Location: White River Marsh SWA, Green Lake Co., WI
One thing Craniac Doug Pellerin has remarked on when we go to let out the birds every morning, is how every day is a new adventure. That just goes to show how well he’s come to understand this job in the couple months he’s been volunteering for us.
When I last checked in here, we were fighting a battle to get #10 to come out the pen and stop being frightened of the gate; a battle that Brooke and I eventually won. She now pops out the pen with the zeal all of the other birds have. All but one.
Ironically, almost as soon as #10 came around, #11 decided to take her place. However, unlike #10, she doesn’t seem scared of the gate. When the gates open, she’s content to stay in the back of the wet pen while everyone else goes out to train. Some days she eventually comes out on her own, slowly but surely. Other days she has to be bribed out with grapes and treats. But she always eventually comes out.
But these past few days, she hit a new low. Sunday, she would not come out of pen no matter how much begging and pleadingDoug and I did. We tried offering her grapes and mealworms aplenty, but as soon as she got to the wet pen gates, she quickly turned around. And ‘herding her’ just made her uncomfortable, which is why we don’t like doing it unless everything else has failed.
Eventually, we locked her in the dry pen, but unfortunately training was already going on while this was happening. As Joe led the other five birds up and down the runway, occasionally taking off with them, #11 was pacing madly to get back in the wet pen. For one brief shining moment, we led her to the gate, but just as we opened it, she quickly got second thoughts and turned right around. Not that it mattered, by that time, training was just about finished, anyway. She never once set foot on the runway that day.
After training was over, Joe and I worked out a plan of attack. The next training morning, Tom Schultz and I will enter the pen and lock all the birds in the dry pen, bribing #11 with smelt. From there, we’ll let the birds out for training, and if #11 doesn’t come out or proves to be too hard to lead out, we’ll leave her in the pen and train her separately.
The logic behind this plan was that #11 is apparently behind all the other birds, who are all either flying or at least catching ground effect after the trike. All she can do is frantically run after the trike, which could be starting to demoralize her as she watches her older penmates effortlessly and gracefully soar after the trike. Or, in some cases, (#4, 5 and 6 I’m looking at you three) would fly without the trike. She may have also taken bottom rung in the social trike hierarchy, which would also be a turn off. So maybe what #11 needed was a little one-on-one time where she could move at her own pace.
That brings us up to Sunday morning. With some effort and some smelt, Tom and I got all six birds in the dry pen. But ultimately, #11 still wouldn’t come out with the other birds and didn’t want to be led out. So we opted for Plan B: Train her separately.
But then, on a whim, Joe decided to let her out halfway through training, just to see if she’d come. Much to our surprise, she came out with gusto. But what she did next surprised us even more.
Without really waiting for the trike, she got up, took off, and landed out in the marsh. Once we put the other birds back, Joe and I set off into the wilderness to try and find her. Joe thought she’d landed out towards the end of the runway. Since Joe couldn’t see her from the air, I spent a good five minutes poking around in brush and thickets, trying to see where she was hiding. Imagine our surprise (and maybe embarrassment) when we found she was hiding behind the wetpen the whole time. With a little smelt and some corralling, we led her back to the runway.
Joe felt she was ready to follow the trike and so wanted another chance to train with her, but ut just as Tom and I were about to back into the pen, #11 took off and landed out behind the wetpen again. Joe hadn’t even started up the trike yet.
Undaunted, I went out to get her, and once again, with a little help from Tom and Joe, we got her back on the runway. But two or three runs later with the trike, #11 vanished off into the marsh again. Neither Joe or I saw where she went. She went behind the treeline, and that was the last we saw her.
Joe looked for her high and low from his trike, but turned up absolutely nothing. So it was Tom’s and my job to venture out into the marsh to find her again. Joe even recruited Doug, who was out in the blind, to give him and hand and look along the ground with him, as he felt the trike might’ve been scaring her into hiding, something birds occasionally do when they’re lost.
Without any better ideas, I traipsed all through the marsh, climbing over ankle-twisting hummocks and thick shrubs for any sign of our little delinquent. But no luck. To make matters worse, the humidity was steaming up my visor and my glasses, forcing me to stop every couple feet to wipe both of them so I didn’t feel like I was wandering through a fog.
By this time I was starting to flash back to the time last year when all the birds scattered to the wind (on 9/11 of all days). The day when Caleb and #1 got lost in the woods. I was deeply worried we were going to be all day beating every bush looking for this bird. On one hand, she couldn’t have flown too far; she was still only just learning how to fly. But on the other hand, she had no transmitter. If we couldn’t spot her from the air, we had no way of tracking her and she could wander anywhere while we tried to find her.
Once again, enter our white knight: Tom. As he was going down a path out in the marsh, who should walk out in front of him, but #11. Apparently, she was willing to count that as ‘being anywhere’. What made it even more amazing was, she followed Tom right back onto the runway without missing a step or a moment’s pause. Once she was back out on the runway, she turned to the pen and let Tom lead her back inside. The world was saved once more.
There are a couple of things that astonish me about this story. One, that #11 can fly. As I said, up until now she had just been running after the trike, only occasionally catching ground effect. This was the first time either of us had seen #11 take to the skies this easily. Secondly, that she had so little loyalty to the trike that she took off into the marsh, not once, not twice, but THREE times in a row. I’ve never seen a bird with a rebellious streak like that.
Joe remarked on 1-11, who on that ill-fated training session last year, made a beeline into the woods past the trike, past the other birds, past the pen for no apparent reason. But to me, this was different. In order for #1 to bolt like that, something must’ve scared him. What it was, only he knows for sure. 11-12 wasn’t scared of anything on that runway. I think she just had other plans than following the trike. The third surprise was how quickly and readily she followed Tom. As he tells the story, as soon as she saw him she was right on his heels. He didn’t have to offer smelt or grapes. She was just that happy to see him.
Now, despite our costumes, the birds can still tell the difference between me, Joe, and Tom. Between our mannerisms, different size, make of our costumes, and puppets, there are certain features that distinguish us from each other that the birds pick up on. Perhaps that bird recognized Tom as the guy who wasn’t the one trying to lead her or coral her, and decided to follow the costume that was ‘nice’. It is kind of funny to think of it as a good cop/bad cop scenario. Or, Joe and I as the stuffy parents, and Tom as the cool uncle. All I know is, if #11 decides to run off again, I hope Tom isn’t far away.
Now where does this leave us? One thing’s for sure, we’re not training her by herself any more. As we’ve learned, #11 has a funny concept of ‘moving at her own pace’ – which happens to be not on the runway. We’ll still lead her out with smelt, since she loves them to pieces. But we are going to have to think outside the box of ‘open the doors and hide behind them as the birds come out’. Perhaps if she sees another costume outside the pen, she’ll be happier to come out. Indeed, she was one of the birds who came out when Richard and I were experimenting with that technique. We just need to stand closer to the pen doors so we’re not racing the birds back in the pen.
Will it keep her from leaving the runway? Only time will tell. But now that we know she has penchant for doing that, Joe stands a chance of being ready to intercept her from the air if she does. If nothing else, I’m at least proud that she can fly again though nonplussed as to why she was holding out until now.