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.

WOOD BUFFALO/ARANSAS FLOCK

Reporter: Heather Ray Location: Main Office

Thanks to our friends at the Whooping Crane Conservation Association for the following great news and for their part in securing TWO critical habitat projects for the Wood Buffalo/Aransas population.

Endangered whooping cranes now have an additional 278 acres of habitat on which they can live during winter. The 278 acres involved two critical habitat acquisition projects for North America’s last naturally occurring flock of migratory whooping cranes, known as the Wood Buffalo-Aransas population.

In one project, three conservation groups partnered to purchase the privately-owned 178 acres in Holiday Beach area north of Rockport, Texas. Sale of the property closed last week. The endangered whooping crane flock spends the winter in the area and some have often been observed on this property. This important property purchase was coordinated by Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program, Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Whooping Crane Conservation Association President Lorne Scott explained that wintering habitat in Texas is more confined and threatened than the Canadian breeding grounds. He also said, “The wintering habitat is so scarce and so unavailable, anything that does come up for sale and has potential, we try to secure it.”

Scott stated that the whooping crane has become a symbol of wildlife conservation in North America. He counseled that “The whooping crane saga has shown that after decades of work and partnerships, we can save a species and work for conservation.” Scott believes, “We have an obligation to make every effort to secure all our native flora and fauna.”

Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program (CBBEP) received the funds for the important 178 acre purchase through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Recovery Land Acquisition Grant Program, administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Matching funds were provided by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. The Nature Conservancy assisted in the property purchase. CBBEP property manager Jake Herring said “The acquisition of this property is important to CBBEP because it is occupied whooping crane habitat.”

In a second project, The Nature Conservancy made known the protection of more than 100 additional acres of whooping crane winter habitat. With funding assistance from Whooping Crane Conservation Association and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Conservancy purchased a conservation easement on Falcon Point Ranch in Calhoun County, Texas. The Conservancy purchased the conservation easement for $605,000 with funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, a $200,000 grant from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and funds from private donors and foundations.

Today scientists estimate that at least 10 percent of the remaining flock (approximately 25 – 30 birds) winters here. The topography of the property and its waterfront views on San Antonio Bay made it a prime target for development.

“The owners of Falcon Point Ranch have been working to conserve this property for more than five years,” said Bill Ball a representative of the ranch. “It is very exciting to see this important project come to fruition and to know that this truly special place will be protected.”

Ecologists worried that the development of the ranch would not only compromise important habitat on the property, it would compromise surrounding conservation lands as well, including properties the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) division of the USDA has protected within the last three years.

“NRCS is proud to be a part of this regional effort to protect and restore vital Texas wetlands, for not just the incredibly rare whooping crane but all wetland wildlife species,” said Claude Ross, NRCS Program Manager. “Working with the local landowners, NRCS has worked to protect and restore more than 11,000 acres of habitat in Welder Flats. The Nature Conservancy’s easement on Falcon Point Ranch will help safeguard those investments.”

“Limited and threatened wintering habitat on the Gulf Coast is one of the greatest challenges facing North America’s tallest birds, said Lorne Scott, president of Whooping Crane Conservation Association. “The WCCA congratulates The Nature Conservancy for leading efforts in securing the Falcon Point Ranch.”

The whooping crane population, which breeds in Canada and then migrates 2,400 miles south to the Texas Gulf Coast, declined from an estimated 1500 to just 15 birds between 1850 and 1945. Since then, cooperative conservation efforts between the U.S. and Canada have increased the population twentyfold. Today there are an estimated 300 wild cranes in North America that migrate between Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.

“North America all but lost one of its most iconic species,” said Laura Huffman, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “Although the whooping crane is slowly rebounding, it is still a precarious situation given our state’s growing water challenges and projected growth. If we want our children and grandchildren to experience this majestic creature, conservation efforts to safeguard its habitat aren’t just important, they are absolutely essential.”
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THE SEXES

“So…is it a boy or a girl?” is the question asked every expectant mother these days. Used to be the answer came from the doctor or nurse at birth. Not anymore – Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine and the fact the every American is born with the inalienable need-to-know, couples now begin fielding the question a year or so before they ever meet each other.

Here at Patuxent, we’re a bit more patient. It’s not that we aren’t curious which chicks are male and female. Most of us feel like we secretly already know. It’s just that once we find out, our work load increases exponentially due to the strict protocols passed years ago by Congress relating to the proper education of the sexes, which we must implement immediately.

For the males, we must change our vocalizers from the parent’s brood call to call of the whooper father saying “Yes, dear.” We must also add a daily additional training session teaching them to follow directions as well as how to look into the refrigerator and identify what is really in there as opposed to what they think is in there. Then comes the session where we force them to sit quietly and listen attentively to a puppet head while keeping their big mouths shut.

For the females, we’re forced to replace the meal worm treats with flowers and chocolates, and for the session where they practice walking in and out of the pen, we have to hold the door for them. All this takes time but it’s time well spent because experience has taught us that it’s the little things like these that makes a reintroduction project “self sustaining.”

And so when the genetic sexing results arrived and Jane posted them yesterday morning, our smiles grew so wide each of us had trouble getting his or her costume hood on. “Damn!” was all I could hear that little voice in my head exclaim. Most results are predictable but there’s always that one you just can’t believe. “Are they SURE about #8”? So our cohort for this year contains two males and four females, the kind of odds every male whooper dreams about and the first time we’ve had more females than males. This is especially good news because although we may not know which came first, the chicken or the egg, we can be pretty sure there was a female chicken in the equation somewhere.

Chick Gender Legband Hatch-date Source
4-12 M white 4/30/12 ICF
5-12 M yellow 4/30/12 PWRC
6-12 F blue 5/3/12 PWRC
7-12 F green 5/4/12 PWRC
9-12 F white 5/7/12 PWRC
10-12 F yellow 5/7/12 PWRC

THEY DID IT! HOME!

Yesterday we received the following image and report confirming the group of four 1-yr. old Whooping cranes (3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11) in Green Lake County, WI on May 31st at 5:30pm. This location is less than 3-miles from where they took their first flights with our aircraft last summer.With no PTT information received for the only crane in the group with a PTT unit (#4-11), it’s difficult to determine where in the area they roosted. We have received three confirmed sightings for this group with the earliest reported at 5pm on May 30th and two reports the following day so they must have roosted in the area.


Photo credit: Lois Ballard

The other group of returning Class of 2011 cranes, consists of numbers 7-11 (PTT), 10-11 and 12-11. This group has been reported in neighboring Marquette County, WI over the past week, approximately 11 miles from their former pensite, and right on the migration route between the first and second stopovers.

As for the remaining three cranes in the Class of 2011: Number 2-11 is still in Adams County, WI, in an area where there are two adult pairs of Whooping cranes and several Sandhill cranes. Number 9-11 was last reported northeast of Minneapolis and the oldest of the Class, number 1-11 has not been reported since he was last seen departing the Wheeler NWR with the rest of his flockmates.

These sightings underscore the importance of the public reporting system as a valuable tool for monitoring crane locations, and we encourage people to continue to monitor and report such sightings. We do, however, also want to remind everyone that for the benefit of the cranes, it is best if you keep a respectable distance.

Approaching cranes too closely can result in birds becoming habituated to humans. Habituation, in turn, can put the cranes at risk from people who mean them harm. While such situations are uncommon, it is unfortunately a consideration we all must consider in light of recent shooting deaths in Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. If you’re on foot, do not approach the birds within 200 yards; if in a vehicle, remain inside the vehicle and at least 100 yards away. For reference, a football field is 120 yards long from goalpost to goalpost. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind people that do see whooping cranes and are interested in reporting them to use the Eastern U.S. whooping crane reporting site. We thank you for your help in tracking cranes and for your consideration in helping to promote the safety of these birds.

SIX MORE THAN EXIST NOW

There are five captive breeding centers for Whooping cranes in North America and collectively they produce the eggs that are used by the release programs. In addition to those eggs there are a few collected from the abandoned nests of the adult cranes nesting in central Wisconsin.

Each Monday in May the captive flock managers gather via conference call to make their best guess about how many eggs their charges will lay. Counting your chickens before they hatch is an axiom originating from Aesop’s fables. It is used to warn against putting too much stock in the future. If you take the chicken axiom seriously you know that eggs don’t always result in chickens and chickens don’t always survive to go to market.

The same is true for Whooping cranes destined to be released into the wild. To make an educated guess you can predict that 75% of the eggs will hatch and 75% of those will reach the shipping age of 50 to 60 days.

All of this egg counting and second guessing is more critical this year because of low production. If you want to know why that happened you have to go back to guessing. In general it might have to do with the very early spring; or was it a very warm late winter, followed by a cool spring. On an individual basis the captive breeding centers had problems of their own. The Calgary Zoo has a very productive male that has taken to breaking eggs. This little understood behavior is not uncommon, but who knows why this well-experienced parent decided this year to destroy his own offspring before they hatched.

The International Crane Foundation lost a very productive female named O’Malley to mate aggression this spring. Patuxent had to do some unavoidable repair work to their facilities this past winter. Maybe moving the birds from pen-to-pen to avoid the construction had a negative effect on their breeding season.

Whatever the cause, it looks probable that there will only be 26 Whooping cranes available for release this year. With the Recovery Team deciding to split that number between the Louisiana non-migratory flock and WCEP, it means they will get 13 for their third release year. WCEP will divide the remaining 13, with the DAR method getting 7 for release at the Horicon Marsh and OM getting 6 to train with its aircraft at White River Marsh.

As you can imagine, we have been burning the late night candle trying to determine the impact of leading only 6 birds to Florida this year. We believe the maximum we could accommodate is 24 birds and we have always wanted to try a flock that large. We know from experience we can do it with 20; in fact that was one of our most successful migrations. Our request this year was for 18 with a minimum request of 12.  As the egg count predictions came in week after week, the Recovery Team dropped our minimum number to 11 and then WCEP dropped it to 10.

Operation Migration is a small, single-focus organization that was founded to use a unique method of reintroducing Whooping cranes in a migratory situation. Several attempts were made in the past and each added to the research. But the Ultralight method is the first to succeed in creating the basis of a migratory flock.

Our ambition is to see this through. To that end we have overcome every obstacle we have encountered. We convinced the US Federal government that ultralight pilots should be trusted with one of their most endangered species. We created a non-profit and helped found the Whooping Cranes Eastern Partnership. We designed migration routes based on historic evidence and then altered them to provide greater safety for both birds and aircraft. We developed training sites and raised all our funding with minimal government assistance. We have faced storms, headwinds, and cold temperatures, and even enlisted the help of the FAA who exempted us from certain rules in order to allow this project to continue.

Our goal is to establish a self-sustaining population and either we will do that or eventually, we will encounter an obstacle we simply cannot overcome.

Only 13 birds released this year in the Eastern flock is insufficient to even cover attrition and will be a major setback toward a self-sustaining population. But, it is not insurmountable. The new release sites outside the range of black flies look promising, as does the breeding season in the Necedah area so far. Six birds are six more than exist now, and six closer to full recovery.

Please leave your thoughts in the Guestbook or as a comment to this post on our Facebook page.

THE BOARD

Legend has it that there were originally eleven Commandments and that the Eleventh ordered, “Though shalt answer to the Board.” Upon reading it, Moses shrugged his shoulders, looked to the heavens and asked, “What Board?” to which a booming voice from above replied “I don’t know. Just pick one.”

From that time to this, man has had to answer to a Board of one kind or another;
the carpenter….”Measure twice, cut once,”
the football team….”Home 7 – Visitors 0,”
the convict…”Grant me parole and I promise to play nice,”!
the chess master…”Checkmate,”
the corporate executive… “Yes, Mr. Chairman – Whatever you say, sir” and on and on.

Even us lowly wildlife technicians are not exempt, for here at Patuxent we too answer to a board. We begin each work day by standing before the large acetate board that hangs on the wall in the hallway of the chick building upon which the flow chart of the day’s labor is magic-markered by Sharon the night before.

It is the “Same Page” upon which each of our individual labors firmly rests. On it is listed each chick in the building, its pen number, its health situation, when it requires feeding, or medication or introduced to meal worms or given individual in-and-out the door practice.

Then there are three vertical lines listing each bird to be trained, and then walked, then swam and each of these is followed by a blank which is to be filled in with the time the job is completed. At the end of the day, around 8pm, all the blanks are filled in and birds and handlers are just that much closer to achieving the goal of successfully raising a new season’s flock of whoopers.

Our board is efficient, functional, and benevolent and it answers to us as much as we answer to it. All organizations should be so blessed.

So, whatever happened to the Eleventh Commandment and why are there now only ten? Well, legend has it that it was removed from the stone tablets by the Board. What Board you ask?… “I don’t know – Just pick one!”

ENDANGERED SPECIES SUCCESS

The Center for Biological Diversity recently launched a groundbreaking report, On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife. The report is a powerful review of the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

The report provides an in-depth look at 110 protected species from all 50 states — from whales and sea turtles to foxes and whooping cranes — to determine how well the Act is working across the country. The results? 90 percent of the studied species are recovering, right on time to meet recovery goals set by federal scientists.

You can check out species in your area on this new interactive regional map of the 110 species.

SITE PREPARATIONS

Similar to last year the water levels at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area are fluctuating. Eight inches of rain caused flooding so extensive that it washed out the access road that the DNR created last year. It overpowered the culvert and eroded all the gravel and dirt creating a big gouge too deep to cross with a truck. Now they are experiencing a mini drought and high temperatures, which allowed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to repair the access road but it also left the runway bone dry.

We hired Petrazack Excavation, a local contactor to smooth the runway and the Wildlife Area staff seeded it with rye grass and dragged it with a bar. Now we just need a little more rain to help in the germination process.

The raised roadway means that the birds in the wet pen can see us approach so we will have to put on our costumes farther from the pensite. We will also need a new, hidden access path to the observation blind but the Wildlife Area staff also did that for us. We can’t thank them enough for all the work they are doing to prepare for the arrival of the birds this year. We are looking forward to seeing them all again. I suspect we will be shipping the birds to Wisconsin sometime around June 20th to 25th. I will arrive a week or so earlier to get the pen ready but it looks like there won’t be much more for me to do and I am grateful for that.

MEANWHILE AT GROUND SCHOOL…

I’m sure more than a few of you might be curious as to how much our birds have grown these past few days. Well by now, the youngest of our little clutch has learned to eat on his own and no longer needs any guidance from a lowly intern. Now, it’s just a matter getting them walked and getting them to follow that small yellow aircraft. Believe it or not, they’re only a month away from their big trip to Wisconsin!

Currently, chicklets #4-12 and 5-12 are being trained together, as are numbers 6-12 and 7-12, and 10-12 and 11-12. Number 12-12 is still being trained by himself. Every morning I ask how the birds do, he tells me they perform marvelously. That’s good news to me, especially with #10-12. Earlier this year, we were concerned that he may’ve had eye troubles, as he often acted like the puppet wasn’t there unless it was shown to him at just the right angle. But now it appears he was just off in la-la land in those moments, as he seems to follow and respond to the trike just fine. And Dr. Olsen hasn’t noticed any peculiarities with his eyes, so that’s one fear we can put behind us.

While I haven’t seen him do that so much anymore, it seems he’s picked up a new bad habit. From what Brooke tells me, there are some days where it feels like #6-12 is starting back at square one. And today was one of those days. I watched it unfold as I was weighing birds this morning.

As I led #5-12 onto the scale, I noticed Brooke leading #6-12 and #7-12 out toward the trike for a circle pen session. He would get only so far before one of the little birds would stop dead in its tracks and start to turn around, like he was scared. Brooke would go back and try to lead it again but almost as soon as he started to follow, he turned around and started to head back. This must’ve gone on five or six times. Eventually, Brooke gave up and trained #7-12 by himself (who was waiting patiently for #6-12 to join him) and then trained #6-12 later.

Even when he was training, Brooke says #6-12 had to be fed mealworms every step of the way in order for him to follow the aircraft. He’s at an age where he shouldn’t need mealworms to follow the trike. Sharon pointed out that last night was his first night outside, and it might’ve rattled him a little. How he does tomorrow remains to be seen. What bothers me and Brooke was that he’s had relapses like this before last week. I’m not sure what might’ve triggered it. But other mornings, he seems to do okay. Let’s just hope he got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning and the week before and this’ll be the end of it.

Now, you might’ve noticed that #9-12 isn’t being trained with anyone. Make no mistake, he’s getting trained. He’s just not training with anyone else right now. Why? Well, his attitude doesn’t lend itself to making fast friends. It’s not uncommon for Brooke to see this guy peck at other birds through the bars. I believe he’s even gone after one of the sandhills who is several days older and several inches taller than him!

If you remember last year, #8-11 had to give up his seat on the plane to Wisconsin simply because he wouldn’t play nice. We didn’t give up hope on the little thug. Patuxent was nice enough to try and socialize him with some of the Louisiana birds. Sure, he was making improvements but it always ended with him trying to take one of the other birds’ lunch money. Even when an opportunity came to ship him at a later date, we just couldn’t take the risk. Besides, as it turned out, 2011 had enough surprises for us.

Number 9-12 is already trying to pick up where he left off. Is he destined to walk the dark side as well? Not by a long shot. We hope his Angry Birds attitude goes away with age – If not, we can walk him with one of the older, bigger birds and let them knock him down a few pegs. Socializing him by himself in his own little pen in the white series while other birds get socialized together also serves as a nice little “time out”/dunce chair for him. We’ve got a month to help this guy get his act together. He’ll come around, just you wait and see.

Those are all the yarns I have to spin for this fine evening. I’ll be sure to weave a few more as they unfold. Film at eleven!

FIRST INTRODUCTION TO THE AIRCRAFT

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

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

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

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

DEJA VOUS

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

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

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

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

A NEW CHICK FOR AN OLD FRIEND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEST MONITORING/LIGHTHAWK

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

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

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

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

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

CLASS OF 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

 #12-12 hatched on May 12th

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

#14-12 hatched on May 15th.

ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY

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

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

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

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