Nature Can be Cruel

We’re very sorry to report that the nest in Green Lake County, Wisconsin was predated last evening at 7:20 pm by a coyote. 

I can only describe the events leading up to it as a roller coaster ride of emotions. We watched on the CraneCam as a third whooping crane appeared on the screen. I was viewing the feed on my television screen so that I could determine its legband combination and I’m 99% certain it was #4-14, aka Peanut. Could it be? 

Of course the nesting adults were doing everything they could do to chase away the interloper from their nesting territory. Looking back now, I believe they were distracted trying to run off the other crane, until the coyote was mere feet from their nest.

It was on a mission and went through the water surrounding the nest platform, knowing what the reward would be. The parents ran at him and tried to ward him off but he wasn’t going to be thwarted. 

As you know by now, this was the first nest at White River Marsh and we had pinned a lot of hope on its outcome. If the egg((s) were fertile we were expecting a hatch today or tomorrow.

Obviously, we’re as disappointed as I’m sure, each of you are…

Perspective

My impression of our live camera comes from the perspective of a layperson. I can navigate most of the programs on my computer and I am getting pretty good at PowerPoint, but the technology behind our streaming video is well beyond my knowledge. In fact, I am better at interpreting what the cranes are doing than how the image is brought to me.

Every year our system is updated. Components wear out and new devices combine what used to be separate equipment into smaller packages that use less power and promise better results. About all that remains of the original system is the trailer itself.

This year we bought a new camera with better picture quality and upgraded radio and antennas for getting the signal back to the nearest internet connection at camp.

We also switched from a DSL line to a satellite up-link based on the promise of faster speed, but that’s only true if you believe the advertising.

Whether they are surfing the web or watching movies, most people use the internet for downloading so service providers configure their systems accordingly. We, on the other hand, are uploading and with that in mind we were promised more than enough bandwidth for a high quality broadcast. Not so.

Seems we used up what we were allotted in a few days and now it has been slowed — except for an hour or two at 3am when no one else is up.

That slowness doesn’t affect the quality so much as it limits the camera driver’s ability to pan, tilt and zoom. Then there is the fact that we are a quarter mile away from the nest. Add some morning fog, heavy rain or a strong wind that shakes the camera and sometimes its hard to see. The new antenna is a dish, two feet in diameter and all you have to do is aim it in the general direction of the receiver at camp. The old one required critical alignment to work properly but it was made of wire mesh which didn’t catch the wind – and shake the tower making the camera wobble when it is zoomed way in.

Then there is the power issue. The trailer contains five, 200 lb batteries and a backup solar panel. On overcast days that is not enough so we have a generator to occasionally charge the system. When we headed back to Ontario a week ago, we decided to run the genny once more but surprise surprise, it wasn’t there. Someone with light fingers and no scruples had cut the bicycle lock and taken it.

Luckily the manager of Kitz & Pfeil, the local hardware store, is very supportive and sold us another late Sunday afternoon. We locked it to the trailer with anchor chain and hit the road. Of course, that means viewers must now listen to a constant drone but we felt it was safer with something solid to fasten it to.

All generators are not created equal. In an effort to save some money, I opted for a slightly smaller replacement but, as it turns out, it was only capable of keeping the camera running but not charging the batteries at the same time.

In an effort to keep the camera running, Heather had Brooke rent a bigger one. Thereafter, he cleaned up the little one and exchanged it for what I should have purchased originally. Despite it having been run a few times, we were given a full refund. I told you the manager at Kitz & Pfeil was a good guy.

With all of this finally sorted and the batteries on their way to a full charge, Heather’s stress level dropped by half a point, just in time for a power failure back at camp which shut down the the entire system at camp, which delivers the stream to the internet.

There are many live wildlife cameras to choose from these days, but I would bet that few of them work miles from the nearest electricity or internet connection. I imagine that fewer still must stay a quarter mile from their subject to avoid disturbance. And I can guarantee none of them are recording nesting Whooping cranes.

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LIVE CraneCam

Ruppert enjoys watching the LIVE stream from our CraneCam… Have you checked it out yet?

Ruppert is a 7 yr. old indoor kitty in Wisconsin who sits next to the full screen video and watches the whooping cranes and listens to the songbirds calling. 

Ruppert and his sister cat Casey own new viewer Di and her husband. Casey isn’t into viewing the cranes as much as Ruppert is. 

Visit the CraneCam – We’re officially on hatch watch starting today!

 

Monthly Donations

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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Newly Hatched Crane Chicks

It’s twins for whooping crane pair 5-11 (M) and 12-11 (F)

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan spotted the two balls of fluff with Mom and Dad during her aerial survey over Juneau County, WI yesterday and sent along a couple of photos.

Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

Photo: Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR

The chicks are very likely only a day apart in age and we must caution it is rare, but not unheard of for both to survive. 

The adult male crane was produced in captivity at the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Center in Calgary, Alberta and the female #12-11 hails from the Audubon Species Survival Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both learned a migration route by following our aircraft south in fall 2011.

 

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EMP UPdate time!

May 1, 2017 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month, breeding Whooping Cranes have begun nesting. 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 maximum population size is 99 (45 F, 52 M, 2 U). As of 1 May, at least 86 Whooping Cranes have been confirmed in Wisconsin, 1 in Illinois, and 1 in Tennessee. The remaining birds’ locations have not been reported during April. See map below.

Reproduction

To date there have been 24 confirmed nests by 23 pairs in Juneau, Adams, Marathon, St. Croix, and Green Lake counties, Wisconsin. This year marks the first nest of a parent-reared Whooping Crane in the EMP as well as the first nest in the Eastern Rectangle. There are currently five active first nests and two active re-nests. One of these nests may have hatched 30 April, but it has yet to be confirmed. Four nests failed naturally, and eggs from 13 nests were collected as a part of the forced re-nesting experiment. Chicks hatched from these eggs will be released into the Eastern Migratory Population in the fall of 2017. We expect re-nesting by pairs whose first nests failed to begin during May.

Active first nests: 24-09/42-09 Adams Co, 3-11/7-11 Adams Co, 5-10/28-08 Marathon Co, 34-09/4-08 Juneau Co, 4-12/3-14 Green Lake Co, 12-11/5-11 Juneau Co (possibly hatched)

Active re-nests: 36-09/18-03 Juneau Co.

Failed nests: 59-13/1-11 St. Croix Co, 19-14/12-05 Juneau Co, 36-09/18-03 Juneau Co, and 24-08/14-08 Juneau Co

Eggs collected, Forced Re-nest all in Juneau Co: 13-03/9-05, W1-06/1-10, 12-03/29-09, 32-09/7-07, 18-02/13-02, 9-03/3-04, 25-09/2-04, 26-09/27-06, 17-11/19-11, 16-07/1-04, 10-10/41-09, 17-07/10-09, W3-10/8-04

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) migrated north to Wisconsin and are currently in Chippewa County, WI.

30_16 (M) spent all of April in Green Lake Co, WI. He was last seen associating with 5_12 (M).

31_16 (M) left Arkansas and migrated north to Stephenson Co, IL, where he is currently.

33_16 (F) left Florida and spent part of April in Carroll County, IL. By the end of the month she was in Dane Co, WI.

71_16 (F) spent all of April in Grant Co, WI.

70_16 (M) left Wheeler NWR, AL during April and flew north to Hardin County, TN. He has made a couple of short trips but is still spending most of his time in Hardin County.

69_16 (F) spent all of April associating with 65_15 (F). These two have been moving around during April and even made a trip south to northwestern Indiana. They are currently in Fond du Lac County, WI. 

Mortality

There were no mortalities confirmed during April.

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Playing Crane Matchmaker

OM’s Director Emeritus, Walter Sturgeon sits on the board of Sylvan Heights in Scotland Neck, NC. This 26 acre facility boasts the largest collection of waterfowl in the world.

Five years ago, this facility welcomed their first whooping crane, Tomo – a young male, who had sustained a leg injury. 

Last week, a female whooper with a beak deformity joined them and the plan is to slowly introduce the two in hopes of an additional captive breeding source of eggs for reintroduction.

READ the full story. 

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Sisyphus – Pt. 3

As a refresher: Pt 1  | Pt 2

We traveled only a few miles when our tracking receiver beep beeped to life and our pulse rates climbed accordingly. “She’s close!” Colleen said quietly. Stephen and Jo led us off the highway and onto a dirt road overlooking a large wetlands area. It was bordered on the other two sides by wooded uplands, while just to the east a giant radio tower stood ominously, it’s supporting guy wires radiating out like the tentacles of some malevolent alien. “Never stare directly at those radio towers,” my old flight instructor once counselled. “They’ll suck you right in.  Really!” The beeps grew louder, but sadly, no white spots appeared. We swallowed hard as reality began its indifferent assault.

Our large tracking van antenna sniffed the air, then assumed a bird dog point in the direction of a small, heavily wooded hummock rising up from the marsh a few hundred yards away. Our spirits fell. Whoopers don’t usually frequent such places unless they are having a very bad day. We attached the smaller antenna to our tracking receiver and the four of us were soon following the beeps down the gentle hill towards the hummock.

As our journey progressed, our senses sharpened and our sense of threat deepened, fueling our perception that the hummock was, in fact, growing ever larger… into some dark, storybook kingdom of menace. Our steps involuntarily slowed and shortened as if approaching a mine field. And that’s when we saw it… just a few feet ahead. It lay across our path like an invisible castle mote, like the door to a doctor’s examining room or the reading of a jury verdict… that all too familiar point of no return, past which things will never be quite the same.

We continued, and were soon at the hummock, staring into its collage of shade and shadow as if trying to discern a number on a Rorschach Chart.  And then the music stopped.  Just ahead in the dirt and leaves, under the dark canopy of vegetation, two transmitter bands lay before us in full color and function amidst the scavenged and scattered remains of our 8-14. We stood for a moment in quiet shock and reverence… and processed.

Then, as if on automatic pilot, we replaced our collective sense of loss with sudden purpose and began our crime scene investigation.  Our senses reawakened as we moved through and around the hummock assembling clues, though in the full knowledge that definitive answers would remain just out of reach. The nearby radio tower grew larger, its guy wires less visible as did the power lines that lined the dirt road just up the hill. And the condition of the remains suggested the end came many days before, most probably at the time of first arrival from St Marks. Possible scenarios began to form, dissolve and form again. But it would be up to the Health Lab in Madison, WI. to hopefully provide the final pieces to the puzzle.

As I began placing the remains of 8-14 in the plastic bag, I was suddenly mindful of just how maddeningly familiar it all was. I had performed this ritual twenty four times during my fifteen years with the project. Still, each time was like the first. We assembled and as we headed back up the hill, I had the sense that each of us was comforted by a sense of peace and consolation in knowing that she was attended by four people who really cared. And many more who could not be present.

Then, at the top of the hill, we heard a unison call ring out. It shocked our senses as its blanket of sound reverberated across the wetlands below. We turned back just in time to see a pair of adult whooping cranes, their bodies a blaze of white, as they stood in triumphant pose, necks outstretched, calling out against the sky.  How could we have missed seeing them?  And who were they? We stood in fixed amazement as they lifted off in perfect harmony and began spiraling up in wide circles above the marsh.  As they did, they called to each other continuously, their conversation raucous yet somehow soothing.  Higher and higher into the perfectly blue morning sky they climbed, growing ever smaller, their calling less audible. Then there was silence as one bird broke from the spiral and headed north on migration while the other continued higher and higher towards a patch of the purest, most comforting shade of blue imaginable. And then it was gone.

The drive back to Florida was long and dark and quiet… the kind of ride that seems to last forever but is so full of thoughts and memories that when it’s over, you wonder if it was all just a dream.  And through it all, I had the sense we were not alone… that back there in the darkness, next to the dead bird box, our old friend Sisyphus sat cross-legged, also lost in thought. Did he ever get used to it, I wondered? 

Then I remembered the story.  One day, while he was straining and struggling, his shoulder hard against the boulder as he inched it up the hill, an American tourist who just happened to be standing there trying to deploy his beloved Selfie Stick for a smartphone Facebook picture asked him, in utter confusion and disbelief, “How do you do it, man? I mean… Really?” Sisyphus stopped for a moment and looked up at the man, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and with the half smile of resignation answered, “You just got to learn to roll with the punches Big Guy. And don’t forget to smile.” And with that, he resumed his quest of rolling the boulder up the hill.

The long, dark miles continued to roll out beneath us as my mind considered it all with the quiet determination of a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. And I guess like most things, it was all pretty simple really. But the knowing of something is one thing and the acceptance of a thing is quite another. In the end, the only thing I’m really sure of is that in my next life… I’m going to take up golf. After all, it’s just gotta be easier to PUTT than it is to PUSH.

Postscript:

The following afternoon, back at St Marks, we were walking out from the blind when Bev called from the airplane as she circled above White River Marsh. “Guess who’s just below me foraging in the marsh?” she asked. It was 4-13.

And two weeks later, at the end of another long drive, I arrived back in White River Marsh to begin the new season. The next morning, Bev and I looked out expectantly across the marsh for the nest we hoped would be there. And there it was. #3-14 was sitting on her first nest with 4-12 in attendance foraging nearby. And so it begins.

“Push!”

A special thanks to our long time Stop-over Hosts and dear forever friends, Stephen and Jo Lewis… who continue to care.

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Checking In…

While out tracking in Green Lake County, WI Thursday, Doug Pellerin came across male number 5-12… in a snowstorm. Yearling male whooping crane number 30-16 was nearby.

Photo: Doug Pellerin

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Stinky RV’ers

Admittedly, my idea of recreation differs from the norm. Idle hours laying on a beach is like slow torture for me and I would rather hang by my thumbs than spend more than a minute or two swinging in a backyard hammock, good book or not.

So maybe they had people like me in mind when they called them Recreation Vehicles because there is absolutely no recreation involved. They are designed for people who like to keep busy– fixing things – constantly. 

You may recall that last December I pulled our 43-foot fifth-wheel trailer back to Ontario. Ten miles from home, one of the curbside tires blew, shredded, and wrapped itself around the axle, tearing off the electric brake leads in the process. Naturally, it happened on a busy road at night, in weather conditions that overworked all the roadside crews and delayed any Triple A type help for hours. After jury-rigging a repair to limp home, it cost $1400 to replace the tire, wheel, brakes and the fender torn off by the spinning tire fragments. 

This spring Heather towed that trailer back out to Wisconsin and I de-winterized it, only to find the hot water heater would not function. The handle of a shut-off valve broke in my hand so the problem was obvious. A simple fix, except this RV uses plastic plumbing pipe with brass fittings fastened together with steel clamps that seem to be squeezed in place with some sort of hydr?aulic device. ?Hacksaws, files, pliers, a flat screwdriver and a string of expletives later and the clamp was off.

?Access to this plumbing repair was through what RV’ers refer to as a basement. It actually a storage compartment under the trailer not designed for access by anyone over the age of fifty. The faulty valve was deeper still behind an access panel that requires sqooching, squeezing and squirming to end up on one elbow with a flashlight in your teeth and something unreachable jabbing into your ribs.

?All of these repairs were done between and after the camera work so it was day three before we had an opportunity to test the new valve – but nothing changed. Still no joy. After much head scratching, the problem was narrowed down to one other shut off valve that looked and felt fine but must have also been blocked, so out came the hacksaw again. On day five, it was ready to test but the water pump mysteriously quit. After being here for a week, the possibility of a much-needed shower was finally getting closer but the RV was not yet finished with us. The shower faucet must have retained some water last year, which froze over the winter and split the housing. Water squirted everywhere except out of the handheld sprayer as it should. Still, it was hot and mostly contained within the shower stall. Regardless of the contortions required to get wet and to rinse, it felt wonderful to finally be clean.

So now, all I have to do is fix the toilet once the parts arrive. Knock on wood.  

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Nesting Milestones

MADISON, Wis. – Whooping Cranes returning to Wisconsin this spring have achieved two important milestones toward establishing a self-sustaining flock of this ancient and endangered species in eastern North America.

A pair has nested for the first time at White River Marsh Wildlife Area, marking a welcome expansion of nesting range in Wisconsin and providing an important backstop to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, where most of the returning cranes have nested to date.

And another pair of cranes nesting in Necedah claimed the crown of the first nest in Wisconsin resulting from a released ‘parent-reared’ bird, a bird reared by a parent crane in captivity, not by costumed human caretakers.

“We are so pleased that Whooping Cranes are expanding and taking advantage of this previously unutilized suitable nesting habitat, so we do not have all of our eggs in one basket, so to speak,” says Trina Soyk, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who co-leads communications for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) leading the restoration project.

“And we are very excited about the first nest from a parent-reared Whooping Crane. Both of these are important milestones, and we are cautiously optimistic about the future of these pairs and the direction of our efforts toward helping achieve a self-sustaining population.”

Continue reading… 

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The Rain on the Cranes…

A week ago this area received an inch of rain in one night. It was the night before we arrived and driving through the area, I saw ponds where I know there should only be fields.

The increased water in the marsh means an improved predator alert system for the nesting pair, consisting of female 3-14 and male 4-12. As you can see from the photo below, they were smart enough to construct their nest – their first ever, I might add – in an area already surrounded by water.

A whooping crane nest can be 4-5 ft. across. Photo: Bev Paulan

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan captured this photo during an aerial survey and confirms a couple of things: 1. Bev has very steady hands as flying an aircraft and using a long lens from a high altitude usually doesn’t result in sharp images.

2. Instinct is a wonderful thing. These two whooping cranes are 3 and 5 years of age. This is their first time nesting and both were hatched in incubators. It would not have surprised me if their first nest had resembled a square box, much like an incubator but here they’ve constructed this incredible, symmetrical and tall nest platform in an ideal location, deep in the marsh. Well. Done.

It’s been raining for the past two days so water in the marsh is accumulating and a number of people have asked if the nest is in danger of flooding. Yes, I suppose it is but we have seen them pulling additional cattails and vegetation onto the platform so we’re hopeful their instincts will continue to guide this pair for another 10-12 days, which is when we anticipate a hatch (or two).

Tune in to watch live – in the rain.

Live Video Feed

Maybe I’m easily impressed but the live camera we use to monitor the cranes seems Star-Warsey to me. Technology is not completely over my head. By no means am I a Luddite, but to have a live camera operating 24/7 more than a mile from the nearest electricity or internet connection seems like a feat to me.

Luckily for us the fringes of the security industry, which is a far bigger market than monitoring nesting Whooping cranes, continues to push the range of live feed coverage. I say fringes because this is not off the shelf equipment.

Mike Deline is an IT/networking expert who has helped us with the camera since its inception in 2009. He has volunteered his time in support of Whooping cranes and maybe in equal measures, because he loves the challenge.

When I asked about the possibility of broadcasting live video of a nesting pair this year, Mike and Heather started planning. Email chains, online camera demos and equipment orders began. When we arrived at the marsh last Thursday, the DNR office was filled with boxes of equipment and we spent the weekend assembling the various components. Correction, Mike built the camera system, while Heather and I did the grunt work and helped out where we could. I spent most of my time on top of the silo at camp, securing the tower and fitting the new receiving antenna.

After a hard weekend, the camera went live at 5 pm on Sunday. Its more than a thousand feet from the nest but thanks to a powerful zoom feature, the images are better than we have had in the past. Even from that distance, the birds were aware of us. In fact, one flew overhead to see what was going on during the quiet and quick deployment.

This is the first ever live broadcast of wild Whooping cranes nesting. Our purpose is two-fold. Firstly, it is an educational tool. The more people who know about Whooping cranes, the more willing they will be to help save them. But it will also be a research tool. All of the video coverage will be archived for future reference and we hope to develop a citizen science program. Volunteer viewers will be assigned shifts to take notes and record observations. We hope to measure how long each bird incubates the eggs, how long the exchanges take and their reaction to predators. In fact, on the first morning of the broadcast we watched? both cranes chase off a pair of Trumpeter swans. These large birds are also territorial but they are heavier than Whooping cranes and would generally win border disputes. But they left to find their own nesting territory.

This is also the first nesting attempt by 3-14 and 4-12. You may recall that they successfully adopted parent-reared 30-16 last fall and taught him to migrate to Georgia. Not only did the chick get a lesson on survival, but we hope these two learned a bit about parenting.

Still, this is nature and first attempts are not always successful. We debated long and hard about whether to provide this feed to the public. We worried that predation of the chick or the disappointment of infertile eggs would cause a negative reaction from the viewers. We were also concerned about giving away the nest location. Most of White River Marsh is flooded and the nest is inaccessible but these new parents are hyper-sensitive about disturbances, even at long distances.

We want everyone watching to understand that we have taken every precaution to conceal the camera, hide our activities and and minimize disturbances. We are also observers only. Although these cranes were introduced here by un-natural means, this part of their life cycle is natural and needs to run its course. If these birds are to survive in the wild, they will have to adapt to predators, weather, changes in water levels and competition for territories. That means we will not intervene and you may witness occurrences you prefer not to see. In that case, we suggest you turn off your? computer.

The only time we would get involved would be after consultation with our WCEP partners for unforeseen situations which may or may not include the collection of any abandoned eggs. 

We still have a few tweaks to make to the stream and plan on adding an audio feed on Wednesday. We appreciate your patience while we work out the final details.

Defending the Nest

Shortly after sunrise this morning, we saw both cranes chasing off a pair of Trumpeter swan intruders.

Very nice to see them so vigilant and defending their nest!

Have a look… and you can watch LIVE here: CraneCam

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CraneCam Goes LIVE!

And for the first time ever, you’ll be able to see whooping cranes nesting!

This season, our camera is deployed at an undisclosed location in Green Lake County, Wisconsin and will feature the pair consisting of female number 3-14 and male number 4-12 as they nest for the first time.

This pair is fairly young with the female at 3 years and the male at 5. Whooping cranes typically begin breeding at 5 years of age. They’ve been a bonded pair since the spring of 2015. 

Both cranes learned a migration route by following our ultralight aircraft. They spend their summers in Green Lake County and their winters in south Georgia.

Last fall this pair ‘adopted’ the young parent reared whooping crane number 30-16 and successfully led the young male crane to their winter location. He returned this spring with them and was then chased away from their territory so that they could begin nesting.

We’ll be working out a few details with the camera over the next few days but intend to broadcast 24/7. Audio will be in place by the end of the week.

We’ll bring you more details about this nest and the CraneCam shortly but in the meantime, enjoy the views!

Please share the link with your friends: https://www.youtube.com/c/OperationMigration/live

Female 3-14 incubating after just switching duties with her mate, male #4-12