END OF YEAR CHALLENGE! – Entry 2

A short while ago, an email message landed in my InBox from Wisconsin Craniac, Mary O’Brien. It’s a challenge to Craniacs and Whooping crane supporters everywhere.

MARY’S MESSAGE

It’s that time of year when Wisconsin cheeseheads are fired up and bursting with pride.  The UW Badgers are headed to the Rose Bowl for the third consecutive year and the Green Bay Packers, NFC North Division champs, are forging ahead to the Super Bowl.

But there’s another great thing Wisconsin can be proud of, and that’s being home to the growing Whooping Crane eastern migratory flock. Seeing these magnificent aviators in our skies and being part of this enduring legacy is beyond awesome!

So how about an end of the year MileMaker blitz to showcase our Wisconsin pride and help close the 210-mile funding gap that’s still on the books?

And, if our partners in states along the migration route would like to put in a shout for your state, I’m betting that gap will be closed before 2013 rolls in. I’ll start it off with a 10-mile matching challenge. Thank you and Go Badgers! Go Pack! Go Whoopers! Go Craniacs! CLICK to take part in Mary’s 10 mile challenge

NEW NEIGHBORS – Entry 1

By Brooke Pennypacker

“Hi! I’m your new neighbor!” Sound familiar? Thought so.

We’ve all been through it at one time or another. And all you can think about is …does their dog bite? Do they fight with each other all the time, or play loud music into the night? Are their kids on drugs? So I can’t help wondering what the “locals” have to say regarding this present little invasion of our precious Fab Five.

To be honest, I don’t think local real estate prices have ticked upward much with the arrival of the new kids on the block. Why you ask? It’s because these new neighbors just aren’t all that friendly, and worse, they refuse to allow themselves to be assimilated into the community, preferring instead to maintain their own language, customs, and if they had one, religion. A little disappointing to be sure, and it doesn’t reflect well on their upbringing and those responsible for it. But such is life in craneland.

Like last week when two black vultures landed on the top netted pen to watch the morning’s goings on and introduce themselves. Understand, if this was a Disney movie, they’d be singing a song about whether or not Dumbo could really fly. But it’s not. At least not yet.

So one vulture finally jumps down and starts buzzard-hopping over to the nearest chick for a little face time and email address exchange when the morning’s peace is shattered by a chorus of alarm calls followed by the ‘charge of the white brigade’ as our little darlings chase the poor visitor back into the sky where his friend joins him in a hasty retreat. Facebook, hah!

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Then later a wood stork lands.  Now you’re not going to find a bird with coloring more crane- like than a wood stork, but do you think that makes any difference to our little xenophobes?  Nope…and moments later the poor guy is winging his way back to anywhere but here.

100_1471bpEven eagles get the bum’s rush, as do wild pigs, pelicans, egrets, and carpets of shore birds. A Pied billed greeb does laps every morning in the pen pond but makes a hurried exit as soon as the chicks walk off the oyster bar. And it’s then that the big old stealth heron that sneaks in to roost every night in the far corner of the east pond makes his getaway.

Once our chicks swarmed a coyote that was lazily making his way across the sand flats. “And I thought killer bees were bad!” he was heard to howl. In fact, about the only animal they don’t chase is the deer…even the white one. (Yes, we have a white deer. What did you expect? Dr. Moreau lives on the next island!)

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And if you think that’s bad, listen to this. About five-thirty yesterday morning a lone Sandhill flew in from the absolute dark and landed in the pen. He announced his presence with his unique call which incited a collective vocal response from the chicks still roosting comfortably on the oyster bar. One could only wait for the arrival of morning’s first grey light to make out the little visitor and observe his cautious but curious demeanor.

The chicks rewarded his advances by flying off and leaving him standing exactly still for over an hour while they browsed the sand flats for who knows what. When they finally returned, their very first order of business was to chase their poor little cousin off into the wild blue before they proceeded to the feed shed for a celebratory feast.

To what do we attribute such inhospitable and inconsiderate behavior? And what can we do about it? Put Dr. Phil into a costume and send him out to the pen for an intervention? I can hear Oprah now, “Nice threads, Phil baby.” Who knows? Only one thing is sure: we don’t have to worry about the chicks taking candy from a stranger.

It’s like my mother, ever the optimist, used to say, “They’ll grow out of it.”

Sure they will, Ma.  Just look at Congress!

2 VIDEOS WORTH WATCHING

Here’s an interesting news item from ‘across the pond’ brought to our attention by California Craniac, Marnie Gaede.

The UK Daily Mail featured an article with the lead paragraph, “There’s nothing worse than having unexpected guests arrive when you haven’t got any food in – so perhaps it’s no surprise this eagle got a cool reception when it gate-crashed this gathering of cranes. [Red Crowned cranes]

Japanese photographer Masatsugu Ohashi captured some stunning images of the fracas between the eagle and the cranes. Click the link to read more and view the photos.

CLOSER TO HOME

Craniac Shelly Taliaferro sent along a link to a video clip she shot recently. Using a high definition camera with a 40 zoom, Shelly captured an exuberant dance by Whoopers from the Class of 2009 wintering in Florida.

BOXING DAY….DID YOU KNOW?

Legend has it that December 26th officially came to be called Boxing Day in England in the middle of the 19 century. Traditionally, it was the day after Christmas when the aristocracy distributed presents (boxes) to servants and employees — a sort of institutionalized Christmas-bonus party. The servants returned home, opened their boxes and had a second Christmas on what became known as Boxing Day.

Another possibility comes from the song, “Good King Wenceslas.” According to the Christmas carol, Wenceslas, the Duke of Bohemia in the early 10th century, was surveying his land on St. Stephen’s Day — Dec. 26 — when he saw a poor man gathering wood in the middle of a snowstorm. Moved, the King gathered up surplus food and wine and carried them through the blizzard to the peasant’s door.

Boxing Day has long since evolved from its charitable origins, and today’s activities have little to do with giving. Instead it revolves around packing away gifts, football, visits from friends, shopping for bargains, or perhaps lethargic from feasting, just lounging around wondering what to do next.TeddyElfz

I wonder what the outcome would be if like King Wenceslas, today everyone did a kind deed, or gave a generous gift to someone less fortunate.

For our part, armed with candy canes and chocolates, Teddy and I will be off to see if we can’t put smiles on some faces at a nearby nursing home. I bet you too can think of a good cause to help out, or a kindness to do for someone.

P.S. Whooping crane news returns to this space tomorrow.

A HOLIDAY MESSAGE TO ALL

The holidays are filled with special joys, and for us, the very best of all is the outpouring of care and support you continue to give to Whooping cranes right through the festive season.

On this special day we find ourselves thinking about the countless folks who have helped OM, and by extension Whooping cranes, in so many ways.

We are grateful for your friendship, your goodwill, and your loyal and generous support. Thank you for everything you have done for OM and Whooping cranes this year, and in those past. We highly value our relationship with you, and look forward enhancing your ‘Whooping crane experience’ in the year to come.

May the happiness and good cheer of the season be yours. May you have a wonderful holiday wrapped in warmth, touched with wonder, and filled with the love of family and friends.

Sincerely,
OM’s Board of Directors, Staff, and Volunteers

P.S. We hope you liked your Christmas gift. It was ‘a year’s supply of Whooping cranes’ – the Class of 2012!

WHY ARE WE HOME BEFORE CHRISTMAS?

By Joe Duff

When I was a kid I remember how a tree didn’t look as tall when you were standing on the ground as it did from the top when you climbed into the upper limbs. I guess your perception of distance depends on your perspective.

Driving one of our motorhomes we averaged 50 miles per hour for roughly 23 hours to make it home from Florida. Although it took 57 days to lead the birds that same distance, the trip home seemed to take much longer, at least in terms of miles. Sitting behind the wheel for hour after hour, it was hard to believe we kept the bird’s attention for that long. Sometimes the fact that they will follow our aircraft all the way to Florida impresses even us.

Our early arrival in Florida this year can be attributed to a number of factors. Some might suggest that it was easier because we only had six birds, and that may be partially true, but in 2002 we completed the migration in only 49 days. That year we had 16 birds, and we did it again the following year in 54 days with another 16.

Maybe it has to do with global warming. I am not qualified to enter into a debate about the cause of climate change but the fact that it is changing is undeniable. With a world population of over seven billion people I think the cause is obvious, but I also find it hard to believe that it is changing so rapidly that each year our migration takes longer.

It seems more reasonable to me that standard variations in weather patterns cause the consistent south winds that we face on some migrations, and that the fall of 2012 was more like a ‘normal’ year. At least normal as far as I can determine by researching weather history for the mid west.

Perhaps the cause of longer migrations is that we are becoming more selective about the conditions in which we will fly. Maybe, with age, we are limiting our fly days to those that are ‘perfect’ and passing up opportunities when the conditions are less than ideal.

If you read Field Journal entries from the early years there are plenty of stories of days when the winds picked up after we took off. Each one ends with a harrowing account of a wild landing or of birds scattered over the countryside.

Those situations can still arise, and the day number 10-12 broke her leg is a good example. So I don’t think we are practicing more risk aversion as we get older. With ages comes wisdom however, so even if we are becoming more selective, the advantage of shaving a few days off the migration is not worth risk to the pilots or to the birds.

Certainly better training is a factor. There is no doubt that this year the birds were more attentive than the class of 2011. That was evident in the number of false starts we had last year. Many times we would launch with the birds only to have them turn back. An aerial rodeo would ensue that sometimes lasted an hour before the birds would finally decide to follow us, or we would give up and wait for another day.

The only time that happened this year was on the first day of the migration and that early on it is an expected behavior. Even then it was only one bird, and Brooke was able to persuade it to follow after twenty minutes of encouragement.

In normal years only about 25 percent of the birds complete the entire migration under their own steam. The rest drop out one or more times and must be collected and crated to the next stop. In 2012 that only happened once when #6 landed in a corn field and John Cooper and I had to retrieve her. Four out of the five birds flew the entire distance.

Conditioning birds to follow our aircraft is not a precise science. We are never sure of the lessons we are conveying, or more accurately, what the birds perceive. It is much like teaching a foreign language when you only know a few words yourself. Obviously it is easier with only six birds, but in 2009 when we led 20 birds to Florida they were very attentive and on most occasions they all followed one aircraft.

Part of the speedy migration this year was because we took all the birds to St Marks and didn’t have to split the cohort to lead the remainder the extra 184 miles to Chassahowitzka. However, the weather has always been kinder to us in Florida, and leading the birds the extra miles only adds an average of 8 days.

So why are some migrations shorter than others? Why has it taken from as few as 48 days to as many as 97? On average it takes 23 fly days to reach Florida, but in some years it takes longer to get those 23 days of flyable weather. Maybe training has something to do with it, or the number of birds, or just plain luck.

Mark Twain once said that the harder he worked, the more luck he had. Maybe that’s true, but in this case, it’s not for lack of effort.

HOLIDAY TIME – Entry 2

Our office will be closed Christmas Eve Day -December 24th, Christmas Day -December 25th, and Boxing Day -December 26th so that we may enjoy time with our families.

As always however, postings here in our Field Journal will continue uninterrupted throughout the holiday season so please check back in.

LOUISIANA CRANES RELEASED – Entry 1

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries announced that the 14 juvenile Whooping cranes raised at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and transported to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) in Gueydan in November, had been released into the wild Monday, December 17. The young cranes join the fourteen surviving adults from the previous two year’s releases in that State. Read the announcement here.

ARANSAS WHOOPER ‘LOBSTICK’ – A MYSTERY -Entry 2

During April 2012 a Whooping crane was found dead near Miller, South Dakota and speculation was that the bird was one of the famous Lobstick pair.

On learning that tour boat operator Tommy Moore believed Lobstick was alive and on his territory at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Chester McConnell, Web Administrator for the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) contacted retired Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn for his thoughts.

In response to Chester’s inquiry, Tom wrote a captivating piece about Lobstick. Click to read Tom Stehn’s article.

GEORGIA’S ‘SNOWBIRDS’ – Entry 1

Florida is not the only State that has Snowbirds (the nickname for Canadians wintering there). However, the Georgia Snowbirds we refer to here are of the avian variety.

Four of the Eastern Migratory Population have made an area to the north of Valdosta, Georgia their winter home for several years and the landowner ‘winter monitors’ eagerly await their return each fall. Sue B. emailed at the end of November to let us know their ‘ beautiful babies’ had arrived and sent along photos.

From the Class of 2007, 7-07 and his mate, female DAR39-07 have made Lowndes County, GA their winter haven since 2008. DAR39-07 only travelled as far as Tennessee on her first migration and was part of a wayward group of five DARs that returned to Michigan instead of Wisconsin. Three of that group of five DARs, including #39, were eventually captured in June of 2008 and transported from Michigan to Necedah, WI. She, along with along with males 7-07, 3-07 and DAR42-07 spent part of the rest of the summer in Minnesota.

DAR 38-08 also only traveled to Tennessee on her first migration, however she managed to find Necedah on her return trip to Wisconsin and by the spring of 2010 she was associating with ultralight-led crane 3-07. Since becoming a pair they have wintered at 3-07’s favorite spot in Lowndes County, making it a quartet of Whooping cranes spending time there much to the delight of their landowner hosts.

Interestingly, it seems that while 7-07 and his lady spend almost all their time in this one location, 3-07 and his mate only come for occasional visits.

When the cranes initially chose this area as their wintering ground, they were first spotted by Haley H. and she too has been keeping up with them ever since. Here’s a link to her latest offering posted to Youtube.

FREEDOM: WEEK ONE

THE EXPLORERS’ CLUB by Brooke Pennypacker

“So…how are those birds doing?”

“Great!  They love it here.”

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And they do. Every day is an adventure for them and no two days are the same. They’re still at the very beginning of their exploratory phase, a time punctuated by longer and more frequent flights out of the pen into all that’s beyond.

Like yo yo’s with strings of ever increasing lengths, they fly out farther and farther, their aerial wanderings punctuated by tentative landings followed by episodes of ground testing section after section of salt marsh. The neighbors…wild pigs, shore birds, deer… look on in casual amusement as beaks sound the sandy depths for fiddler crabs, snails, and presumably loose change.

All the while the social order undergoes its ebb and flow, connects and disconnects. For most of the week, #4, 5, and 6 hung together, keeping their own council and satisfying their collective adventuresome spirit with flights in and out of the pen.

They were the first to boldly go where no crane had ever gone before, only to walk back and look in with frustration at #7 and 11, while their beaks raked the plastic fencing as if to cut a gate on which a sign flashed with big red letters, “Entrance”. Then, when their level of concern approached panic, the epiphany struck.

With the realization that the answer rested in their wings and not their beaks, they immediately modified that basic law by which all cranes must live…”What goes up… must come down,” with the additional clause, “What flies out… must fly in”, and “Presto chango”… into the pen they flapped. “Cool!” you could almost hear them exclaim.

But #7 and 11 were satisfied to remain pen-bound, choosing to pursue the mysteries of the inside, while saving those of the outside for another day. There were blue crabs in the pond to wrestle with and taunting schools of bait fish to pursue. And there was the decoy at the end of the oyster bar that needed an butt-whooping, and stands of needle rush to be surveyed.

#7

#7

#11

#11

For to them, discovery is a thing to be seduced and savored and not a thing to be rushed.  “Stop and smell the needle rush!”, their inner voice commanded. And so it wasn’t until Monday that the two girls took their first big flight to the land beyond the pen, and once there, they behaved like seasoned travelers. Not even a hint of jet lag. I guess some things you just have to be ready for.

Now #7 can be seen hanging more with the boys. Did I say Boys? “What about #6?” you ask.  “She’s not a boy!” Maybe…and maybe not. After watching her/him lately I’m not so sure. Perhaps she just plays one on TV. You know the type. But then who cares. It’s a free country…..ain’t it?)

Amazing what one short flight can do to your world view of things. She now tramps across the sand flats with the Three Musketeers (or two Musketeers and one Musketeerette) like she owns the place and hasn’t got the slightest intention of returning to the pen any time soon. “Let #11 hammer on the decoy” she says. “I’ve got other fish to fry!”

Meanwhile, #11 takes flight now and then, lands outside, hangs with the other four, then flies back into the pen and just does her own thing….whatever that is. A trip to the feeder for a snack, then to the bubbler for a drink, then to the oyster bar to be entertained by the aquatic  inhabitants and so on.

100_1595She appears as comfortable alone as she does as a part of the group, and is clearly the most spirited of the lot, occasionally given to bouts of playful dancing. To experience her encounter is to smile.

And so it goes.

MIGRATION STORY, Walker County, AL – Entry 2

FUN WITH JACK FROST by Julia Anthony

We woke to a cold but flyable morning. Everyone rushed to pull things together at our airport/camp site and get on the road to the pen. Timing is everything on such mornings. The diesel vehicles have to be started in time for them to warm up. The ground crew must leave for the 10 to 15 minute trip to the pensite before the pilots are ready to push the trikes from the hangers, but only after they have grabbed the spare fuel cans from the back of the pickup truck. Everything and everyone must be ready when the sun peeks over the horizon.

Having accomplished all of the practical parts of the job, I was not really prepared for the morning that awaited us. Geoff and I walked out through the field to the hidden pensite. Everything was covered with a layer of frost so in the predawn light the fields looked like a great gray lake. It was very quiet. No birds or cows protested our passing. The loudest noise was the crunching of our boots on the frozen ground.

We arrived at the pen and set about prepping it for opening the gate panels and releasing the birds. Everything we touched was fuzzy with frost. Not the flat almost dusting of snow, but the three dimensional crystals of Jack Frost at his most creative. With our chores complete Geoff moved off a distance to notify the pilots that we were ready. I stayed by the pen.

The sun cleared the treeline. The first rays of dawn hit the top net, and suddenly I was standing next to a shimmering tent. The entire net was covered in frost crystals. Every intersection of material reflected a pin source of light in a ‘cobweb covered in dew’ effect.

The sun climbed higher and revealed the performers in that tent of light. Each chick had donned a diamond studded cloak for the occasion. Their movements, always graceful, seemed like choreographed ballet steps as their feathers twinkled with each change of position. Ever the characters they strutted and preened showing off their new bling in a performance that only I witnessed.

It was pure magic and a sight I will never forget!

GLASS, BIRDS, AND CANADA: A PROGRESS REPORT – Entry 1

The December issue of THE BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN included an article of interest to birders, and particularly to residents of Ontario’s Greater Toronto Area. A reprint is posted below.

“We have covered glass-and-glare concerns in past issues of the E-bulletin, most recently in May when we discussed two crucial and pending court cases in Ontario, both concerned with making the skies safer for migrant birds: http://refugeassociation.org/?p=5497#ontario

The first of these two Toronto-area court cases and decided in mid-November, presents a mixed message for safe skies. On 14 November, Justice of the Peace William Turtle dismissed three charges against the Consilium Place/Menkes property where an estimated 800+ birds were killed in crashes between 2008 and 2009. This cluster of high-rise towers has long been considered Toronto’s deadliest building complex for killing migrating birds.

Turtle recognized that birds had been killed at the location, but he held that the property owners could not be held responsible for the natural light discharge and their reflection at the buildings. In the meantime, the owners – sold by Menkes to Kevric Real Estate Corporation in July – have spent thousands of dollars retrofitting the towers with corrective film to protect the birds.

This is core to the mixed message. Working with Toronto-based Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP), Consilium Place retrofitted towers with an outer-layer of film intending to steer birds away from the building. The company also established “bird action stations” to assist FLAP volunteers to collect and tag bird victims, and obtained a federal permit to do so on site, all in accordance with Turtle’s ruling.

“We’re disappointed by the decision,” said Albert Koehl, lawyer for Ecojustice, one of the two environmental groups involved with the case. “However, the irony is that the building has now been retrofitted with window film. The number of collisions is dramatically down, so there are obviously solutions that do work.”

Michael Mesure, FLAP’s executive director, has reported that the bird collisions at this property have dropped to about 200 in 2012. Mesure said that the owner’s work, as well as the City of Toronto’s mandatory bird-friendly building guidelines, which cover projects started after 2010, are a “step in the right direction.” But more needs to be done to protect the birds.

The second crucial case – as we described in May – involves the Yonge Corporate Center, where about 2,000 dead birds have been collected between 2000 and 2010, and 800 between March and November 2010 alone. Judge Melvin Green should present his delayed judgment in this case in early February. Here also, the most deadly building in the center has recently been retrofitted with the same film as an experiment. Again, there have been favorable results.

According to FLAP at least one million birds are annually killed in building/glass/reflection collisions in Toronto, and this figure could conceivably be much higher. According to FLAP’s Mesure, legislative action is what is really needed. “We desperately need to find a way to make this included in the environmental law.”