Wild #1-06

I know that it’s been disappointing that the eastern migratory population hasn’t reached enough success to be considered self-sustaining; nevertheless I am so proud of Wild #1-06. She is the first EVER chick to be hatched from the reintroduced population in Wisconsin.

She is also the ONLY surviving bird left from 2006 when we lost most of the chicks, due to a storm. Thankfully, she migrated with her parents #17-02 and #11-02 to Hernando County, Florida. While trackers were originally concerned about the habitat they were using in people’s back yards, eating under bird feeders, I guess in the long run it was a better choice.

Her first spring back to Wisconsin she followed mom and dad like a good little bird and once home she packed her bags and said goodbye. Just like she’s was supposed to do.

At only age 2 she practiced building and sitting on her first nest with #10-03. She no longer spends her winter in Hernando County, FL but instead has followed her mate to Colleton County, South Carolina.

At age 5, in the spring of 2011 she hatched her first chick! Although the chick didn’t survive, it was still a momentous occasion – the first wild chick hatched by a wild chick was certainly cause for celebration. The following two years with #10-03 were chick-less.

In the spring of 2014 she acquired a new mate, #1-10; a much younger man. Maybe she felt he would make better dad material? Their first spring together didn’t produce any chicks but in 2016 they hatched two chicks that unfortunately did not survive the summer.

They tried again in the spring 2017 and hatched a chick that made it to 38 days old this time. This girl is trying so hard to add to the population.

Moppet #W1-06.

There are only 3 of the specially made moppets left, made in her honor. Maybe you could purchase one and cheer her on this spring, give her some motherly advice and send some good vibes her way.

I just can’t believe that she isn’t going to one day be a successful mother and help us on our way to creating a self-sustaining population.

During the northward migration period, moppets constructed lovingly by Mary O’Brien from costumes worn while working with the Whooping Cranes are being offered at half of the original price. There are limited numbers available so be sure to get yours soon!

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Goodbye to Old Partners – Hello to New

In 1993, Bill Lishman and I traveled to Virginia to inspect the destination of the first human-led avian migration. We were using trial and error (heavy on the latter) to teach eighteen Canada geese to follow our newly acquired, French-made trikes. Dr. Bill Sladen of Environmental Studies at Airlie, near Warrenton, Virginia would host the geese for the winter; provided we managed to get them there.

The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center was only a few miles away so Dr. Sladen gave us our first introduction to the Head or Research, Dr. George Gee. The Center is a USGS research facility but it sits on the Patuxent Research Refuge, which is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service – twelve thousand acres of forest, wetlands, rivers and ponds quietly hidden between Baltimore and Washington.

Unlike cranes that soar, geese are flap flyers with shorter wings and a large carina or keel bone to support huge pectoral muscles. They could happily flap along beside us for what seemed like hours without getting tired. That ability meant they didn’t need to surf on the wake of the aircraft so conditions didn’t have to be perfect. We flew for an hour or so first thing in the morning, rested for a bit and took off again midday.

Occasionally, we would also fly in the late afternoon. That first migration was documented by ABC’s 20/20 and took us directly over Lake Ontario, through New York State, and Pennsylvania. We clipped the corner of Maryland and West Virginia before landing at Airlie. Surprisingly, we did it in seven days, which back then, seemed like a ridiculously long time to cover 400 miles. Little did we know what was in store. 

Once that migration was over and thirteen of our eighteen geese came back to Ontario on their own, we garnered a little respect from the scientific community. We were still foreigners and non-biologists, and likely to kill ourselves in those flimsy airplanes, but the idea of using the method as a reintroduction tool began to take root. The year we did Fly Away Home with Columbia Pictures, we also raised a small flock of Sandhill cranes to see if they would fly with us. That’s when we adopted the costume idea and developed our isolation-rearing protocol. We attended the annual Whooping Crane Recovery Team meetings. I presented our results and George Gee became my first Whooping crane mentor.

Dr. David Ellis (retired) was an Animal Behaviorist with Patuxent whom I have always referred to as the real Indiana Jones. He has a colorful history, which included working in Mongolia trying to stop the illegal trade of falcons. He has wonderful stories of wandering the Mongolian Steppe building aeries for eagles while being chased by gun toting, local marauders whose truck was fortunately just a little slower than his. David has worked in fifty nations, published 170 papers and has authored four books.

David believed that we learn what not to do — by trying everything. I joined his team one fall when he used an army surplus ambulance to lead Sandhill cranes from Flagstaff, AZ to Bosque Del Apache NWR in New Mexico. The birds were conditioned to follow one of the team members who stood in the open back of the ambulance blowing a whistle. The driver tried to maintain bird speed; a constant 35 mph over winding back-roads, stop signs and all.

That’s when I met most of the crane ecology team from Patuxent. Dan Sprague and Brian Clause were there and a few others. They were young and enthusiastic and off on a great adventure. We raced the back-roads during the day and slept on the ground when the sun went down.

George Gee proposed the study plan for our first Sandhill crane migration experiment. It was designed to answer questions posed by the Recovery Team. He provided the birds from their captive flock and allowed Dan Sprague to come to Ontario for most of the summer. Deke Clarke, Rebecca Pardo and Dan moved into a tiny house that my wife and I rented on Scugog Island outside of Port Perry. We watched many sunsets from the back deck while discussing the protocols and brainstorming ideas. Dan and Brian became a big part of our team. I would spend the spring at Patuxent training birds, and they would spend the summers at my house, or later at the Necedah NWR.

Early studies with Sandhill cranes at Patuxent. We are not telling who was dressed in the costume and carrying the pretend trike.

Brooke spent more than ten years working at Patuxent in the early part of the season where he conducted the imprinting of hundreds of chicks. Of all the partners within WCEP, Patuxent and OM likely worked closest together.

Joe Duff taxis a trike with Sandhill crane chicks in 2000. Note the grey costume and the simple prop guard before we learned our lesson.

After 51 years as the largest Whooping crane captive breeding facility, the Patuxent crane program will close this year due to Federal budget cutbacks. Their collection of seventy-five birds will have to be moved out and the staff reassigned to other positions. The closing of Patuxent was rumored for years but no one expected it to happen so quickly. Had it been scheduled to occur over two years, the staff at Patuxent could have helped hatch and rear any eggs collected from Necedah or maybe produce half of their normal annual output of captive chicks.

The dispersal of the 75 birds in their flock is being managed by the Recovery Team and the Species Survival Plan (SSP). Three organizations, including the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia, the White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and the Dallas Zoo, were accepted as new breeding facilities. They join the International Crane Foundation, the Calgary Zoo, the San Antonio Zoo, and the Audubon Species Survival Center to make up the seven captive breeding facilities for Whooping cranes.

Creating a new home for Whooping cranes is not as simple as accepting the responsibility. It requires incubation capacities plus isolated, predator-proof pens with water features. The new facilities have well experienced and talented staff to manage the transport, care, hatching and rearing of a critically endangered species.

Many of the birds from Patuxent will be moved early this spring which likely means they will not breed this season – or maybe even next year. Patuxent produced the majority of chicks last year when we had enough to allow for our costume-reared seven, plus ten of the parent-reared birds and seven birds for release in Louisiana. The new partners will do the best they possibly can but we can’t expect too much in this first year of transition. That means it will likely be a lean season in terms of releasable birds.

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Quite the Menagerie!

Joe and I traveled to Port Aransas, TX last week to participate in the 22nd Annual Whooping Crane Festival.

For the past 3 years, we have flown into Corpus Christie. Each of those 3 years, our luggage has not arrived with us so this year, we decided to switch things up and save some money on airfare. Instead, we flew into Houston and drove to Port Aransas. This tactic saved us close to $300 in airfare AND we did get our luggage!

Of course, as we neared the coast, it’s only natural for us to keep our eyes open for Whoopers and we were not disappointed. As we neared Lamar, TX we spotted 3 Whooping Cranes on the south side of the highway.

Naturally, I asked Joe to turn around and I banged off a few photos on his camera. Once we checked into our rooms in Port Aransas, I downloaded those photos and was surprised to see the company the cranes were keeping.

3 Whoopers (including a banded youngster), 6 Sandhill cranes, and yes, a wild boar were all taking advantage of the deer feeder. (Click photo to enlarge)

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The other day, the guy on the radio reported that there is a case before the Supreme Court this week dealing with… UNIONS, and frankly it’s got me more than a little concerned. I mean, without unions, there can be no reunions! And what is a migration project if not a never ending series of little reunions… connects and reconnects… of both birds and people, and all orchestrated by those masters of connectivity; our whooping cranes.

An example if this occurred last Sunday morning when our old friends and longtime Craniacs, Shelly and Cathy, stopped by for a little reunion, known in Craniac circles as a “whooper fix.” As many of you may remember, Shelly is a college biology professor and Cathy is one of our faithful CraneCam drivers. (DON’T TEXT and DRIVE!)

They were midway through their episode of “On the Road,” which started at their homes in Alabama and Indiana respectively. They rolled on down to Dauphin Island Marine Lab in Alabama, where Shelly gave a lecture on fresh water mussels (“….just put one of those little suckers between your gum and lip and Man…What a Cheeeeeeew!”). They then continued to St Marks and finally back home. We saw Cathy at CraneFest last fall but had not seen Shelly since the non-flyover here in February of 2016.

We made our way down the path through our own little Garden of Eden to the blind. On the way, we passed our new best friend, the snake.  You can’t have a Garden of Eden without a serpent. After all, it was a snake that was sole witness to the very first union… and quite a few reunions after that. “Doo dah”!

Luckily for Cat and Shelly, 5-12 and 30-16 were in the release pen.

Meanwhile, Henry (5-12) and Johnny (30-16) were out in the marsh waiting. They’re all about reunions, having just had one in December when they arrived back in St Marks.  It was like “Old Home Week,” complete with their favorite “Homies”… the white ibis, blue herons, clapper rails and…. oh yea… the raccoons.  And if snowbirding replaces snowboarding in the next Winter Olympics, our two little migrators will win the gold for sure.

We stood in the blind looking out at the lives of our whoopers while catching up on our own. And as Henry and Johnny probed the grass and mud for tasty morsels of whatever, we quietly “reunionized” with questions and answers that colored in the pages and filled in the blanks of time since our last visit. “Look… the signpost up ahead! You have entered, “The Reunion Zone.”

After an hour or so, it was time for rewind. We exited the blind… and began the long walk back to the van while the cloud of inevitable disconnection began to form, followed soon after by, goodbye hugs and “See you next time’s.”  Then, the car window smiles and waves quickly faded as Shelly’s car pulled onto Coastal Highway and disappeared down the road and into the future.

And that’s when I heard the guy on the radio report that there is a case before the Supreme Court this week dealing with…. ONIONS.  


Ah……!  Never mind.

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Hummingbird Spring Migration 2018

Here they come!

Hummingbirds are beginning to make their way north to their breeding grounds. 

Check out this great map from www.hummingbirdcentral.com so you’ll know when to get your feeders out.

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The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who… looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space… on the infinite highway of the air.

                                                 — Wilbur Wright

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March EMP Update

Whooping Crane Update – March 1, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month Whooping Cranes begun migration! A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate

The current estimated population size is 103 (48 F, 52 M, 3 U). As of 1 March, 1 Whooping Crane is still in Wisconsin, 1 in Michigan, 4 in Illinois, 39 in Indiana, 11 in Kentucky, 7 in Tennessee, 20 in Alabama, 4 in Georgia, 7 in Florida, and 2 in Louisiana. Some of these birds have begun migration and have not been reported further north, so these are the last known locations. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month. See maps below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (U) is still with its parents (24_09 and 42_09) in Hopkins Co, KY.

W7_17 (F) is still with her parents (14_08 and 24_08) in Morgan Co, AL.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) are still in Jackson Co, AL likely with adult 37_07 (M). Females 2_15 and 28_05 have left Alabama and are currently in northern Indiana.

28_17 (M) was last confirmed in Okeechobee Co, FL, and may still be in the area.

24_17 (M) is still with 63_15 (M) in Randolph Co, IL.

72_17 (M) is still in Hendry Co, FL.

30_17 (F) is still in Plaquemines Parish, LA.

38_17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI. Sandhill Cranes have now returned to Wisconsin and 38_17 was seen with a few Sandhills at the end of February.

39_17 (F) is in Pulaski Co, IN, near 2_15 (F) and 28_05 (F).

36_17 (F) is still in Madison Co, FL.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

3_17 (M) and 7_17 (F) are still in Morgan Co, AL at Wheeler NWR.

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are still in Fulton Co, KY.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) are still in Talladega Co, AL. 

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) are still in Dyer Co, TN.

30_16 (M) and 5_12 (M) are still at St. Mark’s NWR in Wakulla Co, FL.

31_16 (M) was last seen in Weakley Co, TN, at the end of February.

33_16 (F)’s satellite transmitter is still firing off along the Mississippi River in Clinton Co, IA, however she has not been seen. We suspect she may be dead, but we have not yet removed her from the totals until we can confirm.

69_16 (F) is still at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL. This winter she was associating regularly with 11_15 (M).

70_16 (M) was captured in Knox Co, KY, by a landowner when he was caught in a fence. He was brought to a rehab center, and Louisville Zoo, where he underwent surgery for his injuries, but ended up being euthanized.

71_16 (F) left Florida and is now in Jackson Co, IN, with thousands of Sandhill Cranes.


70_16 (M) was euthanized during February at the Louisville Zoo, for injuries sustained in the wild. See above.

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Here are a couple of photos captured over the weekend showing Henry and his little pal #30-16 when they visited the release pen at St. Marks.

Click each image to view a larger version

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Budget Cuts Affect Whooping Cranes (and other species)

“Trump’s budget would be a staggering death-blow to some wildlife species that are already trying to fight off extinction,” said Stephanie Kurose, endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Whooping cranes have been on the endangered species list since 1967, but the population began dwindling decades earlier because of overhunting and conversion of the Great Plains to agriculture.

So in 1966, scientists at the Maryland-based Patuxent Wildlife Research Center began a captive breeding program to increase the numbers — the very breeding program that is now on the chopping block.

READ more

And even more…

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Spotting a Rare Bird

When I was in grade 6, my teacher, Mrs. Henderson, whom I adored, announced it was time that we learn how to do a “project”. We were allowed to pick any subject we wanted. She passed around brand new pink or blue exercise notebooks; the kind with several ruled lines at the bottom and a blank space at the top. I remember fanning through the pages thinking about all the wonderful things I could put in this notebook. If you can’t tell already, I loved school, especially when we got to do something a little different than the norm.

We all formed a line to march down to the library. This was long before the days of computers or the internet; we had to find our information from musty smelling encyclopedias and other reference books. I quickly grabbed a couple of books on birds. I loved all the varied colors they came in and imagined drawing pictures of them; coloring in the bright, beautiful feathers. Art was one of my favorite subjects. I clearly remember choosing my pencil crayons for the rusty colored chest, the bright yellow for the beak and the black for the feathers with a hint of white for the first bird I could recognize on sight – a robin. And so began my love affair, life-long interest and fascination with birds.

With self-employed, entrepreneurs for parents, there was little time available for them to encourage my interest in my environment and the amazing creatures that are part of it. How cool, would it have been to have a club for young, emerging birders.

Fast forward many years later and life circumstances brings me to Operation Migration.

Recently I stumbled upon an article entitled “Spotting a rare bird”. My interest was immediately piqued. Upon further reading, I discovered the article was actually about a rare species – a birding teenager; an ambitious, enterprising young lady from California with a dream to start a teen birding club in her area.

Read more …

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Changes to U.S. Migratory Bird Laws Could Affect Whoopers

George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, says a new legal opinion from the United States Department of the Interior, released Dec. 22, spells danger for the Whooping Cranes.

A pair of Whoopers forage near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on Friday. Photo: H. Ray

READ more from CBC News

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Become a Crane Guardian with a Monthly Gift

Now is the perfect time to pledge your support with a monthly contribution for Whooping Crane conservation!

Monthly donations can be processed more efficiently than single or one-time gifts, resulting in a higher percentage of your gift being directed to our work. It also allows us to better budget our resources if we know what our monthly revenue will be ahead of time. 

At any time, you can increase, decrease, pause or stop your support, all at your convenience simply by logging into your account.

Your monthly gift will help ensure that we are able to continue our work to safeguard Whooping cranes and continue our education and outreach efforts through our IN The Field blog.

When you become a NEW monthly donor, OR increase your current monthly donation amount, you will receive a special hand-folded origami crane made by Mako Pellerin.

Mako has very graciously offered to create a limited number of beaded hanging origami cranes made from the paper used to create last year’s GIANT origami crane, which greeted Whooping Crane Festival attendees in Wisconsin.Students from the Princeton School – along with Mako, very carefully folded the origami crane pictured above, and which boasted a wingspan of more than 30 feet and stood close to 10 feet tall!

Mako saved some of the paper from that special crane to create these smaller origami “off-spring” cranes for you!

In Japanese culture, the crane is a mystical creature and is believed to live for a thousand years. Cranes represent good fortune and longevity and are referred to as the “bird of happiness.”

We hope this very special origami crane will bring you all of these qualities… In addition to your special origami crane, we’ll also send you an instruction sheet for folding more origami cranes!

When you become a monthly supporter you help to provide OM with a reliable, low-cost stream of revenue that sustains our ongoing work and allows us to better forecast for budgeting purposes.

It’s super easy to join and you can contribute any amount you like on a monthly basis: $
10, $15, $25, $50 – Every gift helps! Visit this link to learn more or to enroll today!

If you’re already a monthly supporter (thank you!) and would like to increase or change your gift, don’t forget you can login to your personal account at any time to do so using this link: LOGIN 

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Whooping Crane #38-17

Regular readers will recall that this young parent-reared crane failed to head south for the winter. She is quite capable of flight and when I monitored her last fall, she was observed several times associating with Whooping Crane #71-16 in Dodge County, Wisconsin.

Despite this, she stayed in Dodge County for the entire winter – and anyone in the area will attest to the fact that we had some VERY cold days in December and January. 

Several attempts were made to try to capture her and she just flew away. Refuge staff have been putting food out for her, which she heartily consumed and we suspect she was eating snow for water. 

Lately, she has been staying in the marsh and not really venturing out much so on Tuesday when I noticed her GSM hits placing her back in a nearby field she frequented in the fall, I messaged Doug Pellerin and he drove over to get a good look at her.

See for yourself. She looks to be in very good condition despite spending the winter in Wisconsin.

Whooping crane #38-17 in Dodge County, WI. Photo: Doug Pellerin (CLICK photo to enlarge)

Foraging for corn. Photo: Doug Pellerin

To the best of our knowledge, #38-17 is the first Whooping crane in the EMP, which failed to migrate south.

Thanks Doug for checking on her again and sending along the photos!

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Sad News about Bryce

Operation Migration hates to be the bearer of sad news, but we also want to keep our readers informed. This morning we learned that parent-reared Whooping Crane 70-16, also known as ‘Bryce’, had to be euthanized at the Louisville Zoo. 

You may remember our report on February 7th that Bryce had been found tangled in a fence and was unable to fly. Then, on February 9th we reported that Bryce had been transferred to the Louisville Zoo. 

The Zoo has concluded that Bryce’s injuries were too severe to expect a recovery so they had to make what must have been a most difficult decision. 

Trio of Nesting Eagles

Last February we told you about a live camera, which was documenting nesting activities of a trio – yes a trio – of Bald Eagles. The trio consists of two males and one female, and while these three are nesting again this year – it’s not the same three eagles.

Sadly, “Hope” the female from 2017 died while defending the nest against two intruder eagles. The two males, named “Valor 1” and “Valor 2”, went on to raise the two eaglets and they successfully fledged at the end of May.

These two boys much have buckets of charm as they’ve now convinced another female to join them for the current nesting season. In fact, the trio already has two eggs! 

The first egg was laid February 10th and the second egg arrived 3 days later on the 13th. 

You can check out the camera, hosted by the Stewards of the Upper Mississippi River Refuge by visiting this link.

Two of the trio on the nest.

Many thanks to Lori Verhagen for bringing me up to speed on this nest and it’s occupants!

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