I’ve had a few tracking lessons while on migration but usually it’s been Richard, Brooke or Geoff doing it, while explaining to me what they are doing. To say I was not confident I could find a bird alone was an understatement.
While I was in St Marks, every morning, when we got to the blind, my first job was to turn on the receiver and scan the area. All the verbal lessons in the world don’t equal doing something yourself, and Brooke is a good teacher. He walked me through it and then let me do it. It’s amazing how better connected my hand and brain are than my ears and brain.
First I made sure our chicks had stayed put, then I listened for 4 & 5-12, then for the class of 2013.
On January 3rd, George Archibald brought a group of people out to the blind. Karen Willes was one of them and as we stood in the blind and watched the 2014 Whooping cranes she received a text message saying that 11 & 15-09 had just arrived at the Cow Pond in southeast Tallahassee.
Digiscoped using an iPhone and Swarovski spotting scope. Photo: Karen Willes
These cranes had been in Indiana and we were resigned to not seeing them this winter. We were all happy they had decided to return. Karen was, of course the happiest! She puts so much time and energy into keeping them safe and educating the people that come to see them!
11 & 15-09 roosted at the Cow Pond for two nights and then did not return. There were reports of seeing them or hearing them but they were not returning at night to the roosting spot they’d been using for years.
Whooping cranes 11 & 15-09 at their Cow Pond location. The sign in the foreground asks visitors to please stay behind the sign and tells them about this special pair of cranes. Photo: Karen Willes
Last Wednesday, Brooke asked me if I would go look around the area for them. I picked up the tracking van and started cruising the area they have been known to frequent. I drove around for about two hours before hearing that wonderful little faint “beep” among the static. I marked the spot on the gazetteer and returned the van to St Marks.
Saturday I picked it up again and found them further east of the spot they were at Wednesday. It was 5:15 pm at that point. When I came back at 6:15 pm they were gone and I could not find them.
Brooke wanted to know where they were roosting so on Sunday I started looking for them at 2:30 pm and eventually located them. I went over to the Cow Pond around 5:30 and visited with the folks that were waiting and hoping to watch them come into roost. I asked Karen if she wanted to go out with me the next morning to find them, her answer was “YES!!
On my way home a short time later, I checked the location I’d last seen them at and sure enough they were still there. I headed for home, pretty confident that I’d found the roosting spot.
Bright (well not so bright, it was still dark) and early Monday morning I picked up Karen and headed to the spot I’d last heard them the night before. Sure enough they were still there, so we now knew where they were roosting!
A friend of mine has lived in this area his whole life and works for Leon county, and I swear, he knows everyone in the County. He gave me the names of the farmers that lease this land and the name of the City of Tallahassee supervisor in charge of the area. By 7:30am Karen and I were getting the official tour! He showed us where they were roosting, a small pond that only appears after heavy rain. Not the best place for a bird to snooze! He then showed us their favorite foraging spots.
Karen got a decent picture (below) of them as they foraged for whatever it is they find so yummy in these fields. It was great to find out the men that work this area are fascinated and have fallen in love with them.
Captured with a 100-400 zoom lens with a 1.4 extender. 11 & 15-09 forage in Leon County.
I dropped Karen off and headed south to St Marks to look for 2 & 7-13. Not a beep to be heard – from the lighthouse to the far west end of the refuge so I headed down the coast about 30 miles. Last year at the St Mark’s WHO Festival a gentleman showed me a picture he’d taken in East Point of what sure could have been a Whooper flying. After losing 8-13 and with 4-13 turning traitor to hang out with this year’s chicks and 4-12, I wondered if 2 & 7-13 had decided to go exploring.
It was my kind of morning, grey and really foggy. A beautiful peaceful ride, but no beeps. I turned into a little beach access drive to report to Brooke and turn around, and as I was talking to him a sheriff’s car pulled in behind me. I told Brooke, and asked him to come bail me out if he did not hear back from me soon and hung up to go see what was up.
The officer seemed uncomfortable and stuttered a bit as he asked me what I was doing with the big antenna on the roof of the van. (I guess I have a fairly innocent face) I explained I was looking for birds and handed him an OM pamphlet, at which point he grinned and looked so relieved. He said they had been on the lookout for credit card thieves. The little scanners they attach to a gas pump that steal your card number have to have their data collected wirelessly and someone who saw the van wondered if I was collecting credit card numbers. I’m really happy to say I did not see the inside of Franklin County jail and did not need to be bailed out.
Tuesday morning I went out and found the Cow Pond birds signal in their usual foraging place, they had flew from the Cow Pond around 7:30am. They returned to the Cow Pond early in the afternoon and stayed to roost!
After I left there I headed down to St Marks again and searched the refuge for 2 & 7 from the class of 13 again with no luck.
I can’t tell you how fun it is to go looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack and I can’t wait to do it again! This is great practice for the Spring when our 2014 crane chicks will need a bit of tracking to see where they go!
Thanks for the lessons Brooke, and when can I come get the van again?!