I’m in love. I’m in love with seven Whooping Crane chicks, but especially #8-17. Yesterday, I had the time of my life helping Brooke, Colleen, and Heather exercise the seven young Whooping Cranes who were delivered from Maryland to Wisconsin in a private flight generously donated by Windway Aviation.
For me, this year’s summer adventure started last Saturday when I hopped into my car (well, maybe I didn’t actually hop) and took off to Wisconsin. It’s a full two day drive for me – just about 1200 miles, but I don’t mind. I listen to audio books and sing with the radio – you would NOT want to be in the car with me! Anyway, I arrived at our camp Sunday afternoon so that I would be here with Joe and Heather for two of OM’s biggest annual meetings. Even though the meetings are conducted by conference call, it’s very helpful for us to be collaborating in the same room.
It was just an incredibly lucky coincidence that it also happens to be the same week that the seven chicks would arrive. They were being reared at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center by the staff there and our very own Colleen. Then, on Wednesday, they (the chicks, not Colleen and the staff) were crated, placed gingerly into Windway’s Cessna turboprop, flown to Oshkosh, transferred to a rented van, driven to White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, and released in a pen where they will spend the summer growing up and learning about living in a marsh. And all that was done with no talking, although the chicks were sure peeping – and I thought I was on an adventure!
I didn’t go into the pen with the chicks that day – I stayed out and peeked through the “port holes” while I streamed the event live on OM’s Facebook page. All the time I was secretly hoping that I would have a chance at some point during the week to don my costume and visit with the chicks up close and personal.
Today was the day! I dragged my bustle out of bed way earlier than I wanted to (6am) so that I would be awake for the morning planning session. I didn’t even have to speak up! Heather turned to me and said, “did you bring your costume?”. I gave her a nonchalant nod but inside my head I was yelling, “YES, YES, OF COURSE I DID!”
Fast forward about an hour. Brooke, Colleen, Heather, and I donned our costumes in the parking lot and started our trek down the “tume trail.” I found out that my costume has a rather large tear in the back, but I really didn’t care. I also found out that my boots were still soaking wet inside from when I was wading in the deeper water on Monday while I was checking out the new 10,000 square foot marsh-in-a-pen. Heather told me later that every time I took a step, my boots farted.
They turned off the electric wire, opened the gates, and we waved our arms to call the chicks out. I can’t remember exactly which chick came out first, but next thing I knew, #’s 1, 4, 8, and somebirdy else were following us down the runway. It was fits and starts at first. They wanted to explore off the runway, but we were persistent and got them to a wet area where we tossed some mealworms. (By “wet area” I mean pond on the runway.)
Those four chicks were pretty content to poke around the same area but the other three, not so much. Brooke went back to the pen to coax them to venture down the runway. They were in the pen, out of the pen, in the pen, out of the pen, LOL!
Anyway, after about 50 minutes, we slowly started to walk back towards the pen with our four little beauties. My heart totally melted every time I looked at #8 – she has quite the “haircut!”
Whooping Crane chick 8-17 striking a pose
A couple of the chicks were reluctant to go back in, but there’s nothing like a few grapes tossed in the doorway to solve that problem. We all went in for a few minutes to check on the food and water (I didn’t do any of the work – I just fed them the rest of my grapes).
Then, as we silently retreated back to the parking lot, my heart tickled with laughter. Be still, my heart!
Here are some other photos that Heather snapped of our, err, the chick’s first outing…
Whooping crane #6-17 opens her heavy wings and runs toward us.