2017 Tracking Season

Another year of tracking whooping cranes has come and gone for me except for two, Parent-Reared cranes, and those two birds should be leaving soon with the cold weather coming later this week.?

The Royal Couple: #4-12 & 3-14. Photo: Doug Pellerin

It’s been a interesting year as all years are when tracking whooping cranes. At one point I was tracking 17 different birds in my area. Most of these I was able to get visuals on for the early part of the season, but once the summer heat started they were much harder to locate. Some retreated into the marshes where it was cooler for them and others were molting.?

Henry (5-12) and 30-16. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Once the temperatures got a little cooler the birds started to reappear – some in their regular spots and others started moving around a little.?

2017 was also a year when 4-14 aka (Peanut) played hide an seek with us. First of all Brooke spotted him on the runway at our White River Marsh training site and for a while he stayed fairly close to the area. Then he disappeared and was AWOL for a while.? 

Then when my wife and I were driving over for crane festival we spotted two adult whoopers out in a field – there were two because Peanut had befriended another male whooping crane #11-15 earlier in the year which was a stroke of good luck for those of us tracking him because Peanut’s transmitter has been out of order for a couple years and #11-15 is transmitting, which of course makes it easy to locate them.

After a few weeks they both disappeared again and were missing for a while? until Joe and Heather spotted the two of them, miles away in a different wetland. He sure can be a pain in the butt, LOL.

I’ve also been helping Heather monitor 3 Parent-Reared birds, which we released in Dodge Co. in Sept. They are 24-17, 38-17 & 39-17.

Parent-Reared crane chick #38-17. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Number 24-17 has already migrated, but the other two are still here and I’ll continue monitoring them until they leave once the weather turns colder.

Once they leave I’ll put my tracking gear in hibernation until all the whoopers return in the spring.

It’s been a fun and interesting season!

Whooping Crane Update – December 2017

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month most Whooping Cranes have migrated south. 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 111 (51 F, 57 M, 3 U). This includes two fledged 2017 wild-hatched chicks, and the released parent-reared and costume-reared juveniles. As of 1 December, there are still 9 Whooping Cranes in Wisconsin, 6 in Illinois, 42 in Indiana, 6 in Kentucky, 2 in Tennessee, 14 in Alabama, 3 in Florida, and 1 in Louisiana. The remaining Whooping Cranes’ locations have either not been confirmed during November or they’ve left Wisconsin but haven’t been confirmed further south. See maps below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks
W3_17 (U) was last seen with its parents (24_09 and 42_09) in Adams Co, WI on 1 Nov and by 8 Nov had made it to their wintering area in Hopkins Co, Kentucky.

W7_17 (F) was last seen with its parents (14_08 and 24_08) in Juneau Co, WI on 8 Nov. This family group is currently at their wintering area in Morgan Co, AL at Wheeler NWR.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort
19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) left Marathon Co, WI with adults 2_15 (F) and 28_05 (F) on 9 November and are currently in Jackson Co, AL.

26_17 (F) left Wisconsin on 6 November. She is currently in Gibson Co, Indiana, but we have not yet confirmed if she is with any adult Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes. We suspect she may be with 11-15 (M) and 4-14 (M), since she was associating with them prior to migration and they have not yet been seen further south.

28_17 (M) was last seen in Walworth Co, WI on 10 November in the same general area as 20-15 and 69-16. He does not have a remote tracking device and has not yet been confirmed further south. However, he has not been seen again in WI and we suspect he has begun migration, likely with Sandhill Cranes.

24_17 (M) left Dodge Co, WI on 19 November, likely with Sandhill Cranes. He is currently in Jasper Co, Indiana, and was seen associating with 12-09, 16-12, and 63-15, and near 71_16.

72_17 (M) left Winnebago Co, WI on 16 November. He migrated with Sandhill Cranes, and is currently in Hendry Co, Florida.

30_17 (F) left Dodge Co, WI on 11 November and migrated to the Mississippi River in Jackson Co, Iowa. She then went south, and is currently in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

38_17 (F) was seen associating with adults 63_15 and 71_16, but she did not leave on migration with them. She is currently still in Dodge Co, WI, associating with Sandhill Cranes.

39_17 (F) is also currently still in Dodge Co, WI, associating with Sandhill Cranes.

36_17 (F) and 37_17 (F) did not migrate south with adults 29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M), but did leave their release area on 12 November. On 13 November, the remains of 37_17 were found in Juneau Co (see below). 36_17 continued south and is currently in Jasper Co, IN with Sandhill Cranes.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort
1_17 (M), 2_17 (F), 3_17 (M), 4_17 (M), 6_17 (F), 7_17 (F), and 8_17 (F) were regularly associating with two older males, 5_12 and 30_16, but did not migrate with them or with other adult Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes that were around White River Marsh SWA.

On 22 November, 3_17 and 7_17 were captured and translocated to Sauk Co, WI to be released in a flock of Sandhill Cranes, in an effort to encourage migration. By the end of November, they are in Fulton Co, IL.

On 28 November, 4_17 and 6_17 were also captured and translocated to Sauk Co, WI, where they are currently with Sandhill Cranes.

The remaining juveniles in this cohort (1_17, 2_17, and 8_17) are still in central WI, either in Marquette or Green Lake Counties.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort
29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) left Marathon Co, WI on 10 November and are currently at their wintering site in Dyer Co, TN.

30_16 (M) was last seen with 5_12 (M) in Green Lake Co, WI on 9 November. They are currently in Waukulla Co, FL at St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge.

31_16 (M) was last seen in Winnebago Co, WI on 5 November but has likely begun migration.

33_16 (F) remained along the Mississippi River either in Clinton Co, IA or Carroll Co, IL during November.

69_16 (F) left Walworth Co, WI on 13 Nov and is currently in Morgan Co, AL, at Wheeler NWR with other adult Whooping Cranes (see below).

70_16 (M) is still in Knox County, KY.

71_16 (F) left Dodge Co, WI with 63_15 (M) on 19 November. She is now in Jasper Co, IN in the same area as 63_15, 12_09, 16_12, and 24_17.

Wisconsin: As of 1 December, the following birds are still in Wisconsin: 68-15, 38-17, 39-17, 1-17, 2-17, 4-17, 6-17, 8-17, and 14-15. There may be other birds present in the state for which we have not received reports, but most other birds have been confirmed further south.

Illinois: 9-03/3-04 have been seen at their wintering area in Wayne Co. 3-17 and 7-17 are in Fulton Co (see above). 26-17 is on the border of Illinois and Indiana in Wabash Co, IL (see above). 33-16 is in Carroll Co, IL (see above).

Indiana: Jasper Co: 36-17, 71-16, 63-15, 24-17, 12-09, 16-12, 20-15, 4-12 and 3-14. Jackson Co: 5-10/28-08, 41-09. Knox Co: 12-11/5-11, 19-14/12-05, 29-08/W18-15. Gibson Co: 19-09, 25-10. Greene Co: 18-03/36-09, 1-10/W1-06, 12-03/29-09, 4-08/34-09, 9-05/13-03, 3-11/7-11, 32-09/19-10, 38-09, W10-15, 1-04/16-07, 8-04/W3-10, 15-11 (and likely 38-08/10-09), 37-07.

Kentucky: 70-16 is in Knox Co (see above). The following birds are in Hopkins Co: 24/42-09 and W3-17, 2-04/25-09

Tennessee: 29-16/39-16 are in Dyer Co (see above).

Alabama: The following birds have been confirmed at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co: 17-11, 67-15, 69-16, 1-11/59-13, 13-02/23-10, and 14-08/24-08/W7-17. The group of four 19-17, 25-17, 2-15, and 28-05 are currently in Jackson Co. (see above).

Florida: 72-17 is currently in Hendry Co (see above). 5_12 and 30_16 are in Wakulla Co at St. Mark’s NWR.

Louisiana: 30-17 is currently in Plaquemines Parish (see above).

19_11’s remains were found in Juneau Co, WI on 16 November. Cause of death was likely predation. Mate 17_11 completed migration and is currently at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL, with other Whooping Cranes.

37_17’s remains were found in Juneau Co, WI on 13 November. Mortality was likely due to powerline collision. 36_17 continued south on migration with Sandhill Cranes (see above).

Confirmed Whooping Crane locations as of 1 December 2017.


Frostbitten Cheeks and Toes

On Monday, November 20th, Brooke and I went out to the chicks favorite field to wait for them at first light. The plan was to sweet talk and get them friendly with the costume again. It was 17 degrees.

The pen had been setup since Friday. It was the start of gun deer hunting season and we could not get on the property over the weekend. Perfect timing – they had the weekend to get familiar with the travel pen.

They arrived and flirting began. By Tuesday afternoon we knew Wednesday would be the day.

I led 1, 2, 4, 6 and 8 away from the pen and left Brooke to deal with 3 and 7. Soon my feet hurt they were so cold. I sat down cross-legged to get them off the frozen ground. My tushy never got as cold as my feet but it did get chilly!

Whooping crane #1-17 came by to investigate (and POKE) the costume sitting on the ground.

It was amazing to be sitting there with them, keeping them amused and away from the pen. I am a bird person. I have had parrots for 30 years, so it’s not only a huge honor to have helped raise these birds, but it’s fascinating to observe them. They are hands down as smart as my parrots, they just don’t talk. They don’t draw blood as often as my parrots either. WHACK… they bruise you instead. All birds bite or whack those they love.

After cranes 3 and 7 were boxed and in the van, Brooke came and found us. We all wandered back to the pen. We had to be sure they were ok with the pen because we planned to repeat this capture process with cranes 4 and 6 the following week.

1, 2 and 8, would remain at WRM and be given a final chance to get gone on their own. They each went in for a treat or two, which made this capture a success. So, I started walking as swiftly as I could up to the van, a 100 yards or so up near the farmhouse. My feet hurt so much at this point I could hardly walk, I felt like I was walking on flaming rockers. Yikes.

We drove to north of Baraboo – to a wonderful field with hundreds of Sandhill Cranes in it. The birds were released and went to the middle of their cousins like it was a family reunion. I thought I would be sad, but I wasn’t. They were not stressed and neither were the other birds.

It went smoothly with the exception of my frostbitten toes and cheeks!

Three days of frosty 17 degree temps while in the field and a few trips here takes it’s toll.

Trips to the porta-potty in winter are never fun.

The cranes poke in the frosty ground inside the pen.

Tis the Season… for STRESS?!

It’s that time of year again when we begin the scramble of trying to find just the perfect gift for those on our nice list.

I’ve decided I don’t need anything else to clutter my life and I certainly don’t need more stress, so instead, I’d prefer a donation to a cause I care about and I’m going to give donations to those causes my friends and family members care about.

Why not give a contribution which will make a difference to our environment? Whooping cranes need our help and for every donation you make in honor of someone special, we’ll send a card to them letting them know about your very thoughtful gift on their behalf.

In the “Donation Note:” section on the form, just fill in the name/address of the person you’re making the donation in honor of and we’ll make certain we get a card in the mail to them right away!

Why not give a gift to Whooping crane conservation this season?

Goose Pond, Indiana

This little gem in Greene County, Indiana is the quintessential example of “if you build it, they will come.” 

Indiana DNR purchased the property in 2005 with the help of The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, Indiana Department of Transportation, United States Fish & Wildlife Service and many other organizations. Prior to acquisition, the previous landowner entered into a permanent easement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This permanent easement was part of the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and consisted of 7,200 acres. NRCS then assumed responsibility for the wetland restoration.

Since then numerous Whooping cranes use the property, either when they’re passing through, or now that weather patterns are changing, a number stay for the entire winter season. At last count (a week ago) there were twenty Whooping cranes in the area.

Plan your visit

Recently, someone brought some photos to my attention and I reached out to the photographer who agreed to share them with you.

Many thanks to Brian Killion for the fantastic photography!

Two male Whooping cranes at Goose Pond. Number’s 18-03 and 38-09. Photo: Brian Killion

Two pairs include: #W3-10 and #8-04 along with #9-05 and #13-03. Photo: Brian Killion

Female #32-09 and male #19-10 in flight. Photo: Brian Killion


Your chanting worked and a GSM email for #2-17 came in late evening yesterday!

From it we learned the trio flew to a new (for them) wetland in neighboring Marquette County. This is roughly 10 miles from White River Marsh.

Colleen and Brooke were able to confirm all three are together.

Soooo, at least they moved? The other positive is that there are hundreds of Sandhill cranes were they are now!


Or are they?

If you read Joe’s post this morning, you’ll know that whooping cranes 4-17 and 6-17 were captured and relocated yesterday in an attempt to further disrupt the social structure of the Costume-Reared cohort.

Colleen reports the 3 remaining cranes at White River Marsh were present and accounted for this morning – up until 10:40 am that is….

She and Brooke have checked all the usual spots and beyond and cannot detect ANY beeps for #’s 1, 2 or 8-17 – the remaining three cranes.

I’m pretty sure Colleen has been staring at the email on her phone – silently willing #2-17’s GSM device to fire off an email so we’ll know for sure… Maybe everyone out there reading this can starting chanting 2-17, 2-17, 2-17.

We’ll let you know as soon as we know for sure but it appears the trio MAY have begun heading south!

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Plan A – Option II

Brooke and Colleen have been dividing their time between monitoring the five remaining Whooping crane chicks at White River and looking for Sandhill cranes that might prompt them to move south. Except for the occasional few flying overhead, most of their smaller cousins have moved south. And when we say south, we mean only a few miles. Down around Baraboo on the Wisconsin River there are still flocks of a few hundred and it was with those gatherings that we released number 3 and 7-17 last week. They seemed to have taken the hint and are now in Fulton County, Illinois.

In the interim, the five remaining birds haven’t changed their behavior much. They’re still using the same few foraging fields and roosting in good habitat but they are not showing indications that they are about to migrate. Mind you, I am not sure what those indications might be. It’s not like they packed their bags or made reservations and for that matter, they could leave today. Still, it’s time again to be proactive.

Based on the good outcome of the last relocation, Brooke and Colleen captured Whooping cranes #4-17 and 6-17 early yesterday morning and headed to the Wisconsin River in Sauk County. Because the Sandhill numbers are changing daily as they move south, Anne Lacy from the International Crane Foundation checked the release location before the capture.

All of this was decided by the Rearing and Release Team on a Monday afternoon conference call. We also decided to leave three of the chicks at White River. The weather is predicted to be warm for the next week at least, which we hope will give them an opportunity to meet up with a few transient Sandhills or maybe just follow their instincts and head south.

On that conference call, many options were considered. We thought about taking them all to Sauk County but the original premise behind the costume-reared cohort was to ensure that the birds were familiar with the area around White River so they would return. Leaving three behind keeps that study option open and it will also indicate if breaking up the dominance structure worked. We are confident that the chicks we moved to Sauk County we be able to close the gap in their migration knowledge and make it back to White River and that too will be part of the learning process.

The RRT will meet again in early December. By then we suspect all the birds will have headed south. If not, we will move to Plan B. We have teams in place if any or all the birds need to be relocated. The most likely release option would be Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area in Greene County, Indiana. At last report, there were 19 Whooping cranes using that wonderful wetland complex and our remaining chicks are sure to find some friends.

Whooping crane #6-17 (left) and 4-17 emerge from the crates and have a look around. Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

Notice all the Sandhills in the distance? Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

Cranes 4-17 and 6-17 walked out to join the Sandhill cranes. Photo: Sabine Berzins, International Crane Foundation

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Everyone is aware of Black Friday and Cyber Monday but did you know that Tuesday after the U.S. Thanksgiving day is #GivingTuesday?

The purpose of #GivingTuesday is to kick off the holiday giving season and inspire people to give back in meaningful ways to the charities and causes they support.

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities, and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

We need your help NOW more than ever.

Donations are down over the past couple of years, since we no longer use aircraft to guide whooping cranes south. 

We want to assure you, we are still here and we’re still working to safeguard this incredible bird and to build the Eastern Migratory Population. 

So on this #GivingTuesday why not take advantage of the Double Dollar Donation campaign, which is currently running? For your $50 (or more) donation, you get to select a lovely scarf which features a Duff Doodle of a crane in flight. These make great gifts for that special Craniac in your life. And as if that isn’t already enough? Your donation will be DOUBLED by a generous supporter who has committed $25000 in matching funds!

You can also call us here at the office 800-675-2618 and Chris, Joe or I will be more than happy to help out. Finally, if you would prefer to send a check, our mailing address is below.

We hope you’ll consider continuing your support of whooping cranes on this 2017 #GIVINGTUESDAY.

Operation Migration – USA 1623 Military Rd., PMB# 639 Niagara Falls, NY 14304-1745 

Operation Migration – 6A High St., Port Perry, ON L9L 1H8

Everyone who contributes will receive access to some beautiful monthly calendar images featuring cranes. These photos were captured over the past year of working with these incredible birds. Your secret url will be included in the emailed receipt, which will be sent to you when you make your donation. 

Each month is available in four sizes so that you can select the best fit for your screen. Here’s a preview of the 2018 photos!

All donors will receive access to these desktop calendar photos.

Will you help?

And They’re OFF!

As Joe explained on Friday, two of the costume-reared whooping cranes were captured and relocated to an area along the Wisconsin River in Sauk County last week. 

Cranes 3-17 and 7-17 were released near a large group of Sandhills and immediately flew to join the group.

On Saturday, it seems they took advantage of the north winds and began heading south!

We received hits from #7-17’s remote tracking device, which indicates she – (and we assume #3-17 as he does not have a remote device) – made it approximately 190 miles to Fulton, County, Illinois.

Screen grab showing the hits from 7-17’s remote tracking device. Source: Google Earth

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Lessons Learned

You only have to attend a few meetings as a new member of any committee or club before you understand where you fit into their social order. It doesn’t take long before you learn who the workers are, who is leading them — and who wants to be. That same hierarchy exist in avian societies just as it does in our human groups, otherwise we wouldn’t call it a “pecking order.” I wish we had the same quick insight into the dominance structure that exists in any cohort of Whooping cranes, but in bird culture, the leaders and the followers are a lot harder to identify when communication is limited to postures and displays. The strut in their walk, the ruffle of their feathers and the position of their head all convey clear messages to their flock mates but only vague signals to even the most expert human interpreter.

Every flock of birds we have raised from eggs to releasable sub-adults has had its own personality. Some were calm and sociable, while others were aggressive and independent — like the costume-reared class of 2017. From the beginning, our seven chicks were a tight group always sticking together even when they ventured out of the pen. We promoted that unity because there was a time when it was beneficial. When we led our birds south, they needed to be dedicated to the flock. If they didn’t have that allegiance to their peers, they were less likely to follow the birds that were following our aircraft and more likely to drop out or turn back. Those characteristics aren’t necessary anymore and this year, they proved to be a disadvantage.

The 2017 costume-reared birds are inexperienced and every day is a new learning opportunity. But rather than us being their teachers, they must now learn from other cranes, preferably Whoopers — although Sandhills are better than no mentors at all. Unfortunately, this naïve gang of innocents is too self-sufficient to submit to more seasoned cranes. They don’t know what they don’t know and they have yet to learn consequences of their baby bravado.

For more than six weeks, they spent most of their time with Henry (5-12) and 30-16. They foraged together and roosted in the same ponds, but if you watched closely, you could see the subtle delineation in the two groups. The seven would wander through fields poking in the mud while the other two would follow behind. They often broke into two factions in the air, even if only temporarily.

Adults 5-12 (Henry) and 30-16 in flight with the seven costume-reared juvenile whooping cranes. Photo: Doug Pellerin

And when the air turned cold and the ponds froze, Henry and his young friend left. They circled a few times and called to the chicks but left them behind when they wouldn’t heed. Even the Royal Couple tried to get them to follow but gave up. (Read Colleen’s update for more details on those fascinating interactions).

The winds have been blowing to the south lately and most of the Sandhills have read the signs and headed south. If they don’t take the hint soon the chicks will be on their own. In 2013, another close knit cohort of costume-reared chicks failed to migrate. Mind you, it was much later in the season. Rather than cold nights and a skiff of snow in the mornings, winter had set in for the long run. So, in order to prevent these seven from learning the hard way the penalties of not migrating, we decided to be proactive. We raised our concern on the WCEP Monitoring and Management Team call and developed a plan to break up this little autonomous gang. The first part of Plan A took place on Wednesday. Brooke and Colleen captured cranes 3-17 and 7-17 and took them down to the Wisconsin River in Sauk County to meet Anne Lacy and Hillary Thompson from ICF. The two were released near hundreds of Sandhills and they flew right to them. We hope that without their allies, they’ll be a little less insolent and soon learn what they didn’t know.

In the interim, the weather is predicted to turn a little warmer, which we hope will give the remaining five a chance to figure it out. With two of their group absent, the dynamic may change and we have time to see if that happens. If not, and the weather starts to become a critical factor, Plan B is to collect them all and relocate them to Goose Pond in southern Indiana. That Fish and Wildlife Area was in fact, established, in part, because of the Whooping cranes that began using it in the first years of this reintroduction.

It’s far enough south that our birds have wintered there and it’s now a common stopover during both legs of the migration with birds there at most times of the year. If we have to relocate them, they are bound to meet other cranes moving north or south later this year or next spring and with their familiarity of White River, we are confident, they will be back.

All of this is an opportunity for us to learn too. If we have another tight-knit cohort next year, we will act sooner, now that we have seen the consequences. We could divide the pen to separate groups or let them out in different orders and different times. When we raised 18 to 20 cranes in a season, we had to train them in up to three cohorts based on age and their ability to fly. At the end of those seasons, we had to manipulate their dominance structure to integrate three independent groups into one cohesive flock. We know how to bring them together so we will figure out how to keep them just independent enough to accept a little guidance when it’s needed. 

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Black Friday/Amazon Smile

Why not support Operation Migration today as you make your Black Friday purchases on Amazon.com?

Go to smile.amazon.com/ch/16-1560518 and Amazon donates a portion of your purchase to Operation Migration-USA Inc.

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Following Beeps

Early Saturday morning, I headed out to check whooping cranes, I heard 3-14’s beeps telling me the Royal Couple roosted in a familiar spot. Next, I checked on the costume-reared chicks. They flew off roost at 6:50 am to what is becoming a new favorite field; spent about a half hour there and went to another usual morning spot. I followed, then went down the road listening for the female of the royal couple, number 3-14. They too were in a frequently used field. I went back to camp for a refill of coffee and to warm up. It was 27° – I love it, but still, brrrrrrrr.

At 9:30-ish I headed out again. I could hear 3-14 beeping away, but they (assuming 4-12 is with her) were not in the usual places. I kept following beeps south, by now we are well south of their territory. Hmmm.

Next, I rounded a corner and the beeps got louder and sounded like they were coming from Henry’s Pond. I stopped in the middle of the road and adjusted the gain on the receiver. Sure enough they were in Henry’s Pond! They never go there! It was 27°, I never opened the window. Later I would wish I had!

I went a bit further to the chick’s favorite roosting wetland and did a head count. All present and accounted for. The rest of the day held no more surprises. Business as usual.

Sunday at 6:30am, as usual I turned on the receiver in camp as the van warmed, rather than putz with it as I drive on curvy County Road D. Usually, I never get a beep for #3-14 till I am a mile or two down the road. – Not that morning. The loud beeps told me they had either roosted in the back of the van or were in the air nearby. They were to the SE, and as I drove south they faded. Then I got them again more to the SW. Then straight South and they got softer and softer. I waved bye-bye and wished them safe travels. Off on migration they go.

The chicks had beat me to the field, I could hear they were all there but could not get a visual from any surrounding road.

It was a good migration day so at 7am I found a safe place to snug in for the morning and listen to beeps. At 7:20am I could still hear faint beeps from our Royal Couple. At 7:55 I switched to 3-14’s frequency wondering how many miles they would have traveled in the almost hour, which had passed, and would I still hear them. And OMG…They were in the field with the chicks! OMG!

Now, remember I can’t see any birds so I drive the perimeters of the field again hoping for a glimpse of white. Not from anywhere can I see a bird. So, I went back to my safe parking spot and listened. Then at 8:07am 9 Whooping cranes and 14 Sandhill cranes took off. The Sandhill’s broke off right away to the left. The 9 whoopers did a circle and flew SOUTH! I followed them into Princeton. Through Princeton. I got a visual and the crappiest picture ever.

Yes, those white specs really are whooping cranes.

I headed south on Hwy 23, which veers to the SW. They were going SE. I doubled back and headed south listening to strong beeps, flipping through each of the frequencies rhythmically to make sure each was there. They were, for about 4-5 miles. Then the chicks’ signals got softer. 3-14’s still strong. Back to #3’s and it’s fading, so I swung the antenna to the North and sure enough they were heading back. With a heavy heart, so did I.

At 8:45am they were back in their wetland. Sigh. I settled in on the top of the hill listening to the chick’s beeps. Just for the fun if it I switch to 3-14’s signal and still can hear it faintly to the SE. I turn it back to the chicks.

At 9:34am I turn it to 3-14 again… They are in the wetland with the chicks. Oh my heart! I am old, ya know!

They stayed 20 min and at 9:55am they took off for good. I listened to the beeps till they disappeared. The chicks were in a safe field and the show over for the day. I headed back to camp with tears streaming down my face.

What a remarkable thing I had just witnessed. Two adults that had only associated with the chicks one other time did their best to take them south. How gut-wrenchingly sad the chicks would not listen.

The rest of the day was same ol’ same ol’. At dusk a truck pulled up. With its tinted windows I could not tell if it was hunters or someone I knew. The driver put the window down and asked if he could park down here in camp and before I could answer he said if I tell you I know all about your birds will you let us? I replied he would get major brownie points if he loved Whooping cranes!

He introduced himself as Eric and said the day before, (Saturday) he was hunting at Henry’s Pond. (How cool is that? He called it Henry’s Pond!) He said Henry and 30-16 were in it, at which point I interrupted to tell him Henry and 30-16 had headed south last Thursday and it was probably 4-12 and 3-14 he saw. He replied, Oh! The Royal Couple! Now I was REALLY impressed!

He said for 45 minutes one of those birds called and called and cried. The chicks were in the wetland well within hearing distance. How I wished I had opened the windows Saturday morning when I was listening to the beeps at Henry’s Pond! It turns out Eric had met Brooke out at the North Pond during the summer. He educated Brooke about hunting and Brooke got him interested in the birds!

It sounds to me like the Royal Couple started trying to persuade the chicks Saturday morning to head south.

What do you think?

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Doug Pellerin managed to capture this photo showing Parent-reared whooping crane #38-17 (left) along with two adult whoopers near Horicon Marsh in Dodge County, WI last week. In the middle is female #71-16 and on the right is male 63-15.

Three whooping cranes among Sandhill cranes. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Since this photo was taken, 63-15 and 38-17 are still at Horicon but 71-16 has begun migration and currently in Jasper County, Indiana – BUT WAIT! It’s gets even more interesting!

I pulled up the GSM hit for 71-16 just now and realized the field she is in looked familiar. Now how many times does that happen to you? You’re boppin along, traveling on Google Earth and you come across a random field in Indiana and say to yourself “Self, that field looks familiar”! Never, right?

That’s why I figured I needed to find out WHY it looked familiar. I checked back through the PTT hits, which arrive faithfully at 7am each day and low and behold, another other Parent-reared crane I had been monitoring in southern Dodge County, WI, number 24-17 was in the SAME FIELD as 71-16!

The red and yellow dots are from the GSM device worn by 71-16. The blue dots are from 24-17’s PTT device.

How on earth do these birds manage to find each other like that?


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