Following Beeps

Early Saturday morning, I headed out to check whooping cranes, I heard 3-14’s beeps telling me the Royal Couple roosted in a familiar spot. Next, I checked on the costume-reared chicks. They flew off roost at 6:50 am to what is becoming a new favorite field; spent about a half hour there and went to another usual morning spot. I followed, then went down the road listening for the female of the royal couple, number 3-14. They too were in a frequently used field. I went back to camp for a refill of coffee and to warm up. It was 27° – I love it, but still, brrrrrrrr.

At 9:30-ish I headed out again. I could hear 3-14 beeping away, but they (assuming 4-12 is with her) were not in the usual places. I kept following beeps south, by now we are well south of their territory. Hmmm.

Next, I rounded a corner and the beeps got louder and sounded like they were coming from Henry’s Pond. I stopped in the middle of the road and adjusted the gain on the receiver. Sure enough they were in Henry’s Pond! They never go there! It was 27°, I never opened the window. Later I would wish I had!

I went a bit further to the chick’s favorite roosting wetland and did a head count. All present and accounted for. The rest of the day held no more surprises. Business as usual.

Sunday at 6:30am, as usual I turned on the receiver in camp as the van warmed, rather than putz with it as I drive on curvy County Road D. Usually, I never get a beep for #3-14 till I am a mile or two down the road. – Not that morning. The loud beeps told me they had either roosted in the back of the van or were in the air nearby. They were to the SE, and as I drove south they faded. Then I got them again more to the SW. Then straight South and they got softer and softer. I waved bye-bye and wished them safe travels. Off on migration they go.

The chicks had beat me to the field, I could hear they were all there but could not get a visual from any surrounding road.

It was a good migration day so at 7am I found a safe place to snug in for the morning and listen to beeps. At 7:20am I could still hear faint beeps from our Royal Couple. At 7:55 I switched to 3-14’s frequency wondering how many miles they would have traveled in the almost hour, which had passed, and would I still hear them. And OMG…They were in the field with the chicks! OMG!

Now, remember I can’t see any birds so I drive the perimeters of the field again hoping for a glimpse of white. Not from anywhere can I see a bird. So, I went back to my safe parking spot and listened. Then at 8:07am 9 Whooping cranes and 14 Sandhill cranes took off. The Sandhill’s broke off right away to the left. The 9 whoopers did a circle and flew SOUTH! I followed them into Princeton. Through Princeton. I got a visual and the crappiest picture ever.

Yes, those white specs really are whooping cranes.

I headed south on Hwy 23, which veers to the SW. They were going SE. I doubled back and headed south listening to strong beeps, flipping through each of the frequencies rhythmically to make sure each was there. They were, for about 4-5 miles. Then the chicks’ signals got softer. 3-14’s still strong. Back to #3’s and it’s fading, so I swung the antenna to the North and sure enough they were heading back. With a heavy heart, so did I.

At 8:45am they were back in their wetland. Sigh. I settled in on the top of the hill listening to the chick’s beeps. Just for the fun if it I switch to 3-14’s signal and still can hear it faintly to the SE. I turn it back to the chicks.

At 9:34am I turn it to 3-14 again… They are in the wetland with the chicks. Oh my heart! I am old, ya know!

They stayed 20 min and at 9:55am they took off for good. I listened to the beeps till they disappeared. The chicks were in a safe field and the show over for the day. I headed back to camp with tears streaming down my face.

What a remarkable thing I had just witnessed. Two adults that had only associated with the chicks one other time did their best to take them south. How gut-wrenchingly sad the chicks would not listen.

The rest of the day was same ol’ same ol’. At dusk a truck pulled up. With its tinted windows I could not tell if it was hunters or someone I knew. The driver put the window down and asked if he could park down here in camp and before I could answer he said if I tell you I know all about your birds will you let us? I replied he would get major brownie points if he loved Whooping cranes!

He introduced himself as Eric and said the day before, (Saturday) he was hunting at Henry’s Pond. (How cool is that? He called it Henry’s Pond!) He said Henry and 30-16 were in it, at which point I interrupted to tell him Henry and 30-16 had headed south last Thursday and it was probably 4-12 and 3-14 he saw. He replied, Oh! The Royal Couple! Now I was REALLY impressed!

He said for 45 minutes one of those birds called and called and cried. The chicks were in the wetland well within hearing distance. How I wished I had opened the windows Saturday morning when I was listening to the beeps at Henry’s Pond! It turns out Eric had met Brooke out at the North Pond during the summer. He educated Brooke about hunting and Brooke got him interested in the birds!

It sounds to me like the Royal Couple started trying to persuade the chicks Saturday morning to head south.

What do you think?

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  1. bill alexander November 25, 2017 12:12 pm

    I believe a large flock of whooping cranes? are circling over our home in steger il, 60475 i can see 50 or so circling over head, climbing high, on this date 11/25/2017 11:00 central time right off of steger rd and chicago rd

    • Heather Ray November 25, 2017 12:45 pm

      Very likely Sandhill cranes or pelicans. Cool sighting!

      • bill alexander November 25, 2017 12:59 pm

        there wings reflected the sunlight when they where circling over head and from the neck to half way down to their wings looks reddish orange and sounded like a bunch of dogs barking high above, this happens every year, over our home coming and going spring or fall,

  2. Mindy November 24, 2017 7:02 pm

    What a great story of the interaction of the RC and the 7 hoodlums… sorry they did not go all the way to Florida with them. These birds know way more than we think. 4-12 just did not want to hang out near 5-12 apparently but he was aware, as was 3-14, of the need to take chicks south like they did last year with the one chick. Wow! How amazing is that! I would have been in major tear mode too Colleen. Thank you for telling the story that we might never have known….

  3. Diane Riffel November 23, 2017 7:09 pm

    I think Eric probably had read all your updates! I do wish those chicks would have listened to the Royal couple!I Want them to survive!


  4. Kasie November 23, 2017 6:20 pm

    I keep thinking about the chicks. It would have been really great if they had migrated with the Royal Couple. I hope and pray that they will be all right.

  5. Richard P. Chase November 23, 2017 2:12 pm

    Well dearie all I can say is that those chicks had better start listening to those mental commands you are sending out. It is for sure that they would enjoy the warmer weather in the south (and the blue crabs of St. Marks).

  6. Bikebrains November 23, 2017 10:45 am

    What percentage of the chicks have been adopted and migrated? How many chicks remain?

  7. PattiLat November 23, 2017 9:08 am

    Oh Colleen, we are all in empathy with your “heart and tears” as the the Royal Couple’s beeps disappeared. How interesting that they knew exactly of the colts and tried to take them south. Thank you for your hard work and journaling it for us. We are all learning a lot this year. What will be, will be.

  8. Ginger G. November 23, 2017 8:23 am

    It makes my heart sad that the chicks would not listen to The Royal Couple. Their survival is so very important.