Camp this morning was a veritable hive of activity as the crates and vehicles to be used to transport the nine Whooping cranes in the Class of 2011 were made ready. While this was going on, some crew scrambled to gather up and pack the last few of their personal items in order to transfer them to the vehicle in which they would be travelling back home. Others stored away no longer needed equipment in the bins, boxes, and chests that are the items off season homes in the aircraft trailer.

As I sat in my motorhome plugging away on my laptop the windshield presented me with a front row view. I could see the crew trotting back and forth from one vehicle/motorhome/trailer to the next, and the scene was not dissimilar to watching harried commuters heading in all directions, briskly passing each other as they rushed to catch their train.

Then, abruptly, as all the vehicles pulled out to head for the pensite a couple of road miles distant, silence descended.

It is 53F degrees here and completely overcast. The grey, heavy looking clouds make it more likely than not that the current lull in precipitation we have been experiencing will end soon. We are glad for the cooler temperature today, it will help to ensure the birds will not overheat in their crates. (Air conditioning running in the transport vehicles prevents that from happening during the road trip.)

As you might imagine, we have been responding to dozens and dozens of media calls over the past few days. After gathering the information and commentary they wanted for their stories, they would invariably close by asking how we, the migration crew, felt about the shortened migration.

I’m confident that I can say there is universal disappointment. We were charged with a task – leading the cranes from Wisconsin to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership‘s choice of wintering sites. That we ten times successfully completed that task before is small consolation for not being able to repeat that feat this season.

However, perhaps Joe best summed up the rest of our thoughts when he said…

“Yes, of course we are disappointed, but in reality it makes little difference to the cranes. There is something, not entirely known, that stimulates a southern migration in birds. It may be temperature, or the angle of the sun, or a surge of hormones, but at some point that urge wears off.

Because of weather delays and south winds, we may have passed that point with the Class of 2011. In addition, these cranes are reaching the time in their lives when they become independent of their parents. In the end, none of this means much to the birds. They are still part of the Eastern Migratory Population and will still migrate back north. All that is left for us to do is to cross our fingers and hope they make it back to Wisconsin’s White River State Wildlife Area.”

Reports continue to come in about both Sandhills and Whoopers that have curtailed their migration this season. Some, like almost 40% of the Eastern Migratory Population, have shortened their southerly migration by hundreds of miles. In the western flyway, the same phenomena is being seen in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. Cranes that would normally  winter on coastal Texas have short-stopped on the Platte River in Nebraska and also in Kansas.

The latest news out of Aransas, Texas about the western population of Whoopers is that only 193 cranes were counted on three aerial surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January. This versus the 300 cranes that were anticipated to winter there. Sixteen more cranes not on their usual wintering grounds were accounted for, some of those being the cranes that had not ventured further south than Nebraska.

In an article by Colin McDonald published in the San Antonio Express-News, officials at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge were quoted as having said, “…..they do not believe 91 birds have died, as they have collected only two carcasses.” Click the link above to read the full article.

We will continue to report here on the Class of 2011 including more about move to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. IF we can get a signal from the new pensite at the Wheeler refuge, we will attempt to provide you with one last viewing opportunity of the Class of 2011 via the CraneCam. IF that becomes possible, it will not be until later this morning at an as yet unknown time.

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