“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……”