It’s EMP Update Time!

Whooping Crane Update – September 4, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month another chick has fledged, and we’ve released our first Whooping Cranes of the year. 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 100 (46 F, 51 M, 3 U). This does not include wild-hatched chicks that have not yet fledged, but does include fledged wild-hatched chicks and the family group released at Horicon NWR. As of 1 September, at least 79 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 3 in Michigan, possibly 3 in Illinois, and 3 in Minnesota. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month or two. See maps below.

Nesting

As of 4 September, we have had at least ten chicks hatch in Wisconsin, five of which are still alive, and at least two of which have fledged. Chicks in bold are currently alive.

W1_18 and W2_18 hatched to parents 12-11 and 5-11 in Juneau Co, WI. W1-18 fledged in late July, and is still in Juneau Co.

W3_18 (F) and W4_18 hatched to parents 24-09 and 42-09 in Adams Co, WI. W3-18 is currently alive and with its parents and has been banded. W3-18 fledged sometime in August.

W6_18 is still alive and with its parents 1-04 and 16-07 in Juneau Co, WI. W6-18 has been banded.

W7_18 and W8_18 hatched to parents 9-03 and 3-04 in Juneau Co. W7_18 is still alive.

W9_18 hatched to parents 14-08 and 24-08 in Juneau Co, and is still alive. We have seen 24_08 alone with the chick for most of July and August. W9-18 has been banded.

W10_18 hatched to parents 4-08 and 23-10 in Juneau Co, but died in early August. 

2018 Releases

In 2015, 16_11 (M) nested with a Sandhill Crane at Horicon NWR in Dodge Co, WI. He was captured in spring 2016 and brought to a captive center in Florida, White Oak Conservation, with a captive female, 18_12 (Hemlock). 18_12 was slated to be released with the 2012 DAR cohort at Horicon, but had a health issue that is now resolved. 16_11 and 18_12 paired in captivity, nested in 2018, and laid two eggs which both hatched. On 24 August, Windway Capital Corp. flew the four Whooping Cranes from Florida to Wisconsin. They were all released at Horicon NWR on 25 August near 16_11’s territory.

adults 16-11 and 18-12 with twins 73-18 and 74-18. Photo: International Crane Foundation

As of 4 September, 16_11 (M) and 73_18 (F) are associating and 18_12 (F) and 74_18 (M) are associating. The two groups are not far from each other. Since release they have explored more of the marsh, have roosted in appropriate habitat, and have made it through some severe storms in the area.  

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (F) is still in Adams Co, WI, but is no longer with 39_16.

W7_17 (F) is still alone in Wright Co, MN.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) are still in Scott, Carver, or Hennepin Co, MN.

28_17 (M) was last seen in Marquette Co, WI.

24_17 (M) is in Rock Co, WI.

72_17 (M) is still in Ingham Co, MI.

38_17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI, where she was released in the fall. She has met up with 63-15 (M).

39_17 (F) is still in Outagamie Co, WI.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

7_17 (F) is still with 4_14 (M) in Green Lake Co.

3_17 (M) was recently sighted in Green Lake Co, WI with two other adults 30_16 (M) and 11_15 (M).

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are still in Brown Co, WI.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) have split up and 1_17 and 2_17 are currently in Winnebago Co, IL. 8_17 was last seen in Sangamon Co, IL, but her whereabouts are now unknown.

Mortality

The carcass of 71-16 (F) was collected 31 August but she had been dead for a while. She was last seen in late March in the same area. Cause of death is unknown.

18_11 (M), 24_13 (M), 26_09 (F), 10_10 (F), 17_07 (F) have not been seen in over one year, are now assumed to be dead, and have been removed from the population totals above.

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Whooping Crane Festival – REGISTER NOW

The festival is this weekend!

And it will be OUR final festival so we’d love for you to join us to help celebrate the Whooping cranes in this area. 

It takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Friday, Sept. 7th with a guided tour of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum where one of our ultralights is now on display!

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff and Associate Professor Misty McPhee. Advance reservations are required!

Join us for the kick-off dinner at American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, WI.

Saturday, Sept. 8th brings the all-day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 9, 2018 – we hope to see you there!

My Time at OM

I have always loved nature and wildlife from the time I was little. As I grew older, I also became interested in conservation and the environment. 

As a child, one of my idols was Doris Day and I loved to hear her sing Que será, será (Whatever will be, will be). Maybe that was the influence to my life-long conviction to just sit back and let the universe bring whatever it will my way. Which is how I ended up working with Operation Migration.

At the same time that I had my hours significantly reduced, the Board gave permission for Heather to hire some help as Operation Migration was really starting to take off; no pun intended. At the right time and the right place the universe had brought to me something very special and rewarding.

Operation Migration had already finished their year of ‘practicing’ with Sandhills and were officially working with Whooping cranes when I came along in 2001. Having moved to the area 18 years previously, I was familiar with Bill Lishman, Joe Duff and the movie Fly Away Home. In fact my son was in the same class as Bill’s daughter. As I was volunteering in their class one day, helping with an art project, making fridge magnets, I remember Carmen sighing, “I’ll make one but I don’t have a fridge to put it on!” By this time, Bill had built his underground house and had an unusual fridge that, with the push of a button, rose up out of the counter top. Certainly NOT a traditional fridge.

I’d witness either Joe or Bill flying over my house with geese trailing behind. Joe commented once, that he wondered if those of us on the ground could hear him swearing at the geese as they played out their antics. Joe, no we couldn’t hear you, just the sound of engine and the honking was all we could hear. But it would have been funny if we could have. 

That first year with Operation Migration was a whirl wind for me and a learn-by-doing experience.  After a short training period, Heather was off with the migration and I was on my own for the next couple of months. Somehow, I managed to survive and kept things running while the team was gone. The work OM does is very cyclical and it wasn’t until one full year later that I felt like I understood the rhythm of OM and could confidently speak about our work. As the years rolled along, OM became bigger and more well-known; technology changed as well as various rules and regulations. People within the organization and partnership came and went; we moved our office twice. As the migrations started to become longer I began to feel like the lonely “Maytag repairman”. However, throughout it all, I was very proud to be working for an organization that was doing trail blazing work and saving an endangered species. How exciting is that! 

Over the years I have had many lovely conversations with “Craniacs” and through Facebook have made some life-long friends that otherwise I would never have had the opportunity to know. Twice, I was fortunate to travel to Necedah and got to witness what everyone was getting so teary eyed over. Watching the birds fly with the ultralight on a cold, crisp morning is a memory that is forever etched in my mind’s eye. Meeting another childhood idol, Jane Goodall, was icing on the cake. To say that I have been blessed is an understatement.

I cannot think of another group of people who have been as dedicated to a cause as this one.  What I can tell you for a fact, is that for Operation Migration, every decision or problem that needed to be overcome always boiled down to ‘what’s best for the birds’. And secondly, our responsibility to our generous donors.

I hope, with all my heart and soul that these birds will continue to flourish and spread across the landscape of eastern North America. May the universe be kind to them!

As for me? I don’t know yet. Que Sera, Sera…Whatever will be, will be.

I send all of you tons of hugs and love,

Chris

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Operation Migration Resigns from WCEP and Dissolves Organization

Operation Migration took flight 25 years ago when two artists-turned-aviators developed a method of teaching birds a new migratory route. The innovative approach helped stabilize the dwindling population of the magnificent Whooping crane.

Bill Lishman and Joe Duff developed the aircraft-guided migration method into an effective means of reintroducing endangered Whooping cranes into an area they had not inhabited in over a century.

Our first migration flight leading Whooping cranes occurred in 2001 – shortly after the 9-11 attack on the United States. It was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story; one of ordinary people working to save an endangered, North American species.

For 15 years, Operation Migration pilots and a dedicated ground crew led Whooping cranes on a journey toward survival. During those years, we contributed more than $10 million dollars and covered 17,457 miles with a total of 186 trusting Whooping cranes trailing off our wingtips.

Each of the cranes that survived the winter period in Florida returned north the following spring, and continued to migrate annually thereafter. Gradually, the number of cranes began to increase, giving hope for the species, which in the 1940s numbered only 15.

The aircraft-guided migration method was ended in the fall of 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a document titled “FWS Vision for the Next 5-year Strategic Plan” that claimed the method was “too artificial.” They suggested that cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents that did not adequately protect their offspring.

We continued work for another 3 years based upon our belief that the goal of a self-sustaining Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we no longer believe this goal to be achievable.

As a result, we cannot continue, in good faith, to accept contributions or justify assigning our staff and volunteers to carry out the work outlined in the strategic plan imposed on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

This led us to an extremely difficult decision: The management and Board of Directors are withdrawing Operation Migration from membership and participation in WCEP and dissolving the organization. This decision is heartbreaking for us all but we have exhausted all possible avenues to avoid this outcome.

Supporters from around the world have generously contributed to Operation Migration’s aircraft-guided work, its successful costume-rearing program, and education and research efforts, all of which have contributed to the recovery of Whooping crane. When our work began there were fewer than 500 Whooping cranes in North America. Today, the species total stands at more than 700 – a significant part of the increase is attributable to your help.

While disappointed that we were unable to achieve our long-term goal to establish a self-sustaining Whooping crane population, we take great pride in Operation Migration’s accomplishments, which your support and time helped to make possible:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people are more aware of the plight of Whooping cranes and wetlands thanks to our blog posts for the past 19 years;
  • Our partnership with Journey North, a distance learning program, brought information about Whooping cranes to millions of school-aged children worldwide;
  • We hosted the first-ever LIVE streaming camera featuring wild Whooping cranes; 
  • We raised awareness for the Whooping crane and gained global attention for the efforts to save them through the aircraft-guided program for 15 years. Our work was featured in numerous news stories, documentaries and published in many books and magazines that inspired people to care about, and take action for these vulnerable cranes;
  • The reintroduced Whooping cranes are avoiding humans, selecting proper habitat, pairing with other Whooping cranes and are producing offspring;
  • Aircraft used in our work are now on display at three distinguished locations: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), as reminders that people can take innovative action to help wildlife species in trouble;
  • Operation Migration contributed images to numerous educational textbooks over the past 20 years to help tell the story of Whooping cranes to students of all ages;
  • Our work garnered the attention and support of President Jimmy Carter and noted conservationist Jane Goodall.

We are grateful for the awards we have received over the years, which include:

  • 2002 National Wildlife Federation “Conservation Achievement Award;
  • 2003 Canada Post “Canadian Environmental Award”;
  • 2004 The Whooping Crane Conservation Association “Honor Award”;
  • 2006 American Birding Association, Partners in Flight “Outstanding Contribution to Bird Conservation”;
  • 2009 U.S. Dept. Of The Interior “Partners in Conservation Award”.

So many accomplishments, and all achieved with your help. We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all Operation Migration members, supporters, volunteers, and staff (past and present).

Your financial and emotional support kept us going more than you will ever know during many stressful and trying periods over the past 18 years of this reintroduction project. You have been like family to us.

There would not be Whooping cranes migrating over eastern North America without your support.

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Let’s Celebrate!

The festival is FAST approaching!

And it will be our final festival so we’d love for you to join us to help celebrate the Whooping cranes in this area. 

It takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Friday, Sept. 7th with a guided tour of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum where one of our ultralights is now on display!

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff and Associate Professor Misty McPhee. Advance reservations are required!

Join us for the kick-off dinner at American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, WI.

Saturday, Sept. 8th brings the all-day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 9, 2018 – we hope to see you there!

We are Humbled…

We have received so many incredibly heartfelt and sincere messages since we posted our decision to resign from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership and to dissolve the organization. It feels almost selfish keeping them all to ourselves so we decided to share some of them with all of you.

Although today’s news is sad, your vision for the future of those magnificent Whooping Cranes was inspirational, practical and on the grandest of scales. To your legion of fans, you will always be airborne with cranes pacing your wings  – migrating with the birds you love. Your tireless dedication to Operation Migration sets the standard for bird preservation efforts everywhere so you have much of which to be proud. 

Your friends,

George Petrides, Sr., and all at the Wild Bird Centers


All, 

We were very saddened by the news that Operation Migration is dissolving. We would like to thank you for your dedication and the awareness of the whooping cranes you have brought to so many people, us included. Your work to help the cranes in the eastern migration route has been amazing and something that we have been following for many years. We had the pleasure of seeing the training flights for the young cranes before they made their journey south. You have inspired us to explore and learn more about birds and to understand the importance of their environment.  We love the whooping cranes and watch for them wherever we go. We are fortunate to have a weekend place near Princeton so keep our eyes open all around the area and are excited when we see the cranes in their favorite field or when traveling down highway 22 on our way home. Our trip to Necedah NWR is always a success when we see the whooping cranes and is especially amazing when we get to see the young fledglings. All of this has been inspired by your team, your enthusiasm and the dedication you have shown for this magnificent bird.   We have followed your blog which has allowed us to keep up on the progress of the eastern population and have really enjoyed your stories and adventures. We will miss having this means to learn and follow the travels of these birds. — Sue and Ben Schwenn, Wisconsin


Hello everybody at Operation Migration,

As a long term supporter of OM, I am very saddened by this news. Thank you for all of the hard work that you have done to support whooping cranes.  I appreciate that this must have been a very difficult decision.  If you truly believe that you cannot support the WCEP’s initiatives, then withdrawing and dissolving the organization is the right thing to do.

I wish you all the best in any future initiatives that you undertake,

Thanks,

Cathy Page, Alberta

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Duff Doodle Crane Scarves!

Available for $20 ea. until they’re gone!

These fun Duff Doodle crane scarves can be found here. 

Get one in each color or for a gift for someone special!

Get yours before they’re gone!

 

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We Hope You Can Join Us!

The festival is FAST approaching!

And it will be our final festival so we’d love for you to join us to help celebrate the Whooping cranes in this area. 

It takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Friday, Sept. 7th with a guided tour of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum where one of our ultralights is now on display!

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff and Associate Professor Misty McPhee. Advance reservations are required!

Join us for the kick-off dinner at American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, WI.

Saturday, Sept. 8th brings the all-day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 9, 2018 – we hope to see you there!

Well Well, Would ya Look at That…

Remember the young parent-reared Whooping crane that stayed in Wisconsin last winter? I monitored her (38-17) and another young Whooper once they were released at Horicon NWR and while 39-17 headed south with Sandhill cranes, 38-17 decided to stay at the refuge. all. winter.

A few capture attempts were made but she evaded her captors each time so the decision was made to provide supplemental food. 

Well 38-17 survived the brutally cold winter and looked none the worse for wear whenever Doug Pellerin sent along photographs of her.

Well today Doug messaged me and said she was not alone! Indeed she had found another Whooping crane – The lucky fella is male #63-15 who typically spends time on the northeast corner of the refuge. 

I saw by 38-17’s GSM device that she ventured over that way earlier this week and I wondered if she might spot 63-15. Well it turns out she did and she managed to convince him to return to the west side of the refuge.

Here are some photos Doug captured on Wednesday (Thanks Doug!)

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Photo: Doug Pellerin

Photo: Doug Pellerin

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Come Join Us!

The festival is FAST approaching!

And it will be our final festival so we’d love for you to join us to help celebrate the Whooping cranes in this area. 

It takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Friday, Sept. 7th with a guided tour of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Museum where one of our ultralights is now on display!

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff and Associate Professor Misty McPhee, lead researcher overseeing research taking place at Necedah NWR. Advance reservations are required!

Join us for the kick-off dinner at American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, WI.

Saturday, Sept. 8th brings the all-day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities. 

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year for the adults, so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 9, 2018 – we hope to see you there!

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Cautiously Optimistic

Guest Author: Tom Stehn, Ret. Aransas NWR Biologist and Whooping Crane Recovery Team Co-Chair.

I hope you will celebrate the results of the USFWS 2017-18 winter whooper count posted below (505 in the primary survey area + 21 outside the survey area) = 526 total.

If you want to read details about the survey, check out: This link on the refuge web site.

However, just a cautionary note. Several things as follows indicate to me that this estimate of 526 may be too high.

1.  I calculated the % average population increase every decade from 1940 to 2010.  Flock growth averaged 42.6% per decade. So from my aerial census done in the 2010-11 winter of 283 cranes, one could anticipate, using the average flock growth per decade, a flock size of around 404 in 2020.  The best one decade growth rate equaled 87.2%. If the growth rate between 2010 and 2020 matches the best ever decade, anticipated flock size in 2020 would be 530. This is the only way I can come close to the current estimated flock size. 

2.  I have more faith in the accuracy of the nest count done in Canada every June than the winter survey done at Aransas after I retired.  I calculated the ratio between # of nests and the flock size the following winter for 10 years between 1967 and  2010.  This ratio equaled 3.87.  So given the peak of 98 nests recorded in 2017,  projected flock size would be 379 in the 2017-18 winter. If the highest ratio between flock size and # of nests is used (4.78), then the flock size could be 468.  Note that not all adult cranes nest every year, so I based my calculations on the peak # of nests ever recorded (98).

3.  The document by Butler and Harrell on the refuge web site entitled “Whooping crane survey results: Winter 2017-18” gives the annual long term flock growth rate at 4.55%. If you start with the last time a complete census of the flock was done in the 2010-2011 winter that found 283 whoopers at Aransas, a growth rate of 4.55% would derive an estimated flock size of 422 in the 2019-2020 winter. 

4.  The 95% confidence limits as stated by Butler and Harrell for the 2017-18 winter survey provide a flock size at Aransas of between 439 and 577 whoopers.  

So maybe flock growth in the past decade has been the best ever in the history of the flock.  Growth could be exponential. I sure hope so. Based on historic growth rates, that’s about the only way I can reach the current flock estimate of 526. 

So I will celebrate cautiously.  

Tom Stehn


U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE  Date:  August 21, 2018

Contact:  Wade Harrell, 361/676-9953 wade_harrell@fws.gov / Beth Ullenberg, 505/248-6638 beth_ullenberg@fws.gov

Estimated Texas Wintering Whooping Crane Population Breaks 500  –  Survey accuracy improved with shift from December to February time frame

The first winter after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast, an estimated 505 whooping cranes arrived on their Texas wintering grounds after migrating 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.  Each fall the birds make their way back to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding habitats, where they spend the winter.  Once they have arrived, wildlife biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey the birds by air and analyze population trends. 

Biologists have completed analysis of aerial surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population done last winter.  A switch in aircraft the previous winter and a shift to surveying later in the winter when a larger proportion of the population had arrived helped improve accuracy of the counts.  Preliminary data analysis indicated 505 whooping cranes, including 49 juveniles, in the primary survey area (approximately 153,950 acres) centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas. An additional 21 birds were noted outside the primary survey area during the survey. This marks the 6th year in a row that the population has increased in size and the first time the population has topped the 500 mark.

“Breaking the 500 mark for this wild population is a huge milestone”, stated Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “Seeing this iconic bird continue to expand demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can help a species recover from the brink of extinction.  I have to credit our biologists and our partners and local communities who continue to invest so much time and effort to improve our ability to make sure future generations have the chance to marvel at the beauty of these amazing wild birds.” 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has implemented several small changes that have greatly improved the agency’s capacity to survey the birds. “After two years of testing a shift of our December survey timeframe to later in the winter, we believe our previous survey estimates were likely low given that not all the whooping cranes had completed migration by mid-December. We had indications of a later than expected fall migration over the last several years via migration reports and telemetry data. This is the first year that we have based our winter abundance estimate from a February survey timeframe rather than a December timeframe. It may seem like population numbers jumped more than usual, but in reality we are just capturing a more complete proportion of the population, with most birds having completed migration by early February” stated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator Wade Harrell.

Harrell said biologists will continue to conduct flights in late January and early February for future surveys.  He also stated that staff at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge continue to make progress in recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.  “The good news is that the coastal marsh that supports our wintering whooping cranes was not significantly damaged by the hurricane and recovered quickly from any impacts, demonstrating how resilient intact wetland habitats can be.”

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America and are highly endangered. Cranes have been documented to live more than 30 years in the wild. Adults generally reach reproductive age at four or five years, and then lay two eggs, usually rearing only one chick.

More information about the survey and whooping cranes can be found on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/ Aransas/ or by calling the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station at: (361) 349-1181.    

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. Connect with our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/usfws, follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/usfwshq, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ usfwshq.

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A Good Year for Wild-Hatched Whooping Cranes

The Louisiana Non-migratory Population have reported that they are having a banner year. Five wild-hatched chicks have fledged, including a set of twins. Three of the pairs are first-time nesters, and two of the males are just 2 years old. (Here’s a link to their press release)

There are four wild-hatched chicks at Necedah this year that should be fledging very soon (If they haven’t already) and two more that are referred to as off-refuge – These two off-refuge cranes have been confirmed as fledged.

Six fledged chicks is a record for the EMP and, maybe some indication that they are finally figuring out how to deal with that challenging environment. We know that black flies at Necedah cause nest abandonment and pre-fledge chick mortality has been very high there so far, but maybe this is the turning point. 

Defending chicks and other parenting skills are partly instinctive and partly learned. As an example, there was a pair of Whooping cranes in the Florida non-migratory flock that lost their chick each year to a Bald eagle. Eventually, they figured out a defense strategy and during the last attack, the eagle had to be rescued before the cranes killed it.

It is interesting to note that all of these cranes, the two that figured out how to deal with the eagle, the five successful pairs in Louisiana and the six, hopefully soon to be successful pairs at Necedah – were all costume-reared. 

The five surviving chicks in Louisiana is exciting news especially the part about 2 year old males. If it continues, that flock could reach its self-sustaining status in record time. 

With promising results in Louisiana and, up until now, poor reproduction success at Necedah, its easy to see why the Recovery Team might shift their focus. They have directed that the majority of chicks available for release be assigned to the LNMP while WCEP gets just enough to keep the partners busy and to test an already disproved release method.

But that strategy ignores the value of the 100 or so birds in the EMP. In fact, with restricted releases, even the great results achieved this year at Necedah won’t last. Natural attrition will reduce the number of breeding pairs there and it won’t be long before fewer breeders will be available to learn predator defense techniques. 

It is becoming obvious that the rearing method is not the issue at Necedah. Black flies causing nest abandonment and chicks that don’t survive long enough to learn to fly, point directly at environmental issues. Even the Sandhills can’t make it work there.

The Recovery Team should take this year’s success as an opportunity to refocus their efforts. The Service should, once and for all, find out what is killing the twenty or so chicks that hatch each year at Necedah and finally determine if something can be done to mitigate the problem. 

Parent-rearing should be dropped for the costume-rearing method, which can provide more chicks to be released each year. Parent-rearing takes adults out of production at the captive breeding centers. Rather than producing more eggs to be costume-reared/released, the adult birds spend their time raising one or two chicks. Plus there are a limited number of adult Whooping crane pairs on the landscape outside of the Necedah area to release the parent-reared chicks with so most end up migrating south with Sandhill cranes. 

Dr. Brad Strobel of Necedah uses an innovative technique for circumventing the black fly issue. He uses temperature days to anticipate the bloom of those biting insects. Just prior to the peak, he collects eggs from the pairs that would normally abandon their nest when the flies attack. Those egg are incubated at one or more of the captive centers and eventually the chicks are reintroduced. When Whooping cranes lose their eggs early on in the process, they will often start a new nest and lay more eggs. It’s referred to as double clutching and generally occurs after the relatively short black flies season. Those second nests are more successful. 

Initially, the eggs collected from the “first nesters” were hatched at Patuxent and returned to Necedah as chicks along with some captive produced chicks. When the Louisiana project began, the Recovery Team made WCEP responsible for all of its own eggs. How many we got depended on how many were harvested just prior to when the black flies bloomed. All of the captive produced chicks went to Louisiana.  

Then the strategy changed. In 2018, the EMP was limited to ten chicks, no matter how many were harvested from Necedah and all were to be parent-reared. 

At the last count, four parent-reared chicks will be released this fall. The two chicks fathered by 16-11 at White Oak in Florida are scheduled to be released at Horicon this week. They are also included in the count of parent-reared releases this year.

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Just the Facts

In an article in the Wisconsin State Journal on August 18 Wade Harrell, coordinator of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, was asked to comment on the departure of OM from the Whooping Crane Recovery Team. He was very gracious about our contribution but again skirted around the real issue. Here is a link to the article and below, a few excerpts, and facts that he avoided.

“The eastern migration population of cranes that Operation Migration nurtured in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County now has over 100 members”, said Wade Harrell, Fish & Wildlife Service whooping crane recovery coordinator. “The number is encouraging but the flock is struggling to raise wild chicks and changes need to be made, he said.” 

Changes included cutting Operation Migration’s plane-led migration training for baby birds — which Harrell said jump-started the cranes’ reintroduction to the wild — and shifting raising of the chicks from human caregivers to captive adult cranes.“The changes may help the cranes learn natural rearing abilities, thus reducing chick mortality rates,” Harrell said. 

But Harrell said “the flock needs to focus on the unique challenges posed by their environment and circumstances. With sturdy numbers, the eastern migration population needs to focus on raising “natural” chicks, rather than pure chick numbers, so they can sustain themselves. The more that we can mimic Mother Nature in how we raise a chick in captivity, the more wild it will be when released,” he said.

Response:

The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Whooping Crane Recovery Team insist the cause of low reproduction within the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) is a result of artificiality – especially in the way Operation Migration raised the birds. Rather than the cranes being raised by people in costume, they directed WCEP to release only cranes that were raised in captivity by real Whooping crane parents. In other words, we could only release parent-reared birds as opposed to costume-reared birds.

Their idea is that birds raised by costumed people miss some nurturing lessons that would help them defend their own offspring once they mature. Inattentive parents, they suggest, is the reason up to 20 or so chicks that hatch each spring at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge die before they learn to fly.

There are many factors that suggest this strategy is wrong but they continue to ignore the facts:

Fact one: Parent-rearing has been used numerous times in the past. It was even used to release Mississippi Sandhill cranes but the technique did not improve reproduction success.

Fact two: There is no way to test the benefits of parent-rearing within the EMP. Even if it was a superior method, it is impossible to demonstrate those results. The EMP is a mix of Whooping cranes raised by various means including costume-reared, parent-reared, Direct Autumn Release (DAR), Ultralight-led and even a few wild hatched chicks. If a parent-reared crane breeds with a DAR crane or an ultralight crane, how is it possible to determine which method led to the success or failure of that pair to raise a chick? So how is the Recovery Team going to tell if those “cranes learn natural rearing abilities, thus reducing chick mortality rates”. Even if two parent reared cranes paired and bred successfully it would be a sample size of one and nothing on which to base any sort of conclusion.

Fact three: The only way to test the superiority of parent-rearing would be to flood the landscape with chicks raised using that release method. If enough of them survived to breed, they would be able to see a clear delineation in breeding success, but the Recovery Team has restricted the number of chicks available to the EMP so that method is not available.

Fact four: It has been known since 2007 that black flies at Necedah cause nest abandonment. Those numbers of black flies do not exist at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area and the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, so in 2011, WCEP moved the project to those new locations. However, not enough chicks have been allocated to the program to test those new habitats. Instead, the success of the EMP is judged solely on chick survival at Necedah.

Fact five: It has been known since 2010 that even if a pair can hatch a chick at Necedah, the chances of it surviving long enough to learn to fly are almost zero. However, the cause of that mortality is still unknown and plans to manage that habitat for Whooping cranes has not been developed.

Fact six: Sandhill cranes, which occur naturally in Wisconsin can’t keep their chicks alive at Necedah either. Over the last two years the productivity of Sandhill cranes at Necedah has been studied and the results indicate that they are not doing any better than the Whooping cranes. In fact, this year it seems they are doing far worse. So if a naturally raised Sandhill crane can’t breed successfully at Necedah how can reintroduced cranes be successful there? The Recovery Team and the Fish and Wildlife Service however would rather blame OM than admit that their selection of Necedah as a reintroduction site was a mistake from the beginning.

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Operation Migration Resigns From WCEP & Dissolves Organization

Operation Migration took flight 25 years ago when two artists-turned-aviators developed a method of teaching birds a new migratory route. The innovative approach helped stabilize the dwindling population of the magnificent Whooping crane.

Bill Lishman and Joe Duff developed the aircraft-guided migration method into an effective means of reintroducing endangered Whooping cranes into an area they had not inhabited in over a century.

Our first migration flight leading Whooping cranes occurred in 2001 – shortly after the 9-11 attack on the United States. It was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story; one of ordinary people working to save an endangered, North American species.

For 15 years, Operation Migration pilots and a dedicated ground crew led Whooping cranes on a journey toward survival. During those years, we contributed more than $10 million dollars and covered 17,457 miles with a total of 186 trusting Whooping cranes trailing off our wingtips.

Each of the cranes that survived the winter period in Florida returned north the following spring, and continued to migrate annually thereafter. Gradually, the number of cranes began to increase, giving hope for the species, which in the 1940s numbered only 15.

The aircraft-guided migration method was ended in the fall of 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a document titled “FWS Vision for the Next 5-year Strategic Plan” that claimed the method was “too artificial.” They suggested that cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents that did not adequately protect their offspring.

We continued work for another 3 years based upon our belief that the goal of a self-sustaining Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we no longer believe this goal to be achievable.

As a result, we cannot continue, in good faith, to accept contributions or justify assigning our staff and volunteers to carry out the work outlined in the strategic plan imposed on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

This led us to an extremely difficult decision: The management and Board of Directors are withdrawing Operation Migration from membership and participation in WCEP and dissolving the organization. This decision is heartbreaking for us all but we have exhausted all possible avenues to avoid this outcome.

Supporters from around the world have generously contributed to Operation Migration’s aircraft-guided work, its successful costume-rearing program, and education and research efforts, all of which have contributed to the recovery of Whooping crane. When our work began there were fewer than 500 Whooping cranes in North America. Today, the species total stands at more than 700 – a significant part of the increase is attributable to your help.

While disappointed that we were unable to achieve our long-term goal to establish a self-sustaining Whooping crane population, we take great pride in Operation Migration’s accomplishments, which your support and time helped to make possible:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people are more aware of the plight of Whooping cranes and wetlands thanks to our blog posts for the past 19 years;
  • Our partnership with Journey North, a distance learning program, brought information about Whooping cranes to millions of school-aged children worldwide;
  • We hosted the first-ever LIVE streaming camera featuring wild Whooping cranes; 
  • We raised awareness for the Whooping crane and gained global attention for the efforts to save them through the aircraft-guided program for 15 years. Our work was featured in numerous news stories, documentaries and published in many books and magazines that inspired people to care about, and take action for these vulnerable cranes;
  • The reintroduced Whooping cranes are avoiding humans, selecting proper habitat, pairing with other Whooping cranes and are producing offspring;
  • Aircraft used in our work are now on display at three distinguished locations: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), as reminders that people can take innovative action to help wildlife species in trouble;
  • Operation Migration contributed images to numerous educational textbooks over the past 20 years to help tell the story of Whooping cranes to students of all ages;
  • Our work garnered the attention and support of President Jimmy Carter and noted conservationist Jane Goodall.

We are grateful for the awards we have received over the years, which include:

  • 2002 National Wildlife Federation “Conservation Achievement Award;
  • 2003 Canada Post “Canadian Environmental Award”;
  • 2004 The Whooping Crane Conservation Association “Honor Award”;
  • 2006 American Birding Association, Partners in Flight “Outstanding Contribution to Bird Conservation”;
  • 2009 U.S. Dept. Of The Interior “Partners in Conservation Award”.

So many accomplishments, and all achieved with your help. We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all Operation Migration members, supporters, volunteers, and staff (past and present).

Your financial and emotional support kept us going more than you will ever know during many stressful and trying periods over the past 18 years of this reintroduction project. You have been like family to us.

There would not be Whooping cranes migrating over eastern North America without your support.

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Invading Personal Space

Henry (#5-12) doesn’t like it much when those pesky Sandhill cranes invade HIS alfalfa field!

He promptly, and in not so many words, asked the Sandhill to vacate. Photo: H. Ray

Scram!

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