Guest Author: Cathy Fouche
The “beast” has been tucked away in the hangar for the winter, bringing to a close Operation Migration’s 2017 CraneCam season. And what a season it was…
For the first time ever, a Whooping Crane nest was observed on a live stream. We watched a pair of young Whooping Cranes dubbed the Royal Couple dutifully tend, defend, and maintain their first nest.
Then Peanut (#4-14) showed up, as did the coyote, and our hearts were broken. We watched as this young pair of birds demonstrated that you just have to keep on keepin’ on as they continued to claim and defend their territory. And then they danced. And we saw it.
We bid adieu to the Royal Couple’s turf, along with the pelicans and egrets, as the beast was relocated to the pen and lo and behold, Peanut and his buddy 11-15 showed up on the runway, and he danced. And we saw it.
Then came the pen cleanup and expansion. It was incredible and exhausting, and that’s just for those of us who watched. Magic happens when a dedicated group of people come together to do good things. The team and the volunteers did just that. And we saw it.
Then at long last, the chicks arrived. Seven cinnamon colored Whooping Crane chicks, so young that special crates had to be built, were flown from Patuxent, Maryland to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then driven to the White River Marsh and introduced to their new 10,000 square foot temporary home. They were glorious. So young that they had to swim to reach their destinations in either of the two ponds. And we saw it.
They were led on excursions to acclimate them to their surroundings and encouraged to exercise and experience the marsh. Deeper into the marsh they explored, discovering new ponds and new delicacies like snakes and berries. At first the costumed handlers flew better than the chicks. It was adorable. Then the chicks started to fly. And we saw it.
One day the chicks were visited by the adult Whooping crane pair consisting of 4-13 and 10-15, and weren’t completely sure how to react. The pair flew a circuit around the pen, returned, gave a goose bump inducing unison call, then flew off. And we saw it.
The chicks became more confident in their flying abilities and gradually less dependent on the costume, eventually flying to and from the north pond and in some cases walking themselves to and from via the route the handlers had taught them. They grew into a cohesive cohort, walking and flying together from place to place. And we saw it.
They discovered the pond #5-12 and his little buddy #30-16 call home and started to visit. Then one night they didn’t come home. They began to spend more time with these two older birds, as was the hope for the program. Somewhere along the line, they grew up and no longer needed the tumes, and finally the pen. They gradually self-released. And we saw it.
The marsh appeared to come alive in the spring as it greened up and the young of year began to appear. The parade of new life across the landscape was only rivaled by the parade of seven young whoopers hither and yon over the summer. The sunrises and sunsets seemed to be in competition as to which was more beautiful, and the storms were both scary and awesome. The migratory songbirds gradually started to move on and fall began to work its paintbrush through the trees. And we saw it.
I would like to express my gratitude to OM, Mike the Beastmaster, and most especially, Heather, for working so hard to allow us into the world of the Whooping Crane via the CraneCam. It has truly been an honor and a privilege to drive the CraneCam this season, and I thank you for the opportunity.
The Beast may have gone to its winter rest, but our dedicated Operation Migration team is hard at work doing what they do best, helping Whooping Cranes. Thank you all for all you do.
Ed. Note: It is we, who must thank you and all the other volunteer CraneCam drivers who give up your time to entertain and educate viewers. Thank you Cathy Fouche, Terry Johnson, Rich Smith, Kimberly Bubser, Ginny Lulow, Lori Verhagen, Dawn Fronk, Bev Birks, and Jo-Anne Bellemer.
Technically speaking, this was one of the more challenging seasons, but we were rewarded with some incredible views into the wonderful world of whoopers.