Ever since parent-reared Whooping crane #30-17 was released last Thursday, I’ve been assigned to monitor her and record observations about her whereabouts, her behavior, the habitat she’s choosing, who she’s keeping company with, and anything else that seems noteworthy. To do that, I obviously need to situate myself somewhere in her vicinity, preferably with a view. That’s easier said than done!
The marsh is traversed by numerous grassy dikes that I drive on for 2’ish miles to get out near where she was released. Not far you say? Ha! It takes me 30 minutes to travel those 2 miles. The problem is the dikes are full of potholes that you can’t see because the mower leveled the grass off all at the same height. You can’t tell that you are about to send your front tire into a 1 foot hole until your head hits the ceiling in the truck. And that’s only going 7 mph! I quickly learned to reduce my speed to 3-5 mph – it was that or wear Heather’s bicycle helmet.
You know how most cars and trucks will move forward slowly even when you don’t have your foot on the gas pedal? That’s mostly how I had to drive in the marsh for my first 3 days there. The truck does anywhere from 2 to 3 mph at idle, so even if I DO hit a pothole, I don’t bite my tongue off.
I’ve also learned which dikes are smoother than others so I avoid the worst ones whenever possible. By driving round and round on the same dikes trying to triangulate beeps to locate “my bird”, the tires finally tamped down the grass enough so that, for the past couple of days, the potholes are apparent. That has allowed me to speed up considerably – up to 8 mph at times!
Oh! You want to hear about “my bird”, don’t you! Let’s see…
Friday – Whether she was timid or just needed time to recover from HER drive over the bumps, #30-17 did not seem to move around at all on Friday. All my biangulating and triangulating put her beeps pretty much where she walked out of her crate into the marsh. The vegetation is so tall that there was no chance of getting eyes on her. By sunset, when I left, I was pretty concerned that she might not be alive.
Saturday – Upon arrival at sunrise, #30’s beeps put her in the same area, escalating my concern. But, as I proceeded down the “release dike” farther and farther, checking the direction of her transmissions every 100 yards or so, I was surprised when I got beyond her release spot and the beeps were still out in front of me. This was GREAT news – she had MOVED! More beep-tracking seemed to put her out of the marsh where there are some ag fields (where AREN’T there ag fields in Wisconsin?!?!). I knocked at the door of the closest house and the gentleman there was kind enough to drive me in his Polaris to the other end of the fields so I could check beeps there. Nope – not in the ag fields – in the WOODS!
Sunday – Heather came with me to see if together we could locate #30 (with our eyes, not our telemetry receivers). Instead of spending 30 minutes to get into the marsh only to find that she had left the marsh (which would mean another 30 minutes to get back out), we tried listening for her signals on the roads around the marsh. She seemed to be in the same wood lot as the night before. We hiked across the ag fields and then into the woods, using the strength of her beeps to steer us. Both of us feared the worst at this point – cranes don’t usually hang out in this habitat. Suddenly Heather whispered “STOP!”. There, about 30 yards in front of us, right on the edge of the woods and marsh, was an upright #30!
My heart flipped – this was my first sight of her since she stepped out of her crate Thursday night! We took a few photos and then backed away to return to the marsh where we could keep an eye on her. We took note that she wasn’t limping and she had spread her wings a few times, so she appeared to be fine. She also tucked her head and took a brief nap. Late in the morning she flew back into the marsh (and out of sight) and we breathed a sigh of relief.
Monday and Tuesday were VERY interesting days, so tune in to my next post for, as Paul Harvey said, “The Rest of the Story”!