FIRST INTRODUCTION TO THE AIRCRAFT

At the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, Brooke and Geoff are conducting the early conditioning of the chicks and getting them familiar with the aircraft. The young cranes have been hearing a recording of the engine since they were still in the egg but the real thing is a little more intimidating.

This first close up introduction takes place outside in the circle pen. In this video Geoff is controlling the chick (#5-12) and distracting it with mealworms while the aircraft engine is started by Brooke, inside the circular enclosure. You can see a little nervousness but #5-12 soon calms down and becomes accustomed to the noisy monster machine that will eventually teach him to migrate.

It is hard to determine the exact cause of their behavior but it seems that they take cues from the parent or surrogate. If the parent doesn’t react and they can hear the calming brood call, they seem to adjust rapidly to new environments.

The next step is to move the aircraft forward slightly and that prompts a new round of nervousness. When the aircraft stops and the chick calms again, a few more meal worms are tapped out and the chick comes over to investigate. The process is repeated, moving around the pen until the chick is following after the aircraft.

DEJA VOUS

The beginning of chick season at Patuxent could best be described by the great American philosopher and baseball player Yogi Berra when he said, “It’s like déjà vous all over again!” And it is. One day into chick season and you can’t tell if it’s this year, last year or the year before that. Same places, same faces, same pace and emotional journey….so familiar, in fact that it threatens to morph into the unfamiliar, like some timeless continuum in an episode of “Twilight Zone.” Could it be that Patuxent is a suburb of Shangri-La, the legendary city in “Lost Horizon” where time stands still, no one ages and your girlfriend can go to the Prom wearing the same dress she’s worn for the last two hundred years?

But once the chick season starting gun goes off, time for reflection comes to a screeching halt and things start to happen so fast that before long you feel like you’re in one of those old movies running just off stride, or two ahead of a steam roller. And you’re not alone because you’re running in a crowd made up of the “Usual Suspects,” migration veterans all, who’s names are familiar to readers of the OM Field Journal. Jane and Ali go off to check nests for eggs while Brian and Barb place newly hatched chicks in the brooder or ICU’s while Sharon and Geoff teach chicks to eat and drink while Charlie and Robert are busy walking or swimming chicks. All this while Glenn and Carlyn give the chicks their daily health exams catching any problems before they develop while Jonathan maintains the order of things. Like they say – It takes a village – even if the village must operate at warp speed.

The pace of activity quickly accelerates until it reaches the visual status of a blur. Yet embedded within it lies a calm, practiced and seamless choreography developed over the years and orchestrated by a deep sense of devotion seasoned with a large dose of urgency. All this can be attributed to the simple biological fact that the chicks come from the factory with a serious lack of patience as standard equipment. They need what they need and want what they want and they need and want it NOW! Why? Because millions of years of evolution have dictated that, in nature, they must be ready to migrate south with their parents in the fall or be left behind to perish and so there isn’t a minute to lose. Meanwhile, it’s like time lapse photography without the lapses or like “Chop Sticks” played on a piano at three in the morning by a left over hippie on methadrine while Mother Nature hovers nearby screaming at the top of her lungs, “Get’ er done!”

But even the walker on a treadmill set on hi-speed can from time to time mentally pause to watch the room go by and enjoy the wonder of it all while taking care not to be spit out the back end, for chick season is as much an adventure as it is a process, as deliciously rewarding as it is magical, an experience never to be forgotten while never to be fully understood. We wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’ll just hang on for dear life and try to enjoy the ride until chick season ends, which for Geoff and I will come on the day the chicks take that ride to the airport for the flight to Wisconsin and the beginning of their next beginning. Until then it’s “Back to the Future.”

A NEW CHICK FOR AN OLD FRIEND

The male Whooping crane, number 9-05 began showing up at the Canfield training site, located on Necedah NWR in the summer of 2009. At first, we weren’t sure if he had an affinity for the young crane chicks, or the grapes that are used to reward them for a job well done. Whatever attracted him, each morning when the aircraft would show up to train the younger birds, number 9-05 would emerge from the long grasses at the edge of the training area.

He never actually flew with the young birds, but he would follow them, as they followed the aircraft, up and down, back and forth. On numerous occasions, at the end of each training session, CraneCam viewers took bets as to whether he would actually follow them into the pen.

As the summer progressed and early hints of fall appeared, he began to also appear in early evening as well and would take his position at the back of the wetpen – seemingly standing guard over the young birds inside.

Eventually fall arrived – the young Whooping cranes departed the refuge with their aircraft guides, and number 9-05 was left alone briefly before meeting a young-of-year DAR female number 42-09. He guided her to Lake County, FL that fall and returned to the Necedah refuge with her the following March. By April 1st, however, they separated.

Not long after, he appeared to have bonded with a two year old female, number 18-08 and the pair were together for approximately three weeks before his new mate was found dead – the victim of predation.

But a new season brought new Whooping crane chicks to the refuge and in June, two cohorts arrived and our unlucky in love male, number 9-05 quickly took up his sentry position behind the wetpen each night, and on the runway each training day, much to the delight of regular CraneCam viewers. In this July 20, 2010 In the Field entry, Joe’s tells about one such encounter with number 9-05.

As the end of July came, so too did another stark white, adult Whooping crane. Perhaps it’s only fitting given his unlucky past with mates that this lovely ladybird turned out to be number 13-03, a number usually assigned the status of bad luck. She didn’t stay long with each visit, but the frequency of visits increased and from time-to-time, those fortunate enough to be viewing the CraneCam at just the right time, were rewarded with a dance. A routine consisting of leaps and bows and gyrations, all set to music that obviously they could hear and we could only imagine.

They began to spend days together, which turned into nights together – now two adults standing guard behind the Canfield enclosure as the young chicks roosted inside. But not every night… it seemed our lovely female was a two-timing gal and she would disappear for days on end, while she returned to spend time with her former (and perhaps still current?) mate, number 18-03.

Again, an Autumn season set in and threatened to turn to winter.  Cranes 13-03 and 18-03 left the refuge and migrated together, to their typical winter territory in Tennessee. The lonely male, number 9-05 was discovered alone, on his winter territory in Lake County, FL.

The next spring all three returned to Necedah and it wasn’t long before 9-05 wooed his former girlfriend away from number 18-03 and in mid-April they were discovered incubating a nest! A single chick hatched out a month later and was designated as chick number W3-11. Unfortunately, the chick went missing a month later.

Fast forward an entire year to Monday, May 21st. Wisconsin DNR pilot (and former OM crane Mom) Bev Paulan sent news of a new chick for the pair. Whooping crane chick #W7-12 is the result of a re-nest and likely hatched sometime around May 17th (their first nest this spring failed for whatever reason). Let’s hope that the second chick is the charm for this pair who obviously love spending time near the youngsters.

A chick (#W7-12) for Whooping cranes 13-03 and 9-05 likely hatched on or around May 17th can be seen with one adult on the nest while the other adult forages for food.

Here are the two adults pictured in the summer of 2010 spending time with the young Whooping cranes.

NEST MONITORING/LIGHTHAWK

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership would like to thank Lighthawk and participating LightHawk pilots for use of their donated aircraft time and piloting skills. Without their help we would not be able to conduct the intensive whooping crane nest monitoring needed for our current research. This monitoring will greatly assist in a better understanding of factors contributing to nest failure, which may be critical to the long-term success of the project.

LightHawk is a volunteer-based environmental aviation organization that supports conservation projects in the US, Mexico, Central America and parts of Canada. LightHawk provides donated flights in private aircraft to elevate conservation efforts. LightHawk flies more about 1,000 missions each year for over 250 conservation partners in North America and Central America. LightHawk is a purely collaborative effort, and their staff works with over 200 volunteer pilots to design aerial campaigns that help conservation groups, universities, government agencies and individuals protect land, water and wildlife.

Volunteer pilots from Connecticut, Maine, Michigan and Minnesota flew their own airplanes to Wisconsin to conduct twice daily aerial surveys of whooping crane nest sites. Jamie Gamble (North Granby, Conn.), Pat Healy (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.), James Knowles (Tenants Harbor, Maine) and Richard Sedgwick (Minnetonka, Minn.) donated these flights.

More information about LightHawk can be found here: http://www.lighthawk.org/

To view the nest monitoring results, visit: bringbackthecranes.org

CLASS OF 2012

When I last left off, we had seven birds learning the ropes here at Patuxent: chicks 4-12 through 7-12 and 9-12 through 11-12 (8-12 is skipped since he’s a genetic holdback). But why stop there?  Our aircraft would get awful lonely if they had only seven birds following them. Luckily, 12-12, 13-12 and 14-12 have hatched and are stepping into the wonderful world of migration.

Initially, we worried that #12-12 was a bit of a slow learner.  He didn’t catch onto eating out of the bowl or drinking on his own until after the (slightly younger) younger #13-12 was getting worked outside of his pen. That isn’t to say he hasn’t caught up as there are times you can work him from outside the enclosure with satisfactory results, but there are still times that his memory needs jogging.  Sometimes you still have to get into his pen and politely remind him that a puppet bouncing up and down in his food dish means suppertime.  Oh, and yes, little chick, you have to take a drink from those big red and white jugs. Maybe he just doesn’t like the food.  Can’t say I blame him – the grain tastes like really bad instant pancake batter – Or so I’m told.  Perhaps he’d change his tune if we offered him a nice piping hot plate of mozzarella sticks and cheese pizza.  It’d sure change my attitude.

Number 13-12 has a better grasp on things, despite being a few hours younger than 12-12.  He responds to the puppet more, eats and drinks more, and learned to be worked without having someone come into the pen every time, sooner.  Unfortunately, little 13-12 is under a soft quarantine.  He had some diarrhea yesterday morning, which is a never a good sign.  When that happens, you can’t enter his pen without donning Tyvek booties over your normal boots, so as not to track his cooties to some other bird’s pen. It’s kind of a pain.  Plus, you’re always a little worried whether or not he really does have some sort of bug but since you can usually work him from the outside, it’s not much of a big deal.

Since my stint in 2010, we’ve always had at least one or two crane chicks that have had the same treatment but they always got better.  In fact, 10-12 and 11-12 were under soft quarantine just a few days before number 13. A few daily doses of Baytril seemed to fix them.

Chick number 14-12 isn’t so much a crane as he is a guppy.  The first time he took a swig from his water jug (as reluctant as he was), it was love at first sip! Now, I can get him to drink from it without even asking… If anything, at times, I have to pull him away from it so he can eat. Usually, it’s the other way around (or, you’re just having to drag him everywhere). His current record is fourteen sips in one session; however, his appetite is only so-so.  The fact he’s drinking this well already an enormous step in the right direction. I did catch him taking some nice, big-boy bites from his bowl before I punched out for the day yesterday.  Not bad for a two-day-old if I say so myself – I think we can expect good things out of him once he meets the aircraft.

So now we should be up to date with making the introductions to this year’s class of little crane chicklets!

 #12-12 hatched on May 12th

 #13-12 hatched in the afternoon of May 12th

#14-12 hatched on May 15th.

ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY

Today, the third Friday in May, marks the celebration of Endangered Species Day. This day is set aside each year to celebrate and promote the nation’s commitment to protecting and recovering endangered species. Organizations from parks to wildlife refuge, from zoos to museums, and from schools to conservation groups, hold events to educate and remind us all about the importance of protecting endangered species.

Scientists estimate that up to one-third of U.S. species are at increased risk of extinction, and more than 1,300 U.S. plants and animals already have been federally listed as threatened or endangered and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, America harbors a remarkable array of plant and animal species, ranging from majestic mammals like bison and grizzly bears to tiny desert wildflowers. Unfortunately, many of our species have not fared well over the past few decades suffering from things such as habitat loss and the spread of invasive species.

It is never too late to learn the everyday actions that we all can take to help protect our nation’s wildlife – be they avian, mammal, fish or plants. Websites you might like to visit to read more about Endangered Species Day include this one, stopextinction.org where you can learn about endangered species where you live and also discover the Top 10 Things You Can Do at Home to Protect Endangered Species.

INVESTIGATION COMPLETE ON WHOOPING CRANE KILLING

Indiana Department of Natural Resources is reporting Indiana Conservation Officers, with assistance from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents, have completed an investigation into the killing of male whooping crane, number 27-08, in early January in Knox County, Indiana.

The Knox County Prosecutor is reviewing the case, and charges are pending against Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

According to the case report filed with the prosecutor, ICO Joe Haywood received information in mid-January that a whooping crane had been spotlighted at night and shot and killed with a high-powered rifle.

The ensuing investigation involved multiple law enforcement agencies, wildlife biologists and private individuals and provided information that identified the suspects and also linked the bird to a federal program to reintroduce whooping cranes in the eastern United States.

The whooping crane shot in Knox County was part of a nesting pair that was taught its migratory path by ultralight aircraft in the fall of 2008.

Number 27-08 becomes the the third confirmed shooting death of Whooping cranes in Indiana. The first occurred in late 2009 and involved the first female to successfully breed and raise a wild chick. Crane #17-02 was 7 years old at the time of her death. In December 2011, male Whooping crane number 6-05 was found shot to death in Jackson County, Indiana. His carcass was found Dec. 30 by a photographer near the Muscatatuck River basin about 40 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. The case involving number 6-05 is still being investigated.

NESTING NEWS

Today Bev Paulan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources  pilot confirmed that a sixth Whooping Crane chick, #W6-12, has hatched in the wild in Wisconsin!

We had suspected that pair #16-04 and #4-09 had a chick based on their behavior the past couple of days, but the chick wasn’t visible until today. There are currently four wild Whooping Crane chicks in Wisconsin (parents in parenthesis):

#W1-12 (12-02/19-04*)
#W4-12 (14-08/24-08*)
#W5-12 (13-02/18-02*)
#W6-12 (16-04/4-09*)

Six chicks in total have hatched, but unfortunately pair #24-09 and #42-09 lost both of their chicks (#W2-12 and #W3-12).
* denotes female

#W6-12, the tiny chick belonging to #16-04 and 4-09* is visible in the center of the circle.

#W5-12, pictured in the circle is the offspring of 13-02 and 18-02*

MORE CUTENESS

This morning we spend a moment with Whooping crane chick #5-12. Brooke captured this photo on Monday morning before the rain moved in and put a halt to training. Number 5-12 is the second oldest chick (but only by hours) in the Class of 2012 and here he is spending time with the small aircraft, which looks HUGE in comparison to the tiny two-week old chick.

GREAT RESOURCE FOR BIRDERS

Avibase offers a wealth of information about birds around the world. There is now a new mobile version of Avibase, making it easier than ever before for smartphone users to access the same information found on the main Avibase website. As with the standard site, the mobile site provides bird checklists from virtually anywhere in the world, and also enables users to look at photos and listen to recordings for a majority of those birds.

To see photos and listen to sounds more quickly, visitors can now simply click on a species name within any checklist – a new feature that was recently introduced in both the mobile and the standard versions.

Avibase is one of the world’s most popular birding websites. Bird Studies Canada hosts the site, which is maintained by Avibase creator and BSC Senior Scientist Denis Lepage.

WARNING: CUTE ALERT!

Rain has hampered aircraft conditioning for most of yesterday and today but Brooke sent along the following photograph showing the oldest Whooping crane chick, number 4-12 inspecting the puppet – no doubt looking for a treat to dispense.

The Robo-puppet is used at all times during aircraft conditioning. The pilot will coax the young chick from its enclosure by tapping the puppets beak along the ground and pulling a trigger that opens a small hole below puppets beak. When the hole is opened, mealworms fall out onto the ground to reward the chick for a job well done.

TWO CELEBRATIONS!

Today is International Migratory Bird Day and as in past years, Joe and I will be on location with our display booth in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. It would be hard to beat Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a place to celebrate wildlife conservation – and we look forward to seeing YOU here.

For us, this year’s visit has had something very special added. One of our ultralight aircraft has been re-fitted and is now on ‘permanent’ display at Conservation Station!

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch last evening we held a small event to preview the exhibit. Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership representatives, Disney cast members, and a few invited guests joined us to honor Disney’s long-term support of Whooping cranes and to celebrate this extraordinary opportunity to raise awareness for species conservation – and particularly Whooping cranes. Millions of guests of all ages from around the world visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park each year and the ultralight exhibit will provide unprecedented promotion of the work of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Although it refers to rearing children, the African-originated proverb, “It takes a village..…” equally and aptly describes what the reintroduction of the eastern population of migratory Whooping cranes takes. Everything is easier when you are part of a village, and have input from equally committed organizations, colleagues, supportive donors, and friends. In addition to WCEP’s nine founding partners, there are dozens of other collaborating agencies and scores of individual ‘villagers’ who lend Whooping cranes a helping hand.

So it was that last evening, on behalf of Operation Migration and WCEP, Joe Duff acknowledged the many ‘ Disney villagers’ whose diverse contributions have played an integral role in the Whooping Crane reintroduction project’s success. Some of those recognized were:

Dr. Jackie Ogden and her staff at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Kim Sams, Claire Martin, and the all staff at Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund
Disney’s Cast Members who act as Grant Reviewers – with a special shout out to Chelle Plasse
Dr. Scott Terrell and the Disney Health Team
Jay Therien, a Winter Monitoring veteran at St. Marks
Alex McMichael, intrepid IMBD man Friday
And, the 2 individuals who led the charge for the installation of the wonderful ultralight exhibit: ‘Imagineer Gary Graham, and OM’s and Whooping cranes’ BFF, Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus.

Watch the Field Journal in days to come for more about the event as well as photos, but in the meantime, you can click here to see Disney’s announcement.

CLASS OF 2012 GROWS

Now, I’ve already introduced you all to the senior four birds of the Class of 2012: 4-12, 5-12, 6-12 and 7-12.  As it turns out 8-12 is destined to aid his species in his own way as a genetic holdback.  So that leaves us with three new little tikes: 9-12, 10-12 and 11-12.  Each and every one of them is alive and well and is making bold new progress.

Number 9-12 seems to run hot and cold – Most notably with his drinking.  Some sessions, he’ll down drinks from the jug without you having to ask.  Other days, I have to beg on my knees just to get him to take one sip.  In theory, he should be getting worked from the outside with the puppet but he hasn’t responded much to that – other than pecking and jabbing at the puppet, trying to figure out why it’s dancing all of a sudden.

On the bright side, he eats just fine when you’re in the pen with him. I think he likes having a buddy to eat with, as he’ll keep on eating so long as you keep the puppet beak in the bowl.  He seems to value his beauty sleep; it’s not unusual to find him curled up asleep as I’m trying to go in and work on him. Ali has noted on a couple of times he’s fallen asleep just as he’s trying to work with him. Granted, it does happen with others from time-to-time but this guy’s trying to throw the average a little.

I worry number 10-12 is a slacker. When he was still in the ICU he was never responsive – either ignoring the puppet, or just tapping it enough to make it go away. Naturally, he doesn’t eat or drink much, left alone on his own from the bowl of crumbles.  Or, if he does, he needs a lot of leading around. I haven’t worked with him much ever since he moved to his own pen but the Patuxent staff has mentioned on occasion that his lazy ways haven’t changed much. I’m sure he’ll catch up with the other birds when he’s good and ready, of course.

Chick 11-12 isn’t as withdrawn as 10-12 was.  I’m not ashamed to say that I got him to eat and drink out of the bowl one of my first sessions with him in the ICU.  However, it turned out to be a one-time deal, as he went back to staggering around the Plexiglas box and/or trying to escape out the door.  He seems to be fairly good at it, as he’s gotten past me once or twice.  But he never gets far. As soon as he drops from the ICU to the tabletop (it’s a one inch drop, so don’t worry), he just sits on the table, motionless, almost like he’s pouting “Somebody pushed me.  Poopie-head!”  As it’s cute and kinda comical, it makes it real easy to scoop him up and place him back in the ICU.  I’m sure he was thrilled when he got moved to his new pen yesterday.  Sharon tells me he had no trouble getting cozy, as he fell asleep not long after moving to his new pen.

Now we should be all caught up on the introductions until a 12-12, 13-12 or a 14-12 joins the party.  I should also tell you that numbers 4-12, 5-12 and 6-12 have all met the aircraft or ‘trike’ as we like to call it.  Brooke and I have helped 4-12 and 5-12 take the first big step as ultralight birds by starting the engine up next to them.  They can now hold their ground against the scary roar of the engine.  Brooke could tell you better than I could, but they seemed to have performed to his satisfaction.  6-12 was a little more timid of the trike’s roaring engine and isn’t quite ready to follow.  But I’m sure he will be tomorrow or the day after.  The time spent with the trike is what was important.  After all, this was one of his first times completely outside of his pen.  That alone can be daunting. Especially since 6-12 can be a little nervous at times).

Number 7-12’s first date with the trike is just around the corner.  Once he learns to eat on his own, and hold onto his weight, he’ll be running around after that 3-wheeled aircraft in no time!

number 9-12. Hatch date: May 7

number 10-12. Hatch date: May 7

11-12. Hatch date: May 9

INTRODUCING… WILD HATCHED TWINS!

Whooping crane parents DAR 42-09* and 24-09 and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership are proud to announce the arrival of TWO chicks! The first arrived sometime Monday and was spotted by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan (photo below). In the photo the chick appears to be drying itself in the sun and the egg at the opposite side of the nest looks as if the chick has recently emerged from it. The parent crane is still sitting, likely on the other egg or a previously hatched chick.

ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski visited the Adams County site today to check on the nest and in the second photo you can see the TWO wild hatched Whooping crane chicks. This is the first nest attempt for this 3 yr old pair.

Welcome WILD Whooping crane chicks W2-12 & W3-12!

CLASS OF 2011

The latest word we have received from the tracking team is that the 9 cranes from the Class of 2011 have not moved a great deal since returning to Wisconsin and the 10th Whooping crane, #1-11 has yet to turn up.

Yesterday we received the following two images showing the group of four young cranes consisting of #’s 3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11. This group arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20 – 8 days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered.

They are barely showing any signs of the cinnamon colored feathers they use to have…

Meanwhile, approximately 20 miles to the northeast and still in Columbia County, the group of three consisting of #’s 7-11, 10-11 and the youngest of last year’s cohort, #12-11 (photo below) continue to spend their time foraging in small wetlands and grassy areas. This group has been at this location, also since April 20th.

Whooping crane #9-11 had been reported in Grant County, WI on April 20th, and a photograph submitted confirmed a broken antenna on her PTT unit, which would explain the lack of reports for this crane. Crane #2-11, the young bird that broke away from the ultralight-guided group on the second day of the southward migration last fall, is still in Adams County, WI – approximately 35 miles from White River Marsh.