With This Ring…

It happens to best of us. Banding, that is. To paraphrase John Lennon, “Banding is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” It satisfies the need to identify and locate and is an essential part of being a reintroduced Whooping crane.  A sort of “Right of Passage.” And so last Tuesday, we banded our chicks.

Actually, the banding process started for us the night before with the arrival of Dr. Richard Urbanek and Scott Tidmus.  Richard arrived late after a 16 hour drive from southern Illinois. Many readers will recognize his name since he was the chief biologist and bander on the project for many years. Since retiring from FWS in December, he has continued pursuing his passion for Whooping crane reintroduction by starting his own non-profit organization, the Whooping Crane Technical Assistance Group or TAG as he likes to call it.

And Scott, who as many of you know, is a manager from Disney’s Animal Kingdom and longtime friend and volunteer on the project. He spent all of last week helping us before driving home for a day, only to drive all the way back up here from Orlando on his day off to assist with the banding.  Needless to say, Scott is one of those rare and highly valued guys who sincerely cares.

So Tuesday morning, Scott, along with Eran Brusilow from the Disney Animal Heath Hospital Team and I went out to reinstall the visual barriers around the feed shelter to provide a banding station where the banding could be done out of sight of the other chicks. Eran and I had installed the 6 x 10 foot panels the morning before only to return later in the day to find them flying like Chinese kites in the high, gusty winds, each tethered to the feed shed by a single unbroken rope. Had we known of their fine aerodynamic qualities, we could have installed them above our trikes as wings and flown down from Wisconsin under them.  And did I happen to mention how fast the winds were blowing?  They were predicted to return with even greater ferocity later in the morning (timing is everything), so we reinstalled them and tied them securely to about every tree in the Refuge… giving each of our hands a burst of arthritis with all the knot tying involved. “Pass the Advil, please.”

We returned to the Refuge Maintenance Facility to meet up with the rest of our crew: Richard, Refuge Manager Terry Peacock, Ranger Robin Wills, OM’s Colleen Chase, and Valerie Fellows from FWS in Washington. Now, just to reinforce the lesson that “It’s A Small World After All,” Valerie is the daughter of our long time migration stopover host Vickie Wegner, who for so many years, graciously provided our crew with a veritable oasis of respite in LaSalle County, Illinois. Valerie came down for a two month training assignment to learn how Refuges work. What better way to get her “feet wet” than a trip to the marsh. And the last member our crew was Bev Paulan who would come out and join us after her conference call.

Banding is always a stressful time for both birds and crew. Birds, like people, don’t like to be grabbed, hooded and held for any length of time, let alone the time it takes to install a band on each leg. The stress can cause injury and even death, and unfortunately, has. The longer the banding takes, the more stress and chance of problems, which is why we demand the best banders WCEP has to offer.  As many of you may remember, Eva Szyszkoski, formerly of ICF and now with the Louisiana Reintroduction Project, did our banding the last few years as did Richard some years before that.  Speed and efficiency is the order of the day and that only comes with experience.

As I said before, the bands are for the purposes of identification and location. They are color coded with the colors red, white and green, either alone or in combinations on right or left legs. The transmitters are of three types: every bird gets a “line of sight” VHF transmitter which sends out beeps on different frequencies heard by our receiver and antenna. Then two of the females received satellite transmitters (PTT units) that send their signals to a satellite, which sends it back to earth. The remaining three females received the new transmitters (which supporters funded last summer) and which use cellular technology to provide locations. And poor old #11-15?  Well he gets only the plain old vanilla beep beep VHf transmitter… unless, of course, he starts laying eggs like the rest of us males. More about all this in another post. The transmitters, I mean.

And so it began. Scott and I traded off catching and holding, while the other hooded. Terry assisted while Colleen remained in the pen to calm and reassure the chicks as much as possible. She would also be in charge of dealing with the four older birds should they fly in. Eran assisted Richard by handing him just the right thing at just the right time, anticipating his every move with speed and precision. Bev soon joined us and she and the rest of the crew helped where needed. Soon, the all-important cool and efficient banding rhythm was established as one by one the chicks were captured, banded and released back into the top-netted pen.

Meanwhile, just to add to the drama (at OM, we do nothing without drama), the winds picked up and gusts hammered the visual barriers as Scott and I looked at each other with concern.  Would they hold?  Then we heard the Fire Team’s helicopter beginning to drop incendiary balls to begin the controlled burn not far away. Soon the smoke billowed on the horizon as the call came in that we might have to cut short our banding. Fortunately, the barriers held and the smoke blew away and we finished up our banding with all the chicks coming through it in great shape, which is how you spell RELIEF!!!!

Then, just as we finished and were leaving the pen for the blind, the four older birds flew in as if on cue.  Great timing! We certainly didn’t need their help with the banding. They stood outside the top-netted pen looking at the chicks as if admiring their new jewelry. Perhaps it brought back memories of their own banding. Sometimes thought balloons are not so hard to read.

As Richard and I slogged through the sucking marsh mud on the way out, he said to me quietly, “I don’t know how I ever banded eighteen birds in a row without stopping!”

“Yea.” I replied, shaking my head. “Those were the days… before the divorce.”














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  1. Trish (ffmn) February 14, 2016 8:20 am

    Brooke….. creative ‘last sentence”. Thanks for sharing your skills with us.

  2. AintThatAmerica February 14, 2016 2:02 am

    So how do you read the color codes?

  3. thunder February 14, 2016 12:20 am

    Brooke – Thank you for explaining the process of banding these cranes. It’s so comforting to know you had your best crew helping to band these cranes quickly. The drama…it seems like if you watch/work with nature you will have drama. The pictures are AWESOME – Thank you for sharing.

  4. Mindy February 13, 2016 11:16 pm

    So glad they have made it through the next step to freedom. So bittersweet, this class. Thanks to all of you who made this process go smoothly for the birds. Brooke, you are just the best crane daddy there could ever be. We appreciate the update and the great pictures!

  5. Mary Maxwell February 13, 2016 9:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! It really helps to make it “real”. I am so glad the banding went well – it is obviously stressful for all involved.

  6. Jillbru February 13, 2016 5:13 pm

    Wow, nothing is ever easy is it? Good work, y’all, take a deep breath and pat yourselves on the back.
    The bands all look similar to me, except for our boy burd. I’m sure I’m missing something. Maybe you can explain in a future post how the band colors work?

  7. Margie Tomlinson February 13, 2016 3:02 pm

    Nice close-up photos of our Class of 2015 colts and their new ‘bling’. So grateful for your keeping us up-to-date on their progress to freedom. Thank you for all you have done OM to save these beautiful creatures from extinction! Happy Valentine’s Day & Presidents’ Day to all, too!

  8. Carol Giancola February 13, 2016 3:00 pm

    Thank you, Brooke, for this wonderful update on our chicks and the banding. It’s great to hear any news about the family. Thank you and all at OM and all involved for all your hard work.

  9. Jane Maher February 13, 2016 11:10 am

    Precious portraits. Super job, Everyone!

  10. Barb Stolz February 13, 2016 11:06 am

    Brooke, your writing is incredible! You can take us right into the marsh with you, loving every minute with these beautiful birds! Please keep the reports and pictures coming! I DO have a question tho: how in the world do you ever get those costumes clean?? What miracle product to you use? Seriously.

  11. Lara Leaf February 13, 2016 10:58 am

    It would be wonderful if, in the future, the Whooping Cranes were so numerous that this banding of the precious few left now would not be necessary. Being a OM chatter, I have been allowed to see a very small amount of the dedication you all have in working toward that goal.

    Will the colts need to handled again, before being released into the open pen? Will they need to be caught again for health checks, or is that a visual thing? Is blood drawn? I can imagine that, with the handling, you know you could be risking so much but it is sometimes necessary. Yikes, with all the wind and flapping, potential flying objects around, that sounds like it was one heck of a banding day.

  12. Sue February 13, 2016 10:47 am

    Thank you so much Brooke. We enjoy your updates. I love that pic of you comforting the chick being banded too.

  13. Dorothy N February 13, 2016 10:40 am

    You all have the banding job down to sounding like a five-(or six)-person-banding-machine. I’m happy that all went well and the newly banded colts in the photos look pretty calm after their unpleasant morning. SIx birds, and six people needed to safely band them — all of that is so worth it. Thanks all round to the team for a fine job!

    A question: we hear about the gang of four birds from the classes of 2012 – 2014 that hangs around the pen area at St Marks. Aren’t there also a number of other cranes in the refuge or surrounding area but that don’t come around the pen area?? Or are they more spread out into northern Florida?

  14. Christine Myers February 13, 2016 10:32 am

    Wonderful! Thank you for sharing, I am in awe!

  15. Barbara Dobbs February 13, 2016 9:58 am

    Thanks so much for your eloquent (as always) update, and as I’m new since the fall, I love hearing the details of all that you guys do for these birds.

    • Barb February 14, 2016 8:44 am

      Happy Valentine’s Day! I was wondering are there any chicks from previous clutches that are at the Refuge? Will / are they bandied also? Who does it and is the same system of banding used as for our Cranes? Who keeps all the records? Since the birds are now tracked via satellite, are they checked on a regular basis? I appreciate for your work for all the Cranes.

      • Heather Ray February 14, 2016 11:37 am

        There are currently four adult/sub-adult Whooping cranes also at the refuge (5-12, 4-13, 4-14 & 7-14). They too, were banded before they went through the soft-release process.

  16. Betsy February 13, 2016 8:53 am

    Thanks for keeping us up on the process!

  17. Elsie Sealander February 13, 2016 8:33 am

    GOOD JOB ! Many thanks to you Brooke for your dedication to the Whooping Cranes. Extend my thanks to the entire OM team and anyone else who helped.

  18. Sue February 13, 2016 8:24 am

    Seeing as we have these beautiful memories and you have a fabulous photographer in your midst, could I suggest offering craniacs some framable artwork for our homes?

  19. Shirley Green February 13, 2016 8:23 am

    Brooke, I have that wonderful shot of you comforting a crane while being banded. Will never forget the “bird whisperer”.

  20. Barb February 13, 2016 7:27 am

    Thank you for the commentary. I am new this adventure, just since last Fall, so your descriptive words help me understand how hard of a job you all have to do for the birds. I admire you and envy you, and wished I could have been a part of this journey which began so many years ago. Here, Here, to all of you brave souls fighting for the survival of a wonderous bird whose history and respect is long and very old. Thank you to all of you.