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


 

Date: March 19, 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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Date: March 17, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:PLEASE VOICE YOUR SUPPORT!Location:Main Office

When we first started flying back in the 1980’s, the aircraft we flew were known as ultralights. Back then they were completely different from anything else in the air. As the name indicates, they were built to be super light, in the 200 to 400 pound range and were generally powered by go-cart or even chainsaw engines. Occasionally referred to as ‘flying lawn chairs’ or ‘lawn darts’ by conventional pilots, they were low and slow and so different from traditional airplanes that no one took them seriously. They fit into an unregulated category called ‘ultralight’ and as long as we stayed out of controlled airspace and didn’t cause any problems, we were pretty much on our own.

As safety and technology improved, ultralights became more popular among recreational pilots. They were cheaper to buy than Pipers and Cessna's and could be maintained by the owners rather than by expensive, FAA approved mechanics.

Eventually an entire industry emerged that produced innovative flying machines of all sorts. Trikes evolved first in Europe, where flying conventional aircraft was more expensive so hang gliding became popular. A trike is really an appendage to hold the pilot and the engine suspended from a beefed up hang glider wing.

After thirty or so years of development, the use of space age materials and very innovative design improvements, modern ultralights are state of the art machines. They are safe, reliable, fast and a fraction of the cost of a conventional aircraft. Ultralights have circumnavigated the globe and flown on every continent including Antarctica.

The increase in their popularity meant that ultralights could not continue to be unregulated and in 2008 the FAA developed a new category called Light Sport Aircraft. This designation was widened to include enclosed aircraft with two seats and speeds up to 120 knots.

The problem for us is that the Light Sport category was designed for recreation only. Pilots are not allowed to fly them for hire, nor can the aircraft be used for the furtherance of a business. Unfortunately there is no category for us. Our aircraft are too heavy to qualify for the new definition of ultralights and they are not certified so they do not fit in with aircraft like Cessna's. The same is true for our pilot certificates. Only a commercial license would allow us to fly for hire but there is no endorsement in that category that would allow a commercial pilot to fly a weight-shift controlled aircraft like our trikes.

We are working closely with the FAA to find a permanent solution that will allow us to continue with this project. To that end, yesterday an exemption was posted and is now available for public comment. If you are in support of our efforts to safeguard the Whooping crane and continue the flights we began in 2001, we urge you to lend your voice and encourage the FAA to grant this most recent request as quickly as they did in early January.

You can find the exemption document (.pdf) and submit your comments at this link – Thank you, once again for your support!

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Date: March 16, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ROWE SANCTUARYLocation:Main Office

Evenings and early mornings offer primetime viewing opportunities on the Rowe Sanctuary CraneCam. The sound of thousands of Sandhill cranes descending upon the Platte River to roost for the evening is almost deafening and last Friday, 12 Whooping cranes were counted among the smaller grey crane cousins.

If you haven’t yet checked out the views, we encourage you to do so. Even better would be to witness this spectacle in person!

The Rowe Sanctuary offers guided trips to view the world's largest concentration of Sandhill cranes from observation blinds on the banks of the Platte River in south-central Nebraska. Trips are conducted every year during March and early April, when over 500,000 Sandhill cranes along with hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese converge on the Platte. Rowe Sanctuary is located right in the heart of this magnificent Sandhill crane staging area where the birds can be viewed in huge gatherings on their nighttime roosts. Trips to our observation blinds are timed to provide the best opportunities to see this spectacle. Group sizes are limited to maintain the quality and uniqueness of the experience. An estimated 70,000 bird watchers descend on central Nebraska each spring to gaze at the gathering of 500,000 sandhill cranes along the Platte in the Kearney and Grand Island areas.

A typical field trip begins and ends with a walk of between 1/4-1/2 mile over level terrain. Morning trips start before dawn as the blinds must be approached under the cover of darkness to prevent spooking the cranes. In the evening, tours arrive at the blinds before the sun sets to view the Sandhill cranes as they return to the river and stay until dark. Benches are available for resting, but the blinds are not heated so dress appropriately.

Field trips take place each morning and evening from early March through early April. Although we take "walk-ins" when space is available, we encourage you to call ahead to make reservations. Reservations can be made between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST, Monday to Friday by calling 308-468-5282.

To see where the Rowe Sanctuary tours take place, and how to get there, visit this Google Map


Thousands of Sandhill cranes and geese depart in the early morning

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Date: March 15, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:NORTH - SOUTHLocation:Main Office
News from the North: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge reports that they have now confirmed 7 pairs of whooping cranes on the refuge as well as 4 individual cranes. One pair has been visible on Rynearson Pool #1 from the observation tower and visitor center.

The International Crane Foundation reported yesterday that on Tuesday evening they received a roost PTT location for Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Whooping Crane #15-11 near ICF headquarters in Sauk County, Wisconsin! #15-11 wintered at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama with fellow DAR juvenile #18-11 and two-year-old ultralight-led male #19-09. Eva Szyszkoski, ICF/WCEP Tracking Field Manager, headed out yesterday to check the location. She was able to detect both DAR birds (#15 and #18) north of the roost location before the battery in her receiver died! From what she heard, she believes they were likely in flight and the weather yesterday was nice for flying! While she was not able to confirm whether #19-09 was still with the two DAR juveniles or not, she assumed he was.

And now news from the south: During a brief chat with Brooke yesterday, he reported that all 9 juvenile cranes are doing well and going about their daily business of foraging and roosting and don’t appear to be getting ready to go anywhere anytime soon.

And even further south – in Leon County, Florida, Lou Kellenberger tells us that the two now-adult Whooping cranes (#’s 11 & 15-09*) are still at their selected winter habitat just north of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge where they spent their first winter. Lou shared the following images with us so that we could share them with you.
 

11-09 (left) and 15-09* have spent the winter in Leon County, FL

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Date: March 14, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:WHOOP! WHOOP!Location:Main Office

YOU did it! You rallied and came through with the much needed 32 remaining miles in just the past 24 hours!

We hope you realize what an accomplishment this is. Since launching the campaign in 2003 it has only ever sold out once before (2008/09). The Facebook contingent of Craniacs went to work and shared the post among their own social networks. Folks read the Field Journal post from yesterday and called the office, or emailed. However you connected with us - YOU DID IT!!!

We cannot thank you enough for your incredible enthusiasm, support and stick-to-it-ness in support of this amazing crane.

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Date: March 13, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MILEMAKER NEEDS YOU!Location:Main Office

We're oh so close... Only 32 unsponsored miles remain and there are just
19 days left before our fiscal year ends and any still unsponsored MileMaker
miles will show as an ugly red number for 2011/2012. At the moment, that red number stands at $5,824.00, and we need your help to eliminate the color red from our books.

Visit the MileMaker page to select your 1/4, 1/2 or full mile - and don't forget, you just may be the luck recipient of this adorable Whooping crane chick sculpture when we make the draw at the conclusion of the campaign. Click here to take out your sponsorship online, call our office 1-800-675-2618 or send your check to the address listed on the Contact Us page.

Created by OM pilot, Richard van Heuvelen, this life-sized (6.25" tall) 3-day old Whooping crane chick sculpture will be awarded to one lucky MileMaker sponsor. Be sure to check out some of the other sculpture's Richard has created.

The names of all MileMaker sponsors will be entered in the March 31st Thank You gift draw as follows:

1 entry per 1/4 mile sponsorship | 2 entries per 1/2 mile sponsorship &
4 entries per one mile sponsorship.

So please help get us out of the red... only 32 more miles to go!

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Date: March 12, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EARLY SPRINGLocation:Main Office

Conditions for most of the Central flyway last week were ideal for the northward migration of many bird species. Strong winds out of the south and temperatures warm enough to thaw water ways is prompting the early return of Whooping cranes to the Necedah NWR in Juneau Co., Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, March 7th the refuge Facebook page reported that five cranes had returned by late afternoon, including: 11-02, 4-08, 26-07, 17-03, and 7-09. I'm sure by now there are others that have returned as well.

If you're fortunate to spot a Whooping crane, please report your sighting using this link, which is
permanently displayed on the right side of this page. Once submitted, the information from each public sighting is automatically distributed to all of the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Please also give the cranes the distance and respect they deserve and do not approach them closely, even in a vehicle, to avoid habituating the birds to human presence. Habituation is one of the greatest dangers whooping cranes face because it puts them at greater risk from vehicle collisions, predation, and illegal shooting.

eBird is predicting the coming week to be much the same as last in terms of favorable conditions so we'll no doubt hear of additional Whooping cranes arriving back at the summer territories. As for the 9 juveniles still at the Wheeler NWR in Alabama - we'll have to wait and see what they decide to do and when.

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Date: March 11, 2012Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:JANE'S JOURNEYLocation:Main Office

With all the transformations taking place in our world these days, from over development to global climate change, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future. A negative attitude comes naturally when you compare an increasing number of endangered species with the decreasing amount of habitat available.

As any good mother will tell their children, a bit of pessimism can be a good thing but too much can be debilitating. Without some sort of confidence that we can fix the problems, we lose faith. This is the credo practiced by Dr. Jane Goodall.

We had the great benefit of meeting Jane Goodall a few years ago when she came to Wisconsin to fly with us. She called it a life changing event but really it was our lives that changed.

Jane Goodall spent her youth in the jungles of Africa studying Chimpanzees and changed the way we think of animals. Now she travels more than 300 days a year teaching the world that we can make a difference and that all we need is hope. It sounds like a simple message but there is something in her honesty and conviction that touches you. I am pessimistic by nature but Jane Goodall has changed my outlook.

She is coming to Canada this month as part of her world tour to celebrate 50 years of work with Chimpanzees. This is an opportunity to preview a new movie titled “Jane’s Journey” and to meet one of the most influential people in the world. I encourage you to join Jane Goodall at one of these events and meet a truly remarkable person. But take my warning, she can change your life.

To learn about the Ontario portion of Jane’s tour and to purchase tickets, visit JGI Canada. Please also watch the trailer for Jane's Journey.

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Date: March 10, 2012Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:CERTAINTYLocation:Wheeler NWR, AL

Sometimes it seems like every season has its very own, very special question. “What do you want for Christmas?”, or “Who do you think is going to win the Super Bowl?” or “File your taxes yet?” For me, up until lately, people have been coming up, poking me in the stomach and asking, “And… when is the baby due!” Turns out I’m one of the few creatures in nature that actually gains weight DURING migration instead of gaining it FOR migration. Who needs to see their feet anyway! But seasons change and the question now is the all too familiar, ”When are the birds going to leave?”

Now back in my school days, knowing the question before the test gave me time to prepare the correct answer. We called it Cheating! But there’s no Cheat Sheet to save me here, no Cliff Notes to lean on. Just cold, hard uncertainty…the kind that forces you to raise your arms and shrug so many times throughout the day that your shoulders ache at night. The response is clearly disappointing and unsatisfying to the inquisitor; not at all the answer they were looking for. This, despite the fact that in the literary scheme of things, a simple “I don’t know” lies somewhere between a poem and a prayer. But it’s OK. We’re all used to asking questions to which there are no answers. It fact, it surpasses baseball as the national pastime.

Of course, the question does tempt one to try to fill the void of uncertainty with a little humor and reach for a laugh with answers like, “Wait here while I go ask them.” Or “Next Tuesday morning at exactly 9:36 sharp.” Secure in the knowledge that sometimes a laugh or even just a smile is better than no laugh or smile at all…and much more fun than “I wish I knew.” But not always. After all, we live in a world that demands certainty, worships it in fact, regardless of all its inherent uncertainties, and although we are loath to admit it, certainty is the foundation upon which we construct our lives. This, despite the fact that the last words heard from the Captain of the Titanic were, “Oh Lord, forgive us for our certainties!” He knew, as do we, of its exquisite intoxication; that it’s the cheapest drug there is… if you don’t count the consequences. Sadly, my own grasp of the stuff has faded with age. But like the Zen Master said to the grasshopper, “Hey man, sometimes ya just gotta believe.”

“No… seriously! When are those birds going to leave?” Well, some folks were sure our chicks would leave with the other whoopers (not). Others were positive they would leave with the sandhills (not not); forgetting, maybe, that comparing our chicks to either is like expecting an apple to roll like an orange.( I mean, how many times have you sat next to a fruit basket and heard an apple say to a grapefruit, “Let’s roll!” ) Still others believe without a shadow of a doubt the chicks will do what the chicks in past years have done at St. Marks and Chass and leave after the whoopers and sandhills, sometime between the end of the third week in March and the end of the second week in April, possibly ratcheting this up a bit allowing for the unusually early spring.

But if we can be certain of anything, it is that Mother Nature is the consummate magician with an infinitely deep bag of tricks with which to dazzle and surprise and fill our lives with unending wonder. Perhaps rather than spending our time trying to figure out just how she does the trick, we should just kick back, put our feet up and enjoy the performance.

“But…when ARE those birds going to leave?”

“Only the Shadow knows…”

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Date: March 9, 2012Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A COPY CAT CHALLENGE!Location:Main Office
...And a bit of friendly rivalry? A bit more than a year ago, Crane costume stitcher Mary O'Brien issued a 10 mile challenge during the 2010 migration. Two days later, once Mary's challenge had been met, Canadian Craniac, Annelise Jorgensen responded by issuing her own 10 mile challenge.

Yesterday morning Mary very generously issued a 10 mile challenge for the current MileMaker campaign; offering to match each and every 1/4, 1/2 or full mile, up to a total of 10 miles. By mid-afternoon the 10 mile challenge was met.

However! Late yesterday Annelise reached us to issue what she called a 'copy cat' challenge - once again offering to match every portion or full mile, to a total of 10 miles!

Currently there are 52 outstanding miles looking for sponsors. IF you can match Annelise' very generous challenge like you did for Mary, this will leave us with just over 30 miles. Annelise' message to the Class of 2011 currently still at Wheeler NWR in Decatur, AL is... 'Fly Away Home'!

It would be fantastic if the 2011 MileMaker campaign was fully funded before they return to Wisconsin!

Visit the MileMaker page to select your 1/4, 1/2 or full mile - and to see the adorable Whooping crane chick sculpture that you could receive as a thank you gift when we make the draw at the conclusion of the campaign.

 

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Date: March 8, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CRANIAC WRITES TO #1-11 - ISSUES CHALLENGELocation: Main Office

A couple of days ago, chick 1-11 wrote a letter on behalf of all this buddies in the Class of 2011 and asked to have it posted here in the Field Journal. (Click here to read #1-11's letter.)

Within a short while we learned that Craniac, Mary O'Brien from Wisconsin had responded to #1-11's letter and we got permission from Mary and the Class of 2011 to share that message with you.

Dear Whooper 1-11:
There’s a lot riding on your beautiful strong shoulders…being part of such an inspiring legacy is a huge responsibility. We’re counting on you coming home to Wisconsin, but don’t do it too soon because there’s still snow on the ground.

I’m already sewing costumes for the OM crew in readiness for the Class of 2012. With every stitch I’m reminded how awesome it is to be part of this epic journey that has captured our hearts for eleven years. So dear Whooper 1-11, I’m offering a 10-mile matching challenge to help cover some of your outstanding tuition.

To the hundreds of other faithful Craniacs out there, let’s just get this done like we have in the past! In honor of the entire OM team for their endurance, dedication, stoicism, and fortitude, let’s put 2011 and the remaining unsponsored miles behind us by blitzing the website with donations and more challenges the likes of which they’ve not seen before.

Together, we CAN do it. Thank you!
Mary O'Brien

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Date: March 7, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BIRTHDAY WHOOP!Location: Main Office

As we patiently (or not so patiently) wait for the Class of 2011 to make a move back north, bet you never thought there'd be something to WHOOP! about. Well, there is.

Brooke Pennypacker, OM pilot/crane handler/trainer extraordinaire, is celebrating his __th Birthday today. (Sorry, can't tell you which birthday. There's a limit to the risk of reprisal I'm prepared to take.)

As Craniacs and Field Journal faithfuls you will know that Brooke spends more time with each year's Whooping cranes than any other human. As usual, at the conclusion of the recent migration, we all deserted him and headed for home. He on the other hand stayed on to monitor the Class of 2011 at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Brooke's been on site since they took up winter residence there on February 4th, and, will continue to keep track of their whereabouts and what they are up to until the urge to migrate back north strikes.

Brooke has dedicated the past 10 years of his life and career to North America's third most endangered bird. Show Brooke you care about Whooping cranes as much as he does. Why not acknowledge his commitment and celebrate his special day. Give a WHOOP! for Brooke on his birthday.

P.S. Wondering which birds are even more endangered than Whooping cranes? In the unenviable number one spot is the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker. Second place goes to the California condor.

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Date: March 6, 2012Reporter: Class of 2011
Subject:AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR FRIENDSLocation: Wheeler NWR, AL

To Our Dear Friends,

Because I am the eldest crane in the Class of 2011, I was appointed to write to you.

As you know, while many of our buddies, Whoopers and Sandhills alike, have already left on their spring migration, the nine of us are still hanging out in Alabama. We are having a whooping good time here at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, and so have yet to discuss much less decide on when we will head back north.

But what I really wanted to talk to you about today is the tight spot we find ourselves in. You know that we had the crummiest migration weather ever. That meant our progress south was as slow as molasses in January, which of course explains why we never made it to our intended Florida destination. Okay, okay! So our uncooperativeness at the end also contributed to the OM Team short-stopping us in northern Alabama. Big deal. We've been just fine here.

The result of this elongated time-wise but shortened length-wise journey has got us are worried. You see, as it stands, there are still 104 unsponsored MileMaker miles. This means, that as the Class of 2011, we only have until the end of March to raise enough money to pay off the rest of our tuition.

We studied hard and did our very best...honest we did. We know a passing grade won't be awarded until we're safely back in Wisconsin, but I gotta tell ya, we're reluctant to leave for White River Marsh until we can scrounge together the money to pay off our tuition.

All you folks who love to read about our adventures here, to watch us on the CraneCam and the TrikeCam, and who haven't already helped us to cover the cost of our education, please, please, please step in and help us NOW.

Won't you sponsor a mile, or a half or quarter mile today? Just click on the Whooping crane to the right.

Omigosh, you know what student loans are like! If you don't help us out we'll be starting our new jobs growing the Eastern Migratory Population in debt up to our necks - and you've seen how long our necks are!! Thanks in advance for helping. I just know you won't let us down.

Sincerely,
1-11
On behalf of all my buddies in the Class of 2011

Date: March 5, 2012 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PARTING GIFT Location: Main Office

Just before Bev Paulan left the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge yesterday to return home and her job as a pilot for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, she sent along a 'parting gift'.

Taken as dusk was falling, the two photos below captured four of the young cranes in the Class of 2011 as they strolled and foraged before departing for their evening roost site. Despite the low light, it's easy to see they have very little of the cinnamon coloring of youth left.

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Date:March 4, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office

As of March 1st, Aransas NWR officials were still waiting for the final report of the necropsy on the second chick carcass they sent to Madison, Wisconsin's National Wildlife Health Center. Weather was a challenge as they conducted the February aerial surveys, but the census numbers from those flights should be available soon.

As of the end of February, almost 4 inches of rainfall helped to reduced salinity levels in the bays at Aransas; good news for wintering Whooping cranes. In an effort to alleviate the low sources of food for Whoopers, the refuge conducted more prescribed burns with a total of almost 11,000 of the planned 14,000 acres now being burned.

It seems the refuge continues to get questions regarding providing supplemental food for Whooping cranes. In response, the refuge posted this statement...

"At this time, the refuge is concerned about the negative impacts of supplemental feeding. Previous efforts to supplemental feed were not considered successful as only a small portion of the birds actually fed on the shelled corn.

Whooping cranes are territorial and do not naturally gather together to feed. Encouraging them to do so changes their natural behavior; it also creates greater opportunities to transmit diseases, parasites, and makes them more vulnerable to predators.

Furthermore, when left out in warm and moist environments, like coastal marsh areas, corn can grow Aspergillis molds. Aflatoxins, which are produced by the molds, can be lethal to Whooping cranes and other wildlife. Where Whooping cranes may be present, landowners should be aware of the risks that aflatoxins pose. If corn is being used for feeding other wildlife in areas where whooping cranes may be present, we highly recommend purchasing aflatoxin-free corn."

Read the full summary of the Aransas Refuge report on the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA).

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Date: March 3, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:HOME AGAIN - ALREADY!Location: Main Office

If you are not in the habit of visiting Journey North's excellent website, (updated regularly by OM Board of Directors alumni, Jane Duden) then this is the perfect time of year to adopt the practice.

When we checked the Journey North site yesterday we learned that two unidentified cranes from the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) had completed their Spring migration back to Wisconsin by February 28th. And it appears that others in the EMP likely aren't too far behind. The pair consisting of 1-04 and 8-05 along with Wild1-10 were in Douglas County, IL as February drew to a close. At the same time, the North Carolina wintering pair of 28-08 and 5-10 had made it as far north as Bartholomew County, IN.

Already back on their summering grounds?!? Completing their northward journey in February gives a whole new meaning to 'spring' migration. Between all the short-stopping by the EMP on their journey south and the evidence of early departures for their return trip, this is undoubtedly going to be a year for the record books.

Date: March 2, 2012Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:WHYS AND WHEREFORES?Location: Wheeler NWR, AL

Migration. It is a topic that has been studied and written about extensively. Then studied and written about some more. It is why we are here, and why we do what we do. We teach a migration route to young Whooping cranes in the hope that they learn the route and in turn will teach it to their offspring. It works. Chicks that have hatched and fledged in the wild have been taught the route by their parents. Success any way you define it.

The question I have is: what makes a bird migrate? I mean, what is the trigger that goes off in their head like a starting gun at the beginning of a race. I know the science behind migration: the seasonal movement of an animal driven by a search for food and breeding grounds. (I just finished reading an excellent book on migration, On the Wing by Scott Wiedensaul. He delves into the whys and wherefores of bird migration in an easy to digest way.) But I want to know why today of all the days in a season, does a flock of Sandhill cranes leap into the air with much calling and climb to join the thermals, heading to unknown northern latitudes.

After early morning chick check today, and over a late breakfast, Brooke said he wanted to head back over to the refuge. I asked why, and he stated that due to the clear skies and quickly warming temps, he thought the Sandhills might leave today and he wanted to catch the departure. Slowly, over the course of the last month, they have been leaving on their northward trek. From a peak of 11,000 Sandhills a little over 4 weeks ago, to a total of 250 at last week’s count, they have been heading skyward, joining the thermals that will ease their way home.

We arrived at the parking area at 9:30 on the dot, and as we walked out to the blind, we heard the distinctive flight call of the Sandhills. It is different from their normal conversational call and if you have heard it before coming from high above, it is not easily forgotten. Encumbered by my camera, I told Brooke to run ahead to the blind so he could see the birds go.

I caught up just in time to see the birds climbing high in search of the lift they need. They continued circling and soon found the thermal. With no more flapping, they turned north and drifted out of site with their calls still trailing behind.

Why this day? What combination of weather and instinct and desire for home pulled them skyward? I don’t know if there is a definitive answer to that question. I do know that it is a mystery that greatly appeals to me. The timelessness of it, the rhythm of it, the continuity from one generation to the next, are all part of the appeal. The sight of a flock, all calling, all flapping, then soaring off in a V formation, moves me in a way that is hard to explain. As I watch this flock, just like every flock of cranes I have been fortunate enough to see every year for over 30 years, I wish them god-speed and safe journey, knowing all the hazards that can be encountered along the route.

Coming back from my reverie, I look back across the field, now empty of gray bodies and see nine mostly white Whooping cranes, nonchalantly probing the earth, seemingly not caring that they are now alone on the refuge. They wait, as do we, for their personal starting gun to go off, signaling their journey north, and their place in the rhythm of migration.

   

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Date:March 1, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CAUSE AND EFFECTLocation: Main Office

Associated Press journalist, Ramit Plushnick-Masti, published an interesting article earlier today entitled, "Texas draught twists migrations of many birds." The piece speaks about much more than Whooping cranes, but their plight is discussed too. Read the full article here.

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Date:February 29, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BITS AND PIECESLocation: Main Office

At last word from Brooke Pennypacker who is monitoring the nine young birds in the Class of 2011 at Alabama's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, they have yet to show any signs of leaving. Brooke told us the weather forecast for the next few days does not look particularly favorable for migration, so it is not likely they will be heading north in the next few days at least.

There have been public reports of sightings of Whooping cranes in Illinois. While credible, they have yet to be confirmed. As we reported the other day, the DAR cranes wintering at Wheeler NWR have already departed, and Brooke believes that 19-09 has as well. He has been scouting the refuge with his radio receiver in an attempt to pick up the signals of the two Whooping Crane pairs that were also wintering at remoter location, but so far, no success. That could mean either that they just haven't been located as yet, or that they too have left for the north.

With this year's early northward movement by many avian species it would not be a surprise to have many of the cranes in both the western and eastern population also launch their return well in advance of their 'usual' timing for spring migration.

The International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, composed of 50% US and 50% Canadian representatives, gathered this past weekend in Rockport, Texas for their winter meeting. Invited to attend and present were representatives from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), Chair, Peter Fasbender of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and OM's CEO and Project Leader, Joe Duff.

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Date: February 28, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NOT YET A MILEMAKER SPONSOR?Location: Main Office

It's easy to become a MileMaker Sponsor
Simply click the Whooping Crane     

Date: February 27, 2012Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:UP, UP, AND AWAY...Location: Wheeler NWR

“So long, It’s been good to know ya,” is the song the classic American folk group, the Weavers, used to end every concert with. And I could hear Pete Seager and Company singing away in the background when about 9:30 yesterday morning a flock of about 60 Sandhills took flight and the DAR’s with them. They spiraled up into the cloudless blue above, and headed north to begin their migration.

They, of course, were vocalizing their own accompaniment, more raucous than melodic. But hey,… whatever works. Soon they were reduced to beeps on the radio receiver until those too faded into silence. There’s always something hauntingly sad yet joyous about such an occasion.

The wonder of it all might be best celebrated with a toast to all the great people and all their great efforts that made this moment a reality. But still, you’re left with the feeling you had when you put your child on the school bus for the first time. It’s a jungle out there, and a hell of a long way to Wisconsin. And I wish I’d gotten to know them better…the DAR’s, I mean. Sure 19-09 was a familiar ultralight alumni. But those other two DAR chicks. They were just so darn cute! Meanwhile, our nine little characters looked up briefly in half interest, then went about their foraging. Perhaps they were dining on “It’s all about ME” grubs.

Not that the day started out that way. What I mean is, things started out pretty mellow. At 6:05 am the twelve Whoopers flew in together from Dinsmore Slough. No Sandhills, no ducks, no geese. Just white! You could almost hear them singing “We are the World” as they moved as one across the field, probing and grubbing as they went.

Then at 7:30 the Sandhills arrived. First a dozen, then maybe 20, followed by more in dribs and drabs until they numbered about 60, loosely coalescing into three distinct groups. That’s when the DAR’s traded the novelty of new friendship for the security of old and mingled with the Sandhills. Meanwhile the nine UL chicks simply wandered through the maze of grey, out the other side and off to the far side of the field.

All this was punctuated by the arrival of three playful bucks (as in deer), two sporting wall worthy racks as they sparred for a quick round or two in the midst of the Sandhills. One could not escape the urge to blame the complete incongruity of the scene on Monty Python. Soon the bucks ran off to answer their hormonal call of the wild, leaving the Sandhills to listen for their call of migration above the ever present din of nearby traffic, and the occasional lonesome train whistle, the kind that lives in at least every third country and western song.

But Mother Nature can out shout even the loudest of man produced ear worms, and when she calls, nature listens and the curtain rises on the symphony that is migration.

It was lonely for a while. The chicks continued their probing explorations in their favorite places with complete innocence and trust. Perhaps too much of both. What will life be like now without the presence of these other spirits, without their vigilance, their wisdom, their experience? Though the ties were loose and seemingly non-binding, did there exist by their presence a karma of protection? Has the threat level just ratcheted up? Have the challenges and threats just grown exponentially?

I sat in the bush watching the chicks a few hundred yards away, haunted by all this when seemingly out of nowhere a small flock of Sandhills appeared from high above. They parachuted down to where the chicks foraged in complete innocence. Then a larger flock appeared, then another, until there were over 100 Sandhills standing shoulder to shoulder with the still unimpressed chicks.

The mountain was again coming to Mohammed and perhaps bringing with it that special something that makes things turn out okay. And as the sun dropped like a lead sinker into a pool of dirty water, they all flew off to the slough to roost together.

It was dark when I got out of the van to unlock the visitors center gate, and as my hands wrestled with the lock, something ran out onto the driveway 10 yards in front of me, stared at me momentarily, then ran across into the bushes. A bobcat!.
Nice.

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Date: February 26, 2012Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:TO CARE OR NOT TO CARE...THAT IS THE QUESTIONLocation: Wheeler NWR

“Rhett, Rhett, …Rhett! If you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?” to which Rhett Butler replies to Scarlet O'Hara “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” And so, that wonderful piece of dialogue in the final scene of “Gone With the Wind” became forever the unofficial definition of the condition we call “indifference”.

And it is indifference that so far best describes the interaction our chicks have had with both the Sandhills and the DAR’s. (the title I use to describe the group of two DAR birds and 19-09). It’s neither like nor dislike, happy nor sad. They just don’t seem to care.

The Sandhills and DARs will usually fly over to the chicks in the morning, surrounding them in large numbers with playful enthusiasm, but the chicks usually barely acknowledge their presence and continue to forage, more often than not eventually wandering away as if in need of their alone time, while the Sandhills follow after them. It is definitely a case of the mountain going to Mohammed instead of Mohammed going to the mountain. And it is the same for the DAR’s.

Now 19-09 believes himself to be “Big Man on Campus” and struts his stuff accordingly, as if wearing a college letter sweater from Migration U., where you earn a letter for completing a migration. You know the type. But this attitude elicits no response from the chicks. After all, they earned their letters for being stuck in a pen for almost 6 weeks without developing any parasite problems and leaving the pen far stronger fliers than when they went in thus proving the naysayers wrong once again. An amazingly resilient group of chicks, these.

But there have been exceptions to this theme of indifference. One night two weeks ago, #7 flew out with the Sandhills to roost, and on another night, #5 did the same. Then this week, for three straight nights all the chicks flew out to the slough with the last remaining flock of Sandhills and roosted. But the following two nights they remained here to roost alone at their usual spot. So they are not completely indifferent and they do show signs of caring.

Perhaps they know just how important it is to care, and they are not like the Youtube Honey badger who just doesn’t give a #@#%$. (If you need a real laugh…and who doesn’t, google the Youtube Honey badger and see first hand what it means not to care).

Maybe they know that caring morphs into not caring and back again just as day turns into night, and that without all this ebb and flow of caring, not caring, where would we be? No yard sales, no divorce courts! Life would simply not be worth living! And sure, not caring can be a valuable survival tool, but it can also be a disability worthy of a handicap parking sticker. What we do and don’t care about, after all, is one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that is each of us. Surely the chicks are well aware of all of this. Hanging around for many millions of years has got to teach you something!

Last night, hidden behind the blind, as the last of the day's light faded into shadow and I mentally put the finishing touches to this update, I heard the Sandhill’s preflight cacophony begin to erupt from across the field. Soon what was left of the horizon filled with the large remaining flock of grey, embedded with 12 white Whoopers heading off for the night's roost at the slough.

I guess some nights you just care more than others.

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Date: February 25, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BIRDS STRUGGLE TO ADAPTLocation: Main Office

We are always appreciative when folks send us links to web articles related to wildlife conservation, particularly those focused on cranes, but also those about migratory birds. One such link came to us recently from Ontario resident and OM office volunteer George McCubbin.

Authored by Joel Boyce, the article is entitled, "Migratory Birds Struggle to Adapt to New Climate." The article reports on the results of a Swedish survey.

Quoting... The 20 years of data collected on migratory birds..."suggests that European species have been adapting to warmer temperatures, but not enough. Set temperatures are approximately 250km (155 miles) more to the north than at the beginning of this period. What this means is that since average temperatures for a particular time of year are warmer throughout the continent, migratory routes should also adjust. Specifically, each species should be shortening its trips south during the winter, and spending their summers farther north than previously."

The article goes on to say, "But what the Swedish group has discovered is that, although bird species have been moving northwards, they haven’t been adjusting their routes as quickly as the climate itself has been changing. In fact, they’ve only adjusted their wintering and summering spots by half the distance they should have in order to maintain the same living temperatures. The danger is that the health of the birds will be badly affected if they don’t learn to move to a better temperature range for their physical needs."

Also notable are the ripple effects related to food sources and other factors. All very interesting given the short-stopping of their fall migration's exhibited by the Wood Buffalo-Aransas and Eastern Migratory Populations this past season. What will also be interesting to see is whether or not the cranes will conclude their return migration at their usual summering grounds, or begin to seek more northerly habitats.

Click here to read the full article.

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Date: February 24, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ARE YOU A SPONSOR?Location: Main Office

MileMaker sponsors have a chance to have their name drawn to receive a valuable and unique Thank You gift.

OM pilot and metal sculptor, Richard van Heuvelen, created and donated a special sculpture of a Whooping crane chick that will go to one very lucky person. Richard's phenomenal sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars and you could be the owner of a one of kind piece of his incredible artwork.

While the 2011 migration was shortened when the nine young cranes were delivered to Alabama's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the length of time to make that journey from Wisconsin's White River Marsh State Wildlife Area was not. In fact, 119 days elapsed between departure and the 'finish line'. That means there were expenses for ~30 days more than we anticipated when we struck our budget last March.

With 130 MileMaker miles still unsponsored, we hope you will jump in to help ensure the expenses incurred on behalf of Class of 2011 are covered.

The names of all MileMaker sponsors will be entered in the March 31st Thank You gift draw as follows:
1 entry per 1/4 mile sponsorship     2 entries per 1/2 mile sponsorship     4 entries per one mile sponsorship

This year's road has had a number of bumps. Indeed, it has been somewhat of a 'wild ride' for both the Class of 2011 and Operation Migration. Please become a MileMaker sponsor and help to ensure the migration year finishes in the black.

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Date: February 23, 2012Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE....Location: Wheeler NWR, AL

In the words of Wheeler refuge volunteer Nancy, "The cranes are going to do what they want to do, and when they want to." And so they do. We never know exactly where they will be and what they will be doing.

For the most part they are spending the day in the field across the pond from the viewing tower. But refuge staff has seen them far and wide in areas we don’t have access to. Yesterday morning I observed the birds foraging alone in a field, only to fly across the field and join a pair of Sandhill cranes. After mingling with the Sandys, they meandered away and remained in the field for a couple of hours.

Last night, when we arrived at our viewing spot, the two DAR chicks and 19-09 were in their same field with the usual contingent of Sandhills. Our chicks were not seen, but were heard on the telemetry, so we walked over to another field and, sure enough, there they were foraging alone. After observing them for a time from our hidden spots in the trees, they took off and flew over to join the ever-growing flock of cranes.

By the time we walked back to our blind, we could catch occasional glimpses of white through the sea of gray. It was impossible to count just how many white birds were there, and when one Whooping crane flew off, Brooke quickly grabbed the telemetry gear and identified it as the male DAR chick. On our walk back to the blind, we missed 19-09 flying off with the female DAR chick.

After watching and listening for a very short while, several groups of Sandhills took to the air and headed back to their unseen roost site. On every previous evening but one, our chicks have stayed put and have waited to roost until after sun has set. On this evening, we could clearly see the Whoopers preparing to fly. Could it be that Brooke would get his wish of an earlier roosting time?

Instead of their usual nonchalant grubbing, they stood alert, looking towards their departing smaller cousins. Soon, they assumed the preflight posture, leaning ever farther forward, until their necks were almost horizontal. With one powerful downbeat, they began to lift off and joined up with the throng, heading to roost. We soon lost sight of them as they disappeared behind the trees, and for the first time since the release, we walked out while the sun was still touching horizon.

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Date: February 22, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: CLASS OF 2011 UPDATELocation: Main Office
The news from Brooke Pennypacker, who is monitoring the Class of 2011 at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, is there has been a behavior change. Up until this past Sunday, the young cranes have been going to roost on their own in the evening. They continue to frequent the same spot during the day as the two Direct Autumn Release (DAR) cranes and a group of Sandhill cranes, but as evening approached, the three groups would depart and go their own way.

Brooke said the Sandhills generally begin heading for their evening roost site around 4:00-4:30pm; the DAR birds for theirs about an hour later. Then, around six-ish, the nine cranes in the Class of 2011 fly off to their favored roosting location. Monday that changed.

Beginning that evening, the Class of 2011 joined the Sandhills at their roosting spot, but in Brooke's estimation, not until too much time had elapsed. You see, while the nine young birds altered their roost location, they didn't alter their timing. They are still waiting until six o'clock or after before they make that move.

Brooke says this habit makes him nervous, and that he wishes they'd pick up on the roosting timing of their Sandhill cousins. He said, "I'd worry a whole lot less if they would get safely settled in a roost site earlier, because once dusk begins to fall, predators come out to hunt for their dinner. As it is, it's getting pretty dark by the time they decide to call it a night."

Isn't that just like teenagers? When they will learn? Let's hope they pick up on that survival skill lesson soon.

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Date: February 21, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:Eastern Migratory Population UpdateLocation: Main Office
In a report received yesterday from WCEP Tracking Team, the maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) as of February 19th is estimated at 107 consisting of 54 males and 53 females. At almost exactly the same time last year the population size was 106, a growth of just one despite the release of an additional 18 Whooping cranes this past season.

Accounting for this minimal growth in the population are mortalities due to shootings, attrition, and that WCEP has removed  four more Whooping cranes from the population that are now consider dead as they have been missing for more than a year. The four Whooping cranes no longer included in the population total are 16-03, 14-05, 13-07 and 13-09.

Also estimated in the latest tracking report is the population's distribution as of February 19th, 2012 (or last record). The unusual distribution prompted us to check our past records. The chart below shows a comparison of the flock’s current locations versus their locations at approximately the same time in 2010. (Note 2011 location summary not readily available but may be added later.)

2012

LOCATED IN

2010

40

Indiana

8

  5

Illinois

0

  4

Georgia

3

16

Alabama

8

  2

South Carolina

4

  2

North Carolina

0

  5

Tennessee

8-9

  6

Kentucky

10

11

Florida

50

14

Location unknown

5-6

 2

Long term missing

7

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Date: February 20, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILL ON WINTERING GROUNDSLocation: Main Office
Close to 40 percent of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) chose to short-stop their fall migration considerably north of their usual wintering grounds, Where in 2010/2011 there were 23 Whoopers wintering in Florida, as of mid January 2012 there were just 13. Since 2005 Florida has never hosted less than 23 over-wintering Whooping cranes and has had as many as 46 Whooping cranes wintering there.

Some members of the EMP made the complete journey to their usual territories however. Pictured here are two such Whooping cranes. Their favored spot to pass away the winter months is in Lowndes County, Georgia.

This photo of the pair consisting of female 39-07* and male 7-07 comes to us compliments of Craniac SB, their 'resident guardian'. Pair 7-07 & 39-07* were the first to arrive, and they were later joined by 3-07 & 38-08*. For this photo op they were joined by a visiting Sandhill.

Date: February 19, 2012Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject: A Good MorningLocation: Wheeler NWR, AL

A good morning is never guaranteed after a good evening, but yesterday morning might have been the exception. We got as good a show as has been performed yet this season at the Wheeler theater in the round.

Brooke and I arrived at our blind around 0730, which is very close to sunrise. Our radio receiver told us all 12 birds were in the fields near the pond where the pen had been set up, so we were anxious to get a visual confirmation of the audible position report.

 

As we brought our binoculars to our eyes, we simultaneously uttered “cooooolllll!” as we saw all twelve birds standing in a line among a flock of Sandhill cranes. Lowering the binocs, we smiled at each other, enjoying the ease of the morning check. I thought that if every morning was this easy, I would have no problem removing myself from the comfort of my bed while still in the pre-dawn gloominess.

 

We continued to watch our charges as they melted into the gray flock, sometimes disappearing completely, just to reappear moments later as their smaller cousins moved aside. Flocks of Greater white fronted geese flew in making their squeaky, unhinged door call.

 

As the morning grew brighter, the activity of the chicks increased, with one or more jumping at the Sandhills trying to show that, “yes I am bigger and therefore badder”. The Sandhills paid no mind to the chicks, and as the morning wore on they slowly departed for parts unknown in groups of twos and threes and sometimes up to twenty.

We were still watching, enjoying the show, not realizing that the best performance was yet to come.

 

Around 0800, the two DAR chicks and 19-09 lifted off with a large group of Sandhills and headed toward the slough. The air was filled with ducks, geese, gray and white cranes, and the cacophony was almost deafening, drowning out the morning traffic on the highway.


 

Still glassing our chicks, we were amused by a Sandhill crane that kept leaping into the air and tossing a stick, seemingly for the enjoyment of the act itself.

About ten minutes after the first three birds left, the nine ultralight chicks all leapt into the air and flew towards us.

My camera was clicking madly as I tried to capture digitally a moment that is too remarkable to do justice to with either words or images. One has to experience the moment firsthand to fully appreciate the beauty of nine juvenile, now wild, Whooping cranes, stretching their 7 foot wings and climbing ever higher in the brightening sky.

Slowly they came towards us, then overflew us. Mouths agape, we stretched our necks to try to keep them in our view, and then watched them land in the pond near the refuge visitor center.

Knowing that the morning could not get any better, we walked away from the blind, thankful for the show and with the full knowledge that most mornings are not better than the evening before----but this one sure was.

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Date:February 18, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population UpdateLocation: Main Office

Chester McConnell noted in a recent post to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association website that, "Aransas National Wildlife Refuge biologists now estimate the population of Whooping cranes [in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas flock] within their survey area to be approximately 245 individuals." Not included in the 245 are Whooping cranes known to be at other locations in Texas as well as several other states.

The method of counting Whooping cranes on Aransas Refuge has been modified. Known as 'distance sampling', census flights along straight lines set at specific distances within the survey area are flown. Where previously, an aerial survey consisted of one flight, now, to estimate the population, the birds are counted on three flights on three separate days.

Aransas officials explained that, “Over the years the Whooping crane population has been growing, the habitat changing, and the birds naturally dispersing. The primary goal is to ensure the recovery of the species and to do that the refuge and its partners must adjust with the ever-changing conditions." Read the report.

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Date: February 17, 2012Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:A NIGHT ON THE REFUGELocation: Wheeler NWR, AL

Every night in birdland is different than the last. When Brooke and I walk out to our observation blind, we never know exactly where the chicks will be. Before we walk out, we pull out the telemetry receiver and listen to the beeps to get a general idea of the birds’ proximity and direction. Some nights, all the beeps are loud and clear. Other nights only a few of the birds are close, and it is never the same birds in the same location.

Last night, on listening to the receiver, all 12 signals (we are also scanning for the two DAR chicks and 19-09) were of a medium strength. That told us the birds were near what had previously been their pen site, but not right at the pen area. In the morning, the signals had been weak, telling Brooke that the birds were off at the Sandhill’s roost area, approximately ¾ of a mile south of where the pen had been.

Sneaking into the blind Brooke had set up, we saw initially no birds. Scanning the area, we still saw no chicks, so we left the blind and walked down a path that would take us towards the fields the chicks have frequented. We no sooner got on the path, than we spotted some white through the trees and made a quick beeline back to the blind. Six of the chicks came walking from the field they had been in the previous morning, then flew across their roosting pond and over toward a gathering of their gray brethren. One chick peeled off and landed in the pond, and the other five quickly melded into the flock of Sandhills.



That left six cranes still unaccounted for, other than the audible beep on the receiver. The field that the birds feed in during the day has several dips, and a portion cannot be seen from Brooke’s small blind hidden in the trees. We can only see them when they fly up out of the wet depression, or pop their heads up if something causes concern.

Since we could not see the other six, Brooke decided to hike the long route out of sight of the birds that runs through the trees and over the hills to a vantage point overlooking the flyway to the Sandhill’s roosting slough. Each night the two DAR chicks and 19-09 have roosted with the Sandies, and on two occasions so has 7-11. Bearing that in mind, Brooke wanted to be pre-positioned in case they flew that way again. I stayed in the blind keeping watch on the field in case the missing six flew into view.

Shortly after five, right on their usual schedule, the Sandhills started rising into the air in small groups, calling their prehistoric, indescribable call. And, because of all that ruckus, I spied three cinnamon and white heads pop up over the rise across the way as if they were rubber-necking at an accident. If there were three, perhaps there could be six. I would just have to wait and see.

My patience was rewarded, because within five minutes, just as a large group of Sandhills were lifting off, four white shapes emerged from the depression. Quickly grabbing my binoculars, I saw that three still had buff colored heads while one was sporting a beautiful red crown and full black mustache. That left two still unseen. I made a quick call to Brooke to let him know white birds were headed his way and then went back to check on the original five across the field. After a rapid back and forth scan, only one bird was visible. How could I have missed the other four flying away? Another call to Brooke and then back to scanning.

Wheeler refuge is situated along a rather busy state highway and the traffic noise can be fairly loud. Sandhill cranes can be louder though, and every time a group became airborne, the traffic would be drowned out. Over this whole din I could hear the plaintive and very loud peeps of a chick in distress. Like any parent, I immediately became hyper-aware, and looked to see the cause of the angst.

The remaining chick across the field was looking in every direction for her fellow cohort members and calling loudly to them. With a very observable double-take on her part, she took off at a very quick walk, going completely opposite of where I thought the birds had flown. The chick that had landed in the pond also started walking the same general direction. Then I glimpsed white far across the pond. I waited until the two chicks were a good ½ mile away and I crawled out of the blind into the periphery of the field to see if I could get a beak count.

Since it has warmed up, not only was I looking for chicks, but snakes as well, since I was now on a nose to nose level with any reptile lurking about ( I am especially paranoid after a sneak attack by a frog last night). While trying my best to sneak, I looked up just in time to see the last two unaccounted for chicks take off from their hidden position across the way and fly Brooke’s general direction. By this time I had gotten to a spot to count six chicks on the north end of the pond, and finally sighed a grateful sigh that all 12 birds were found and accounted for.

After sneaking back into the blind, I once again called Brooke, who having seen the last two fly by his hidding spot, was walking back to my location. After he returned and before leaving the blind, we watched the six chicks forage their way back to a good roosting position. Another interesting evening in birdland and as we walked back to the van, we reveled in the music of geese, ducks, and frogs, content in our muddy condition knowing that all the birds were well on their way to independence.

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Date: February 16, 2012Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:CLASS OF 2011 UPDATELocation: Wheeler NWR, AL

It wasn’t exactly 'love at first flight', but it was an exciting moment in this new reality show called 'Hard Core Release,' when yesterday morning our ever curious, yet curiously independent Whooper chicks met the two Direct Autumn Release (DAR) birds and 19-09, their protective mentor, for the first time.

The Class of 2011 and the DAR cranes have been casting their collective eyeballs on each other for a few days now, but had not shown any interest in getting up close and personal - until Tuesday morning.

Our chicks sauntered slowly across the field where the DAR threesome stood among their usual flock of Sandhill cranes. For lack of a better word I say 'sauntered,' because they moved heads down, grubbing and probing for who knows what. This made it look like they were pulling themselves in slow motion across the field with their beaks, until they finally made it over to who some expect will become their new best friends.

As the imaginary orchestra tuned up to accompany the moment with a Disneyesque movie score titled “Meet the DAR’s,” #19-09 (far left in photo) raised up his head and greeted each chick with its own special aggressive slam. Momentarily, the chicks responded with surprise, then immediate resignation, and then resumed their probing completely unaffected and disinterested while the Sandhills looked on in what one could perceive as amusement. Meanwhile the thought balloons over the DAR chicks heads read, “Harsh!!!!”

As the music transposed to a minor key you could almost hear the voice of John Wayne saying, “Welcome to the Wild West, Pilgrims.” But John didn’t know what life for the chicks with the Costumed People' has been like, and compared to that, this was like a leisurely stroll down Easy Street.

In time, our chicks and the DAR birds leisurely moved away from each other. Later in the day though, our little darling #7-11 flew over to the DAR’s for more face-time, and this resulted in not an ounce of drama. It was just an, "Think I’ll probe with you guys for a while.” Thus, the accompanying picture….and as everyone knows, “a picture tells a thousand probes.”

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Date: February 15, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Main Office

The January aerial surveys at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounds produced a low count of Whooping cranes compared to previous years.

USFWS biologists' census results revealed that only 193 Whoopers were sighted, of which 23 were juveniles. Officials estimate that at least 16 others from this population are wintering in areas distant from their typical locations, some as far away as Nebraska. Five of the Aransas cranes, including a family of three, a juvenile and a lone adult, are known to be wintering in south central Kansas.

The low count is worrisome because at the season's start, experts estimated the population number could be as high as 300. The drought is drastically changing the habits of the Texas wintering cranes. With a lack of rain and river inflow at estuaries that the cranes depend on, there is a shortage of potable water and a decrease in the supply of their preferred food, blue crabs. As a result, some cranes are deserting the bay areas and flying inland to search for food and water.

We wait anxiously for the report from the next aerial census which is scheduled for mid-February.

Click the link to visit the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) to read the most recent full report on the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population of Whooping cranes. To help ensure an adequate food supply for cranes wintering at Aransas cranes, the WCCA has been urging the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to effect a closure on crabbing in the area. Click here to read that article.

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Date: February 14, 2012 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: CLASS OF 2011 UPDATE Location: Main Office
The Class of 2011 has a special visitor this week. Bev Paulan, former OM Ground Supervisor and now a pilot with the Wisconsin DNR, has been spending some vacation time checking out what the nine young cranes released at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge are getting up to.

Bev tells us that on Monday the cranes were mingling with Sandhills, but spent the best part of their day on their own loafing, foraging and meandering around the pond. By nightfall they were feeding in the field surrounding the pond, and right before roosting, she watched as they flew a lap around the pond.

For a time, the Whoopers could be seen from the refuge blind and we have Bev to thank for snapping these photos to share with us and with you.

 

We hope you're remembering that we still need your help to cover the expenses incurred on behalf of Class of 2011. Please become a MileMaker sponsor today. Perhaps you will be the lucky recipient of our most unique Thank You gift ever. (See the details below)

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Date: February 13, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AND THE LUCKY RECIPIENT IS....Location: Main Office

When we launched the campaign, Give a WHOOP! 2011, we announced that there would be a draw from among all those who contributed one or more $10 WHOOPs for an incredible Thank You gift.

The draw was made on February 5th subsequent to the Class of 2011 reaching their final migration stop. We are delighted to report that the lucky recipient of a one week stay in Costa Rica is Theresa Perenich of Athens, Georgia!

In addition to airfare for two and the use of a rental car (max. value of $2000.00), Theresa will enjoy the fabulous accommodations of Mot Mot Manor, a 2 bedroom/3 bathroom villa overlooking the Nicoyan Peninsula. Picture her on the expansive patio beside the private in-ground pool with an exotic beverage enjoying a BBQ dinner. (This wonderful vacation stay was provided through the generosity of an anonymous donor.)

But wait....there's more!

This is not the only Thank You gift on offer this season. MileMaker sponsors also have a chance to have their name drawn to receive a valuable and unique Thank You gift.

OM pilot and metal sculptor, Richard van Heuvelen, created and donated a special sculpture of a Whooping crane chick that will go to one very lucky person. Richard's phenomenal sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars and you could be the owner of a one of kind piece of his incredible artwork.

While the 2011 migration was shortened when the nine young cranes were delivered to Alabama's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, the length of time to make that journey from Wisconsin's White River Marsh State Wildlife Area was not. In fact, 119 days elapsed between departure and the 'finish line'. That means there were expenses for ~30 days more than we anticipated when we struck our budget last March.

With 155 MileMaker miles still unsponsored, we hope you will jump in to help ensure the expenses incurred on behalf of Class of 2011 are covered.

The names of all MileMaker sponsors will be entered in the March 31st Thank You gift draw as follows:
1 entry per 1/4 mile sponsorship     2 entries per 1/2 mile sponsorship     4 entries per one mile sponsorship

This year's road has had a number of bumps. Indeed, it has been somewhat of a 'wild ride' for both the Class of 2011 and Operation Migration. Please become a MileMaker sponsor and help to ensure the migration year has a smooth finish.

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Date: February 12, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CLASS OF 2011 REPORTLocation: Main Office

Brooke Pennypacker reported this morning that cold, high NW winds restricted flying of most of the birds at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. He noted that even the Sandhills didn't make an appearance at their usual haunt until late afternoon and then only stayed for about 20 minutes before leaving for the roost site.

For much of the day, the Class of 2011 stayed in the wetland region they had been using, moving only to an area that was somewhat out of the wind. Brooke has been waiting for an opportunity to take the travel pen down. Yesterday that happened, but the young cranes only remained out of sight long enough for him to extract the electric fencing surrounding the pen that had previously been disconnected and left lying on the ground.

The current weather front is predicted to move out tonight to be replaced with warmer weather delivered by winds that will shift to come out of the south.

Those conditions are forecast to last for at least two or three days, and Brooke expects that is likely to prompt more departure activity. Like other species across the country who have launched their return north more than a month ahead of 'usual', many of Wheeler's wintering Sandhills have already departed.

We will be checking with Brooke each day for a 'status report', so stay tuned to the Field Journal for the latest Class of 2011 news.

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Date:February 12, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LINKSLocation: Main Office

We often receive links to interesting articles, photos, or videos from our supporters and Field Journal readers. Several have accumulated so we thought we'd share a selection of them with you.

http://www.katc.com/news/young-whooping-crane-recovering-from-broken-bone/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS8VzBThXmM&feature=youtu.be

http://durangoherald.com/article/20120130/NEWS01/701309966/-1/s

http://www.wdrb.com/story/16650683/rare-whooping-crane-dies-in-indiana-after-injury

http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/article/20120123/WDH0101/201230469/Texas-drought-raises-stakes-Wisconsin-whooping-cranes

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Short-count-of-whooping-cranes-puzzles-officials-3006163.php

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Date: February 11, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NINE WHOOPING CRANES RELEASEDLocation: Main Office

Yesterday morning around 8:00am CST, the nine young Whooping cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 were released from their temporary pensite at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Along with OM's Brooke Pennypacker, on hand for the event were WCEP Tracker, Eva Szyszkoski from ICF, Interns Olivia and Ben who were up from Florida's Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and Bill Gates, Biologist at the Wheeler Refuge.

The cranes had their health checks as well as their permanent bands affixed on Thursday, the 9th, and normally would have been held in the pen a bit longer to allow them more recovery time. Brooke advised that moving up the timing for their release was based on several factors.

He said it appeared the young cranes had made a speedy recovery from being handled. Also, because many of the Sandhill cranes were leaving and the behavior patterns of the two Direct Autumn Release juveniles present were changing, the timing was auspicious. These reasons, along with a predicted weather front moving in that was likely to motivate birds to head north, prompted the decision to effect the release a day or two early.

When the pen gates were opened, the birds came out walking and flapping. No residual soreness or limping was seen and all the birds flew, three of them for an extensive period. They appeared to be enjoying their new-found freedom and eventually they flew to a nearby wetland. With the release of the Class of 2011 into the wild, the estimated maximum number of Whooping cranes in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population is 112.

Brooke remains on site to monitor their activity. Once they have removed themselves to where they are out of sight of the travel pen enclosure, he will be able to go in to take it down and pack it up so it can be hauled out.

"So far the cranes are foraging and hanging around in flooded fields close to the pen," said Wheeler Biologist, Bill Gates. The photos we share with you below came to us compliments of Bill. Photo credit: USFWS - William R. Gates

Pen gates open and the Whoopers leave their pen.
One crane jumps and flaps as Brooke watches others. Four young cranes stroll and forage in nearby wetland.
Headed for the wetland with 'landing gear' down. Testing their wings and enjoying their new-found freedom.

Click this link to view more photos, including those captured during the health checks and banding procedure. We will post more news on the Class of 2011 here as it comes in. Stay tuned!

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Date: February 9, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:CLASS OF 2011 BANDEDLocation: On The Road

Although Whooping cranes are critically endangered, that status does not apply to the birds that WCEP is introducing into the Eastern Flyway. The Endangered Species Act protects the birds, and it also applies to the habitat they use. If the birds wintered or nested in private wetland, there are serious implications for the owners. Naturally that led to some concerns when this project was first proposed.

Luckily there is a provision within the Act that allows for an experimental, non-essential designation. These birds are considered experimental and not critical to the survival of the species so they have the status of “threatened” which relieved a lot of tension for everyone involved. That agreement was signed by seven states along the migration route, thirteen more into which the birds may disperse, as well as two Canadian Provinces. However, if they wander out of that range, it becomes a problem so they must be permanently marked with leg bands. In addition, they need to be fitted with better radios than the snap on type they wear during the migration, and a few get satellite transmitters called PTT’s.

In order to fit the bands the birds have to be held, and that gives the Health Team the opportunity to examine them prior to their release. Dr Glenn Olsen came down from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to conduct the health exam. He was accompanied by Brian Clauss who is particularly good at holding the birds still while all this takes place. Having done that myself, I can tell you it’s not like holding your dog while the vet administers a shot. It takes skill and balance and just the right pressure in just the right area to avoid injury.

Eva Szyszkoski from ICF who leads the WCEP Tracking Team came up from Florida to apply the bands which are glued on in several stages so they will never come off. Also two staff members from Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida where the birds were supposed to winter came up to help. Normally after being handled, the birds are wary of anyone dressed in a costume, but according to Brooke, it all went very smoothly and the birds were taking treats from him after only a few hours.

Despite the talent and experience that assembled at Wheeler NWR to ensure the safety of these birds, to them it was nothing more than an indignity and some extra hardware to carry.

Above: The cranes are hooded prior to the health check and banding process beginning.
Below: Eva Szyszkoski attaches their permanent bands and transmitters.
Above: Brian Clauss (right) holds a crane while Dr. Olsen conducts its health check.
Below: The crane colts sporting their new leg jewelry appear none the worse for wear.

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Date: February 7, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: LOGISTICS, LOGISTICSLocation: On The Road

Logistics is a word that adequately describes all the stuff that needs to be done at the end of the migration. First of all the birds had to be carefully moved to Wheeler NWR. Their pen was set up in a wet area of an open field with a panoramic view of feeding Sandhills and a few Whooping cranes. Part of the pen includes some water, and they were happy to poke and prod.

When we backed the vehicle in to unload the crates, the back axle dropped into a rut. No amount of pushing helped. Lisa, one of the refuge staff members, hooked a tow rope to her pick up. It wasn’t hard to pull the vehicle out, but the road we were on was curved. I was pointing one way and she was, out of necessity, pulling from another. As we cleared the mud the tow rope wrapped around the tire and ripped out the brake line.

Once the trucks were out of sight we could release the birds and watch them play in the muck while we said our goodbye.

After that came a whole list of chores, like getting the brakes fixed, winterizing all the motorhomes and delivering them to where they will be needed next year. While Brooke relocated his mobile living quarters to Wheeler, a caravan left heading in the general direction of Washington, DC with Richard, Geoff and Caleb. The aircraft trailer was packed then delivered to Florida where it will next be used at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in May when we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. If you are in the Orlando area on the weekend of May 12, come join us.

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Date: February 5, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:CLASS OF 2011 NOW AT WHEELER NWRLocation: Wheeler NWR

I spent twenty years as a commercial photographer and always felt torn between two disciplines. In order to achieve the perfect image, you had to balance the science of of film and light with the emotion of the subject. One was technical and the other creative.

Yesterday we placed the birds in individual containers and quietly loaded them into the van. In doing so, all of us had to balance the science of migration with the disappointment of not having completed our mission.

Normally the end of the migration in Florida is when we say goodbye to the birds we have nurtured for nearly ten months. That pang is balanced by bravado and the satisfaction of having completed our goal. This year we have one without the other and all that is left is the bluster.

Once we get past the short-lived self pity and look objectively at the situation, we see that it doesn't matter much that we didn't make it all the way to Florida. The birds will still migrate north. They may need a little assistance but they will still be a part of the population.

The Rearing and Release Team within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) made the decision about where these birds would spend the winter.

The most important consideration is that we have a new reintroduction site in Wisconsin that we hope will encourage birds to breed in an area free of the black flies that seem to threaten the population at Necedah. The team wanted to give these birds the best chance to get back there, and Wheeler NWR is the option closest to the ultralight-led migration route.

While the rest of the team said their goodbyes and packed up all the trailers and motorhomes, Brooke will stay on and monitor the birds over what is left of the winter. We will keep  you posted, but we expect them to start heading north soon. Many of the birds of all species didn't make it all the way to their wintering ground this year because of warn weather and many are heading back already.

If you ever get to this part of Alabama you should visit Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Currently there are thousands of Sandhill cranes there along with seven Whooping cranes. It is divided by the Tennessee River and has a variety of beautiful habitat and a very friendly staff.

Although we didn't know it at the time, our last flight with the Class of 2011 was on January 29. I was the lead pilot that morning, but I wasn't alone. In fact I had three passengers with me.

Disney's Worldwide Conservation Fund has supported this project from the beginning. They fund many wildlife programs around the world and they asked us to bring Safari Mickey along as an ambassador. The best place to see the action is from above, so he accompanied Mr. H. which is a replica of a chimpanzee that Dr. Jane Goodall carries with her as she spreads her message of conservation and hope. Jane travels more than 300 days a year so Mr. H. gets around, but he has never flown with birds before.

The third passenger tucked in the middle was Vic, or Very Important Crane. Vic has been on the migration before and he has visited the United States, Mexico, and South America as he was sent from school to school.

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Date: February 4, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:HIVE OF ACTIVITYLocation: Winston County, AL

Camp this morning was a veritable hive of activity as the crates and vehicles to be used to transport the nine Whooping cranes in the Class of 2011 were made ready. While this was going on, some crew scrambled to gather up and pack the last few of their personal items in order to transfer them to the vehicle in which they would be travelling back home. Others stored away no longer needed equipment in the bins, boxes, and chests that are the items off season homes in the aircraft trailer. 

As I sat in my motorhome plugging away on my laptop the windshield presented me with a front row view. I could see the crew trotting back and forth from one vehicle/motorhome/trailer to the next, and the scene was not dissimilar to watching harried commuters heading in all directions, briskly passing each other as they rushed to catch their train.

Then, abruptly, as all the vehicles pulled out to head for the pensite a couple of road miles distant, silence descended.

It is 53F degrees here and completely overcast. The grey, heavy looking clouds make it more likely than not that the current lull in precipitation we have been experiencing will end soon. We are glad for the cooler temperature today, it will help to ensure the birds will not overheat in their crates. (Air conditioning running in the transport vehicles prevents that from happening during the road trip.)

As you might imagine, we have been responding to dozens and dozens of media calls over the past few days. After gathering the information and commentary they wanted for their stories, they would invariably close by asking how we, the migration crew, felt about the shortened migration.

I'm confident that I can say there is universal disappointment. We were charged with a task - leading the cranes from Wisconsin to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's choice of wintering sites. That we ten times successfully completed that task before is small consolation for not being able to repeat that feat this season.

However, perhaps Joe best summed up the rest of our thoughts when he said...

"Yes, of course we are disappointed, but in reality it makes little difference to the cranes. There is something, not entirely known, that stimulates a southern migration in birds. It may be temperature, or the angle of the sun, or a surge of hormones, but at some point that urge wears off.

Because of weather delays and south winds, we may have passed that point with the Class of 2011. In addition, these cranes are reaching the time in their lives when they become independent of their parents. In the end, none of this means much to the birds. They are still part of the Eastern Migratory Population and will still migrate back north. All that is left for us to do is to cross our fingers and hope they make it back to Wisconsin's White River State Wildlife Area."

Reports continue to come in about both Sandhills and Whoopers that have curtailed their migration this season. Some, like almost 40% of the Eastern Migratory Population, have shortened their southerly migration by hundreds of miles. In the western flyway, the same phenomena is being seen in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. Cranes that would normally  winter on coastal Texas have short-stopped on the Platte River in Nebraska and also in Kansas.

The latest news out of Aransas, Texas about the western population of Whoopers is that only 193 cranes were counted on three aerial surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January. This versus the 300 cranes that were anticipated to winter there. Sixteen more cranes not on their usual wintering grounds were accounted for, some of those being the cranes that had not ventured further south than Nebraska.

In an article by Colin McDonald published in the San Antonio Express-News, officials at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge were quoted as having said, ".....they do not believe 91 birds have died, as they have collected only two carcasses." Click the link above to read the full article.

We will continue to report here on the Class of 2011 including more about move to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. IF we can get a signal from the new pensite at the Wheeler refuge, we will attempt to provide you with one last viewing opportunity of the Class of 2011 via the CraneCam. IF that becomes possible, it will not be until later this morning at an as yet unknown time.

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Date: February 3, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE NEXT STEPSLocation: Winston County, AL

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's (WCEP) annual two day meeting concluded Thursday. Staff members of WCEP's nine member organizations attended the meeting in person or joined in electronically. On yesterday's agenda was the selection of a release site for the ultralight-led Class of 2011.

Of necessity, all options involved crating and transporting the nine cranes by road, and the pros and cons of each of three potential release sites (Florida's St. Marks and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges, and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama) were discussed. In the final analysis, it was felt that the pros outweighed the cons of selecting the Wheeler NWR.

Today, OM team members will be putting the wheels in motion to carry out that decision. Arrangements were made late yesterday with Wheeler's staff for our second travel pen to be erected there on an area of the refuge where two adult pairs of Whooping cranes have been sighted.

We added up the time it would take for the trip to the refuge including the drive in to reach the potential pensite, plus the time to unload and set up the pen, and then the return trip. Even with a very early start it was obvious that we'd be in the heat of the day before we'd be in a position to crate the cranes for the move. (The high today is forecast to be in the mid 60's) Crating can be stressful for the cranes, so accomplishing that in the cool of the early morning hours to eliminate concerns for overheating is a better option. This means the actual move will take place Saturday morning.

Once the Class of 2011 is at Wheeler NWR, they will be held in the top-netted travel pen until the WCEP team arrives with their permanent bands and they are attached to each crane. After a day or two for the birds to recover from being handled and to adjust to their new leg jewelry, Brooke, who will be staying on site with them, will effect the release.

We will keep you posted...

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Date: February 2, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: DESTINATION FOR CLASS OF 2011 DECIDEDLocation: Winston County, AL
The discussions at the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership annual meetings being held over two days (yesterday and today) included consideration of choosing an ultimate destination for the ultralight-led Class of 2011.

While the details of when and how are still being ironed out, we can tell you that the nine young of the year will be crated and taken by road to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge here in Alabama. Wheeler is near Decatur, AL about 45 miles (as the crow flies) northeast of their current pensite location.

More will be posted here as decisions are made, logistics worked out, and that information becomes available.

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Date: February 2, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: WHOOP-DE-DOO!Location: Winston County, AL

The 'First Sunday Presentation Series' at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge offers, "Whoop-De-Doo!, a presentation about Whooping cranes designed especially for families.

The event will be held this coming Sunday, February 5th in the Environmental Education Center "Nature' Classroom" at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The presentation will begin at 2:00pm. Adults and children (age 8 and up) alike will enjoy this presentation. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

Presenters at the First Sunday event will be Christine Barnes and Gordon Perkinson, Educators and Crane Handlers. (Photo right) Until early January 2012, Gordon and Christine travelled with the OM Team on the 2011 ultralight-led migration. They visited schools in the vicinity of the migration route to give presentations to students of all ages.

Previously trained as crane handlers in Wisconsin, Gordon and Christine have assisted OM's Brooke Pennypacker with winter monitoring at the St. Marks refuge for the past three years. More recently, they assisted with morning pen checks and evening roost checks during the migration's down time in Franklin County, AL. You won't want to miss this opportunity to hear about their first-hand experiences with rare Whooping cranes.

Due to limited seating those wishing to attend must pre-register by calling the St. Marks refuge at 850-925-6121. The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge "Nature's Classroom" is located at 1255 Lighthouse Road. For more information click here.

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Date: February 1, 2012Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:SAYING GOODBYELocation: Winston County, AL

The past eight months have been quite the ride. I’ve met all sorts of new people, made countless new friends and seen beautiful areas of the US I otherwise never would have known about.

I could elaborate on those experiences, but I’ve chosen to reflect on other experiences. I want to talk a little about the ‘big kahuna’ of my time with Operation Migration. I want to talk about my experience raising the chicks.

I have certainly developed sympathy for any caregiver who has ever raised a child. Knowing how stressful caring about another creature’s wellbeing can be, has filled me with remorse over all the stress and heartache I have given my parents over the years. But at the same time, it makes me swell with love knowing they dedicated their lives to making sure I was always happy, healthy and cared for.

As for the birds, no one knows how they will reflect, if at all, on their surrogate parents. All I can do is be proud of the fact that I always did everything I could to ensure the birds were as healthy and happy as I could make them.

I have seen the chicks almost everyday for these past eight months. I am blessed to have watched them grow and develop. The cohort has gone from tiny little puffs of downy feathers barely able to hold themselves up, to near-adults. From peeps to growls and alarm calls the birds have turned into a picturesque group of Whooping Cranes.

I am a little upset about having to leave them to the big wild world. I always knew that was the ultimate goal and that the birds would one day be on their own to survive - but I guess kids will always be kids to parents. I’m sure when my parents look at me they still see the little boy - - just like I still see the goofy little chicks when I look at our cranes. THEY GROW UP SO FAST!

After spending so much time with these birds it is amazing how much you learn about them as individuals. They have so many minor but individual traits that seem insignificant at first, but gradually become glaringly obvious.

Parents and friends of twins I’m sure feel the same way when strangers comment on how impossible it is to tell the two apart. “What are you talking about? They don’t look anything alike. Maria has one freckle on her left cheek and Susan has two on her right cheek…it’s so obvious!”

I can pick out every bird from a quick look at their face, a quirky behavior, heck, even the way they peck at things can be a giveaway to their identity.

I don’t really know where I intended to go with this posting, or how to wrap it up. I guess I just felt some desire to and throw out any thoughts I had about saying farewell to the Class of 2011.

I suppose I can hope for a few things. I can hope for their survival in the future. I can hope for their successful reproduction. I can hope for a successful reintroduction. And, if I’m really lucky…I can hope to maybe one day catch a glimpse of 'my children' foraging in a field or flying overhead.

If you ever see one of 'my kids'…don’t be shy about letting me know.

“Hey Caleb, saw your Baby Girl 12-11 today. Don’t get too jealous and overprotective but…I saw her hanging out with some boy Whoopers from the wrong side of the flyway. Remember, you can’t always be daddy and guard her. She looked great... so don’t worry - be happy.”

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Date: January 31, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A BIOLOGIST COMMENTSLocation: Winston County, AL

After reading Joe Duff's Field Journal posting of January 29th we received this thoughtful comment, and asked the author for permission to share it with our website readership.

I am biologist in southern Indiana, and although I'm not an ornithologist, I do subscribe to the bird lists here. As you are aware and have reported, we have an unusual number of cranes, both Sandhill and Whooping, that just haven't migrated beyond Indiana this year. There are other migratory bird species staying in larger than normal numbers as well.

The weather has been mild, with the grass still green and the ground unfrozen. Some early spring flowers are blooming more than a month early. Now the sun feels stronger, with day length increasing.

As Joe said, the signals for stopping and starting migration are not completely known, but I would be surprised if the birds that have spent the winter here [in Indiana] migrated much further now, even if the weather becomes more winter-like for the next month or two. Are they done going south, and is this as far as they got? So your group of Whoopers may just be joining the bird herd this year, much to everyone's frustration.

It is good that cranes are so flexible with migration patterns, since over their millions of years as species they have seen ice ages come and go, and who knows what else - climate changes that are on par with the one we're inducing, surely. Timely adaptation to such changes must be part of their repertoire. Even if they never get to Florida this spring, they will be flexible enough to find Florida on their own in a future migration, right? We hope?

When I was a graduate student in the mid-1970s I had the privilege to hear the famous biologist and bird researcher William T. Keeton talk about his work on homing in pigeons.

He said (something close to), "What a bird CAN do and what it WILL do are two different things." He said people thought pigeons couldn't find their way home when it was overcast, but in fact they just didn't like to fly then. He trained them to fly on overcast days, and discovered that could home just fine, and then studied how they navigated without the sun, defying decades of research by others. http://www.pnas.org/content/85/13/4907.full.pdf

Birds do what they will, thank goodness - we certainly aren't smart enough to make all the "right" decisions for them. Knowing when to follow their lead is tricky when you've been training them so meticulously to follow yours. Sounds as if you've reached that point.

Thanks again for all your heroic work helping the Whoopers hang onto this world, hopefully for a few million more years to come.     - M.C

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Date:January 30, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OM - 10, WEATHER - 1Location: Winston County, AL

Today, for the first time since departing Wisconsin on October 9th of last year, checking the weather and wind conditions was not my initial task of the morning. How strange it was not to start the day with a sense of anticipation and hope.

With the ability to achieve the last of our yearly tasks on the Whooping crane reintroduction project being entirely weather dependent - that is, the annual ultralight-led migration - we always recognized that conditions could render completion of any fall odyssey an impossibility. Yet, although that recognition existed, as we chalked up one migration after another and began our 11th season, it dwelled mostly in our subconscious.

Now, having been beaten by weather after a decade of countless challenges overcome, I can't help but look for some kind of consolation however small. Perhaps that is in the scorecard....OM 10 - Weather 1.

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Date: January 29, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:I ONLY WANT ONE WISH...Location: Winston County, AL

Some people wish they could travel the world or win a lottery, but if I had a genie's blessing this morning, I would have used all three wishes to help me understand what these birds were thinking. After almost twenty years of flying with birds, I could make an educated guess, but none of what I have to offer accounts for this behavior.

This morning we woke to perfect conditions. The air was cold and still and better than any day we have had in months. It was my lead and I landed next to the pen and called for the release of the birds. They took off in a burst and rather than risk hitting the ones in front of me, I held back until they passed overhead. I climbed up behind them and took the lead as we banked right and began a slow climb past the home of our stopover host. The birds took advantage of the turn and cut the corner to catch up. They were strung off the wing like pearls in the morning sun.

After one turn we were on course and two dropped back. Normally this would encourage these birds to turn as well, but they ignored the stragglers. This allowed Brooke and Richard to move in and collect them.

The climb was smooth and clean and the birds were strong and locked on as we inched up at a hundred feet per minute. We reached 600 feet and the thought crept into my head that maybe we were getting the break we needed so badly. Maybe that was all it took to ruin everything because for no reason at all, they broke. It wasn’t because they were falling behind or the climb was too much for them. And it wasn’t one of those tentative departures we so often see as the birds test their ability to take the lead and change the direction. Instead they peeled away like a fighter jet rolling into a dive.

I intercepted them and they followed me back on course. I hoped it was only a momentary lapse into old habits - but they broke again - and again. Brooke and Richard were getting farther away as I circled twenty times with the same result. When I would catch up to them and re-take the lead, it was always #7 leading the V formation. At one point, when I placed my wing in front of her, she opened her beak and jabbed the wingtip in an angry challenge for the lead. She would follow for a while as long as we were heading in the direction she chose, but even then she would break and take the rest of the flock with her in sheer defiance of the aircraft.

I tried to dethrone her by pushing her out of the lead with my wing, but the second in command was #5, and he was just as bad. After what felt like a hundred attempts, I tried to lead them back to the field and land. I planned for Geoff to put numbers 5 and 7 back in the pen and then to leave again with the others. As we passed overhead I began a descent, but they all kept going.

Afraid to get too far ahead with only two birds, Brooke and Richard came back to try and help. I caught number 7 seven  miles to the north and again took the lead, but each time she would steal them away and head north. I tried leading them east, then west, hoping they would eventually fall into line, but they would turn with such purpose it was obvious I had little authority. As I chased them, she would swing them around on a course due north.

Richard and Brooke joined the fray. We tried to coax them down to tree top level as if we were about to land. They would follow, looking down to see what field we had chosen. We hopped hills and trees leading them back to the pen but a mile out they recognized the rouse and broke again.

After two and a half hours we managed to bring them back to the pen one or two at a time. All except for #10 who had enough after an hour and dropped into a pond like a helicopter. Caleb and Gerald picked him up and brought him back to the pen.

Migration is triggered by stimuli that are still not understood, but at some point it ends. A period of sedentary behavior follows while they spend time foraging at their wintering grounds until that urge hits again for the return trip. Maybe we have stayed too long in Alabama and for them migration is over. Or, maybe they were just too long in one place. Maybe if we had a few flying days in a row to gain back their confidence, or maybe we just have a few too many aggressive birds with minds of their own.

Whatever the cause, it is obvious we will not get these birds to Florida this year in time to acclimate them to the wetlands of St. Marks and Chassahowitzka. We have to admit that it is time to concede to the greater influence of nature, and for this year, stop trying to engineer a behavior we don’t really understand.

The annual Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership meetings take place this week. We will be attending by phone and a decision will be made as to what to do with these birds. They normally undergo a gentle release into the wild and we still hope that is possible, but just where it will take place is yet to be determined. We will keep you posted.

As for me, I only want one wish – well maybe two.

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Date: January 29, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:UNTOLD AIR MILES BUT ZERO PROGRESSLocation: Winston County, AL

After more than two hours of crane rodeo, and countless turn backs by the birds, the pilots finally managed to get all of the Class of 2011 back on the ground. All nine are in their pen where they started from just before 7:30 this morning.

It was an unbelievable migration morning, one never experienced before. Hopefully sometime later this afternoon today's lead pilot Joe will shed some light on the action that took place out of our sight and hearing. It will undoubtedly be one for the record books.

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Date: January 29, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 91Location: Winston County, AL

The clear skies and total calm of 4AM remained unchanged at sunrise. With a forecast of 5mph NNW winds aloft, the cranes and planes took to the cold air (20 degrees) at 7:22AM. Lead pilot, Joe, got away with what sounded like all the birds, and those that fell back were being chased for pick up by Brooke and Richard.

From the chat over the aviation radio it appeared they had turned on course when Joe's birds started to breakaway. The handheld radio has limited range and the cranes and planes must be at it's outer limits as transmissions are faint and broken. From what we can discern, there is a crane rodeo going on.

We'd like to say, "Walker County, AL here we come," but from the sounds of it, that would likely be premature. Tune in to the TrikeCam to watch this morning's action. And check back here in the Field Journal for more info of this morning's 'migration adventure'.

Date: January 28, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 90 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Winston County, AL

The forecast that looked promising late yesterday turned into a huge disappointment this morning. The prediction for light and favorable NW winds had vanished to be replaced with the reality of SW winds of 8mph.

Then, just after sunrise, a dramatic change took place as the winds swung around the compass. This prompted all three trikes to launch even as the ground crew zoomed off to get into position.

We listened to the pilots' over the aviation radio as they called off their air speeds and described the conditions they encountered at various altitudes. Initially, despite it being a little rough and there being perhaps a little too much push, they thought a flight might be doable.

As they continued to test conditions they worried about the velocity of the tailwind eliminating any possibility of leading the birds back to the pensite should they scatter. In the final analysis, that, combined with the potential risk to the birds due to the less than optimal terrain between the pensite in Winston County and our Walker County destination led to their unanimous decision to call it a Down Day.

Some days 'frustration' is spelled 'r-a-i-n', today it's spelled 'w-i-n-d'.

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Date: January 27, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 89 - DOWN DAY 3Location: Winston County, AL

The weatherman made good on his promise of NNW winds this morning but they came with too high a velocity for the cranes and planes to handle. Even if we could have handled the winds, the low ceiling would have prevented our getting into the air today.

A very poor cell signal is preventing our CraneCam from broadcasting from the Winston County pensite. The next opportunity for viewers to see live video of Class of 2011 will be via the TrikeCam when weather allows us to fly again.

Suzanne Hall Johnson's 5 mile MileMaker challenge has been met - thank you to her and those who took up the gauntlet. Each day we edge closer and closer to having all 1,285 air miles sponsored, but there are still 185 miles up for grabs.

If you are not already a MileMaker sponsor please consider becoming one today.

Perhaps you already are a MileMaker but could help the Class of 2011 by sponsoring another mile, or part mile? This link will take you directly to the MileMaker webpage.

Our sincere thanks to you all on behalf of the Class of 2011.

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Date: January 26, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 88 - DOWN DAY 2Location: Winston County, AL

With the rain falling in sheets, wind strength and direction are of no consequence. Going nowhere this morning.

Folks in the vicinity of St. Marks, Florida and Port Aransas, Texas might want to mark the upcoming events on the calendars.

Coming up soon - Saturday, February 4th - at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival (WHO festival). Designed to reconnect people - children and adults - to nature and wildlife, it's a fun family event with many organizations there with displays and exhibits.

Join in the activities, take in the exhibits, or visit the historic lighthouse built in 1832. St. Mark's 68,000 acres are home to an enormous diversity of plant and animal life so why not make this your opportunity to tour one of the oldest refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The Port Aransas 16th Annual Whooping Crane Festival begins on February 23rd and has activities scheduled through Sunday February 26th. It's a super event for birders, photographers, and anyone who enjoys all things nature related. Click here for more info.

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Date:January 25, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 87 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Winston County, AL

We will not be adding any migration miles to the five the pilots managed to eke out yesterday. Winds on the surface are relatively cooperative, but aloft it is another story with the south sending up it's blustery and rainy weather.

CRANES TEXAS HABITAT WOES UP THE VALUE OF THE EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION
An article recently published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel authored by journalist Lee Bergquist was titled, "Risks to cranes in Texas raise profile of Wisconsin program."

In the article, noting the reason for starting new flocks [of Whooping cranes] in places such as Wisconsin was as an insurance measure should catastrophe strike in Texas, President and CEO of the International Crane Foundation, Richard Beilfuss, was quoted as saying, "We think it vindicates the decision. There is plenty that can go wrong down there - hurricanes, an oil spill and drought."

Read the full article.

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Date: January 24, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:DEEP PUDDLELocation: Winston County, AL

It’s like the man said, “You don’t know how deep the puddle is until you step in it.” And every day on migration, we step into another puddle. First we dip in our toe, then our foot, and before long we find ourselves completely submerged discussing marine biology with Jacques Cousteau.

But the key to a successful migration is momentum. It is the magic carpet which carries us over the daily challenges and takes the sting out of daily disappointments. It gives our endeavor its rhythm and flow and stride. It is robust yet delicate and fragile. It is hard won and yet easily lost, and once lost, so difficult to regain.

We arrived here in Alabama in December with momentum. Since then, time and inactivity have striped us of it, and each new flying opportunity is a struggle to get it back.

In our case, our momentum is based on one thing….the birds’ willingness to follow the aircraft. Simple as that. But their desire to follow diminishes as the days become weeks and no migration legs are flown. The spaced repetition we employed to impose our blueprint upon their natural one has faded, and so our work must begin again. That’s just the way it is and this morning was no exception.

But writing an update describing the experience so soon after taking the plunge is a little like asking a post delivery mother to write an essay on childbirth while the doctor is still counting her baby’s fingers and toes, or Abbot asking Costello who’s on first. So here goes another try at that puddle.

Finally!!! Did I say Finally???? Finally, we had a real, honest to goodness fly day…something we have been dreaming about for what seems forever…which, as everybody knows, is a long, long time. The air on the way to the bird pen was sweetly smooth except for the hint of turbulence caused by our own anticipation. Would the birds follow? That was the nagging question, because as I said, the key a successful migration is beautifully, maddenly, unbelievably simple: the birds just have to follow the aircraft. Would they follow today? The last two tries did not go well, gaining only about 9 miles of migration.

Geoff pulled open the pen door as I swooped in for an aerial pickup, and six birds lifted skyward though one left late and remained low. Two birds remained in the pen and refused to join the effort, so the seven and I headed off . At first the birds formed up well, and aside from the usual coaxing maneuvers, things looked promising, though #12 began her routine of catching up then dropping down.

After a while, #7 began her routine of breaking off and heading back to the pen taking another bird with her. I turned back to round them up, but after several such exercises I left them for Joe. Richard, meanwhile, dropped down and picked up #12 and headed for Walker County.

All went well until #5 got the urge to turn back, and back we went to recover him. He’d get back on the wing for a while then again turn back, losing altitude then climbing back up and regaining his position on the wing. Losing sight of him in this rough terrain was not an option.

Then another bird began to break back with him each time, and it was time for me to remove him from the equation. I found a private airstrip and radioed Caleb and Hudean to meet me there. The plan was to land, crate #5, and take off again for the next stopover site with #1, #3 and #4.

However, it was later decided to set up a pen at the grassy airstrip and hold the birds there for the night. Richard dropped off his bird to join the others. While the pen was being erected I hid the birds in a nearby field where they enjoyed a couple of hours of grubbing, ant hill sieges, and exploring, while I, dressed in my cold weather flying gear, sweated away a few of the too many pounds I have gained on migration. Then Joe arrived and we led the birds to the pen where Caleb awaited. By early afternoon they were joined by #7, #9 and #10.

We gained little in mileage but have hopefully have made a positive gain in our effort to recover some momentum. Now we wait for another good flying day and another opportunity to sound that puddle. Now, where did I put that wet suit!

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Date:January 24, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PROGRESS - OF A SORTLocation: Winston County, AL

They say the best way to tackle a big task is to chew off small bites. We thought an average 50 mile migration leg was a small bite, but as it turns out, today that even that size bite was too big for the cranes to chew.

Following a long and frustrating rodeo, and a story that lead pilot Brooke will likely title, "Confusion," the pilots only managed to get the Class of 2011 another 5 miles south.

We now have another 'short-stop' pensite, this one just over the line into Winston County, AL.

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Date:January 24, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 86Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

With long-awaited favorable flying conditions the order of the day, the ground crew and tracking van headed out of camp to get in their respective positions. The three trikes launched not long after sunrise to fly to the new short-stop pensite nine air miles away. At the moment, from what we can gather, there's a crane rodeo underway.

The lead pilot's report describing today's activity and flight will be posted here late this afternoon/early evening.

NEW MileMakers Needed
Taking up Colorado Craniac, Suzanne Hall Johnson's challenge would be a great way to celebrate the cranes and planes getting into the air today. Suzanne will match up to 5 MileMaker miles (or part miles) sponsored by NEW MileMakers. Taking up her challenge doubles the value of your sponsorship!

Click here to read all the details about MileMaker, (you could be the lucky recipient of a special Thank You gift) or click here to select the mile you'd like to sponsor.

On behalf of Whooping cranes - THANK YOU!

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Date: January 23, 2012 - Entry 2 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: #2 Franklin County, AL

Please be nice to your local weatherman. Perhaps then he'll freeze-frame the forecast he's made for tomorrow morning. At worst we should be launching a test trike, and at best we could be flying a migration leg. (Fingers crossed please.)

Unfortunately we do not have a departure flyover viewing location for our new short-stop.

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Date:January 23, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 85 - DOWN DAY 5Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

The storm that went through last night was as ferocious as promised and then some. The residual effects wind-wise linger this morning the result being we will spend another day here on the ground.

From what we can ascertain, southern Alabama is still under a tornado watch, so we will be following the weather forecasts and radar closely today in order to weigh our chances of flying tomorrow.

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Date:January 22, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: #2 Franklin County, AL

It sure would be nice, just once, to be able to write up a Predicting entry that says, "We're flying tomorrow - no doubt."

That will likely never happen, but at this point I'd even be happy to settle for second best, i.e. "Tomorrow looks like it could be a good fly day." Even that is not the case for Monday, the prediction for which due to a high Wind Advisory, will echo too many 'going no where' predictions that have come before.

The Wind Advisory calling for 20 to 30mph winds with gusts to 35-45mph covers all of north Alabama. There will be 40 to 50mph WSW winds at altitude. We rate our chances of flying a migration leg Monday morning as zip to none.

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Date: January 22, 2012 - Entry 2 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:NEW TO OM? CAN YOU HELP?Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

We need your financial support. Will you help?

Ours is a year round effort on behalf of Whooping cranes. Through the spring when the young-of-the-year hatch, the months of summer training, the fall migration, followed by winter monitoring in the early months of the following year, members of the OM team are on the job.

While one facet of our work, the ultralight-led migration, attracts the most attention, it is all the months of effort preceding that time that makes the feat of aircraft-led avian migration possible. And it is the weeks of winter monitoring after that time that ensures that the young cranes, and the year's enormous devotion of time and effort that was invested in them, are further safeguarded until the Class of 2011 has grasped the necessary skills to survive on their own.

This means there is much need for financial support. There are several ways you can contribute to making Operation Migration's efforts in the Whooping crane reintroduction project possible.

Please click on the links below to see which method of financial support would best suit you. We really need and would sincerely appreciate your help.

Annual MileMaker Campaign - sponsor a mile(s), or half or quarter mile of the migration.

Give a WHOOP! - Whoop just for the fun of it, or dedicate your WHOOP! to someone important to you.

Why not become a Monthly Donor or join OM as a Sustaining Member?

Enjoy reading our postings to this Field Journal, or watching our CraneCam / TrikeCam? Your financial support is key to keeping those features alive too.

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Date: January 22, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 84 - DOWN DAY 4Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

Quite calm on the ground under a thick blanket of fog early this morning. Up top the wind is blowing 40mph and above, all of which means there will be no flying today for the cranes and planes.

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Date: January 21, 2012 - Entry 2 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: #2 Franklin County, AL

To belabor some clichés, We are in the 'lull' after the storm, but we're not out of the woods yet. The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for our area for tomorrow evening through to 6am on Monday. The advisory is calling for sustained winds of 20 - 30mph with gusts approaching 40mph.

As for the conditions between now and then, that is, tomorrow morning, the foul system that moved in overnight bringing with it 40 to 50mph winds at altitude continues to linger over us.

As the weather forecasts stand at the moment, it is likely to be at least Tuesday before the cranes and planes can be in the air again.

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Date: January 21, 2012 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 83 - DOWN DAY 3Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

A large, trailing and strong storm system moving across the northwest corner of Alabama is giving us very high wind conditions and by 5am, delivered a thunderstorm with lightning and heavy rain. The flash flood and tornado watch for Franklin County and many other counties in Alabama and southwestern Tennessee that was originally scheduled to be lifted at 5am has been extended until noon.

Weather conditions at the pensite to the south of camp are less severe. Brooke is camped nearby and advises that an early check of the pen and the Class of 2011 revealed all is well.

WINTERING CRANES
This posting is apropos of yesterday's Field Journal entry remarking on there being so many Whooping cranes still in Indiana in mid January.

Yesterday, an article that appeared in the JournalStar.com about a similar occurrence with Sandhill cranes in Nebraska landed in my inbox. It seems about 1,000 Sandhills have chosen to winter along the Platte River instead of their usual habitat hundreds of miles to the south.

Addressing this unusual behavior, ornithologist Paul Johnsgard, was quoted as saying, "I've been there 50 years and I've never seen it." Rowe Sanctuary Manager, Kent Skaggs said, "That's something that doesn't occur. Plenty of open water and leftover corn in harvested fields has kept the cranes here along with the mild weather."

Click here to read the entire article.

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Date: January 20, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: #2 Franklin County, AL

With thunderstorms in the forecast for tomorrow as well as 40-50mph WSW winds aloft, it's a good bet the cranes and planes will not be in the air in the morning.

Brooke Pennypacker snapped this photo of the costume leading the Class of 2011 to the newly erected travel pen at the new Franklin County short-stop.

Joe had walked them some distance away to a spot behind some trees so they'd have no exposure to the vehicles or the crew while the pen trailer was unloaded and the panels put together.

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Date: January 20, 2012 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 82 - DOWN DAY 2Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

South and west-southwest winds on the surface and aloft respectively along with imminent rain will keep the cranes and planes on the ground for another day at the new 'short-stop' in Franklin County.

EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
Here is a summary of the most recent data received from the WCEP Tracking team.

As of January 16th, the maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population was 103 Whooping cranes; 53 males, 50 females. The estimated distribution of the population at the end of the report period or last record is:

 

39

Indiana

2

Illinois

5

Georgia

7

Alabama

2

S. Carolina

 2

N. Carolina

6

Tennessee

1

Missouri

13

Florida

18

Unknown

6

Long-term missing

 

On reviewing this report it struck me as unusual that as of mid January only 13 Whooping cranes had reached Florida. Curiosity getting the better of me, I asked Caleb to do some research. He checked back through the years of our Field Journal entries to find the tracking reports of previous years that were closest to the mid January date so we could compare. Below is the result.

 

Year/Date

IN

IL

KY

TN

NC

SC

AL

MO

GA

FL

LA

Unknown

Missing

2011 - 16-Jan

39

2

0

6

2

2

7

1

5

13

 

18

6

2010 - 12-Jan

10

0

0

20

0

4

8

0

3

23

0

10

7

2009 - 27-Jan

2

0

0

15

0

4

7

0

4

31

0

6

2

2008 - 2-Feb

2

0

0

18

0

4

2

0

2

23

0

3

5

2007 - 23-Jan

4

0

0

4

0

3

2

0

0

46

1

3

0

2006 - 15-Jan

0

0

0

7

0

1

0

0

0

34

0

2

0

2005 - 12-Jan

0

1

2

1

3

4

0

0

0

23

0

1

0

As you can see, never has there been so many birds still so far north at this time of year, leading of course to there never being so few in Florida by this time. 39 Whoopers still in Indiana? ...and we thought our progress was slow!

Later migration departures? Ample fresh water/food sources? Warmer winter? Evolving to more northerly wintering habitats with climate changes? Can a definitive answer even be extrapolated?

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Date: January 19, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 81 - DOWN DAY 1Location: #2 Franklin County, AL

This morning was a good illustration of why we say we never know for sure whether or not we'll be able to fly any given morning. We can check the weather sites over and over, and postulate all we want, but in the end, until a trike is in the air at flight time, we can never be sure.

Case in point. We were excited to see the weather sites this morning calling for a significant improvement over what they were reporting yesterday afternoon. In fact, the conditions they were calling for had us believing it would be a fly day.

As usual the team got ready and well before sunrise, the ground crew and the tracking van were on the road to get in position.

All three trikes pushed out of the hangar and Joe and Richard took off first. We watched as immediately after launching they bounced and bobbled in rough air. It was scant minutes - so fast in fact that Brooke hadn't as yet even gotten into the air -  before they announced that they couldn't get any speed up and unanimously called it a Down Day.

Contrary to what was reported, 0 - 3 WSW surface winds, Richard measured the winds at close to 10mph out of the southeast. Aloft, instead of finding what was supposed to be ~5mph westerly wind, the trikes encountered SE 30mph winds. While Richard said the air smoothed out at 1500 feet, his speed over the ground was down to 11mph.

This photo, taken by Brooke Pennypacker, shows the Class of 2011 in their mobile pen at our new Franklin County 'short-stop.

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Date: January 18, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

We'll have 3 to 4mph WNW surface winds tomorrow - which is good, but we'll cross our fingers that the predicted 15mph westerly winds swing around just a few degrees to the north before morning. That would conceivably give us some flying weather and a chance at actually completing the Franklin to Walker County leg.

Not guessing at what tomorrow will bring - we're crossing our fingers instead.

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Date: January 18, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:MOVING RIGHT ALONG - ALMOSTLocation: Franklin County, AL

Two days ago we finally got going again. On that day we had to land unannounced in a field on top of a hill. While there, I noticed it could be a good site for the cranes. I happened to be opposite Brooke on the other side of a ravine and had to walk one bird out of the brush and back to where he waited with four other cranes. Or so I thought.

Just as we, that is, me and #1 arrived over in the same field as Brooke and his four birds, off trike and birds went into the air. That was all #1 needed to see and away he went too. By the time I clamored back to my trike and got airborne, Brooke was landing too, but in another pasture as the four birds had landed next to a pond and #1 had landed near the river.

Thus began a long day of crating birds and getting them back to the pen. Caleb and I then drove back to apologize for trespassing. While making our apologies, we also became acquainted with the land owners of the site where we first landed, and they indicated they were very willing to let us use their property in the future.

Now for today. It began very well with seven birds on my wing, one with Joe, and one with Brooke. We were well on course for our next destination when some or all of my birds would turn back only to be rounded up again and again.

This happened repeatedly, and soon we were losing ground instead of gaining. At some point, now almost back at our departure point, four of the seven broke off and headed for the pen, but me and the other three continued on without them.

The wind starting kicking up as we progressed southward, and it became clear that our reaching the next stopover location was not likely to happen. That led to the decision to land the birds in our new found friends' field. Joe, who was well ahead with his bird, landed there first. When I finally arrived with my three, one landed, then another, however #4 refused to go down and it took a dozen circuits before she could be convinced to land.

I wanted to stay airborne so I could fly back and help Brooke who was trying to find and help the remaining four birds in the cohort back to the pen. By the time I arrived, #5 had landed in a nearby field nearby, another had landed with Brooke, and the other three had to be rounded up and brought back to the pen.

Once the four 'returnees' were in the pen, Geoff and Brooke jumped in the white van to go and pick up #5 and I flew over head to guide them to him. Once they reached #5's location, I returned to the airport and landed. But on hearing that #5 had again taken off, I got back into the air only to find that he had landed next to the pen. With him returned to the pen, I finally was able to return my trike to the hangar.

We all waited for Joe to fly back and Gerald and Caleb to drive back from the new Franklin County 'short-stop'. Before leaving there, they had set up our second travel pen, and walked today's four flying cranes, numbers 3, 4, 6, and 12 into their newest residence. Numbers 1, 5, 7, 9, and 10 have gone to join their classmates, but their trip is being made by road.

Another long day, but the upside is that we'll have fresh start from a new location.

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Date: January 18, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 80Location: Franklin County, AL

Where to start? First of all - for those of you who had trouble accessing our site this morning, our server went down overnight. Thankfully it's now back in business.

With the weather sites showing our cold temperature was delivered compliments of a 9mph north wind, and that altitude it was also blowing out of the north at 15 to 20 mph, it was going to be a 'test trike' morning.

Richard van Heuvelan launched to test the conditions and radioed back saying, "I think its doable." The scramble to get in position was on.

Launch was at 7:39 and lead pilot Richard got off with eight of the nine birds following. One crane, #10, hung back at the pen. It wasn't long before the 'crane rodeo' began. After much back and fro-ing and circling Richard finally got the birds turned and headed off to the south - with what we thought was six cranes. Then we watched as Joe and Brooke each picked up one wayward bird, and they too turned southward and we watched them disappear into the distance.

Meanwhile, up ahead, Richard was having a time of it. He had one crane (at least) that kept breaking and he had to keep circling to get it back on the wing. Brooke was fighting to keep his bird with him when some of Richard's birds broke and headed back... which Brooke then tried to scoop up. At the same time, Joe was managing to get his bird a little further along the way, and eventually put down with that bird at the same location Richard and Brooke landed to hold their cranes on the last flight attempt.

We cleared the potential use of that site with the property owner at that time, and we're now referring to it as the "Franklin County short-stop". With Joe on the ground with his one, Richard make a low pass with his remaining three and Joe called them down. I think the four at the short-stop site (where we will set up our second travel pen) are numbers 3, 4, 6 and 12.

And now, another 'meanwhile back at the airport/pen', Brooke returned with his small flock and Richard followed shortly thereafter to help him and Geoff return four cranes to the pen. That just left one still 'free ranging' Whooper and Richard went back aloft to direct Brooke and Geoff driving the white van to its location. I think - 'think' being the key word here, the cranes now back in the Franklin County pen are numbers 1, 7, 9, and either number 5 or number 10. It is either #5 or #10 that the crew is currently tracking in a nearby field.

That's the story as it stands. Tune back in later in the day for, as Paul Harvey would say is..."..the rest of the story," and perhaps a number of corrections.

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Date:January 17, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

Odds for a flight tomorrow are not great. Without some overnight change we'll be looking at 3mph SW winds on the surface at our departure point shifting to SSW winds blowing 11mph as we move southward. Although aloft the wind direction will be NNW, it appears that we'd encounter a velocity increase at altitude as well; up from 15 to 20 to 20 to 30mph.

So, are we going to fly a migration leg in the morning? If I had to bet my last nickel on it.... I wouldn't.

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Date:January 17, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 79 - DOWN DAY 5Location: Franklin County, AL

It started with plink-a-plink but soon turned to plunk-a-plunk. Then came a building crescendo of whooshes; seemingly the giant never needed to inhale. Then, as he took big breaths in and let them out, the motorhome began to pitch like a sailboat at sea in a good size swell.

The rain storm that wanted to be a thunderstorm when it grew up got its wish. No need to scour the weather websites for clues this morning.

Got to run. Have to check the bow lines and throw out an extra anchor.

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Date: January 16, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: FRUSTRATIONLocation: Franklin County, AL

For the last eleven years I have maintained that the word FRUSTRATION is commonly misspelled. It’s actually two words and should be spelled, W-H-O-O-P-I-N-G C-R-A-N-E. In fact, a number of other words should be spelled the same way but, most of them only have four letters.

Today was one of those WHOOPING CRANE days, but in all fairness, I can’t blame them. After staying in one location for more than a month, it is not surprising that they might have forgotten the art of migration. When Geoff opened the pen and Richard did a low pass, they all took off except number 10. He finally got airborne on the second pass but he didn’t stay long. He broke along with a few others.

I stayed high so I could assist Richard with a running commentary of where the birds were and which way to turn. A few would break and then cut the corner to catch him again. As he gathered them up and lost them, it started to get complicated and hard to keep track of who was where. Brooke chased #12 but before he could catch her, she landed in the middle of a forest only a half mile from the pen. Another two birds (numbers 3 and 4) landed in a flooded field a mile to the south. After a couple of low passes, it was obvious they were far too happy playing in the water to follow the trike.

Eventually Richard and Brooke collected a total of five birds between them and headed on course. With one bird in the forest, two in the water and one still missing, I turned back to help Geoff.

The birds in the water were not going anywhere so, after a cursory look for the missing bird, I landed in the field next to the forest. I followed a trail and soon found # 12, I led her out of the trees and over to the aircraft. She took off with me, but as I turned for the pen she turned the other way and landed back in the trees in the exact same spot. I flew back to check on the two in the water, but they were still ignoring me as I passed low overhead.

By this time Caleb and Gerald Murphy in the tracking van had zeroed in on the two, but they were up on a ridge looking down. They could see the birds in the distance but could not figure a way in. I talked them into a farmer’s lane and as they asked for permission to retrieve the birds, I went back to check on # 12.

I landed next to the forest again and walked up the same lane. # 12 followed me out and again we took off. As I circled back, another bird dropped into the formation with us (#10) but I had no idea where it came from. I led them both over the pen, but neither landed as I hoped they would. Instead, # 12 headed back to the forest while # 10 vanished as quickly as he had appeared.

By this time Brooke and Richard were having problems with the five they had headed south with. Eventually they landed with all of them, but they were in separate fields; Brooke with four and Richard with one. They were 10 miles away and needed help, so Caleb, Gerald, Geoff and I all met at the airport. We loaded up five crates and sent Gerald to meet Richard and Brooke. We recruited Hudean Wilson to go with Geoff to speak to the landowner at #12’s location, and Caleb headed back alone to retrieve numbers 3 and 4 from the flooded field.

I took off and talked Geoff into a field a mile to the east where number 12 was again in the forest. Then I flew south to help Caleb. The path into the flooded field must have been two miles long. It passed through several pastures, a herd of cows and over a stream. Once he finally got there, Caleb had to carry two crates down a long hill and tuck them into the trees so the birds wouldn’t get nervous when they saw them. I tried to find a place to land so I could help, but the terrain was just too hilly. I headed back to search for the missing # 10.

While circling, I heard Richard and Brooke over the radio. They were airborne again and struggling with birds. Theirs is an entire story on its own and I only heard snippets over the radio, but eventually they landed in another field where they managed to crate all five birds. Then Gerald brought them back to the pen.

While that was happening Caleb called to say that he had managed to get #4 in a crate, but that #3 realized he was next, and took off. Caleb had a strong signal from his transmitter so I headed south again to help him search. I found # 3 two fields over and talked Caleb in to retrieve him.

This is a complex story with many players and lots of locations, and I am running out of ways to say, “meanwhile back at the airport.” So, meanwhile back at the airport, Geoff and I took the truck and another crate to meet Caleb. We rendezvoused on a back road and transferred the two crates containing numbers 3 and 4 into the truck. Geoff headed back to the pen with those two birds while Caleb and I started to search for #10, the last missing bird. We kept getting an intermittent signal while we drove back roads for an hour.

We triangulated what we thought was his location, but couldn’t find a road to take us there. The only access seemed to be a railroad track, so we parked the tracking van and set out on foot with our costumes and a handheld receiver. We walked a mile and came across a trestle with a large sign that warned of extreme danger and a threat of prosecution for passing. We could hear the train horn in the distance so off we went, covering the railway ties two at a time. We clambered down the embankment while the train passed and then continued to follow the signal.

Meanwhile back at the airport, Richard had returned and landed to refuel. He took off again with a tracking antenna mounted to the front of his aircraft. By the time we reached the next road crossing on the railway track, Richard called to say that he had found #10 a mile from where we were searching, but at least in the same direction. We made the trek back to the van, and followed his direction to the bird. Brooke was also just arriving so he and Caleb collected # 10 and we all headed back to the pen with the last bird.

It was now 2:30 in the afternoon and all the birds were back where we started. It was an exhausting day and I spent most of it searching for birds and thinking of new euphemisms for Whooping crane.

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Date: January 16, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 78 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Franklin County, AL

As opposed to yesterday when, never had so many team members been in so many different places at the same time, we will all be stuck in the same spot today.

The morning delivered rain along with high headwinds winds both on the surface and aloft making flying out of the question.

WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATE
Below is the most recent report as distributed by USFWS out of Aransas, Texas.

"This has been a busy month for Whooping crane activity since our last report. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has received an additional 0.72 inches of precipitation and salinity levels remain higher than ideal. We have continued to help alleviate the low food resources by adding to our prescribed burn totals. This week alone we have burned an additional 4682 acres of Whooping crane habitat. Biologists observed the Whooping cranes eating roasted acorns and are seeing continued usage.

The chick carcass that was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI last month had inconclusive findings on the intermittent report, and we are awaiting the final report, which will include virology results.

The latest data from Texas Parks and Wildlife officials indicate that red tide is still persisting in the bays but in lower concentrations. Biologists continue to keep a vigilant watch for signs of illness or disease.

An auto survey was conducted by biologists on December 22, 2011 throughout the Blackjack peninsula and a total of 45 Whooping cranes were observed. For reasons beyond our control, we are not able to secure a government certified pilot and aircraft to complete a survey, but are working diligently to alleviate this issue.

Whooping cranes observed at the refuge have bright white feathers indicating their overall body condition is good. Despite potential threats this winter, Whooping cranes continue to thrive, and managers are doing everything possible to ensure their continued success."

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Date: January 15, 2012 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

After a check of the weather sites it doesn't appear we have much of a chance of being in the air tomorrow. We're looking at unfavorable winds on the surface and the same aloft and very strong. Toss the threat of rain into the mix and it is more likely than not that we'll be holding in place tomorrow morning.

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Date: January 15, 2012 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE 'LOST' IS FOUNDLocation: Franklin County, AL

Once the five cranes that flew with Richard and Brooke were crated, they headed back to the airport. On his way back, Richard broke off and spotted #10 less than a mile from the pen. After re-fueling, he got back in the air, while I went to collect Brooke who was returning the five to the pen with the help of Geoff and Gerald.

Brooke, armed with a clean crate and an aviation radio headed out in the white van to be directed to #10's location by Richard flying circles up top. Joe and Caleb were called back from where they were searching on foot to assist. As I type this  I can see Richard's trike off in the distance flying circuits over the crane's location. He will likely stay 'on station' until the costumes reach the bird, just in case he decides to take to the air again.

When I see Richard's trike heading back this way, I'll heave a sigh of relief, knowing that #10 has been safely retrieved. And....here he comes now!! Yay!

There really should be a Field Journal posting today from each team member. The cranes have provided each and every one of them with some 'adventure'.

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Date: January 15, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ROUNDING UPLocation: Franklin County, AL

Slowly but surely the round up following this morning's rodeo and aborted flight is starting to wind up. As I write this, numbers 3 and 4 are being released back into the pen to join #12. Numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, and 9 are minutes away from arriving to be reunited with the waiting trio.

If you just did the math...that totaled eight of the nine in the Class of 2011. Number 10 is still AWOL, but Caleb, with Joe who has transferred from the white truck to join him in the tracking van, had a signal from 10's transmitter. Now we are waiting anxiously and not so patiently for what we hope will be the good word from them.

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Date: January 15, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 77 - OH MYLocation: Franklin County, AL

All indications pointed to our having flying conditions this morning; zero to 2mph WSW surface winds at departure point turning into north winds at destination. Aloft, the weather sites reported 15mph NW winds.

A short wait for the worst of the frost to pass and at it was a launch with the Class of 2011 at 7:30. At the departure flyover viewing site we listened on the aviation radio as the pilots talked back and forth spotting birds for one another as a not unexpected rodeo ensued.

After what seemed like an interminable wait, we heard that Richard was finally able to head out with five cranes, although to do that he was well to the west of the 'planned' flight path. Brooke, flying chase, trailed Richard and his little band of birds. Meanwhile back at the pensite, Joe flew round and round and back and forth trying to locate the 4 birds that had broken away and dropped down (numbers 3, 4, 10, and 12).

Even as the aerial search was taking place, Richard and Brooke were having a time of it with their five (numbers 1, 5, 6, 7, and 9). They would follow and then break again and again. Worried the birds would go down, at one point they even discussed turning and leading them back to the pen. But, eventually all five birds and both trikes were on the ground about 8 air miles out. Gerald Murphy was dispatched in the white van with crates for a pick up.

Back at the departure point, directed by Joe flying over head, Geoff and volunteer Hudean Wilson set off in the white truck to the location of #12. With the permission of the landowner to go on his property, Geoff crated her and delivered her safely to the pen, and Joe landed back at the airport.

While all that was happening, Caleb, in the tracking van met another landowner who opened the gate to the field where numbers 3 and 4 had landed. Caleb managed to walk #4 away and get her crated and tucked in the van, but #3 apparently wasn't done with his little escapade and took to the air.

That prompted Joe to get back in the air to do an aerial search for #3, this time with Caleb giving directions about his flight path to Joe. Once Joe got a visual on the crane, he was able to direct Caleb in so he could retrieve the AWOL bird.

That leaves #10 still unaccounted for, and all hands are headed for the airport to re-group. Once all retrieved cranes are back in the pen, the entire team will be fanning out with tracking equipment to search for him.

Just in. Some, (or all) of the five with Richard and Brooke have taken to the air again. We're waiting for the details.

This account will give you an idea of this morning's activity but doesn't begin to tell the whole story. The pilots will have to fill in all the blanks later today - likely much later today. If this all sounds chaotic not to mention nerve-wracking, (I used to have fingernails and hair) it is because it was, er, is.

And another 'just in'. On his way back with #4, Caleb picked up a signal on #10, so Joe and Geoff are off to see if they can pinpoint his location so he too can be retrieved.

Stay tuned...

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Date: January 14, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

They say, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch," so, while we are more optimistic about our chances for a flight tomorrow than we were this morning....we're resisting counting.

The surface winds are forecast to be WSW, but very, very light. The question is will a headwind...even a light one be enough to discourage the young cranes, especially as shortly after take off the trikes need to get them to climb quickly to get over a ridge just to the south of us.

Aloft, the winds for the morning are more favorable than they were today as they have dropped down but are still out of the right direction.

Unless there is a drastic change for the worse, I'll be at the departure flyover location in the morning - with my fingers crossed. Hope to see y'all there!!

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Date: January 14, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 76 - DOWN DAY 2Location: Franklin County, AL

We wish mightily that yesterday afternoon's prediction for this morning had been wrong - - but unfortunately it wasn't.

We were hopeful this morning when at o'dark thirty, contrary to the weather sites displays showing WSW 8mph surface winds, all was calm with both the runway windsock and the flag atop the pole hanging dead still. All indications at that time were that we'd have calm to light surface wind conditions at our departure point and all along the route to our destination in Walker County, AL.

With the weather websites showing NNW 20-30mph winds aloft, we waited impatiently for sunrise so a test trike could go up. There was a wait for the frost to dissipate, then, at 7:27 CT, Richard van Heuvelen, the designated lead pilot for this leg, followed by pilots Joe Duff and Brooke Pennypacker, took to the air for a first hand check of the conditions aloft.

Over the aviation radio we heard Richard report he was down to 21mph over the ground at 1000 feet, and quickly thereafter Joe chimed in with, "I'm only getting 17mph at 400 feet." Richard radioed back, "Now I'm down to 14." On the ground we watched as the trikes flew above the runway, or more correctly, hovered, as they appeared to be almost 'flying in place'.

From start to finish it was only a very few minutes before the three pilots reached a consensus and declared, "We're down."

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Date: January 13, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

With WSW winds on the surface forecast for flight time tomorrow topped off with 20 to 30mph WNW winds aloft, we're not counting on Saturday being a fly day. We'll be up and at'em early just in case, but it doesn't appear this system will move on before Sunday.

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Date: January 13, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 75 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Franklin County, AL

With westerly surface winds blowing up to 12mph and WNW winds aloft ranging between 20 - 30mph, Friday the 13th is indeed unlucky for the Class of 2011. There will be no cranes and planes in the air today, this first day of the resumed migration.

The snow showers we had here ended overnight, but the cold air mass that brought them also delivered sub-freezing temperatures that have produced black ice in many areas around the county and elsewhere. The cold temperatures are predicted to remain with us, with west winds on the ground of up to 20 mph, which in turn, translates into a wind chill in the single digits. Interestingly, just before sunrise it was just 10 degrees warmer at Florida's St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge this morning.

Check back here late afternoon for our best guess for a flight tomorrow, Saturday. For those individuals hoping to join us at the departure flyover - whatever day that happens - here is a link to the flyover viewing location. We're hoping for a great turnout to give us a rousing send off from Franklin County.

Please don't forget there are still 170 unsponsored MileMaker miles in Alabama alone - if you can help just click the link or give our office a call at toll free, 1-800-675-2618.

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Date: January 12, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

Chomping at the bit to get going would be the best way to describe how the migration crew is feeling at the moment, but it looks like we could be chomping for a while yet.

We are under a high wind advisory this afternoon with strong westerly winds riding the coattails of a strong cold front going through. Along with the wind and cold, snow showers are a possibility but accumulations are not expected.

With the windchill, it feels like 24F right now, and that is about the temperature that is forecast for sunrise tomorrow. That, along with clear skies and a light 4mph wind out of the NW made the odds for a flight in the morning look promising until we checked the expected conditions at altitude. If the prediction for 35mph WNW winds holds true, it is not likely that Friday the 13th will be a fly day.

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Date: January 12, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:RAMPING UP AGAINLocation: Franklin County, AL

As of yesterday, the entire team is 'back on station' and immediately pitched in to help Caleb and Brooke to finish off getting everything ready to resume the migration. Both winged and two-legged creatures are raring to go, and by the end of today, all that needs to be done will have been accomplished.

For many days now a weather cell has hovered over our heads here in Franklin County giving us degrees of rain ranging from sprinkles to coming down in buckets. All that precipitation has been accompanied almost without exception by fog, heavy enough at times to obscure the end of the runway nearest our motorhomes.

We'll be re-starting the Migration Timeline 'clock' as of tomorrow, Friday morning, and our EarlyBird bulletins will resume then too.

Check back here late this afternoon for our Predicting entry...that is, what our best guess will be for our chances of a flight on Friday morning. If only the weather would be as kind to us as was the FAA.

The cranes and planes have 592 air miles and a potential 11 stopovers between them and their final destination, and, 235 of those air miles are still unsponsored. (16 left in both Kentucky and Tennessee; 172 in Alabama, and 31 still unsponsored in Florida.)

If you haven't already, please help the Class of 2011 and Operation Migration by becoming a MileMaker Sponsor.

Equally as appreciated would be a General Donation to help offset fixed costs including the recent unexpected expense for legal fees as a result of the FAA situation.

Folks who would like to express their gratitude for its favorable and speedy decision might consider Giving a WHOOP! of Thanks to the FAA.

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Date: January 11, 2012 - Entry 2Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:A VISITOR FROM CHASSAHOWITZKALocation: Franklin County, AL
Although the migration was hanging in limbo, thoughts about the end of the journey in Florida, and the people waiting there for the Class of 2011, weren't far from our minds. We were all too conscious of the teams of dedicated people waiting anxiously at the Class of 2011's two wintering locations; the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges.

One of those people, in the person of Chassahowitzka Intern Olivia Bailey, was able to take advantage of our time on the ground in Franklin County, AL. With the blessing Deputy Refuge Manager, Boyd Blihovde, Olivia drove up for a several day stay with us in Alabama.

During her visit, along with a 'Whooping crane 101 orientation', we were able to introduce her to the young cranes, some of which she would soon be helping to tend to as part of her winter monitoring duties. Olivia, whose field of education is ornithology, caught on fast, and quickly convinced us that the cranes will be in good hands at Chass over the winter.

Being the 'new costume in the pen', Olivia was given much the same treatment that Gordon and Christine experienced until the birds became accustomed to them. Some of the cranes, particularly 10-11, went after her a few times and tried to beat her puppet down. Luckily for Olivia the onslaughts were not as aggressive as a couple that Christine was on the receiving end of.

When we conducted the usual pen check this morning, (Olivia's last chance to work with the cranes before returning to Florida), I managed to snap a few photos of our cohort hanging out and interacting with the costumes. We fortunately timed the morning pen check for between downpours which, as you can see left the pen somewhat muddy - much to the joy of the birds who were happy as clams, enthusiastically poking and probing to find the odd goodie.

Here you can see 1-11 is not too impressed with the new costume. He gives her a textbook crown display. This photo is a close up of the debonair 5-11 with his puffy-as-ever cheeks.
Saying hello to Brooke via a few pokes to his helmet is 7-11. It's amazing how noticeable the birds mustaches are now. The first hints of black began to appear at our first stop in WI, but now they are really established.

Lately, with pumpkin season over and watermelon unavailable, we've been treating/entertaining the cranes with corn cobs and different varieties of squash. Brooke tossed an acorn squash across the pen and the excitement was on! Finally, I can't show pictures of the cranes in our cohort without including a shot of my little baby girl 12-11. Too cute.

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Date:January 11, 2012 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CRANES FACE TOUGH WINTER IN TEXASLocation: Franklin County, AL

The story lead on the website 10000birds.com reads, "It's a mixed bag for our most charismatic of North American waders this week. While the ultralight aircraft leading a flock of your Whooping cranes to Florida may again take to the skies, that good news is tempered by the effects of the drought in Texas, which has already led to the death of at least one Whooping crane there."

Too little rain has resulted in marshlands being too salty for blue crabs, Whooping cranes' main source of protein, to flourish, and the drought conditions have affected the supply of Wolf berries, another staple in the diet of wintering cranes. Exacerbating the reduction of food sources for the cranes is a toxic algae bloom in the salty water. Aquatic life retains the algae's toxin and it is passed up the food chain to the creatures who feed on it - such as when cranes eat clams.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Manager, Dan Alonso, was quoted in an article in USA Today as saying, "We're very apprehensive, very concerned, and are monitoring the population very closely to see what it is the reaction might be." Alonso noted further that, "This year, at least one crane has already died."

Click here to read another web news article on the subject.

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Date: January 10, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WHOOPING CRANES STILL NEED YOUR HELPLocation: Franklin County, AL

With the long awaited good news received yesterday from the FAA in hand, our focus returns to the resumption of the migration with the Class of 2011. Underway are all the logistics for getting the balance of the crew in back in place, as well as the necessary preparation of equipment and vehicles before we can once again take to the sky and roads.

What we still need everyone's help with, is to ensure the dollars are there to cover the cost of our journey leading the nine young Whooping cranes hatched this past April and May - soon to become the newest members of the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population.

MileMaker, the program that allows folks to select and sponsor a migration air mile (or part mile), is far from being totally underwritten. At the moment, there are still more than 270 unsponsored miles, added to which will be the additional expense as a result of the unanticipated ground time spent in Franklin County, AL.

In the words of Anne Harrington from Palo Alto, California, taken from her email which we received this morning, "Here's something to help get you moving again. I'm sure this delay has resulted in added expense - not to mention some extra grey hairs. I will match the sponsorship of five full or partial MileMaker miles."

Click here to become a MileMaker Sponsor. If you would like to help us defray operational and other costs, including the legal fees incurred arising from the FAA situation, please click here to make a General Donation.

Thank you in advance for your financial support. As in years past, we are confident that Whooping cranes and OM can rely on you.

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Date: January 10, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:MIGRATION TO RESUMELocation: Main Office

It is in times of crisis that you learn who your friends are.

When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began its investigation, many of you came to our support, or more accurately, to the support of the Whooping cranes, and we will be forever grateful. It was surprising to us just how many people stepped up to help. And that support came not just from our donors and supporters, but also from hundreds and hundreds of people from all walks of life who demonstrated that they too care about the survival of the species.

An online petition launched by one such person garnered 1400 names in only two days. Our website GuestBook seized up and nearly crashed as it filled with supportive comments. Three State Governors and several congressmen contacted the FAA in support of this project. Several other influential people, including a former U.S. President, also encouraged a speedy resolution, and hundreds of media outlets from all over the county covered the story.

The FAA made it clear that they were trying to resolve the matter, but we are certain the outpouring of support helped to make that happen more quickly than the normal process. The waiver we have been granted is a temporary exemption allowing us to complete the current migration, but the FAA indicated they will work with us to develop a long term solution.

All of this took place over the Christmas break and shortly thereafter, so we left many of the team members at home with their families while we waited it out. Now that we have permission to fly again, we are pulling the team back to our stopover site in northern Alabama. While we will be ready to go very shortly, the weather forecast looks dismal until at least Thursday. We are anxious to be on our way and to leave Franklin County, Alabama behind us. That is not to say we are not grateful to everyone there for their generosity and hospitality - it has been outstanding.

There are no guarantees, but the southern half of our migration traditionally moves faster than the northern portion. After all that has happened, certainly the birds deserve a break, and a few good days of flying weather would be welcome. It is time for them to be wintering in Florida and learning the ways of the wild. Our job is to get them there as quickly as we can and we thank you all for helping to make that possible.

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Date: January 9, 2012 Reporter:David Sakrison, Director  OM Board of Directors
Subject:FAA GRANTS WAIVERLocation: Ripon, WI

We learned late this afternoon that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had granted Operation Migration a one-time temporary exemption to allow its pilots to finish the 2011-2012 crane migration. The waiver extends through the end of March.

A statement released by the FAA on Monday afternoon said in part: “Because the operation is in ‘mid-migration,’ the FAA is granting a one-time exemption so the migration can be completed. The FAA will work with Operation Migration to develop a more comprehensive, long-term solution.”

We appreciate the agency’s efforts on our behalf, and we thank everyone; supporters and the public for the overwhelming outpouring of support on behalf of Whooping cranes and Operation Migration.

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Date: January 9, 2012Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:UPDATELocation: Main Office

In the hundreds of emails we have responded to in the last week there have been some common questions that I thought I would answer here in case others were wondering the same things.

Firstly, the birds are doing fine. They are well looked after and as entertained as we can keep them. Since they were hatched in April and May, they have spent most of their time in a pen, so for them, it’s part of a normal life. (Note: Click the link for a live, real-time view of the Class of 2011 in the pen in Franklin County via OM's CraneCam.)

It would be nice if they had a wet pen to roost in, but since we started the migration on Oct 9th they have lived without it. That’s the case with every migration but as soon as we reach the wintering site, they have access to water again. Their propensity for wetland habitat is instinctive and we don’t have to re-teach them to water roost.

In the past we have short-stopped the birds near Dunnellon in Florida, just one stop away from their winter home at Chassahowitzka. This was done to allow the older birds to stop in at the pensite, as they often do on their way south, and then to move on to their preferred wintering sites. That practice left the pensite clear and free from the interference the older birds can have on the chicks.

We have done that short-stop since 2005 and it has been for as long as 27 days with no ill effects. The only problem is getting them to follow us again but so far that has not been an issue.

One of the FAA concerns is that Light Sport pilots are not allowed to fly for hire. In fact, a pilot must hold a commercial rating before they can be paid to fly. Many commercial pilots have offered to fly for us and finish the migration. We are very grateful for the offers, but it is not as simple as that. It takes at least a year to learn how to fly with birds. It is certainly not rocket science, but you must work with them for at least a season to learn their flight characteristics and how to deal with them, once you are back on the ground.

Secondly, we fly trikes which are controlled much like a hang glider. They don’t have a stick and rudder and the controls are completely backwards to what most pilots are accustomed. As an example, it becomes second nature for a pilot to pull back on the stick or yoke to go up. In our aircraft that makes you go down. In a conventional aircraft you move the stick to the right to go right. In ours you move the wing to the left to accomplish the same turn. Flying a conventional aircraft and a trike is a lot like driving a car and a motorcycle. Once you learn how it is not difficult, but there are not a lot of airline captains with trike time.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is holding meetings to decide what to do if the FAA will not grant us a waiver. The FAA states that process can take up to 120 days, but we are hoping that it can be expedited. We will keep you posted but in the meantime, thank you all for the support.

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Date:January 5, 2012Reporter: David Sakrison, Director  OM Board of Directors
Subject:2011 ULTRALIGHT-LED MIGRATION ON HOLDLocation: Ripon, Wisconsin

The 2011 ultralight-led Whooping crane migration is currently on hold in Alabama while the Federal Aviation Administration sorts out a regulatory issue involving OM’s pilots and aircraft.

The FAA is working with OM to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. In the meantime, this year’s cohort is safely penned in Franklin County, Alabama, watched over daily by OM personnel.

The issue in question is whether or not OM’s pilots are flying “for hire,” or, for the furtherance of a non-profit. OM aircraft are licensed as Light Sport Aircraft (LSAs) which came into effect in 2008. FAA regulations prohibit flying LSAs for hire or as part of business activities. The FAA has begun the process of evaluating a waiver to OM, exempting its pilots and aircraft from that rule.

OM has always maintained that its pilots are hired for a wide range of non-flying skills and duties, and that they volunteer their time as pilots. In 2010, the FAA Flight Service District Office (FSDO) in Milwaukee investigated the status of OM’s flight operations and accepted OM’s explanation. We were told by the FSDO director that “no further action would be taken.” Based on that ruling, we began the 2011 season.

In August 2011 the FAA inspected our aircraft, which passed with flying colors. In November a Letter of Investigation was sent to each pilot. After discussions with the FAA in December, Operation Migration voluntarily ceased any flying while the matter is resolved. We hoped that would happen during the Christmas break, but it is taking longer than anticipated.

The FAA is in support of this project and is working hard to resolve the matter in our favor. We appreciate their efforts.
We are also working with our WCEP partners to develop a contingency plan for completing the migration without aircraft, if necessary.

An FAA waiver would be based on two main factors: safety and public good. OM has never had an aircraft-related accident and its contribution to wildlife conservation is well-established. If you would like to offer support for OM in this matter, post a comment on our GuestBook. Supportive comments will be collected and forwarded to officials at the FAA.

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Date: January 4, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: BE SURE BEFORE YOU SHOOT Location: Franklin County, AL

Some states have a Sandhill crane hunt, and in some cases the hunt season for Sandhills and other game coincides or overlaps the period of time that Whooping cranes migrate.

"Be Sure Before You Shoot" is a video produced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help people identify/distinguish between Sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes as well as other avian species. Please watch the video if you are a hunter, or if you have friends who are hunters, please pass it on.

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Date: January 3, 2012Reporter: Walter Sturgeon
Subject: PERSISTENCE PAYS OFFLocation: North Carolina

Spring 2010 was an exciting time at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NNWR) as 12 pairs of Whooping Cranes nested and initiated incubation. One of those pairs, 9-03, and her mate 3-04 nested for the fifth time. The female has a checkered past.

As a young bird she had wandered far and wide and had been in, or flew over, just about every state in the eastern United States and at least two provinces in Canada. Of all the birds I have helped to reintroduce into the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes, she is by far the most interesting, and one that I had a post-reintroduction experience with.

I monitored her one whole winter in North Carolina where she wintered with two other Whooping Cranes on a beaver pond in Jones County. Some of you might remember my story in OM’s website Field Journal about her leaving on her northern migration and flying over my house to say farewell. But I have only abstracted a few tidbits in this introduction. ”And now for the rest of the story” as radio personality Paul Harvey used to say.

Number 9-03 hatched at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on May 5th 2003. She was described as, “ the most independent member of her cohort and strays farthest from the trike during taxiing.” Obviously her wanderlust could be predicted at a very young age.

She was a small female, but a super forager, and Brian Clauss from Patuxent observed that if, “You could drop that bird in the middle of a city and she'd find something to eat!" She made her first trip to Wisconsin on June 19, 2003 aboard a Windway Capital aircraft in a box especially designed for young cranes, and joined the rest of her cohort in one of the training site pens at NNWR.

Her summer was uneventful and she learned to fly and follow the ultralight. She left Necedah on October 16, 2003 and flew all but 18 miles of the ultralight-led migration, arriving at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County, Florida on December 8th after a 54 day migration. Yes, I said a 54 day migration.

Winter at Chassahowitzka was uneventful and 9-03 left the refuge on March 30, 2004 at 9:33am with 7 other cranes. By midday on April 1st, the eight birds had made it to Macon County, North Carolina, 462 miles north of the departure point. This put the young cranes east of the mountains and 85 miles from their original migration route. By late morning, winds had increased to 15-25mph from the northwest - a strong headwind - and on reaching western North Carolina they were met by a low cloud-ceiling and drizzle.

On April 3rd the Whoopers were still in North Carolina along a river in the Nantahala National Forest when they were discovered by a person who started crossing the river intent on approaching the cranes. Fortunately, a conscientious passerby stopped the person before he was able to get close enough to catch one of the birds - which was his stated purpose.

On April 4th another unthinking person who lived nearby arrived on the scene in his car, with his wife and three children. He drove as close as he could get to the young cranes, and the five exited their car and approached the cranes. The wary cranes had had enough. They flushed immediately, and at 5 p.m. as they climbed out of their less than serene setting of the past 3 days, one of them hit a power line.

One observer reported that all eight cranes continued to climb however, and as darkness fell he watched as they circled overhead, gaining altitude for almost an hour, before setting course toward the north. Richard Urbanek, a USFWS biologist/tracker, was nearby and was able to track them through the forested area for only a short time before losing their radio signals.

I go into this detail because many of us think that this one instance in the cranes’, and especially 9-03’s, first northward migration accounted for their odd migration routes and behaviors over the next few years.

Number 9-03 carried a satellite transmitter that allowed her and the others traveling with her to be located on a frequent basis. She, and 4 other cranes wound up in Michigan that summer. Included in that group were 1-03, 5-03 and 18-03, who would stay with her as they migrated south that fall.

Number 5-03 was killed, probably by a bobcat, on the night of November 13/14 on the Cape Romaine National Wildlife Refuge in Charleston, South Carolina. The three remaining cranes moved northward the next day to Georgetown County, SC. After several short northward flights they ended up in Jones County, NC on November 20. There they roosted in a beaver pond loaded with crayfish and never traveled more than a couple of miles to various grain fields during the rest of the winter.

Living about two hours away, I took on the job of monitoring them a couple of times a week. They developed a routine that saw them fly out in the early morning to glean what they could in nearby corn fields. Eventually they discovered a hunter’s seed plot very near their beaver pond roost area. The plot included milo, corn, and millet. It was there that I saw them for the last time that winter. They left on their northward migration on March 30, 2005.

You might have read my story about being there that day and having them come into a mixed grain field and land near a small pond where I was hidden in a hunter’s tree stand. They didn’t bother to graze, staying only about 15 minutes. They took off and circled the field a couple of times and headed off to the northwest.

I listened on my tracking radio receiver for about half an hour until the signals died out. I had about a 30 minute walk back to my car and then a two hour drive home. For some reason I never turned off the radio receiver, and as I turned into my driveway it started beeping. For the next 30 minutes I listened as the cranes flew over my house. Had come to say goodbye? It was a chilling experience.

The three cranes stayed together until they reached Ontario, east of Lake Huron. On May 8th, number 9-03 was seen alone on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River northwest of Lake Ontario, just across the New York border. She next turned up in Vermont on June 9th, and went from there to Lewis County, NY. While she traveled around the northeast, 1-03 and 18-03 were captured in Michigan and relocated back to Wisconsin.

In the fall of 2005 9-03 was still in New York state, having last been seen there on October 27th. In December she showed up in Beaufort City, NC. Her satellite transmitter had run out of battery power so no one knows where she was in the interim. On December 9th she was captured, fitted with another transmitter, and moved to Madison County, Florida. This is where the persistence story begins as the tracking team tried to reorient her to the desired migration route. Later that year she visited the pen at Chassahowitzka where she had spent her first winter in Florida.

In the spring of 2006, 9-03 migrated north with a young female, 20-05, on March 27. They were seen together in Tennessee on March 29th and 30th. She again didn’t make it back to Wisconsin, once again ending up in New York, but this time with the young female she had led astray. On May 6th both were captured and moved by plane to NNWR. This move was the second attempt at reorientation. The two cranes stayed together in central Wisconsin all that summer.

9-03 and 20-05 migrated together in the fall and appeared at the Chassahowitzka pensite on December 20, 2006. The reorientation was beginning to work it seemed. It was the first time she had returned to Florida since she was led there by the ultralights. They to cranes stayed in the Chassahowitzka area and the nearby mainland for the winter.

On the 2007 spring migration 9-03 and 20-05 left Florida on March 19. The younger female, 20-05, went to Wisconsin, while 9-03 went on a grand tour to Michigan, New York, Ontario, and then back to New York. She still had not found her way back to Wisconsin on spring migration.

In October of 2007 she was captured yet again and flown back to Wisconsin. As they say, ”the third time is the charm”, and in this case the third relocation worked. She immediately stole male 3-04 from female W1-06, the first wild-hatched chick. The question was…would the bond last and would they migrate together?

In fact they did migrate to Florida that fall and stayed together during the winter. In the spring of 2008 the big question of where they would go was answered on March 27 when they showed up at the Necedah refuge. On April 9, 9-03 was observed incubating eggs. She and 3-04 incubated until May 3rd when their nest failed. They spent the summer on the refuge and migrated together to Florida that fall along with 9-03’s old friend, 20-05.

In late February 2009 the three cranes left Florida and 9-03 and 3-04 arrived in Wisconsin on March 23 and were already incubating eggs by April 8. Their nest failed again on May 3rd, but this time their eggs were salvaged. Both eggs hatched and became ultralight chicks 6-09 and 8-09 in the ultralight-led Class of 2009 – both chicks are still in the population. The parent pair re-nested, but their second nest failed on June 14.

The pair left Wisconsin on December 7, 2009 and was seen by plane on January 20, 2010 in a swamp in Lafayette County, Florida where they spent the rest of the winter. On March 9, 2010 they were observed during their northward migration in Richland County, Illinois and were found to be nesting on April 5 on the Necedah refuge. That nest failed on April 11th.

By April 29-30th they had nested again. This time they hatched two eggs and the family was spotted by OM pilot Richard van Heuvelen during a monitoring flight on May 31. Unfortunately, one of their chicks had disappeared by the 6th or 7th of June. The other chick, a female, designated W1-10, fledged in August and in the fall, left on migration with her parents.

Persistence does pay off! The work of a lot of dedicated and talented individuals re-oriented 9-03 to a life of migrating as desired from Wisconsin to Florida and back by capturing it 3 times and moving it once to Florida and twice to Wisconsin. They made it possible for her to meet and pair with 3-04. Once that bond was established she followed the male who is faithful to his own natal area, as are most male Whooping Cranes. Together they have produced 3 living off-spring in the Eastern Migratory Population. I say again, PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF!

Author’s Note: I am indebted to Jane Duden of Journey North for her fine history of each of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping cranes from chick to the present. Without her work it would have taken weeks to reconstruct the history of 9-03 and her associates.

(Walter Sturgeon is a member of Operation Migration’s Board of Directors, and for the past 7 years, his 30 years of crane experience and many other skills have been invaluable assets in his role as a volunteer member of the migration crew.)

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Date: January 2, 2012Reporter: Christine Barnes
Subject:WHOOPING CRANES CARRY 'BIGGER' MESSAGELocation: Franklin County, AL

“These newly hatched Whooping crane chicks have no parents. So we teach them what they need to know to survive. But they neither see us, nor hear us.”

The room is silent as students ponder, then watch and listen in rapt attention as the story unfolds.

We are Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes, Operation Migration’s education team, and we offer presentations in schools along the migration route. Our presentation lasts about an hour, and consists of a variety of interesting activities, including interactive sharing of knowledge and information, a slide show, and videos. We introduce and/or reinforce age-appropriate vocabulary and concepts.

On this 2011 migration, we have visited 15 schools and met with over 1670 students and their teachers. Principals, other education staff and interested community members have sometimes joined our groups. And what a wonderful time we have had along the way, working with children in Illinois, Kentucky and Alabama! We have worked with a single class of 23 students, and an entire school of 667 students packed into an auditorium. We have presented on a school night at a nature center with 70 community members and twenty-four high school students and their teacher present.

Many classes follow the cranes’ journey and are very well-prepared. Some are new-comers to the Whooping cranes’ story, and are fascinated from the beginning. Students ask many thoughtful questions at the beginning and end of the presentation, which we either answer or give back to them for their own investigation in class or on their own. Nearly every student in the schools where we presented was respectful, enthusiastic and engaged. It has been a privilege to work with each and every one.

As we present the cranes’ story, there are audible gasps among the participants – the life-sized photo of a 5 ft. tall crane with an 8 ft. wingspan amazes most, and the youngest children need to be reassured that these birds will do no harm from their wetland home.

There is laughter at the photo of the tired crane chick, asleep in its food bowl. Listeners’ faces reflect their sadness, and sometimes there are tears, when we share the blatant disregard for wildlife and law, and reveal that misguided persons with firearms still shoot and kill these magnificent birds. And ironically, as we end 2011, yet another Whooping crane has died at the end of a gun in Indiana.

We speak of the inspiration of the founders and staff of Operation Migration and its WCEP partners to dream the impossible dream and move forward to save a species from extinction. The individuals who work on this project see a need and an opportunity to make a difference, and many make personal sacrifices to do so.

We talk with students about how this can be their story, too – how they can strive to be scientists, mathematicians, teachers, environmentalists, conservationists. We encourage the children to reflect on what each one can do to make things better each day, or what project their class, or even their entire school can do.

The lights are low, the room is silent. They neither see us nor hear us: from the back of the room, the solution to the opening riddle enters: a silent crane handler in costume. For the first time, students understand, on some level, the reintroduction project’s extraordinary effort to teach the cranes while preserving whatever wild instincts exist innately in these birds. It is, after all, their only hope.

In the end, we talk with the children about the bigger picture: this is not just about Whooping cranes. It’s about learning to live together on our beautiful planet Earth in a respectful, caring and reflective manner – being aware of our actions and what consequences, intended or not, may unfold as a result.

It is a story about making mistakes, and working hard to fix them before it’s too late. In fact, the journey of the Whooping cranes is an acknowledgement and commitment to the sanctity of life.

Editor's Note - The Education component of the 2011 migration was made possible thanks to a joint grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company through the Power of Flight program. Both organizations have also supported Operation Migration's ultralight-led project in past years and they have our sincere gratitude for their generosity and abiding interest in the welfare of endangered Whooping cranes.

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Date: January 1, 2012Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A SORROWFUL START TO THE NEW YEARLocation: Franklin County, AL

Regrettably, the first news of 2012 we bring you is sad and upsetting. Another Whooping crane has been shot.

We were advised late yesterday that 6-05 was found dead in Indiana by resident Dan Kaiser. Dan found the crane in Jackson County, not far from the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, a former stopover location when the ultralight-led migration used a more easterly migration route.

This is the second shooting of a Whooping crane in Indiana. The first occurred in 2009 when 17-02, the seven year old matriarch of the "First Family", was killed.

In 2006, female 17-02 and her mate 11-02, (dubbed the First Family) the only successful breeding pair in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population at the time, hatched, reared, and migrated a chick, Wild 1-06. Their offspring, Wild 1-06, was the first wild, migratory Whooping crane hatched in eastern North America in more than a century.

17-02 was shot and killed in central Vermillion County, IN. The pair had been observed by WCEP trackers in late November, but by December 1st when subsequently checked, 17-02 was missing. Tracker Jess Thompson eventually found her remains in a ravine near a rural road.

Two culprits were eventually identified (one a juvenile) and they pled guilty to the shooting. Their punishment, which drew the outrage and the ire of many in the wildlife conservation community, was one year of probation and a $1 fine.

In the face of the struggle to safeguard these rare birds from extinction, this shooting, added to the three cranes shot in Georgia in December of last year, the two in Alabama in February 2011, and most recently, two (and perhaps three) in Louisiana, at best, can only be described as disheartening. Ironically, the Louisiana cranes, killed by juveniles firing from a vehicle, died on the same day OM launched its 2011 ultralight-led migration in the hope of boosting the numbers of  the slowly growing reintroduced population.

At the time of the Louisiana shootings, Dr. John French, Research Manager, at the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland where the majority of all reintroduced Whooping cranes are hatched and reared, said....

"These cranes - including each of those senselessly killed by people - represent an investment of hope for Whooping cranes to wing their way back to a more certain future. And with only about 430 Whooping cranes now in the wild, each bird counts.

Each such death is a robbery of the investment made by the American public, and negates countless hours of careful work by scientists, aviculturists, volunteers, and others toward the conservation of this magnificent bird."

At present, we have no further details on the killing of 6-05 beyond what has appeared in various news stories. Below are links to several articles that have been posted to the internet.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-in-whoopingcraneshot,0,4952306.story

http://wcsi.whiterivernews.com/templates/localnews_temp.asp?id=4323&storyno=2

http://www.whas11.com/news/local/Endangered-bird-shot-in-Ind-136486983.html

http://www.tribtown.com/articles/shot-34081-bird-brownstown.html

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