Who Are Those Guys?

The transmitters we attached to the Sandhill chicks, are glued to their lower back with false eyelash adhesive. That part of the back gets covered by their folded wings and is generally the last area to lose the down and grow adult feathers. But as the chick grows, the radio patch slowly comes off which means we have to re-capture them for either re-gluing or to fit a new one. 

Each capture takes at least two attempts so by this stage in our game, they have had lots of practice at avoiding us. They learn with each encounter, what strategies work and which ones end in our arms. 

There is a local farmer just down the street who has been very generous about allowing us access to his property. Yesterday, we arrived early to check the transmitters on the twin chicks but they weren’t in their usual spot. The property owner has a lovely home surrounded by trees and an assortment of farm equipment and the tracking antenna pointed towards his garden. 

Brooke and I took separate routes over barbed-wire pasture fences, around rows of hay bails and past the garden without seeing a crane chick.

Can you spot “Those Guys”? (Click to enlarge)

We followed the directional beeps and sometimes, were very close, only to hear it begin to fade as we stopped to look around. 

We both came out of the trees near the owner’s corn field and Brooke headed to the far side in hopes of cutting off the chick while I brought up the rear.  

When the beep gets strong, we turn down the volume so we can better determine their direction but just then the Air National Guard from Volk Field began a practice dogfight overhead. Its not an uncommon occurrence but for such small specks in the sky, they make an incredibly loud noise that drowns out the beep from our handheld receivers. 

Twice, the chick I was following moved into the corn field and came back out, and twice I was right on top of it, at least, if I were to believe the radio. Then it crossed a soybean field, circumnavigated an open pasture and led me on a wild crane chase.

Eventually it moved over a hill and down into the marsh where I could not follow. Not once did I see the chick during that mile or so chase through forest, corn, beans and pasture. There were times when I was within a few yards, and others when I could barely get a signal but I never saw so much as a feather or even detected the crops moving as he made his escape.

I headed back to the tracking van prepared to try another day. Heather and Colleen had lost us both and were just arriving back too but Brooke was nowhere in sight. I knew he couldn’t follow the first chick through the marsh either so I switched frequencies to the second crane colt, thinking when I found it, I would find him. 

Sure enough, we both converged on a small thicket of dense brush near the roadside. Signals from all around it pointed to the center so I cut through the middle. There was an entire unseen world in that tangle of undergrowth, stumps, brambles and veins. It was dark and damp and I am sure the chick thought I was the perfect hiding placed, yet there we were. He must of had visions of the famous line from Butch Cassidy and The Sun Dance Kid – “who are those guys”. 

Even in the middle of that quagmire I didn’t see the chick slip out the other side and if it hadn’t been for Brooke, I would again be listening to the beeps get fainter. 

We caught the chick but as it turned out, its tracking device was still perfectly attached so we simply let it go. 

It’s hot and we are wearing full waders while walking miles through mud and mire but its fun to track them and fascinating to see their world and how it works. 

The entire pasture is comprised of these grass hummocks, divided by thick, deep muck. Not at all easy to navigate over.

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2 Comments

  1. Jean P.aka CrabtowneMd August 13, 2018 8:59 am

    Who needs a gym when your work takes you on mile long obstacle courses ? My admiration for OM’s skill at catching crane chicks grows with each posting. Wondering if the two specks between the dead tree and evergreen to right of center are the illusive quarry. Thank you for all you do and for taking us along on this amazing chapter in crane recovery.

  2. Cheryl Murphy August 13, 2018 7:44 am

    You have a difficult job! We share from the sidelines how difficult it is with your wonderful posts. Good work!