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Date: June 20, 2012Reporter:Geoff Tarbox
Subject:THE BIG DAY IS APPROACHING QUICKLYLocation:Patuxent: Laurel, MD

The fated day is just around the corner!  All that's left to do is put the flock together in one big ponded pen and see how they get along together.  But how are they doing on that front?

When we tried socializing the birds last Saturday, things got off to a rocky start.  An adult bird was moved in a pen next to the pond pen where our birds were socializing.  He was supposed to keep the chicks calm, give a sense of security that a big brother was keeping them company.  Unfortunately, that adult didn't get that memo.  He must not have been adjusting very well to his new pen or his new surroundings, as he was alarm calling every other minute.  It's not uncommon to hear an alarm call ring out from some corner of Patuxent.  The causes range from Patuxent staff entering their pens to switch eggs, to a heron flying too close to their pen.  But whatever the cause is, they usually stop after a few minutes.  This guy however, was set on loop mode. 

Naturally, this put the jitters in most, if not all the chicks we were bringing out.  Most of them were too scared to even follow us to the pond pen, since that's where the cries were coming from.  They mostly hung out under a tree foraging for worms, frozen in place, or would follow us for a little bit before turning back.  Ultimately, it took the combined efforts of myself, Caleb (who had a free Saturday to volunteer), and one or two Patuxent staff who brought smelt they could use to bribe the chicks.  Even then, we could only lead them one or two at a time.  Normally, Brooke can get all of the birds over to the pond pen after training by himself.

But with enough perseverance and smelt, we got all six of the birds to the pond pen.  But the alarm calls still didn't stop.  Not even the prospect of frolicking through swamp water or snacking on defenseless tadpoles brightened the chicks' mood.  Some of the older birds, like 5-12 and 6-12 tried to carry on like they normally would; foraging or occasionally ducking into the pond but they still seemed a bit on edge, even after an hour in the pen. 11-12 was clearly on pins and needles, as she was constantly pacing towards the adult bird, trying to climb the fence to get out.  Caleb and I tried leading all the birds into the pond, or walking around the pen, just give them something to take their mind off the wailing adult but it never kept them occupied for long.  After an hour or so, all of us agreed enough was enough and opted to return the adult back to his normal pen.

Once the adult was gone, it was like a switch was flipped.  There wasn't a single bird who hesitated getting in that pond for a merry little dip.  No longer did we have to lead birds around the pen.  Even 11-12, who's widely considered to be our jumpiest bird in the flock got her feathers wet and snacked on a tadpole or two dozen.  For the remainder of the day, being in the pen became a do-nothing job.

As a cohort, these birds have gelled together beautifully.  All the birds are pretty mellow towards each other and aren't really that aggressive.  A couple times, Brian and I have noticed three or four chicks happily sitting next to each other, either under the plastic decoy, or a costume we leave hanging off the fence.  The only bird who comes close to having a mean streak is 5-12, who's on top of the totem pole.  He's not afraid to remind the other birds who is boss with an occasional peck or two.  He doesn't seem to like 10-12 too much, as he pecks her the most but with that said, he's not chasing other the birds or going American History X on them. 

He's often one of the three or four birds who congregate by the costume.  He's mostly just reminding the other birds that he is the top dog and/or they just happen to be in his way.

Now a few days ago, I was worried if these fellas could learn to take care of themselves without daddy being in the pen with them.  The first day we tried leaving them in the pen by themselves, Brooke, Sharon and I huddled in the video shed and watched on camera as they casually foraged around in the gentle rain, digging up hapless earthworms by the barrelful.   We thought they were ready to take care of themselves.  But the next day we tried leaving them by themselves, 11-12 was pacing by the gate, hoping a costume would come by and keep her company.  The other birds were doing okay, though 4-12 was getting a little antsy, I think mostly because 11-12 was.   A day or two after that, I occasionally tried to leave the pen, and watch them from the video shed.  The cameras would tell the same story each time; five or six birds gathered up by the gate, pacing back and forth, wondering where their favorite exotic plant killing, zombie murdering costume had vanished to.

So instead of leaving the pen altogether, we all just hid in the feed shed whenever we were watching the birds, occasionally popping out to see how the birds were doing. The first couple of times I tried this, I would come out and see all six of the birds taking positions outside the feed shed, like enemy soldiers, surrounding my position and awaiting my surrender. At the front of the line would be #11-12, who would run over toward me and crawl in the shed with me. There, she'd peck at the pull string at the base of my costume, or lay down next to me.

But on this day, instead of awaiting my surrender, I saw most of the birds off doing their own thing.  Some were off in the pond, taking a dip. Others were in the shade shelter, eating from the feeders.  This is also when Brian and I would see three or four chicklets laying down by the hanging costume, as if to say, 'Fine!  If you're too cool for us, we'll hang out with this guy instead!'  Number 11-12, being the little sister she is, would still run over to me if she saw me.

Feeling a little bolder, I snuck off into the video shed, eager to see how much they were really growing up.  By the time I got there, Caleb had gone into the pen to take my place.  But when I caught up with him later, he said the birds were doing fine after I snuck out, almost as if I had never left.  That Sunday, on father's Day, Brian shot me an occasional text, letting me know how the kids were behaving.  According to him, he was watching them in the video shed, and they were hanging out like they always do.  It seems like the class of 2012 is finally starting to grow up.

I have mixed feeling with how they're going to do once they arrive in White River.  On one hand, I'm worried we'll get a repeat of last year's flock.  But on the other hand, they did not bond together as well as this flock is doing right now.  I suspect it has something to do with the cohort sizes.  Normally, cohorts of four to six socialize and mix together better than cohorts of eight or nine.  Or the ten we had last year.  A lot simpler with fewer personalities to sort out when you're dealing with a cohort of six.  Perhaps the 2011 flock could've done better if we had broken them into two cohorts of five, or four and six.  But at this point, I'm just Monday morning quarterbacking.  In the end, despite all hurdles and hardships, the 2011 Class turned out alright so there isn't any reason why this cohort shouldn't as well.

Date: June 19, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:HEALTH CHECKSLocation:Patuxent: Laurel, MD

It is an FAA requirement that all licensed pilots get a physical examination from an approved doctor at designated intervals depending on the category of license held in an effort to ensure that the skies are not only friendly but safe as well. No one wants to be sitting in Coach ordering a drink while reminiscing of the days when they gave you a bag of peanuts and a coke for free and suddenly hear the Captain’s voice call out in distress over the loud speaker, “I seem to be experiencing severe chest pains. Is there a doctor back there“? To which you immediately respond to the flight attendant, “On second thought, make mine a double”!

I recently had to submit to a flight physical and the doctor assured me I indeed had the Right Stuff - even if it was stored neatly in my mother’s attic. So it is only natural that our little whooper chicks must also get their flight physicals, or Health Checks as we call them, prior to their trip to Wisconsin, and last Monday was the day. The Health Check is always stressful for both the chick as well as the staff because it necessitates the chick having to be picked up and held while the exam is performed. Birds, especially our young chicks, just don’t like to be handled or restrained and sometimes respond accordingly. This can and has resulted in a few cases of injury and even death, which is terribly tragic, yet unavoidable. But then, how many of us can honestly say that we enjoy all that probing and tweaking that goes on up in that Mother Ship when WE are the ones abducted by aliens.

At first glance, you might not think a creature that has been around for tens of millions of years; long before mankind was a gleam in Adam’s eye would be so fragile and easily injured until you consider that our young chicks have incredibly delicate wings and legs which are not yet completely formed and therefore vulnerable. Add to this the fact that conventional wisdom has it all of our whoopers today may have descended from only three adult females left in the remnant population back in 1941, so we don’t necessarily have genetics working in our favor.

Of course, some would say that “Three Eve’s are better than one” in reference to the biblical Eve who, it is said, begot all of us and we didn’t turn out so bad, despite the fact that the Forbidden Fruit may have been a banana instead of an apple. Anyway, our chicks came through their Health Checks in great shape thanks to the expertise of the Patuxent staff, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

All that remains is a few more days of training, socializing, and fitting the chicks with their shiny new leg bands to match their “I LOVE WISCONSIN” t- shirts. Then it’s “So long Patuxent” and “Hello White River Marsh” as the next chapter of the project begins. The life of a whooper chick may be challenging but it’s never dull. Now, if we can just talk Windway into that upgrade - the one that includes a free bag of peanuts and a coke.

Date: June 18, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray

United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that a Miller, South Dakota, man has been indicted by a federal grand jury for Violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Witness Tampering.

Jeff G. Blachford, (Facebook Profile) age 25, was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 12, 2012. He appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on June 15, 2012, and pled not guilty to the indictment. The maximum penalty upon conviction is 20 years' custody, a $250,000 fine, or both; not more than 3 years of supervised release; and a $100 special assessment. Restitution may also be ordered.

The charges relate to allegations that in April 2012, Blachford shot and killed an endangered whooping crane and one hawk in Hand County, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, South Dakota. Blachford is further alleged to have corruptly persuaded a witness to withhold information from law enforcement officials. The charges are merely accusations, and Blachford is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in the world with a total population of approximately 600 individuals. The whooping crane killed in this investigation was one of about 300 endangered cranes that migrate from wintering grounds along the gulf coast of Texas to the Woods Buffalo State Park located in Alberta and the Northwest Territories of Canada. This population of whooping cranes is the only self-sustaining population in the world.

The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and South Dakota Game Fish and Parks. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Meghan N. Dilges. Blachford was released on bond pending trial.

Date: June 18, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CRANECAM TESTING...Location:White River Marsh, WI

Over the next couple of days, we will be broadcasting sporadically over the CraneCam while we test various configurations and settings. Our hope is to have everything in place for Friday - the anticipated arrival day for the Class of 2012.

Viewers who watched pen preparations yesterday all agreed that the quality of the video feed is much better this year, thanks to some changes made by Networking guru Mike Deline from Adoni Networks in LaCrosse, WI. Mike will be back out to the site on Tuesday to put some finishing touches in place.

If you'd like to tune it to watch the pensite preparations take place over the next few days, you can watch via our CraneCam page, or if you prefer the social media interaction available via Ustream, please bookmark this link.

Date:June 15, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:HATIN' ON THE CHURCH VANLocation:Angola, IN

Each member of our team must be capable of multi-tasking. In addition to looking after birds they must also write updates for our audience of supporters. On top of flying they must be good at school presentations or fabricating pens or a multitude of other jobs that need to be done. That is also true for our vehicles but finding one that can serve multiple functions is not easy.

A few years ago we needed a truck to pull our 32 foot aircraft trailer. We also needed something to carry the crew but mostly it had to be able to transport birds and that meant it had to be enclosed and air conditioned. We thought about getting a pickup truck and adding a cap over the box and installing an RV type air conditioner but you are limited to four seats and mobile AC units are extremely expensive considering their low output.

The answer seemed to be one of those extended vans that are commonly sold to churches for transporting 15 or so of their parishioners - like a little bus. In fact, so many are used for that purpose that they are referred to as church vans. We needed something with the power to pull the big trailer so diesel was our only option. At that point Dodge had made a deal with Mercedes Benz to produce the Sprinter which is far too big for us. GM did not make a diesel van and Ford was the only option but they too were considering dropping that line of vehicles. So we started looking at used vans which were more in line with our budget.

We purchased a 2004 model through our local dealership that has always been good to us and for the first year it ran trouble free. Although I had consulted with Richard and Brooke before making the purchase, the van’s reputation with the team began to deteriorate along with its performance. Apart from the fact that it is very loud, it does its job. Airbags were added to upgrade the suspension and it can pull the aircraft trailer when it is fully loaded. It can carry up to 15 people but most importantly, it can accommodate up to ten bird crates in isolated and air conditioned comfort. However, it has suffered a few unusual ailments. It’s like one of those old spinster aunts who never gets a cold but suffers from every oddball illness known to doctors. It doesn’t help that our van is either driven every day under the foot of many drivers or it sits unused in the Florida sun for three months at a time.

Once, while Heather and I were on our way to Wisconsin to begin the migration, we spent a day wandering around Guelph, Ontario while the pump that provides the energy for the power brakes was replaced. Liz and I once coasted to a stop in front of a truck repair place and spent a day waiting while they replaced a secondary fuel pump system that apparently never fails. In Alabama a few years ago, the team was invited to visit the NASA Museum. On the return trip we rolled into a dealership and waited a few hours while a new alternator was installed. Each repair comes with high cost plus other expenses like crew time, hotel bills and frustration. The problem is, when do you draw the line and what are the alternatives? We still need a vehicle to fill all the functions we bought the van for and we don’t have the budget to replace it with something new.

Last month Liz and I picked up the van in Florida and drove it to Orlando to help Disney celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. We then hitched it to the trailer and headed north. It chugged up the mountains of Pennsylvania and got us home three days later without a whimper. It sat for another month before I headed to Wisconsin and again encumbering it with the fully loaded trailer. Heather followed, driving one of our motorhomes. Luckily she was paying attention and noticed increased smoke coming from the exhaust pipe, something I was not able to see. She texted me, called me (dead phone) flashed the lights and finally passed me to get my attention to pull over. We checked all the levels but there seemed to be nothing wrong. I crept off the highway and found a truck parking lot that no one seemed to own but everyone uses and we went online to find a repair place.

The nearest town was Angola, Indiana and we found Dave’s Diesel but it was too late to call them. We found a hotel and the next morning, disconnected the trailer and they towed the van in for repair. It seems there is an Exhaust Gas Regulator valve that ruptured and began feeding antifreeze into the cylinders. That caused the smoke that Heather noticed. If she hadn’t been there, I am sure I would not have seen the white mist coming from the tail pipe on the far side of the vehicle. The mechanic told me that there are no warning signs; no change in the gauges or caution lights to tell you there is a problem.

The first thing you normally see is a drop in oil pressure when one of the pistons goes through the side of the engine. Alternatively, you might hear a large bang or a permanent loss in power. Your next clue would be a $14000.00 bill to replace the engine. As it is, it will still cost us $2300 and three lost days but I guess we must look on the bright side. According to Dave, we were about 15 miles from a much larger problem.

Even after this repair the problem will still exist. We can’t live without the van and can’t afford to replace it, even if they made one. All we can do is hope there is nothing left to fix. Heather went on to Wisconsin in the motorhome while I found a hotel. Unfortunately the only one is five miles away in the middle of nowhere. There are no taxis and the car rental place is booked solid. I think I have walked 15 miles so far but the good people at Dave’s Diesel have promised to get it done by Friday. So if I am lucky I will face Chicago traffic right in the middle of a Friday night rush hour. Oh well it is better than sitting all day in a hotel, however I am through defending this vehicle and joining the rest of the team in my loathing of our church van.

Date: June 15, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CAN YOU SPOT THE CRANE CHICK?Location:White River Marsh, WI
Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan sent along this image showing either 13-03 (Mom) or 9-05 (Dad) with their young chick, #W8-12, which she captured during an aerial survey on Tuesday, June 12th.

Bev reports that crane chick's W1-12 (parents: 12-02/19-04); W5-12 (parents: 18-02/13-02); and chick W7-12 (parents: 2-04/46-07) were all observed during her flight yesterday and are alive and well. While the chick below (W8-12 was not observed by Bev yesterday, or on Wednesday by ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski, it was however, spotted from the ground by Necedah Refuge staff yesterday morning.

Can you locate the chick in this photo? Click the image to see if you're correct!

Date: June 14, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:LIFE'S A BEACH!Location:White River Marsh, WI

Brooke sent along this gem of a photo captured earlier this week during a warm spell when the crane chicks didn't want to wander too far from the water pans and we just had to share.

Date: June 12, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:REASONS TO WHOOP...Location:Main Office/b>
In less than two weeks the 12th Class of aircraft-guided Whooping cranes will make the trip from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland - to the reintroduction site in central Wisconsin. While this year's group isn't the largest we've ever worked with, it's still a great reason to WHOOP!

Just last week, Doug Pellerin came across these sub-adult Whooping cranes about 11 miles away from the White River Marsh SWA, where less than a year ago, they took their firsts flight alongside our small aircraft.

Pictured are Whooping cranes 7-11, 10-11 and 12-11. This is a great reason to WHOOP!

Yesterday, we announced the presence of the 9th wild Whooping crane of the season, number W9-12 - This is a great reason to WHOOP!

This year the Give A WHOOP! campaign will be promoted around several 'milestone' events including; The 2012 Whooping crane chicks hatching; Their arrival at the summer training site at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI and when they are eventually released at their winter home in Florida later this fall/winter. We hope you'll will WHOOP! with us and help to commemorate these (and other) milestones!

At the conclusion of each important event, we will draw the name of one lucky supporter to receive a beautiful Janet Flynn, watercolor print of a lone Whooping crane. This lovely print is definitely frame-worthy and measures 12.5" wide x 23.5" high. Click to see preview. Recipient names will of course be entered back into the grand thank you draw which will be made on March 31, 2013. The recipient of this gift will receive a $50 certificate redeemable in the OM Marketplace; a Janet Flynn watercolor print AND an incredible set of 8x42 Ranger binoculars courtesy of Eagle Optics!

Have YOU WHOOP'd yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our fundraising goal and allow us to carry out our work with the Class of 2012 Whooping cranes. We'll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws as outlined above.

Date: June 11, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NESTING UPDATELocation:Main Office

During the 2012 nesting season there has been a total of 29 confirmed nests, including 7 re-nests. Eight pairs of Whooping cranes have hatched out a total of 9 chicks (twins for one pair). Of those 9 chicks, 5 of them are still alive and two nests are currently still active. The most recent chick to hatch, #W9-12, hatched around June 5 and is pictured below. Parents are 16-07 (Mom) and 16-02 (Dad). Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR.

Date: June 10, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:LEVI & PEEPERS: AN UPDATELocation:Main Office

Regular Field Journal readers may recall last July we told the story of the male Whooping crane Levi; formerly known as number 5-01. This crane and six others comprised the small cohort that became the first Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population back in 2001.

You can click here to read about Levi and his captive love Peepers but we also wanted to bring you a brief update, which we became aware of yesterday. On June 5th the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park posted a photo on their Facebook page showing Peepers standing on a nest she and Levi had constructed from materials they had at their disposal. Considering the limited supply of grasses and branches the nest didn't look that bad!

Yesterday a photo was posted showing Peepers standing on the nest platform and beside her is an egg! Time will tell if it is viable and we do not know whether it will be left with the pair or brought into captivity to be hatched but it is exciting news nonetheless.

If/when we receive further news, we will let you know.

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located at: 4150 Rt 19
Homosassa, Florida 34446.

Visit their website to learn more about the park but if you're in the area, be sure to stop by!


Date: June 8, 2012Reporter:Geoff Tarbox
Subject:A BIG DAYLocation:Laurel, MD

Yesterday was a big day for the class of 2012!  After weeks of grueling preparations and pen repairs, the White Series pens are finally completed. This will allow us to spend more time socializing them outside of training sessions -- the final step before their big flight to Wisconsin.  All seven of the remaining candidates for the ultralight project were all walked out to the White Series pens yesterday.  Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 were in one pen, 10-12 through 12-12 were in the pen next door.  Sadly, the invitation was not extended to 9-12 as she was cut from the program earlier this week due to bad behavior.  With any luck, she'll have a better grip on her temper by the time she's shipped off to Louisiana. 

Since this is a mellow bunch of birds, we figured we had nothing to worry about and I'm happy to say that we didn't.  Both groups of birds interacted with each other wonderfully with no signs of aggression or any one bird getting picked on.  Of course, these birds have been walked and trained together for several days now, so it'd be a bigger surprise if one of them all of a sudden decided to get in touch with their inner psychopath.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived on the scene, some adult birds in the adjacent Silver Series started alarm calling. It was enough to send shivers down the spines of the three younger birds, so they had to be taken in around noon.  A few of the four older birds were a little anxious, but did their level best to go about their business.

Number 4-12, the big brother of the bunch, never lost his cool.  All through the afternoon, he was off on his own, grubbing or hitting the feeders like he'd been the in the White Series every day of his life.  He didn't interact much with the other birds but quickly established his spot in the pecking order and since he's one of the older, bigger birds, it's only natural he does.

Same goes for 5-12.  He and 7-12 had a few stare-downs, all of which ended in 5-12's favor.  Like 4-12, he adapted pretty well to the White Series but unlike 4-12, he'd rather bond with the costume than forage on his own.  He was one of my more frequent visitors while I was out in the pen spending time with them. It wasn't unusual to see him toying with my sleeves or tugging on any loose ends he could find.

Chick 6-12 wasn't quite in her element this afternoon.  While I'd be exaggerating if I said she was a basket case, she did pace the fence more than any of the others. Plus, she never quite stopped peeping after the adults alarm called but she wasn't so petrified that she didn't grub around or take a swim or two in the footbath.  Seeing her sit down in that black plastic tub and flap around in the water made my afternoon and to help take her mind off her worries, I led her and the other three birds on a walk around the pen.  She started grubbing and bathing right after we were done.

Number 7-12, our other little sister, seemed a bit antsy too but not as much as #6-12 was.  I'm suspecting it was because she had a security blanket out in the pen with her… Me.  She and 5-12 did their best to make sure I wasn't feeling lonely. It's always funny to see their big, wide curious eyes staring into my visor just before they take a few curious jabs at it, hoping to make sense of the mystery that is the costume.  Unfortunately for her, she has sort of inherited the bottom of the pecking order.  I'm afraid 4-12 and 5-12 insisted.  But I'm sure that'll change once we bring the 10-12 and 12-12 crowd into the picture.  Then again #12-12 has a bit of Napoleon and spark to her that should not be underestimated. Just ask #10-12.

We don't know who the other bird we're going to have to cut will be.  A week ago, I would've said it was 6-12.  I was worried that with her dwindling attention span and her non-interest in the costume, she and OM would have to part ways come the 22nd.  She has since changed her tune and is much better at following and responding to the costume. Every bit as well as some of our older birds so she isn't out of the game just yet.  We won't make our final cut until it gets closer to shipping day.  Until then, I'm hoping #6-12 keeps up the good work and earns her seat/crate to Wisconsin.

Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 spend time in one of the large outdoor white series pens.

Chick #7-12 (left) and #5-12

Date: June 7, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:LOBSTICK CRANE FEARED SHOTLocation:Main Office

Article from Northern Journal, Fort Smith, NT Canada
By CHRIS TALBOT, Northern Journal Reporter, • Tue, Jun 05, 2012

The whooping crane recently shot in South Dakota may be one of the famous Lobstick cranes that nest north of Wood Buffalo National Park, according to a Fort Smith man.

Ronnie Schaefer, who has observed the cranes for many years, told Northern Journal he believes the crane shot en route to Canada is one of the Lobstick pair. The pair has made the Fox Hole prairie on Salt River First Nation land home for 19 years, usually arriving in the first two weeks of May. They have not arrived yet.

Another reason Schaefer believes it may be one of the Lobstick birds is because they are not tagged. Although not confirmed, it is believed by Parks Canada that the crane shot in South Dakota was likewise not tagged. Schaefer said he is trying to clarify that, but so far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is investigating the shooting, has been tight-lipped about the case.

Brad Merrill, a spokesperson for FWS Mountain-Prairie Region, said it is FWS policy not to discuss cases still under investigation. He did confirm that the crane was travelling with another adult and a juvenile, both of which were seen in the same corn field where the shooting occurred. What happened to the other cranes is unknown.

"It's a big loss for us because they're a recognized pair from here to Aransas," Schaefer said. The Fox Hole prairie is the traditional nesting ground for another pair of whooping cranes, which Schaefer said has already arrived and settled in. A new nesting pair has also settled in the area, but Schaefer noted it is not the Lobstick pair.

Others believe it is too early to tell for sure if the killed bird was indeed one of the famous cranes. "That would be really tough to deduce based on what we know," Dan Alonzo, refuge manager at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, told The Journal.

Chester McConnell, trustee emeritus at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, told The Journal it would be a great loss should the shot crane be one of the Lobstick pair.

"It would be, but I'm not certain (Schaefer) would be correct on that. I don't know what information he has, but the cranes haven't been long settling in and some of them would take a little while to settle into nesting," McConnell said.

According to McConnell, whooping cranes do not all fly in and start building nests right away. Though their time to nest is short, they are known to "fool around."

With only about 300 whooping cranes migrating between Wood Buffalo National Park and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, the loss of any of the endangered birds is significant, Alonzo said. There are approximately 500 whooping cranes left in the world.

"It would be the equivalent to the loss of any other bird," Alonzo said. "Any loss is significant. We want to do anything to deter that. The Lobstick or any other pair is just as important."

One death of many

The shooting of the whooping crane in South Dakota is the latest in a dozen confirmed shootings of the species since 1951. Approximately 80 whooping cranes of the western migratory flock have also gone missing during that time, their fates unknown, McConnell said.

Cranes that do not die of natural causes are most likely to be killed flying into power lines or electrified fences, he said, but some people shoot the birds out of malice.

The eastern migratory and non-migratory Louisiana populations suffer even more from human predation. McConnell noted 11 cranes in the eastern and Louisiana populations have been shot in the last two years. Many of those cases are still unsolved. The most recent incident prior to the April 20 shooting in South Dakota was the January 2012 shooting of a male whooping crane in Knox County, Indiana. The crane was spotlighted and shot, according to FWS. Charges are pending against two men in their early twenties; Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

Ed. Note: More on the Lobstick Whooping cranes from Journey North and Tom Stehn: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/crane/spring2008/Update031408_Stehn.html

Date: June 7, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SURVEY FLIGHTLocation:Main Office

Can you spot the Whooping crane chick?

This photo shows adult Whooping cranes #2-04 (Dad) and #46-07 (Mom) and their chick #W7-12 - the youngest (thus far) of this year's wild hatched crane chicks. Wisconsin DNR pilot, Bev Paulan captured this image on Tuesday's flight, while flying at 90mph and at 500ft altitude so as not to spook the cranes. Can you see what she tries to see?

If you think you have the answer, click the photo for the reveal

Date: June 6, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:THE CUTLocation:Laurel, MD

In the game of life, not everybody makes the team, and one of the greatest “bummers” a kid can experience is to go out for a school athletic team, work his or her butt off every afternoon at practice, spending hours every night studying the playbook with dreams of making that big play that wins the championship game only to walk into the locker room one day and get pulled aside by the coach who delivers the news that he or she has been cut from the team. The coach’s speech is always the same, full of sugar-coated realities and atta boy/girl clichés; too slow, too small, not quite enough of this or that but be proud of the good try because all men (or women) are created equal… except when they’re not. The poor kid never hears any of this because his or her senses are completely numbed by the pain and disappointment it brings - the residue of which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Hard to say if whooper chicks react the same way. We sure hope not, because yesterday morning we had to give the speech to #9-12 and cut her from the ultralight team. It wasn’t that she didn’t try. I mean, she followed on walks as if on a leash, swam like Ester Williams, stuck to the trike like a piece of Velcro and was healthy as an Olympian. But she just couldn’t overcome millions of years of evolution and play nice with the other chicks. Just the sight of another chick would send her into a rage which only intensified as the encounter continued.

To our great frustration, none of the usual remedies were effective. But then it must be remembered that in the natural world, crane parents usually produce two eggs, hatch two chicks, with only one surviving to fledge. Sometimes one chick out competes the other for food and sometimes it’s even more sinister. Siblicide they call it - Just one more example of what a jungle it really is out there.

An example of how difficult it can be to socialize young Whooping cranes occurred four years ago in an incident with the now-infamous #10-08, who one evening in the enclosure at Necedah, went into a rage which resulted in the deaths of two other chicks and an injury to another so severe it had to be pulled from the project.  Number 10-08 was subsequently released with adult whoopers; made it to Florida but wound up in the belly of an alligator after picking one fight too many.

Fortunately for us, we have prepared for just such problem this year and have been training 8 birds, #4-#12, with the intention of picking the best six for the trip to Wisconsin. #9 will remain behind and allow time to mellow her aggression and will eventually join the Louisiana team as did our little #8 last year.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet, fall in love, and spend the rest of their lives together trying to control their aggressions…like most couples.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue training and socializing the remaining seven for the trip to Wisconsin…until the next “cut” takes place leaving us with the final six.

Date: June 5, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MILEMAKER CAMPAIGNLocation:Main Office

As with every year for the past decade, the young Whooping crane chicks in the Class of 2012 will be relying on you to help fund the biggest adventure of their young lives - their first-ever migration this fall.

When first introduced in 2003, the amount of a mile sponsorship was determined by dividing the total cost of the previous year’s migration by the number of migration air miles to be flown. That number was then further divided to provide for half and quarter mile sponsorships. Ever escalating costs, however, make it illogical to expect the funding needed for future migrations not to exceed that of the previous year's, so that necessitated a change.

As a result, MileMaker 2012 sponsorships have transitioned to a symbolic amount. This transition will also allow for unexpected expenses and/or unbudgeted migration expenses to be covered while still maintaining ethical fundraising practices. And yes, there's more. You’ve spoken…we listened, and as a result, the 2012 MileMaker Campaign has been further refined.

In the past, we were able to provide only full mile sponsors the opportunity to select the mile they wished to sponsor. We were never able to offer that same perk to half and quarter mile sponsors. To rectify what was to many, a disappointing deficiency, full mile sponsors, and half mile sponsors, and quarter mile sponsors of the MileMaker 2012 campaign will each have their own Sponsor Recognition webpage, giving ALL sponsors the ability to enter in the space provided a dedication or tribute comment and/or indicate the number of their ‘favorite’ mile.

Won't you become a MileMaker sponsor today? A one mile sponsorship is $200; a half mile is $100; and a quarter mile is $50. Remember too, that being a 2012 MileMaker sponsor might also net you a sensational Thank You Gift!

All MileMaker sponsors are eligible to be drawn for a Thank You Gift of a two week stay at Mot Mot Manor in fabulous Costa Rica! Mot Mot Manor is located on the Nicoyan Peninsula in the beautiful gated community of Roma del Mar. The closest airport is Liberia, Costa Rica (~2.5 hour drive). A total of $2000.00 will be provided to cover airfare and car rental for your Costa Rican getaway!

MileMaker Sponsors' names will be entered in the Thank You Gift Draw as follows: 1 entry per quarter mile | 2 entries per half mile | 4 entries per one mile sponsorship.

View a photo gallery featuring images taken at Mot Mot Manor and surrounding area.

AND THERE'S MORE! Once we've received your sponsorship we'll send you a secret link where you can select a beautiful E-Calendar image to display on your laptop or PC desktop. Each month, April 2012 through March 2013, features a full color photograph with a calendar overlay. Below are sample images:

June 2012

August 2012

December 2012

Become a MileMaker today...


Date: June 4, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO/ARANSAS FLOCK Location:Main Office

Thanks to our friends at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association for the following great news and for their part in securing TWO critical habitat projects for the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population.

Endangered whooping cranes now have an additional 278 acres of habitat on which they can live during winter. The 278 acres involved two critical habitat acquisition projects for North America’s last naturally occurring flock of migratory whooping cranes, known as the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population.

In one project, three conservation groups partnered to purchase the privately-owned 178 acres in Holiday Beach area north of Rockport, Texas. Sale of the property closed last week. The endangered whooping crane flock spends the winter in the area and some have often been observed on this property. This important property purchase was coordinated by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Whooping Crane Conservation Association President Lorne Scott explained that wintering habitat in Texas is more confined and threatened than the Canadian breeding grounds. He also said, “The wintering habitat is so scarce and so unavailable, anything that does come up for sale and has potential, we try to secure it.”

Scott stated that the whooping crane has become a symbol of wildlife conservation in North America. He counseled that “The whooping crane saga has shown that after decades of work and partnerships, we can save a species and work for conservation.” Scott believes, “We have an obligation to make every effort to secure all our native flora and fauna.”

Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP) received the funds for the important 178 acre purchase through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Matching funds were provided by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. The Nature Conservancy assisted in the property purchase. CBBEP property manager Jake Herring said “The acquisition of this property is important to CBBEP because it is occupied whooping crane habitat.”

In a second project, The Nature Conservancy made known the protection of more than 100 additional acres of whooping crane winter habitat. With funding assistance from Whooping Crane Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on Falcon Point Ranch in Calhoun County, Texas. The Conservancy purchased the conservation easement for $605,000 with funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a $200,000 grant from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and funds from private donors and foundations.

Today scientists estimate that at least 10 percent of the remaining flock (approximately 25 – 30 birds) winters here. The topography of the property and its waterfront views on San Antonio Bay made it a prime target for development.

“The owners of Falcon Point Ranch have been working to conserve this property for more than five years,” said Bill Ball a representative of the ranch. “It is very exciting to see this important project come to fruition and to know that this truly special place will be protected.”

Ecologists worried that the development of the ranch would not only compromise important habitat on the property, it would compromise surrounding conservation lands as well, including properties the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) division of the USDA has protected within the last three years.

“NRCS is proud to be a part of this regional effort to protect and restore vital Texas wetlands, for not just the incredibly rare whooping crane but all wetland wildlife species,” said Claude Ross, NRCS Program Manager. “Working with the local landowners, NRCS has worked to protect and restore more than 11,000 acres of habitat in Welder Flats. The Nature Conservancy’s easement on Falcon Point Ranch will help safeguard those investments.”

“Limited and threatened wintering habitat on the Gulf Coast is one of the greatest challenges facing North America’s tallest birds, said Lorne Scott, president of Whooping Crane Conservation Association. “The WCCA congratulates The Nature Conservancy for leading efforts in securing the Falcon Point Ranch.”

The whooping crane population, which breeds in Canada and then migrates 2,400 miles south to the Texas Gulf Coast, declined from an estimated 1500 to just 15 birds between 1850 and 1945. Since then, cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. and Canada have increased the population twentyfold. Today there are an estimated 300 wild cranes in North America that migrate between Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.

“North America all but lost one of its most iconic species,” said Laura Huffman, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “Although the whooping crane is slowly rebounding, it is still a precarious situation given our state’s growing water challenges and projected growth. If we want our children and grandchildren to experience this majestic creature, conservation efforts to safeguard its habitat aren’t just important, they are absolutely essential.”

Date: June 2, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:THEY DID IT! HOME!Location:Main Office
Yesterday we received the following image and report confirming the group of four 1-yr. old Whooping cranes (3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11) in Green Lake County, WI on May 31st at 5:30pm. This location is less than 3-miles from where they took their first flights with our aircraft last summer.

With no PTT information received for the only crane in the group with a PTT unit (#4-11), it's difficult to determine where in the area they roosted. We have received three confirmed sightings for this group with the earliest reported at 5pm on May 30th and two reports the following day so they must have roosted in the area.

Photo credit: Lois Ballard

The other group of returning Class of 2011 cranes, consists of numbers 7-11 (PTT), 10-11 and 12-11. This group has been reported in neighboring Marquette County, WI over the past week, approximately 11 miles from their former pensite, and right on the migration route between the first and second stopovers.

As for the remaining three cranes in the Class of 2011: Number 2-11 is still in Adams County, WI, in an area where there are two adult pairs of Whooping cranes and several Sandhill cranes. Number 9-11 was last reported northeast of Minneapolis and the oldest of the Class, number 1-11 has not been reported since he was last seen departing the Wheeler NWR with the rest of his flockmates.

These sightings underscore the importance of the public reporting system as a valuable tool for monitoring crane locations, and we encourage people to continue to monitor and report such sightings. We do, however, also want to remind everyone that for the benefit of the cranes, it is best if you keep a respectable distance.

Approaching cranes too closely can result in birds becoming habituated to humans. Habituation, in turn, can put the cranes at risk from people who mean them harm. While such situations are uncommon, it is unfortunately a consideration we all must consider in light of recent shooting deaths in Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. If you’re on foot, do not approach the birds within 200 yards; if in a vehicle, remain inside the vehicle and at least 100 yards away. For reference, a football field is 120 yards long from goalpost to goalpost. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind people that do see whooping cranes and are interested in reporting them to use the Eastern U.S. whooping crane reporting site. We thank you for your help in tracking cranes and for your consideration in helping to promote the safety of these birds.

Date: June 2, 2012Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:THE SEXESLocation: Laurel, MD

“So…is it a boy or a girl?” is the question asked every expectant mother these days. Used to be the answer came from the doctor or nurse at birth. Not anymore - Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine and the fact the every American is born with the inalienable need-to-know, couples now begin fielding the question a year or so before they ever meet each other.

Here at Patuxent, we’re a bit more patient. It’s not that we aren’t curious which chicks are male and female. Most of us feel like we secretly already know. It’s just that once we find out, our work load increases exponentially due to the strict protocols passed years ago by Congress relating to the proper education of the sexes, which we must implement immediately.

For the males, we must change our vocalizers from the parent’s brood call to call of the whooper father saying “Yes, dear.” We must also add a daily additional training session teaching them to follow directions as well as how to look into the refrigerator and identify what is really in there as opposed to what they think is in there. Then comes the session where we force them to sit quietly and listen attentively to a puppet head while keeping their big mouths shut.

For the females, we’re forced to replace the meal worm treats with flowers and chocolates, and for the session where they practice walking in and out of the pen, we have to hold the door for them. All this takes time but it’s time well spent because experience has taught us that it’s the little things like these that makes a reintroduction project “self sustaining.”

And so when the genetic sexing results arrived and Jane posted them yesterday morning, our smiles grew so wide each of us had trouble getting his or her costume hood on. “Damn!” was all I could hear that little voice in my head exclaim. Most results are predictable but there’s always that one you just can’t believe. “Are they SURE about #8”? So our cohort for this year contains two males and four females, the kind of odds every male whooper dreams about and the first time we’ve had more females than males. This is especially good news because although we may not know which came first, the chicken or the egg, we can be pretty sure there was a female chicken in the equation somewhere.

Chick Gender Legband Hatch-date Source
4-12 M white 4/30/12 ICF
5-12 M yellow 4/30/12 PWRC
6-12 F blue 5/3/12 PWRC
7-12 F green 5/4/12 PWRC
9-12 F white 5/7/12 PWRC
10-12 F yellow 5/7/12 PWRC

Date: June 1, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:SIX MORE THAN EXIST NOWLocation:Main Office

There are five captive breeding centers for Whooping cranes in North America and collectively they produce the eggs that are used by the release programs. In addition to those eggs there are a few collected from the abandoned nests of the adult cranes nesting in central Wisconsin.

Each Monday in May the captive flock managers gather via conference call to make their best guess about how many eggs their charges will lay. Counting your chickens before they hatch is an axiom originating from Aesop's fables. It is used to warn against putting too much stock in the future. If you take the chicken axiom seriously you know that eggs don’t always result in chickens and chickens don’t always survive to go to market.

The same is true for Whooping cranes destined to be released into the wild. To make an educated guess you can predict that 75% of the eggs will hatch and 75% of those will reach the shipping age of 50 to 60 days.

All of this egg counting and second guessing is more critical this year because of low production. If you want to know why that happened you have to go back to guessing. In general it might have to do with the very early spring; or was it a very warm late winter, followed by a cool spring. On an individual basis the captive breeding centers had problems of their own. The Calgary Zoo has a very productive male that has taken to breaking eggs. This little understood behavior is not uncommon, but who knows why this well-experienced parent decided this year to destroy his own offspring before they hatched.

The International Crane Foundation lost a very productive female named O’Malley to mate aggression this spring. Patuxent had to do some unavoidable repair work to their facilities this past winter. Maybe moving the birds from pen-to-pen to avoid the construction had a negative effect on their breeding season.

Whatever the cause, it looks probable that there will only be 26 Whooping cranes available for release this year. With the Recovery Team deciding to split that number between the Louisiana non-migratory flock and WCEP, it means they will get 13 for their third release year. WCEP will divide the remaining 13, with the DAR method getting 7 for release at the Horicon Marsh and OM getting 6 to train with its aircraft at White River Marsh.

As you can imagine, we have been burning the late night candle trying to determine the impact of leading only 6 birds to Florida this year. We believe the maximum we could accommodate is 24 birds and we have always wanted to try a flock that large. We know from experience we can do it with 20; in fact that was one of our most successful migrations. Our request this year was for 18 with a minimum request of 12.  As the egg count predictions came in week after week, the Recovery Team dropped our minimum number to 11 and then WCEP dropped it to 10.

Operation Migration is a small, single-focus organization that was founded to use a unique method of reintroducing Whooping cranes in a migratory situation. Several attempts were made in the past and each added to the research. But the Ultralight method is the first to succeed in creating the basis of a migratory flock.

Our ambition is to see this through. To that end we have overcome every obstacle we have encountered. We convinced the US Federal government that ultralight pilots should be trusted with one of their most endangered species. We created a non-profit and helped found the Whooping Cranes Eastern Partnership. We designed migration routes based on historic evidence and then altered them to provide greater safety for both birds and aircraft. We developed training sites and raised all our funding with minimal government assistance. We have faced storms, headwinds, and cold temperatures, and even enlisted the help of the FAA who exempted us from certain rules in order to allow this project to continue.

Our goal is to establish a self-sustaining population and either we will do that or eventually, we will encounter an obstacle we simply cannot overcome.

Only 13 birds released this year in the Eastern flock is insufficient to even cover attrition and will be a major setback toward a self-sustaining population. But, it is not insurmountable. The new release sites outside the range of black flies look promising, as does the breeding season in the Necedah area so far. Six birds are six more than exist now, and six closer to full recovery.

Please leave your thoughts in the Guestbook or as a comment to this post on our Facebook page.

Date: May 31, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:THE BOARDLocation:Laurel, MD

Legend has it that there were originally eleven Commandments and that the Eleventh ordered, “Though shalt answer to the Board.” Upon reading it, Moses shrugged his shoulders, looked to the heavens and asked, “What Board?” to which a booming voice from above replied “I don’t know. Just pick one.”

From that time to this, man has had to answer to a Board of one kind or another;
the carpenter….”Measure twice, cut once,”
the football team….”Home 7 - Visitors 0,”
the convict…”Grant me parole and I promise to play nice,”!
the chess master…”Checkmate,”
the corporate executive… “Yes, Mr. Chairman - Whatever you say, sir” and on and on.

Even us lowly wildlife technicians are not exempt, for here at Patuxent we too answer to a board. We begin each work day by standing before the large acetate board that hangs on the wall in the hallway of the chick building upon which the flow chart of the day’s labor is magic-markered by Sharon the night before.

It is the “Same Page” upon which each of our individual labors firmly rests. On it is listed each chick in the building, its pen number, its health situation, when it requires feeding, or medication or introduced to meal worms or given individual in-and-out the door practice.

Then there are three vertical lines listing each bird to be trained, and then walked, then swam and each of these is followed by a blank which is to be filled in with the time the job is completed. At the end of the day, around 8pm, all the blanks are filled in and birds and handlers are just that much closer to achieving the goal of successfully raising a new season’s flock of whoopers.

Our board is efficient, functional, and benevolent and it answers to us as much as we answer to it. All organizations should be so blessed.

So, whatever happened to the Eleventh Commandment and why are there now only ten? Well, legend has it that it was removed from the stone tablets by the Board. What Board you ask?... “I don’t know - Just pick one!”

Date: May 30, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:DOUBLE THE GOOD YOU DO!Location:Main Office

Many employers have programs through which they will "match" contributions made by their employees to Operation Migration. Check with the Human Resources department where you work if there is a 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 Whooping crane recovery!

Date: May 29, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NEED A CRANE FIX?Location:Main Office

Access to the rare and endangered Whooping Crane chicks that are raised each year at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, WI is granted only to trained ICF staff wearing crane costumes – until now.

This chick season ICF is sharing this experience with the world through their live webcam!

Viewers will get an exclusive glimpse into the daily activities at the Felburn Leidigh Chick Rearing Facility. Watch the fuzzy young chicks in their runs, where they are kept warm and safe with heat lamps and a brood model to snuggle up to for security. Each day costumed caretakers interact with the chicks, helping them learn to eat and drink.

As the chicks get older, they have access to their outdoor runs and later their “chick yard,” where they strengthen their leg and flight muscles, learn about wetlands, and maybe even encounter their first grasshopper!

To watch the live video feed visit cranechickcam - Please note the hours of operation are between 8am to 5pm CST.


Date: May 28, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray

The Center for Biological Diversity recently launched a groundbreaking report, On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife. The report is a powerful review of the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

The report provides an in-depth look at 110 protected species from all 50 states — from whales and sea turtles to foxes and whooping cranes — to determine how well the Act is working across the country. The results? 90 percent of the studied species are recovering, right on time to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists.

You can check out species in your area on this new interactive regional map of the 110 species.

Date: May 27, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:TREASURES OF OZLocation:Main Office

Mark your calendars for June 16th and set off to see the river and wonderful wetlands of Oz!

Ozaukee County, WI that is... Ozaukee is home to almost 40 miles of the Milwaukee River and close to 30% of its acreage is wetlands. Saturday, June 16th you're invited to participate in the Treasures of Oz festival - an opportunity to bike, hike, photograph, geocach and learn all about the watershed, which is critical to water filtration and flood control.

Activities will be taking place at each of the 8 treasures, including craft stations for the kids, educational displays and activities for everyone. The Operation Migration display will be located in the old clubhouse at the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve. Once a golf course and country club, this 116 acre tract was purchased by the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust (OWLT) with the intention of restoring wetlands and native plant communities to provide feeding habitat and refuge for a projected 102 species of native and migratory birds.

Visit the event website to learn more about the 8 unique sites that will be open for you to explore. Download your passport and be sure to get it stamped at each of the 8 sites!

Date: May 25, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Geoff Tarbox
Subject:MEANWHILE AT GROUND SCHOOL...Location:Laurel, MD

I'm sure more than a few of you might be curious as to how much our birds have grown these past few days.  Well by now, the youngest of our little clutch has learned to eat on his own and no longer needs any guidance from a lowly intern.  Now, it's just a matter getting them walked and getting them to follow that small yellow aircraft. Believe it or not, they're only a month away from their big trip to Wisconsin!

Currently, chicklets #4-12 and 5-12 are being trained together, as are numbers 6-12 and 7-12, and 10-12 and 11-12.  Number 12-12 is still being trained by himself.  Every morning I ask how the birds do, he tells me they perform marvelously.  That's good news to me, especially with #10-12. Earlier this year, we were concerned that he may've had eye troubles, as he often acted like the puppet wasn't there unless it was shown to him at just the right angle.  But now it appears he was just off in la-la land in those moments, as he seems to follow and respond to the trike just fine.  And Dr. Olsen hasn't noticed any peculiarities with his eyes, so that's one fear we can put behind us.

However, there's been some trouble with #6-12.  Earlier on, there have been problems with him wailing on the puppet. (clip below)

While I haven't seen him do that so much anymore, it seems he's picked up a new bad habit.  From what Brooke tells me, there are some days where it feels like #6-12 is starting back at square one.  And today was one of those days.  I watched it unfold as I was weighing birds this morning.

As I led #5-12 onto the scale, I noticed Brooke leading #6-12 and #7-12 out toward the trike for a circle pen session.  He would get only so far before one of the little birds would stop dead in its tracks and start to turn around, like he was scared.  Brooke would go back and try to lead it again but almost as soon as he started to follow, he turned around and started to head back. This must've gone on five or six times.  Eventually, Brooke gave up and trained #7-12 by himself (who was waiting patiently for #6-12 to join him) and then trained #6-12 later.

Even when he was training, Brooke says #6-12 had to be fed mealworms every step of the way in order for him to follow the aircraft.  He's at an age where he shouldn't need mealworms to follow the trike.  Sharon pointed out that last night was his first night outside, and it might've rattled him a little.  How he does tomorrow remains to be seen.  What bothers me and Brooke was that he's had relapses like this before last week.  I'm not sure what might've triggered it.  But other mornings, he seems to do okay.  Let's just hope he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and the week before and this'll be the end of it.

Now, you might've noticed that #9-12 isn't being trained with anyone.  Make no mistake, he's getting trained.  He's just not training with anyone else right now.  Why?  Well, his attitude doesn't lend itself to making fast friends.  It's not uncommon for Brooke to see this guy peck at other birds through the bars.  I believe he's even gone after one of the sandhills who is several days older and several inches taller than him!

If you remember last year, #8-11 had to give up his seat on the plane to Wisconsin simply because he wouldn't play nice.  We didn't give up hope on the little thug.  Patuxent was nice enough to try and socialize him with some of the Louisiana birds.  Sure, he was making improvements but it always ended with him trying to take one of the other birds’ lunch money.  Even when an opportunity came to ship him at a later date, we just couldn't take the risk.  Besides, as it turned out, 2011 had enough surprises for us.

Number 9-12 is already trying to pick up where he left off.  Is he destined to walk the dark side as well?  Not by a long shot.  We hope his Angry Birds attitude goes away with age - If not, we can walk him with one of the older, bigger birds and let them knock him down a few pegs.  Socializing him by himself in his own little pen in the white series while other birds get socialized together also serves as a nice little "time out"/dunce chair for him.  We've got a month to help this guy get his act together.  He'll come around, just you wait and see.

Those are all the yarns I have to spin for this fine evening.  I'll be sure to weave a few more as they unfold.  Film at eleven!

Date: May 25, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:SITE PREPARATIONSLocation:Main Office

Similar to last year the water levels at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area are fluctuating. Eight inches of rain caused flooding so extensive that it washed out the access road that the DNR created last year. It overpowered the culvert and eroded all the gravel and dirt creating a big gouge too deep to cross with a truck. Now they are experiencing a mini drought and high temperatures, which allowed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to repair the access road but it also left the runway bone dry.

We hired Petrazack Excavation, a local contactor to smooth the runway and the Wildlife Area staff seeded it with rye grass and dragged it with a bar. Now we just need a little more rain to help in the germination process.

The raised roadway means that the birds in the wet pen can see us approach so we will have to put on our costumes farther from the pensite. We will also need a new, hidden access path to the observation blind but the Wildlife Area staff also did that for us. We can’t thank them enough for all the work they are doing to prepare for the arrival of the birds this year. We are looking forward to seeing them all again. I suspect we will be shipping the birds to Wisconsin sometime around June 20th to 25th. I will arrive a week or so earlier to get the pen ready but it looks like there won’t be much more for me to do and I am grateful for that.

Date: May 24, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff

At the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, Brooke and Geoff are conducting the early conditioning of the chicks and getting them familiar with the aircraft. The young cranes have been hearing a recording of the engine since they were still in the egg but the real thing is a little more intimidating.

This first close up introduction takes place outside in the circle pen. In this video Geoff is controlling the chick (#5-12) and distracting it with mealworms while the aircraft engine is started by Brooke, inside the circular enclosure. You can see a little nervousness but #5-12 soon calms down and becomes accustomed to the noisy monster machine that will eventually teach him to migrate.

It is hard to determine the exact cause of their behavior but it seems that they take cues from the parent or surrogate. If the parent doesn’t react and they can hear the calming brood call, they seem to adjust rapidly to new environments.

The next step is to move the aircraft forward slightly and that prompts a new round of nervousness. When the aircraft stops and the chick calms again, a few more meal worms are tapped out and the chick comes over to investigate. The process is repeated, moving around the pen until the chick is following after the aircraft.

Date: May 22, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A NEW CHICK FOR AN OLD FRIENDLocation:Main Office
The male Whooping crane, number 9-05 began showing up at the Canfield training site, located on Necedah NWR in the summer of 2009. At first, we weren’t sure if he had an affinity for the young crane chicks, or the grapes that are used to reward them for a job well done. Whatever attracted him, each morning when the aircraft would show up to train the younger birds, number 9-05 would emerge from the long grasses at the edge of the training area.

He never actually flew with the young birds, but he would follow them, as they followed the aircraft, up and down, back and forth. On numerous occasions, at the end of each training session, CraneCam viewers took bets as to whether he would actually follow them into the pen. 

As the summer progressed and early hints of fall appeared, he began to also appear in early evening as well and would take his position at the back of the wetpen – seemingly standing guard over the young birds inside.

Eventually fall arrived – the young Whooping cranes departed the refuge with their aircraft guides, and number 9-05 was left alone briefly before meeting a young-of-year DAR female number 42-09. He guided her to Lake County, FL that fall and returned to the Necedah refuge with her the following March. By April 1st, however, they separated.

Not long after, he appeared to have bonded with a two year old female, number 18-08 and the pair were together for approximately three weeks before his new mate was found dead – the victim of predation.

But a new season brought new Whooping crane chicks to the refuge and in June, two cohorts arrived and our unlucky in love male, number 9-05 quickly took up his sentry position behind the wetpen each night, and on the runway each training day, much to the delight of regular CraneCam viewers. In this July 20, 2010 In the Field entry, Joe’s tells about one such encounter with number 9-05.

As the end of July came, so too did another stark white, adult Whooping crane. Perhaps it’s only fitting given his unlucky past with mates that this lovely ladybird turned out to be number 13-03, a number usually assigned the status of bad luck. She didn’t stay long with each visit, but the frequency of visits increased and from time-to-time, those fortunate enough to be viewing the CraneCam at just the right time, were rewarded with a dance. A routine consisting of leaps and bows and gyrations, all set to music that obviously they could hear and we could only imagine.

They began to spend days together, which turned into nights together – now two adults standing guard behind the Canfield enclosure as the young chicks roosted inside. But not every night… it seemed our lovely female was a two-timing gal and she would disappear for days on end, while she returned to spend time with her former (and perhaps still current?) mate, number 18-03.

Again, an Autumn season set in and threatened to turn to winter.  Cranes 13-03 and 18-03 left the refuge and migrated together, to their typical winter territory in Tennessee. The lonely male, number 9-05 was discovered alone, on his winter territory in Lake County, FL.

The next spring all three returned to Necedah and it wasn’t long before 9-05 wooed his former girlfriend away from number 18-03 and in mid-April they were discovered incubating a nest! A single chick hatched out a month later and was designated as chick number W3-11. Unfortunately, the chick went missing a month later.

Fast forward an entire year to Monday, May 21st. Wisconsin DNR pilot (and former OM crane Mom) Bev Paulan sent news of a new chick for the pair. Whooping crane chick #W7-12 is the result of a re-nest and likely hatched sometime around May 17th (their first nest this spring failed for whatever reason). Let’s hope that the second chick is the charm for this pair who obviously love spending time near the youngsters.

A chick (#W7-12) for Whooping cranes 13-03 and 9-05 likely hatched on or around May 17th can be seen with one adult on the nest while the other adult forages for food.

Here are the two adults pictured in the summer of 2010 spending time with the young Whooping cranes.

Date: May 22, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:DEJA VOUSLocation:Laurel, MD

The beginning of chick season at Patuxent could best be described by the great American philosopher and baseball player Yogi Berra when he said, “It’s like déjà vous all over again!” And it is. One day into chick season and you can’t tell if it’s this year, last year or the year before that. Same places, same faces, same pace and emotional journey….so familiar, in fact that it threatens to morph into the unfamiliar, like some timeless continuum in an episode of “Twilight Zone.” Could it be that Patuxent is a suburb of Shangri-La, the legendary city in “Lost Horizon” where time stands still, no one ages and your girlfriend can go to the Prom wearing the same dress she’s worn for the last two hundred years?

But once the chick season starting gun goes off, time for reflection comes to a screeching halt and things start to happen so fast that before long you feel like you’re in one of those old movies running just off stride, or two ahead of a steam roller. And you’re not alone because you’re running in a crowd made up of the “Usual Suspects,” migration veterans all, who’s names are familiar to readers of the OM Field Journal. Jane and Ali go off to check nests for eggs while Brian and Barb place newly hatched chicks in the brooder or ICU’s while Sharon and Geoff teach chicks to eat and drink while Charlie and Robert are busy walking or swimming chicks. All this while Glenn and Carlyn give the chicks their daily health exams catching any problems before they develop while Jonathan maintains the order of things. Like they say - It takes a village - even if the village must operate at warp speed.

The pace of activity quickly accelerates until it reaches the visual status of a blur. Yet embedded within it lies a calm, practiced and seamless choreography developed over the years and orchestrated by a deep sense of devotion seasoned with a large dose of urgency. All this can be attributed to the simple biological fact that the chicks come from the factory with a serious lack of patience as standard equipment. They need what they need and want what they want and they need and want it NOW! Why? Because millions of years of evolution have dictated that, in nature, they must be ready to migrate south with their parents in the fall or be left behind to perish and so there isn’t a minute to lose. Meanwhile, it’s like time lapse photography without the lapses or like “Chop Sticks” played on a piano at three in the morning by a left over hippie on methadrine while Mother Nature hovers nearby screaming at the top of her lungs, “Get’ er done!”

But even the walker on a treadmill set on hi-speed can from time to time mentally pause to watch the room go by and enjoy the wonder of it all while taking care not to be spit out the back end, for chick season is as much an adventure as it is a process, as deliciously rewarding as it is magical, an experience never to be forgotten while never to be fully understood. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll just hang on for dear life and try to enjoy the ride until chick season ends, which for Geoff and I will come on the day the chicks take that ride to the airport for the flight to Wisconsin and the beginning of their next beginning. Until then it’s “Back to the Future.”

Date: May 21, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership would like to thank Lighthawk and participating LightHawk pilots for use of their donated aircraft time and piloting skills. Without their help we would not be able to conduct the intensive whooping crane nest monitoring needed for our current research. This monitoring will greatly assist in a better understanding of factors contributing to nest failure, which may be critical to the long-term success of the project.

LightHawk is a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that supports conservation projects in the US, Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk provides donated flights in private aircraft to elevate conservation efforts. LightHawk flies more about 1,000 missions each year for over 250 conservation partners in North America and Central America. LightHawk is a purely collaborative effort, and their staff works with over 200 volunteer pilots to design aerial campaigns that help conservation groups, universities, government agencies and individuals protect land, water and wildlife.

Volunteer pilots from Connecticut, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota flew their own airplanes to Wisconsin to conduct twice daily aerial surveys of whooping crane nest sites. Jamie Gamble (North Granby, Conn.), Pat Healy (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), James Knowles (Tenants Harbor, Maine) and Richard Sedgwick (Minnetonka, Minn.) donated these flights.

More information about LightHawk can be found here: http://www.lighthawk.org/

To view the nest monitoring results, visit: bringbackthecranes.org

Date: May 19, 2012 Reporter:Geoff Tarbox
Subject:CLASS OF 2012 Location:Laurel, MD
When I last left off, we had seven birds learning the ropes here at Patuxent: chicks 4-12 through 7-12 and 9-12 through 11-12 (8-12 is skipped since he's a genetic holdback). But why stop there?  Our aircraft would get awful lonely if they had only seven birds following them. Luckily, 12-12, 13-12 and 14-12 have hatched and are stepping into the wonderful world of migration.

Initially, we worried that #12-12 was a bit of a slow learner.  He didn't catch onto eating out of the bowl or drinking on his own until after the (slightly younger) younger #13-12 was getting worked outside of his pen. That isn't to say he hasn't caught up as there are times you can work him from outside the enclosure with satisfactory results, but there are still times that his memory needs jogging.  Sometimes you still have to get into his pen and politely remind him that a puppet bouncing up and down in his food dish means suppertime.  Oh, and yes, little chick, you have to take a drink from those big red and white jugs. Maybe he just doesn't like the food.  Can't say I blame him - the grain tastes like really bad instant pancake batter - Or so I'm told.  Perhaps he'd change his tune if we offered him a nice piping hot plate of mozzarella sticks and cheese pizza.  It'd sure change my attitude.

Number 13-12 has a better grasp on things, despite being a few hours younger than 12-12.  He responds to the puppet more, eats and drinks more, and learned to be worked without having someone come into the pen every time, sooner.  Unfortunately, little 13-12 is under a soft quarantine.  He had some diarrhea yesterday morning, which is a never a good sign.  When that happens, you can't enter his pen without donning Tyvek booties over your normal boots, so as not to track his cooties to some other bird's pen. It's kind of a pain.  Plus, you're always a little worried whether or not he really does have some sort of bug but since you can usually work him from the outside, it's not much of a big deal.

Since my stint in 2010, we've always had at least one or two crane chicks that have had the same treatment but they always got better.  In fact, 10-12 and 11-12 were under soft quarantine just a few days before number 13. A few daily doses of Baytril seemed to fix them.

Chick number 14-12 isn't so much a crane as he is a guppy.  The first time he took a swig from his water jug (as reluctant as he was), it was love at first sip! Now, I can get him to drink from it without even asking... If anything, at times, I have to pull him away from it so he can eat. Usually, it's the other way around (or, you're just having to drag him everywhere). His current record is fourteen sips in one session; however, his appetite is only so-so.  The fact he's drinking this well already an enormous step in the right direction. I did catch him taking some nice, big-boy bites from his bowl before I punched out for the day yesterday.  Not bad for a two-day-old if I say so myself - I think we can expect good things out of him once he meets the aircraft.

So now we should be up to date with making the introductions to this year’s class of little crane chicklets!




Above left: #12-12 hatched on May 12th

Above: #13-12 hatched in the afternoon of May 12th

Left: #14-12 hatched on May 15th.


These three new Whooping crane chicks are worthy of a WHOOP aren't they!? If you'd like to Give A WHOOP! in celebration of their arrival, visit the Give A WHOOP! page.


Date: May 18, 2012Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:ENDANGERED SPECIES DAYLocation:Main Office

Today, the third Friday in May, marks the celebration of Endangered Species Day. This day is set aside each year to celebrate and promote the nation's commitment to protecting and recovering endangered species. Organizations from parks to wildlife refuge, from zoos to museums, and from schools to conservation groups, hold events to educate and remind us all about the importance of protecting endangered species.

Scientists estimate that up to one-third of U.S. species are at increased risk of extinction, and more than 1,300 U.S. plants and animals already have been federally listed as threatened or endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, America harbors a remarkable array of plant and animal species, ranging from majestic mammals like bison and grizzly bears to tiny desert wildflowers. Unfortunately, many of our species have not fared well over the past few decades suffering from things such as habitat loss and the spread of invasive species.

It is never too late to learn the everyday actions that we all can take to help protect our nation’s wildlife - be they avian, mammal, fish or plants. Websites you might like to visit to read more about Endangered Species Day include this one, stopextinction.org where you can learn about endangered species where you live and also discover the Top 10 Things You Can Do at Home to Protect Endangered Species.

Date: May 17, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NESTING NEWSLocation:Main Office

Today Bev Paulan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  pilot confirmed that a sixth Whooping Crane chick, #W6-12, has hatched in the wild in Wisconsin!

We had suspected that pair #16-04 and #4-09 had a chick based on their behavior the past couple of days, but the chick wasn’t visible until today. There are currently four wild Whooping Crane chicks in Wisconsin (parents in parenthesis):

#W1-12 (12-02/19-04*)
#W4-12 (14-08/24-08*)
#W5-12 (13-02/18-02*)
#W6-12 (16-04/4-09*)

Six chicks in total have hatched, but unfortunately pair #24-09 and #42-09 lost both of their chicks (#W2-12 and #W3-12).
* denotes female

#W6-12, the tiny chick belonging to #16-04 and 4-09* is visible in the center of the circle. 

#W5-12, pictured in the circle is the offspring of 13-02 and 18-02*

Date: May 17, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray

Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reporting Indiana Conservation Officers, with assistance from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents, have completed an investigation into the killing of male whooping crane, number 27-08, in early January in Knox County, Indiana.

The Knox County Prosecutor is reviewing the case, and charges are pending against Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

According to the case report filed with the prosecutor, ICO Joe Haywood received information in mid-January that a whooping crane had been spotlighted at night and shot and killed with a high-powered rifle.

The ensuing investigation involved multiple law enforcement agencies, wildlife biologists and private individuals and provided information that identified the suspects and also linked the bird to a federal program to reintroduce whooping cranes in the eastern United States.

The whooping crane shot in Knox County was part of a nesting pair that was taught its migratory path by ultralight aircraft in the fall of 2008.

Number 27-08 becomes the the third confirmed shooting death of Whooping cranes in Indiana. The first occurred in late 2009 and involved the first female to successfully breed and raise a wild chick. Crane #17-02 was 7 years old at the time of her death. In December 2011, male Whooping crane number 6-05 was found shot to death in Jackson County, Indiana. His carcass was found Dec. 30 by a photographer near the Muscatatuck River basin about 40 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. The case involving number 6-05 is still being investigated.

Date: May 16, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MORE CUTENESSLocation:Main Office
This morning we spend a moment with Whooping crane chick #5-12. Brooke captured this photo on Monday morning before the rain moved in and put a halt to training. Number 5-12 is the second oldest chick (but only by hours) in the Class of 2012 and here he is spending time with the small aircraft, which looks HUGE in comparison to the tiny two-week old chick.

Date: May 15, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WARNING: CUTE ALERT!Location:Main Office
Rain has hampered aircraft conditioning for most of yesterday and today but Brooke sent along the following photograph showing the oldest Whooping crane chick, number 4-12 inspecting the puppet - no doubt looking for a treat to dispense.

The Robo-puppet is used at all times during aircraft conditioning. The pilot will coax the young chick from its enclosure by tapping the puppets beak along the ground and pulling a trigger that opens a small hole below puppets beak. When the hole is opened, mealworms fall out onto the ground to reward the chick for a job well done.

Date:May 15, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GREAT RESOURCE FOR BIRDERSLocation:Main Office

Avibase offers a wealth of information about birds around the world. There is now a new mobile version of Avibase, making it easier than ever before for smartphone users to access the same information found on the main Avibase website. As with the standard site, the mobile site provides bird checklists from virtually anywhere in the world, and also enables users to look at photos and listen to recordings for a majority of those birds.

To see photos and listen to sounds more quickly, visitors can now simply click on a species name within any checklist – a new feature that was recently introduced in both the mobile and the standard versions.

Avibase is one of the world’s most popular birding websites. Bird Studies Canada hosts the site, which is maintained by Avibase creator and BSC Senior Scientist Denis Lepage.

Date: May 14, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MILEMAKERS MAKE IT HAPPENLocation:Main Office

When the MileMaker campaign was introduced in 2003, the amount of a mile sponsorship was determined by dividing the total cost of the previous year’s migration by the number of migration air miles to be flown. That number was then further divided to provide for half and quarter mile sponsorships.

Ever escalating costs, however, make it illogical to expect the funding needed for future migrations not to exceed that of the previous years, so that necessitated a change. As a result, MileMaker 2012 sponsorships have transitioned to a symbolic amount. This transition will also allow for unexpected expenses and/or unbudgeted migration expenses to be covered while still maintaining ethical fundraising practices.

In the past, we were able to provide only full mile sponsors the opportunity to designate their contribution as a tribute to someone special, or to provide a special message alongside the mile they wished to sponsor. We were never able to offer that same perk to half and quarter mile sponsors. To rectify what was to many a disappointing deficiency, full mile sponsors, and half mile sponsors, and quarter mile sponsors of the MileMaker 2012 campaign will each have their own Sponsor Recognition webpage, giving ALL sponsors the ability to enter in the space provided a dedication or tribute comment and/or indicate the number of their ‘favorite’ mile.

Won't you please become a MileMaker sponsor today? A one mile sponsorship is $200; a half mile is $100; and a quarter mile is $50. Remember too, that being a 2012 MileMaker sponsor might also net you a sensational Thank You Gift!

Date: May 13, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CALL FOR SILENT AUCTION ITEMS!Location:Main Office

The second annual Whooping Crane Festival will be celebrated on Saturday, September 22 with activities in Berlin, Princeton, and Green Lake, Wisconsin. As a component of the celebration, we are holding a SILENT AUCTION.

\While we understand a large number of our supporters will not be able to attend, due to geographical/travel limitations, we still wanted to invite you to participate!

Last September your generosity in both contributed items and bidding resulted in slightly more than $3000.00 being raised. We are hoping to exceed that amount this year.

At this time, we are reaching out with the hope that you will contribute an item for the auction. Your name will be prominently displayed both online and at the event with your generous donation. All proceeds from this event will help Operation Migration build the Eastern Migratory flock of Whooping Cranes.

If you have an item you would like to contribute please respond by email to: Colleen(AT)operationmigration.org. Colleen Chase will be in touch with you immediately to arrange for shipping.

Date: May 12, 2012 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:TWO CELEBRATIONS! Location:Disney's Animal Kingdom, FL

Today is International Migratory Bird Day and as in past years, Joe and I will be on location with our display booth in Rafiki's Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Disney's Animal Kingdom Park. It would be hard to beat Disney's Animal Kingdom as a place to celebrate wildlife conservation - and we look forward to seeing YOU here.

For us, this year's visit has had something very special added. One of our ultralight aircraft has been re-fitted and is now on 'permanent' display at Conservation Station!

At Rafiki's Planet Watch last evening we held a small event to preview the exhibit. Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership representatives, Disney cast members, and a few invited guests joined us to honor Disney's long-term support of Whooping cranes and to celebrate this extraordinary opportunity to raise awareness for species conservation - and particularly Whooping cranes. Millions of guests of all ages from around the world visit Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park each year and the ultralight exhibit will provide unprecedented promotion of the work of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Although it refers to rearing children, the African-originated proverb, “It takes a village..…” equally and aptly describes what the reintroduction of the eastern population of migratory Whooping cranes takes. Everything is easier when you are part of a village, and have input from equally committed organizations, colleagues, supportive donors, and friends. In addition to WCEP's nine founding partners, there are dozens of other collaborating agencies and scores of individual 'villagers' who lend Whooping cranes a helping hand.

So it was that last evening, on behalf of Operation Migration and WCEP, Joe Duff acknowledged the many ‘ Disney villagers’ whose diverse contributions have played an integral role in the Whooping Crane reintroduction project's success. Some of those recognized were:

Dr. Jackie Ogden and her staff at Disney's Animal Kingdom
Kim Sams, Claire Martin, and the all staff at Disney's Worldwide Conservation Fund
Disney's Cast Members who act as Grant Reviewers - with a special shout out to Chelle Plasse
Dr. Scott Terrell and the Disney Health Team
Jay Therien, a Winter Monitoring veteran at St. Marks
Alex McMichael, intrepid IMBD man Friday
And, the 2 individuals who led the charge for the installation of the wonderful ultralight exhibit: 'Imagineer Gary Graham, and OM's and Whooping cranes' BFF, Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus.

Watch the Field Journal in days to come for more about the event as well as photos, but in the meantime, you can click here to see Disney's announcement.

Date: May 11, 2012Reporter: Geoff Tarbox
Subject:CLASS OF 2012 GROWSLocation: PWRC, Laurel, MD

Now, I've already introduced you all to the senior four birds of the Class of 2012: 4-12, 5-12, 6-12 and 7-12.  As it turns out 8-12 is destined to aid his species in his own way as a genetic holdback.  So that leaves us with three new little tikes: 9-12, 10-12 and 11-12.  Each and every one of them is alive and well and is making bold new progress.

Number 9-12 seems to run hot and cold - Most notably with his drinking.  Some sessions, he'll down drinks from the jug without you having to ask.  Other days, I have to beg on my knees just to get him to take one sip.  In theory, he should be getting worked from the outside with the puppet but he hasn't responded much to that - other than pecking and jabbing at the puppet, trying to figure out why it's dancing all of a sudden.

On the bright side, he eats just fine when you're in the pen with him. I think he likes having a buddy to eat with, as he'll keep on eating so long as you keep the puppet beak in the bowl.  He seems to value his beauty sleep; it's not unusual to find him curled up asleep as I'm trying to go in and work on him. Ali has noted on a couple of times he's fallen asleep just as he's trying to work with him. Granted, it does happen with others from time-to-time but this guy's trying to throw the average a little.

I worry number 10-12 is a slacker. When he was still in the ICU he was never responsive - either ignoring the puppet, or just tapping it enough to make it go away. Naturally, he doesn't eat or drink much, left alone on his own from the bowl of crumbles.  Or, if he does, he needs a lot of leading around. I haven't worked with him much ever since he moved to his own pen but the Patuxent staff has mentioned on occasion that his lazy ways haven't changed much. I'm sure he'll catch up with the other birds when he's good and ready, of course. 

Chick 11-12 isn't as withdrawn as 10-12 was.  I'm not ashamed to say that I got him to eat and drink out of the bowl one of my first sessions with him in the ICU.  However, it turned out to be a one-time deal, as he went back to staggering around the Plexiglas box and/or trying to escape out the door.  He seems to be fairly good at it, as he's gotten past me once or twice.  But he never gets far. As soon as he drops from the ICU to the tabletop (it's a one inch drop, so don't worry), he just sits on the table, motionless, almost like he's pouting "Somebody pushed me.  Poopie-head!"  As it’s cute and kinda comical, it makes it real easy to scoop him up and place him back in the ICU.  I'm sure he was thrilled when he got moved to his new pen yesterday.  Sharon tells me he had no trouble getting cozy, as he fell asleep not long after moving to his new pen.

Now we should be all caught up on the introductions until a 12-12, 13-12 or a 14-12 joins the party.  I should also tell you that numbers 4-12, 5-12 and 6-12 have all met the aircraft or ‘trike’ as we like to call it.  Brooke and I have helped 4-12 and 5-12 take the first big step as ultralight birds by starting the engine up next to them.  They can now hold their ground against the scary roar of the engine.  Brooke could tell you better than I could, but they seemed to have performed to his satisfaction.  6-12 was a little more timid of the trike's roaring engine and isn't quite ready to follow.  But I'm sure he will be tomorrow or the day after.  The time spent with the trike is what was important.  After all, this was one of his first times completely outside of his pen.  That alone can be daunting. Especially since 6-12 can be a little nervous at times).

Number 7-12's first date with the trike is just around the corner.  Once he learns to eat on his own, and hold onto his weight, he'll be running around after that 3-wheeled aircraft in no time!

Above: number 9-12. Hatch date: May 7

Above Right: number 10-12. Hatch date: May 7

Right: number 11-12. Hatch date: May 9

WHOOP! to welcome the newest members of the Class of 2012. Visit the Give A WHOOP! page to make your $10 WHOOP! heard.


Date: May 10, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CLASS OF 2011Location:Main Office
The latest word we have received from the tracking team is that the 9 cranes from the Class of 2011 have not moved a great deal since returning to Wisconsin and the 10th Whooping crane, #1-11 has yet to turn up.

Yesterday we received the following two images showing the group of four young cranes consisting of #'s 3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11. This group arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20 - 8 days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered.

They are barely showing any signs of the cinnamon colored feathers they use to have...


Meanwhile, approximately 20 miles to the northeast and still in Columbia County, the group of three consisting of #'s 7-11, 10-11 and the youngest of last year's cohort, #12-11 (photo below) continue to spend their time foraging in small wetlands and grassy areas. This group has been at this location, also since April 20th.
Whooping crane #9-11 had been reported in Grant County, WI on April 20th, and a photograph submitted confirmed a broken antenna on her PTT unit, which would explain the lack of reports for this crane. Crane #2-11, the young bird that broke away from the ultralight-guided group on the second day of the southward migration last fall, is still in Adams County, WI - approximately 35 miles from White River Marsh.


Date: May 9, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject: INTRODUCING... WILD HATCHED TWINS!Location:Main Office
Whooping crane parents DAR 42-09* and 24-09 and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership are proud to announce the arrival of TWO chicks! The first arrived sometime Monday and was spotted by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan (photo below). In the photo the chick appears to be drying itself in the sun and the egg at the opposite side of the nest looks as if the chick has recently emerged from it. The parent crane is still sitting, likely on the other egg or a previously hatched chick.

ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski visited the Adams County site today to check on the nest and in the second photo you can see the TWO wild hatched Whooping crane chicks. This is the first nest attempt for this 3 yr old pair.

Welcome WILD Whooping crane chicks W2-12 & W3-12!

Now that's something to WHOOP! about!

Date: May 8, 2012 Reporter: Geoff Tarbox

So... Thought you'd seen the last of me, did you?  You Craniacs aren't getting rid of me that easily!  I could do this job for a thousand years and each year it always feels like a new adventure.  This is my fourth year and no two flocks are alike and no two migrations are alike.

Each flock always leads us on new and unusual escapades that give us new stories to tell.  For 2009, we had the flock that started off as a bunch of head-strong delinquents who had no loyalty to the trike but dramatically turned around to gel into a cohesive flock.

2010 saw the flock that found their stride and whizzed into Florida with time to spare (okay it wasn't the fastest migration on record - But it was for me).  For 2011, it was breaking new ground and making fresh start at White River Marsh.  I can only imagine what chapters of our lives these 2012 cranes will come to represent.

As of right now, there are five whoopers at Patuxent getting ready to embark on the journey our whole year revolves around.  The oldest, number 4-12 impressed me by starting to eat on his own after two days in his pen, a new record in my tenure. 

Chick number 5-12 impressed many as a goofy little guy barely able to walk or focus long enough to grab a bite to eat.  Now he's all but eating on his own.  The other three are trying to catch up, with varying degrees of success.  6-12 was at first a silly little guy who could barely stay awake long enough to take a drink.  Proving they change and develop so quickly - when I last worked him, he kept taking hits off that water jug like there was a prize in it.

Little number 7-12 got startled by his own reflection in the Plexiglas just after we moved him into his new pen.  Poor guy needed a carpet taped to his window to mask the reflection to calm him down.

Number 8-12 is still sequestered in the ICU.  We can only hope he doesn't follow in 8-11's footsteps from last year. That little demon was such a bully that he couldn’t be trained with any other chicks and had to be held back at Patuxent for additional socialization. That's an adventure that doesn't need repeating.

Where will they go from there?  Will they leave us in awe and wonder as they latch onto the aircraft and never look back?  Or will the trek be filled with perils and hurdles that will only make our migration that much more riveting and memorable when we finish?  Personally, I think this year could shape up into something magical. As usual, we have a long road of us but I always look forward to walking it with these amazing birds.

Whooping Crane #4-12: The oldest in this year's Class hatched early on April 30th

#5-12: Also hatched on April 30th but in the afternoon.

#6-12: Hatched on May 3rd. The tape on his/her left foot holds a small stick on the toe to convince it to grow straight.



We think Geoff's return and the arrival of the first five Whooping crane chicks is WHOOP! worthy. Won't you Give A WHOOP!

#7-12 hatched May 4th and has a LOT of taped toes.

#8-12 hatched out on May 5th, however, we have just learned that this chick is considered genetically significant and will be held back to augment the captive population.


Date: May 7, 2012 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MAKING SENSE OF THE NUMBERS Location:Main Office
We get a lot of requests from new followers asking about the crane numbers. There are a number of other questions as well but we'll deal with the numbers for now and try to make sense of the system.

Each Whooping crane chick is assigned a number based on their hatch order. So, the first chick to hatch in any given year becomes number 1. The second chick to hatch is number 2 and so on until there are no more eggs left to hatch.

The second set of digits in the cranes' number is the year in which it hatches. Number 1, who hatched in 2011 becomes number 1-11 and number 2 becomes number 2-11 and so on.

So, it would make sense that the two whooping crane chicks that hatched early last week would be Whooping cranes 1-12 and 2-12, right? NOT. It seems that this year the crane crew at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is also hatching out Sandhill cranes for another research project and three Sandhill eggs hatched prior to the Whooper eggs, securing them the numbers 1-12, 2-12 and 3-12.

So, the first two Whooping cranes destined for the ultralight-aircraft release project this year are numbered 4-12 and 5-12 and NOT 1-12 and 2-12. Confused yet?

Tune in later today or tomorrow morning for Geoff Tarbox's first entry of the 2012 season! We're thrilled that Geoff has decided to return for a 4th season and has been with the young cranes at Patuxent for the past week. He has promised me an update to tell us how many chicks there are currently and how they're doing. Welcome back Geoff!

Date: May 6, 2012Reporter:Liz Condie

Saturday, May 12th, is International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) and our friends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have once again invited us to join in their celebrations. Joe and I will be on location in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom Park.

On so many levels, the moral and financial support and encouragement we have received from Disney – every year since the reintroduction project’s inception - has not only been invaluable to OM, it has helped make the project the success it is.

With OM and Disney we have, as Joe once said, “…a classic example of cross-species synergy; a little mouse helping out an endangered bird.”

If you live nearby Orlando, or will be visiting the area that weekend, please stop by Operation Migration’s display booth – we’d love to see you. This year, guests who visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch will see a brand new and very exciting exhibit. I’m not going to tell you what it is – at least not just yet…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for Craniacs who plan to attend.

While Joe and I are at Animal Kingdom we will also be giving a presentation about the Whooping crane reintroduction project to interested Disney cast members at a ‘Brown Bag Lunch’. So many Disney folk volunteer their time, expertise - and often their muscle and sweat – to assist with a diversity of tasks that we just couldn’t manage to accomplish without their help. We’re looking forward to seeing many of these terrific volunteers at our presentation so we can thank them in person.

OM’s presence for IMBD takes considerable planning and arranging. For this we are especially grateful to Disney Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus. Every year without fail, Scott goes out of his way to ensure our stay there is the magical experience Disney is famous for.

Come share the magic with us and all the folks at Disney for International Migratory Bird Day on May 12th. We’ll be looking for YOU!

Date: May 5, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff

Last year when we developed the site at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area we were under serious time constraints. When the permits were finally in place we only had two weeks before the birds were scheduled to arrive. In that short period we had to dig a depression and surround it with chain link fence to create a wet pen area. Then we had to build a dry pen using 4x4 posts and 2x4 stringers. We lined that structure with steal roofing material driven two feet into the ground to deter digging predators and we covered the entire structure with top-netting.

While this was underway, we also had to build an access road. The main entrance road to the pensite area is about a half mile long and ends at a gravel parking area. From there a path led over a stream and out into a flat, albeit overgrown, area that eventually became our runway. That path had to be built up with earth, topped with gravel and allowed to dry for a week or two before it would support vehicles. That meant most of the material we used to create the pens had to be carried out by hand or loaded into the bucket of a bobcat.

Wisconsin DNR staff also built a water structure along the access road to drain the entire upland area. The day after the road was finally finished, we had 5 inches of rain that covered the spillway but the roadbed held. We used it all summer to access the pen area.

Yesterday they had another five inches of rain but this time the road gave way. That rain event followed two other heavy rain days and the backup was just too much. We will have to wait until the water level drops to see how much material has washed away and how much we will have to replace.

The good news is that the runway has been leveled and is now nice and flat.
The bad news is that it is too wet to seed and so far it’s just dirt – or mud.
The good news is the water levels are up and the wet pen is full.
The bad news is that the road is gone.
The good news is that it can be fixed.
The bad news is that it will cost.

Date: May 4, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WCEP NESTING NEWS UPDATELocation:Main Office
There are currently 15 pairs of cranes still on nests in central Wisconsin. The newly hatched chick, #W1-12 and parents are doing well. An additional pair is due to hatch a chick hopefully yesterday or today.  Of the remaining 14 active nests, 3 are due to hatch within the next week.

Be sure to check out Journey North's final update for the Spring season, which include a great table listing all nests from the current season.

The following images were captured on May 1st and show the pair consisting of 5-09* and 33-07 with their second nest attempt of the season.

One crane appears to be rolling the egg while the mate watches.

After rolling the egg the adult settles in for a period of incubation while the mate forages nearby. Whooping crane parents share incubation duties.

Date: May 3, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:THE IDIOTS ARE WINNING...Location:Main Office

Another Whooping crane was shot last week, this one in South Dakota.

It was an adult, in the company of two others and on its way from the gulf coast of Texas to the Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada. Whooping cranes are not colonial birds that flock together in large numbers. Instead they generally migrate in family groups, so the two others could have been its mate and their chick from last year. They still had another 1000 miles to go to reach their nesting grounds. If the third bird was their offspring from last season, they would have shooed it off before they re-claimed their territory and built a nest for this year’s eggs.

Whooping cranes are anything but camouflaged. At five feet tall in bright white feathers, they stand out like a beacon and make an obvious target for those so inclined. This bird was shot with a high powered rifle while it stood in a field. That brings the number of Whooping cranes shot in the last two and a half years to twelve.

I purposely used the word “shot” so it wouldn’t be confused with “hunted.” There are two words to describe the activity of using a gun to harvest wild prey. One is hunting and it describes the legal taking of game species for sport. The other word is poaching but that has connotations of stealing something for food and that was not the case here or in any of the other shootings. There should be another name for people who shoot things just to kill them.

It is hard to understand why someone would want to kill a Whooping crane simply because they can. Maybe it’s an act of defiance or a belief that the rules apply to everyone but them, or perhaps it’s displaced aggression; they kill a Whooping crane because they can’t kill their boss. One of the arguments we have heard consistently is that they didn’t know what it was and if we had done a better job of educating people, it wouldn’t happen. Now there is a warped sense of privilege for you.

Many words can be used to describe that attitude. The list starts with terms like self-serving and arrogant and degrades to adjectives like ignorant. Then it drops below the line that is only printable if it’s scrawled on the wall of a public urinal.

The one term you can’t use to describe them is “hunter.” Real hunters obey the rules; in fact they often make the rules. They are also responsible for most of the conservation work that takes place. Hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the Wild Turkey Federation protect thousands of acres of habitat while a tax on firearms and ammunition known as the Pittman Robertson Act has provided over 5 billion dollars to wildlife projects. But twelve birds in just over two years is far too many and maybe it is time we asked hunting organizations for help. Perhaps they would welcome the opportunity to educate the morons with the twisted values.

Or maybe you can’t reach people that stupid. They say that if you make it idiot proof, they will simply make a better idiot.

Date: May 2, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is celebrating another success in its efforts to reintroduce a wild migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America. A whooping crane chick hatched Monday in Wood County, Wisconsin.

The chick, #W1-12 (W = wild hatched), is the offspring of whooping crane pair #12-02 and #19-04 from the ultralight-led crane Classes of 2002 and 2004.

The pair has produced eggs every year since 2008, but until this year, their eggs have always been infertile. The pair proved to be good parents in 2010, when their infertile egg was replaced with a captive-produced fertile whooping crane egg, and the pair hatched and raised the chick (W3-10) to fledging.

Thanks to the efforts of WCEP, there are now 106 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population. Fourteen additional pairs of Whooping cranes are currently incubating eggs in the core reintroduction area of Wisconsin.

Wild Whooping crane chick #W1-12 pictured with parents 12-02 & 19-04* one day after it was discovered.
Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF with aerial support from LightHawk.

Whooping crane parents 12-02 & 19-04* on their winter habitat. Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF

Date: May 1, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GIVE A WHOOP!Location:Main Office
The 2012 Give A WHOOP! campaign launches TODAY to coincide with the hatching of the first member of the Class of 2012!

Whooping crane number 1-12 broke free from the confines of its shell earlier today and is currently being cared for by the staff at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD who report that the little guy/gal has passed the cuteness test.

Help us celebrate this newest generation of Whooping cranes and what is in store for them throughout the next few months.

This year the Give A WHOOP! campaign will be promoted around several 'milestone' events including; The 2012 Whooping crane chicks hatching; Their arrival at the summer training site at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI and when they are eventually released at their winter home in Florida later this fall/winter. We hope you'll will WHOOP! with us and help to commemorate these (and other) milestones!

At the conclusion of each important event, we will draw the name of one lucky supporter to receive a beautiful Janet Flynn, watercolor print of a lone Whooping crane. This lovely print is definitely frame-worthy and measures 12.5" wide x 23.5" high. Click to see preview. Recipient names will of course be entered back into the grand thank you draw which will be made on March 31, 2013. The recipient of this gift will receive a $50 certificate redeemable in the OM Marketplace; a Janet Flynn watercolor print AND an incredible set of 8x42 Ranger binoculars courtesy of Eagle Optics! 

Have YOU WHOOP'd yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our fundraising goal and allow us to carry out our work with the Class of 2012 Whooping cranes. We'll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws as outlined above.

WHOOP Loud & Proud!

Date: May 1, 2012 Reporter:Heather Ray

The following article was published late last week on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website and tells about the great successes experienced with the Trumpeter swan reintroduction in Wisconsin. We would like to congratulate everyone involved and look forward to the day that we can celebrate similar success with the Whooping crane reintroduction.

Twenty-five years after efforts began to restore Trumpeter swans to Wisconsin's landscape, state wildlife officials are celebrating a record number of nesting pairs as annual monitoring surveys of the birds begin.

"The good news is great news," says Sumner Matteson, the Department of Natural Resources biologist who has led the program since it started in 1987. "We had 197 nesting pairs in 2011 -- the highest number we've had to date. That's about 10 times the recovery goal we set in the 1980s, and it's extremely gratifying and a reflection of the partnerships that made it possible. We hope that this field season we'll set another new record."

DNR, with help from partners and volunteers, conducts several surveys to keep tabs on the swans, including aerial surveys to identify nests and confirm the hatching of cygnets. Those aerial surveys will begin shortly, followed by surveys done by biologists to check nests to see if the eggs are viable, and fall surveys in which biologists and volunteers round up cygnets and put numbered bands on their necks to help keep track of them in coming years.

After the 2012 field season ends, DNR will continue to monitor the bird but not every year. "We’ve been monitoring the flock every year statewide every year since 1989. We've come to a fork in the road where we no longer need to monitor annually so the next survey will be five years from now."

Market hunting and demand for the feathers of trumpeter swans brought these birds, one of North America's largest, to near-extinction in Wisconsin and other upper Midwest states by the 1880s.

Wisconsin put the species on the state's endangered species list in the 1980s, which made it illegal to kill, transport, possess, process or sell them, and launched a recovery effort that collected eggs from the wilds of Alaska, hatched them at the Milwaukee Zoo, and reared the young in the wild using decoys, and in captivity, before releasing them.

Scores of organizations, businesses and private individuals worked to carry out the recovery effort with state wildlife managers, technicians, research scientists, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife ecologists, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service staff. Two of the partners, Mary and Terry Kohler of Sheboygan were honored April 25 at the state Natural Resources Board meeting in Madison for their role in helping transport from Alaska the eggs used in the recovery program, and for their financial and other help.

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin helped secure much needed funding, and the Endangered Resources Fund and the bird's protected status under the endangered species law both significantly aided outreach efforts, Matteson says.

Trumpeter swans reached the recovery goal early -- more than doubling the 20 breeding pairs hoped for by 2000 --and Wisconsin removed it from the endangered species list in 2009. Trumpeter swan nests are now found in 24 Wisconsin counties.

Becky Abel, who designed the decoy-rearing technique as a UW-graduate student and is now associate director of The Trumpeter Swan Society, says Wisconsin's program has been wildly successful and has played an important role nationally.

The interior population is now growing at an impressive rate and may have the fewest hazards of any of the populations at this time, she says. "The Wisconsin birds are a critical piece of that because they have established migratory traditions." The decoy-reared Wisconsin birds pioneered and started new patterns of migration, which was important because the birds had been extirpated, so those traditions had been lost. Wisconsin birds taught other birds those migratory patterns, and now we are seeing more birds migrating out of Wisconsin than any other state, Abel says. She credits DNR for being willing to try decoy rearing, an approach that was modeled off of other species' re-introductions, but which had not yet been tried with trumpeter swans.

"There was a lot of criticism for that early on, but the technique proved to be really great in combination with other approaches and as a result, the Wisconsin program now is held up as a flagship program. That is something the state can be proud of -- being willing to take those chances for better returns."

Matteson says the program's success has been tremendously satisfying. "In the early years of the program we had some slow going," he says. "But what this program demonstrated over 25 years is to really adhere to a vision and not to give up on a goal but to persist in working with partners and the public in making a project of this magnitude happen."

More information on the trumpeter swan recovery are found on the Trumpeter Swan page in DNR's year-long web series, Celebrating 40 years of protecting Wisconsin's natural heritage.

Date:April 30, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ST. MARKS NWRLocation:Main Office

To see the country's most incredible wildlife, you don't have to head to a national park. Black bears, buffalo, alligators, and other cool creatures take up residence in the protected habitats of 556 national wildlife refuges across America.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the nation's premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida's Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the System has grown to more than 150 million acres, 556 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 38 wetland management districts.

Nearly 46 million people visit national wildlife refuges each year. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, nearly 27,000 people were employed and $542.8 million in employment income was generated.

Smarter Travel recently featured a pictorial showcasing their top 10 National Wildlife Refuge picks and the St. Marks NWR is in the top 10!

Date: April 29, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Next week birders from across the Southeast will flock to Unicoi State Park for north Georgia’s only major birding festival. With more than 60 field trips, programs and hands-on activities to choose from, Georgia Mountain BirdFest is open to birders of all ages and skill levels. Unicoi State Park and Lodge is excited to be hosting the 2nd Annual Georgia Mountain BirdFest! Nestled in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, Unicoi is only a short distance from Atlanta, and located adjacent to the Chattahoochee National Forest and Anna Ruby Falls.

Joe Duff will be the keynote speaker on Saturday, May 5th from 6-8pm, telling about his experiences of guiding Whooping Cranes via ultralight on their first migration. Other presenters include E.J. Williams, a migratory bird specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and avid birders Cameron Cox of Leica Sport Optics and Georgann Schmalz of Birding Adventures, Inc.

Running May 3 – 6, the festival includes more than 20 guided field trips to locations such as Ivy Log Gap Road, Brasstown Bald, Smithgall Woods, Anna Ruby Falls, Sosebee Cove and the normally restricted Buck Shoals. More than 60 seminar topics cover bats and butterflies as well as birds, with titles such as Binoculars 101, Warbler ID, Tree ID, Bat Conservation in Georgia, Nature Photography and Birding by Ear. Vendors include Leica Optics, wildlife artist Alan Young, Wild Birds Unlimited and others.

Registration for this four-day conference is $135. Register online or call 706-878-2201 ext. 305.

Date: April 28, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A VISIT WITH 7, 10 & 12-11Location:Main Office
A glimpse of juvenile cranes 7, 10 and 12-11 captured and submitted to us yesterday. This trio has been spending the past week at a secluded location in Columbia County, approximately 30 miles south of where they took their first flights at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, WI.

Left: #10-11, middle #7-11* and right: #12-11*

Left front:  #10-11, Left back: #7-11* and Right: #12-11*

*denotes female

Date: April 27, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MILEMAKERS MAKE IT HAPPENLocation:Main Office

When the MileMaker campaign was introduced in 2003, the amount of a mile sponsorship was determined by dividing the total cost of the previous year’s migration by the number of migration air miles to be flown. That number was then further divided to provide for half and quarter mile sponsorships.

Ever escalating costs, however, make it illogical to expect the funding needed for future migrations not to exceed that of the previous years, so that necessitated a change. As a result, MileMaker 2012 sponsorships have transitioned to a symbolic amount. This transition will also allow for unexpected expenses and/or unbudgeted migration expenses to be covered while still maintaining ethical fundraising practices.

In the past, we were able to provide only full mile sponsors the opportunity to designate their contribution as a tribute to someone special, or to provide a special message alongside the mile they wished to sponsor. We were never able to offer that same perk to half and quarter mile sponsors. To rectify what was to many a disappointing deficiency, full mile sponsors, and half mile sponsors, and quarter mile sponsors of the MileMaker 2012 campaign will each have their own Sponsor Recognition webpage, giving ALL sponsors the ability to enter in the space provided a dedication or tribute comment and/or indicate the number of their ‘favorite’ mile.

The Class of 2012 is scheduled to begin hatching next week - Won't you please become a MileMaker sponsor today? A one mile sponsorship is $200; a half mile is $100; and a quarter mile is $50. Remember too, that being a 2012 MileMaker sponsor might also net you a sensational Thank You Gift!

Date: April 26, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:DUSTY OLD LOG BOOKSLocation:Main Office

I was rummaging through my bottom desk drawer this morning and came across my stack of old pilot log books. I grabbed the lowest one in the pile and opened it to the first page.

It’s funny how your perception of time does not match the reality. My mind thinks I am still in my fifties, there is no way my daughter can be 12 already and surely the 9-11 crisis was only a few years ago.

Seeing the date on page one of my log book was one of those moments when the reality and the perception are forced together and it hits you just how old you really are. It seems I have been flying ultralight aircraft for thirty years. In fact the first aircraft I ever soloed was a Cessna 150 in the summer of 1971. I took a long sabbatical while I built my photography career and then discovered ultralights in the early 1980s.

Over the years I have kept reasonably accurate records of my time aloft but I have never added them all up. I log the hours, but not the totals. An estimate would put it around 2500 hours. I know Brooke has a similar amount and I think Richard has around 1500 hours. That means that together we have spent more than 9 months airborne. That sounds like a lot of time but in fact it is nothing compared to many pilots. My older brother fights forest fires with a helicopter and will retire soon with close to 30,000 hour. He has spent over three years of his life off the ground.

I don’t know why I started rambling about this or why I wasted time looking at old log books. Maybe because it has been almost three months since I last flew and I am looking forward to when I next get airborne. That is why all pilots are envious of birds. They don’t have to wait to go play in the sky. They simply open their wings, take two steps and leave it all behind.

Date: April 25, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CLASS OF 2011 UPDATELocation:Main Office

We received some updated PTT information yesterday that tells us where Whooping cranes 4-11 and 7-11 roosted. We know that numbers 3 and 6-11 are traveling with number 4-11 as the WCEP tracking team detected radio signals from all three at the same location on Friday afternoon. PTT hits confirmed that #4-11 (and company) have spent the weekend in the area of southern Columbia County and northern Dane County, approximately 43 miles south of the White River Marsh reintroduction site.

Number 7-11 spent the weekend a bit further north; still in Columbia County - approximately 27 miles south of White River Marsh and unfortunately, we don't know as yet, who is traveling with her.

The PTT reports for number 9-11 have been few and far between but a report came in via the public report website along with the following image, taken by Linda Halpin. The image confirms that this is indeed number 9-11 and also confirms that the antenna has broken off the PTT device on her right leg. The photograph was taken April 20th in Grant County, WI.

A quick addendum: We learned from a Wisconsin DNR survey flight conducted yesterday afternoon that juvenile cranes 7, 10 & 12-11 are traveling together and another group contains: 3, 4, 5 & 6-11. Crane number 1-11 is the only ultralight-led crane currently unaccounted for.


Date: April 24, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:REWARD OFFEREDLocation:Main Office

UPDATED: The Whooping Crane Conservation Association will pay a reward not to exceed $10,000 to anyone who provides information which leads to the conviction of any individuals responsible for the killing of a whooping crane which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012 along 354th Avenue, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, S.D. The purpose of the reward is to encourage the public to share information they might have about criminal activities involving whooping cranes. Federal, State, Provincial, and other public law enforcement personnel, and criminal accomplices who turn “states” evidence to avoid prosecution, shall not be eligible for this reward. If more than one informant is key to solving a specific case, the reward will be equally divided between the informants.

Law enforcement officers from the Service and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are investigating the shooting. The migrating adult whooping crane was traveling with two additional whooping cranes before being shot with a high-power rifle as it was standing in a corn field.

Anyone with information should call either the 24-hour Turn in a Poacher Hotline at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 605-224-9045 to report any information which will aid officers in the apprehension of the shooter. Callers can remain anonymous.

Eleven whooping cranes from the Eastern Migratory Population and the non-migratory Louisiana population have been shot in the last two years. The Alabama case of January, a year ago, is still active. The Louisiana shootings have been solved by State Law Enforcement personnel and a reward will not be involved. One case is still active in Indiana where the State has offered $2,500, the Fish and Wildlife Service $2,500 and the Humane Society $2,500 in reward.

Donations are being requested for the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s Reward Account. Donations should be mailed to Whooping Crane Conservation Association, 2139 Kennedy Avenue, Loveland, CO, USA 80538. Donations are tax-deductible. Or, donations can be made on the Association’s web page www.whoopingcrane.com Then click on “Membership” and make a donation.

Date: April 23, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Journey NorthLocation:Main Office

Journey North is a free, Internet-based program that explores the related aspects of seasonal change. Through interrelated investigations, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them.

There are 3 main areas of study:

  • Sunlight and the Seasons: Children study seasonal change in sunlight in a global game of hide and seek called Mystery Class.
  • Plants and the Seasons: Children explore tulip growth in their own gardens, running an experiment that tracks the arrival of spring.
  • Seasonal Migrations: Children follow animal migrations. They observe, research, and report findings and watch journeys progress on live maps.

Through the seasonal migration component students (and adults) can learn about American Robins, Bald Eagles, Frogs, Gray Whales, Hummingbirds, Monarch Butterflies, Mystery Class, Red-winged Blackbirds, and of course our favorite, Whooping Cranes!

If you would like to see one of the latest Whooping crane updates from Journey North Science Writer, Jane Duden, check out this link.

Widely considered a best-practices model for education, Journey North is the nation's premiere "citizen science" project for children. The general public is welcome to participate. To register visit http://www.learner.org/jnorth/reg/

Journey North has recently released a smart phone app that will allow users to Take Journey North outside and report sightings from the field. You can view maps, take and submit photos and interact with other app users. The app is currently available for iPhone’s and will soon be released for Android platform.

Date: April 22, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:GOODSEARCH/GOODSHOPLocation:Main Office

Raise money for Operation Migration each time you search the Internet or shop online!

Once a year, the search engine "GoodSearch," disburses funds to registered non-profits. Goodsearch is a Yahoo powered search engine which makes a donation to us each time you do a search of the internet or shop online at participating stores and select Operation Migration as the recipient.

Since 2005, Operation Migration has been the beneficiary of $4183.54 via GoodSearch and GoodShop and we'd like encourage you to give it a try. Just join GoodSearch.com – and every time you search the internet or shop online and select Operation Migration as your designated recipient charity, a donation is made to us. Your every day actions will help Whooping cranes and it won't cost you a thing!

Operation Migration currently has 937 GoodSearch/GoodShop registered supporters. If each and every one of the 937 supporters made just one search each day, this is what we could do.

1 search per day = $9.37 each day.
30 days per month, on average = $281.80 each month.
8 complete months left in 2012.

If all the above were to happen, $2,248.80 would be donated to Operation Migration and the Class of 2012 – Just from your searches and purchases made online! Here is a list of retailers that donate a percentage of your online shopping to your designated charity.

Don't know where to start? Click this link and designate OM as your charity.

Date: April 21, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MORE DETAILSLocation:Main Office

When we left off yesterday we knew that numbers 4-11 & 7-11, while traveling separately, were both closing in on the White River Marsh area after making an abrupt easterly course correction on Thursday. Anne Lacey had dispatched a crew to head over to the area with a receiver to see if they could pick up any other VHF signals which would tell us which cranes were with also traveling with 4 & 7-11.

Anne reported later in the afternoon that signals from cranes 3-11 & 6-11 were picked up near number 4-11 but she did not have news about #7-11 and her possible travel companions.

A report came in yesterday afternoon via the Public Report form that places #9-11 in Grant County, WI along the Wisconsin River, which is where #4-11 previously was before she corrected course.

If any further details come in today, we will update.

Date: April 20, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:EXCITING NEWS!Location:Main Office

This morning we got exciting news from ICF’s Anne Lacey that our birds are getting closer to home.

On April 17 number 7-11 roosted near the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota and 4-11 was 34 miles southeast on the Wisconsin River. It seems that whatever navigation aids they use kicked in simultaneously and both of them headed due east from separate locations. 7-11 is now in eastern Marquette County, Wisconsin. That puts her very close to the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area where she started. 4-11 is in southern Columbia County, Wisconsin which is a short distance south of White River and very near to our third migration stopover.

The WCEP tracking team is heading over to the area with receivers to see if they can determine which birds are together. Stay tuned…

Date: April 20, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:TIME FLIESLocation:Main Office

They say that time flies when you are having fun but I think the same can be said for when you are over worked. It seems like only yesterday that we finished the migration or at least delivered the birds to Wheeler, but here is it spring already with the first captive egg expected to hatch at Patuxent on May 2nd.

Of course it doesn’t help that we didn’t end our abbreviated migration until February 4th or that we had to work closely with the FAA for the next two months to get approval to fly again. On top of ending one fiscal year and starting another, there are preparations for the early training at Patuxent and the summer training at White River Marsh.

When we developed the site last year we had to dig a depression below the water table to create a wet pen for the birds to roost in at night. Because this a natural area managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, all the earth that was removed from that hole cannot be left in an un-natural pile. It must be removed or spread flat without causing damage to the natural flora. Before the birds arrived last year, it was too wet to get heavy equipment in to haul it out so we were allowed to let it sit temporarily. Because they had an early thaw this spring we now have time to make use of that pile of dirt.

Last year we were able to create a runway out of wild wetlands with only marginal work. We had a few roots to pull and some grass to cut but it was surprising how flat it was considering what we started with. That’s not to say it was perfect. During the early training when we were taxiing back and forth it was OK but as the birds grew larger and their speed increased, the bumps and rolls began to cause us problems. There are two undulations to the northeast end. During a takeoff run, just when the aircraft is getting light on its wheels, the first of these ridges launched you into the air before the wing was prepared to take the full load. The aircraft would bump down hard on the second ridge and catapult back into the air making our departure look as if Captain Kangaroo was the pilot in command.

That dirt has now been moved onto the runway and a local contractor will soon spread it out and flatten it with a vibrating roller. Hopefully by the time the birds arrive this year in late June the natural grasses will have poked through and all that will be needed is to mow it flat.

Before we could construct the pen last year we had to build an access road between the parking lot and the runway. A natural stream drains the area where the road is now and the DNR built a water structure there will planks that can be set in place to control how much water escapes. That seems to be working well and the water levels are higher than it has been in the past. This will help us maintain water in the wet pen and also keep the wetlands from drying out too fast. That will provide more habitat for the 2011 birds if they return as hoped.

Three of the cranes from last year are fitted with GPS tracking devices that report their location on three day intervals. The last report indicates they have split up into at least two groups. On the evening of April 17th number 7-11 roosted in Houston County, Minnesota, along the Mississippi River while 4-11 roosted 34 miles to the southeast of her on the Wisconsin River. That puts them both about a hundred miles to the west southwest of the pensite at White River Marsh. There were no usable hits for the third GPS crane, #9-11. Because only three of them are fitted with these satellite devices, it is impossible to know which, if any, of the other of the birds from this flock of nine are with which group.

Here is the latest overall map showing the PTT locations for Whooping cranes 4, 7 & 9-11 since departing the Wheeler NWR on April 12th.

Date: April 19, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NESTING UPDATELocation:Main Office

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan conducted an aerial survey April 17th and submitted the following nesting news and photographs. There are currently 10 active nests located in the core reintroduction area in Wisconsin.

Nesting pairs include: 


















1 egg confirmed












2 eggs confirmed




Either 5-05 or 15-04* incubating an egg(s)

The nest of 7-07 and DAR 39-07*. Bev said that as she flew over both cranes were off the nest. She watched them walk back toward the nest and one of the birds stepped up onto the nest. After reviewing the large version of the image, she could see two eggs in the nest.







W1-06* incubating her nest very near to the former North training site on the Necedah NWR.

W1-06* the first wild-hatched Whooping crane in the Eastern Migratory Population. She is the offspring of cranes 11-02 & 17-02*.

#17-02 was the female found dead from gunshot in Vermillion County, Indiana on Dec. 1, 2009.



Date:April 18, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:2012/13 DUCK STAMP UNVEILEDLocation:Main Office

Presenting the 2012-2013 Federal Duck Stamp, featuring a Wood duck painted by Joseph Hautman of Minnesota. The stamp goes on sale June 29, 2012.

There were five qualifying species in this latest Duck stamp competition: a Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Wood Duck, and Gadwall. This is the fourth time Hautman has won the competition.

The proceeds from the $15-stamp will go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to secure wetland and grassland habitat for the Refuge System. Since the 1930s, more than $700 million has been raised from stamp sales and the funding used to secure over 5.2 million acres of valuable wetland and grassland habitat for the Refuge System. Approximately $25 million a year is currently collected through annual stamp sales. In addition, the stamp can be used from July 2012 through June 2013 to gain free admission to any National Wildlife Refuge in the country that charges an entry fee.

You can buy a stamp at most large Post Offices, National Wildlife Refuges with Visitor Centers, Bass Pro Shops, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and various other sporting-goods stores.

Also unveiled yesterday is this Flickr gallery of the 2012 Junior Duck Stamp Best of Show art! You can watch the Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest this Friday - in person at Patuxent Research Refuge or online - to see which of these beautiful pieces wins top honors!

Visit this link for general information on the Duck Stamp program. 

Date: April 17, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NORTHWARD JOURNEY UPDATELocation:Main Office
Word arrived last night that the latest PTT data indicate an April 15th daytime location in Wayne Co., IL for Whooping crane 9-11*. Data from the same evening have cranes 4* & 7-11* at a roost location in Bureau County, IL. It is possible that the nine cranes are still traveling as a group, however, we have no way of confirming this.
The following image illustrates the ultralight-led migration route these young cranes were led along last fall. The red map points and line depict the route these birds are taking as they return north.

Date: April 16, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:'FISHER'Location:Main Office

The following article was written for the Post Crescent by longtime OM supporter David Horst, about another longtime supporter Pat Fisher, or ‘Fisher’ as she prefers to be called. I first had the pleasure of meeting Fisher in person, in 2002 on the observation tower at the Necedah NWR. She was one of the regular criers who couldn't stop the tears every time the aircraft passed by followed closely by several trusting young Whooping cranes. Between Fisher and Darlene Lambert, I quickly learned to carry spare tissues in my coat pocket for the criers.

Fisher has been caring for and rehabilitating raptors, Sandhill cranes and other critters since founding The Feather in 1987. In 1991 her center was licensed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin DNR.

For those of you that are regular MileMaker sponsors, Fisher always sponsors mile #1 in Wisconsin ‘for the Sandhill’s’. She is also a great supporter of Whooping cranes and all things wild so when I read David’s article late yesterday, I just had to share…

New London, WI:

I have seen Don Baumgartner hold a bald eagle in his lap, the huge bird's treacherous talons stretched out in front of him. I've seen him handle an adult osprey — a fish-killing missile — without breaking a sweat. So when I saw fear in his eyes as we approached the nest of a great-horned owl, I knew this was dangerous duty.

Not dangerous for me. I was hanging back by the entrance to a large metal building shooting photos. Don, wearing two leather jackets, arm-length gloves and a European-style firefighter's helmet, prepared to climb a ladder up to the nest of a great-horned named Ms. Harvey and snatch her off of her three babies.

Great-horned owls are more aggressive than eagles, he said. "They kill everything." Ms. Harvey, in fact, smelled of skunk.

Don has volunteered with bird rehabilitator Pat Fisher for more than 20 years. We are in the woods behind Pat's home near New London. This is also the site of The Feather, her nonprofit shelter for injured birds.

The purpose of this fool's errand was to check the health of the owlets, weigh them and band them so their movements can be tracked as they grow and leave the nest.

As soon as we emerged from the building, Ms. Harvey flew off the nest. I spotted her perched 30 feet away. My assignment was to warn Don if she returned. In an earlier foray toward the nest, Ms. Harvey had flown at Don as he crouched on the ground and struck him hard enough to knock him over. He didn't want her taking another shot while he was on the ladder.

Ms. Harvey was seized in a case of illegal activity in 1997 and brought to the Feather. She had been raised indoors but was able to adapt back to the wild, though she didn't go far.

Before Don had set his ladder against the tree, Ms. Harvey returned and took up a defensive position in the nest. Don ascended cautiously. When he reached into the nest, Ms. Harvey grabbed his gloved arm and Don grabbed back, feeling the owl's talon penetrating the leather.

He brought her down, careful not to injure her — or to give her the chance to do the same to him. He deposited her into a cage for safekeeping and returned for the babies, lowering all three of them down in white, plastic buckets.

Back in Pat's kitchen, a crowd awaited; half a dozen in person and 335 viewing the live web feed provide by wolfrivercam.com and also available on Ustream.

The month-old babies — Winkin, Blinkin and Nod — weighed in at 718, 843 and 974 grams (1.5 to 2.1 pounds). They're all feather down. To be honest, they're fairly ugly, but cute ugly, like a vintage VW Beetle or a Mini Cooper.

Don, with help from Chuck Petters, another 20-year volunteer, affixed the leg bands.

Among the spectators was Alexis LeMarche, a sixth-grader from Seymour Middle School. Not only did she get to watch, she was asked to hold a baby owl. She described the experience as — what else? — awesome. "I like this place," she concluded.

It's an easy place to like, for the adventures I've had there and the less- adventurous routine Pat Fisher takes on every morning and every evening to provide food and care for owls, cranes, eagles, vultures and other birds mistreated by humans or treated badly by fate.

She's a rare bird.

Date:April 15, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ARANSAS REPORTLocation:Main Office

The Aransas NWR released an update last week, which includes information regarding the aerial survey carried out and necropsy results of the deceased cranes recovered over the winter period. Access the full report here.

Date: April 14, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:PROGRESS REPORTLocation:Main Office

Technology advancements move so fast that even in the eleven years since we started leading Whooping cranes south, we have seen great changes. We now have handheld GPS systems with moving map displays and digital audio devices to broadcast brood calls loud enough to be heard over the sound of the aircraft engine. We can also stream live video from a remote pensite and send text messages to communicate without talking near the birds.

One of the real advances is the GPS – PTT units that are now fitted to three ultralight birds (#'s 4*, 7* & 9-11*) and three DAR birds. A PTT is a platform terminal transmitter which broadcasts to a satellite receiver. That in itself is an achievement considering it weighs only ounces, fits on a leg band yet is powerful enough to be heard by a satellite 540 miles away.

The GPS option records its location and stores that information in its memory. Once every three days the device uploads its present position and the GPS track history so we know where the bird is every third day plus where it was on the previous two. As I mentioned there are three birds fitted with these devices and they are set to report on consecutive days. That means that we get a location from one of them every day. So far all three units are still together so it reasonably safe to assume that all nine birds are travelling as a flock as they make their first northward migration flight.

Although the technology is fascinating, the real excitement for us, is knowing what course the birds are taking. When we had to end the last migration in Alabama, we loaded the birds into transport crates and took them 45 miles east to the Wheeler NWR. That was the first time we had crated all of the birds. In the past there has always been a few that made the trip on their own even if we had to crate some.

Ever since we have been worried that that trip in the back of our van may have broken their chain of knowledge and left them disoriented. We were confident that they would head north but if they flew directly north they would eventually arrive over Gary, Indiana where they might decide to go right as opposed to left. That mistake would take them into Michigan and the lake would create a barrier, stopping them from returning to Wisconsin.

As the GPS data indicate, our birds covered ~231 miles on their first full migration day and made it to Gallatin County, Illinois. The interesting part, however, it that they flew slightly northwest upon departing Wheeler and crossed the migration route we showed them. It would appear they roosted the first night only 10 miles from our stopover site in Union County, Kentucky.

Who knows what system they use to navigate but hopefully they are now in familiar territory. With luck they will make it back to the White River Marsh area in Wisconsin.

With the combined effort of all the people it took to get them south and the million years of instinct they need to get themselves back, maybe luck doesn’t have much to do with it.

(* = equals female)

Date:April 13, 2012Reporter: Heather Ray
Subject:HOW BIRDS NAVIGATELocation: Main Office

The following is re-printed with permission from Matt Mendenhall, Birdwatching Magazine.

Scientists have thrown cold water on the theory that iron-rich nerve cells in birds' bills help them navigate using Earth's magnetic field.

Researchers from Austria, France, Australia, and England, writing in a new study published in Nature, report that iron-rich cells in the bills of pigeons are in fact specialized white blood cells called macrophages. Macrophages play a vital role in defending against infection and recycling iron from red blood cells, but they're unlikely to be involved in magnetic sensing, the scientists say. That's because they are not excitable cells and cannot produce electrical signals that could be registered by neurons and therefore influence a bird's behavior.

The finding overturns a theory that has stood for more than a decade. Past studies, including a 2000 paper from the journal Biometals and this 2007 report from PLoS One, claimed that magnetite in beak tissue helps birds navigate.

We described birds' reliance on the magnetic field in past articles in BirdWatching/Birder's World. In "Amazing Birds" in our April issue, for example, Founding Editor Eldon Greij wrote that magnetite in birds' bills helps them process information from the magnetic field. And Paul Kerlinger wrote in "On the Move" about birds' abilities to sense the magnetic field and magnetite's role in Bobolink migration.

"The mystery of how animals detect magnetic fields has just got more mysterious," said study leader David Keays of the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. "We had hoped to find magnetic nerve cells, but unexpectedly we found thousands of macrophages, each filled with tiny balls of iron."

High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of pigeons' beaks allowed the researchers to find the balls of iron instead of magnetic neurons. (Researchers who investigate birds' navigational abilities often study pigeons because their magnetic sensing systems are common among other species.)

"Our work necessitates a renewed search for the true magnetite-dependent magnetoreceptor in birds," the scientists write.

Perhaps the answer will come from fish. The researchers conclude their paper by saying the undiscovered cells that govern magnetic sensation "may reside in the olfactory epithelium, a sensory structure that has been implicated in magnetoreception in the rainbow trout."

Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor

Date: April 12, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:IT IS THE DAY!!!Location:Main Office

Two more conversations with Brooke followed the first. During the second call he said that at 9:40am, the birds had taken flight and were currently higher than he has ever seen them. He felt today could indeed be THE day.

The second phone call came at 11am when he announced 'They're gone - I watched them thermal and climb higher and higher for the past hour and they're now out of sight.'

Be safe...

Date: April 12, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:IS TODAY THE DAY?Location:Main Office

During a brief conversation with Brooke a little bit ago, he reported that the 9 youngsters have been exhibiting pre-migration behavior for the past couple of weeks, including eating all they can, and flying more often than usual.

The winds, which have been out of the north all week, are expected to swing around today to come from a southerly direction, which of course, would give the young birds a nice tailwind IF they decided today (or tomorrow) is THE day.

Stay tuned…

Date: April 12, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:NESTING SEASONLocation:Main Office

It is nesting season again in Wisconsin and we have our fingers crossed. The staff and managers at Necedah NWR and the WCEP Science Team are conducting the most intensive nest monitoring study so far.

Wisconsin DNR pilots and a volunteer organization known as Lighthawk are providing reconnaissance flights over the nesting sites almost every day. They fly high enough to not disturb the birds but low enough that they can report on their behavior.

Several Co2 and glue strip traps are being deployed to determine what type of Black flies are there and how many. They are using glue strips on top of Whooping crane decoys to see if the white color is an attractant. They also placed them on dummy eggs. Cameras are trained on nesting pairs and up to six interns are ready to help Necedah Biologist Rich King at any time.

Bti has been applied to the Yellow River and several other Black fly sources. The early spring meant early development of the insect and some of them had pupated before the Bti was applied. That generation likely dissipated when temperatures cooled briefly. Based on kill rate samples collected downstream it appears that it (Bti) was very successful. WCEP is grateful to Peter Adler and Elmer Gray for all their hard work. As Elmer says, “it is now up to the birds.”

Date: April 11, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ICF OPENING THIS SUNDAY!Location:Main Office

On Sunday, April 15th the International Crane Foundation officially opens to visitors and their performers (the cranes) are dusting off their feathers, dancing and bugling to get ready. ICF’s world headquarters offers visitors a truly unique nature experience, as the only location in the world where all 15 species of cranes – the world’s tallest flying birds – are on display.

CLICK for more details

Date: April 10, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:PUBLIC REPORTSLocation:Main Office

Public reports of whooping crane sightings are an extremely valuable tool for monitoring crane locations, and we encourage people to continue to monitor and report such sightings. Nonetheless, while we certainly don’t want to discourage people from observing whooping cranes in the wild and reporting their sightings, we do want to remind people that for the benefit of the cranes, it is best if people keep their distance.

Approaching cranes too closely can result in birds becoming habituated to humans. Habituation, in turn, can put the cranes at risk from people who mean them harm. While such situations are uncommon, it is unfortunately a consideration we all must consider in light of recent shooting deaths in Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. If you’re on foot, do not approach the birds within 200 yards; if in a vehicle, remain inside the vehicle and at least 100 yards away. For reference, a football field is 120 yards long from goalpost to goalpost. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind people that do see whooping cranes and are interested in reporting them to use the Eastern U.S. whooping crane reporting site. We thank you for your help in tracking cranes and for your consideration in helping to promote the safety of these birds.

The following is a valuable sighting/photo submitted to us by Doug Pellerin. Doug was out with his camera last Friday and happened upon a group of Sandhill cranes in Adams County, WI. As he was clicking away a slightly taller, more whiter crane entered the frame. Who is this white crane? Why its #2-11 - the young female Whooping crane that broke away from the ultralight-led cohort last fall.


Date: April 8, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: CRYSTAL-BALLING THE NUMBERSLocation: Main Office

There are five breeding centers for Whooping cranes around North America. The largest is the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, followed by the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. There is also the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, the San Antonio Zoo in Texas, and the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans, known to us as ACRES.

Each year around this time the Flock Managers of these facilities get very busy as the breeding season begins. They use natural pair bonding as well as artificial insemination to ensure proper genetic coupling.

There were only three breeding females in the flock back in the 1940's when only 15 Whooping cranes were left in the world. That bottleneck limited the amount of genetic material available. In order to keep track of that tenuous lineage, each pairing and hatch is recorded in the Whooping Crane Stud Book.

Within the captive flock there are birds that breed well and produce many eggs each season. There is a great advantage to prolific parents, but it does not take long before their offspring begin to dominate the population. The more birds produced by one pair and released into the wild, the greater chance of sibling pairing.

This time of year the Flock Managers and the Co-Chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team conference on a call each Monday afternoon. That is when the crystal ball comes out and Flock Managers try to predict how many eggs their charges will produce.

This year, based on those predictions, the Recovery Team expects the five breeding centers to produce approximately 56 fertile eggs. There is also a possibility of collecting another ten eggs from nests at Necedah for a total of 66 eggs.

On average, about 75 percent of the eggs produced in captivity are fertile, and 75 percent of those actually result in chicks ready to be sent out for release. So, if all the guesswork is accurate, and nothing untoward happens, there should be 37 birds available this season.

37 may seem like a lot of chicks, but there are a number of uses for them. The non-migratory population in Louisiana is beginning its third season and the Recovery Team has assigned that reintroduction a minimum of eighteen chicks for 2012. A minimum of twelve have been allocated to the ultralight-led program, and a minimum of six allocated to the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method.

For several years a Parent Reared study has been proposed by WCEP. By this method chicks would be raised at Patuxent, but rather than collecting the eggs for incubation, they would be raised by their parents. They would be moved to Wisconsin in the fall and released like DAR birds with older Whooping cranes. That project has been allocated four birds this year.

In addition to all of this, there are genetic hold backs. If any birds with more uncommon lineage are produced from parents that are not as prolific as others, they will be held back to ensure those blood lines are protected in the captive population.

If you have been doing the math along the way, you will realize those numbers add up to 40 chicks, not including potential holdbacks. That is three more than the expected total production, so you can see that the egg allocation calls are critical to everyone.

Cross your fingers for a good breeding season.

Date: April 7, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Looking for MI & WI Marsh Monitoring ParticipantsLocation: Main Office

Bird Studies Canada, through support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and local partnerships, is co-hosting four workshops to introduce residents of northern Michigan and Wisconsin to the volunteer-based Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program (GLMMP).

The workshops will be held at:
Muskegon Lake, MI (Thursday, April 26, 4 p.m. until dark)
Sheboygan, MI (Friday, April 27, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Marinette, WI (Saturday, April 28, 9:15 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Escanaba, MI (Saturday, April 28, 6:30 p.m. until dark)

The Workshops are open to anyone interested in becoming a Marsh Monitoring Program participant. Registered participants in need of a refresher are also welcome! To learn more about these events and to register, visit their online registration page.

Date: April 6, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AND THE WINNER IS....Location: Main Office

We were thrilled to be able to offer last year's MileMaker sponsors the chance to have their name drawn for a very unique Thank You Gift. OM pilot and metal sculptor, Richard van Heuvelen, created and donated a one-of-a-kind sculpture of a Whooping crane chick. Richard's artwork has sold for thousands of dollars so we knew there would be much excitement and anticipation about this special gift.

All 2011 MileMaker sponsors' names were entered in the Thank You Gift draw - some several times as they sponsored multiple times. Every quarter mile sponsor was allotted one entry; each half mile sponsor received two entries, and each full mile sponsor four entries. Whew! That was one BIG pile of entry slips for the draw.

Now it is time to announce the MileMaker sponsor's name that was drawn. This little chick is going to call Illinois home. Next week, this unique and adorable little Whooping crane chick will be winging its way to Laura Rowan in Berkeley, IL.

Congratulations Laura! And our thanks go to you for your support, and to the hundreds and hundreds of other 2011 MileMaker sponsors whose generosity made the 2011 campaign a rousing success.

DON'T FORGET...This year's MileMaker campaign also offers sponsors the chance to receive a sensational Thank You Gift.

Wouldn't you love a week's holiday in fabulous Costa Rica?!?!? Read all about 2012 MileMaker HERE and then click the links to read the details and see photos of where YOU could be spending your next vacation.

Date: April 5, 2012Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:AN ORDINARY HUMAN...Location: Wheeler NWR, AL

Each morning and afternoon and the times in between I walk down the Refuge’s Atkeson Trail to a vantage point where I can usually see the chicks and begin my all too familiar count to nine.

It is a wonderful way to start the day because the trail begins with a boardwalk that weaves through a bald cypress swamp constructed in 1938 by young men of the Civilian Conservation Corp under the direction of then assistance Refuge biologist Tom Atkeson.

Entering the trail is like walking into a cathedral; the trees standing like benevolent sentinels, dark and shadowy against the soft light, diffused as if through stained glass, reaching for heaven above and through liquid refection into infinity below while gently converting the visitor into parishioner while stilling the mind with a whisper of peaceful harmony and reverence. The traveler is instantly blessed with the gift of place.

But who is this man who created such a place? The answer, I was to learn, is the stuff of legend. “Ask Teresa” Bill, the Refuge biologist, told me referring to Teresa Adams, Head Ranger here at Wheeler. “She used to work for Tom back in the 80’s”. Next morning, Teresa kindly took the time to relate some of her “Tom Stories”, having worked for Tom on the Refuge right out of college. She also gave me an Audubon Magazine article about Tom dated September, 1987 from which the following information is derived.

Tom Atkeson came to the newly created Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge as a young junior biologist in l938. The Roosevelt Administration had just designated the middle third of the Wheeler Reservoir as a waterfowl refuge to compensate for the extraordinary loss of waterfowl nationwide at the time. It was the first refuge to be overlaid on a hydroelectric project and as such was an experiment in compatibility.

Tom’s first job was to walk every foot of the new refuge and map all 158 miles of it on both sides of the Tennessee River. He was also tasked with developing a plan for the restoration of this badly degraded land and develop it into good habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. With the help of the CCC’s, Tom began the restoration.

Then World War II broke out and into the Army Tom went. One day, while on a training exercise, the anti tank mine he was burying exploded, tearing away his hands, the lower half of his face, shattering his leg and blinding him. Two years in an Army hospital followed; years of terrible pain and ever deepening despair.

Tom recounted this terrible time and the event that changed his life in a 1987 interview for Audubon Magazine. “My father was visiting me one day in the hospital and he prefaced everything he said to me by calling me “Captian”. Finally I said, Hell’s bells! You never referred to me by my rank before! Why start now? To which his father answered, “I didn’t mean your rank, son. I was thinking of that poem we used to say: “Invictus.” You remember it.” Then they both began to cry as they recited it together as they had so many times before:

“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods there be
For my unconquerable soul
It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll:
I am the master of my fate,
I am the Captain of my soul.”

“Those eloquent lines of William Ernest Henley’s transformed me.” Tom said. “ It pulled me back from falling into a dark hole. From that moment I had my perspective back. I knew with complete conviction that if I tried my utmost and did not let any temporary failure dishearten or stop me, I could go on and do something. It might not be exactly what I had planned, but something.”

With the help of Ira N. Gabrielson, then director of the National Wildlife Refuge System for the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service who had met and remembered Tom from years before, Tom convinced the powers that be that he knew every inch of the Wheeler Refuge and that he could make a significant contribution to its development if given the opportunity.

He was hired with the condition that he employ a sighted person as his assistant at his own expense. And so the legend began. He went on to become Refuge Manager in 1962 and remained so until his retirement in the late 1980’s when he was in his mid seventies.

Under his direction the Refuge brought back the otter, the turkey, the white tail deer as well as creating habitat that became the wintering ground for tens of thousands of waterfowl. Today, over 300 species of birds may be seen on the Refuge; easily over 100 in a single day, and there is now an abundance of small mammal species as well as recreational and educational opportunities for the general public.

Tom received many commendations, awards and citations over the years but the one he liked the least was being named federal handicapped worker of the year despite going to the White House and meeting President Reagan. “I despise that word “handicapped” Tom said. “If I do a good job I don’t mind getting credit for it, but I don’t want to be a successful cripple!”

The Audubon article about Tom ended beautifully with the following -“Kipling said it to Atkeson’s satisfaction in his Barrack-Room Ballad about Tommy Atkins:

“I ain’t no thin red hero,
I ain’t no blackguard too,
But an ordinary human
Most remarkably like you.”

Date: April 4, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie

As a result of an aerial survey conducted April 2nd by WI DNR pilot Bev Paulan, we have more news about nesting activity in the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP).

Bev noted that none of the pairs sighted last week, "were near the nest they had." She spotted pair 38-08 & 3-07 walking along a tree line not far from their nest. Confirmed is a nest belonging to 28-08 & 5-10 with 28-08 seen standing on it.

Also with nests are 12-02 & 19-04 with 19-04 seen on the nest, and at another location, 33-07 & 5-09 were observed swapping places on their nest. (Photos compliments of Bev Paulan)

In her report Bev said, "Several birds were northwest of Volk Field, namely: 11-09 & 15-09, 38-09 & 34-09, 7-09, 4-08, 27-10 and 10-09. I physically saw seven birds but heard  eight [via radio receiver] and I am guessing that 17-03, 26-07, and 17-07 were nearby. 2-11 is still at her previous marsh location with her entourage of Sandhills."


Date: April 1, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LAUNCHING MILEMAKER 2012!Location: Main Office

April 1 is the first day of our new fiscal year and in keeping with tradition, today we launch our 10th annual MileMaker Campaign.

As with every year for the past decade, the soon to be hatched Whooping crane chicks destined for the aircraft-led Class of 2012 will be relying on you to help fund the expense of the biggest adventure of their young lives - their first-ever migration. They and OM hope we can count on your continued generosity and commitment to safeguarding them and their future.

The Evolution of MileMaker
When first introduced in 2003, the amount of a mile sponsorship was determined by dividing the total cost of the previous year’s migration by the number of migration air miles to be flown. That number was then further divided to provide for half and quarter mile sponsorships.

Ever escalating costs however make it illogical to expect the funding needed for future migrations not to exceed that of the previous year's, so that necessitated a change.

As a result, MileMaker 2012 sponsorships have transitioned to a symbolic amount. This transition will also allow for unexpected expenses and/or unbudgeted migration expenses to be covered while still maintaining ethical fundraising practices.

And yes, there's more. You’ve spoken…we listened, and as a result, the 2012 MileMaker Campaign has been further refined.

In the past, we were able to provide only full mile sponsors the opportunity to select the mile they wished to sponsor. We were never able to offer that same perk to half and quarter mile sponsors. To rectify what was to many a disappointing deficiency, full mile sponsors, and half mile sponsors, and quarter mile sponsors of the MileMaker 2012 campaign will each have their own Sponsor Recognition webpage, giving ALL sponsors the ability to enter in the space provided a dedication or tribute comment and/or indicate the number of their ‘favorite’ mile.

Won't you please become a MileMaker sponsor today? A one mile sponsorship is $200; a half mile is $100; and a quarter mile is $50. Remember too, that being a 2012 MileMaker sponsor might also net you a sensational Thank You Gift!

Date: March 31, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:FAA GRANTS EXEMPTIONLocation: Main Office

Late Friday afternoon an email message chimed into my Inbox and changed everything. The FAA issued a rule-making decision granting an exemption allowing Operation Migration to fly.

A process like this can take as long as three months or better, and even then, granting an exemption only happens when the agency feels the petitioner has satisfied two primary criteria.

One of those requirements is that it must have benefit to the American people. We answered that question by first talking about the birds and how WCEP now has a population of Whooping cranes migrating in the eastern flyway where none existed for over one hundred years. Then we outlined the education opportunities that provides, like the millions of students reached by Journey North, and the unprecedented media coverage from around the world.

You, our supporters and the public, also answered that question by adding your names to petitions, writing to political representatives, and providing your support when we most needed it. We will be forever grateful.

The second criterion is safety and it was not as easy to satisfy. The only aviation license that allows a pilot to be paid for flying is a commercial rating. After a person has earned that certificate, they can add endorsements, like approval to fly multi engine aircraft or float planes. Unfortunately there is no endorsement for the weight-shift aircraft we currently fly.

Currently our pilots hold Light Sport Aircraft certificates and the FAA has required us to upgrade to Private licenses. That means we will have to log some hours of dual time flying with an instructor before undergoing both a written and a flight test. Recognizing that will take time, the FAA has allowed us until the beginning of this year’s migration to comply.

They have also required that our pilots have at least 250 hours of time in a trike. That is the minimum time needed to qualify for a commercial license, but an easy one for us to meet because we all have more than a thousand hours logged and some of us are almost up to 3000.

Of course the other safety factor is the aircraft itself. There are two classes of aircraft within the Light Sport category. The type we have are called Experimental, and are owner maintained, which means we can do all the work that is needed to keep them flying. The other class is called Special, and those aircraft are used for flight instruction - one of the only types of commercial flying allowed in Sport Light Aircraft. This class of aircraft must be maintained by an FAA licensed mechanic and there must be accurate records kept of the work that is done. The FAA has required that we switch over to Special Light Sport Aircraft (S-LSA).

Most of the S-LSAs available are designed to withstand the rigors of pilot flight training and are heavy. That means they fly faster than ours, and in fact, too fast to lead birds. We will have to work with a manufacturer to re-design an aircraft to be lighter and fly slower yet still fit into the Special category. Acknowledging that will not be a simple task, the FAA has given us until 2014 to comply. In the meantime we will have our current aircraft inspected every 100 hours to ensure they are airworthy.

As you can imagine this exemption brings great relief. Sunday is the beginning of April and the deadline our WCEP partners gave us to obtain a favorable ruling in order to be allocated birds for a 2012 ultralight-led migration.

We are very grateful to everyone for all the support we received, and to the FAA for understanding how important this project is to conservation of Whooping cranes - and to the thousands of people who follow it.

It is easy to be critical of a large government agency, but the FAA is in charge of ensuring safety in something inherently dangerous. That is a serious responsibility. To us, they were professional, cooperative, diligent, and yet understanding. We want to thank the FAA and all the people responsible for this decision and for their contribution, not only to safety but to conservation.

Date:March 31, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NESTING OFFICIALLY UNDERWAY!!Location: Main Office

On the aerial survey conducted March 26th by Wisconsin DNR pilot, Bev Paulan, the Eastern Migratory Population's first nesting pair of the 2012 season was found and photographed. (Aerial photo taken by Bev.)

Incubation has started for this pair consisting of 3-07 and DAR38-08* on their nest located on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. More pairs have been observed building nests, but no other actual nesting activity has been confirmed.

Date:March 30, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MEET LOBSTICKLocation: Main Office

Visit Journey North's excellent website to view a captioned slide show authored by Tom Stehn, the recently retired Chair of the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

The subject of Tom's slide presentation is a male Whooping crane from the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population, nicknamed 'Lobstick'. Hatched in 1978, he will be 34 years old!! this June and is believed to be world's oldest Whooper.

Click this link to see photos and read Lobstick's extraordinary story.

Date:March 29, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:2012 PAIRS LINE UPLocation: Main Office

Again we have to thank Wisconsin DNR pilot, Bev Paulan – this time for the list of 31 pairs in the Eastern Migratory Population.

As you look at the numbers below, keep in mind that some pairs consist of one or more very young cranes so to expect much in the way of fertile eggs much less chicks would not be very realistic. At the same time, there are a good number of mature pairs, including some that are experienced nesters, so... As Bev said yesterday, “fingers crossed”. (* = female, NFT = non functional transmitter)

Here’s the line-up – listed by age of the female:




13-02 & 18-02*


03-04 & 09-03*


11-03NFT & 12-03


09-05 & 13-03*NFT


05-05NFT & 15-04*NFT


12-02 & 19-04*


01-04 & 08-05*


08-04NFT & 19-05*


10-03 & W1-06*


16-02 & 16-07*NFT


10-09 & 17-07*NFT


12-05 & 22-07*


04-08 & 26-07*NFT


07-07 & 39-07*


02-04 & 46-07*NFT


14-08 & 24-08*


03-07NFT & 38-08*


16-04 & 04-09*


33-07 & 05-09*


17-03NFT & 07-09*


11-02NFT & 08-09*


01-01 & 14-09*


11-09 & 15-09*


27-06 & 26-09*


41-09 & 32-09*


38-09 & 34-09*


06-09 & 35-09*


18-03 & 36-09*


24-09 & 42-09*


28-08 & 5-10*


1-10 & 6-10*


You might want to keep this list so that once nesting is in full swing and eggs are 'on the ground' you can keep score.


Date:March 28, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie

This news just in from Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR pilot who completed a Whooping crane survey flight on Monday.

Bev told us, "During my crane survey flight yesterday, I found this lonely bird hanging out with a bunch of Sandhills. No working transmitter, no leg bands and some brown feathers. The general consensus is that I found the little runaway, 2-11. She was in a marsh in Adams County where last year we had a pair nest."

Also found on the aerial survey was 38-08 who was sitting on a nest. She said that 9-05 & 13-03 were almost finished building their nest and that 27-07 & 12-05 looked to be just starting nest construction.

Altogether Bev located 31 pairs, of which at least three consist of a crane from the 2010 hatch year and a few more from the 2009 generation. Bev said, "I am not holding out a lot of hope for those young birds to nest successfully, but even so, practice makes perfect."

She witnessed was a short vignette as she surveyed the Mead Wildlife Area. The mate of female 5-10 was chasing off Sandhills, an exercise that produced "quite an aerial dogfight" before the Sandhill disengaged and flew off into the woods.

Thanks for the news and the photo Bev!

Date:March 27, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie

Marty Folk, with Avian Research for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provides the latest news on the Florida non-migratory population of Whooping cranes.

So far they have had one chick hatch from one nest (now about 11 days old) and have another nest that is currently active.

Marty said, "We have five other pairs in the population, but low water levels may prevent them from nesting. Drought conditions, which have plagued Florida for about the last 13 years, continue. This year we are wrapping up our study of nesting in both Whooping cranes and Florida Sandhill cranes, collecting considerable data on all aspects of nesting, but with a focus on behavior of the birds during incubation. It is an exciting study and we are making some interesting discoveries."

For the first time, a data logger was successfully introduced to a Whooping crane nest. The device allows remote monitoring and avoids the negative effects of repeated nest checks. The pre-programmed instrument is used to detect such things as temperature change, giving researchers an indication of when the parent is on/off the nest. Such valuable information collected by Florida's researchers can be used to inform the scientists and biologists involved in other Whooping crane projects through analysis of the data collected throughout the nesting cycle.

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Date: March 26, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:THE RIGHT STUFFLocation:Main Office

When you check the dictionary, the first definition you can find for the word volunteers is “someone who works for nothing.” I am certainly not qualified to be critical of a dictionary but that seem a little misleading. In my opinion it should say “someone who dedicates their time and hard work, free of charge, to advance a cause in which they believe.” Actually most dictionaries get into that definition if you read further down the page but I think it should be first.

Volunteers are critically important to non-profits and at OM we have been fortunate. Because the WCEP project is so high profile, we have been able to attract some incredibly talented people from all over the country. In fact, if we were to add our volunteers to the payroll and compensate them for all their long hours and expertise, our annual budget would double.

Recruiting volunteers for the migration is the most difficult. It takes a certain kind of person to assume the life of a gypsy and to live in tight quarters with a team of alpha personalities for three months at a time. There are periods of high adventure when the weather is good and we can fly. But those times are punctuated by periods when the wind blows and the boredom sets in. There is the tension of too much work and the frustration of too little.

To keep costs down last year, we cut back on our migration team. No one joined us from Patuxent, we had three pilots and we didn’t bring the crane camera requiring an extra person. Adding to the team does not mean just adding one more body. Because we are self sufficient, it means adding another bed and living space. That generally means adding another vehicle because most RV’s are designed for couples and have one large bed with maybe some small bunks for the kids. Yes you can pull out the couch and the table generally folds down into a bed too but that only works for weekend outings. When you are on the road for months at a time, sleeping on the table gets tired fast, especially when some team members are late nighters and others are early risers; even on mornings when we can’t fly.

The smaller team worked last year but there were times when we could have used some extra help. We did recruit volunteers along the way to help move vehicles or to act as swamp monster deterrents, but there were times when not having enough people held us back. So this year I am starting early to find the right person to help on the next migration.

There are many factors a volunteer must consider before committing to be part of the migration team. It is hard for anyone to be away from friends and family for months at a time. And once you have agreed to help, the entire team depends on you to be there. It is not something you can check out for a while and then go home. Each team member is critical to the entire operation and if we lose one, there are no backups readily available.

We all work and live together; all the while as guests of landowners who have invited us onto their property. That takes a certain congeniality and an even-temperament. Common interests help like the love of birds, aviation, conservation and travel and not necessarily in that order. We don’t have television so reading can be a good pastime. Also writing Field Journal updates and taking pictures are useful skills. The ability to skip meals when needed is also an asset when things are moving fast and when they are not, a talent for cooking shared meals is appreciated.

There are many jobs on the migration and often we switch them around. Walter is adept at tracking and staying under the aircraft and birds. However, that is a two person job, requiring one to drive while the other monitors the radio and reads the maps. It is also important to have two when it comes to collecting birds that have dropped out.

It also takes two people to properly release the birds for the early morning flights. Each panel of the pen is six feet tall and ten feet wide. Opening two at the same time ensures that all the birds can make it out for a unified take-off. There are pen checks to do twice a day and we always need to carry water and feed out to where the birds are isolated. We have so many vehicles that each member of the team is responsible for driving a motorhome or a truck pulling a trailer.

So we are now looking for a migration volunteer but please consider it seriously before you apply. It is a big commitment and there is a good chance that you too will become hooked just like the rest of us. Then every year thereafter, when the leaves begin to fall, the instinct to migrate will stir your blood just as it does the birds and you will have no choice but to heed the call of the wild.

If you are interested, please respond with contact details and a list of experiences to om(AT)operationmigration.org

Date:March 25, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:POWER LINE STRIKESLocation:Main Office

Birds and power lines do not work well together. Especially when power lines are situated adjacent wetlands.

An aerial power line inspection team is installing bird diverters along a transmission line just north of Billings, Montana in order to prevent the deaths of thousands of birds.

The line crosses a 3,000-acre wetland, which attracts as many as 100,000 waterfowl and shore birds. The birds have trouble seeing two of the wires on the line that are used to divert lightning strikes.

Haverfield Aviation has been hired to install FireFly I fixed bird diverters, which are plastic reflectors with blocks of orange, green and phosphorescent material that glows in the dark. The reflectors are attached to a spring-loaded device that clamps onto the transmission line and are spaced about 60 feet apart, allowing the birds to better see the power line and avoid flying into it.

The power line was installed in the late 1970s, around the time that birds started to die off from the bacterial disease botulism and from striking the line. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials picked up 65,000 dead birds from 55 species during that time.

Agency officials theorized that the botulism outbreak may have been caused by birds hitting the lines, falling into the water and dying. The dead birds provided the botulism bacteria with a protein source that let it flourish. Maggots that fed on the dead birds and were eaten by live birds helped spread the outbreak. (Read More)

State officials noted that bird deaths are climbing once again, leading the department to work with NorthWestern Energy, which owns the line.

To see a video clip of workers installing the diverters, visit this link.

Date: March 24, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EMP UPDATELocation:Main Office

Eva Szyszkoski, ICF/WCEP Tracking Field Manager provided the following report for WCEP partners this week:

Maximum size of the eastern migratory population at the end of the report period was 107 cranes (54 males and 53 females). Estimated distribution at the end of the report period or last record included 70 whooping cranes in Wisconsin, 4 in Indiana, 9 in Alabama, 4 in Tennessee, 4 in Florida, 14 at unknown locations, and 2 long term missing.

2011 Cohort: Of the eight 2011 Direct Autumn Release juveniles, two (#15-11 and #18-11) are in Marquette County, Wisconsin, two (#17-11 and #20-11) remain at the Hiwassee WR in Tennessee, one (#14-11) is in LaPorte/St. Joseph Counties, Indiana, one (#19-11) was last reported in Fayette County, Illinois, on 9 February, one (#16-11) was last reported in Jackson County, Indiana, on 8 March but has left the area, and one (#13-11) was last detected on autumn migration in northern Illinois on 29 November.

The juvenile (#2-11) that broke off from the ultralight led migration on 21 October was last confirmed at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee on 16 February.

The nine remaining juveniles in the ultralight cohort remain at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama.

Date: March 23, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:HACKMATACK NEEDS YOUR INPUT Location:Main Office

Some readers may recall that we first mentioned 'Hackmatack' a couple of years ago when we told you about the Friends group that was formed to facilitate the creation of the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin and Illinois. Upon checking to see when 'a couple of years ago' I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was EXACTLY two years ago today.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released for public review and comment an Environment Assessment for the possible establishment of a national wildlife refuge straddling the state line between Walworth County, Wisconsin and McHenry County, Illinois and lying between Milwaukee and Chicago. A summary of the Assessment can be viewed at this link.

The agency will be hosting two open house events to request input from the public. The public is invited to attend these open house events to talk with Service planning staff and submit comments on the Environmental Assessment. The first open house will be on Tuesday, April 3, 2012, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Lost Valley Visitor Center in Glacial Park, Route 31 and Harts Road, Ringwood, Illinois. The second open house will be on Wednesday, April 4, 2012 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Genoa City, Wisconsin at the Brookwood Middle School, 1020 Hunter’s Ridge Drive.

The Service will accept comments on the Assessment until April 27, 2012. Written comments can be submitted at the open house events or to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Conservation Planning - Attn: Hackmatack Refuge EA, 5600 American Boulevard West, Suite 990, Bloomington, MN 55437. Comments may also be sent through the Service’s Planning website.

The full Environmental Assessment is available on this website. The Hackmatack Friends group has developed a Call to Action document, which you can view and access from here. Please send it to your friends!

Date: March 22, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker

Yes, the chicks are still here, but the pre-migration shuffle has begun. It started three days ago when the rhythm of things began to change ever so slightly. It’s almost imperceptible at first, something felt more than seen, like aging or a familiar song played in a different key, but you just know there’s something…. different. Then as the days pass, it builds, gains momentum, grows louder until one morning it happens; the connection with this place is severed and the chicks burst skyward in a raucous spiral until both altitude and direction are achieved and migration begins. Until then, we wait.

The question, “When are those birds going to leave?” has been replaced with “What are you going to do if they don’t leave?” To which I reply “Well, never in the last ten years have they not left.” The rough date range has been the 21st of March to the 14th of April if I remember correctly, and keep in mind there are still adults in Florida that haven’t begun migration yet. (Adult birds, that is). But yes, it is a little nerve racking.

Funny how worries reverse themselves on you - I mean, every morning for months you wake up worrying that that the chicks might not be there when you go out to check and now you wake up worrying that they will. But of course, worrying does give life purpose. As the Bard said, “I worry, therefore I am.”

“So what are you going to do if they don’t go?”

That’s easy…. and can be answered with three letters. “UPS!” - Stay tuned... Film at 11.

Date: March 22, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CELLULAR TOWER DISGUISELocation:Main Office

Can you spot the cell tower???

They may look like white pines on steroids, but they’re actually Bell Canada cell phone towers.

The telecommunications company plans to disguise the towers it erects in cottage country to look like trees so they don’t stick out like a sore thumb. Bell plans to construct seven of the disguised towers and construction will begin in May. Because they will be under 30 meters, they don’t require municipal approval.

“It’s really bizarre looking at them in the picture … it’s like a white pine on steroids,” Alice Murphy, the mayor of the Township of Muskoka Lakes, told the Toronto Star.

The idea has been tried elsewhere in the U.S. in the form of palm trees and street lamps, but it’s the first time in Canada the conifer disguise has been used. The so-called tree trunks are made of steel and the branches are made of fiber glass. Bell has plans for the towers in Brackenrig, Foot’s Bay, Port Carling East, Port Sandfield, Walker’s Point East, Breezy Point Road and Little Lake Joseph.

A Bell spokesperson said the tree design was introduced as a pilot project in Algonquin. “While we are still in the planning stages, we expect to install approximately 20 tree sites throughout many communities in the greater Muskoka area,” Jason Laszlo said. “The equipment comes to the location prefabricated and is assembled on site. When complete, the tree will stand between 25 and 29 meters and will be positioned to blend with existing trees,” he said.

Health Canada says exposure from cell phone towers is typically below its exposure standards. Even so, erecting large towers in Ontario has sometimes been controversial with residents complaining that radiofrequency is detrimental to public health. Mayor Murphy said the truth is local residents are glad about improved cell phone coverage in an area where communications can be hit and miss.

What do you think about the disguised cellular towers? Leave a comment on our Facebook page below the article!

Date: March 21, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MARK YOUR CALENDAR'SLocation:Main Office

In early May, bird lovers from across the Southeast will flock to Unicoi State Park for north Georgia’s only major birding festival. With more than 60 field trips, programs and hands-on activities to choose from, Georgia Mountain BirdFest is open to birders of all ages and skill levels.

Joe Duff will be the keynote speaker, telling about his experience of guiding Whooping Cranes via ultralight on their first migration. Other presenters include E.J. Williams, a migratory bird specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and avid birders Cameron Cox of Leica Sport Optics and Georgann Schmalz of Birding Adventures, Inc.

Running May 3 – 6, the festival includes more than 20 guided field trips to locations such as Ivy Log Gap Road, Brasstown Bald, Smithgall Woods, Anna Ruby Falls, Sosebee Cove and the normally restricted Buck Shoals. More than 60 seminar topics cover bats and butterflies as well as birds, with titles such as Binoculars 101, Warbler ID, Tree ID, Bat Conservation in Georgia, Nature Photography and Birding by Ear. Vendors include Leica Optics, wildlife artist Alan Young, Wild Birds Unlimited and others.

Registration for this four-day conference is $135. Register online or call 706-878-2201 ext. 305.

Date: March 20, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray

It appears that we may never know if the Aransas – Wood Buffalo population of whooping cranes reached the hoped for 300 birds during 2011– 2012. The weather has been a large factor. First, an unknown number of Whooping cranes did not arrive at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Then some traveled around in Texas counties near Aransas Refuge while others spent the winter in Kansas and Nebraska. And weather had a crippling effect on attempts to count the whoopers that did winter on Aransas Refuge.

According to Aransas personnel, “High winds and low cloud cover impeded the census flights scheduled during late February, allowing for only two of the three scheduled census flights. Those flights were conducted on February 25 and 26, 2012. Preliminary data analyses indicated the population of cranes within the surveyed area was 196. Although lower than the previous 245 estimate, the difference is not statistically significant and most likely the result of limited flying time. Also, this number does not reflect whooping cranes outside the survey area, including those that have dispersed.

Radio-marked birds and sightings of whooping cranes from the flyway indicate the birds have begun their northern migration back to Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada where they nest exclusively. Some biologists believe that this earlier than usual northern migration is also due to the unseasonal warm weather. Depending on the weather, biologists hope to conduct another census flight before the end of the month.

Refuge officials also issued an update on the status of whooping cranes that died during the past several months. A report from the first whooper carcass (recovered Dec. 7, 2011) was issued from the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) and it indicates the bird had a systemic blood infection. This type of systemic infection has been known to cause death. The refuge is still waiting on the final report from the second carcass (recovered January 18, 2012). A third carcass of a radio-collared bird was recovered (Feb. 29, 2012) and sent to the NWHC in Madison, WI for necropsy.

Some good weather news relating to the whoopers is that, as of March 14, the monthly precipitation totals for Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are .85 inches and salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are recorded as 19.7 parts per thousand. With salinity levels below 20 parts per thousand, conditions in the marsh are normalizing and food production for the birds improving. Even so, the refuge has still not returned to pre-drought conditions and biologists remain concerned.

Since the last Aransas Refuge update, the refuge conducted an additional prescribed burn, raising the winter’s total to 12,310 acres of habitat. The refuge’s fire program hopes to conduct a final burn in the next few weeks on Matagorda Island but the changing weather makes it uncertain. Despite one burn remaining, all of the burns planned in areas whooping cranes would likely use have been completed and were successful.

Joining the Whooping Crane Conservation Association is easy and your membership directly benefits Whooping cranes. With your $10 membership, you will also receive the WCCA newsletter.

Date: March 19, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:THERE IS MUCH TO LEARNLocation:Main Office

For the past eleven years we have focused on reintroducing a flock of Whooping cranes to safeguard the species but there is a lot more we could learn if we had more resources.

Leading birds in the air and being able to observe them from only a few feet away affords a unique platform from which to study the mechanics of bird flight. We could weigh the birds before and after each migration leg to study energy requirements and attach tiny accelerometers to their wings to test the strain on feathers. We could fit them with subcutaneous instruments to record body temperature or heart rate but all of that takes expertise and funding that we don’t have.

Leading multiple generations of one species on their first migration also provides an opportunity to investigate the navigation aids that they use to make it back from Florida to Wisconsin on their own. In the early days we led Sandhill cranes from Ontario to Virginia. To avoid flying across Lake Ontario in the late fall we first flew around the eastern tip of the lake, then south west to Virginia. On their return trip the birds headed straight north until they encountered the south shore of the lake in New York State. Then they went around the western end of the lake to make it back. That is almost two hundred miles off the course we showed them, which demonstrates that they do not rely on landmarks as a navigation aid.

That theory is supported by the many migration legs we have made with Whooping cranes at low altitudes or in visibility that would only allow them to see a few miles at the most. On the return trip they can be several miles off that route yet still make it back.

Back in the 1990’s we also conducted a stage-by-stage migration experiment where birds were transported in crates to a stopover and allowed to fly free. Then they were moved to the next site fifty miles along the route and allowed to fly again. We continued this all the way to the wintering grounds hoping the birds could connect the dots on the way back but it didn’t work.

Environmental Studies at Airlie in Virginia, under Brooke Pennypacker’s guidance conducted a passive migration where Canada geese were suspended in a cage from a large helium filled balloon. It was hoped they could learn the migration simply by observing it without actually having to fly it. That didn’t work either but all of these experiments set the stage for what we are doing now.

In each migration we lead, only a few of the birds make the entire trip on their own. Because of bad weather or fatigue some drop out and have to be moved in crates to the next stopover. This does not seem to impair their ability to make it back to Wisconsin providing they make the trip as a group. Maybe it has to do with shared knowledge and the ones that know that portion of the route take the lead on the way home. There is evidence that birds that return on their own without the aid of others will get off course at the same spot where they had to be crated on the trip down. In fact we had a bird that was not able to follow the aircraft until we reached central Illinois. Thereafter, it followed us all the way to Florida but on the return trip on its own, that is as far as it could go. It spent the summer in Illinois, never making it back to Wisconsin.

Whatever the mechanism, we know that in order to have knowledge of the migration route or an awareness of where they are they must get there under their own steam. Moving them in crates disorients them and that knowledge is broken. This is evidenced by birds that have been pushed to the east by high winds during their first return migration and ended up in Michigan. Their subsequent fall migration followed a course parallel to the one we showed them and they winter in the Carolinas.

In the last eleven years we have had to crate birds on all of the migrations but we have never had to crate them all. Some have always flown the route until this past year. We had to transport all nine birds from their last stop in Alabama, 44 miles to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. When they arrived there were two adult Whooping cranes there and four juvenile DAR birds along with several hundred Sandhills. All of those possible guides have since left and our birds stayed.

If you draw a line straight north from Wheeler NWR, you eventually come to Gary, Indiana at the bottom of Lake Michigan. If they decide to take that heading, they will have to make a decision to go left or right when they reach that barrier. If they follow the western coastline past Chicago, they will eventually come within a few miles of White River. If they go the other way, we might have to retrieve them.

It is important that these birds make it back to the White River Marsh so I am almost glad the older Whooping cranes that would be returning to the Necedah area left Wheeler NWR without them. Besides, without guides to lead them back or at least influence them, we should learn more about their route and maybe even what mechanism they used to get there. Ever the optimist, I bet they make it.


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