Rocky Horror Whooper Show

It has been said that watching life at the crane pen is like watching a soap opera. A kind of “As the Pen Turns.” But the more time we spend observing it, the louder it all seems to get and soon it morphs into something resembling a musical; “The hills are alive…” or even a Rocky Horror-Picture-Show-like rock opera, where crowds of leftover hippies with bumper stickers on their cars that say, “I Stop For Hallucinations” line up on the path to the blind at midnight to see it, while conversing with each other using only lines from the opera. It is on such days that we worry we might be channeling Walt Disney when the whole pen scene begins to resemble a crane version of “Dumbo” – ”But I done seen about everything when I seen a crane decoy fly.”

I mean, it only takes a pinch of imagination or a morning after a big night on the town to look out and see it happen. And it does happen! Like this morning – There’s Peanut standing outside the pen in his kingdom of exile crooning mournfully, “I’m On The Outside Looking In,” while just inside the pen 5-12 is moon walking back and forth singing, “I Hear Ya Knockin’ But Ya Can’t Come In,” with 7-14 pointing her toe disdainfully at Peanut, wiggling her butt, and belting out, “Hit The Road Jack.”

Male Whooping crane 4-14 (Peanut) outside looking in.

Male Whooping crane 4-14 (Peanut) outside looking in.

Then, over at the end of the oyster bar, #1-15 is doing her whirling dervish routine for a very much alive crane decoy, singing “Born Free” at the top of her lungs, followed by 6-15 chiming in with her Johnny Cash-like baritone describing life in the pen, singing “The Ring of Fire” as 10-15 harmonizes with a background vocal of a perfectly synced version of Disney’s “It’s A Small World After All.”

Whooping crane 6-15.

Whooping crane 6-15.

Before I knew it, my toes were involuntarily tapping out backup rhythms on the floor of the blind when out of the blue, the director unexpectedly yelled, “Stage Left”! and two volunteers suddenly appeared at the feed shed in the all too familiar Casper the Friendly Ghost costumes high stepping in a mini chorus line while singing “Gonna Fill ‘em on UP.” The whole show got downright overwhelming at times. Then, almost as soon as it began, it was over.

The cranes were going about their crane business as if it all had never happened… and we finished our chores in silence. But after a while, worry began to set in as we grabbed our smart phones and dialed up “Craniacs Anonymous” for the Twelve Step Program Group Rate App to deal with our disturbing case of what could only be diagnosed as “Whooper Withdrawal.”

Still, there are not many things in life as fun and rejuvenating as fantasy. And anything that begins, “Once Upon A Time….” has just got to end in a good place, even if that place turns out to exist only in our minds. But who knows. Maybe… just maybe… that world of fantasy is every bit as real and meaningful as the one we usually inhabit… an oasis, existing always just on the other side of that portal… the one that lies in that grey corner of our periphery. Maybe.

As we walked the trail back to the parking lot, Bev turned to me and asked quietly, “Did you happen to notice anything strange going on in the pen this morning?”

“Nope. Not a thing. Why?”

And that’s when the sky opened up and the thundering voice rang out across the marsh, “And now a word from our sponsor.”

From left: 4-14, 7-14 & 5-12 spend time foraging in one of the ponds inside the release pen.

From left: 4-14, 7-14 & 5-12 spend time foraging in one of the ponds inside the release pen.

Male crane 4-13 gets fresh water from the bubbler.

Male crane 4-13 gets fresh water from the bubbler.

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  1. ConnieG February 24, 2016 11:04 pm

    Thanks for the chuckle!!

  2. PattiLat February 24, 2016 10:48 am

    Thank you Brooke! How we’ve come to relish in “that grey corner of your periphery”! We feel there, inside your vision, living with the cranes; what a gift you give us. . .

  3. Mary Maxwell February 23, 2016 8:41 pm

    Made my night! Thanks.

  4. Christine Myers February 23, 2016 7:53 pm

    Whoop whoop!

  5. Russell Allison February 23, 2016 7:06 pm

    I keep saying,IT’S NOT OVER , iT’S NOT OVER.. Go Whoopers!!!

  6. Lara Leaf February 23, 2016 5:16 pm

    Wonderful story! It’s always a delight to see your postings, Brooke. Are the cranes hanging out around/in the pen mainly? Do they venture out and about, and then come back to roost? Have they separated, or still go about as a group? Are the WBs being aggressive toward the colts? Do the colts still like the tumes?

  7. Sue February 23, 2016 5:10 pm

    Wonderfully creative post! Thank you!

  8. Mindy February 23, 2016 2:32 pm

    Wonderful pictures to go with wonderful comment! I laughed and laughed imagining the musical scene as it unfolded from the FJ post, hearing all those songs in my head…thank you Brooke and Bev for the great update! We have been hungry for more news. And Brooke, when you find the best 12-Step Program for Whooper Withdrawal, please send it to us, we all need it in the worst way!

  9. Elsie Sealander February 23, 2016 2:26 pm

    Your description of what is going on inside and outside the pen, Brooke, reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s WEST SIDE STORY .
    Wish I was there to see it and hear it.

    Here in Maine we are expecting snow tonight which is expected to turn to rain tomorrow. Our big excitement is the countdown until the Ospreys return.

  10. Sally Swanson February 23, 2016 1:53 pm

    Thank you soooooo much, Brooke! It is so gloomy today and I needed a whooping lot of humor to cheer me up and this FJ did it for me! 🙂


  11. thunder February 23, 2016 1:48 pm

    As the Pen Turns. ah I never watched soap operas but this one seems better and even more entertaining then any I have ever hear about. I can never get enough of your writings about the cranes. Thank you Brooke for keeping us up to date with our crane family. Pictures are a wonderful bonus. Ty ~ Ty ~ Ty

    Craniacs Anonymous 12 Stage Group?? Sign me up! I wish everyday to be a ” Once Upon Time…” for our cranes.

  12. Leota Hopper February 23, 2016 12:59 pm

    Thank you for the soap opera of the whooping crane life;s, how well you guys know their personalities, laugh at what peanut said & the others colts, they have come a long way, without the help of OM staff, pilots & all the volunteers, they wouldn’t be where they are at today in FL. Thank you from All the Whooping Cranes!! LOL

  13. Marybelle Luckason February 23, 2016 12:50 pm

    Oh thank you! This made my day! Fortunately I can picture all of old movies. Rocky Horror Picture Show even! After maybe some not so good days, this one must have made you smile Brook. Your message made me laugh out loud, thanks.

  14. Jane Maher February 23, 2016 12:14 pm

    I’m fascinated by the generational mixing. Are the adult Whoopers hanging around inside and outside the release pen, the same ones that used to visit the colts during the summer in Wisconsin?

    • Heather Ray February 23, 2016 1:01 pm

      The adults/sub-adults include: males: 5-12, 4-13 and 4-14 and female: 7-14

  15. P. Doms February 23, 2016 12:09 pm

    Nice surprise this a.m. with the update write-up of pen ‘doings’. Appreciate~~~

  16. M February 23, 2016 12:08 pm

    Love it! Brooke, are you sure you’re not turning into one of them in an “Incredible Mr. Limpet” sort of way?

    Thanks for the great pictures too.

  17. Carol Phillips February 23, 2016 11:38 am

    Thanks for taking care of our cranes. Beautiful photos!!

  18. Lindi Allen February 23, 2016 11:25 am

    I can really see it as you tell it, and enjoy your observations 🙂

  19. Dorothy N February 23, 2016 10:30 am

    I’m still L-ingOL!! (Or is it “LOL-ing”?) Great story — I could picture it all in my mind. The cranes are looking very healthy, wealthy, and wise. Thank you!!