IT’S HERE! THE BIG DAY IS HERE!

This afternoon a very special delivery will be made by Windway Capital pilots. For the 12th year they will be volunteering their time and aircraft to transport endangered Whooping cranes from Baltimore’s BWI airport to the reintroduction area in central Wisconsin. Needless to say, we are extremely grateful for their support.

So this morning, the crane crew from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD will quietly and quickly crate the six young Whooping cranes who comprise the aircraft-guided contingent of the Class of 2012. They will drive them to the airport in an air-conditioned vehicle while playing ‘marsh music’ over the sound system. This recording of natural marsh sounds, helps to drown out road noise and it’s something they are familiar with.

Once at the airport, each crate will be carefully loaded onboard a Cessna Caravan and strapped in for the estimated 4 hour flight to Wisconsin.

We’ll be able to check on the flight to get an update ETA once they are airborne. If you would like to watch their arrival at the White River Marsh reintroduction site, be sure to tune into the CraneCam by Noon Central time.

We feel their arrival is definitely worthy of a WHOOP or five. Have you WHOOP’d yet?

THE BIG DAY IS APPROACHING QUICKLY

The fated day is just around the corner! All that’s left to do is put the flock together in one big ponded pen and see how they get along together. But how are they doing on that front?

When we tried socializing the birds last Saturday, things got off to a rocky start. An adult bird was moved in a pen next to the pond pen where our birds were socializing. He was supposed to keep the chicks calm, give a sense of security that a big brother was keeping them company. Unfortunately, that adult didn’t get that memo. He must not have been adjusting very well to his new pen or his new surroundings, as he was alarm calling every other minute. It’s not uncommon to hear an alarm call ring out from some corner of Patuxent. The causes range from Patuxent staff entering their pens to switch eggs, to a heron flying too close to their pen. But whatever the cause is, they usually stop after a few minutes. This guy however, was set on loop mode.

Naturally, this put the jitters in most, if not all the chicks we were bringing out. Most of them were too scared to even follow us to the pond pen, since that’s where the cries were coming from. They mostly hung out under a tree foraging for worms, frozen in place, or would follow us for a little bit before turning back. Ultimately, it took the combined efforts of myself, Caleb (who had a free Saturday to volunteer), and one or two Patuxent staff who brought smelt they could use to bribe the chicks. Even then, we could only lead them one or two at a time. Normally, Brooke can get all of the birds over to the pond pen after training by himself.

But with enough perseverance and smelt, we got all six of the birds to the pond pen. But the alarm calls still didn’t stop. Not even the prospect of frolicking through swamp water or snacking on defenseless tadpoles brightened the chicks’ mood. Some of the older birds, like 5-12 and 6-12 tried to carry on like they normally would; foraging or occasionally ducking into the pond but they still seemed a bit on edge, even after an hour in the pen. 11-12 was clearly on pins and needles, as she was constantly pacing towards the adult bird, trying to climb the fence to get out. Caleb and I tried leading all the birds into the pond, or walking around the pen, just give them something to take their mind off the wailing adult but it never kept them occupied for long. After an hour or so, all of us agreed enough was enough and opted to return the adult back to his normal pen.

Once the adult was gone, it was like a switch was flipped. There wasn’t a single bird who hesitated getting in that pond for a merry little dip. No longer did we have to lead birds around the pen. Even 11-12, who’s widely considered to be our jumpiest bird in the flock got her feathers wet and snacked on a tadpole or two dozen. For the remainder of the day, being in the pen became a do-nothing job.

As a cohort, these birds have gelled together beautifully. All the birds are pretty mellow towards each other and aren’t really that aggressive. A couple times, Brian and I have noticed three or four chicks happily sitting next to each other, either under the plastic decoy, or a costume we leave hanging off the fence. The only bird who comes close to having a mean streak is 5-12, who’s on top of the totem pole. He’s not afraid to remind the other birds who is boss with an occasional peck or two. He doesn’t seem to like 10-12 too much, as he pecks her the most but with that said, he’s not chasing other the birds or going American History X on them.

He’s often one of the three or four birds who congregate by the costume. He’s mostly just reminding the other birds that he is the top dog and/or they just happen to be in his way.

Now a few days ago, I was worried if these fellas could learn to take care of themselves without daddy being in the pen with them. The first day we tried leaving them in the pen by themselves, Brooke, Sharon and I huddled in the video shed and watched on camera as they casually foraged around in the gentle rain, digging up hapless earthworms by the barrelful. We thought they were ready to take care of themselves. But the next day we tried leaving them by themselves, 11-12 was pacing by the gate, hoping a costume would come by and keep her company. The other birds were doing okay, though 4-12 was getting a little antsy, I think mostly because 11-12 was. A day or two after that, I occasionally tried to leave the pen, and watch them from the video shed. The cameras would tell the same story each time; five or six birds gathered up by the gate, pacing back and forth, wondering where their favorite exotic plant killing, zombie murdering costume had vanished to.

So instead of leaving the pen altogether, we all just hid in the feed shed whenever we were watching the birds, occasionally popping out to see how the birds were doing. The first couple of times I tried this, I would come out and see all six of the birds taking positions outside the feed shed, like enemy soldiers, surrounding my position and awaiting my surrender. At the front of the line would be #11-12, who would run over toward me and crawl in the shed with me. There, she’d peck at the pull string at the base of my costume, or lay down next to me.

Whooping crane 11-12

Whooping crane 11-12

But on this day, instead of awaiting my surrender, I saw most of the birds off doing their own thing. Some were off in the pond, taking a dip. Others were in the shade shelter, eating from the feeders. This is also when Brian and I would see three or four chicklets laying down by the hanging costume, as if to say, ‘Fine! If you’re too cool for us, we’ll hang out with this guy instead!’ Number 11-12, being the little sister she is, would still run over to me if she saw me.

Feeling a little bolder, I snuck off into the video shed, eager to see how much they were really growing up. By the time I got there, Caleb had gone into the pen to take my place. But when I caught up with him later, he said the birds were doing fine after I snuck out, almost as if I had never left. That Sunday, on father’s Day, Brian shot me an occasional text, letting me know how the kids were behaving. According to him, he was watching them in the video shed, and they were hanging out like they always do. It seems like the class of 2012 is finally starting to grow up.

I have mixed feeling with how they’re going to do once they arrive in White River. On one hand, I’m worried we’ll get a repeat of last year’s flock. But on the other hand, they did not bond together as well as this flock is doing right now. I suspect it has something to do with the cohort sizes. Normally, cohorts of four to six socialize and mix together better than cohorts of eight or nine. Or the ten we had last year. A lot simpler with fewer personalities to sort out when you’re dealing with a cohort of six. Perhaps the 2011 flock could’ve done better if we had broken them into two cohorts of five, or four and six. But at this point, I’m just Monday morning quarterbacking. In the end, despite all hurdles and hardships, the 2011 Class turned out alright so there isn’t any reason why this cohort shouldn’t as well.

HEALTH CHECKS

It is an FAA requirement that all licensed pilots get a physical examination from an approved doctor at designated intervals depending on the category of license held in an effort to ensure that the skies are not only friendly but safe as well. No one wants to be sitting in Coach ordering a drink while reminiscing of the days when they gave you a bag of peanuts and a coke for free and suddenly hear the Captain’s voice call out in distress over the loud speaker, “I seem to be experiencing severe chest pains. Is there a doctor back there“? To which you immediately respond to the flight attendant, “On second thought, make mine a double”!

I recently had to submit to a flight physical and the doctor assured me I indeed had the Right Stuff – even if it was stored neatly in my mother’s attic. So it is only natural that our little whooper chicks must also get their flight physicals, or Health Checks as we call them, prior to their trip to Wisconsin, and last Monday was the day. The Health Check is always stressful for both the chick as well as the staff because it necessitates the chick having to be picked up and held while the exam is performed. Birds, especially our young chicks, just don’t like to be handled or restrained and sometimes respond accordingly. This can and has resulted in a few cases of injury and even death, which is terribly tragic, yet unavoidable. But then, how many of us can honestly say that we enjoy all that probing and tweaking that goes on up in that Mother Ship when WE are the ones abducted by aliens.

At first glance, you might not think a creature that has been around for tens of millions of years; long before mankind was a gleam in Adam’s eye would be so fragile and easily injured until you consider that our young chicks have incredibly delicate wings and legs which are not yet completely formed and therefore vulnerable. Add to this the fact that conventional wisdom has it all of our whoopers today may have descended from only three adult females left in the remnant population back in 1941, so we don’t necessarily have genetics working in our favor.

Of course, some would say that “Three Eve’s are better than one” in reference to the biblical Eve who, it is said, begot all of us and we didn’t turn out so bad, despite the fact that the Forbidden Fruit may have been a banana instead of an apple. Anyway, our chicks came through their Health Checks in great shape thanks to the expertise of the Patuxent staff, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

All that remains is a few more days of training, socializing, and fitting the chicks with their shiny new leg bands to match their “I LOVE WISCONSIN” t- shirts. Then it’s “So long Patuxent” and “Hello White River Marsh” as the next chapter of the project begins. The life of a whooper chick may be challenging but it’s never dull. Now, if we can just talk Windway into that upgrade – the one that includes a free bag of peanuts and a coke.

CraneCam Testing

Over the next couple of days, we will be broadcasting sporadically over the CraneCam while we test various configurations and settings. Our hope is to have everything in place for Friday – the anticipated arrival day for the Class of 2012.

Viewers who watched pen preparations yesterday all agreed that the quality of the video feed is much better this year, thanks to some changes made by Networking guru Mike Deline from Adoni Networks in LaCrosse, WI. Mike will be back out to the site on Tuesday to put some finishing touches in place.

If you’d like to tune it to watch the pensite preparations take place over the next few days, you can watch via our CraneCam page, or if you prefer the social media interaction available via Ustream, please bookmark this link.

MILLER, SD MAN INDICTED IN WHOOPING CRANE SHOOTING

United States Attorney Brendan V. Johnson announced that a Miller, South Dakota, man has been indicted by a federal grand jury for Violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Witness Tampering.

Jeff G. Blachford, (Facebook Profile) age 25, was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 12, 2012. He appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Mark A. Moreno on June 15, 2012, and pled not guilty to the indictment. The maximum penalty upon conviction is 20 years’ custody, a $250,000 fine, or both; not more than 3 years of supervised release; and a $100 special assessment. Restitution may also be ordered.

The charges relate to allegations that in April 2012, Blachford shot and killed an endangered whooping crane and one hawk in Hand County, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, South Dakota. Blachford is further alleged to have corruptly persuaded a witness to withhold information from law enforcement officials. The charges are merely accusations, and Blachford is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in the world with a total population of approximately 600 individuals. The whooping crane killed in this investigation was one of about 300 endangered cranes that migrate from wintering grounds along the gulf coast of Texas to the Woods Buffalo State Park located in Alberta and the Northwest Territories of Canada. This population of whooping cranes is the only self-sustaining population in the world.

The investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and South Dakota Game Fish and Parks. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Meghan N. Dilges. Blachford was released on bond pending trial.

CAN YOU SPOT THE CRANE CHICK?

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan sent along this image showing either 13-03 (Mom) or 9-05 (Dad) with their young chick, #W8-12, which she captured during an aerial survey on Tuesday, June 12th.

Bev reports that crane chick’s W1-12 (parents: 12-02/19-04); W5-12 (parents: 18-02/13-02); and chick W7-12 (parents: 2-04/46-07) were all observed during her flight yesterday and are alive and well. While the chick below (W8-12 was not observed by Bev yesterday, or on Wednesday by ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski, it was however, spotted from the ground by Necedah Refuge staff yesterday morning.

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2012-06-12 029_13-03_9-05-W8-12circle

Hatin’ on the Church Van

Each member of our team must be capable of multi-tasking. In addition to looking after birds they must also write updates for our audience of supporters. On top of flying they must be good at school presentations or fabricating pens or a multitude of other jobs that need to be done. That is also true for our vehicles but finding one that can serve multiple functions is not easy.

A few years ago we needed a truck to pull our 32 foot aircraft trailer. We also needed something to carry the crew but mostly it had to be able to transport birds and that meant it had to be enclosed and air conditioned. We thought about getting a pickup truck and adding a cap over the box and installing an RV type air conditioner but you are limited to four seats and mobile AC units are extremely expensive considering their low output.

The answer seemed to be one of those extended vans that are commonly sold to churches for transporting 15 or so of their parishioners – like a little bus. In fact, so many are used for that purpose that they are referred to as church vans. We needed something with the power to pull the big trailer so diesel was our only option. At that point Dodge had made a deal with Mercedes Benz to produce the Sprinter which is far too big for us. GM did not make a diesel van and Ford was the only option but they too were considering dropping that line of vehicles. So we started looking at used vans which were more in line with our budget.

We purchased a 2004 model through our local dealership that has always been good to us and for the first year it ran trouble free. Although I had consulted with Richard and Brooke before making the purchase, the van’s reputation with the team began to deteriorate along with its performance. Apart from the fact that it is very loud, it does its job. Airbags were added to upgrade the suspension and it can pull the aircraft trailer when it is fully loaded. It can carry up to 15 people but most importantly, it can accommodate up to ten bird crates in isolated and air conditioned comfort. However, it has suffered a few unusual ailments. It’s like one of those old spinster aunts who never gets a cold but suffers from every oddball illness known to doctors. It doesn’t help that our van is either driven every day under the foot of many drivers or it sits unused in the Florida sun for three months at a time.

Once, while Heather and I were on our way to Wisconsin to begin the migration, we spent a day wandering around Guelph, Ontario while the pump that provides the energy for the power brakes was replaced. Liz and I once coasted to a stop in front of a truck repair place and spent a day waiting while they replaced a secondary fuel pump system that apparently never fails. In Alabama a few years ago, the team was invited to visit the NASA Museum. On the return trip we rolled into a dealership and waited a few hours while a new alternator was installed. Each repair comes with high cost plus other expenses like crew time, hotel bills and frustration. The problem is, when do you draw the line and what are the alternatives? We still need a vehicle to fill all the functions we bought the van for and we don’t have the budget to replace it with something new.

Last month Liz and I picked up the van in Florida and drove it to Orlando to help Disney celebrate International Migratory Bird Day. We then hitched it to the trailer and headed north. It chugged up the mountains of Pennsylvania and got us home three days later without a whimper. It sat for another month before I headed to Wisconsin and again encumbering it with the fully loaded trailer. Heather followed, driving one of our motorhomes. Luckily she was paying attention and noticed increased smoke coming from the exhaust pipe, something I was not able to see. She texted me, called me (dead phone) flashed the lights and finally passed me to get my attention to pull over. We checked all the levels but there seemed to be nothing wrong. I crept off the highway and found a truck parking lot that no one seemed to own but everyone uses and we went online to find a repair place.

The nearest town was Angola, Indiana and we found Dave’s Diesel but it was too late to call them. We found a hotel and the next morning, disconnected the trailer and they towed the van in for repair. It seems there is an Exhaust Gas Regulator valve that ruptured and began feeding antifreeze into the cylinders. That caused the smoke that Heather noticed. If she hadn’t been there, I am sure I would not have seen the white mist coming from the tail pipe on the far side of the vehicle. The mechanic told me that there are no warning signs; no change in the gauges or caution lights to tell you there is a problem.

The first thing you normally see is a drop in oil pressure when one of the pistons goes through the side of the engine. Alternatively, you might hear a large bang or a permanent loss in power. Your next clue would be a $14000.00 bill to replace the engine. As it is, it will still cost us $2300 and three lost days but I guess we must look on the bright side. According to Dave, we were about 15 miles from a much larger problem.

Even after this repair the problem will still exist. We can’t live without the van and can’t afford to replace it, even if they made one. All we can do is hope there is nothing left to fix. Heather went on to Wisconsin in the motorhome while I found a hotel. Unfortunately the only one is five miles away in the middle of nowhere. There are no taxis and the car rental place is booked solid. I think I have walked 15 miles so far but the good people at Dave’s Diesel have promised to get it done by Friday. So if I am lucky I will face Chicago traffic right in the middle of a Friday night rush hour. Oh well it is better than sitting all day in a hotel, however I am through defending this vehicle and joining the rest of the team in my loathing of our church van.

REASON’S TO WHOOP!

In less than two weeks the 12th Class of aircraft-guided Whooping cranes will make the trip from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland – to the reintroduction site in central Wisconsin. While this year’s group isn’t the largest we’ve ever worked with, it’s still a great reason to WHOOP!

Just last week, Doug Pellerin came across these sub-adult Whooping cranes about 11 miles away from the White River Marsh SWA, where less than a year ago, they took their firsts flight alongside our small aircraft.

Pictured are Whooping cranes 7-11, 10-11 and 12-11. This is a great reason to WHOOP!

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Yesterday, we announced the presence of the 9th wild Whooping crane of the season, number W9-12 – This is a great reason to WHOOP! This year the Give A WHOOP! campaign will be promoted around several ‘milestone’ events including; The 2012 Whooping crane chicks hatching; Their arrival at the summer training site at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, WI and when they are eventually released at their winter home in Florida later this fall/winter. We hope you’ll will WHOOP! with us and help to commemorate these (and other) milestones!

At the conclusion of each important event, we will draw the name of one lucky supporter to receive a beautiful Janet Flynn, watercolor print of a lone Whooping crane. This lovely print is definitely frame-worthy and measures 12.5″ wide x 23.5″ high. Click to see preview. Recipient names will of course be entered back into the grand thank you draw which will be made on March 31, 2013. The recipient of this gift will receive a $50 certificate redeemable in the OM Marketplace; a Janet Flynn watercolor print AND an incredible set of 8×42 Ranger binoculars courtesy of Eagle Optics!

Have YOU WHOOP’d yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our fundraising goal and allow us to carry out our work with the Class of 2012 Whooping cranes. We’ll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws as outlined above.

NESTING UPDATE

During the 2012 nesting season there has been a total of 29 confirmed nests, including 7 re-nests. Eight pairs of Whooping cranes have hatched out a total of 9 chicks (twins for one pair). Of those 9 chicks, 5 of them are still alive and two nests are currently still active. The most recent chick to hatch, #W9-12, hatched around June 5 and is pictured below. Parents are 16-07 (Mom) and 16-02 (Dad). Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR.

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LEVI & PEEPERS – AN UPDATE

Regular Field Journal readers may recall last July we told the story of the male Whooping crane Levi; formerly known as number 5-01. This crane and six others comprised the small cohort that became the first Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population back in 2001.

You can click here to read about Levi and his captive love Peepers but we also wanted to bring you a brief update, which we became aware of yesterday. On June 5th the Friends of Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park posted a photo on their Facebook page showing Peepers standing on a nest she and Levi had constructed from materials they had at their disposal. Considering the limited supply of grasses and branches the nest didn’t look that bad!

Yesterday a photo was posted showing Peepers standing on the nest platform and beside her is an egg! Time will tell if it is viable and we do not know whether it will be left with the pair or brought into captivity to be hatched but it is exciting news nonetheless.

If/when we receive further news, we will let you know.

The Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located at: 4150 Rt 19
Homosassa, Florida 34446.

Visit their website to learn more about the park but if you’re in the area, be sure to stop by!

A BIG DAY

Yesterday was a big day for the class of 2012!  After weeks of grueling preparations and pen repairs, the White Series pens are finally completed. This will allow us to spend more time socializing them outside of training sessions — the final step before their big flight to Wisconsin.  All seven of the remaining candidates for the ultralight project were all walked out to the White Series pens yesterday.  Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 were in one pen, 10-12 through 12-12 were in the pen next door.  Sadly, the invitation was not extended to 9-12 as she was cut from the program earlier this week due to bad behavior.  With any luck, she’ll have a better grip on her temper by the time she’s shipped off to Louisiana.

Since this is a mellow bunch of birds, we figured we had nothing to worry about and I’m happy to say that we didn’t.  Both groups of birds interacted with each other wonderfully with no signs of aggression or any one bird getting picked on.  Of course, these birds have been walked and trained together for several days now, so it’d be a bigger surprise if one of them all of a sudden decided to get in touch with their inner psychopath.

Unfortunately, by the time I arrived on the scene, some adult birds in the adjacent Silver Series started alarm calling. It was enough to send shivers down the spines of the three younger birds, so they had to be taken in around noon.  A few of the four older birds were a little anxious, but did their level best to go about their business.

Number 4-12, the big brother of the bunch, never lost his cool.  All through the afternoon, he was off on his own, grubbing or hitting the feeders like he’d been the in the White Series every day of his life.  He didn’t interact much with the other birds but quickly established his spot in the pecking order and since he’s one of the older, bigger birds, it’s only natural he does.

Same goes for 5-12.  He and 7-12 had a few stare-downs, all of which ended in 5-12’s favor.  Like 4-12, he adapted pretty well to the White Series but unlike 4-12, he’d rather bond with the costume than forage on his own.  He was one of my more frequent visitors while I was out in the pen spending time with them. It wasn’t unusual to see him toying with my sleeves or tugging on any loose ends he could find.

Chick 6-12 wasn’t quite in her element this afternoon.  While I’d be exaggerating if I said she was a basket case, she did pace the fence more than any of the others. Plus, she never quite stopped peeping after the adults alarm called but she wasn’t so petrified that she didn’t grub around or take a swim or two in the footbath.  Seeing her sit down in that black plastic tub and flap around in the water made my afternoon and to help take her mind off her worries, I led her and the other three birds on a walk around the pen.  She started grubbing and bathing right after we were done.

Number 7-12, our other little sister, seemed a bit antsy too but not as much as #6-12 was.  I’m suspecting it was because she had a security blanket out in the pen with her… Me.  She and 5-12 did their best to make sure I wasn’t feeling lonely. It’s always funny to see their big, wide curious eyes staring into my visor just before they take a few curious jabs at it, hoping to make sense of the mystery that is the costume.  Unfortunately for her, she has sort of inherited the bottom of the pecking order.  I’m afraid 4-12 and 5-12 insisted.  But I’m sure that’ll change once we bring the 10-12 and 12-12 crowd into the picture.  Then again #12-12 has a bit of Napoleon and spark to her that should not be underestimated. Just ask #10-12.

We don’t know who the other bird we’re going to have to cut will be.  A week ago, I would’ve said it was 6-12.  I was worried that with her dwindling attention span and her non-interest in the costume, she and OM would have to part ways come the 22nd.  She has since changed her tune and is much better at following and responding to the costume. Every bit as well as some of our older birds so she isn’t out of the game just yet.  We won’t make our final cut until it gets closer to shipping day.  Until then, I’m hoping #6-12 keeps up the good work and earns her seat/crate to Wisconsin.

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Chick #7-12 (left) and #5-12

Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 spend time in one of the large outdoor white series pens.

Chicks 4-12 through 7-12 spend time in one of the large outdoor white series pens.

LOBSTICK WHOOPING CRANE FEARED SHOT

Article from Northern Journal, Fort Smith, NT Canada
By CHRIS TALBOT, Northern Journal Reporter, • Tue, Jun 05, 2012

The whooping crane recently shot in South Dakota may be one of the famous Lobstick cranes that nest north of Wood Buffalo National Park, according to a Fort Smith man.

Ronnie Schaefer, who has observed the cranes for many years, told Northern Journal he believes the crane shot en route to Canada is one of the Lobstick pair. The pair has made the Fox Hole prairie on Salt River First Nation land home for 19 years, usually arriving in the first two weeks of May. They have not arrived yet.

Another reason Schaefer believes it may be one of the Lobstick birds is because they are not tagged. Although not confirmed, it is believed by Parks Canada that the crane shot in South Dakota was likewise not tagged. Schaefer said he is trying to clarify that, but so far, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is investigating the shooting, has been tight-lipped about the case.

Brad Merrill, a spokesperson for FWS Mountain-Prairie Region, said it is FWS policy not to discuss cases still under investigation. He did confirm that the crane was travelling with another adult and a juvenile, both of which were seen in the same corn field where the shooting occurred. What happened to the other cranes is unknown.

“It’s a big loss for us because they’re a recognized pair from here to Aransas,” Schaefer said. The Fox Hole prairie is the traditional nesting ground for another pair of whooping cranes, which Schaefer said has already arrived and settled in. A new nesting pair has also settled in the area, but Schaefer noted it is not the Lobstick pair.

Others believe it is too early to tell for sure if the killed bird was indeed one of the famous cranes. “That would be really tough to deduce based on what we know,” Dan Alonzo, refuge manager at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, told The Journal.

Chester McConnell, trustee emeritus at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, told The Journal it would be a great loss should the shot crane be one of the Lobstick pair.

“It would be, but I’m not certain (Schaefer) would be correct on that. I don’t know what information he has, but the cranes haven’t been long settling in and some of them would take a little while to settle into nesting,” McConnell said.

According to McConnell, whooping cranes do not all fly in and start building nests right away. Though their time to nest is short, they are known to “fool around.”

With only about 300 whooping cranes migrating between Wood Buffalo National Park and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, the loss of any of the endangered birds is significant, Alonzo said. There are approximately 500 whooping cranes left in the world.

“It would be the equivalent to the loss of any other bird,” Alonzo said. “Any loss is significant. We want to do anything to deter that. The Lobstick or any other pair is just as important.”

One death of many

The shooting of the whooping crane in South Dakota is the latest in a dozen confirmed shootings of the species since 1951. Approximately 80 whooping cranes of the western migratory flock have also gone missing during that time, their fates unknown, McConnell said.

Cranes that do not die of natural causes are most likely to be killed flying into power lines or electrified fences, he said, but some people shoot the birds out of malice.

The eastern migratory and non-migratory Louisiana populations suffer even more from human predation. McConnell noted 11 cranes in the eastern and Louisiana populations have been shot in the last two years. Many of those cases are still unsolved. The most recent incident prior to the April 20 shooting in South Dakota was the January 2012 shooting of a male whooping crane in Knox County, Indiana. The crane was spotlighted and shot, according to FWS. Charges are pending against two men in their early twenties; Jason R. McCarter, 21, of Wheatland, and John C. Burke, 23, of Monroe City.

Ed. Note: More on the Lobstick Whooping cranes from Journey North and Tom Stehn:http://www.learner.org/jnorth/crane/spring2008/Update031408_Stehn.html

The Cut

In the game of life, not everybody makes the team, and one of the greatest “bummers” a kid can experience is to go out for a school athletic team, work his or her butt off every afternoon at practice, spending hours every night studying the playbook with dreams of making that big play that wins the championship game only to walk into the locker room one day and get pulled aside by the coach who delivers the news that he or she has been cut from the team. The coach’s speech is always the same, full of sugar-coated realities and atta boy/girl clichés; too slow, too small, not quite enough of this or that but be proud of the good try because all men (or women) are created equal… except when they’re not. The poor kid never hears any of this because his or her senses are completely numbed by the pain and disappointment it brings – the residue of which they carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Hard to say if whooper chicks react the same way. We sure hope not, because yesterday morning we had to give the speech to #9-12 and cut her from the ultralight team. It wasn’t that she didn’t try. I mean, she followed on walks as if on a leash, swam like Ester Williams, stuck to the trike like a piece of Velcro and was healthy as an Olympian. But she just couldn’t overcome millions of years of evolution and play nice with the other chicks. Just the sight of another chick would send her into a rage which only intensified as the encounter continued.

To our great frustration, none of the usual remedies were effective. But then it must be remembered that in the natural world, crane parents usually produce two eggs, hatch two chicks, with only one surviving to fledge. Sometimes one chick out competes the other for food and sometimes it’s even more sinister. Siblicide they call it – Just one more example of what a jungle it really is out there.

An example of how difficult it can be to socialize young Whooping cranes occurred four years ago in an incident with the now-infamous #10-08, who one evening in the enclosure at Necedah, went into a rage which resulted in the deaths of two other chicks and an injury to another so severe it had to be pulled from the project.  Number 10-08 was subsequently released with adult whoopers; made it to Florida but wound up in the belly of an alligator after picking one fight too many.

Fortunately for us, we have prepared for just such problem this year and have been training 8 birds, #4-#12, with the intention of picking the best six for the trip to Wisconsin. #9 will remain behind and allow time to mellow her aggression and will eventually join the Louisiana team as did our little #8 last year.

Who knows? Maybe they’ll meet, fall in love, and spend the rest of their lives together trying to control their aggressions…like most couples.

Meanwhile, we’ll continue training and socializing the remaining seven for the trip to Wisconsin…until the next “cut” takes place leaving us with the final six.