Banner Year for Whooping Crane Hatches at Wood Buffalo

A record 63 whooping crane chicks were born in Wood Buffalo National Park this year — an encouraging sign for conservationists who continue to monitor the rare bird’s long, slow climb back from near-extinction. Among this year’s hatches are four sets of twins.

The impressive birth rate blows away the previous high of 49 fledglings, set during the 2006 season.

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Aerial Survey

Wisconsin DNR Pilot, Bev Paulan was able to dodge raindrops yesterday and get a flight in over the central part of Wisconsin. She was able to determine that W3-17 and W7-17 are both still alive.

W7-17 with either 24-08 (Mom) or 14-08 (Dad) on Necedah NWR. Photo: Bev Paulan, WI DNR

We’re fairly certain W7-17 hatched out on May 31st, which would make it now 11 weeks old. It was captured safely on July 28th for transmitter placement and legbands. At that time, blood was drawn so we should no soon if it’s a boy or a girl crane.

In Adams County, Bev flew over W3-17 with parents 24-09 (Dad) and 42-09 (Mom) but was unable to get a photo. Luckily Brooke captured the following image in late July.

Whooping crane colt #W3-17 with parents 24-09 & 42-09. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

This youngster hatched May 4th, making him/her almost 15 weeks or 105 days old. Both are now fully capable of flight, which means they’ll be able to escape land predators and have a better chance of surviving.

NEW Events Added!

We have recently added a couple of exciting things to the Whooping Crane Festival roster and we want to make sure you’re aware of them.

Firstly, on Thursday evening, Sept. 7th, you’ll have an opportunity to join everyone at a create/paint your own sign event! 

This will take place at the VFW lodge in Princeton and the bar will be open so come on out and have a beverage, socialize with old friends and make new ones, while supporting a great cause! 

The instructor will have all the prep work done and will offer a number of unique designs so you’ll be proud to take your masterpiece home with you as a memento.

Next, we’ve added a speaker to the line-up but this one will take place on Sunday, Sept. 10th at the Caestecker Library in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin.

Associate Professor Misty McPhee is our featured guest speaker at 11am. Misty has been the lead researcher at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge for the past 2 years and will share her initial findings in determining the post-hatch/pre-fledge whooping crane chick mortality issue. 

Check out the entire festival line-up and be sure to register for those events you want to attend over the weekend!

The Food Chain

For these birds to survive they have to find food in the marsh. It was windy Saturday and the chicks were nervous. I gave up on the pond eventually, even though all of them came in — even #8-17 who really does not like to get her feet wet THERE but, they clung to the costume. 

Number 8-17 prefers to stand atop grass clumps instead of the water at the pond.

Instead, we went foraging. We found a new patch of Dewberries for them to snarf down. #3-17 ate a mushroom. We discovered little acorns and when we eventually got back to the pen the main course!

3-17 ate a small snake for lunch! (click for larger view)

But don’t feel bad for the rest of the birds. They ALL got a piece or two of Doug!

Happy to report yesterday (Sunday) went much better. All of them were quite preoccupied foraging in the pond. Doug hid in the blind and I slipped away behind a thicket of alders out of view.

Hiding out of view while the cranes explore the pond.

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Woody Woodpecker was Really a Whooping Crane

His real name was Woody Whooper. Don’t look so surprised. You didn’t really believe everything they told us when we were kids, did you? I mean, think about it. Did Columbus really discover America? Do you still believe crawling under your elementary school desk in a “Duck and Cover” exercise would have saved you from that atomic bomb? And even though you spent a whole year being a good little boy or girl, did Santa really bring you that pony for Christmas? I didn’t think so. Then why trust them to know the difference between a woodpecker and a whooping crane.

Actually, I uncovered this simple truth the other day quite by accident when we took the colts on a foraging expedition to the North Pond. There, next to the pond, center stage stood a very old, rotten tree stump… remnant of a once great presence, beaconing to the chicks like a ringing dinner bell to come and get it… which they did. Now, biologists have proven that locked deep within the soul of every young whooper chick is a woodpecker trying desperately to get out. There’s nothing a little whooper enjoys more than jack hammering away at a rotten anything. Not in quest for the bugs within, but for the pure, sensory pleasure of the doing. And so, how do they spell rotten tree stump?  “Beakathon.”

First contestant was #1, which I guess is why he’s #1. His initial rather timid, exploratory pecks soon grew into a blinding fusillade of hammer blows, creating a cloudburst of wood chips showering down from above.

His beak blurred as it assaulted the stump with the manic intensity of a child whose mother forgot to give him his Ritalin. It was a sight that would have made any self-respecting woodpecker squeal with envy. “When I grow up, I want to be a whooping crane.”

Then, as if following the First Law of Whopper Physics which states, “Monkey See, Monkey Do,” #3 joined in the fray from the opposite side of the stump. “Two heads are better than one,” he shouted as a second cloud of wood chips ballooned up from the scene.

The whole spectacle held me transfixed and mesmerized… like watching some mini volcanic eruption. Could all the answers of the Universe really be somehow magically contained in this simple act of two woodpecker wannabees reducing a tree stump to dust? After all, the Lord really does speak in strange ways. “Get a grip, Grasshopper,” the voice commanded gently from above.

And that’s when the true reality of it all hit me. This was, like the rest of life, a Contact sport, which meant it was a Concussive sport… which meant Head Trauma! I suddenly felt like a parent at a high school football game watching his son get tackled hard to the ground as helmets cracked and crowd cheered and a few fans stepped off the bleachers for hotdogs, while the other tribe… ah, team marched off the field in triumph. Did I really want #1 and #3 suffering from Early Onset Dementia? I can hear their conversation now; “How many fingers am I holding up?” and “Put me back in, Coach.”  I just hate it when reality buys a ticket to the game!

But then, it’s all about “Enrichment.”  Zoo Science has proven that if you leave critters in a cage or pen with nothing to do long enough, their cognitive skills suffer, their brains shrink and they undergo “Partial Zombification.” It’s the same with humans, which explains the coke bottle that fell from the sky in the Must See movie, “The Gods Must Be Crazy. However, there is also such a thing as over-enrichment (“Hey Bubba. Watch this”!), especially when it is hazardous to one’s health. That’s what whistles are for… so I blew mine, which in whooper terms means I turned on my vocalizer “Contact Call,” whoopereeze for “Everybody out of the pool.  We’re going home.”

“But I didn’t get my turn at bat!” #4 lamented.

“Next time,” I replied. “Life is full of next times. And besides, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

As our happy little cohort headed off for home, Colleen and I examined #1 and #3 closer than a traffic cop doing a sobriety test. “Had anything to drink tonight?” Colleen asked #1. Then he stood on one leg while his eyes followed her index finger as it drew a right and left, then up and down. “Now, what was your mother’s maiden name?” she queried. He just looked over at #3… and giggled.

Back in the pen, it was the usual daily homecoming… feeder chow downs followed by strolls down beautiful “Bayou Vista.” As we exited, I noticed #1 leaning against the pen wall steadying himself doing his best imitation of someone just home from a “Toot.” And we weren’t far down the runway when his oh so familiar voice rang out.

“Avig…Avig…Avig…That’s all, folks!”

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Weaning From the Costume

The young Whooping cranes are now being taken out for longer periods of time. Once out, we sneak away and letting them do bird things on their own. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 are doing ok and are gaining independence.
 
Alternatively, 6 and 8 are not sure they like the pond, so far they would rather not get their feet wet. It’s a process. 

This is the view from inside the blind.

One of us goes in the pond to lure them in, after they are busy and distracted that costume hides in the scrub in the deeper water, where there is a perfect hidey hole.

We stay in our hides till they get antsy and start looking panicky. We are doing about 3 hours out now. Then it’s back to the raspberry patch for a snack on the way back to the pen.

Water floods your boots and you squish all the way back to the van.

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Learning to Fly

It is estimated that it takes between 80 to 100 days for a Whooping crane to grow large and strong enough to fly. It seems surprising that a term like ‘estimated’ would be used for a species so widely researched… not to mention an evaluation that allows almost a month of latitude. Still it is a hard question to answer when the determining factors are as diverse as weather, geography, vegetation, physiology and nutrition.

Anyone who has watched our camera knows there is a substantial difference in the size of our chicks and it is not always governed by gender or age. Some birds are just smaller or slower to develop than others. In the wild, nutrition may play a role in that development but our birds get a balanced diet that is not dependent on the abundance of natural food or how good they are at foraging. The better their nutrition, the faster they can develop the muscles needed to fly. Proper and adequate nutrition can also ensure strong and flawless feathers.

Weather could also affect their progress from egg to airborne. Wings, whether they are made of feathers, fabric or fiberglass must all pass through the air in order to generate lift. When you are faced into the wind, some of that air is already moving over your wings even before you start adding your won energy to the process. That means it takes less effort to take off into the wind.

If you have watched the crew trying to encourage the chicks to fly by running up and down the runway, it is obvious that they prefer to go into the wind. That is one of the first, and most important, flying lessons learned by birds – and pilots. Breezy conditions, especially in the morning, inspire young birds to spread their immature wings and run/flap into the wind. That exercise helps to develop muscles and balance well before they are ready to lift off.

Vegetation and geography can also factor into how soon they fledge. Whooping cranes generally take a few steps to get airborne. Mature cranes can lift off vertically when needed but that takes strength and experience. Fledglings start by running, which evolves into elongated steps and then short hops as the load is progressively transferred from their feet to their feathers. For young cranes, their early takeoff runs may be as long as fifty feet. That kind of open environment might be hard to find in tall, marsh vegetation or open water.

That’s the primary reason we keep the old runway cut. It allows the birds to get a running start and even while they are too young to actually leave the ground, it develops their muscles and teaches balance.

There is a phase of flight called ground effect that has to do with induced drag and the proximity to the surface but it simple terms, it means that it is easier to fly within a few feet of the ground than it is at higher altitudes. You may have noticed the birds flying the length of the runway at a few feet up and stopping at the far end. Most wild birds don’t have the advantage of an open flat runway unless their parents led them to feed in a harvested agriculture field. Keeping the runway cut, gives the costume reared chicks an early start at flying.

The other problem in determining how long it takes Whooping cranes to learn to fly is figuring out when they have it mastered. You could say they are flying when they are a foot or two off the runway but that does not mean they could fly across the marsh with their parents to feed. In the past, we suggested the flock was fledged when we recorded the youngest bird making a full circuit around the pen area. Using those criteria, we estimated (there’s that word again) that the birds we raised over 15 years, fledged at an average age of 94 days on August 12th. This year’s cohort fledged on July 30th at an average of 91 days. Admittedly, that’s a broad evaluation so let’s leave it between 80 and a hundred days.

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Stepping Back

Colleen reports that the seven young whoopers in the costume-reared cohort are doing well. Each received a temporary snap-on VHF transmitter last Friday so that if they decide to wander off or land out in the marsh, they’ll be easier to find by following the beeps from the handheld receiver.

As is usually the case, they are very curious about this new foreign piece of plastic and its antenna and are rather preoccupied pecking and probing at it and even limping when they walk. 

The daily outings continue and the birds are gaining more and more independence. After leading them to a small pond north of their enclosure, Brooke and Colleen hide out of sight and allow them to explore on their own. Saturday and Sunday’s excursions each lasted over 3 hours. 

Getting them back into the pen is a bit more difficult now that they’ve discovered the raspberry patch at the north end of the runway.

Last Thursday morning our camera apparently sustained a lightning strike, which fried the power inverter inside the camera trailer. I ordered a replacement last night and Brooke will be able to swap out the new for the fried once it arrives later this week.

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FESTIVAL is FAST Approaching!

2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 7th with a fun Paint your own Sign night at the VFW Lodge in Princeton! This is a new event that we’ve just added as a way to get reacquainted with festival friends. Our instructor will have all the prep work done so all we have to do is have an adult beverage and use the stencils, paints and boards provided to create your own keepsake.

The next day features a field trip to nearby Marsh Haven Nature Center near Horicon Marsh. Your trip will include a presentation about Birds, Butterflies and Your Backyard followed by lunch and a boardwalk stroll. Bus transportation to/from is provided.

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff. 

Saturday, Sept. 9th brings the all day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

NEW this year! We’re thrilled to offer a Nature Photography Workshop! 

Love taking photos of birds? Butterflies? Flowers? Mystified by the camera settings? This workshop is for you! Check out the details and register here. Space is limited.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Will team OMG win back the title from team Chix’s Chicks? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 10, 2017 – we hope to see you there!

“I lost my phone”!

God created the earth and everything on it in six days. On the seventh day he stopped to rest. Not because he was tired, but because he lost his cellphone. It was a problem. When you’re God, it’s more than a little embarrassing to have to yell down, “Hey Adam. Do me a favor and call my cell phone. I lost it!”  Especially when you know the only answer you’re going to get is, “What’s a cellphone?” And so began mankind’s universal journey of frustration that continues to this day. Or at least until Monday… when Colleen lost her phone in the marsh.

The day began as most days here do…. as we walked the birds to a new “foraging destination” Joe had mowed a few days before. I was watching the birds as they madly probed the wetland for each and every “beakable” item waiting just beneath the surface when I noticed Joe and Colleen suddenly doing the same thing… only with their arms.

Then, as their speed increased from 45 to 78 rpm, they began to resemble a couple of costumed cardiac patients digging in a swamp for their pacemakers as if their lives depended on it. A new training protocol, I wondered? Or was this the beginning of some kind of twisted reality show. You have to remember, people in costumes can look pretty funny doing just about anything, no matter how many years you’ve been watching them.

Finally, I just couldn’t stand it anymore and walked over to Joe. “What are you doing?” I asked.  “Colleen lost her cellphone,” he replied. “She fell in the water and it popped out of her costume pocket.” This came as a surprise because I hadn’t seen her fall. But then I rarely do because she has become so skilled at the art of “face plant recovery” that most times it all happens so fast you don’t even see it. Like staring at a hummingbird in flight and trying to see its wings. In fact, the only way I know it’s just happened is because the chicks suddenly all line up like Olympic judges, holding up large scoring cards with big numbers on them.  I joined in the search, but as usual was not much help.

“Can’t we call Jacques Cousteau to come take a look?” Colleen asked. “Nope” I replied. “He and his narrator, Rod Serling, are already busy working on another project; “Eternal Decompression.”

We walked the birds back to the pen while Colleen quietly sang the “Wizard of Oz” song, “If I Only Had a…. Phone.” Then it was back to the parking lot to regroup. At a time like this, who you going to call? Not “Ghost Busters” because the marsh isn’t haunted. No. You call “Detector Man”!  That’s who.  Now, it just so happened I had recently purchased a brand new metal detector. “Plan for your retirement now!” the TV financial guru demanded. “Social Security is not going to be there when you need it. Neither is healthcare.” So… I bought a metal detector. It’s better than a Swiss Bank Account. No account number to forget. And besides, what better way to spend your “Golden Years” than sweeping deserted beaches, metal detector in one hand, beverage in the other, for its hidden treasure of pop tops and thin dimes… the very cornerstones of any financial retirement plan. Those things add up… and pennies really do make dollars. And no Tax Man.

We sped back to camp, retrieved the metal detector from the locked bank vault and returned to the “Accident Scene.” As we walked past the pen, I heard #1 say to #4. “Looks like he’s practicing for retirement.” With shaking hands, I adjusted the detector settings to “She Dropped Her Cellphone” as the metal detector barked to life and the search began. It wasn’t too many sweeps later that the detector began to scream, prompting me to dig way down until my fingers hit the jackpot.  “Got it!” I whispered as I yanked it up and excitedly cleaned it off for inspection. But as with so much of the rest of life, the thrill of victory quickly morphed into the agony of defeat as we confronted the new reality that Colleen had become the proud new owner of a… PAPER WEIGHT. 

“Can you call it to see if it still works?” Colleen asked.

“Better not.” I replied. “We don’t want to disturb the little fish swimming on the other side of the screen, unless of course you’ve got it on “Aquarium App.”

It was then we heard the voice from above call down, “The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. That is why I created INSURANCE.”

Less than 24 hours later, our good friend Jerry from the Refuge stopped us on the road and passed a just delivered box through the van window. “Your new phone,” he said smiling.  Colleen proceeded to tear open the box with all the calm delicacy of a hungry lion devouring a gazelle… and there it was.  The new phone. She stared at it as if it was a winning lottery ticket. Then her joyful expression quickly faded to confusion and suspicion. “This phone is from a different manufacturer,” she said.

“What manufacturer?” I asked.

“Chicken of the Sea!”

Nice to know the “Man Upstairs” hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

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EMP Whooping Crane Update

August, 3, 2017 – Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month, we have been monitoring wild-hatched chicks, and most adults have stayed in their summer locations. One of the wild-hatched chicks has fledged and another is close to fledging. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate

The current maximum population size is 95 (43 F, 50 M, 2 U). This does not include 2017 wild-hatched chicks. As of 1 August, at least 85 Whooping Cranes have been confirmed in Wisconsin, 1 in South Dakota, 2 in North Dakota, 1 in Michigan, and 1 in Kentucky. The remaining birds’ locations have not been reported during July. See map below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

There are currently two wild-hatched chicks alive in Wisconsin. 

W3_17 hatched ~4 May to parents 42-09/24-09 in Adams Co, WI. W3_17 has fledged and has been seen flying with its parents.

W7_17 hatched ~30 May to parents 14-08/24-08 in Juneau Co, WI.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) spent all of July in Ward County, North Dakota.

30_16 (M) is still in Green Lake Co, WI with 5_12 (M).

31_16 (M) spent all of July in Winnebago Co, WI.

33_16 (F) moved from Murray Co, MN to Day Co, SD, where she is currently.

69_16 (F) moved from Fond du Lac County, WI down to Jefferson Co, WI. She also has separated from 65_15 (F).

70_16 (M) is still in Knox County, KY.

71_16 (F) spent all of July in Winnebago Co, WI.

Mortality

20_14 (F) was found dead on 3 July 2017 at Necedah NWR. Predation is the suspected cause of mortality. 20_14’s chick (W15_17) was seen with mate 37_07 after 20_14’s death, but was then also lost likely to predation (see above).  

16_02 (M) was last seen on 21 July 2017. His carcass was recovered on 28 July 2017. The cause of death remains unknown, but there may be some indication of predation.

UAS’s By Any Other Name

The other day I was looking at my old dictionary. You know, that ten-pound textbook that’s been collecting dust since spell checker took over. It’s interesting that the last few pages list a small collection of acronyms and a few examples of initialism. They referenced agencies like NATO and the FBI but not much else.  If there were ever again a need for printed dictionaries, I would guess that back page section would now take up more space than the A to Z entries.

For years, the computer tech industry has been talking about USBs, Jpgs and a million other abbreviations. And now that we do a lot of writing with our thumbs, even common phases have been shortened to LOL or OMG.  With every new software update, my phone seems to acquire more emoticons so it’s almost as if we are slowly moving back to hieroglyphics. If you can’t think of a snappy response, you simply pick one of those odd happy face characters and let your audience draw their own conclusions. Instead of Instagram, it will soon be pictogram.

Initialism is alive and well in the aviation industry with GPS and ADS-B and is now taking over the nascent drone business. In fact, they are not even called drones anymore. Instead, they are officially UAS or unmanned aircraft systems.

We bought a UAS a year ago, thinking it would be a good way to actually see reclusive birds that are hiding deep in the marsh instead of just listening to that incessant beep on the radio receiver.  Many of the cranes have non-functional transmitters because they only last two or three years. With luck, at least one of the pair has a working unit so we can assume they are together but we can’t be sure. Getting some airborne video helps us confirm they are still safe.

Drones have acquired a reputation as spy devices likely because of their military applications and the rules governing the civilian use of UAS’s are not really understood. Many people assume that a drone flying overhead is up to no good and an invasion of their private property. However, property rights only apply to the surface. Anything above that is part of the NAS or National Airspace and under the jurisdiction of the FAA.

Certainly, a landowner can prohibit a UAS from taking off or landing on private property but flying overhead is legal, providing you follow all the other rules. Drones are not allowed to fly anywhere near an airport and can’t fly too close to people or buildings or above 400 feet. But just like airplanes are allowed to fly low over unpopulated areas, so too can drones.

Still for many people, a drone flying over their property is a hot button and there is a big difference between what is legal and what’s acceptable in a rural setting. To avoid insurance issues and wildlife disturbance concerns many public lands, both state and federal, are no fly zones, which actually means no takeoff or landing zone.

Over 700,000 drones were registered in 2016 and that number is expected to reach 2.4 million by 2020. The FAA has a monumental task trying to find a balance between a rapidly growing UAS market and privacy concerns of the public. We as a society, have learned to live with the fact that we are on camera a dozen times a day as we shop or go to work but most people expect that to end once you are on your own property. 

So for now, our drone isn’t as useful as we had hoped. We do get to fly it with permission and we have found cranes using its high definition camera but annoying local property owners is not worth the return.

Here’s a clip from last October captured by our drone. Can you spot the whoopers?

(You can go fullscreen using the [ ] icon bottom right hand side below the video)

Have you Registered Yet?

2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 7th with a fun Paint your own Sign night at the VFW Lodge in Princeton! This is a new event that we’ve just added as a way to get reacquainted with festival friends. Our instructor will have all the prep work done so all we have to do is have an adult beverage and use the stencils, paints and boards provided to create your own keepsake.

The next day features a field trip to nearby Marsh Haven Nature Center near Horicon Marsh. Your trip will include a presentation about Birds, Butterflies and Your Backyard followed by lunch and a boardwalk stroll. Bus transportation to/from is provided.

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff. 

Saturday, Sept. 9th brings the all day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

NEW this year! We’re thrilled to offer a Nature Photography Workshop! 

Love taking photos of birds? Butterflies? Flowers? Mystified by the camera settings? This workshop is for you! Check out the details and register here. Space is limited.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Will team OMG win back the title from team Chix’s Chicks? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 10, 2017 – we hope to see you there!

A Day at the Beach

“Which way to the Beach”? Number 1-17 inquired as we entered the pen a couple of mornings ago. It was the very same question mankind has been asking ever since our ancient ancestors first crawled out of the sea half a gazillion years ago. It just so happened we had spent the last couple of days mowing and weed eating a really nice “beach” next to a big, beautiful pond north of the pen.  It wasn’t the Jersey Shore, but it would do.

Colleen flung open the pen door and off we went… to the beach. “Should I bring my pail and shovel”, #7-17 asked?  “Nope”, Colleen replied. “Just make sure you go to the bathroom before we leave… cuz we’re Not Stopping”!

Years of scientific research and study by some of the government’s most famous and revered biologists has proven that if you want to see a whooper chick’s eyes widen to twice their normal size, take them to the beach. Our little adventurers were suddenly all eyeballs as the sights and sounds of a new world began their assault. But their trust in the two white big birds leading them held firm as we traveled over the freshly cut grass path towards the most famous of nature’s amusement parks. 

“Are we there yet,” #2-17 asked?

“Just cool your jets, little lady,” Colleen replied. “It’s all about the journey. Not the destination. And besides, anticipation is 90% of the fun anyway.”

And soon we were there. The beach! It lay before us in panorama. An Eden without the snake. A Lost World minus the Lost. A wide swath of heaven, where the land kissed the sea… ah, the pond, and where the sand had magically turned to soft, freshly cut vegetation. The sun shone down with a benevolent light that animated every tree, flower and blade of grass while the pond returned exact images of our dazed little wanderers in reflection. There was no boardwalk or life guard or Beach Closed Due To Pollution sign. But then beaches are like snowflakes… every one’s different. And it’s all about perception anyway.

“I feel dizzy!” #4-17 commented.  “Maybe we shouldn’t drink the water.”

“It’s not the water,” #3-17 replied. “It’s the cotton candy.”

“Surf’s Up!” shouted #3-17 as the water rose around his hocks.

And so began a very special time. First times are always special, but especially for whooper chicks. And their days are full of them. Each one is met with the same intense, wide-eyed sense of wonder that must be at least partially digested before going on to the next. Within the context of this very new place, the dragonfly, the frog, the snail become new worlds to discover… and conquer.

And for Colleen and I, it is a place of privilege. Watching all of this magic unfold through the thin lens of our costume helmet was like sitting in a blind observing the first day of Creation. Almost overwhelming! But that’s a story for another day.

The minutes passed at warp speed as the beach provided its dose of “experiential shock and awe.” But sadly, life is on a timer… and ours’ began its all too familiar beep. And anyway, the chicks were tiring out from the sensory overload. Fortunately for everything that walks, flies or crawls, there can be too much of a good thing. Good things, after all, do get tiring… and sensing its approach is the most important of our seven senses. Just think of all the aspiring actors whose careers failed because they were never quite able to leave the stage.

“Time to head home,” Colleen announced. “Remember. School tomorrow.”

With juvenile reluctance, the chicks dutifully collected themselves up. “Don’t forget to pick up your trash,” #4-17 said. “We don’t want to give them an excuse not to bring us back here again.”

Six chicks followed Colleen down the path, as #1-17 and I lagged behind, bringing up the rear.

“So… what did you think?” I asked #1.

He paused for a moment in deep reflection, then looked up at me and replied, “Life’s a Beach and then… you Fly.”

Right On, little fellow. Right On.

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Caestecker Library Presentation

If you’re in the area, why not drop by the Caestecker Library in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin this Thursday evening to hear Operation Migration’s CEO, Joe Duff give an informative talk and photographic presentation about our continuing work with Whooping cranes?

Time: 6:30 – 8pm   |  Location: 518 Hill St. Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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