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.

What the Heck is THAT?!

“So, I got to ask. What the heck is that thing on top of your car?”

“I heard there was a UFO in the area.”
“I’m with the NSA, watch what you say on the cell.”
“Dude! You know how many channels I get with this thing?”
“Its for tracking birds!”

I’m not used to people giving me a crooked, gaping stare when I drive by. Usually I just blend into the normal tide of traffic. I guess when you’re driving around in what looks like a rejected rendition of the ghostbusters’ vehicle you can expect a more exciting reaction.

I’ve been in the White River Marsh area this past month tracking several whoopers and its been a neat but challenging experience. For those of you who have never seen the vehicle I’m poking fun at it looks like a regular van with a giant antenna protruding from the top. To make it a touch more bizarre the entire antenna rotates 360 degrees. Quite a site if you’ve never seen it before. (Don’t get me wrong though, this van rocks! It got me out of some sticky situations with downed birds on migration.)

For the most part, tracking is pretty straight forward. I have a general idea where most the birds reside and I usually do my best to get a visual on the birds or triangulate their location. I’ve had reports of new birds flying into the area that I’ve needed to locate. I’ve had others go AWOL leaving their partners behind. I’ve been lucky enough to get visuals on at least one Whooper almost every day I track. Even though I’ve spent so much time inside the pen with these birds, I’ve almost never seen them in the wild after the release. It definitely has an impact on you.

It really is something else to be driving down the road chasing a flying radio beacon. Listening…


All of a sudden, before you realize what happened you are staring at the bright white bird across a field. They really are brilliant bright when you see them and there is something amazing about watching one of the few in the eastern flock. It is such a rare and unique experience. Sometimes I forgot I’m watching until Im whipped back to reality when a car drives up and I hear…

“So, I got to ask. What the heck is that thing on top of your car?”

“Oh, well, I’m kind of a protective parent and… uh this is sort of my… baby monitor… really…”


MileMaker NEEDS Your Support


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. To help get the ball rolling, one of our Directors, Norman St. Amour has agreed to match up to five miles. This means that for every portion or full mile that you contribute, he will double it – up to a total of 5 miles!

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 183 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, which is enough to get them to Illinois – 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:

Aug14_th Sept14_th February 2015

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


Confidence Games

One of the biggest problems in life, as any self-respecting self-help guru will sell you, is confidence… or rather the lack of it.”Think BIG, little man, for the world is your oyster!” But to achieve confidence requires trust. What and whom we trust directs our lives and ultimately defines who we are and who we will become.

So it is with our little whoopers. Rearing whooper chicks is the ultimate confidence game. In fact, one of the very first things they see as their poor little awakening eyes strain for focus through the window of their ICU  is a white costumed, puppet-wielding-vocalizer-playing giant, looking in upon them holding a thought balloon that says ‘Trust me.’ Then, ‘Trust this puppet beak to lead yours to the food and water that will nourish and sustain your life,’ as we teach them how to eat and drink. Then, a day or two later, ‘Welcome to your very own pen – complete with food and water bowls, a hanging puppet head, heat lamp and brood model to comfort you and just wait till you meet your neighbors! You’re going to love it here. Trust me.’  This is followed by ‘In and Out the Door’ practice, leading to the outside half of the pen.  ‘It’s nice and sunny out here and the air is oh so sweet. You’ll like it. Trust me… and here’s a meal worm for your trouble.’

Then the big day finally arrives.  It’s out for the momentous first walk into the world. ‘Just follow me.  It’ll be fun. Trust me.’  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because in nature, the formula is simple. No trust… No life.  Still, what comes next is for me the absolutely most profound, yet mind-boggling moment of the entire project because it is the critically essential key to the success of our migratory introduction technique. They must follow us.  And follow us they do.

Except on the rare occasion when they don’t, like #9 did this week. He just would not come out of his pen! Like a baby in the mother’s womb yelling out at the delivery doctor, “No way, Jose!” And when he finally did follow me out, it would not be for far or for long before he turned and ran in sheer panicked terror back to the pen. He was simply afraid. No trust. Perhaps he had good reason.  Maybe the pen/prison cell bar tap-tap beak communication from the adult whoopers penned nearby as imprint models had alerted him to the simple fact that the tens of millions of years of his evolution and genetic programming had designed him for a world which no longer existed; an unpolluted world with abundant habitat and forever wetlands, with horizons free of the desecrations of power lines, wind farms, cell towers, cityscapes and smog. A land free of off ramps, false geometries, pending apocalypse and the ultimate invasive species called man, for whom his new role would be to satisfy their universal need for something called hope. He was, in reality, a square peg about to be placed into a round hole. Could it be that our little #9 was consciously choosing to put his trust in his instincts rather than the white costumed creature standing before him?

After a number of failed attempts to win his confidence, I was ready to call Colonel Sanders to come make a pickup when Sharon offered to give it a try. Sharon Peregoy was a manager at the Baltimore Zoo before coming to Patuxent some years back and has a lot of experience training birds. Costumed up, out into the afternoon heat she went, returning a half an hour later dripping with sweat. (Ah…wait a minute!  Women don’t sweat. They GLOW) So, like I was saying, Sharon returned a half hour later dripping with GLOW, but she had succeeded in working her magic on the little fellow. She related how by using meal worms and patience, she coaxed him out the gate one long slow confidence building step at a time and into the nurturing shade of a nearby tree, allowing its soothing vibe to comfort and reassure him. Then after a calm respite, she built up enough trust in him that he followed her back to his pen.

Sharon’s magic held its power and after a couple of days, #9 was right where he needed to be developmentally. He handled long walks without pause and took in his stride, even the relatively violent trauma of on/off trike motor conditioning. And perhaps he accepted the ultimate concept that change is really evolution spelled backwards, that it’s inevitable and that denial, one of the most powerful forces in the universe, is an essential ingredient for a happy life. He was back in the lineup.

Chick rearing is a never ending series of daily, often hourly, challenges to be overcome. Some are great, some are small, some life and some death. But the victories, when they do come, whether great or small are the absolute sweetest most rewarding things there are in this or any other universe.

Trust me.

Chick Chat This Thursday

Mark you calendar and be sure to attend International Crane Foundation’s first Chick Chat of the season this Thursday at 12 – 12:30 (CDT). Visit this link to enter your email address to receive a reminder for the event.

The topic of this Chick Chat is Just Hatched! ICF’s Assistant Curator, Kelly Maguire, as she discusses caring for their Whooping Crane eggs and just what is involved in the hatching process.

WARNING – Extreme Cuteness

Many of you will find this statement odd but I swear ‘this is the cutest cohort of whooping crane chicks EVER’!

I’m not sure why, as you really cannot tell one chick from the other for the most part, however, in the following images that Brooke sent along yesterday, they just seem cuter than previous years. Is it just me? or do they appear to be posing for the camera?

whooping crane chick

Our oldest chick number 2-14 (green leg-band) with its sibling, number 3-14 (pink leg-band) in the background

whooping crane chick

whooping crane chick number 4-14 has a white leg-band

Number 5-14

Number 5-14 sports a yellow leg-band

We’ll post more images as soon as we receive them from our team at Patuxent.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 74