Welcome Home!

Yesterday morning we were up before the sun and headed out to the marsh nearby to try to locate some Sandhill crane nests (More about that later this week).

As we crested the hill we saw a large wetland alive with Sandhill cranes. The noise was deafening as they chattered among themselves. 

As the sun began to light up the marsh we noticed two large white Whooping cranes among the Sandhill’s and a quick check of the receiver told us they were 4-17 & 6-17; siblings which were costumed raised at White River Marsh last year!

These two had spent the winter in Fulton County, Kentucky and had made it back to White River Marsh! 

Here are a couple of photos I snapped with Jeff’s camera.

Whooping cranes 4-17 and 6-17 in Green Lake County, WI. Photo: H. Ray


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Earth Day 2018

We’d love for every day to be Earth Day but if one day each year helps to highlight the issue then we’re all for that.

This year, Earth Day will focus on the issue of plastic pollution. Did you know humans create plastic waste at an astounding rate, as of 2015 the total was estimated to be around 6300 million metric tons.

Of that, a staggering 79% accumulates in landfills and the environment. The plastic makes its way to the ocean where it traps and is eaten by marine animals. In the ocean the plastic continually breaks into smaller and smaller pieces until it can enter the blood stream of fish and other organisms, bringing along the toxins it has absorbed.

What can you do?

  • Lend your voice by signing this petition
  • Reduce YOUR use! Here are 17 ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use:


  1. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
  2. Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often! 
  3. Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic. 
  4. Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic.
  5. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging. 
  6. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
  7. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop
  8. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam. 
  9. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter. 
  10. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods! 
  11. Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
  12. Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
  13. The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money. 
  14. Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
  15. Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
  16. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single serving cups.
  17. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor


In case you’re still of the mind that plastics are not an issue, please watch the following video.

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Frugivores! What are they?

A cross between a Pug and a French bulldog?

People who are stingy?

Find out here at Birdwatching Daily!

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NO Bread please

Pass it on!

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In Case You Missed it…

Get your Cranes NEED Wetlands T-shirt. 

We have a limited number available so be sure to order yours soon!

All net proceeds support our Whooping Crane fieldwork. 

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Henry is Courting!

It seems #5-12 (aka Henry) has a lady friend!

Last week we told you Bev and Brooke spotted 7 Whooping cranes in and around White River Marsh during a very brief trip. The list of 7 included 67-15, who at that time, appeared to be associating with #4-14 (aka Peanut).

It seems that has changed in the past few days and this lovely 3 year old female Whooping crane has captured the attention of 6 year old male Whooper #5-12!

While she is only 3 years old, we have seen whoopers that age breed so as you can well imagine, we’re pretty excited about this possible new pair at the marsh.

Here are a couple photos I captured of them yesterday in the snow.

#5-12/Henry on the right, and his new friend #67-15 are barely visible in the fresh snow, which fell over the weekend. Photo: H. Ray

Many birds in the area are foraging on the roads because the heavy snow has covered all the grassy areas. Photo: H. Ray

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Bird Migration “Tools”

In recent news Cornell Lab of Ornithology and University of Oxford have teamed up to create a near real-time map to follow large-scale migrations, including the ability to predict 3 days ahead.

To learn more: http://birdcast.info/live-migration- maps/

How to use the map: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/heres-how- to-use- the-new- migration-forecast-

CLICK to learn more

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Wrong Way Whooper

Parent-reared Whooping crane #72-17 was released in early October in Winnebago County, Wisconsin. For a few weeks, he was monitored by Jo-Anne Bellemer as he moved about the area with a small group of Sandhill cranes. 

This fella gets high marks for traveling the farthest last fall. Four days after leaving Wisconsin, he appeared in Okeechobee County, FL, some 1300 miles to the south.

He began heading north on April 2nd and everything was going great until 4 days later when he appeared to make a right turn over northern Kentucky, instead of staying on his trajectory.

Thereafter, #72-17 encountered the south shore of Lake Erie before doubling back and then veering north into Michigan. oops!

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If You Build It, They Will Come – Or Not!

Not far from Operation Migration headquarters, 11 miles to the south, used to be a 1,500 acre thoroughbred horse breeding farm called Windfields Farm.

It’s most famously known as the birthplace of Norther Dancer – winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

I have driven past this beautiful parcel of land countless time as I drove my kids into the ‘big city of Oshawa’; approximate population of 160,000. I always took a quick glance off the road to see the fields of horses and imagined what it would be like to grow up there. 

The passing of E.P. Taylor in 1989 and then his son, Charles, in 1997 led to a downsizing and the eventual closure of the farm. Large parcels of land were sold to University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Durham College with much of the remaining land sold for residential development. Just to the north, the 407 toll highway was expanded further east. 

As I drive past this area now, I still look hoping to see the majestic horses in those fields but instead what I do see, besides the development, is nesting structures, referred to as kiosks.

Four large Barn swallow kiosks, back-dropped by new, large human homes. Photo: H. Ray

Due to a large drop, 66% from 1970 – 2012, in barn swallow populations the Ontario government mandated in 2013 that anyone who modifies or destroys a barn must provide a replacement within a kilometer and near foraging habitat.  Ontario Ministry of Transportation alone, installed 148 barn swallow kiosks at a cost of $3,500 ea. 

The problem is – the barn swallows aren’t really flocking to them.  Bird Studies Canada has found that only ½ of the 20 erected structures are being occupied.  Many farmers are saying though, that there are far fewer barn swallows nesting in their barns as well.  So what exactly is the problem?  It seems, it may very well be a combination of factors.

Read more from ON nature

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Meanwhile, at the Marsh…

Brooke made a quick stop at our camp near White River Marsh yesterday to drop off the tracking van. Before leaving it behind to head back to Florida to retrieve the RV, he and Bev Paulan did a circuit around the marsh listening for transmitter beeps.

In all, they located 7 Whooping cranes, including: 3-14 and 4-12 (the Royal Couple), 5-12 and 30-16, 4-14 & 67-15 (Peanut and a potential girlfriend!?), and 28-17 (Joe’s elusive male Parent-reared crane from last year).

Female Whooping crane 67-15. This is her first visit to the White River Marsh area. Photo: B. Pennypacker

Male Whooping crane #4-14. Photo: B. Pennypacker

2 yr. old male Whooping crane #30-16 (aka Johnny). Photo: B. Pennypacker

6 yr. old male Whooping crane #5-12 (aka Henry). Photo: B. Pennypacker

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2 Year Long Investigation in Whooping Crane Shooting

RAYNE, La. – Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement agents cited a Louisiana man and a juvenile on April 3 in Acadia Parish for allegedly shooting two endangered whooping cranes.

After an almost two-year investigation, agents cited Kaenon A. Constantin, 25, and a juvenile from Rayne, for violating the Endangered Species Act, hunting from a public road and obstruction of justice.

The cranes were found just south of Rayne off of Hwy. 35 and Hains Hwy on the afternoon of May 20, 2016. The cranes were recovered and sent in for a necropsy, which revealed they were both shot.

Through the course of the investigation, agents determined that Constantin and the juvenile shot the two whooping cranes with .22 caliber rifles from an ATV on a public road.

Agents seized two .22 caliber rifles and an ATV in connection with the violations.

Violating the Endangered Species Act brings up to a $50,000 fine and a year in jail.  Hunting from a public road carries up to a $15,000 fine and six months in jail.  Obstruction of justice brings up to 10 years in jail.

Wildlife and Fisheries has released 125 whooping cranes since 2011 and are currently tracking 66 whooping cranes. The cranes, in this case, were released in December of 2015.

Source: http://www.katc.com/story/37924567/two-year-shooting-investigation-of-whooping-cranes-solved

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Gearing UP for the Season

So far, the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) has been the most successful attempt to reintroduce Whooping cranes. They have learned to migrate along the eastern flyway, and have taught their offspring that same behavior. Their survival rates are comparable to the only naturally occurring flock.

With very few exceptions, they select appropriate habitat and avoid humans – just as wild cranes should. They mate with the correct species, defend their nesting territories, produce viable eggs and hatch healthy chicks in sufficient numbers to become self-sustaining. The last challenge is to get those chicks to survive the eighty days it takes them to learn to fly.

Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes are similar species that use comparable habitat, and exhibit similar nesting and rearing behaviors. Knowing how one is surviving in a specific environment should indicate whether the other at least has a chance. Based on that, Operation Migration’s Field Researcher, Jeff Fox, assisted the Fish & Wildlife Service last year in conducting chick mortality research of both species.

Although one year is a small sample size and nothing on which to base management decisions, indications from last year’s data suggest that the Whooping cranes in the study area are doing just as well as their Sandhill counterparts at keeping their chicks alive until they fledge.

This year, while the Fish and Wildlife Service continue their research, OM will conduct a similar study at White River Marsh in Green Lake County. It is critical research and, looking back, it should have been done earlier.

With fingers crossed, we have two potential pairs that could breed in or around the White River Marsh this year. Craniacs know one of the pairs as “The Royal Couple” and they are already back at White River Marsh. We hope to deploy our 24-hour camera once again and, with luck, we will capture the first live broadcast of a successful Whooping crane nesting. This, of course, depends on where the pair chooses to build their nest.

You may recall their first attempt at nesting took place last spring but ended abruptly when a third Whooper (#4-14/aka Peanut) landed nearby. Both nesting adults chased the interloper away, which allowed a coyote to move in to the nest.

The Royal Couple (above) returned to White River Marsh last week. We are hopeful they learned from their nesting experience last year, and are more vigilant this season. Photo: Doug Pellerin

In the recovery of Whooping cranes, the naturally occurring flock that migrates from Canada to Texas is, by far, the most important asset. It is now up to 430 individuals and growing at the rate of four percent per year. The second most valuable resource is the Eastern Migratory Population with 103 individuals and 22 breeding pairs. It has taken eighteen years, lots of hard work and millions of dollars to create this flock and it is one step – albeit a big one – away from success.

We owe our continued effort and our undying dedication to those cranes and the people who helped put them there. Please support us in conducting the research that will help the flock clear that last hurdle.

To help us carry out this important work, please click here.

Alternatively, we have created a “wish list” on Amazon.com, which lists most of the items needed to conduct the Sandhill crane mortality study. Have a look at the list and select the item(s) you would like to purchase for our work this year! 

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Two More Cranes Head North

Yesterday evening I received an email from Mary Yandell with details of a sighting made by Cyndi and Steve Rutledge.

Mary and Cyndi are co-editors of the Eastern Crane Bulletin, a fine newsletter produced by KY Coalition for Sandhill Cranes.

It seems Cyndi and Steve were birding in Christian County, Kentucky when two Whooping cranes dropped in to roost for the night.

Mary was able to relay legbands to me, which determined the two are parent-reared Whooping cranes, #’s 19-17 & 25-17.

These two young males followed female cranes 2-15 & 28-05 south last fall and spent the entire winter in northeast Alabama.

They were among the first cranes to leave Wisconsin last fall and this spring, they’re among the last to return.

Cyndi captured this image using her mobile phone and her spotting scope. (Thanks Cyndi!)

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The Boys Are Back in Town!

On his regular Thursday tracking around White River Marsh and surrounding area yesterday, Doug Pellerin was thrilled when the two male Whooping cranes 5-12 & 30-16 flew right over his head. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his camera out fast enough but radio signals confirmed their identity as the two birds who left St. Marks NWR on March 23rd.

Doug resumed his tracking and determined the two cranes had landed in Henry’s Pond – a small wet area, which was quite popular last year with the costume-reared cohort and others.

Later in the afternoon the signal for 30-16 indicated he was in another favorite spot along the Fox River, while Henry (5-12) was back at his favorite field along Mile Rd.

Welcome back boys! And thanks for the photos Doug!

Whooping crane 5-12 camouflages quite well with the fresh snow. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Henry alarm calling with some Sandhill cousins. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Get your own #5-12 Whooping crane moppet!

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Cry4 – Bird’s Eye View

European robin

Two recently published studies may have found what allows birds to navigate accurately. It’s a newly discovered eye protein known as Cry4.

This protein is light sensitive and increases during periods of migration, which may allow birds to see the earth’s magnetic field.

The two studies involved Zebra finches and European robins.

Read more…

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