Years ago, when we worked with Columbia Pictures to produce the movie Fly Away Home we spoke to writers and producers about timing. It seemed the annual breeding cycle of Canada geese didn’t align with their intended shooting schedule and they asked us what we could do about that conflict. They understood that geese nest in the spring and migrate in the fall but had difficulty comprehending that no amount of Hollywood money could change that cycle.
It was funny at the time but in truth, breeding season for geese, and lately whooping cranes, always leaves us in limbo too. Each year the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership makes plan for the coming season but all of our great ambitions hang on the complexities of nature. The outcome can be guessed, estimated, projected or averaged with algorithms for standard deviations, but in the end, the result is about as sure as tossing the dice.
This year is no different. Twenty-seven eggs were collected from the first nests at Necedah NWR (26 fertile). Both the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation produced slightly fewer eggs than they expected but that was balanced by larger production at the Calgary Zoo in Canada So far they have transported twelve eggs to Patuxent and will raise three or four parent-reared (PR) chicks this season. Additionally, the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in Louisiana has also increased their production. All of this is tentatively encouraging but lots can still happen. Roughly 75 percent of the eggs that are laid hatch and 75 percent of those, result in releasable chicks. In the interim, we wait, and we plan, and we second-guess our decisions. Should we launch the funding campaign, buy the materials or relocate the crew?
This year, WCEP hopes to release up to 15 or so parent-reared birds in the fall. That number is limited by what the captive breeding centers can accommodate. We also planned for a costume-reared (CR) cohort of 6 to 8 whooping cranes to increase the numbers so the population can grow beyond the numbers lost annually to natural causes.
At the last Rearing and Release Team meeting, it was cautiously predicted that there should be enough birds this season to cover the PR priority and for a small CR cohort. That second group would be transported to White River early in the season so the staff at Patuxent can concentrate on parent-rearing.
The area around the pensite at White River is open for turkey hunting until June 15th so that is the earliest possible date. That will be balanced by the 35-day age limit when it is safe to ship them.
Before that relocation takes place, we hope to expand a portion of our pensite. We also need to set up the water pump, lay the supply hoses, fit the top net and prepare the observation blind. We hope to host a workday or two so any craniac interested in getting their hands dirty for a good cause, please let us know by sending an email with subject line “WRM Volunteer” to info(at)operationmigration.org
At this point it looks like the weekend of June 3-4 is the best time to get the work done and will still give us time thereafter in case we get rained out.
In the meantime, we keep crossing our fingers and counting our eggs before they hatch.