Checking In…

While out tracking in Green Lake County, WI Thursday, Doug Pellerin came across male number 5-12… in a snowstorm. Yearling male whooping crane number 30-16 was nearby.

Photo: Doug Pellerin

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Stinky RV’ers

Admittedly, my idea of recreation differs from the norm. Idle hours laying on a beach is like slow torture for me and I would rather hang by my thumbs than spend more than a minute or two swinging in a backyard hammock, good book or not.

So maybe they had people like me in mind when they called them Recreation Vehicles because there is absolutely no recreation involved. They are designed for people who like to keep busy– fixing things – constantly. 

You may recall that last December I pulled our 43-foot fifth-wheel trailer back to Ontario. Ten miles from home, one of the curbside tires blew, shredded, and wrapped itself around the axle, tearing off the electric brake leads in the process. Naturally, it happened on a busy road at night, in weather conditions that overworked all the roadside crews and delayed any Triple A type help for hours. After jury-rigging a repair to limp home, it cost $1400 to replace the tire, wheel, brakes and the fender torn off by the spinning tire fragments. 

This spring Heather towed that trailer back out to Wisconsin and I de-winterized it, only to find the hot water heater would not function. The handle of a shut-off valve broke in my hand so the problem was obvious. A simple fix, except this RV uses plastic plumbing pipe with brass fittings fastened together with steel clamps that seem to be squeezed in place with some sort of hydr?aulic device. ?Hacksaws, files, pliers, a flat screwdriver and a string of expletives later and the clamp was off.

?Access to this plumbing repair was through what RV’ers refer to as a basement. It actually a storage compartment under the trailer not designed for access by anyone over the age of fifty. The faulty valve was deeper still behind an access panel that requires sqooching, squeezing and squirming to end up on one elbow with a flashlight in your teeth and something unreachable jabbing into your ribs.

?All of these repairs were done between and after the camera work so it was day three before we had an opportunity to test the new valve – but nothing changed. Still no joy. After much head scratching, the problem was narrowed down to one other shut off valve that looked and felt fine but must have also been blocked, so out came the hacksaw again. On day five, it was ready to test but the water pump mysteriously quit. After being here for a week, the possibility of a much-needed shower was finally getting closer but the RV was not yet finished with us. The shower faucet must have retained some water last year, which froze over the winter and split the housing. Water squirted everywhere except out of the handheld sprayer as it should. Still, it was hot and mostly contained within the shower stall. Regardless of the contortions required to get wet and to rinse, it felt wonderful to finally be clean.

So now, all I have to do is fix the toilet once the parts arrive. Knock on wood.  

Nesting Milestones

MADISON, Wis. – Whooping Cranes returning to Wisconsin this spring have achieved two important milestones toward establishing a self-sustaining flock of this ancient and endangered species in eastern North America.

A pair has nested for the first time at White River Marsh Wildlife Area, marking a welcome expansion of nesting range in Wisconsin and providing an important backstop to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where most of the returning cranes have nested to date.

And another pair of cranes nesting in Necedah claimed the crown of the first nest in Wisconsin resulting from a released ‘parent-reared’ bird, a bird reared by a parent crane in captivity, not by costumed human caretakers.

“We are so pleased that Whooping Cranes are expanding and taking advantage of this previously unutilized suitable nesting habitat, so we do not have all of our eggs in one basket, so to speak,” says Trina Soyk, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who co-leads communications for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) leading the restoration project.

“And we are very excited about the first nest from a parent-reared Whooping Crane. Both of these are important milestones, and we are cautiously optimistic about the future of these pairs and the direction of our efforts toward helping achieve a self-sustaining population.”

Continue reading… 

The Rain on the Cranes…

A week ago this area received an inch of rain in one night. It was the night before we arrived and driving through the area, I saw ponds where I know there should only be fields.

The increased water in the marsh means an improved predator alert system for the nesting pair, consisting of female 3-14 and male 4-12. As you can see from the photo below, they were smart enough to construct their nest – their first ever, I might add – in an area already surrounded by water.

A whooping crane nest can be 4-5 ft. across. Photo: Bev Paulan

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan captured this photo during an aerial survey and confirms a couple of things: 1. Bev has very steady hands as flying an aircraft and using a long lens from a high altitude usually doesn’t result in sharp images.

2. Instinct is a wonderful thing. These two whooping cranes are 3 and 5 years of age. This is their first time nesting and both were hatched in incubators. It would not have surprised me if their first nest had resembled a square box, much like an incubator but here they’ve constructed this incredible, symmetrical and tall nest platform in an ideal location, deep in the marsh. Well. Done.

It’s been raining for the past two days so water in the marsh is accumulating and a number of people have asked if the nest is in danger of flooding. Yes, I suppose it is but we have seen them pulling additional cattails and vegetation onto the platform so we’re hopeful their instincts will continue to guide this pair for another 10-12 days, which is when we anticipate a hatch (or two).

Tune in to watch live – in the rain.

Live Video Feed

Maybe I’m easily impressed but the live camera we use to monitor the cranes seems Star-Warsey to me. Technology is not completely over my head. By no means am I a Luddite, but to have a live camera operating 24/7 more than a mile from the nearest electricity or internet connection seems like a feat to me.

Luckily for us the fringes of the security industry, which is a far bigger market than monitoring nesting Whooping cranes, continues to push the range of live feed coverage. I say fringes because this is not off the shelf equipment.

Mike Deline is an IT/networking expert who has helped us with the camera since its inception in 2009. He has volunteered his time in support of Whooping cranes and maybe in equal measures, because he loves the challenge.

When I asked about the possibility of broadcasting live video of a nesting pair this year, Mike and Heather started planning. Email chains, online camera demos and equipment orders began. When we arrived at the marsh last Thursday, the DNR office was filled with boxes of equipment and we spent the weekend assembling the various components. Correction, Mike built the camera system, while Heather and I did the grunt work and helped out where we could. I spent most of my time on top of the silo at camp, securing the tower and fitting the new receiving antenna.

After a hard weekend, the camera went live at 5 pm on Sunday. Its more than a thousand feet from the nest but thanks to a powerful zoom feature, the images are better than we have had in the past. Even from that distance, the birds were aware of us. In fact, one flew overhead to see what was going on during the quiet and quick deployment.

This is the first ever live broadcast of wild Whooping cranes nesting. Our purpose is two-fold. Firstly, it is an educational tool. The more people who know about Whooping cranes, the more willing they will be to help save them. But it will also be a research tool. All of the video coverage will be archived for future reference and we hope to develop a citizen science program. Volunteer viewers will be assigned shifts to take notes and record observations. We hope to measure how long each bird incubates the eggs, how long the exchanges take and their reaction to predators. In fact, on the first morning of the broadcast we watched? both cranes chase off a pair of Trumpeter swans. These large birds are also territorial but they are heavier than Whooping cranes and would generally win border disputes. But they left to find their own nesting territory.

This is also the first nesting attempt by 3-14 and 4-12. You may recall that they successfully adopted parent-reared 30-16 last fall and taught him to migrate to Georgia. Not only did the chick get a lesson on survival, but we hope these two learned a bit about parenting.

Still, this is nature and first attempts are not always successful. We debated long and hard about whether to provide this feed to the public. We worried that predation of the chick or the disappointment of infertile eggs would cause a negative reaction from the viewers. We were also concerned about giving away the nest location. Most of White River Marsh is flooded and the nest is inaccessible but these new parents are hyper-sensitive about disturbances, even at long distances.

We want everyone watching to understand that we have taken every precaution to conceal the camera, hide our activities and and minimize disturbances. We are also observers only. Although these cranes were introduced here by un-natural means, this part of their life cycle is natural and needs to run its course. If these birds are to survive in the wild, they will have to adapt to predators, weather, changes in water levels and competition for territories. That means we will not intervene and you may witness occurrences you prefer not to see. In that case, we suggest you turn off your? computer.

The only time we would get involved would be after consultation with our WCEP partners for unforeseen situations which may or may not include the collection of any abandoned eggs. 

We still have a few tweaks to make to the stream and plan on adding an audio feed on Wednesday. We appreciate your patience while we work out the final details.

Defending the Nest

Shortly after sunrise this morning, we saw both cranes chasing off a pair of Trumpeter swan intruders.

Very nice to see them so vigilant and defending their nest!

Have a look… and you can watch LIVE here: CraneCam

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CraneCam Goes LIVE!

And for the first time ever, you’ll be able to see whooping cranes nesting!

This season, our camera is deployed at an undisclosed location in Green Lake County, Wisconsin and will feature the pair consisting of female number 3-14 and male number 4-12 as they nest for the first time.

This pair is fairly young with the female at 3 years and the male at 5. Whooping cranes typically begin breeding at 5 years of age. They’ve been a bonded pair since the spring of 2015. 

Both cranes learned a migration route by following our ultralight aircraft. They spend their summers in Green Lake County and their winters in south Georgia.

Last fall this pair ‘adopted’ the young parent reared whooping crane number 30-16 and successfully led the young male crane to their winter location. He returned this spring with them and was then chased away from their territory so that they could begin nesting.

We’ll be working out a few details with the camera over the next few days but intend to broadcast 24/7. Audio will be in place by the end of the week.

We’ll bring you more details about this nest and the CraneCam shortly but in the meantime, enjoy the views!

Please share the link with your friends: https://www.youtube.com/c/OperationMigration/live

Female 3-14 incubating after just switching duties with her mate, male #4-12

Tracking Whooping Cranes – YOU Can Help!

The eggs that will soon become fluffy orange chicks are currently being incubated at the captive breeding facilities and in September we’ll be releasing them as tall, gangly whooping crane colts in Wisconsin. 

From that point on they will be on their own but like any ‘parent’ we do like to keep track of them. Luckily, technology allows us to track them remotely and from the comfort of our desks IF we can fund these important tracking devices.

This year, Operation Migration has committed to raise the funds needed to acquire five GSM remote tracking units. To help accomplish this, we’ve setup a fun, social campaign on GivingGrid.

The idea is that you select a square representing the dollar amount you can contribute. Then you have the ability to upload a photo – perhaps of you, or your pet, or a place you’ve visited… Just something fun! 

Depending on the level of support you choose, you qualify to receive a thank you gift and there are a number of them available. 

Why not have a look for yourself? Please share the campaign with your family and social media friends using this link: https://www.givinggrid.com/cranetracking/

We’re almost a third of the way to our goal!

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Socializing

One of my favorite things in the world is to watch someones 1st time getting up close and personal with the whooping cranes.

I have spent the past week with Vanessa, who has been volunteering here at Patuxent for a couple of weeks. I’ve really enjoyed working with her. She has been awesome guiding me through the many things that need to be done in preparation for chick season!

One of our jobs this week has been to socialize 3 yearling whooping crane youngsters. (We did not have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this chore).

These birds are yearlings that were held back and the decision to keep them here at Patuxent was made late in the season so they were kept sheltered from people. One is a wheezer; one has a limp, and I can’t remember the 3rd one’s issue. So, now that they are going to become part of the flock here so they need to get used to people.

Whether they become part of a breeding pair or become an imprint model teaching tiny chicks that? they are Whooping Cranes, they will be around people from this point on.

Two of the chicks are pushovers and as you can see, Vanessa made a friend last Friday morning. The 3rd wants nothing to do with us or our tasty smelt.

Smelt are used to convince the young cranes that humans are okay. Photo: Colleen Chase

The 3rd crane in the background isn’t having any part of this. Game on #27-16!

Vanessa wins over two of the yearling whooping cranes with smelt. Photo: Colleen Chase

Angry Bird!

Doug Pellerin captured this fantastic photo last week, which shows female whooping crane number 9-03 defending her nest against this Sandhill crane intruder.

Whooping cranes are very territorial during nesting season. Photo: Doug Pellerin

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A Grand Entrance

Some of you may remember the frying pan start to my 1st migration. Or the time I drove the tracking van into the ditch the day after getting to WI one year.

Oops!

Some traditions are not good. Seems I have started an unpleasant one. 

While on migration I drove a Dodge pickup truck with a camper, The Arctic Fox, set in the bed, pulling a bird pen trailer. I could not see the bird trailer unless I turned a corner or the sun was just right and I could see our shadow. If you over steered the whole thing would agitate like a washing machine. And, I did fine. The guys said it was more difficult than pulling one of the big travel trailers or the equipment trailer. Hmmm…

This past winter I bought a 32 foot travel trailer and Joe was kind enough to let me borrow the white Ford to pull it north. Jo-Anne and Sue brought it down to St Mark’s and traded it for the tracking van, which needed to go north to NY to be inspected.

So, last week I packed up and got nervous. Brooke and my sweet friend Hal, who has every tool known to man on one truck, put the tow package on the truck and trailer. I got nervous-er.

Saturday, I woke up shaking, moving day was here. Brooke drove around with me for a couple of hours and gave me a good lesson on how to pull a trailer you CAN see. He laughed at me while I shook. At the end of the lesson I had to admit it was nice to see what you are pulling and the leveler/sway bar package is a wonderful thing. Semi trucks did not blow me off the road. I could get in and out of a gas station for diesel. I was ready!

Brooke took off in the Jamboree RV and headed west on Interstate 10, aiming for Wisconsin and nest monitoring, and I headed east on I 10 to catch I 95 north to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. While I white-knuckled it Saturday – Sunday I was much more relaxed. A mostly uneventful trip. I was thinking I could not ask for a better start to pulling the Cherokee, as I pulled into Patuxent. I tempted fate.

Robert Doyle greeted me, handed me a much needed adult beverage, and we discussed the best way to get the RV into position. Since I have very little experience backing up, we decided the best way to go was through the field and swing into position rather than try to back it up. We both walked it and deemed it dry enough. I got about 50 feet in and promptly came to a halt.

STUCK

Sigh. The 4 wheel drive did nothing. Him pulling with his truck nada. So close. So far away. We gave up and I went to bed grateful that if I had to do something stupid and need rescuing, at least I had done it here where I have friends to rescue me.

And rescue me they did the next morning!

It has been a wonderful week! A whirlwind of activity getting ready for crane chick season. It is a happy time of year with so much hope! It’s a happy place to camp, White Birds call all times of the day and night. I pinch myself in the middle of the night when the chorus starts. I get to lay in bed and listen to Whooping Cranes calling. Wow. Just WOW!

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Mr. Congeniality Crane

And the congeniality award goes to…. 30-16!

This parent reared whooping crane was released last fall at White River Marsh near to female 3-14 and male 4-12. He formed an association with them pretty quickly but occasionally was seen visiting with male 4-13 and female 8-14.

Since returning to the marsh this spring, he was chased away by the now nesting pair (!!!) of 3-14*/4-12 and has been seen with male 4-13 and then 11-15 (after 4-13 stole his gal 10-15*). 

Doug Pellerin was out in the marsh yesterday doing some tracking and spotted 30-16 with 5-12 aka Henry.

I’m kinda pleased with this friendship – I think Henry could use a buddy.

Yearling male whooping crane #30-16 on the left still has some of his tawny coloring. 5 yr. old 5-12 on the right. Photo: D. Pellerin

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FIRST NEST at White River Marsh!

A milestone is defined as an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development. In 2011 we moved the aircraft-guided whooping crane reintroduction location to Green Lake County’s White River Marsh. This is roughly 60 miles east of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and out of the territory of the three species of Blackflies that feed on birds.

Here we are now – some 6 years later and WE HAVE OUR FIRST NEST!!!

The Royal Couple, otherwise known as female #3-14* and male #4-12 have a nest on White River Marsh!

This image was captured Tuesday during Bev’s flight over the area. She didn’t want to get too close to spook the incubating bird but it’s female 3-14 sitting on the nest while male 4-12 forages nearby.

The red arrow indicates the nest belonging to the pair known as the Royal Couple. Photo: Bev Paulan

Definitely a milestone worthy of celebrating but I feel we should also caution, that this is a 3 yr. old female and they are both first time parents… We’ll remain cautiously optimistic.

As the Marsh Churns…

It’s very difficult not to anthropomorphize these cranes… or any animal one has the pleasure of working with, I suppose.

Anyone with an interest in whooping cranes has heard that they possess a virtuous quality – that is – they mate for life. Well, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but they don’t. Oh sure, some very likely do but others, well, not so much.

Take male 4-13. He spent the entire summer and most of the fall of last year with female 7-14 in Marquette County, WI. For all intents and purposes, they seemed a bonded pair. So much so that they were the target pair to release parent reared crane colts 31 & 38-16 with. For two weeks, Jo-Anne and I watched this foursome during the day. 

They foraged together and flew short distances together but when it came time to head off to roost, the two youngsters just didn’t have the flight ability to follow their alloparents and stayed behind in an ag field. Each day, we held our breath as we approached that field.

Then on 30 September, only the adult male #4-13 appeared. Female 7-14 didn’t show up with him. I knew this wasn’t a good sign and that something must’ve happened to her. The male spent a couple of hours with the two youngsters before flying off. 

The next day he appeared, albeit later than normal and he again only stayed a couple of hours. Later that day, Joe called to say he had spotted him at White River Marsh in neighboring Green Lake County. It seems he was near the newly formed pair of male 5-12 and female 8-14. 

The next day, while flying a survey in the area, Bev Paulan watched an aerial pursuit with 4-13 chasing 5-12 from the area. The victor, number 4-13 won female 8-14 and 5-12 flew a couple of counties south to lick his wounds. Imagine how awkward it was when 5-12 showed up at St. Marks NWR in Florida only to find 4-13 and 8-14 already there?!

Fast forward to mid-March when the pair left St. Marks to head back to Wisconsin. Sadly, female 8-14 met her fate in Alabama a few miles from our former migration stop in Lowndes County. The male, alone again, returned to White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. For those keeping score, this was the second mate he has lost.

Last Wednesday, Bev Paulan flew a survey and saw 4-13 with another new female! He sure has a way with the ladies and has now successfully wooed 10-15* from 11-15. Before you get too sad for 11-15, he is now in the company of parent reared juvenile male 30-16… 

Tom Schultz saw the two of them foraging near White River Marsh over the weekend and sent along some photos to share with you.

The young male #30-16 is easy to spot with his still tawny coloring. Male 11-15 is on the left. Photo: Tom Schultz

Two male whooping cranes in flight. Photo: Tom Schultz

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