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Photo Journals!

Wintering Whoopers

Ultralight-guided Migration


March 31, 2005


Heather Ray


Spring Migration Update - Day 6

Notes: The migration tracking team reports: "The group of 11 juveniles (nos. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, and 20) resumed migration yesterday morning from a field in Oconee County, South Carolina, at 8 am. This was the first day since beginning migration on March 25th that they had optimal migration conditions - a tailwind and clear skies. They landed to roost 11.5 hours later in a wetland located in north central Indiana." Many thanks to WCEP Tracking Team members Richard Urbanek (FWS), and the International Crane Foundation's Lara Fondow and Julia Watson for the great tracking efforts and reporting work as they continue to monitor the return of the Class of 2004.

In optimal conditions cranes are able to use their large impressive wingspans to soar on thermal activity, created as the sun warms the earths surface. This allows them to expend little energy and to stay aloft for longer periods of time. During yesterday's impressive 11.5 hour flight they managed to cover approximately 450 miles - or 39.13 miles per hour!

Remember that only 11 of the twelve juveniles departed from the Chassahowitzka NWR last Friday, and that crane #412 had decided to remain at the winter pensite with two older "white birds." Yesterday this young male left to begin heading north with the same two adults that had spent almost all winter pestering the young cohort. Richard reports that the trio took off from the pen area at 10:15am and flew north. They landed at 5:30pm in Thomas County, GA., logging roughly 175 miles on their first migration day.

Some of you may recall mention in the Fall 2004 Field Journal about one of our fantastic migration volunteers, Walter Sturgeon. Walt has been monitoring the three MI cranes that found themselves in southeast North Carolina this past winter. The following is Walter's report from yesterday pertaining to the trio.

Whoopers 301, 309 and 318 left Jones County, NC at 8:45 am yesterday 3/30/05. The rest of this story might seem unbelievable but I am going to tell it anyway. I arrived in the area  yesterday morning at 4:30 am. The birds were in their new roost site.  I drove around to the other side of the Trent River to the area beside the oxbow swamp. I was in the deer stand/ blind at the northwest end of the field at 5:45. I could hear all three birds from the elevated stand. At about 6:30 the signals got louder indicating that the birds were in the air. After about 10 minutes they apparently settled down in one of the cornfields near their former roost site. The signal was weaker but greater than it was in their new roost site. 

At about 8:15 the signal grew louder again and at 8:35 the birds landed in the shallow pond right in front of the deer stand/blind. They were only 100 feet or so away from me. It was definitely the closest they have come during my over three months of observing them. They walked out of the water and around the end of the pond. Only one of the birds demonstrated any feeding activity. After about 10 minutes, at 8:45, they took off, circled the field twice, flew right by my stand, and headed off to the northwest. I monitored the radio signal on 301 until 9:20 am when it finally faded out. I felt like they had just dropped in to say good-bye and for a photo opportunity. 

Now comes the unbelievable part. I left the radio receiver on for the entire trip back to my home in Spring Hope, NC. I thought I might get a signal from the birds since I was traveling in a northwesterly direction. When I was less than a mile from my house, I picked up a signal. I pulled into my driveway and got out the handheld antenna. During the next 30 minutes (from 12:05 until 12:35) I followed all three signals from the southeast to the northwest and right over my house. 

When the signal was the loudest my captive cranes started calling like I have never heard them call before. While I could not find the birds overhead they obviously saw them. The signal from 318 was the last to die out about 10 minutes after the other two at 12:35. 

It has been an unbelievable winter - I wouldn't have missed the whooping cranes return to NC for anything in the world. The last known whooping crane in NC was shot in April 1875 near Wilmington. The sad part of the story is that we had to keep their location quiet and only very few people got to see them and most of them only saw them for a fleeting minute or two as they flew overhead. I was lucky enough to be able to watch them for over 25 hours in the field and in the swamp during the 15 trips I made to the area to monitor the birds. 

My hope is that it won't be that many years before we don't have to keep them secret, and that many whoopers find that the coastal plain of NC is a good place to spend the winter. Thank you all for your continued efforts in behalf of the whooping cranes and for making this wonderful and unforgettable winter possible.

Photos taken by Walt yesterday and also one that shows #412 with his two adult traveling companions.


March 30, 2005


Heather Ray


Spring Migration Update

Notes: Only nine of the 45 Whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population still remain on their selected wintering areas. Those that have not yet initiated a northward migration include: 304 & 311 (South Carolina); 418 (Florida); 105, 204 & 412 (Chassahowitzka NWR, Florida); and 301, 309 & 318 (North Carolina).

And over a thousand miles to the north-northwest, ten "white birds" have been confirmed back in Wisconsin including: 107 (Horicon NWR); and 101, 202, 209, 213, 218, 205, 211, 212 & 217 who have all been detected and observed in and around the Necedah NWR area over the past week.

The eleven juveniles made some additional progress yesterday (day 5 of their first spring migration). After departing from Evans County, Georgia at 8:20 am the young group logged eleven hours (wow!) of flight time and  landed to roost at 7:20 pm, roughly 200 miles north-northwest of their previous roost location. This brings their accumulated distance to approximately 460-miles.

If you've been doing the math then you're likely wondering where the remaining fifteen Whooping cranes are... (45 - 9 - 10 - 11 = 15) We are too and as soon as we find out we'll let you know ;-)


March 29, 2005


Heather Ray


Class of '04 Migration Update

Notes: Many thanks to Richard Urbanek (USFWS), and to Lara Fondow and Julia Watson (ICF) for providing the following update.

On Easter Sunday the group of eleven Whooping cranes that had departed from their Chassahowitzka NWR winter habitat on Friday, March 28th made some decent progress and covered approximately 62 miles. They spent the night in Dixie Co., FL before resuming migration yesterday morning at roughly 10:45am.

The flock was blown eastward by 20-25 mph westerly winds and landed at approximately 5pm to roost in a pond among farm fields in the east-central Georgia. 


March 28, 2005


Heather Ray



Notes: Late Saturday we received word from the tracking team that eleven of 12 juvenile Whooping cranes had departed the winter release site at the Chassahowitzka NWR during the morning of Friday, March 25th. Good Friday, unfortunately wasn't such a good migration day, as the northbound cranes encountered a line of heavy rain storms accompanied by gusting northwest winds shortly after leaving the area. 

The grounded cranes waited out the storms for most of the day not too far from their winter home. They eventually launched again in late afternoon and hit a second series of storms, which this time included hail.  They landed to roost at approximately 4:15pm only 15 miles north of the pensite.

Richard Urbanek reported that on the evening of March 24th the dozen youngsters roosted with adults 105 and his mate 204 in saltmarsh about 1 mile west of the pen. Early the next morning, Lara Fondow and Julia Watson both with the International Crane Foundation and members of the tracking team detected that the telemetry signals for all but one crane were advancing northward and began tracking the group by ground.

Crane #412 stayed behind with the two white birds near the winter pensite. Saturday brought continued poor weather with more rain and wind grounding the group, but apparently the group managed to make some additional progress yesterday, although details are sketchy. ICF's Julia Watson did provide confirmation that the group was last tracked into north Florida late yesterday before the signals were lost. 

The poor weather over the region prevented any aerial tracking to take place but we understand from Julia that Lara Fondow is airborne today, so we hope to receive additional news later. We'll keep you posted as we learn more about the youngsters.

Elsewhere - Whooping cranes are turning up everywhere, including a pair that has already returned to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. The pair could be either #101 & 202, or #102 & 208. 

We also received word from Patty Meyers, manager of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, WI that on March 14th the female #107 was confirmed back at her favorite summer haunt.

Recent PTT hits for crane #312 placed her south of Lake Michigan in Illinois. Hopefully, she is still traveling with her fall migration and wintering companions; 303 & 316. This is the trio that successfully found their way around the bottom of Lake Michigan last summer, and returned to the reintroduction area in central Wisconsin, after finding themselves on the wrong side of the large Great Lake last spring.

OM's Mark Nipper left Florida last weekend to make the long drive northeast to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Mark will assist the crane crew at Patuxent in preparing for this year's new generation of Whooping cranes that will comprise the Class of 2005. Flock Manager Jane Chandler reports there are currently five eggs that have been produced and the crew is hoping that all of these will be fertile but it's still too early to tell.


Mar. 22, 2005


Heather Ray


Spring Migration Underway...

Notes: ...for some of the white birds, but the juveniles are staying put for now. In addition to those mentioned in the last update, Whooping cranes 102 & 208 departed on migration from Pasco County, Florida on March 19. 

317 was reported in a flock of migrating Sandhill cranes in Brown Sanctuary, Sarett Nature Center, Berrien County, Michigan, on March 18. He had departed on migration from Colleton County, South Carolina, between March 11 and 15.

303, 312 & 316 departed on migration from Marion County, FL on March 20. It'll be interesting to see where at the north end this trio turns up as these are the two females and their male companion that successfully circumnavigated the lower end of Lake Michigan in late July last summer, after finding themselves in Michigan, and on the wrong side of the Great Lake.

The group of four, consisting of cranes 205, 211, 212 & 217 that departed Pasco County, FL between March 10 - 12, were reported on a mudflat in Blount County Tennessee of the evening of March 13. There were no further reports for cranes 106, 107 (traveling independently) or for the pair; 101 & 202. We did, however, receive an unconfirmed report of two Whooping cranes in DuPage County, Illinois on March 16, which may have been these two, as they left their FL winter location on either March 12 or 13.

All others, including the twelve juveniles at the winter release pen and the juvenile 418 remain at their winter locations. #418 successfully migrated to Florida last fall by following a number of experienced Whooping cranes after he was released into a small group of them at the Necedah NWR. This young male is currently on his own after #205, an older male he had been associating with over the winter departed on migration sometime between March 9 - 12.


Mar. 15, 2005


Heather Ray


Bobcat Strikes Again...

Whooping crane #405: April 24, 2004 - March 14, 2005

Notes: This morning brought sad news from Dr. Richard Urbanek, USFWS and member of the winter monitoring team that the remains of juvenile Whooping crane #405 had been found approximately 200 meters from the winter pen site in an area referred to as "E-Creek."

The juvenile cranes have developed a bad habit of roosting at E-Creek, and this has been their primary roost site during the past several weeks, since release from their top-netted enclosure. The area provides safe roosting habitat only at low or extremely high tide levels. Typically the cranes leave the pen area as darkness falls to roost at this site. Whereas in past years costumed handlers would have ventured out to retrieve the birds and walk them back to the safety of their release enclosure, this winter the area between the pen and E-Creek is covered with rank growth of needle rush through which the juveniles cannot be walked. 

The remaining twelve young cranes wintering at the Chassahowitzka NWR winter pen should soon be initiating their first solo northward journey. Based on past years, each cohort has spent on average, 121-days at the winter habitat, however, since we didn't get them to their winter home until Dec. 12th, they may just decide to depart sooner. April 9th is the latest date on which any of the three groups have begun heading north. This was the date the 2001 cohort of five Whooping cranes departed on. Of course everyone can recall the embarrassment cast on us when their 1200-mile return trip to the Necedah NWR was completed in only 10-days vs. the 50-days it took to guide them south the previous autumn.

Each of the young birds is acquiring their stark white adult plumage, and most, if not all, now have their adult voices. Take a look at this page of photos, which were taken during the first week of March. Notice how much the young birds have changed compared with the images on this page, which were taken in early September - six months earlier?

The results of our informal poll indicate 32% of respondents believe the 2004 wintering whoopers will begin to head north sometime during the week of  March 27 - April 2. Coming in a close second, at 29% is the week of April 3 - 9. Here in the north, March indeed came in like a lion, dumping 10 inches of fresh snow on us during the first two days of the month. Many are now referring to the 04/05 winter as "the winter that just refuses to give up" and with temperatures in Wisconsin and Ontario continuing to be cooler than the normal daytime highs we can only hope that March lives up to our expectations and goes out like a lamb. 

Some of the older "white birds" have, in fact, already departed from their winter habitats. Whooping cranes 106 and 107 are traveling separately. The female #107 was last observed in a flock of migrating Sandhill cranes on Feb. 25/26 near Cecelia, Hardin County, Kentucky. She had spent the winter at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee. 

A former flockmate of 107; a male, #106 chose to spend his fourth winter season in Alachua County, Florida. He was last observed at this location on March 3rd. Ironically, he appeared on March 6/7 at the Hiwassee Refuge in Tennessee.  And a group consisting of four 3-year old Whooping cranes, including #'s 205, 211, 212 & 217 departed from their winter habitat sometime between March 10 - 12. 

And finally, a pair; #101 (male) & 202 (female) departed from their Citrus County, Florida location on either March 12th or 13th. This pair is one of three couples that have formed and that we will be watching closely over the next few weeks for any signs of possible breeding/nesting behaviour. While it still may be a bit early for a 4-year old male and a 3-year old female to begin breeding - anything is possible. 

The two other pairings that have occurred include #105 (male) & #204 (female), and #102, a 4-year old female who has paired with the male, #208. Wouldn't it be wonderful, if during the reintroduction's 5th anniversary season, we see our first wild hatched Whooping crane chick guided to Florida by its parents, who are using the same migration route we instilled in them?


Mar. 3, 2005


Heather Ray


60 Minutes Wednesday

Notes: We're received quite a bit of feedback since the 12-minute segment aired on CBS' 60 Minutes last night. Most were positive, but a small number expressed disappointment. Fortunately, the less than satisfied few, realize like we do that it is nearly impossible to tell a story such as this one accurately and fairly in such a small amount of time. In all, we feel that CBS did a wonderful job of capturing the magic of this reintroduction, however, we feel it necessary to state publicly that we could not possibly do, what we do, without the assistance of our colleagues within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), or the support of our teammates, volunteers and of course you - our supporters.

Those familiar with this project realize it is successful because of the team effort of a rather unique partnership consisting of nine founding members. Some of them are non-profits, including the International Crane Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Operation Migration Inc. and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Others are state agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources', or federal agencies, including the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Lab, but each shares a common goal; to safeguard the Whooping crane by restoring a migratory population to eastern North America. None of us can do it alone, yet together, we're able to accomplish great things for this endangered crane. 

We would also like to take this time to recognize the co-founder of Operation Migration Inc., Bill Lishman, because if not for his ability to see the bigger picture, none of this would be possible. In the early 1980's Bill took inspiration from a number of sources; once, while flying his ultralight aircraft he was joined by a flock of wild ducks that took to the air as he passed by overhead. He flew among them for a short time and the all too brief encounter changed his life. 

Impressed by the work of Konrad Lorenz who first documented the natural instinct of imprinting; and prompted by naturalist Bill Carrick, who was teaching geese to fly with his power-boat, Bill spent several seasons perfecting the technique. Finally in 1988 he successfully encouraged a small flock of Canada geese to follow his homemade ultralight aircraft on flights around his Blackstock, Ontario home. This phenomenal achievement garnered support from the scientific community and the seed was planted.

Bill, along with associate Dr. William Sladen of Environmental Studies at Airlie, Virginia began work with Trumpeter swans, however, at the time their plan was so novel that it met with resistance from many regulatory agencies. The two men decided to attempt a migration experiment with non-endangered Canada geese to prove the technique, before tackling an endangered species and in 1993, Bill asked friend and fellow ultralight pilot, Joe Duff to assist him.

In the fall of the same year, using two modified ultralight aircraft, Bill and Joe conducted the first human assisted bird migration, leading 18 Canada geese from just south of Port Perry, ON, across Lake Ontario, through New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and finally, to Warrenton, Virginia. Sixteen ultra-geese survived the winter and the next spring, 13 were confirmed back in Ontario. This proved the technique was viable and paved the way for several experiments that have culminated in the reintroduction of Whooping cranes into Eastern North America.


Mar. 1, 2005


Heather Ray


60 Minutes Wednesday

Notes: We've just received word that the CBS produced story featuring the ultralight-guided Whooping crane migration will air tomorrow evening, March 2nd at 8pm ET on CBS - Correspondent: Charlie Rose.

Sorry we couldn't provide a bit more advance notice but we just found out ourselves 10 minutes ago.


Feb. 21, 2005


Heather Ray


Aransas NWR Aerial Census

Winter Photo Journal

Notes: Each week during the winter season, Tom Stehn, Biologist at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and Co-chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team carries out an aerial census of all visible Whooping cranes in the Wood Buffalo - Aransas population.

To give those that perhaps aren't aware of the history of this only naturally occurring population some background: In the early 1940's this population numbered only fifteen. Only 15 individuals separated the species from extinction... Over the years it has increased, albeit slowly to include, for the first time ever, more than 200 individuals, but it took more than six decades to reach this point.

The following report is an excerpt from last week's survey: 

An aerial census on 16 February, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of Whooping cranes present at Aransas at 183 adults + 32 young = 215 total. 

An additional juvenile Whooping crane is wintering with Sandhill cranes in Matagorda County where it has been since early December. This is believed to be the same juvenile separated from its parents in the fall migration and reported in Colorado and Oklahoma in November. It was still present as of February 14th. This bird is thus the record 217th bird in the peak Aransas-Wood Buffalo population for the 2004-05 winter, and a record 34th juvenile to make it to Texas. One chick is believed to have died this winter at Aransas. 

The current estimated size of the Wood Buffalo - Aransas population is 183 + 33 = 216.

Meanwhile, back in the east, the central Florida non-migratory population currently stands at sixty-nine (69) and includes 35 males and 34 females. And the WCEP migratory population consists of a total of forty-six (46), including 29 males and 17 females.

To see the Class of '04 at the winter pen site check out the winter Photo Journal.


Feb. 18, 2005


Heather Ray


Port Aransas and Memory Lane...

Winter Photo Journal

Notes: For those that have not yet had the opportunity to visit the Port Aransas, TX area, which is the winter home of the only naturally occurring wild population of whooping cranes, I hope you'll consider joining us next week as we travel to the gulf coast to participate in the annual WHOOP it UP Festival. The Port Aransas festival is one of the best organized, and best attended events that we've had the good fortune to be invited to, and since we weren't able to attend last year, we're looking forward to next week's visit. Today's New York Times featured a story about the area that you can read here.

At the Whooping Crane Recovery Team meetings held last week at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, we had the opportunity to get reacquainted with others in the Whooping crane conservation world that we don't work with on a daily or even monthly basis. One such person is Megan Lauber. Megan is the crane coordinator at the Audubon Center for Endangered Species Research (Acres) in New Orleans, and is the person who received Whooping crane #109 in the fall of 2001 when an early wing injury resulted in her removal from the ultralight study. Megan assured me that #109, now known to many as "Sioux" is the star attraction at the new public Whooping crane exhibit just inside the main gates of the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. Sioux and her mate Kiowa have a beautiful home (pictures) and are performing a very important job - that of educating the public. 

After speaking with Megan I couldn't help but recall the series of events that occurred during our very first Field Season... Because it is important that the Whooping cranes we introduce into eastern North America remain wild, refrain from giving them nicknames. Instead we refer to them by number, hoping to convey the idea that they are not pets, but wild creatures. Cranes, however, are individuals and their personalities often shine through. Despite our attempts at remaining detached, we do form attachments and each human member of the team has their personal favourites. A favourite to most everyone was number 109 from the first project year. This small and rather submissive female sustained an early wing injury while still at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. It was hoped that time and exercise would correct the problem and many hours were spent training her separately. She seemed aloof and disinterested in the aircraft but if you spent time with her she would come around and begin to follow. All of the other birds picked on her and with the damaged wing compromising her ability to fly we were worried that she would not be able to keep up during the southward journey.

A health check is carried out on all the young cranes prior to our departure and during this examination the veterinarians were able to document the extensive damage to her wing. The final decision was made and she was removed from the study. That year the pre-migration health check took place on September 11. We began at sunrise and didn‚t finish until both towers of the World Trade Center had collapsed. It is sadly ironic that we lost Whooping cranes 9 and 11 (to capture myopathy) on the same day that America lost so much.


Feb. 7, 2005


Heather Ray


Bobcat Strikes Again... ;-(

Winter Photo Journal

Whooping crane #214
May 16, 2002 - February 2, 2005

Notes: Yesterday, Lara Fondow with the International Crane Foundation recovered the remains of Whooping crane #214 approximately 1 mile southeast of the Chassahowitzka winter pen. This almost 3-year-old female crane had apparently been killed by a bobcat on  February 1st or 2nd.

Caretakers had reported weak, intermittent and unusual radio signals to the south and east on February 2nd & 3rd. During the dusk pen check on February 5th, Lara detected signals indicating probable mortality. Crane 214 had returned to the Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 29th when former flockmates 211, 212, and 217 were occupying the site at that time. They were intolerant of 214 and were persistent in chasing her away from the area. The last visual record of 214 occurred on Feb. 1st when caretakers observed an aerial dogfight in which one of the males, #212 chased her to near her final location.

The eastern migratory population of Whooping cranes now stands at forty-six (46) - With a gender ratio of 29 males to 17 females.


Feb. 1, 2005


Heather Ray


Funding Crunch...

Winter Photo Journal

Notes: Many believe this to be the slowest time of year for us so I have to smirk when we receive messages that begin with "I trust you are receiving a well deserved rest now that the migration is over..." or, "so, what exactly do you do for the rest of the year when you're not migrating..?"

The truth is that what some consider to be the slow season is anything but slow. In fact, I would argue this is the busiest time of the year. Our staff is cut to only four full-time people during the early part of a new year, and final grant reports are due, as deadlines for  new funding applications barrel toward us. Project reports must be written, compiled, proofed, printed, and distributed. Images and footage must be cataloged, and a full schedule of meetings and conference calls attended to plan and prepare for the upcoming season. We manage to operate on a shoestring budget but at times, things such as website updates take a back seat to the obligations we have to our granting foundations. My apologies for the delayed update.

Our main concern at the moment is our financial situation. As you all know, the recently completed migration from Wisconsin to Florida was the longest yet, at 64-days. A full two weeks longer than any of the preceding three, and each day spent on the road, whether we actually move or not, costs $1000 to support the team, and the young Whooping cranes. Add this additional $14,000, increased fuel costs; unexpected damage sustained to Deke's motorhome, as well as to Brooke's aircraft, and a substantial 30% decrease in the exchange rate when converting US donations to Canadian funds, and hopefully, you'll get an idea of why we're currently facing a funding crisis.

Now, take into consideration the devastating tsunami in southeast Asia - The December 26th tsunami disaster is perhaps the largest, most widespread natural disaster in recorded history. Our hearts go out to the victims and the survivors who must live with grief and loss and yet move forward to rebuild their lives. So many, ourselves included, have donated much needed funds to help those in the affected areas begin to pick up the pieces, however, we can't help but wonder how much of an effect this disaster, so many miles away, will have on our own fundraising efforts this year. There's no doubt it will - we've already seen a decrease in support just as we did in the months following the man-made disaster of September 11, 2002.

We can only hope that you'll come through for the Whooping cranes again. I realize that many of you have already given to tsunami relief efforts, however, if you can manage another contribution, no matter the size, we could certainly use your help right now. Please consider making a donation, or purchasing our newest video Hope Takes Wing. For a limited time you can purchase the video AND the 2005 Operation Migration calendar for $30, which includes shipping and handling. 

Or, if you're a past Mile-Maker get your name on the list early this year - we've already kicked off the 2005 Mile-Maker Campaign to help us overcome the burden of the un-budgeted expenses we incurred last fall during the 64-day "Operation Duration." Give us a call at 800-675-2618 to make your contribution.

When you work for a struggling non-profit organization, from time to time you can't help but  think of the sports stars that are making obscene amounts of money in their multi-year contracts. Take Alex Rodriquez for example: Here's a 30-year old, doing something he loves to do - play baseball. Last year, A-Rod's income was a whopping 21.7 million dollars. That's $59,525.70 each and every day, whether he actually gets out of bed or not. 

Every sport has their stars - Football has Manning, McNabb and Moss. The NASCAR circuit earns mega-bucks for Gordon, Waltrip, and Earnhardt Jr. Being great at putting a large rubber ball through a nylon net earns Allen Iverson $6,200.00 an hour... C'mon people - we're talking games! Since when has wildlife conservation become a luxury item that receives focus and attention only when financial situations allow such luxury's?

If A-Rod, or Iverson were feeling generous and decided to fund our work for one year, they would still have oodles of money left over.  Does anyone out there know how to reach Alex or Allen?

As we enter into a fifth season of raising Whooping cranes, we can't help but reflect on the many successes this reintroduction has experienced. After only four seasons, already there are 47 wild migratory Whooping cranes using the eastern flyway. Three times the number that existed in the early 40's when we very nearly lost this magnificent bird forever. 

The five cranes that became the pioneers of the new eastern population in 2001 are now 4-years of age, and some have already formed pair bonds. With a bit of luck they may even begin to show signs of nesting behaviour this year. It would be a tragedy if we weren't able to continue our work to safeguard the Whooping crane because of financial troubles.

Many thanks to the winter monitoring crew for the following Jan. 23-29th update. 

During the past week between three to nine older whooping cranes (usually three) were present at the winter pen at the same time. Because of the presence of these older, aggressive cranes, the juveniles were allowed out of the top-netted enclosure less than usual. The juveniles were out for most of the day on January 24th and for 1.5 hours on the 29th. On the former date, the unexpected arrival of additional birds from Pasco County contributed to problems in returning juveniles to the top-netted enclosure. Chicks 419 and 420 could not be retrieved on that night. They roosted in a nearby creek along with older white birds 203, 216, 102 and 208. Tides were relatively low that night. Otherwise, all juveniles roosted in the top-netted enclosure during the remainder of the week.

So far juveniles 402, 407, 412, 414, 415, 416, 417 and 419 have attained, or nearly attained adult voices.


Jan. 12, 2005


Heather Ray


Winter Update: Jan. 2 - 8

Winter Photo Journal

Notes: Yearlings 303, 312 and 316 left their Marion County, FL stop and arrived at the Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 2nd. They have so far been the only HY2003 Whooping cranes to complete their first unassisted southward migration to the Chassahowitzka area. These are also the same three that managed to successfully circumnavigate the south end of Lake Michigan last summer and return to the central Wisconsin reintroduction site located at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. (More on them below)

Whooping crane 205 and the young #418 male departed from their Madison County, FL location on Jan. 2nd. According to PTT readings for #418 they roosted in Central Gulf Coast saltmarsh on the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve that night. The next morning they passed over the pensite at Chassahowitzka NWR and proceeded southward to a wetland in Pasco County. This site was 2 miles north of where #205 had spent the previous winter. The next day the pair moved to the nearby ranch where birds 211, 212, and 217 are wintering. 

Cranes 209, 213 and 218 remained in Franklin County, Tennessee, at least through the check on Jan. 3rd.

Number 317 remained alone in Colleton County, SC, while former flockmates 304 and 311 spent the week nearby, also in Colleton County. Whooping crane #307 spent the week in Beaufort County, SC.

Public reports indicate that the female #107 crane from the first reintroduction year remained in the large stopover/wintering Sandhill flock on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, located in Meigs County, TN through the week. She has a nonfunctional transmitter and is not trackable. 

A trio of Whooping cranes comprised of yearlings 301, 309 and the youngest from the 2003 project year, #318; remained in NC throughout the week.

Crane 214 remained in Sumter County, FL through the week. Number 105 and his mate, 204 returned to the Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 3rd and roosted in an area southwest of the pen. They returned to Hernando County the next day and stayed there for the remainder of the week.

The 4-year old male, #106 remained in Lake County, FL where he associated with migratory Sandhill cranes and non-migratory Whooping cranes.

Cranes 211, 212 and 217 stayed in Pasco County, FL through the week along with another pair which included a first year male (#101), and his female mate from the 2nd project year, #202.

Cranes 201 and 306 remained together with wintering Sandhill cranes in Volusia County, FL through the week, while Whooping cranes 203 and 216 chose to stay in the same area of Pasco County, which is also occupied by cranes 101, 202, 102 and 208.

Whooping cranes not located during the week include #302, who was last confirmed in Iroquois County, Illinois, when he resumed migration on Dec. 12th. and yearlings 310 and 
313, who were last confirmed in Nelson County, Kentucky, on Dec. 5th. 

The thirteen Hatch Year 2004 (HY04) juvenile birds at Chassahowitzka winter pen were released from the top-netted section several times over the past two weeks, but their periods of freedom always seem to be cut short when some of the older Whooping cranes inevitably return to stake a claim, and the feeding station. It's almost as if these older birds have some sixth sense that alerts them to the fact that the chicks have been released and therefore there must be food in the feeders. 

For instance, there were no older cranes present at the pensite on the morning of Jan. 2nd so the youngsters were released from the top-netted enclosure. All of them flew shortly after release and eventually landed inside the large open-topped section. In the early afternoon three yearling cranes, 303, 312 and 316 returned from an hours-long foraging excursion and landed at the pensite. 

To avoid aggression, the juveniles were then returned to the top-netted enclosure. On Jan. 5th they were again released for exercise and after flying for several minutes they landed inside the large open-topped section of the release pen. The three yearlings were present and cranes 312 and 316 were aggressive and interfered with caretaker control of the juveniles. The trouble makers left that afternoon, so the juveniles were released the following morning. They spent all day out of the top-netted enclosure and roosted that night on the oyster bar, which was constructed 2-years ago to provide a suitable roosting area, no matter what the level of the ever-changing tide may be.

The three yearlings returned to the pen on late morning of Jan. 7th and 312 and 316 attacked the juveniles and then began eating from one of the feeders. The juveniles were returned to the top-netted enclosure and the feeders in the main section of the pen were emptied - again.

Juvenile cranes 407, 412, 415 and 416 are developing their adult voices.

(Many thanks to the WCEP Winter Monitoring Team for providing the above information)


Jan. 5, 2005


Joe Duff


A Few Very Special People...

Notes: It takes an unusual type of person to help teach Whooping cranes to migrate. One must possess a proven work ethic to tolerate the long hours, and then something better described as dedication when the hours turn into weeks, and then months. One must be adaptable to endure the tight quarters and congenial to survive the many personalities. They must be able to put up with the unpredictability of weather and unreliable cell phone connections, and they must be willing to be away from friends and family for long periods with no forecast of how long their exile will last. 

Some days require long hours of hard labour to prepare for the next flight, only to have it postponed because of strong headwinds. People who volunteer to help on migration must be willing to work 14 straight hours one day and none the next. Most of all, they must be able to stare out the window at driving rain and high winds, when the aircraft are tied down and the birds sequestered in the pen, and not get discouraged by the 1000 miles still left to go. 

It takes an unusual person, but over the years we have found a few and we would like to publicly thank them for the special characteristics that make them friends to the Whooping crane, and of ours. 

Gerald Murphy volunteered by email early last season and has been reiterating his offer ever since. This past fall we called his bluff and when he arrived in Wisconsin a few days before the migration was to begin, we met one of those special people. Gerald lives in the panhandle of Florida and was a victim of the ‚04 hurricanes. He stayed home just long enough to secure his home before joining us for 70-days. He left his lawn strewn with fallen trees and his wife Ann alone at home. He is one of those amiable types, always in the same good mood, and ready to help with any task. Gerald became a fast friend of the entire crew and a well-respected team member. We all want to thank him for his efforts and Ann for tolerating his extended absence. 

Walter Sturgeon has 30 years of experience working with various crane species. He has spent many research seasons in the high Arctic and is the Assistant Director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. He is also the President-Elect of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA). Walter joined us for a good part of the migration, taking a break only to chair the annual meetings of the WCCA. With the rest of us he patiently waited out the long delays and kept the crew entertained with endless stories and good humour. We thank Walter for his support not only on the migration and are grateful to his wife Gay who looked after their flock of 32 birds while he was looking after our 14. 

Don and Paula Lounsbury have been flying top-cover for us since the very beginning ˆ more than 10-years ago. Our aircraft fly at 40 miles per hour, while theirs cruises at over 100. They must constantly fly in circles, keeping an eye on the ultralights, and the cranes below, while often, explaining their strange course to the air traffic controllers that track them on radar. They keep a listening watch over two radios; one to monitor us, and the second for other air-traffic, and although we enjoy their company in the air, our best flights are when we don‚t hear a word from them. When things go wrong as often happens they are there like angels ready to help when we need them most. 

Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson once owned a large lakefront home in Tennessee. In a major effort to downsize they packed all their belongings into a motorhome and ran away to join the OM circus. Sandy entertains the crowds that gather to watch the departure of the birds and ultralights and Jerry hauls one of our large trailers They are now important members of the team 

During the early stages of the migration this year Don and Paula were busy repairing their aircraft engine so Bill & Marilyn Stoeckmann of Wisconsin filled in for a few days. They had big shoes to fill but managed nicely. One of our birds dropped out of the second leg and by coincidence landed on Bill‚s property. 

Over the years a great many people have volunteered time and money to save Whooping cranes. This past season we were very fortunate to have added a few more to that distinguished list. 


Jan. 5, 2005


Heather Ray


One loss explained, and another discovered...

On December 11th, one day before arriving at the Chassahowitzka NWR winter pen with the Class of 2004 Whooping cranes, the team suffered the loss of a very special female crane #406. Dr. Marilyn Spalding at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville performed a necropsy and provided the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership with the following results: 

"The cause of mortality of the ultralight-led Whooping crane (#406) while on migration on 11 December was determined to be Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus.  This virus is normally transmitted by mosquitoes among birds.  When transmitted to other species, including some birds, horses, and humans it causes disease that can be fatal.  It rarely causes disease in Sandhill cranes but Whooping cranes seem to be more susceptible.  It appears that several of the birds may have contracted the virus as evidenced by changes in their blood chemistry at the time of the final health exam in Florida.  Bird #417 was temporarily ill, likely from the same disease. The virus was probably contracted in southern Georgia or northern Florida.  The Florida Department of Health noted viral transmission to sentinel chickens in nearby counties during the time that the birds were moving through the area.  Since all the surviving birds appear to be currently healthy, and the cold weather has decreased the numbers of mosquitoes, it is unlikely that there will be additional cases."

In the last update the tracking team had provided information about three 2-yr. old cranes that had been occupying a flooded area in Limestone County, Alabama. One of the three; a young male Whooping crane #215 was found dead on January 3rd. The cause of death is currently under investigation.


Jan. 3, 2005


Heather Ray


Winter Update Dec. 19 - Jan. 2nd.

Many thanks to the FWS/ICF/OM winter monitoring team for compiling the following report:

Whooping cranes 101 & 202 left their overnight stop in Vernon Bottom along the Cumberland River, Monroe County, KY on Dec. 19th. They apparently roosted at an undetermined location in southern Georgia that night. On December 20th they completed their fall migration, arriving in Pasco County, FL at the same location used by crane #101 during the previous two winters. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on Nov. 28th

Cranes 102 & 208 were detected in flight just east of Decatur, AL on the afternoon of Dec. 23rd. They apparently roosted at an undetermined location in northeastern Alabama that night. They had last been checked and confirmed near the intersection of Will, Grundy, and
Kankakee Counties, Illinois, on Dec. 14th. They arrived at the winter pen site on the afternoon of Dec. 30th. This pair had begun migration from Necedah NWR on Dec. 1st.

Cranes 209, 213 & 218 remained in Franklin County, TN at least through the last check on 24 December. The trio had begun migration from Necedah NWR on Nov. 21st.

Crane 203, 215 & 216 remained in floodings and harvested cornfields in Limestone County, AL until Dec. 23rd. On that morning #215 separated from the other two birds, but weak and
intermittent radio-signals were inadequate to locate and confirm later status of that individual. The other two birds arrived at the winter pen site on the afternoon of Dec. 28th. The group had begun migration from Monroe County, WI on Nov. 21st.

Yearlings #303, 312 & 316 remained in LaPorte County, IN until leaving to resume migration on 18-20 Dec. They apparently roosted in or near Fairfield County, South Carolina, on Dec. 22nd. On Christmas day they had apparently arrived in Florida and arrived at the Chassahowitzka pensite at midday on Jan. 2nd. They roosted on that night near the constructed oyster bar in the pen after spending most of last week in Marion County, FL. 
They were the first HY2003 whooping cranes to return to the Chassahowitzka pensite after fall migration and the three yearlings that had successfully returned to Necedah NWR on July 28, after spending several weeks in Michigan. The trio had begun migration from Sprague Pool, Necedah NWR, on the 20th of November. 

No. 302 was not located during the week. The last record was as he resumed migration from Iroquois County, IL on Dec. 12th. No. 317 apparently remained in a large complex of wetlands and flooded cornfields managed for waterfowl in southeast, SC, not very far from the Wildlife Management Area where yearlings 304 & 311 spent the week.

Crane 307 apparently remained in marsh and a harvested cornfield in Beaufort County, SC. He had begun migration with juvenile crane #418 on Nov. 7th.

The female #107 was reported remaining in the large stopover/wintering Sandhill flock on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, Meigs County, Tennessee, on Dec. 20th. (note that she did not leave on Dec. 12th as reported in last week's update). She has a nonfunctional transmitter and is not trackable.

Cranes 201 & 306 were not located during the week. They were last recorded leaving Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, Meigs County, Tennessee, to resume migration on Dec. 12th. Crane 201 had begun migration from Kalamazoo County, MI, on or shortly after Nov. 2nd, while crane 306 had begun migration with #205 from the East Training Site, Necedah NWR on the 7th of November.

Yearling Whooping cranes 310 & 313 were not located during the week. They were last confirmed in Nelson County, KY on Dec. 5th but were not present at this site when it was next checked on the 15th of Dec. They had begun migration from Juneau County, WI on Nov. 7th. 

Nos. 301, 309 & 318 remained in Jones County, NC through the week. They had begun fall migration from Mason County, MI on the 7th of November.

Florida Wintering Areas: Whooping crane 214 remained with Sandhill cranes in Sumter County. Cranes 105 & 204 remained at the winter pen on Chassahowitzka NWR until Dec. 19th. On that morning they returned to their alternate wintering site in Hernando County, where they stayed for the remainder of the week.

The male #106 remained in Lake County, where he associated with migratory Sandhill cranes and non-migratory Whooping cranes. He had begun migration from the large
Sandhill crane staging area in southeastern Clark/northeastern Jackson Counties, WI on Nov. 21st.

Cranes 211, 212 & 217 flew into the winter pen shortly after cranes 105 & 204 left on the morning of Dec. 19th. The three birds then remained at or near the pensite on Chassahowitzka NWR through the remainder of the week. They roosted on the oyster bar in the pen on the evenings of the 19th, 22nd & 24th, and in the tidal creek/pool west of the pen on the 20th, 21st & 23rd. They moved on Dec. 26th to the Pasco County site, which was used by cranes 211 & 212 during the previous winter.

2004 Juveniles: The 13 HY2004 juveniles (10 males, 3 females) were held in the newly constructed top-netted enclosure at the northwest corner of the main pen during the week. They were allowed to leave the enclosure to fly and forage on Dec. 19th, however, cranes 405, 414 & 415 remained in the enclosure and #402 returned inside just after walking out. All others flew around the pen area for several minutes before landing.

We just received word from Mark Nipper that the #418 juvenile completed his first southward migration today, arriving in Pasco County, FL with his traveling buddy #205. Apparently, the two male cranes first flew over the winter pensite for almost an hour before heading inland to the location where #205 had wintered last year.


Dec. 22, 2004


Heather Ray


Weekly Update: Dec. 12-18

Many thanks to the FWS/ICF/OM winter monitoring team for compiling the following report.

Fall Migration: Whooping cranes 211, 212 & 217 left from their overnight stop west of
Chebanse, Iroquois County, Illinois, on December 12th. They arrived in the pensite area of Chassahowitzka NWR at 12:45 EST three days later on December 15th. They had begun migration from Necedah Lake, near Necedah NWR, on December 11th.

Nos. 101 and 202 remained with large numbers of Sandhill cranes in frozen flooded farm fields north of Wheatfield, Jasper County, Indiana, until the 16th of December. On that afternoon they moved to nearby Jasper-Pulaski SWFA. They resumed migration the following morning. On December 18th they were tracked to roost with approximately 100 sandhills in Monroe County, Kentucky. On Dec. 20th they completed the southward migration, arriving
in Pasco County, FL. This is the same wintering location used by the pair during the previous two winters. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on Nov. 28th.

Nos. 102 and 208 remained at least through the last check on Dec. 14th in an area southwest of Chicago, Illinois. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on 1 December.

Nos. 209, 213 & 218 remained through the week in a flooded area in south-central TN. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on 21 November.

Nos. 203, 215 & 216 left Greene County, IN on December 14th. They roosted that night along the Cumberland River in Davidson County, Tennessee. The trio resumed migration the
following morning and roosted that night in Limestone County, Alabama. They remained in harvested cornfields and floodings at that site through the remainder of the week. They had begun migration from Monroe County, Wisconsin, on November 21st.

Nos. 303, 312 & 316: PTT readings for crane 312 indicated that the group remained in northwestern Indiana, at least until December 18th. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on the 20th of November.

No. 302 resumed migration from Iroquois County, Illinois on December 12th. He had occupied this same area since arriving on Oct. 25th or 26th. He was not located during the remainder of the week. He had left Necedah NWR with no. 317 on October 17th when the pair moved south to Jefferson County, WI. On the 24th of October he separated from crane 317.

No. 317 remained in a large complex of wetlands and flooded cornfields in the southeast portion of South Carolina, through the week. He had left Jefferson County, WI on the 7th of November. 

Nos. 304 & 311 were located on Dec. 18th during an aerial radio-search in an area approximately 14-miles south of crane 317 (above) in southeast South Carolina. Their last verified location was near McIntosh, Liberty County, GA on November 24th. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on the 5th of November.

No. 307 remained in marsh and a harvested cornfields in southeast South Carolina, just north of the Georgia State line through the week. He had begun migration from Necedah NWR on November 7th with juvenile crane #418.

Whooping crane #418 & #205 remained among the large Sandhill flock on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, Meigs County, Tennessee throughout the week. Nos. 107, 201 & 306 departed from Hiwassee to resume migration on Dec. 12th and were not located during the remainder of the week. #418 had begun migration with #307 from just south of Necedah NWR on November 7th. 

Crane #201 had begun migration from Kalamazoo County, MI on or shortly after November 2nd. #'s 205 & 306 had begun migration from the East Training Site, Necedah NWR, on the 7th of November. 

Crane #107 has a nonfunctional transmitter and is not trackable. Cranes 418 & 205 departed Hiwassee to resume migration on December 19th, flying to Turner County, GA. The pair left this roost site at 9:05am and arrived approximately 4 hours later in Madison County, Florida!
This juvenile Whooping crane is the first in the new eastern migratory population to make his inaugural southward migration with the aid of older Whooping cranes rather than ultralight aircraft.

Yearling cranes 310 & 313 remained in Nelson County, Kentucky at least through the 5th of December. They were no longer at this site when it was checked 10-days later on Dec. 15th and they were not located during the rest of the week. They had begun migration from Juneau County, WI on Nov. 7th.

Another trio of yearlings, Nos. 301, 309 & 318 remained in Jones County, NC at least through most of the week. They had begun their fall migration from Mason County, Michigan, on the 7th of November.

Florida Wintering Areas: No. 214 remained on a cattle ranch in Sumter County, Florida, through the week.

105 & 204 remained on a cattle ranch in Hernando County, FL until the 17th of Dec. On that date they returned to the pensite at Chassahowitzka NWR.

No. 106 was spotted on a cattle ranch in Lake County, Florida, on December 13th. He remained through the week and associated with migratory Sandhill cranes as well as some of the non-migratory Whooping cranes that occupy the area year round. He had begun migration from southeastern Clark/northeastern Jackson Counties, Wisconsin, on November 21st.

Cranes 211, 212 & 217 arrived at Chassahowitzka NWR on November 15th. They roosted that night in the northwest part of the pool within the pen, near the top-netted enclosure containing the 13 newly arrived juveniles. On December 16th they remained at the pen through the day, and roosted in the same area as they had the previous night. On December 17th cranes 105 & 204 also returned to the pen. The trio of 211, 212 & 217 moved farther about a mile west into the saltmarsh. On the 18th of December all five of the older birds were south of the pen in the morning and in undirected flight for approximately 1 hour around noon then nos. 105 & 204 returned to the pen and the other three birds returned to the saltmarsh 1 mile west of the enclosure.

Hatch Year 2004 Juveniles at the Chassahowitzka Pen: The thirteen HY2004 juveniles (10 males, 3 females) were led by ultralight aircraft to the pensite on Chassahowitzka NWR on December 12th. They were placed in the newly constructed top-netted enclosure attached to the northwest corner of the main pen. They were color banded and equipped with permanent transmitters on December 13/14. The three females (#'s 415, 419 & 420) were also equipped with Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTT satellite transmitters). They were kept in the enclosure through the week. 

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