Caption This!

Photographer Gary Masemore of Wisconsin captured the following photo of DAR whooping crane 18-11 at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week.

This photo is just begging for a caption - Include your suggested caption in the comments section (please keep it as clean as possible). On Monday we’ll select the best one, publish the results and send the winner some goodies!

What's your caption for this photo? List it in the comments below!

What’s your caption for this photo? List it in the comments below!

 

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Catching up with the Class of 2013

For the first few days after returning to White River Marsh SWA in Green Lake County, Wisconsin the six young whooping cranes continued to socialize as one group for a short time. Recently, however, cranes 7-13 & 8-13 have branched off on their own and have spent the past few days in Dodge County.

This leaves cranes 2-13, 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13 still in Green Lake County and yesterday while tracking these and other returnees, Doug Pellerin captured the following images to share with us.

From left to right: 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13

From left to right: 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13

Lift-off!

Lift-off!

After a short flight the trio landed and were joined by #2-13.

After a short flight the trio landed and were joined by #2-13.

No doubt this deer was curious about the large white cranes.

No doubt this deer was curious about the large white cranes.

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Magnificent Whooping Crane Month of May

The Friends of Patuxent invite you to celebrate the Whooping crane during Magnificent Whooping Crane Month. Admission is FREE and many fun, family activities will be taking place, including:

  • “Story Time” by author Mary Beth Mattison – May 3 at 1 PM; May 17 at 11 AM.
  • Tours of the Whooping Crane Observatory on Sundays from 1 PM to 2:30 PM. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Tiny Tots Programs – May 4 at 11:30; May 5 at 10:30. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Puppet Shows on May 10 at 10 AM and 11:30.
  • Whooping Crane presentations by Dr. John French, Research Manager at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center – May 10; Brooke Pennypacker of Operation Migration – May 17, and Ken Lavish, Volunteer Crane Technician – May 31 (all at 1:30 PM).
  • Whooping Crane Migration Game – May 31 from 10 AM to 12 Noon.

Throughout the month of May: compare your height to that of a Whooping Crane, check out how these birds grow from an egg to an adult through photos, view fascinating videos about Whooping Cranes, and much more! CLICK to see entire calendar of activities!

Location: National Wildlife Visitor Center, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD 20708, just off Powder Mill Road between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Rt. 197, see detailed directions at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/patuxent/VClocation.html

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Don’t Forget Mom!

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we want to let you know that we have some very special new items in our Marketplace.

An artist and author as well as an educator who focuses on healing practices, Georgia Lang Weithe creates unique one-of-a-kind and production art jewelry pieces. Operation Migration is carrying three special crane pieces that we’re sure you, or Mom will love!

Click the link below each image to jump to the appropriate item page.

This sterling silver flying crane pendant/chain retails for $35 + shipping.

This sterling silver flying crane pendant/chain retails for $35 + shipping. CLICK for details

Maybe Mom would prefer a brooch/pin? CLICK for details

Maybe Mom would prefer a brooch/pin? CLICK for details

This unique standing crane measures 1 ½ inches tall and 2 ¼ inches wide. Take a closer look at the body. It's made by pressing a Maple tree seed pod into the mold. CLICK for details.

This unique standing crane measures 1 ½ inches tall and 2 ¼ inches wide. Take a closer look at the body. It’s made by pressing a Maple tree seed pod into the mold. CLICK for details.

 

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Encore! Wakulla Wildlife Festival

Plans laid in February at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge WHO Festival hatched as OM  put on its WILD at the Wakulla Wildlife Festival on Saturday, April 19th.  What a happy way to celebrate Wakulla County’s new residents, the wild adult Whooping Cranes who chose to winter here this year!

Spirits were high in the 6:45 a.m. twilight as our feisty North Florida volunteers led by OM Board member Colleen Chase chugged coffee and a tasty breakfast at Savannah’s.  It was just 5 miles to the festival venue at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, a National Natural Landmark graced by one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, acres of canopied forest teeming with wildlife, and a Lodge built in 1937 that still serves guests in grand style year-round.

The Park and Festival staff bubbled southern hospitality and directed us to a spacious exhibition tent.  Colleen Chase, Claire Timm, Lynn Walsh (aka Maxgreenwing,) Karen Willes, and I scurried to set up educational displays alongside OM  merchandise and brochures under the tent to protect them from the intermittent drizzle, while Jim Young attached the OM banners to display frames.

Our first official visitor was Jeff Hugo, Park Facilitator for the fest, who gave us a hearty welcome!

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What a perfect location for the OM table, with a lovely view across the green where a parade of masked wildlife characters snaked among beekeepers, mullet-smokers, a blacksmith, and vintage tractors under the live oak trees.  Music wafted all day from local talent on the bandstand, and we were a short flap-hop away from the Festival’s delicious complimentary lunch.

Operation Migration’s magnet was the silent costumed Crane Handler (Jim or Colleen), who alternately crouched down to “feed” the chick model a plastic bug, or stood “watching” kids with the puppet head as they passed by.

Kids’ reactions to the costume are a hoot.  Little ones may zoom right up and hug or look underneath the billowing cloth, while others try to grab the puppet-head, and a few tentatively peek out from behind their parents’ legs.  But the box of crane food items draws them in, and next thing you know, they’re helping the ‘Tume feed colorful replica lizards, bugs, mice, and snakes to the chick model.  Or they pose for pictures next to the huge Whooping Crane cutout.

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Colleen explained to visitors why the costumed handler is silent and showed how each part of the costume helps in training chicks without imprinting them on humans.  Claire, Lynn, Karen, and I answered lots of questions and guided folks through the educational photo collages of:  Early Training at Patuxent, Flight Training in Wisconsin to follow OM’s ultralight aircraft, Migration to Florida, and  Wintering lessons taught to the young Whoopers at St .Marks NWR.

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Karen shared a new display about mated Whooping Cranes 11&15-09 who winter nearby in Leon County.  She patiently explained why humans must protect and respect these and all Whooping Cranes, giving them the distance they deserve to preserve their wildness and avoid habituation to humans.  Also prominent were signs deployed this winter to teach people not to intrude on the birds’ roost site.

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About half of our visitors first learned about Operation Migration and the Whooping Crane reintroduction at this festival.   Many were inspired enough to pick up some OM souvenirs and a brochure listing webpages to follow progress online.

Each of us visited other displays at this eclectic gathering of over 30 exhibitors plus vendors, wildlife and art shows, living history demonstrations, and reenactors.  Lynn took a glass-bottomed boat tour on her lunch break and excitedly shared a looooong list of wildlife she’d seen.

When drizzle slowed the flow of atendees, we visited with nearby tent-mates.  Mission San Luis reenactors learned that Whooping Cranes still lived freely in Florida when their site was established in 1656; Apalachee Audubon’s Kathleen Carr shared spring birding news; Park volunteers entertained kids with face-painting and mask-making; we met educators from the Tallahassee Museum and Wakulla Environmental Institute of Tallahassee Community College; and Florida Wild Mammal Association volunteer Nick Baldwin, a St. Marks Photo Club member, snapped photos of all the fun.

Among OM friends who stopped by were Jack Rudloe of the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab who supplies blue crabs for the young cranes overwintering at St. Marks NWR, and supporters from the St. Marks Refuge Association & Photo Club.  Oh, and did I mention the costumed cormorant who cuddled up to Colleen and OM’s ‘Tume?

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We also spoke with those whose passion is protecting wild Florida habitat – - so necessary for migratory and resident wildlife.  Among these were Wakulla Springs Alliance, Wakulla Wetlands Alliance, Friends of Wakulla Springs, Florida Trail Association-Apalachee Chapter, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Division of Forestry, Florida Native Plant Society, North American Butterfly Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, Sustainable Big Bend, and many others.

It was inspiring to interact with so many caring kids and families.  They give us hope that the next generations will carry forward the mission of Operation Migration and the many other organizations represented at this Festival.

We congratulate and thank Wakulla Springs State Park, the Friends of Wakulla Springs, and the many sponsors and volunteers who hosted this extraordinary event.  We felt honored to share OM’s mission  with so many new friends.  Thanks, also, to Paul & Betty Hamilton and Ken & Connie Clineman, St. Marks NWR volunteers who helped us with access to display materials.

And….. we invite you to come WHOOP it up at the next Wakulla Wildlife Festival!

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Ed. note: Huge thanks to the volunteers for organizing this event and to the photographers for capturing the day!

 

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Young Love – First Nest in White River Marsh!

During my sixteenth summer I worked for a youth program run by the Department of Lands and Forests here in Ontario, Canada.

Being a Junior Ranger was very popular and it was an achievement just to be accepted. It was a lot like a mini version of boot camp. Kids from all over the Province were shipped to parks and forest projects to spend the first summer away from home, building trails, thinning forests and controlling invasive plant species — even back them.

The team of pimple faced, testosterone raging, combatants — into which I fit well, spent our time at the end of a 25 mile logging road in a wilderness area of the boreal forest. We lived in tents, ate at a mess hall and spent our time thinning out poplar trees so the pines could grow and planting saplings by the thousands.

That is when I became familiar with blackflies. We worked in teams, all strung out in evenly spaced rows. Each of us carried a tray of tiny trees sprouting in little plastic tubes and a tool for punching a hole in the ground into which we dropped a tree and secured it with a well placed foot step. We marched in increments, across meadows, clear cut sites and forest fire burns. Much of it was low country and as we plodded along, we raised clouds of blackflies.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance but wearing nets and long sleeves takes care of most of them. Blackflies however, are evil. They are too tiny to swat except to brush away fifty or more at a time. They collect in the seams of your clothing and crawl under the layers to bite you behind the ears, in your hair line and all the places mosquitoes don’t seem to find. Annoying as mosquitoes are, they still delicately remove your blood through a built-in straw. Blackflies are like tiny, airborne piranha. They tear off a chuck and sit in a tree to eat it. In the end, you are left with tiny little scabs which bleed when you succumb to the intolerable itch.

According to Dr. Peter Adler of Clemson University and one of the world experts on blackflies, there are 254 recognized species in North America. At least three of them are known to target birds, and it seems that all three are present at Necedah.

When we battled blackflies in northern Ontario, we had jackets, hats, nets and several coats of citronella. Plus we had hands to brush them away and react to the worst of the itching. We were also driven by the false bravado of adolescence and the fear of being the first to wine about something as trivial as a bug.

The Whooping cranes however, lack any protection from insects that can burrow through their feathers. They sit on a nest in a blackfly paradise, day after day as the little monsters seems bleed them dry.

Still, as much as I hate blackflies, there is a place for them on the landscape. I can’t imagine how stealing blood and tormenting animals has any direct benefit to the ecosystem, but they are food for something. There are people within WCEP on both sides of that discussion.

Through the expertise and generosity of Dr Peter Adler and Dr Elmer Gray et al, most of the blackflies in and around Necedah were killed in the spring of 2012. No suppression methods were used in 2013 and the blackflies made a complete comeback with numbers as high as they ever were before the use of Bti. That resilience is a good indication that controlling their population, at least until the Whooping crane population gets established, would not have any long term affect on blackfly survival.

The nest abandonment in 2013 was so closely aligned with the blackfly bloom that it is impossible to deny the cause. But that is only part of the problem. Even though more pairs hatched eggs and produced chicks in 2012, only two survived to fledge. There are layers to this problem and using Bti is not the only solution. The next step in the research should be to aggressively determine what is happening to the chicks between the time they hatch and when they can fly away from whatever it is that is getting them. Unfortunately that isn’t simple. Whooping crane chicks leave the nest shortly after they hatch and follow their parents and they learn to forage. They wander the extent of their parents’ territories and are impossible to track using fixed cameras. And much of the habitat is not easily accessible by even the most practised and stealthy biologist. Still WCEP is nothing if not innovative and I am confident we will find a solution.

In the interim was are about to begin our fourth season at White River Marsh. This habitat is outside the range of the blackfly species that targets birds so we hope for better recruitment. Mike Callahan, pilot and tracker for the Wisconsin DNR has been tracking birds from above and confirmed a nest this week, although in an odd location.

His report stated “As of 1:00 today, (April 24) 7-11 is sitting on what appears to be a nest barely above water in the center of the woodlot. 10-11 is foraging in an ag field 500 feet south of same woodlot”. This location is in the Grand River Marsh which is part of the White River complex. The pair is only three years old so we allow them a little confusion but it is a good sign. If the nest survives and they fledge chicks, it will be a great sign.

WC 2014-04-18 07,10-11_e

We have all appendages crossed.

 

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Craniac Kids Help Whooping Cranes

Operation Migration is very fortunate to have the support of a number of teachers and their students. We would like to recognize two classrooms that recently made contributions in support of our work to safeguard Whooping cranes.

Ms. Timm’s 3rd grade class at Maclay School in Tallahassee has rallied behind OM’s work since 2010. Each year a new cohort of craniac kids is hatched by Ms. Timm and their recent MileMaker 2014 contribution brings the class total to over a thousand dollars! A BIG WHOOP to them for their on-going support!

Ms. Harrison teaches 2nd grade at Chicago Lab School in Chicago and she and her students have been following our work since 2007. Their recent contribution of $626 brings the total of their financial support over the years to more than $7000.00! Last fall we had the pleasure of visiting Ms. Harrison and her students and these kids really know their Whooping cranes.

Please join us in applauding the efforts of these two phenomenal teachers and the students that have had the benefit of learning that everyone CAN do something to help Whooping cranes. Leave a comment at the end of this post for the kids to read!

chicagolab

 

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MileMaker Campaign Needs YOU

Each year we launch the MileMaker fundraising campaign – This very important campaign raises the funds necessary to carry out the 1200-mile aircraft-guided Whooping crane migration from Wisconsin to Florida each fall.

The way it works is quite simple — We have determined that each mile of the 1200-mile southward migration has a cost of $200 associated with it. This covers insurance, fuel and maintenance costs for the ground vehicles and aircraft, food for the cranes and the crew, any repairs or maintenance required for the crane enclosures, etc.

By far, the MileMaker Campaign funds the largest portion of our annual budget and is critical to the success of our annual crane migration.

Even though the Class of 2014 Whooper chicks have yet to begin hatching, we must begin to fundraise for their upcoming migration. Currently, only 76 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, so we have a long way to go. Please consider becoming a MileMaker sponsor and help us help the Class of 2014.

You have the choice of sponsoring a full mile ($200), a half mile ($100) or even a quarter mile ($50). In addition to helping these young Whooping cranes, your name will be entered into a draw for an incredible thank you gift, which will be held at the end of the campaign on December 31st or when all 1200 miles are sponsored. If your name is drawn you will receive a two-week stay at a private home in beautiful Costa Rica!

Sponsor a full mile and you get four entries into the Costa Rica trip – sponsor a half mile and you get two – and quarter mile sponsors receive one entry into the draw.

We’ll also list your support on the MileMaker recognition page so everyone will see your support of Whooping cranes.

As an added bonus, all MileMaker supporters will receive a secret link to a selection of monthly E-calendar images for your PC desktop. Download all of the images at once, or return each month for your new photo! Here are a couple of the monthly calendar images:

April 2014
April 2014
November 2014
November 2014
January 2015
January 2015
It’s the start of a new Whooping crane season! will you help?
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Earth Day 2014

Saving the planet should be something we focus on 365 days each year but if shining a spotlight on the issue, worldwide, for just one day helps educate we humans, then it’s worth it.

Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22 by 192 countries around the globe. This year the theme is Green Cities. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, our cities have to evolve. The need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever.

CLICK to learn what you can do.

earth_day

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By the Numbers

As we reported late afternoon Saturday, six of the Class of 2013 Whooping cranes were photographed that day when they landed at the north end of the White River Marsh training site in Green Lake County, Wisconsin. The group includes: 2-13, 4-13, 5-13, 7-13, 8-13 & 9-13.

The original group of eight departed their St. Marks NWR winter site on March 31st. They were not seen by anyone until reaching Daviess County, Kentucky but information gathered from the four cranes wearing PTT tracking units tells us they made at least one stop in Barbour County, Alabama and spent a couple of days at this location.

Their next stop was Daviess County, Kentucky where storms and headwinds kept them grounded for a week. Sadly, this is where the remains of young female Whooping crane 1-13 were found. An OM supporter, Nancy and her husband Hayden checked on them almost daily and only ever saw six cranes, which leads me to believe it was soon after arriving that something happened to number 1-13. It also means that the other missing crane, number 3-13 likely split off from the group before this.

When the weather finally allowed them to leave the group apparently made a beeline for McHenry County, Illinois where they spent two days before making a short hop into Wisconsin’s Walworth County where a spring snow storm and winds kept them grounded for another 5 days.

As I mentioned in Saturday’s report, we received a good quality PTT hit that placed number 2-13 north of Berlin, Wisconsin at roost time on Friday evening, so technically, they arrived home on day 18. Pretty impressive!

The following grab from Google Earth shows our southward stops as green or yellow place markers (green are the locations we stopped at. Yellow were stops we were able to skip). The red line, slightly east of our route is the path the cranes took on the way home with the yellow pushpins marking their migration stops. While it obvious they didn’t follow the exact migration, they sure were close for the entire way!

Whooping crane migration route

Class of 2013 south and north migration path.

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Corporate Support of Whooping Cranes

Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through their Power of Flight grant program have been staunch supporters of our work since 2004. Now as we celebrate the successful return of another cohort of aircraft-guided whooping cranes, we must point out that none of this is possible with our individual supporters as well as Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Power of Flight

The Power of Flight program is a partnership between Southern Company—including its four operating companies—and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The partnership funds efforts to conserve birds characteristic of the southern U.S. through strategic habitat restoration and environmental education. Efforts span Southern Company’s primary service area of Georgia, Alabama, northwestern Florida, and southeastern Mississippi.

Launched in 2003, the 11-year partnership is the largest public agency-private corporation funding effort for bird conservation in the South. Each partner contributes $300,000 annually with the combined $600,000 available through a competitive grant program. Operation Migration matches its Power of Flight award on a 2:1 ratio with funds generated by our MileMaker campaign.

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BREAKING NEWS!

The group of six young Whooping cranes have arrived HOME!

As in White-River-Marsh-on-the-runway-HOME!!!

This morning a PTT hit came in which placed #2-13 approximately 10 miles north of Berlin, WI last evening – likely to roost. I asked Doug Pellerin to head up to that area today if he had a chance.

About an hour ago I received an email from Lois Ballard, who lives near our aircraft hanger. She and her husband were out running errands and decided to take a detour and head down White River Road. As they neared the training site they noticed the gate was open and after pondering it for a few minutes, they decided since there were no birds present and no training taking place, what would it hurt to head in and take a look around.

They took a look at the blind and the pen and were just about to head back to their car when they heard the unmistakable sound of Whooping crane calls. They turned to look toward the north and there stood six, glorious white whooping cranes at the far north end of the runway!

Lois sent the following images, captured with her 300mm lens and cropped so they are not as close as they appear to be.

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They did it! How about WHOOP’ing in celebration of their incredible achievement? Or better yet, perhaps you would consider becoming a MileMaker supporter to help fund this years southward migration for the yet to hatch Class of 2014!?

We still do not know the whereabouts of #3-13 and we’re hopeful he’s just running late. Stay tuned.

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It Ain’t Over Till it’s Over…

“It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”  according to Yogi Berra anyway.  But as usual, this “Field of Dreams Baseball Bard” had a point. That’s the reason I never indulge in celebration. I learned long ago that high fiving, chest-bumping-touchdown-victory dances only awaken the ire and anger of the fates. The fates are ambush predators, so if you find yourself walking through the jungle known as the “Crane Project’, you must do so quietly. Besides, when you work on a project where any hint success immediately begs the question, “is that a light at the end of the tunnel… or a train coming the other way”? which it usually is, you practice Quiet. So… when they ask me, “aren’t you excited and relieved the birds finally left on migration?” I just smile and change the subject.  “Mums” the word, and I’m not talking about my Mum.  Besides, it’s not really over until the birds make it back to Wisconsin. Then the old girl can sing her heart out.

The morning the chicks left St. Marks, I trudged out to the pen, food bucket in hand, to do the daily chores, but soon realized I had entered an enhanced pre-migration energy field. Very delicate and subtle, not lending itself easily to description. But you just know. The chicks approached me with that special air of indifference, indicating the disconnection was in full transition mode. Eyes that until now held familiarity and recognition… even friendship… now had that folk-songy “whatever we had once is gone” look. They were getting ready to go. Weather wise, the better migration day was predicted for the following day, but the line of thick overcast held just to the south, leaving the above clear as a bell, and the winds were shifting to the south earlier than predicted and beginning to rise, bringing warmer temps.

I decided right then that this time I would be in the pen with them when they left. This would be the culmination of an evolution of my experience with departures which, began six years ago when Bev spent all day, every day for two weeks prior to the birds leaving. She didn’t want to miss the departure.  And she didn’t. Either did Joe from the St. Marks Photo Club and I.  We stood in the blind, absolutely giddy with anticipation as the time came and the little piece of magic unfolded. Finally, off north they flew, carrying with them all the hopes and dreams of all the people that had worked so hard for so long to make that moment possible. But looking into the fish tank, and actually being in it are two, very different experiences.

As the chicks walked to the feed shelter to begin the now familiar pre-migration ritual, I took the opportunity to stand before each of them and mentally say goodbye. As I began, time seemed to warp and expand and resonate with surges of broad unexpected emotion. Goodbyes, after all, are never easy.

I thanked them on behalf of everyone involved for their cooperation and participation in the project, told them how proud they had made us and how very much we cared about them. I spoke briefly of the hope for the future and the joy they provided our supporters and how grateful we all were for their gift of all the wonderful memories. Lastly, I cautioned them about the dangers they were likely to encounter on their journey north. Migrations are dangerous undertakings for birds and the danger grows every year. The route is strewn with more and more power lines, while growing armies of windmills march across a landscape punctuated by rapidly growing numbers of cell towers. Predators abound. Coyote numbers grow exponentially and their range expands accordingly. And then there are the two legged predators. After the Sandy Hook School Massacre, so many Americans rushed to buy assault rifles and ammunition, you still can’t find .22 caliber ammo anywhere.  And the sad reality is that a certain percentage of people with guns are going to shoot them at something. It’s just the human condition and of course their inalienable right. (20% of our WCEP whooping crane population has been shot)

Then there’s the continual loss of wetland habitat and good places to roost, due to human development and climate change. Simply put, the landscape over which the whooper historically migrated is gone forever and will never return. They would essentially be running a gauntlet… an X Game.  I apologized that I couldn’t go with them. They were now the masters of their own fate, for better or for worse.

The last bird in line was fittingly #1. She had been my favorite from the beginning. Her very special something radiated every day, starting back at Patuxent when she used her personal magic to lead and teach the other chicks the value and wisdom of following, of placing their faith and trust in the white giants, of accepting her dominance and her example, all of which served to make the early training a relatively painless and effortless flow. Her intelligence countered that of poor little #2, our second of the three females, who was as dumb as a box of rocks. She later vacated her position as dominant bird to males #7 and #9 as their size and testosterone level surpassed hers. But by then the all important social foundation construction had been completed. She remained throughout the smartest and most able member of the group.  Little did I know then she had only a few more days to live.

The process of separation and disconnection resumed and completed itself as the chicks collected up and walked off as one toward the pond, the wild call of migration visibly growing louder within them.  Off I went to the blind to retrieve the Refuge’s new video camera just donated by the St. Marks Photo Club.  Tom Darragh, Club President, arranged with club member Bert to bring the camera out to the blind the day before and give me a quick course in its use. Unfortunately for Burt, he soon discovered that trying to teach me to operate anything equipped with an ON/OFF switch was like trying to teach a two thousand cow to lay eggs. I just watched, looking like a dog watching television as he patiently explained the cameras little mysteries. Back at the feed shelter I slowly and quietly sat down, hiding in plain sight, to observe the performance…. too greedy for the chicks’ increased energy vibe and the “what was to come” to dilute it with distance. I raised the camera and began to video while the chicks performed the usual series of preparatory flights.

Then after a few short flights, followed by trips to the feeders, #3 began calling a raucous pre-migratory call, as if undergoing the exorcism of some migratory demon channeling through him. Their genetic blueprint, written millions of years ago and lying dormant within them, was coming alive, revealing itself and taking command. The call washed thick and turbulent over the other chicks until they were soon overwhelmed, drawn into a focused unison of preflight posturing and vocalizations, followed by a almost involuntary launch into the wild blue and towards the completion of their wildness. North over the tree line and into invisibility they flew as I raced to the blind for the tracking receiver and antenna.  Moments later I stood out in the open, feeling completely naked without my costume, as I listened to the transmitter beeps diminish and soften until only #5’s faint beeps remained. Then it too was gone, replaced by the gentle breath of the wind through the tree tops. Time suddenly stood still. No sound. No motion. Just the deep feeling of foreboding and the almost painful ache of loneliness and sense of loss.

And somewhere up in White River Marsh the fat woman patiently waited in the wings to sing her song.

Postscript: About two weeks later, after a 20 hour straight through motor home drive from St Marks to Wisconsin, Bev and I awoke after a couple hours of sleep to the news that #1 was dead and that six of the chicks were not far from our location. Heather explained the sad details… possibly a power line strike, and that the location of #3 was not known. It is a great credit to her exceptional intuition and efforts and to the help of a kind and caring supporter in Kentucky that the loss of #1 was discovered. An hour later, Bev and I stood on a rural roadside observing through binoculars six of our chicks frolicking out in the middle of a Wisconsin ag field. How quickly it had all changed. Sad as we were at the loss of #1, we were even more discouraged by the reality that we have now only two surviving females from this year and only one from last year. Without females, no eggs, and without eggs, prospects for project success become ever more remote. Very sad indeed.

I called Geoff to give him the news.  After a long period of silence, he spoke in a tone so quiet I could hardly hear him, “She was my favorite.”

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White Birds in the Snow

Guest Author, Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Its springtime in Wisconsin. That means it will snow today and be 60 degrees tomorrow. Or 20. That’s the thing with Wisconsin—you just never know what the weather is going to be. What I do know is that with the coming of spring, my work load goes from a standstill to hitting the ground running every day. Spring season for the aeronautics team means fire patrol, eagle nest, waterfowl and whooping crane surveys, quickly followed by osprey and trumpeter swan nesting activity flights. Throw a 12” snowstorm into the mix and the flight schedule gets stacked up waiting for that clear day when we can go.

On Monday this week, parts of the state received several inches of wet heavy snow. Of course it was the part that I had to fly over looking for white Whooping cranes. As soon as I departed my home airport, I could see the snow line to the east and south – exactly the direction I was headed. The first stop for me was straight east to Marathon County. This is the home of pair 5-10 and 28-08. They were back on territory last week and I saw them as plain as day – there was minimal snow cover, although the flowages were still mostly frozen. This week however, everything was white. I circled for quite awhile searching in vain for a visual confirmation of the audible tone coming from the tracking receiver. There is no mortality switch on the transmitters so I need to get a visual sighting of each and every bird I hear to ensure they are still alive. An extremely challenging task when everything on the ground is white. After catching no sight of 5-10 or her mate, I snapped a few pictures to look at later on the computer and flew on.

Whooping cranes in snow

The snow covered marsh in Marathon County. Can you see the pair of Whooping cranes? (click to see where they are)

Next stop was down in Wood County to the territory of 12-02 and 19-04. They were found with only a few circuits and they are sitting on a nest. Flight continued down towards the north end of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I had to check the north end for nests as fast as I could because the overlying airspace would soon go into the “restricted” mode due to activity at the nearby bombing range. A small, slow Cessna and a fast big F16 really don’t play well together so I wanted to get out of the area quickly. I found two nests on the north end, both with birds with non-functioning transmitters, so I was unable to tell who each bird was. With the locations provided, the ground trackers can get out the spotting scopes and read the colored leg bands. If I could read the bands, I would definitely be flying too low.

My flight continued across the refuge, heading further east to Adams County where there was even more snow on the ground. Adams County was the home of 5-09 and 33-07, the pair that was shot in Kentucky on Thanksgiving weekend last year. I sighed at the stupidity of certain people and headed back west toward Camp Douglas National Guard base, Monroe County and finally home.

All day I was flying in and out of snow showers, peering down at a snow-covered landscape, trying desperately to see the white birds. To say there were moments of frustration is an understatement, especially when some of the birds I was searching for have non-functioning transmitters. But what joy (and hope) I felt when I found a nest. At the end of the day, I counted fifteen (15) total nests with another being built.  Of those fifteen, there were three where I could see an egg as the adults got up to switch incubation duties.

So another spring season begins. Nests to watch, chicks to look for and stragglers to find. Now if the snow that is currently falling would just stop and I could get out to fly the eagle nest survey…

Whooping crane nest with egg

The nest (and single egg) belonging to pair 27-06 & 26-09.

Nesting Whooping crane

Nest (and sleeping crane) belonging to pair 5-05 & 32-09.

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