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


 

Date:March 19, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SUPER STUDENTSLocation:Main Office

HUGE thanks and congratulations go out to Teacher Lisa Chase and her 5th & 6th grade classes in Fox Point, Wisconsin! Lisa and her students organized a bake sale and asked all the teachers at Maple Dale Middle School to donate baked goods. The kids raised $500 in three days for endangered whooping cranes through a bake sale. Their original goal was only $50, but once they exceeded that goal, they decided to also help the victims of the devastating earthquake in Japan.

The students studied whooping cranes and wanted to help raise money that would assist them in reaching Florida. "When so many teachers helped bake over the weekend, and brought an enormous amount of food we made our goal in 20 minutes," Lisa Chase, special education teacher said.

All the money that was raised after that first hour is being donated to the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The children will have worked the bake sale for five days, with three lunch hours every day. One of the students' classmates is from Japan, and still has family there.

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Date:March 18, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WONDERING WHEN?Location:Main Office

It’s that time of year when our thoughts continually return to the wintering juvenile Whooping cranes at the Chassahowitzka NWR and at St. Marks NWR in Florida. When will they get the urge to return north? What goes through their minds in the days preceding their decision? Is it a collective decision or is there a clear “leader of the pack”?

Whatever the reasons, or their decision making process; one day, very soon, they will decide to leave – it has happened with each of the previous year classes of cranes so why wouldn’t it with this latest group. One day, likely very soon, they will simply take flight and without fanfare, without any goodbyes, or thank you’s. They will choose to not return to the safety of their winter enclosure and will continue to spiral into the sky on a thermal and head north.

They will be on their own – left to their own devices to survive, in this sometimes, too harsh world. Just as all truly wild creatures must. Be safe – you carry the hopes and dreams of many on your wings.

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Date: March 17, 2011Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:POSTCARDS FROM THE PLATTELocation: Grand Island, NE

Not only does the Platte River in central Nebraska attract an estimated half-million Sandhill cranes each spring but this year the area also hosts most of the world’s leading crane experts.

Just like the birds, the specialists that deal with cranes come from all corners of North America. There are researchers from as far away as the Northwest Territories of Canada and others from Mexico. There are people who work with Mississippi Sandhill cranes in the southeast and Whooping cranes in the Midwest. Along with individuals, there are several organizations that focus on crane conservation and when one sets a time and location for their general meeting, the others tend to congregate there as well. The travel budgets for Federal and State agencies and non-profit organizations are notoriously tight so one trip to participate in all the meetings is cost effective and a good way to bring everyone to the table.

And so it is that as the melody of a thousand cranes can be heard overhead, the work of a hundred researchers is presented in conference rooms this week in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The North American Crane Working Group conducted three days of presentations and the resulting papers will be published in the 12th edition of their Proceedings.

While they were there, the members of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team met to deal with several weighty issues. This group of five Canadian and five American researchers represent all aspects of Whooping crane recovery and lately that has not been easy. Tom Stehn is the U.S. Whooping Crane Coordinator and he deals every day with threats to the flock that winters at Aransas NWR in Texas. Fresh water from the Guadalupe River normally mixes with the salt water in San Antonio Bay and creates the perfect brackish conditions for Blue crabs. During high demand periods when more fresh water is extracted from the river before it reaches the coast, the salinity in the bay increases, lowering the crab population which is the primary food source for the wintering cranes.

Aransas NWR is dissected by the Inter-coastal Waterway and chemicals are barged daily through this critical habitat. Development is also encroaching on the refuge with little regard for the essential buffer zones. In addition to the concerns faced by the Wood Buffalo - Aransas flock, the Recovery Team must deal with the Eastern Migratory Population; the existing resident flock in Florida and the one that was started just this year in Louisiana.

Also meeting this week is the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. Established in 1961, it is the first private group to be organized with a mission to conserve and restore Whooping cranes and their habitat.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership will meet for one day later in the week. WCEP has undergone many changes in the last year. An independent evaluation by five renowned conservationists resulted in a restructuring of the administration and the low productivity from the reintroduced cranes has prompted extensive research and multiple plans to meet that challenge. Talks will include the use of BTi which is a bacterium designed to control Black flies and a nest management strategy that would discourage the birds from nesting during the heaviest Black fly infestation. Also, talks will focus on locating new release sites to avoid the concentration of Black flies around Necedah and to promote the dispersal of Whooping crane nesting territories into the many other wetland complexes of central Wisconsin.

One of the meeting sessions on Monday afternoon was dedicated to honoring the memory of Ernie Kuyt who passed away last year on May 21st at the age of 81. Ernie is considered by many to be the force behind the early recovery of Whooping cranes. He worked with the Canadian Wildlife Service, beginning in 1960 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1993. Long time friend, Dr. Rod Drewien told personal stories of Ernie’s early research expeditions into northern Canada and Dr. Jane Goodall, who is visiting the area, gave an eloquent account of her meetings with Ernie.

Dr. Goodall has been a long time friend of renowned nature photographer, Tom Mangelsen who was raised on the Platte River. He still maintains the family’s heritage home on the river’s edge. It was originally a one room schoolhouse only a hundred yards from where thousands of cranes roost for the night. It’s a crane viewer’s paradise.

In late afternoon, the cranes begin to congregate. You can sit on the shore and watch as they appear on the horizon in undulating strings of different lengths against a sunset backdrop. Thousands come from all directions and as they get closer, the melody that has been playing softly in the background reaches a crescendo until the sky overhead is filled with layers of descending birds.

They gather on the sandbar and shallow waters near the center of the river until it turns solid gray in the twilight. They erupt in waves and settle again in a flurry of wings and a clamor of voices until the sun is gone and they can still be heard but no longer seen.

It is nature’s way of reminding us what is really important and why we have all gathered here...

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Date: March 16, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SANDHILL CRANE SPECTACLELocation:Main Office

The Sandhill cranes using Nebraska’s Platte River at the Rowe Sanctuary had a special visitor on Monday when U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stopped by to witness this incredible spectacle. Salazar stood silent and transfixed by the spectacle.

“It's inspirational,'' he finally said. “It's awesome to watch these birds return to a river where they've been coming for millennia. It's incredible, a crown jewel for Nebraska.''

Salazar spent nearly two hours in a riverbank viewing blind under the spring spell of Sandhill cranes as he watched waves of the migrating birds return to the braided Platte River to roost in wetlands and on sandbars for the night. Wind whooshed off the wings of swirling flights of cranes buzzing the river after sunset. Salazar cupped his hands behind his ears to amplify the deafening calls of tens of thousands of the birds.

From about mid-February to mid-April, an estimated 500,000 Sandhill cranes concentrate along the stretch of the Platte extending from Chapman west to Lexington and beyond. The birds stay for four to six weeks to feed on waste corn in farm fields, and insects. Salazar's Nebraska visit came on the eve of a 10-day period when the largest concentration of cranes is expected to be in the state before they continue their flights north to nesting grounds in Canada and Siberia.

He stopped in Nebraska to highlight the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, private landowners and many other partners in Nebraska in working to protect, restore, enhance and manage Rainwater Basin wetlands.

“The conservation legacy created in this country is the envy of the world,'' Salazar said. “To see what's happened in the Platte river in truly amazing. To see what's going on … is a true celebration.''

The Rainwater Basin is a complex of wetlands scattered throughout a 17-county area south of the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. The wetlands are shallow basins that provide resting and feeding areas for millions on birds during spring and fall migration. The area is internationally known for its significance to migratory birds. Millions of birds — including endangered whooping cranes and an estimated 500,000 Sandhill cranes — funnel into the basin on their northward migration each spring.

If you would like to witness this spectacle for yourself and can’t take the time to make the trip out to Nebraska, visit the Rowe Sanctuary CraneCam, which is currently streaming a live video feed with audio. OM CEO Joe Duff is currently in Nebraska attending WCEP meetings and captured the image below on Monday evening – the same evening when Interior Secretary Salazar stood transfixed, in the viewing blind at the Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary. The thousands of cranes arriving to roost on the river that night were certainly captivating - but against the backdrop of this incredible sunset... Magical.

If you visit the Platte River to see the cranes visit the Nebraska Nature & Visitors Center. They have a lecture series, guided tours, observation blinds, incredible photography displays and a great gift shop.

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Date:March 15, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:IMPACT OF CATS ON BIRDSLocation:Main Office

From a press release issued yesterday by the American Bird Conservancy:

A new study on the effects of urbanization on wildlife that tracked the early lives of gray catbirds in three Washington, D.C. suburbs found that outdoor cats were the number one source of known predation on the young birds. The study by Dr. Peter Marra and Dr. Thomas Ryder of The Smithsonian Institution and Ms. Anne L. Balogh of Towson University, published in the January 2011 edition of the Journal of Ornithology, specifically found that almost 80 percent of the catbird mortality in the study was from predation and that cats were the source of almost half of the known predation.

“While this study was not national in scope in any regard, it certainly adds more validation to what we have been saying for years; that outdoor cats are a highly destructive predatory force that is causing havoc in the world of native wildlife. This peer-reviewed study was co-sponsored by one of the most respected scientific organizations in the country – The Smithsonian Institution. I hope we can now stop minimizing and trivializing the impacts that outdoor cats have on the environment, and start addressing the serious problem of cat predation,” said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy for American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization.

“Up to 500 million birds or more are killed by outdoor cats in the United States. We need to get serious about halting the damage that cats are causing to birds and other wildlife species,” Schroeder said.

A key to the study was very small radio transmitters that were affixed to sixty-nine newly hatched gray catbirds in three Washington, DC suburbs – Bethesda, Spring Park, and Opal Daniels. The transmitters recorded the birds’ locations every other day until they died or left the study area. Of the 42 birds that died during the study, 33 suffered from predation. Nineteen of the predations were known and of that total, nine were killed by cats.

According to the study, the most significant factor affecting a catbird fledgling’s survival was predation and not parental age, brood size, sex, or hatching date. The study revealed that the vast majority of young catbird deaths occurred in the first week after a bird fledged from the nest. Because fledglings beg loudly for food and are not yet alert to predators, they are easy prey for domestic cats.

ABC has been a leader in seeking solutions to the issue of cat predation on birds and has published a variety of materials on the subject that outline approaches to mitigating the problems associated with cat predation. Those materials can be found at http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/materials.html

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Date:March 13, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:RESTORED FLOODPLAIN PAYS OFFLocation:Main Office

By Jody Christiansen, NRCS Public Affairs Specialist, Champaign, Illinois

Who would believe that within a year of restoring a floodplain, an endangered species could find a newly restored wetland along an Illinois River? But more important, it is a breeding pair of whooping cranes. These cranes are considered one of the most endangered wetland dependant species in North America. To have a pair stop along their migration, well, “it was spectacular,” said Dave Hiatt, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wildlife biologist.

Immediately after its restoration, the floodplain in Lawrence County began storing rainwater and floodwaters, creating an oasis for migrating and regional wildlife. The area provided food and shelter for birds and mammals all winter. “To see an endangered species return to former migration patterns so soon is remarkable,” said Bill Gradle, NRCS State Conservationist. “This is a real testament to what these restored floodplains have to offer.”

The land resides in the historical Purgatory Swamp which lies between the Wabash and Embarras Rivers. Over time it has been drained and farmed. “When I first saw this land I thought it was fantastic for restoration,” said landowner Ray McCormick. “It was a restoration just waiting to happen.” It didn’t take long for the 330-acre site to respond. As soon as the restoration work was completed, the rains came and it began ponding water. After the winter thaw, the river swelled and created a nice wet area that apparently was attractive for the pair of whooping cranes. The cranes had previously been banded as 2009 No.4 Female and 2004 No. 16 Male, according to a source from the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge and Wildlife Management Area.

Another important feature of this floodplain is its location. Hiatt says, “This particular floodplain easement is located within a contiguous area of 453 acres of floodplains along the Embarras River.” It is becoming evident, contiguous wetlands like these offer significant benefits for wildlife. Additional benefits include flood prevention downstream and water quality protection.

The floodplain restoration was one of 11 restorations in Illinois funded through the Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act). The NRCS used Recovery Act funding to offer landowners the opportunity to apply through the Emergency Watershed Protection - Floodplain Easement Program (EWP-FPE). The goal was to take cropland in flood prone areas out of production and restore the land back to original conditions.

Though restoring a floodplain is not a quick process, it is obvious some benefits are visible almost immediately. Not only have the whooping cranes arrived, but the landowner has noticed a large increase of ducks and other waterfowl. “This is a great program,” said McCormick, “I encourage birdwatchers to come out and enjoy. I believe the public has the right see these areas. USDA wetland programs are just what the whoopers ordered.”

The above image was captured by Mark Crowley and sent to me from Julie St. John along with the following note: "This morning Mark and I were there for their departure. What a bittersweet moment to watch them leave. It was like they waited for me to come so they could say 'Goodbye'. They took to the air, and up, up, and finally UP out of sight. They seemed to be heading north. We returned a couple hours later and no sign. Wondering if they may be among the first pairs back at Necedah this Spring. I stood there and watched and said a little prayer for them, and (Yeah, you guessed it) I cried. Here's a picture for you taken thru the spotting scope."

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Date:March 11, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WHY?Location:Main Office

“Another Bald Eagle Found Killed in Tennessee” – As I read this headline late yesterday, my heart sank and I felt nauseated. I hadn’t heard of the first Bald eagle but less than a month later, a second one has been found shot in the neighboring county in Tennessee. For the life of me I cannot imagine WHY someone would want to kill birds from two of the most easily recognized bird species in North America!?

Perpetrators ended the lives of FIVE Whooping cranes with bullets between December 30th and the end of January. Whooping cranes at full height can reach 5 feet. They’re stark white and stately, impressive birds. Even if one didn’t recognize them for what they are, does that make it acceptable to put one in the crosshairs of a rifle and pull the trigger?

The Bald eagle is the National bird and the symbol of the United States of America – Probably THE most recognizable bird ever and now two have been found shot to death within a month? What is wrong – Why do people feel the need to kill these amazing creatures who are only trying to survive in an already harsh world? It’s just sad…

Here is the article written by Anne Paine and published in The Tennessean – March 10, 2011

A second Bald eagle has been killed in Tennessee in less than a month, this one east of Crossville, in Cumberland County. The other was found shot dead 30 miles away in Bledsoe County, the next county over.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating. The penalty is up to a $100,000 fine and up to a year in prison for a federal offense.

These join a rash of shootings of highly protected species, notably five federally endangered whooping cranes killed since Dec. 30 in two separate incidents in Georgia and Alabama. They were part of a small group of cranes that have been re-introduced to the wild — some learning to migrate behind an Ultralight aircraft through Tennessee.

Bald eagles are no longer on the endangered species list as their numbers grow, but they're still a protected species under two separate federal laws.

An $8,500 reward is offered in each eagle case to the first person providing information that results in the successful prosecution of the person or people responsible.

Both eagles were mature with a white head and white tail. One was found in the Crab Orchard Community and the other near Big Springs Gap Road. Tennessee has 140 eagle breeding pairs, said Scott Somershoe, ornithologist with the TWRA.

Most Bald eagles, which primarily eat fish are found near lakes and rivers. It generally takes four or five years for birds to mature but many don’t start breeding until much older. They can live up to 25 years in the wild.

Anyone with information about the eagle found in Cumberland County is asked to call Special Agent John Rayfield at (615) 736-5532, or TWRA Cumberland County Wildlife Officer Casey Mullen at 800-262-6704.

Anyone with information about the other is asked to call Special Agent Bo Stone at (865) 692-4024, or TWRA Bledsoe County Wildlife Officer Mark Patterson at 800-262-6704.

Ed note: In the case of the two Whooping cranes found shot near Weiss Lake on the Alabama/Georgia border a reward of $23,250 is being offered for additional information leading to successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s).To provide information, call Special Agent John Rawls at 334-285-9600, or e-mail him at john_rawls@fws.gov

The USFWS is leading a joint investigation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to apprehend the person or persons who shot the three Whooping cranes discovered in Calhoun County, GA on December 30, 2010. The reward in this case stands at $20,800 for any information leading to the prosecution of the perpetrator in this case. If you have any knowledge concerning the deaths of these cranes please contact USFWS Special Agent Terry Hastings at 404-763-7959 or terry_hastings@fws.gov

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Date: March 10, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EARLY ARRIVALS!Location:Main Office

We received word last night from Richard Urbanek that Whooping cranes 16-04 and 4-09* were observed at 2:10pm yesterday at Necedah NWR. Richard went on to say that the pair may have arrived on the 8th prior to a snowstorm that began the same night.

The Refuge pools remain frozen and snow-covered. This is the earliest recorded return date for whooping cranes at the refuge since the reintroduction began in 2001.

This pair wintered in Alabama and were reported in north Illinois on 25 & 26 February.

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Date:March 9, 2011 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GHOST BIRDS PREMIERE AND ART AUCTION! Location:Main Office

On April 28th the Saving the Ghost Birds premiere will present the ground-breaking international efforts to safeguard one of North America’s most significant creatures, the Whooping crane. This is truly a wildlife conservation adventure based on David Sakrison’s book Chasing the Ghost Birds, published in March 2007.

Through insightful interviews, stunning video footage and a lively soundtrack, the documentary offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the painstaking process of breeding Cranes in captivity, raising them without human contact, teaching them to migrate, and finally, releasing them into the wild. It offers a window into the nit and grit of conservation fieldwork and the empathy, patience, perseverance and dedication of the team members who went to where the birds were and carried out their work.

You’ll meet the incredibly passionate people at the very center of the Whooping Crane story, including:
• George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and a world authority on Crane conservation, and
• Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, who helped pioneer the use of ultralight aircraft to teach captive-raised birds how and where to migrate.
• Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who as governor actively supported whooping crane recovery and other major wildlife conservation efforts in Wisconsin.

The film will premiere in Sheboygan, WI at the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts on April 28, 2011 and you’re all invited to attend! The doors will open at 4pm to allow attendees to view artwork created by Sheboygan County High School students. A portion of the evening festivities will include a very cool art auction just before the premiere of Saving the Ghost Birds. Local high school art students are submitting pieces to be viewed around the community AND will be available at the premiere by auction. All money raised will be donated to the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, the International Crane Foundation, and Operation Migration.

 

The art submissions will be judged in two categories (two-dimensional and three-dimensional) with 1st through 3rd places in each category receiving savings bonds ($100, $50, $25 respectively).  In addition, artists will be recognized at the premiere on April 28 with each artist and their teacher receiving a free general admission ticket to the event.  Each participant and his/her teacher will also receive an event t-shirt and students will receive a certificate of participation and a DVD of the documentary.

Take a look at some of the entries submitted by Sheboygan North High School Art Department:
 

Auction will be Thursday, April 28 and bidding WILL END PROMPTLY at 6:15PM that evening!

General Admission: $10.00 Adults / $5.00 Children, and Students with a Current Student ID. General Admission tickets may be purchased online at: www.weillcenter.com Or at the Weill Center Box Office: 826 N. 8th Street, Sheboygan, WI, 53081 Ticket Office (920)208-3243 

$90.00/person: guests will enjoy cocktails and appetizers provided by Margaux with Governor Walker and Governor Thompson, George Archibald, Joe Duff, and Terry & Mary Kohler.  Price includes documentary admission ticket. $40.00 is tax deductible.

$250.00/person: This includes all of the above plus a 3 course dinner at Margaux with the Governor’s and other dignitaries. $100.00 is tax deductible.

To watch the trailer for Saving the Ghost Birds visit Youtube!

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Date:March 8, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARDLocation:Main Office

The Bird Conservation Alliance is requesting assistance from partnering organizations to spread the word about a critically important issue. The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote this week on their version of a Continuing Resolution which is a bill that would fund the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2011. One of the bills they will consider is, H.R. 1 passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last month that eliminates several key bird and wildlife programs.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a spending bill that eliminates several key bird and wildlife programs, drastically cuts funding for others, and curtails the ability of government agencies to implement environmental regulations.

If passed by the Senate, these destructive funding cuts and policy provisions will harm birds and wildlife, and undo decades of successful conservation efforts in every state.

While we all understand the need for fiscal responsibility in difficult economic times, this should not be used as an excuse to eliminate support for our national treasure: birds and other wildlife.

PROPOSED FOR ELIMINATION:

  • State Wildlife Grants, the nation’s core program for preventing birds and wildlife from becoming endangered in every state and territory. Previously funded at $90 million.
     

  • The North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which provides funding for conservation projects that benefit wetland birds, and had been funded previously at $47.6 million per year.   
     

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to effectively help wetland restoration under the Clean Water Act. 

Senators need to hear from bird advocates like you to ensure that these critical bird conservation provisions continue to be funded.

Please visit the Bird Conservation Alliance ACTION SITE to send an email to your senators today!

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Date: March 7, 2011Reporter:Bev Paulan
Subject:MY TRIP HOMELocation:St. Marks - And Home

After embarking on my trip home, during which I encountered almost every type of weather imaginable, I thought about the chicks. I thought about them for the entire 18 hours it took to drive through the fog, thunderstorms, thundersnow, sleet and just plain ol’ snow.

The dramatic serial that plays out at St. Mark’s, and at Chassahowitzka, too, is really just the opening scenes of a longer, more serious drama. As I drove, I held on to the image of the chicks—the mostly white gangly teenagers that awkwardly attempted the crane dance every evening. I thought about the two yearlings, one of whom tried his darndest to murder me every chance he had during his summer at Necedah (29-09), and for which he was banished to Chass. I thought about the minor dramas that played out in the safety of the pen, set in the larger marsh. I remembered trying to hold on to the precious moments that I got to spend with them, admiring their beauty, grace and flight prowess.

Our goal every winter is to merely keep the chicks alive so that they might migrate northward on their own in the spring. We patrol endlessly for predators, or sign thereof. We metal detect the pen prior to their arrival. We walk the perimeter fence picking up broken cable ties so one doesn’t get swallowed accidently (by the chicks, not Brooke). We monitor the salinity of the ponds in case they get too salty. If it does, we expect a change in behavior and might provide more fresh water buckets. We keep track of the depth of the ponds, hoping the water on the oyster bar does not get too shallow, sending them out of the safety of the pen to roost.

We worry when they don’t come back to the pen at night, and spend sleepless hours worrying and wondering. We have spent nights in the marsh with them when they couldn’t be enticed back into the pen. We consider the hazards that they could encounter—the alligators that are now becoming more active due to the warming weather and the bobcats that prowl at night.

As we move into March, the worries then move towards the spring migration. I know for Brooke there is as much will they go as when will they go? And a lot of will they all go at the same time, or split up like last year? For me, it is how soon will they leave and when will I get to see them back up on the WI end? A lot of questions with no definitive answers.

Talking with Brooke, the birds are ramping up there activity level. They are flying more and further. They are eating less out of the feeders, finding more food in the marsh. They are one cohesive unit now, eating, foraging, flying, and roosting as one. It seems the pre-migration flurry has begun.

I thought of all this as I drove. I thought of the hazards that they have dealt with are nothing compared to what is to come. I have problems with the weather just like they will. I don’t have the worry about power lines or wind turbines while I sit in the safety of my car.

There will no longer be the safety of an electric fence encircling them every evening. I think about all the predators stalking them along the entirety of the same route I am driving. There will no longer be full feeders hanging at the ready when the weather gets too cold for amphibians to be active and keeps the bugs buried. I worry about all of these things. We no longer have the ability to care for them, these incredibly precious, delicate, delightful beings. I worry that some hazard will take them before they get a chance to really know being wild.

These worries have always been present. But now, there is a bigger, darker worry that looms over all of us, as the birds prepare to leave. Something that never concerned us before, or at least not as a large concern. Now there are men with guns. That is something that is not a hazard just to our chicks, but to all endangered species. There are people who are ignorant and who do not value the invaluable. That is my biggest worry and I won’t feel relieved until I see the chicks, +2, from my cockpit window. Then I can relax, at least until November.

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Date:March 5, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:FWS JUNIOR DUCK STAMP COMPETITIONLocation:Main Office

The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is a dynamic, art and science program designed to teach wetlands habitat and waterfowl conservation to students in kindergarten through high school and help reconnect youth with the outdoors. The program guides students, using scientific and wildlife observation principles, to communicate visually what they have learned through an entry into the Junior Duck Stamp art contest.

The contest engages K-12 students in an integrated arts and science curriculum, culminating in a design challenge to create a North American waterfowl art piece for submission to their state contest. First place winners from all 50 U.S. states and territories advanced to the national contest where one piece is selected to be printed as the 2011 Junior Duck Stamp.

The Junior Duck Stamp is both a collector's item among philatelists and is a tool that generates funding for conservation education across the country. The stamp is sold for $5 by the U.S. Post Office, National Wildlife Refuges, some sporting goods stores, and online through Amplex.

On April 15, 2011, John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, PA will host the next Junior Duck Stamp Contest. Students, there is still time to work on your entry and send it in to your state coordinator. Contest deadlines for most states are March 15, 2011. Check the entry form for your state deadlines!

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Date:March 4, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:HOUSE TARGETS CONSERVATION/BIRD SPENDINGLocation:Main Office

This excerpt from the most recent issue of THE BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN

It’s Congressional budget-slashing time, and it’s also open season.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1, the Full Year Continuing Resolution (CR) for 2011. That bill proposed a whopping $60 billion cut in the federal budget, mainly from domestic programs. Besides the reduction of programs as varied as NASA, Amtrak, state law enforcement, and education, the Republican-led formula for cutting the budget and keeping the government operating also included major cuts in essential bird-and-wildlife spending. Some of the more essential conservation programs - familiar programs to regular readers of this E-bulletin - facing proposed cuts included:

  • State Wildlife Grants - This effort leverages more than $100 million per year in state, tribal, local, and private dollars- associated with State Wildlife Action Plans. Funded previously at $90 million, this program is facing $0. Yes, zero.

  • North American Wetlands Conservation Fund- This program (NAWCA) has leveraged over $2 billion in matching funds, impacting 20 million acres through the work of more than 4,000 partners for migratory bird conservation, flood control, erosion control, and water quality. Funded in FY10 at $47.6 million, it would have $0.

  • Land and Water Conservation Fund – One of our favorites, LWCF uses offshore oil and gas revenue, “recycling” the funds back to federal, state, and local land-based conservation and acquisition. While it is authorized (since 1977) at $900 million, it historically receives a lot less. In the last year it received more than usual, about $450 million. The proposed CR would reduce that by over 86%, to $59 million. This would be the lowest amount ever for LWCF.

  • Refuge System Operations and Maintenance – Funded in FY10 at $503 million, the refuges face a cut of $12 million, bringing essential services down to $491 million. Simply to “stand still,” NWRs would need at least $511 million. Important restoration, management, and visitor services would suffer.

Other drastic cuts would include the Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund authorized under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act, Farm Bill elements (such as the Wetland Reserve Program – WRP - and the Environmental Quality Assistance Program - EQUIP), the USDA National Resource Conservation Service, and enforcement aspects of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Virtually all the wildlife, land-preservation, environmental, hunting, and bird-conservation organizations have recently come out against this onslaught, often citing the package of essential conservation elements outlined above.

The Senate indicated that it would not take up the House bill, and President Obama stated that he would veto the House approach as it stood. At the start of March, an alternative short-term Continuing Resolution - or even consecutive CRs – may be expected, thus kicking the can down the road, so to speak, but at least avoiding a complete catastrophe with government shutdown.

Although stopgap CRs with incremental cuts are expected, the core conservation programs will remain on the chopping block.

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Date:March 3, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ARANSAS FLIGHT REPORT: MARCH 1ST SURVEYLocation:Main Office

The sixth aerial census of the 2010-11 whooping crane season was conducted March 1, 2011 in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions, Castroville, Texas with USFWS observers Tom Stehn and Brad Strobel. All portions of the crane range were covered in the 6-hour census. Flight conditions were excellent, though late afternoon sun made it difficult to find cranes when flying towards the sun.

Sighted on the flight were 216 adults and 41 juveniles = 257 total whooping cranes. The expanded range of the cranes on upland areas and movements to fresh water made it harder to find all the cranes. At least five additional family groups and pairs (14 cranes) and 7 subadults were estimated to have been overlooked.

 

Adults + Young

San Jose

  48 +   8  =    56

Refuge

  80 + 13  =    93

Lamar

  17 +   5  =    22

Matagorda

  51 + 10  =    61

Welder Flats

  20 +   5  =    25

Total

216 + 41  =  257

Observations on today’s flight confirmed the loss of two additional whooping cranes so that winter mortality in 2010-11 has totaled 4 cranes (3 adults and 1 juvenile). No carcasses have been found, and cause of the deaths is unknown. On today’s flight, one group of 1 adult with 1 chick was observed on the G1 prescribed burn on Matagorda Island with no other cranes around. Also, for the third flight in a row, the East Spalding Lake juvenile was not found, with just the adult pair seen on the territory. With this mortality, the current flock size is estimated at 279. The peak size of the Aransas flock this winter was 283.

On March 1st, one whooping crane was confirmed present in a flock of > 10,000 sandhills cranes near Pampa, (north of Abilene) in the Texas Panhandle. It’s likely that might have been the same crane seen in January and February in Texas near Electra and Anson never wintered at Aransas, but instead elected to remain with sandhill cranes in north Texas and has started its migration north with sandhills.

Crane habitat use observed on the census flight (n=257):
160 of the cranes observed were in salt marsh habitat
40 were in shallow open bay habitat
21 were on prescribed burns
20 were at fresh water sources
9 were on uplands areas
7 were at game feeders

The continuing moderate use of prescribed burns and heavy use of open bay habitat is notable, although cranes are finding low numbers of blue crabs in the marsh. Low tides are continuing with over 70% of San Jose Island consisting of dry mudflats. Cranes are continuing to seek out freshwater to drink because of high marsh salinities.

Burn Location       Unit Number      # of Cranes Observed
Matagorda Island        G1                              6
Matagorda Island        G4                              2
Aransas Refuge          C4/C5                         8
Aransas Refuge          C8/C9                         0
Aransas Refuge          C12                             5

This flight at Aransas may have been my final census. For the past 29 winters, I've done aerial observations on 544 flights totaling 3,448 hours. It's time to step aside and let younger staff get experienced in finding the cranes. So hopefully for the rest of the spring, Brad Strobel will be in the front observer's seat, and I'll stay on the ground. -- Tom Stehn, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Tom Stehn is the coordinator of the US Whooping Crane Recovery Team and the biologist at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas where the only naturally occurring flock of Whooping cranes spend the winter.

Their nesting grounds in the Northwest Territories of Canada are so remote that a regular census is difficult. But still Canadian biologists manage to get a count on the number of nests and chicks that hatch each season. Whooping cranes fledge when they are about 80 days old and it is not long after that they follow their parents 2500 miles on their first migration to the Texas coast. It’s a dangerous time for inexperienced birds and it is not until they reach Aransas that Tom can give us an idea of whether the flock grew in size or lost ground.

As Tom mentioned in his report, he has been keeping tabs on the wintering population for 29 years. Not only does he do several flights over the winter but he also travels to Canada to help with that aerial census as well.

Some people are born to fly and some do it out of necessity. Tom has admitted to me that he fits firmly in the latter category and I can’t say I blame him. Low level flying in southern Texas is not always fun. Radiant heating from the sun causes thermal activity. Warm air goes up, replaced by cold air going down. Eventually, as the warm air mass gets higher, it cools to the surrounding temperature and things smooth out but close to the ground it can be bone jarring, especially at high speed. Throw in a few wingover turns to check on the white specks that flash by the window at a hundred miles an hour and you can be left wishing you’d skipped breakfast rather than experiencing it twice.

After 3500 hours (that’s more time that I have accumulated in my forty years of flying), Tom has passed the weekly flight assignment to another biologist. That’s a privilege he has earned after a lifetime of guard duty for the last remaining, natural flock of Whooping cranes. Thank you Tom for your willingness to tolerate all those hours of nausea to safeguard these birds and for keeping us informed. -- Joe Duff, Operation Migration

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Date:March 1, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ARANSAS FLIGHT REPORTLocation:Main Office

The fifth aerial census of the 2010-11 whooping crane season was conducted February 23, 2011 in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions, Castroville, Texas with USFWS observer Tom Stehn. Search conditions were difficult with mild turbulence, multiple vultures to dodge, and changing light conditions. Only portions of the crane range were covered in the 3-hour flight since morning fog prevented us from doing a complete census.

Sighted on the flight were 126 adults and 28 juveniles = 154 total whooping cranes.
 

 

Adults + Young

San Jose

  19 +   4  =    23*

Refuge

  79 + 14  =    93

Lamar

  11 +   4  =    15

Matagorda

      not flown

Welder Flats

  17 +   6  =    23*

Total

126 + 28  =  154

*  Incomplete coverage

Observations on today’s flight confirmed the loss of two whooping cranes sometime after the December 9th flight. Two groups of 1 adult with 1 chick were observed for the second flight in a row, indicating the loss of one adult from the refuge and one adult from Welder Flats. There were no other cranes around either of these groupings for the missing adults to have been nearby. There is also a possibility that the East Spalding Lake pair on San Jose Island has lost their chick (not seen 2 flights in a row), but it is also possible the whole family has moved to a different part of the wintering area.

The two missing adults were not present when the flock size of 281 was derived on our February flight. Thus, the peak size of the Aransas flock this winter was 283. With this mortality, the current flock size is estimated at 281.

Crane habitat use observed on the census flight (n=154): 
          81 of the cranes observed were in salt marsh habitat 
          22 were on prescribed burns 
          41 were in shallow open bay habitat 
            4 were on uplands areas 
            3 were at fresh water sources 
            0 were at game feeders 

The continuing heavy use of prescribed burns and open bay habitat is notable, although cranes are finding low numbers of blue crabs in the marsh.  Low tides are continuing with over 60% of San Jose Island consisting of dry mudflats.  The prescribed burning of upland Unit C12 on the southwest side of the refuge has changed the distribution of the refuge cranes a bit, with 9 cranes observed on that burn and 14 cranes adjacent to the burn in St. Charles Bay. 

Burn Location       Unit Number      # of Cranes Observed 
Matagorda Island        G1                              0 
Matagorda Island        G4                              0* 
*  7 cranes seen on the burn by refuge staff prior to the flight       
Aransas Refuge          C4/C5                         3 
Aransas Refuge          C8/C9                        10 
Aransas Refuge          C12                             9 

Tom Stehn, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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Date:February 28, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:REPORT YOUR SIGHTINGSLocation:Main Office

With the official start of spring only three weeks away, we are already receiving reports of Whooping cranes heading north. We wanted to remind everyone that should you spot a Whooping crane please submit your sighting using this link, which will always be available on the right side of this page.

We encourage everyone to respect the wildness of the birds and to adhere to WCEP's protocols.
- On foot, do not approach within 600 feet.
- In a vehicle, keep well outside of 800 feet and remain inside.
- In all cases remain well-concealed and do not speak so loudly that the birds can hear you.
- Please do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph Whooping cranes.

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Date:February 27, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:LOUISIANA REINTRODUCTIONLocation:Main Office

Ten whooping cranes received this month from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Research Facility in Laurel, Md., have been placed in the coastal marsh of Vermilion Parish within Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries White Lake Wetlands WCA. This re-introduced population, which will be annually supplemented with future cohorts, marks the first presence of whooping cranes in the wild in Louisiana since 1950.

The new, non-migratory flock of whooping cranes is designated as a non-essential, experimental population (NEP) under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation were developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

Historically, both a resident and migratory population of whooping cranes were present in Louisiana through the early 1940s. Whooping cranes inhabited the marshes and ridges of the state’s southwest Chenier Coastal Plain, as well as the uplands of prairie terrace habitat to the north. Within this area, whooping cranes used three major habitats: tall grass prairie, freshwater marsh, and brackish/salt marsh.

We thought you’d enjoy this video produced by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, which discusses the reintroduction and if you would like to read more, visit the Q & A page of the LWF website.

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Date:February 26, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GREAT NEWS FOR NATIONAL REFUGE SYSTEMLocation:Main Office

A draft vision document for the National Wildlife Refuge System is now available for your comment. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar pointed to the availability of the draft vision at a Center for American Progress seminar on the America's Great Outdoors report. The draft document is part of the joint effort between the National Wildlife Refuge Association and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help shape a vision for the Refuge System.

At the event, moderated by author Douglas Brinkley, the Secretary noted the importance of wildlife refuges and that the Conserving the Future process provides a singular opportunity for Americans to voice their ideas on the future of national wildlife refuges.

Your past involvement helped shape the draft vision, but it's still a draft and the Service needs your ideas for refinement. The draft vision document release kick-starts a public review and comment period that ends on April 22, Earth Day.

The draft vision - when finalized in July 2011 - will guide the growth and management actions for the 553 national wildlife refuges and assist the Refuge System in meeting its conservation mission into the future.

Commenting is easy. Visit americaswildlife.org to access the document and remark directly on the document or, if you prefer, put an idea in the "Bold Ideas" forum.

The draft vision document builds on the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which directs the Refuge System to conserve wildlife and provide wildlife-dependent recreation, and the Fulfilling the Promise vision document developed in 1999. A Conserving the Future fact sheet can be found at this link.

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Date: February 25, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NECEDAH WHOOPING CRANE FESTIVAL ENDSLocation:Main Office

After ten successful years of organizing and executing the Whooping Crane and Wildlife Festival the Necedah Lions recently announced that they made the very tough decision in December 2010 to retire the festival.

The Necedah Lions first introduced the festival in 2001 in support of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership – the multi-partnered organization responsible for reintroducing endangered whooping cranes in the eastern United States. This one day outdoor festival attracted over 3,000 attendees from around the nation and beyond annually and provided opportunities to learn about the natural history of whooping cranes and other North American wildlife through lectures, demonstrations, and exhibits.

The Whooping Crane and Wildlife Festival in Necedah, Wisconsin was a recognized event for birdwatchers and whooping crane fanatics (also known as “Craniacs”) as an annual social reunion and Operation Migration looked forward to reuniting with old friends and meeting new crane enthusiasts.

We would like to extend our sincere gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the Necedah Lion’s Club for their tireless efforts to organize this event for the past 10 years.

To read the full announcement please visit the festival webpage.

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Date:February 24, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EMP UPDATELocation:Main Office

Whooping Crane Update, 6-19 February 2011 - Courtesy of the WCEP Tracking Team. Females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. SM = released at St. Marks NWR. CH = released at Chassahowitzka NWR (distinction of release site begins with 2008 birds).

General: Maximum size of the eastern migratory population at the end of the report period was 106 birds (55 males and 51 females).

Mortality: The remains of no. 22-10* (DAR) were found on 12 February at Weiss Lake in Cherokee County, Alabama, only about 0.25 miles from where the body of no. 12-04 was found on 28 January.  No. 22-10* (DAR) had last been recorded alive on the afternoon of 23 January.

Last Recorded on Autumn Migration; Wintering Area Undetermined: No. 13-07 was last recorded with no. 36-09* (DAR) on 24 November 2010. The signal of no. 36-09* (DAR) was detected at Hiwassee WR, Meigs/Rhea Counties, Tennessee, on the morning of 14 December. No. 13-07 has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

HY2009 nos. 12 (SM), 24 (CH), and 41 (DAR): Radio signals of nos. 12-09 and 41-09 were detected by the Homosassa Springs WSP data-logger on 5 December. No. 24-09 (CH) has a weak transmitter and was likely still traveling with these two birds.

No. 13-09 was last reported flying over Chassahowitzka NWR pensite, Citrus County, Florida, with no. 19-09 (CH) on 2 December.

Nos. 34-09* (DAR) and 35-09* (DAR) departed from Muscatatuck NWR, Jackson/Jennings Counties, Indiana, during 6-9 December.

Spring Migration: No. 27-05* (DAR) began migration from Meig/Rhea Counties, Tennessee, after 14 February and was reported with migrating sandhill cranes in Kentucky, on 19 February.

Wintering Locations
Indiana; Four cranes:
Nos. 17-03/3-03*, No. 27-07*, No. 32-09* (DAR)
Kentucky; One crane: No. 36-09* (DAR),  
Tennessee; Thirteen cranes: Nos. 16-02/16-07*,  Nos. 18-03/13-03*, Nos. 5-05/15-04*, Nos. 6-05, 6-09 (SM), and 38-09 (DAR), No. 28-05* (DAR), No. 37-07 (DAR), No. 28-08 (SM), No. 21-10 (DAR),
Alabama; Twenty-three cranes: Nos. 11-02, 30-08* (SM), 19-10 (DAR), 37-09* (DAR), 25-10 (DAR), and 27-10* (DAR), Nos. 13-02/18-02*, Nos. 1-04/8-05*,  Nos. 16-04 and 4-09* (CH), Nos. 24-05/42-07* (DAR), Nos. 27-06 (DAR), 26-09* (SM),  No. 13-08* (SM),  No. 37-09* (DAR), 11-02/30-08* and HY2010 DAR nos. 19, 25, and 27*.
South Carolina; Four cranes: Nos. 11-03/12-03*, Nos. 10-03/W1-06
Georgia; Nos. 3-07 and 38-08* (DAR), Nos. 7-07/39-07* (DAR), and DAR Nos. 23-10* and 26-10
Florida; No. 1-01, 12-02/19-04* and W3-10*, Nos. 7-03/26-07*, Nos. 2-04/46-07* (DAR), Nos. 3-04/9-03* and W1-10*,  Nos. 8-04/19-05*, No. 9-05, Nos. 12-05/22-07*, Nos. 12-07, 17-07*, 31-08 (DAR), Nos. 33-07 and HY2009 nos. 5* (CH), 7* (CH), and 42* (DAR), Nos. 4-08 (CH) and 10-09 (SM), HY2008 nos. 14 (CH), 24* (CH), and 27 (CH), No. 14-09* (SM), HY2009 nos. 8* (SM), 11 (SM), 15* (SM), 18 (SM) and 29-08 (SM),  No. 19-09 (CH).

HY2010 Ultralight-led Juveniles:

St. Marks NWR (Nos. 1, 5*, 6*, 8 and 10*): Water level varied less than an inch during the report period and salinity was 11-16 ppt. The chicks roosted in the pen every night during this report period. Nos. 25-09* (SM) and 29-09 (CH) remained at the St. Marks pensite throughout the report period. 

Chassahowitzka NWR (Nos. 3*, 9*, 15, 16* and 17): Salinity was mainly 16-18 ppt except for the night of 17 February when it dropped to 11 ppt after heavy rains. Water level varied from 0-15 inches on the center of the constructed oyster bar (18-40 inches on the water gauge). The chicks roosted in the pen every night.  On the night of 9 February, four chicks were flushed into the pen with the avian dissuader and the last required costume intervention.  On the night of 12 February the avian dissuader was used to flush one chick into the pen. By the end of the report period, no. 3*’s voice had begun to mature.  No. 9* still retained her chick voice.

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Date: February 21, 2011Reporter:Bev Paulan
Subject:AS THE OYSTER BAR TURNS...Location:St. Marks NWR, FL

The setting for our dramatic serial, ATOBT, is a salt marsh. Most people have never visited one, nor is it on the top of the destination list for vacations. It is, however, the perfect spot for our purposes. Because of the fact that most people could care less about ever seeing the salt marsh, it is the safest spot for our chicks.

Every day, seven days a week, we walk the path through the coastal forest to the blind. Once in the morning and again every evening we walk over a path carefully crafted out of a wild land. We walk past a little swamp that comes to life every night with the deafening calls of spring peepers. Later in the season we listen to the very frightening mating roar of a large gator---all the scarier because we cannot see it. We cross a small creek via a sturdily built bridge—a creek that has hosted otters as well as water moccasins. We continue on the path through an open area that is always alive with birds of many varieties and this evening had a family of feral hogs traipsing through. Palms alternate with pine trees and comingle with oaks, maples, beech and more trees than I can identify.

All this stunning beauty before we get to the blind sets the mood for the real show. The forest abruptly gives way to the marsh. An open vista greets us with the view to the east affording us glimpses of the bay. The morning view, as any crane cam viewer can appreciate, is a very glaring one. On foggy mornings with the sun glaring behind, it is difficult to see if the birds are in the pen. Several mornings this week, we slogged through thick fog on our way to the pen to see if the birds were present. By the time we finish with our duties, the sun has burned through and the day brightens. Looking east from the pen through our visors, it is sometimes difficult to tell the quickly changing chicks from the yearlings. This morning as all the birds flew across the marsh, all I could see was seven snow white birds with black wingtips. I couldn’t see the still cinnamon colored heads. It was a beautiful sight.

Evening on the marsh comes gently. Since we face east, it does not come in a blaze of glory with a stunning sunset. It comes on tip toes with a subtle change of light. We get to the blind early enough that it is still bright. We sit in the blind and gaze out at the pen, Brooke at the scope, myself with binoculars. We watch the light slowly shift from bright to soft, watching as that magic hour approaches. The scene at the pen changes from bright white birds milling about to orange-hued ones slowly ambling towards the oyster bar.

As the light shifts, the mood shifts, from the alert active day mode to a more somnambulant tone. The soundtrack of ATOBT shifts from the daytime buzz of bugs and the twitters of songbirds to the kek-kek-kek of the clapper rails, the cackles of the wood frogs and the barks of night herons. A harrier slowly tilts back and forth behind the pen as the chicks rev up for the evening’s ballet. A flock of juvenile ibis make their guest appearance, sometimes in the pen sometimes outside. Last evening they were on the oyster bar and our youngest, 10-10, tried to entice them to join her in dance. As much as she would leap and pirouette, they would just walk away. Poor little chick did look frustrated.

As our soap opera continues, the peace between chicks and yearlings is tenuous, but intact. Every time we saw them fly the last two days it was as one cohesive flock. On occasion one of the adults will chase after a female chick, often with no more than a few steps. And, just as often, it would result in a male chick chasing the adult responsible. But peace is peace in any form and we’ll most definitely take it.

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Date:February 21, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SAVING THE GHOST BIRDS PREMIER - YOU'RE INVITED!Location:Main Office

Saving the Ghost Birds presents in words and images the ground-breaking international efforts to save one of North America’s most significant creatures. This is truly a wildlife conservation adventure based on David Sakrison’s book Chasing the Ghost Birds, published in March 2007.

Through insightful interviews, stunning video footage and a lively soundtrack, the documentary offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the painstaking process of breeding Cranes in captivity, raising them without human contact, teaching them to migrate, and finally, releasing them into the wild. It offers a window into the nit and grit of conservation fieldwork and the empathy, patience, perseverance and dedication of the team members who went to where the birds were and carried out their work.

You’ll meet the incredibly passionate people at the very center of the Whooping Crane story, including:
• George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and a world authority on Crane conservation, and
• Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, who helped pioneer the use of ultralight aircraft to teach captive-raised birds how and where to migrate.
• Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who as governor actively supported whooping crane recovery and other major wildlife conservation efforts in Wisconsin.

In their own words, team members share with you the complexities, frustrations, triumphs and joys of this cutting-edge effort.

The film will premiere in Sheboygan, WI at the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts on April 28, 2011 and you’re all invited to attend! Here are some details of what the evening will hold:

Evening schedule:
4:00pm: Doors open at to view art work by Sheboygan County High School students
5:00-6:00pm: Cocktail Reception with Governor's Thompson and Walker
6:15pm: Introduction of Governors
6:30pm Documentary Begins
7:30-8:00pm: Q & A
8:30pm: Dinner at Margaux

General Admission: $10.00 Adults / $5.00 Children, and Students with a Current Student ID. General Admission tickets may be purchased online at: www.weillcenter.com Or at the Weill Center Box Office: 826 N. 8th Street, Sheboygan, WI, 53081
Ticket Office (920)208-3243 

$90.00/person: guests will enjoy cocktails and appetizers provided by Margaux with Governor Walker and Governor Thompson, George Archibald, Joe Duff, and Terry & Mary Kohler.  Price includes documentary admission ticket. $40.00 is tax deductible.

$250.00/person: This includes all of the above plus a 3 course dinner at Margaux with the Governor’s and other dignitaries. $100.00 is tax deductible.

The proceeds from this event will benefit the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, at the Sheboygan Municipal Airport, The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI and Operation Migration in Ontario, Canada and Niagara Falls, NY

Please make checks payable to the “Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin” or “AHCW” and mail to: Ghost Birds Premier, c/o Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, N6191 Resource Drive, Sheboygan Falls, WI 53085 David Sakrison, the author of the book Chasing the Ghost Birds from which the documentary is based on, and Ian Batterman will be available the month of March to speak to area clubs and organizations. If you are interested in having them as guests at your meeting please contact savingtheghostbirds@gmail.com

Sheboygan County 7th grade students will be visiting the Aviation Heritage Center in April to learn about the Whooping Cranes, how they were rescued from the brink of extinction and how they were taught to migrate following an ultralight plane as the lead bird. Students will also have the opportunity to learn about flight.

We invite you to watch and share the trailer for this documentary.

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Date:February 20, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MILEMAKER UPDATELocation:Main Office

Of the 1285 mile total migration distance, 1284.75 miles have been funded by you - Only 1/4 mile remains un-sponsored in the 2010 MileMaker Campaign! We are oh-so-close…

As you know, the migration was officially completed on January 15th when Richard van Heuvelen and Joe Duff led the five remaining crane kids to the Chassahowitzka NWR in Citrus County, FL. And while we were not able to fulfill the MileMaker campaign to coincide with the migration finale, you’ve all been great at spreading the word and the miles have been trickling in.

Our new fiscal year begins on April 1, 2011 and we’re very hopeful that you’ll help us to fund the remaining .25 mile. It would be fantastic if we could pay for the entire southward migration before the Class of 2010 cranes decides to make the return trip north as well!

Visit this link to sponsor the last remaining quarter mile at $50: ¼ mile

And a HUGE Thank you to each and every MileMaker sponsor for helping to ensure that the entire 1285 mile migration: from Wisconsin to Florida is fully sponsored! Your commitment to Whooping cranes is appreciated beyond words.

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Date: February 18, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SECOND JUVENILE WHOOPING CRANE FOUND DEAD IN ALABAMALocation:Main Office

Reward in Alabama Whooping Crane Deaths now at $23,250

Federal investigators have discovered the remains of a second whooping crane at Weiss Lake on the Alabama-Georgia border.

The second crane, identified as DAR #22-10, a crane released last year in Wisconsin in the company of other older cranes, was found less than a quarter-mile from whooping crane #12-04.

Investigators believe #12-04 was shot sometime before January 28, and consider the deaths linked. Laboratory results are still pending.

A hefty reward now stands at $23,250, a combined total contributed by 18 non-governmental organizations, federal agencies, and private individuals for additional information on the deaths of the two whooping cranes leading to successful prosecution of the perpetrator(s).

“We hope this reward may help generate leads from anyone who may know about these deaths,” said Jim Gale, Special Agent in Charge of Law Enforcement in the Service’s Southeast Region. “We are working hard to bring the offender or offenders to justice and greatly appreciate any assistance the public can offer.”

To provide information, call Special Agent John Rawls at 334-285-9600, or e-mail him at john_rawls@fws.gov.

Contributors include: The Southern Company and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Power of Flight Partnership, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Humane Society, The Turner Foundation (through the International Crane Foundation), Georgia Ornithological Society, The Georgia Conservancy, Whooping Crane Conservation Association, Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Association, Birmingham Audubon Society, Steve Sykes (private citizen donation), Sara Simmons (private citizen donation), International Crane Foundation, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens (Fla.) Lowry Park Zoo (Tampa, Fla.), Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, Scotland Neck, N.C., Audubon Nature Institute Species Survival Center, New Orleans, and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (M.D.).

Details on the route of Whooping crane 22-10: Whooping crane #22-10 left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on the fall migration with Direct Autumn Release juveniles #25-10 and #27-10 on November 20, 2010. At some point while flying, they met up with adult pair #13-03 and #18-03 (who trackers had seen beginning the migration alone earlier in the day). They flew slightly southwest and landed along the Mississippi River where they were found the next morning in Jackson County, Iowa, at the Green Island Wildlife Management Area. The five Whooping Cranes remained there until continuing migration on November 23.

The juveniles followed the adult pair to Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Indiana, and they remained here until the three juveniles split off from the adults and continued traveling south on December 13 to Jackson County, Tennessee. They quickly moved on from that location and reached Weiss Lake, Cherokee County, Alabama, by the night of December 15. They were found with adult whooping cranes #11-02, #30-08, #37-09 and fellow Direct Autumn Release juvenile #19-10 on the December 18.

The seven birds remained at Weiss Lake and were shortly joined by another adult pair, #12-04 and #27-05, who had moved south from the Hiwassee Refuge in Tennessee.

Whooping crane #22-10 went missing around the same time that #12-04 was killed. The remaining birds all left the area.

Whooping crane #27-05 returned to the Hiwassee Refuge by February 4, after the death of her mate #12-04, while the other six moved into north central Alabama by February 4.

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Date: February 18, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO/ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation:Main Office

The fourth aerial census of the 2010-11 whooping crane season was conducted February 11, 2011 in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions, Castroville, Texas with USFWS observers Tom Stehn and Brad Strobel. Flight conditions and visibility were excellent throughout the 6-hour flight.

Sighted on the flight were 238 adults and 42 juveniles = 280 total whooping cranes. With the addition of a confirmed report on February 8th of a single whooping crane in north Texas east of Dallas in Jones County, the flock size is estimated at 281. This breaks the previous high of 270 reached in the fall, 2008. The flock of 281 consists of 236 white-plumaged and 45 juveniles = 281 total.

  

Adults + Young

San Jose

  49 + 10  =    59

Refuge

  88 + 12  =  100

Lamar

  11 +   4  =    15

Matagorda

  61 + 10  =    71

Welder Flats

  29 +   6  =    35*

Total

238 + 42**= 280

* All-time high for Welder Flats, breaking previous high of 32 set in December, 2010.
** Although only 42 chicks were observed, an estimated 3 others may not have been identified due to their whiter plumage this time of the winter, or else were not picked out in large groups on prescribed burns.

Crane habitat use observed on the census flight (n=280):
111 of the cranes observed were in salt marsh habitat
71 were on prescribed burns
73 were in shallow open bay habitat
22 were on uplands areas
3 were at a game feeder
0 were at fresh water sources

The 73 whooping cranes in shallow bay habitat and the 65 cranes on prescribed burns were both notable. The prescribed burns have changed the distribution of cranes on the winter range, with many cranes moving to the 2 refuge burns from different parts of the wintering area.

Burn Location       Unit Number      # of Cranes Observed
Matagorda Island        G1                              6
Aransas Refuge          C4/C5                       12
Aransas Refuge          C8/C9                       53

The low tides present on today’s flight contributed to the amount of open bay use observed. Much of San Jose Island consisted of dry mudflats. This is normally a tougher time of the winter for whooping cranes to find adequate food resources, and this winter is no exception as evidenced by increased use of uplands, burns, and open bay habitat during the flight. However, observations continue of cranes catching a few blue crabs.

Tom Stehn, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

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Date: February 17, 2011Reporter:Bev Paulan
Subject:AS THE OYSTER BAR TURNS... EPISODE TWOLocation:St. Marks NWR, FL

Last episode of ATOBT left us trying to decide whether to let the adults out of the top-netted pen the next morning. After much discussion, we planned on letting them out Tuesday morning.

We arrived at the blind around 8 am and did a quick scan to locate the chicks. The males were out of the pen; in an area we call “the beach.” While we watched, the female chicks flew off to join their mates. After donning our costumes, we squished out to the pen and headed right for the top-netted pen. Brooke walked to one side, I to the other and we simultaneously opened the end gates. The adults were still pacing and not heading to either side, so Brooke opened the middle gate and in the blink of an eye, the two adults literally burst out, gaining altitude quickly, and headed towards the beach. With much whooping, they flew right to the chicks. We continued about our morning tasks and never saw the birds again.

The whole point of placing the adults in the top-netted pen was to, hopefully, calm them down so they would not be aggressive towards the chicks. We kept our fingers crossed all day. Prior to heading out for the evening roost check, we checked the CraneCam, as we always do, and saw all birds in the pen; quiet, calm and relaxed.

Back in the blind by 5pm, we observed that all birds were still in the pen. Good start. As we continued watching, the birds started poking around, taking their final turns at the feeders, fresh water bubblers and general foraging. We held our breath as 25-09 moved about, but luckily we saw no aggression. To say we were relieved is an understatement. All remained quiet and everyone roosted together on the oyster bar.

This morning, the peace continued. All birds were in the pen when we arrived in the blind and no aggression was observed. It seems, that, at least for the time being, we tamed the wild beast in 25-09. All the chicks gathered around Brooke for their morning treat of a grape or two. By handing out the treats, we are able to get a close-up look at each bird, checking their overall health. Mini-inspections passed, we finished our chores and headed back to the blind.

This evening we were not sure what we would find: aggression or cooperation? Our first peak showed all birds peacefully mingling around the pen, with the two adults off by themselves. This has been the norm for pre-roost, but unfortunately had been followed by the adults starting to chase. Tonight however, once the adults roused, they just slowly ambled about, joining the chicks in their evening constitutional around the pond.

As we watched, I said “oh” quickly followed by Brooke saying “oh”, then both of us saying “no!”. One of the adults had assumed the preflight posture of neck and head leaning far forward. Soon 29-09 was airborne followed by everyone but 8-10. He got caught with his hand, err, head in the cookie jar (feeder) and was late off the ground. He quickly followed and all birds were back out on the beach. This was at about 5:30. The decision was made to let them stay until about 6:15 before we headed out to bring them back to the pen. At 6:10, the birds, I’m sure anticipating our thoughts (right!), took to the air. “Good birdies”, I thought, “you’re heading back to the pen.”

That thought lasted about a nanosecond, though, as all 7 birds flew right over the pen, headed east and out of sight. Nothing like watching your charges disappear right at sunset to get the ol’ adrenaline pumping.

Brooke, being the wise old master that he is, had anticipated some last minute shenanigans and had gotten the loud hailer ready to go, just in case. I reached over and flipped it on, blaring the brood call across the marsh.

At first the only reaction was a very loud response from every Clapper rail in the vicinity, but very soon we spied some large birds coming back into view. They got larger and larger and quickly took on the appearance of 7 whooping cranes. They circled the pen once, set their wings and settled gently onto the ground. Immediately the two adults walked onto the oyster bar while all the chicks headed to the food shelter. Another night with no aggression, and all safely in the pen. YAY!

Now, I think we just need to get a portable defibrillator for the blind...

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Date:February 16, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SCIENCE NORTHLocation:Main Office

As part of their 2011 Speakers Series, Science North Museum is proud to present Operation Migration’s Joe Duff on Thursday, February 24th at 7:30 pm in the Atlas Copco Theatre, Dynamic Earth.

Find out how Operation Migration teaches endangered whooping cranes to migrate by leading them south with ultralight aircraft. Follow along while Lead Pilot and Co-Founder, Joe Duff, takes us on a wild adventure from the marshes of Wisconsin to the gulf coast of Florida. See through his airborne camera lens the magic of bird flight as they wing their way on a three-month journey. Witness how fabric and fiberglass combine with instinct and feathers to safeguard these magnificent birds from the brink of extinction.

Science North Museum is located in Sudbury, Ontario. For directions visit: Google Map

For more information visit Science North

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Date:February 15, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A FUN WAY FOR YOU TO HELP BIRDS!Location:Main Office

Thousands of citizen-scientists across North America will be getting out their tally sheets for the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count taking place February 18 – 21st. The National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada sponsor the annual event. They hope to have more than 100,000 backyard counters for the Feb. 18-21 effort this year, especially after public attention on threats to birds was heightened when blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas on New Year's Eve.

The backyard count is one of a number of citizen-science projects that gather data on birds - Participants, from novice to expert birdwatchers, keep track of the number and species of birds they see in their yards or local parks during the four-day count. 

Anyone can participate – Check this link to access a printable tally sheet showing the species for your particular area. Then visit this link to read participation instructions. You can enter your results into the online database and watch results from others in real time t: www.birdsource.org

Last year’s count resulted in checklists submitted from all 50 U.S. states and from all 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada. Participants reported 602 species in 11.2 million individual bird observations. These results are critical in assisting researchers to determine population trends and migration movements and it’s so easy and fun to do!

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Date: February 14, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter:Bev Paulan
Subject:AS THE OYSTER BAR TURNS...Location:St. Marks NWR, FL

It is true that no news is good news, but then there is always the juicy news that no one wants to miss. The happenings here at St. Marks are very much juicy and very news worthy.

With the arrival of last year’s birds, things got very interesting in the pen. I was here over the New Year’s holiday and spent the entire week chasing and harassing the adults to keep them away from the chicks. This technique mostly involved running after the adults literally shooing them away. After I left, Brooke, with help from Disney staff, managed to wear the adults down and all but two left. The two that remained, 25-09 and 29-09, were the lowest birds in that little social stratum and were actually intimidated by our two big male chicks. Thus they were allowed to stay.

Over the course of the month, two different adults showed up, 10-09 and 4-08, were not nice to the chicks, and once again the shooing ensued and they were successfully driven off. Shortly after they left, I came back down to assist Brooke while he is recovering from rotator cuff surgery.

While all that was going on, 29-09 and 25-09 were acting the role of, well, role model. They had merged right into life at the pen, teaching the chicks that the oyster bar was the place to roost, and that late evening flights were not acceptable. They were catching fish in the pen under the seemingly studious eyes of the chicks and they all were observed catching and eating hermit crabs. The chicks accepted them as part of the cohort.
 

Before arriving, and staying, at St. Marks, 25-09 and 29-09 were not a pair. They were part of a yearling cohort that had been together since the summer. I was lucky enough to have seen them together with several other yearlings during my tracking flights over Wisconsin, but not once had they been seen alone together. Since being here, they have become a pair. Due to their still relatively young age, it might not be lasting, but they are most definitely a pair. Every evening they enforce that bond by bowing and dancing. Leaping in front of each other and pirouetting, they spend the final daylight moments performing their ancient ballet. In usual circumstances, however, the pair would not have an audience.

Five sets of youthful eyes gaze curiously upon the dancing. Awkward attempts at copying the dance first resulted in more staggering than swaggering, more grotesque than arabesque. But they soon caught on and every evening thereafter became a trip to the ballet for Brooke and I. We were treated to a performance of Crane Lake, more subtle, more beautiful, more graceful than Swan Lake could ever be. Soon, not only the ballerina and danseur noble performed, but also the ungainly, but increasingly graceful chicks would join. Every evening, the same breathtaking show.

But as so often happens, all good and peaceful things come to an end. As the pair bond increased, the sense of territory also increased. This means that 25-09 and 29-09 now think of the pen as theirs and are not quite as tolerant of the chicks as they used to be. Fortunately, the young males are larger than either of the yearlings and are still able to intimidate the white birds. Our little girls are not quite so lucky. The adults have taken turns chasing the young females around and out of the pen, and we have taken turns chasing the adults around and out of the pen.

The question, then, is why do we let them stay at all? Here is the best way I can explain it: when the adults were shooed out of the pen, the chicks at first were not bothered, and didn’t even seem to notice. However, after a few moments, 1-10 started looking around, starting pre-flight calling and then took off after the adults. We could see her land where they were, and the little goof ball started jumping about, flapping and sure enough, in the local vernacular, fetched them back to the pen. That is why we let them stay. The chicks, at least the males, are bonded enough that if we permanently displaced the adults, they would in all likelihood, follow. Letting them all stay ensures a safe, just not necessarily, peaceful, environment.

(Ed. note: our sincere gratitude to Bev Paulan for her experienced assistance and wonderful writing skills!)

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Date:February 14, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:THE SANDHILL SPECTACLE ON THE PLATTE RIVERLocation:Main Office

For 6 weeks, late February to early April, something magical happens in the heart of Nebraska. More than 80 percent of the world's population of Sandhill Cranes converge on Nebraska's Platte River. The Sandhill Cranes travel from southern wintering grounds to northern breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

They stop along the Platte to rest and gain body fat as they prepare to continue their northward journey - Typically, they arrive around Valentine's Day and stay through mid-April. So, check out their LIVE camera to see if the Sandhills are beginning to arrive on schedule!

(please note there may be times when the camera is experiencing technical difficulties - please check back)

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Date:February 13, 2011 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CLASS UPDATE Location:Main Office

A number of followers have been asking for an update on the Class of 2010 but this is a classic case of no-news is good-news. There really isn’t a whole lot to tell.

As ICF’s Eva Szyszkoski reported in her EMP status update on Friday, the five chicks are roosting in the safety of the Chassahowitzka NWR release pen each night with the exception of 2 February when #17-10 roosted to the east of the pen. The two oldest chicks; nos. 3* and 9* are still peeping their vocalizations, while the three youngest chicks; numbers 15, 16 and 17 have attained their adult voices.

137 miles to the northwest, Brooke Pennypacker is keeping a watchful eye on the five youngsters wintering at the St. Marks NWR in Wakulla County. Brooke also reports that his charges are doing fine and roosting each night inside the release pen. They’ve been going on short flights daily and getting some exercise and there are two yearlings; 25 and 29-09 who have been visiting the chicks. Nos. 1 and 8 have both attained their adult voices, while nos. 6 and 10 are still peeping loudly, and number 5 is somewhere in the middle with a half peep, half squeaky-squawk.

#10-10 investigates some visitors

Some of the chicks probe in the muck for treats

surveying the area from above

The St. Marks chicks settle in for the night

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Date:February 12, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WHOOPING CRANES RETURN TO LOUISIANALocation:Main Office

Interior Clears the Way for Return of Whooping Cranes to Louisiana
Reintroduction of Cranes Expected Later this Month

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has cleared the way for the reintroduction of Whooping Cranes in Louisiana a half century after these endangered birds were last seen in the state, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced this week.

The Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a regulation designating a potential Louisiana’s population as a non-essential, experimental population under the Endangered Species Act. This designation would allow the Service to effectively manage a reintroduced population. The reintroduction of Whooping Cranes to Louisiana could begin later this month.

“The Whooping Crane is an iconic species that should be returned and restored to health along the Gulf Coast,” Salazar said. “In partnership with the State of Louisiana, and thanks to the remarkable work of our scientists and experts, we believe we are ready to bring whoopers back. The reintroduction of these remarkable birds will be a milestone moment for the Gulf Coast and in our continuing commitment to the protection and restoration of America’s Great Outdoors.”

The last record of a Whooping Crane in Louisiana dates back to 1950, when the last surviving Whooping Crane was removed from Vermilion Parish property that is now part of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area.

In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, LDWF plans to release the first group of non-migratory Whooping Cranes at the conservation area in early 2011.

The reintroduction of the Whooping Crane is a model of the kind of partnership in conservation called by President Obama when he unveiled his America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to create a new conservation ethic for the 21st century and reconnect Americans to the great outdoors, Salazar said.

“Working with states and local communities to achieve our conservation goals is at the heart of the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative,” Salazar said.

“We strongly support the State of Louisiana in this historic effort for the ultimate recovery of the magnificent Whooping Crane,” said Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “We are proud to be partners with Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham, the Canadian Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey in this great effort.”

The proposed designation of a non-migratory flock of Whooping Cranes for reintroduction to Louisiana was first published in the Federal Register on August 19, 2010. Public comments were received and two public hearings (Gueydan and Baton Rouge) were held to allow public comment. Comments were accepted through October 18, 2010 and were generally found to be supportive of the overall reintroduction effort.

The Service announced today in the Federal Register the final designation of Louisiana’s non-essential, experimental population (NEP) of the endangered Whooping Crane. The non-migratory flock coming to Louisiana will carry that designation under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation are developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

“LDWF has proven through implementing recovery efforts for species like the American alligator and the brown pelican that the expertise and willingness to implement a long-term restoration plan for high priority trust resources are assets our biologists bring to projects,” Barham said.

Whooping Cranes are the most endangered of all of the world’s crane species, first added to the list of endangered species on March 11, 1967.

Louisiana’s reintroduction is part of a larger ongoing recovery effort led by the Service and its partners for this highly imperiled species, which was on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and even today has only about 400 individuals in the wild.

“The return of Whooping Cranes to their home in Louisiana, after an absence of more than a half-century, salutes the values of a state that shelters some of the largest and most important wetlands on the continent," said George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation (ICF).

The only self-sustaining wild population of Whooping Cranes migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Like those in the eastern migratory population, it remains vulnerable to extinction from continued loss of habitat or natural or man-made catastrophes. Multiple efforts are underway to reduce this risk and bring this magnificent bird further along its path to recovery. This includes increasing populations in the wild, ongoing efforts to establish a migratory population in the eastern United States, and establishing a resident population in Louisiana.

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Date:February 11, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EMP STATUS UPDATELocation:Main Office

Our thanks to Eva Szyszkoski and Jennifer Davis of the International Crane Foundation for the following update: Females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. SM = released at St. Marks NWR. CH = released at Chassahowitzka NWR (distinction of release site begins with 2008 birds).

General: Maximum size of the eastern migratory population at the end of the report period was 107 birds (55 males and 52 females).

Mortality: No. 12-04 was found dead in Cherokee Co, Alabama on 28 January.  He had last been recorded alive on the afternoon of 23 January.

Last Recorded on Autumn Migration; Wintering Area not yet Determined:

Nos. 16-02/16-07* were reported with nos. 4-08 (CH) and 10-09 (SM) NW in Knox County, Indiana, on 28 November and remained at least through 10 December. They were found at a previous wintering area of no. 16-02 in Lawrence Co, Tennessee on 8 February. The area had previously been unchecked and they have likely been here since moving from Knox County, Indiana.

No. 13-07 was last recorded with no. 36-09* (DAR) on 24 November 2010. The signal of no. 36-09* (DAR) was detected at Hiwassee WR, Meigs/Rhea Counties, Tennessee, on the morning of 14 December. No. 13-07 has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

HY2009 nos. 12 (SM), 24 (CH), and 41 (DAR): Radio signals of nos. 12-09 and 41-09 were detected by the Homosassa Springs WSP datalogger on 5 December. No. 24-09 (CH) has a weak transmitter and was likely still traveling with these two birds.

No. 13-09 was last reported flying over Chassahowitzka NWR pensite, Citrus County, Florida, with no. 19-09 (CH) on 2 December.

Whooping crane Locations by State/County: 

Indiana:

  • Nos. 17-03/3-03*: Knox County.
  • No. 32-09* (DAR) was reported at the Muscatatuck NWR, Jackson County, on 7 February. She had last been reported with sandhills in Union County, Indiana, on 1 January.

Tennessee:

  • Nos. 18-03/13-03*: Bradley County.
  • Nos. 6-05, 6-09 (SM), and 38-09 (DAR): Hamilton County.ty.

Alabama:

  • Nos. 11-02, 30-08* (SM), and 19-10 (DAR) remained in Cherokee County until at least 26 January but were no longer found at this location during a check on 1 February. They were reported in Madison Co, on 4 February with nos. 37-09* (DAR), 25-10 (DAR) and 27-10* (DAR).
  • Nos. 13-02/18-02*, 24-05/42-07* (DAR): Morgan County.  Nos. 1-04/8-05* remained at Wheeler NWR, Morgan County, until 27 January but were no longer found at this location after that date.
  • Nos. 16-04 and 4-09* (CH): DeKalb County.
  • Nos. 27-06 (DAR) and 26-09* (SM): Morgan/Limestone Counties.
  • No. 13-08* (SM) was last reported on Wheeler NWR, Morgan County, on 7 January. No subsequent reports.
  • HY2010 DAR no. 22*, remained in Cherokee County until at least 26 January but were no longer found at this location during a check on 1 February.

South Carolina:

  • Nos. 11-03/12-03*, 10-03/W1-06*: Colleton County.

Georgia:

  • Nos. 3-07 and 38-08*, (DAR), 7-07/39-07* (DAR): Lowndes County.
  • Nos. 23-10* and 26-10 were last detected in Calhoun County, on 22 January.

Florida:

  • No. 1-01: Citrus County.
  • Nos. 12-02/19-04* and W3-10*: Pasco County.
  • Nos. 7-03/26-07*, 8-04/19-05*, 12-05/22-07*, 14-09* (SM): Alachua County.
  • Nos. 2-04/46-07* (DAR), 9-05: Lake County.
  • Nos. 3-04/9-03* and W1-10* were found in Taylor County, during a survey flight on 13 January. They had last been found on their previous wintering territory in Lafayette County, during an aerial survey on 21 December. A ground search of the Taylor County location was attempted on 9 February, however the area proved to be inaccessible by ground.
  • Nos. 12-07, 17-07*, and 31-08 (DAR): Polk County.
  • Nos. 33-07 and HY2009 nos. 5* (CH), 7* (CH), and 42* (DAR) were found on a previous wintering territory of no. 33-07 in Polk County, on the morning of 28 January. This area had previously been unchecked and they may have been here for several weeks. Their last recorded location was in Shelby County, Alabama, on 8 December.
  • Nos. 4-08 (CH) and 10-09 (SM) appeared the St. Mark’s NWR pensite, Wakulla County, during late afternoon on 24 January and stayed until at least 26 January. They moved to Dixie County by 5 February. They had last been reported in Levy County on 17 January.  
  • HY2008 nos. 14 (CH), 24* (CH), and 27 (CH): Citrus County, at least through the last survey flight on 13 January.
  • HY2009 nos. 8* (SM), 11 (SM), 15* (SM), 18 (SM) and 29-08 (SM) were found SE of Tallahassee, Leon County, during a survey flight on 13 January. [They were not found during a ground check of the area on 9 February.]
  • No. 19-09 (CH): Lake County.
  • Nos. 25-09* (SM) and 29-09 (CH) remained at the St. Marks pensite throughout the report period. 

No Recent Reports:

No. 7-01*: Last reported NE of Horicon NWR, Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, on 2 May. She has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

No. 16-03 was last observed on Sprague Pool, Necedah NWR, on 6 May. He has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

No. 14-05 was last observed on Necedah NWR on 18 May. He has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

No. 20-05*: An unidentified whooping crane reported from Dike 17 WA, Black River SF, Jackson County, on 24 May have been no. 20-05*. She has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

No. 27-09 (CH) has not been detected since roosting with nos. 13-09 (CH) and 19-09 (CH) at a spring migration stop SE of Mukwonago, Waukesha County, Wisconsin, on the night of 10 April.

HY2010 Ultralight-led Juveniles:

  • Nos. 1, 5*, 6*, 8, and 10* arrived at St. Marks NWR, Wakulla County, Florida, on 15 December. They were released from their temporary top-netted pen on 25 December. No information was provided for this report period.

 

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Date:February 10, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject: YET ANOTHER LOSS...Location:Main Office

A 6-year old male whooping crane has been found dead in Cherokee County, Alabama – The victim of gunshot. Crane #12-04 had been wintering in the Weiss Lake area with a number of other Whooping cranes.

Alabama wildlife officials issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying the bird was found on Jan. 28. – Not even a month after the discovery of three dead juvenile Whooping cranes near Albany, Georgia. These three were also shooting victims.

12-04 hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center May 9, 2004 and was transferred to the Necedah NWRChassahowitzka NWRR in Florida to spend the winter.

This male was officially the first of his Class to return to Necedah the following spring. He continued to migrate successfully each year and in spring 2010 he paired with DAR female 27-05. The two birds nested successfully and hatched a chick, (#W6-10) on June 11. Unfortunately, the chick died at about a week old.

Officials are offering a $6,000 reward for information on the death of #12-04. The reward for information on the death of the three juvenile cranes near Albany currently stands at $20,800.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Ore., is conducting a necropsy on #12-04.

To read more about #12-04 and all the other Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population, please visit Journey North (Scroll to the bottom of the page to select each hatch year). To learn more about The Challenges of Whooping Crane Survival, visit this Journey North page.

The Press Release, issued yesterday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can be found here.

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Date:February 9, 2011Reporter:Walter Sturgeon
Subject:WCEP STRATEGIC PLANLocation:Main Office

After ten years of successful releases, the eastern migratory flock of Whooping cranes is approaching the number needed to make it a self-sustaining population. The remaining obstacle to the achievement of this goal is the issue of nest abandonment. As a result, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team has ruled that no more Whooping Cranes may be released on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge until the cause of nest abandonment has been determined and a solution developed.

Five Year Strategic Plan.

Because Operation Migration was not in concurrence with all of the Plan’s content and concepts, OM is not a signatory to the Plan. In a letter sent to the WCEP Guidance Team, Operation Migration outlined the sections of the Plan with which it had concerns, or, to which it took exception. Despite our non-endorsement of the Five Year Plan as it currently stands, Operation Migration remains committed to Whooping Cranes and to ongoing participation as a full Project partner.

An investigation has been launched to identify a new release site in central Wisconsin that has suitable Whooping crane habitat and that does not have a large number of the Black fly species known to target birds. A preliminary analysis of habitat by the WCEP Science Team has been concluded, and although a final analysis may not be completed until January 2012, a determination regarding a potential alternative site and the release method(s) to be employed in 2011 is expected by April 2011.

The Eastern Migratory Population is not as yet at a self-sustainable level, and losing a year of releases will have a detrimental impact. In fact, it would be almost two years before another generation could be raised and released into the wild. Over that period, the current population could be reduced by as many as 25 birds, setting the project back to 2007 levels and adding to the effort needed to finally make this flock self- sustaining once a new site was identified. We are very concerned about the attrition that will inevitably occur if an alternative release site is not found soon..

So far, few chicks have been hatched in the wild, and to date, only three have survived to learn the same migration route that was taught to their parents. While they are a testimony to how much we have achieved, there is still a long way to go - and you can be assured that Operation Migration will always be there doing all and whatever it can for Whooping Cranes.

Walter Sturgeon -- OM Director of the Board and Representative on the WCEP Guidance Team

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Date:February 8, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:DOUBLE THE GOOD YOU DO!Location:Main Office

Many companies have programs through which they will "match" contributions made by their employees to Operation Migration. Ask the Human Resources Officer where you work if there is a charitable Matching Gift program. Hundreds of companies—large and small—offer this to their employees but if they don't, you may want to ask your company to start a matching gift program.

In most cases your employer will match your gift dollar for dollar. In fact, many companies will match at a higher ratio, such as 2:1.

If your employer does offer this program, your Human Resources department should provide you with a matching gift form to send to Operation Migration along with your donation. The process for submitting a matching gift claim differs from company to company. Some require a completed paper form; others offer a quicker and easier online system.

Our office will verify receipt of your gift and return the paper form, or complete the online form and submit it to your company for the matching amount.

So check this list to see if your employer is included, or visit your HR department if they’re not listed to see if they’ll double the good YOU do for Operation Migration!

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Date::February 7, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SAVING THE GHOST BIRDS PREMIER - YOU'RE INVITED!Location:Main Office

Saving the Ghost Birds presents in words and images the ground-breaking international efforts to save one of North America’s most significant creatures. This is truly a wildlife conservation adventure based on David Sakrison’s book Chasing the Ghost Birds, published in March 2007.

Through insightful interviews, stunning video footage and a lively soundtrack, the documentary offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the painstaking process of breeding Cranes in captivity, raising them without human contact, teaching them to migrate, and finally, releasing them into the wild. It offers a window into the nit and grit of conservation fieldwork and the empathy, patience, perseverance and dedication of the team members who went to where the birds were and carried out their work.

You’ll meet the incredibly passionate people at the very center of the Whooping Crane story, including:
• George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation and a world authority on Crane conservation, and
• Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, who helped pioneer the use of ultralight aircraft to teach captive-raised birds how and where to migrate.
• Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who as governor actively supported whooping crane recovery and other major wildlife conservation efforts in Wisconsin.

In their own words, team members share with you the complexities, frustrations, triumphs and joys of this cutting-edge effort.

The film will premiere in Sheboygan, WI at the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts on April 28, 2011 and you’re all invited to attend! Here are some details of what the evening will hold:

Evening schedule:
4:00pm: Doors open at to view art work by Sheboygan County High School students
5:00-6:00pm: Cocktail Reception with Governor's Thompson and Walker
6:15pm: Introduction of Governors
6:30pm Documentary Begins
7:30-8:00pm: Q & A
8:30pm: Dinner at Margaux

General Admission: $10.00 Adults / $5.00 Children, and Students with a Current Student ID. General Admission tickets may be purchased online at: www.weillcenter.com Or at the Weill Center Box Office: 826 N. 8th Street, Sheboygan, WI, 53081
Ticket Office (920)208-3243 

$90.00/person: guests will enjoy cocktails and appetizers provided by Margaux with Governor Walker and Governor Thompson, George Archibald, Joe Duff, and Terry & Mary Kohler.  Price includes documentary admission ticket. $40.00 is tax deductible.

$250.00/person: This includes all of the above plus a 3 course dinner at Margaux with the Governor’s and other dignitaries. $100.00 is tax deductible.

The proceeds from this event will benefit the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, at the Sheboygan Municipal Airport, The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI and Operation Migration in Ontario, Canada and Niagara Falls, NY

Please make checks payable to the “Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin” or “AHCW” and mail to: Ghost Birds Premier, c/o Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, N6191 Resource Drive, Sheboygan Falls, WI 53085 David Sakrison, the author of the book Chasing the Ghost Birds from which the documentary is based on, and Ian Batterman will be available the month of March to speak to area clubs and organizations. If you are interested in having them as guests at your meeting please contact savingtheghostbirds@gmail.com

Sheboygan County 7th grade students will be visiting the Aviation Heritage Center in April to learn about the Whooping Cranes, how they were rescued from the brink of extinction and how they were taught to migrate following an ultralight plane as the lead bird. Students will also have the opportunity to learn about flight.

We hope you can make it to the event!

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Date:February 6, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:U.S. MAPS USED TO IDENTIFY WILDLIFE AND AVIAN HABITATLocation:Main Office
www.gap.uidaho.edu/landcoverviewer.htmll

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Date:February 5, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITELocation:Main Office

Dear Operation Migration folks,
I have enjoyed very much reading the In The Field reports as I tried to plan an opportunity to see one of the flyover events during this season's migration. I did make it to the Marion County flyover last month and got some nice photos, which are on my website.

I could not decide which one of the four photos that I posted would make the best print, so I am having a contest and asking visitors to vote for their favorite to help me choose. From those entries I will select a lucky voter to win an 8 x10 matted print of the winning image.

I also plan to donate 15% of the sales of all of my whooping crane image products to Operation Migration. I will track these sales and send the donation near the end of this year. The contest will run through February and can be found on my website. It was a thrill to see the ultralights leading the whoopers!

So why not visit Paul’s s website and help him decide by voting on your favorite – you may just win an 8 x 10” matted print!

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Date:February 4, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WILDLIFE HERITAGE & OUTDOORS FESTIVALLocation:Main Office
St. Marks NWR’s 5th annual Wildlife Heritage & Outdoors Festival to take place tomorrow, Feb. 5, 2011 from 11 am – 4 pm.m. The mission of this festival is “to excite visitors to reconnect with nature and wildlife through a community celebration of nature’s diversity and local heritage,” and the many exhibitors will provide fun outdoor activities from the past and present.

Visitors will be able to experience firsthand how to cast a fly rod, throw a cast net, call turkey or waterfowl, meet team members from Operation Migration (booth located at the Lighthouse), explore the historic St. Marks Lighthouse, meet representatives from many outdoors support organizations and much more! The refuge itself will host an Animal Olympics trail for youth of all ages and the refuge Photo Club will offer a wonderful outdoor photo opportunity for the whole family.

This year’s sponsors are: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, St. Marks NWR Photo Club, St. Marks Refuge Association, the Big Bend Fly Fishers, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Future of Hunting, and the U.S. Coast Guard – Flotilla 1-2.

Remember, due to the wild animal exhibits; please leave your pets at home! For more information, please call 850-925-6121

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Date:February 4, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:PACKERS MILEMAKER CHALLENGE!Location:Main Office

Well, it’s not just Wisconsinites that are passionate about football, the Green Bay Packers and Whooping cranes! Just two days after posting the Packers MileMaker Challenge, which was generously made by an anonymous Packers fan, folks from a number of states entered the game and the challenge has not only been fulfilled – it has been exceeded!

You succeeded in reducing the number of un-sponsored miles from 52 - when we published the challenge - to its current level of 27. You cut our deficit by almost HALF! Thank you all SO much.

We still have 27 miles to cover – and while it seems like such a small number of miles compared to the 1285 miles that the 2010 southward migration covered, it still represents a deficit in our current budget of more than $5,000.00 and a number we’d rather not carry forward into our new fiscal year on April 1st. Hopefully that number will disappear over the next eight weeks.

If you missed the challenge, which offered to double every MileMaker contribution to a total of 10 miles, you can still sponsor a mile, or portion of a mile by visiting this link.

Let’s hope the Packers have the success this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers that this MileMaker challenge has had. If their smallest feathered fan, Dusty the singing Cockatoo, has anything influence, they’ll do just fine…

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Date:February 3, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:BIRDS AND REFUGES: TAKE ANOTHER LOOKLocation:Main Office

This excerpt from February’s Birding Community E-BULLETIN

http://americaswildlife.org/g/

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Date:February 2, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:PORT ARANSAS FESTIVALLocation:Main Office

The Whooping crane is something that residents in south Texas celebrate annually when the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce hosts its Whooping Crane Festival. This year the Festival will be held February 24 – 27th. In addition to Whooping cranes and incredible selection of other species of wintering migratory birds flock to the coastal wetlands and onto the Texas shorelines of Mustang Island in Port Aransas.

If you can, make plans to attend the 15th Annual Celebration of Whooping Cranes! During the celebration, birding tours by land and sea will be available, as well as seminars from world-renowned speakers.

Visitors of all ages will enjoy the many festivities during the Celebration. Nature is the theme of the free juried nature related trade show, which will be completely revamped this year. A wide selection of optics, paintings, photography and one of a kind gift items will be featured.

Other activities include tours of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, photography workshops and field trips, The International Crane Foundation's International Children's Art Exhibit, an annual beach dash and much more.

To learn more, view the Festival brochure.

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Date:February 1, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GO PACK GO!Location:Main Office

Super Bowl XLV will be the 45th annual edition of the Super Bowl and the 41st annual championship game of the NFL. The game, to be played on February 6, 2011, will pit the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers against the NFC champion Green Bay Packers to decide the NFL champion for the 2010 season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 5:25pm CST. This will be the eighth appearance in the Super Bowl for the Steelers, and the fifth for the Packers.

An anonymous Packers fan, who is also a Craniac, has issued a a 10 mile Super Bowl challenge and has agreed to match 10 miles worth of MileMaker sponsorships made between now and Super Bowl XLV on Sunday, February 6. For every ¼, ½ or full mile sponsored, this football fanatic will DOUBLE your contribution!

So let’s all rally our support for the Packers and Whooping cranes and make sure this challenge is met – click here to contribute a portion of a mile, or here to sponsor a full mile – and make your contribution count TWICE!

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Date: January 31, 2011 Liz Condie
Subject:VISIT 'THE PLATTE' IN NEBRASKA WITH DR. JANE GOODALLLocation: Main Office

Regular Field Journal readers will know of OM’s admiration and friendship with Dr. Jane Goodall. It is why we announce with great pleasure here, that the Jane Goodall Institute has organized a 'Pilgrimage to Witness the Great Crane Migration with Dr. Jane' – and you’re invited!

March 16 – 19th, you are invited to join the Jane Goodall Institute along the banks of the Platte River in Nebraska to view the great migration of the Sandhill cranes, one of Dr. Goodall’s most cherished pastimes. The trip cost ($5000) includes all scheduled events, hotel accommodation (Wyngate by Windham in Kearney, NE), meals, and transportation to and from the airport.

Some of the highlights of this all inclusive trip include:
• Guided trip at Rowe Sanctuary to view the world’s largest concentration of Sandhill cranes from observation blinds on the banks of the Platte River.

• Birding with acclaimed natural history writer and field ornithologist, Scott Weidensaul at the Rainwater Basin.

• Nature Photography Workshop and Field Survey at the Nebraska Nature and Visitors Center.

• Cocktails and dinner with Dr. Jane Goodall and acclaimed nature photographer Tom Mangelsen.

Click the link to see the detailed schedule. For more information please contact Alicia Zarillo, manager of donor relations and special events for the Jane Goodall Institute, at azarillo@janegoodall.orgrg or, (703) 682-9288.

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