Rain has hampered aircraft conditioning for most of yesterday and today but Brooke sent along the following photograph showing the oldest Whooping crane chick, number 4-12 inspecting the puppet – no doubt looking for a treat to dispense.

The Robo-puppet is used at all times during aircraft conditioning. The pilot will coax the young chick from its enclosure by tapping the puppets beak along the ground and pulling a trigger that opens a small hole below puppets beak. When the hole is opened, mealworms fall out onto the ground to reward the chick for a job well done.


Today is International Migratory Bird Day and as in past years, Joe and I will be on location with our display booth in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park. It would be hard to beat Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a place to celebrate wildlife conservation – and we look forward to seeing YOU here.

For us, this year’s visit has had something very special added. One of our ultralight aircraft has been re-fitted and is now on ‘permanent’ display at Conservation Station!

At Rafiki’s Planet Watch last evening we held a small event to preview the exhibit. Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership representatives, Disney cast members, and a few invited guests joined us to honor Disney’s long-term support of Whooping cranes and to celebrate this extraordinary opportunity to raise awareness for species conservation – and particularly Whooping cranes. Millions of guests of all ages from around the world visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park each year and the ultralight exhibit will provide unprecedented promotion of the work of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Although it refers to rearing children, the African-originated proverb, “It takes a village..…” equally and aptly describes what the reintroduction of the eastern population of migratory Whooping cranes takes. Everything is easier when you are part of a village, and have input from equally committed organizations, colleagues, supportive donors, and friends. In addition to WCEP’s nine founding partners, there are dozens of other collaborating agencies and scores of individual ‘villagers’ who lend Whooping cranes a helping hand.

So it was that last evening, on behalf of Operation Migration and WCEP, Joe Duff acknowledged the many ‘ Disney villagers’ whose diverse contributions have played an integral role in the Whooping Crane reintroduction project’s success. Some of those recognized were:

Dr. Jackie Ogden and her staff at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Kim Sams, Claire Martin, and the all staff at Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund
Disney’s Cast Members who act as Grant Reviewers – with a special shout out to Chelle Plasse
Dr. Scott Terrell and the Disney Health Team
Jay Therien, a Winter Monitoring veteran at St. Marks
Alex McMichael, intrepid IMBD man Friday
And, the 2 individuals who led the charge for the installation of the wonderful ultralight exhibit: ‘Imagineer Gary Graham, and OM’s and Whooping cranes’ BFF, Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus.

Watch the Field Journal in days to come for more about the event as well as photos, but in the meantime, you can click here to see Disney’s announcement.


Now, I’ve already introduced you all to the senior four birds of the Class of 2012: 4-12, 5-12, 6-12 and 7-12.  As it turns out 8-12 is destined to aid his species in his own way as a genetic holdback.  So that leaves us with three new little tikes: 9-12, 10-12 and 11-12.  Each and every one of them is alive and well and is making bold new progress.

Number 9-12 seems to run hot and cold – Most notably with his drinking.  Some sessions, he’ll down drinks from the jug without you having to ask.  Other days, I have to beg on my knees just to get him to take one sip.  In theory, he should be getting worked from the outside with the puppet but he hasn’t responded much to that – other than pecking and jabbing at the puppet, trying to figure out why it’s dancing all of a sudden.

On the bright side, he eats just fine when you’re in the pen with him. I think he likes having a buddy to eat with, as he’ll keep on eating so long as you keep the puppet beak in the bowl.  He seems to value his beauty sleep; it’s not unusual to find him curled up asleep as I’m trying to go in and work on him. Ali has noted on a couple of times he’s fallen asleep just as he’s trying to work with him. Granted, it does happen with others from time-to-time but this guy’s trying to throw the average a little.

I worry number 10-12 is a slacker. When he was still in the ICU he was never responsive – either ignoring the puppet, or just tapping it enough to make it go away. Naturally, he doesn’t eat or drink much, left alone on his own from the bowl of crumbles.  Or, if he does, he needs a lot of leading around. I haven’t worked with him much ever since he moved to his own pen but the Patuxent staff has mentioned on occasion that his lazy ways haven’t changed much. I’m sure he’ll catch up with the other birds when he’s good and ready, of course.

Chick 11-12 isn’t as withdrawn as 10-12 was.  I’m not ashamed to say that I got him to eat and drink out of the bowl one of my first sessions with him in the ICU.  However, it turned out to be a one-time deal, as he went back to staggering around the Plexiglas box and/or trying to escape out the door.  He seems to be fairly good at it, as he’s gotten past me once or twice.  But he never gets far. As soon as he drops from the ICU to the tabletop (it’s a one inch drop, so don’t worry), he just sits on the table, motionless, almost like he’s pouting “Somebody pushed me.  Poopie-head!”  As it’s cute and kinda comical, it makes it real easy to scoop him up and place him back in the ICU.  I’m sure he was thrilled when he got moved to his new pen yesterday.  Sharon tells me he had no trouble getting cozy, as he fell asleep not long after moving to his new pen.

Now we should be all caught up on the introductions until a 12-12, 13-12 or a 14-12 joins the party.  I should also tell you that numbers 4-12, 5-12 and 6-12 have all met the aircraft or ‘trike’ as we like to call it.  Brooke and I have helped 4-12 and 5-12 take the first big step as ultralight birds by starting the engine up next to them.  They can now hold their ground against the scary roar of the engine.  Brooke could tell you better than I could, but they seemed to have performed to his satisfaction.  6-12 was a little more timid of the trike’s roaring engine and isn’t quite ready to follow.  But I’m sure he will be tomorrow or the day after.  The time spent with the trike is what was important.  After all, this was one of his first times completely outside of his pen.  That alone can be daunting. Especially since 6-12 can be a little nervous at times).

Number 7-12’s first date with the trike is just around the corner.  Once he learns to eat on his own, and hold onto his weight, he’ll be running around after that 3-wheeled aircraft in no time!

number 9-12. Hatch date: May 7

number 10-12. Hatch date: May 7

11-12. Hatch date: May 9


Whooping crane parents DAR 42-09* and 24-09 and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership are proud to announce the arrival of TWO chicks! The first arrived sometime Monday and was spotted by Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan (photo below). In the photo the chick appears to be drying itself in the sun and the egg at the opposite side of the nest looks as if the chick has recently emerged from it. The parent crane is still sitting, likely on the other egg or a previously hatched chick.

ICF Tracking Team Field Manager, Eva Szyszkoski visited the Adams County site today to check on the nest and in the second photo you can see the TWO wild hatched Whooping crane chicks. This is the first nest attempt for this 3 yr old pair.

Welcome WILD Whooping crane chicks W2-12 & W3-12!


The latest word we have received from the tracking team is that the 9 cranes from the Class of 2011 have not moved a great deal since returning to Wisconsin and the 10th Whooping crane, #1-11 has yet to turn up.

Yesterday we received the following two images showing the group of four young cranes consisting of #’s 3-11, 4-11, 5-11 and 6-11. This group arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20 – 8 days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered.

They are barely showing any signs of the cinnamon colored feathers they use to have…

Meanwhile, approximately 20 miles to the northeast and still in Columbia County, the group of three consisting of #’s 7-11, 10-11 and the youngest of last year’s cohort, #12-11 (photo below) continue to spend their time foraging in small wetlands and grassy areas. This group has been at this location, also since April 20th.

Whooping crane #9-11 had been reported in Grant County, WI on April 20th, and a photograph submitted confirmed a broken antenna on her PTT unit, which would explain the lack of reports for this crane. Crane #2-11, the young bird that broke away from the ultralight-guided group on the second day of the southward migration last fall, is still in Adams County, WI – approximately 35 miles from White River Marsh.



So… Thought you’d seen the last of me, did you?  You Craniacs aren’t getting rid of me that easily!  I could do this job for a thousand years and each year it always feels like a new adventure.  This is my fourth year and no two flocks are alike and no two migrations are alike.

Each flock always leads us on new and unusual escapades that give us new stories to tell.  For 2009, we had the flock that started off as a bunch of head-strong delinquents who had no loyalty to the trike but dramatically turned around to gel into a cohesive flock.

2010 saw the flock that found their stride and whizzed into Florida with time to spare (okay it wasn’t the fastest migration on record – But it was for me).  For 2011, it was breaking new ground and making fresh start at White River Marsh.  I can only imagine what chapters of our lives these 2012 cranes will come to represent.

As of right now, there are five whoopers at Patuxent getting ready to embark on the journey our whole year revolves around.  The oldest, number 4-12 impressed me by starting to eat on his own after two days in his pen, a new record in my tenure.

Chick number 5-12 impressed many as a goofy little guy barely able to walk or focus long enough to grab a bite to eat.  Now he’s all but eating on his own.  The other three are trying to catch up, with varying degrees of success.  6-12 was at first a silly little guy who could barely stay awake long enough to take a drink.  Proving they change and develop so quickly – when I last worked him, he kept taking hits off that water jug like there was a prize in it.

Little number 7-12 got startled by his own reflection in the Plexiglas just after we moved him into his new pen.  Poor guy needed a carpet taped to his window to mask the reflection to calm him down.

Number 8-12 is still sequestered in the ICU.  We can only hope he doesn’t follow in 8-11’s footsteps from last year. That little demon was such a bully that he couldn’t be trained with any other chicks and had to be held back at Patuxent for additional socialization. That’s an adventure that doesn’t need repeating.

Where will they go from there?  Will they leave us in awe and wonder as they latch onto the aircraft and never look back?  Or will the trek be filled with perils and hurdles that will only make our migration that much more riveting and memorable when we finish?  Personally, I think this year could shape up into something magical. As usual, we have a long road of us but I always look forward to walking it with these amazing birds.

Whooping Crane #4-12: The oldest in this year’s Class hatched early on April 30th

#5-12: Also hatched on April 30th but in the afternoon.

#6-12: Hatched on May 3rd. The tape on his/her left foot holds a small stick on the toe to convince it to grow straight.

#7-12 hatched May 4th and has a LOT of taped toes.

#8-12 hatched out on May 5th, however, we have just learned that this chick is considered genetically significant and will be held back to augment the captive population.


We get a lot of requests from new followers asking about the crane numbers. There are a number of other questions as well but we’ll deal with the numbers for now and try to make sense of the system.

Each Whooping crane chick is assigned a number based on their hatch order. So, the first chick to hatch in any given year becomes number 1. The second chick to hatch is number 2 and so on until there are no more eggs left to hatch.

The second set of digits in the cranes’ number is the year in which it hatches. Number 1, who hatched in 2011 becomes number 1-11 and number 2 becomes number 2-11 and so on.

So, it would make sense that the two whooping crane chicks that hatched early last week would be Whooping cranes 1-12 and 2-12, right? NOT. It seems that this year the crane crew at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is also hatching out Sandhill cranes for another research project and three Sandhill eggs hatched prior to the Whooper eggs, securing them the numbers 1-12, 2-12 and 3-12.

So, the first two Whooping cranes destined for the ultralight-aircraft release project this year are numbered 4-12 and 5-12 and NOT 1-12 and 2-12. Confused yet?

Tune in later today or tomorrow morning for Geoff Tarbox’s first entry of the 2012 season! We’re thrilled that Geoff has decided to return for a 4th season and has been with the young cranes at Patuxent for the past week. He has promised me an update to tell us how many chicks there are currently and how they’re doing. Welcome back Geoff!


Saturday, May 12th, is International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) and our friends at Disney’s Animal Kingdom have once again invited us to join in their celebrations. Joe and I will be on location in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom Park.

On so many levels, the moral and financial support and encouragement we have received from Disney – every year since the reintroduction project’s inception – has not only been invaluable to OM, it has helped make the project the success it is.

With OM and Disney we have, as Joe once said, “…a classic example of cross-species synergy; a little mouse helping out an endangered bird.”

If you live nearby Orlando, or will be visiting the area that weekend, please stop by Operation Migration’s display booth – we’d love to see you. This year, guests who visit Rafiki’s Planet Watch will see a brand new and very exciting exhibit. I’m not going to tell you what it is – at least not just yet…. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for Craniacs who plan to attend.

While Joe and I are at Animal Kingdom we will also be giving a presentation about the Whooping crane reintroduction project to interested Disney cast members at a ‘Brown Bag Lunch’. So many Disney folk volunteer their time, expertise – and often their muscle and sweat – to assist with a diversity of tasks that we just couldn’t manage to accomplish without their help. We’re looking forward to seeing many of these terrific volunteers at our presentation so we can thank them in person.

OM’s presence for IMBD takes considerable planning and arranging. For this we are especially grateful to Disney Zoological Manager, Scott Tidmus. Every year without fail, Scott goes out of his way to ensure our stay there is the magical experience Disney is famous for.

Come share the magic with us and all the folks at Disney for International Migratory Bird Day on May 12th. We’ll be looking for YOU!


Last year when we developed the site at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area we were under serious time constraints. When the permits were finally in place we only had two weeks before the birds were scheduled to arrive. In that short period we had to dig a depression and surround it with chain link fence to create a wet pen area. Then we had to build a dry pen using 4×4 posts and 2×4 stringers. We lined that structure with steal roofing material driven two feet into the ground to deter digging predators and we covered the entire structure with top-netting.

While this was underway, we also had to build an access road. The main entrance road to the pensite area is about a half mile long and ends at a gravel parking area. From there a path led over a stream and out into a flat, albeit overgrown, area that eventually became our runway. That path had to be built up with earth, topped with gravel and allowed to dry for a week or two before it would support vehicles. That meant most of the material we used to create the pens had to be carried out by hand or loaded into the bucket of a bobcat.

Wisconsin DNR staff also built a water structure along the access road to drain the entire upland area. The day after the road was finally finished, we had 5 inches of rain that covered the spillway but the roadbed held. We used it all summer to access the pen area.

Yesterday they had another five inches of rain but this time the road gave way. That rain event followed two other heavy rain days and the backup was just too much. We will have to wait until the water level drops to see how much material has washed away and how much we will have to replace.

The good news is that the runway has been leveled and is now nice and flat.
The bad news is that it is too wet to seed and so far it’s just dirt – or mud.
The good news is the water levels are up and the wet pen is full.
The bad news is that the road is gone.
The good news is that it can be fixed.
The bad news is that it will cost.


There are currently 15 pairs of cranes still on nests in central Wisconsin. The newly hatched chick, #W1-12 and parents are doing well. An additional pair is due to hatch a chick hopefully yesterday or today.  Of the remaining 14 active nests, 3 are due to hatch within the next week.

Be sure to check out Journey North’s final update for the Spring season, which include a great table listing all nests from the current season.

The following images were captured on May 1st and show the pair consisting of 5-09* and 33-07 with their second nest attempt of the season.

One crane appears to be rolling the egg while the mate watches.

After rolling the egg the adult settles in for a period of incubation while the mate forages nearby. Whooping crane parents share incubation duties.


Another Whooping crane was shot last week, this one in South Dakota.

It was an adult, in the company of two others and on its way from the gulf coast of Texas to the Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada. Whooping cranes are not colonial birds that flock together in large numbers. Instead they generally migrate in family groups, so the two others could have been its mate and their chick from last year. They still had another 1000 miles to go to reach their nesting grounds. If the third bird was their offspring from last season, they would have shooed it off before they re-claimed their territory and built a nest for this year’s eggs.

Whooping cranes are anything but camouflaged. At five feet tall in bright white feathers, they stand out like a beacon and make an obvious target for those so inclined. This bird was shot with a high powered rifle while it stood in a field. That brings the number of Whooping cranes shot in the last two and a half years to twelve.

I purposely used the word “shot” so it wouldn’t be confused with “hunted.” There are two words to describe the activity of using a gun to harvest wild prey. One is hunting and it describes the legal taking of game species for sport. The other word is poaching but that has connotations of stealing something for food and that was not the case here or in any of the other shootings. There should be another name for people who shoot things just to kill them.

It is hard to understand why someone would want to kill a Whooping crane simply because they can. Maybe it’s an act of defiance or a belief that the rules apply to everyone but them, or perhaps it’s displaced aggression; they kill a Whooping crane because they can’t kill their boss. One of the arguments we have heard consistently is that they didn’t know what it was and if we had done a better job of educating people, it wouldn’t happen. Now there is a warped sense of privilege for you.

Many words can be used to describe that attitude. The list starts with terms like self-serving and arrogant and degrades to adjectives like ignorant. Then it drops below the line that is only printable if it’s scrawled on the wall of a public urinal.

The one term you can’t use to describe them is “hunter.” Real hunters obey the rules; in fact they often make the rules. They are also responsible for most of the conservation work that takes place. Hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the Wild Turkey Federation protect thousands of acres of habitat while a tax on firearms and ammunition known as the Pittman Robertson Act has provided over 5 billion dollars to wildlife projects. But twelve birds in just over two years is far too many and maybe it is time we asked hunting organizations for help. Perhaps they would welcome the opportunity to educate the morons with the twisted values.

Or maybe you can’t reach people that stupid. They say that if you make it idiot proof, they will simply make a better idiot.


The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is celebrating another success in its efforts to reintroduce a wild migratory whooping crane population in eastern North America. A whooping crane chick hatched Monday in Wood County, Wisconsin.

The chick, #W1-12 (W = wild hatched), is the offspring of whooping crane pair #12-02 and #19-04 from the ultralight-led crane Classes of 2002 and 2004.

The pair has produced eggs every year since 2008, but until this year, their eggs have always been infertile. The pair proved to be good parents in 2010, when their infertile egg was replaced with a captive-produced fertile whooping crane egg, and the pair hatched and raised the chick (W3-10) to fledging.

Thanks to the efforts of WCEP, there are now 106 whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population. Fourteen additional pairs of Whooping cranes are currently incubating eggs in the core reintroduction area of Wisconsin.

Wild Whooping crane chick #W1-12 pictured with parents 12-02 & 19-04* one day after it was discovered. Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF with aerial support from LightHawk.

Whooping crane parents 12-02 & 19-04* on their winter habitat. Photo: Eva Szyszkoski/ICF


The following article was published late last week on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website and tells about the great successes experienced with the Trumpeter swan reintroduction in Wisconsin. We would like to congratulate everyone involved and look forward to the day that we can celebrate similar success with the Whooping crane reintroduction.

Twenty-five years after efforts began to restore Trumpeter swans to Wisconsin’s landscape, state wildlife officials are celebrating a record number of nesting pairs as annual monitoring surveys of the birds begin.

“The good news is great news,” says Sumner Matteson, the Department of Natural Resources biologist who has led the program since it started in 1987. “We had 197 nesting pairs in 2011 — the highest number we’ve had to date. That’s about 10 times the recovery goal we set in the 1980s, and it’s extremely gratifying and a reflection of the partnerships that made it possible. We hope that this field season we’ll set another new record.”

DNR, with help from partners and volunteers, conducts several surveys to keep tabs on the swans, including aerial surveys to identify nests and confirm the hatching of cygnets. Those aerial surveys will begin shortly, followed by surveys done by biologists to check nests to see if the eggs are viable, and fall surveys in which biologists and volunteers round up cygnets and put numbered bands on their necks to help keep track of them in coming years.

After the 2012 field season ends, DNR will continue to monitor the bird but not every year. “We’ve been monitoring the flock every year statewide every year since 1989. We’ve come to a fork in the road where we no longer need to monitor annually so the next survey will be five years from now.”

Market hunting and demand for the feathers of trumpeter swans brought these birds, one of North America’s largest, to near-extinction in Wisconsin and other upper Midwest states by the 1880s.

Wisconsin put the species on the state’s endangered species list in the 1980s, which made it illegal to kill, transport, possess, process or sell them, and launched a recovery effort that collected eggs from the wilds of Alaska, hatched them at the Milwaukee Zoo, and reared the young in the wild using decoys, and in captivity, before releasing them.

Scores of organizations, businesses and private individuals worked to carry out the recovery effort with state wildlife managers, technicians, research scientists, University of Wisconsin-Madison wildlife ecologists, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service staff. Two of the partners, Mary and Terry Kohler of Sheboygan were honored April 25 at the state Natural Resources Board meeting in Madison for their role in helping transport from Alaska the eggs used in the recovery program, and for their financial and other help.

The Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin helped secure much needed funding, and the Endangered Resources Fund and the bird’s protected status under the endangered species law both significantly aided outreach efforts, Matteson says.

Trumpeter swans reached the recovery goal early — more than doubling the 20 breeding pairs hoped for by 2000 –and Wisconsin removed it from the endangered species list in 2009. Trumpeter swan nests are now found in 24 Wisconsin counties.

Becky Abel, who designed the decoy-rearing technique as a UW-graduate student and is now associate director of The Trumpeter Swan Society, says Wisconsin’s program has been wildly successful and has played an important role nationally.

The interior population is now growing at an impressive rate and may have the fewest hazards of any of the populations at this time, she says. “The Wisconsin birds are a critical piece of that because they have established migratory traditions.” The decoy-reared Wisconsin birds pioneered and started new patterns of migration, which was important because the birds had been extirpated, so those traditions had been lost. Wisconsin birds taught other birds those migratory patterns, and now we are seeing more birds migrating out of Wisconsin than any other state, Abel says. She credits DNR for being willing to try decoy rearing, an approach that was modeled off of other species’ re-introductions, but which had not yet been tried with trumpeter swans.

“There was a lot of criticism for that early on, but the technique proved to be really great in combination with other approaches and as a result, the Wisconsin program now is held up as a flagship program. That is something the state can be proud of — being willing to take those chances for better returns.”


Matteson says the program’s success has been tremendously satisfying. “In the early years of the program we had some slow going,” he says. “But what this program demonstrated over 25 years is to really adhere to a vision and not to give up on a goal but to persist in working with partners and the public in making a project of this magnitude happen.”

More information on the trumpeter swan recovery are found on the Trumpeter Swan page in DNR’s year-long web series, Celebrating 40 years of protecting Wisconsin’s natural heritage.


To see the country’s most incredible wildlife, you don’t have to head to a national park. Black bears, buffalo, alligators, and other cool creatures take up residence in the protected habitats of 556 national wildlife refuges across America.

The National Wildlife Refuge System, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is the nation’s premier system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants. Since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Florida’s Pelican Island as the first wildlife refuge in 1903, the System has grown to more than 150 million acres, 556 national wildlife refuges and other units of the Refuge System, plus 38 wetland management districts.

Nearly 46 million people visit national wildlife refuges each year. Their spending generates almost $1.7 billion in sales for regional economies. As this spending flowed through the economy, nearly 27,000 people were employed and $542.8 million in employment income was generated.

Smarter Travel recently featured a pictorial showcasing their top 10 National Wildlife Refuge picks and the St. Marks NWR is in the top 10!

A VISIT WITH 7, 10 & 12-11

A glimpse of juvenile cranes 7, 10 and 12-11 captured and submitted to us yesterday. This trio has been spending the past week at a secluded location in Columbia County, approximately 30 miles south of where they took their first flights at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, WI.

Left: #10-11, middle #7-11* and right: #12-11*

Left front: #10-11, Left back: #7-11* and Right: #12-11*

*denotes female