Brooke and Colleen have been dividing their time between monitoring the five remaining Whooping crane chicks at White River and looking for Sandhill cranes that might prompt them to move south. Except for the occasional few flying overhead, most of their smaller cousins have moved south. And when we say south, we mean only a few miles. Down around Baraboo on the Wisconsin River there are still flocks of a few hundred and it was with those gatherings that we released number 3 and 7-17 last week. They seemed to have taken the hint and are now in Fulton County, Illinois.
In the interim, the five remaining birds haven’t changed their behavior much. They’re still using the same few foraging fields and roosting in good habitat but they are not showing indications that they are about to migrate. Mind you, I am not sure what those indications might be. It’s not like they packed their bags or made reservations and for that matter, they could leave today. Still, it’s time again to be proactive.
Based on the good outcome of the last relocation, Brooke and Colleen captured Whooping cranes #4-17 and 6-17 early yesterday morning and headed to the Wisconsin River in Sauk County. Because the Sandhill numbers are changing daily as they move south, Anne Lacy from the International Crane Foundation checked the release location before the capture.
All of this was decided by the Rearing and Release Team on a Monday afternoon conference call. We also decided to leave three of the chicks at White River. The weather is predicted to be warm for the next week at least, which we hope will give them an opportunity to meet up with a few transient Sandhills or maybe just follow their instincts and head south.
On that conference call, many options were considered. We thought about taking them all to Sauk County but the original premise behind the costume-reared cohort was to ensure that the birds were familiar with the area around White River so they would return. Leaving three behind keeps that study option open and it will also indicate if breaking up the dominance structure worked. We are confident that the chicks we moved to Sauk County we be able to close the gap in their migration knowledge and make it back to White River and that too will be part of the learning process.
The RRT will meet again in early December. By then we suspect all the birds will have headed south. If not, we will move to Plan B. We have teams in place if any or all the birds need to be relocated. The most likely release option would be Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Indiana. At last report, there were 19 Whooping cranes using that wonderful wetland complex and our remaining chicks are sure to find some friends.