Back to the Future

“Well, #4, it looks like Deja-vous all over again!”

“Sure does, #6. I’m starting to feel like a Jack in the Box… only my name’s not Jack! But this box looks awfully familiar.”

“That’s because these are the same two boxes they used to transport #3 and #7 to the Wisconsin River last Wednesday. And… they’re the very same boxes we rode in on the trip from Patuxent to White River Marsh way back in June. And… still no peanuts or in-flight movie. Cheeeeeap!”

“Yea, but it’s just as well. If there was a movie, they’d probably title it, “Box Away Home”! It seems like no matter who you are or what you do with your life, you always wind up in a box. It kind of makes me wonder if the Man Upstairs used to load trucks for UPS!”

“I don’t know about that, but I do know that the costumed handler that put us in these boxes did. Didn’t you hear Colleen calling him when we landed in that harvested corn field this morning?  “Loader!”

“Quiet, you guys.” Colleen scolded over her shoulder from the front seat.“No talking! We don’t want to disturb the birds!”

“We ARE the birds!” #4 shot back in disgust, as our tracking van continued west through the morning light towards our rendezvous with ICF interns Sabine and Sara and a large flock of Sandhill cranes near the Wisconsin River. “You’re just sore at us for not migrating south with Henry and Johnny when they left a few weeks ago. Then, we went and made you even madder when we didn’t migrate with the Royal Couple, 4-12 and 3-14. Those guys sure did their best to talk us into following them, but they just didn’t understand that the seven of us chicks are a team…”Team Whooper”… “All for one and one for all”… the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s… you know….. Tribal. We’re just not followers. We’ve been telling you guys that for years!”

“Divide and Conquer,” #6 added. “That’s what this is all about! But just because most of those Parent Reared chicks you released this fall followed the Sandhill cranes south, what makes you think we’re going to? Maybe we don’t want to go to south Florida like #72-17 or to Louisiana like #30-17. You released them just east of here. If you had just talked to us about all of this earlier, maybe we could have worked something out. But no. Just because you wear that costume, you think you have all the answers.”

“Yea”, #4 added.  “And remember – You were the ones who spent all those years teaching our parents and big brothers and sisters how to fly south by following those ultralights. Now, you expect us to figure it out all by ourselves.  Seems a little schizophrenic if you ask me.”   

“OK”, Colleen scolded.  “That’s enough! Just remember: #3 and #7 are already in south-central Illinois and it’s only been a week since we re-released them with Sandhills. And you two are going to leave on migration next Thursday morning and fly more than 370 miles in 24 hours to somewhere south of Effingham, Illinois.”

“But… but… how do you know that,” #4 asked? “Are you psychic or something?”

“Nope. It’s all in the Field Journal entry Brooke is writing for next week. You might want to give it a read. And besides, when we purchased your GSM transmitter, #6, we paid a little extra and got the one that not only tells us where you are and where you’ve been, but it also tells us where you’re going to be in the future.”

“Then you know we flew more than 24 miles directly back towards the White River Marsh pen a few days after you released us later today. But it was too far. We got discouraged, turned around and returned to where we started.”

“Yep, #6,” Colleen replied. “We saw the whole thing. Nice try, guys.”

“Whooo!” #4 sighed, shaking his head. “I think I’m ready for that Dramamine now!”

“Well, let’s get this show on the road! What’s the hold up, anyway?” #6 demanded.

“We’re waiting for Brooke. He’s in the “Jambo” finishing up this Field Journal entry. He should be finished by now.  I’ll call him.



If our remaining whooper chicks, #1, #2 and #8 do not migrate today, Colleen and I will attempt to capture them. If successful, they will be given a health exam by a veterinarian, and then we will transport them down to Goose Pond in Indiana for re-release.  There are 18 adult whoopers reported there as well as large groups of Sandhill cranes and our hope is that the chicks will follow them south on migration.

Stay tuned…

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The Neighborhood

One of the fringe benefits of working with the birds is meeting the local folks. Berlin and Princeton are full of great people. 

The farmers surrounding White River Marsh have come to love the whooping cranes as much as we do. They love seeing the chicks or a pair of White Birds out on their fields. The chicks have a favorite field and their presence has been a bright spot for the farmer who has had a rough fall season.

Hunters out on the marsh watch out for them, watch them play and love telling me what they are up to out there. They reassure me they will trap coyotes this winter in the hopes of a safer Spring nesting season.

Jerry, from the Wisconsin DNR kept us supplied with veggies from his garden all fall as well as mowing our pen site and a hundred other things we needed through out the season.

Some of the delicious veggies from Jerry’s garden.

A teenager waiting on me at a store in Princeton worked on the giant origami crane at the Princeton High School for CraneFest in 2016 and follows our Field Journal blog.

The tires need to be checked and rotated before we head south, so Brooke is on his way to Barry’s, the mechanic who keeps our vehicles on the road. He always asks about the chicks, he has become a friend. The guys that work there Jack and Jeremy, are so friendly and quick to help that I look forward to doing a chore that I normally would dread.

Walmart is part of our almost daily routine and there are a couple of ladies there that are so sweet and funny that I always leave happier than I came in.

I love the temperature and the snow that fell last night. I don’t even mind (too much) not having running water. The only thing I don’t love is the outhouse!

Tomorrow and Monday will be good migration days, if cranes 1, 2 and 8-17 don’t take the hint and go south, we will box them and take them to Goose Pond in Greene County, Indiana early next week. It’s a wonderful place and I am tickled with this plan. There were 18 White Birds sprinkled around the area a few days ago. They will make friends there.

It’s going to be hard to leave here, I love Princeton and Berlin and I will miss these people when we and the chicks head south.

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Two More Head South

On November 28th, costume-reared whooping cranes 4-17 and 6-17 were captured in the White River Marsh area and relocated to a spot along the Wisconsin River, which still had hundreds of Sandhill cranes.

The hope was that it would disrupt the social structure of the Costume-reared cohort and perhaps give the two cranes a chance to form a bond and migrate south with Sandhill cranes.

On Thursday, it seems they began heading south – at the time, winds were from the west-northwest and temps were starting to fall. ICF’s Hillary Thompson saw the two whoopers that morning, along with the Sandhills still in the area but by 10 am they were in the air!

Here’s a screengrab from late yesterday showing the pings from 6-17’s remote tracking device.

Two days worth of travel for 6-17 and 4-17. Source: Google Earth.

If you’re wondering just which birds are still in Wisconsin – there are still three costume-reared birds: #’s 1, 2 & 8-17 in Green Lake County and two parent-reared cranes: #’s 38 & 39-17, in Dodge County. Temps are still falling and winds will be out of the north today so keep your eyes to the skies and you’ll hopefully catch a glimpse if they decide to vacate the state today!

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It has been estimated that 7,000,000 birds die each year in North America by colliding with broadcast and cell towers. These birds – mostly night-flying songbirds on migration are either attracted to, or disoriented by, the tower lighting systems, especially in conditions when night skies are overcast or foggy.

A key factor in bird mortality at towers is height, with towers 350 feet or more in height posing the greatest threat. Elimination of outdated, non-flashing red lights on these tall towers also provides a substantial benefit to tower operators because they reduce electricity consumption. Hundreds of tall towers across the U.S. have already updated their lighting systems to reduce bird collisions and to reduce operating costs. The change was urged by the Federal Communications Commission, which launched a policy encouraging tower operators to adopt bird-friendly and energy-saving lighting configurations.

Now, a new website provides a way to participate in a solution. With “Songbird Saver,” observers can enter a zip code or use the map feature to find tall towers in their area, then send a request to the tower’s operator to turn off or replace any steady-burning red lights that may attract birds.

The Federal Aviation Administration which regulates airline safety has also studied the safety issues, and is recommending this lighting change which can reduce bird mortality by an estimated 70 percent. You can participate, provide feedback, and be part of an effort that can save birds in your community. (Some of the data on the website – including tower operators’ e-mail addresses – may be out of date. If you receive an email bounce-back from a tower operator, or if no email address is available, you can always print and mail a letter.) It’s best to start now, well before spring migration and in time to give the operators the opportunity to make lighting changes.

“We are seeing great progress and thank the operators of the 700+ towers that have updated their lighting to help reduce mortality of birds,” said Christine Sheppard of American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Collisions Program. “But there are still tens of thousands of tall towers across the U.S. with outdated lights. We are asking all tower operators to make this cost-saving and life-saving switch to help save migratory birds.”

You can access the Songbird Saver site here:

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Instant Gratification and Long-term Results

Before I started working with birds some twenty odd years ago, I spent much of my life as a commercial photographer with studios in downtown Toronto. That was back in the days of film and retouchers and before images could be manipulated with simple keystrokes. Back then, you took the picture after all the manual adjustments and then waited a day with fingers crossed until you could see the results. Now we get to select the keepers before we even put the camera down. The point is, our modern world of instant results does not apply to Whooping crane conservation.

The milestones of a wildlife reintroduction like this one are measured in days, months, years and even decades. Thirty days of incubation are needed before vulnerable eggs can hatch and it takes three months before the chicks fledge and can safely fly away from danger. A population viability analysis uses data; such as how many individuals survive their first year of freedom when they have presumably learned the ways of the wild. Data collected thereafter include annual survival rates until they reach breeding age, which for Whooping cranes is generally around five years.

Since the beginning, our primary target has been survival to breeding age, which is a lot like waiting five years to see how your pictures turned out. Reaching the goal of a self-sustaining population for such a long-lived and slow-to-reproduce species can take 30 years if it all goes according to plan. It is no job for the impatient. 

The other problem we have in trying to predict the outcome is sample size. Just as you can’t ask one person about their political opinions and consider it a representative poll, you can’t observe the behavior of a few birds and expect them all to behave in the same manner.

Our ambition now is to improve the breeding capabilities of these birds and we are hoping that can be accomplished with parent-rearing. Maybe there is some maternal lesson learned during the early stages that will help them be better parents when it’s their turn to protect offspring. But releasing parent-reared juveniles is a learning curve for us too. The Rearing and Release Team within WCEP is made up of impressive experts in avian ecology. It is co-chaired by Kim Boardman of ICF who also leads the Whooping Crane Species Survival Plan (SSP) group and Scott Tidmus who just celebrated 20 years as Zoological Manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are staff from other partners with expertise from captive breeding of Whooping cranes to tracking their movements after they are released.

With small sample sizes and a few years to wait for results, much of what we are doing now is the best guess of our collective knowledge. Last year was the first full-sized parent-reared release with more than just a few birds. After much discussion, it was agreed that the best place to promote an association between the chicks and the adults that we hoped would lead them south was in the open fields where the adults forage. We were worried that if we hard released the chicks, they might just fly away and the chance of making an introduction would be lost. You have to remember that parent-reared chicks are not familiar with people. You can’t just put on a costume and walk out there to lead them back and try again. So we tried putting the chicks in temporary pens before the adults got there, hoping they would interact even if it was through the wire mesh.

Except for a few cases. It didn’t work as planned, so the chicks were let out. They would spend a good part of the day in the company of the adults but when it was time to head off to proper roosting sites, the chicks didn’t follow. In fact, we lost one on its first night of freedom as it stood alone on dry land. In total, three were lost before they migrated, mind you; one was sick and compromised before it was predated. Still that attack took place in a field, not a marsh.

This year we decided to hard release the chicks where the adults spend the night. That would afford the same opportunity to interact but if that all-important connection didn’t happen right away, at least the chicks were in good roosting habitat; which is a much safer place to spend their first night of freedom. It may have been better for the birds but access to the wetlands is not always easy for the team – especially when you are carrying a crate full of delicate cargo. Most of the wetlands in central Wisconsin are surrounded by a wall of cattails. Access to the inner marsh that the cranes prefer is not easy.

Not all of the eleven PR birds have completed a southward migration this year, but so far, we have only lost one chick and that is being attributed to a power line collision, which is unrelated to the foraging/ roosting site release strategy. In another comparison, in 2016 only one chick, number 30-16, was adopted by adults. This year, two chicks followed adults south on migration and they are still together.

That’s a solid improvement but we still have to wait five years to see how this picture turns out.

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Houston. We Have a Problem

The night before last, the storm hit with a violent gust of wind followed by a loud crash. The flight to Z Land had taken off as scheduled. But no sooner had I drifted off to sleep than the Captain’s voice sounded from the cockpit of our RV, the HMS Jambo…. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. Please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts and be sure your tray tables are folded and in the upright position… cause, Surf’s Up, Dudes!” And with that, he put a quarter in the laundromat dryer and hit “spin cycle.” My bunk was instantly transformed into a trampoline, center stage under the Big Top of the Greatest Show on Earth as I clawed at the sheets in a desperate attempt keep from being catapulted into the Great Beyond. The storm pounced upon us like a giant, voracious predator and began shaking us in its teeth in advance of a really big swallow.

Not that the storm came as a surprise. The TV weatherman had given ample warning. “…. and the winds will hit 40 miles an hour with higher gusts.” And when you live in an RV out in the middle of a great big, flat Wisconsin field, such forecasts take on a very special meaning. “Batten down the hatches” my invisible friend screamed in anticipation. But now the Jambo bucked and porpoised like a dingy in a stormy sea while our ears were assaulted by volley after volley of ear-shattering, apocalyptic roars.

“How long is this going to last?” Colleen cried out from her roosting perch up forward.

“Until the horn blasts in eight seconds,” my invisible friend answered, with rodeo humor.

“Just hang on” I yelled. “This can’t last forever.” But it did. Or at least it seemed like it.

Finally, night gave way to morning and the windy banshee howls of destruction departed, spent but utterly satisfied… leaving the stress and fatigue of two tired crane handlers in their wake. Feeling like we had just crash landed on some alien planet, I cautiously pushed open the Jambo door to find we were, in fact, right back where we had started, as if it had all been a dream.

And that’s when we heard it. The Call of Nature, I mean. I slowly walked around to our ever faithful porta-potty only to find it lying on its back in death’s repose, its Christmas lights still blinking with holiday cheer in the gray morning light. “Takes a licking…. Keeps on ticking,” I thought with a smile. Colleen had decorated our good and faithful friend last week. “Nothing gets you in the Christmas spirit faster than the sight of a porta-potty with lights,” she declared. “Ho Ho Ho”

But this new geometry posed more of a compromise and challenge to its utility than even an adventuresome and limber me was prepared, mentally or physically, to negotiate, so it was time to stand it back up.

“Give me a lever and I can lift the world,” Archimedes said, about a billion years ago. Were he standing next to me, he would have added “And give me a dummy like Brooke and I can raise a porta-potty.” Soon, our good and trusted servant rose like a Phoenix from the ashes and was again standing at “parade rest.” I pulled open the door, my fingers clamped tightly on my nose, expecting to see a Super Fund Site… or at least Joe’s cell phone floating in the primordial ooze flashing, “Call Waiting.” But instead, everything inside was bright and cheery…. really Christmassy, in fact. It just made me want to jump inside and wrap a present!

So… jump inside I did as Nature’s Call grew ever louder, along with the sound of yet another approaching storm. And I was happily sitting on the launch pad awaiting blast off when suddenly the announcement thundered through the cabin, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. Please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts and be sure your tray tables are folded and…”

“Oh, NOooooooooo………!”

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The Perfect Gift for the Craniac on your List!

Thanks to a very generous supporter, we have a pledge of $25,000 which is to be used as MATCHING dollars for all contributions made before the end of the year!

The way this works is quite simple – Donate $50 and it’s automatically doubled to $100. Donate $500 and it turns into $1,000… You get the idea.

BUT WAIT! There’s more! 

ALL contributions of $50 or more will receive a limited edition Duff Doodle Crane Scarf in your choice of Ivory with black cranes or Charcoal with white cranes. 

We have a limited number available and want to make sure nobody misses out so we must place a limit of 2 scarves/household with a qualifying donation of $100 (which will be doubled to $200!)

Which scarf will be yours?


2017 Tracking Season

Another year of tracking whooping cranes has come and gone for me except for two, Parent-Reared cranes, and those two birds should be leaving soon with the cold weather coming later this week.?

The Royal Couple: #4-12 & 3-14. Photo: Doug Pellerin

It’s been a interesting year as all years are when tracking whooping cranes. At one point I was tracking 17 different birds in my area. Most of these I was able to get visuals on for the early part of the season, but once the summer heat started they were much harder to locate. Some retreated into the marshes where it was cooler for them and others were molting.?

Henry (5-12) and 30-16. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Once the temperatures got a little cooler the birds started to reappear – some in their regular spots and others started moving around a little.?

2017 was also a year when 4-14 aka (Peanut) played hide an seek with us. First of all Brooke spotted him on the runway at our White River Marsh training site and for a while he stayed fairly close to the area. Then he disappeared and was AWOL for a while.? 

Then when my wife and I were driving over for crane festival we spotted two adult whoopers out in a field – there were two because Peanut had befriended another male whooping crane #11-15 earlier in the year which was a stroke of good luck for those of us tracking him because Peanut’s transmitter has been out of order for a couple years and #11-15 is transmitting, which of course makes it easy to locate them.

After a few weeks they both disappeared again and were missing for a while? until Joe and Heather spotted the two of them, miles away in a different wetland. He sure can be a pain in the butt, LOL.

I’ve also been helping Heather monitor 3 Parent-Reared birds, which we released in Dodge Co. in Sept. They are 24-17, 38-17 & 39-17.

Parent-Reared crane chick #38-17. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Number 24-17 has already migrated, but the other two are still here and I’ll continue monitoring them until they leave once the weather turns colder.

Once they leave I’ll put my tracking gear in hibernation until all the whoopers return in the spring.

It’s been a fun and interesting season!

Whooping Crane Update – December 2017

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month most Whooping Cranes have migrated south. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate
The current maximum population size is 111 (51 F, 57 M, 3 U). This includes two fledged 2017 wild-hatched chicks, and the released parent-reared and costume-reared juveniles. As of 1 December, there are still 9 Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin, 6 in Illinois, 42 in Indiana, 6 in Kentucky, 2 in Tennessee, 14 in Alabama, 3 in Florida, and 1 in Louisiana. The remaining Whooping Cranes’ locations have either not been confirmed during November or they’ve left Wisconsin but haven’t been confirmed further south. See maps below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks
W3_17 (U) was last seen with its parents (24_09 and 42_09) in Adams Co, WI on 1 Nov and by 8 Nov had made it to their wintering area in Hopkins Co, Kentucky.

W7_17 (F) was last seen with its parents (14_08 and 24_08) in Juneau Co, WI on 8 Nov. This family group is currently at their wintering area in Morgan Co, AL at Wheeler NWR.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort
19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) left Marathon Co, WI with adults 2_15 (F) and 28_05 (F) on 9 November and are currently in Jackson Co, AL.

26_17 (F) left Wisconsin on 6 November. She is currently in Gibson Co, Indiana, but we have not yet confirmed if she is with any adult Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes. We suspect she may be with 11-15 (M) and 4-14 (M), since she was associating with them prior to migration and they have not yet been seen further south.

28_17 (M) was last seen in Walworth Co, WI on 10 November in the same general area as 20-15 and 69-16. He does not have a remote tracking device and has not yet been confirmed further south. However, he has not been seen again in WI and we suspect he has begun migration, likely with Sandhill Cranes.

24_17 (M) left Dodge Co, WI on 19 November, likely with Sandhill Cranes. He is currently in Jasper Co, Indiana, and was seen associating with 12-09, 16-12, and 63-15, and near 71_16.

72_17 (M) left Winnebago Co, WI on 16 November. He migrated with Sandhill Cranes, and is currently in Hendry Co, Florida.

30_17 (F) left Dodge Co, WI on 11 November and migrated to the Mississippi River in Jackson Co, Iowa. She then went south, and is currently in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

38_17 (F) was seen associating with adults 63_15 and 71_16, but she did not leave on migration with them. She is currently still in Dodge Co, WI, associating with Sandhill Cranes.

39_17 (F) is also currently still in Dodge Co, WI, associating with Sandhill Cranes.

36_17 (F) and 37_17 (F) did not migrate south with adults 29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M), but did leave their release area on 12 November. On 13 November, the remains of 37_17 were found in Juneau Co (see below). 36_17 continued south and is currently in Jasper Co, IN with Sandhill Cranes.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort
1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), 3_17 (M), 4_17 (M), 6_17 (F), 7_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) were regularly associating with two older males, 5_12 and 30_16, but did not migrate with them or with other adult Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes that were around White River Marsh SWA.

On 22 November, 3_17 and 7_17 were captured and translocated to Sauk Co, WI to be released in a flock of Sandhill Cranes, in an effort to encourage migration. By the end of November, they are in Fulton Co, IL.

On 28 November, 4_17 and 6_17 were also captured and translocated to Sauk Co, WI, where they are currently with Sandhill Cranes.

The remaining juveniles in this cohort (1_17, 2_17, and 8_17) are still in central WI, either in Marquette or Green Lake Counties.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort
29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) left Marathon Co, WI on 10 November and are currently at their wintering site in Dyer Co, TN.

30_16 (M) was last seen with 5_12 (M) in Green Lake Co, WI on 9 November. They are currently in Waukulla Co, FL at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.

31_16 (M) was last seen in Winnebago Co, WI on 5 November but has likely begun migration.

33_16 (F) remained along the Mississippi River either in Clinton Co, IA or Carroll Co, IL during November.

69_16 (F) left Walworth Co, WI on 13 Nov and is currently in Morgan Co, AL, at Wheeler NWR with other adult Whooping Cranes (see below).

70_16 (M) is still in Knox County, KY.

71_16 (F) left Dodge Co, WI with 63_15 (M) on 19 November. She is now in Jasper Co, IN in the same area as 63_15, 12_09, 16_12, and 24_17.

Wisconsin: As of 1 December, the following birds are still in Wisconsin: 68-15, 38-17, 39-17, 1-17, 2-17, 4-17, 6-17, 8-17, and 14-15. There may be other birds present in the state for which we have not received reports, but most other birds have been confirmed further south.

Illinois: 9-03/3-04 have been seen at their wintering area in Wayne Co. 3-17 and 7-17 are in Fulton Co (see above). 26-17 is on the border of Illinois and Indiana in Wabash Co, IL (see above). 33-16 is in Carroll Co, IL (see above).

Indiana: Jasper Co: 36-17, 71-16, 63-15, 24-17, 12-09, 16-12, 20-15, 4-12 and 3-14. Jackson Co: 5-10/28-08, 41-09. Knox Co: 12-11/5-11, 19-14/12-05, 29-08/W18-15. Gibson Co: 19-09, 25-10. Greene Co: 18-03/36-09, 1-10/W1-06, 12-03/29-09, 4-08/34-09, 9-05/13-03, 3-11/7-11, 32-09/19-10, 38-09, W10-15, 1-04/16-07, 8-04/W3-10, 15-11 (and likely 38-08/10-09), 37-07.

Kentucky: 70-16 is in Knox Co (see above). The following birds are in Hopkins Co: 24/42-09 and W3-17, 2-04/25-09

Tennessee: 29-16/39-16 are in Dyer Co (see above).

Alabama: The following birds have been confirmed at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co: 17-11, 67-15, 69-16, 1-11/59-13, 13-02/23-10, and 14-08/24-08/W7-17. The group of four 19-17, 25-17, 2-15, and 28-05 are currently in Jackson Co. (see above).

Florida: 72-17 is currently in Hendry Co (see above). 5_12 and 30_16 are in Wakulla Co at St. Mark’s NWR.

Louisiana: 30-17 is currently in Plaquemines Parish (see above).

19_11’s remains were found in Juneau Co, WI on 16 November. Cause of death was likely predation. Mate 17_11 completed migration and is currently at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL, with other Whooping Cranes.

37_17’s remains were found in Juneau Co, WI on 13 November. Mortality was likely due to powerline collision. 36_17 continued south on migration with Sandhill Cranes (see above).

Confirmed Whooping Crane locations as of 1 December 2017.


Frostbitten Cheeks and Toes

On Monday, November 20th, Brooke and I went out to the chicks favorite field to wait for them at first light. The plan was to sweet talk and get them friendly with the costume again. It was 17 degrees.

The pen had been setup since Friday. It was the start of gun deer hunting season and we could not get on the property over the weekend. Perfect timing – they had the weekend to get familiar with the travel pen.

They arrived and flirting began. By Tuesday afternoon we knew Wednesday would be the day.

I led 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 away from the pen and left Brooke to deal with 3 and 7. Soon my feet hurt they were so cold. I sat down cross-legged to get them off the frozen ground. My tushy never got as cold as my feet but it did get chilly!

Whooping crane #1-17 came by to investigate (and POKE) the costume sitting on the ground.

It was amazing to be sitting there with them, keeping them amused and away from the pen. I am a bird person. I have had parrots for 30 years, so it’s not only a huge honor to have helped raise these birds, but it’s fascinating to observe them. They are hands down as smart as my parrots, they just don’t talk. They don’t draw blood as often as my parrots either. WHACK… they bruise you instead. All birds bite or whack those they love.

After cranes 3 and 7 were boxed and in the van, Brooke came and found us. We all wandered back to the pen. We had to be sure they were ok with the pen because we planned to repeat this capture process with cranes 4 and 6 the following week.

1, 2 and 8, would remain at WRM and be given a final chance to get gone on their own. They each went in for a treat or two, which made this capture a success. So, I started walking as swiftly as I could up to the van, a 100 yards or so up near the farmhouse. My feet hurt so much at this point I could hardly walk, I felt like I was walking on flaming rockers. Yikes.

We drove to north of Baraboo – to a wonderful field with hundreds of Sandhill Cranes in it. The birds were released and went to the middle of their cousins like it was a family reunion. I thought I would be sad, but I wasn’t. They were not stressed and neither were the other birds.

It went smoothly with the exception of my frostbitten toes and cheeks!

Three days of frosty 17 degree temps while in the field and a few trips here takes it’s toll.

Trips to the porta-potty in winter are never fun.

The cranes poke in the frosty ground inside the pen.

Tis the Season… for STRESS?!

It’s that time of year again when we begin the scramble of trying to find just the perfect gift for those on our nice list.

I’ve decided I don’t need anything else to clutter my life and I certainly don’t need more stress, so instead, I’d prefer a donation to a cause I care about and I’m going to give donations to those causes my friends and family members care about.

Why not give a contribution which will make a difference to our environment? Whooping cranes need our help and for every donation you make in honor of someone special, we’ll send a card to them letting them know about your very thoughtful gift on their behalf.

In the “Donation Note:” section on the form, just fill in the name/address of the person you’re making the donation in honor of and we’ll make certain we get a card in the mail to them right away!

Why not give a gift to Whooping crane conservation this season?

Goose Pond, Indiana

This little gem in Greene County, Indiana is the quintessential example of “if you build it, they will come.” 

Indiana DNR purchased the property in 2005 with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Indiana Department of Transportation, United States Fish & Wildlife Service and many other organizations. Prior to acquisition, the previous landowner entered into a permanent easement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This permanent easement was part of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and consisted of 7,200 acres. NRCS then assumed responsibility for the wetland restoration.

Since then numerous Whooping cranes use the property, either when they’re passing through, or now that weather patterns are changing, a number stay for the entire winter season. At last count (a week ago) there were twenty Whooping cranes in the area.

Plan your visit

Recently, someone brought some photos to my attention and I reached out to the photographer who agreed to share them with you.

Many thanks to Brian Killion for the fantastic photography!

Two male Whooping cranes at Goose Pond. Number’s 18-03 and 38-09. Photo: Brian Killion

Two pairs include: #W3-10 and #8-04 along with #9-05 and #13-03. Photo: Brian Killion

Female #32-09 and male #19-10 in flight. Photo: Brian Killion


Your chanting worked and a GSM email for #2-17 came in late evening yesterday!

From it we learned the trio flew to a new (for them) wetland in neighboring Marquette County. This is roughly 10 miles from White River Marsh.

Colleen and Brooke were able to confirm all three are together.

Soooo, at least they moved? The other positive is that there are hundreds of Sandhill cranes were they are now!


Or are they?

If you read Joe’s post this morning, you’ll know that whooping cranes 4-17 and 6-17 were captured and relocated yesterday in an attempt to further disrupt the social structure of the Costume-Reared cohort.

Colleen reports the 3 remaining cranes at White River Marsh were present and accounted for this morning – up until 10:40 am that is….

She and Brooke have checked all the usual spots and beyond and cannot detect ANY beeps for #’s 1, 2 or 8-17 – the remaining three cranes.

I’m pretty sure Colleen has been staring at the email on her phone – silently willing #2-17’s GSM device to fire off an email so we’ll know for sure… Maybe everyone out there reading this can starting chanting 2-17, 2-17, 2-17.

We’ll let you know as soon as we know for sure but it appears the trio MAY have begun heading south!

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Plan A – Option II

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.

Whooping crane #6-17 (left) and 4-17 emerge from the crates and have a look around. Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

Notice all the Sandhills in the distance? Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

Cranes 4-17 and 6-17 walked out to join the Sandhill cranes. Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

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