)
- 416NFT last observed at Necedah NWR, WI Oct. 10/08


WINTER MONITORING - Chassahowitzka NWR
Water Levels (measured at dusk Feb 22nd – Mar 7th)
Center of the oyster bar: varied from 0 to 25 inches
Deep end: varied from 0 to 29 inches
Highest recorded tide was 25 inches on the center of the oyster bar on March 1st AM and PM (= 50 inches on gauge).
Salinity
22-27 parts per thousand.

Roosting / Movements
The Chass Monitoring team reported that, “All juveniles other than the following roosted on the constructed oyster bar in the pen each night: All in pool in southwest end of pen on Feb. 23rd; all on shore west of the divider fence on Feb. 27th; all on the flooded shore near oyster bar on Feb. 28th; and, two near the feeding station and five on flooded shore between the divider fence and the oyster bar on Mar. 1st.”

“The avian dissuader (laser) was used Feb. 27th by a costumed handler to flush three birds from near E-Creek back into the pen. The avian dissuader was again used from the blind on March 5th and 7th to flush all birds off the floodplain southwest of the pen and back into the pen. Otherwise, intervention was not required for birds to roost within the pen.”

Maturation
818* and 824* attained their adult voice. They were fitted with PTT’s on Feb. 24th.

Predator / Human Disturbance
No bobcat sign was observed at the pensite. : No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.

WINTER MONITORING - St. Marks NWR
Water Levels
Water levels were stable during the period.
Salinity
11-16parts per thousand

Roosting / Movements
February 23rd, all birds were led from the pond north of the pen to near the pen, into which they then flew.
Three birds were led/herded into the pen on March 2nd. Otherwise, a handler usually remained on the constructed oyster bar until birds were settled, but no other intervention was required.

Maturation
805, 826, and 829 attained their adult voice. 813 was fitted with a PTT on February 23rd.

Predator / Human Disturbance
No predator sign was observed. No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.

This report was compiled from data provided by WCEP’s Tracking and Winter Monitoring Teams.

Date:March 9, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:DO ANIMALS PLAY?Location: St. Marks, FL
Have you ever watched a Disney special showing young grizzly bears running after each other and wrestling? How about young Bighorn rams, butting heads while the much larger male looks on with seeming bemusement? Or, perhaps, you have watched young squirrels chase each other up and down and around your backyard tree.

All young animals exhibit behaviors that some of us call play. A lot of scientists for a lot of years have said that this is not “play”, it is practice for a much needed survival behavior. I agree. Up to a point.

Animals can also play for play’s sake. I have seen on TV mother chimpanzees tickling their young. Does this serve a survival purpose or does it make both of them feel better? Do grizzly cubs batting their mother’s big furry muzzle serve a purpose other than to incite a game of chase? What about watching ravens tease wolves, flying down and buzzing them, just to dart out of reach as the wolf leaps at them? In a wonderful book I read called “Grizzly Years” by Doug Peacock, he tells of watching an adult grizzly wrestle with a log in a pond, sinking it over and over again. What possible purpose did this serve other than to just bring amusement and enjoyment to the bear?

Our chicks like to play. Some more than others, but all of them do. When the wind is up, they jump and flap and leap high into the air; just to do it for the fun of it. One will jump up and flap, then the next, and soon all 7 are leaping about, pirouetting, landing, repeating. 826 always greets me with a leap, then he runs a circle around me, then leaps again. Never raking, never pecking, just flapping and running. It’s certainly fun for me.

Every night when we get to the blind, we observe the chicks for awhile before we don our costumes and head out. We want to see what they are doing before our presence influences their behavior. Tonight I got a show like no other.

I saw a Black Necked Stilt fly into the pen and buzz the heads of the chicks before settling onto the oyster bar. For those of you who don’t know what a stilt is, it is a shore bird that is approximately 15” tall, mostly legs and neck. As soon as the stilt landed, the chicks ran as a group to chase it away.

So what, you might say. They are defending their territory. And that is exactly what I first thought. Until the stilt flew back around and buzzed them again. And the chicks ran after it again. This went on for 15 minutes. The stilt flying and buzzing, the chicks chasing after it. Again and again. Until it was very obvious to me that this was nothing more than a game. To both stilt and chicks. This continued until it was time for me to enter the pen at which point the stilt departed the pen for good.

So I ask the question: do animals play just for the fun of it? I think they do.

Date:March 8, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CHICKS AND MILEMAKER 2009 - NOT LONG NOWLocation: Main Office
It's not too many weeks off before there will be little Whooping crane chicks again at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. Once the St. Marks cohort of 7 juveniles decide its time to return to Wisconsin, Bev and Brooke too will migrate north, but to Laurel, Maryland. They will head up the OM team there helping the Patuxent chick rearing crew with what will become the ultralight-led Class of 2009.

And the thought of spring and the approaching hatch season prompts us to remind everyone that MileMaker 2009 will launch as usual April 1st in conjunction with the start of our new fiscal year. On that day, the MileMaker sponsorship sign-up pages will appear on the website. Also making an appearance that day will be the map of the migration route on which the $$ received are charted so you can follow how many miles of 2009's journey are being sponsored.

As many of you know, the cost of sponsorship of a migration mile is based on the total of the previous year's actual migration expense. We divide that number by the number of migration miles to come up with the next year's figure. Good news. In a time when costs of just about everything are spiraling upward, we are pleased to be able to tell you our 2008 migration expenses went down.

The decrease wasn't huge ($12,850), but a 4.8% reduction in expenses is nothing to sneeze at either.
Factors effecting the decrease included:
- reduced fuel prices
- fewer weeks employing interns
- donation of hotel rooms for crew showers
- donation of aviation fuel
- elimination of accommodation costs for top cover due to a donated motorhome
- reduced grocery bills due to the many meals provided by stopover hosts
- eight fewer migration days
- and lastly, as much penny-pinching as we could possibly manage.

How much will MileMaker sponsorships be in 2009? A one mile sponsorship will be $198; a half mile will be $99; and a quarter mile $49.50.

From the list above you can see that much of the credit for lowering our migration expenses can be attributed to the generosity of our supporters. We can never say it loud enough or often enough; without you folks, and our amazing and loyal MileMakers, there could be no ultralight-led reintroduction program.

Heartfelt thanks from OM to all of YOU.

Date:March 7, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SPRING MIGRATIONLocation: Main Office
While no update from WCEP's tracking team came in this week, we can report that we have received credible but unconfirmed sightings of Whooping cranes in Kentucky and Indiana. It appears warmer weather and winds conducive to migration may have spurred at least some of the population to begin their journey back north.

If you spot Whooping cranes, migrating or otherwise, please report your sighting using the link to the right. It's a huge task trying to track the movements of all the birds in the Eastern Migratory Population. Receiving information from you about where and when any are sighted is very much appreciated and helps the trackers enormously.

Should you accidentally encounter Whooping cranes, please keep your distance and remain out of sight.

"This project is about establishing a wild population," said Joe Duff. "We can't truly replicate a wild upbringing, but we go to great lengths in the attempt. These birds are reared in isolation from humans, and all our efforts can be destroyed by one curious onlooker or well-intentioned photographer."

"Each exposure to humans lessens the Whooping cranes' natural fear of humans, an important survival mechanism," Duff said. It can negate the many months costumed biologists, veterinarians, pilots, and volunteers labored in silence, often in extreme conditions, while raising and caring for the birds."

As we grow the Eastern Migratory Population, sightings of these rare cranes should become more common. People can best show that they care about Whooping cranes by respecting their need to be left undisturbed.

Date:March 7, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURELocation: Main Office
'Whooper Happenings', a podcast produced by Florida's Mark Chenoweth, is now available to you.

In his latest podcast, episode #42, he features conversations with Joe Duff, and Top Cover pilots Don and Paula Lounsbury. To listen, click here.

Date:March 6, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:BUGSLocation: St. Marks, FL
Bugs bug me. They probably bug you, too. I try to put them into proper perspective. They are flying things; I like flying things, ergo I should like bugs. But I don’t. At least not the kind that are currently down here in FL.

Standing out in the swamp tonight, acting as a potential threat to the birds (I was swamp monster), I got up close and very personal with 2 species of bugs. The weather conditions were perfect for bugs to come out; warm and calm.

The sand fly, or no-see-um, a particularly nasty little gnat that loves to chew on any and all exposed flesh, lives in the swamp and swarms in great numbers. The other is the ubiquitous mosquito. No matter which phase of the project we are working on, there are mosquitoes to deal with.

How does this pertain to the birds you are probably asking right now? In this way. The birds eat mosquitoes and are bugged by no-see-ums. When they are still pre-fledge at Necedah, I have seen these chicks actually pick a resting mosquito off a blade of grass. I marvel at their eyesight and at the beak eye coordination of these youngsters. And I cheer them on. One less mosquito in this world is a good thing.

We experienced probably the worst mosquito season in anyone’s memory this past summer at Necedah. The chicks reacted in a very unique way, they laid down. On the runway. During training. We have the pictures to prove this. We can only surmise they did this to keep the blood thirsty pests off their legs. They also stayed in the wet pen in as deep of water as they could to keep the mosquitoes from nibbling the tender flesh of their legs.

Tonight in the pen, the birds reacted to the sand flies. While Brooke was standing with the chicks in the feed shed encouraging a last pre-roost snack, he was exceedingly grateful for the costume. No way the little blood suckers are getting a snack when we are clothed head to toe.

The chicks, however, were not quite so lucky. The no-see-ums cannot penetrate the feathers, and the birds’ legs are covered in tougher skin than when they were young, but the flies go for the eyes and nose. Much head shaking ensued as all seven chicks tried to keep the bugs from getting the better of them.

After seeing a few moments of this, Brooke headed out towards the oyster bar, and tonight all seven followed quite willingly. It seems that out in the water, the bugs don’t bug quite so much. The flies stayed over the grass and mud and left the cohort alone, allowing for a quickly settling group.

Meanwhile, I crouched under my tarp and hid from the bugs as best I could, actually wishing I was wearing my costume. Luckily tomorrow night I will be!

Date:March 5, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FLORIDA NON MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
In his first update on the Florida Non-Migration Population’s (FMMP) 2009 breeding season, Marty Folk, Biological Scientist with the Florida Fish and Conservation Commission, expressed continued concern about habitat conditions.

To illustrate the effect of the drought, he provided this image of a small lake in Lake County. The area outlined in green is the lake’s normal shoreline. He said all the marshes in that area were completely dry.

Although drought conditions persist, he said that they now have an active nest, noting that the breeding pair’s marsh holds water only because of a hydrological connection to a large lake.

In his report, Marty noted with the project now focusing on increasing our knowledge of problems, especially those regarding reproduction and survival, they are intensively monitoring the Florida nest  using video surveillance. “There’s a chance we might see several other nest attempts this year," Folk said, "but we don’t expect more than 3 nests from the population’s 11 pairs.” The current FMNP population consists of 11 males and 18 females.

“Drought is an obvious problem for breeding, but even in wet years some pairs failed to hatch eggs, so we are looking at incubation behavior to see if some pairs don’t incubate ‘properly’, Marty said. “We are computerizing a back-log of surveillance video that will allow us to look for problems with behavior by comparing successful versus unsuccessful pairs.” So far, Marty’s team has computerized more than 800 hours of incubation behavior and he said they still have a lot to go.

Talking about another of the Florida resident Whooping crane population’s major problems – survival – Marty noted that males are not living as long as they should. He said, “Generally they die by age 10. Females are doing better, with nine birds older than 9 years of age. The two oldest will turn 16 this spring.”

“However, for both males and females, we don’t have good data on what happens to them when they ‘disappear’. At time of disappearance some birds did not have functioning transmitters so could not be tracked, but even for those with functioning transmitters, if a carcass is not retrieved within 24 hours of death, scavenging and decomposition make it very difficult to determine cause of the mortality. Others likely dispersed beyond a reasonable tracking distance and were never seen again.”

“When we plot dates of mortality/disappearance by age, we see that most older cranes die/go missing from March-June. With that knowledge, we’ve begun an intensive monitoring schedule that involves checking high-priority (older) birds on a daily basis. We’ve not monitored this intensively since the early days of the project; our normal schedule has been 2-3 checks/week. Our hope is to recover downed birds ASAP so that necropsies can provide the best possible data.”

“We do know that perhaps one reason males don’t survive as well as females is that they are more prone to power line collisions, and may be more prone in general to other traumatic events and also predation. We speculate that it is associated with the males’ role in defending a territory, and also the males’ general tendency to lead the group. So now we are collecting behavioral data on who leads, both in flight and on the ground, to look for trends.”

Date:March 4, 2009Reporter: Jack Wrighter
Subject:THE DAY I MET ‘RED’Location: Tennessee
As one of OM’s top cover pilots, I normally join the migration team at approximately the half way point, relieving Don and Paula Lounsbury who provide top cover for the northern portion of the route. A couple of years ago, the migration had progressed from Wisconsin to Kentucky when the time came for my top cover stint to begin.

I flew my single engine Cessna 172 from my home near Knoxville, Tennessee to Frankfort, Kentucky to meet up with the OM Team at their nearby campsite. When I landed at Frankfort, I was met by Joe, Richard, and a cute redhead whom I assumed to be Richard's girlfriend. After a round of greetings we got down to work

The first chore on the list was to install the antennas necessary for tracking the young Whooping cranes, on the wing struts of my airplane. The second chore was much bigger, and was going to prove to be quite a challenge. We were to launch and search for one of birds in the Class of 2007. We were looking for 733, who had dropped out of the ultralight-led flight leg from Jackson County in Indiana to Shelby County, KY.

With antennas secure and fuel tanks topped off, we were ready to launch. Richard’s job was to operate the tracking equipment from the back seat, so the cute redhead in her designer jeans, boots, and carrying a water bottle, hopped in the front. Having concern about water consumption, I suggested she go easy on the water. I told her, "We might be in the air for quite a while and there’s no place for ‘relief’ in this aircraft. To this she said, “Thank you Sir, I'll be fine."

Thinking this might be her first flight I carefully explained all of the emergency procedures and she acknowledged with a polite, “Thank you Sir, I understand." Shortly into the flight I asked her how she was doing, and mentioned that if she needed them, there were airsick bags in seat pocket. Again, the model of politeness, she responded, "Thank you Sir, I am doing fine.”

Wow! All those respectful ‘Sirs’! She must be really impressed I thought. The search for our missing bird continued and we flew and flew and flew, but due to my inflated ego the airplane seemed to flying a lot lighter. Time passed, and I became a little concerned about our search pattern’s frequent turns and altitude changes, both of which can cause motion sickness, and especially for first time fliers.

One of the best things to do in those situations is to get the passenger involved in something to take their mind off the motion and its effects. Even though she looked fine, I decided not to take any chances, so I asked, “Would you like to fly the airplane?” I explained that I would stay on the controls with her so she didn’t need to be nervous. "Thank you Sir, I would like that, she said.”

Again with the "Sir"! I pumped my ego up another notch.

It was about then I heard Richard snickering through my headset. Before I had time to ask him what was so funny, I noticed that the little redhead was NOT following my control inputs but initiating her own!! And what was this? My semi-coordinated turns were becoming coordinated and altitude changes much smoother. “Oh – oh, something’s going on,” I muttered.

“Have you ever flown an airplane before?” I asked.

"Well, not a lot single engine equipment,” said Red. “Most of my time has been multi-engine commercial flying. That along with some flight instructing. I also give check rides to pilots who may be a little rusty in their procedures,"

“Well,” I said, “guess that’ll teach me to pump up my own ego.” And all three headsets rang with hearty laughter.

So that was the first time I met Bev Paulan (alias Red), a commercial pilot who probably has twice the flying time and experience as I do. The return flight to the airport that day was equally humbling as she precisely flew not one degree off course or one foot off altitude.

For the landing approach Bev turned the controls back over to me and thanked me for letting her fly. Instead of a simple and sufficient, "You’re welcome," what came out of my mouth was a timid, "Thank YOU, Ma‘m, I will try to measure up.”

I learned a lesson that day. Do not try to be a big shot unless you are sure there is not a bigger shot in the next seat over - especially if it is a cute little redhead in designer jeans, boots and carrying a water bottle. They're the most dangerous kind.

Thankfully we’ve had other opportunities to fly together and have become good friends. Oh, by the way, we did find the lost Whooping crane.

Note: The air and ground search for 733 spanned five days before he was located and safely returned to the company of his flock-mates. To read (or re-read) the saga of the search for 733 click here. Scroll down to Entry 1 for November 23, 2007 and read upwards.

Date:March 3, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:BAD BOYS, WHATCHA GONNA DO?Location: St. Marks, FL
As I walked back to the blind from the pen last night, I couldn’t help but sing the song from the TV show “Cops”. You know the one....."Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you. Bad boys, bad boys.”

Its one of those songs that generates what is termed an ear worm. A song that sticks in your head and you can’t get rid of it. The whole reason I was singing this, under my breath of course, was that we had had our fill of our bad boys.

As I said in my last update, there is no typical day here and yesterday was as atypical as it gets. Sunday night we tried a little experiment. We didn’t go in the pen with the birds for roost. Good ol’ swamp monster was at the ready, in its usual position, while Brooke stayed in the blind as observer. We wanted to see if they would roost on the oyster bar on their own. They had done exactly this for the two weeks prior to the overnight in the marsh. We had been reluctant to leave them on their own since, not quite trusting our little darlings.

Sunday night, the weather conditions were in our favor: cold and very windy, conducive to settling down quickly, so we decided to try it. And we were rewarded with good behavior and an early bed time. The chicks were as good as could be and marched right out onto the oyster bar and went through their nighttime preening routine. Through the scope, Brooke could see the ‘Harley’ leg pumping away as each bird tucked itself in for the night.

Last night, we thought we would try it again. This time I was observer in the blind. Everything was going well, the birds all had their last go at the feeders and water guzzlers; they all ambled over towards the oyster bar and I made the mistake of thinking we were good to go.

Just at sunset, at 6:37PM exactly, the little beggars took to the wing. And not just for a short little hop across the pen either. They flew. And flew. And flew. And flew some more. Hearing Brooke’s voice across the walkie-talkie, he asked how long they had flown for. When I replied, a mere 6 minutes, he said it had seemed like an hour and a half.

What a 6 minutes it was though. The last of the golden light, the light photographers call magic, illuminated the flying chicks as they went past the blind. Seven golden birds. Imagine. It literally took my breath away and I was transfixed. My mouth hung open, my eyes wide, slowly shaking my head in disbelief at the beauty that was passing before me.

Then I snapped to and realized that they really needed to be landing back in the pen. With the loud hailer blaring the brood call, the chicks came back toward the pen, circled into the wind and 4 of the 7 made a perfect beach side landing just off the oyster bar.

This is where the bad boy part comes in. 805, 812, and newly corrupted 826, decided they weren’t quite ready for bed and kept flying. Then they decided it would be more fun to land outside the pen. I waited and waited and they made no move toward the pen, so I costumed up and headed out.

Being new to the bad boy club, 826 trotted over to me and followed me right into the pen. No jail for him. 805 and 812, however, played the role of fugitive perfectly. Acting furtive, refusing to look at me, walking away, all the classic behaviors I saw on “Cops.” Oh wait, I never watched that show. No really, never. Just the promos. Yeah that’s it, just the promos for it.

Anyway, I sure could have used my partner to help round up these two. In fact, after much grape tossing (although by now it was actually so dark the chicks could not see the grapes), I radioed for back-up.

Brooke came with sirens blaring and lights flashing to the parking area, and then made a record-breaking half-mile dash to the blind, changing into his costume on the fly. Soon he was helping to escort the bad boys into the pen. 812 went with much grumbling - he has his adult voice and I could have sworn he was cussing at me. And 805, after seeing his cohort-mate being herded in, he too decided to give himself up and followed 812 inside.

Before Brooke and I had a chance to walk out onto the oyster bar, both birds made a bee-line for it, settled in, and pulled up one leg. And we hadn’t even got half way through the first chorus of “Bad Boys”. I guess they are really not such bad boys after all.

Date:March 2, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
The eighth aerial census of the 2008-2009 crane season was conducted February 24-25 at Aransas, Texas. Despite strong winds producing a bumpy flight, Tom Stehn, Whooping crane coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, reported good viewing conditions.

Tom’s latest census tallied 238 Whooping cranes. However, he said it was likely that some birds were overlooked on this census because time limitations required flying at speed.

Based on counts done last year at Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, his estimate of what the peak flock size was remained unchanged; 232 adults and 38 juveniles for a total of 270 Whooping cranes. However, he estimates the current flock size to be just 253 - 228 adults and 25 juveniles, as the result of estimated mortalities prior to and during migration, as well as those that occurred after arrival at Aransas.

“Mortality this winter is currently estimated at 4 adults/sub-adults and 13 juveniles for a total of 17 Whooping cranes,” Stehn said. “This is a loss so far of 6.3% of the wintering population. The all-time worst winter on record was 1990 when 7.5% (11 out of 146) Whooping cranes died at Aransas.”

With one month yet to go, the current winter ranks as the second worst in the last 20 years in terms of mortality. The 3rd worst winter, 1993, showed a 4.9% loss at Aransas (7 out of 143).

Tom noted, “The 17 mortalities during the 2008-2009 winter must be added to the 34 Whooping cranes that left Aransas in the spring of 2008 and failed to return in the fall. Thus, 51 Whooping cranes have died in the last 12 months, or 19.2% of the 266 cranes that were present at Aransas in the spring of 2008.”

Of the 3 dead Whooping cranes picked up this winter at Aransas, two were emaciated. The latest find by refuge staff (Feb. 13) was the wing from a juvenile bird. The remainder of the carcass was found in the mouth of an alligator at a freshwater dugout. Tom said that on January 29th and February 11th staff had observed that the chick had separated from its parents. “It presumably was sick and/or emaciated, a factor that contributed to its separation, and making it vulnerable to predation,” he said.

It appears that at least one bird may have already started its spring migration. In his update, Stehn noted that, “One juvenile Whooping crane was confirmed on the Platte River in Nebraska on February 20th. Presumably, this was the juvenile that had over-wintered in Oklahoma and probably moved north with Sandhill cranes.”

Tom reported that management practices initiated this winter at the Aransas refuge are aiding the Whooping cranes. Observed on his latest census flight were:
- 28 at man-made fresh water sources
- 9 on burned uplands
- 13 on unburned uplands (mostly foraging for tubers where feral hogs had rooted up the earth)
- 18 at game feeders
- 1 on a shell road, and,
- 20 in open bay habitat

Talking about conditions at the refuge Tom said, “Some water is starting to move back into the coastal salt marshes, although much of San Jose Island remained as dry tidal flats. Salinities remain high, measured at 30 parts per thousand in the refuge boat canal. The drought, rated as exceptional, shows no sign of ending in central and south Texas. Many counties have imposed prescribed burn bans due to the fire danger.”

Due to the drought, Blue crabs are still scarce, but the refuge's supplemental feeding program using corn continues. “A moderate response has been observed with 100 photographs taken by remote motion-activated cameras in the past week of Whooping cranes at refuge feeders," Stehn said. Other animals enjoying the handout included feral hogs, deer, raccoons, grackles and Sandhill cranes.

In conjunction with a program to pick up traps all along the Texas coast organized by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the US Fish and Wildlife Service used two airboats the week of February 23rd to remove abandoned crab traps in the crane area. Volunteers running private boats also picked up many traps on February 21st.

Date:March 1, 2009`Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:WHAT'S TYPICAL?Location: St. Marks, FL
Quite often I get asked what my typical day is like here at St. Mark’s. And I always give the same answer. There is no typical day. The only thing remotely typical is that we always go check the birds at sunrise, and always 'put them to bed” at sunset. Or try to that is. Here is a glimpse into one of our days.

Up at 5:30AM (Brooke), and 6:15 (me), and out the door by 0630 usually. But even this is dependent on what the birds did the day before. They have been venturing out of the pen prior to sunrise, and if we are just a few minutes late, we miss seeing them go. We grab the tracking equipment and can figure out the direction, and by consulting the satellite images we have of the surrounding area we can surmise where they are. Where they are is also predicated on the tides. They tend to head to the creek flats at low tide, but stay on the higher salt flats at high tide.

After discovering where they had been heading, Brooke decided to take a different route to try to spy on them to see exactly where they were going. We drove down a different road and hid at the edge of a tree line that overlooked the mud flats. And right on cue, just as the eastern sky was brightening, there came our chicks.

What a thrill it was to see these nearly grown cranes flying free; completely free, with no handler calling them back, no ultralight leading them on, just going wherever the wind and their will led them. Soon, the sun broke the horizon and the chicks glowed with the light. At every wing beat the morning light glinted off their stark white feathers causing goose bumps to rise on my arms. This is what we worked so hard for all these months. The sight of these glorious creatures doing what they were meant to do, flying over the coastal marsh. Soon they were down and foraging in the mud for crabs and snails.

After the show, we went to the pen for our morning chores of filling feeders, cleaning out water guzzlers, checking water levels and salinity, and cleaning up the spilled food.

What comes after we leave the blind - usually sometime between 9:00 and 10:00 - varies from day to day. Some days we do school programs. Love that! Some days we go to buy crabs and shrimp for us to teach the chicks how to eat. Some days we have errands to run, and on others act as tour guide to visiting VIPs. The day goes by quickly and before we know it, it's 4:30PM and time to head back out to the blind.

No evening is the same either. On warm, windy nights the chicks are very playful, and reluctant to settle down. On calm and/or cold nights they settle in quickly, and we have an easier time of it. We experiment, too. Some nights we stay away longer to see if they will settle down on their own, always having the swamp monster on stand by in case they do get adventurous. Some nights we have no swamp monster (ooh, we’re living on the edge) but carry the loud hailer with us as a back up if they fly. They respond well to this, and even after flying quite far, immediately come back when they hear 'mama' singing to them.

Some nights we can leave the pen after they settle down when we can still see. Other nights, the rambunctious youngsters keep us on our toes until it is pitch black and we have 'feel' our way back to the pen by sliding our feet through the mud. All in all, it is never a boring job. We never know what the birds will be doing when we arrive at the pen, and I don’t mind being surprised by them.

As tough as it is to let go, the sight of this cohort flying over the flats makes me happy - and also anxious to wean them off the costume. We want them to be as free as they can be...as free as a bird.

Date:February 26, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Report from Aransas NWR Wintering GroundsLocation: Main Office
Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, sent along the following summary report regarding how the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping population has been faring this winter season.

“This has been my most frustrating winter at Aransas. The Whooping cranes are using unusual locations and are moving to uplands and water holes so frequently that I have been unable to get an accurate count of the population. My best estimate is that 232 adults and 38 juveniles = a record 270 made it to Aransas, surpassing last year’s 266. The excellent production coming from Canada that included one pair with two chicks is cause for celebration. But the total numbers are a disappointment.

Thirty-eight juveniles added to the population of 266 could have resulted in 304 Whooping cranes arriving at Aransas. If 270 is a reasonable estimate of what did arrive, it means 34 Whooping cranes, or 12.8% of the flock, died between spring and fall 2008.

The Whooping cranes faced difficult conditions when they returned to Aransas in the fall of 2008. Their natural marsh foods were at low levels due to the prolonged drought. Blue crabs were present initially, (an important food source for Whooping cranes that make up 80-90% of their diet when available), but crab numbers dropped off through November.

Blue crabs were scarce throughout December and January as tides were lowered by low pressure systems and most of the remaining crabs moved out into the deeper bays. Although this is a typical winter pattern, the fall wolfberry crop was very low, a food that the cranes normally rely on heavily. Thus, the cranes were ill-prepared to face the scarcity of crabs. In addition, marsh salinities have remained above the threshold of 21 parts per thousand that forces cranes to seek out fresh water to drink. Although other winters have been “bad”, these extreme conditions have not been documented at Aransas NWR in the last 26 years.

Lowered food reserves affect Whooping cranes in two main ways; direct mortality and lowered future productivity. So far this winter, 5 Whooping cranes are believed to have died (2 carcasses were recovered, both were emaciated), whereas an average winter has only 0 or 1 crane death. As a double whammy, research done by Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez in 1994 documented that up to 37% of the Whooping cranes failed to nest following a poor blue crab winter at Aransas NWR.

The Whooping cranes are being seen in unusual places this winter. Many have left the salt marsh and are feeding on uplands. Up to 4 cranes foraged daily in the farm fields north of the refuge through December. A record 21 Whooping cranes are wintering on the Lamar Peninsula utilizing game feeders in locations where we have never seen cranes before.

Three juveniles have separated from their parents. One of these separations occurred at Aransas with the juvenile spending a week foraging along a refuge roadside and was approached closely by the public, most unusual behavior. In the fall, one juvenile spent a couple months in the farm fields just a few miles north of Aransas.

A third juvenile separated from its parents and was seen near in southern Nebraska through early December. When its roost pond froze, it continued the migration to Oklahoma. After its roost pond froze on January 25th, it again continued on its way. The location of all three of these juveniles is currently unknown. A fourth juvenile at Aransas separated from its parents at the end of January.

Due to the food shortages, the unusual distribution of cranes observed and the two emaciated crane carcasses recovered, supplemental feeding of Whooping cranes with corn on the Aransas / Matagorda Island NWR Complex has been initiated and will be continued for at least 1 month. Prescribed burns have also been conducted to provide additional foraging opportunities. We hope these management actions will give the cranes a necessary boost to get them through the winter and hopefully forestall problems with production in 2009 in Canada.”

Date:February 25, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:SEEING REDLocation: St. Marks, FL
When I was a brand new flight instructor some 15 years ago, I worked at a flight school that had been around for many years. There was a group of retired gentlemen, all of whom had been flying for 50+ years, and they would hang out on the weekends for coffee and donuts. Being the new kid on the block, I was the subject of much teasing. My nickname that summer was an over obvious, “Red,” and I quickly became their favorite.

I had 6 students that summer; 2 men and 4 women. The four women, all brunettes, picked up on the lessons very quickly and were soon walking the aviation talk. They all ended up with flight bags just like mine, headsets just like mine and also became the favorites of the old-timers.

Much to the amusement of these gentlemen, they all slowly also became red-heads. One after the other, throughout the course of the summer, they would come in to the office with varying shades of red hair. Of course, this was fuel for the fire, and the teasing increased exponentially. I was accused of paying for the color jobs, turning them all into Bev-clones.

Now that I am a flight instructor of a different nature, it is with much amusement and fond memories that I find my new ‘students’ also becoming red-heads. Slowly, each of the chicks are shedding their tawny brown feathers, and their red crowns are beginning to show through.

812 has the most red, and is quite proud of this, showing it off frequently. Surprisingly, 805, the oldest has no red shining through yet, but the youngest three, 828, 829 and 830 all have varying amounts. And, of course, it depends on the light. Like someone with auburn hair, sometimes it looks brown, at others red, so it is with these chicks. In the full bright sun, their crowns are shining through.

It is also with a little bit of sadness I watch this maturing process. My babies are definitely getting older, becoming more adult-like every day. I guess it’s not so bad, Soon enough I will be back at Patuxent for a brand new group of ‘students’ who all will become red-heads too, just like their pseudo crane mama.

Date:February 24, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
The estimated maximum size of Eastern Migratory Population remains at 87; 52 males and 35 females. In the report below, * = female, D = Direct Autumn Release; NFT = non-functional transmitter.

SPRING MIGRATION!!
An unidentified Whooping crane was reported in Barren County, KY February 16. Two Whooping cranes (not together) were reported in Hardin County, KY February 22. One bird is believed to be 527.

INDIANA
727*

TENNESSEE
105 & 501*
415*NFT & 505
506, D527*, D528*NFT, D533*NFT, D737
216, D831, D832*, D836, D838*
313* & 318

SOUTH CAROLINA
319 & W601*, 311 & 312*

GEORGIA
703, 707, D739*, D742*

ALABAMA
211 & 217*
213 & 218*
412, D746*

FLORIDA
101
212NFT & 418*NFT – attempted capture for transmitter replacement was unsuccessful.
307, 309* & 403
402, 408 & 519*
509, 511, 512, 514, 520*NFT
D627NFT, D626
706, 709, 712, 713, 716*, 717*, 719, 724, 722*, 726*, 733, D837*
803, 804, 814, 818* 819, 824* 827 (at Chassahowitzka NWR)
805, 812, 813*, 826, 828, 829, 830* (at St. Marks NWR)

CURRENT STATUS/LOCATION UNDETERMINED
- 303*NFT & 317 last reported leaving Jackson Co. IN Jan. 1
- 810 last recorded in Alachua Co. FL January 26. (During an aerial flight Feb. 6 a faint, erratic, possible signal was detected but no signal was detected during a thorough ground search conducted Feb. 10 or a flight on Feb 17.) Transmitter malfunction and mortality are suspected.
- 516 last confirmed in Marion Co. FL Dec. 22 (Was not found on search flights Jan. 20 and Feb. 4.)
- 107*NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Jan. 10
- 316NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Dec. 19
- 420*NFT last confirmed in Meigs Co. TN Dec. 19
- 401 & 508* last confirmed in Davidson Co. TN during last reporting period.

LONG-TERM MISSING (more than 90 days)
-205NFT last confirmed on Necedah NWR, WI Oct. 16
- D744* last transmitter reading indicated location in Paulding Co. OH November 18. (A report of a Whooping crane in Wayne Co. IN on November 18 may have been this bird.)
- 416NFT last observed at Necedah NWR, WI Oct. 10/08
- D740* last observed in Allegan Co. MI November 17. (A ground search was conducted Dec. 6 – 8 when the area was under 1.5’ of snow, but no evidence of no. D740* was found. Mortality is suspected.)

WINTER MONITORING - Chassahowitzka NWR
Water Levels (measured at dusk Feb 8th – 21st)
Center of the oyster bar: 4 nites @ 0”, 4 nites @2 – 8”; 4 nites @ 11 – 15”, 2 nites @ 17 – 19”
Deep end: 4 nites @ 0 – 6”; 4 nites @ 8 – 16”; 4 nites @ 17 – 21”; 2 nites @ 23 - 25”
Highest tide recorded on the center of the oyster bar was on 19” on Feb. 11.

Salinity
21-22 parts per thousand.

Roosting / Movements
With some exceptions, the juveniles roosted in the pen each night. All roosted on a flattened needlerush area SW of pen on February 11 (which coincided with high water levels of 19” at the center of the oyster bar and 25” at the deep end). Five attempts to lead birds into the pen were unsuccessful and handlers remained with them for the night.

February 13, 803, 804, and 827 were led/herded into the pen.
February 14, after several attempts, all birds were led/herded or flushed into the pen.
February 17, the airboat was used to flush all birds (except 804already in pen) from a nearby creek into the pen.
February 18, 814, 818, 819, and 827 were flushed from a nearby creek into the pen. 814 was also herded by handlers. 803, 804, and 824 roosted at an unknown location NE of the pensite.

Maturation
803 and 804 have attained their adult voice.

Predator / Human Disturbance
No bobcat sign was observed at the pensite. : No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.

WINTER MONITORING - St. Marks NWR
Water Levels
Water levels were stable until February 14, rising ~3.5 inches after that date due to heavy rain.

Salinity
Varied from 20-21 parts per thousand (ppt) before the rain to 10-18 ppt after the rain.

Roosting / Movements
The juveniles initiated roosting unattended on the constructed oyster bar in the north pond each night until
February 11. On that night they flew out of the pen shortly before dusk. 812 flew back into the pen when flushed. The others would not return, and handlers spent the night with them roosting in ~2 inches of water on the salt flat SW of the pen.

February 12 the juveniles again flew to the same spot on the salt flat, but were successfully flushed back into the pen with the swamp monster.

February 13 and each succeeding night through February 21 a handler remained with the birds on the oyster bar until they were settled to roost. All birds roosted in the pen in water 5-8” in depth.

Maturation
812 and 813 have attained their adult voice.

Predator / Human Disturbance
No predator sign was observed. No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.

This report was compiled from data provided by WCEP’s Tracking and Winter Monitoring Teams.

Date:February 23, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OM FEATURED IN NY TIMES MAGAZINELocation: Main Office
There is much to consider when ‘hosting’ a journalist in camp while we are on migration. We not only must have the permission and cooperation of our stopover hosts, it can mean, among a myriad other things, a considerable time commitment by some team members. And, in the back of our minds is always the thought, “Will they get it right?”

This past fall OM’s migration team played host to journalists on an unprecedented three occasions. Our visitors included a film crew lead by Trisha Sorrells (whose previous work includes the 2004 CBS 60 Minutes piece on OM); Howard Stableford with BBC Radio (British Broadcasting Corporation); and Jon Mooallem, a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. Thankfully they were all considerate and delightful guests, and despite the intricacies of the project and the sheer volume of information they had to get their heads around, they got it right.

We are still working with Trisha and hopeful of something developing in the future. Howard’s piece, which was aired on BBC Radio some time ago, is archived and accessible via this link. You can read the product of Jon’s efforts, published online February 18th, by clicking here.

Our thanks to Trisha, Howard, and Jon, and to the myriad other radio, TV, and print journalists who covered the 2008 ultralight-led Whooping crane migration. No less valuable than your coverage of the migration and the attention you focused on the Whooping crane reintroduction project, is the awareness your journalistic efforts raised on the importance of the big picture - conserving and protecting wildlife and their habitats.

Date:February 22, 2009Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:Questions and CommentsLocation: Main Office
We are grateful to everyone who posts notes on our Guest Book. Your encouragement helps to bolster the team when the going gets tough and many of your suggestions are taken to heart.

While time and logistics prevent us from responding  to questions in the GuestBook, sometimes comments are posted that give us an insight into what we haven’t explained well enough. Recently we had a series of comments all originating from the same computer, (Alexis, Harold and Lynn) so we've combined explanations here.

Alexis was concerned about the number of alligators she saw at St Marks as well as bear tracks.
I’m glad you had an opportunity to visit both St Marks and Chassahowitzka. Unfortunately the areas that you mentioned visiting around either refuge didn’t give you a good idea of what the habitat is like at the pensites. Both wintering grounds have pros and cons, but I don’t think categorizing one as idyllic and the other as threatening is a proper evaluation.

At Chass, the pen is located in salt marsh with tidal estuaries and large expanses of black needlerush. Apart from an area that is burned or knocked flat with a Marsh-Master (basically a floating bulldozer) there is not much crane habitat, and what there is often floods during high tide forcing roosting birds to move. This lack of habitat encourages the returning older birds to move elsewhere to find better wintering grounds. This is considered an advantage in that it keeps the older generations from interfering with the chicks in the release pen.

The pen area at St Marks has patches of needlerush but most of it is open salt flats with brackish water pools. Even during storm driven tides these areas only flood to a depth of a few inches and that produces large expanses of good crane habitat. The drawback is that it’s accessible to lots of predators, but we hope that when the older birds return there will be enough habitat to go around and they won’t be an interference.

One of the advantages of being farther north (not to mention the slightly shorter migration), is the cooler temperature. Alligators are ectothermic which means they rely on external sources of heat like sunlight or warm water to regulate their body temperature. They are most active when it is between 82º F and 92º F. They stop feeding when the temperature drops below 70ºF, and become dormant below 55ºF. The average temperature at St Marks during January to March when our birds are there is 55.8º F, with a high of 68.3º and a low of 43.3ºF. For alligators, not eating when it’s cold is not just a preference. In fact they can’t digest their food in low temperatures.

Alligators are a concern anywhere in Florida but the risk is reduced in the winter the farther north you go and the cooler it gets. Additionally, the two pools that are enclosed within the release pen are land-locked meaning they don’t have tidal estuaries connecting them to other waterways. In order for an alligator to inhabit the pools within the pen it would have to cross open land and breach the outer perimeter somewhere. That fence is checked every day and it would be hard to miss a gator hole.

That does not mean that when the birds are out of the release pen foraging in the marsh and learning to be wild that they are not at risk from all sorts of predators. There are many threats to Whooping cranes and that is why both the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership wanted to test a new site by dividing the flock. We can’t forget that the only mass loss we have ever had occurred at Chass and that’s reason enough to at least test a new area. (By the way, bears are not really adept at catching birds so they’re only a concern to the handlers.)

Harold wondered at the confusion between 804 and 824.
One bird refused to land when we led them the last migration leg to Chass. It was led back to the mainland before being crated and move to the pen by truck and airboat. It was originally listed at 824 but turned out to be 804. Harold thought that someone should have had a better idea of who it was.

From the air we can’t see band numbers. When Whooping cranes fly, they extend their legs behind them and the bands are obscured in the ventral and tail feathers. Sometimes, if the bird is flying off the appropriate wing tip, we can catch a glimpse of a color but that’s about all.

It took us 48 minutes to lead the bird to Chass from the Halpata site but at 1 hour and 58 minutes we were still circling trying to get them to land. One bird separated from the other six and seemed to catch a thermal. He was carried to a thousand feet or better and started to wander away. Most of us had climbed high to get out of the way while Richard collected the main flock and repeatedly brought them back over the pen. During one of those attempts Richard thought he saw the band, and over the radio he identified the lone bird as 824. I dropped down and collected that bird, and while Richard finally got the others to land I circled for another 20 minutes with the lone bird before we finally gave up.

It was only when I landed with the bird in a remote field that I could actually see the band and identify it as 804. The rest of the pilots landed at the other end of the field to tie down their aircraft so there was no opportunity to pass on that information. When we loaded the bird into the crate and our tracking van I told Brain Clauss from Patuxent which bird it was. He delivered it to the boat launch dock and told the ICF team it was 804.

Unfortunately that information did not get passed to Chris Gullikson who was the lead pilot for the day and responsible for the website update. He told the story of the reluctant bird and called him 824. We caught that mistake a little later and changed the posting but the confusion had already begun.

Lynn read our posting about providing the birds with shrimp and crabs and wondered why we do that if the St Marks site is reported to have so much natural food.
Just like real parents we teach many things to our young birds and that often includes what to eat. We show them berries, grasshoppers and waste corn whenever the opportunity arises at one of our landing sites. When they arrived at St Marks they are kept in a small top netted pen until the vet checks can be finished and the permanent radios are attached. It does not take long before they exhaust that limited supply of natural food.

Once they are let out into the release pen it becomes difficult to see exactly what natural food they are eating or, more importantly, what they are missing. So we get some crab and show them how to break the shell and find the good part. It doesn’t take long before they catch on and start to take advantage of all that is there for them. This same technique has been practiced at Chass and it works well.

We are very pleased that we have the cooperation of St Marks and a new wintering site. There is much more crane habitat available there and storm driven tides are rare. Splitting the flock between the two sites is prudent. It allows a new site to be tested without jeopardizing all the birds, while at the same time reducing the risk of a reoccurrence of the devastating loss of an entire generation such as happened with the Class of 2006.

Date:February 21Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:NEEDED: VOLUNTEER PILOTLocation: Main Office
St Marks NWR includes some very diverse habitat from pine forests to cypress groves and from open tidal marshes to salt flats. The latter of these are large areas of hard packed sand that get flooded occasionally during very high tides.

There is some mixed vegetation out there and millions of little crabs and snails in water that, at best, gets to be a few inches deep. It evaporates quickly leaving behind salt that was once harvested. In fact during the civil war you could buy your son’s freedom from recruitment with salt, and the relics of those processing areas are still visible to the trained eye.

After our birds were released from the top-netted pen they began wandering off to explore during the day, but came back to roost in the open pen every night. That behavior was encouraged by the monitoring team. Sometimes they would have to do a little swamp-monstering or crane-calling to get them back, but they soon started to fall into a routine. However, as with all aspects of this project, just when you think your work is done - something changes.

Brooke and Bev were doing their evening checks recently and off the birds flew just at sunset. They landed in the salt flats and could not be convinced to return to the safety of the pen. They were standing in water, so technically they were water roosting, but it was very shallow and the possibility of a predator attack still existed. So Bev and Brooke spent the night with them and by sunrise the next morning the birds flew back to the pen.

This late evening departure became the new habit so a plan was formulated. Bev, equipped with a swamp monster, air horn and flashlights, took the long way around and positioned herself in the salt flats at around 4 in the afternoon while Brooke went to the pen. At sunset the birds were in the pen roosting on the oyster bar just like they are supposed to.

Brooke was still with them at 7 o’clock, when, to his surprise, they all took off into the night. He suspected that by that late hour Bev would have left her station and made the long trek back to the van, but a moment or two later “all hell broke loose”. Air horns and flashlights shattered the stillness from the direction of the salt flats. Within seconds the birds, hardly visible in the darkness, landed back beside Brooke.

Most of the areas that the birds are wandering to are accessible. As they become more familiar with their surroundings they may become more adventuresome. If they reach areas the team cannot access their only recourse would be to wait and worry. This may or may not happen between now and when they begin their northern migration, but meanwhile we are looking for a volunteer.

If there is a pilot close to the St Marks or Tallahassee area with an aircraft available we would love to talk with you. If, at some point our birds wander out of range to an area we can’t reach, we would like to know of a pilot who would consider taking Bev and or Brooke on a reconnaissance flight to locate them.

Date:February 20, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:THE HARLEY LEGLocation: St. Marks, FL
As you most likely know, 805 is the oldest bird here at St. Mark's, but what you likely don't know, is that he is also our most vexing bird.

805 has, since he was a tiny chick, been very costume oriented. He has always come running to the costume whenever we entered the pen. Very cute when a young fuzz ball, less cute when he is nearly five feet tall with an 8 inch ‘dagger’ on his face. Currently, he is the largest bird, and still loves the costume.

When we go into the pen he is first in line to greet, and rarely leaves our side. This is a mixed blessing in that we can really give him a good look over, but we are trying to break all the chicks' dependency on us. He also is a very curious bird; always pecking at our costume, our boots, the puppet, and he is also tall enough to peck at our helmets. He is a very active bird too, always running around (when not at our side), throwing things into the air, jumping around, chasing 812, and generally acting like the teen-ager he is.

This is very amusing to watch during the day. However, come roost time, this mama-crane wants her ‘kids’ to settle down. Last night 805 tried my patience as he refused to quiet down like everyone else. The problem with one bird acting up is that he will stir up the others. Even though the other birds have already settled for the night, soon they are all running, jumping and flapping.

I was on the oyster bar last night with 5 birds and the sixth on the way. The sun had already set and it was getting very dark when 805 lured 812 off for a jaunt. No, they didn't fly off, but they did walk far enough away that in the fading light I lost sight of them. Luckily it is quiet enough in the marsh I could hear them walking along, occasionally jumping, and flapping their wings.

I have several air holes drilled into the top of my visor, and every once when I cannot see through the tinted visor I pull my helmet down so can peer through the holes. Last night it took a lot of peering to see this troublesome twosome across the pen.

I was able to catch sight of their heads and necks reflected in the pond and knew they were walking my way. However, instead of coming out to the oyster bar, they side-stepped to a puddle. I thought at first they were just foraging and soon would come my way, but then I heard a sound that told me they were planning on staying for the long haul.

You see, when the chicks are getting ready to roost, they do what I call the "Harley Leg". They roost on one leg, and when they are getting ready to bring the other leg up, they kick several times as if starting a motorcycle. This causes a distinctive splashing and always is the precursor to roosting. I heard this sound from the puddle and took action. We want the birds roosting on the oyster bar in a certain depth of water and even though we had a lot of rain last night, the puddle they were in was not sufficiently deep for roosting.

I walked over, splashing my way through the water, squishing through the mud, and made my way to 805. I had my vocalizer going and was moving slowly so as not to excite him, but to no avail. He was soon jumping up and down, splashing mud from his feet all over my costume. Soon, all the other chicks were following suit. I was fit to be tied and wasn't quite sure how to handle this situation. So I did what any good mother would do - I ignored the antics and walked back to the oyster bar.

Four of the seven followed me back to the oyster bar where I stood anxiously waiting for the other three. It was now pitch black, no moon yet, but tons of stars. The Rails were calling across the marsh, the frogs croaking, owls hooting, and my heart was pounding. After what seemed an eternity (it was by then an hour after sunset), I could hear the three walking across the water covered mud.

I pulled my helmet down to look through my peep holes and saw the three marching my way. "In the clear," I thought. "Au contraire," 805 replied. The other two settled down immediately but 805 circled away across the pond, poking and prodding and making me crazy.

Minutes stretched into what seemed hours before he finally made his way back to the oyster bar. “Okay, I've got it made," was my first thought, but 805 had other ideas and he started pecking at my costume. “Won’t he ever settle down?", I lamented to myself. I moved just out of his reach. Eventually he did settle down and began to preen.

The last sound I heard before I began to splash myself away was that glorious, wonderful sound of 805 doing the ‘Harley Leg’.

Date:February 17, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE SEASON AHEADLocation: Main Office
It's hard to understand how a species that has survived for more than 60 million years could be almost totally decimated in the span of a human lifetime. And without intervention, this would have been the fate of the Whooping crane.

Never as numerous as their Sandhill cousins, the Whooping crane population, which was reduced to a mere 15 individuals in the 1940’s, has grown to just over 380 thanks to protective measures and reintroductions. While the size of the only naturally occurring wild Whooping crane flock – the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population - has increased since the ‘40s, growth has been painfully slow.

Why is this you ask? The primary reason is because Whooping cranes do not sexually mature and breed until three to five years of age, and then usually produce, fledge, and successfully lead just one chick on migration only every second year. As a result, the parents are, at least 7 years old before they have 'replaced themselves', and at least 9 years old before they begin adding to the population. That's a long time, and there are many long migrations and perils they must survive to achieve this.

Now entering its ninth season, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s (WCEP) reintroduction project has released 146 birds into the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP), 87 of which currently survive. Of these, 29-44 are of breeding age, and 24 of them have mated - 12 pairs.

As most readers will recall, in 2006 we celebrated the successful wild hatch and subsequent fledging and migration of Wild601. (Her sibling, Wild602, was predated on the Necedah NWR in September of 2006.) In the following years, nest failures and abandonments have plagued the EMP, and despite the presence of eggs and initial diligent parenting, the nesting adults either failed to produce viable eggs, or for reasons unknown, abandoned their nests. (see chart below).

To determine what might be causing the nest failures and abandonments, WCEP's partners and other experts are heavily engaged in studying data of everything from potential genetic indicators to weather actors; from insect blooms to food availabilities. Hopefully, analysis will reveal clues that could enable us to determine if there are things we humans could remedy to help the Whooping cranes.

EMP NESTING RECORD (Strike through = Deceased)

NEST
YR

FEMALE

AT
AGE

MALE

AT
AGE

# EGGS

RESULT

2005

202

3

101

4

1

Destroyed

 

217

3

211

3

1

Destroyed

2006

202

4

101

5

?

Destroyed

 

203

4

317

3

2

Destroyed

 

209

4

302

3

?

Destroyed

 

217

4

211

4

1

Destroyed

 

217

4

211

4

2

Re-nest W601*, W602

 

218

4

213

4

2

Unattended – eggs collectedA

2007

209

5

416

3

2

1 destroyed, 1 infertile

 

209

5

416

3

1-2

Re-nest destroyed

 

217

5

211

5

2

Unattended - destroyed

 

218

5

213

5

1

Unattended – egg collectedB

 

303

4

317

4

1-2

Destroyed

 

303

4

317

4

1

Re-nest. Egg infertile

2008

217

6

211

6

2

Re-nest. Unattended – eggs collectedC

 

419

4

212

6

?

Nest unattended

 

218

6

213

6

1

Unattended – egg collectedD

 

303

5

317

5

2

Unattended - 1 destroyed, 1 collectedE

 

309

5

403

5

1-2

Destroyed

 

312

5

311

5

1

Unattended – egg collectedF

 

313

5

318

5

2

Unattended –eggs collectedG

 

415

4

505

3

1-2

Destroyed

 

419

4

212

6

1

Unattended – egg collectedH

 

508

3

401

4

1-2

Destroyed

 

519

3

408

4

?

Destroyed

A - Eggs were sent to Patuxent to hatch. One chick survived, 602, but was later lost in the storm of Feb. 2007.
B - Egg sent to Patuxent to hatch. #717 currently wintering in Hernando County, FL.
C - One egg infertile. The other sent to Patuxent to hatch but chick did not survive.
D - Egg sent to Patuxent to hatch. #805 currently at St. Marks NWR.
E - Egg contained dead embryo.
F - Egg contained dead embryo.
G - Eggs sent to Patuxent to hatch. #810 last known to be wintering in Alachua Co. FL but has been missing since late  January and his status is unknown. #811 removed from the project and transferred to the Milwaukee Zoo.
H- Egg infertile.

 

Potential nesting pairs for coming ’09 season include:

NEST
YR

FEMALE

AT
AGE

MALE

At
AGE

2009

217

7

211

7

 

218

7

213

7

 

303

6

317

6

 

309

6

403

5

 

312

6

311

6

 

313

6

318

6

 

415

5

505

4

 

419

5

212

7

 

508

4

401

5

 

519

4

408

5

 

501

4

105

8

 

W601

3

310

6

Many thanks to Dr. Richard Urbanek for his assistance in producing the nesting records.

Date:February 16, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:ROOST CHECKSLocation: St. Marks, FL
I'm not sure how many of you are parents, but those of you who are will surely sympathize with us.

Saturday was my turn to be in the pen with the chicks and stay with them until they roosted for the night. This seems a simple task; just stand out on the oyster bar, do my best crane parent impersonation, and wait for them to fall asleep. Not quite so simple.

Like any parent of an increasingly independent child, I did my best to get them calmed down for the night. Following 'Daddy' Brooke's advice, I stood in the feed shelter for a while so they could get nice full tummies; walked to the fresh water guzzlers so they could get their last drink; slowly walked them to their bedroom, aka the oyster bar, and tried to lull them to sleep with their favorite lullaby, the brood call.

Well like any child who doesn't want to go to bed tends to do, the goofing off started. They all had a good meal and while walking them slowly around the pond, the shenanigans started. First they started jumping about, tossing sticks and feathers into the air. Then they started playing tag, with one bird taking flight - and my heart stopping.

Okay, that burst of energy dissipated, I finally got 5 of the 7 onto the oyster bar. But once again, any excuse to not go to sleep. "I'm hungry," they chorused and they all marched back to the feeders for one last nibble. "I'm thirsty," they peeped as they sauntered to the guzzlers. "I have to take a bath" they sang. Now mind you, all this is at 6:45pm, 20 minutes after sunset and past their bed time.

Then it was another game of tag, tugging at my costume, playing with oyster shells, and pecking at each other - "Mom, 828 is looking at me!" More eating, more jumping about, and then, my worst nightmare; the batteries in my MP3 player gave up the ghost drowning us in silence.

Would I ever get them to the oyster bar now? Luckily, darkness won out and they eventually all ended up surrounding me on the oyster bar and slowly calmed down. 812 was the last one to join us, but 805 was so fascinated by my costume, he wouldn't relax. Finally I moved far enough out of his reach that he had no choice and he started to do his pre-sleep preening.

When it became so dark I couldn't see more than 5 feet, I figured it was a safe bet that I could leave them. Slowly, I waded ashore, taking just a few steps at a time to make sure no one followed. Looking back one last time, I could see their reflections in the pond and no one was stirring.

So as quietly as a rubber boot wearing, costume clad handler can walk through water covered mud, I made my escape, and headed back to the blind. No one followed and peace reigned over the marsh. I think I'm getting this chick-sitting thing down.

Date:February 15, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
On February 11th, Tom Stehn, Whooping crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife refuge, conducted the seventh aerial census of the 2008-09 crane season. With him in the Air Transit Solutions Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey, was Carey Strobel. Although winds aloft made surface conditions somewhat choppy, Tom said the weather conditions were good for the census.

Only 229 Whooping cranes were found on the latest count, but Tom noted that time limitations required making wider transects in some areas, which in turn resulted in overlooking some of the cranes.

Tom’s estimate of the peak size of the winter flock remained at 270; 232 adults and 38 juveniles. However, due to mortalities at Aransas, he estimated the current flock size to be 259; 229 adults and 30 juveniles. Numbers that he said might change depending on future flight observations.

“Although no single flight is conclusive,” said Stehn, “I estimate that eleven Whooping cranes have died this winter (8 chicks and 3 adults). That is a loss so far of 4.1% of the wintering population (11 out of 270).”

Remarking on years past he said, “The all-time worst winter on record was 1990 when 11 out of 146 (7.5%) Whooping cranes died at Aransas. The winter of 1993 showed a 4.9% loss at Aransas (7 out of 143). The current winter ranks the third worst in terms of mortality in the last 20 years, and we still have two months to go.”

Two dead Whooping cranes have been picked up this winter and both were emaciated. Tom said signs of the harsh conditions and/or mortality included: one chick that had separated from its parents; four chicks that were missing and suspected dead; and a lone adult with a chick was observed on the second consecutive flight, indicative of the loss of the other parent.

“Surveys of Whooping crane foods and foraging behavior done by Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez the week of February 2nd confirmed the current scarcity of natural foods for the Whooping crane,” said Stehn. “At present, it takes additional effort for Whooping cranes to find blue crabs; some of the cranes are foraging on clams which are much less nutritious.”

“Management practices are definitely aiding the cranes this winter. Cranes observed on the flight included:
27 at man-made fresh water sources
36 on burned uplands
15 on unburned uplands - mostly foraging for tubers where feral hogs have rooted up the earth
23 at game feeders, and
13 in open bay habitat.
Much of the marsh is still notably dry due to recent low, wind-driven tides, though tides started to rise over the past week. Salinities remain high, measured at 30 parts per thousand in the refuge boat canal.”

In late January, two more prescribed burns of just over 2,400 acres were conducted at Aransas, and 5 cranes were observed on this burn during Tom’s February 11 census flight. Aransas has also continued supplemental feeding using corn. Tom says there has been a moderate response to this program with 20 different Whooping cranes documented at feeders the first week in February. Others, including deer, feral hogs, raccoons, grackles and Sandhill cranes, are also eating the corn.

“Also of note are the 3 Whooping crane sub-adults that continue to use farm fields south of Austwell,” said Tom. “They were seen in a shallow-flooded portion of an agricultural field since the water where they had been roosting is greatly diminished and can no longer provide safe roosting habitat. The drought shows no sign of ending in central and south Texas with many counties banning prescribed burns due to the fire danger.”

Date:February 14, 2009Reporter: Swamp Monster
Subject:LEARNING LIFE LESSONSLocation: St. Marks, FL
Just when I was starting to settle back into my off-season life of rolling around in the muck and scaring all the little frogs and salamanders, I got a 911 call from Brooke and Bev over at St. Mark's. Sheesh, can't a Swamp Monster get a break?

Apparently my favorite victims have become just a tad too independent and were creating havoc around roosting time. My favorite kind of misbehaving youngster--one who won't go to bed at night and wants to stay in the swamp and play. Yumm!

On Wednesday night, so Bev told me, the chicks decided to take off out of the pen right as the sun was setting. They went to where they had spent the morning and wanted to poke around in the mud some more. This gave Brooke and Bev fits as they tried to get them back to the safety of the pen to roost. So I responded to their 911 call, and on Thursday went over to help them out. After all, just because I'm a Monster doesn't mean I'm a bad guy.

I took up my position out on the flats surrounded by all my favorite things: stinky mud, mosquitoes, and sand flies. You know, I felt almost at home there. Anyway, sure enough, out came the 7 chicks just after sunset. Boy - did I put on a show for them. Jumping, growling, snarling, blowing my horn, waving my tarp; all the usual things I do.

And do you know what? The little stinkers kept flying. Scared you didn't I? They kept flying alright, but right back to the pen. Darn right they did! When I scare something, it stays scared. They flew right back into the pen almost knocking Brooke down in the process they were so glad to see him. Then they marched right onto the oyster bar to roost like the good little chicks they are, and they didn't budge for the rest of the night.

I think I'll go have some more fun with them tonight. I really love that swamp they live in---a Monster could retire there!

Date:February 13, 2009Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:JUVENILES MATURING BUT STILL LEARNINGLocation: St. Marks, FL
My apologies to all of our supporters and Craniacs for having to wait for my first official St. Mark's update. I have been back for a week, and although our connection difficulties got resolved, due to a bout of pneumonia, yesterday was my first full day with the birds.

And what a day it was! I had been to the blind a couple of times, so Brooke could get me up to snuff on procedures, so I had seen the chicks from afar. But it is not the same as being with them, and it was with much joy that I finally joined them in the pen.

We are trying to limit the amount of "costume time” the birds are exposed to. They need to be weaned, just as any child does, from their dependence on us ‘parents’, and is much harder for us than it is for them. They are doing quite well with this and are becoming more adventuresome every day.

As always, each morning for the past 3 days we arrived just at sunrise, except the chicks were not in the pen. It seems they are leaving about 15 minutes before sunrise (we watched them yesterday morning) for a flight out to the mudflats that have been exposed by the low tide.

We walked out there yesterday, and even though we could hear their transmitter signals loud and clear, we could not see them. Looking into the sun through our helmet’s eye visor across wet, glaring mudflats does not allow for good vision. However, after approximately a half hour of searching and squinting, the chicks came flying in towards us. We quickly ducked behind some trees where we could watch without influencing their behavior.

They poked and prodded in the mud, walking up and down the tidal creek bottom. After watching for a few minutes we headed back to the pen to complete the mornings' tasks. This consists of the usual filling of feeders, cleaning up spilt food, cleaning out the fresh water bubblers, and also checking the salinity and water depth of each pond. We also have a fence tester that gives an actual electrical read out, so we can tell if the electric fence is working or not.

After all these tasks are accomplished, we finish with an exterior inspection of the electric fence, checking for any weeds or other debris touching the wire, and also for predator tracks. Seeing nothing, we wandered back to the blind to sit and watch for the chicks.

Around 9:30, they returned to the pen - well six of the 7 did. 813 landed just outside the fence. It took her about a half an hour for her to figure out she had to fly to get back into the pen, which she did. By flying however, she decoyed the other chicks into the air, and they all took off even once she had landed in the pen. After a short sortie, they all came back and this is when the fun started.

We brought some crabs into the pen. St. Marks is blessed with much wonderful natural crane food, crabs, bait fish, shrimp, etc, but much like we had to teach them how to eat at Patuxent, they don't quite seem to get how to eat a crab. So we import them into the pen. They naturally occur in the ponds, but I am not adept at catching crabs with my bare hands, so it is easier to bring them in.

We brought both live and freshly dead crabs. The live ones catch the attention of the chicks who love to peck and play with them, jumping back when getting pinched by grabbing claws. We demonstrate with the dead ones, smashing them with our puppets, encouraging the young birds to dig in. Yesterday it was more like trying to get your child to eat stewed tomatoes.
I would tear off a chunk of what I know is very yummy crab flesh, offer it to one of the chicks with the puppet, who then would act as if I was trying to poison him and violently shake his head spitting out the meat. Well, eventually they will get they hang of it. All it takes is patience.

We have seen them gobble shrimp and they love to swallow the small fiddler crabs down, but figuring out the large blue crabs that will take time. At least it is fun for us. A chance to interact with the chicks while we are allowing them to become more independent.

813 grows more beautiful every day. She is almost completely white, except for her head, and has a neatly defined black mask. She is even getting her adult voice. 826 continues to amuse with his antics and he dances with us each time we enter the pen. 828 has become the leader of the cohort and all the other chicks follow his lead on the flights. 805 is the biggest by far, but is still the greeter of the group.

830 is still the petite chick and is slowly gaining her adult plumage. 829, on the other hand, looks like a mess. He is not, of course, but the way his plumage is changing gives an unkempt appearance to this large chick. 812 is the loud mouth of the group. He has his adult voice already (except for the occasional squeak and crackle) and even gave a good attempt at his half of a unison call yesterday.

All in all every chick is healthy and maturing rapidly. Before I know it, I won't be able to tell them from the other adults at Necedah and they will no longer be ‘my babies’.

Date:February 12, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FAA TO REVIEW LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS FOR TALL  COMMUNICATION TOWERSLocation: Main Office
In a recent release, Darin Schroder, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy reported that the FAA had agreed “to study lighting requirements for bird-killing towers.”

Schroder’s release read:
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to conduct a study that will examine whether steady-burning sidelights on tall communications towers, which attract birds and cause them to collide with the towers during night migration, can be safely eliminated without endangering air traffic. Unlike many waterfowl and birds of prey, most songbirds migrate during the night, with up to several billion birds having to navigate a landscape littered with as many as 100,000 lighted towers each spring and fall. American Bird Conservancy and its conservation partners have been working together with the communications industry in seeking this important study, which will help determine whether the safety of pilots can be maintained while also reducing the impact of lights on migrating birds.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission is engaged in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is examining “the extent of any effect of communications towers on migratory birds.” The Notice seeks to examine a number of issues in connection with avian-tower impacts, including tower lighting.

FAA guidelines on towers over 200 feet tall, currently require towers utilizing red or dual-type lighting systems to use steady-burning sidelights mounted at various intermediate levels depending on the height of the tower. These requirements date back more than three decades, and may no longer be applicable based on current lighting technology. It has also since been shown that blinking lights cause far fewer bird deaths. It I also noteworthy that traffic signals on major roads often have white strobes in addition to red lights to notify drivers, indicating that many motor vehicle departments consider strobe lights to be more obvious to people than steady lights.

The FAA will study the difference to pilots of steady-burning lights compared to blinking lights, and of red lights compared to white lights, and whether adequate safety is maintained if side marker lights are extinguished or operated at a reduced flash rate. This study will begin in early 2009, with a report and recommendations expected to be made public by the end of the year.

“Should the FAA determine the use of side-mounted steady red lights can be eliminated for communications towers without harm to air safety, American Bird Conservancy will push for the FAA to amend their guidelines to reduce avian fatalities while still preserving air safety,” Schroeder said.

Date:February 11, 2009Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:NEW VERSUS OLDLocation: Main Office
There is no question that it was an usual fall and winter season. Despite our slow progress we normally encounter some balmy temperatures, but this past year it was bitterly cold. We have never encountered an accumulation of snow before. On this migration however, we landed the birds in two inches of the stuff - in Alabama no less.

On several days this year we spent two and a half hours flying in 9ºF temperatures, and our propane bill to heat the trailers has never been higher. Locals told us that it was wetter, colder and windier that any season in recent memory.

One of the criteria we planned to use to evaluate the new route was a speedier migration. It was in fact slightly faster. We completed an almost equal distance, 9 days sooner that last year. That is no great achievement except that it was only the second time in our 8 year history that the migration hasn’t taken longer than the one before. Five times we skipped a site and led the birds over 100 miles, so the potential is there. Maybe next season we will have better weather luck.

The other measure we planned to use in our evaluation was the safety factor, and that is where this new route won hands down. Cruising along at a thousand feet over open fields and flat terrain is far more desirable than the white-knuckled tenseness of two hours over an unbroken panorama of rocks and trees.

Beverly Paulan and Brooke Pennypacker spent three months laying out this route and did a wonderful job. We were treated with warmth and generosity by all along the new route, and experienced mid-west kindness and southern hospitality. At each stop, the birds were secure, our aircraft often safely tucked into borrowed hangars, and the team made welcome.

We are grateful to Bev and Brooke for all their hard work, and to our anonymous supporter who donated the funds to make the new route possible.

Date:February 10, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
With the recent release of the 14 young Whooping cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2008 – 7 at the St. Marks NWR and 7 at the Chassahowitzka NWR - the Eastern Migratory Population now numbers 87; 52 males and 35 females. (*= female; NFT = Non-functional Transmitter; DAR = Direct Autumn Release)

The following highlights the estimated distribution as of February 7, 2009.

Indiana
727* was reported in Spencer County in late January. Previously she had been observed in Grayson County, TN during a tracking flight December 2/08

Tennessee
105 & 501* (see note below) 216, 313* & 318, 401 & 508, 415*NFT & 505, 506, and DARs 527*, 528NFT*, 533*, 737, 831, 832*, 836, 838*
Note - 105 & 501* had been in Hernando County, FL before being observed at the Chassahowitzka NWR pensite January18. They appeared at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park January 20 where they were captured and transferred to the Marion County Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve pensite prior to being crated and transported for release in Alachua County, FL on January 22. They returned to Hernando County January 30 only to reappear at the Chass pensite the following day. The next morning, February 1, they returned to the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park and were again captured and transported to the Halpata pensite. They were subsequently taken to Meigs County, TN where they were released on February 4.

Georgia
703, 707, DARs739* and 742*

South Carolina
310 & W601*, 311 & 312*

Alabama
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 524, 412, 746*DAR

Florida
101, 212NFT & 419*NFT, 307, 408, 420, 509, 519*, 511, 512, 514, DARs 627NFT and 628, 706, 709, 710, 712, 713, 716*, 717, 722*, 724, 726*, 733, 803, 804, 805, 812, 813*, 814, 818*, 819, 824*, 826, 828, 827, 829, 830*, 837*DAR.

Locations Unknown
- 107*NFT last confirmed in Miegs County, TN January 10.
- 303*NFT & 317-03 were last reported leaving Jackson County, IN January 3.
- 309*, 403, and 520*NFT last confirmed in Lafayette County, FL January 13.
- 316NFT last confirmed in Miegs County, TN December 19.
- 420*NFT last confirmed in Miegs County, TN December 19.
- 516 last confirmed in Marion County, FL December 22.
- 740*DAR was last observed in Allegan County, MI November 17.
- 744*DAR was last confirmed in Paulding County, OH November 18.
- 810 last reported in Alachua County, FL January 26. During an aerial flight on February 6, a faint, erratic signal was  detected. Mortality is suspected.

Long-term Missing (More than 90 days)
205NFT last observed on the Necedah NWR, WI October 16, 2007
416NFT last observed on the Necedah NWR, WI October 10, 2008

Chass Pensite Conditions
Water levels were low. Approximate water depths recorded on the constructed oyster bar at dusk between February 3 to 7 ranged from 0 to 1 inch at the center and from 0 to 7 inches at the deep end.
Salinity: 19-21 parts per thousand.
Predators: No signs of bobcats were observed at the pensite.
Human Disturbance: No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.
Notes:
- The juveniles roosted on the constructed oyster bar on February 3rd, 4th, and 7th. At dusk on February 5th when the pensite was largely mudflat, 2 birds were near the decoy at the deep end of the oyster bar; 2 were in the pool south of the feeding station; and 3 were still foraging and scattered in the west end of the pool. On February 6th, 5 birds were on the oyster bar, 1 was nearby at the shore, and 1 was in the pool south of the feeding station.
- 814 had his adult voice upon arrival at Chass and 804 had nearly attained his adult voice by February 5.

St. Marks Pensite Conditions
Water levels remained stable during the report period.
Salinity: Although usually 19-20 parts per thousand, readings varied from 17 – 21ppt.
Predators: A bobcat track was observed on a game trail approximately 85 feet from the pen.
Human disturbance: No unauthorized persons were observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.
Notes:
- The juveniles roosted on the constructed oyster bar in the north pond on each night. They were led to roost on the first three evenings after release and moved to roost on the oyster bar unattended thereafter.
- 812 had nearly his attained adult voice by February 7.

This report was compiled from data supplied by the WCEP Tracking Team and the Winter Monitoring Teams at the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka NWRs.

Date:February 9, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: RECOGNIZING THE TEAM'S EFFORTSLocation: Main Office
The prospects of being a human participant in a wild migration and flying within touching distance of these magnificent birds sounds at first like a great adventure. But only a few get to fly, and only for an hour or so at a time. The rest of it is hard work, and the wear and tear of day after day in wind and rain takes its toll. After weeks on the road it becomes more challenge than great adventure--and that’s when the character of this team begins to shine.

Despite the weeks of boredom punctuated by exhausting days of hyperactivity, there are practical jokes, sincere concern for the well being of teammates, and lots of laughter.

Walter Sturgeon (North Carolina) has forgotten more about birds than most of us will ever know. He is a hands-on bird-keeper who has raised cranes for 30 years and has his own flock that includes five species. As the Assistant Director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science, (retired) he has researched birds in the Canadian Arctic, dug for dinosaurs in Montana and spent over two months as part of our migration team, all of this after a career as a nuclear engineer.

Jack Wrighter (Tennessee) is a retired airline employee. One day he was cleaning his Cessna when an acquaintance asked is he’d volunteer some time. Dave Mattingly runs a non-profit called Touch Our Planet and he asked Jack if he would be interested in flying top cover for us. Jack agreed to donate two weeks of his time and the use of his airplane. Two months later he finally made it home. Something appealed to Jack about this project. Maybe it was the Whooping cranes, or the great adventure of migration, or perhaps he just likes flying in circles. Whatever the motivation we are very grateful that he has come back year after year to guide us though air traffic control zones or spot missing birds.

We are grateful for the time retired airline pilot Tom Miller (Georgia) spent with us. He joined Jack as spotter pilot through Illinois. He would keep track of our trikes and the long line of birds that, from their perspective, only appear as tiny dots, while Jack flew circles around us.

Don and Paula Lounsbury (Ontario) are our original top cover pilots. They have been volunteering to watch over us since the beginning. They wrote the book on flying top cover and developed a unique method that others have adopted. Don watches out the right side of their Cessna while controlling the ailerons. He is in charge of banking the aircraft so he can keep us under the wing. Paula stays in touch with Air Traffic Control, the ground crew and us, while flying the elevator which maintains their altitude. Together they add a feeling of security that is comforting when we are all spread out, each of us with birds that are giving us problems.

Gerald Murphy (Florida) heard about us six years ago and called up to volunteer. A non-profit like ours survives on the dedication of its volunteers but it’s somewhat different in OM’s case. Because our audience is so spread out we can’t just ask them to drop by and meet the team to see how we’ll get along. On top of that, the commitment we need is more demanding than a few days or evenings a month like most charitable work. Each person on our team is critical, so once they have committed, we rely on them heavily. For a lot of volunteers, trailer life can wear thin. Weeks of boredom punctuated by days of over-exertion can take all the romance out of working with an endangered species. But not for Gerald. He joined the team to fill in a last minute vacancy and has been on every migration since. Gerald has an easy temperament, a quick laugh and a talent for homemade biscuits.

Dale Richter (Georgia) is a member of our Board of Directors and he takes his responsibilities seriously. When we needed a driver for the last three weeks of the migration Dale put his business on hold and joined us immediately. Dale’s son Taylor is one of our biggest supporters. At age 10 he petitioned the Governor of Georgia to issue a proclamation recognizing Operation Migration’s work, and now the month of November is that state’s Traditional Migration Month. The most difficult job Dale had was telling Taylor he was too young to be a part of the migration team and that he couldn’t run off with his father to join the ‘Circus with a Purpose’.

Brian Clauss (Maryland) is an unequivocal crane expert whose first concern is always the birds. He is quiet, cheerful, with a sense of humor that could be considered a disabling weapon. He can deliver a perfectly timed one-liner and grin sheepishly while the rest of us try to recover from a debilitating belly laugh.

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center provides an aviculturist during the entire migration. Brian Clauss and Charlie Shafer (Maryland) each take half but Charlie picks the first portion. He is with us for a month before heading home. Brian then takes over and is with us until the end, whenever that may be. This year Charlie left us while we were still in Illinois. I think he’s smarter than the rest of us. In fact, based on his computer acumen, I know he is.

This organization could not survive without Liz Condie (Ontario). She is our Chief Operating Officer and her duties are as all encompassing as her title. Liz brings with her 30 years of non-profit experience, an even temper, an easy laugh and a work ethic that puts all of us to shame. Like the rest of us, her day starts well before sunrise but when most of the team has given up for the night, Liz is still at it. Always surrounded by a hundred lists and a thousand post-its Liz rarely misses anything despite the apparent chaos.

Despite all the complaining about cold temperatures at least we were not fighting the snow and ice at home like Chris Danilko (Ontario). Chris digs her way into our tiny basement office every day to answer emails, fill orders, take care of the accounting and keep the whole place running smoothly. She is just as much responsible for the safe arrival of the birds as the rest of us, and without her we couldn’t get this done.

Chris Gullikson (Wisconsin) has a quiet demeanor and a dry humor. In fact you have to check his poker face closely to determine if the story he’s telling is even plausible or just another gotcha. He is a self taught meteorologist and an electrical engineer who knows more about my camera than I do. In fact he knows more about most things than I do.

Before joining us Beverly Paulan (Illinois) operated her own air charter business and managed a flight school. She is a hard working, hands-on, do-it-yourself kind of person. She’s first out to check the birds in the morning and last in just before sunset; rain, mud, cold, or snow notwithstanding. Despite her aptitude for things mechanical, and willingness to get her hands dirty, her good taste and red hair add a touch of class to her crew of co-workers whenever we are invited to dinner. Bev is a great asset to the team and a big favorite with students during her school presentations.

Brooke Pennypacker, (New Jersey) along with Beverly, will monitor birds at St Marks NWR this winter. Once they depart on their northern migration, he and Bev will move to Patuxent to begin the early training of the 2009 cohort and it all starts again. It’s an exhaustive schedule with no opportunities to settle down to a normal life. Brooke has dedicated years of his life to safeguarding first Trumpeter swans and then Whooping cranes. He brings many skills to the team along with a great deal of laughter and a talent for entertaining our web readers with his updates.

We are very pleased that Heather Ray (Ontario) is back with us again. She joined us on the migration this year after a 3 year absence and soon became an invaluable asset. Her roles have changed slightly this season and along with outreach and fundraising she helped release the birds for the early morning flights. Heather has many talents, from birding skills to photography to computer technologies, and her long history with OM means she can step right in to help. We are grateful she agreed to come back.

Richard van Heuvelen (Ontario) is one of the people I admire most on this team. I’ve always felt that the challenges you are willing to tackle are based on the talents you have accumulated throughout your life. Building a house would be daunting if you have never picked up a hammer. But Richard has done it all, and tasks that intimidate most of us are taken in stride by Richard. We have better equipment more efficient tools and a stronger team because of Richard’s talents.

Date:February 9, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MM LAUNCH SET FOR APRIL 1STLocation: Main Office
 

On April 1st, the beginning of Operation Migration's new fiscal year, MileMaker 2009 (and sponsorship web pages) will be officially launched.

We are sincerely grateful to all who sponsored a mile or part mile last fall. Thanks to those generous and supportive individuals MileMaker 2008 was fully subscribed, which meant that the cost of last year's migration was completely covered! Click the link to see the list of 2008 MileMaker sponsors.

The 2009 fall migration will be the second time our new, more westerly route will be used; a journey of 1,285 miles through seven states. To determine the cost of MileMaker sponsorships, we divide the total of the previous year's migration expenses by the 1,285 miles to be flown. The amount of a quarter, half and mile sponsorship will be announced as our financial year end approaches and the total ’08 migration expense figure is finalized.

We have come to rely on your generosity to defray the costs of the annual ultralight-led migration, and we hope we can count on your continued support for this coming fall's journey south leading the soon to be hatched Class of 2009.

 

Date:February 9, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PHOTOGRAPHIC JOURNEYLocation: Main Office
For those of you who may not have yet encountered/discovered it, there is a production that has been posted on the internet featuring St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The production, done by Drew Smith Photography, is accompanied by some lively music, and entitled, "A Photographic Journey - from dawn to dusk." Use this link to view.

Date:February 8, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: News from The Bird Conservation AllianceLocation: Main Office
FAA Agrees to Study Lighting Requirements for Bird-Killing Towers
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has announced plans to conduct a study that will examine whether steady-burning sidelights on tall communications towers, which attract birds and cause them to collide with the towers during night migration, can be safely eliminated without endangering air traffic.

Unlike many waterfowl and birds of prey, most songbirds migrate during the night, with up to several billion birds having to navigate a landscape littered with as many as 100,000 lighted towers each spring and fall. American Bird Conservancy and its conservation partners have been working together with the communications industry in seeking this important study, which will help determine whether the safety of pilots can be maintained while also reducing the impact of lights on migrating birds.

Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is engaged in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that is examining “the extent of any effect of communications towers on migratory birds.” The Notice seeks to examine a number of issues in connection with avian-tower impacts, including tower lighting.

FAA guidelines on towers over 200 feet tall, currently require towers utilizing red or dual-type lighting systems to use steady-burning sidelights mounted at various intermediate levels depending on the height of the tower. These requirements date back more than three decades, and may no longer be applicable based on current lighting technology. It has also since been shown that blinking lights cause far fewer bird deaths. It I also noteworthy that traffic signals on major roads often have white strobes in addition to red lights to notify drivers, indicating that many motor vehicle departments consider strobe lights to be more obvious to people than steady lights.

The FAA will study the difference to pilots of steady-burning lights compared to blinking lights, and of red lights compared to white lights, and whether adequate safety is maintained if side marker lights are extinguished or operated at a reduced flash rate. This study will begin in early 2009, with a report and recommendations expected to be made public by the end of the year.

“Should the FAA determine the use of side-mounted steady red lights can be eliminated for communications towers without harm to air safety, American Bird Conservancy will push for the FAA to amend their guidelines to reduce avian fatalities while still preserving air safety,” said Darin Schroeder, American Bird Conservancy’s Vice President of Conservation Advocacy.

Date:February 7, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WINTER MONITORING UPDATELocation: Main Office
While technical difficulties with our satellite dish that we've left at St. Marks to facilitate communications with Bev and Brooke plague us, hopefully it is just that the many trees surrounding their location are preventing signal reception and a relocation will resolve the situation. In the meantime, thanks to cell phones, and although a poor substitute for Brooke's colorful reports, we do have an update for you.

For the initial couple of weeks of winter monitoring, Brooke's been kept busier than an one-armed wallpaper hanger. New everything - from new site right on down the line - has kept him hopping. Lucky for us and for him, he has been ably assisted by Disney Animal Kingdom staffers, Scott Tidmus and Jay Eherien, one or the other of whom has been at St. Marks to lend a hand since the birds' arrival there on January 17th.

Bev will re-join Brooke and also assume winter monitoring duties shortly. Post-migration, Chris Gullikson dropped her off in Illinois enroute to his home base in Wisconsin, and Bev is now on her way back after a short break to look after some personal business, and what was likely a very quick visit with family.

Now, on to Whooper news.

Brooke tells us that all seven juveniles are behaving well and doing just fine. At first they were leaving the 3 acre open pen only to fly short circuits before returning. Lately however, they've been flying out, visiting nearby ponds, exploring their surroundings, and foraging for food.

"We've fenced off a small shallow finger of one of the ponds within the open pen enclosure and stocked it with live shrimp," said Brooke, "and we've also walled off a small area where we've been putting in live crabs. This, in addition to the tiny fish that are in their ponds and the crane chow we still provide, adds variety to their diet," he said. It also encourages perfecting foraging skills and apparently they are quick studies. Brooke painted a verbal picture of them prying and probing with their beaks in the shallows that had me chuckling, and said he watched as a few heads even totally disappeared below the surface in search of a tasty morsel.

A cast of wild things have been visiting the young Whoopers - not unexpected as it is a wildlife refuge after all. Brooke said the birds are not shy about defending their territory, having watched them chase off a vulture while still in the air, and putting the run on a couple of Wood storks whose flight plan included a stop in the cranes' enclosure.

On the other hand, they cranes seem prepared to co-exist peacefully with visiting Anhingas, a small, cormorant-like bird that can remain submerged for long periods of time. Brooke has spotted from two to eight of these birds in the enclosure on different days.

Some not so welcome critters are the wild pigs that make the refuge their home. On one day, as many as 14 were spotted some distance from the blind, which is about a quarter a mile away from the enclosure. Protective measures that include trapping and relocating any potential threat, seem to be working effectively. "The refuge's talented and efficient staff are doing a superb job," Brooke said, "and so far no resident refuge wildlife have presented a problem."

We will continue to gather info from Bev and Brooke for Field Journal entries by telephone, but are hopeful of the lack of an internet connection being resolved quickly so that you can not only read firsthand updates, but so we can provide you with pictures, and, dare I say it…maybe even some video clips.

Date:February 4, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DRINK UP, BUT.....Location: Main Office
In February’s issue of The Birding Community E-Bulletin, editors Wayne Petersen and Paul Baicich included a ‘Tip of the Month’ for birders that also applies to anyone enjoying or working in the great outdoors.

TIP OF THE MONTH: DRINK UP!
When you go afield with binoculars, field guide, spotting scope, and camera you may often use a daypack and bring along all sorts of additional items, ranging from extra warm gloves to sunscreen, depending on conditions and the season. But don’t forget water!

Whether birding in hot or cold conditions, try to drink at least six to eight glasses of water a day, or even more when hiking or birding in harsh environments. Without adequate water you body gradually loses its ability to function properly; it becomes unable to cool down when conditions cause its temperature to rise, and it becomes unable to generate heat when conditions cause its temperature to drop.

Most fluids can quench thirst, but coffee, although a wonderful beverage (especially when shade-grown!), is also a mild diuretic, prompting frequent urination. Be ready to replenish your body’s water.

Drink up - but while you’re at it, also consider addressing the bottled water habit. Paul and Wayne say they are old enough to remember when people commonly carried canteens and thermoses instead of pre-bottled water. Today, when it comes to water, they suggest you consider going with a “do-it-yourself” kit - a refillable and reusable steel (not plastic) bottle and the use of the spigot at your kitchen sink.

Rediscover tap water. It is a lot cheaper and a lot better for the environment than manufacturing, shipping, and discarding all those plastic single-use bottles!

BREAK THE BOTTLED WATER HABIT
On its website, New American Dream lists five reasons to give up bottled water.

5.
Disposable plastic water bottles are not meant for multiple uses. The #1 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is fine for a single use, but reuse can lead to bacterial growth and leaching of dangerous chemicals.

4. Bottled water uses oil. Making bottles to meet Americans’ demand for bottled water requires more than 17 million barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel some 100,000 cars for a year. To put it another way, the entire energy costs of the lifecycle of a bottle of water is equivalent, on average, to filling up a quarter of each bottle with oil. (Pacific Institute)

3. Bottled water is expensive! Drinking the recommended daily amount of water using bottled water can cost an average of $1,400 per year; drinking the same amount from the tap costs around 49 cents for the year. (NY Times)

2. Your tap water is fine to drink. Tap water is more highly regulated than bottled water and over 90 percent of water systems meet EPA's standards for tap water quality. (If the taste or color is a little off from your tap, your pipes are probably at fault—a simple filtration system should do the trick to take both aesthetic problems away.)

1. At least 40 percent of bottled water is tap water anyway. That’s right. You are paying a huge premium on water that you could have just gotten from your tap in the first place. (Natural Resources Defense Council) Take a blind taste test - you probably like tap water more than bottled water, too!

Date:February 2, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:REPORT YOUR SIGHTINGSLocation: Main Office
Last year, WCEP partner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, established a website to receive information from the public when they sighted Whooping cranes. A button linking to that site is on the right hand side of this Field Journal page.

Because reports submitted via this link go simultaneously to multiple WCEP partners, including OM and the WCEP tracking team, we'd really appreciate all sightings being reported using the Whooping crane reporting website.

Date:January 31, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office
In a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions of Castroville, Texas Tom Stehn, Whooping crane Coordinator at the Aransas NWR conducted the sixth aerial census of the 2008-2009 season on January 29th.

Tom estimated that the peak winter flock size remained at 270; 232 adults and 38 juveniles. In his report he noted that movements of the cranes to upland areas and water holes, as well as their use of unusual locations this winter, continued to make it very difficult to find and count every crane. He also said it was probable that one family had been overlooked.

The Aransas population has had two mortalities this winter. “Two dead Whooping cranes were picked up this winter, both emaciated,” said Stehn. “In addition, the crane distribution indicates some additional loses may have occurred. One juvenile has been missing for a couple months and is presumed dead, and another juvenile that separated from its parents and was foraging along the refuge tour loop has not been seen since January 10th after wandering north of the refuge.”

In fact, only 29 out of the 35 juveniles Tom expected to find were located on his latest census. He said, “This probably indicates some additional mortality of an unknown number of chicks has occurred. Also, in two instances, a single adult with its juvenile was encountered with no second adult crane in the vicinity. This could indicate adult mortality, although sometimes one of the adults is off in another territory in a territorial encounter.” According to Tom, one more juvenile had also split off from its parents.

He estimated the current flock size at 231 adults and 34 juveniles for a total of 265, but pointed out that this was not a solid figure.

Speaking about habitat use, Tom said he found 27 at fresh water sources; 33 on burned uplands; 31 on unburned uplands; 18 at game feeders; and 40 in open bay habitat, mostly foraging along the edge of the GIWW.

Stehn noted that, “Food sources for Whooping cranes continue to be very low this winter, primarily due to the summer drought. With food shortages continuing in the salt marsh, crane use of uplands as well as a notable shift to open bay habitat has cranes staying off their territories, making it very difficult to determine the identity of pairs and family groups and leads to much uncertainty during the census count.”

“With the continuing food shortages for the cranes, refuge staff conducted two prescribed burns the week of January 26th. On the census flight, 30 cranes were observed foraging on the recent burn on Matagorda Island. Eight cranes were seen the day after on a refuge burn on January 29th.”

Due to the food shortage in the marshes, the refuge began an experimental supplemental feeding program. Seventeen game feeders were placed near waterholes at approximately 3 mile intervals along refuge roads adjacent to the crane marshes on Aransas and Matagorda Island NWRs. Five Whooping cranes were near these feeders on Tom’s census flight. Despite cranes presumably seeing the spread corn as they make daily flights to water, Tom characterized the use of the feeders during the first week as “light”. He said, “Remote cameras and additional field observations will help determine how much the feeders are used in the future.”

One interesting bit of news from Tom was that the juvenile wintering near Hennesy, Oklahoma apparently continued its migration sometime after January 25th after its roost pond froze over during a cold front on the 26th. “Its whereabouts are currently unknown,” he said.

Tom advised that, “The search area at Aransas has been expanded this winter since the cranes are showing up in unusual places, presumably related to food shortages and the need to seek fresh water to drink. The 21 whooping cranes found on the Lamar Peninsula (18 at feeders) is as record high. A group of 4 adults was sighted in the interior of the Lamar Peninsula in a location I have never flown over before. The group presumably was visiting a game feeder in front of a residence.”

Date:January 30, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CLASS OF 2008 UPDATELocation: Enroute
We heard from Disney Animal Kingdom's (DAK) Dr. Scott Terrell yesterday. He wrote to let us know that he and his team completed the health checks of the seven Class of 2008 birds that will winter at the Chassahowitzka refuge.

Dr. Scott said, "The weather cooperated by staying cool and cloudy for the health checks at St. Marks. We had all 7 birds banded, radio-transmittered, bled, swabbed, and examined before 11am. Sara Zimorski and Richard Urbanek and their teams are great at handling the birds and they made our job as vets easy. The teamwork continued yesterday at the Chassahowitzka site with more beautiful weather and a sunrise airboat ride out to the pensite. The cool breeze and salt marsh air made us all want to stay longer, but once again we knocked out the health checks in less than 2 hours.

According to Scott, "All the birds looked great and we even got a "bonus" bird for health exams; an adult hanging out near the pensite." Now the DAK team are processing of the blood work and entering medical records, and Scott noted that, "So far, so good on the blood results we've gotten."

OM team member, Brooke Pennypacker let us know that after a couple of days of post-health checks monitoring, the St. Marks cohort all looked well, so they had been released from the top-netted pen. Now free to leave their 3 acre open pen and return at will, their 'gentle release' into the wild has begun.

Date:January 29, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:THEY'RE FREELocation: St. Marks, FL
Since hatching back in April and May, we have influenced every aspect of the lives of the Class of 2008. We have controlled their movements, their diets, their surrounding and even their social order; but not any more.

After six weeks of early training at Patuxent, four months at Necedah, and 88 days on migration, we can finally release these birds and stop influencing their lives.

Thanks to the veterinarian team from Disney’s Animal Kingdom led by Dr Scott Terrell, the seven birds at St Marks have been checked. They've been fitted with more permanent bands and radio tracking devices. As of January 28, they are wild migratory Whooping cranes that are free to come and go as they please.

We hope they will stay in the release pen for a few more days before venturing out into the marsh, and we suspect they will return every night thereafter when the costume handlers show up. That way they can be protected from predators while they slowly learn the ways of the wild.

We will be monitoring them every day and providing them will all the food they can eat, but the 2008 season is officially over.

Date:January 29, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:DIVIDING THE CLASS OF 2008Location: St. Marks, FL
The following is a list of criterion that was used to determine how the flock was divided between St. Marks and Chassahowitzka.

1) Divide the flock as evenly as possible.
2) Attempt to divide females evenly between the two cohorts.
3) As much as possible evenly divide birds that missed significant portions of the fall migration. Birds that missed portions of the migration would be graded on how many miles they missed.
4) Evenly divide more genetically valuable birds.
5) Evenly divide any birds with behavioral problems.
6) Divide or separate any birds with social problems, ex. extreme submission or aggression.
7) Keep opposite sex siblings together, same sex siblings would be split (The thought behind this is that birds that are reared together may view each other more as siblings and not pair with each other later.

Total 14 birds: 10 Males / 4 Females
Number Gender Siblings Genetic Rank
803 M 5 7
804 M   1
805 M   10
812 M   6
813 F n 12
814 M   11
818 F   9
819 M l 2
824 F 5 8
826 M   5
827 M n 13
828 M n 14
829 M l 3
830 F l 4
Genetic Ranking: 1 highest, 14 lowest

We have one pair of siblings: 803 and 824 (1 Male/1 Female) plus two sets of triple siblings: (813, 827 and 828 (2 Males/1 Female) and (819, 829 and 830 (2 Males/1 Female)

Four birds (819, 828, 829 and 830) turned back after leaving Hardin Co, Tennessee and were eventually crated to the next stop in Franklin County, Alabama, a distance of 55 miles. 803 grew tired after such a long start and dropped out 20 miles short of the destination.

Numbers 803, 804, 805, 824, 828, 829, and 830 were crated and missed 8 miles of the migration between Chilton Co, AL and Lowndes Co. AL.

Number 804 would not land at the Chassahowitzka pen site and was crated 6 miles from a site on the mainland.

The list below maintained an even genetic and gender split yet provided a balance dominance structure for each group. Three of the four birds that missed a 55 mile section of the migration are in Group A. Because the birds that winter in Chass will have to migrate a greater distance in the spring, we proposed that group should include a greater number of birds that completed the entire southern migration. Therefore Group A would winter at St Marks and Group B would winter at Chass.

Group
A
Siblings Genetic
Rating
Migration
Leg Missed
Group B Siblings Genetic
Rating
Migration
Leg Missed
829 M 3 55 + 8  824 F 8  
812 M   6   819 M 2 55
826 M   5   804 M 1   8 + 6
805 M   10 8 803 M 7 20 + 8
830 F 4 55 + 8 818 F 9    
813F 12   814 M 11    
828 M 14 55 + 8 827 M 13  
Total Genetic Rating 54       51  
Mean Kinship Value .038       .032  

Date:January 27, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Citrus Co. FL
As of January 24th there were 73 Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP); 42 males and 31 females. (*= female; NFT = Non-functional Transmitter; DAR = Direct Autumn Release) Upon the release of the two cohorts in the Class of 2008 on the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka refuges, the EMP will number 87.

The following distribution/locations were determined or estimated by WCEP Trackers.

Indiana - 2
303*NFT and 317 were reported leaving Jackson County January 3rd but no subsequent reports have been received.

Tennessee - 15 to 19
107*, 216, 313* &318, 316NFT, 401 & 508, 415*NFT & 505, 420*NFT, 506, and DARs 527*, 528*, 533*, 737, 831, 832*, 836, 838*

Georgia - 4
703, 707, DARs739* and 742*

South Carolina - 4
310 & W601*, 311 & 312*

Alabama - 7
211 & 217*, 213 & 218*, 524, 412, 746*DAR

Florida - 31
101, 105 & 501* (see Note 1 below), 212NFT & 419*NFT, 307, 309 & 403, 408, 420 (see Note 2 below), 519*, 511, 512, 514, 516 (see Note 3 below), 520*NFT, DARs 627NFT and 628, 706, 709, 710, 712, 713, 716*, 717, 722*, 724, 726*, 733, 810, 837*DAR

Undetermined Locations
740*DAR was last observed in Allegan County, MI November 17. High-precision PTT readings of her location were received on five occasions between November 19 and December 3, even after the pond was frozen and the landowner no longer saw the bird. A ground search was conducted December 6 to 8 when the area was under 1.5 feet of snow but no evidence of 740* was found. Mortality is suspected.

727* was observed in Grayson County, Kentucky December 2 but was not found by December 7.

744*DAR was last confirmed in Paulding County, Ohio November 18 but was not found on November 21. A report of a Whooping crane in Wayne County, Indiana on November 29 may have been this bird.

509 and 514 remained in Jackson County, Alabama until December 16. 514 later appeared on Paynes Prairie, Florida but there have been no subsequent confirmed reports of 509.

Note 1
105 & 501* had been in Hernando County, FL before being observed at the Chassahowitzka NWR pensite January18. They appeared at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park January 20 where they were captured and transferred to the Marion County Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve pensite where their non-functional transmitters were replaced before they were crated and transported for released in Alachua County.

Note 2
420 remained in Lake County, FL until he moved to the Chassahowitzka NWR pensite where he roosted thru January 26.

Note 3
516 was last confirmed on his usual wintering area in Marion County, Florida December 22. He was not observed in any of his usual areas during a search flight January 20 and transmitter failure is suspected.

Long-term Missing
205NFT last observed on the Necedah NWR, WI October 16, 2007
416NFT last observed on the Necedah NWR, WI October 10, 2008

Transmitter Replacements
The nonfunctional transmitters of 105 and 501* were replaced at the Marion County Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve pensite January 21.

Date:January 26, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:YOU DID IT!!Location: Citrus Co. FL
MileMaker 2008 is fully funded!

As if she hadn't already done enough, supporter Mary O'Brien called the office today to sponsor another 5 miles. When she found out that would leave just one outstanding mile before Denice Steinmann's challenge was met, she took that one too. At that point Denice's 50 mile challenge was met, and we know she'll be delighted.

We are sincerely grateful to Denice, and to each and every quarter, half, mile, and multiple mile sponsor. It is YOU who made the 2008 migration possible. It is your passion for Whooping cranes and your commitment to ensuring their future, that year in and year out, turns this reintroduction project from plan to reality.

Use this link to scroll through the names of the folks with who enabled the successful and safe delivery of the Class of 2008. We were so anxious to share this marvelous news with you that we didn't even wait until we got the MileMaker pages updated, but we will do this shortly so everyone receives well deserved recognition for their sponsorship(s).

Heartfelt thanks and APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE from OM's Board of Directors and OM's Team and all our dedicated volunteers.

 

Date:January 26, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CLASS OF 2008 HEALTH CHECKSLocation: Citrus Co. FL
Once we deliver the young cranes to their wintering grounds, they are held in the top-netted pen located within their 3 acre open enclosure (see photo) until the final health checks can be performed. For the Class of 2008's St. Marks' cohort, this was done yesterday.

Led by Disney Animal Kingdom's (DAK) Dr. Scott Terrell, each bird was examined and samples taken for lab testing. At the same time the birds are given the once over by the vets, their transmitters are checked and new permaent bands are put in place by Richard Urbanek.

How this is done -
Costumed handlers go to into the pen and single out one bird at a time and capture it in their arms. One handler holds the bird in the proper position while another checks the eyes, beak, nares, and throat before slipping a hood over its head. Hoods are commonly used when it is necessary to handle wildlife, including birds. Rendering the bird sightless seems to calm them down and facilitates handling. In our case, as the protocol does not permit the birds to be exposed to humans, hooding them allows the vets and banders to perform their tasks unhampered by the bulky costume, and with their sight unhindered by the head gear they would otherwise have to wear.

The unofficial word we've received, is that not only did the health checks go well, but that all seven young Whoopers appeared to be in great shape. It is possible that we could hear the preliminary results of the lab tests by the end of the week. The tests check for parasites, and levels of other precursors of potential problems are looked for in the blood samples taken.

The capture and handling necessary to perform the health checks inevitably 'freaks the birds out'. It takes them several days to get over it and for the costumes to regain their trust. Monitoring crew - in this instance that is Brooke Pennypacker and DAK's Scott Tidmus (who will soon be relieved by DAK replacement, Jay Eherien) - will be taking special pains with the birds over the next few days; in Brooke's words, "Giving them lots of love to get back in their good graces."

Once sure there are no lingering side effects - physical or 'mental' from the handling, and he is reasonably confident they will respond positively to the costume again, Brooke will okay their release from the top-netted pen.

It is at that time that the process known as their 'gentle release' into the wild begins. It is called a gentle release because we still provide them with fresh water, and food to supplement what they forage for themselves; they are visited at least twice daily and visually checked for condition, symptoms, or behavioral changes; and, they are encouraged of course to roost each night in the safety of the ponds within the land predator-proofed open enclosure. All this gives them time to adjust and to gradually learn the skills they need to become and survive as completely wild birds.

The cranes in the St. Marks' cohort are: 805, 812, 813*, 826, 828, 829, and 830*. The Chass cohort of seven are: 803, 804, 814, 818*, 819, 824* and 827. The health check for these birds is also scheduled for one day this week. (* denotes female)

Assisting with the capture and banding process were ICF Whooping Crane Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski, Patuxent WRC's Jane Chandler, ICF's Sara Zimorksi, and DAK's Scott Tidmus.

Date:January 26, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: The OM Team
Subject:COLOR US ECSTATIC AND THANKFUL!Location: Citrus Co. FL
How amazing are you folks?!?!

Your response to Denice Steinmann's 50 mile MileMaker challenge has been phenomenal. We are now just two - that's right just TWO matching miles short of meeting her challenge. Once those last two miles are sponsored - and Denice matches them, MileMaker 2008 will be fully subscribed and the cost of this season's migration fully covered.

We are elated, excited and ecstatic, not to mention thrilled, tickled and thankful. If those words aren't enough to convey how we we feel about what you've done for OM, we've got lots more - - and we'll use them when those last two miles are covered and we can tell Denice her challenge has been met.

Date:January 24, 2009Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:CHALLENGE ALREADY HALF METLocation:Marion Co. FL

We've been anxiously watching the MileMaker 'tote board'. Despite the migration itself being over, we are still hoping there are folks out there who want to help us cover the entire cost of the 88 day journey. Thanks to the challenge issued by supporter Denice Steinmann, we are getting close to that goal. For every quarter, half, or mile of the last 100 MileMaker miles someone sponsors, Denice will do a matching sponsorship up to a total of 50 miles. That's a whopping $10,400 commitment on her part!!!!

We are thrilled at the prospect of having MileMaker sponsorships 'sold out' and not ending the season with outstanding migration expenses. Some generous folks have already responded to Denice's challenge, so as of the moment, just 75 unsponsored miles remain. This means we need only to find sponsorships for 25 more miles and Denice will kick in the rest. How exciting!!
 

I experienced the excitement and enthusiasm of many new Craniacs who came out to witness flyovers along the migration's new route, and I'm hoping that some of you folks have continued to follow our journey and will, if you haven't already, jump in to help.


 


 

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