Ever heard of orienteering? It’s where you use a map and compass to locate pre-determined sites marked on the map, usually in the woods or other natural terrain. About 30 years ago I took a class and then participated in a few events, however I didn’t race against the clock like you’re supposed to – I took my time and enjoyed nature while applying logic and geometry to chart my course and navigate on foot from control point to control point.
My first day back in Wisconsin I headed out to track 31 and 38-16 in Marquette County. It reminded me of orienteering as I picked likely spots on Google Maps and then plotted my routes to them. 200 miles later, I was feeling pretty inadequate. All day I kept wondering if I really knew how to use the radio that receives the beeps (they soon became “bleeping beeps”!) from the birds’ transmitters. At one point I drove farther south in the county to see if my two “target cranes” had flown down to join 71-16. Hearing 71-16’s beeps restored my confidence in using the radio, but it still didn’t yield any beeps from 31 and 38. Quite honestly, at this point I can’t remember if I found the beepers that day or simply returned to camp dragging my tail.
Heather, of course, had just spent several weeks tracking these two around Marquette County, so she gave me lots of advice on the parking spots that would yield the best chances to hear beeps. You see, the trees and hills block the transmissions so you have to sit at just the right locations where the tree line might be a little less dense, or you’re up on a rise, or you’re just lucky. For the next few days, I was much savvier and managed to narrow my bleeping beep searches down to just three locations. Savvier, but not luckier in that I never actually got eyes on the birds.
There was one particular field that 31 and 38 seemed to visit nearly every morning. It’s wide open and flat with a great view from the road. Once I’d lose their beeps at the roosting spot I’d race down there hoping to get a glimpse and photo of them. More than once I’d get there and hear very loud beeps which usually means they’re flying. In all cases they were flying away because I never saw them land. Once I determined they had left, I’d head back to the roosting location and, sure enough, they’d be back there, totally out of sight with nothing but bleeping beeps to confirm their presence. Click the recording below to hear a strong signal – typically they are not this strong!
On Thursday, Dec. 8th, the Wiley Coyote in me came up with a new plan. I decided instead of going to the road near the roost area and then racing down to the open field when their beeps disappeared, I’d go right to the open field and wait for them to arrive. I waited and waited and waited. No bleeping beeps. Joe texted me that he couldn’t locate 30-16 either so how about meeting for breakfast. After breakfast I went back out for one more spin by all the known locations but found nothing.
That afternoon, the satellite data arrived telling us that “my birds” had vacated the premises – at the time of the data point, they were in flight over Chicago!
The next day I also vacated the premises – I took off on my two day drive home. As much as I have grown to love Wisconsin, I was very happy to be able to leave before the predicted snowstorm and deep freeze hit. I got home safe and sound and am happy to report that, as I write this, 31 and 38-16 have made it all the way to Kentucky and are in a really nice spot in Crittendon County. It remains to be seen if they will fly farther south or stay here for the winter. As for me, I’m staying put and will monitor those bleeping beeps from here!