Festival of Cranes at Wheeler Tomorrow!

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge will hold its first Festival of the Cranes, a one-day event filled with refuge tours, up-close viewings, workshops, live  raptors, and nature walks, January 12, 2013, kicking off a year-long celebration of Wheeler’s 75th anniversary. The celebration of Sandhill Cranes and Whooping Cranes will bring together experienced birders and those who would like to learn more about birding while providing opportunities to learn about the cranes and other wildlife that calls the Refuge home.

Over 11,000 Sandhill Cranes along with several pairs of Whooping Cranes spend the winter each year at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.  Hosted by the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Association, the Festival of the Cranes kicks off at 6 a.m. with a Sunrise Breakfast in the Visitor Center classroom. Following breakfast, Refuge Manager Dwight Cooley will lead an early morning birding walk to see cranes and other waterfowl arrive in the fields to begin their day of feeding and loafing. A $5 donation is suggested and participants are encouraged to wear comfortable walking shoes and to bring binoculars and a camera.

Throughout the day, the enclosed Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Observation Building, complete with bleachers and spotting scopes, will offer views of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, along with Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, raptors, and maybe a bald eagle. Volunteers and staff members will be on hand to answer questions.

Acclaimed author, storyteller, and naturalist Brian “Fox” Ellis will be the special guest and featured speaker and will be presenting his Adventures with Audubon. His portrayal of Audubon will enchant participants with stories from some of the wildest places on Earth. At 9 a.m., he will host Bird is the Word writing workshop. In this participatory workshop, participants will learn tips for effective journaling, how to use poetry to help write clearer and more exciting essays, and how to turn field notes into publishable articles. At 11:30 a.m., he presents Bird Tales: Stories and Songs from Many Cultures, a blend of his lifelong love for birds and traditional folktales from different cultures. Through poetry and song, legends and facts, a celebration of all things crane is planned for 2:15 p.m. when Ellis presents Crane Tales Around the World. At 4 p.m., Ellis (as John James Audubon) concludes the day-long event with a recap of his tales from his travels and travails.

Additional activities include a showing of Hope Takes Wing, a film by and about Operation Migration chronicling the history of the Whooping crane; Raptor Trek! Alabama’s Premier Live Bird of Prey Experience featuring owls, hawks, falcons, and a Bald Eagle presented by Becky Collier of the Alabama 4-H Center; and children’s activities centering around the importance of cranes in Japanese culture. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association will sponsor a pizza lunch. A $5 donation to the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge Association is suggested. The day-long event concludes at 5 p.m.

The Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center is located at 3121 Visitor Center Road in Decatur. For more information on the Festival of the Cranes, visit www.friendsofwheelerrefuge.org  or call Teresa Adams, supervisory ranger for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, at 256.350.6639.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge was established on July 7, 1938 by Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first National Wildlife Refuge placed on a multi-purpose reservoir to provide habitat for wintering and migrating birds. Covering 35,000 acres, it attracts thousands of wintering waterfowl each year and is home to Alabama’s largest wintering duck population. The Refuge also supports the state’s largest concentration of Sandhill Cranes. The 75th Anniversary Celebration featuring live raptors and wildlife, children’s activities, and special guest and master of ceremonies “T.R. Roosevelt” as portrayed by Joe Wiegand, is set for October 5, 2013. For more information on Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/wheeler.

TOTAL WHOOPER POPULATION COUNT URGED – Entry 2

In a posting on the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) website, Chester McConnell reported that WCCA President, Lorne Scott, has written to Department of the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, to urge the resumption of regular aerial total population counts of Whooping cranes on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

After the retirement of Whooping Crane Coordinator, Tom Stehn, USFWS discontinued the aerial census of the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. The new method uses hierarchical distance sampling.

In his letter to Secretary Salazar, President Scott said, “The WCCA sees the total count census as the most practical, economical and having the most scientific value”. Citing the the Service’s “2011-2012 estimate of 254 plus or minus 62 Whooping Cranes”, Scott wrote, “This degree of uncertainty for a critically endangered species is simply unacceptable.”

Read President Scott’s letter to Mr. Salazar here.

THIS WEEK’S PHOTO JOURNAL – Entry 1

Here is another ‘photo journal’ from Brooke at St. Marks NWR with some of the sights he captured for us this week.

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Pay attention now…..this is how you fish for lunch.

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Oh no… you have to fish for yourself

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Lesson learned. The chicks duck for food ‘under the watchful eye’ of the dummy mummy.

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Then it’s time to fly out of the pen to check out the rest of the world.

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Wait – you left too soon. More lunch arrived.

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And a couple of nosy neighbors passed through while you were gone.

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Miss Photogenic.

HOW TO TEACH CAUTION?

Over the years, many people have asked us if we have considered teaching the birds to avoid predators and it’s a question we have discussed many times ourselves.

One of the problems is which predator to simulate. In most cases it is hard to determine exactly what killed a bird. The leg mounted transmitter will lead the Tracking Team to the scene of the mortality, but often there isn’t much left. Whatever killed the bird could have consumed it, or scavengers may have found it dead. If there is enough left to be necropsied, medical tests can provide some evidence, but there is not much to be learned if all that is left are feathers and bones.

Bobcats are known predators, as are coyotes and feral dogs. Power line impact is listed as the primary cause of death, but unless the bird is found near wires and reasonably intact, it is hard to know if that was the cause. It could be that the impact injured or stunned the bird and left it vulnerable to predation. Aside from marking all the power lines that dissect wetland habitat and the surrounding fields, there is very little we can do about birds flying into wires they can’t see.

Still we could do some general predator avoidance conditioning. The problem is how?

Teaching animals to avoid certain things is not easy. As an example, the best dog to have if you live near a highway is one that has suffered a near miss with traffic. That lesson will never be forgotten. I have a friend whose golden retriever will run along the ditch for a quarter mile to use a culvert to cross the road, but it took a broken leg to learn that behavior. That’s not a risk we want to take with a predator encounter, either staged or real.

That is not to say that it cannot be taught. There are experts who can teach amazing things to animals and maybe they can offer advice, however there are some complications in our case.

In the wild, a chick would learn avoidance behavior from the parents. Adult Whooping cranes have a range of calls that indicate concern, alarm and fear in escalating volumes. Those calls could be recorded and used judiciously, but we are not sure of the exact message we would be conveying, or what actions need to accompany them. We could be crying wolf and teaching complacency rather than evasion. In the presence of real danger, the adults would take flight and lead the chicks away. Using an aircraft to stage an escape is more complex than simply flying to a safe distance.

When birds from previous generations return to the summering grounds they will occasionally take up residence near our training areas. They can be aggressive in their territorial claims and cause problems with the chicks in training, so we attempt to act like wild parents and chase them off.

Their reaction to our antagonism is surprisingly minimal. Rather than fly away in alarm, they will retreat just far enough. No amount of running or arm waving will scare them off. Many times we have exhausted ourselves running the full length of the runway with the birds trotting ahead just and out of reach. I have personally been lured out into the marsh in pursuit of adult birds only to have to have them fly back to the runway and mock my gullibility with a unison call to mark their victory.

Maybe the fact that we are dressed in a familiar costume is the reason they don’t react as we expect, but it adds to the worry of staging a simulated predator situation. What if we brought in a well trained dog to chase the birds and they didn’t run? What if they simply stood their ground and we ended up trying to explain to the owner why his dog was suddenly afraid to come out of his travel crate?

The lesson we would then be teaching is that taking a stand is better than running away. Taking the first option in the “fight or flight” scenario might lead to problems if a real predator didn’t cease the attack when its trainer called him off.

Predator avoidance conditioning is not simple, and it is made more complex with a creature that we are trying to keep wild. We are open to ideas but it will require serious preparation with lots of options for plan B. So far, teaching them to migrate has proven simpler than teaching them to be wary of furry things with teeth.

CRANIACS CAN DRIVE YOUTH OUTREACH

One of the ways we hope to expand our Outreach Program in 2013 is to increase the number of school children we make aware of the importance of conservation, and particularly, the safeguarding of Whooping cranes.

We already have the perfect vehicle for educators to use in their classrooms; one that entertains and educates at the same time. It is our “Craniac Kids Whooping Crane Activity Book”.

CAB Cover

What we are looking for is your help and support. How can you help?

It’s simple. First, identify/pick a school (or class) you’d like to see learn about conservation and Whooping cranes. Then, sponsor their receiving a gift of 30 Whooping Crane Activity Books. A sponsorship is just $35.

Use this link to order your donation of Activity Books. In the box labeled “Donation Note” near the bottom of that webpage, type in the name, address and zip code of the school you want your gift to go to. If you wish, you can include a teacher’s name too. We will direct ship the Activity Books to the school/class of your choice, along with a special card recognizing you as the donor-sponsor of their educational gift.

Together, who knows how many young conservationists we can create?!?!

NEW SONG ON THE HIT PARADE – Entry 2

As every church choir boy knows, things change. In time, the high note is exchanged for the low, the soprano section for the alto, and little Susie Lynn who, all those Sunday mornings past sat in sweet anonymity next to her folks in the front pew, suddenly and unexpectedly captures and holds his full vision to the exclusion of all else…..every particle of her being a magnet, every part of his…ferrite. Earlier, with the bathroom mirror bearing witness, his father’s razor rested inexplicably familiar in his hand. Things change….and always with surprise.

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And so it was last week, when #11 discovered her adult voice for the first time. #5, then #4 having found theirs’ some weeks ago, sounded their child’s- tin-trumpet-on-steroids call in response to a wood stork flyby, and #11 joined in as usual.

Only this time, instead of the usual “peep” squirting out almost inaudibly from her beak, the marsh atmosphere was shattered with a sound unlike anything ever heard before… a sound so shockingly primeval and otherworldly that it could only have originated from somewhere down deep in the earth; from the place where the devil lives; where natural gas fracking pollutes the ground water; where the people sit around watching NASCAR; and where the reruns of the 60’s TV show “Pettycoat Junction” are stored.

It was as if while #11 roosted during the previous night, Mother Nature had sent a black ops terrorist gnome down her throat and into her voice box and covertly exchanged her benign peep for a sound resembling that produced when a car runs over the tuba player in a high school marching band while a seriously drunk and winded Scottish bagpiper tunes his pipes on the sidewalk. And it is virtually impossible to be sure which end of the bird the sound is coming from.

The wood stork reacted as if chased by a bottle rocket, screaming “I am soooooo out of here!” His panicked wing beats carried him quickly over the horizon, while #4 yelled “Incoming!” and dropped immediately into duck and cover mode. #5 just stood staring in shocked amazement, unable to utter a sound. A thought balloon containing the words “What the …….?” rose slowly above his head.  #7, in her usual detached and aloof manor, casually turned to #11 and queried, “Dearie, would ya mind pointing your canon away from me.”

As for myself, I could only stare through the spotting scope in disbelief before eventually coming to my senses, grabbing my smart phone and googling the number for the local exorcist, fully expecting at any minute to see #11’s head start turning 360’s on her neck while projectile vomiting around the pen.

But no earthly entity, breathing or otherwise, could have been more surprised than #11. She stood in stunned disbelief, with the embarrassed look of a family cat caught swallowing the pet canary. “Drats!” she exclaimed. “What do I do now?”

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Not to worry. It is written in the “Book of Whooper” that cranes could not have survived on this planet for tens of millions of years without having mastered the fine art of making chicken salad out of chicken. And so, with the addition of a bass section, a new depth and dimension is added to the sound of the St. Marks Whooper Quintet. Already it is being compared to Lawrence Welk’s Barber Shop Quartet, minus the bubbles. (You know, the one frozen forever in time due to the magic of syndicated reruns.)

Won’t be long before their “Alarm Call” will rest comfortably at Number One on the Hit Parade while their B side “Preflight” climbs the charts like a bullet. Until then, it’s practice, practice, practice.

“Ready? An’ ah one, an’ ah two, an ah…………..”

EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE – Entry 1

WCEP’s Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) location report by tracker, Eva Szyszkoski came in yesterday. Eva said, “Estimated distribution at the end of the report period or last record included 40 whooping cranes in Indiana, 17 in Florida, 16 in Alabama, 11 in Tennessee, 10 in Illinois, 3 in Kentucky, 3 in Georgia, 8 at unknown locations, 2 not recently reported, and 4 long term missing.”

The mortality of #3-07 is suspected. He was last observed December 7 on his wintering territory in Lowndes County, GA. This puts the maximum number of Whooping cranes in the EMP as of January 4 at 114;  58 males and 56 females.

Long Term Missing are:     Legend: * = female; D = Direct Autumn Release
27-07* since March 2011. Last reported in Kosciusko County, IN
13-08* since April 2011. Last detected in Juneau County, WI
D13-11 since November 2011. Last detected migrating over IL
3-10* since February 2012. Last detected in Marion County, FL

NOW’S THE TIME TO PLAN YOUR 2013 VACATION

AN INVITATION FROM WALTER STURGEON
Arctic Waterfowl Expert and Operation Migration Director/Migration Team Member

I invite you to join me and Dave Davenport of EcoQuest Travel on a fabulous trip to Oslo, Norway, and on to the Island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic.

This trip, which takes place in August, will allow me to share my previous experiences with arctic wildlife and explorations. Since 1981 I have made 20 trips to the Arctic/Subarctic, including  several summers in the Canadian Arctic doing waterfowl research. In my travels have followed and crossed the paths of many arctic biologists, naturalists and explorers, and I look forward to recounting those adventures and sharing my passion for the far north with you.

We will fly in and join our ship in Longyearbyen, the most northern town on earth. As we cruise through the archipelago and circumnavigate the island of Spitsbergen, we will come within ~500 miles of the North Pole. Spitsbergen with its many old whaling stations has a long history as jumping off place for many of Arctic explorers looking for the Northern Sea Route.

Come escape with Dave and me to the land of the polar bear, king of the archipelago. We’ll see them as we travel on our ship through the islands, as well as a diversity of arctic wildlife – both sea and land mammals.

To learn more about this once in a life time adventure to the northern end of our world, click the link for a detailed itinerary and more info on what promises to be a sensational trip. Note – space is limited.

Questions? Contact me via email: sturgeon2(at)embarqmail.com (replace ‘at’ with @)

FINAL 2012 MIGRATION TALE

Editor’s Note: This Field Journal posting brings to an end the store of migration tales penned for you by 2012 volunteer crane handler, Julia Anthony. Too well we recall the events of day that she recounts in this article, and, the heart palpitations it gave us all.

Julie joined the migration team mid September and we send her a big thank you not just for all her work with the Class of 2012, but also for her frequent and consistently terrific Field Journal entries.

THE BIG GREEN MONSTER by Julia Anthony

At our second to last stop the pilots had to relocate the pen at the last moment. The new location was at the end of a new airstrip, which was under construction, and right next to a cotton field.

We had a busy day. That morning I had released the birds, helped pack up the pen onto the trailer, then driven the white van hauling the equipment trailer to our new stopover location. We settled the RVs in, putting the leveling jacks down, plugging in power etc. Part of the crew went to check out the next stopover location leaving Joe, Geoff, and I to finish up the work at our current stop.

Geoff and I laid out the trike wing frost covers to dry in the sun and moved on to helping Joe switch out the wings on his trike. Before long it was time to do the afternoon roost check and I volunteered to go alone since Joe still needed Geoff’s assistance.

By this point in the migration, evening roost checks had become fairly routine. We check each bird for visible injury and listen for breathing problems or coughs. We check, and if needed, fill the water and food containers. If the camera is running we shut it down and collect the laptop so it can be charged overnight.

On this night I confidently went through the chores. The only thing that worried me was that the birds seemed a little unsettled. There were some loud bangs and motor sounds coming from a distance. The birds peeped and jumped at the strange sounds. I thought maybe someone was cutting down a tree.

I finished all my work and then walked out to the cotton field to see if I could see any activity that might explain the strange noises. From the pen you could only see about a third of the field. As I came around the trees that blocked the view of the rest of the field, I found, to my horror, that a huge green combine had been moved into the end of the cotton field!

I walked a distance away from the birds and took out my phone. Joe was the first call but he didn’t answer. Geoff was the second. He told me that Joe was talking to the father of the man who owned the airstrip we were using and that he had called to let them know about the harvesting. Geoff told me that he and Joe were on their way and that I should go back in the pen with the birds and try to keep them calm.

About that time, the man Joe had been speaking to on the phone pulled up on an ATV. He said he had tried to get them to stop combining the cotton, but the fellow on the combine was just an employee and the farmer who owned the field could not be reached. (This poor man was trying desperately to help us, but I was thinking about other things. Even though there was a diesel tractor roaring I kept asking him to lower his voice. It’s funny how ingrained not talking around the birds had become.) I wish now to thank him for his efforts and to apologize for being so short with him.

By this point I remembered the visual barriers (The pens are made up of 6×10 panels of wire mesh on a frame. The visual barriers are the same size but have a camouflage cloth stretched across them. Each pen trailer carries four visual barriers We use them to help block things we don’t want the birds to see, or as a windblock. I told the man that Joe was on his way and that I had work I had to do.

I ran back up to the pen. As I tripped over the wire fence I grabbed the stakes and laid them down on the ground. As I got to the trailer I pulled more fencing down, and then opened the ratchet straps that secure the extra panels. I had to remove two extra wire mesh panels and set them aside (taking more fencing down to the process). I grabbed one end of the first visual barrier and pulled it through the sand until I was on the side of the pen between the birds and the field. I then leaned the panel up against the pen wall and went back for another one.

Remember this whole time I am in costume with my helmet on, and of course I am breathing hard so the visor is all steamed up. I am trying to hurry because I can hear the combine moving, and at the same time I’m trying to keep from making too much noise and scaring the birds.

I got the second panel in place and then went to the other side of the trailer for the other two. Again I had to take down more fence and the remove ratchet straps to get to the panels. I think I had the third panel in place when the combine steamed down the field.

I paused to watch the birds to make sure that they didn’t panic and hurt themselves. Luckily the combine just cut one quick path by the pen and continued on to a lower field. With the three panels up the bird’s view of the green monster was limited. Still, they were clearly unhappy and paced along the side of the pen, but they were not jumping into the top net or the pen walls. I didn’t know if the combine was coming back so I finished getting the fourth panel in place and then went back into the pen with the birds.

The birds were upset. They were exhibiting the same behaviors that they show when they are ramping up for a flight in the morning. They were peeping and rubbing their beaks along the pen walls. I got out cranberries and tried to coax them to a place in the pen where they would not be able to see the cotton field. But it was the noise of the combine that was bothering them and they kept up that behavior until the noise was a good distance away.

I felt helpless. I had done everything I could think of, but the specter of stress myopathy (Stress myopathy is caused by lactic acid building up in the muscles. It roughly translates into being scared to death and cranes are susceptible to it.) The horrible story that Brooke had told us about getting a phone call about the Class of 2006 being dead in their pen kept running through my head. I was afraid that I was going to have to call someone and tell them that all the birds had died.

Okay, so that was not really logical and overly dramatic, but it’s the sort of thing you think about when you are alone in that kind of situation and have an overactive imagination. Some silent cursing and praying also occurred!

It seemed like a lifetime before I saw Joe go streaking by the pen, his white costume just a blur. At least I was no longer alone, and hopefully he could get them to not drive by the pen again.

I waited and watched. Sometime later Joe appeared at the trailer again. He gestured for me to come out to talk to him. Outside the pen and behind the trailer he whispered that the employee in the combine could not stop without risking his job and that they couldn’t reach the farmer who owned the field.

The combine had lights on it so he didn’t know if they would continue to harvest all night and/or if they would come back to the part of the field adjacent to the pen. Then he grabbed me by the shoulders like a coach would a football player and told me to try to stay calm, get back into the pen and stay with the birds in case something happened. I nodded my helmet and climbed back through the trailer into the pen.

Waiting, again, in the pen it was the birds that finally calmed me down. I felt a familiar tug that was #11 pulling on the hem of my costume, and a tapping on my boot that could only be #7. I knew that the birds were okay because those were their normal greetings when I interacted with them. Trust the birds!

Geoff joined me in the pen shortly after that. We both gave more treats to the birds and moved them to the most protected corner of the pen. The sun had set by now and it began to rain. (It was probably this minor miracle that saved us from more encounters that night. I learned much later from Walter that cotton cannot be harvested if it is wet.) With our light fading fast I whispered to Geoff that I had to work on the electric fence before we lost the light altogether. I knew, as he did not, how much of the fence I had to take down to get to the visual barriers. Geoff stayed to watch the birds.

It was quite the challenge to get the fence straightened out. I was still working in my costume with a foggy visor and diminishing light. I had to reset the posts that had been removed on purpose as well as the parts I had tripped on, or dragged a panel over.

Then I realized that the visual barriers were leaning against parts of the electrical fencing. The fence would not work with the panels touching it and we still didn’t know if or when the harvester would reappear. I felt the only choice was to set the panels up properly between the inside and the outside wire fencing. I went back to the trailer and gathered the stakes, ropes and hammers needed to anchor the panels. I took the step stool and turned it upside down to hold all of the equipment and keep it from getting lost in the dark.

Geoff joined me, and we soon had the first panel in place. The light was gone now so I took a small flashlight, turned it on and left it on the upside down stool so we could find it and our tools in the dark. It was on the outside of the panels so the birds couldn’t see it.

I think we had the second panel up when suddenly the sound of the combine stopped. Still, without any additional information we finished setting the panels. The last two were the hardest. It was pitch black by then and hammering stakes into the ground when you can’t see them is tricky. Also with the harvester shut down we became painful aware that every noise we made might disturb the birds.

With the panels up and the combine shut down Geoff and I conferred and decided to turn on the wire fence and go back to the truck where we could call Joe for instructions. BUT, when we turned on the fence it didn’t work! We took a deep breath. Then Geoff went in one direction and I went in the other to check the fencing. Starting from the trailer, cell phone in hand (for a little light) I followed the wire. We had to check for any place where the wire might be touching the ground or the pen walls. It was a slow process. We had to feel our way around but not trip on the supports or the ropes holding up the pen and the panels.

We completed checking the inner wire, and as we were heading back to try to turn it on again we heard a bird whistle that we figured was Joe. We turned on the fence again but it still didn’t work. I went to talk to Joe while Geoff starting checking the outer loop of fencing.

I got Joe caught up on what we had done. He asked if there we had enough of the visual barriers up. I told him that parts of the field were still visible to the birds. We didn’t know if the farmer was done for the night or just eating dinner. The thought of the headlights from the harvester raking across the pen as that noisy monster rumbled by was frightening to me. Joe decided to go back to camp and get the four visual barriers off of our second pen trailer.

As I headed back to help Geoff work on the fencing he found a fence pole on the ground. I had probably tripped on it rushing up the hill from the cotton field. We tested the fencing and were very relieved to have it working again.

The two of us climbed into the trailer to wait for Joe to return. The night was now dead quiet. The birds had settled, and now that we had stopped moving, I realized that I was cold and wet. I had started the roost check at 4:00pm with only a tee shirt and jeans on under my costume. It was now close to 9:00pm and freezing cold.

Geoff and I conferred again. The combine had now been shut down for more than an hour. That meant that there was a good chance that the harvester was not just on a break but done for the night. We had stopped hammering much earlier so Geoff pointed out that if we started to set up more barriers it would probably scare the birds. Also we knew that the chances of us flying in the morning were really good, and if we didn’t fly, we could always add more barriers in the morning light.

We left the trailer, turned on the fencing, and hiked down to van. Geoff called Joe who met us at the road into the pensite. He had just arrived with the pickup truck towing the second pen trailer. After a quick conference Joe agreed that our best course of action was to leave things alone and address the issue of more visual barriers in the morning.

The next morning Geoff and I went back to the pen to release the birds. We were both very relieved to be greeted by five bright eager faces. The birds were fine. The combine started up again just as the trikes came into view. We released the birds and they took off after big yellow mama shaking their tail feathers at the now small green monster below them.

I would like to give my thanks to Gary and his father who helped us through this situation. I would also like to thank Caleb. The story of his harrowing day in the field last year inspired me to carry a flashlight and other emergency gear in a fanny pack that I had on me that night, and to be sure that my cell phone was with me and fully charged.

Also please do not blame the farmer for his reaction. I can only imagine what craziness it must have sounded like to him. People all dressed up in costume running up to him with a tale of endangered birds that happen to be penned by his field when he had just moved a very expensive piece of gear into place to harvest the crop that is his livelihood.

Hindsight is always 20/20. In retrospect there are many things we could have done differently. But we didn’t have the luxury of hindsight that night. We could only do what we thought was best for the birds. Thankfully everything turned out well!

PHOTO BONANZA – Entry 2

Thanks to Brooke for this veritable feast for Craniac eyes.

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No shortage of water at St. Marks!

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But it makes the trudge to the pen a sludge to the pen.

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And the Class of 2012 just LOVES it!

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But it can make the search for lunch a bit of a challenge.

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What’s that I spy with my little eye?

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It’s looking a lot like lunch

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Yup, that’s my lunch alright!

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Thhhhat’s all folks!

MIGRATION STORY, Chilton County, AL – Entry 2

Editor’s Note: Just in case you’re missing the ‘excitement’ of migration, here’s an article telling the tale of one crew member’s experiences on Migration Day 49.

THERE IS NO NORMAL! by Julia Anthony

Early on in the 2012 migration I made a silly statement. I said, “I wish we could have just one normal migration move.” I was told in no uncertain terms, “There is no normal!” That proved to be the most accurate statement of the entire journey.

I imagined a rollout of gleaming vehicles traveling onward, all synchronized and controlled, from location to location. The reality is that part of the crew fly to the next stopover, part is chasing/following underneath them, and part is packing up and bringing up the rear. The vehicles are an assortment of types and sizes, each with a specific job. No two are the same except for the Operation Migration logos on the side….and not even all those match.

November 15th was no exception. It should have been a model day, a little fog to burn off in the morning, but good temperature and wind. The ground crew left the campsite on time and got to the pensite for the release well before the pilots left the airport. Geoff and Colleen went to do the release. My job was to wait (out of sight of the birds) until the pilots gave the all clear to pull down the pen and then drive the pickup truck up to the pen for the tear down.

I was ready! I had my fully charged aviation radio so I could hear the pilots and Geoff. I had my phone streaming the TrikeCam on UStream so I would know when the trikes were getting close, and I had my camera with me to capture a few memories. I was ready, but….

First, after a beautiful take off, the TrikeCam went dead. I figured I had lost my cell coverage and set it aside. (Later I found out that a cable got damaged and we lost the live feed.) I listened on the radio but heard nothing. I scanned the sky and finally saw the trikes in the distance.

I watched as Brooke approached the pensite I could tell that he was going to do an aerial pickup, meaning that he would just fly by and the birds would be released without him landing. I snapped pictures until the trike disappeared over the hill and behinds some trees.

I lined up my camera to get a shot as the trike and the birds got back up above the trees. I saw the trike,  snapped the picture, but no birds. I still couldn’t hear anything on the radio so I had no idea what had gone wrong.

Brooke came around again and this time he was really low. So low it looked like he was landing. Then he was out of sight and just as quickly he appeared again. This time he had three birds. Of course by now I’m so distracted that my camera’s not ready. I counted again. Only three birds! Meanwhile Richard finally appeared from behind the trees with the other two birds. Whew!

After the fliers were off Joe drove up in the white van. He asked me what was going on and I told him that I didn’t know that my radio wasn’t working. I handed it to him and as soon as he touched it we could hear the pilots! I asked him what he done to fix it. He said nothing. I heard the Twilight Zone theme in my head.

The next fly day we again had a shot at having a “normal fly day”. The birds flew well, we had the pen down in record time and all the vehicles on the road. The pilots did not skip that day so we only had to drive one stop. But a perfect run wasn’t to be. Part way to our next location one of the tires on our large mobilehome trailer blew. We spend some tense moments on the side of the highway while Geoff and Joe put the spare tire on.

It was about then I realized that we had just had two “normal” fly days. Because no two days are the same on migration, chaos and surprises are the norm!

DON’T MISS US ON ‘JEOPARDY’ – Entry 2

One of the answers tonight on the game show, ‘Jeopardy’, is about Operation Migration and Whooping cranes. OM supplied the video footage which will be the clue revealed to contestants to challenge them to come up with the correct question.

Check your local listings for the time and channel Jeopardy will air in your area and tune in.

BETTER TOMORROWS – Entry 1

When the clock struck twelve last night, people all over the world cheered and wished each other a Happy New Year. For some, this event is no more than a change of a calendar, while for others the dawning of a New Year symbolizes the beginning of a ‘better tomorrow’.

Each year we worry about garnering enough funds to meet our obligations, and to keep our promises to Whooping cranes and to you, our supporters. Each year that becomes more difficult.

But each year, thanks to YOU, more Whooping cranes are added to those already wild and migrating in eastern North America. YOU are the power behind Operation Migration! Last year as with those that came before, it was your financial support that allowed us to achieve our goals in 2012.

THANK YOU.

With the dawn of the New Year we at OM will say goodbye to 2012 by remembering great moments shared with our Field Journal readers and CraneCam viewers. Without your commitment and generosity our staff and volunteers simply could not have done their work. Know that the achievements are yours. It is YOU who makes success happen.

On this first day of 2013 we wish for everyone a reason to smile each and every day. And for you and for Whooping cranes we wish ‘better tomorrows’ this year and for years and years into the future.

From the OM family to yours….. Happy New Year everyone!