The Royal Couple Joins Training

It started with a unison call by “the Royal Couple”, 4-12 and 3-14, standing proud at the south end of the runway announcing the trike’s arrival. As Richard landed, they turned to watch him and hollered “we’re here and we want grapes!” up the runway.

Richard got into position and clicked on the brood call, telling the colts waiting not-so-patiently in the pen that it was time to get up off their hocks and train. Two of the chicks seemed to be practicing by running back and forth in the wet pen with outstretched wings, and one chick was doing some warm-up stretches in the dry pen. Unlike earlier training sessions, every chick exited the pen with no prodding – they were ready! Doug and Tom opened the doors and out came the whole cohort, happy-flapping all the way to the trike.

Richard gunned the engine and some took off ahead of him, and by “took off” I mean they were just about flying – if they were touching the ground at all it could only have been the tips of their toes. They must have realized they left him behind when he paused because they turned back and got into position. He turned and made a fairly high speed taxi north – all six chicks flew right up behind him. Viewers on the CraneCam Chat were buzzing about the progress the chicks have made – I think we were all grinning at our computer screens and there may have even been a few tears as craniacs are known to shed at moments like this.

Richard made a high-speed taxi the entire length of the runway and one chick kept up with him the whole way. Two more chicks run-flapped up to them and suddenly I saw two birds fly gracefully fly in – “wow”, I said, “two of them can really fly. Hey wait a minute, those aren’t chicks, they’re white birds!” (To clarify, “white birds” or WBs are what we call the older whooping cranes to distinguish them from the chicks.) Sure enough, the Royal Couple was trying to blend in and score some treats. Richard showed some assertive body language and separated the WBs from the chicks so they could spend some quality time with the trike’s wing. The WBs must have realized that standing off to the side wasn’t producing the desired results, so they casually strolled closer. Richard had no choice but to give a little chase to move them away. As Joe pointed out in a prior In The Field post, having the WBs around during training is a double-edged sword – on the one hand, they serve as Whooping Crane role models for the chicks; on the other hand, they can be distracting and disruptive to the training. In the wild, year old sub-adults would be chased away by their parents – they would not be allowed to hang out with their parents who would be focused on trying to raise another family, so it’s perfectly “normal” for Richard to chase the WBs away. And chasing them “away” is relative – in this case, “away” means they go about ten feet and as soon as he returns to the stars of this morning’s training, they start walking right back. This gave all of us chatters quite a chuckle (spelled LOL).

Richard headed over to start the trike and the chicks quite excitedly ran over to get into position. Man, is this a cohesive group or what?!? By the time Richard starts the next taxi, the WBs have sauntered back onto the runway and look like they are also getting into position, just behind the six chicks. Any newbie tuning in at this point would probably think “oh wow, OM has eight birds this year”. One chick kept up with Richard’s fast-taxi, another one run-flapped a bit behind, and the other four mostly walked. The WBs stayed back near the south end.

The next few minutes of training were uneventful, except that it looked like five of the birds were ground-effect flying at one point and one of the chicks somehow got itself “stuck” on the wrong side of the runway fence. The next time Richard stopped at the south end, the WBs flew in again and tried to mingle – do they really think that 5-foot tall, bright white birds are not gonna be noticed??? This time #6 took matters into her own hands – she lunged and chased back the WBs to let it know that the grapes were NOT going to be shared. Richard followed up with a raised puppet which pushed the WBs back a few more feet, but sure enough, by the time he had turned around they were already following him toward the runway. Talk about persistence!

Richard started off on the next taxi and sure enough the WBs were right there with him. This time they veered into the marsh and gave a unison call which I think was the signal for the halfway point of training. The next few minutes were more of the same, by which I mean the chicks were doing great and the WBs continued to try to blend in each time Richard stopped to dispense rewards.

Another round of unison calls came from the middle of the runway – the WBs were either signaling the two minute warning or maybe expressing frustration at their inability to score any grapes. The next (and final) taxi demonstrated how they can be disruptive to training – as Richard rode past them, they stood in front of the chicks path and unison called – all the chicks stopped and needed to be re-grouped.

Outside the pen Richard sat on the ground at the wing to dispense the last of the grapes and true to form, the WBs casually strolled up and watched – I swear I saw 3-14 drooling as she stood there displaying her beautiful bustle (Heather was giving us great close-ups!).

The birds willingly returned to the pen (they are SUCH a good class) and, as Richard took off, the WBs gave one last unison call. I suspect they were yelling at him “YOU STINGY SON OF A GUN!” or something along that line. All in all, it was an AMAZING training session, and you can view it here, courtesy of “chatter Keith”:
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Reserve Your Spot Soon!

Registration is now open for the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival!

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Mark your calendars for September 10 – 13 and help celebrate the return of this incredible crane to Green Lake, Marquette and Dodge Counties in Wisconsin.

Check out all the activities we have lined up this year! 

Join us for the Whooper Welcome bash at Reilly’s Bar & Pub on beautiful Green Lake on September 10th.

On Friday, visit Horicon Marsh and participate in a guided bus tour following brunch. There are even pontoon boat tours of the marsh scheduled for Sunday!

Meet old friends and make new ones at the Festival kick-off dinner, which will be held in the Arboretum Room at Royal Ridges Banquet Facility in Ripon, Wisconsin on Friday, September 11th.

Here we’ll celebrate cranes and other birds with featured speaker Stan Tekiela, naturalist, wildlife photographer and author. Stan is the originator of the popular state-specific field guides such as Birds of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Field Guide, Wildflowers of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc., and Trees of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Over the past three decades Stan has authored more than 130 field guides, nature appreciation books and wildlife audio CDs for nearly every state in the nation, presenting many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, trees, wildflowers and cacti.

Stan’s talk will present ‘Uncommon Facts about Common Birds’

Royal Ridges is located across from Comfort Suites – Blocks of rooms have been reserved at the discounted rate of $83/night. To take advantage of the discount, mention ‘Crane Festival’ when making your reservations. Phone: (920) 748-5500

Take in one of the early morning training sessions with the Class of 2015 cranes (weather permitting of course). Don’t forget your camera!

At Saturday’s festival, browse the many silent auction items, attend one or all of the speaker sessions, visit the vendor and artisan booths and bring the kids to see children’s entertainer David Stokes as he introduces his collection of critters that share the wild with cranes!

Saturday evening after the festival, we’ll meet at Princeton’s VFW Hall to swap stories and laughs at a pizza party catered by Christiano’s – be sure to brush up on your crane trivia for the chance to win prizes!

Sunday, paddle down the Fox River in a replica voyageur canoe while learning about the history of the river and seeing the wildlife it attracts. Or join OM volunteer Tom ‘Tume’ Schultz on a guided bird walk in beautiful White River Marsh, home to much more than Whooping cranes (as if that isn’t enough!).

Now you can see how busy our volunteer committee has been coordinating all the activities the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival has to offer! Space is limited for some of the sessions, so be sure to register early to avoid disappointment.

See you at the Festival! WHOOP!

If Only We Were Fluent in Whooping Crane

From grade one until high school my daughter attended all her classes in French. That included mathematics, geography and even art. It’s an option available in many public schools where we live in Ontario and one that I greatly envy.

I wish we could attend ‘Whooper-ese’ emersion classes.  It would probably take a decade or so before we could understand all the subtleties they can convey with a simple call but as it is now, I am as lost communicating with them as Heather is trying to show me, once again, how to access Facebook.

Luckily most of their communications are non verbal and a good part of that language is intuitive. I’m not talking about flippin’ the bird, (excuse the pun) but just the nuances of body language. Cranes can’t smile or frown. They don’t have eyebrows to knit, bottom lips to quiver or chins to thrust forward. Still, they can fume and pout and worry just like us. Our job is to learn what gestures cranes use to substitute for a wink or a shrug and whether their posture is submission or aggressive. More importantly, we must learn how to react appropriately.

During our first or second training session with the class of 2015, two of the White River alumni dropped in to check on the new gals (and guy). The six, newly arrived chicks were dutifully following the aircraft up and down the runway when the two sub-adults silently glided overhead and expertly touched down at the end of the runway.

For the chicks, everything was new. They heard adults calling at Patuxent and were housed next to them but had never seen them fly. We try not to put these encounters into human terms but despite myself, I had visions of naive cadets arriving at flight school and seeing for the first time, the combat veterans all cool and confident with TOP GUN written in their demeanor.

Back to reality… I now had to deal with six chicks, new and nervous and two adults with unknown intentions. In their instinct driven minds, the two could be there to reclaim their natal territory or perhaps they just had fond memories of treats at the end of training. Or maybe the sounds of the engine and the brood call in the morning were just too familiar to ignore and they arrived with no intentions at all – the way I wandered the halls of my high school on the twentieth class reunion. Maybe they too thought the whole place was a lot smaller than they remember.

When 3-14 and 4-12 landed, the chicks and the trike were heading to that end of the runway. We stopped short and turned around while the adults fell into place, walking beside the aircraft. They weren’t strutting or fluffing feathers but some reaction from us was appropriate. If these two birds had dropped in on the territory of their wild parents, they would likely be chased off, especially if new chicks were present.

Female 3-14 & male 4-12 fell into place with the young Whooping cranes. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Female 3-14 (left) & male 4-12 fell into place with the young Whooping cranes. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Our default position is to replicate the experience of a wild crane chick as much as possible, however our ability to do that is limited. Having adults present could provide good role models, or at the very least, sexual imprint models so the chicks identify with Whooping cranes and not people in costumes.

So our reaction to adults that drop in should be a balance between chasing them off for their benefit and allowing them limited access for the good of the chicks. We also have to keep in mind that it is almost impossible for a handler dressed in a costume to chase off an adult that was raised in that environment. No matter how fast we run, they can lope ahead just out of range. Or they can pop into the air and fly back to the runway after they’ve baited you deep into the marsh.

All of our speculation notwithstanding, the message we want to convey with our limited crane repertoire is that this is our territory, not theirs, however they are welcome to visit as long as they play nice.

They ventured a little too close to the aircraft as we were taxiing back to the pen. That demonstrated comfort and familiarity like this was their territory, so I chased them a bit with the trike. Not far and not aggressively but just enough to say that this is no longer your home. You can visit but you don’t live here anymore. It was an odd situation, as if the people who sold you a house dropped in to welcome you to the neighborhood but then helped themselves to the contents of your fridge. A little territorialism was in order.

Once the chicks were safely back in the pen, I walked slowly towards the intruders as they strutted and displayed their red crowns. They dropped a wing to warn me and pretended to preen in fake disinterest. I kept walking but at a slow and steady pace. They slowly turned away and we kept our distance as we moved farther down the runway and further from the pen. I stopped but did not turn my back and kept watching as if to say “keep walking boys” like the cowboy with the white hat in a 1950’s Hollywood western. Eventually, they wandered off into the marsh without declaring their victory with a unison call.

For us it is a great privilege to have encounters like this with wild birds on their terms and speaking their language. Who knows what they interpret but I suspect they think we are oversized, goofy looking Whooping cranes with really bad accents.

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Reserve Your Spot in the Viewing Blind!

We would like to invite everyone to come out to the viewing blind at the White River Marsh training site in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. Plan your visit to the Operation Migration Whooping Crane Blind to witness flight training of our six young Whooping Cranes, to hear the sounds and to see them fly with the aircraft.

It’s an awesome experience to see them grow from these young colts to beautiful young Whooping cranes. And you might just see one (or TWO) adult Whoopers while you’re there!

To arrange to participate in a blind tour, please contact Doug Pellerin at pelican0711(AT)gmail.com or call 920-923-0016.

New Flockmate!

Everyone at Operation Migration is thrilled to introduce the newest member of our team. – Jeff Fox.

Jeff has had a colorful journey that lead him to the Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration.  After receiving his paramedic license in 2005 he hit the road for Texas to participate in the relief efforts after Hurricane Rita.

A few years later he returned to school to earn his B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies at Lake Forest College.  It was during this time that Jeff was first introduced into the world of cranes as an intern evaluating the effects of urbanization on fledging success in Sandhill Cranes in northeastern Illinois.

After finishing his undergraduate degree he continued his urban crane research as a graduate student at the University of Illinois.  In 2011 Jeff completed his M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and has since remained in the program to earn his Ph.D. evaluating landscape- and density-dependent effects on Sandhill Crane survival and reproduction.

Jeff Fox w young Sandhill 7-9-15 WhiteRMarsh1

Jeff’s wife Mary has long suspected that his academic pursuits reflect an affinity for working with cranes more than anything else.  She’s right – when Jeff was asked to join the team at Operation Migration he eagerly accepted.

Welcome aboard Jeff!

MILEMAKER CHALLENGE!

Now that the Class of 2015 Whooping cranes is at their summer training site in Wisconsin, a very generous and anonymous supporter from Washington State has issued our first MileMaker Challenge of 2015!

Up to 5 total miles will be doubled by our friend in Washington. This means if you contribute a 1/4 mile, it will be doubled to make it a 1/2 mile. A 1/2 mile donation will automagically become a full mile and an entire mile will be doubled to 2 full miles!

Take advantage of this rather kind and generous opportunity now and help us fund the 2015 aircraft-guided migration this fall to Florida! Click here to visit the MileMaker Campaign. Or, if you prefer to contribute via PayPal, use this link.

ALL MileMaker sponsors have an opportunity to receive a TWO WEEK stay in beautiful Costa Rica! Click for details.

Be Sure to Register Soon!

The 2015 Whooping Crane Festival is approaching and registration is open!

DSCF2576_CraneFest

Mark your calendars for September 10 – 13 and help celebrate the return of this incredible crane to Green Lake, Marquette and Dodge Counties in Wisconsin.

Check out all the activities we have lined up this year! 

Join us for the Whooper Welcome bash at Reilly’s Bar & Pub on beautiful Green Lake on September 10th.

On Friday, visit Horicon Marsh and participate in a guided bus tour following brunch. There are even pontoon boat tours of the marsh scheduled for Sunday!

Meet old friends and make new ones at the Festival kick-off dinner, which will be held in the Arboretum Room at Royal Ridges Banquet Facility in Ripon, Wisconsin on Friday, September 11th.

Here we’ll celebrate cranes and other birds with featured speaker Stan Tekiela, naturalist, wildlife photographer and author. Stan is the originator of the popular state-specific field guides such as Birds of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Field Guide, Wildflowers of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc., and Trees of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Over the past three decades Stan has authored more than 130 field guides, nature appreciation books and wildlife audio CDs for nearly every state in the nation, presenting many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, trees, wildflowers and cacti.

Stan’s talk will present ‘Uncommon Facts about Common Birds’

Royal Ridges is located across from Comfort Suites – Blocks of rooms have been reserved at the discounted rate of $83/night. To take advantage of the discount, mention ‘Crane Festival’ when making your reservations. Phone: (920) 748-5500

Take in one of the early morning training sessions with the Class of 2015 cranes (weather permitting of course). Don’t forget your camera!

At Saturday’s festival, browse the many silent auction items, attend one or all of the speaker sessions, visit the vendor and artisan booths and bring the kids to see children’s entertainer David Stokes as he introduces his collection of critters that share the wild with cranes!

Saturday evening after the festival, we’ll meet at Princeton’s VFW Hall to swap stories and laughs at a pizza party catered by Christiano’s – be sure to brush up on your crane trivia for the chance to win prizes!

Sunday, paddle down the Fox River in a replica voyageur canoe while learning about the history of the river and seeing the wildlife it attracts. Or join OM volunteer Tom ‘Tume’ Schultz on a guided bird walk in beautiful White River Marsh, home to much more than Whooping cranes (as if that isn’t enough!).

Now you can see how busy our volunteer committee has been coordinating all the activities the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival has to offer! Space is limited for some of the sessions, so be sure to register early to avoid disappointment.

See you at the Festival! WHOOP!

Training Update

Our six young crane colts arrived at White River Marsh last Thursday afternoon and as soon as their crates were opened they appeared right at home. There were no signs of distress or displaced aggression. The wandered about checking out their new surroundings with curiosity – poking and proding and wading in the footbaths in the dry section of their enclosure.

Colleen had cautioned us that there were three ‘pacers’ in the group: cranes 1, 2 and 11 apparently had a tendency to pace along the fence at Patuxent so the decision was made to allow them access to the wetpen portion about a half hour after they arrived.

All entered the water area almost immediately, with the exception of number 10-15 who didn’t quite grasp the concept of stepping over the 2×4 threshold despite seeing her five flockmates step over it, and continued patience and coaxing from Joe.

We stayed with them for a little over an hour just to ensure they were not exhibiting any signs of stress and they were all great.

On Friday morning Tom and I let them out to meet the trike for the first time (which looks a bit different than the one at Patuxent). Joe wasn’t sure he was going to start the engine but after seeing them approach with very little hesitation, he started it up and pulled it along the runway while Tom ad I dutifully followed (so did the cranes!).

We repeated the process on Saturday morning but this time the trike was idling outside the pen before we opened the large doors. Again they came out with no hesitation and followed Joe on several trips to the north end of the strip and back – each time getting treats for a job well done.

Sunday, Tom and Doug were the handlers while I got to visit the blind to take some photos, which was a treat. Here are some of the images, which I hope you’ll enjoy!

Whooping crane 1-15 is the first out of the gate.

Whooping crane 1-15 is the first out of the gate.

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WCEP’s Whooping Crane Update for June

It’s been a very busy month! We’ve had a bumper crop of chicks, a new “species” for the state of Wisconsin, and the 2014 Cohort birds – both Ultralight and Parent-Reared – have been stretching their wings and wandering far and wide. Many thanks to our crane trackers at ICF, as well as Heather Ray, Wisconsin DNR pilots Bev Paulan and Mike Callahan, and the volunteers and public all working to help us keep an eye on our birds wherever they may roam. The current maximum population size is 92 birds (52 males, 40 females), not including the newly hatched chicks.

Reproduction
We had 24 chicks hatch from 37 nests (32 on refuge, 5 off) this spring. There were 27 separate pairs, 10 of which renested including all 8 nests in the forced renesting experiment (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/necedah/whooping_crane_funding.html). Interesting to note that all 8 pairs forced to renest did successfully hatch chicks, 4 of which are still alive. Six chicks total are currently alive.

Whoophill
In addition to the chicks above we have had the unexpected addition of the only known whoophill chick in Wisconsin. 16-11 (M) is currently paired with a sandhill female and their chick “Whoopsie” is the first chick to be successfully hatched and reared at Horicon. Read more about Whoopsie at: http://www.savingcranes.org/whats-new/2015/06/whoopsie-the-whooping-sandhill-crane-chick/.

Injury (Recovered)
18-11 (M) was reported with a leg injury April 1st this year. We have been monitoring him closely and while he does still limp his behavior seems otherwise unimpaired.

Mortality
The remains of 20-11 (F) were collected in Green Lake County on June 26th. She was last observed alive on June 16th in the same marsh area. The cause of death is currently unknown.

Birds Outside Wisconsin
38-08 (F) is still at Wheeler NWR. A visual health assessment was performed on June 15th by William Gates, Andrew Cantrell, and others. She was confirmed to be able to fly and appeared to be in good health and uninjured.

8-14 (F) had been seen frequently with 9-14 (F) and 10-14 (F) near their current location but on June 17th 9 and 10-14 were documented on the runway at White River Marsh, then bounced to Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh, and before they returned to the Fisk area 8-14 had headed south. She is now located in Livingston County, Illinois.

14-12 (M) was formerly in Kent County, Michigan. He was last seen in Steuben Co, Indiana on June 7th. 12-09 (M) was seen in Gibson County, Indiana on June 2nd.

This update is a product of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. To access our previous project updates and additional information on the project visit our web site at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/.

Today’s the Day!

The day when the Class of 2015 Whooping crane chicks begins the next step to becoming the newest members of the Eastern Migratory Population.

It’s also the day we’ve been eagerly anticipating and preparing for – Mow the runway, the dry pen, cut back the tall grass in the wetpen, activate the hotwire, scrub the feeders, run the hoses, put the fencing in place along the training strip, get the aircraft ready… it’s a long list and everything is complete with the help of some pretty cool volunteers who pitched in.

Windway Aviation’s Cessna Caravan will depart Baltimore this morning and onboard will be six (yes six) young cinnamon colored Whooping cranes. With production in the captive flock so low this year the co-chairs of the WCEP Guidance team made the decision yesterday morning to hold back number 3-15 and send her to the Louisiana non-migratory reintroduction later this fall.

So in our line-up we have: 1-15 (F) green legband, 2-15 (F) black legband, 6-15 (F) yellow legband, 8-15 (F) light blue legband, 10-15 (F) white legband and 11-15 (M) blue legband. All girls and one lone boy… Just like last year!

If you’d like to track the flight online visit this link. Be sure to tune into the CraneCam to watch them arrive at White River Marsh this afternoon. We’ll keep you posted as we know what time, they’ll be arriving!