Aerial Surveys

Wisconsin DNR’s Bev Paulan flew over the Juneau County, Wisconsin on Wednesday this week and reports our three wild hatched Whooping cranes are still with their parents. Further she stated that the oldest, no. W3-15 was exhibiting a bit of independance as it was located approximately 20 meters from its parents initially but as she circled to take a photo, it ran to join dad (10-09).

To recap the wild hatched chicks still on the landscape, we have:

  • W3-15 with parents 10-09/17-07*
  • W10-15 with parents 2-04/25-09*
  • W18-15 with parents 3-04/9-03*
The oldest wild hatched Whooping crane, no. 3-15 and 10-09.

The oldest wild hatched Whooping crane, no. 3-15 and 10-09.

Over toward the east, in the Wisconsin ‘Rectangle’ we have no chicks, however DNR pilot Mike Callahan flew a survey yesterday and reported finding the following Whooping cranes:

  • 16-11 (with his Sandhill mate), 4-13, 9-13/7-14 at Horicon NWR
  • 4-12/3-14, 5-12, 4-14 (aka Peanut), 9-14 & 10-14 at White River Marsh SWA

BIG thanks to Wisconsin DNR Pilots Bev Paulan and Mike Callahan for their excellent flying and radio-telemetry skills – all while wielding a camera!

Whooping crane 16-11

Whooping crane 16-11

Whooping crane 4-13

Whooping crane 4-13

9-13 & 7-14. The latter was the only crane in the Class of 2015 to make the entire northward migration from Florida. She returned with 4 & 9-13.

9-13 & 7-14. The latter was the only crane in the Class of 2015 to make the entire northward migration from Florida. She returned with 4 & 9-13.

4-12 & 3-14 have been dubbed 'The Royal Couple' by CraneCam viewers. This is the pair that frequents the White River Marsh training area.

4-12 & 3-14 have been dubbed ‘The Royal Couple’ by CraneCam viewers. This is the pair that frequents the White River Marsh training area.

3 yr. old male 5-12 on White River Marsh SWA.

3 yr. old male 5-12 on White River Marsh SWA.

One yr. old male 4-14, aka Peanut.

One yr. old male 4-14, aka Peanut.

Two female flockmates from the Class of 2014: 9 & 10-14.

Two female flockmates from the Class of 2014: 9 & 10-14 with several Sandhill friends.

Attention Green Lake Country!

If you live in Green Lake Country, Wisconsin, mark your calendars for August 4th at 6:30 pm.

Operation Migration is coming back to the library! Come and meet Joe Duff, co-founder and bird-father to Green Lake County’s Whooping Crane population.

You won’t want to miss this amazing presentation about one of the world’s most important wildlife preservation efforts! All are welcome to attend!

The Caestecker Public Library is located at: 518 Hill St., Green Lake, Wisconsin

My Turn to FLY

There are people who are born to be administrators and those that have it thrust upon them like a punishment. I fall into that latter category. But the reward for my administrative penance is flying with the birds. In my opinion of course, it happens are far too infrequently to atone for all the time in front of a computer but you accept your recompense as it is allotted.

I spend several weeks in White River marsh over the summer but for most of it I am not the only pilot on duty. Brooke is also here and he deserves reward too. He works seven days a week monitoring the overwintering birds at St. Marks and conducts the early conditioning at Patuxent, so during the summer he gets weekends off. And that is when I get my prize.

Sunrise comes early this time of year so we roll out of bed at 4:30 AM. The ground crew heads to the pen while I drive north to the hangar. We text back and forth to check on the fog situation in the marsh and I get airborne shortly after the sun clears the horizon and burns off the moisture.

At this stage the birds are only flying in ground effect. This occurs when an aircraft or a bird flies close to the surface, which is why pelicans can fly so effortlessly just above the water. The proximity to the ground destroys the vortices generated at the wing tips which reduces the parasitic drag that burdens everything that flies. It takes energy to create that wake behind a wing just as it does with a boat. If you can reduce the wake, you improve the efficiency so flying close to the ground is much easier than flying higher up.

Whoopers 2015 7-27 training5 - Joe Duff_1

The birds have reached that stage when they are strong enough to fly close to the surface but not yet able to climb. So our daily exercising consists of a high speed taxi down the length of the runway while the birds fly beside us.

We also have early morning visitors. As soon as they hear the engine approaching. Sub-adult Whooping cranes 4-12 and 3-14 fly in to see what is going on.

Whoopers 2015 7-27 training4 - Joe Duff_1

On Monday morning I hoped to actually take off with the birds on the first run when they were full of energy and excited about being out. Unfortunately, the two white birds have a habit of standing right in the middle of the runway. When the chicks came out, I waited a second too long trying to judge how we could get airborne around the two visitors. In that one second delay, the birds took off ahead of me and flew to the end of the runway. Taking off with birds ahead of you is extremely dangerous. You never know when they will decide to stop and once in the air, we don’t have brakes.

I waited by the pen and, as expected, the chicks immediately flew back to join the trike. We took off together for the first time and all the birds followed during the initial turn. Most landed back after a short flight but with chicks on one end and white birds in the middle, I had no place to land. I circled, attempting to keep close to the runway. As I passed by the northern end of the field, the chicks would fly down to greet me. When I passed the south end they would fly back. Round and round I went looking for a space to safely put down while number 2-15 kept flying in pursuit. She was likely airborne for 2 or 3 minutes while the others got their exercise flying from one end to the other. Finally, I was able to find a spot and dropped in over the heads of the white birds who threat postured as if they were under attack.

In truth Saturday was their first attempt to fly beyond the end of the runway but it was not successful so it doesn’t count. I took off and immediately circled back. Two birds dropped into the tall grass at the end of the runway. Three more landed on the runway while number 2-15 followed me. After one quick turn I landed back over the heads of the white birds that were again standing in the middle of the runway. This left very little room to stop – especially on wet grass that makes the brake ineffective. I ran out of runway and eventually turned up the drive that leads to our access road. Number 2 had no choice but to land in 6 foot tall grass beside me. She walked out a little wet and somewhat indignant but nonetheless for the experience. The other two found their own way back onto the runway and we did a few more high speed runs in ground effect.

So far these birds are behaving perfectly…

(many thanks to Tom Schultz for the photos!)

Whoopers 2015 7-27 training1_1 Whoopers 2015 7-27 training3_1

Mowing Day

Monday was mowing day, not moving day, mowing day. From the CraneCam mounted 30 feet above the runway, it did not look like long grass, but as soon as Joe mounted the Cub mower and cut his first swath, it was clear that the grass was long.

The real treat, though, was watching the “walkabout”! I was driving the cam and noticed the birds suddenly seemed alert to something on the south end of the runway. I swung the cam in that direction and, sure enough, two “tumes” (Brooke and Jeff) were making their way towards the pen. In they came and out they went, with the six young whooping crane colts who must have figured the trike showed up in stealth mode.

Happily-flappily they exited the pen, jumping around and taking short flights. The tumes started walking north on the runway and the “special six” fell right in line, following them like the obedient birds that they are. It looked like a girl-boy-scout hike as they marched down to the end of the runway and then hooked a left into the grass.

They walked past the trees that one of our chatters calls Ye Olde Country Inn or something like that because of all the birds that rest in its shade. Then up a path, into the woods and we lost sight of them. They were going about a 1/2 mile or so to a small pond where they would be entertained (and I don’t mean by dancing tumes) while the mowing and weed-whacking took place.

Enter Joe and Tom, stage right. Tom got his super-duper weed-whacker running while Joe hit the runway with the Cub Cadet 42″ mower. Tom whacked the grass lower in front of the blind so visitors will be afforded great views of the birds training, then moved over to cut some of the longer stuff around the pen.

The chatters were way more interested in Joe’s work though (sorry Tom!). They counted laps. They timed laps. They held a contest Tuesday morning to see who remembered the time of the fastest lap. All in all, the work took just over an hour.

When it was done, it looked like Joe was texting on his phone, and Heather gave me the “<——-” point-the-cam-over-there signal. I did and sure enough out came the little hikers, first Jeff and Brooke, and then six apparently hungry colts. As soon as they got into the pen, they lined up for chow! Just as after training, the six birds walked right into the pen with no extra urging, except for one hold-out. She (or he) stood outside the door for an extra few seconds, gazing longingly down the runway, maybe hoping she’ll be taking that hike again someday. I’m sure she will next year on her own, but for now it’s back to training! Here are some photos of mowing day courtesy of Tom Schultz. TSchultz 2015 7-27 mowing day1

TSchultz 2015 7-27 mowing day2

TSchultz 2015 7-27 mowing day3

TSchultz 2015 7-27 mowing day4

In Case you Missed it…

Be sure to read the article in yesterday’s Milwaukee Journal SentinalWhooping crane hatching season produces hope and concern.

Endangered whooping cranes are slowly gaining a foothold in the state as another breeding season rears a few more wild chicks in their new Wisconsin home.

Challenged by pests and inexperience, the cranes have struggled to reproduce successfully in the wild since a reintroduction program began in 2001. A record number of chicks hatched this year — 24 hatched from 37 nests — but the population is still threatened by a high mortality rate for the young birds.

Only three chicks have survived to mid-July, but if they survive to fledging, they will tie the previous record of fledglings from 2010. Continue reading

Hybrid Crane Update from WCEP

The hybrid crane colt captured last week is safe and was transferred to the Milwaukee County Zoo, where it will be housed at the facility – together with their lone Sandhill crane. There will be no experiments performed on this chick, and we are confident that its well-being is secure. The young crane will not be heading to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.

The colt captured is a whoophill, the result of a successful pairing between a whooping crane and a sandhill crane. This young hybrid was first noticed at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in late May. It is uncertain whether this crane would be capable of reproducing with another crane in the future. However, we believe there is a high probability that this hybrid is sterile. If it is fertile and remains in the wild, it could survive to reproductive status, further complicating biologic integrity of both sandhill and whooping cranes. If it is sterile (most likely) and remains in the wild to adulthood, it could result in a future pairing with another whooping crane. Although this pairing would not result in offspring, it would essentially tie up a fertile whooping crane through this bond, effectively removing another whooping crane from the critical breeding population.

The good news here is we have learned the male whooping crane, 16-11, is a vigilant male that has helped his sandhill mate raise a chick and protect it from predation. Since this male appears to have good parenting skills, we hope he can use these in the future with a whooping crane mate. While some whooping cranes have strong mate fidelity, there are many pairs that swap mates frequently. We are hopeful this will be the case for this pair, to help increase the chance this male whooping crane will help build his species’ population in the future.

It is never easy to take steps to remove an animal from the wild, but we are guided by the scientific expertise of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the hope that our efforts will ensure that whooping cranes continue to be a part of our landscape.

Last Call for Auction Items!

The Class of 2015 is training (beautifully, I might add), and that means the deadline for sending items for our 2015 auctions is fast-approaching. We’d like to receive all items by August 7th so that we have time to open packages, assemble what needs assembling, and all that jazzz. So, if you are considering donating an item, now is the time!

No item is too small (or too big) – we run the auctions in multiple formats – online, silent, and live. Smaller, easy-to-ship items mostly go online, while larger, heavier items go into the auctions at the Whooping Crane Festival that runs from September 10th-13th in Princeton, WI.

To donate an item, click here.

To learn more, click here.

And to register for the Festival, click here.

Thank you!

Blind Date Anyone?

Are you interested in viewing the training activities of the 2015 cohort at White River Marsh?

Since the young Whooping crane colts are not yet flying very well (that could change any day now!), you will be able to watch their activities just about the entire time that they are out for training – and the view from the blind is excellent. Binoculars are helpful for getting a closer view, and you are welcome to bring your camera as well (to be used without flash).

To arrange to participate in a blind tour and check available dates, please contact Doug Pellerin by email:  pelican0711(AT) or call him at 920-923-0016 between the hours of noon and 7:00 PM Central time. These tours will happen somewhat early in the morning – starting by 6:00 AM – while the day is still cool.

You should probably plan for about two hours, although the tour could be somewhat shorter or longer, and not all of this time will be spent in the blind itself. There will typically be opportunities for questions before and after the blind visit – but please remember that you will not be allowed to leave the viewing blind while the cranes are outside of their enclosure.

We hope that you will be able to take advantage of this great opportunity to observe these beautiful endangered birds. It is not a memory that will be soon forgotten!

Take a look at some of the images captured by Deb Potts this past Wednesay while inside the viewing blind! (thanks Deb for sharing)

Costumed Doug Pellerin behind

Costumed Doug Pellerin behind Whooping crane 2-15 as she exits the enclosure.


Number 6-15

Number 6-15


Whooping crane 1-15 gives one of the adults a piece of her mind.

Adults 3-14 (F) & 4-12 (M)

Adults 3-14 (F) & 4-12 (M)


3 yr. old male Whooping crane #4-12

Two Adult Whooping Cranes Stop by

This morning’s training session was interesting to say the least. Shortly after Brooke flew in to begin the session, he was joined by 3-14 & 4-12, which have been dubbed the ‘Royal couple’ by CraneCam chatters.

Several of the crane colts attempted to chase them away numerous times and there was a good amount of displaying going on. While they can be disruptive, this pair has actually been rather respectful and we hope, are being good role models for the young cranes.

Whooping crane #6-15 spent most of her time foraging and exploring the second pond and behind the wetpen.

It seems all of the young colts are now flying in ground effect the entire length of the runway and a couple are getting a decent height for their age, which is how #6-15 ended up near the second pond. It’ll take some time and practice for them to learn how to controls those large wings now that they’ve discovered them.

In case you missed the action live on our CraneCam here’s a link to the recorded video.

Hybrid Whoophill Captured

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) and staff with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have captured a hybrid crane chick, referred to as a ‘Whoophill,’ in eastern Wisconsin and will place the chick in captivity. Whoophills are a result of a successful pairing between a Whooping crane and a Sandhill crane. This young hybrid was first noticed at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, Wisconsin in late May.

Leaving the hybrid Whoophill on the landscape does nothing to supplement the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane Population or further recovery of the species. While we are not yet certain, there is a high probability that this hybrid is sterile. Leaving it in the Eastern Population could result in a future pairing with another Whooping crane, which would not result in offspring, and could thus effectively “remove” another Whooping crane from the breeding population.

We have learned that the male Whooping crane, no. 16-11, is a vigilant father and has helped his Sandhill mate protect the young chick from predation. Researchers are hopeful he can use his parenting skills in the future with a suitable Whooping crane mate.

This young hybrid crane was captured this morning and is being transferred to the Milwaukee County Zoo where it will be housed temporarily before being moved to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which has agreed to care for it in their captive facility in Maryland.

To increase the chance that the male whooping crane will help build his species’ population in the future, WCEP has decided to attempt to break up the pair. It may involve the male being captured and temporarily placed in captivity near other free-ranging Whooping cranes if the logistics can be worked out. Final decision on the best method and timing to attempt to break up the pair have not been decided.  If captured, WCEP will place a new radio transmitter on the male, which will allow us to effectively monitor his whereabouts over the coming winter/spring.

What are the Odds?

As you know, the Class of 2014 Whooping cranes were transported by van from Columbia County, Wisconsin to Carroll County, Tennessee last fall when extreme cold weather didn’t look like it was going to let up anytime soon.

Of course this means they didn’t see any of our migration stops in Illinois.

All of them departed St. Marks and with the exception of 7-14, all were captured in southern Illinios when they began wandering east and west – apparently lost. Once in hand they were released at White River Marsh SWA near our training site.

Since then, they’ve mostly been doing what all first year cranes do – wander. For the most part, they’ve been focused on the east half of Wisconsin but female crane 8-14 moved south a couple week ago to Livingston County, Illinois – an area she’s not at all familiar with.

We get PTT data on her and two other cranes in the cohort and over the weekend she moved slightly further south, still in Livingston County and within a 1/4 mile of our migration stop that she has never visited!

Take a look at the following screengrab: The yellow placemarker is where we typically setup the pen. The red is our camp and the colored dots indicate her 8-14’s locations as the satellite passed overhead… What are the odds?


Migration Volunteers Needed

No matter how many birds we have, the migration still requires the assistance of at least 10 people. There are pilots to fly with the birds, trackers to follow beneath us and ground crew to release them from the pen. We also need people to pack up the RVs and move the entire camp to the next site, then run ahead to set up the pen so we have a destination on the next flyable day.

Without volunteers it would be impossible to cover all the bases and over the years we have been very lucky.  Walter Sturgeon has tracked the birds on 8 or more trips south, Don and Paula Lounsbury flew top cover from the very first year and David and Linda Boyd have been there for us for almost a decade. There is no question that our volunteers are incredible. But not knowing how long it will take and when they will be able to return to their families is a big problem for most people.

Last year we recruited volunteers to help with the migration and it worked out far better than we expected. People committed to helping for two weeks at a time. They wouldn’t know where we would be when it was their turn but they did know when they would be home

Many of those people have agreed to help again this year but we would like to recruit a few more.

So if you think you would like to run away with the circus, please send me a message joe(AT)

You should however give it a little sober thought before sign on. We need people who can stand the boredom of long periods of wind and rain or days that begin before sunrise and don’t end until way after dark. We live in tight quarters and work hard when we are moving.

Mostly we need volunteers who have experience driving large pickup trucks pulling even larger trailers or who can help set up or disassemble the pens. Cooking talent is always appreciated and a sense of humor is a must.

Be careful what you wish for though, Whooping cranes can be addictive.

Journey North Class Page

Almost since the inception of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and the Eastern flock reintroduction, Journey North has been creating and sharing lesson plans for students around the world so they could better learn about this endangered crane.

Jane Duden does a fantastic job of creating and keeping a biography of each and every crane in the flock and she has just added the Class of 2015 cranes to their site.

Be sure to check it out!

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