Found a Peanut, Found a Peanut….

Last Saturday, I decided to head out with Joe to try to locate his two Parent-Reared chicks: 26-17 a female and 28-17 a male.

I don’t believe he has actually seen either of them since the day after they were released in Marquette County, Wisconsin near two target adults: male #10-11 and female #27-14.

We can tell by the GSM hits for #26-17 that she is indeed using the same field that the target adults are using but we can’t actually tell if they are associating. 

The male chick, #28-17 has been bebopping all over the county and wouldn’t you know it? Of all the released cranes this year, he’s the only one without a remote tracking device…

Joe has not seen him, or heard his beeps in weeks and only recently Wisconsin DNR pilot Matt Brandt was able to detect beeps from the birds radio transmitter on a couple of aerial surveys. Last week Matt was able to actually get eyes on him in an area that Joe had already checked several times so we ventured out Saturday to see if we could find him ourselves. 

Picture this: two hours of stopping every mile to listen for beeps. In some locations we could detect his signal and get a bearing for the direction they were the strongest. We would head to another location to try to biangulate and then another to triangulate but the angulates were just not jiving. 

The only conclusion we came to was that this bird is a master at evading trackers.  

On to the next Parent-Reared crane, number 26-17. She hardly ever leaves this large flooded field so she should be easy to find. 

Sure enough, as we pulled up to a safe location to get the antenna/receiver out, there she was! No need to listen for beeps when you can see the legbands and it was definitely her!

I was snapping photos when I heard Joe excitedly say “Here come the two adults! They’re going to land near her”! 

I stopped taking photos of her just long enough to locate the two large white birds coming in on final approach and began snapping again, trying to get everyone in the same frame. 

I began reviewing the photos on the back of the camera and as I zoomed in on one of the adults, I said “white/red/white left – that’s Peanut”! Sure enough, he and he buddy 11-15 had found the young female 26-17 and were stopping in to pay her a visit. 

What about the two original target birds you ask? They’re still there also, so this makes five Whooping cranes at this large wetland complex.

Here are a couple of photos I was able to capture.

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

26-17 in flight among the Red-winged blackbirds.

On the MOVE!

It seems some of the EMP Whooping cranes took advantage of the favorable winds Saturday!

A group of four were seen flying north to south over Kane County, IL by several birders and late last week a pair was seen near Champaign, IL.

Keep your eyes to the skies and if you see a Whooping crane, please be sure to fill out a public sighting report: https://www.savingcranes.org/report-whooping-crane/

 

Harvesting Season – Chapter 2

It’s really cold out this morning, 24 degrees. The birds came off roost a half an hour later than usual.

They then went from field to wetland and back again. I took advantage of the wetland time to go get gas and coffee at Kwik Trip. Back with plenty of time to spare, I snuggled in the blanket I keep in the van, using the coffee as much as a hand warmer as the necessary morning beverage it is.

Eventually they flew back to the field, but no sooner did they land and two combines lumbered into view. Evidently cars and trucks are one thing and giant green machines are another! Back to the wetlands!!

I’m betting soon we have more AG fields to explore!

LAST CHANCE – RAFFLE TIX!

LAST CHANCE TO snag one of this year’s OM Staff Avian Abode’s!

Tuesday, October 31st at noon is when we’ll be making the drawing for each of these creative, um, masterpieces! Get your raffle tickets today!

Tickets will ONLY be available until midnight tomorrow, October 30th.

The Odd Couple: Brooke Pennypacker and Bev Paulan

Creating a novel birdhouse was a task assigned to Brooke but we all know where the talent lies in that couple.

The creative use of wine corks provides a beautiful and practical exterior to their birdhouse and maybe a little insight to one of their other favorite hobbies.

 

 

 

 

The Backyard Enthusiast: Chris Danilko

Chris’ inspiration for her birdhouse design came from her three grandchildren: Abby 7, Mikayla 5 and Thomas 4. Chris spends weekends with the trio and is continuously coming up with ideas for all to participate in and to inspire them to appreciate nature and birds.

The finished product is completely edible and can be consumed by the occupants – providing you are a bird.

 

 

 

The Vagabond: Jo-Anne Bellemer

It seems that three months on the road was not enough to dampen Jo-Anne’s wanderlust. An aspiring RV owner, Jo-Anne’s birdhouse looks like a mini Winnebago for our feathered friends. Let’s hope they don’t get too attached. We might see them heading to Florida on foot with their mobile home in tow.

 

 

 

The Birdwatcher: Heather Ray

Heather’s birdhouse design incorporates her stained glass hobby into her other favorite pastime of birdwatching. She has provided our feathered friends with a nest opportunity that is safe from the elements, while still allowing you to peek in discretely. She is also teaching the birds a life-lesson about not throwing stones.

 

 

 

Greek Weddings and Colleen Chase

We are not sure if Colleen has any Greek ancestry but her birdhouse resulted from (un)-ceremoniously breaking a lot of plates. She scoured antique stores for old dinnerware and used the smashed pieces to create a mosaic birdhouse. What better way to provide shelter to pairs of expectant parents. OPA!

 

 

 

The Intemperate: Joe Duff

The birdhouses created by the OM team likely reflect their personalities more than they care to admit.

Joe started with a simple bird shelter and kept piling complications on top. Joe never learned the lesson most important to an artist and that is knowing when to stop.

 

 

 

 

Tickets are sold in sets of 5 for $5/set.

Visit this link and select your favorite(s) from the dropdown menu. The draws will be made on October 31st at noon and the winners will be notified on our blog and also by telephone. 

Once everyone has been notified, we will send the Avian Abode’s to each of the winning ticket holders by mail, or, if local, we’ll personally deliver them to the winner!

More tickets increase the chances of your name being drawn.

Harvesting Season

From what I understand, which is not much, corn is harvested when the moisture content has lowered. Early harvesting is usually for silage. Silage is used for feeding cows.

Which means that the chicks favorite field, which was harvested about a month ago, is about picked clean and they are going way too close to the road for my liking, to get the last of the spilled corn.

Heather drove by on Thursday while Brooke and I were grabbing lunch and found them too close. She hazed them back and we hurried back to our crossing guard position.

So, as much as I like grey skies and rain I am hoping for a few dry days so the farmers can harvest the remaining standing corn, which will give these birds more choices, and give my blood pressure a much needed break!

The Beep Goes On… Part II

Part I

“So…how do you go about catching a whooping crane,” the rancher asked me the previous night?

“Well, if the bird still trusts the costume, we can lure it in close and grab it. Otherwise, we use a net gun or a snare on a small fishing rod.  And if that doesn’t work, then we try the remote controlled snare, but for that we must bait the site prior to capture.”

“Easier said than done,” my invisible friend whispered from somewhere in the back of my mind. 28-05 hadn’t even seen a costume in almost 11 years. And with the two non-costumed-reared-parent-reared chicks in tow, the costume was going to be of questionable advantage, but we costumed anyway up and headed out to battle.

The birds, upon seeing our approach, let out a whooper call which, when translated into English, said, “Backstroke”! as they began drifting away towards the far horizon. It was soon clear that the net gun would be the capture method of choice, so we put in a frantic call to “Spiderman.” However, he must have been busy counting up box office receipts because he never returned our calls. No matter. Richard had pioneered the use of the net gun for whooper captures, and he just so happened to be wearing his favorite T-shirt that said, “Make My Day”! We returned to the parking lot to “Lock and Load.”

Our efforts to get close to 28-05 were made more difficult because of the presence of two parent-reared chicks. As you know, they were raised by adult whooping cranes at Patuxent this summer and flown out here in September and October for release with “target birds” in hopes of being “adopted.” So far, this was the only successful “adoption” this year… which meant we had to get close to four birds instead of just one or two to make the capture. “Patience, Grasshopper.”

Silently, the slow motion chase began as we maneuvered for advantage. Such an effort is a little like trying to push a rope across a table… in a bar, after a few drinks… in a costume… while trying to hide in plain sight. Very Zen. But it builds character. Or at the very least, turns you into one. Just ask the herd of cows that stood by observing us in confused amazement. Had all the thought balloons hovering above their heads all popped at once, the resulting tornado would have blown us into the next pasture.

That’s when we entered the… “Frustration Zone.” No sooner would we coax the birds within net gun range than they would flush and fly to another pasture. Then we had to climb over and crawl under a series of electric fences separating the fields. At one point, a blood curdling scream rang out so loud that every garage door within a half mile radius began to open and close. Richard had touched the hot wire!

“I think I’ve burnt out one of my heart valves,” he hollered!

 My personal safety was never an issue. I was already on Medicare. However, I soon began to feel like I was on the set of “The Great Escape 2.”

“Da vor es nt going vell en yor secta.”

So anyway, it soon became clear that another strategy was required to get us closer to the birds… and soon we had it; a Trojan horse. It just so happened a young colt occupied the pasture and he had been observing our little game with great amusement. The birds were used to him. They were friends. If we could make him our friend too and convince him to walk with us, perhaps the birds would allow us closer.

Our “Trojan horse”!

All we had to do was make him our friend, which is something of a challenge when you’re wearing a white costume. And having grown up on the Jersey Shore, the closest I ever came to a horse was a picture of John Wayne eating a pizza. “Do they bite” my invisible friend asked?

We stood staring at each other like aliens from different planets. His large, dark eye fun-house-mirrored my costumed image just as, I’m sure, my helmet visor reflected his… and the affect was disarming to us both. “Take me to your leader,” he telepathically requested.

“We haven’t got one,” I replied, referring to the greater context.

After about a half an hour or so of “…and what’s your favorite color”? we began our slow walk towards the birds. By this time, the two parent-reared chicks had grown so relaxed that they laid right down in the grass while the two adults remained wary. 

Parent-reared cranes 19-17 & 25-17 take a break.

But in time, the adults also relaxed their vigilance and Richard was able to maneuver for the shot.

Bang! Richard pressed the net gun trigger and in that instant our slow motion world catapulted instantly to warp speed as we sprang into action. 28-05 must have thought she suddenly woke up in a “Chicken of the Sea” commercial as she “adjusted” to the net while awaiting our convergence. We immediately commenced band replacement with the practiced precision of a crack surgical team… or was it the crew at Jiffy Lube? Anyway, the dead VHF and satellite transmitters were removed and a fresh new VHF color coded transmitter was “installed,” all under the watchful eyes of our new team member, the horse, who remained in our little huddle of endeavor for the entire procedure. “Put da Lime in da coconut… and call me in the morning.” he began singing in a low, horse-like voice, as Sabine pushed him out of the way.

A costumed Sabine Berzins, gets acquainted with the young four-legged colt.

Banding complete, we released 28-05 and watched her walk off with all the pomp and circumstance of a hungover Phoenix to join the three awaiting whoopers. “Talk about a bad day at the office!” Then, as they slowly marched off, shoulder to shoulder, towards the next pasture, we heard 2-15 call out, “Ok, my children. Sing it loud and sing it proud…… “and the Beat goes On……”

Doo Dah.

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Taking it Easy (Life in the Slow Lane Part 3)

When I wrote part 2 of Life in the Slow Lane, I wasn’t envisioning there would be a part 3 to that particular story, but Oshkosh b’gosh, there is! Last Saturday I headed out to track and hopefully monitor “my” two parent-reared “chicks”, 30-17 and 72-17. Tracking is finding them. Monitoring is actually having eyes on them and recording what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with, and what habitat they’ve chosen to do it in.

Anyway, back to last Saturday morning. I got to about 1 mile short of the marsh where both chicks were released and suddenly the dashboard started to beep and the engine light came on. These were NOT the beeps I was hoping for! I studied the various gauges and saw that the temperature was pegged on the high side – overheating. No one was behind me so I safely slowed way down and noticed that the temperature came right down and both the engine light and the beeps shut off. I was going about 15 mph. I experimented a bit by speeding up, but as soon as I did, the temperature would rise, and as soon as I slowed back down, it would drop. With no traffic I was able to make it slowly to the marsh parking lot. I pulled in, shut the truck off, and texted Joe.

I explained what had happened and how the truck seemed driveable at a very slow speed. His first question was “did you check the fan belt?” “HAHAHAHAHA” was my first reply; “hold on, I’ll go look” was my second. My brain was reaching back to my twenty-something years when I would actually open the hood of a car and recognize the parts when I got the hood open. The fan belt looked, well, like a rubber belt. He asked, “so it looks intact?”, to which I replied, “yes”.

We both thought that it was pretty weird that I could control the temperature by speeding up and slowing down, but based on that, we came to the conclusion that maybe I could take the back roads and limp back to Berlin, where our mechanic is located. Yes, with an aging “fleet” of vehicles, we have come to consider Barry at Berlin Oil “OUR mechanic”. 

So that’s what I did – cruised along at a blistering 15-20 mph all the way back to Berlin. It was actually a really peaceful ride – just taking it easy, able to look around at the pretty autumn foliage, the rolling fields, and Google Maps to find a route that stayed off the main roads.

Barry came out, opened the hood, took a sniff, and said “you’re leaking antifreeze – I can smell it.” He took the key and I unloaded all my gear while I waited for Joe to pick me up: jacket, wind pants, radio receiver, yagi antenna, camera, binoculars, loaf of bread, jars of peanut butter and jelly, coffee mug, and purse. 

It’s Thursday as I write this and the dang truck is still not fixed – Barry had to order a part that, as of yesterday afternoon, still hadn’t come in. I think we all thought that monitoring birds would somehow be less costly than ultralight migrations, but that has not turned out to be true –  everyone needs a vehicle because the birds have been released “all over the place”, and every vehicle is driven more miles every day to locate birds than when we drove them from one migration stop to the next. That means more fuel and more breakdowns. Go figure!

Meanwhile, I’m taking it easy while I wait for someone to come back to camp with a truck I can take to find 30 and 72.

OH! One tidbit I meant to work into my story – I broke my personal record the other day for seeing the most Whooping Cranes (not in captivity) in one day! 11 !!! In a single day I saw the 7 costume-reared colts, Henry and Johnny (5-12 and 30-16), AND (drum roll please) The Royal Couple (4-12 and 3-14)! 

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The Beep Goes on…

Part I

Who can forget that Sonny and Cher ear-worm from 1967. If they were to record it today under the WCEP label, it would be titled, “The BEEP Goes On.” And the continuous beeps from the whooping bird legband transmitters really do go on, right up until the time the batteries go dead and they don’t. Then the birds enter what crane biologists refer to as the dreaded state of… “Beeplessness.”

This condition is defined in the medical journals as “like when the EverReady Bunny stops beating his drum.” Without those beeps, locating and keeping tabs on our birds would be about as futile locating Waldo in a defective “Where’s Waldo” children’s book… And so, about every three or four years we have to recapture each bird and replace its transmitter… or at least try.

As you can imagine, capturing a whooping crane that has been in the wild for at least a few years is not easy and it is why the majority of our whooper population falls under the tracking designation of NFT’s or Non-Functioning Transmitters. More often than not, when Bev does her weekly whooper tracking flights, she has to rely on her camera with the monster lens that weighs more than the airplane to photograph each NFT whooper. This is especially true when flying over the Necedah Refuge where almost all the nesting takes place. Then she spends hours after every flight staring into a computer screen at the 500 or so pictures she took to identify the colored leg band combinations to ID the NFT birds. Again, “Where’s Waldo.” No one appreciates the sweet musical sound of a beep more than Bev. But I digress.

And so, as the sun began to peek over the horizon last Tuesday in Marathon County, our little banding team assembled… each of us on Work Release from our usual places of business; Hillary and Sabine from ICF, me from OM and Dr. Richard Urbanek from… Retirement.

Sabine, Hillary and Richard – the capture/banding team.

As most of you know, Richard, a retired USFWS biologist, banded all of our Parent Reared and Costume Reared chicks this year and has banded most of the entire EMP whooper population over the years. In fact, legend has it that he was the first person to band a crane.  No one knows exactly what year that was, but we do know that he caught the crane accidentally in his Velociraptor trap.

The morning’s mission was to replace the transmitter on whooper 28-05.  Her transmitter had been dead for many years. The story of 28-05 would take up another update or more, so I’ll just say she has been hanging out around here, mostly with sandhill cranes, for more than a decade.  The locals named her “Millie” after the nearby McMillan Marsh. This season, she finally had a whooper to hang with… our little 2-15, whose transmitter still works just fine. In fact, they nested this spring in a nearby marsh and produced two eggs. This was a very exciting and hopeful development… except for one minor detail; they are both females. A few weeks ago, we released two Patuxent Parent Reared chicks with them in hopes of an “adoption.”

“They always fly into feed with the cows about 8 o’clock in the morning,” the ranch owner told me the night before.  And so we prepared our gear and waited. And waited. And after a while, the thought balloon ascended above each of us; “Ah… did someone forget to send them an invitation to the party”?

Sabine sped off in the ICF tracking van to see if she could locate our little “No Shows” while Richard, Hillary and I embarked on a serious effort to solve the world’s problems. And after a while, she returned.  “I have a signal a couple of miles away but don’t see them.” So… off we went, and soon we were standing in a lady’s back yard staring out at an adjacent agricultural field where 28-05, 2-15 and the two Parent Reared chicks were foraging with a large flock of sandhill cranes. “That field is owned by a farmer who lives a few miles away,” the lady informed us. So… off we went to find him to ask permission to access his property. Soon, the farmer was dismounting his tractor to listen to our request. “…and they’re endangered and we wear these white costumes and….” to which he returned that all so familiar quizzical smile that reflects both benevolent cooperation and confused disbelief. “Sure… go ahead.”

As we made our exit, the farmer’s son walked over and asked him, “Who were those people, Dad?”  The farmer scratched his head and replied, “Beats me, son.” Then he climbed back up onto his tractor and rolled away.

We drove back to the ag field, hoping the birds would still be there. And there they were…. GONE! So… back to our original starting point we went… and there they were… way out at the end of a pasture with the flock of sandhills.

From left: #19-17, 2-15, 28-05 and 25-17 near the bait corn.

We suited up and began the trek out past the herd of cows towards the birds.

 “Who are those people,” the one cow asked the other cow.

 “Beats me, son,” the cow answered. Then he turned and walked away.

                            …..to be continued tomorrow.

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Whooping Crane Curve Ball

Just when I think the cranes have developed a routine they throw me a curve ball…

Since we officially declared them released and shut the pen doors they have rather predictably come off roost right around sunrise. They fly to a favorite field and about 2 minutes later, Henry aka #5-12 and 30-16 arrive. Shortly thereafter, 3 Sandhill cranes put in their appearance.

They all forage happily for a few hours then fly to a wetland on the other side of the Fox River for a while. Usually midday is spent in Henry’s Pond, then late in the afternoon back to the field for a snack before roost.

Until Saturday afternoon this was the way the days have been going…

At noon Saturday, I was in the pen parking lot getting such weak signals from the direction of Henry’s Pond that I thought several of them must have their transmitter antenna’s dunked in water. I listened for a long time in all directions. Six of the birds’ beeps were equally loud in three directions. I turned the gain down. I turned the volume up. They were equally loud in those same three directions.

It was sunny and in the 70s, and very windy. Interesting to note that the Omni antenna on my RV was only getting one channel also. Usually it gets 9.

After a good bit of driving here and there and listening, I found Henry, 30-16, and youngsters: 2, 3, 7 and 8 over in Henry’s old summer wetland! Cranes 1, 4 and 6 were still in Henry’s pond. This was the first time in weeks they split up! But, not the last.

By 3 pm they were all back at Henry’s Pond. At 3:45 pm cranes 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 flew to the favorite field for a before roost snack. Henry, 30-16 and #1-17 stayed at the pond.

Juvenile Whooping cranes 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8-17 fly in for a late afternoon snack. Photo: C Chase

Sunday their routine was back to normal. All together. All day.

So, we wait and wonder where these cranes will end up this winter. The suspense builds…

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Become a Sustaining Supporter Today

Monthly contributions can be processed more efficiently than single or one-time gifts, resulting in a higher percentage of your gift being directed to our work – and you are in control! At any time, you can increase, decrease, pause or stop your support, all at your convenience.

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.

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 – 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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Temps are Finally Dropping

This has been the warmest October on record. 

No global warming? Snort! Just my luck.

If you have known me for more than about 3 minutes, you know I hate hot weather and sunshine. I’ve been feeling very cheated these last few weeks.

The leaves have turned the same color as the crane chicks. Folks are burning the ones that have fallen, so it looks and smells like fall, but it has been in the mid 70s.

Starting tomorrow I am going to be happier, my camp mates not so much. Look at those highs! Yay, it’s my turn! 

 

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RAFFLE! Avian Abode’s!

Less than two weeks remain for your chance to snag one of this year’s OM Staff Avian Abode’s!

October 31st at noon is when we’ll be making the drawing for each of these creative, um, masterpieces! Get your raffle tickets today!

The Odd Couple: Brooke Pennypacker and Bev Paulan

Creating a novel birdhouse was a task assigned to Brooke but we all know where the talent lies in that couple.

The creative use of wine corks provides a beautiful and practical exterior to their birdhouse and maybe a little insight to one of their other favorite hobbies.

 

 

 

 

The Backyard Enthusiast: Chris Danilko

Chris’ inspiration for her birdhouse design came from her three grandchildren: Abby 7, Mikayla 5 and Thomas 4. Chris spends weekends with the trio and is continuously coming up with ideas for all to participate in and to inspire them to appreciate nature and birds.

The finished product is completely edible and can be consumed by the occupants – providing you are a bird.

 

 

 

The Vagabond: Jo-Anne Bellemer

It seems that three months on the road was not enough to dampen Jo-Anne’s wanderlust. An aspiring RV owner, Jo-Anne’s birdhouse looks like a mini Winnebago for our feathered friends. Let’s hope they don’t get too attached. We might see them heading to Florida on foot with their mobile home in tow.

 

 

 

The Birdwatcher: Heather Ray

Heather’s birdhouse design incorporates her stained glass hobby into her other favorite pastime of birdwatching. She has provided our feathered friends with a nest opportunity that is safe from the elements, while still allowing you to peek in discretely. She is also teaching the birds a life-lesson about not throwing stones.

 

 

 

Greek Weddings and Colleen Chase

We are not sure if Colleen has any Greek ancestry but her birdhouse resulted from (un)-ceremoniously breaking a lot of plates. She scoured antique stores for old dinnerware and used the smashed pieces to create a mosaic birdhouse. What better way to provide shelter to pairs of expectant parents. OPA!

 

 

 

The Intemperate: Joe Duff

The birdhouses created by the OM team likely reflect their personalities more than they care to admit.

Joe started with a simple bird shelter and kept piling complications on top. Joe never learned the lesson most important to an artist and that is knowing when to stop.

 

 

 

 

Tickets are sold in sets of 5 for $5/set.

Visit this link and select your favorite(s) from the dropdown menu. The draws will be made on October 31st at noon and the winners will be notified on our blog and also by telephone. 

Once everyone has been notified, we will send the Avian Abode’s to each of the winning ticket holders by mail, or, if local, we’ll personally deliver them to the winner!

More tickets increase the chances of your name being drawn.

The Slow Lane That Froze

Do you remember that I promised (in Life in the Slow Laneto continue my saga of monitoring Whooping Crane colts? Well, it has taken me a while, but finally here is part two. Just to remind you of some background, my monitoring assignments are 30-17 and 72-17. My target bird that those two were released near is 71-16, but she flew the coop and now hangs around Horicon Marsh. I accused Heather of stealing her, since Heather is monitoring two birds down there. At the end of part one, Heather and I had just found 30-17 at the edge of the woods and the marsh, standing upright (WHEW!), and later that day we saw her fly back into the marsh.

The next day proved even more interesting. First thing in the morning, I drove into the marsh and bounced my way over to the dike where the chicks had been released. The dike is about a mile long – every few hundred yards I would get out of the truck, take out the receiver and directional antenna, and take a reading on 30-17’s beeps. Sounds easy? Not on your knees! Getting out of the truck involves a “slide/jump” because the truck is so high. Getting back into the truck the first few times in a day is not bad – there’s a handle to help – but by mid-day my knees and hips are feeling it, and by the end of the day I’m very selective as to where and how often I decide to check for beeps!

I was able to bi-angulate the beeps to point to a location somewhat centered in the nearly rectangular set of dikes I was riding. I drove to the opposite side where the cattails were knocked down, thinking maybe I’d get a visual on her. It seemed like a good spot for a view if she decided to jump, dance, or flap. I climbed into the bed of the pickup (this is something you do NOT want to see!) and sat in the camp chair, scanning left-right-left-right, hoping for a glimpse.

Suddenly there she was! Not jumping, dancing, or flapping, well yes, flapping – she was FLYING! I got my binoculars on her and followed her short flight, making note of where she seemed to land. It was pretty close to her release site, so I headed back to that dike (that took me about 20 minutes). Once there, I put the truck on auto-pilot (no foot on the gas pedal) and crept along at 2 mph while I peered to the right, trying to peek through the cattails for a glimpse of her. Every so often I would take a beep reading. Each time, she was still somewhere out ahead of me, so I kept going in the same fashion, alternating between making sure I wasn’t driving off the dike and peering through the cattails on my right.

At one point, I decided I had to be pretty close so I decided I would stop the truck and go the rest of the way on foot. I shut off the ignition and turned to my left to open the door. As I did, obviously my line of sight turned to the left – a direction I hadn’t looked the entire way down this dike. And left was where she was! She was over on the other side of the canal on the left, looking at the truck like “hey stupid, I’m over here!”.

I froze! I panicked! You know that classic comedy routine where two people suddenly notice each other and both scream? That’s what I felt like – I’m supposed to be monitoring her – she’s not supposed to be monitoring me! At that point I just sat very still and she turned back to foraging and ambling alongside the canal, totally ignoring my presence. After about 30 minutes, she had made it to the far end of the canal where there is a path that crosses over to the dike I was parked on. I didn’t know if she would turn left into the scrub, head straight up the hill that becomes a road out of the marsh, or turn right and come onto the dike. She took her time deciding – there must have been some pretty good eats in that area.

Finally she committed to a direction – she took the path onto the dike, which is the last thing I thought she would do. This spot is at a corner of the rectangle I had been driving around, so she now had two choices – walk towards me or head on the “cross-dike” to the right and out of sight. She walked towards me! Actually, it’s hard to call it walking. It’s more like forage here – forage there – look around – take a step – repeat. But slowly, very slowly, she was making her way towards the truck. I guess I should have started the truck and retreated slowly in reverse, but I kept thinking that the truck would disturb her and that certainly, at some point, she would notice the truck and turn around.

At last she turned around and retraced her forage-steps for a while. And then turned around again coming towards me. At one point I think she finally got aggravated that I was in the way – she took flight and went right past me, and seemed to be muttering “I thought this marsh was closed to traffic – I’ll have to write to my representatives!” She landed on the same dike, a hundred or so yards behind me, and continued to forage-walk away from me.

I doubt I will ever have an experience like this again when I’m out monitoring, and rightfully so – such a close encounter is not at all what we strive for! Please don’t tell my boss how happy I am that this happened!

Young Whooping Crane 30-17 flies by a very surprised Jo-Anne Bellemer (photo – OM)

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Beast Goes into Hibernation

Guest Author: Cathy Fouche

The “beast” has been tucked away in the hangar for the winter, bringing to a close Operation Migration’s 2017 CraneCam season. And what a season it was…

For the first time ever, a Whooping Crane nest was observed on a live stream. We watched a pair of young Whooping Cranes dubbed the Royal Couple dutifully tend, defend, and maintain their first nest.

Whooping crane 3-14 or 4-12 incubating the two eggs they produced. Photo: Operation Migration

Then Peanut (#4-14) showed up, as did the coyote, and our hearts were broken. We watched as this young pair of birds demonstrated that you just have to keep on keepin’ on as they continued to claim and defend their territory. And then they danced. And we saw it.

We bid adieu to the Royal Couple’s turf, along with the pelicans and egrets, as the beast was relocated to the pen and lo and behold, Peanut and his buddy 11-15 showed up on the runway, and he danced. And we saw it.

Then came the pen cleanup and expansion. It was incredible and exhausting, and that’s just for those of us who watched. Magic happens when a dedicated group of people come together to do good things. The team and the volunteers did just that. And we saw it.

Then at long last, the chicks arrived. Seven cinnamon colored Whooping Crane chicks, so young that special crates had to be built, were flown from Patuxent, Maryland to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and then driven to the White River Marsh and introduced to their new 10,000 square foot temporary home. They were glorious. So young that they had to swim to reach their destinations in either of the two ponds. And we saw it.

They were led on excursions to acclimate them to their surroundings and encouraged to exercise and experience the marsh. Deeper into the marsh they explored, discovering new ponds and new delicacies like snakes and berries. At first the costumed handlers flew better than the chicks. It was adorable. Then the chicks started to fly. And we saw it.

One day the chicks were visited by the adult Whooping crane pair consisting of 4-13 and 10-15, and weren’t completely sure how to react. The pair flew a circuit around the pen, returned, gave a goose bump inducing unison call, then flew off. And we saw it.

The chicks became more confident in their flying abilities and gradually less dependent on the costume, eventually flying to and from the north pond and in some cases walking themselves to and from via the route the handlers had taught them. They grew into a cohesive cohort, walking and flying together from place to place. And we saw it.

They discovered the pond #5-12 and his little buddy #30-16 call home and started to visit. Then one night they didn’t come home. They began to spend more time with these two older birds, as was the hope for the program. Somewhere along the line, they grew up and no longer needed the tumes, and finally the pen. They gradually self-released. And we saw it.

The marsh appeared to come alive in the spring as it greened up and the young of year began to appear. The parade of new life across the landscape was only rivaled by the parade of seven young whoopers hither and yon over the summer. The sunrises and sunsets seemed to be in competition as to which was more beautiful, and the storms were both scary and awesome. The migratory songbirds gradually started to move on and fall began to work its paintbrush through the trees. And we saw it.

I would like to express my gratitude to OM, Mike the Beastmaster, and most especially, Heather, for working so hard to allow us into the world of the Whooping Crane via the CraneCam. It has truly been an honor and a privilege to drive the CraneCam this season, and I thank you for the opportunity.

The Beast may have gone to its winter rest, but our dedicated Operation Migration team is hard at work doing what they do best, helping Whooping Cranes. Thank you all for all you do. 

Ed. Note: It is we, who must thank you and all the other volunteer CraneCam drivers who give up your time to entertain and educate viewers. Thank you Cathy Fouche, Terry Johnson, Rich Smith, Kimberly Bubser, Ginny Lulow, Lori Verhagen, Dawn Fronk, Bev Birks, and Jo-Anne Bellemer.

Technically speaking, this was one of the more challenging seasons, but we were rewarded with some incredible views into the wonderful world of whoopers.

The “Royal Couple” still very much a pair. Photo captured early October. Photo: Operation Migration

RAFFLE Tickets! Get Yours Today!

Less than two weeks remain for your chance to snag one of this year’s OM Staff Avian Abode’s!

October 31st at noon is when we’ll be making the drawing for each of these creative, um, masterpieces! Get your raffle tickets today!

The Odd Couple: Brooke Pennypacker and Bev Paulan

Creating a novel birdhouse was a task assigned to Brooke but we all know where the talent lies in that couple.

The creative use of wine corks provides a beautiful and practical exterior to their birdhouse and maybe a little insight to one of their other favorite hobbies.

 

 

 

 

The Backyard Enthusiast: Chris Danilko

Chris’ inspiration for her birdhouse design came from her three grandchildren: Abby 7, Mikayla 5 and Thomas 4. Chris spends weekends with the trio and is continuously coming up with ideas for all to participate in and to inspire them to appreciate nature and birds.

The finished product is completely edible and can be consumed by the occupants – providing you are a bird.

 

 

 

The Vagabond: Jo-Anne Bellemer

It seems that three months on the road was not enough to dampen Jo-Anne’s wanderlust. An aspiring RV owner, Jo-Anne’s birdhouse looks like a mini Winnebago for our feathered friends. Let’s hope they don’t get too attached. We might see them heading to Florida on foot with their mobile home in tow.

 

 

 

The Birdwatcher: Heather Ray

Heather’s birdhouse design incorporates her stained glass hobby into her other favorite pastime of birdwatching. She has provided our feathered friends with a nest opportunity that is safe from the elements, while still allowing you to peek in discretely. She is also teaching the birds a life-lesson about not throwing stones.

 

 

 

Greek Weddings and Colleen Chase

We are not sure if Colleen has any Greek ancestry but her birdhouse resulted from (un)-ceremoniously breaking a lot of plates. She scoured antique stores for old dinnerware and used the smashed pieces to create a mosaic birdhouse. What better way to provide shelter to pairs of expectant parents. OPA!

 

 

 

The Intemperate: Joe Duff

The birdhouses created by the OM team likely reflect their personalities more than they care to admit.

Joe started with a simple bird shelter and kept piling complications on top. Joe never learned the lesson most important to an artist and that is knowing when to stop.

 

 

 

 

Tickets are sold in sets of 5 for $5/set.

Visit this link and select your favorite(s) from the dropdown menu. The draws will be made on October 31st at noon and the winners will be notified on our blog and also by telephone. 

Once everyone has been notified, we will send the Avian Abode’s to each of the winning ticket holders by mail, or, if local, we’ll personally deliver them to the winner!

More tickets increase the chances of your name being drawn.

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