“Now you see it. Now you don’t.”

That pretty much sums up life in “Whooper World,” where the “Here today, Gone tomorrow” theme surges like a juggernaut that carries us from one day to the next. It’s the land of beginnings and ends, of hellos and goodbyes as Mother Nature aims her magic wand like a baton our way and conducts her symphony of life. Of course, these punctuation’s are just hiccups in the continuum of life, but man… are they ever LOUD!

Long years of whooper study by a cadre of devoted whooper biologists who start their mornings with a vitamin pill and have determined with the surest of certainty that whooping cranes are big and white and loud for a reason. And that reason is not that they are solitary birds with large territories to protect. No. The real reason that they are so big and white and loud is so that Mother Nature can easily find them and make them disappear…. Which, she does with all too great regularity. Then the question becomes, does she do it because she doesn’t like whoopers… or because she doesn’t like us. If you know the answer, please raise your hand.

Last Tuesday morning, when I saw that big empty space next to Henry and Peanut where 2-15 had been the day before, my cheek felt the breath of that magic wand. Not even the faintest of transmitter beeps remained. In the words of the poet, “Gone is Gone is Gone” as the story repeated itself and the all too familiar disappointment sunk in. Still, it was unexpected since the three birds appeared to be so happy together the previous few days. As the biologists would say, they’d finally gotten their “groove going.”

Remember, we saw her in Georgia the previous Monday only to have her turn up at the pen on Tuesday.   (“Are you telling me those big white things can really fly???”) Then she got the usual butt kicking from Mack (4-13) and 8-14 who seemed to know one and only one word when it comes to sharing territory, “MINE!” Meanwhile, Henry and Peanut, doing their best impressions of the two old balcony Muppets, Statler and Waldorf, watched the drama play out from a hundred or so yards away in the “Demilitarized Zone.”

Female whooping crane 2-15 in flight. Photo: B. Pennypacker

“Now… if she could only fly over to them, she’d be safe,” I whispered to my invisible friends in the blind. I remembered whispering exactly the same thing a month before on her last visit to the pen. However, that time Mack and 8-14’s attack was so fierce and unrelenting, she soon screamed, “Enough already!” and flew north to Georgia. But this time… after about an hour and more than a few of my thought balloons of encouragement, she flew over to Henry and Peanut. The reception was cold at first. Peanut is still at the age where the only pickup line he can think of is, “I hate girls!” And Henry is still trying to come to grips with his identity crises…” Yoda? Or the Village Idiot? Who am I…. really”? Very Shakespearean.

My exercise in human breath holding continued for the next “seeming forever” as 2-15 teetered on that wire thin tightrope which separates “The thrill of victory” from the “Agony of defeat,” until finally Peanut’s… then Henry’s obligatory show of aggression surrendered to indifference, which was a relief because as Dr. Phil always says, in the end it is indifference that provides the foundation for all truly lasting relationships.

The little drama continued in pendulum swings over the next week and provided more than a little excitement. One night, Mack and 8-14 roosted out near the Gulf with Henry and Peanut and 2-15 roosted in the pen. The next night they all roosted out there together. The following morning, they flew back together in one big beautifully cohesive flight as the violins played and the trumpets sounded only to resume their version of WW3 as soon as their little toes landed on good old Mother Earth. Go figure.

Eventually, all hope for harmony dissolved into the Universal Law of Nature, “Us vs. Them” as Henry, Peanut and 2-15 left the pen area for more peaceful surroundings in the “Demilitarized Zone.” And it was there they remained… right up until the time that they didn’t.

The next morning, we watched Henry and Peanut foraging happily in their usual breakfast spot. And right next to them, off to the left, was little 2-15… GONE! We spent the day searching everywhere for our crazy little princess but it was soon clear she had returned north. “I just got the satellite hit.” Bev announced the next morning. “She’s back in Georgia.”

And so ended yet another episode of “WCEP… St Marks.” It was disappointing to “lose” one bird when we only had five to start with. After all, in “Whooper World,” as with all reintroduction’s, it’s all about the numbers. But it’s almost time for the Super Bowl, so I’ll have to leave the subject of the “numbers” for an update later this week. And who knows? Perhaps by the end of the game, 2-15 will return. We’ll just have to wait and see. Or not!

Female whooping crane 2-15 on the left being chased by male 4-13 (Mack). Photo: B. Pennypacker

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10 Comments

  1. Cheryl Murphy February 6, 2017 4:24 pm

    Sigh.

  2. Dorothy N February 6, 2017 1:20 pm

    Reads like fodder for a soap opera — Days of the Whooper Lives. I can hardly wait.

    Thanks so much for your humor- and information-laden entries. Keep ’em coming!!!

  3. Russell Allison February 6, 2017 8:33 am

    Brooke, You could have said 2-15 was here and then she left. But that would have been really dull. I love your way of telling the story. Keep on keeping on my friend. Go Whoopers

  4. Catherine Wohlfeil February 5, 2017 8:48 pm

    The third time’s the charm! Keep trying 2-15! Just a couple of pre-season scrimmages to check out maneuvers. Given time you’ll establish your flock! In the meantime, enjoy Georgia; it’s always nice to have backup roosting spots. : )

  5. KJ Ortiz February 5, 2017 12:40 pm

    When are you going to write a book, Brooke? Love, love, love your journal entries.

  6. Sally Swanson February 5, 2017 10:45 am

    Thank you Brooke and OM. I miss you!

    http://operation%20migration

  7. Carolyn Cofer February 5, 2017 10:39 am

    Thank you, Brooke! Your “way with words” puts us in the field/blind with you.

  8. Sue McCurdy February 5, 2017 10:36 am

    Wonderful story. May I use the photo of 2-15 alone for my Facebook cover photo?

    • Heather Ray February 5, 2017 10:41 am

      provided you include: operationmigration.org on the photo, yes 🙂

  9. Barbara Wing February 5, 2017 10:26 am

    so good to have seen Brooke yesterday, 2/4, at St. Marks at WHO festival there, and to hear the birds were all fine.