Yesterday morning at the usual time I was walking Maxine, Aiden and Peanut… ah, I mean #2, 3 and 4 out to the circle pen for morning trike training when Aiden stopped me and asked, “We have a question for you that’s been bugging us for some time.”

“Ask away, my little friend, but don’t be disappointed if the answer I give you is an answer that makes no sense.”

“Where did the idea for that circle pen come from anyway?”

“Oh.  That’s an easy one.”I replied. “NASCAR.”

“NAS what”? Peanut asked scratching his head.

“NASCAR.  It means “Turn Left, Go Fast” in Latin, but it’s really not about you guys but about us humans just chasing our tails, which we’ve been doing since we chased the first banana out of the tree way back when. Why else would the earth be round instead of flat or square? Just so Columbus wouldn’t sail off the edge? Not likely.  It’s round so that we have at least some small hope of actually catching our tails and feeling like we’re getting ahead. Besides, for evolution to evolve, it’s got to revolve and as any redneck will tell you, a revolver is a lot more reliable handgun than an automatic.  Less moving parts.

The chicks just stared up at me in openmouthed confusion. “We’re having trouble following ya.”

“Ok ok.  Here it is from the beginning.  Listen carefully. It all began back in Ancient Roman times with a guy named Bennie Hur, who later became known as the “Godfather of NASCAR.” He made a good honest illegal living, driving his chariot filled with casks of vino down from the countryside into the city every night thus avoiding the Emperor’s Revenue agents who wanted to slap a liquor tax on his cargo of the “Nector of the Gods.” Trouble was, Bennie didn’t figure he needed a partner, especially one called “Emperor” and anyway, he had a horsepower advantage over the Revenuers because he had six horses pulling his chariot and they only had four. Soon Bennie was making the Revenuers look so stupid that he became something of a Roman folk hero. The locals would pile out of the bars, brothels and bath houses every night to wave him god speed as he raced by.

One of them happened to be the Supervisor of Events Planning for the Coliseum and needed a new attraction since the old one of throwing the Christians to the lions ended when they ran out of Christians. Why not get Bennie and his competitors (every illegal endeavor has competitors) to drive their chariots round the Coliseum circle in something called a “race” with a checkered flag and a finish line with a prize for the first chariot to cross it and a pretty girl wearing a mini toga to shake up a champagne bottle and squirt bubbly all over everybody and everything. They could charge admission, sell official racer’s autographed loin cloths and raise more revenue for the Emperor than they could ever hope to collect through any mere tax on wine.

Bennie won the first race because his horses were white and everyone knows white horses run faster than grey ones and soon every chariot in Rome had a sticker on its rear windshield that said, “Sock it to ‘em, Bennie”.  But Bennie was one of those regular guys who never had a secret craving for Facebook celebrity, so he moved to New Jersey with his new country and western singer girlfriend – half his age and opened a pizza shop with his winnings and was never again heard from by his wife and ten kids.”

“Way to go, Bennie!” exclaimed Peanut

“Now fast forward a few thousand years to America and a flim-flam artist named J.C. Bottoms who just happened to own a billboard company. One day, while driving his convertible down the highway under the influence of an illegal substance, he lamented that the people were passing his billboards too fast to actually read the advertisements. Then he had an epiphany. Why not make the road circular, take the people out of their cars and seat them on the side of the road where the billboards were, and then put the billboards on cars and hire local moonshine bootlegger “Nectar of the Hillbillies” drivers named Junior or Bubba to drive them around the circle in a race with a checkered flag and a finish line with a prize for the first car to cross it and a pretty girl in a mini something or other and to shake up a champagne bottle and squirt bubbly all over everybody and everything. He figured folks would enjoy watching those billboards more than sitting at home Saturday nights staring at their lava lamps and might even pay to get in to see them.  And that’s how NASCAR was born. But what the fans were watching was more than just sport. It was, in fact, the great circle of evolution as commerce evolved into sport evolved into entertainment then back into commerce.”

“Damn!” sighed #7.

“But wait!  Here comes the best part. One Saturday night Mother Nature came to watch the races and while waiting for her eight dollar beer, she had an idea.  Why not add Conservation and Endangered Species Reintroduction to the circle of evolution. We already had the Internet and webcams were cheap. So the next day she joined the Screen Actors Guild and began installing webcams on eagle nests, African watering holes, crane pens and places like that.  Sure beat out those Lava Lamps as Must See TV. Then she added Social Media and Connectivity to the circle. “It’s just down right evolutionary for everyone to want to belong!” she said.  Thus, the forces of Evolution had triumphed and the circle… the continuum was complete… Commerce, Conservation, Connectivity, Sport, Entertainment, Commerce; a swirl that just keeps on swirling and pretty soon you just can’t tell one element from the next. It’s life’s great big circle pen and we we’re all in it together, doing what we do best… chasing our tails.” Like the man said, “May the Force be with you!”

“Very Zen,” remarked Eight Ball, shaking his head.

“So what ever happened to Bennie Hur”? asked Peanut.

“Well Peanut, he went to Hollywood, got an agent and landed himself a leading role in a movie all about his life. Even did his own stunts. Later he won himself an Oscar and gave the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the Academy, “What goes around, comes around.” He later moved his 10 kids to the Jersey Shore and got them jobs on a reality TV show.”

“Far out!” exclaimed Peanut.

“OK.  Enough history lessons for one day. Time for circle-pen training.  And remember, all circles are not created equal so don’t let that circle pen fool you. You don’t cross the finish line until you get to St. Marks!  Got it?  Now, any questions?”



Wild Whooping Crane Chicks

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan flew a survey today in the core reintroduction area and reports the following chicks are confirmed alive.

#9-05/13-03* – 1 chick (W1-14)

#12-02/19-04* – 1 chick (W3-14)

#28-08/5-10* – 1 chick (W13-14)

* denotes female

Can you spot the chick in this image?

Look closely in the small gap in the trees to the left of the dead tree. (click for larger image)

Look closely in the small gap in the trees to the left of the dead tree. (click for larger image)

Inching Closer to the Finish Line

Now that we have our newest cohort of whooping crane chicks on the ground and in training, it’s time to ramp up our fundraising to ensure we reach our goal so that we can guide them to Florida.

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.

Currently, only 211 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, which is enough to get them to Illinois – so we have a looong 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:

Aug14_th Sept14_th February 2015

It’s the start of a new Whooping crane season! will you help?

Treasures of Oz… Tomorrow!

Looking for something to do on Saturday? Come up to Ozaukee County, Wisconsin for the Treasures of Oz event! If you come to Forest Beach, make sure to stop at the Operation Migration table and visit with Craniacs Laura Rowan, Sara Duff Sonntag, Jana Becker Lood, Gary Masemore and Doug and Mako Pellerin! Hope to see you there!!

All sites open 9am to 3pm and the celebration at Forest Beach Migratory Preserve runs from noon to 6pm. Visitors can explore 7 natural areas and hidden environmental treasures. Each site is hosted by top scientists, environmental stewards and experts in natural fields. 

Photo Roundup

Brooke sent along the following images taken this week. It looks as if socializing 101 is well underway!

whooping crane chicks train with aircraft.

The three youngest in this year’s cohort spend time together in the circle pen following the small aircraft, while the puppet dispenses mealworms.

Crane chick stand-off

Crane chick stand-off

Young whooping crane chicks basically want to kill each other so the handlers must keep a watchful eye at all times to break up any skirmishes.

Young whooping crane chicks basically want to kill each other so the handlers must keep a watchful eye at all times to break up any skirmishes.

Young 10-14 has her toes taped with tiny wooden splints to help them develop properly.

Young 10-14 has her toes taped with tiny wooden splints to help them develop properly.

Meanwhile, the older chicks have been spending time in the ponded pen section at Patuxent. Geoff sent along this photo of our oldest crane number 2-14. Look how much larger than the others she is!

2-14v spends time foraging in the small pond.

2-14v spends time foraging in the small pond.

Man’s World – NOT!

“It’s a man’s world,” the guys used to announce with such a triumphant and grandiose tone of certainty that you knew it was just another load of crap. “And a woman’s place is in the home,” which of course it was until she got dressed and left for work. As for the first statement, that went out the window when I met my first girlfriend and learned the two most important words in the English language, which through time and millennia have insured that the world continues to spin in the proper direction… “Yes Dear.”

Today, our chick world went from “Who’s your daddy!” to “Your Mama!” when the gender of the crane chicks were posted on the Chick Building wall. One male and six females!  “General Custer, Sir. We’re surrounded!” Talk about shock!  And the biggest shock to me was that the lone male was little… and I do mean little… #4-14; who I named “Peanut” the first moment I saw him.  I swear he’s a mouse disguised as a crane chick! Even the ferocious devil incarnate itself, #5-14, who has since been reassigned to the Louisiana Project and who I had named after Charlie Manson turned out to be Charlotte Manson. Will somebody please remind me to stay out of Singles Bars!

But seriously, this is a gift and a truly wonderful surprise and it takes some of the sting and disappointment out of having so few birds this year. The fact is, though despite everyone’s well meaning efforts, we have fewer birds in the WCEP population now than we did five years ago, and unfortunately, we have more males than females. This spring we’ve lost a couple to natural causes, while our St. Marks female #1-13 and her cohort mate #3-13 were killed when they struck power lines on the return trip from Florida. We have probably lost more than these, but I can’t think of them off hand. Point is, we lose a lot of females.

Now, we may not yet know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but we are absolutely sure that we cannot achieve our ever more elusive goal of a self-sustaining population of whooping cranes without a healthy population of breeding females.  So while I am in the front of the trailer doing my very best impersonation of a “Man with injured back doing a Happy Dance,” Geoff is in the back reprogramming the vocalizers. From now on when we hit the button to get the birds to follow us, those magic words will ring out loud and crystal clear over the surrounding landscape — “Yes Dear!”

Book Your Spot in the Viewing Blind!

We would like to invite everyone to come out to the viewing blind at the White River Marsh training site starting in mid-July and continuing through mid-September. Plan your visit to the Operation Migration Whooping Crane Blind to witness flight training of the young Whooping Cranes, to hear the sounds and to see them fly with the aircraft. It’s an awesome experience to see them grow from these young colts to beautiful young Whooping cranes. To arrange to participate in a blind tour, please contact Doug Pellerin at pelican0711(AT) or call 920-923-0016.

whooping crane chicks

Come watch me fly!

Father’s Day & Amazon Smile

To celebrate Father’s Day, from now through 6/15/2014, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate an extra $5 for each customer who makes an eligible purchase at in support of Operation Migration-Usa Inc. This is in addition to the regular donation of 0.5% of the purchase price.

In honor of Dad, shop at AmazonSmile through 6/15/14 and Amazon will donate an extra $5 to Operation Migration-Usa Inc. Click here to get started:

Passion For Whooping Cranes Trumps Shyness

Those of you who really know me know how shy I am, right? OK, maybe I’ve been more outgoing the past few years, but if you knew me “when”, you’d remember that I stayed home “sick” just about every time I was scheduled to talk in front of a classroom. And that really wasn’t a stretch – I felt sick every time I thought about doing it!

But, as they say, age brings wisdom, and wisdom brings confidence. Since I can’t wait until I get that old, I’m substituting passion for age and cute chicks for wisdom, the result of which is a Powerpoint slide show about OM and Whooping Cranes that I’ve been presenting to any classroom that will have me.

So far I’ve managed to wiggle and jiggle my way into four classrooms in three schools to deliver my discourse, and, if I do say so myself, it’s been pretty well received – there have been no snoozers!  Well, that’s not entirely true…  The very first presentation I did was at the Atria Retirement Community where my mom lives. I have to confess that at least one person there nodded off at least once. I told myself that age also brings sleepiness at 7 PM and didn’t take it to heart.

That first presentation was a bit different than what I deliver to school children. The folks at Atria know me and were interested in my personal experiences during the last migration, so I threw a lot of “me” into the mix. They especially liked my first fearful encounter with cows! And the story of me, Joe, and Richard trying to track down #3-13 the day six cranes landed out in four locations – those little stinkers really stretched the crew thin that day!!! Oh and another “rodeo day” when Heather and I had to walk four colts about a mile back to the pen while poor Colleen and Geoff kept two others company in a freezing cold creek with the water over their boot tops. The OM migration crew is either passionately dedicated or too crazy to notice when their feet turn into ice cubes!

For classrooms, I have a different show that focuses less on me and more on the incredible story of Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration’s unique role in their comeback. My first classroom presentation was at Nathanael Greene Middle School in Providence. My friend Anna is a science teacher there who was brave enough to let me use her kids as guinea pigs. Seemed like it went well – the kids asked lots of questions which I’m told is a good sign. My favorite was “what do you think they [the cranes] taste like?”! Ummmm chicken??

Next was a small private school in North Stonington, CT. A childhood friend Sally (yes, from that long ago!!!) teaches 4th and 5th grades there (I SAID it’s a small school!). I took my mom with me so she could say hi to Sally, plus I kinda wanted to show her what I was doing. Even at this age I still want Mom’s approval I guess… Sheesh! Again, the kids asked LOTS (and I mean LOTSSS) of questions! My favorite of this bunch was “what’s the difference between a Whooping Crane and an Egret”? Believe it or not, that question stumped me and my reply was a bit flip I guess, but that’s not how I intended it – I said “what’s the difference between a robin and a blue jay”?, just trying to point out that there are all sorts of different birds. In retrospect the more appropriate answer would have been to explain the physical differences, which MAY have been what the kid was actually asking. I’ll be ready if this question ever comes up again!  (Well, I’ll be ready after I consult my Kaufman Field Guide!)

A couple of weeks ago I gave two presentations at The Wheeler School, a private school in Providence. One thing that made this experience a bit different is that Wheeler actually insisted on paying me an honorarium for each talk! I insisted that I’m not doing this for money but they re-insisted harder that they pay me, so the money will go right to OM! Thank you Mark! Oh, and thanks to my college suite-mate Jean for getting me in to see Mark!

I estimate that between these two presentations at Wheeler, I reached the better part of one hundred students in grades 4, 5, and 6. There wasn’t much time for questions as we lost several minutes during one session to a fire drill, and the 2nd session butted right up to the end of the school day. But the kids seemed very engaged and the subsequent feedback I received from Mark was that I’m a ROCK STAR! WOOHOO this is gonna go right to my head!!! Never mind that it’s really the happy-flappy chicks that the kids immediately fall in love with, and let’s disregard the great material that Joe Duff helped me put together for these talks.

Shyness overcome, I’m ready to hit the road in my tour bus and spread the good news that OPERATION MIGRATION IS SAVING WHOOPING CRANES FROM EXTINCTION! Can you hear me now?

REGISTER Now for the 2014 Whooping Crane Festival!


And make plans to join us for the 2014 Whooping Crane Festival in Green Lake County on September 12 – 14th. An entire weekend dedicated to Whooping cranes! Take part in a behind-the-scenes field trip to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge kicks off the weekend festivities. Space is limited so be sure to register early.

Join us Friday evening at the Mascoutin Golf Club just south of Berlin, WI for a fun evening of good food and a live and silent auction. Our after dinner speaker will be Mr. Stanley Temple, Senior Fellow and Science Advisor with the Aldo Leopold Foundation. His talk marks the centennial of the extinction of the passenger pigeon in 1914. Temple uses the case of the passenger pigeon to call attention to the world’s ongoing extinction crisis and our relationship with other species.

Whooping crane festival

2014 marks the 4th year for this festival, which started small but has grown steadily. In fact, we have outgrown the former location and this year, Saturday’s Festival will be held at the Princeton Public School, in nearby Princeton, Wisconsin. Saturday morning kicks off bright and early and everyone is invited to watch the Class of 2014 go through their paces as they fly behind our aircraft, in preparation for their first ever southward migration. (weather permitting).

The Berlin Rotary Club will be flipping pancakes and serving up breakfast following flight training so be sure to head to the Princeton School grounds for a hearty breakfast. Afterwards, browse the vendor booths, bid on the great silent auction items available, attend one or all of the speaker sessions to learn more about whooping cranes in Wisconsin or birds of Costa Rica!

Kids can take part in whooping crane related arts and crafts, listen to live music throughout the day, and visit the education tent. There is something for everyone and it’s all in support of Operation Migration’s efforts to safeguard this incredible crane. Admission to Saturday’s day-long festival is free. There are many other events taking place over the weekend so be sure to register early for those as space for some, is limited.

To learn more visit the festival page.  We hope to see you there!

Vendors & Exhibitors! If you would like to participate in the 2014 Whooping Crane Festival Sept. 13th, please contact Jana Lood: jlood(AT)

Pool Sharks

When I was a kid, I had a friend who possessed just enough wisdom to pick wealthy parents. One particularly hot summer day he invited me and the rest of our cadre of little scoundrels to come over for a swim in his brand new in-ground pool. There soon followed a roaring clatter as the baseball cards clothes-pined to our bicycle spokes sang out above the whir of rotating pedals while we raced to see the magnificent oasis that was to become, for the rest of the summer, our ‘8th Wonder of the World.’  (Yes, that roaring clatter was in fact the collective screams of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Yogi Berra and the rest of the New York Yankees, pleading with us to spare them so that they could one day contribute to our future financial security… or at least cover a few months worth of Medicare payments).

We soon arrived on the scene and while our friend went to ask his mother if it was alright for us to go in for a swim, we stood transfixed against the fence, like ancient Spanish Conquistador’s gazing out at the Pacific Ocean for the first time. That pool was the most beautiful thing we had ever seen, its inviting, azure blue shimmering with scalloped shadows against the pure white of fresh concrete. It was love at first sight. That’s when my friend came out of his house and announced, “My mom says it’s OK but first ya gotta read the sign. Hanging on the gate was the sign that said, “We don’t swim in your toilet. Please don’t pee in our pool!”

The pure cosmic logic of this statement caught us completely by surprise and left each of us temporarily stunned by the intrusion of its reality.  It was as if we were walking our very first Little Miss Wonderful to the Elementary School dance and she suddenly passed wind. In that instant, no more Santa Clause, or Easter Bunny or even God! Just reality. We chuckled nervously as we eyed each other with suspicion. Then our dear invisible friend for life, ‘Denial’ arrived just in time to save the day as he would so often do in the coming years, and moments later we were lost in the liquid ecstasy of the pool’s magical embrace.

There’s no such sign on either of the crane pools here at Patuxent. Our chicks are on the honor system. Like I said in my last update, it’s all about trust. Still, the pools are an absolutely essential part of life as a chick.  Not that whoopers are exactly the Ester Williams of the wetlands. They possess none of the graceful glide of a duck, goose or swan. In fact, their ambulatory prowess across the water more closely resembles that of a spastic spider on acid, although it does have an incredibly cute ‘Little Engine That Could’ quality about it. No matter. What cranes lack as swimmers they certainly make up for as flyers.

The problem is with their legs. Long and thin, they are especially susceptible to injury and deformation. There’s a chart on the wall with little drawings of chicks with legs going this way and that, each with a name like cow-hocked, splayed, rotated and more. A minimum of two health exams per day, including weekends and holidays, rain or shine by Dr. Olsen and his staff provide vigilant monitoring of leg development. It’s a worrisome issue and the fact that all cranes come from an incredibly limited gene pool doesn’t help either. It is said that of the total remnant population of only 15 whoopers in the early 1940’s, only three were producing females or ‘Eves.’  Not a great situation. But to put it in perspective, mankind only had one Eve and ours had more hair than a well-watered Geo-pet, with a thing for trees.  A real swinger.  And we didn’t turn out so bad, did we?  Ah… on second thought, never mind! Anyone for a swim?  But I digress.

Fortunately for the chicks, Patuxent is on the government mandated “No Chick Left Behind” program. Daily swimming sessions provide each chick with excellent therapeutic leg exercise. Should leg issues develop, sometimes more than one swim a day is prescribed. And it works incredibly well, which is great because five of our eight chicks presently have leg issues. Some are getting three swims a day. How the fates can begin to work their cruelty on these noble little creatures at such an early age is bewildering to say the least. But that’s life in Crane Land.  They’re endangered for a reason… actually, for more reasons than we can count.

These swims involve the chick being placed in the pool and following the puppet wielding technician walking next to the pool back and forth for about 20 minutes per session. As the chick grows larger, it graduates to the big pool and the laps are round and round instead of up and back.

whooping crane chick swimming

Patuxent’s Sharon Peregoy provides swim therapy for one of the young chicks to help ensure its legs develop properly

Most chicks do well but every so often we get a sinker. Last week I heard that #5 had a sinking problem which caused some concern. However, it turned out he had just watched a rerun of “Sea Hunt” on MeTV and just wanted to see for himself if the evil 1950’s cold war Russian agents really were building an underwater missile base on the bottom or the pool. And who could blame him. Most of life actually happens just under the surface.

So the “take away” here is simple. It’s not about the cranes but about you. So before you go over to your neighbor’s pool for a nice refreshing swim this summer, be sure to first read the sign.  And remember! When you leave, don’t forget to FLUSH!

Dancing Cranes in the Land of the Rising Sun

If you are up for a unique adventure, join OM Director Walter Sturgeon, a crane expert in his own right, and zoologist Dave Davenport, President of EcoQuest Travel, as they lead an exciting 15 day bird watching trip to Japan in December. This exciting trip includes stops in Hokkaido – known for its wilderness areas and famous for its population of red-crowned cranes. The red-crowned (also known as Japanese crane) is the largest of the crane species found in Japan and one of the rarest on earth.

Travelers will have the opportunity to view a diversity of cranes, waterfowl and even Snow monkeys!. Click to view trip details and a description of the itinerary. The group for this exclusive tour will consist of a maximum of 10 individuals and currently only 3 spaces remain so don’t delay for this trip of a lifetime.

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