Aerial Survey

Yesterday, Wisconsin DNR Pilot, Bev Paulan flew over the western portion of the state to count Whooping cranes.

Bev reports she saw only seven whoopers during her flight. They include: 65-15 & 7-07 in Sauk County, 14-15, 5-11/12-11, and 6-15/16-04, all in Juneau County.

There are still whoopers in the eastern half and we’re hopeful Matthew Brandt will be able to get a flight in today to let us know who they are.

Have You Selected Your Scarf Yet?

Thanks to a very generous supporter, we have a pledge of $25,000 which is to be used as MATCHING dollars for all contributions made before the end of the year!

The way this works is quite simple – Donate $50 and it’s automatically doubled to $100. Donate $500 and it turns into $1,000… You get the idea.

BUT WAIT! There’s more! 

ALL contributions of $50 or more will receive a limited edition Duff Doodle Crane Scarf in your choice of Ivory with black cranes or Charcoal with white cranes. 

We have a limited number available and want to make sure nobody misses out so we must place a limit of 2 scarves/household with a qualifying donation of $100 (which will be doubled to $200!)

Which scarf will be yours?


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The Sound of Silence – Part II

Part I

We sped off to chase more beeps and soon our Royal Couple, 4-12 and 3-14 came into view atop a hill that passes for a mountain in Wisconsin. (It’s all relative) They stared longingly aloft in tentative posture as if sniffing the air for permission to alight. But after a time, the announcement came loud and clear over the airport loudspeaker… ”Your flight has been cancelled.”

We U’ied the van and headed for Mack (4-13) and 10-15, a mile and a half away. They were foraging delightedly in an ag field with no obvious intention of an imminent departure. Then it was off to check one of Jo-Ann’s parent reared chicks, 72-17, a couple of dozen miles away and soon her very lonely beeps filled the van.

After lunch, it was back on the circuit. Growing wind gusts buffeted the van, their invisible arms reaching in to jerk on the steering wheel. Familiar miles passed beneath while the morning’s chick observations began to repeat in my mind’s eye. And as they looped, a very subtle, Rorschach Chart-like picture began to emerge, carrying with it a sudden sense of quiet surprise and uneasiness. It was the morning’s usual picture of Henry, but tilted and skewed a degree or two from horizontal. His posture was slightly more erect, his tail feathers pointing towards the vertical with a bit more conviction, and his orientation weather-vaned uncharacteristically away from the chicks and more into the wind. This was the very earliest suggestion of the far more pronounced pre-migration posture I had seen so many times over the years at St Marks. But surely the old boy wouldn’t be leaving today! Or would he? My foot involuntarily pressed down against the accelerator with increased urgency.

As we neared the wetland area, all seven chick beeps sang sweetly from the receiver. Then we toggled Henry’s frequency. That’s when things got really loud. A squadron of Air Force fighter jets came screaming out of nowhere and passed just over our heads just as our engine threw a connecting rod, blasting the piston through the engine compartment and up through the roof. And that’s when I heard the words of Mr. Adams, my high school math teacher, informing me I had just flunked algebra.

“Turn it down!” my invisible friend hollered in sudden pain. “You’re hurting my ears”!

But I didn’t even try… because I already knew what he obviously did not: there is no volume control for silence… or disappointment.

Henry and Johnny had “left the building.” It wasn’t hard to imagine them winging their way south, freed at last from the grip of winter’s advance and from the responsibility of taking the chicks with them. But why did they leave the chicks now, after all of these weeks? Perhaps it’s the very same answer the guy gave when asked why he left his home and family one evening to go to Seven Eleven for a pack of cigarettes… and never returned… ”When you got to go, you got to go.” (In my travels, I have met two of these guys.)

“So… what do we do now?” my invisible friend asked.

“Pray for sandhills,” I replied. During their long days of post-release, our chicks had also been associating with sandhill cranes. Not a lot of them, mind you, but usually three or four. The first wave of migrating sandhills had already blown through the area, but surely there will be more coming. And hooking up with a large flock of sandhills would not be such a bad thing… safety in numbers and all of that.

“It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings,” my invisible friend confidently announced, quoting the great Yogi Berra.

“You got a point,” I replied. “I just hope she does it… quietly”

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The Sound of Silence

Who could ever forget that 1960’s Simon and Garfunkel ear worm? But silence really is a sound. A very loud one. In fact, the loudest sound I ever heard was the silence my ultralight engine made when it suddenly quit in flight. That was until Thursday afternoon, when the bright and clear transmitter beeps from Henry and Johnny (30-16) that had given us so much hope and reassurance just a few short hours before were…. silent. Had they left on migration? Without our seven chicks!? When the ear-shattering roar finally abated, it was replaced with the mind-numbing sound of that place on the record with the big scratch in it. But I digress.

Thursday morning began crispy cold as most mornings do these days. Camp had become magically transformed into a dark kingdom of doom; a near single digit land of frozen water pipes and tripped off electricity… a place where the morning trip to the porta-potty resembles a near death experience followed by a serious discussion of the possibility of getting a Group Rate at Skin Grafts R Us. A siege mentality was quietly growing where cheerful optimism once flourished and it soon becomes obvious that this is how you spell the word “Migration.”

Not that we are the only ones with migration on our minds. Mother Nature’s “Don’t let the door hit you in the butt” conditions have sent lots of birds heading for the Exits. Most of the Sandhill’s are gone. Most of the geese are gone. Even Joe, Heather and Jo-Anne are gone. “And not many whoopers left.” Bev announced after Tuesday’s crane flight. Some whoopers have not only gone, but they have already arrived. Goose Pond in Indiana is filling up with whoopers. And five birds, including one of only two of this year’s surviving chicks, have already arrived in Kentucky.

“So…when are the chicks going to leave?” my invisible friends keeps asking. Well, we’re hoping Henry has the answer because our hopes have been resting on him to lead them south. The chicks have been spending almost all their time with him and Johnny since their release. And Henry has a special history of mentoring chicks. At St Marks, back in the spring of 2015, he remained behind with the chicks long after adults 4-12, 4-13 and chick 7-14 had headed north on migration. The chicks had missed half the migration route south that year and we were hoping he would help them fill in the blanks north.

And he did… almost. His efforts to encourage the chicks to leave were nothing short of amazing… supernatural even. Twice he took off north on migration only to return later. It would take a very long chapter in a book to chronicle his efforts but suffice it to say that observing his efforts day after day was a “mind blowing” experience. But finally he succeeded. One morning they all left together as Colleen and I gave chase. Day after day, Henry led the chicks all the way to southern Illinois until a large storm system stopped their progress. Next morning, we observed them all together making the usual short pre-migration warm up flight. However, by afternoon, it was Henry that continued the migration north. The chicks did not. It was a heartbreaker.

The chicks instead spent the next few weeks making attempt after futile attempt to fly north. They did all the right things: the excited, pre-migration calling, the short warm up flights, the launch and spiral to altitude and the departure heading north. But soon, in almost Monty Pythonesque fashion, their journey would come to an abrupt halt as they hit an invisible wall in the sky through which they could not pass. It blocked any and all hope of northward progress, allowing only flight east or west. Very sad and frustrating to watch. Finally, we were forced to capture and transport them back up to Wisconsin. It was a very sad ending to a year of very hard work. Meanwhile, Henry arrived in White River Marsh late… but right on time.

That all seems like it happened a million years ago. Or was it yesterday?

We made our escape to the usual morning place of observation and were soon enjoying the ever-magical sight of our 9 little white spots making their now familiar flight across the dark face of the far tree line, then higher into the first suggestion of cold, morning light and finally landing in the harvested ag field across from us where they began their morning forage. Henry, in ever vigilant and protective mode, took up his usual position a short distance away.

An hour or so passed as light erased dark shadow… revealing life as usual in “Whooper-land.” But the skies soon became a blanket of cold, gray turbulence as the wind speed quickly increased. It came from the right direction for migration… but fierce! In fact, a group of four sandhills soon crossed above in a flight mode which could only be described as “Katywhompus.” Then, as if rising to the challenge, our birds took off to join the fray and soon found themselves roller-coastering in barely controlled flight over to their favorite wetland area just beyond the trees, where only their “beeps” disclosed their presence. We left to check on the other birds in the area and get some lunch. So far, things were progressing as usual and we were glad.

We should have known better.

                                      (…to be continued)

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The RV Life – Not for the Faint of Heart

This year I thought I avoided the cold by at least a week, but nooooo. I hoped to get our big trailer back to Canada and winterized ahead of the freezing temperatures but nothing seemed to work as planned. I left last Monday after spending the weekend storing the aircraft trailer, hooking up Colleen’s trailer, getting her started on her trip south and preparing our 34 foot Elkridge RV.

Because I didn’t miss the snow last year a good part of the underside was covered in salt from the long trip home. That meant that after five months of use at White River, the gears for the four slide-outs were rusted up and stuck. Lots of grease, penetrating oil and expletives later, I found that I could alternate between a pipe wrench on the drive gear and a quick press of the remote control button would move them an inch at a time.

Last year I tried winterizing it myself but had to replace the shower taps, two stop valves and one toilet so I opted for a professional job on the trip home this year. However, the RV season is over in the north and most places have a skeleton staff with appointments a week into the future. I made three stops but decided finally to have it done once I got home. I booked an appointment online for Friday, also the day I have to be at the airport by 3 pm. Still time in the morning if it all went as planned.

For two days I had to shuffle it around as my driveway is only twenty feet long and there is strict parking enforcement on all the local streets. Finding a legal street space for a truck and trailer with an overall length near fifty feet is not easy, but managed. I emptied the fridge and dumped the waste. I booked the storage facility where I would drop it as soon as it was winterized, then head to the airport. A good plan, tight but good, until I heard the weather forecast predict Thursday night temperatures of -13C.

The only place to plug the trailer in was the office, which happens to be on a short, busy, commercial, dead end street. I pulled in midday and instantly knew it was a mistake. Cars were parked everywhere so the chances of turning in around were zero. Backing out into a very busy street was also impossible. So I waited until the other shops closed and their staff left. Then I made a thirty point turn to back it up to the office door, ran out the slider so the furnace would work and plugged it in.

That’s when I found out the the full propane bottles were all left for Brooke, who is still in Wisconsin. I had two bottles with only a few inches in each.

I used one bottle, then switched to the other at 2 am. At 6 am, I walked the mile to the office in four inches of snow and freezing temperatures. The propane was gone, the furnace out and the trailer as cold as a witch’s heart. I climbed to the roof so I could sweep off the snow above the slide-out and pushed it back into place. I tried to roll up the power cords but they were too stiff so I tossed them into my office. (Sorry about the mess Chris).

From there, I raced home, as best you can race in a fifty foot rig in ice and snow. I found a parking space, packed for my trip and headed for the RV place. I was hoping to just drop it off there and collect it next week when I get back but their lot was full. With the thaw-out in needed, the job would take all day so we agree to try again next week when the weather is supposed to get warmer. I’ll just have to deal with the plumbing damage.

So I was off to the storage facility to slip it into the last tight spot. That’s when I discovered that the electric switch for the front risers on our fifth wheel no longer work, so I hand-cranked it off the truck. On about the three hundredth turn, the crank slipped, hit the door, spun back and hit me in the face and simultaneously flipped snow into my eyes. When I reached up, my glasses flew over my head and landed in the snow. Warm as they were, they sank immediately, so I spent twenty precious minutes gently poking without stepping for fear of crushing them.

It could have been worse. I was dangerously low on diesel fuel, which I had neglected to get the day before. Or I could have blown two tires like I did on the way home last year.

I have learned on good lesson in all of this. RVing is strictly a summer activity and don’t let anyone tell you different.

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First Aid for the Whooping Crane Pen at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge

St Marks National Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful place to visit and that’s true whether you are a nature lover or a bird.  The habitat is pristine, the marshes are beautiful and the staff are all generous, congenial and seem genuinely happy to work there. Personally, I think that has a lot to do with the trickle-down effect from Refuge Manager Terry Peacock. She brings experience, authority and a big smile to every encounter and makes you feel like you have just arrived home. And for many of our birds that’s exactly what St Marks is, at least for the winter.

Brooke will spend his winter season in Florida. He will monitor any birds that spend time in St Marks and check on others in the vicinity. He may even help with re-banding some of the birds that have non-functioning transmitters. The following is a great story about the managers, staff, friends and supporters of the refuge and how they all got together to fix the winters’ storm damage to the release pen they built in early 2009.

The pen is open-topped and covers four acres with good roosting inside. No food will be provided to the winter visitors but most of them are familiar and may choose to roost where it’s safe. In fact, they likely don’t even know it’s a pen. Terry’s team also repaired the small top-netted section but that would only be used to protect an injured bird while awaiting care from a vet. Let’s hope it’s never used.

Thanks to Terry and her indefatigable team.

— Joe Duff

Written by a St. Marks NWR Volunteer

Every year since 2008, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Manager Terry Peacock has invited the public for a work day in autumn to help Refuge staff prepare a 3-acre fenced pen to be a safe winter roost for migratory whooping cranes.

One never knows exactly how many of these endangered birds will visit St. Marks. Eight whoopers
visited or stayed on or near the Refuge during the winter of 2016-2017. Among these was adult male 5-12 who has faithfully returned to St. Marks every winter of his life.

So, when the 7 young whooping cranes costume-reared by Operation Migration this summer began associating with 5-12 and his subadult buddy PR30-16 on White River Marsh Wildlife Area in Wisconsin, hopes rose that 5-12 might guide the 7 chicks to winter at St. Marks NWR. If any other cranes joined them, it could get very busy indeed on the Refuge!

With this in mind, the decision was made to maintain the crane pen for another year. Our 2017 public work day was then scheduled for Saturday, October 14.

Meanwhile, Hurricanes Irma and Nate blew through in September and early October, driving the fury of the Gulf of Mexico onto coastal communities. The crane pen fence was torn and sections were doubled over where PVC support posts had snapped. On October 5th, the Refuge Facebook page said “the job is going to be a lot bigger… We need lots of able-bodied volunteers who don’t mind hard work in the muck.”

About 28 hardy U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff, Refuge Friends and Photo Club, community volunteers, and FSU Environmental Service Program students showed up bright and early on October 14 unfazed by muck and eager to tackle the repairs.

Refuge Manager Terry Peacock warmly welcomed her 2017 Whooping Crane Pen crew and shared some history. She highlighted how, in this 10th year of whooping crane restoration at St. Marks, volunteers’ work on the pen and facilities would aid migratory whooping crane recovery in North America.

Terry recounted how it all began in 2008 when she gave an emphatic yes!!! to FWS endangered species specialist Billy Brooks who had asked her if St. Marks NWR would participate in the historic whooping crane recovery project. With strong local support encouraged by Terry, the “Whooper Hilton” was completed by January, 2009 before the St. Marks Class of 2008 flew in guided by the ultralight aircraft of Operation Migration.

CLICK to view a slideshow on Journey North about the St. Marks site

As to our workday – – Terry was frank, the pen had taken a whacking. She assigned most of the crew to repair fencing, the last line of defense for the whooping cranes we expected might arrive within the coming month. So much to do, so little time!

We loaded up for the rustic 2-mile ride to the trail head, then a half-mile hike out through the coastal forested wetlands to the edge of the salt marsh. As the winter caretakers can attest, it takes a long time just to go to and come from the pen each day. But oh, what sights, sounds, scents, and scenery! Crossing the salt marsh, we approached the pen under the watchful eyes of a trio of great egrets to our north and a bald eagle in a snag half a mile to our southeast. You could almost hear their thoughts: “There goes the neighborhood…again!”

First, there was an orientation about fence components and the art of fence layering, tying, and testing to assure that even a slender arm cannot pass through the layers. As Terry predicted, the cohort of cable ties placed 3 or 4 years ago was now aging out. Volunteers split into teams, removed crumbling old ties, and strategically placed new ties and reinforcements to exclude predators. Gradually this “first aid” patched and healed vulnerable sections of the fence.

Nearby in the north pond of the pen, Sophia led the FSU oyster rakers in arranging shells where the whooping cranes can walk and safely roost at night to avoid predators. This team had the gooiest job, but we think they also had the most fun!

Tom Darragh and his Photo Club crew recruited the tallest fence tiers to help restore the small topnetted pen inside the large pen. The small pen can protect an ill or injured crane, should the need arise. Due to the severe damage, this job will require more workdays to complete – – twisted and damaged supports are visible in the upper left corner of the photo above,.

Perched atop a ladder, Dan Frisk, who manages the North Florida Refuge Complex, worked with others to reinforce and restore the heavily damaged top half of the fence to its original height. Terry Peacock and Ranger Scott Davis led crews with varied tasks and shuttled supplies to other teams. Ed the electrician and helpers circled the pen examining and collecting electric-fence posts that were damaged or rusted – – a common problem in a salt marsh subject to broad tidal fluctuations.

As temperatures rose into the 80s and the breeze dropped, the morning crew prepared to head back to town. They left the fence much stronger for their efforts, and hundreds of old cable ties departed the marsh in their trash sacs. Well done!

When a volunteer took a fall on the way out, everyone stepped forward to help. Special kudos go to Wilderness First Aid-trained Travis Pollard (Fire Crew), who took quick and effective action with others to organize a safe recovery.

This was a timely reminder for others to take a break in the shade of the observation blind, evaluate the morning’s progress, and tell some tall tales. A favorite story was that of Joe Bonislawski, a beloved photographer, volunteer and friend to all, who worked tirelessly on the pen for many years. He passed away on the same day in March 2013 when the yearling cranes departed north on migration. Joe’s tale of dedication is a lasting inspiration to all volunteers.

It takes a village up and down the flyway to give whooping cranes a chance to survive and thrive in the changing world they share with us. As our team hiked out, we discussed the many challenges facing these birds, and the hope inspired by efforts of WCEP members and other public and private organizations, donors, and landowners who have supported this reintroduction project since its inception. It is an honor and a privilege to work with those who are willing to put skin in the game to help an endangered species.

In the words of Refuge Manager Terry Peacock:
“There is no doubt that Volunteers definitely make a difference in the amount of work for wildlife we are able to accomplish. Thank you!”

And ,Terry, thank you for inviting us to help!!! Whoop-Whoop-Whoop!

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Whooping Crane #26-17 is Progressing South

Female Whooping crane #26-17 seems to be the first parent-reared bird to start the migration this fall. Based on her last known accomplices and the route she is taking south, we think she is following Peanut (4-14) and his friend, 11-15.

Monday, they left Grand River Marsh in Marquette County, Wisconsin and flew about 170 miles to LaSalle County, Illinois. By yesterday they made over 200 miles and are just north of where Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky meet.

But the last GSM data we got was from 2 pm and it reported her at an altitude of 974 meters, doing 33 knots airspeed on a heading of 174 degrees. They still had three hours to go before the thermals stopped working so who knows where they will end up.

This is a good indication of how much better birds are at migration than we were. Imagine us covering all of Illinois in only two days. Sometimes it took us two months.

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Thanks to a very generous supporter, we have a pledge of $25,000 which is to be used as MATCHING dollars for all contributions made before the end of the year!

The way this works is quite simple – Donate $50 and it’s automatically doubled to $100. Donate $500 and it turns into $1,000… You get the idea.

BUT WAIT! There’s more! 

ALL contributions of $50 or more will receive a limited edition Duff Doodle Crane Scarf in your choice of Ivory with black cranes or Charcoal with white cranes. 

We have a limited number available and want to make sure nobody misses out so we must place a limit of 2 scarves/household with a qualifying donation of $100 (which will be doubled to $200!)


One of the few shipments of scarves! Have you reserved yours yet?

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Whooping Crane 26-17

When it is time to release the parent-reared cranes, we are each assigned one or two to watch, everyday. Two of the birds released early in the program were female, 26-17 and male 28-17.

We let them go near the known roosting site of adult Whooping cranes 27-14(F) and 10-11(M) in Grand River Marsh which is a large complex of public and private lands in Marquette County. Depending on the landowners, the public side can inaccessible and in this case, we had to rely mostly on their radio transmitters, without visual confirmation.

Number 28-17 is the only bird without a remote transmitter and naturally, he took off almost immediately to parts unknown. In fact this was the last we saw of him:Occasionally, we would get a signal but he has been moving around and is hard to track.

The female, on the other hand, has stayed mostly in one spot using great habitat, but in a very limited range. We always got a signal from the adult, 27-14 in the same general area but it’s seems they were never actually together. The adult male’s transmitter is non-functional. On the rare occasion that we did get a glimpse of either her or the adults, they were always alone.

A week or so ago we arrived just in time to see two adult whooping cranes land beside her. We thought the target pair were finally paying some attention to her but it turned out to be Peanut (4-14) and his friend 11-15.

Peanut (4-14) on the right and #11-15 on the left. Parent-Reared #26-17 is closest to Peanut.

Over the next few days the trio was spotted by Jo-Anne and Heather and then again by Wisconsin DNR Pilot Matthew Brandt. 

Without access to the marsh for behavioral observations, we can’t tell whether the chick wasn’t interested in the assigned target pair or it was the other way around. Each situation appears to be different, depending on the personalities or the mood of the birds involved.

Over several weeks 26-17 and the target pair never seemed to work it out, but after only a short time together Peanut and his friend struck up a relationship with our lonely female chick and yesterday, it appears they began leading her south. Her remote tracking device indicates they left Grand River Marsh and flew to LaSalle County Illinois. That would make her the first PR bird to migrate this year – we think. Her release-buddy: male #28-17 could be in Florida for all we know.

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Heading South

Parent-Reared Whooping crane #26-17 (F) is migrating south! 

We believe she is traveling with 4-14 (Peanut) and 11-15 but cannot confirm. Why do we think this?

Firstly, n the past two weeks she was seen on a number of occasions associating with these two males at her release location in Marquette County, WI. 

Secondly, the location her GSM remote tracking device placed her late yesterday is a known stopover for #11-15 during his north-south travels.

The young female Whooping crane traveled approximately 170 miles yesterday.

Milestones in the Sky

Before the FAA established the “Light Sport Aircraft” category, the trikes that we flew fell under the title of “ultralights”, or at least they did in Canada. Both the UL, and the LSA classifications were designed for recreation purposes. That means they are to be used strictly for fun flying and although some people think getting paid is fun, that’s not what the FAA intended. Getting paid to fly means you must be a commercial pilot and because that often means carrying passengers, that licence, justifiably comes with a lot more rules.

In order to allow OM to continue leading birds south and to get paid for that and all the other work that a reintroduction involves, the FAA issued an exemption to the LSA rules. They did that for a number of valid reasons. First of all, safeguarding a species was considered beneficial to the American public and because we had never had a reportable accident, it didn’t compromise safety. A commercial licence comes with endorsements. You can have a commercial licence with a float endorsement to fly from water, or you can be qualified to fly multi-engine aircraft or helicopters. However, there is no commercial licence to operate a weight-shift controlled aircraft like a trike. There were also a number of other factors that the FAA considered like we didn’t fly in controlled airspace. We avoided cities and big airports and we flew during the day only. Plus we agreed to upgrade our licences from LSA permits to Private Pilot Licences and to buy new aircraft that were maintained by FAA certified mechanics.

Throughout that entire process, the FAA was very supportive. They worked within the rules governing the Light Sport Aircraft category and made provisions when the rules didn’t apply.
All of that negotiation, cooperation and rule-making, made the trikes that OM flew with Whooping cranes unique. They are the only Light Sport Aircraft to be legally used for a commercial purpose, other than flight instruction.

It seems that all the milestones in the history of aviation are achieved at the highest altitude, the longest range or the fastest speed and that often relates to the most expensive. Our trikes, on the other hand, flew slow enough to match bird speed and our best altitudes were short of a mile high. But despite their pedestrian flight envelope and reasonable price tag, they wrote history and earned a place in the world’s most prestigious aviation museums.

Two weeks ago, we donated our most historic aircraft to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Museum in Oshkosh. For ten years, November 2-6-1-6 Tango helped to lead 147 Whooping cranes on their first migration from Wisconsin to Florida. It flew over twelve thousand miles and logged over 700 hours in the company of birds.

That number is far greater if you include all the training flights it took to encourage the birds to follow and to develop their endurance. It helped to educate a generation and gave back-seat, life-time experiences to Jane Goodall and Charlie Rose and it was featured on national news. It’s a fitting retirement for an aircraft that bent all the rules and helped save a species.

N2616T will be on display at the EAA museum in Oshkosh, WI, beginning in 2018.

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Mixed Blessing

Twice now the chicks have chosen to roost in the wetland to the south. Friday night I stayed out watching till they went to roost. Or so I thought… They were out late. Finally at 5:50 they flew to Henry’s Pond. I went through every frequency doing a head count via telemetry. Yay!

Tucked in, off to Walmart and dinner with Richard van Heuvelen who is in town after delivering the most beautiful metal sculpture of a giraffe to a client here in the States. Click the link to see The Wooden Anvil’s Facebook page, his work is amazing! Be sure and click like and share it with your friends!

So anyway, back to the birds, I get to Walmart and my phone dings telling me I have an email. It’s a GSM hit on #6-17. Nice timing! Confirmation they are tucked safe for the night! I downloaded and opened it and the little jerks had flown to the wetlands! Crap, why would they leave Henry’s Pond and Henry and PBJ? Crap crap.

Now the nice part of this is they are going to great habitat. That is better than nice, it’s huge.

Another nice thing is they have been spending more time in a field back away from the road. So there’s that.

Monitoring these birds kind of reminds me of being the parent of young adults. We really know what is best for them. But now, they are on their own, we are not in control. It’s hard, but it’s exciting too.

Since the class of 2012, my first migration, Dr Seuss’s Oh the Places You’ll Go floats through my mind as our chicks prepare for their first migration. I bet you can’t read it without getting a bit teary!

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A Whooping Big Day

You’ve no doubt heard about a “big year” – there was even a movie called “The Big Year” starring Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson. It was based on the true story of three expert birders who set out to break the record of seeing the most bird species in one year. Today, Heather and I decided to do a Whooping Big Day – we wanted to set a record for seeing the most Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin in one day.

Big Days (and Big Years) are all about preparation. Before you even start, you map out a route that will most efficiently take you by the most potential sightings. You gas up your vehicle and run all your errands the day before. You pack up a bunch of food because you won’t have time to stop. Come the Big Day, you will be out before dawn (sometimes as soon as midnight passes) and you won’t have time for ANYTHING except tracking down Whooping Cranes. And you’ll stay out until midnight so you put in every possible minute working towards your goal. 

So, did Heather and I do all that? No! Of course not! We got up and worked for a while. Then we both headed out to find the birds we were assigned to monitor. Then, about 10 am, Heather texted me and said “you want to do a Big Day?”. Oh yeah I sure did! I was feeling pretty lucky because I had just gotten eyes on both of my colts. Heather was apparently having good luck in her county, too.

Sure enough, Heather had seen four Whooping Cranes so far. I texted her the sets of coordinates for my two birds so she could swing by and see them on her way back to camp. Now she was up to six.

We decided to meet at camp and ditch one vehicle. For the rest of the day I would drive and she would navigate and hold the antenna out the window, listening for beeps.

First though, we figured we better do those pesky errands. We needed to stop at our storage hangar to pick up more scarves. We needed to stop at the Dollar Store for mailing envelopes. And we had to fill up my gas tank, as I only had 1/4 left. I told you we didn’t prepare!

As we were passing White River Marsh on our way down County Road D, Heather yelled “STOP!”, so I slowed down. There, off in the distance, were nine, yes NINE Whooping Cranes flying towards Henry’s pond!

So now Heather was up to, hmmmmm, 15 Whooping Cranes so far today!

A swing around to the west and then north and we added the Royal Couple (4-12 & 3-14) and then 4-13 & 10-15!

Next, we headed to Marquette County to see how many of Joe’s birds we could track down. We slowly drove the back roads listening for 28-17’s beeps, and finally gave that up in favor of looking for others. We stopped at one of Joe’s most promising locations for sightings, and got beeps on 27-14, but no visuals.

Moving on, we went looking for the others known to be in this area. We got to the west side of a marsh and some ag fields and stuck the antenna out. Sure enough, beeps, but we wanted visuals! We rode up and down this rode, stopping on the crests of all the hills. There were about a zillion sandhills and we were certain if we scanned them carefully with our binoculars, we’d find the whoopers we knew were there somewhere.

Finally! Way behind the ag fields, in a bunch of scrubby grass with only two sandhills we spotted not one, not two, but THREE WHOOPERS! They were a long way off so our photos are not so hot, but we didn’t need to see the legbands because the beeps told us who were viewing. They were Peanut (4-14), his pal 11-15 and the female Parent-Reared chick #26-17! AND they were together!

We were as far south as we needed to go, so we backtracked. Again Heather yelled “STOP! I SEE THEM!” This was a fast road, so it took me a while to actually stop. I turned around and we crept along in the gutter while Heather peered through the trees to find the two white dots she somehow spotted while we were going about 50 mph. She found them – and we confirmed them with binoculars. This was female 27-14 and her mate 10-11.

At this point we had 24 whoopers on our list and we were hoping for a 25th. We turned onto the back roads, slowed down and Heather put the antenna out. We drove all around for about 45 minutes, hoping to find 28-17 but it wasn’t to be.

Heather’s Big Day ended then, at 4:00 in the afternoon, with 24 Whooping Cranes, because we had to get back and get ready to go out for dinner. Not bad, eh? Maybe next year we’ll break this record by actually preparing ahead of time!

Here are the photos of all 24 whooping cranes spotted yesterday. Some, aren’t the best in terms of photographic elements but keep in mind, in some cases, the birds were a half mile or more away.


Parent-Reared chick #24-17 in Dodge County, WI.

#71-16 in Dodge County, WI.

Male Whooping crane 63-15 in Dodge Co., WI.

Parent-Reared chick #38-17 (F) in Dodge Co., WI.

Parent-Reared chick #72-17 in Winnebago County, WI.

Parent-Reared chick #30-17 in Fond du Lac Co., WI.

Nine whoopers include: 1-17. 2-17. 3-17, 4-17, 6-17, 7-17 & 8-17 and 5-12 & 30-16. Note, while we initially saw them in flight we were unable to get photos so snapped this one as we headed home.

The Royal couple: female 3-14 and male 4-12 in Green Lake Co., WI.

Male 4-13 and female 10-15 also in Green Lake Co., WI.

Two adult male whoopers along with Parent-Reared female #26-17 in Marquette Co., WI.

See those teeny white birds? That’s 27-14 and 10-11 Also in Marquette Co., WI.

PRESTO! Twenty-four whooping cranes in one day in the eastern half of Wisconsin!

Winter Territory

It seems the cooler weather, while not exactly freezing things in Wisconsin, is convincing some of the cranes that it’s time to head south.

We’ve heard from the folks in Greene County, Indiana that at least four Whooping cranes are back at their winter territories already.

They include: 36-09 (F) & 18-03 (M) and 9-05 (M) and 13-03 (F).

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