2014 MileMaker Campaign Kicks Off!

Each year we launch the MileMaker fundraising campaign – This very important campaign raises the funds necessary to carry out the 1200-mile aircraft-guided Whooping crane migration from Wisconsin to Florida each fall.

The way it works is quite simple — We have determined that each mile of the 1200-mile southward migration has a cost of $200 associated with it. This covers insurance, fuel and maintenance costs for the ground vehicles and aircraft, food for the cranes and the crew, any repairs or maintenance required for the crane enclosures, etc.

By far, the MileMaker Campaign funds the largest portion of our annual budget and is critical to the success of our annual crane migration.

Even though the Class of 2014 Whooper chicks have yet to begin hatching, we must begin to fundraise for their upcoming migration. Currently, only 48 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, so we have a long way to go. Please consider becoming a MileMaker sponsor and help us help the Class of 2014.

You have the choice of sponsoring a full mile ($200), a half mile ($100) or even a quarter mile ($50). In addition to helping these young Whooping cranes, your name will be entered into a draw for an incredible thank you gift, which will be held at the end of the campaign on December 31st or when all 1200 miles are sponsored. If your name is drawn you will receive a two-week stay at a private home in beautiful Costa Rica!

Sponsor a full mile and you get four entries into the Costa Rica trip – sponsor a half mile and you get two – and quarter mile sponsors receive one entry into the draw.

We’ll also list your support on the MileMaker recognition page so everyone will see your support of Whooping cranes.

As an added bonus, all MileMaker supporters will receive a secret link to a selection of monthly E-calendar images for your PC desktop. Download all of the images at once, or return each month for your new photo! Here are a couple of the monthly calendar images:

April 2014

April 2014

November 2014

November 2014

January 2015

January 2015

It’s the start of a new Whooping crane season! will you help?

Molting Aircraft

We go to great lengths to fit into the social structure of our birds so we can play the role of surrogate parents. We wear costumes that look more like a Tell-a-tubbie’s than Whooping cranes. (no slight to generosity and talent of Mary Obrien who makes our costumes every year).

We carry a puppet that looks a bit like a crane’s head but is occasionally dropped on the ground when we need both hands. Who knows what lesson that teaches?  We also use MP3 players to broadcast the brood call that the chicks hear from the time they hatched. Finally, we use noisy contraptions to crudely simulate their graceful flying ability. This year we will even go so far as to molt.

The FAA has required us to get new aircraft as a condition of our exemption. The only real difference is that our new machines will be maintained by an FAA approved mechanic, unlike our existing fleet that we looked after ourselves. After evaluating several trikes available on the market, we decided on the North Wing Apache, made in Washington State.

The FAA has been very helpful and adjusted our exemption to fit our needs whenever they could.  As an example, we use a Rotax 503 engine which is air cooled, produces 50 horsepower and is perfect for our needs. Unfortunately, Rotax discontinued the 503 but the FAA is allowing us to use rebuilt engines. Steve Krueger of Merrill, Wisconsin did an extensive rebuild on our three engines and brought them back to zero time.

On our first trip to North Wing last August, Richard built a template of the propeller bird guard. He used ¾ inch electrical conduit which is soft metal tubing so he could easily bend it into shape.  Once all the attachment points were welded in place, he took it back to his home shop and replicated it from aircraft grade aluminum and AN hardware – three times.

At some date in May, I will drive out to Wisconsin. I’ll empty our 32 foot aircraft trailer of our existing aircraft and pull it cross-country to Chelan, located along the Columbia River in central Washington. I’ll take along our existing wings so that Kamron Blevins, the owner of North Wing, can do a factory inspection and tweak them for optimum slow flight.

All the modifications and every option we have added to these aircraft like prop guards, must be approved by the manufacturer in order to get FAA approval. That includes things like our vocalizer system. For the last thirteen years, and even before that when we worked with Sandhill cranes, we have used an assortment of broadcast systems jury-rigged from commercially available public address units or blow horns.  We stripped out the battery cases, ran 12 volts to it from the engine and patched in cables to the speaker and the on/off switch.

Just as with handheld GPS units and MP3 players, technology has caught up to our specific needs.  You can now buy electronic game callers with remote controls programmed with a thousand different animal noises. One of the best is manufactured by a family owned business in Pennsylvania called FoxPro. Their technician, chief designer and part owner is Steve Dillon. When I spoke to him on the phone, I think it was the design challenge that first piqued his interest. We emailed back and forth and I sent him pictures, detailed descriptions of exactly what we needed with a little background information so he could understand why.  His interest slowly shifted from the technical challenge to a genuine interest in the Whooping cranes. In the end he built a custom caller that is powerful, yet light weight and he even integrated our logo into his label.

FoxPro Vocalizer

FoxPro has generously donated all of Steve’s expertise and three very professional Whooping crane vocalizers. Steve even spent a few h ours cleaning up the background noise from our brood call so now we won’t be imprinting the chicks on songbird static. CLICK to hear the cleaned up brood call. 

Kamron Blevins of North Wing, Steve Dillon from FoxPro, Richard Van Heuvelen of OM and all of you who, last year, contributed to our crowd-funding campaign; it takes a team to create aircraft uniquely suited to fly with birds and we are grateful to you all.


Visit Patuxent in May!

The Friends of Patuxent invite you to celebrate the Whooping crane during Magnificent Whooping Crane Month. Admission is FREE and many fun, family activities will be taking place, including:

  • “Story Time” by author Mary Beth Mattison – May 3 at 1 PM; May 17 at 11 AM.
  • Tours of the Whooping Crane Observatory on Sundays from 1 PM to 2:30 PM. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Tiny Tots Programs – May 4 at 11:30; May 5 at 10:30. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Puppet Shows on May 10 at 10 AM and 11:30.
  • Whooping Crane presentations by Dr. John French, Research Manager at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center – May 10; Brooke Pennypacker of Operation Migration – May 17, and Ken Lavish, Volunteer Crane Technician – May 31 (all at 1:30 PM).
  • Whooping Crane Migration Game – May 31 from 10 AM to 12 Noon.

Throughout the month of May: compare your height to that of a Whooping Crane, check out how these birds grow from an egg to an adult through photos, view fascinating videos about Whooping Cranes, and much more! CLICK to see entire calendar of activities!

Location: National Wildlife Visitor Center, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD 20708, just off Powder Mill Road between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Rt. 197, see detailed directions at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/patuxent/VClocation.html


Photography Ethics – AGAIN

Liz found the following post on a herp forum board and I thought it would be suitable for posting here, as well, it does pertain to Whooping cranes. Unfortunately, it also illustrates the measures that someone would consider going to to get a better photograph of a Whooping crane.

Post subject: Whooping Crane Question & photos

Username: Antonsrkn

Alright so I wanted to ask the opinion of some bird savvy folk about an idea thats popped into my head… Its kind of silly, feel free to laugh or tell me if its a bad idea, thats why I am asking.

So I know of an general area where a whooping crane is hanging out, i saw him/her 2 weeks ago and then yesterday I visited again and it was pretty much in the exact same place. I’d love to get some photos but the issue is its super skittish and in a wide open area where it can see pretty far in all directions. I tried approaching behind a line of trees while crouching down but it spotted me and was visibly and audibly agitated and began to retreat so I backed away.

Now I wish I could afford a super lens that I could get some shots with, but it just so happens I don’t have $10,000 sitting around and if I did have $10k i wouldn’t be spending it on a lens either. I have my 400mm and thats it. That leaves the other option which is to get closer. So I started thinking about how do I responsibly do this? Setting up a blind, maybe… but its kind of an open area and it might be tough predicting where the crane will be in that area. But then I had another idea, if it works its almost easier than the blind. Many of us have seen photos of the suits people wear while working with whooping cranes, the suit is usually a billowy white thing that breaks up the human shape, sometimes there is an appendage resembling a cranes head. If you have not seen such a suit the first photo at this link shows an example.

My thoughts are as follows…. It would be really easy to make a suit like that out of a random white sheet which I already have around the house. This might allow me to approach the cranes more closely without disturbing them and Id potentially be able to photograph the cranes from the suit. Now im not saying I want to get as close as the biologist in the photo in the link, I certainly dont. I have a 400 mm lens and I intend to use it, 40 ft or so would be more than close enough but I was thinking more like 60-80.

Now here is why im posting on here… The whooping crane is a sensitive species and I dont want to disturb it. The subjects welfare is more important than any photo. The crane isn’t nesting or anything, if it was I wouldn’t even consider this. But I wanted to get some opinions and thoughts on whether this would be an ecologically responsible thing to do? I don’t see how this would harm the bird, if my costume wasn’t convincing enough and was stressing the crane then well Id just stop approaching and move away. So tell me if im missing something. If someone says its a bad idea and has a reasonable explanation as to why then thats it, i wont consider it any further.

Thanks for bearing with me. Thoughts/opinions?

Here are some heavily cropped sub-par images I was able to get. 2 different cranes in 2 different areas, I’d attempt to approach the one in the first area if I do this, the second one is in a pretty unapproachable area.



Dear Antonsrkn,

This is SO NOT a good idea. According to your Flickr biography you are a university student double majoring in Biology and Conservation & Environmental Science. This would tend to lead one to assume you are educated and knowledgeable about conservation and the environment. It appalls me that you are asking the above question and it saddens me that a closer photograph is, in your opinion, more valuable to you than a Whooping crane in the wild.

This is why the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) and it’s founding members cannot stress enough – when you are lucky enough to see whooping cranes, please do not approach them closely, even in a vehicle, to avoid habituating the birds to human presence. Habituation is one of the greatest dangers that whooping cranes face because it puts them at greater risk from vehicle collisions, predation, and illegal shooting.

Raising these incredible birds is not an easy task and it takes the efforts of many. Guiding them along a 1200-mile migration route from Wisconsin to Florida in 50-mile increments takes months. Every hour we spend in costume, slugging through the marsh is an investment in their future wildness. The people that wear the costumes, designed to mask out human form, consider it a privilege to be able to work with this species that very nearly plummeted over the edge of extinction. Our names are listed on a permit, issued by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, allowing us this honor.

PLEASE do not attempt to make a costume to approach this, or any other crane. You could very well find yourself facing some hefty fines like the ‘professional photographer’ in this story did.


Counting Cranes

On Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 5:30 to 7:30 am, the International Crane Foundation (ICF) will sponsor the 39th Annual Midwest Crane Count, one of the largest citizen-based wildlife surveys in the world. People are invited to join over 2,000 volunteer participants spread over 100 counties in six states (Wisconsin and portions of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Indiana).

New volunteers interested in taking part should first contact their local county coordinator. Visit www.cranecount.org for the list of 2014 County Coordinators.

ICF sponsors the Annual Midwest Crane Count as a part of its efforts to preserve and study the world’s 15 species of cranes and the natural communities on which they depend. Sandhill Cranes once experienced severe population declines in the late 1800s to early 1900s in the upper Midwest, but have recovered successfully. Observations of the abundant Sandhill Cranes can lend insight into the endangered crane species of the world.

One local example is the flock of Whooping Cranes being released in central Wisconsin. There are now close to 100 Whooping Cranes in this reintroduced population, and Crane Counters may have a chance of sighting a Whooping Crane during the count.

In an effort to efficiently collect, analyze and share Crane Count data, ICF has partnered with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society’s www.ebird.org program, a real-time, on-line birding checklist and database. This on-line program has revolutionized the way birding communities report and access information about birds and their distribution across North America. All observations made on April 12 will be entered into eBird, helping ICF continue to head towards a “paperless” process.

For more information on the Annual Midwest Crane Count: Visit www.cranecount.org and contact your county coordinator, or contact Sara Gavney Moore, ICF Communications Specialist, at 608-356-9462 ext. 155, cranecount@savingcranes.org


Migration Update

On Friday we posted a progress report for the Class of 2013, which placed them in north Kentucky. Unfortunately, persistent poor weather has kept them grounded since they arrived.

The general area is a mix of agricultural fields and wetland areas with a number of streams running through it. We have had someone visually confirm the presence of six Whooping cranes and we know that the four that are wearing PTT devices are at this same location.

It took three visits before our contact was able to see them as there is an embankment which leads down to the stream and she feels the first two times she went out, the cranes were in the stream and not visible from the road. It could be that the third time, when she did see them that the other two were still in the stream and therefore not visible.

We certainly hope all eight are still together but we have no way of knowing until they’re all seen together.

Weather in the area has been stormy and windy all weekend and it’s expected to continue until late Wednesday. Conditions on Thursday appear, at this point, to be ideal for migration so perhaps they’ll continue their unassisted journey back to Wisconsin then.


Outdoors Wisconsin Broadcast

Last summer a production team from Milwaukee Public Television came out to join us at White River Marsh in Green Lake County to produce a segment for their viewers.

The segment aired on April 3rd but only those in the MPT viewing area were able to watch. Here is the entire program so everyone can view it. The Whooping crane segment begins at 9:15 of the broadcast.



Class of 2013 Migration Progress Report

Four of the 2013 Whooping cranes were fitted with Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTT’s) during their post arrival healthcheck at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in January. The four wearing the devices are nos. 1-13, 2-13, 8-13 (all females) and number 9-13.

Basically, the way information is gathered is each of the PTT units is programmed to send signals to a passing Argos satellite at periodic intervals. (If you’re interested in seeing where the satellite is currently click HERE)

The polar orbiting Argos satellite passes at an orbit of 850 km above the earth picks up the signals and store them on-board and relay them in real-time back to earth, where receiving stations relay data from satellites to processing centers.

Over 40 antennas located at all points of the globe collect the data from satellites. Data are either received in real-time by a regional antenna in the satellites’ path or stored on-board and relayed to the nearest global antennas.

There are two global Argos processing centers, one located just outside of Toulouse in Southwestern France, and the other near Washington, DC. Once the data arrive at a processing center, locations are automatically calculated and information made available to users/subscribers.

Based on information received since the young cranes left St. Marks on March 31st, we know they have traveled approximately 470 miles in just 3 days. We also know, by plotting their roost locations that they seem to be traveling parallel to the route our pilots led them along last fall.

As of yesterday, April 3rd, they had made it to northern Kentucky. Data received for all four transmitters means that at the very least, these four birds are still traveling together. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing if the remaining four cranes are also with this group.

Here’s a Google Earth map grab showing our southward stopovers (red place markers) and the yellow pushpins are the roost locations used by the cranes wearing PTT devices on each day of their unassisted northward flight.

April3_distance They appear to be making GREAT progress! Why not Give A WHOOP! to celebrate?


Pura Vida!

Pura Vida is the Spanish phrase meaning ‘Pure Life” and it is the law of the land in beautiful Costa Rica. Why does this matter?

It matters because OM MileMaker supporter, Francoise Leonard of New Mexico is the recipient of the two week stay at Mot Mot Manor in the wonderful gated community of Roma del Mar!

Congratulations Francoise!

All MileMaker supporters had their names entered into a thank you prize draw, which was held on March 31st. In fact anyone that sponsored a mile, had 4 entries in the draw (for each mile), those that sponsored a half mile had 2 entries and 1/4 mile supporters had their names entered once.

Francoise will enjoy two weeks in the comfort of a private 3 bedroom/3 bath home overlooking the Nicoyan Peninsula. She can spend leisurely time in the in-ground pool, explore the many beaches and nature trails, and Howler monkeys will serenade her each morning with their raucous calls that echo through the neighborhood.

Coincidentally, the recipient of the 2012 Costa Rican trip is enjoying herself at Mot Mot Manor right now!

If you would like to have your name entered into the thank you prize draw for 2014 please help support the MileMaker 2014 campaign. The cost remains unchanged from last year, which means the cost of a mile is $200, a 1/2 mile is $100 and a 1/4 mile is $50. Your support helps to fund the southward migration this coming fall for the Class of 2014 Whooping cranes.

CLICK to become a MileMaker supporter today!

Some of the neighbors at Mot Mot Manor, include Howler monkeys, Mot Mot's (center) and the Violaceous Trogon

Some of the neighbors at Mot Mot Manor, include Howler monkeys, Mot Mot’s (center) and the Violaceous Trogon


And The Winner Is…

GAW_whtRuth Mitchell of Inverness, Florida is the proud owner of a pair of Ranger 8×42 binoculars from our friends at Eagle Optics!

Ruth’s name was entered, along with everyone else that WHOOP’d in our 2013 Give A WHOOP! campaign and yesterday afternoon, her name was selected by OM’s office administrator Christina Danilko.

Congratulations Ruth! Living in Florida, you have a lot of birds and butterflies to view using your new binoculars, which should arrive before the end of the week.

If YOU would like to have your name entered into the 2014 Give A WHOOP! thank you draw, just drop by the Give A WHOOP! page and make a $10 WHOOP! And as the Class of 2013 wings their way northward – this is the perfect time to celebrate and Give A WHOOP! in support of our efforts to build the Eastern Migratory Population.