An Intruder

John Gerend is our next volunteer and he joined us on Saturday I took him to the pen this morning to help with the early morning checks. He has been following us for many years but this was his first time to see the birds up close and on their own level. I gave him all the standard precautions like how the head gear we wear reduces peripheral vision and even blocks some of the sound. You can be interacting with one bird and not realize another has walked up behind you and how you much check before stepping backwards. We spent twenty minutes changing water, replenishing the food and checking each bird for signs of injury or stress.

We were not back in camp more than ten minutes when Heather rushed in to tell us that someone was near the pen and the birds were hitting the top net. Walter Sturgeon and I grabbed our costumes and headed back. He checked the birds again while I walked the tree line. The birds seemed relaxed and I didn’t see anything suspicious. The day before I had put up signs warning that the area is closed and to speak to the property owner for access. On the way out we met with the owners who had just heard of the intrusion. They expressed their concerns and told us that their land backs onto a DNR preserve that is open for to the public. Although their property line is clearly posted, they told us they often have hunters and hikers wandering up from the forest and into their fields.

It was not until we returned to camp and Heather showed us the archived CraneCam clip that we realized just how fearful the birds were. You can see from the video (below) how far away the intruder was and how the birds reacted to a non-costumed person. It appears that a man came out of the woods onto private property. He walked the tree line and paused, maybe to read our sign. Then he disappeared back into the woods. He was not dressed like a hunter, nor did he seem to be carrying a gun so we can only assume he was a hiker. Apart from the fact that he was trespassing and ignored the property owner’s signs, it does not look like he meant any harm. He did not approach the pen and after reading our sign or seeing the reaction of the birds, he left.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The video clearly shows the birds trying to escape as they flew up into the top net. Luckily none were injured and we are very thankful that whoever it was didn’t come any closer. It does however, demonstrate that our months of hard work have paid off and these birds are well on their way to true wildness.

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Lead Pilot Report – Divide and Conquer!

Date: Nov., 7, 2014 Migration Day: 29
Dist. Traveled: 5 miles
Total Dist. 52 miles
Location: Dane County, Wisconsin

“We think we can! We think we can!”  Yay, that’s the spirit. “We just got to believe!”  Yep, you’re getting the picture. “Every day in every way, we’re getting better and better!”  Sing it loud and sing it proud!

Nothing like a little pre-migration pep rally to get the aerial juices flowing as Geoff and Colleen readied the birds for this morning’s migration attempt.  But to add assurance to the success of the effort, Walt and Bev helped as #4, 9 and 10 were boxed, leaving #2, 3 7 and 8-14 free for the first release attempt.

Divide and conquer was the plan. Try and fly the best fliers to the destination first. Then come back and fly the others. And the destination was a field only five miles away. It was Joe’s idea. As every good teacher knows, a student must be given the opportunity to experience a series of small successes, which in time, will hopefully build into larger ones.

At this point, our migration needs at least one successful leg to get our momentum going, even if it is only 5 miles away. Like Confucius said, “The longest part of a journey is the first step…. and be damn careful not to stub your toe in the process.”  Migration so far has been a series of toe stubs with most of them taking place in a box. Richard found the perfect destination a few days ago and so this morning, thanks to good weather, we put the plan into action.

It was with greater than usual anticipation that we blasted off into the morning sky and headed off for the five mile flight. Rodeo here, rodeo there but eventually we arrived. Then Joe hid the birds while Richard and I returned for Round 2. Out of the boxes popped #4, 9 and 10 and again we were off and after the obligatory rodeo, we arrived at the site. Bev helped Joe hide the birds while Richard, Geoff, Colleen, Bill and Walt erected the pen.

Soon all the birds were safely ensconced in their new surroundings, the trikes were tied down at the airfield and the whole crew was enjoying a celebratory breakfast at a local bistro. It was a small success but at this point in our migration, a small success is HUGE.

I rely on Heather’s accompanying pictures to fill in the blanks of today’s effort, remembering that a picture is worth a thousand words, even if they are in a foreign language… in this case, CANADIAN!

Brooke appears over the horizon with Whooping crane colts 2, 3, 7 & 8-14

Brooke appears over the horizon with Whooping crane colts 2, 3, 7 & 8-14

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As one of his four cranes turned back, Richard moved in to pick her up. It was later learned that this was number 8-14 who flew to the new interim stop with Richard.

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The twenty or so folks that turned out again to watch were treated to another great show.

Once the first group of four were at the new site, Brooke and Richard returned to fly cranes 4, 9 & 10-14 successfully to the new site.

Once the first group of four were at the new site, Brooke and Richard returned to fly cranes 4, 9 & 10-14 successfully to the new site.

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A Challenge

We received the following message from Dora this morning. Dora is a Craniac in north Florida who says…

Today is the 10th anniversary of my oldest daughter’s death. She was a teacher and loved animals, birds, etc. She rescued a mother springer spaniel with 7 one week old puppies one time and successfully saved all of them. I know she would have loved these beautiful birds and would teach about them to all of her students (ages 3- 8th grade).

I will donate $200 and challenge anyone who has lost a loved one to donate any amount they can, $1, $2, $5, $50, $100 or what ever they can. If more than $1,000 is raised  in one week, I will donate another $200 next month.

If you’d like to take Dora up on her challenge, please use this link. Please include in the Donation Note field: “for Dora’s challenge”

Thanks everyone!

Going to Try

Winds this morning on the surface are light but from the southwest. Aloft, they’re from the north-northeast at 5 knots.

We’ll try to execute a short 5-mile trip with four of the seven Whooping crane colts: 2, 3, 7 & 8-14 and then make a return trip to get the three remaining cranes: 4, 9 & 10-14.

Sunrise occurs at 6:40 CT so if you’d like to make a trip out to watch here are the directions to the public flyover location: Cemetery on County Road J/Lindsay Rd: From Lodi, take WI-60 Trunk E/Portage St. for about 1/2 mile. Turn left onto Lindsay Road which will become County Road J. Cemetery is on left in just over 1 mile. Google Map

 

Project Update: October 1 to November 5, 2014

The map below indicates the last known location of the Whooping Cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population. This map does not include birds that have not been reported for over one month, are known to have moved from a previous location or that are long term missing.

General

Maximum size of the eastern migratory population at the end of the report period was 97 birds (54 males, 43 females). Estimated distribution at the end of the report period included  56 whooping cranes in Wisconsin, 21 in Indiana, 3 in Illinois, 3 in Kentucky, 3 in Alabama, 9 at unknown locations, 1 not recently reported and 1 long term missing.

Mortalities

The carcass of parent-reared juvenile female no. 21-14 was collected near the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Juneau County, Wisconsin, on 8 October.

The heavily scavenged remains of male no. 10-03 were collected on his summering territory on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Juneau County, Wisconsin, on 24 October.

Captures for transmitter replacements

22 October: no. 5-05

29 October: nos. 19-09 and 13-02

2012 Cohort

Nos. 4-12 and 5-12 remained on or near the White River Marsh SWA, Green Lake County, Wisconsin, through at least 30 October. They likely migrated on 31 October as they were not detected during a roost check that evening or during an survey flight on 5 November. Their current location is unknown.

No. 7-12 remained in Adams County with nos. 3-11 and 19-10 until beginning migration on 31 October. She was found with nos. 3-11, 24-13 and an unidentified Whooping Crane in Knox County, Indiana, on 3 November.

No. 14-12 apparently remained in LaPorte County, Indiana, through at least the morning of 31 October.

No. 16-12 remained in Monroe County, Wisconsin, throughout the report period and began associating with no. 16-04.

2013 Cohort

Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8-13 remained mainly in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, throughout the report period but did also occasionally use the Horicon NWR, Dodge County.

No. 9-13 split from nos. 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8-13 by 20 October when he was observed with no. 57-13 in Fond du Lac County. He returned to the Horicon NWR, Dodge County, that night and remains in the area.

No. 22-13 remained in Vermilion/Champaign Counties, Illinois, throughout the report period.

No. 24-13 remained on or near the Necedah NWR, Juneau County, Wisconsin, until beginning migration on 18 October. PTT readings indicated a roost location in Iroquois County, Illinois, that night. He continued south to Greene County, Indiana, on 19/20 October and Gibson/Pike Counties, Indiana, on 21 October where he was observed with another, unidentified, Whooping Crane. He returned north to Greene County, Indiana, with the second bird by roost on 24 October. PTT readings indicated a location in Knox County, Indiana, on 2 November and he was found there with nos. 3-11, 7-12 and an unidentified Whooping Crane the following day.

No. 57-13 remained in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin, through at least 20 October when he was observed with no. 9-13. He was detected at the Horicon NWR, Dodge County, at roost on 26 October but had likely moved south with no. 9-13 late on the 20th. He was found at a different location in Dodge County during a survey flight on 5 November.

No. 59-13 remained in Dodge County, Wisconsin, through at least 1 October. She was found in Marquette County, Wisconsin, during a survey flight on 20 October but was not detected at this location on 26 October. Her current location is unknown.

2014 Cohort

Wild-hatched

No. W3-14 began migration from Wood County, Wisconsin, with her father no. 12-02  on 17-20 October. They were confirmed on no. 12-02’s previous wintering grounds in Greene County, Indiana, on 21 October and remained in the area for the rest of the report period.

Ultralight

Seven juveniles in the ultralight-led cohort departed from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, Wisconsin on 10 October. They are currently located at their third stopover location in Columbia County, Wisconsin.

Parent-reared

No. 19-14 remained on or near the Necedah NWR throughout the report period. She was observed with an unidentified adult pair on 22 October and with pairs nos. 12-05/12-03 and 7-07/39-07 on 24 October. She has been observed with nos. 7-07 and 39-07 in subsequent observations.

No. 20-14 began migration with adult pair nos. 9-05 and 13-03 on 31 October. PTT readings indicated arrival in Greene County, Indiana, by roost on 1 November. They remain in the area.

No. 21-14 was found dead on 8 October (see above).

No. 27-14 began migration with adult pair nos. 2-04 and 25-09 on 31 October. PTT readings indicate arrival to the adult male’s previous wintering grounds in Hopkins County, Kentucky, by roost on 1 November.

No recent reports

Female no. 27-10 was last detected on the Necedah NWR, Juneau County, Wisconsin on 22 April. Her transmitter is likely nonfunctional.

Long term missing

Female no. 2-11 was last reported at her wintering location in Marion County, Florida, on 9 April 2013. She has a nonfunctional transmitter and cannot be tracked.

This update is a product of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.  To access our previous project updates and additional information on the project visit our web site at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org/

We thank pilots Bev Paulan and Michael Callahan (Wisconsin DNR) for aerial tracking assistance.

EndOct2014

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Another Perspective – A Really Good Show!

Last Saturday we tried to leave Lodi, Wisconsin, but, as you’ve already read, it didn’t work out. The one thing we accomplished was to put on, in Ed Sullivan’s words, a REALLY good show for the 40 or more folks at the flyover site. Funny that I can remember vividly where I was when I heard that Ed Sullivan had died – in the living room of the house I rented with 3 college housemates at Scarborough Beach – 1974. Ed Sullivan’s show must have made a big impression on me growing up – I also vividly remember watching the famous Beatle’s appearance in 1964 at our house in Pompano Beach, Florida. Oh and Topo Gigio (is that right?) the little mouse! Maybe it’s Topo who keeps making appearances in our motor home??? But I digress… Back to last Saturday!

As usual, we got up before dawn to go outside and stuck our fingers in the air to test the wind. It seemed calm so I got dressed quickly in my long underwear, heavy jeans, fleece, sweatshirt, newly crocheted hat, and mittens. Next grabbed my camera, phone, aircraft radio, and kit bag – gotta be all set so that I’m ready for anything at the moment’s notice.

This year I have more responsibility on migration, so there are more preparations. We call our motor home “the Jambo”, short for Jamboree, and that must be prepped for driving. I take the Jambo to all the flyover locations to meet and educate viewers, and of course to sell OM merchandise. I have a slide-under-the-bed plastic bin full of samples, with the rest of the inventory stored in the Jambo’s drawers, top bunk, and basement compartments. We need to disconnect from the airport’s power, disconnect our propane tank (for heat and hot water) and stow the tank in a truck, lower the TV antenna, and stow anything on the counter or table that could slide off in transit.

With that done and the sun about to rise, I headed for the flyover about a quarter mile up the road in a small cemetery. There were already about 20 people there when I arrived, and many more showed up. I pulled out my merchandise kit and set it up on the ground so people could browse while we waited for the show. I’ll fast track and say that, by the end, we had sold over $175 worth of stuff, plus taken in some donations! Not too shabby! OM has coloring books for young children that tell the story of the cranes and the program. We sell them for $1 each, but I have decided that I want to give them to any kid that shows up and make that my meager contribution. Three kids got them on this beautiful but cold day.

Keeping the aircraft radio tuned in and talking to folks, trying to answer questions, we waited for the trikes to appear. Finally someone pointed over the trees to the south and sure enough there were Brooke and Richard flying, testing the wind. After a bit of pilot chatter, they decided to go for it and Brooke flew towards the pen site. The viewers waited with bated and steamy breath until suddenly we saw Brooke emerge low over a corn field with all the birds strung out behind him. That was the best part of the flight, unfortunately, but not nearly the whole show!

We quickly heard on the radio that one of the birds had already turned back towards the pen and landed. Later we learned it was #9. Brooke continued across County Road J, giving us great views and then spent the next 30 minutes or more going back and forth across the fields below us, twice landing to re-start with the birds who had mostly landed. These birds are NOT getting it!!

Finally he got going with six young whoopers and we lost sight. Almost immediately, Heather, who was at the flyover with the Ford truck, heard that a bird had landed near the Lodi High School. I grabbed the merchandise, stuffed it into the Jambo, and headed back to the airport where Heather picked me up. We then drove all around Lodi to try to find the high school – no small feat when there’s virtually no cell phone signal (even in the downtown area) and Google Maps just doesn’t want to find anything!

We listened to reports of where birds were landing over the radio and drove around watching for trikes overhead until we spotted Richard. That meant we were in the right area, but it’s not that easy to follow a trike that can fly “as the cranes fly” whereas we’re limited to the directions the roads go. Anyway, we finally figured out where the high school was and headed down that road.

Richard directed us by radio to a field behind the school where we quickly parked and donned our costumes to hike about a half mile over the hill into the harvested corn field where we found Peanut and Marsha, #’s 4 and 10, standing there enjoying the leftover corn. We got close enough to start flapping our arms and waving our puppet heads to try to coerce them to follow us towards the school (but not in sight of it), but they wanted no part of it – they were perfectly content staying where they were.

We tried a few different strategies – I walked towards the school and flapped while Heather skirted behind them to “steer”, but that didn’t work. We found ears of corn on the ground and tossed kernels in the direction we wanted them to go – they would go for it, but then turn back.

Finally we got word that Walter, Bev, and Bill were at the school with crates. I headed back over the hill to tell them where we were while Heather continued to try to get Marsha and Peanut to follow – and she did – she started making bbbrrrrpppp sounds with her lips and they responded!

I met up with Walter in the field and pointed him in the right direction, and then went to help Bev carry two crates far enough into the field for the privacy we need to keep the birds wild. Bill and I stood in front of the crates to hide them, just in case the colts were crate-shy, and then, when they were close, we got out of the way. Walter got one bird by the bustle and Bev the other one, and they gently pushed them into the crates.

Bill and I slowly and carefully carried one of the crates to the van while who knows who (no perimeter vision in the helmet!) carried the other one. And they already had one crated bird in there, so now there were three.

Birds loaded, we led the van to the pen site because that crew hadn’t been out there and didn’t know which tractor trails to follow. Then we headed back to camp. One of the trikes was already on the ground there, but no one was around. Heather noticed that the wings were rocking in the wind, so we tied them down.

All the while we were getting bits and pieces of what else was happening – two birds were down a bit farther south, and the sixth had landed in a marsh. Joe, Brooke, Colleen, Geoff, and Richard were dealing with that. Brooke got a bit beat up by brambles in the woods and sprained his ankle, but the birds were located, crated, and returned to the pen with no harm to them, except hopefully they were embarrassed at not making the mere 39 miles to the next stop!

Heather then heard that we should head to the pen to help Colleen unload two crates. That was uneventful – one at a time we carefully and quietly removed each crate from the van, carried it up the small hill, positioned it in front of the open gate, and slid up the front cover. And I’ll tell you… the birds walk out with an attitude like “hey, this is how I travel so get used to it!”.

Next we went back to the airport to re-park the Jambo and re-hook it up because we’re stuck in Lodi again… I’m getting really tired of that song!

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Crazy Person

“It’s the goin, not the gettin there…that’s good” was the last line in an old Harry Chapin song. Lately, we haven’t been doing much of either, unless one counts our last migration leg from Point A to Point A as progress. And maybe it was in the sense that it further revealed the challenges before us. But at times like this, migration feels like you’re fighting a roll of toilet paper that just won’t start, while on the other side of the porta potty door is a line of folks waiting with ever increasing urgency for you to finish. “I’m feeling the pressure” Richard’s voice spoke softly over the radio in a recent migration attempt as we tested the air over the pen for some hint of benevolent conditions. Below, the crew was in position waiting for the launch. From the cemetery parking lot on the ridge, a group of supporters watched anxiously as the scene developed, having braved cold, dark and sleep deprivation to attend the not event that, alas, was not to be.

As we turned back to the airport in frustration, the memory of last year’s migration attempt revisited… when I found myself chasing around the morning sky after 4 or was it 5 whoopers who suddenly lost interest in the game, declared their independence and headed off towards only they knew where in a spasm of aerial schizophrenia. As they set up for a landing in a barn yard, I was able to swoop down and coax them to what appeared to be a secluded harvested cornfield a half mile away. Thick woods on one side, ample hill on the other and high steep hill at the end.  Perfect!  Lou, always the good shepherd in his top cover plane, relayed our position to the ground crew and the birds and I relaxed for the wait.

All was well until suddenly the birds, as if shocked by an electric current, stood bolt upright and weather vaned towards the hill in unison.  With my headset still on under my helmet, they were my ears as I turned on the trike vocalizer, threw out some grapes to keep them by the trike, and scurried up to the top of the hill to investigate. There, coming up the hill, was a bus load of school kids on a class trip to what I soon realized was some kind of Nature Park. I waved my arms in a panicked frenzy for them to stop… which they did.  Who wouldn’t!  And I swear that’s when I saw the teacher turn to the class and say, “What you see before you is an example of the most dangerous thing you are ever likely to encounter in the wild.  More dangerous than Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster or a politician running for public office. I present to you a genuine….”Crazy Person.”  When you encounter such a creature, do NOT make eye contact and forget the pepper spray.  Simply turn around and slowly walk away while singing your favorite rap song. And if it pursues you, just fall to your knees, wrap your body up in a ball and play dead… just like you would in the New York City subway.” And with that, they all turned solemnly and made their way back down the hill towards the bus.  Gosh! That teacher really has her finger on the pulse, I thought.

It was then I realized that we were in a very special and magical place… a piece of geographic anomaly lying at the cosmic intersection of the Twilight Zone and the Bermuda Triangle… where the likes of Stephen King and Rod Serling reside and plot.  And coming from just over the hill, I could hear the chorus of raucous laughter as the fates laughed themselves silly. I held my breath and waited for a commercial break.

Soon, Heather, Colleen, Geoff and most importantly, the boxes arrived and in no time the birds were in them and headed down the hill.  As I climbed out, back into the sanctuary of sky where things seemed to make at least a little more sense, I looked down and watched the line of school kids follow the teacher and chaperones up another hill towards their next taste of enlightenment as our box laden pickup turned on to the main road and sped off towards the pen.

Journey’s, whether great migrations or simple commutes, are inherently transformative. It could be said that life is not really one great journey but a series of small ones and that at the end of each one, you are never quite the same person you were at the beginning. And it is true. That picture perfect morning one year ago, I climbed aboard that trike and took off, a sort of, kind of, normal sort of critter… one with purpose and bearing and a sense of his place in the scheme of things.  When I landed and climbed out, I had changed.  I was… to my surprise… a “Crazy Person.”

P.S. Have you voted for the Crazy Person today?

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