NO FLYING ON MIGRATION DAY 13

Wind dead out of the west on the surface and WNW winds packing too much muscle for the cranes and planes to handle spell a third day Down Day.

WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION
In a recent article on the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA), author Chester McConnell wrote, “Whooping crane nesting success on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada during 2012 was considered good but slightly down from previous years. This is good news after the poor winter season on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.”

Chester noted that, “Sixty-six Whooping crane nests were discovered in May by the Canaidan Wildlife Service. Three months later in August, an additional 3 family groups were identified indicating that there were at least 69 nesting attempts during the 2012 nesting season. In early August, just prior to fledging, 34 young were observed on the breeding grounds. Two sets of twins were observed. Ten of the young Whoopers were fitted with leg bands and satellite transmitters.”

Read the full article here.

GROUNDED FOR MIGRATION DAY #12

Surface winds gusting to 30mph and 30-40mph SW winds aloft mean there will be no advancement for the ultralight-led Class of 2012 for a second day. The prediction for Wednesday is a shift to winds coming out of the northwest, but they will remain very strong. We will have to wait to see what tomorrow morning brings.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is hosting an online chat tomorrow morning, October 10th at 11:30am CST. Davin Lopez, DNR Whooping Crane Coordinator and Joan Garland Outreach Coordinator for the International Crane Foundation will answer questions about Whooping cranes and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

Use this link to leave yourself a reminder to tune in, or to join the chat at the scheduled time.

Photo Credit: ICF

COME JOIN US!!

If you’re within driving distance of Pecatonica, IL, come join us this evening for a presentation by Joe Duff. Joe, OM’s CEO and senior pilot, will entertain attendees with his engaging PowerPoint show featuring some amazing video footage enhanced by many personal stories and experiences.
Come learn about OM’s role in the Whooping crane reintroduction project and enjoy the company of OM crew and fellow Craniacs.

The presentation will begin at 6:30pm in the back room of the Stonewall Cafe, 423 Main Street, Pecatonica. Thanks to to our hosts, De Ann and George Anderson, and to Craniac Sue Merchant for getting the word out.

Anyone wishing to meet for dinner be at the Stonewall Cafe by 5pm so there will be time to finish before the presentation. We’re all looking forward to seeing EVERYONE!

SNAPSHOTS FROM THE FIELD

I thought I would share a few random moments from the last two weeks. Everything has happened so quickly, and down time and internet connections are hard to find, so I haven’t had a chance to write another journal entry.

After the first big rain we had at the White River Marsh pensite, #5 was leaving me alone and preoccupied with something in the air under the shelter roof. He was posed, just like a classic crane on an oriental vase, with his head back and his wings spread, and did I mention that he wasn’t attacking me! I finished my chores and then peering through my visor I finally realized that he has snapping at a stream of water that was running off the roof.

Joe Duff gave me some advice about dealing with #5. He said that I needed to be the bigger, tougher bird, and to crowd #5 if he was ‘bad’. The next morning we had training. This time I opened the gates and then was in the pen while the birds were flying. Once again #5 returned early. He landed on the runway full of himself as he strutted and posed for pictures for the people in the blind.

Suddenly he seemed to realize that he was alone and he started to peep. He began with an occasional peep, but it turned into a frantic worried peeping. As I watched, he changed from the bad boy bully into the lost little boy; like discovering that the school bully picked on people because he couldn’t read, I had discovered that #5 wasn’t the best flyer in the group and though he didn’t like being second fiddle to anyone, he really didn’t like being left behind. After the rest of the class came back and entered the pen, #5 started in on me again but this time instead of backing down I stood up taller and shuffled my feet closer to him. He backed down right away and that was the last time he has given me any grief.
The morning of our departure on migration Geoff and I went out to the pen and released the birds. All the birds took off well and we hid in the pen. Our job was to be ready in case any of the birds returned or were lost. Sure enough #5 turned back from the group. Brook called to us on the radio to get the swamp monster ready.

The swamp monster is a crane handler who strips off their costume and puts a blue tarp over their head. They stand on the runway flapping their arms – which makes the tarp crinkle – and blowing an air horn. The idea is to scare the bird so they will seek out the aircraft (big yellow momma) and stick with it for the flight. Geoff could not get into his swamp monster outfit before #5 had landed on the runway so Brook had to land and then take off again with #5.

They headed south, but #5 turned back again. This time Geoff was ready and the swamp monster appeared. The big blue crinkly thing did the trick. #5 didn’t land and instead turned back to Brook. Off they went again, but not for long. This time we I got to join Geoff on the runway in full swamp monster outfit. We stood on the runway and watched #5 fly toward us with Brook in pursuit.

Brook said he could see us and #5 must gotten a good look too and decided he’d had enough because he turned back to the trike and faithfully followed Brook to the next stopover location. After they were out of sight I looked at Geoff and started to laugh. We looked like two of the blue Pacman guys, or a blue meanie from Yellow Submarine. It was pretty funny. Whatever we looked like, it did the trick!

The departure from Columbia County was the chicks’ first air pick up. An air pick up is when the pilots don’t land by the pen but rather just fly by at a low altitude. Geoff and I were opening the pen again. We got the okay from Richard, on the radio as he came up the hill and by the pen. We opened the gates and although the birds all came out they were clearly unsure. All that is but #10. #10 took one look at the trike and made a beeline for it. She didn’t care if it was on the ground or in the air. She just wanted to fly. Four of the other birds took their cue from her and followed right behind leaving only #5 on the runway. Richard made one loop to let the birds catch up and #5 quickly decided not to be left behind and took off to join the group.

LEAD PILOT REPORT

Weather conditions for the morning were as predicted…a “Go”, so the crew went about their duties accordingly. Geoff, Julie and Colleen left for the pen a little earlier than usual to clean up the mess made the morning before by the “Visual Barrier Terrorists”…a sinister organization of two; one zombie slayer and one white haired desperado who never met a visual barrier he didn’t like.

Their mission. to place additional visual barriers around the pen to compensate for the action of the high winds which blew the trees naked of leaves and robbed the crane pen of its cover. And though the next day’s forecast whispered, “Hey , why bother – you guys will be out of here tomorrow,”we could hear within that voice the familiar tone of the fates setting us up for another smack with the whammy stick. So we set up the panels knowing if we did, the fates would release us and if we didn’t, they would hold us here for several more days during which we would listen to the winds howl and kick ourselves for being played for suckers yet again.

Soon the trike was revving at the pen as Geoff and Julie pulled open the gates. But the chicks just stood there with a puzzled expression, perhaps longing for the privacy of the visual barriers. Then, as if suddenly remembering the game, they launched from the pen…all but Curly….ah, I mean #4 who was standing on the other side of the plastic crane decoy waiting for IT to launch.

Curly mastered the fine art of confusion at an early age, and in fact hatched with a question mark hanging over his head. But time and tide wait for no trike, and trying to stop a launch once it has begun is like trying to recall a bullet, so off we went, the five chicks and I.

Our confused little fellow also followed, but was late and soon was a ways back. Then the sound of another trike behind him sent him into a further state of confusion, but Richard soon picked him up as the rest of us headed up and on course.

This is my favorite leg of the migration because it is one of transition….southern Wisconsin and a landscape of swirls and eddies, where the straight line is sacrilege, and the land rests upon the earth like an unmade bed covered by a quilt of mesmerizing color, morphing eventually into the beginning of Illinois, the land of “flat”, where the right angle rules and its attendant lines checkerboard all that lies this side of the horizon.

Sadly for me, the thick grey overcast muted the sun’s ability to ignite the fall colors and give life to the usual game of hide and seek played by light and shadow down in the folds and creases of the below. But there is joy in the act of going, and soon the chicks absorbed my focus. They have worked out their parts in this drama and perform them dutifully. They are in the airm, as they are on the ground, characters.

A benevolent tailwind and cold temperatures made the flight an easy one and soon we were again on solid ground, birds in the pen and trikes safely hangared and the warm friendship of our hosts made short work what was left of our lingering chill. If the rest of the migration goes this easily, the biggest challenge for me will be to point the web cam in the right direction. But then, direction has always been my problem. Visual barrier…anyone??????

Photo compliments of Anne Saeman who captured Richard flying overhead with his solo companion #4 who was late out of the gate at the Green County, WI pen.

OFF TO A GREAT START

This has been the busiest two weeks of my life! My poor old brain has learned so much I feel like it’s oozing out my ears. The most fun of course, has been learning to work with the birds. It’s also the most stressful. What a responsibility. I keep chanting to myself “Count before you move” over and over when I am in the pen. The chicklets have gotten over their aggression with me and it’s fun to see their true personalities. #5 who was so aggressive is now just very curious and would really like all the grapes please.

It’s been a wonderful experience to learn and explore the CraneCam’s innards! After working remotely with the ‘Beast’ for four seasons now, all the names of it parts have faces to me. Mike Deline, AKA the Beast Slayer, is a great teacher, but I got as sweaty hooking it up the first time after Mike left as I do when I drive the camera during flight training. I was afraid my perspiration would drown it. Talk about a big sigh of relief when it worked. WHEW (sorry for the times it has not).

I have learned how to put up and take down travel pens. The most important part of that lesson was ALWAYS use gloves. Ouch! Another important lesson when it comes to travel pens is to always go through the ‘people gate’, not the back of the pen trailer. This seemed safer to me because one of the trailer doors cannot be shut from the inside. CraneCam viewers heard me try to get the trailer door shut for about an hour one night last week. I finally got the top bolt engaged, but my fingers were hamburger. I had to get David Boyd come and rescue me, because the bold was stuck and I could not get into the pen from the people gate either.

Geoff has taught me how to hook up a pen trailer to the Dodge/Arctic Fox RV, and from Brooke I learned how to drive it. By the second day (when I got lost in Madison) I felt like a pro. Former volunteer Gerald Murphy gave me some great driving advice and while you would not want to be behind me if you were in a hurry the experience proved to be not so bad.

I have learned about hoses too. For instance, never use the black water hose to wash a frying pan!! Liz was cooking dinner (Liz is a really good cook by the way) and asked me to go get the big frying pan out of the Sierra travel trailer. Joe grabbed it for me and pointed out that there was… ummmm… evidence of a mouse having spent time in it, so I looked for some Clorox but could not find any. I did find Fantastic, which kills germs too, so I sprayed it down with it and took it outside to rinse it off.

Richard came up, with a very concerned look on his face and asked me if I was going to scour the pan with hot water and soap, because the hose I was using to rinse was the one they use to empty out out the black water tanks. Eeeeeewwwww. So now I had mouse poo AND human poo in the frying pan. Off to look for more Clorox.

I finally found a bottle and Richard hooked up a clean hose to his RV’s water supply. I asked him “No more tricks right?” He laughed and said, “Nope.” So I filled the pan three-quarters full of water and dumped in the Clorox – which was way overkill on germ fighting, but after all this I wanted to be safe not sorry. But oops – what was in the bottle I thought was Clorox was motor oil!

I gave up. I threw the pan away and went to WalMart and bought a nice new clean frying pan. Understandably, the crew is still a bit leery of letting me do dishes.

What a start! What wonderful people to work with and what wonderful birds! This is going to be a great migration.

MIGRATION DAY #9 = DOWN DAY #4

The large low pressure system remains parked over Wisconsin producing strong winds. One might wonder if it’s been so windy for the past four days, why it hasn’t moved away… The migration team and their six young Whooping cranes will remain where they are for at least another day.

Meanwhile the cranes are enjoying poking at the mud and a pumpkin – C’mon by and watch on the live stream!

MIGRATION DAY #8 = DOWN DAY #3

Strong surface winds from the SSW at 15mph and even stronger winds aloft will keep everyone firmly on the ground in Green County for the third day.

Over the past few months, we’ve been working with a small film crew to gather footage for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The finished production was just released yesterday and we wanted to share it with you.

DISNEY WILDLIFE CONSERVATION FUND

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) recently released its 2012 annual grants, awarding more than $1.8 million to 75 conservation projects around the globe including $130,000 to Florida based projects and $33,000 to Operation Migration!

Wildlife in east Central Florida will benefit from grants awarded to wildlife projects studying and protecting dolphins, manatees, Whooping cranes, gopher tortoises, and right whales. Since its beginnings in 1995 DWCF has donated nearly $4 million benefiting 257 programs from 59 organizations in Florida.

This year, six projects supporting the conservation of Florida wildlife were selected, including: The Sea Turtle Conservancy; The University of Florida; Marine Resources Council of East Florida; The Wildlife Foundation of Florida; The Coral Restoration Foundation; and The Ecostudies Institute.

“Disney’s commitment to protect the planet and help create connections between kids and nature around the world in 40 countries is amazing,” said Dr. Beth Stevens, Senior Vice President, Disney Corporate Citizenship, Environment & Conservation.

“We are grateful to the many scientists, educators and community conservationists who devote their lives to conservation and are very proud to work with our guests, fans, employees and cast members to help ensure a better future for our planet.” Through its grants program, DWCF is helping to preserve habitats, protect endangered species, foster kids’ connections to nature and ensure future generations can enjoy wildlife and wild places.

DOWN DAY #2 IN GREEN CO., WI

The team will be spending a second day planted firmly on the ground in Green County, courtesy of strong winds aloft out of the south-southwest. Total distance traveled remains at 85 miles.

I thought it might be nice to visit with the cranes once more so with permission from Tom Schultz to share this with you, please sit back and enjoy this video captured by Tom during a training flight on Sept. 25th at the White River Marsh. The link for the second video, also shot by Tom, captures their departure from their summer home on Sept. 28th – as they embark on their first-ever southward migration behind pilot Richard van Heuvelen.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

A message from Doug Pellerin…

I would like to thank Joe Duff for giving me the amazing opportunity to work with the birds. Being with those fantastic young whoopers was fun. I really did not consider it work. My fun and excitement started the day Joe and I picked up the birds in Oshkosh. The birds were shipped from Maryland to Oshkosh in boxes, and the whole trip, the young whoopers were making peeping sounds from the airport in Oshkosh to the pensite at the White River Marsh. It was comical and exciting. I will never forget the experience.

I really enjoyed feeding them grapes and minnows over the summer and they appeared to love every one of them. Geoff and I were amazed how quickly they grew and changed! It’s nice to know that they’re happy and healthy. It’s a great feeling and it was a great memory…One of many….I must say the many pictures I posted on my Facebook and the website doesn’t do them justice, they are even more incredible and beautiful in person.

I would also like to thank Geoff for all his help and support and Brooke, and Richard for the wonderful experiences and great memories. I can’t wait until next summer.

(Ed. note: Doug, it is we who thank you for the numerous early morning drives from Fond du Lac to the pensite (and hour each way) and for your patience and dedication in educating everyone that arranged to visit the viewing blind to learn more about Whooping cranes and our work)

FOG

Location: Green Co., WI

The team has been waiting since 7am for the fog to clear. It has finally lifted at their location in Green County, WI but further to the south and on their planned flight path it is still foggy.

UPDATE 10:30am CT: The wall of fog is still parked in the area to the south so the team will be standing down for the day.

MIGRATION DAY #5

With light northeast winds on the surface and an expected little push from favorable winds aloft, hopes were high for good flight conditions this morning. Camp emptied out as the ground crew clambered into vehicles to get to the respective places. Brooke, and today’s lead pilot, Richard, stripped the wing covers off their trikes, and pushed them from their overnight tied down spot onto the grassy runway. In short order, engines revving, they took off for the pensite less than a mile away. At 7:25am Richard and all six birds were up and away.

Geoff, Julie, and Colleen were pensite/ground crew today, while David and Linda Boyd manned the tracking van. Joe’s been away on business, but will be back with us tonight to re-join the migration in the morning- which hopefully will make another advance. All things being equal, I should be able to post Richard’s lead pilot report some time between 4 and 5 pm this afternoon. Below is a gorgeous photo captured by Bev Paulan of yesterday’s departure from Marquette County.

LEAD PILOT REPORT – Day Five

The trike launched into the morning sky still hazy with high humidity. Fumbling with the sound system I could not get working so I landed in a nearby harvested bean field the lose wire was quickly reattached and the trike was once again airborne. As the trike approached the pen the sound of the brood call came on and Geoff and Julie hastily opened the pen panels to let the birds out confused by the lack of aircraft they all just stood there momentarily but then they heard and saw the trike fly by and five of the chicks launched leaving number 5 behind in the pen.

However they were scattered across the recently harvested cornfield trying to catch the trike circling low over the field around a stand of trees and past the pen a second time, number 5 seeing the trike launched right out of the pen. As the others caught up to the trike number 5 flying ahead of the trike turned towards it and both 5 and the pilot had to make evasive maneuvers to avoid collision. But number 5 gracefully rose up turned right and settled on the left wing.

Meanwhile three chicks settled on the right wing and two chicks joined number 5 on the left. We rose up the field across the road to the west and slowly turned on course. The chicks jostled for position eventually all of them settled on the left wing with number 5 taking the free ride in the lead.

The fall colors flew by below orange red purple green and yellow. Farm fields interspersed with forest cropland terraced in alternating grains and hay winding in stripes along hillsides. At 2500 feet ASL the chicks gracefully followed in a neat line still on the left wing with 5 on the lead often out of sight above the wing once in a while his head would appear in front of the wing glance at the pilot mocking him then disappear again above the wing in effortless motion. But the second most rearward bird was open mouth breathing and occasionally the two birds in front and behind would also be breathing hard most likely due to the high humidity this morning. The ground speed slowed down from 50 to 42 miles per hour with one to three birds struggling to keep up. There would be no skipping today as had been hoped for.

THE GHOST WRITTEN LEAD PILOT’S REPORT

Location: Columbia Co., WI

Brooke Pennypacker was lead pilot today but is currently away setting up the pen at our next Stopover site in hope we will be flying again tomorrow. I was in the tracking vehicle this morning, so I will give you my version and Brooke will owe me big time for filling in for him.

The winds were buffeting from all directions this morning, but that was likely due to the large forested hill overlooking our stopover location. It is hard to get a fix on just what is happening above until you actually take off and have a look for yourself, so that’s what Brooke did.

We call it taking your turn as the ‘wind dummy’. You get airborne, fly on course, and slow the aircraft to bird speed. First you check the GPS which tells you how fast you are travelling over the ground. That lets us know whether we have a head wind and are in for a long ride, or if the wind gods are in our favor and push us along. Then you check the smoothness of the air to see how much benefit the birds will derive from the wing. When it is smooth they can tuck in behind the wingtip and get pulled along in the slip stream. When it is rough, they must make so many corrections in their speed and position that they hardly get any assistance at all. That means they work harder and can’t fly as far.

Brooke found a strong headwind but smooth air, so the plan was to launch the birds and see how far they got. If they couldn’t make it, they could always turn around and let the wind push them back at twice the speed.

All the birds took off in perfect order and began a slow climb. Slow is the operative word because throughout the flight, they were only making 18 to 20 miles per hour. David Boyd, Colleen Chase and I tracked them from below, but had to stop several times to let them catch up. We pulled into a rest stop on the highway and the sight of all three of us staring skyward was too much for a trucker who asked what we were doing. We gave him a hurried explanation before hitting the road again leaving behind another enthusiast.

All six birds stayed on Brooke’s wing throughout the flight, and eventually they began a descent towards the harvested corn field where the pen was waiting. Richard flew ahead and landed to give the birds a target, just as #5, always the contrary one, left Brooke and climbed above him heading in the general direction of Richard. Brooke circled a few times and then and landed, while #5 took his own sweet time coming down. It was almost like he wasn’t ready to quit and wanted to check out the new neighborhood before accepting the new stopover site.

With new stuff to poke and prod, it took Brooke and Richard twenty minutes to coax them into the pen, but by 9AM it was all over. It was the perfect morning, short but effective, without the headaches of last season.

Thanks to an early migration launch and two great flights, not only are we ahead of last year in terms of behavior of the birds, we are now 26 days ahead last year’s timeline. Knock on wood.