Google Earth

One of the fun things I get to do each day is open the GSM emails that arrive. It’s like receiving a postcard from a family member that allows you a glimpse of a different part of the world without the cost of actually traveling there.

In the case of Whooping cranes, it’s fun to see where they go and who (other cranes) they may encounter along the way.

It’s also interesting to see the various types of land features they encounter. Take a look at where 7-17 (and likely 3-17) are spending time this week… Isn’t this an interesting ‘feature’?

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A Well-Traveled Whooper

Those that have been following this reintroduction for at least the past couple of years will likely remember “Kevin.” Like all Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population, he too, started like with a number – in this case he is #20-15. How did he get the name “Kevin”? 

This young Parent-Reared crane took a wrong turn when he left Wisconsin in the fall of 2015 and ended up in Dubuque, Iowa, behind a Buffalo Wild Wings Restaurant. The staff at the restaurant named him after the 13 ft. tall flightless bird in the movie UP. 

CLICK to read the full article

“Kevin” was captured and returned to Wisconsin and was released in an area along the Wisconsin River and he eventually migrated south – to LOUISIANA!

He spent his first winter in St. Martin Parish, Louisiana and then returned in late April to Wisconsin. The following year, he again flew all the way to Louisiana to spend the winter and then in the spring of 2017 he flew north to Wisconsin – choosing to spend the summer/fall in Walworth County.

A couple weeks ago, he departed Wisconsin and this time, he didn’t make a beeline to Louisiana. Instead, he first flew southeast to Jasper County, Indiana where he spent a short time.

Here’s a look at Kevin’s travels since he was released in the fall of 2015:

Soon after, he flew to Hiwassee State Wildlife Area in Meigs County, Tennessee – a popular staging area for thousands of Sandhill cranes each winter.

This morning we received PTT hits for his remote tracking device and it appears yesterday, this well-traveled Whooping crane headed southwest from Hiwassee and arrived – get this – at the SAME LOCATION in Jackson County, Alabama where four other Whoopers have been spending time over the past few weeks!

And here is his location in Jackson County, Alabama:

The purple line is Kevin’s flight path. The dark blue dots indicate hits for adult #2-15 and the red/yellow dots indicate hits for one of this year’s Parent-Reared cranes #25-17. There are two other birds using this same area and they are: #28-05 and Parent-Reared crane chick #19-17.

I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask again: How do they manage to find each other????

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New Neighbor

We finally made it to North Florida! Brooke is at St. Marks and I am home.

When we arrived it was 78F, which made me want to turn tail and go back to Wisconsin. I’d trade hot for a camper with no water and a frozen porta-potty any day!

After getting Brooke’s camper set up we headed out to the blind to find Henry and Johnny aka Whooping cranes 5-12 & 30-16. We did not see them but the beeps from their VHF radios told us they were close.

As we walked back to the van we heard a rustle and met the new guy in town.

A young Cottonmouth snake…

If it remains hot he will be a regular and I am sure Brooke will name him. Good times… NOT!!!

LEARN MORE – about Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin snakes

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The Perfect Gift for the Craniac on your List!


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?


Is this a last minute gift for someone? Let us know by including the recipient name and address in the Note Field and we’ll send a card to let them know of the gift you made to Whooping crane conservation in their honor!

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Whooping Crane #26-17

In the fall of 2016, I spent most of my time monitoring a parent-reared chick in and around the White River Marsh. By luck of the draw, number 30-16 was the only chick that year to be properly adopted by adult Whooping cranes.  When I say luck, I suppose I mean for the chick. It had the benefit of a perfect education. It learned to roost in isolated ponds deep in the marsh and forage in fields well away from roads and people. It followed its alloparents to their wintering grounds and then back in the spring; but to be honest, part of the luck was mine.

It was inspiring to watch 30-16 grow and learn as part of a family unit. With a tracking antenna, I would check the common roost sites before sunrise to figure out where they spent the night. And I learned where to park so I could stand on the truck just after first light to hear them call and watch as they flew through the early morning fog – past a background of brilliant fall colors. On the day of the first serious snowfall, I watched them head north to their foraging field but then turn around mid-air and disappear over the southern horizon on their way to Georgia for the winter.

By random selection, Jo and Heather were assigned to monitor a PR chick last year in Outagamie County that was predated on its first night of freedom. Then they switched over the Marquette County to watch two chicks they eventually (and affectionately) nicknamed Dumb and Dumber.

This year I wasn’t so lucky. I monitored cranes 26-17 and 28-17 both released deep in Grand River Marsh. The DNR wetland complex at GRM is surrounded by private property that is mostly used for hunting. During the waterfowl season, the property owners understandably don’t like people traipsing through their marsh. It increases their liability and scares the ducks so it was difficult to monitor either of those two chicks.

The State owned land is mostly water, covered with cattails and bordered by a raised dike. There was no good vantage point where I could see them even with a scope. Instead, I had to be content to listen to the reassuring beep from their transmitters. The female, #26-17 also had a GSM remote tracking device that works on cell signals so most days we got a report that showed where she was and where she had been.

Number 28-17, on the other hand, only had a VHF tracking device, which is good for a mile or so at best. We obviously picked the wrong bird to fit with a remote device because while she stayed in the marsh, he took off almost immediately. He was spotted in a backyard a few miles to the north. I heard a weak signal several miles to the east and then the DNR pilot picked up a strong signal but no visual in the next county to the north. Thereafter we would get a couple of beeps periodically from different locations but no confirmed sightings or even enough signal to properly triangulate his position. The DNR pilots have searched the entire area several time since without a trace of him, so we can assume he followed some Sandhill’s south. I suspect he is alive and someone will send us a photo good enough to see his legband color combination but for now, his location is a mystery.

Meanwhile, 26-17 stayed very close to where she was released. Every day I would pick up strong signals and they were confirmed by the GSM plot that showed exactly where she was and when. It was surprising how small an area she used.

The data ‘hits’ from 26-17’s GSM unit.

She spent all of her time mostly within one flooded field and her GSM plot looked like a mess of intersecting lines and red dots. Although she was close to 27-14 and 10-11, the target pair that we hoped would adopt her, I could never confirm that they were together. In fact, I occasionally saw them in other foraging fields alone.

It’s hard to get attached to a bird you rarely see. There is not much of an emotional connection to directional beeps. But then one day Peanut and 11-15 showed up.

We got to watch them for a few days and strongly suspect they migrated together. They made a beeline south and must have split up because 26-17 resumed her habit of staying mostly on one place. She used a sandbar on the Wabash River near Compton Precinct in Illinois.

Each of her GSM plots showed her moving back and forth in an area no more than half a mile long. Twice other trackers tried to see her but could only get confirming signals that she was still there.

It was Heather who first became suspicious of her lack of movement. She was able to monitor the dropping battery strength. GSM units are solar charged and low battery levels indicate that it is not getting enough sun. Some of that can be attributed to weather or time the bird spends standing in water. But over a couple of weeks, Heather began to suspect something was not right. 

After Brooke and Colleen released the last three costume reared birds at Goose Pond and then headed back to Wisconsin to collect the motorhome and close up the camp. On the way south to Florida, they stopped to check on 26-17. Before long they found the VHF radio transmitter but no bird, then they found the feathers. It’s too late to even guess what happened. She was likely predated but we have no idea by what species. Brooke continued to search while Colleen raked much of the forest looking for the GSM transmitter. Its battery is dead so it could now be anywhere. Not only did we lose the bird but also the $3500 transmitter is missing.

I feel bad that I didn’t become more attached to that bird but it wouldn’t have helped her. It would have just made it harder on me. By the way, 30-16 is at St. Marks.

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Volunteer Extraordinaire!

We first met Doug Pellerin early on in the project at the observation tower at Necedah NWR. He had an impressive camera and a keen interest in Whooping cranes and both those attributes got my attention. We have become friends over the years and his involvement has grown from watching the birds through his lens to watching them through the visor of a crane costume.

When we moved to White River Marsh, Doug was first to volunteer to build the pens and cut the grass. He worked hard for a week when we were down to the wire getting everything ready before the birds arrived. He even recruited his son who spent many hours walking behind a brutish, bucking bush-hog cutting through shoulder-high giant blue stem.

Every spring since, Doug shows up to help us run the water hoses and pull on the top nets. Back when we were still using the aircraft release method, He would drive for over an hour in the dark to get to the training site before sunrise and help release the birds. Doug coordinates access to the observation blind and talks to all the visitors and has become a tried and true Craniac. He and his wife Mako have dedicated countless hours to this project and we are forever grateful.

Doug is now part of our tracking team and that takes him down the back roads and lane-ways of central Wisconsin where his camera has captured amazing photos. He has become a talented nature photographer with images that you would expect to see in National Geographic or Birdwatching Magazine. 

I asked Doug to share a few of his favorite photographs so we could highlight one of the many talents he brings to conservation. THANK YOU DOUG FOR ALL YOU DO FOR WHOOPING CRANES. And thanks for sharing these images.

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And Then There Was One

It seems Parent-Reared Whooping crane chick #38-17 is the only crane that hasn’t yet left Wisconsin.

Doug Pellerin has been checking on her and just yesterday saw her with her two Sandhill buddies. Unfortunately, it appears one of the Sandhills has a droopy wing, which is probably preventing in from flying very far.

#38-17 and two Sandhill cranes in Dodge County, WI. Photo: Doug Pellerin

This young crane does have a GSM device, so we’ll know once she does decide to fly south and in the meantime, we can track her movements and keep an eye on her.

They’re Outa There!

No sooner had Brooke and Colleen swallowed a much needed swig of hot coffee Tuesday morning when the three whooping cranes they had just released at Goose Pond took off.

Numbers 1, 2 & 8-17 were heading south according to the GSM device worn by #2-17. A quick scan of beeps from VHF transmitters at Goose Pond revealed cranes 1-17 and 8-17 were with her.

Yesterday we received no hits from #2’s remote tracking device and if Colleen hadn’t been in the van heading north to Wisconsin, she likely would have curled up in the fetal position in frustration of not knowing where they were. 

First thing this morning an email arrived from #2-17 (I love it when they send postcards to us!). It indicates she – and very likely cranes 1-17 and 8-17 – are now some 230 miles southwest and in Decatur County, Tennessee!

At least they know how to get back to Goose Pond when they do decide to reverse course…

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DOUBLE the Good you Do!

There is still plenty of time to receive your scarf for gift giving!

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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Learning to Listen

People who live in the Yukon Territories of Canada say that once you have been there for a year, you know all there is to know. But after five years, you begin to realize how little you understand.

Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area is a wonderful wetland complex in southern Indiana. In fact, the move to protect that habitat was inspired, partially by the number of Whooping cranes that began stopping there when this project first started. Since then it has become an important stopover for many migratory species including Whooping cranes and as of Tuesday morning, there were twelve of them using that area. During mild winters, some of the cranes have even stayed there until spring, which makes it a logical place to relocate unmotivated migrants.

Not much of this reintroduction project is left to chance. Each action is well considered by teams with years of experience and the best interest of the birds in mind. Collecting the last three costume-reared birds was Plan B of a strategy to deal a cohort that we believe was too tightly associated to heed the guidance of their elders. Plan A was to relocate two of the original seven to where the Sandhill cranes were still staging a few miles to the south. That worked so well that we move two more to the same location. Once their gang mentality was disrupted and they were feeling less secure, they willingly followed their new peers to warmer climates.

The last three remaining chicks at White River were a test to see if they would initiate their own departure but they ignored the clues that prompted all the other cranes to leave. They disregarded the cold temperature, the frozen ponds, and even the good migration weather. That’s not surprising really when you remember they are still very young. Normally they would be under the care of their parents during this first, critical migration instead of learning it all the hard way.

Moving birds that are to be released into the wild is not as simple as just driving them south. To control illegal trade, disease transfer from improperly managed farms or the introduction of invasive species, permits are needed to import animals into most states. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources was very cooperative in getting us the right permits. Part of that process is a health certificate so the birds had to be captured and placed in a temporary pen. Dr. Denise Stempa of Countryside Veterinary Services in Appleton Wisconsin was kind enough to take time from her busy surgery schedule to drive an hour to Princeton. She had to put on a costume and walk out to the isolated pen before signing off on the three. Later in the afternoon, Brooke put the birds into individual crates and with Colleen’s help, they loaded them into the van and headed south.

Driving overnight minimized traffic delays and keeps the birds calmer. They met with refuge staff and volunteers before sunrise and just after first light, the birds were released.

Goose Pond FWA Complex Manager Travis Stoelting and Brooke Pennypacker discuss the release. Photo: Colleen Chase

They flew into the marsh while Brooke and Colleen had much needed coffee and toured the Goose Pond complex with manager Travis Stoelting.

Very soon after this photo was captured, the 3 cranes flew off. Photo: Colleen Chase

Number 2-17 is fitted with a GSM remote tracking device that works on cell phone technology. That three thousand dollar unit checks for a cell connection periodically and downloads its track history. Three hours after the released, number 2-17 was 40 miles to the south at 1500 feet altitude doing a little over 42 mph (obviously with a little tailwind).

It seems the trio didn’t stick around Goose Pond for very long. 3 hours later they were approximately 40 miles south of where they were released.

After a quick check of the refuge, no signals were heard from the other two chicks and many of the adult Whooping cranes that were there first thing in the morning – were gone.

Like so many behaviors of Whooping cranes, there is not clear picture here. We can’t use this as a model for what to expect in the future. We have seen birds that migrate on their own, in the company of adults or with Sandhill cranes. Two Whooping cranes from the Louisiana Non-Migratory Population spent the summer in Saskatchewan, Canada this year and headed back to LA in the fall. We can’t track every bird all the time. We can’t know what motivates the migration or dictated the course or even what gets it started. All we can do is scratch our heads and add it to the experience we have accumulated.

We know from years of leading the birds south that the first day is always the worst. Having flown around the refuge for most of their lives, they were reluctant to follow us in a straight line. Before we would get them too far they would turn back or drop out. Maybe getting them started is the hard part. Perhaps that’s why Henry and 30-16 tried so hard and the Royal Couple gave up after three attempts. Or maybe driving them south was the kick-start they needed. All we can do now is take a lesson from the Yukoners and accept that we may never know. We can wish our chicks well, and hope they make it back to Goose Pond next spring in time for some of the adults to show them the way home — if they’ve learned to listen.

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Relocation Successful

The last three Whooping cranes from the 2017 Costume-Reared cohort were successfully released at Goose Pond in Greene County, Indiana this morning.

Yesterday, they were captured near White River Marsh in Wisconsin and placed in a temporary pen where they were examined by Dr. Denise Stempa. They were relocated to Indiana overnight.

Brooke and Colleen met with refuge staff and volunteers and the release took place shortly after first light. 

Juvenile Whooping cranes #1-17, 2-17 & 8-17 take their first look around Goose Pond. Photo: Colleen Chase

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Where’s (Waldo) Whooper?

Regular readers will recall from stories we’ve published over the years that these birds have an amazing ability to find each other. 

Is it that they’re stark white and more visible to cranes passing overhead? Certainly, their use of wetlands narrows down the available options but with an area stretching from Wisconsin to Florida, well, you can understand it’s pretty remarkable when they do find each other.

After looking at some remote tracking data this morning, I think I may have uncovered a clue.

Parent-Reared female crane #39-17 finally decided to leave Horicon NWR on Saturday. She took advantage of cold temps and northwest winds and escaped midday. By yesterday, she arrived in Jasper County, Indiana – IN THE SAME POND AS #24-17!

Here’s a screengrab showing her location:

39-17 in Jasper County, Indiana. Source: Google Earth

Now take a look at the PTT hits for another Parent-Reared crane #24-17:

24-17 in Jasper County, Indiana. Source: Google Earth

Number 24-17 has been at this location for about 3 weeks and has been seen with two adult cranes (63-15 & 71-16), who also happened to be at Horicon NWR while I was monitoring 38-17 and 39-17. They did not have any associations with #24-17 until they all met at this location. In fact all the times I saw 24-17 in southern Dodge County, he was always with Sandhill cranes. 

No wonder 39-17 found him! See the arrow the dots indicating his locations have made? She just had to look for the big colorful arrow!

Parent-Reared crane #24-17 on the left with adults 71-16 and 63-15 on the right. Photo: Gary Soper

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Back to the Future

“Well, #4, it looks like Deja-vous all over again!”

“Sure does, #6. I’m starting to feel like a Jack in the Box… only my name’s not Jack! But this box looks awfully familiar.”

“That’s because these are the same two boxes they used to transport #3 and #7 to the Wisconsin River last Wednesday. And… they’re the very same boxes we rode in on the trip from Patuxent to White River Marsh way back in June. And… still no peanuts or in-flight movie. Cheeeeeap!”

“Yea, but it’s just as well. If there was a movie, they’d probably title it, “Box Away Home”! It seems like no matter who you are or what you do with your life, you always wind up in a box. It kind of makes me wonder if the Man Upstairs used to load trucks for UPS!”

“I don’t know about that, but I do know that the costumed handler that put us in these boxes did. Didn’t you hear Colleen calling him when we landed in that harvested corn field this morning?  “Loader!”

“Quiet, you guys.” Colleen scolded over her shoulder from the front seat.“No talking! We don’t want to disturb the birds!”

“We ARE the birds!” #4 shot back in disgust, as our tracking van continued west through the morning light towards our rendezvous with ICF interns Sabine and Sara and a large flock of Sandhill cranes near the Wisconsin River. “You’re just sore at us for not migrating south with Henry and Johnny when they left a few weeks ago. Then, we went and made you even madder when we didn’t migrate with the Royal Couple, 4-12 and 3-14. Those guys sure did their best to talk us into following them, but they just didn’t understand that the seven of us chicks are a team…”Team Whooper”… “All for one and one for all”… the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s… you know….. Tribal. We’re just not followers. We’ve been telling you guys that for years!”

“Divide and Conquer,” #6 added. “That’s what this is all about! But just because most of those Parent Reared chicks you released this fall followed the Sandhill cranes south, what makes you think we’re going to? Maybe we don’t want to go to south Florida like #72-17 or to Louisiana like #30-17. You released them just east of here. If you had just talked to us about all of this earlier, maybe we could have worked something out. But no. Just because you wear that costume, you think you have all the answers.”

“Yea”, #4 added.  “And remember – You were the ones who spent all those years teaching our parents and big brothers and sisters how to fly south by following those ultralights. Now, you expect us to figure it out all by ourselves.  Seems a little schizophrenic if you ask me.”   

“OK”, Colleen scolded.  “That’s enough! Just remember: #3 and #7 are already in south-central Illinois and it’s only been a week since we re-released them with Sandhills. And you two are going to leave on migration next Thursday morning and fly more than 370 miles in 24 hours to somewhere south of Effingham, Illinois.”

“But… but… how do you know that,” #4 asked? “Are you psychic or something?”

“Nope. It’s all in the Field Journal entry Brooke is writing for next week. You might want to give it a read. And besides, when we purchased your GSM transmitter, #6, we paid a little extra and got the one that not only tells us where you are and where you’ve been, but it also tells us where you’re going to be in the future.”

“Then you know we flew more than 24 miles directly back towards the White River Marsh pen a few days after you released us later today. But it was too far. We got discouraged, turned around and returned to where we started.”

“Yep, #6,” Colleen replied. “We saw the whole thing. Nice try, guys.”

“Whooo!” #4 sighed, shaking his head. “I think I’m ready for that Dramamine now!”

“Well, let’s get this show on the road! What’s the hold up, anyway?” #6 demanded.

“We’re waiting for Brooke. He’s in the “Jambo” finishing up this Field Journal entry. He should be finished by now.  I’ll call him.



If our remaining whooper chicks, #1, #2 and #8 do not migrate today, Colleen and I will attempt to capture them. If successful, they will be given a health exam by a veterinarian, and then we will transport them down to Goose Pond in Indiana for re-release.  There are 18 adult whoopers reported there as well as large groups of Sandhill cranes and our hope is that the chicks will follow them south on migration.

Stay tuned…

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The Neighborhood

One of the fringe benefits of working with the birds is meeting the local folks. Berlin and Princeton are full of great people. 

The farmers surrounding White River Marsh have come to love the whooping cranes as much as we do. They love seeing the chicks or a pair of White Birds out on their fields. The chicks have a favorite field and their presence has been a bright spot for the farmer who has had a rough fall season.

Hunters out on the marsh watch out for them, watch them play and love telling me what they are up to out there. They reassure me they will trap coyotes this winter in the hopes of a safer Spring nesting season.

Jerry, from the Wisconsin DNR kept us supplied with veggies from his garden all fall as well as mowing our pen site and a hundred other things we needed through out the season.

Some of the delicious veggies from Jerry’s garden.

A teenager waiting on me at a store in Princeton worked on the giant origami crane at the Princeton High School for CraneFest in 2016 and follows our Field Journal blog.

The tires need to be checked and rotated before we head south, so Brooke is on his way to Barry’s, the mechanic who keeps our vehicles on the road. He always asks about the chicks, he has become a friend. The guys that work there Jack and Jeremy, are so friendly and quick to help that I look forward to doing a chore that I normally would dread.

Walmart is part of our almost daily routine and there are a couple of ladies there that are so sweet and funny that I always leave happier than I came in.

I love the temperature and the snow that fell last night. I don’t even mind (too much) not having running water. The only thing I don’t love is the outhouse!

Tomorrow and Monday will be good migration days, if cranes 1, 2 and 8-17 don’t take the hint and go south, we will box them and take them to Goose Pond in Greene County, Indiana early next week. It’s a wonderful place and I am tickled with this plan. There were 18 White Birds sprinkled around the area a few days ago. They will make friends there.

It’s going to be hard to leave here, I love Princeton and Berlin and I will miss these people when we and the chicks head south.

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