One, Two, Three – RELEASE!

Releasing parent reared birds in not as simple as just opening the gate. First, they have to be flown from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Thanks to the generosity of Windway Capital in Sheboygan, WI nine birds arrived yesterday. The original arrival date of Tuesday was cancelled due to thunderstorms in the area, which could have made for a very rough ride. Once on the ground, all nine were quickly moved into our pen at White River. Note: There are also another three PR birds at ICF that will be released later.

So far, these birds have been reared by real Whooping crane parents. Their only experience with humans was when the vet checked them periodically or when handlers changed their water and added crane chow to their feeders. None of that was done in costume because most of the encounters were negative which, in principal, should make them wary of people. Still, it feels strangely un-natural not to be wearing a costume or to be talking anywhere near them. It is almost sacrilegious – like smoking in a church or treading on a grave. We were so reluctant to break the rules of piety that it took some time before we stopped whispering.

The day after they arrived (today), they were banded and fitted with tracking devices. Each one has a standard VHF transmitter, which we can locate by following the beep of our directional antenna. On the other leg, all but three will carry a satellite transmitter or one of the new GSM units that use cell phone technology. The locations those devices provide can be downloaded and opened in Google Earth to get an idea of their habitat choices. Decking them out in electronics is like equipping your children with smartphones and a stern reminder to call home occasionally as we send them out into the big bad world.

The next question to answer is where to release them and with whom. There are many options and to evaluate them, WCEP conducted a Structure Decision Making process. An SDM is a method of determining the best course of action when a number of variables are unknown. First, all the options are listed. The chicks could be released with failed pairs or cranes that had a chick this spring but lost it. Or they could be released with successful pairs that are already raising a chick and may accept another. Thereafter we could use young pairs that have not yet bred or cohorts of birds that have not yet paired or even single birds looking for a companion.

Each of those options is discussed, evaluated, scored and run through a series of algorithms. The process is repeated until all of the pros and cons have been considered and a priority list evolves. It sounds like a difficult way of arriving at a simple evaluation but there are many variables to consider. As an example, most of the failed pairs nest at Necedah. They might make good alloparents but the Recovery Team proposed that no more whooping cranes should be released into that habitat until the cause of nest abandonment can be mitigated. That problem is exacerbated by the high pre-fledge mortality that has also occurred there. This past spring 23 chicks were hatched at Necedah but only one survived to fledge. Until we know why, there is no justification for introducing more birds there. That means the Parent Reared cranes will be released outside of the blackfly regions at Necedah and in the area around White River and Horicon that we refer to as the Wisconsin Rectangle.

The priority list is the guiding document but it must be matched with the reality of bird distribution and pairing. The plan is to place the chicks, one or two at a time, in small pens where the alloparents forage during the day. This way we can evaluate their interactions and release the chick or chicks when we think the time is right.

Unfortunately, the older cranes have been moving lately. That may be an indication of an early migration or it could be that temperature variations are changing the availability of food sources. Whatever the reason, it makes it hard to predict where the wild birds will be and where to set up the pens.

Just like any Whooping crane project, it is a moving target and no matter how well it is planned, you better have a backup.

Young male Whooping crane #37-16 in his release pen. Photo: H. Ray

Young female Whooping crane #32-16 in her release pen. Photo: H. Ray

It’s Chick Arrival Day!

You all know by now that anything to do with aviation must maintain a somewhat fluid schedule. Such is the case with Windway Aviation, who so generously, is yet again, flying another cohort of Whooping crane chicks from Baltimore to Wisconsin this afternoon.

They’ve made numerous flights like this since 2001 and we, along with our Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership partners are forever grateful for their continued support of the Eastern Migratory Population.

The initial plan was to fly them out yesterday but a large weather system would have made for a rather bumpy ride for this precious cargo so the decision was made to delay it to today.

The Windway aircraft left their Sheboygan base earlier today and is currently en route to Baltimore’s BWI airport where they will be loaded up with nine crane crates each containing a young parent reared Whooping crane!

The pilots will reverse course and fly the chicks to Wisconsin – arrival airport still to be determined. The OM crew, along with Patuxent’s Dr. Glenn Olsen will be on hand to transfer the crates to our two air conditioned vans and they will be driven to the White River Marsh staging pensite.

Tune into the CraneCam at approximately 3:30pm to welcome the young cranes.

Stained Glass Raffle Winner

The Festival is complete and while there is a lot to write about, I’ve have very little time to do so unfortunately.

I am getting messages inquiring about who won the Stained Glass Whooping crane panel in the raffle.

I’m delighted to tell everyone that the name(s) on the winning ticket drawn by Joe Duff at the conclusion of his presentation on Saturday was Bob & Mary Vethe of Wisconsin!

With frame measures 41 inches high x 30 inches wide

Congratulations to the Vethe’s and thank you to everyone that supported this raffle!


This year’s fabulous and anxiously-awaited online auction began yesterday, so if you don’t already follow Operation Migration’s Facebook page, it’s time to click FB_like

The auction got underway yesterday, September 6th and will run until NOON, Central time on Saturday, October 1st.

The minimum bid amount listed on each item in no way reflects the fair market value of that item. Instead the minimum bid amount was established to cover postage/packaging costs within North America.

To place a bid, please leave a comment on the photo of the item you are bidding on, including the amount of your bid. If you are outbid, you may increase your bid should you choose to.

At the conclusion of the auction, you will be contacted for payment information and upon receipt of payment your item will be sent to you. Happy bidding!

ALL funds raised will go to support Operation Migration their work with Whooping cranes in 2016.

Just a few of the many items available!

Just a few of the many items available!


Last chance to Register for the Whooping Crane festival!

The festival takes place this weekend with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 8th at 6pm with a meet and greet at the Goose Blind in Green Lake. Come on out and join everyone for an evening of fun activities.

Friday morning take in a tour at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin then join us at the American Legion in Princeton at 6pm for our Festival kick-off dinner!

Saturday, Sept. 10th brings the all day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. Register Now

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

Be sure to check out the MASSIVE origami crane in the main gymnasium. The crane will be folded by the students of the Princeton School under supervision of Mako Pellerin this Friday. It is expected to have a wingspan of more than 30 feet and will be on display on the stage inside the gymnasium!

Mako provided this artists depiction for the massive origami crane she and the students will be making at the festival.

Mako provided this artists depiction for the massive origami crane she and the students will be making at the festival.

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the many silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm) Register Now!

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and we currently have twenty vendors and artisans lined-up. If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, please email:

This is a great opportunity to start your holiday shopping or to find some really neat bird related items! As you can see Saturday’s Festival has something for everyone!

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Will team OMG hold the title for another year? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza and pasta from Christiano’s. Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

Sunday is a day to unwind and relax with an early morning walk in the marsh with leaders Tom Schultz and Joe Duff. Again, space is limited so be sure to pre-register. Psst, a special treat will be served up in the blind!

Choose one of three available voyageur canoe trips along the Fox River. This hand-built craft is a replica of the French fur trader craft used along the historic water routes that supported settlement of much of Wisconsin. Trips start at 10, noon and 2 pm and last just over an hour. While the canoe holds up to 14 paddlers, it is recommended you pre-register to reserve your seat.

Be sure to reserve your seat on one of three available trips: 10 am, noon and 2 pm.

Be sure to reserve your seat on one of three available trips: 10 am, noon and 2 pm.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 8 – 11, 2016

Whooping Crane Memories

Guest Author – Mary O’Brien

The first time ever I saw the cranes…the planes…

Roberta Flack’s iconic melody, First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, is one of my favorites and it was going through my mind as I reminisced about the first time I saw Whooping cranes soaring behind an ultralight aircraft on migration. The upcoming Whooping crane festival seems to trigger sharing stories and memories about what has brought us all together in the first place and what we are celebrating – I like that.

While I had watched some training sessions at the Necedah refuge in the early years, it wasn’t until 2006 that I saw a real migration flyover. In the early days, flyovers weren’t structured or advertised. Rather, they were witnessed only by the lucky few who knew the host families or who found out where they were located.

Here’s my story. My best friend, who at the time was a teacher in rural Dane County, heard that one of the host migration sites was in Green County, near New Glarus. One day we set out on a mission to get a look at these cranes and planes. Not being shy, I called a restaurant in New Glarus and boldly asked “do you know where we can find those crane people who are supposed to be in your area?” We were told that we might be able to find them somewhere near the New Glarus Woods State Park. So, on a cold September morning, we left Madison long before the sun came up and headed there.

After driving around for some time, we finally noticed a small Cessna airplane circling in the distance and it hit us at the same time – Operation Migration has a top cover airplane and this could be it!  Oh, before I continue, let me step back a bit and mention that this unglaciated part of Green County is stunningly beautiful with rolling hills and valleys and fall colors that kick you right in the pants.  We careened up the hills, down the hills, and through the valleys trying to follow that Cessna which finally disappeared into the distance.  Then, just as the sun was rising but not yet strong enough to burn off the morning fog hanging in the valleys,  we came down a hill and there they were, the whole OM entourage of trailers, trucks, planes, a few cars parked on the narrow gravel shoulder and some people standing near them.

Waiting for the sun to rise and frost to melt

Waiting for the sun to rise and frost to melt

Joe Duff wiping frost from the wing’s leading edge

Joe Duff wiping frost from the wing’s leading edge

It took a moment before we got up the nerve to get out of the car and chat with the few folks who had gathered near a small shed that fronted on a mowed strip serving as a runway. The owner welcomed us and asked everyone to tuck into the shed and stay very quiet when and if the planes and cranes came by. After what seemed like an eternity of watching Joe Duff and the other pilots, whom we had not yet met, scrape frost from the ultralight wings, kick the tires, and wiggle some strange white gowns over their ski jackets, one of the ultralights took off for a test run.

Testing the winds aloft.

Testing the winds aloft.

Finally, the signal was given that there would be a flight and we tucked ourselves just inside the shed where it was so quiet you could hear the proverbial pin drop. Suddenly, a plane came swooping down through the jack-o-lantern colored valley followed by a string of magnificent Whoopers that seemed to be at eye level and almost close enough to touch.

Doc 1 2006 3

Up and away!

Up and away!

As we turned toward each other and teary eye contact was made, something passed between each of us that mere words can’t adequately describe or explain. I now know that this was a special bond that would be shared many more times by many more people in the coming decade. I will treasure this first time memory all the days of my life and I hope you enjoy it too.

Next stop - Winnebago County, Illinois!

Next stop – Winnebago County, Illinois!

A Word From the Tracker

Guest Author – Doug Pellerin

It was really awesome to get to see all four whooping cranes that frequent White River Marsh in one area even though it seemed they had their differences. It was rather funny watching them chase each other around.

Whooping crane 5-12 enjoys a snake for breakfast.

Whooping crane 5-12 enjoys a snake for breakfast.

Whooping cranes 4-12 & 3-14 (aka the Royal Couple) launch.

Whooping cranes 4-12 & 3-14 (aka the Royal Couple) launch into the air.

White River Marsh Whoopers

Volunteer tracker Doug Pellerin was in the area yesterday to gather location information and found the two pairs that occupy the marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin together.

Doug says that male 4-12 was up to his old tricks of chasing 5-12. At least number 5-12 has some female reinforcements with him.

Enjoy the photos that Doug sent along for us!

Four Whooping cranes at the southwest area of White River Marsh Wildlife Area. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Four Whooping cranes at the southwest area of White River Marsh Wildlife Area. Photo: Doug Pellerin


Male Whooping crane 5-12 on the left and female 8-14. Photo: Doug Pellerin

On the wing.... Photo: Doug Pellerin

On the wing…. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Don’t forget to join us next weekend for the Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin!

3D Printing Restores Crane Beak

An animal hospital in Guangzhou recently installed an artificial beak on an injured red-crowned crane using 3D printing technology. It was the first time such an operation had been performed.

The crane, named Lili, was sent to the hospital in early June after losing almost half of its upper beak due to a brawl with other animals in the zoo. Being unable to forage, the bird’s life was endangered. Nurses had to spend 2-3 hours each day feeding it around 100 loaches to keep it alive.



Wisconsin Whoopers – Part 2

On Monday, we talked about Necedah National Wildlife Refuge being probably the best place in Wisconsin to see Whooping cranes.

If you don’t care to drive over (or up/down) to Juneau County, you could also visit the White River Marsh Wildlife Area in Green Lake and Marquette Counties.

There are now three established pairs within 10 miles of each other on the Marsh: In Marquette County, we have male 4-13 & his mate 7-14. This pair is still too early to breed, however, next year…?


On the left is female 7-14. Her mate, male 4-13 is on the right. Photo: Doug Pellerin

And in the area surrounding the OM training facility north of Princeton, we have two pairs. At the north end, we have male 4-12 & his mate 3-14 (former flockmate of female 7-14, mentioned above).


The north marsh pair of female 3-14 (left) and male 4-12. Photo: Doug Pellerin

At the south end of the marsh we have the newly formed pair consisting of male 5-12 (former flockmate and buddy to male 4-12) & female 8-14 (former flockmate to the two females mentioned above). This would certainly make class reunions a tad more simple if they decided to have one.

The newest pair included male 5-12 (left) and  2 yr. old female 8-14. Photo: Doug Pellerin

The newest pair included male 5-12 (left) and 2 yr. old female 8-14. Photo: Doug Pellerin

All three pairs should be of breeding age next spring…


We’re raffling off this one-of-a-kind stained glass Whooping crane panel. This piece was created by yours truly and donated to Operation Migration to help raise awareness for Whooping cranes and funds for our work this year.

Tickets will be available online through end of day August 31st. Thereafter, tickets will be available at the Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin.

That’s tomorrow folks! Your final chance to get tickets online is tomorrow!

Winning ticket will be drawn at the close of the Whooping Crane Festival on Saturday, September 10th.

Winner will be notified in person (if in attendance), by telephone, or by email.

Shipping costs (if necessary) will be assumed by Operation Migration.

Here’s a photo of the panel:

With frame measures 41 inches high x 30 inches wide

With frame measures 41 inches high x 30 inches wide

Get your tickets now…