OM’s fiscal year-end is approaching so along with wrapping up the financials for 2013-2014, getting everything in order for the auditor, and striking the budget for 2014/2015 we don’t have time to get into any mischief.

Not that we ever do – have time to get into mischief that is. We always have to chuckle when folks say to us, “Bet you’re glad the migration is over so you can take it easy.” Or, “You must enjoy having some downtime in the off-season”.

Take it easy? Off-season? You talkin’ to me?!? In fact, compared to the so called off-season, the fall migration almost seems like a holiday.

We operate two non-profit corporations – one in Canada and one in the US. This means double everything. Two sets of books; two federal governments each with their own laws and rules to deal with; two reports on just about every subject you can imagine; double the work for meetings, minutes, and the like, and…well you get the picture.

Hey, listen up Universe….when I asked if my workload could get worse it was a rhetorical question, NOT a challenge.

The regular business of both corporations has to be kept running while we’re on migration, but there is a lot of work that there just isn’t time for while we’re on the Wisconsin to Florida road. Although we do our best to keep up, of necessity much gets pushed off. And by the time we arrive back at the office, molehills have become mountains and what was once just a spark has turned into a raging fire.

While OM’s office crew – Joe, Heather, Chris and me – would enjoy passing the time painting our toe nails and eating bonbons, (doubtful that Joe’d be too enthusiastic about the painting toe nails part) we are all in full court press mode.

We have just six weeks left before our new year begins and a ton of research has to be done, quotes acquired, plans drafted, narratives written, and approvals obtained before that time. Not to mention, that soon after that, chick season will be in full swing, bringing with it a whole new roster of duties to add to our to-do lists.

All this while we, like so many of you across both our countries are freezing our hinnies off in unremitting, depressing, sub-zero temps. Ugh and Grrr. If it wasn’t so politically incorrect not to mention devastating to the planet, I’d cheer for global warming.


Class Reunions

There’s nothing like an upcoming high school reunion to get the old juices flowing. The prerequisite weight loss regime, daily thoughts of the everyday suddenly crowded out by memories of the used to be, expectations of the realized and not come front and center, the prospect of the present reconnecting with the past.  And the questions:  did the captain of the football team marry the head cheerleader, did they grow fat together and how are they making out on his high school janitor’s salary? Did that loner back of the room geek, what’s his name, with the pocket protector and coke bottle glasses found a dot com empire, marry a trophy wife half his age and sponsor a yacht in the America’s Cup? And did that special someone with whom you ventured hand in hand into those grand and forbidding places successfully marry, have a family and more importantly, do they still occasionally think of you and the might have been?  Anticipation builds until the magic day approaches and turns every trip to the bathroom sink a long stare into a fun house mirror.

I have attended all my high school reunions but only in my imaginings.  My Jersey shore school was so small and so many of my classmates have graduated from life on into the great beyond that they now combine all the graduating classes into one big reunion.  Whooper reunions are the same way.  So it was especially exciting for me two weeks ago to attend a Whooper Reunion when #8-10 showed up unexpectedly at the pen.  He just missed the Southwood birds, #11 and #15-9, by a couple of weeks, but #4 and #5-12 were still in attendance and for whooping cranes, a small reunion is better than no reunion at all.  Or so we thought.

adult male Whooping crane

Almost 4-year old male Whooping crane number 8-10.

As Cheryl from Disney and I stared down at #8-10 with all the excitement of parents at the return of the prodigal son, I was struck by the sheer wonder of his presence.  He was one of only seven ultralight birds to even come to the State of Florida this winter in a WCEP population that lost 16 cranes in the last few months. He spent the summer with two of only six wild hatched chicks in the project’s long history that had somehow managed to cheat the odds and survive the web of black flies, predators, genetic bottleneck problems, hunters and parental ineptitude only to succumb to the darkness this fall, along with two others, leaving only two wild fledged chicks to carry on their wings the hopes and dreams of all who have given so much to the project through all these years.  Then our little fellow took up with another bird #23-10, which is no longer with him… never a good sign.  What became of that bird?  If only he could talk, what a tale he’d have to tell.

But no time for elaboration.  Before you could say, “Golly gee!  You haven’t changed a bit!” #4-12 charged across from the other end of the pond in full aggressive rage and chased our little #8-10 up into the heights of the deep blue air that gently hovers above the marsh. Testosterone and territorial imperative trump walks down memory lane every time. In Crane Land anyway. A dog fight was the order of the day as #8-10 and #4-12 circled higher and higher above the pen until they were mere specks against the sky.  Then the long minutes of reverse spiral began until both birds were standing back in the pen, one on the north end, and one on the south.  A fast as a blur pit stop at the feeders and then it all began again.  No time for a chorus of “Auld lang syne” or “remember the time when.”  It was full on mindless take no prisoner’s aggression by #4-12. Finally, darkness fell and it was cease and desist. #8-10 left the area and #4-12 took up his position on the oyster bar with #5-12 and the chicks.  All in a day’s work.  You could almost hear #8-10 at his roosting site way out in the marsh pull off his class ring and throw it into tomorrow. “Reunions!”

002_e Whooping crane 8-10


Waterbird Identification

In a couple of the recent media articles about the Louisiana Whooping crane shootings last week, the farmer who owns the property where the cranes were shot was quoted as saying there had been some hunters in the area because Snow geese were present. One of the journalists went on to surmise that this may have been a case of mistaken identity.

The following image (click image to enlarge) was recently developed by the International Crane Foundation for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership.

Please help by sharing the image on your social media pages. If you live near a wetland complex, perhaps you would consider printing out a few and asking permission to post them at parking & visitor areas, observation platforms, anywhere you feel they might get the exposure they need.

Please don't shoot Whooping cranes!

Please don’t shoot Whooping cranes!


Reward Now $15,000 for Information on Whooping Cranes Shot in Louisiana

Release Date: 02/12/2014 

Feb. 12, 2014 – The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) announced today that the reward has been increased to $15,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for shooting the two whooping cranes found in Jefferson Davis Parish on Feb. 7.

Anyone with information on this incident can contact LDWF’s Enforcement Division by calling 1-800-442-2511 or using the tip411 program.

To use the tip411 program, citizens can text LADWF and their tip to 847411 or download the “LADWF Tips” iPhone and Android app from the Apple App Store or Google Play free of charge. CitizenObserver, the tip411 provider, uses technology that removes all identifying information before LDWF receives the text so that LDWF cannot identify the sender.

Organizations and individuals contributing to the reward fund include the Humane Society of the U.S., the Louisiana Operation Game Thief Program, Dr. Ben Burton, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation, the Animal Welfare Institute, Operation Migration, the International Crane Foundation, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Audubon Nature Institute, Lowry Park Zoo, Zoo New England, King White and anonymous donors.

The whooping cranes were found near the corner of Compton Road and Radio Tower Road just north of Roanoke, about five miles north of Interstate 10. One bird was already dead when found and the second crane was transported to the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge and is currently recovering following surgery.

LDWF has been working to restore a wild whooping crane population in Louisiana. Fifty juvenile cranes, brought to Louisiana in four separate cohort groups, have been released at LDWF’s White Lake property near Gueydan since 2011. Prior to this incident, 33 of those birds were alive and well on the landscape in central and southwest Louisiana. Some have been lost to predators, some to naturally occurring health problems, and five in total have been confirmed as killed or wounded by firearms.

To learn more about LDWF’s whooping crane re-population project, visit

For more information, contact Adam Einck at 225-765-2465 or


Team members needed

There was a time when all the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership would meet every year to discuss the project and report the results of a season of hard work. Unfortunately, budget cutbacks and travel restrictions have limited that opportunity but webinar technology still allows us to share reports and talk over issues.

Yesterday WCEP met online to report on the successes and tribulations of 2013. We discussed expansion of the White River site in case more birds are available and the Science Team previewed research needs. We talked about the issues the DAR method struggled with and plans to mitigate the problem in 2014. Refuge Biologist Brad Strobel outlined plans to manage nests at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge this spring. He pointed out that the success rate for pairs that nest early and face hordes of black flies is only 0.5 percent, whereas pairs that re-nest after the blackflies have gone, have a 30 percent success rate. He sighted research that demonstrated the rate of renesting could be increased over time. He suggested that a large number of eggs from early nests are wasted each year.

John French from Patuxent proposed that they could build a cohort of up to 9 chicks this spring for the Parent Reared study without much impact on the production of their captive breeding pairs.

If all of this reminds you of counting your chickens before they hatch, you’re absolutely right. No one can predict the kind of breeding season we will have, so we must be prepared for anything. If we wait until the eggs are laid, it will be too late to increase the size of the pen facilities at White River if we need them. Permits are required before we dig another wet pen so the Wildlife Area manager has begun the application process. Our contractor will plow a roadway through the snow and give it a few days to freeze solid. Then they will bring in a very heavy excavator to dig the wet pen scrape and remove the dirt without destroying the runway. The frozen ground will be hard to smooth out so they will leave that last detail until the spring and do it with a much smaller machine. Once nesting begins and we have some idea of the number of chicks we will get, we can decide if we need to build the pen or wait another season.

More eggs put a heavy burden on the captive breeding facilities so Patuxent has asked us if we can provide more assistance during the early training. We are now recruiting another person to begin at Patuxent in mid April, spend the summer in Wisconsin and accompany the migration until it is complete in December or January. Operation Migration does not have a full education program for interns so we are not legally allowed to pay interns a stipend. Instead we pay minimum wage with Room and Board. Of course we would be very happy if someone wanted to volunteer their services too.

Anyone interested should think twice before sending a resume. It is a big commitment in time and energy. Initial training and imprinting requires early mornings and long days. From June on, we live in motorhomes and train the birds every day at sunrise. The migration is best described as days of frustration waiting for the weather to improve, punctuated by overwork and high stress when it finally cooperates.  We are also looking for someone with experience driving a large pickup truck pulling a 30 foot trailer, some knowledge of caring for birds and the ability to get along with a team in tight quarters.

If I have not completely discouraged you, please send a resume to joe(AT)


Whooping Crane Antics

Disney’s Scott Tidmus had an opportunity to visit with the Class of 2013 Whooping cranes at their release enclosure on Saturday, February 1st prior to the WHO Festival.

Scott shared the following images with us so that we could share them with you.

Wintering Whooping cranes

As Scott and Brooke were heading out to the pen, the two sub-adults: 4 & 5-12 dropped in.

Whooping crane wingspan

My wings are bigger than yours!

whooping crane jump rake

Whooping crane juvenile #2-13 jump rakes sub-adult #5-12

whooping crane chasing another

Whooping crane adult 4-12 chases youngster 8-13

Juvenile #9-13 warns ___ that he'd better be nice while on their turf!

Juvenile #9-13 warns 4-12  that he’d better be nice while on their turf!



The only two Whooping cranes to have formed a mated pair in the Louisiana non-migratory population were found shot on Friday.

The female, from the 2012 cohort was found dead. The male is the only remaining survivor from the first year (2011) of the reintroduction effort, is seriously injured and was taken to the Louisiana State University veterinary school in Baton Rouge. He is expected to survive, however, his wing was very badly damaged from the bird shot.

Officials from Louisiana Department Wildlife and Fisheries say while this pair was too young to produce eggs, they had been practicing nest building in the area.

Wildlife and fisheries officials offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to whoever shot the birds.

This photograph provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries shows a dead female whooping crane found Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, with her wounded but still living mate near Roanoke in southwest Jefferson Davis Parish, La.  AP PHOTO/LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES

This photograph provided by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries shows a dead female whooping crane found Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, with her wounded but still living mate near Roanoke in southwest Jefferson Davis Parish, La. AP PHOTO/LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES


Don’t Blame the Hunters

Flying over the heartland of America, we get to see it from a wider perspective than the pedestrians below. Yet we are not so high that it all blends like the patchwork you see from an airliner window. From one or two thousand feet you can see the surface in detail and you realize that between Wisconsin and Florida there isn’t a square foot that has not been changed by man. Every forest has been clear cut several times and is now mixed with non-indigenous species. What was once miles of tall grass prairie is now agriculture fields as far as you can see.

In modifying most of the habitat, we have also affected many species of wildlife and sometimes the changes we have made throws off the balance of nature. When populations explode we can no longer rely on natural predators to keep them in check. And that is where hunters can provide an important service.

Wildlife agencies can increase take quotas for deer and other game animals and can use hunters to bring them back to sustainable numbers. Apart from helping to maintain a balance, taxes on guns, ammunition and fees for hunting permits help fund much of the conservation work being done. Pro-hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the National Turkey Foundation protect large tracts of habitat.

But not all people who use guns in the wild live up to the standards of most hunters. Fifteen Whooping cranes have been shot in the eastern flyway by vandals or people who don’t believe the rules apply to them. It is hard to understand what motivates someone to shoot a whooping crane. Maybe it is ignorance of the law or an arrogant disregard for it. Some who have been caught, claimed they didn’t know what it was but that excuse is as indefensible as allowing someone that stupid to use a gun.

It is time consuming, tedious and expensive to place a reintroduced Whooping crane in the wild in a migratory situation. It took years of experiments to learn how to raise and breed them in captivity and a number of failed projects before we accumulated the knowledge to make them migratory. Each year since 2001 we have hatched a new generation, imprinted them at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, conditioned them to follow our aircraft in Wisconsin and led them 1200 miles to Florida. On average we add thirteen birds a year to the wild population so the fifteen that have been shot so far represents an entire year of hard work and the support of thousands of people just because someone wanted to kill something.

In the wildlife management community this kind of crime is officially known as thrill killing or wanton waste. On the other side of the issue, the people with no respect for the environment call it the three S’s – shoot, shovel and shut up.

The most recent shootings took place in Kentucky in November when a young pair was shot with a rifle. The reward for information leading to the arrest is now up to $16000.00 and hopefully, someone will come forward. Maybe if the conviction carries a heavy penalty, it will act as a deterrent, or maybe some the hunting organizations will help with education. After all, many people are quick to blame them and a few thrill killers are tarnishing the good name of conscientious hunters.

Ed. Note: We’ve received a number of contributions earmarked for the reward fund. Many private citizens and organizations from Kentucky, including the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, and the Kentucky Ornithological Society. If you would like to make a contribution to help us increase the reward offered in this case, please call us at: 800-675-2618 or visit this link and include “Reward Fund” in the Comment field.

Another way to help spread the word is to share the story/video below, which ran on NBC’s Today Show and which includes news of the reward.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


WHO Festival Highlights

Guest Author: Claire Timm

P-A-R-T-Y! Everybody loves a party… right? And a “festival” is just another name for “party”… right? So no wonder everyone had such a great time at the 2014 WHO (Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors) Festival at St. Marks, NWR on Saturday, February 1st. The WHO Festival was just a great, big, open-air “party” celebrating the Great Outdoors!Operation Migration joined over 30 other organizations at this annual festival. Groups such as the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Friends of Florida State Forests, Inc., Bass Pro Shop, St. Marks Refuge Association and St. Marks Photo Club all had displays and activities for the crowd that came out to enjoy the day. It was especially fun being right across from Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund and OM’s good friend, Scott Tidmus.

Joining me at the Operation Migration table were Colleen Chase, Chantal Blanton and her husband Jim Pinson. Jim was a good sport again this year donning the “Costume” and demonstrating how the Crane Handlers work their magic with the young cranes.

2014WHOFestival_0032.1resizedChantal, Colleen and I answered questions, explained the OM project to those not familiar it and sold OM merchandise…. LOTS of merchandise! Especially popular were the new “Wanda (adult) and Wally (chick) Whooper” plush crane toys. Even though they could be bought separately most went home as a pair!

Wand & Wally Whooper

If you’d like to get your own Wally and Wanda Whooper plush toys, visit our Marketplace!

Brooke Pennypacker even made an appearance stopping by to sign autographs for his adoring fans! For years I’ve been telling him about his “Rock Star” status, especially among the 12 and under set! On Saturday the line for him to sign the OM information brochure had to be proof positive of this. As he always is, he was definitely the life of THIS “party”!

Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Added to our display table this year were two custom made banners with the OM logo and 4 photo collages. The collages document OM’s work with the Crane Chicklets from incubation through wintering at St. Marks. The banners and collages truly added a whole new dimension to our presence this year. In fact Colleen, Chantal and I are thinking about taking this “party” on the road and are looking at other local festivals for OM to participate in!


We want to extend a very special thank you to the St. Marks NWR, St. Marks Refuge Association and Big Bend Flyfishers for hosting this wonderful outdoor “party” and for all they did to create a fun and educational event. It was a grand success and something we were very proud to be a part of. We are already looking forward to next year!

Till next time…“Party On”!


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