A Good Morning

Guest Author: Bev Paulan

A good morning is never guaranteed after a good evening, but yesterday morning might have been the exception. We got as good a show as has been performed yet this season at the Wheeler theater in the round.

Brooke and I arrived at our blind around 0730, which is very close to sunrise. Our radio receiver told us all 12 birds were in the fields near the pond where the pen had been set up, so we were anxious to get a visual confirmation of the audible position report.

As we brought our binoculars to our eyes, we simultaneously uttered “cooooolllll!” as we saw all twelve birds standing in a line among a flock of Sandhill cranes. Lowering the binocs, we smiled at each other, enjoying the ease of the morning check. I thought that if every morning was this easy, I would have no problem removing myself from the comfort of my bed while still in the pre-dawn gloominess.

We continued to watch our charges as they melted into the gray flock, sometimes disappearing completely, just to reappear moments later as their smaller cousins moved aside. Flocks of Greater white fronted geese flew in making their squeaky, unhinged door call.

As the morning grew brighter, the activity of the chicks increased, with one or more jumping at the Sandhills trying to show that, “yes I am bigger and therefore badder”. The Sandhills paid no mind to the chicks, and as the morning wore on they slowly departed for parts unknown in groups of twos and threes and sometimes up to twenty.

We were still watching, enjoying the show, not realizing that the best performance was yet to come.

Around 0800, the two DAR chicks and 19-09 lifted off with a large group of Sandhills and headed toward the slough. The air was filled with ducks, geese, gray and white cranes, and the cacophony was almost deafening, drowning out the morning traffic on the highway.

Still glassing our chicks, we were amused by a Sandhill crane that kept leaping into the air and tossing a stick, seemingly for the enjoyment of the act itself.

About ten minutes after the first three birds left, the nine ultralight chicks all leapt into the air and flew towards us. My camera was clicking madly as I tried to capture digitally a moment that is too remarkable to do justice to with either words or images. One has to experience the moment firsthand to fully appreciate the beauty of nine juvenile, now wild, Whooping cranes, stretching their 7 foot wings and climbing ever higher in the brightening sky. Slowly they came towards us, then overflew us. Mouths agape, we stretched our necks to try to keep them in our view, and then watched them land in the pond near the refuge visitor center.

Knowing that the morning could not get any better, we walked away from the blind, thankful for the show and with the full knowledge that most mornings are not better than the evening before—-but this one sure was.

Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population Update

Chester McConnell noted in a recent post to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association website that, “Aransas National Wildlife Refuge biologists now estimate the population of Whooping cranes [in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas flock] within their survey area to be approximately 245 individuals.” Not included in the 245 are Whooping cranes known to be at other locations in Texas as well as several other states.

The method of counting Whooping cranes on Aransas Refuge has been modified. Known as ‘distance sampling’, census flights along straight lines set at specific distances within the survey area are flown. Where previously, an aerial survey consisted of one flight, now, to estimate the population, the birds are counted on three flights on three separate days.

Aransas officials explained that, “Over the years the Whooping crane population has been growing, the habitat changing, and the birds naturally dispersing. The primary goal is to ensure the recovery of the species and to do that the refuge and its partners must adjust with the ever-changing conditions.” Read the report.


Guest Author: Bev Paulan

Every night in birdland is different than the last. When Brooke and I walk out to our observation blind, we never know exactly where the chicks will be. Before we walk out, we pull out the telemetry receiver and listen to the beeps to get a general idea of the birds’ proximity and direction. Some nights, all the beeps are loud and clear. Other nights only a few of the birds are close, and it is never the same birds in the same location.

Last night, on listening to the receiver, all 12 signals (we are also scanning for the two DAR chicks and 19-09) were of a medium strength. That told us the birds were near what had previously been their pen site, but not right at the pen area. In the morning, the signals had been weak, telling Brooke that the birds were off at the Sandhill’s roost area, approximately ¾ of a mile south of where the pen had been.

Sneaking into the blind Brooke had set up, we saw initially no birds. Scanning the area, we still saw no chicks, so we left the blind and walked down a path that would take us towards the fields the chicks have frequented. We no sooner got on the path, than we spotted some white through the trees and made a quick beeline back to the blind. Six of the chicks came walking from the field they had been in the previous morning, then flew across their roosting pond and over toward a gathering of their gray brethren. One chick peeled off and landed in the pond, and the other five quickly melded into the flock of Sandhills.

That left six cranes still unaccounted for, other than the audible beep on the receiver. The field that the birds feed in during the day has several dips, and a portion cannot be seen from Brooke’s small blind hidden in the trees. We can only see them when they fly up out of the wet depression, or pop their heads up if something causes concern.

Since we could not see the other six, Brooke decided to hike the long route out of sight of the birds that runs through the trees and over the hills to a vantage point overlooking the flyway to the Sandhill’s roosting slough. Each night the two DAR chicks and 19-09 have roosted with the Sandies, and on two occasions so has 7-11. Bearing that in mind, Brooke wanted to be pre-positioned in case they flew that way again. I stayed in the blind keeping watch on the field in case the missing six flew into view.

Shortly after five, right on their usual schedule, the Sandhills started rising into the air in small groups, calling their prehistoric, indescribable call. And, because of all that ruckus, I spied three cinnamon and white heads pop up over the rise across the way as if they were rubber-necking at an accident. If there were three, perhaps there could be six. I would just have to wait and see.

My patience was rewarded, because within five minutes, just as a large group of Sandhills were lifting off, four white shapes emerged from the depression. Quickly grabbing my binoculars, I saw that three still had buff colored heads while one was sporting a beautiful red crown and full black mustache. That left two still unseen. I made a quick call to Brooke to let him know white birds were headed his way and then went back to check on the original five across the field. After a rapid back and forth scan, only one bird was visible. How could I have missed the other four flying away? Another call to Brooke and then back to scanning.

Wheeler refuge is situated along a rather busy state highway and the traffic noise can be fairly loud. Sandhill cranes can be louder though, and every time a group became airborne, the traffic would be drowned out. Over this whole din I could hear the plaintive and very loud peeps of a chick in distress. Like any parent, I immediately became hyper-aware, and looked to see the cause of the angst.

The remaining chick across the field was looking in every direction for her fellow cohort members and calling loudly to them. With a very observable double-take on her part, she took off at a very quick walk, going completely opposite of where I thought the birds had flown. The chick that had landed in the pond also started walking the same general direction. Then I glimpsed white far across the pond. I waited until the two chicks were a good ½ mile away and I crawled out of the blind into the periphery of the field to see if I could get a beak count.

Since it has warmed up, not only was I looking for chicks, but snakes as well, since I was now on a nose to nose level with any reptile lurking about ( I am especially paranoid after a sneak attack by a frog last night). While trying my best to sneak, I looked up just in time to see the last two unaccounted for chicks take off from their hidden position across the way and fly Brooke’s general direction. By this time I had gotten to a spot to count six chicks on the north end of the pond, and finally sighed a grateful sigh that all 12 birds were found and accounted for.

After sneaking back into the blind, I once again called Brooke, who having seen the last two fly by his hidding spot, was walking back to my location. After he returned and before leaving the blind, we watched the six chicks forage their way back to a good roosting position. Another interesting evening in birdland and as we walked back to the van, we reveled in the music of geese, ducks, and frogs, content in our muddy condition knowing that all the birds were well on their way to independence.


It wasn’t exactly ‘love at first flight’, but it was an exciting moment in this new reality show called ‘Hard Core Release,’ when yesterday morning our ever curious, yet curiously independent Whooper chicks met the two Direct Autumn Release (DAR) birds and 19-09, their protective mentor, for the first time.

The Class of 2011 and the DAR cranes have been casting their collective eyeballs on each other for a few days now, but had not shown any interest in getting up close and personal – until Tuesday morning.

Our chicks sauntered slowly across the field where the DAR threesome stood among their usual flock of Sandhill cranes. For lack of a better word I say ‘sauntered,’ because they moved heads down, grubbing and probing for who knows what. This made it look like they were pulling themselves in slow motion across the field with their beaks, until they finally made it over to who some expect will become their new best friends.

As the imaginary orchestra tuned up to accompany the moment with a Disneyesque movie score titled “Meet the DAR’s,” #19-09 (far left in photo) raised up his head and greeted each chick with its own special aggressive slam. Momentarily, the chicks responded with surprise, then immediate resignation, and then resumed their probing completely unaffected and disinterested while the Sandhills looked on in what one could perceive as amusement. Meanwhile the thought balloons over the DAR chicks heads read, “Harsh!!!!”

As the music transposed to a minor key you could almost hear the voice of John Wayne saying, “Welcome to the Wild West, Pilgrims.” But John didn’t know what life for the chicks with the Costumed People’ has been like, and compared to that, this was like a leisurely stroll down Easy Street.

In time, our chicks and the DAR birds leisurely moved away from each other. Later in the day though, our little darling #7-11 flew over to the DAR’s for more face-time, and this resulted in not an ounce of drama. It was just an, “Think I’ll probe with you guys for a while.” Thus, the accompanying picture….and as everyone knows, “a picture tells a thousand probes.”


The January aerial surveys at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounds produced a low count of Whooping cranes compared to previous years.

USFWS biologists’ census results revealed that only 193 Whoopers were sighted, of which 23 were juveniles. Officials estimate that at least 16 others from this population are wintering in areas distant from their typical locations, some as far away as Nebraska. Five of the Aransas cranes, including a family of three, a juvenile and a lone adult, are known to be wintering in south central Kansas.

The low count is worrisome because at the season’s start, experts estimated the population number could be as high as 300. The drought is drastically changing the habits of the Texas wintering cranes. With a lack of rain and river inflow at estuaries that the cranes depend on, there is a shortage of potable water and a decrease in the supply of their preferred food, blue crabs. As a result, some cranes are deserting the bay areas and flying inland to search for food and water.

We wait anxiously for the report from the next aerial census which is scheduled for mid-February.

Click the link to visit the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) to read the most recent full report on the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population of Whooping cranes. To help ensure an adequate food supply for cranes wintering at Aransas cranes, the WCCA has been urging the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to effect a closure on crabbing in the area. Click here to read that article.


The Class of 2011 has a special visitor this week. Bev Paulan, former OM Ground Supervisor and now a pilot with the Wisconsin DNR, has been spending some vacation time checking out what the nine young cranes released at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge are getting up to.

Bev tells us that on Monday the cranes were mingling with Sandhills, but spent the best part of their day on their own loafing, foraging and meandering around the pond. By nightfall they were feeding in the field surrounding the pond, and right before roosting, she watched as they flew a lap around the pond.

For a time, the Whoopers could be seen from the refuge blind and we have Bev to thank for snapping these photos to share with us and with you.


Brooke Pennypacker reported this morning that cold, high NW winds restricted flying of most of the birds at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge yesterday. He noted that even the Sandhills didn’t make an appearance at their usual haunt until late afternoon and then only stayed for about 20 minutes before leaving for the roost site.

For much of the day, the Class of 2011 stayed in the wetland region they had been using, moving only to an area that was somewhat out of the wind. Brooke has been waiting for an opportunity to take the travel pen down. Yesterday that happened, but the young cranes only remained out of sight long enough for him to extract the electric fencing surrounding the pen that had previously been disconnected and left lying on the ground.

The current weather front is predicted to move out tonight to be replaced with warmer weather delivered by winds that will shift to come out of the south.

Those conditions are forecast to last for at least two or three days, and Brooke expects that is likely to prompt more departure activity. Like other species across the country who have launched their return north more than a month ahead of ‘usual’, many of Wheeler’s wintering Sandhills have already departed.

We will be checking with Brooke each day for a ‘status report’, so stay tuned to the Field Journal for the latest Class of 2011 news.


Yesterday morning around 8:00am CST, the nine young Whooping cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 were released from their temporary pensite at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Along with OM’s Brooke Pennypacker, on hand for the event were WCEP Tracker, Eva Szyszkoski from ICF, Interns Olivia and Ben who were up from Florida’s Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, and Bill Gates, Biologist at the Wheeler Refuge.

The cranes had their health checks as well as their permanent bands affixed on Thursday, the 9th, and normally would have been held in the pen a bit longer to allow them more recovery time. Brooke advised that moving up the timing for their release was based on several factors.

He said it appeared the young cranes had made a speedy recovery from being handled. Also, because many of the Sandhill cranes were leaving and the behavior patterns of the two Direct Autumn Release juveniles present were changing, the timing was auspicious. These reasons, along with a predicted weather front moving in that was likely to motivate birds to head north, prompted the decision to effect the release a day or two early.

When the pen gates were opened, the birds came out walking and flapping. No residual soreness or limping was seen and all the birds flew, three of them for an extensive period. They appeared to be enjoying their new-found freedom and eventually they flew to a nearby wetland. With the release of the Class of 2011 into the wild, the estimated maximum number of Whooping cranes in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population is 112.

Brooke remains on site to monitor their activity. Once they have removed themselves to where they are out of sight of the travel pen enclosure, he will be able to go in to take it down and pack it up so it can be hauled out.

“So far the cranes are foraging and hanging around in flooded fields close to the pen,” said Wheeler Biologist, Bill Gates. The photos we share with you below came to us compliments of Bill. Photo credit: USFWS – William R. Gates

Pen gates open

Pen gates open and the Whoopers leave their pen.

One crane jumps and flaps as Brooke watches others.

Four young cranes stroll and forage in nearby wetland.

Headed for the wetland with ‘landing gear’ down.

Testing their wings and enjoying their new-found freedom.

Click this link to view more photos, including those captured during the health checks and banding procedure. We will post more news on the Class of 2011 here as it comes in. Stay tuned!


Although Whooping cranes are critically endangered, that status does not apply to the birds that WCEP is introducing into the Eastern Flyway. The Endangered Species Act protects the birds, and it also applies to the habitat they use. If the birds wintered or nested in private wetland, there are serious implications for the owners. Naturally that led to some concerns when this project was first proposed.

Luckily there is a provision within the Act that allows for an experimental, non-essential designation. These birds are considered experimental and not critical to the survival of the species so they have the status of “threatened” which relieved a lot of tension for everyone involved. That agreement was signed by seven states along the migration route, thirteen more into which the birds may disperse, as well as two Canadian Provinces. However, if they wander out of that range, it becomes a problem so they must be permanently marked with leg bands. In addition, they need to be fitted with better radios than the snap on type they wear during the migration, and a few get satellite transmitters called PTT’s.

In order to fit the bands the birds have to be held, and that gives the Health Team the opportunity to examine them prior to their release. Dr Glenn Olsen came down from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to conduct the health exam. He was accompanied by Brian Clauss who is particularly good at holding the birds still while all this takes place. Having done that myself, I can tell you it’s not like holding your dog while the vet administers a shot. It takes skill and balance and just the right pressure in just the right area to avoid injury.

Eva Szyszkoski from ICF who leads the WCEP Tracking Team came up from Florida to apply the bands which are glued on in several stages so they will never come off. Also two staff members from Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida where the birds were supposed to winter came up to help. Normally after being handled, the birds are wary of anyone dressed in a costume, but according to Brooke, it all went very smoothly and the birds were taking treats from him after only a few hours.

Despite the talent and experience that assembled at Wheeler NWR to ensure the safety of these birds, to them it was nothing more than an indignity and some extra hardware to carry.

The cranes are hooded prior to the health check and banding process beginning.

Brian Clauss (right) holds a crane while Dr. Olsen conducts its health check.

Eva Szyszkoski attaches their permanent bands and transmitters.

The crane colts sporting their new leg jewelry appear none the worse for wear.


Logistics is a word that adequately describes all the stuff that needs to be done at the end of the migration. First of all the birds had to be carefully moved to Wheeler NWR. Their pen was set up in a wet area of an open field with a panoramic view of feeding Sandhills and a few Whooping cranes. Part of the pen includes some water, and they were happy to poke and prod.

When we backed the vehicle in to unload the crates, the back axle dropped into a rut. No amount of pushing helped. Lisa, one of the refuge staff members, hooked a tow rope to her pick up. It wasn’t hard to pull the vehicle out, but the road we were on was curved. I was pointing one way and she was, out of necessity, pulling from another. As we cleared the mud the tow rope wrapped around the tire and ripped out the brake line.

Once the trucks were out of sight we could release the birds and watch them play in the muck while we said our goodbye.

After that came a whole list of chores, like getting the brakes fixed, winterizing all the motorhomes and delivering them to where they will be needed next year. While Brooke relocated his mobile living quarters to Wheeler, a caravan left heading in the general direction of Washington, DC with Richard, Geoff and Caleb. The aircraft trailer was packed then delivered to Florida where it will next be used at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in May when we celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. If you are in the Orlando area on the weekend of May 12, come join us.

Safely in the pen


I spent twenty years as a commercial photographer and always felt torn between two disciplines. In order to achieve the perfect image, you had to balance the science of of film and light with the emotion of the subject. One was technical and the other creative.

Yesterday we placed the birds in individual containers and quietly loaded them into the van. In doing so, all of us had to balance the science of migration with the disappointment of not having completed our mission.

Normally the end of the migration in Florida is when we say goodbye to the birds we have nurtured for nearly ten months. That pang is balanced by bravado and the satisfaction of having completed our goal. This year we have one without the other and all that is left is the bluster.

Once we get past the short-lived self pity and look objectively at the situation, we see that it doesn’t matter much that we didn’t make it all the way to Florida. The birds will still migrate north. They may need a little assistance but they will still be a part of the population.

The Rearing and Release Team within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) made the decision about where these birds would spend the winter.

The most important consideration is that we have a new reintroduction site in Wisconsin that we hope will encourage birds to breed in an area free of the black flies that seem to threaten the population at Necedah. The team wanted to give these birds the best chance to get back there, and Wheeler NWR is the option closest to the ultralight-led migration route.

While the rest of the team said their goodbyes and packed up all the trailers and motorhomes, Brooke will stay on and monitor the birds over what is left of the winter. We will keep  you posted, but we expect them to start heading north soon. Many of the birds of all species didn’t make it all the way to their wintering ground this year because of warn weather and many are heading back already.

If you ever get to this part of Alabama you should visit Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Currently there are thousands of Sandhill cranes there along with seven Whooping cranes. It is divided by the Tennessee River and has a variety of beautiful habitat and a very friendly staff.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, our last flight with the Class of 2011 was on January 29. I was the lead pilot that morning, but I wasn’t alone. In fact I had three passengers with me.

Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund has supported this project from the beginning. They fund many wildlife programs around the world and they asked us to bring Safari Mickey along as an ambassador. The best place to see the action is from above, so he accompanied Mr. H. which is a replica of a chimpanzee that Dr. Jane Goodall carries with her as she spreads her message of conservation and hope. Jane travels more than 300 days a year so Mr. H. gets around, but he has never flown with birds before.

The third passenger tucked in the middle was Vic, or Very Important Crane. Vic has been on the migration before and he has visited the United States, Mexico, and South America as he was sent from school to school.


Camp this morning was a veritable hive of activity as the crates and vehicles to be used to transport the nine Whooping cranes in the Class of 2011 were made ready. While this was going on, some crew scrambled to gather up and pack the last few of their personal items in order to transfer them to the vehicle in which they would be travelling back home. Others stored away no longer needed equipment in the bins, boxes, and chests that are the items off season homes in the aircraft trailer.

As I sat in my motorhome plugging away on my laptop the windshield presented me with a front row view. I could see the crew trotting back and forth from one vehicle/motorhome/trailer to the next, and the scene was not dissimilar to watching harried commuters heading in all directions, briskly passing each other as they rushed to catch their train.

Then, abruptly, as all the vehicles pulled out to head for the pensite a couple of road miles distant, silence descended.

It is 53F degrees here and completely overcast. The grey, heavy looking clouds make it more likely than not that the current lull in precipitation we have been experiencing will end soon. We are glad for the cooler temperature today, it will help to ensure the birds will not overheat in their crates. (Air conditioning running in the transport vehicles prevents that from happening during the road trip.)

As you might imagine, we have been responding to dozens and dozens of media calls over the past few days. After gathering the information and commentary they wanted for their stories, they would invariably close by asking how we, the migration crew, felt about the shortened migration.

I’m confident that I can say there is universal disappointment. We were charged with a task – leading the cranes from Wisconsin to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership‘s choice of wintering sites. That we ten times successfully completed that task before is small consolation for not being able to repeat that feat this season.

However, perhaps Joe best summed up the rest of our thoughts when he said…

“Yes, of course we are disappointed, but in reality it makes little difference to the cranes. There is something, not entirely known, that stimulates a southern migration in birds. It may be temperature, or the angle of the sun, or a surge of hormones, but at some point that urge wears off.

Because of weather delays and south winds, we may have passed that point with the Class of 2011. In addition, these cranes are reaching the time in their lives when they become independent of their parents. In the end, none of this means much to the birds. They are still part of the Eastern Migratory Population and will still migrate back north. All that is left for us to do is to cross our fingers and hope they make it back to Wisconsin’s White River State Wildlife Area.”

Reports continue to come in about both Sandhills and Whoopers that have curtailed their migration this season. Some, like almost 40% of the Eastern Migratory Population, have shortened their southerly migration by hundreds of miles. In the western flyway, the same phenomena is being seen in the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population. Cranes that would normally  winter on coastal Texas have short-stopped on the Platte River in Nebraska and also in Kansas.

The latest news out of Aransas, Texas about the western population of Whoopers is that only 193 cranes were counted on three aerial surveys conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January. This versus the 300 cranes that were anticipated to winter there. Sixteen more cranes not on their usual wintering grounds were accounted for, some of those being the cranes that had not ventured further south than Nebraska.

In an article by Colin McDonald published in the San Antonio Express-News, officials at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge were quoted as having said, “…..they do not believe 91 birds have died, as they have collected only two carcasses.” Click the link above to read the full article.

We will continue to report here on the Class of 2011 including more about move to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. IF we can get a signal from the new pensite at the Wheeler refuge, we will attempt to provide you with one last viewing opportunity of the Class of 2011 via the CraneCam. IF that becomes possible, it will not be until later this morning at an as yet unknown time.


The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s (WCEP) annual two day meeting concluded Thursday. Staff members of WCEP’s nine member organizations attended the meeting in person or joined in electronically. On yesterday’s agenda was the selection of a release site for the ultralight-led Class of 2011.

Of necessity, all options involved crating and transporting the nine cranes by road, and the pros and cons of each of three potential release sites (Florida’s St. Marks and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges, and Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama) were discussed. In the final analysis, it was felt that the pros outweighed the cons of selecting the Wheeler NWR.

Today, OM team members will be putting the wheels in motion to carry out that decision. Arrangements were made late yesterday with Wheeler’s staff for our second travel pen to be erected there on an area of the refuge where two adult pairs of Whooping cranes have been sighted.

We added up the time it would take for the trip to the refuge including the drive in to reach the potential pensite, plus the time to unload and set up the pen, and then the return trip. Even with a very early start it was obvious that we’d be in the heat of the day before we’d be in a position to crate the cranes for the move. (The high today is forecast to be in the mid 60’s) Crating can be stressful for the cranes, so accomplishing that in the cool of the early morning hours to eliminate concerns for overheating is a better option. This means the actual move will take place Saturday morning.

Once the Class of 2011 is at Wheeler NWR, they will be held in the top-netted travel pen until the WCEP team arrives with their permanent bands and they are attached to each crane. After a day or two for the birds to recover from being handled and to adjust to their new leg jewelry, Brooke, who will be staying on site with them, will effect the release.

We will keep you posted…


The discussions at the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership annual meetings being held over two days (yesterday and today) included consideration of choosing an ultimate destination for the ultralight-led Class of 2011.

While the details of when and how are still being ironed out, we can tell you that the nine young of the year will be crated and taken by road to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge here in Alabama. Wheeler is near Decatur, AL about 45 miles (as the crow flies) northeast of their current pensite location.

More will be posted here as decisions are made, logistics worked out, and that information becomes available


The past eight months have been quite the ride. I’ve met all sorts of new people, made countless new friends and seen beautiful areas of the US I otherwise never would have known about.

I could elaborate on those experiences, but I’ve chosen to reflect on other experiences. I want to talk a little about the ‘big kahuna’ of my time with Operation Migration. I want to talk about my experience raising the chicks.

I have certainly developed sympathy for any caregiver who has ever raised a child. Knowing how stressful caring about another creature’s wellbeing can be, has filled me with remorse over all the stress and heartache I have given my parents over the years. But at the same time, it makes me swell with love knowing they dedicated their lives to making sure I was always happy, healthy and cared for.

As for the birds, no one knows how they will reflect, if at all, on their surrogate parents. All I can do is be proud of the fact that I always did everything I could to ensure the birds were as healthy and happy as I could make them.

I have seen the chicks almost everyday for these past eight months. I am blessed to have watched them grow and develop. The cohort has gone from tiny little puffs of downy feathers barely able to hold themselves up, to near-adults. From peeps to growls and alarm calls the birds have turned into a picturesque group of Whooping Cranes.

I am a little upset about having to leave them to the big wild world. I always knew that was the ultimate goal and that the birds would one day be on their own to survive – but I guess kids will always be kids to parents. I’m sure when my parents look at me they still see the little boy – – just like I still see the goofy little chicks when I look at our cranes. THEY GROW UP SO FAST!

After spending so much time with these birds it is amazing how much you learn about them as individuals. They have so many minor but individual traits that seem insignificant at first, but gradually become glaringly obvious.

Parents and friends of twins I’m sure feel the same way when strangers comment on how impossible it is to tell the two apart. “What are you talking about? They don’t look anything alike. Maria has one freckle on her left cheek and Susan has two on her right cheek…it’s so obvious!”

I can pick out every bird from a quick look at their face, a quirky behavior, heck, even the way they peck at things can be a giveaway to their identity.

I don’t really know where I intended to go with this posting, or how to wrap it up. I guess I just felt some desire to and throw out any thoughts I had about saying farewell to the Class of 2011.

I suppose I can hope for a few things. I can hope for their survival in the future. I can hope for their successful reproduction. I can hope for a successful reintroduction. And, if I’m really lucky…I can hope to maybe one day catch a glimpse of ‘my children’ foraging in a field or flying overhead.

If you ever see one of ‘my kids’…don’t be shy about letting me know.

“Hey Caleb, saw your Baby Girl 12-11 today. Don’t get too jealous and overprotective but…I saw her hanging out with some boy Whoopers from the wrong side of the flyway. Remember, you can’t always be daddy and guard her. She looked great… so don’t worry – be happy.”