Quick Update

We’ve still not received any hits on the new devices but late yesterday received a PTT hit for female 2-15, which places her in Washington County, WISCONSIN!

Also female 8-14 arrived in Columbia County, WISCONSIN.

We suspect the other five are also now in their home state but without confirmation… well, you know.

Speaking of Wisconsin, it’s time for me to hit the road also. Will update this site with news once we receive it.

White River Marsh

We have a couple views to share with you showing the Whooping crane pair 4-12 and 3-14*

Bev Paulan did a quick check of the White River Marsh area on Tuesday and spotted this pair from the air:

Male 4-12 (bottom) and female 3-14 foraging in the marsh. Photo: Bev Paulan

Male 4-12 (bottom) and female 3-14 foraging in the marsh. Photo: Bev Paulan

And the second vantage point is from the ground – captured yesterday by Doug Pellerin.

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Without legbands it’s difficult to tell the birds apart, but the one on the right appears slightly larger so is likely the male 4-12 Photo: Doug Pellerin

We have not received any data from the remote tracking devices since our last update. We’ll post news of the Class of 2015 as soon as we have it!

Migration Fallout

A migration fallout is something birder’s get excited about. It’s when a weather front closes in and essentially prevents migrating songbirds (and cranes) from continuing on in their journey. This, of course allows birder’s to head out with binoculars in hand to see some pretty incredible species.

I came across this story of a fallout, which occurred May 24, 2011 on the tiny Canadian island (Yes! we have islands in Canada too!) named Machias Seal Island. Ralph Eldridge is the lighthouse keeper on the island and shares not only some pretty amazing photographs he captured that night in this Naturalists Notebook blog entry. 

Each of those tiny colorful spots is a bird. Photo: Ralph Eldridge

Each of those tiny colorful spots is a bird. Photo: Ralph Eldridge

Whooping Crane #2-15

This gal has always marched to the beat of her own drum. She disrupted many of the flights last fall with her aggressive behavior until the pilots decided we’d be best to crate her before the flights.

This allowed them to get the remaining five cranes to the next stop, while she traveled by road.

It’s little surprise she has decided to migrate to that beat and do things her way. She left St. Marks on March 22nd in the company of four older Whooping cranes. Somewhere along the way, her independent streak kicked in and she’s now traveling solo.

She arrived at her Jasper County, Indiana location March 30th and like many other birds trying to make it north; she’s been halted by continuous northwest winds. Just to be sure she was alright, we wanted to get a set of eyes on her so I contacted Mark Blassage.

Mark eagerly agreed to head to her location to see if he could find her. Upon arrival he scanned the area and waited, and waited for a flash of white… Nothing. After trying to find the property owner then settling for a police constable who lived nearby, permission was acquired and Mark hiked back in to a secluded wetland.

2-15_habitat_MB

The lovely secluded wetland where Whooping crane 2-15 has spent the past two weeks. (I’m not certain I’d want to leave either!).

Then he saw this!

2-15_flt_MB_1

Mark says “2-15 was right around those trees to the left where I could not see her. I was just standing there quietly soaking it all in when she took off. Good thing I was facing the right direction or I would have missed her.”

Being in the right place at the right time. A good pay-off for your efforts Mark!

So, #2-15 is just fine (whew!)

HUGE thanks to Mark Blassage for taking time out of his schedule to check on this young crane (and for getting permission and reassuring me he was wearing appropriate footwear before hiking in).

UPDATE: 2-15 must’ve booted it out of there after Mark spotted her. She’s now in Boone County, IL! 

Capture & Relocate

Last Friday a team from the International Crane Foundation successfully captured a 5 yr old male whooping crane and relocated him from Horicon NWR to a temporary holding pen at Necedah NWR – some 85 miles (as the crane flies) to the northwest.

Whooping crane 16-11 is the bird that sired a hybrid ‘Whoophill’ last year after pairing with a female Sandhill.

Once breeding season is over, he’ll get a new transmitter and be released at the Necedah refuge where there are a number of available female whooping cranes he can choose from.

*Correction – 16-11 was released April 12th at the Necedah NWR.

http://www.facebook.com/savingcranes/

http://www.facebook.com/savingcranes/

Where the Birds Are…

One low pressure system after another continues to block bird migration to the upper Midwest, which means it’s also put a halt to the group of five juveniles and to whooping crane number 2-15. The group of five is in Bureau County, Illinois (photo below) and #2-15 remains in Jasper County, IN.

Current surface winds in the area are blowing at 14 mph so we know they’re much stronger aloft. It appears that Wednesday will be the first suitable migration day with southeasterly winds.

The only crane making any progress over the weekend was female #8-14. She managed to make it from Dixie County, FL to Warren County, Kentucky since we last checked in with her.

Juvenile Whooping cranes 1, 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 photographed in Bureau County, IL by Chris Lopez.

Juvenile Whooping cranes 1, 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 photographed in Bureau County, IL by Chris Lopez.

The Plan for 2016

When the Fish and Wildlife Service ended the UL release method this past January, their decision didn’t come with a plan for the alternate technique. Timing was also an issue. The face-to-face meetings of the WCEP members was originally scheduled for September of 2015 but it was postponed by the service until late January, a few months before chick hatching season begins.

The WCEP membership includes some very talented people from a variety of fields but the decision making process can be time consuming. When there are fifty people, nine agencies and five operational teams involved, things can get cumbersome. With a mandate that all future releases must maximize chick/parent association, the first question to answer was how that would affect the captive breeding centers that must provide the chicks.

Captive breeding pairs often produce more than the normal two eggs. The first clutch is taken as well as the second or even more if the pair keep laying. However, in order to produce parent reared birds, some of those pairs must be taken out of production so they can sit on eggs instead of just banging them out as fast as they can. That means the normal production at Patuxent and ICF is limited, depending on how many pairs they have to take offline. All this is well and good but Louisiana also gets their birds from the same captive breeding facilities and the Recovery Team doesn’t want the needs of WCEP to restrict the allocation to Louisiana. So far, Louisiana still wants costume reared birds so that makes things slightly easier.

There is another factor at play here. This is the third, and final year of the forced re-nesting study at Necedah. Just prior to the anticipated emergence of Black flies, they are going to pull the eggs from half of the active nests in hopes those pairs will try again. That second clutch is generally laid after the black flies have run out their short lives as biting adults. All the success we have had with wild breeding so far has been the result of late or second nest attempts, so this study is designed to see if the egg laying times can be manipulated.

Biting black flies cover eggs, which have been abandoned by adults at Necedah NWR. Photo: Richard Urbanek

Biting black flies cover eggs, which have been abandoned by adults at Necedah NWR. Photo: Richard Urbanek

All of this leaves WCEP with limited time, limited capacity from the breeding centers and a limited number of eggs from Necedah. And that translates to no more than fifteen parent reared birds this year. As we have said before, this is a transition year.

The next question WCEP had to deal with was the where, when and how protocol for the 2016 releases.  Because of their existing parent-reared program and the larger number of captive pairs at Patuxent, they can provide up to 12 PR chicks for release. The birds will be transported to the release areas in late August or September. They will be housed in temporary pens for a short time and released near adult Whooping cranes.

BTW. Congratulations to Marianne Wellington (ICF) and Jonathan Male (Patuxent) for coordinating the many Rearing and Release Team calls to make this happen.

The primary targets for releasing chicks are the adult pairs that have lost their young, either to having abandoned their nest or to depredation after they hatched. It is hoped that these birds will still be influenced by the hormones that drive nesting, nurturing and defensive behavior. Following the Recovery Team direction, none of these PR chicks will be released with pairs using Necedah because we don’t want them to grow up and face the same black fly issue. However, there are some nesting pairs just outside of the black fly range at Necedah.

The second target will be young, inexperienced pairs that have failed at their first attempt to breed. There are a couple of hopefuls in the Wisconsin Rectangle but we will have to see how the season plays out. Lastly, if there are any PR chicks left, they will be released near single or groups of unpaired adult Whooping cranes.

Releasing fifteen individual birds, one-by-one between the Rectangle and the area around Necedah will take a lot of manpower to monitor and manage. OM will assist as needed, plus track some of those birds as they move south. This spring we will be tracking and monitoring pairs around White River and Horicon to see if we actually do have some young pairs and what happens to any eggs they might produce. In addition, we will assist in replacing non-functioning tracking devices. There is a backlog of birds whose transmitters have failed or will soon. That makes tracking them almost impossible. Those birds need to be captured and their devices replaced.

As the 2015 cohort of UL birds close in on Wisconsin, our team is following suit. Brooke will be heading north this weekend and Heather and I will head out to Wisconsin later this week. It is going to be an interesting season. If we are lucky, there may be a nesting pair to watch at White River but it will also be a change in vantage points. Rather than watch the behavior of birds in the pen every day we will spend more time watching the wild, post release birds — and we will take you along with us.

Spring Migration Update

First the best news – Female 8-14 is (finally) on the move north! This gal wintered in Highlands County, Florida and while she has a PTT device there hasn’t been a great deal of movement lately, so naturally, one begins to get concerned. I was jumping for joy this morning when her hits indicated she is now some 190 miles to the northwest. Whew!

Our group of five juveniles comprised of cranes 1, 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 remained in Putnam County, Illinois yesterday as a low pressure system brought rain and northwest winds to the area. The lone female crane #2-15 is also under the same weather system and continues to stay in Jasper County, Indiana.

Currently winds are from the northwest at 26 knots. Definite headwind.

Currently winds are from the northwest at 26 knots. Definite headwind. Source: windyty.com

We have received a number of inquiries regarding the Direct Autumn Release and Parent Reared Whooping cranes from 2015. We do not know the locations for all of them but here’s what we do know.. Karis Ritenour, ICF mentioned in her March report that DAR cranes 61, 62, 63, & 67-15 were in Randolph County, IL at the end of March. Since then this foursome moved east and then north – into Saginaw County, Michigan.

Karis also mentioned DAR14-12 & PR27-14 as a newly formed pair – The male has apparently lead the female parent reared female #27-14 back to his territory near Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Female #65-15, at the time of Karis’ report was in Kosciusko Co, Indiana. This young crane has since moved southwest to Carroll County, IN. Not surprising given the strong winds the area has been experiencing since Saturday.

Another female, #66-15 remains in Lake County, Florida.

Here’s the latest map grab showing the routes taken by the group of five Whooping cranes, as well as #2-15 a bit further east. You will recall she left the St. Marks winter pen on March 22nd in the company of four older cranes but split off from the group and is now traveling on her own.

Yellow place markers indicate our southward migration route stopovers. Red dots denote the route taken by the cranes on their return flight. #2-15 has yellow sunbursts to indicate her locations.

Yellow place markers indicate our southward migration route stopovers. Red dots denote the route taken by the cranes on their return flight. #2-15 has yellow sunbursts to indicate her locations.

It’s Spring Time!

That’s me trying to get it across to Mother Nature that the calendar says it’s April and Spring officially began three weeks ago!

Despite this latest bout of cold (and snow) – we have NESTS! And EGGS!

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan flew a survey over the original reintroduction area, which includes Necedah NWR on Monday and counted a total of 16 nests already built.

The photo below shows pair 9-05 and 13-03* with their two eggs.

The male 9-05 is about to take a turn incubating while the female 13-03 heads off to forage. Photo: Bev Paulan, WI DNR

The male 9-05 is about to take a turn incubating while the female 13-03 heads off to forage. Photo: Bev Paulan, WI DNR

One Mile at a Time…

We received a PTT hit for Whooping crane #10-15 a bit ago. She is one of the group of five young cranes that yesterday, was in Gibson County, Indiana.

It would appear that the group indeed headed north after leaving Gibson County and is now in Putnam County, Illinois.

A hit for female 2-15 has her still in Jasper County, Indiana.

With rain showers moving through the area today they will likely hunker down.

(Will post a map with the next update once we receive data from the newer tracking devices)

Northward Migration Progress

Our group of five young Whooping cranes continued north yesterday and made it to Gibson County, Indiana.

A bit further north, the lone female #2-15 appears to have stayed put in Jasper County, Indiana.

With winds from the southeast over the entire state of Indiana today, I suspect both groups are currently on the move and hopefully heading toward Wisconsin.

Here is the map showing the progress of the group of five since leaving St. Marks on March 30th, and as well, the location for Whooping crane #2-15 (farther north).

Progress as of evening of Apr. 4. Yellow placemarkers indicate our southward stopover locations. Yellow bullseye indicates last known location for five juveniles. Yellow sunburst is location for 2-15.

Progress as of evening of Apr. 4. Yellow place-markers indicate our southward stopover locations. Yellow bulls-eye indicates last known location for five juveniles. Yellow sunburst is location for 2-15.