International Migratory Bird Day

Migratory_Bird_Centennial_LogoThis year is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty signed on Aug. 16, 1916. International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD) is typically recognized on the second Saturday of May – tomorrow!

Through many events held throughout the Americas, IMBD celebrations will explore how birds have inspired some of the most significant environmental conservation actions. For generations, migratory birds have connected communities across continents, providing unique opportunities for international collaboration and inspiring people to improve conditions for birds, all wildlife, and for ourselves.

Head out tomorrow in your area to watch birds. Let us know in the comments section how many species you saw!

Patuxent Wildlife Refuge

PRCPatuxent Research Refuge will host Wildlife Loop Adventure Scavenger Hunt 9 a.m.-1 p.m. May 14 at the north tract, 230 Bald Eagle Drive, Laurel.

Using clues and locations, families and groups can drive the North Tract’s Wildlife Loop and trails to hunt for sculptured stones, mystery objects, plants and animals while learning about the history of North Tract and other recreational opportunities. A camera or cell phone that takes pictures is recommended.

All ages. Free program; donations appreciated. Registration required with approximate arrival time.

To register, call 301-497-5887. For more information, go to

Nat Geo Wild!

USofAnimals Logo_thWhooping cranes will be featured this Friday evening in the new series United States of Animals showing on National Geographic Wild channel (check local listings).

United States of Animals is a fast-paced and fun new series that takes you on a fascinating journey across the United States. Part travelogue, part wildlife adventure… United States of Animals is a fact-filled field guide driven by the wild, the weird and the “wow” of animals in our own backyard. This is not your grandfather’s natural history show. This is the United States of Animals.

Our episode will air on May 13th at 10:30/9:30c – in the “California Dreamin” segment during the second half of the 1 hour show.

Here’s the episode description:

Whooping Cranes, Episode Description:

Meanwhile in St. Marks Florida, Operation Migration is winding down. A flock of whooping cranes are landing for the winter after following their “Mom” all the way from Wisconsin. But this “Mom” is like no other. “Mom” is Joe Duff – the ultralight aircraft pilot who leads the flock dressed up in a whooping crane outfit. The crowds have gathered for the final leg of an epic journey stretching 1200 miles.

(Little did we know that 2014 was to be the final arrival flyover at St. Marks so we’re thrilled @USofAnimalsTV and @HalfYardTV were able to capture it)

For those that aren’t subscribers of the Nat Geo Wild channel, here’s a sneak preview of the crane segment.

Where the Cranes Are…

It’s been a couple weeks since we checked in with the comings and goings of some of the Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population so here’s a quick update for those that we know the locations of.

Keep in mind a number of cranes need transmitter replacements so there are some whose locations we’re not aware of.

2015 Cranes: As for the final aircraft-guided class – all have returned to Wisconsin and they’re still wandering somewhat. The foursome, which includes 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 have in fact, wandered back to LaSalle County, IL.

They spent quite a few days near their current location while they were making their way north to Wisconsin.

Number 2-15 remains in Door County currently, although her device indicates she hopped back and forth between Kewaunee and Door counties a few times over the past couple of weeks.

The tracking device on #1-15 continues to transmit sporadically. The last hit we had from her on May 3rd indicated she was in an area of great habitat in Columbia County, WI.

As for the Direct Autumn Release cranes from last year, we mentioned on Monday that four had been collected from eastern Michigan late last week. This foursome includes 61, 62, 63 & 67-15 and they wintered in southwest Illinois. For some unknown reason the group headed east this spring and then north into Michigan.

This led some to speculate perhaps their course diversion was due to northwest winds, however, the ultralight cranes were migrating north at the same time and in the same area of Illinois and they weren’t blown off course. Who knows exactly what goes through the minds of these birds…?

Once collected, the group was released in Marquette County, WI but a day or two later, it seems all of them have returned to their original release location in Dodge County, WI (Horicon Marsh).

There is another DAR crane from last year that also found her way on the wrong side of Lake Michigan. Number 65-15 spent a couple of weeks in central Indiana on her way north but instead of veering west, it seems she went straight north. She’s been moving north and south along the coast of Lake Michigan so maybe she’ll figure out how to get around it and into Wisconsin on her own.

DAR #66-15 is still in Lake County, Florida. DAR #64-15 has not been seen since departing Horicon with a large group of Sandhill cranes in November. DAR 68-15 was last located in January near Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana.

Here’s a Google Earth grab, which illustrates the return paths for the two groups of cranes.

The orange path with red dots is the path used by the ultralight-led cranes. The green path is that used by the group of four DAR cranes, which was recently collected from Michigan and relocated to Wisconsin.

The orange path with red dots is the path used by the ultralight-led cranes. The green path is that used by the group of four DAR cranes, which was recently collected from Michigan and relocated to Wisconsin.

It seems not only have four of the UL cranes ventured south into IL, but so has male #10-11. We received word Sunday that this male – who was confirmed on his Marquette County, WI summer territory in April, has returned to Lawrence County, IL. You may recall very early this spring his mate female 7-09 had been found dead at their winter location. Necropsy results confirm cause of death to be predation.

The Capture

“In the beginning… there was an email.”  If the Bible was written today, that’s how it would begin. Anne from ICF emailed Joe to inquire as to the availability of one of our pen trailers for use in the capture of four 2015 DAR cranes that migrated to the great state of Michigan. She also asked if he thought I would be up for an adventure. Little did she know that for me, getting out of bed in the morning without hurting myself was an adventure.

To get to Michigan from central Wisconsin is like a mariner planning to sail around Cape Horn, except the Horn, in this case, is the city of Chicago. More specifically, Chicago traffic. So an early start was the order of the day. Trouble is, when you leave that early, you do so lacking sleep. And when you lack sleep, you get a little paranoid. For the entire trip, I was haunted by the strange feeling that I was being followed. When I arrived in Michigan that afternoon, I discovered I was.  It was the pen trailer!

Marianne, Hillary and Andy from ICF were also on the road… only they left from Baraboo. They, as it turned out, were also being followed… but by four cardboard bird boxes in the back of their van. “If you arrive there first,” I told Marianne, “you put up a stick. If I arrive there first, I’ll knock it down.” Very Zen, I thought. That’s when I heard the faint sound of one hand clapping. The plan was to lead or lure (in life it amounts to the same thing) the birds into the pen, then box them for transport back to a release site in Wisconsin. Sounds simple doesn’t it.  But then hope is what fuels this project.

As many of you know, each chick is equipped with what has been referred to as “crane jewelry” on their legs. Even the males… which often starts males from other avian species to wondering. Every bird gets a color coded VHF transmitter on one leg, each transmitting a different cut from “WCEP’s Greatest Hits” album.  And on the other legs of three of these four DAR birds were two color coded satellite and one cellular transmitters respectively, which periodically announced their locations and flight histories.

These transmissions are not always as frequent as stated in the brochure, so we had our fingers crossed that the birds were still in the area of the last transmission. If not, our efforts might turn out to resemble an episode of “Where’s Waldo” or worse, be reminiscent of sitting in a bar staring up at a sign that says, “Free Beer…Tomorrow”!

However, my worries were soon replaced by hopeful excitement as the beep beep chorus began singing ever louder from the receiver. A few dusty miles later, there they were. Four amazingly, incredibly beautiful whooping cranes. I felt like I had discovered the Holy Grail. Our four little wanderers were playing happily at the back end of a flooded cornfield, completely unaware that their very own “Crane Train” to Wisconsin was about to pull out of the station. I reported to the ICF crew that were not far behind and set about locating the owner of the property.

One of our two travel pen trailers.

One of our two travel pen trailers.

Lloyd was rider mowing his lawn and stopped to eyeball the pen trailer as I pulled up. “What kind of camper is that, anyway?” he asked, wearing that all too familiar “And I thought I’d seen it all” look. “It’s a pen trailer” I answered. “We’re going to use it to trap those new neighbors of yours’.”  “Funny thing” he said. “We have all kinds of wildlife around here. We even have a feral cow. My wife took a picture of it yesterday in our backyard.” I studied his face for sign of a follow up laugh. When there was none, I asked incredulously, “A feral cow?” Then, before he could answer, the voice in my head rang out, “And why not a feral cow?  I mean, wasn’t I the one that went to Lock Ness looking for the Monster all those years ago”!

“Do you know who owns the property where the birds are?” I continued. Lloyd’s head did a side-to-side shake. “Nope. They don’t live around here.” Since there was no one else around and no cars in the neighboring driveways, it was time for a trip to the Town Hall. Lloyd conveyed directions which, to my tired brain, consisted of such a barrage of rights, lefts and upper cuts that soon my eyes began to glaze over.  Kindly sensing this, he concluded mercifully, “Just follow me.” His white pickup soon appeared and off to the village we went.

The lady behind the counter was wonderfully gracious and helpful as they usually are in such places.  In fact, having visited many Town Halls through the years while working on various projects, I was struck by the feeling that Bonnie was, in fact, the very same lady that had helped me in every Town Hall I’d ever been in. The theme from “Twilight Zone” began playing softly in my ear as she wrestled the plate book onto the counter and quickly established the identity of the land owner and his contact information. It’s funny how good it makes you feel being helped by someone who really cares.

I returned to the birds to find Marianne, Hillary and Andy surveying the situation along with a small cadre of avian paparazzi, their tripods pawing the dirt beneath camera lenses so big they surely had to be lifted with a… crane. The world of birders is a small one and it is only the most seriously disabled of birders who cannot scope and text at the same time. But who can blame them? I mean, we just drove all the way from Wisconsin, didn’t we? They came to capture the birds digitally.  We came to capture them physically. “Doo…dah” Then Mike pulled up in his big red pickup, clearly irritated by what must have seemed like a small invasion. The normally quiet neighborhood had suddenly changed and not for the better.  And it was easy to see how the scene was beginning to take on a carnival like atmosphere. The pen trailer didn’t help either. Mike looked at it with suspicion, as if wanting to ask, “What kind of camper is that, anyway?” He went on to explain that he and his wife lived next door to the property in question and that he was the caretaker. Marianne, her big baby blue eyes at the ready, calmly and professionally explained our mission and soon Mike was enthusiastically offering to help us in any way he could.

Then, as if on cue, the birds leaped into the sky and flew off to a nearby ag field, allowing us the time to race down to the pond and put up the pen in anticipation of their return. Richard had done such a great job designing and constructing the pen way back when that we had it erected in no time and were soon back up on the road awaiting the birds’ return.

The enclosure - complete with Dummy Mummy was set up quickly.

The enclosure – complete with Dummy Mummy was set up quickly.

And return they did, splashing and chasing each other around in what could be described in no other way than a celebration of their freedom. How sad that our task was to end that freedom, if only temporarily. But it was “Show Time” as we costumed up and soon the photographers clicking away at the eerie sight of four strangely dressed figures trekking down the path to the birds… a line of thought balloons dancing above their heads, asking questions like, “Will they accept the costume after so long an absence?” and “Will they really follow us into the pen?” and “Could the capture really be that easy?” The answers awaited us at the end of the path.

….to be continued.

(Honest! Brooke promised to send the next update soon!)

Fort McMurray, AB Wildfire

We have received a number of inquiries about how this fire might affect the Wood Buffalo National Park, which as you all know, is the nesting grounds for the Wood Buffalo/Aransas flock of Whooping cranes.

I think most of the immediate concern stems from the fact that Fort McMurray is located within the Wood Buffalo Regional Municipality, which is a huge area. In fact, Fort McMurray is roughly 200 miles south of the National Park.

The latest news reports indicate the fire moved in a north-easterly direction – toward the Province of Saskatchewan and over the weekend, grew much more slowly than anticipated. As of late Sunday an estimated 161,000 hectares have been scorched.

Westerly winds continue to blow the fire east of the community of Fort McMurray.


So, for now, it appears that Wood Buffalo National Park is out of the line of fire.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to those affected by this fire…



Earlier this week Bev Paulan confirmed the first wild hatched chick of 2016 to pair 13-03 and Dad 9-05.

Today, Bev flew another survey and confirmed twins for this pair!

Pictured below is Mom 13-03 with both her offspring.


Photo courtesy Bev Paulan

Bev was also able to confirm a fresh hatch for the pair consisting of 5-11 & 12-11. Their fluff ball is picture below with Mom and Dad. Thanks Bev!

Aerial Survey

Thanks to some much needed rain in the area last week – the threat of fire was reduced and Wisconsin DNR’s Bev Paulan was able to get in a survey flight over Juneau, Adams, Wood and Marathon Counties, WI.

Bev noted the following pairs with nests:

12-02/4-11 Wood county (based on behavior suspected egg pip)
6/15-11 Wood county
7-07/39-07 Juneau county (renest)
29-09/12-03 Juneau county (renest)
1-04/8-05 Pool 9 Juneau county (renest with 2 eggs)
3/7-11 Adams county
9-05/13-03 Juneau county (original nest – did not abandon)
18-03/36-09 Juneau county (renest)
18-09/23-10 Juneau county (renest)
9-03/3-04 Juneau county (renest)
15-09/11-02 Juneau county (renest with 1 egg)
5/12-11 Juneau county
It’s encouraging to see the renesting after all nests but one abandoned when the Black flies began emerging April 13.

Whooping Crane 5-12…

You’ve just gotta feel for this guy! When he was younger, he was best buds with 4-12 – the two went everywhere together… a real crane ‘bromance’.

As time when on and hormones kicked into gear, 4-12 kicked his buddy to the curb, in favor of the lovely lady Whooping crane #3-14.

4-12 chased 5-12 from the winter pen area. He chased him from the summer training site. He chased him away whenever he could.

Last summer, 5-12 appeared to be rewarded with not one but two ladies of his own. He was often seen in the company of 9 & 10-14. He even migrated south with them to St. Marks NWR. Then in two separate incidents, both his potential mates became bobcat food.

He returned north to White River Marsh and apparently 4-12 & 3-14 kicked him out of his former territory so what does he do? He took over their former territory! Seems only fair…

Since we turned on the CraneCam last week, not a day has gone by when we haven’t see him. We found his roosting pond and he flies past often, seemingly surveying his turf and perhaps looking for a lady friend.

Saturday morning he landed on the grass in front of his former pensite and began strutting his stuff. Watch this clip and at 3:10 take note of his threat posturing – right before a Sandhill crane gives him the boot. Sigh…

5-12 aka Henry surveying his territory.

5-12 aka Henry surveying his territory.

Balloons BLOW!

In 2014, while preparing the training site at White River Marsh – almost 5 miles away from the nearest town, I found a deflated blue balloon – complete with white ribbon on the runway. It was no doubt part of some type of celebration.

On Saturday while tending to the CraneCam, I spied this brightly colored Mylar balloon among the willows at the north end of the White River Marsh training site.


I hope the original owner of this pretty, reflective balloon did indeed have a happy birthday but I wonder if they are aware of the dangers to wildlife balloons pose when not disposed of properly.

Birds become entangled in the ribbon (this goes for fishing line also!). The brightly colored objects are attractive to birds, turtles and others who mistake it for food. Often this results in a blockage of the digestive tract and ultimately death.

We need to get word out that balloon releases are harming and killing our wildlife.

If you hear of a planned balloon release in your area, speak up. Tell them how harmful these events are and point them in the direction of to learn about eco-friendly alternatives.

Yes Virginia, There is a Whooping Crane Festival

Guest Author: Mary O’Brien, Madison, WI

I call them heart pinches…those little grabs of nostalgia that can catch you off guard and make you a bit sad.  They happen when I see images of the cranes and planes that have touched our lives for nearly two decades, and I got one last Wednesday when Joe and Heather joined the crane festival committee meeting in Princeton.  In that brief moment when they walked through the door I desperately wanted the old days back.  But, as sleeves were rolled up and ideas shared on ways to blend the best of the old and new, it became clear that this will be one of the best Whooping crane festivals ever.

First row L to R: Carol Bielski, Alyssa Paulsen, Heather Ray, Mary Vethe, Bob Vethe Second row L to R: Bob Mosolf, Greg Bielski, Joe Duff, Doug Pellerin, Beth Pelland.

First row L to R: Carol Bielski, Alyssa Paulsen, Heather Ray, Mary Vethe, Bob Vethe
Second row L to R: Bob Mosolf, Greg Bielski, Joe Duff, Doug Pellerin, Beth Pelland.

It will be a heartwarming craniac reunion as we celebrate Operation Migration’s inspiring 15-year legacy that brought us together and that has made Princeton a place where Whooping cranes summer.  It will also be an opportunity to attract broader attendance by showcasing speakers on other conservation topics, even more student participation and greater outreach to the birding community.  There will be much more detail as plans unfold, but in the meantime here are some teasers to make you smile, mark your calendar and plan your trip to the 2016 Whooping crane festival (September 8-12).

  • Throughout the entire event, there will be opportunities to see our beloved wild Whoopers and perhaps get a peek at the 2016 parent reared chicks that OM will be working with.
  • On Thursday evening there will be a casual welcome gathering possibly combined with a fun group fundraiser activity.
  • Friday will feature a day trip to the International Crane Foundation and a casual evening dinner gathering with a brief presentation by Joe Duff, some silent auction items and presentation of OM’s volunteer of the year award.
  • Saturday will be all action all the time, starting with the pancake breakfast, awesome speakers throughout the day, vendors, silent auction, great food including a pig roast, and lots of kid’s activities. And oh by the way, there will be a colossal origami Whooping crane on display constructed by Princeton High School students under the tutelage of our own expert crane maker Mako Pellerin.
  • On Saturday night the now infamous Whooping crane trivia contest will be held while everyone reminisces over pizza and beer.
  • On Sunday morning you can join birder and tume Tom Schultz and Joe Duff for a walk in the White River Marsh. Later you can once again paddle down the Fox River in a replica French fur trade canoe, or take a drive and visit other local conservation areas such as the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

So yes dear Virginia, there is a Whooping crane festival and it will be one to remember for a very long time.

2015 Whooping Cranes

You may recall last week I said all the juveniles in the 2015 aircraft-led cohort had pretty much stayed put.

This week it’s a different story. After staying at their Marquette County location for about a week, the group of four moved east to Sheboygan County, WI. We know they’re exact location but will not divulge so as to protect them.

Doug Pellerin checked on them yesterday during his weekly volunteer tracking rounds and sent us the following photos to share:

Young cranes: 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 foraging in corn stubble in Sheboygan County, WI yesterday. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Young cranes: 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 foraging in corn stubble in Sheboygan County, WI yesterday. Photo: Doug Pellerin


Photo: Doug Pellerin


Photo: Doug Pellerin

Doug reports there is a private wetland where the group appears to be roosting in the evenings.

Female crane #2-15 remains in Door County, Wisconsin and we’ve had to telemetry data on crane #1-15, which means she’s in an area with no cellular service.

Have you checked out the CraneCam yet? Yesterday was the first day of broadcasting a live stream from White River Marsh and we had four Whooping cranes sightings!

Pictured below is the pair 3-14/4-12 on the wing.

Capture: Cathy Fouche

Capture: Cathy Fouche

The Beast Lives!

There’s a new buzz in the world today – it’s electric and palpable. It’s the CraneCam‘s (aka The Beast’s) bits and bytes traveling through the air 3.5 miles from White River Marsh to the antenna on the silo at camp, down the cable, into the router, over the internet to WildEarth in Africa, back to Ustream in the U.S., up to Operation Migration’s website in Canada, and then to your computer screens. Yep, you got it – the CraneCam is LIVE!

I think no one was more surprised than Heather that The Beast was so cooperative. Check out this photo of her and Joe, taken by Doug Pellerin when she found out the cam was streaming!

Heather and Joe when the CraneCam worked

Heather and Joe when the CraneCam worked. The reason she’s so surprised is that Mike Deline didn’t need to make his annual trip to the marsh to get it up and running. Heather got the beast running with help from Joe and Doug Pellerin.

It didn’t take long for the chatters to discover that the CraneCam was streaming live this morning. One by one they popped in and said either “Wow!”, “Yay!”, “Where is this?”, “Hi everyone, long time no chat!”, or all of the above. Heather manned (personned?) the controls and, in no time at all, had 5-12 (Henry) in view. Then 2 sandhills and then female 3-14. Wow!

Besides “Wow!” and “Yay!”, the next most frequent posts were “Which way are we looking?” and “Where is the beast sitting now?”. It was obvious that we weren’t viewing from the usual location next to the pen, but it wasn’t so obvious exactly where we WERE based on the new orientation. Here’s the lay of the land around the pensite:

The new position of "The Beast"

The new position of “The Beast”

It promises to be a very interesting CraneCam season as we explore the White River Marsh and see what we find – please join us!


Yesterday morning we drove by Mile Rd. along County Rd. D outside of Princeton and low and behold there was 5-12 foraging in the field.

Doug Pellerin was traveling behind us in his vehicle and had expressed some concern that perhaps 5-12’s VHF transmitter may have stopped working. We had two receiver’s and two antenna’s with us so to rule out a non-functional receiver, we both tried his radio number. Nothing, nada, zip… His battery has officially died. It is, however, 4 years old.

5-12 (aka Henry)

5-12 (aka Henry)

While we were there Lois and Edward came out of their house on the corner. Many of you have met this lovely couple over the past few years and they look forward to the cranes return each spring, as much as they love to greet CraneFest visitors.

Lois excitedly said “I’m not sure if it’s a boy or a girl but I’ve named it Henry”!

Just because it’s Lois – Henry it is!

And now, because we’ve had this song stuck in our heads since then, so too should you…