Capture: Part Three
“Great!” Marianne replied into the phone. We HAD our Capture Permit and it was “high five” smiles all around. Now, all we had to do was catch the little boogers. But first there was another important call to answer. It was Nature’s and she just hates “Call Waiting.” Who doesn’t? So it was off to town for a potty break. Next time I go on one of these expeditions, I’m towing a Porta Potty with a pen attached to its sides. Not only would it kill two birds with one stone, (Gosh! Did I really say that!”), it would provide seating for an additional crew member. “Buckle Up!”
The waitress at the coffee shop was the same one who waited on us the night before at a different restaurant in a different town. There goes that “Twilight Zone” theme again. But it’s like that in small towns. Everyone does what they have to do. “Have any luck catching those cranes?” she asked. “Oh, those are the crane people you were telling me about,” the other waitress asked her. Word does get around.
But potty breaks, or coffee breaks as they are sometimes called, are good opportunities for folks to get to know each other and catch up. I have known Marianne since I first began working on this project. Asking someone how long they have been working for ICF is like asking a woman her age. So, since I have to work with her for the rest of this story, I’ll just say she’s been at ICF between 20 and 30 years. Marianne is married to Robert Doyle who works at Patuxent. They met and married while working on this project. “With this crane, I thee wed.” It’s that connection thing again, as I well know. She has been in charge of the DAR Project since it began in Necedah back in 2005 and is without a doubt one of the most knowledgeable crane people on the project.
And the last time I saw Hillary, it was at night in the marsh down at St Marks. I was coming out after locating our chicks that had unceremoniously flown out of the pen just as the world went dark when I came upon her and her fellow Clemson University graduate student, Sloan. Now, running into someone else in the out in the middle of nowhere marsh at night is like accidentally bumping into Big Foot. It’s not an experience you soon forget. They were in the area tracking WCEP birds from previous years as part of their Master’s Thesis. She had been at ICF for two years prior to the two years of graduate school and had just returned to a full time position a few short weeks before. It was great to see her again… during the day.
It was the first time I’d worked with Andy, except for a brief banding session some years back. He has been at ICF nine years. He met his wife there, if I remember right. She went on to the University of Wisconsin and received her PhD. They have two young children, the youngest of whom was going to turn three the following Monday, but the Birthday Party was this coming Saturday, which meant we had better hurry up and catch those birds. Otherwise, the birds were going to be attending the party… as the main course!
And so, for the rest of the day, we patiently worked our magic on the birds while they did the same to us. The gusty, high winds and thick gray overcast plotted to dampen the spirit of our effort and increase the reluctance of the birds to cooperate. The wind set the pen top netting to dancing and fueled their suspicion and reluctance to enter the pen. We were resigned to the fact that it was just going to take time.
But it was time well spent and in a way I would not have expected. We were blessed with the wonderful opportunity to get to know the neighbors… and their dogs. We became part of the daily ebb and flow of neighborhood activities as the residents stopped by to chat. And little by little, I had the feeling that our capture team was growing. They were interested in and accepting of not only our efforts but of us, and soon I sensed we were becoming more than just in their community but part of it, if only temporarily. This little rural stretch of road was fast becoming a very special place at a very special time.
“Do you want to see the picture I took of the feral cow in my back yard?” Lloyd’s wife asked. It was like asking us if we’d like to see a picture of the Lock Ness Monster. “Sure would,” we answered. She held up her smart phone and there it was… the feral cow. “Wow!” I said. “It really exists.” She looked at me, smiling good naturedly and the thought balloon lifted up above her head. “Of course it exists, Crane Boy! Didn’t you believe me? Who would lie about a feral cow, anyway?” She had a point.
Then Mike pulled up in his truck to see how things were going. “I used to raise pigeons years ago”, he said. “Then I graduated to parrots. I had a great time with them.” Mike was a retired injection molding machine operator and had been a Marine in Viet Nam. I had no doubt if we had handed him a costume and said, “Here. Put this on and come out and help us,” he would have been suited up and down at the pen before we even got our hoods on. Whooping cranes are nothing, if not enthusiasm generators. We work very hard to insure they are part of our world, while they effortlessly make us want to be a part of theirs.
And so, for the rest of the day we continued our “Just come little bit closer… PLEASE” sessions and were encouraged at our slow but sure progress. I must admit my patience was, at times, truly tried when I was almost within grasp of one of them. Just one quick lunge and desperate grasp and maybe we would have at least something on the score board. Fortunately, I was continually reminded by that voice of my invisible friend who always insists on coming with me on these trips. “Just remember,” Captain Crane Man. White suited men can’t jump!” He was right. But some of us can do a mean HOP.
I got lost returning to the motel, so by the time arrived, the night manager was behind the counter. “Are you one of those bird people?” she asked. “I hope to be.” I answered. Then she continued, “I had a pet rooster for about a year when I worked in Tennessee. He lived up on the roof of the mobile home I was renting. And every morning when I got home from work, there he’d be, standing by the door waiting. I’d invite him in and have something to eat and drink. Then he’d go back out the door and back up onto the roof. Funny thing was, he got kind of posssesive and didn’t like any of my friends coming to the house. He’d start screaming and hollering and actually attack them if they didn’t get inside fast enough. Do your birds act like that?” I laughed and shook my head, “Not that I know of.” I asked her directions to the nearest hospital, just in case, and headed upstairs to my room.
Tomorrow would be another day and with any luck at all, it would be THE day.