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Photo Journals!

Wintering Whoopers

Ultralight-guided Migration


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Date:September 20th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: It has been a big week for us here at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. We had the Crane Fest on the 17th, moved Cohort One on the same morning, flew the entire flock together this morning, and are in the middle of our annual WCEP meetings as I type this. Sadly, John Thomton has also left our group for a job with the Disney Wildlife Park. He started with us before any of the birds had hatched and was a hard worker and great addition to the team.

The Crane Fest was a lot of fun even though attendance seemed to be down quite a bit. The local venders and organizations put on a good show and the talks were good. The efforts of the Necedah Lions Club, Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, and the town of Necedah itself made it another great event.

Last Saturday, on the morning of the Crane Fest, we were able to move Cohort One from the north site down to the east site. We had to wait forever for the fog to clear, but, once the birds got into the air, they did a great job. Angie and I released the birds and then got our swamp monster tarps on. 505 broke away and Joe had to swoop in to lead it over. With Joe in the air and the monsters on the ground, we were able to keep the bird on Joe’s wing. Joe then had to work pretty hard to keep that bird in the air because it wanted to land for most of the flight. The six new additions to the east site went right into their new home without much of a fuss.

Two days ago, on the 18th, Richard van Heuvelen led a short flight with Cohort One. (RIGHT-Click here to download a Windows Media video clip). The air was calm at ground level, but just above the trees the wind made for a bumpy ride. The decision was made to return to the south site and let the birds exercize on the ground.

This morning’s training turned out to be quite a milestone. We woke to another seemingly great morning but found the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge pools to be covered in fog as usual. The winds were also quickly becoming too strong. We decided to go for it while we could and decided to try both groups together. All but 511 (who I had to herd out) came out well. All but four of the birds then took off with Richard van Heuvelen, with Joe Duff as chase pilot. Chris Gullikson was still at the end of the runway and was able to get those four birds still on the runway to follow him for a short flight. The group of sixteen flew for about ten minutes with 505 staying right with them the whole time. numbers 511, 519, 520, and 524 were the four stragglers and they came back to the runway. Once everyone was back on the runway, the whole flock got along very well. They probably could have been left in the pen together but since it is still early we went ahead and kept them separate to prevent any problems. There is little aggression within Cohort One but Cohort Two/Three is still figuring a social structure out. There is also a handful of very submissive birds (505, 511, 519, etc). 511 has actually been pretty mean lately. It has begun attacking the costumes with a vengeance. Chris Gullikson and I seem to be the particularly favorite punching bags for this bird.

Photo representation of 2005 Migration MileMaker sponsorships to date

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For those of you who were perhaps waiting for fall migration time to roll around, or just haven't yet got around to conveying your support, please don't wait. We really need your help now.

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To you we express our sincerest and heartfelt thanks. We know that many of you have even 'stepped up to the plate' more than once.

What else can be done?

 -    You can also help by talking to friends, relatives, and co-workers. Tell them the remarkable story behind our work to ensure the survival of the Whooping Crane. Encourage them to join you in supporting this amazing project by taking out a Membership, a MileMaker sponsorship, or making a donation.

-          Write or speak to individuals, clubs, groups, organizations, or businesses in your area and ask them for their support.

-     Write letters to your local media outlets to raise awareness and bring attention to the plight of the Whooping Crane and our cause.

We are grateful for your concern and support. A generation of Whooping Cranes is counting on us - we just can't let them down!

 

Date:September 14th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:515's loss/ training update

Notes: Anything that leaves the ground, held aloft by wings of feathers or fabric, carry with it a degree of risk. For us the danger is managed by quality equipment, good maintenance and 
caution. For birds it’s a matter of experience and recognizing danger. Sixty million years of 
evolution have made them aware of natural hazards but nothing prepared them for power lines or the wires that support the wings of our aircraft. This past Monday, at the end of a training session, the aircraft landed and came to a stop on the runway. Number 515 had been lagging behind and as she arrived she hit the flying wires above the wing and did not survive. That day the camp was quiet; there was not much to say. We take consolation in the fact that fewer would have survived this long if they had been raised in the wild but it is little solace. 

Over the years we have refined a guard to protect the birds from coming into contact with the propeller and the latest edition as virtually eliminated prop strikes. The only real danger 
our aircraft poses to the birds are the wires above the wing. Recently several designers have developed wings with cantilevered spars that support themselves and don’t require top wires. Our aircraft must be identical, and in order to change over, we would need to buy four new wings that are not in our budget this year.

There are six captive breeding centers around North America including the Audubon facility 
just outside New Orleans. Before the storm the staff left an ample supply of food and water 
for their avian collection and evacuated. We heard recently that of the 9 Whooping cranes they have there only one was lost. 

John Thomton joined us as an intern this spring and began his season at the USGS Patuxent 
Wildlife Research Center. He help raise the chicks and introduce them to the aircraft. He 
moved to Necedah with them in early July and had planned to stay with us through the 
migration. In the interim however he was offered a position at Disney in Florida and we 
encouraged him to accept the shorter hours, better accommodations, greater job security, 
increased opportunity and higher pay. In fact most of us are envious. We have all enjoyed 
working with John and hope to see him at the southern end. He leaves this Monday so we are looking for a replacement. If you have bird experience, the ability to drive a large pickup truck pulling and even larger trailer and feel like running away with the circus give us a call. 

Yesterday we mixed cohort 2 and 3 at the East Site. On August 28th, Brooke led the middle group of birds from their home at the West Site, across Rynearson Pond to the East Site. The two cohorts have been penned side by side ever since but trained separately. Both groups are flying for over 10 minutes so for the next flight we’ll lead all 14 of them and see what 
happens. After that we will start the process over by penning cohort 1 next to this combined 
flock. 

While he honed his skills and learning the ropes, our new pilot Chris Gullikson has been 
flying any of the 3 aircraft that was not being used at the time. Tomorrow he will finally 
take to the air in a trike assigned to him. It was actually the aircraft once flown by Deke 
Clark and has been reconditioned over the summer. Improvements include new instruments, sound broadcasting system and a completely rebuilt engine. We are all pleased with his progress and expect him to be fully up to speed when the migration begins. There are some people that understand the nuances of handling birds and others that will never get it. Without coaching or experience Chris seemed to have acquired this ability and has become a valuable member of the team in a very short time.

Date:September 13th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper, John Thomton, Angie Maxted, DVM
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Mixing Cohorts Two and Three

Notes: Today we were unable to train because of wind but we decided that the birds needed to get out of the pen anyway. After breakfast, John, Angie, and Mark went out to the east site to let Cohorts Two and Three out on the runway and mingle a while. This has been going on after training for about two weeks but we have been separating them in the pen. Today when we put them back in we left the dividers down and the birds are all together as one Cohort "2/3". 

The birds were happy to get out and immediately began running, flapping and flying (see left photo).  Especially the younger Cohort Three birds who had not been out in a few days at all. It was rather humid out and the birds were winded after only a few flights but were still enjoying their time out. There was a lot of dominance play going on. This was mainly done between numbers 514, 524, and 526. Our basic theory is that these guys all have white leg bands and are just not happy about it. 514 still has a very crooked toe,  but this has not kept him from becoming the dominant bird of the whole group. 526 is probably in second place right now, but he and 524 go back and forth. All of the birds came back in to the pen pretty well (see right photo) except for 512. This bird has been like this for a while. Once in the pen there was little aggression or dominance play going on and the birds looked perfectly comfortable together. 

More Photos:
Click on a thumbnail image for an enlargement/complete photo.

Date:September 9th, 2005
Reporter: John Thomton
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity: Training Update

Notes: Yesterday was a very foggy morning here at Necedah, so we were unable to train the birds. We usually lament the days when we don't get the birds in the air, but occasionally I think the birds do better when they've had break from the routine. This morning was a pretty good example of this scenario.

I was at the East Site, along with Angie Maxted and pilot Brooke Pennypacker. This site, you may remember, houses cohorts 2 and 3 in adjacent pens. We've been training one group at a time, and the two adult birds at this site have been quite distracting to the young cranes. After the training is done for both groups, we let them have about ten minutes of supervised social time on the runway, and then we lead them back into their respective pens. Lately, some of the birds have been struggling to keep up with the group; they've been flying back to the runway and missing out on over half the flight. Birds that have been doing this most frequently are Cohort 2's #512 and #515 (male and female, respectively) and Cohort 3's #519, #520, #524 and #526 (female, female, male and male), with a few other birds occasionally. Some days, #519 and #524 don't even get off the runway; they follow the trike, flying along the ground until the reach the un-mowed grass, and then they stay put.

Well, today we saw a remarkable improvement! Cohort 2 was the first group to train, and they were perfect. All 8 birds took off from the runway on the first try and never looked back. They flew for about 15 minutes. Every time Brooke flew over or near the runway, I was afraid one or two would break away and land, but they stayed with him for the entire flight. Angie and I were very proud! Cohort 3 wasn't quite as slick, but it was still better than previous mornings. They all took off with the trike today and followed Brooke for a few minutes. Then #524 returned to the runway, then #526 and then #519. Brooke then circled back around and passed directly overhead to entice the birds to follow again, and they did! All three became airborne, and followed the trike for about half-a-circle, then they broke off and returned to the runway. The fact that they returned to the air at all is progress. I was happiest for #520, who has been hugging the runway a lot lately. She followed the trike for the entire time today! That's my girl!! ;)

I haven't been at the North Site for Cohort 1's training in quite awhile, but they're going through a bit of a regression period. The pilots and handlers are struggling some with #505 especially, a timid male. Some days he won't come out of the pen, sometimes he won't take off after the trike, and other times he returns to the runway prematurely. Sometimes other birds follow his example, most notably #'s 503 and 506, both males. Today, however, all of the birds except #502 (a female, and currently the whitest bird of the '05 flock) tried to leave pilot Richard Van Heuvelen at some point during the flight. While this set back is definitely discouraging for the team, there is still some hope and time to get this Cohort excited to follow the trike once again before migration begins in about a month. We'll just have to see how they're doing this time next week!

Date:September 4th, 2005
Reporter: Angie Maxted
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:#505 goes missing (temporarily)

Notes: This morning we had windy weather so no training was done, much to the chagrin of some hopeful crane watchers that were waiting patiently at the observation tower. Yesterday, however, conditions were perfect for flying. Brooke is our only pilot here at Necedah right 
now, and he flew in to train at the east site first. Cohorts two and three are still being trained and housed separately at Site One since the younger birds still have some catching up to do before the are flying as well as the birds in cohort two. The two groups trained relatively well, separately, then after the second group was finished we let all fifteen birds out on the runway for socialization time. All of the birds got along marvelously, but it is always quite a chore to get each bird into its correct pen afterward. Eventually, though, we got everyone back in the right place, and Brooke headed up to train at the north site where Robert was waiting to help. John and I then headed back to camp for some breakfast. 

I was just diving into my bowl of corn flakes when I got a call from Robert on my cell phone. He said that 505 had apparently landed in the marsh somewhere near site four during training. 505 and 503 had twice broken away from Brooke in the air and had landed on the runway, so Robert slipped into the "swamp monster" tarp to try to scare the two laggers back into the air. It had worked, but then both birds soon landed in the marsh, presumably beyond the end of the runway. 503 was quickly making his way back toward the runway, but 505 was nowhere to be seen. Brooke landed and he and Robert put the other five birds back into the pen. Brooke then took to the air to search for 505 while Robert searched from the ground. 

Luckily, 505 and the rest of the birds from his cohort received radio transmitters just this past Wednesday, as John mentioned in a previous update. After Robert called me, I called Kelly Maguire of the International Crane Foundation who was out tracking adult Whooping cranes on the refuge, and she offered to help locate the missing bird. I borrowed a hand-held telemetry unit from the tracking crew and headed out to the site. Meanwhile, Brooke was running low on trike fuel, and since we weren't sure how much longer he would need to search for the missing bird from the air, John headed to the hanger to pick up more fuel for him. Kelly relayed to me that the signals she was picking up from the bird indicated he was still very near the pen site, which was good news. Kelly, John and I arrived at the site at about the same time. We all donned our costumes and Kelly and I walked in with our hand-held tracking units hoping the signal would lead us right to 505. It worked; we quickly narrowed our search area down to a patch of tall grass near the pen site. When I walked into the grass I saw the bird laying down on the ground about ten feet from me, trying very hard not to be seen. It's unusual for one of these chicks to react this way to the costumed handlers, so I was immediately afraid that the bird was injured in some way and unable to get up. However, when  I started making my way toward him, he got up and ran out of the tall grass onto the runway toward John. We looked him up and down carefully, but could see no evidence of injury. 505  followed us readily into the pen and was acting perfectly fine, other than being a little nervous. The bird had been hiding no more than thirty yards from the pen and was only five or six feet off of the runway. We're not exactly sure why the bird was so spooked or why he was trying his hardest not to be found. We just felt lucky that he had received a transmitter three days prior and we were able to find him quickly and get him back safely.

Date:September 2nd, 2005
Reporter: John Thomton
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Pre-migration health check and leg-banding

Notes: So ends another busy "work week" here at Necedah (we actually work every day, so the work week for most folks means very little to us!). It's been an interesting week full of visitors, training and check-ups. Time does seem to fly by so quickly when there's so much going on; I can't believe that it's already Friday (let alone September!). 

The Whooping Crane chicks that are being trained to follow the aircrafts received their pre-migration health checks on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this past week. All of the birds are caught up by handlers wearing gray costumes so they are not afraid of the white-costumed handlers when the ordeal is over. Next, a loose-fitting hood is placed over their face and eyes, and the bird is carried over to a tent where the veterinarians and their staff are working. They inspect the bird for injuries, draw blood for analysis, insert a microchip into the backs of each bird for permanent identification, and attach their radio transmitters to one of their legs, among other procedures. This can all be done while not wearing a costume, because the eyes of the bird are covered by the hood. However, talking is not allowed, and only very soft whispering is ever appropriate, especially when the bird is so close. It takes a very organized and competent staff to carry out the health checks in a quick and safe manner, as it's stressful for the birds. We had a great group helping out this year: Dr. Barry Hartup of the International Crane Foundation (ICF), Dr. Chris Hanley from the University of Wisconsin Veterinary School, Dr. Kurt Volle from Indiana, Cristin, the Veterinary Technician at ICF, and our own Dr. Angie Maxted. The birds were expertly handled by ICF's Aviculturalists Kelly Maguire and Marianne Wellington, and also by Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Robert Doyle.

As the medical examinations were happening, Richard Urbanek took the opportunity to fit each bird with a shiny new radio transmitter and ID band to their left legs. This allows the birds to be tracked during migration if the pilots lose sight of one between migration stops. This has proven to be invaluable during past migrations, and it would have been very helpful if #506 had received one before he took that trip into the woods a few weeks ago! The tracking team has already begun to pick up a bunch of these new signals coming from the pens during their routine checks of the adults on the refuge. Once the birds reach Florida this winter, they will be fitted with new ID bands and transmitters before they are permanently released.

Also this week, we have really enjoyed the company of several visitors courtesy of the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin. These folks have been able to watch a training session from a blind at the East site, get a tour of the refuge from Bobbie Hjelmgren, Necedah's Education Specialist, and to satisfy curiosities during question and answer sessions with pilots, ground crew, and tracking personnel. It's been a lot of fun to interact with these people who are so passionate about saving Whooping Cranes; their interest and delight in what we do is very encouraging to us as a team, and we love to share with them our procedures and to give them a glimpse of what it's like to be on the front lines of Whooping Crane Conservation.

Date:September 2nd, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Bringing aid to Katrina victims

Notes:OM's staff and its Board of Directors join with its many members and supporters in offering hope for all those affected by Hurricane Katrina, and for everyone's safety and well-being.

Understandably, everyone's current focus is the saving of lives and personal property - and rightly so. But we wouldn't be true to what and who we are if in addition to humankind, we didn't also acknowledge our concern for all of the wildlife species and the habitats vital to their survival.

Please, do what you can to help bring aid and relief to all those victimized by Hurricane Katrina.

Date:August 31st
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:505's lazy flights/The joy of flight

Notes: Last Sunday we began the process of mixing our three cohorts of bird into one cohesive flock, at least that is the ultimate ambition. The threes sites are about a mile apart in the marshlands that surround East Rynearson Pond. The east site has been expanded over the years to accommodate all the birds in one large group or we have the option of dividing it up into as many as four sections. We move the birds by leading them across the pond so we have to wait until they are old enough to cover that distance. Cohort 1 , the oldest group are fling up to 20 minutes and could easily make it but they are the last ones to be mixed. Instead we wait until the middle group, cohort 2 can fly the distance and we lead them to the east site and mix them with the youngest birds. Once this new group has learned to socialize and has formed a dominance structure we can add the oldest and most aggressive birds. Despite their larger size they find themselves on unfamiliar ground and outnumbered. This evens the odds. 

This morning before the health checks Brooke and I took off early to train the older birds at the north site. The fog was so thick that we landed at the west site, now empty of birds, to wait it out. We chatted for an hour before taking the cohort 1 birds for a 13 minute flight. The sound of the engine and the crane calls we broadcast gets the birds excited even before they are released. When the doors are opened it is usually like dropping the starting gate and it's a raced to see if we can stay ahead of them on take off. But the birds at the north site have somehow learned a different lesson. They charge out and jump around excited by the freedom but wait for the aircraft to start moving before they launch into the air. This give us time to get the last birds out of the pen and once they are all on the runway, a simple increase of the throttle is all it takes. Number 505 has always been a lazy flyer lagging behind at every opportunity. After only a few minutes airborne and he fell behind preferring to fly just over the surface. We cut the grass in a field at the north end of the refuge to use for out landings and we headed out birds there. The plan was to land and let them regroup and try again. We did a very long and low approach and number 5 caught up thinking we were going to land so I kept going and he stayed on the wing as we turned and headed home. That only lasted a few more minutes before he broke again but we managed to catch up and lead him the rest of the way back. 


Gone flying - back soon 
Yesterday I received an email from a friend of mine who told me of his first flights with his new ultralight. This friend is a high time pilot with hours of experience in aircraft none of us can afford but the excitement in his message made it seem like he was discovering flight for the first time. He ended his letter with this passage and it reminded me that it has been a while since I flew without a flock of birds following behind.

"Anyway, I feel that I've joined a very special fraternity, Joe, and even though our paths crossed only briefly, I owe a lot to you and to Bill for inspiring me to learn to fly....to really fly.

Very best regards.....I'll be watching the OM website for updates on your progress....

-Peter K"


That evening I slipped out unseen to avoid distractions, taking justification for my escape in the hours I spent all weekend preparing grant applications. Taxiing to the runway without wearing a costume seemed odd like talking at a pen site when the birds have been moved. The air was perfectly smooth and the sun a golden ball as I dropped down over the marsh. I throttled back and flew at just under 30 miles an hour, barely above the stall. I cruised a few feet above the marsh grasses over acres of land only assessable by hip waders and hard work. I made a wide, slow turn to avoid disturbing the Sandhill cranes as they prepared to go to roost. They raised their head in curiosity wondering why I made so much noise doing something as simple as flying. The trike has a foot throttle and all you have to do to climb effortlessly over the trees is press down. Lift your toes and you settle back to the surface in a movement so graceful it's like waltzing. I spend an hour in the dance listening to the music in my head a long ways from the pressure of the day. I rolled onto the runway just after sunset and as I closed the hangar, I offered a thank you to Peter K for reminding me what it like.

Here's an update from Chris Danilko who has compiled the whereabouts of our existing flock.

WEEKLY TRACKING OF 2001-2004 BIRDS -42 birds in total 25 males, 17 females

Date: Week of Aug 21 - 27, 2005
 
Wisconsin Reintroduction Area-32 birds
101 202 Wisconsin
102 Wisconsin
105 204 Wisconsin
201 306 Wisconsin
203 317 Wisconsin
205 Wisconsin
208 313 Wisconsin
209 302 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
211 217 Wisconsin
212 Wisconsin - observed w/402, 403, 412, 416 & 417
213 218 Wisconsin -  observed w/sandhills
216 303 Wisconsin
301* 311 Wisconsin
304 Wisconsin
307** Wisconsin - 4 miles south of refuge
310 Wisconsin -  observed w/313
318* Wisconsin - left the refuge Aug 23rd
402 403 412 416 417 Wisconsin - w/212
Southeastern Wisconsin - 6 Birds
107** Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
312 316 Wisconsin
415 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
419 420 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills

Central Minnesota - 3 birds

401 407 408 extensive movement - Central Minnesota Aug 25th
New York -1 bird
309 Aug 13: reported Lewis County, New York
* retrieved from Michigan
** nonfunctional transmitter
Date:August 29th, 2005
Reporter:John Thomton
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Momentary mixing of cohorts.

Notes: Yesterday was a big day in the lives for several of the birds. Cohort #2 was flown from their west site home over to their new digs at the east site. They'll spend a few days in a pen adjacent to their future Cohort #3 flock mates, so they can see one another and size each other up. As soon as Cohort #3 catches up to the flying ability of the older birds, the barrier between the two pens will be taken down, and they will be one big cohort. Over the years, the team handling the birds have discovered that it's best to combine the three cohorts in the youngest group's territory. Since the older birds can potentially be more aggressive and menacing, being in unfamiliar territory makes them less likely to beat up the younger birds. At the same time, it gives the younger birds a chance to assert themselves and feel more comfortable, since they don't have to get used to a new place.

Right now, we have to train Cohort 2 and 3 separately, due to a big difference in flying ability. This morning I arrived with Angie Maxted as my ground crew partner-in-crime, and pilot Brooke Pennypacker landed his trike to conduct the training. Brooke began with Cohort 3, and all birds did fairly well. Cohort 2 birds seemed nervous and excited in the pen, as they could hear the trike and see the other birds following behind it as it circled around. On his final lap around the site, crane number 520 (a female) landed in the marsh right behind the Cohort 2 side of the pen. She stayed close, so Angie and I thought that it would be fine as long as we could see her and she didn't fly off somewhere. Brooke decided that he was done training the cohort, so we opened the doors and turned our backs on 520 to get the birds back into the pen. They had their typical dawdle time, where they played with the trike, poked around in the grass, chased the adult Whoopers that had come in to partake in the treats, etc., so it took several minutes before the six remaining cohort birds were back inside. Eventually, I counted seven birds instead of six, so I wrongfully assumed that #520 had returned to the runway and was among her cohort-mates. Then one of the birds excitedly flapped its wings and jumped up and down a bit inside the pen near the other birds. Since that happens more often outside on the runway, I took a look to see who was so excited to be inside. That's when I discovered 512, a male from Cohort 2 who had come through a gap in the fence that separated the two pens, was this seventh bird amongst Cohort 3, which meant that 520 was still out there. I alerted Angie, and we tried to tell Brooke, but sometimes during training real communication and understanding takes a beating from all the whispering and hand gestures that go on, and he didn't know what we were saying. All he knew was that seven birds were in the pen like they were supposed to be.

So Brooke continued on towards the trike to ready it for the next group. Angie and I went into the Cohort 2 pen to get those birds out of the wet pen and ready to train. In the process, we found 520 right outside the Cohort 2 pen, and she didn't appear to be going anywhere. Meanwhile, 512 was still next door, hopefully making new friends. I made one last attempt to alert Brooke on the runway, but he started the trike's engine and I knew that the Cohort 2 birds would be really excited. So I gave up, Angie and I released the remaining seven birds of the cohort out on the runway, and Brooke took off. 520 was still right next to the pen and 512 was safe inside (albeit, in the wrong pen!), so I figured that I didn't want to mess up Cohort 2's enthusiasm as long as we knew where everyone was and that they were safe. I would just make sure Brooke understood the situation when he returned with the birds.

Cohort 2 trained very well, although 509 may be relapsing with his independent side again; he spent more time on the runway than following Brooke in the trike. Brooke flew around with the remaining six birds for several minutes; those guys are really getting the hang of it! Angie and I tried to radio him to alert him to 520's location, but he thought we were talking about 509 back on the runway, so we gave up until he got back. On his last approach, 520 attempted to follow and flew down to the end of the runway, but she stopped as Brooke and the other birds came closer. I was glad that Brooke was finishing; 520 is a pretty good little flyer already, but she's probably not ready to fly with Cohort 2. She wouldn't have been able to keep up!

Once the birds were back on the ground, pilots Joe Duff and Chris Gullikson landed on the runway (they had been up at the North site training Cohort 1). Despite altercations between the young birds and the adult Whoopers, it was decided to let all of the birds out onto the runway and give the two cohorts about ten minutes of social time. I think that's the first time all year when I realized just how many birds we have. When I saw all 15 birds spill out of the pens and onto the grass, I was admittedly a little overwhelmed, and I began counting them all immediately (and we still have six more birds to add to the mix from Cohort #1 - WOW!). Talk about monster stimuli: there were also two adult Whooping Cranes, five costumed handlers and three trikes all on that runway. Many of the birds were very excited. Two of the birds rose to the top of the aggression and being-a-jerk level: Cohort 2's 514 and Cohort 3's 524. These two males were seen biting and chasing other birds, and when they encountered each other, they began to jump-rake. Jump-raking is an aggressive behavior where the cranes jump into the air vertically and then kick out their feet to pummel their opponent or potential predator with their sharp claws. Not having experienced this sensation first hand, other handlers who have had the pleasure insist it is quite painful. Then much to my personal delight, 512, who you may remember had missed out on his cohort's training session while he was stuck with the younger birds in their pen, took off and flew in a big circle, landing back on the runway with the group. I was glad that he was able to take off, stretch his wings and get a little exercise. Also, I was REALLY glad when no one else followed him! Also, meek and mild little girl 519 doesn't put up with any garbage from those adult Whoopers. She chased them repeatedly on the runway, as she often does.

After the ten minutes-or-so expired, we set about getting both groups back in their correct pens. The entire process took about fifteen minutes, but we eventually got the two groups sorted out and back with their normal gang. If there's one thing I learned from my first morning of training two cohorts separately at the same site, it's that things are not always as they seem.

Date:August 26th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:A scare with 505.

Notes: Well, once a week still seems to be as often as I can make myself do this. A lot has happened since last week. Staff have been coming and going. Brooke, Joe, and Robert have all joined us this week. Richard left and John took a short four-day break. Just like last week we have been able to train most days and the birds are doing well. I believe Chris (our fledgling pilot) wrote an update about his training this week and his first real flights with the chicks. It is real nice to see his enthusiasm and love for the birds. Chris is a good pilot and so far a natural in the costume with the birds.

The big chore of the week has been mowing and maintenance of the pens. I always say this is the most fun we get to have with the birds and it really is. This week I have been helping get the birds to their hiding place and then sneaking back to the pen to help. I have been weed-eating mainly. What would normally be a typical lawn care chore gets a little more complicated out in the marsh. Wading through calf-deep mud and waist-deep water is made especially fun with the cumbersome combustion-spinning-blade toy in hand. We are also always looking over our shoulders expecting the chicks to come flying back to the runway.

One funny thing for me this week was at west site where Cohort Two is. Getting the chicks to the hiding hole was refreshingly easy after the disaster we had last time. On my way back to the pen I signaled the mowers to come on in and then looked to see one of the adult birds right in front of the open gate. I could also hear it calling and looking into the pen. Then I heard the feeder knocking inside and knew that one of those lazy bums was in there gobbling down the food. Sure enough as I approached and ran off the male I found the female just gorging herself. Her back was to me and she had not noticed my arrival so I thought I would take the opportunity to run her out of the pen. We do NOT want our "wild" adult birds eating out of feeders. I went in and tried to make a big impression but after the initial startling she just looked at me. She acted like she was going to start eating again right in front of me so I ran her out of the pen. Anything for a free meal I guess... can't say I'm much different.

Today we had a scare after the mowing at the north site was finished. John, Angie, and I lead Cohort One back from the very nice marsh hiding spot. I had 505 with me the whole way and once we got to the runway I saw a goose feather and decided to get the birds playing with it. I picked it up with the puppet and let the wind have it. Sure enough 505 got excited and ran and jumped over as if to pounce on it (all too typical, really). It went bad as the bird came down and was hobbling and not putting weight on one leg. He was struggling real hard not to fall over and yet not put even the slightest weight on it as he landed. After a quick once over we got the other birds into the pen and sent John for backup and a crate just in case. Angie and I checked him over and he appeared to be putting more and more pressure on it. I went in and got the pen ready to be able to separate him from the rest of the birds and by the time I came back out he walked right into the pen with only a limp. We are giving him some pain killers but he appears to have just landed funny and tweaked something. We will keep a close eye on him, which is usually all we can do really.

Date:August 24th, 2005
Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity: First Flight

Notes: As the new pilot in training, I have had many first-time experiences since arriving here in June. The first time I put on the white crane costume, the first time visiting the new arrivals at the north site, the first time I taxi-trained the chicks behind the wingless ultralight, and the first time I had cranes fly with me in ground effect. These were all memorable experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime, but yesterday I got to experience the ultimate first, the one I have been dreaming about for years. I shared the air with six young Whooping Cranes on my wing. (See photo)

For the last week I have been flying behind Richard or Joe as they train the oldest cohort from the north site. This chase position gives me an excellent view of how the birds and ultralight interact with each other, and it also allows the cranes to get used to another trike being in the air with them. As the chase pilot, my job is to hang back and fly slightly higher than the lead trike and observe what is happening. When the lead pilot turns, I keep to the outside of the turn to discourage the cranes from taking a shortcut and trying to fly towards me. I am also there to pick up any birds that happen to leave the lead trike. It was inevitable that I would be flying with cranes soon...

Yesterday, Joe took off with 6 birds in tow and I pulled into the chase position while the cranes formed up beautifully on Joe's wing, 3 on each side and riding the wave of air generated from the wing. (See photo) We flew northeast into a slight headwind and headed out over a heavily wooded area. The birds were flying very well this morning in the chilly air and Joe was able to get them a couple hundred feet off the ground. Everything was going very well until we approached a highway north of Necedah. One bird broke off Joe's wing and decided to head back to the refuge. A couple other birds initially followed the first bird but then decided to stay with the trike.  They lost the benefit of the wing's vortex and were working hard to catch back up to Joe. These two birds then decided that they would head back to the refuge after all and again broke away from Joe's trike and flew back to the southwest. Joe gave me the go ahead to pick up the birds so I veered off to the south and was able to get a lone bird on my left wing quite quickly. This bird formed up on my wingtip quite nicely and we continued southwest to chase down the 2 birds who were flying together. Within a few minutes I was able to catch up to these two wayward birds and, as I passed them to their right, they eagerly joined up on my left wing.

Joe instructed me over the radio to turn them away from the pen and head back north, we don't need these birds to think they can go back home whenever they want to. I must admit I was not exactly sure which way north was at this point. I had 3 huge birds on my wing and I was too busy trying to figure out how fast I needed to fly to keep them comfortably on my wingtip. Too slow and they would begin to fly out ahead of me, too fast and they would be working too hard to stay with me. I sort of figured it out after a few minutes and was able to get re-oriented with my location. We were headed west and were already past the north site. I was beginning to feel somewhat comfortable flying with 3 birds when Joe called out over the radio to turn south and he would hand off his 3 birds to me. With a mixture of excitement and anxiety, I slowly turned south and Joe moved in on my left with his 3 birds, slowly pulling up even with me. I got to experience a perfect handoff as Joe pulled sharply up and over the top of me, while his 3 birds moved in to join up with me.

I now had 4 birds on my left, and one on my right, the 6th bird was nowhere to be seen. Oh wait, there he is, below and behind me to my left and working hard to keep up. The costumed helmet we wear really limits our peripheral vision making it difficult to see behind the trike. Joe instructed me to lead them back to the pen and I could see that they were starting to tire. They were loosing altitude and I had to compensate, dropping down and flying just 20 feet off the deck, maneuvering around the lone trees out on the wetlands of the Necedah Refuge. I could not see the north pen site from this altitude but I knew I was flying in the general direction and that I should be coming up to it soon. I cleared a line of trees and had the pen just to my southeast, although I was not lined up on the runway at all. I turned east to fly a pattern to land on the west runway. Joe informed me one bird left my wing and he moved in to pick it up. I swung around to the west and set up for a landing, my 5 birds still hanging with me. Wait, Joe's bird just broke off and was headed for the field, on a collision course with my trike! I powered up and popped up over the top of this bird, passing just a few feet over it's massive wings. I did a 180-degree circle 10 feet off the deck and set up for a landing back to the east, my 5 birds still on the wing. I touched down and rolled up to the pen, watching these magnificent birds gracefully step out of the sky on either side of my wing. 

I wanted to pump my fist in the air and give a shout of joy, but I don't think that would have gone over very well with the cranes and handlers. Instead I casually got out of the trike, grabbed my puppet head and spread out a few mealworms for the birds which they gladly ate. Joe landed with the bird which had cut me off and taxied up to the pen. Mark and Angie opened up the pen doors and we led the birds back into their pen for the day. Just another normal day of training for the others, but one that will always be a memorable day for me.

Date:August 24th, 2005
Reporter: Angie Maxted, DVM
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity: Mowing

Notes: With the recent rains here at Necedah, the grass has been growing rapidly on the runways and inside the bird pens at all of the sites. Yesterday afternoon the crew tackled the mowing job at Site East, where the youngest birds are housed. In order to get the job done we have to get the birds out of the area, then we can bring in the mowers and weed-eaters. Mark, Robert Doyle of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and I led the birds down the length of the runway (actually, most of them flew to the end of the runway after flying in circles for a bit), then we walked them through an area of high grass, over a small rise, and down to the edge of the water, out of sight of the pen site and the runway. We didn't have any problems getting the birds to follow us through the grass, but I was told that it was not as high as it had been in years past because the area had been burned recently as part of the habitat management cycle here on the refuge. Five of the birds hesitated for a bit at a downed, burned tree trunk, even though any one of them could have flown right over it. As their handlers got further away though, the birds figured it out and caught up with us. 

After getting the birds to the water, Mark went back to assist Joe and Chris with the mowing, and Robert and I set out to keep an eye on the 7 crane chicks for the better part of 2 hours. (see photos) We included the usual foraging and following practice, but for the most part allowed the birds to entertain themselves and each other. 524 took a nice long bath in the cool water, and one of the birds found the rear half of a dead mouse and had a great time throwing it around and playing with it. Two of the chicks engaged in some jump-and-flap play near Robert, and one of them actually bounced off of his chest with both feet. It's sometimes hard on this job to refrain from laughing out loud while in costume, but we somehow managed to hold to our vow of silence. 

After 2 hours, I got the message from Mark that the site was all clear and we could bring the birds back. Robert and I led them back the way we came but avoided the log that tripped them up on the way out. When we got back on the runway, the cranes kept stopping to forage on the insects that the mowers had stirred up. They also resisted going back into the pen, which they have been doing a lot lately. But we eventually got all the birds back in, and are now looking forward to repeating the process when we mow the other 2 sites either today or tomorrow.

Date:August 18th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: Rain, rain, rain... and it looks like it will continue tomorrow. It's OK, though, because we need every drop. No training this morning also meant some much-needed sleep for the whole crew. We have had a good run up until now, with this being the first day down in over two weeks. The birds have been progressing well with all this practice, of course.

The birds in Cohort One are all flying very well for twenty minutes at a whack. #505 in this group has been quite a pain the last few days, however. Starting about five days ago, he started not wanting to come out of the pen. That day he did go out easily once the plane was gone. This has continued each morning until yesterday, when he was a total nut-weed and refused to come near the door. The poor thing was terrified of me in my costume and of the
trike every time it would fly by the pen. I spent the training time trying to just make friends with him and slowly got up by the gate. Then, while the plane was just landing after a short flight with the others, I got him out the door. As soon as he was out the gate he acted perfectly normal and flew wonderfully with the trike. Afterward, when it was time to come back in, he came right in on his own and went straight back to the wet-pen like nothing ever happened. It beats me; we will just have to see what happens tomorrow. The adults have also been hanging out near the pen, but they cause little interference.

The youngest birds are pictured training with newbie Chris Gullikson in the trike. If you look closely, you can see that the adults are running right along with the chicks (see photo). The adults at this site are quite a nuisance. They stay in the way as much as possible throughout most of the training. Chris has been training Cohort Three for the last week or so
and both pilot and birds have been doing very well. Chris seems to pick it all up quite naturally. Now that the birds in this group are all flying, Richard van Heuvelen has taken over and Chris has been acting as the handler so we can train all three sites a little easier in the morning.

Cohort Two is doing much better and has overcome a major obstacle. We have been going into the pen, before the planes arrive, and leading all the birds into the dry-pen. This was to deal with the problems we were having with birds not coming out. For the last week, luckily, we have been able to just let them out as we would normally. These birds are flying well too; they just aren't all at the same level. Just yesterday, however, all eight birds came out of the pen well and had a good flight together with the trike. We have tried, and may need to continue trying, to train these birds in two separate groups. The birds are split about half and
half as far as flight ability goes.

Date:August 16th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Operation Migration Headquarters, Port Perry, ON
Activity:Flock location update

Considering that they fly 1,200 miles almost non-stop twice a year, the cranes certainly become sedentary during the off-season.  Dr. Richard Urbanek of the Tracking Team reports on the older cranes once a week and the location of each bird almost always begins with the words, "Remained on or near their territory". Of the 43 birds previously released into the wild, 30 are roosting on the Necedah Refuge regularly.

Below is a Chart developed by Operation Migration's office manager, Chris Danilko. 

WEEKLY TRACKING OF 2001-2004 BIRDS -42 birds in total 25 males, 17 females

Date: Week of Aug 7 - 13, 2005
 
Wisconsin Reintroduction Area-35 birds
101 202 Wisconsin
102 Wisconsin
105 204 Wisconsin
201 306 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
203 317 Wisconsin
205 Wisconsin -  observed w/318, 401, 407, 408
208 Wisconsin -  observed w/313 or w/401, 407, 408
209 302 Wisconsin
211 217 Wisconsin
212 Wisconsin -  challenged 205 & 208
213 218 Wisconsin -  observed w/sandhills
216 303 Wisconsin
301* 311 Wisconsin - wandering around
304 Wisconsin
307 Wisconsin - last seen Aug 4th w/402, 403, 412, 416 & 417
310 Wisconsin -  observed w/313
313 Wisconsin - observed w/208 or 310
318* Wisconsin - observed w/401, 407 & 408
401 407 408 Wisconsin - observed w/318
402 403 412 416 417 Wisconsin
Southeastern Wisconsin - 6 Birds
107 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
312 316 Wisconsin
415 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
419 420 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
New York -1 bird
309 Aug 11 & 12: reported Lewis County, New York
* retrieved from Michigan

Number 309, the last of the famous Michigan 8, (formally of Ontario, last know address: Vermont), has been spotted in Lewis County, NY. She appears to be using agriculture fields for foraging and is roosting nearby. The transmitter on this birds is not functioning and the Tacking Team are interested in collecting it for replacement and to return the bird to Necedah in an attempt to re-orient her before migration. This, however, is a large undertaking, the success of which is based on many factors, including the distance she will have to be transported. Her location was reported by a number of birders and has been posted, with exact directions, on a number of birding sites. The listing did, however, encourage caution and promoted good birding etiquette. There is no question that this bird is lost to the others and, in order to give her a good chance of passing on her genetic material, needs to be collected and returned to the main group. Also, the attention she seems to generate wherever she turns up is good reason to bring her home.   

The Tracking Team is also monitoring number 107, (this is the bird that moved to Horicon Marsh her first season back in Wisconsin and has summered Horicon Marsh ever since). Unfortunately, the Horicon Marsh area is suffering from a botulism outbreak and over 3,000 birds have died. Number 107 still appears to be healthy and, so far, is in an area that was not too badly hit - but the team is nervous. Plans are underway to move her back to Necedah. She has been there before so she knows the way. She may turn around a go right back, but it will be a good learning experience for us and her.

I am back in Ontario now and will be heading for Wisconsin next week. Mark sends me updates to keep me in the loop while I am busy trying to raise funds and I thought I would share this update with you. Each week the birds must receive medication prescribed by the Health Team. As Angie Maxted reported in an earlier update, this powder is stuffed into the body cavity of a smelt but some often sticks to the outside. It has a taste cranes don't like and they are soon wise to our ulterior motives. This problem piqued the interest of everyone involved and there has been an ongoing evolution of ideas. Mark sent me the latest with photos. The most amusing part is that they are perfectly serious:

"We have tried a new technique for getting the fish ready for meds.  Richard van Heuvelen took a frozen fish and drilled a hole into it.  As the photos show, it basically turned the insides of the fish into a horrible goo." - Mark Nipper

Date:August 16th, 2005
Reporter:John Thomton
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Waiting

Notes: There are many moments of fast-paced excitement here at Necedah: tracking wayward birds in the thick forest, watching birds take off following the trike on shaky new wings, giving each bird their medicated smelt while at the same time keeping the others away, etc.  All of these events require quick thinking and good reflexes, things that, thankfully, the team here possesses.

And then there are those times when the action is not so thrilling. Take this morning's training session, for example. The pilots, (Richard van Heuvelen and Chris Gullikson), decided to train the North site birds first, then the West site, and then the East. I arrived at the North site ready to release the birds as soon as the pilots arrived. However, when I got
there I quickly noticed the thick blanket of fog that was surrounding both the North and the West sites. With a sigh and a roll of the eyes, I put on my costume and headed for the runway, waiting to hear the sure-to-come postponement of the training session from the pilots over the walkie-talkie I was carrying. As soon as I reached the runway, the pilots announced that because the East site was clear, they were both going to stop and train there first, and then continue on to the other two when the fog had dissipated. This left Mark Nipper and Angie Maxted sitting at the West site with nothing to do but go back to sleep in the feed shed.  As for myself, I was left standing on the runway at the North site. I waited... I watched adults #101 and #202 forage their way by me on the edge of the runway (see photo)... I waited... And I waited some more... I heard some geese calling in the distance... More waiting... I stared down a mosquito hovering outside my visor... I bent down to give my tired lower back muscles a stretch... I saw a deer appear on the far end of the runway (see photo)... Still waiting... A Downy Woodpecker flew over... waiting, waiting, waiting... I fiddled with my helmet position in order to reduce the amount of fog inside the visor from my exhaling... I daydreamed about life, about what I would do if I had a little free time today, and I thought about a funny dream that I had last night... and, oh yeah, I was STILL WAITING!!!

Finally, after about an hour of standing on that runway, the fog finally cleared enough so that the birds could be led safely around the refuge through the air. The fog has really been a challenge to us lately. We'll wake up to a beautiful, calm morning, only to find the fog is
centered directly over our pen sites and runways once we have already arrived out there. It really isn't a big deal; it's just one of those little things that can feel like an annoyance sometimes. We could be done with AM training in half the time if it weren't for the fog. At least we can still have training, though, once the fog clears. I guess we all need times like that in our busy schedules where we can just stand there to think and observe our surroundings. Also, it sure makes the actual training part that much more exciting after standing around for an hour!

Note from Joe Duff: This is the first season for John and he is experiencing the frustration we have all felt. Just wait until we get him on migration.

Date:August 15th, 2005
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training Update
Notes: The last few days have been very busy. With the events of July 11th still in our heads, we were eager to train and get things back to normal, whatever that is. Friday, however, ended up a bust and we were only able to train at the south site, and even had to cut that short as the wind picked up.

Saturday was much better and we were able to train at all three sites. We decided to train at the west site first.  The usual take-off occurred with 508, 509 and 510 following the trike 'round and 'round the pen site while most of the other chicks flew from end to end of the runway. Number 516 following well but landed, once again, in the swamp at the end of the first circuit.

At the north site, number 505 was slow to come out of the pen so we took off with out it. After circling around to group the birds up on the wing, Mark got number 505 out and scared it into the air as the rest of us flew by. It joined in eagerly and all continued to fly with the trike as if Thursday had never happened. The chicks seemed slightly nervous when flying over the trees but still followed wherever the trike went.

At the south site all the chicks came out eagerly, flying into the wind, with most going beyond the end of the runway. A couple of them then circled back around with the trike. All in all, a good morning without too much stress and a minimum of exercise for the ground crew, (who all came back to camp hungry anyway).

Date:August 12th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Another view of 506's disappearance

Notes: Well, it has been a while since I sent an update in. Yesterday we had such a big day that it is going to take both Richard Van Heuvelen (RVH) and myself to talk about it. The weather was good except for a very low ceiling. John Thomton (JT) released Cohort One to RVH and everything was going great. They made a great flight all around the main pools of the refuge and then even out towards the highway. I believe that RVH told the story of the flight so I will pick up towards the end. Now we don't know exactly what happened, but this is what we think.

Around 0600 the birds were heading back to the refuge after being spooked by the traffic and they had to cross over the Ducks Unlimited (DU) wetlands. After this there is a set of woods between them and the Rynearson pools where our pens are. Well , poor little 506 just couldn't get the altitude and speed to keep up with the trike and went down in the woods. RVH told me that he was looking at the bird one second and the next it was just gone right as he should have been over the treetops. The potential for injury here is obviously quite high. It brought back images of birds from 2002 that hit trees in Sauk County, WI, during migration. They were all scratched up and a little cut up but fine for the most part. 

So as RVH was heading back to the North Site with the rest of the birds, Angie Maxted (AM) and I learned what was going on and headed out to see what could be seen. After some frantic driving, and circling from RVH in the air, we gave up all hopes that the bird would just be out in the open and easy to find. Of course you would be surprised how easy it is for a five foot tall bird to disappear, even in the open. Even when the birds are adults and are stark white they can be pretty sneaky. RVH let AM and I know where he had been flying so we went back to camp and got the capture gear: crate, first aid kit, and bull horn speaker for the vocalizer, waders, treats, binoculars, and GPS. We spent the next 45 minutes or so wandering around in the woods. JT stayed at the north site pen in the hopes that the bird might return. We gave up and all four of us regrouped at camp. RVH had analyzed his flight plan, we developed our search plan, and the four of us headed out to the woods. Unfortunately I didn't think of asking the tracking staff to help 'til we were already thoroughly wandering and mostly lost in the middle of the forest. We tried the best we could to line up and walk through like a real search party would, but when you are in costume and have no good way to communicate it is easy to lose each other. We regrouped several times but ended up separated and scattered all over. RVH and I eventually made it separately to the wetlands we were looking for while JT and AM found each other and brought the vehicles around. 

Well, what could have been a really cool and beautiful hike through some really great woods on the Necedah NWR, turned into an extremely grueling and fruitless march. We were all soaked and hurt in one way or another. The strap on the bull horn had come loose and ended up snapping the wire so we were in rough shape. After another quick pow-wow we split up to check on the other two cohorts and RVH headed back to the airport. On his way there, RVH discovered JT trying to get into the locked OM Blue Truck, since the Blazer he had been driving wouldn't start, and lay dormant near the Observation Tower where he had been scanning the area with binoculars. Thankfully, RVH directed JT to the spare key, and JT had a vehicle for the search once again. RVH then came back to search from the air despite the rain and rough winds that had set in. We were quickly losing hope as I wandered around the DU Unit with the jimmy-rigged bullhorn and RVH circled in the air. I was becoming sure that the bird had hit a tree and was injured and unable to respond somewhere on the forest floor and it would take a small army to find it. A further problem is that 506 has had respiratory trouble. This not only makes it a little weaker but has also affected its peeping ability. A good way to find a bird is to play your vocalizer and then turn it off to listen for the chick to answer. It was looking pretty bleak and the rain was only getting heavier. 

You can probably guess what I am leading up to. Suddenly RVH comes over the radio yelling that he has the bird in the air and it is heading right for the wing. I don't think I can repeat his exact words but he was definitely happy. The bird followed for a short distance then made its way over to another wetland on the refuge and landed. RVH pulled off a daredevil landing on a dike and joined the bird. I, being stranded in the middle of the wetland with no vehicle, began to call JT and AM make sure they were on their way to RVH and the bird. They arrived to discover the bird in perfect shape and mood. They got 506 in the crate and back to the pen. I had run most of the way over to where they were and was so tired I was hardly any help. So the happy ending is that bird was perfectly fine and remains so today after being lost for about six hours in the woods just South of the refuge headquarters... 

Where was the bird this whole time? Well, Bobbie Hjelmgren (one of the refuge staff) spotted 506 walking down Headquarters Rd (the main entrance to the refuge)! This was shortly before RVH flew over, so it must have gotten in the air from there. We think that the bird was in the woods and that we must have just missed it. It eventually found a lovely clearing with nice foraging along a road that we had driven back and forth on at least ten times and within ten minutes of RVH spotting it. We were all quite happy and celebrated by eating lunch and sleeping the rest of the day.

Date:August 11th, 2005
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:506 on the loose

Notes: Today began with overcast conditions, and rain in the forecast for later in the morning. Since we didn't train yesterday we decided to start as soon as possible. With a low ceiling, I approached the north site anticipating a long morning as there was only one pilot to train birds at all three sites. John got there at the same time and went about stuffing the Swamp Monster (a camo tarp) under his costume. This was a ridiculous, humorous and somewhat troubling sight in the gray morning.

The chicks were released but number 505 would not come out. So, waiting patiently as John finally coaxed him out, we were able to take off. And what a great way to start the day - all the chicks flew away with the aircraft in perfect formation: three on one wing and three on the other, all riding the wake of the wing within a few minutes of take off. This was too easy! Off we went, and I had a tune in my head: "The Piano Man." The chicks, God knows, were diggin' this flight!

Three days previous, on August 8th, when we took off, number 505 would not leave until scared off by the Swamp Monster  and, after a few minutes, number 506 joined 505 and the two of them went back to the pen. After training the other four birds, and getting them back into the pen, we decided to have another go with 505 and 506. This time I managed to get them to go and we flew over to Williams Field, (a plot of land that Harold Carter of the Necedah refuge had generously mowed and rolled flat for us) where the chicks were fed smelt and grapes. You would think they were royalty the way they expected these treats. After their small feast we flew out over Rynearson Pool 2 at which time number 506 decided to go back to the pen. While I lead them back, number 506 landed but 505 wanted to keep going, so off we went with number 505 struggling to get on the wing. After a few minutes, 505 got the hang of it and we went on a tour of the refuge. On the way back to the pen 505 suddenly went down and, to my amazement, landed next to one of the previous years' adults. A very concerned pilot made a quick turn and flew by the confused chick at which time the adult attacked the chick, and the chick flew up and got on the wing as if nothing had happened. A deeply relieved pilot, and I'm sure chick, made there way back to the pen.

The following day, all six chicks took off simultaneously and followed the trike for about fifteen minutes. 505 and 506 struggled at first but eventually found their place in the line-up. All-in-all, a good morning.

So you can see my high expectations for today, flying at about three hundred feet, I figured we could fly about ten minutes into the wind and have an easy flight back.  I was in the middle of a pilot's worst scenario - pilot complacency.  Suddenly we were over the highway, (which the chicks had never seen before), and we were all very nervous. We made a left turn to go back, but, as we were going back over the highway, the chicks scattered. I managed to get four of them on the wing but the other two went low. Flying the trike down, I attempted to pick them up, but they would have none of it. Already flying at tree-top level, there was no room to get lower. Veering around a pine tree sticking out of the forest, I looked back and could only see one chick. Looking around, I finally saw the other four still up high, but no sight of the sixth one. We headed back with four on the wing and one down low, and an idea of where to look for the lost bird later. Five in the hand is better than one in the bush.

We struggled back with the lone bird still low, just over the water, weaving around obstacles, the other four still on the wing. As we neared the pen, it was looking like we would have to find two chicks. After landing with the four and getting out of the trike to put them in the pen, we were relieved to look up and see that 505 had arrived, breathing hard, but he had made it. So, with John's help, we put the five birds away.

Heading back to find 506, I contacted Mark and Angie who were waiting patiently at the west site. They would search on the ground as I looked from the air. With much frustration and weaving back and fourth over the area where the chick had last been seen, we found nothing. After two hours of flying we decided to fly a track were I had flown the first time to establish a new track on my GPS unit, the first one had to be criss-crossed to be of any use. I would land, put the trike away, get together with the ground crew and do a ground search. The plan was to spread out in a scrimmage line and back-track using the GPS. It sounded like an excellent plan! It was not to be. We spent another two hours hiking through the woods and swamp, Mark ending up on Headquarters Road with a broken loud haler, John and Angie lost, and ended up back at the Annex Building. Heading back to join the crew and rethink this, while checking out the odd clearing, it was looking a little grim for 506's future. John went to the pen to see if had flown back. It had not. Angie went to the  Ducks Unlimited (DU) area of the refuge  to see what she could find, and Mark was still in the woods. 

Meeting up with the crew, we decided to drive out on the DU dike.  When we did not see the bird, it was decided to leave Mark out there in costume with the hastily repaired loud haler. We hoped the bird would hear it and come to him. Meanwhile, I would get airborne again and have another look.  On the way to the airport it began to rain. It wasn't that hard, I convinced myself on take-off. Flying over the area in a pattern back and forth, still not seeing anything, with bad weather closing in, things were not looking good. I extended the pattern across Headquarters Road and over Suk-Cerney Pool, then back again. And it was there that, to my great surprise, I saw number 506 trying to catch up to the trike! I announced this excitedly over the radio to the ground crew.  But 506 gave up and turned away, probably just as frustrated as we are. Turning the trike in hot pursuit, I attempted to take the lead. 506 landed on the Suk-Cerney dike. I told the ground crew over the radio were it was. Only Mark heard me because the other radio is dead, but he was in the middle of the DU area without a vehicle so he called Angie on the phone to let her know were to go. Meanwhile, number 506 was nervous and wanting to go back in the brush so I landed the trike on the dike.  506 flew to the trike, but was a little stand-off-ish. Angie arrived and we lead it down the dike to put it in a crate.  Angie, John, and Mark drove it back to the pen.  I headed off down the dike to the trike and took off in the rain.  On the way back from the airport, I received a call from the crew that 506 is fine and not injured. It is now one o'clock, (506 did his unscheduled landing just after six thirty). To give credit where credit is due, upon arriving at the Annex I found the crew in a great mood, though hungry, even after seven hours of non-stop searching.

Date:August 10th, 2005
Reporter: Mark Nipper, Angie Maxted, D.V.M., and John Thomton
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Chick update

Notes: This morning's training session was canceled due to windy and rainy weather. However, I can't say that I heard one person complain about it; occasionally, it feels really good to go back to bed at 5:30 AM and sleep until 8:00! I'm sure the cranes think so, too. 

Because of the rain, we had to go out mid-morning to check on the chicks and to change the food that had gotten wet in the storm. John went out to the East site where the third cohort of birds is living. He found the birds all in good spirits, and they ran right up to him and began pecking at his costume. John noted the chronic deep peep that #523 has had since he was a small chick. Also, he noted #526 act aggressively towards #520. This behavior is normal in every cohort as the cranes work out who is the most dominant among them. Otherwise, all seemed perfectly normal at the East site. 

Mark and Angie went out to the West and North sites. #516 at the West site has had a possible foot injury for the last few days. He has had a pain killer (Piroxicam) prescribed to improve his comfort. He took his medicine readily and without incident. #505 in the North site was very cute, coming up to the handlers and seeking attention. #506 sounded very good; this bird has had periodic respiratory issues since he arrived at Necedah. His normal-sounding peep was very encouraging today.

We've had to say good-bye to a lot of good folks today. Brooke Pennypacker went home to Virginia for a couple of weeks. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Charlie Shafer had to return to Maryland today, as did Dan Sprague, (Dan was here at Necedah for one night to bring a lot of crane food from Patuxent). Also, Tim, one of the interns from the tracking team, had to head back to his native South Carolina this morning. We'll all miss his southern charm and cooking! We can't think of a bigger South Carolina cheerleader! Man, he loves that place!!

Date:August 8th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Introductions to the 2005 migration crew

Notes: Working with Whooping cranes in the field at Necedah is more of a calling than a job and it is not so much the efficiency with which the OM team tackles the hard work and long hours as their attitude. If extra effort will benefit a bird, or lessen the chance of injury, then it is undertaken without question. If the crew needs to be up at 4:30 in the morning for early training, they begin to gather in the dark at 20 minutes to four. Four hours in full costume in sweltering heat is normal activity and no one complains. If the welfare of the birds depends on low flying over rough terrain in frigid temperatures, there is no need to draw straws. But ask them to write and update for the website and all you will get are good intentions. After daily training there are always stories and we are eager to exchange them as we drive back to the camp, but taking the time to record them on the computer and hit the send button somehow slows the process to a trickle. This year, however, they have agreed to make an effort and the results have brought accolades from many of you. 

You may have noticed the many names now listed as reporters of the field updates and I thought I should introduce them. We are too small an organization with too little funding to pay staff year-round, and each season I pray we can convince the crew to return and work with us again. It works to our advantage that migration becomes as instinctive in our field team as it is in the birds and I guess it is this excitement that brings them back. It is obviously not the money. 

Richard Van Heuvelen
I have known Richard Van Heuvelen for over 15 years. He has worked with Bill Lishman since leaving school and learned to mould and form solid metal the way you and I would shape silly putty. He is a master sculptor in his own right with an impressive portfolio. I have learned over the years that if it is broken he can fix it and if it doesn't exist he can create it. During Bill Lishman's early years he taught himself to fly hang gliders and that inevitably resulted in a lot of repairs to delicate wings. Up until we began to fly trikes, Richard thought flying was foolhardy and avoided it at all cost. Once he realized that modern ultralights are safe and reliable, he took to the air with the rest of us. Richard has participated in every migration from the very beginning, first as master mechanic and later as head of the ground crew. He became an experienced trike pilot and was available to fill in when one of us was sick. There is perfection in everything Richard does and in 2002 we asked him to become a lead pilot. Richard has a working knowledge of every aspect of this study and a great understanding of birds and how they behave. Without him we would be lost. 

Brooke Pennypacker 
Brooke Pennypacker has a colourful history and once built a raft to drift down the Mississippi while reading Huckleberry Finn. He is also a skilled diver and worked on the oil rigs off the coast of Scotland. He lived underwater in a diving chamber for weeks at a time breathing helium until the squeaky voices began to sound normal. Brooke has an easy humor and tells captivating stories that teach us more about his history with every tale. He has worked as a prospector, a fire fighter, and an aircraft salvage technician. He had something to do with hydro electric generators and dams and owned a boat in the Caribbean until the hurricanes last year. He works with Environmental Studies at Airlie in Virginia when he is not with us. He joined us in 2003 after learning to fly with birds while teaching Trumpeter Swans to migrate. Brooke has an easy charm and a long list of nicknames that speaks of his likeable nature. He starts every morning with a list of jobs he wants to accomplish and when he disappears for hours at a time you find projects completed that you were just beginning to contemplate. 

Mark Nipper 
This is Mark Nipper's fourth season with OM. He began as an intern making $15 per day plus his room and board. Over the years we watched him evolve from awkward adolescent to a confident adult. A well rounded training team consists of pilots experienced in our teaching methods and aviculturists able to spot health concerns early. Mark has had the benefit of all the talents that exist at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation and has become an expert bird handler. He has also been involved in the training from the beginning and knows the protocol as well as any of us. Mark's season begins at Patuxent before the chicks are hatched and he works with them daily. He follows the last cohort to Necedah in early July and spends his summer as Supervisor of Field Operations. He is responsible for the birds and their welfare until the migration is complete and they are safely in Florida. Mark then joins the winter monitoring team and assists the tracking team until it is time to hatch a new generation of chicks. All tallied, he spends more time with the birds than anyone. Mark's good nature, quick humor and charm make him welcome at the facilities of all of our partners. 

Chris Gullikson 
Chris is our new pilot this season. When he met us last year on the migration he expressed interest in flying with us and I spent considerable time trying to dissuade him. I warned him about the long hours and tight accommodations and told him that once we had trained him we would want him back year after year. But he didn't listen and we are very glad of it. Chris is an experienced trike instructor but is not above taking lessons from us. Some people have a natural way with birds. They instinctively know when to crouch to appear less intimidating or when to stand tall. They somehow understand how to read a bird's intentions, anticipate its fears or predict its behavior. Chris has that talent and already he moves around the pen like a practiced handler. He has yet to fly with birds but we are sure he will take it in stride. I expected he would be of great use to us next season but I may have underestimated his adaptability. He is also an experienced electronics technician and runs storm watch tours on the side so he has become our weather consultant. 

Angie Maxted, DVM
Angie Maxted, DVM, is a full fledged veterinarian but she has ambitions to further her education and eventually get involved in research. Each year we hire two interns to help with the training and care of the birds but we never expected to be paying subsistence wages to a certified vet. Knowing we have the best care available right on staff adds greatly to the team's confidence and Angie's warm smile and easy temperament adds to the camaraderie. 

John Thomton
John Thomton is our other intern and he joined the team when the birds were still at Patuxent. He is only a few miles from his home town of Chicago and a great addition to the crew. His has a gentle manner and is quietly eager to help at any task. John is the first to step in and before you know it, the job is accomplished. He has a true appreciation for the birds and always has their welfare in mind. On top of all that, he's a pretty good cook. 

Robert Doyle
Robert Doyle works for the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland but spent most of the summer with us in Necedah. There is hardly a moment when Robert is not smiling and never a time when he is in a bad mood. He was born in Papua, New Guinea, and ran a plantation before coming to America to work with birds. By far the most fun you can have in camp is watching Robert relate a funny story. He laughs so hard in the process he can hardly get the punch line out. He has us all in stitches and we haven't a clue what he is talking about. 

Charlie Shaffer
Charlie Shaffer is also from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and joined us a few weeks ago. He will also spend time with us during the migration. Charlie is one of those quiet, unassuming guys that allows you to prattle on about something you know little about until you realize that, by comparison, he is an expert on the subject. He is efficient, congenial and always in a pleasant mood. 

If you tired to describe our team in one sentence the result would be a long list of disjointed superlatives beginning with eclectic. We have among us a deep sea diver and professional photographer, metal sculptors and storm chaser; we have a veterinarian and a plantation farmer. There are Canadians, Australians, Russians and Americans from every corner of the United States but they're all here for one reason.

Date:August 6th, 2005
Reporter: John Thomton
Location: Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Frustration during training turns to progress.

Notes: It's been an interesting few days here in central Wisconsin! I have been primarily working at the West site (eight birds) during the morning training sessions, and boy are they keeping us on our toes. While it's wonderful when the birds truly begin to take off and follow the trike through the air, it's also pretty nerve-racking as you watch them land WAY far off in the marsh.

Yesterday morning (8/5/05) was a perfect example of the potential mayhem. I was on the ground with the chicks along with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Charlie Shafer; pilot Brooke Pennypacker was our trainer for the morning. Brooke decided that he was going to take off from the ground and see how many of the chicks would follow him for a few laps around the general vicinity of the pen and runway. Well, almost as soon as the birds were released from the pen, all resemblance to an organized and cohesive training session quickly disintegrated.

First off, number 516 hesitated coming out of the pen, so Charlie and I left the doors open a few seconds longer than normal to wait for him. Meanwhile, Brooke took off from the runway, with only four birds following him, as the other three were distracted by the costumed handlers and the open doors. So Brooke had four new, shaky flyers doing their best to keep up, while we had four excited birds still hanging out by the pen doors on the ground. The next two or three minutes were very confusing for Charlie and I. We could hear various peeps and movements from the chicks who were still around, but we couldn't see any of them through the peepholes or the camouflaged viewing tube, because there was too much dew and condensation. At the same time, we could hear Brooke flying all around us and over the pen. He already had less than the four birds he took off with. Then one of the birds came in flying low right over the pen from a direction not near to Brooke's location, adding to the confusion. He or she actually almost landed on the top-netting of the pen, but decided at the last minute that it was a bad idea and proceeded to the runway. Was this one of the four who stayed behind, or one of the birds that had followed Brooke? Those eight birds could have been anywhere! 

When Brooke landed and the dust settled, and we were finally able to see out of the viewing tube, Charlie and I could see that only three birds were standing near Brooke and the trike on the runway. The other five birds were nowhere to be found. None were in their usual favorite spot: the marsh on the south side of the pen. After a few minutes, the wayward chicks began to appear in the distance one by one and from all different directions. They were slowly walking back towards the runway in response to the recorded Whooping Crane brooding call that was broadcasting from the trike. When Brooke had all eight birds with him (it took at least twenty minutes to achieve this!), he tried to taxi all eight birds back towards the pen down the runway, but the birds got excited and some of them scattered again.

After Brooke, Charlie and I got the faithful six birds back into the pen, we then set out to find the two that were missing out in the marsh somewhere. Brooke took off in his trike to see if he could get a visual on the at-large Whoopers. He quickly found one stuck on the other side of a water ditch, confused by how to get back to the runway. He sent me over, where I discovered that it was  number 512. This bird has been a handful on occasion, and he's also one of the more aggressive and dominant members of the cohort. I stood on the opposite bank of the ditch and motioned for the chick to follow, but he wouldn't come! There were two adult Whooping Cranes about forty yards to my right on my side of the water, which may have had something to do with it. Still, I couldn't figure out why he refused to walk across the shallow water to my side; this bird practically lives in the wet side of his pen! Eventually, I had to wade over myself, flooding my boots and soaking my pants and costume, where I tried to coax him and then to physically coerce his movements into the water, which was still no good. He didn't even take any of the yummy grapes I offered as motivation for crossing the ditch. Finally, Brooke landed his trike and came over to our side of the water, and we proceeded to walk the long way around because this bird apparently didn't want his feet wet! I guess Whooping Cranes have their diva moments too.

While all of this was happening, Charlie managed to retrieve number 516, by far the youngest and most timid member of the cohort, from a marsh in the opposite direction of the runway with the help of Richard VanHeuvelen and his trike doing circles around this bird's location. Charlie then came to help us when he was finished getting 516 back in the pen. As the three of us approached the pen with 512, the bird noticed Brooke's trike parked WAY down on the other side of the runway and took off flying towards it. You could almost hear the collective "AAAHHHH!!!" that screamed in all of our heads at that moment. Finally, Brooke walked down there and taxied the trike back over to the pen. The bird followed it and the episode was finally over (incidentally, the whole process of retrieving the two birds from start to finish took about an hour!).

Did everybody get all that? I usually try to keep my updates a little more brief. This time, though, I wanted to give you all a glimpse into the play-by-play action of an exceptionally long, confusing and frustrating - yet at the same time fun and exciting - training session. The birds are certainly learning; we can't expect them to get it perfectly on their first try! Today's session with the same cohort went much more smoothly, all of the birds staying on or really near the runway when they weren't flying. We did have to retrieve 510, a timid female, from a pool right by the runway, but she came out easily and quickly when the handlers found her. All I have to say is that there's something very satisfying about progress! 

Date:August 5th, 2005
Reporter:Angie Maxted, DVM
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Medication day

Notes: All of the ultralight chicks are medicated each Friday while they are at Necedah with a dewormer for control of parasitic infections. The deworming medications are rotated each week, so the birds get Panacur (fenbendazole) one week and Ivomec (ivermectin) the next. Ivomec comes in a liquid form, so we are able to inject the medication directly into
smelt which the birds gobble up with no problem. Pancur comes in powder form, which is a little more challenging to deliver to the chicks, especially because it tastes terrible. In the past, we have taken smelt, gutted them to provide a cavity in which to put the powder, then tried ever-so-carefully to pour the powder into the fish without getting any on the outside of the fish or spilling the powder all over. Even then, we couldn't help but wasting some of the medication and had the additional problem that the birds wouldn't always want to eat the fish covered in some nasty medication.

We think we have the problem solved now though. Dr. Barry Hartup of the International Crane Foundation provided the crew with gelatin capsules to pour the Panacur powder into, and then we were able to stuff the capsules directly into the fish. No medication on the outside of the fish to cause taste aversion, and we are more confident now that the birds are getting their full dose of Panacur. It takes a little more time for the crew to prepare the medication this way, but it's time well spent.

Date:August 1st, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: It was cool and calm this morning as we headed out to train at all three sites. John and I went to the north site, Charlie and Angie went to the west site, and our new pilot Chris went with Joe to train our youngest group at the south site.

At the west site Richard van Heuvelen flew in and all the birds but 516 came out right away. After the trike went away with the rest of the birds, 516 was coerced out onto the runway and he joined them. This is standard procedure when a bird won't come out right away. 508 was flying on the wing of the trike while 509 flew straight into the marsh as usual. The other birds were flying in ground-effect for the length of the runway. Shortly thereafter, 516 clambered over the fence and headed for the marsh, where he buggered around 'til training was over and he followed the costumes back out easily. 514 was all fired up and aggressive to pretty much everyone. 

516 had trouble going through the gate because numbers 512 and 514 (the bullies) were right there pounding on everyone else.

At the north site, Brooke flew in and all the birds came out in a shot. All six took off with the plane, but 505 came back pretty soon. The other five birds flew for about 17 minutes. Adult birds, numbers 101 and 202, were present on the runway for the whole time (see photo). John watched 505 like a hawk from inside the pen to make sure that he didn't get into any trouble (see photo). After the flight was over we got everyone but 505 back in the pen. We kept him out to get some more training time. He flew on the wing for the length of the runway but peeled off quickly as Brooke climbed and turned.

The bird follows well and has a good attitude; it just needs some more time to develop. 502 may be the best flyer in this group and has always been a very cute bird (see photo). This a good bunch of birds in general.

Date:July 31st, 2005
Reporter: John Thomton
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Number 509 ruffles feathers

Notes:  We've finally had some good rain over the last week here at central Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife Refuge! The water levels have rebounded in the refuge's many ponds and marshes, the frogs have begun calling again, and (unfortunately) the mosquitoes seem to have regrouped and re-organized. The crane chicks also seem to enjoy the extra water in their wet pens.

In fact, sometimes it's darn-near impossible to get those little guys out of the wet pen for training. This has especially been a problem at the west site, which you may remember is home to our second cohort: numbers 508(female), 509(male), 510(female), 511(male), 512(male), 514(male), 515(female), and 516(male). When these birds were first introduced to the wet pen a few weeks ago, they became a very difficult bunch to train each morning. Almost nothing would get 509 out of the wet pen. Arm flapping, yummy treats, battery-powered vocalizers - all were tried to entice the bird to come up for training. Occasionally, other birds would catch his influence as well, especially 510 (she and 509 have been training and walking buddies ever since they were little chicks). After he finally would come up to the dry pen, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Robert Doyle had to dangle a smelt right in front of his face and physically influence his movements to get 509 out on the runway for training.

I'm now happy to report that 509 has been coming out of the wet pen and onto the runway without any hassles. However, he's presenting us with a new set of challenges. His bad-habit-of-the-week is to fly off the runway and into the non-enclosed marsh area to forage, often ignoring handlers and trikes alike. Yesterday morning (7/30/05) for example, it was too windy for the trike to fly into the site. So, Angie Maxted, Patuxent's Charlie Shafer, and myself were given the task to let the birds out onto the runway so they could get some exercise. Almost immediately, 508 and 509 (currently, the group's two best flyers ) took off and easily cleared the short fence bordering the runway to land about 50 yards away in a fun, marshy area. Angie and I decided to walk the chicks down the runway and out of sight, while Charlie remained to keep and eye on the two wayward birds. Apparently Angie and I weren't interesting enough, because after awhile numbers 510, 511, and 512 flew off to join their cohort-mates in the marsh. Then there was poor 514. He kept looking at the distant group and running along the fence, back and forth, flapping his wings, trying to get over there. He couldn't get any liftoff, however, and remained on the runway. He reminded me of the kid in high school who wanted to hang out with the cool kids, but didn't yet have his drivers license. Finally, Angie and I were able to get the birds remaining on the runway back into the pen, and were then able to help Charlie bring the marsh birds back one by one. 

509 was then, and still is, a very independent bird. He's a little bit of an outsider in the group, but whenever anyone challenges him, he's quick to put the challenger in his place. He's also good at ignoring the handlers when he wants. When I see his behavior, I'm reminded of that tough-as-nails "rebel without a cause" 1950's high school kid stereotype: wearing a leather jacket, smoking cigarettes, drag racing towards deadly cliffs, etc. It's a challenge that the handlers here have to contend with, but it makes each day that much more exciting. I'm always wondering what 509 will do tomorrow! 

Date:July 27th,2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Maintenance

Notes: One of our standard chores here at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is to mow the runways. I know I have talked about this before as being one of the more enjoyable things we get to do with the birds, but sometimes it is also one of the more stressful and exhausting jobs. Last Friday and Saturday it proved to be both.

Sites Two and Four were both in serious need of grooming and maintenance to the pen itself. We decided to try and get both done on Friday. The only problem was that we also had to medicate the birds, as John spoke of in his update. This is, of course, higher priority and ended up taking the whole morning. By the time we got out to Site Two to mow, it had gotten quite warm and the birds didn't want anything to do with a long hike. Needless to say, the typical crane rodeo ensued and it took us over an hour to get all eight birds only a couple hundred yards to a secluded pool. Several had gotten very hot, stressed, and scared by the end of it. Luckily, there are several little potholes on the way to our little hiding place. The birds always see these and go right for the water. This time we used them as little stops along the walk. I would get a bird to the pool and leave it for Angie while I went back in search for the next bunch. Angie would then get the bird over to John at the finish line. Finally, after about seven trips and help from the rest of the crew that had been waiting for the "OK" to come in with the mowers, we were ready to actually start.

The birds were all very hot and literally jumped in the water and started bathing to cool down and clean up (see photos). One bird came right over to me and bulldozed through the water . They seem to either like bathing and preening right by us or seek out a little privacy (see photos). Sometimes if you walk away from them while bathing they will stop and move over by you to continue. I have also had them just continue bathing while moving towards me. This is when I use the term "bulldozing" and it is pretty hilarious. It usually isn't too bad standing there with the birds. If I keep myself moving and active then the birds stay interested and I can keep from passing out. This time, however, we were all already exhausted and overheated long before we even got there. Luckily, the mowing went smoothly and we got the birds back and quickly decided not to mow Site Four that day.

Saturday we were unable to train so we jumped right into maintenance. This time it went without a hitch and we were done in no time. The only problem was that I got lost at the very beginning because it was my first time going back there this year and it all looks very different. This meant that I had John, Charlie, and the birds following me while I was just wandering around trying to figure out where the path was that I had walked right past. Luckily, John knew what was going on and got us going in the right direction.

Date:July 25th, 2005
Reporter: John Thomton
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Maintaining a healthy flock.

Notes: Whooping Cranes get bugs, literally. Unfortunately, potentially damaging parasites are quite common here at Necedah and many other places. These can include tapeworms, which can cause digestive distress, gapeworms, which settle in the throat and cause coughing and wheezing, ticks, which could spread disease and irritating sores, and a host of other tiny problem critters. These parasites often wreak the most havoc on the young birds in any wild population, because their immune systems are immature. That's why it is our job every Friday to give the colts deworming medicines. We alternate between two different types of deworming medications each week. These beneficial drugs help the young cranes to expel parasites from their systems, and to prevent new infestations. The first of the two medicines is a powdery substance, while the second is a viscous liquid. Each bird has a carefully measured dose that is injected or plunged into a few smelt (one of their favorite treats), the fish are then placed in plastic baggies with the respective bird's number written on it. This is a slow and delicate process and can take up to two hours with four people working to prepare the meds for all 26 birds (Direct Autumn Release birds included)!

Next comes my favorite part: feeding the medicated fish to the cranes! It takes at least two handlers to do it properly. One of the handlers takes the individual baggies and puts them in his or her front pocket of the costume. This person actually gives the fish out to the birds, and typically grabs the smelt (one at a time) with the puppet mouth from the baggie while it is still in the front pocket so that the chicks don't see the plastic bag. Because each bird gets a measured amount of medicine, it is very important that the bird eats all of the smelt in its baggie. With smelt being so popular among the birds, at least some of the others try to steal it from the puppet's mouth before it arrives in the mouth of the intended chick. That's why a second handler is necessary, to literally (but very gently) block the other birds away from the bird being fed until it swallows all the smelt in its bag.

Most of the time, the smelt-feeding process goes rather smoothly. There are a few birds on which we have to keep an eye, however. Number 502 has a habit in which she always has to wash off whatever she's found or been given to eat. This is perfectly fine behavior for a Whooping Crane, but it's not very helpful when she's washing off beneficial and expensive medications in the process! When she is given her smelt, it is the handlers' responsibility to make sure she doesn't reach a water source until she has swallowed all of it. Then there are the few who enjoy playing with their food, and toss their smelt and wave it around for a few moments before they eat it, enticing the other birds to grab for it. Number 507 does this quite often, and has been known to play with her food in the water, as well.

Safeguarding the health of these young cranes is an exciting and fun part of being a handler. It is great to know that the birds will be healthier as a result of our efforts, and it is a fun way to see the different personalities and preferences of each member of the new brood. Our hands, no matter how much we wash them, smell like smelt for days. But it's all worth it!! 

Date:July 22nd, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Talking to the Animals / 418

Notes: Raised in isolation, our Whooping crane chicks are only aware of us in our costumed form. Armed with a puppet and a vocalizer to broadcast the brood call, we are large guardians that provide food and lead them on daily adventures, constantly purring a mechanical yet familiar and reassuring song. When we enter the pen they greet us in turn, some subservient in a head-down posture while others aggressively stand tall in callow defiance. Whooping cranes have a vocabulary of over 50 messages they communicate to us and their flock-mates by displays, posture, behavior or calls. This vernacular is instinctive and becomes more complex with age. Our chicks have yet to develop adult voices but there is also meaning in their plaintive peeps used to beg our attention. Despite the intentional similarity of our costumes, they begin to recognize individual handlers by their manner and appearance. Using a new, and therefore clean, puppet will solicit agonistic outbursts from the more bold and often a handler will have to retreat to avoid a full blown confrontation. Our ability to comprehend the subtleties of their language and to act with the appropriate response, means we can almost communicate with them as another bird. 

This is also true when we interact with the older birds that join us each day to help train the chicks. Each approach and the posture we assume will encourage a predicable reaction. During the last few seasons, when our experienced birds returned to the vicinity of the pens, they claim the area as their summer territory. We have spent hours chasing them off so we can use the runways for training or to avoid aggression that may result in injury to our chicks. This year there seems to have been a change in their acceptance of us. Maybe it's because they are reaching breeding age but they seem more nurturing and less antagonistic. Today at the East site we trained the youngest birds by taxiing up and down the runway. Number 217 joined the session and ran behind the aircraft with her wing held out like bigger versions of the flightless appendages that still encumber the chicks. There were no displays of aggression unless we came too close and even then she would only drop a wing as a subtle warning. She followed the aircraft around like a puppy and stopped just short of entering the pen when we led the chicks back inside. Maybe their impending sexual maturity has amplified their maternal instinct or maybe they are practicing for when they have a chick of their own. Whatever the cause, our job is much easier but if we arrive next season to see these new parents running down the runway trying to sound like an ultralight engine we will have bigger concerns to address. 

Over the course of a training season you can't help but form attachments to individual birds. Despite their monomorphic appearance they each have their own personality. Number 418 was a favorite for many people whether they were part of the team or followed our progress in these updates. This independent bird lost many of its flight feathers last year to an unknown cause. It left him flightless and although we tried to maintain his training he was not able to keep up and soon lot interest in the aircraft. Although his feathers were beginning to rejuvenate he was removed from the ultralight study. By prearrangement with the Whooping Crane Recovery Team he was kept in the pen well after our departure. By November his primary feathers had grown back but a few were white rather than the usual black. He was released with the older, experienced birds and eventually followed them south. He stayed longer than most at the half-way point in Hiwassee, Tennessee but on January 3rd flew right over the Florida release pen and wintered in Pasco County a few miles to the south. His departure this spring was also delayed but he arrived safely back in Wisconsin and was monitored by the Tracking Team. 

Unfortunately his body was recently found by Lara Fondow. Apparently the victim of a power line collision, the bird was located in tall corn by one of his most ardent fans. All of us grieve the loss of any of our birds but Lara had a special attachment that comes from constantly checking on his whereabouts and well being. Like looking up an old friend to say "hi," over time an alliance forms despite your best efforts to remain aloof. Number 418 was a pioneer for the supplemental release program that begins this year. These trail blazing qualities, his independent nature and the unusual white primary feathers made him unique. Our sympathies are extended to the whole team but particularly to Lara who had to report the news. 

Date:July 21st, 2005
Reporter:Angie Maxted 
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training at Site Two

Notes: This morning John Thomton and I joined Joe Duff for training at Site Two, where birds 508, 509, 510, 511, 512, 514, 515, and 516 are living. Charlie Schafer and Mark Nipper joined Brooke Pennypacker at Site Four to train the older birds. The session started out on a good note when John and I opened the pen doors and all eight birds came walking out to meet the trike. 509 had been giving us grief by acting aloof and not wanting to come out of the pen without some extra "encouragement" (usually in the form of smelt dangled in front of his face or a gentle nudge from behind to get him going in the right direction), but this morning he was much more eager to train and came out of the pen on his own. All the birds followed the trike well, and one of the birds even got off the ground for about 50-60 feet. However, it was difficult to determine exactly which bird flew because all of the chicks' uniquely colored and numbered leg bands are now exactly the same color...caked-on mud. At least this tells us that we still have enough water in the wet pens here to make mud, but we keep hoping for some rain to keep them from turning to dust altogether. 

We have two birds at Site Two (#508 and 514) that are recovering from toe injuries, both of which trained today without any difficulty or the slightest indication of a limp. They are well on their way to recovery. 

The birds at this site are still trying to sort out their dominance hierarchy, and today we witnessed lots of squabbling among the chicks over mealworms. Number 512 seems to be the most dominant and aggressive bird of this group, and he will chase and peck any bird that dares get near him. 511 and 514 seemed to be his main targets today. 511 in turn picked on 514, and even 515 joined in pecking at some of the other birds. 

After training at Site Two, Joe jetted over to Site One to do some ground training with the youngest group, and, like always, the little guys and gals were great. The adult crane, number 218, was there again this morning, wanting to join the chicks in their training. 

Date:July 19th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Cohort Three settles in.

Notes: Well, I have been in town since Saturday and think I may be settled in. So far it seems hotter than it was in Maryland but less humid, which I prefer. The birds, however, would disagree. We are at the beginning of a crisis here at Necedah. The drought this year is bad and our birds may be roosting in dust by the end of the summer instead of the usually nice wet-pens. There has been a little rain here but there is little in sight.

Training has been going well at all three sites. The newly arrived Cohort Three is settling in nicely at the south training site (see photos). This morning Joe Duff and I trained this group and introduced them to the full "winged" trike for the first time. They did pretty well with it. They were only a little nervous - it went much better than it could have. Number 218 is one of the adult birds frequenting this site. These little guys are pretty dang cute here in the big world, especially when you see them next to one of our adults (see photos). The bird postures aggressively (see photos) but I believe it is directed towards us and not the chicks. Our youngest, 526, was able to displace this adult bird while in the midst of an aggressive display. A peck at those pretty white tail feathers and she moved right over. This adult bird was at the bottom of the dominance barrel in 2002 and has been submissive ever since, so it isn't totally surprising. It is still funny to see our smallest chick taking on the big guys, though. One concern in this group is 522. This bird has had an odd gait since it was very young at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. It seemed to clear up some as it got older, but now that it is here in Wisconsin the gait looks just as bad as it did before. The bird is not necessarily lame or limping. It holds its body very oddly while running and kicks its legs high behind it making it lose balance often. Right now all we can do is watch it closely and hope it improves soon.

Right after us, bird handlers go to release the birds from their overnight pens for exercise sessions with the trikes, and we disappear from view of the cranes. This helps the birds concentrate on the trikes, rather than on us costumed handlers. Today I was finally able to capture just what we get to see of the training. We have these little holes all over our pen walls so that we can peek out at what is going on. It is funny to watch someone running from hole to hole in order to get the best view for the few seconds that the birds are in sight (see photos). 

Date:

July 15th, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Crane flight training

Notes: Today we decided to send Robert and Chris to the west site early so that they would have time to bring in the chicks from the wet pen. Some of the chicks have been slow in coming out of the pen. By having them in the dry pen, it's easier to get them out on the runway. The plan was to train the west site first then the north site and then the south site. Yes, everything is in full swing now that all the chicks are here. Plans change, however, and, as I took off from the Necedah airport, I was greeted by a wall of fog to the west. Having not trained yesterday due to high winds, I did not want to lose out on any training. With three cohorts to train, it was necessary to get started as soon as possible. As I was still within visual flight rule minimums, I decided to continue to the west site. Upon discovering that it was fogged in, I went to the north site, which was clear.

The chicks came out with renewed enthusiasm, maybe because they hadn't trained the day before. They all became airborne on takeoff, with 505 and 506 landing at the end of the runway. 501, 502, 503 and 507 continued to follow the trike. Somewhere along the way I lost sight of 507. 501, 502, and 503 followed and landed at the opposite end of the runway with the trike. After landing, I began to taxi back. 505 and 506 came flying to the trike, but I still did not see 507. As I continued to taxi back, 507 suddenly showed up out of nowhere. Apparently, 507 had landed in the rough because he was able to keep up with the first three. All in all, a good flight, especially since 507 had not trained much lately. We are guessing that he is inspired to fly rather than run to avoid hurting his toe.

By the time I got to the west site the fog had cleared. The plan had worked and most of the chicks came out with 509 and 510 needing a little coaxing by Robert. Off we went and all the chicks followed, even 509, (who had been a little reluctant). 508 and 514 are training for the first time at Necedah, and, after a couple of ducks under the wing, were right up in front of the group.

The south site also held birds that were experiencing Necedah for the first time. We decided to train without a wing because they are younger and need to get more familiar with their new surroundings. They came out quickly and, after a few hops and acting out, they ran after the trike. They did really well considering how new they were, following closely.

All of the chicks in every cohort followed! So, with much satisfaction and a little happy dance in the sky, and a wave to the crew, I flew on to the airport.

Date:

July 14th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Crane location update

Notes: The last shipment of birds arrived in Necedah yesterday courtesy, once again, of Windway Capital. This brings our total to 21 chicks with a 43-day age spread. All are healthy and happy, save a few broken toes. They will recover for a few days and adjust to their surroundings before the training resumes. Of the 43 older birds we have released over the years, 29 roosted on the Refuge this last week. That means that, between old and young, there are currently 50 Whooping cranes at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Dr. Richard Urbanek of the Tracking Team reports that most of the older birds have become sedentary for the summer and some have been on their territory for over a month. He suspects that some are moulting and many seem to be enjoying a bumper wild blueberry crop.

Numbers 301 and 318 were retrieved from Michigan and released on the Refuge. The male (318) stayed on the Refuge, while the female has settled in a wetland complex 20 miles to the southeast.

Number 309, last seen in Vermont, was not reported this week. This bird may carry an expired transmitter so tracking is difficult even from the air. We will have to wait for a sighting.

Number 107 has been spotted back at the Horicon Marsh in the territory she has occupied for the last four summers. This bird settled there in her first season of freedom but it is interesting to note that as she approached sexual maturity this spring, she did return close to the Necedah area. It is almost as if the urge to find a mate brought her back but it was not strong enough to bring her all the way home. We will have to see what happens next breeding season.

Date:

July 13th, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

New cohort arrives at Necedah.

Notes: Training went up a notch today as cohort one took off straight out of the pen as a group with 501, 502 and 503 doing a short flight off the end of the runway. They did a small circuit and landed on the runway again with the trike. Numbers 505 and 507 tried but stayed on the runway with 506 a little farther behind. These three chicks are a little younger and it will be a few more days before they can get airborne for any length of time.

At the west site, 509 was slow to come out so we left him behind while we gave the cooperating chicks some attention at the end of the run way. While out of sight, Robert got 509 out of the pen and onto the runway. On the return trip, we got 509 to follow after several attempts of coaxing and tempting with delicious smelt.

The last few days have been very busy preparing the east site for cohort three. To top it off we discovered that the water system was not working. We had to tinker with that in addition to installing a back up system. While working on that we got the word that the new chicks would be arriving early. Just before heading out to the airport to pick up the latest arrivals we got everything in order. To our delight, we found that both new and old water systems were working very well. With a profusion of water, we left for the air field.

The pick up at the airport is now becoming routine. We had to split up to take 508 and 514 to the west site so that they could get back with their old cohort. They had been held back due to injuries when cohort two was shipped. They fared well on the journey from Patuxent and began to drink and eat upon entering the pen at the west site.

The new cohort arrived at site one in fine form, all looking frisky and ready for their next stage in this fragile reintroduction effort.

Date:

July 10th,2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland.

Activity:

Cohort Three almost ready for training in Wisconsin

Notes: Nine birds from the class of 2005 are left here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and they are all looking pretty good. We have finished the final health checks and X-rays for our last group of birds. Today a few of us were laughing about just how little these birds seem, especially next to numbers 508 and 514 that are leftover from the last shipment.

Cohort Three consists of numbers 519, 520, 521, 522, 523, 524, and 526 (number 525 was held back for genetics). They all get along great during training and out at the White Series ponds. 524 is a little bit of a pain to the other birds and lately 519 has decided it doesn't like me and is trying to beat me up all the time. Today we have had a breakthrough with them out at the pond. Until today, we have not been able to leave the pen without them becoming highly stressed and pacing along the fences. This leads to banged up faces, raw spots on the body from rubbing, and the birds will stick their heads through the fence if they can. All of this is pretty common for a while but these guys seem particularly clingy. What we usually do is take turns sitting in the pen with them so that no one has to bake in the sun all day. It is really pretty fun to hang out with the birds and just let them do their own thing in the water. They usually take baths and are running around all over the place trying to catch everything that moves. It is very important, though, that they be able to spend time away from us. In Necedah we try to spend as little time as possible with them, with that time becoming less and less as we get closer to migration. This will hopefully help them to be less attached to us and allow them to just be birds.

Numbers 508 and 514 received positive remarks from vet Glen Olsen. Their toes appear to be healing and the birds have been doing pretty well. Poor 514 has a very crooked toe but is able to run and jump right along with the rest of them. These two toe-boys have been hanging out together in their pens and on the short walks we take them on. We have been concentrating on rest and allowing them time to heal during this last week. Hopefully, our technique will have worked by Wednesday when it is time to ship out for Wisconsin. Now I just have to get myself ready since my time to head back is coming up just as fast. I love working here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. It is nice to get to be involved in all the work that makes our migration flocks possible. The staff at Patuxent are great and have become good friends, but I am definitely ready to get out of the city and back my real home in the Midwest.

Date:

July 9th, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Flight Training

Notes: Another day dawns with the usual gibberish from Robert over coffee. His sense of humor is contagious and we all head out to work in a good mood. At site four all is status quo with the adult pair back in charge and interrupting as usual. Number 507 is left in the pen due to a toe injury. 501, 502 and 503 are flying beautifully, crossing entire lengths of the run way. 505 is behind them doing shorter flights and still walks or runs the rest of the run way. 506 is just a lagger, needing a little more attention to get him to follow and does very little flying. 506 is a little younger, however, and will need a few more days before he can fly as well as the others. By the end of training, he was doing really well.

At site two, the chicks are all following well and are running after the trike with great enthusiasm. In fact, number 516 is so keen that we think he wants to fly the trike. He continually hugs up next to the trike, almost getting in the way.

After training it's off to site one for more preparation for the arrival of cohort three. This year we decided to add another wet pen and the crew is working very hard to get this done in time for cohort three's arrival. There are the usual repairs to be done from winter damage as well. Site one seems to be more susceptible to this seasonal decay than the other sites. Because we can see that we are getting it done, we decide to quit early for the day. After all, by one o'clock in the afternoon, we had already put in an eight-hour day.

Date:

July 7th, 2005

Reporters:

Brooke Pennypacker & Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

White bird soap opera

Brooke's Notes: The crew awoke to a beautiful morning for training: sunny, clear, with a light breeze. We were especially excited to see how well our new cohort (cohort two) enjoyed their first night at Necedah. The crew decided to split up, with Richard, Chris and John going to site two, and Robert, Angie and myself heading to site four.

Once at site four , we were greeted yet again by adult whoopers 101 and 202, who, with the dedication of the most hard-core soap opera junkie, do not want to miss a single episode of our daily chick training drama: Days of our Chicks.

This morning, the soap opera plot was really thickened by the arrival of third adult whooper, quickly followed by a fourth and fifth. The ensuing drama provided our cohort one chicks with a textbook lesson in territorial defense. Birds101 and 202 chased, intimidated and harassed the first intruder, then the second two away. The adults celebrated their victory with triumph displays and ear-piercing unison calls.

We continued to train the chicks despite this sideshow and 501, 502, and 503 rewarded our efforts by flying the entire length of the runway behind the ultralight. You can imagine our joy and excitement at this display of progress. We can only guess what our chicks are thinking as they glimpse into the future at the white birds, while the adults in turn glimpse into their past.

The presence of the white birds, and the distraction by their daily antics, continue to challenge us. At the same time, however, we cannot help but be filled with wonder by their magic.

Richard's Notes: Meanwhile, at site two, we let out the latest arrivals. They had fared the night well and were very glad to see us. They came out of the pen with eagerness and were ready to go. We purposely left the aircraft behind and led them up the runway on foot, intending to let them slowly get familiar with their new surroundings. They were frisky, however, and wanted to run, so we ran ahead of them. They followed eagerly with that young-chick-gate that makes every handler smile and want to laugh each time he/she sees it. As you can see, all is well on the shores of Rynerson Pond.

Date:

July 7th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Location:

Operation Migration Headquarters, Port Perry, Ontario.

Activity:

"Michigan" bird movements / Aransas -Wood Buffalo flock update

Notes: Today's report sounds like a National News Broadcast: "This just in from Vermont. Number 309, formerly of the infamous Michigan 5, was last seen near Burlington, Vermont. She took up temporary residence in an ephemeral wetland of flooded agriculture fields, and granted an audience to enthusiastic birders from as far as the East Coast. She has been on local TV and in newspaper articles and has been the debutant of the birder hotlines. Fortunately her habitat dried up, and she took to the air heading southwest, leaving behind her adoring fans. Her next scheduled appearance has yet to be announced."

Meanwhile in Michigan, numbers 301 and 318 were captured and moved back to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. The Tracking Team, led by Dr. Richard Urbanek (United States Fish & Wildlife Service) and Sara Zimorski (International Crane Foundation) conducted the capture mid-day, using a drive trap, which is a large funnel shaped pen that can hold the birds long enough for them to be collected and loaded into individual crates. The Tracking Team reported that even after over a year the birds seemed tolerant of the costumes. Richard Van Heuvelen from Operation Migration helped, along with Glenn Klingler and Allison Webster (United States Fish & Wildlife Service). Pilot Mike Mauer flew the aircraft provided through the generosity of Windway Capital Corporation, and within short order the birds were back exploring familiar ground. They foraged in and around the Refuge and roosted in good wetland habitat. The Team hopes they will begin to bond with their old flock mates, and perhaps follow them south in the fall to complete their reorientation.

To recap, the three birds mentioned above are part of the original Michigan 5 that spent their first summer of freedom in the lower peninsula, blocked from returning to Wisconsin by Lake Michigan. One was lost that summer and the remaining 4 headed South in the fall, flying a course parallel to the one we showed them. This brought them to South Carolina, and another was lost when they moved up the coast to North Carolina. They spent the winter in isolated, if not ideal, habitat. Walter Sturgeon, President of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association traveled 60 miles, three times a week to monitor them. Ever mindful of the WCEP policy of keeping their whereabouts quiet, Walter didn't tell a soul, and had his own endangered species park all winter. This past spring the surviving three migrated north - well they migrated anyway. They hit the southern shore of Lake Erie East of Cleveland, Ohio and moved around the eastern end of the lake, entering Ontario. They moved back and forth, and one night roosted only a few miles from my home town. At this point some disagreement must have ensued, and two headed west while the other chose east. Now that the two have been collected and returned successfully to Necedah, the team plans to capture 309, but only if she stays in one place long enough.

In other news, the second cohort of six chicks arrive yesterday in Necedah, courtesy of Windway Capital. Number 508, scheduled to make the trip, was discovered to have a broken toe and was held back to make the next flight. That was also the case for number 514, whose broken toe is healing nicely but is still troublesome. Both of these birds should make the final flight tentatively booked for July 13. Number 513 suffered a facial bee sting a few weeks ago and it seems to have affected its growth plates. It now has a malformed upper mandible or maxilla, and probably could not survive in the wild, so it was removed from the study.

On the international front; Tom Stehn, Whooping crane Coordinator of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and co-chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, reported on the status of the Wood Buffalo / Aransas flock nesting season. Tom and Brian John of Canada Wildlife Services and Canadian co-chair of the Recovery Team, conducted the aerial nesting survey over Wood Buffalo National Park. Fifty eight nests were found and another 15 pairs did not breed. Sixty two chicks have been produced, including 14 pairs of twins. This compared with the record 66 chicks in 2004, including 20 sets of twins, 45 chicks with 3 sets of twins in 2003, and 33 chicks and 5 sets of twins in 2002.

On the morning of June 12th, during the crane survey flight over Wood Buffalo National Park, Tom discovered a fire about 2 hectares in size west of the Lobstick marshes and called in to the Park. This fire quickly enlarged in size, and efforts were started to slow it down with fire crews and water bombers. Two other fires burned east of the Klewi marshes, and potentially threatened the Bullseye Lake family (nest 39-05). Smoke from all 3 fires interfered slightly with the production surveys by decreasing visibility. The fires were put out by rains on June 14 and 16.

Heavy rains on June 16 and 19 were feared to have resulted in the mortality of many of the twin chicks. A check of 7 of the twin pairs late in the day on June 16 found that both chicks had survived from only 1 of the 7 pairs. Five pairs had lost 1 chick One pair had apparently lost both their chicks. The loss of very young chicks seems correlated with wet, cool weather on the nesting grounds. A storm on June 18 that dropped snow in the Caribou Mountains west of the nesting area brought a low temperature of 2 degrees Centigrade to Fort Smith. This cannot be good for survival of chicks and could be especially hard for any of the remaining twin chicks.

Survey Totals:
58 nesting pairs checked for production
62 chicks produced, including 14 sets of twins,
55* chicks alive at end of survey, including maximum of 8* sets of twins
Note: 7 twin pairs not checked at end of survey, so the total number of chicks end especially twins could be lower.

Peak Production from June Surveys

Year

# nests

# of young

# of twins

# young alive in mid-June

# twin pairs alive in mid-June

# chicks at Aransas

% of Nests successfulb

2005

58

62

14

55

8

-

83

2004

54

66c

20

60

15

34c,d

85

2003

61c

45+

3

43

2

25

69

2002

50

33+

5

32

4

16

56

2001

52

39+

10

38

9

15

56

2000

50e

30

2

28

1

9

56

1999

48

46

10

35

1

17

75

1998

50

48

12

32

0

18

72

1997

49

58

16

43

4

30

86

1996

44

30

4 a

25

0

16

53

1995

49

45

4 a

39

0

28

84

1994

29

16

0 a

16

0

8

55

12-year average

50

43

8

37

4

20

69

a = These were years second eggs were picked up for captive flocks.

b = % of nests producing either 1 or 2 chicks (assumes late nests have no production).

+ = some eggs still being incubated at end of June surveys.

c = record number

d = 1 chick wintered with sandhills near Bay City, Texas

e = The identification of R-YbY in June, 2001 helped unscramble nests in a part of the Klewi. Thus, R-YbY apparently nested in 2000 at 28/00 and was not a record 51st nest in 2000.

Date:

July 6th, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Cohort two arrives at Necedah.

Notes: Today we woke up to overcast, rainy, cool and breezy conditions and were unable to train. So after breakfast, Robert and Angie (our latest intern who arrived yesterday) went out to check on cohort one, as well as do a final preparation at site two in anticipation for the arrival today of cohort two.

We got the call that the Windway Capital Cessna Caravan would be arriving around noon. The crew gathered at Necedah airport to await the arrival of the chicks. At twelve thirty the Caravan touched down.

We quickly but carefully removed the crates from the aircraft, and Barry Hartup of the International Crane Foundation made a quick observation through an air hole to make sure the chicks were OK. Larry Wargowsky (Necedah National Wildlife Refuge Manager), Robert, Angie, and myself transported them to the West Site, where they were let out and observed for signs of stress. The chicks almost immediately began to forage, eat out of the feeders, and drink as if nothing had happened. Numbers 509, 510, 511, 512, 513, 515 and 516 all behaved as though they had been raised there, and looked very healthy.

We would like to thank Mike Frakes, Stu Walker and everyone at Windway Capital for the safe arrival of Cohort Two, and for their continued support of this project. With out the support of Windway Capital we would not be able to do this project. I think we speak for everyone in the Partnership in thanking them for their efforts. Their silent support is greatly appreciated.

Date:

July 5th, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Chick training.

Notes: Today's training began fairly well with one chick a little slow to come out of the pen. It quickly caught up however. Adult Whooping cranes, numbers 101 and 202, joined in, and for a while it looked as though Brooke was training eight birds, instead of six. The two adult birds are somewhat of a distraction, but the chicks are starting to ignore them. The chicks are getting more air in their short hops of flight, and 502 and 503 were briefly above the aircraft wing.

On another note, we would like to thank Darlene and Cindy for their continued generosity. They once again came through with a delicious July fourth dinner and cake, which the crew thoroughly enjoyed. As you can see by the photo, it is obvious that we all needed to be fed.

We had a lot more than the fourth of July to celebrate. We are happy with the successful capture and relocation of the two Michigan birds, which were brought back to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. We are also looking forward to the arrival of cohort two tomorrow!

Date:

July 4th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Gearing up for the next shipment of cranes

Notes: Well, another week has passed without time to type. We have been very busy the last few days making all the final preparations for the upcoming shipment. This second group is going to be big in more ways than one. There may be eight birds and they will be older than we usually ship. Numbers 508 and 509 are pretty good size birds. This requires a few adjustments to the schedule and equipment. We have been cleaning crates and the Necedah crew has even built a couple new, bigger crates in case 508 and 509 have outgrown their britches.

We have hopefully finished all the last minute health checks and x-ray shenanigans. So far, none of the birds have shown anything unusual in any of their multiple x-rays. Before this year, we had a very easy way to x-ray the birds once they got to Necedah, but if we found problems we had to move the birds to Madison, Wisconsin. We have had a great deal of success working with the University of Wisconsin vet staff in Madison, but the transporting was not ideal. Taking the x-ray pictures here at Patuxent enables us to deal with any trouble, usually ingested metal objects, very quickly. The hospital is only ten minutes away. This eliminates the long drive from Necedah into Madison. Having to swerve through the crazy stop-and-go traffic and construction is not particularly fun for a bird in a crate in the back of a van. Not to mention the long drive down and then turning around to get back up to the refuge.

All the health check juggling doesn't leave much time for socializing birds, but we have gotten them together as much as possible. Over the last week, both cohorts are spending time together as whole groups. Numbers 508 through 516 have been getting along great despite all of 512's mischief. This little guy is only half the size of 508 but is all attitude. It seems to particularly enjoy running around biting all the other birds' butts. It is odd to think of how proud these mean ones look when they stand up tall with a mouth full of fluffy tail feathers. 516 is also a small but feisty bird, much unlike 515 who moves like it has a bucket of rocks in its belly. Actually the way this guy loves to gobble pebbles, it probably does.

Unfortunately, this circus has not included 513 for the last few days. This bird's health has taken a sad turn. This is the bird that had face swelling which is causing a crooked bill and now seems to have started some respiratory trouble. I hate to say it, but it is looking worse for this guy to be able to make it to Wisconsin. These guys ship out Wednesday morning. The smaller guys are getting along well enough. 523 doesn't seem to be getting singled out any more and is doing well. 522's odd gait, which had been giving it trouble, is looking better.

Date:

July 4th, 2005

Reporter:

Brooke Pennypacker

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Wishing for independence

Notes: July 4th - Independence Day - ….so why won't our former Whooper "Graduates" 101 and 202 declare THEIR INDEPENDENCE and leave us alone to train our cohort 1 chicks without their continued unwanted participation??? These two "characters" are rapidly making the transition from "Endangered Species" to "Nuisance Species" But then, who can blame them? The appeal of hanging out with the images of their former selves, together with people in white costumes shaking puppet heads and taxiing up and down a field in an ultralight, would be more than most of us could resist!!! So we…and our cohort of chicks, must learn to cope with these intruders…and so far, so good. The training is progressing well, despite the "intruders," and we look forward to the arrival of 8 more chicks from Patuxent on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, back at camp, Richard and Sara, (from the International Crane Foundation) are finishing up the modified crane transport boxes for the next bird shipment. The rest of the crew is busy putting the finishing touches on Site #2 - cohort 2's new home.

Also, our modest camp is alive with the buzz of preparation for a barbecue tonight to celebrate, among other things, our many blessings and good fortune……to live in a country that provides us with the freedom and the opportunity to participate in this Whooping crane reintroduction project and where a person…..any person…..can make a difference.

Date:

July 2nd, 2005

Reporter:

Richard van Heuvelen

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

"Flight" training

Notes: The crew woke up to a lovely sunny, but cool, Saturday morning. The usual world problems were once again solved by Brooke and Robert over morning coffee.

We decided to start as early as possible because the wind has been picking up early lately. As the ground crew drove out to site four, they were greeted by a wall of fog. This left them wondering if Brooke was in the air yet. Their question was quickly answered as Brooke flew right over their Blazer and landed at site four, which was clear of fog.

All of the chicks came out of the pen easily. Brooke expertly taxied off, skirting the two adult Whooping cranes that were on the runway. Four of the six chicks followed him, becoming airborne in "ground effect" briefly for the first time. "Ground effect" is the cushion of air ricocheting from the ground as the breeze blows. At this stage of training, the chicks get about 6 feet of horizontal flight from this upward push.

This is a very awkward time in training for our young Whooping cranes. One chick, as it landed, crashed into the ground head first, with wings and legs all over the place. It got up and continued to follow. This poor chick proved that the old pilots' adage, "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing," also applies to birds. This is how it goes in early training, despite an often rough start to each new stage of training, the chicks learn very quickly. All were attentive to the aircraft the rest of training, including the two chicks that didn't initially follow Brooke's aircraft. We are very encouraged by their progress and are looking forward to the arrival of the next cohort.


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