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


I was rummaging through my bottom desk drawer this morning and came across my stack of old pilot log books. I grabbed the lowest one in the pile and opened it to the first page.

It’s funny how your perception of time does not match the reality. My mind thinks I am still in my fifties, there is no way my daughter can be 12 already and surely the 9-11 crisis was only a few years ago.

Seeing the date on page one of my log book was one of those moments when the reality and the perception are forced together and it hits you just how old you really are. It seems I have been flying ultralight aircraft for thirty years. In fact the first aircraft I ever soloed was a Cessna 150 in the summer of 1971. I took a long sabbatical while I built my photography career and then discovered ultralights in the early 1980s.

Over the years I have kept reasonably accurate records of my time aloft but I have never added them all up. I log the hours, but not the totals. An estimate would put it around 2500 hours. I know Brooke has a similar amount and I think Richard has around 1500 hours. That means that together we have spent more than 9 months airborne. That sounds like a lot of time but in fact it is nothing compared to many pilots. My older brother fights forest fires with a helicopter and will retire soon with close to 30,000 hour. He has spent over three years of his life off the ground.

I don’t know why I started rambling about this or why I wasted time looking at old log books. Maybe because it has been almost three months since I last flew and I am looking forward to when I next get airborne. That is why all pilots are envious of birds. They don’t have to wait to go play in the sky. They simply open their wings, take two steps and leave it all behind.


We received some updated PTT information yesterday that tells us where Whooping cranes 4-11 and 7-11 roosted. We know that numbers 3 and 6-11 are traveling with number 4-11 as the WCEP tracking team detected radio signals from all three at the same location on Friday afternoon. PTT hits confirmed that #4-11 (and company) have spent the weekend in the area of southern Columbia County and northern Dane County, approximately 43 miles south of the White River Marsh reintroduction site.

Number 7-11 spent the weekend a bit further north; still in Columbia County – approximately 27 miles south of White River Marsh and unfortunately, we don’t know as yet, who is traveling with her.

The PTT reports for number 9-11 have been few and far between but a report came in via the public report website along with the following image, taken by Linda Halpin. The image confirms that this is indeed number 9-11 and also confirms that the antenna has broken off the PTT device on her right leg. The photograph was taken April 20th in Grant County, WI.

A quick addendum: We learned from a Wisconsin DNR survey flight conducted yesterday afternoon that juvenile cranes 7, 10 & 12-11 are traveling together and another group contains: 3, 4, 5 & 6-11. Crane number 1-11 is the only ultralight-led crane currently unaccounted for.


UPDATED: The Whooping Crane Conservation Association will pay a reward not to exceed $10,000 to anyone who provides information which leads to the conviction of any individuals responsible for the killing of a whooping crane which took place on the afternoon of Friday, April 20, 2012 along 354th Avenue, approximately 17 miles southwest of Miller, S.D. The purpose of the reward is to encourage the public to share information they might have about criminal activities involving whooping cranes. Federal, State, Provincial, and other public law enforcement personnel, and criminal accomplices who turn “states” evidence to avoid prosecution, shall not be eligible for this reward. If more than one informant is key to solving a specific case, the reward will be equally divided between the informants.

Law enforcement officers from the Service and the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks are investigating the shooting. The migrating adult whooping crane was traveling with two additional whooping cranes before being shot with a high-power rifle as it was standing in a corn field.

Anyone with information should call either the 24-hour Turn in a Poacher Hotline at 1-888-OVERBAG (683-7224) or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 605-224-9045 to report any information which will aid officers in the apprehension of the shooter. Callers can remain anonymous.

Eleven whooping cranes from the Eastern Migratory Population and the non-migratory Louisiana population have been shot in the last two years. The Alabama case of January, a year ago, is still active. The Louisiana shootings have been solved by State Law Enforcement personnel and a reward will not be involved. One case is still active in Indiana where the State has offered $2,500, the Fish and Wildlife Service $2,500 and the Humane Society $2,500 in reward.

Donations are being requested for the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s Reward Account. Donations should be mailed to Whooping Crane Conservation Association, 2139 Kennedy Avenue, Loveland, CO, USA 80538. Donations are tax-deductible. Or, donations can be made on the Association’s web page Then click on “Membership” and make a donation.

Journey North

Journey North is a free, Internet-based program that explores the related aspects of seasonal change. Through interrelated investigations, students discover that sunlight drives all living systems and they learn about the dynamic ecosystem that surrounds and connects them.

There are 3 main areas of study:

  • Sunlight and the Seasons: Children study seasonal change in sunlight in a global game of hide and seek called Mystery Class.
  • Plants and the Seasons: Children explore tulip growth in their own gardens, running an experiment that tracks the arrival of spring.
  • Seasonal Migrations: Children follow animal migrations. They observe, research, and report findings and watch journeys progress on live maps.

Through the seasonal migration component students (and adults) can learn about American Robins, Bald Eagles, Frogs, Gray Whales, Hummingbirds, Monarch Butterflies, Mystery Class, Red-winged Blackbirds, and of course our favorite, Whooping Cranes!

If you would like to see one of the latest Whooping crane updates from Journey North Science Writer, Jane Duden, check out this link.

Widely considered a best-practices model for education, Journey North is the nation’s premiere “citizen science” project for children. The general public is welcome to participate. To register visit

Journey North has recently released a smart phone app that will allow users to Take Journey North outside and report sightings from the field. You can view maps, take and submit photos and interact with other app users. The app is currently available for iPhone’s and will soon be released for Android platform.


Raise money for Operation Migration each time you search the Internet or shop online!

Once a year, the search engine “GoodSearch,” disburses funds to registered non-profits. Goodsearch is a Yahoo powered search engine which makes a donation to us each time you do a search of the internet or shop online at participating stores and select Operation Migration as the recipient.

Since 2005, Operation Migration has been the beneficiary of $4183.54 via GoodSearch and GoodShop and we’d like encourage you to give it a try. Just join – and every time you search the internet or shop online and select Operation Migration as your designated recipient charity, a donation is made to us. Your every day actions will help Whooping cranes and it won’t cost you a thing!

Operation Migration currently has 937 GoodSearch/GoodShop registered supporters. If each and every one of the 937 supporters made just one search each day, this is what we could do.

1 search per day = $9.37 each day.
30 days per month, on average = $281.80 each month.
8 complete months left in 2012.

If all the above were to happen, $2,248.80 would be donated to Operation Migration and the Class of 2012 – Just from your searches and purchases made online! Here is a list of retailers that donate a percentage of your online shopping to your designated charity.

Don’t know where to start? Click this link and designate OM as your charity.


When we left off yesterday we knew that numbers 4-11 & 7-11, while traveling separately, were both closing in on the White River Marsh area after making an abrupt easterly course correction on Thursday. Anne Lacey had dispatched a crew to head over to the area with a receiver to see if they could pick up any other VHF signals which would tell us which cranes were with also traveling with 4 & 7-11.

Anne reported later in the afternoon that signals from cranes 3-11 & 6-11 were picked up near number 4-11 but she did not have news about #7-11 and her possible travel companions.

A report came in yesterday afternoon via the Public Report form that places #9-11 in Grant County, WI along the Wisconsin River, which is where #4-11 previously was before she corrected course.

If any further details come in today, we will update.


They say that time flies when you are having fun but I think the same can be said for when you are over worked. It seems like only yesterday that we finished the migration or at least delivered the birds to Wheeler, but here is it spring already with the first captive egg expected to hatch at Patuxent on May 2nd.

Of course it doesn’t help that we didn’t end our abbreviated migration until February 4th or that we had to work closely with the FAA for the next two months to get approval to fly again. On top of ending one fiscal year and starting another, there are preparations for the early training at Patuxent and the summer training at White River Marsh.

When we developed the site last year we had to dig a depression below the water table to create a wet pen for the birds to roost in at night. Because this a natural area managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, all the earth that was removed from that hole cannot be left in an un-natural pile. It must be removed or spread flat without causing damage to the natural flora. Before the birds arrived last year, it was too wet to get heavy equipment in to haul it out so we were allowed to let it sit temporarily. Because they had an early thaw this spring we now have time to make use of that pile of dirt.

Last year we were able to create a runway out of wild wetlands with only marginal work. We had a few roots to pull and some grass to cut but it was surprising how flat it was considering what we started with. That’s not to say it was perfect. During the early training when we were taxiing back and forth it was OK but as the birds grew larger and their speed increased, the bumps and rolls began to cause us problems. There are two undulations to the northeast end. During a takeoff run, just when the aircraft is getting light on its wheels, the first of these ridges launched you into the air before the wing was prepared to take the full load. The aircraft would bump down hard on the second ridge and catapult back into the air making our departure look as if Captain Kangaroo was the pilot in command.

That dirt has now been moved onto the runway and a local contractor will soon spread it out and flatten it with a vibrating roller. Hopefully by the time the birds arrive this year in late June the natural grasses will have poked through and all that will be needed is to mow it flat.

Before we could construct the pen last year we had to build an access road between the parking lot and the runway. A natural stream drains the area where the road is now and the DNR built a water structure there will planks that can be set in place to control how much water escapes. That seems to be working well and the water levels are higher than it has been in the past. This will help us maintain water in the wet pen and also keep the wetlands from drying out too fast. That will provide more habitat for the 2011 birds if they return as hoped.

Three of the cranes from last year are fitted with GPS tracking devices that report their location on three day intervals. The last report indicates they have split up into at least two groups. On the evening of April 17th number 7-11 roosted in Houston County, Minnesota, along the Mississippi River while 4-11 roosted 34 miles to the southeast of her on the Wisconsin River. That puts them both about a hundred miles to the west southwest of the pensite at White River Marsh. There were no usable hits for the third GPS crane, #9-11. Because only three of them are fitted with these satellite devices, it is impossible to know which, if any, of the other of the birds from this flock of nine are with which group.

Here is the latest overall map showing the PTT locations for Whooping cranes 4, 7 & 9-11 since departing the Wheeler NWR on April 12th.


This morning we got exciting news from ICF’s Anne Lacey that our birds are getting closer to home.

On April 17 number 7-11 roosted near the Mississippi River in Houston County, Minnesota and 4-11 was 34 miles southeast on the Wisconsin River. It seems that whatever navigation aids they use kicked in simultaneously and both of them headed due east from separate locations. 7-11 is now in eastern Marquette County, Wisconsin. That puts her very close to the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area where she started. 4-11 is in southern Columbia County, Wisconsin which is a short distance south of White River and very near to our third migration stopover.

The WCEP tracking team is heading over to the area with receivers to see if they can determine which birds are together. Stay tuned…


Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan conducted an aerial survey April 17th and submitted the following nesting news. There are currently 10 active nests located in the core reintroduction area in Wisconsin.

Nesting pairs include:


















1 egg confirmed












2 eggs confirmed





Word arrived last night that the latest PTT data indicate an April 15th daytime location in Wayne Co., IL for Whooping crane 9-11*. Data from the same evening have cranes 4* & 7-11* at a roost location in Bureau County, IL. It is possible that the nine cranes are still traveling as a group, however, we have no way of confirming this.

The following image illustrates the ultralight-led migration route these young cranes were led along last fall. The red map points and line depict the route these birds are taking as they return north.