In the words of Wheeler refuge volunteer Nancy, “The cranes are going to do what they want to do, and when they want to.” And so they do. We never know exactly where they will be and what they will be doing.

For the most part they are spending the day in the field across the pond from the viewing tower. But refuge staff has seen them far and wide in areas we don’t have access to. Yesterday morning I observed the birds foraging alone in a field, only to fly across the field and join a pair of Sandhill cranes. After mingling with the Sandys, they meandered away and remained in the field for a couple of hours.

Last night, when we arrived at our viewing spot, the two DAR chicks and 19-09 were in their same field with the usual contingent of Sandhills. Our chicks were not seen, but were heard on the telemetry, so we walked over to another field and, sure enough, there they were foraging alone. After observing them for a time from our hidden spots in the trees, they took off and flew over to join the ever-growing flock of cranes.

By the time we walked back to our blind, we could catch occasional glimpses of white through the sea of gray. It was impossible to count just how many white birds were there, and when one Whooping crane flew off, Brooke quickly grabbed the telemetry gear and identified it as the male DAR chick. On our walk back to the blind, we missed 19-09 flying off with the female DAR chick.

After watching and listening for a very short while, several groups of Sandhills took to the air and headed back to their unseen roost site. On every previous evening but one, our chicks have stayed put and have waited to roost until after sun has set. On this evening, we could clearly see the Whoopers preparing to fly. Could it be that Brooke would get his wish of an earlier roosting time?

Instead of their usual nonchalant grubbing, they stood alert, looking towards their departing smaller cousins. Soon, they assumed the preflight posture, leaning ever farther forward, until their necks were almost horizontal. With one powerful downbeat, they began to lift off and joined up with the throng, heading to roost. We soon lost sight of them as they disappeared behind the trees, and for the first time since the release, we walked out while the sun was still touching horizon.

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