CLASS OF 2011 UPDATE

We received some updated PTT information yesterday that tells us where Whooping cranes 4-11 and 7-11 roosted. We know that numbers 3 and 6-11 are traveling with number 4-11 as the WCEP tracking team detected radio signals from all three at the same location on Friday afternoon. PTT hits confirmed that #4-11 (and company) have spent the weekend in the area of southern Columbia County and northern Dane County, approximately 43 miles south of the White River Marsh reintroduction site.

Number 7-11 spent the weekend a bit further north; still in Columbia County – approximately 27 miles south of White River Marsh and unfortunately, we don’t know as yet, who is traveling with her.

The PTT reports for number 9-11 have been few and far between but a report came in via the public report website along with the following image, taken by Linda Halpin. The image confirms that this is indeed number 9-11 and also confirms that the antenna has broken off the PTT device on her right leg. The photograph was taken April 20th in Grant County, WI.

A quick addendum: We learned from a Wisconsin DNR survey flight conducted yesterday afternoon that juvenile cranes 7, 10 & 12-11 are traveling together and another group contains: 3, 4, 5 & 6-11. Crane number 1-11 is the only ultralight-led crane currently unaccounted for.

REWARD OFFERED

UPDATED: The Whooping Crane Conservation Association will pay a reward not to exceed $10,000 to anyone who provides information which leads to the conviction of any individuals responsible for the killing of a whooping crane which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012 along 354th Avenue, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, S.D. The purpose of the reward is to encourage the public to share information they might have about criminal activities involving whooping cranes. Federal, State, Provincial, and other public law enforcement personnel, and criminal accomplices who turn “states” evidence to avoid prosecution, shall not be eligible for this reward. If more than one informant is key to solving a specific case, the reward will be equally divided between the informants.

Law enforcement officers from the Service and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are investigating the shooting. The migrating adult whooping crane was traveling with two additional whooping cranes before being shot with a high-power rifle as it was standing in a corn field.

Anyone with information should call either the 24-hour Turn in a Poacher Hotline at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 605-224-9045 to report any information which will aid officers in the apprehension of the shooter. Callers can remain anonymous.

Eleven whooping cranes from the Eastern Migratory Population and the non-migratory Louisiana population have been shot in the last two years. The Alabama case of January, a year ago, is still active. The Louisiana shootings have been solved by State Law Enforcement personnel and a reward will not be involved. One case is still active in Indiana where the State has offered $2,500, the Fish and Wildlife Service $2,500 and the Humane Society $2,500 in reward.

Donations are being requested for the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s Reward Account. Donations should be mailed to Whooping Crane Conservation Association, 2139 Kennedy Avenue, Loveland, CO, USA 80538. Donations are tax-deductible. Or, donations can be made on the Association’s web page www.whoopingcrane.com Then click on “Membership” and make a donation.

Journey North

Journey North is a free, Internet-based program that explores the related aspects of seasonal change. Through interrelated investigations, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them.

There are 3 main areas of study:

  • Sunlight and the Seasons: Children study seasonal change in sunlight in a global game of hide and seek called Mystery Class.
  • Plants and the Seasons: Children explore tulip growth in their own gardens, running an experiment that tracks the arrival of spring.
  • Seasonal Migrations: Children follow animal migrations. They observe, research, and report findings and watch journeys progress on live maps.

Through the seasonal migration component students (and adults) can learn about American Robins, Bald Eagles, Frogs, Gray Whales, Hummingbirds, Monarch Butterflies, Mystery Class, Red-winged Blackbirds, and of course our favorite, Whooping Cranes!

If you would like to see one of the latest Whooping crane updates from Journey North Science Writer, Jane Duden, check out this link.

Widely considered a best-practices model for education, Journey North is the nation’s premiere “citizen science” project for children. The general public is welcome to participate. To register visit http://www.learner.org/jnorth/reg/

Journey North has recently released a smart phone app that will allow users to Take Journey North outside and report sightings from the field. You can view maps, take and submit photos and interact with other app users. The app is currently available for iPhone’s and will soon be released for Android platform.

GOODSEARCH/GOODSHOP

Raise money for Operation Migration each time you search the Internet or shop online!

Once a year, the search engine “GoodSearch,” disburses funds to registered non-profits. Goodsearch is a Yahoo powered search engine which makes a donation to us each time you do a search of the internet or shop online at participating stores and select Operation Migration as the recipient.

Since 2005, Operation Migration has been the beneficiary of $4183.54 via GoodSearch and GoodShop and we’d like encourage you to give it a try. Just join GoodSearch.com – and every time you search the internet or shop online and select Operation Migration as your designated recipient charity, a donation is made to us. Your every day actions will help Whooping cranes and it won’t cost you a thing!

Operation Migration currently has 937 GoodSearch/GoodShop registered supporters. If each and every one of the 937 supporters made just one search each day, this is what we could do.

1 search per day = $9.37 each day.
30 days per month, on average = $281.80 each month.
8 complete months left in 2012.

If all the above were to happen, $2,248.80 would be donated to Operation Migration and the Class of 2012 – Just from your searches and purchases made online! Here is a list of retailers that donate a percentage of your online shopping to your designated charity.

Don’t know where to start? Click this link and designate OM as your charity.

MORE DETAILS

When we left off yesterday we knew that numbers 4-11 & 7-11, while traveling separately, were both closing in on the White River Marsh area after making an abrupt easterly course correction on Thursday. Anne Lacey had dispatched a crew to head over to the area with a receiver to see if they could pick up any other VHF signals which would tell us which cranes were with also traveling with 4 & 7-11.

Anne reported later in the afternoon that signals from cranes 3-11 & 6-11 were picked up near number 4-11 but she did not have news about #7-11 and her possible travel companions.

A report came in yesterday afternoon via the Public Report form that places #9-11 in Grant County, WI along the Wisconsin River, which is where #4-11 previously was before she corrected course.

If any further details come in today, we will update.

TIME FLIES

They say that time flies when you are having fun but I think the same can be said for when you are over worked. It seems like only yesterday that we finished the migration or at least delivered the birds to Wheeler, but here is it spring already with the first captive egg expected to hatch at Patuxent on May 2nd.

Of course it doesn’t help that we didn’t end our abbreviated migration until February 4th or that we had to work closely with the FAA for the next two months to get approval to fly again. On top of ending one fiscal year and starting another, there are preparations for the early training at Patuxent and the summer training at White River Marsh.

When we developed the site last year we had to dig a depression below the water table to create a wet pen for the birds to roost in at night. Because this a natural area managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, all the earth that was removed from that hole cannot be left in an un-natural pile. It must be removed or spread flat without causing damage to the natural flora. Before the birds arrived last year, it was too wet to get heavy equipment in to haul it out so we were allowed to let it sit temporarily. Because they had an early thaw this spring we now have time to make use of that pile of dirt.

Last year we were able to create a runway out of wild wetlands with only marginal work. We had a few roots to pull and some grass to cut but it was surprising how flat it was considering what we started with. That’s not to say it was perfect. During the early training when we were taxiing back and forth it was OK but as the birds grew larger and their speed increased, the bumps and rolls began to cause us problems. There are two undulations to the northeast end. During a takeoff run, just when the aircraft is getting light on its wheels, the first of these ridges launched you into the air before the wing was prepared to take the full load. The aircraft would bump down hard on the second ridge and catapult back into the air making our departure look as if Captain Kangaroo was the pilot in command.

That dirt has now been moved onto the runway and a local contractor will soon spread it out and flatten it with a vibrating roller. Hopefully by the time the birds arrive this year in late June the natural grasses will have poked through and all that will be needed is to mow it flat.

Before we could construct the pen last year we had to build an access road between the parking lot and the runway. A natural stream drains the area where the road is now and the DNR built a water structure there will planks that can be set in place to control how much water escapes. That seems to be working well and the water levels are higher than it has been in the past. This will help us maintain water in the wet pen and also keep the wetlands from drying out too fast. That will provide more habitat for the 2011 birds if they return as hoped.

Three of the cranes from last year are fitted with GPS tracking devices that report their location on three day intervals. The last report indicates they have split up into at least two groups. On the evening of April 17th number 7-11 roosted in Houston County, Minnesota, along the Mississippi River while 4-11 roosted 34 miles to the southeast of her on the Wisconsin River. That puts them both about a hundred miles to the west southwest of the pensite at White River Marsh. There were no usable hits for the third GPS crane, #9-11. Because only three of them are fitted with these satellite devices, it is impossible to know which, if any, of the other of the birds from this flock of nine are with which group.

Here is the latest overall map showing the PTT locations for Whooping cranes 4, 7 & 9-11 since departing the Wheeler NWR on April 12th.

EXCITING NEWS!

This morning we got exciting news from ICF’s Anne Lacey that our birds are getting closer to home.

On April 17 number 7-11 roosted near the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota and 4-11 was 34 miles southeast on the Wisconsin River. It seems that whatever navigation aids they use kicked in simultaneously and both of them headed due east from separate locations. 7-11 is now in eastern Marquette County, Wisconsin. That puts her very close to the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area where she started. 4-11 is in southern Columbia County, Wisconsin which is a short distance south of White River and very near to our third migration stopover.

The WCEP tracking team is heading over to the area with receivers to see if they can determine which birds are together. Stay tuned…

NESTING UPDATE

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan conducted an aerial survey April 17th and submitted the following nesting news. There are currently 10 active nests located in the core reintroduction area in Wisconsin.

Nesting pairs include:

male

female*

notes

12-02

19-04

incubating

5-05

15-04

incubating

12-05

22-07

incubating

10-03

W1-06

incubating

13-02

18-02

1 egg confirmed

3-04

9-03

incubating

14-08

24-08

incubating

24-09

DAR42-09

incubating

7-07

DAR39-07

2 eggs confirmed

16-04

4-09

 incubating

NORTHWARD JOURNEY UPDATE

Word arrived last night that the latest PTT data indicate an April 15th daytime location in Wayne Co., IL for Whooping crane 9-11*. Data from the same evening have cranes 4* & 7-11* at a roost location in Bureau County, IL. It is possible that the nine cranes are still traveling as a group, however, we have no way of confirming this.

The following image illustrates the ultralight-led migration route these young cranes were led along last fall. The red map points and line depict the route these birds are taking as they return north.

‘FISHER’

The following article was written for the Post Crescent by longtime OM supporter David Horst, about another longtime supporter Pat Fisher, or ‘Fisher’ as she prefers to be called. I first had the pleasure of meeting Fisher in person, in 2002 on the observation tower at the Necedah NWR. She was one of the regular criers who couldn’t stop the tears every time the aircraft passed by followed closely by several trusting young Whooping cranes. Between Fisher and Darlene Lambert, I quickly learned to carry spare tissues in my coat pocket for the criers.

Fisher has been caring for and rehabilitating raptors, Sandhill cranes and other critters since founding The Feather in 1987. In 1991 her center was licensed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin DNR.

For those of you that are regular MileMaker sponsors, Fisher always sponsors mile #1 in Wisconsin ‘for the Sandhill’s’. She is also a great supporter of Whooping cranes and all things wild so when I read David’s article late yesterday, I just had to share…

New London, WI:

I have seen Don Baumgartner hold a bald eagle in his lap, the huge bird’s treacherous talons stretched out in front of him. I’ve seen him handle an adult osprey — a fish-killing missile — without breaking a sweat. So when I saw fear in his eyes as we approached the nest of a great-horned owl, I knew this was dangerous duty.

Not dangerous for me. I was hanging back by the entrance to a large metal building shooting photos. Don, wearing two leather jackets, arm-length gloves and a European-style firefighter’s helmet, prepared to climb a ladder up to the nest of a great-horned named Ms. Harvey and snatch her off of her three babies.

Great-horned owls are more aggressive than eagles, he said. “They kill everything.” Ms. Harvey, in fact, smelled of skunk.

Don has volunteered with bird rehabilitator Pat Fisher for more than 20 years. We are in the woods behind Pat’s home near New London. This is also the site of The Feather, her nonprofit shelter for injured birds.

The purpose of this fool’s errand was to check the health of the owlets, weigh them and band them so their movements can be tracked as they grow and leave the nest.

As soon as we emerged from the building, Ms. Harvey flew off the nest. I spotted her perched 30 feet away. My assignment was to warn Don if she returned. In an earlier foray toward the nest, Ms. Harvey had flown at Don as he crouched on the ground and struck him hard enough to knock him over. He didn’t want her taking another shot while he was on the ladder.

Ms. Harvey was seized in a case of illegal activity in 1997 and brought to the Feather. She had been raised indoors but was able to adapt back to the wild, though she didn’t go far.

Before Don had set his ladder against the tree, Ms. Harvey returned and took up a defensive position in the nest. Don ascended cautiously. When he reached into the nest, Ms. Harvey grabbed his gloved arm and Don grabbed back, feeling the owl’s talon penetrating the leather.

He brought her down, careful not to injure her — or to give her the chance to do the same to him. He deposited her into a cage for safekeeping and returned for the babies, lowering all three of them down in white, plastic buckets.

Back in Pat’s kitchen, a crowd awaited; half a dozen in person and 335 viewing the live web feed provide by wolfrivercam.com and also available on Ustream.

The month-old babies — Winkin, Blinkin and Nod — weighed in at 718, 843 and 974 grams (1.5 to 2.1 pounds). They’re all feather down. To be honest, they’re fairly ugly, but cute ugly, like a vintage VW Beetle or a Mini Cooper.

Don, with help from Chuck Petters, another 20-year volunteer, affixed the leg bands.

Among the spectators was Alexis LeMarche, a sixth-grader from Seymour Middle School. Not only did she get to watch, she was asked to hold a baby owl. She described the experience as — what else? — awesome. “I like this place,” she concluded.

It’s an easy place to like, for the adventures I’ve had there and the less- adventurous routine Pat Fisher takes on every morning and every evening to provide food and care for owls, cranes, eagles, vultures and other birds mistreated by humans or treated badly by fate.

She’s a rare bird.

PROGRESS REPORT

Technology advancements move so fast that even in the eleven years since we started leading Whooping cranes south, we have seen great changes. We now have handheld GPS systems with moving map displays and digital audio devices to broadcast brood calls loud enough to be heard over the sound of the aircraft engine. We can also stream live video from a remote pensite and send text messages to communicate without talking near the birds.

One of the real advances is the GPS – PTT units that are now fitted to three ultralight birds (#’s 4*, 7* & 9-11*) and three DAR birds. A PTT is a platform terminal transmitter which broadcasts to a satellite receiver. That in itself is an achievement considering it weighs only ounces, fits on a leg band yet is powerful enough to be heard by a satellite 540 miles away.

The GPS option records its location and stores that information in its memory. Once every three days the device uploads its present position and the GPS track history so we know where the bird is every third day plus where it was on the previous two. As I mentioned there are three birds fitted with these devices and they are set to report on consecutive days. That means that we get a location from one of them every day. So far all three units are still together so it reasonably safe to assume that all nine birds are travelling as a flock as they make their first northward migration flight.

Although the technology is fascinating, the real excitement for us, is knowing what course the birds are taking. When we had to end the last migration in Alabama, we loaded the birds into transport crates and took them 45 miles east to the Wheeler NWR. That was the first time we had crated all of the birds. In the past there has always been a few that made the trip on their own even if we had to crate some.

Ever since we have been worried that that trip in the back of our van may have broken their chain of knowledge and left them disoriented. We were confident that they would head north but if they flew directly north they would eventually arrive over Gary, Indiana where they might decide to go right as opposed to left. That mistake would take them into Michigan and the lake would create a barrier, stopping them from returning to Wisconsin.

As the GPS data indicate, our birds covered ~231 miles on their first full migration day and made it to Gallatin County, Illinois. The interesting part, however, it that they flew slightly northwest upon departing Wheeler and crossed the migration route we showed them. It would appear they roosted the first night only 10 miles from our stopover site in Union County, Kentucky.

Who knows what system they use to navigate but hopefully they are now in familiar territory. With luck they will make it back to the White River Marsh area in Wisconsin.

With the combined effort of all the people it took to get them south and the million years of instinct they need to get themselves back, maybe luck doesn’t have much to do with it.

(* = equals female)

HOW BIRDS NAVIGATE

The following is re-printed with permission from Matt Mendenhall, Birdwatching Magazine.

Scientists have thrown cold water on the theory that iron-rich nerve cells in birds’ bills help them navigate using Earth’s magnetic field.

Researchers from Austria, France, Australia, and England, writing in a new study published in Nature, report that iron-rich cells in the bills of pigeons are in fact specialized white blood cells called macrophages. Macrophages play a vital role in defending against infection and recycling iron from red blood cells, but they’re unlikely to be involved in magnetic sensing, the scientists say. That’s because they are not excitable cells and cannot produce electrical signals that could be registered by neurons and therefore influence a bird’s behavior.

The finding overturns a theory that has stood for more than a decade. Past studies, including a 2000 paper from the journal Biometals and this 2007 report from PLoS One, claimed that magnetite in beak tissue helps birds navigate.

We described birds’ reliance on the magnetic field in past articles in BirdWatching/Birder’s World. In “Amazing Birds” in our April issue, for example, Founding Editor Eldon Greij wrote that magnetite in birds’ bills helps them process information from the magnetic field. And Paul Kerlinger wrote in “On the Move” about birds’ abilities to sense the magnetic field and magnetite’s role in Bobolink migration.

“The mystery of how animals detect magnetic fields has just got more mysterious,” said study leader David Keays of the Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna. “We had hoped to find magnetic nerve cells, but unexpectedly we found thousands of macrophages, each filled with tiny balls of iron.”

High-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of pigeons’ beaks allowed the researchers to find the balls of iron instead of magnetic neurons. (Researchers who investigate birds’ navigational abilities often study pigeons because their magnetic sensing systems are common among other species.)

“Our work necessitates a renewed search for the true magnetite-dependent magnetoreceptor in birds,” the scientists write.

Perhaps the answer will come from fish. The researchers conclude their paper by saying the undiscovered cells that govern magnetic sensation “may reside in the olfactory epithelium, a sensory structure that has been implicated in magnetoreception in the rainbow trout.”

Matt Mendenhall, Associate Editor

NESTING SEASON

It is nesting season again in Wisconsin and we have our fingers crossed. The staff and managers at Necedah NWR and the WCEP Science Team are conducting the most intensive nest monitoring study so far.

Wisconsin DNR pilots and a volunteer organization known as Lighthawk are providing reconnaissance flights over the nesting sites almost every day. They fly high enough to not disturb the birds but low enough that they can report on their behavior.

Several Co2 and glue strip traps are being deployed to determine what type of Black flies are there and how many. They are using glue strips on top of Whooping crane decoys to see if the white color is an attractant. They also placed them on dummy eggs. Cameras are trained on nesting pairs and up to six interns are ready to help Necedah Biologist Rich King at any time.

Bti has been applied to the Yellow River and several other Black fly sources. The early spring meant early development of the insect and some of them had pupated before the Bti was applied. That generation likely dissipated when temperatures cooled briefly. Based on kill rate samples collected downstream it appears that it (Bti) was very successful. WCEP is grateful to Peter Adler and Elmer Gray for all their hard work. As Elmer says, “it is now up to the birds.”

IS TODAY THE DAY?

During a brief conversation with Brooke a little bit ago, he reported that the 9 youngsters have been exhibiting pre-migration behavior for the past couple of weeks, including eating all they can, and flying more often than usual.

The winds, which have been out of the north all week, are expected to swing around today to come from a southerly direction, which of course, would give the young birds a nice tailwind IF they decided today (or tomorrow) is THE day.

Stay tuned…