BREAKING NEWS!!!

PEANUT IS ALIVE AND HE’S AT THE
ST. MARKS NWR PEN!!!

I just heard the fantastic news from Brooke who will write an update with more details…

There are now four adult Whooping cranes spending time in and around the winter release pen located on the refuge in Wakulla County, FL. 

They are: female 8-14/male 4-13 and two single males: 5-12 (YAY!) and 4-14 (Peanut). If only he could talk and tell us where he’s been all year since leaving Florida in late March….

Cold is a Great Motivator

When you sit in a truck and watch birds through binoculars for months at a time, you start to speculate on what motivates them to migrate. There is evidence that it’s a hormone driven behavior but that just leads to the second question of what stimulates the hormone production.
 
The simple answer is temperature, a food shortage or the lack of open water in which to roost. But we know that birds will sometimes begin their migration well before those criteria are met. 
 
This year we are not going to be adding much in the way of research data on that question. Our birds were spread out over three counties but late into the season, they were all still enjoying warm temperatures, ample food and plenty of marshy roosting sites — until Wednesday. 
 
All of that changed drastically over the last few days when the snow hit, the temperatures plunged and the marsh froze solid. That left no doubt what made up their minds to leave this year.
 
All three teams have been driving the back roads and checking all the usual places but not a beep was heard. Wetlands that, a few days ago, were filled with Sandhills punctuated by a pair of white dots, are now silent, cold and lonely. 
 
Braving strong winds directly out of the west, they took off and headed south. The skies were mostly overcast so they didn’t have thermals to carry them up. Rather than soaring at high levels and letting the winds carry them south, they had to flap their wings most of the way. Most of them made it past Chicago Wednesday so they aren’t out of the cold yet. Yesterday the winds in that area, up at a thousand feet were blowing from the west-northwest at 25 mph, so they’ll get a little push if they kept going. 
 
In the interim, we wait anxiously for Heather to report on hits from their remote tracking devices. Numbers 29-16 & 39-16 that Colleen has been monitoring made it to Kendall County, IL late Wednesday…. 
 
It seems there is a like-minded person in Chicago who spent yesterday watching 30,000 Sandhills migrating over the city and heading south. During that vigil, his critical eye picked out white birds in their midst and he caught these pictures of what can only be number 30-16 and his adoptive parents 3-14 & 4-12.  If you zoom in, you can see the lack of facial markings on the chick and tell that he is the one in the middle. Thanks to Samuel B. Burckhardt for sharing that information, otherwise I would still be search for beeps and waiting on a text from Heather. 
 
The only chicks that remained yesterday were 31-16 & 38-16 that Heather and Jo have been monitoring. You likely noticed I used the past tense… They left yesterday!
 
We received a GSM email from 38-16’s tracking device, which placed him directly over Chicago at 1:50 pm yesterday.
 
So that leaves 70-16 in Portage Co., WI. He was released from ICF later than the others due to a wing injury. The two adults he was released with are already at their winter locations.
 
We are not sure what will happen next. Most, if not all, of the Sandhills are gone and there certainly aren’t any more Whooping cranes to show them the way. Capture, will be challenging. We will just have to see how it plays out.
 
Bev sent along this photo she took yesterday during an aerial survey. Can you find 70-16?
Bev says "a juvenile Whooping crane in snow covered corn stubble... how fun"!

Bev says “a juvenile Whooping crane in snow covered corn stubble… how fun”! (click photo to enlarge)

Heading South!

It would appear yesterday’s blast of frigid air in Wisconsin convinced a good number of Sandhill cranes to head south and along with them, some of the Parent Reared Whooping crane youngsters!

Colleen is currently in Florida after driving the tracking van there so that Brooke can use it during the winter. She’ll be flying back to Wisconsin today to resume tracking duties.

While she was away, Doug Pellerin volunteered to monitor 29 & 39-16 in Adams County, WI, however, upon arriving there yesterday, there were no Whooping cranes. Anywhere. Overnight we received a PTT hit for 39-16, which placed him in Kendall County, IL. We can only assume that 29-16 is with him as these two have always been together since release but until we receive a GSM email for #29-16 we won’t know for certain.

Also on the move is female whooping crane #71-16. This young gal was released at White River Marsh in late September and promptly headed southwest to join a large flock of Sandhill cranes. Until yesterday, she had been in Marquette County, WI. We received a GSM email from her remote device late yesterday, placing her in Lake County, IN – southeast of Chicago.

The young whooping crane Joe had been monitoring disappeared yesterday morning along with alloparents 3-14 and 4-12. This is the only crane that does not have a remote tracking device. As luck would have it, it’s also the only Parent Reared crane that appears to have been adopted by adult cranes in Wisconsin and the female (3-14) does have a PTT device.

In the meantime, we received a public sighting overnight from Samuel B. Burckhardt in Chicago who had access to a rooftop in the downtown area and watched thousands of Sandhill cranes pass over yesterday. 

Just one of the many groups of Sandhill cranes to pass over Chicago yesterday. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

Just one of the many groups of Sandhill cranes to pass over Chicago yesterday. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

Mr. Burckhardt granted permission to include some of his photos below (Thank you!). Here’s the information he included with his report: I saw from about 11 AM to about 4:30 PM some 30,000 Sandhill Cranes migrate over the City of Chicago. Among them were four Whooping Cranes, at first three: two adults and a juvenile, and later a lone juvenile.”

Flying over Chicago amid a group of Sandhill cranes are 3-14, 4-12 and juvenile 30-16. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

Flying over Chicago amid a group of Sandhill cranes are 3-14, 4-12 and juvenile 30-16. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that the two adults and a juvenile he saw are the three whooping cranes from White River Marsh that Joe was monitoring! 

Here’s a closer look:

Whooping crane trio 4-12, 3-14 and 30-16. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

Whooping crane trio 4-12, 3-14 and 30-16. Photo: Samuel B. Burckhardt

Based on the location of his observation and the GSM hits for 71-16, it’s also a pretty safe assumption that the lone juvenile he saw was 71-16. 

Pretty cool!

Meanwhile Jo-Anne Bellemer who returned to Wisconsin last week so that I could head home (thank you!!!), is still monitoring 31-16 and 38-16 in Marquette County. They seemed quite antsy yesterday flitting from field to field and since everything is now frozen over and winds today will be shifting from a northerly direction by noon, well, we’re all hopeful they’ll get the message and move on!

Winter has Arrived

An arctic blast arrived in Wisconsin overnight and this morning, thousands of Sandhill cranes are leaving the area!

Winds are currently from the west but with their roosting locations frozen over they’re moving on.

Our team is currently monitoring five Parent Reared Whooping cranes and are hopeful they’ll take the cue and move south as well.

Stay tuned…

Order Now for Christmas!

Get your very own ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppet!

What’s with the ENCORE! you ask? Well, with last year’s FWS decision to halt costume rearing of Whooping Cranes for the Eastern Migration Population (EMP), we had quite a few costumes left with no purpose. Not wanting to be wasteful and, with those ever-important three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in mind, we approached the very talented Mary O’Brien with the idea of using the costumes to make Whooping Crane keepsakes! 

So, the costumes are making a return (ENCORE!) appearance. I’m sure you’ll agree that the finished product is absolutely adorable (thanks to Mary’s creative talent)!

Here is your chance to own a piece of history! Each of these ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppets is made from a costume worn by either: Joe Duff, Brooke Pennypacker, Richard van Heuvelen, Colleen Chase, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Doug Pellerin, or Heather Ray during our past work with Whooping Cranes. (Don’t worry, Mary washed them really well before creating each ENCORE! Moppet.)

There are only a limited number available! 

Christmas is just around the corner – you can surprise your favorite Craniac with a one-of-a-kind piece of Whooping Crane history! 

Each Moppet bears the legbands with the exact color combinations of some of your favorite Whooping Cranes in the EMP – including some that are no longer with us 🙁

In addition to your ENCORE! Moppet, you’ll receive a one-page biography about your Whooping Crane/Moppet along with an embroidered Whooping Crane crest, suitable for stitching onto your favorite jacket or sweater, or even onto the Moppet if you like.

Each ENCORE! Moppet sells for $200, which will help to replace some of the income the MileMaker campaign used to generate.

Take a look at these adorable faces – then choose your favorite ENCORE! Moppet! 

Pictured are just 8 of the 17 ENCORE! moppets available.

Pictured are just 8 of the 16 ENCORE! moppets available.

CLICK to order your ENCORE! Moppet before they’re gone!

 

Changing Spectrums

The Urban Dictionary says the definition of the expression, “like white on rice” means to be close to something or have it covered. 
 
That applies to us in more ways than one. With teams spread out over three counties and the birds monitored from sunrise to lights out, we definitely have this covered. 
 
Sunday it snowed for twelve hours straight. It was one of those gentle fallings like you see on Christmas cards. You couldn’t see very far because it was heavy at times, but it wasn’t one of those driving blizzards with drifts and snow banks. Instead, it was the soft kind that builds on tree branches and muffles sound in a winter hush. 
 
When it started the night before, Colleen asked Jo and I for some driving tips. Having spent a good part of her adult life in the south, she was worried about her one hour drive in the morning, usually made before sun up. 
 
Northerners are often arrogant about their winter driving prowess. It’s like a badge of honor worn as consolation for having to buy shovels, boots and snow tires. We brag about how nothing stops us and deride Floridian’s when they close their schools at the first sign of white. 
 
In truth, it’s a lot of false bravado. Just ask any tow truck driver. And Floridians get their revenge when we spend day-two of our southern vacation in the hospital because we spent day-one, lying on the beach with no sunscreen. 
 
In the end, Colleen made it safely to Adams County and back and I spent the day marveling at the drastic color change.
 
fall_winter
It’s been many years since I have witnessed the progression of autumn through it’s full color spectrum. We generally leave just as the flames of fall begin to fade. We have now seen the myriad shades of brown that followed and the slow transition a hundred tones of gray.
 
A day or two ago, our young Whooping cranes stood out in the distance like beacons. It was only when you used binoculars that you could see them surrounded by Sandhill’s. Now the Sandhill’s stand out like black specks and the Whooping cranes are hopelessly lost like white on rice. 

Learning Lessons

For many years we had a rare insight into the lives of birds. Our costumes and recorded crane calls helped remove the barriers between us and our charges, and when we walked into the pens, we were greeted as familiar members of their flock. We held positions in their social structure and understood the rules that governed them. We became pretty good at reading their body language and in some rudimentary way, we could actually communicate with them.

That connection between people and wildlife is not uncommon. Animals are willing to teach us if we just take the time to learn. But our connection became unique when we left the ground. We were privileged to fly with them on a slow trip to Florida and it is an honor you don’t soon forget.

As close to being a bird as you can get is how some have described that experience. But despite that uncommon connection, we were still dealing with captive birds.

After two months of watching this wild pair (3-14 & 4-12) and their callow chick (30-16) almost every day, it’s interesting to observe the difference. The adults are wise and wary and consistently isolated from roads and houses. Some times they are 500 yards back in the marsh but still their heads pop up when they catch me peering at them through binoculars.

The chick on the other hand, barely notices. He wanders around with his beak in the mud and his attention a mile off. That could be because he was raised in the security of a pen by parents that don’t have to deal with predators or just because he a carefree youth not yet ready for the burdens of adulthood.

Cranes and even cows are alert to my presence but the chick 30-16 continues to poke in the mud.

Cranes and even cows are alert to my presence but the chick 30-16 continues to poke in the mud.

These three are seldom more than twenty feet apart but that’s generally because the adults will close the gap if the chick wanders off. It’s not often the other way around.

Still, the chick is learning valuable lessons. They roost deep in the marsh and forage in open areas with good clear sight lines on any approaching threats.

It’s December now and well past time to leave by our count. But it’s still above freezing, at least during the day, and there seems to be plenty of food. The Sandhill’s have gathered again as another wave passes through.

The temperature will drop below freezing this week – even during the day. That should push them south and the chick can begin his next semester. He has lots to learn but it looks for all the world like he has great teachers. And they learned from the best. 

Catching Up…

… With Parent Reared Whooping crane 71-16.

Ah yes, another elusive whooper gal. This youngster was released on the runway at White River Marsh in late September, much to the delight of CraneCam viewers who got to watch the process.

She promptly sequestered herself into the tall grasses and wasn’t seen for a couple of days. Once we were able to get eyes on her it was of her backside – in flight – as she left the area and headed southwest.

Since then, she has been spending time in Marquette County with Sandhill cranes but I was able to get a visual on her early yesterday morning.

Again, I must caution it’s not the best photo – In this case, she was a 1/4 mile away and it was early in the morning and poor lighting.

Whooping crane #71-16 in Marquette County, WI.

Whooping crane #71-16 in Marquette County, WI.

She sticks out a bit among all the grey Sandhill's, doesn't she?

She sticks out a bit among all the grey Sandhill’s, doesn’t she?

Those Elusive Whoopers

I never realized I had it so good. For the first 6 weeks post release, I had a fairly easy time keeping up with parent reared chicks 31 & 38-16. 

For one thing, I had Jo-Anne Bellemer riding shotgun and two sets of eyes watching two Whooping crane colts are better than one set and the other reason is we could actually see them. Sure sometimes, I’d have to use binoculars and occasionally they’d duck down into a stream and behind some tall grasses but they’d always pop back up – eventually.

They moved to their current location on November 9th and even for the first week after the move, I did a decent job of tracking them down when they flew to one of 6 or 7 fields they liked to frequent. 

For the past 7 days, I haven’t seen them. At. All. 

I hear the beeps their VHF transmitters send to my receiver so I know where they are but it seems they’re always just over a rise or behind a parcel of trees… or way out in the middle of a wetland.

FINALLY, yesterday, I caught a glimpse of them… 

See them?

See them?

There they are – right there in the middle – beside that lone Sandhill crane… 

I know, it’s a cruddy photo but I squealed with glee as it was the first time in a number of days that I actually saw them!

Let’s take a closer look….

Yep, cruddy photo but hey, I measured and they were a 1/2 mile away!

Yep, cruddy photo but hey, I measured and they were a 1/2 mile away!

 

Earworms and Whooping Cranes

Now that another Black Friday is history, there is an all-out marketing charge to bring us back to the stores for Christmas shopping. For me, that mood doesn’t hit until I make it home and all the decorations are just an unwelcome reminder that I am not there yet.

The closer that holy day gets, the greater the pressure and in every store I am inundated with red, green and too much sparkle. Lights flash, Santa’s chuckle and bells ring.

I close my eyes and grab what I need, and once I am out of the front door, I leave it all behind. But while driving back to the marsh, I realize I didn’t quite make a clean escape.

Buried deep in my ear is a Christmas carol as contagious as a pandemic, as invasive as Asian carp or those damned Asian lady beetles.

At my age, forgetting a song is harder than remembering where I left my keys, so there the song grew, rattling around in my head to the exclusions of everything else.

We spend a lot of time alone while tracking birds, which has its advantages. Especially when I catch myself singing the offending song in full voice while tapping my feet and beating the steering wheel.

An hour later, that melody was still rolling around and I began to add my own lyrics. Obviously I have too much time on my hands but sing with me anyway. In the spirit of Bing Crosby and the tune of “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”.

And a one… and a two…

Signals bing
Are you listening
In the marsh
The frost is glistening
A beautiful sight
We’re stuck here tonight
Waiting in the Whooper Wonderland

Gone… are all the bright birds
Here to stay – are the White birds
They’re squawking their song
As we tag along
Waiting in the Whooper Wonderland

In Wisconsin we have built a cohort
But first we had to teach them where to go
Now they’d probably make it to their home port
But only if they leave before the snow

In the spring
We conspired
To find a pair that we hired
To teach them the way
Otherwise they might stay
Waiting in the Whooper wonderland

For now… we have to sit tight
Until the birds – decide to fly right
They seem happy alone
But we’re still not at home
Waiting in the Whooper Wonderland

Later on
We’ll perspire
As we drudge through the mire
To find them again
Each time is a pain
Waiting in the Whooper Wonderland

Cranes were callin… and we listened
Changed our lives – but we persisted
We faced unafraid, the plans that we made
Now we’re walking in a Whooper Wonderland

Tag!! You’re it. No earworm touch backs!!

#GIVINGTUESDAY

GIVINGTUESDAY

Everyone is aware of Black Friday and Cyber Monday but did you know that Tuesday after the U.S. Thanksgiving day is #GivingTuesday?

The purpose of #GivingTuesday is to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people give back in meaningful ways to the charities and causes they support.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities, and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

If this were a typical year, we’d be on our way south with a cohort of young Whooping cranes following our aircraft… We’d be fundraising for the MileMaker campaign and telling people we don’t know when we’ll reach Florida. 

Yes, things have changed in terms of the release method – but we still need your support. In fact, we need it NOW more than ever.

Donations are down this year by a frightening 54% compared to the same time-frame in 2015. 

We believe the reason is that the Fish and Wildlife Service’ decision announced last October to halt the costume rearing of Whooping cranes in the Eastern flock lead everyone to believe that Operation Migration closed its doors. Not so!

In fact, we’ve been continuing our commitment to the Eastern Migratory Population and since the beginning of September, we’ve been monitoring the 2016 Parent Reared Whooping cranes at a number of release sites in Wisconsin and are anxiously waiting for them to begin heading south. 

Once they do decide to migrate, we’ll be tracking them to record interactions with other cranes and the type of habitat they are selecting. 

So you see, we are still here – and we do still need your financial support. 

Whether you choose our Annual Campaign or our Give A WHOOP Campaign each and every dollar helps us to help Whooping cranes.

There are several ways you can help. Login to your account and select a campaign from the dropdown menu OR click here to make a general contribution OR call 800-675-2618 and Chris will be more than happy to help out. Finally, snail mail always works and our mailing address is below.

We hope you’ll consider continuing your support of whooping cranes on this 2016 #GIVINGTUESDAY.

Operation Migration – USA 1623 Military Rd., PMB# 639 Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745 

Operation Migration – 6A High St., Port Perry, ON L9L 1H8

Winter

It’s coming… I’m sure it is. Sometime soon.

We’ve been very fortunate for the most part but staying in RV’s on those nights that it dips below the freezing point gets old pretty quick. You have to pay attention to the propane – will you have enough to get through the night? 

And if you want to shower, you’d best do it at night before the hoses freeze. Fun? Not!

I snapped this photo yesterday out on White River Road because, well, most of you don’t get to see the marsh in late fall and also, I noticed the muskrats have been preparing for a good amount of snow. There is an old wives tale that says muskrats build their dens higher in preparation for a winter with a lot of snowfall.

20161126_093953

If the two dens in the photo are any indication, it appears there should be 2-3 feet of snow covering the marsh in the coming weeks.

Hopefully, we’ll be gone long before that point!

ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppet

Get your very own ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppet!

What’s with the ENCORE! you ask? Well, with last year’s FWS decision to halt costume rearing of Whooping Cranes for the Eastern Migration Population (EMP), we had quite a few costumes left with no purpose. Not wanting to be wasteful and, with those ever-important three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in mind, we approached the very talented Mary O’Brien with the idea of using the costumes to make Whooping Crane keepsakes! 

So, the costumes are making a return (ENCORE!) appearance. I’m sure you’ll agree that the finished product is absolutely adorable (thanks to Mary’s creative talent)!

Here is your chance to own a piece of history! Each of these ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppets is made from a costume worn by either: Joe Duff, Brooke Pennypacker, Richard van Heuvelen, Colleen Chase, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Doug Pellerin, or Heather Ray during our past work with Whooping Cranes. (Don’t worry, Mary washed them really well before creating each ENCORE! Moppet.)

There are only a limited number available! 

Christmas is just around the corner – you can surprise your favorite Craniac with a one-of-a-kind piece of Whooping Crane history! 

Each Moppet bears the legbands with the exact color combinations of some of your favorite Whooping Cranes in the EMP – including some that are no longer with us 🙁

In addition to your ENCORE! Moppet, you’ll receive a one-page biography about your Whooping Crane/Moppet along with an embroidered Whooping Crane crest, suitable for stitching onto your favorite jacket or sweater, or even onto the Moppet if you like.

Each ENCORE! Moppet sells for $200, which will help to replace some of the income the MileMaker campaign used to generate.

Take a look at these adorable faces – then choose your favorite ENCORE! Moppet! 

Pictured are just 8 of the 17 ENCORE! moppets available.

Pictured are just 8 of the 16 ENCORE! moppets available.

CLICK to order your ENCORE! Moppet before they’re gone!

 

1 2 3 4 141