Whooping Crane 3-14 Returns

For the past three weeks or so sub-adult number 3-14 has been in Waushara County, Wisconsin. As we were driving to the pensite on Saturday morning, we noticed that the adult male number 4-12 had company.

I turned on the receiver and scanned the frequencies and was delighted to discover it was 3-14! She had returned to White River Marsh and managed to find her old pal 4-12.

Here are a couple of images I managed to capture…

4-12 on the left and 3-14 right. There is barely a tinge of her juvenile coloring at the nape of her neck.

4-12 on the left and 3-14 right. There is barely a tinge of her juvenile coloring at the nape of her neck.

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Many Hands Make Light Work

It has always amazed me that we were lucky enough to find the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area as a training facility for Whooping cranes. In truth, the credit for that achievement belongs to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The WCEP Science Team identified an area we now refer to as the Wisconsin Rectangle, which is a series of wetland complexes with very few of the species of blackflies that plague the birds at Necedah.

Then the DNR pulled together a team of hydrologists, land managers and wildlife experts to select several potential locations within the rectangle. They looked at habitat, water levels, food sources and public use pressure to create a short list. Thereafter we checked them for suitability for pensites and runways.

What amazes me is that one of them was almost perfect. The White River site happened to contain a flat, level plateau high enough above the water table to be dry, yet low enough to create a wet pen, that with a little excavating, holds water all summer for the birds to roost in. All we had to do was cut the grass, remove a few small trees, fill in the odd depression and we had a relatively smooth grass runway.

The area around Berlin, Princeton, Green Lake and beyond also provided a host of eager volunteers and we recruited seven of them last Saturday to help Heather, Jo-Ann and me prepare the site for the arrival of the birds which is now scheduled for July 1st.

We have a little Yard Man 15 hp riding mower we bought at a bargain price in 2011. The grass on the runway and in the pen has already had two months to grow and some of the giant blue stem was six feet high. Add the odd root that pushes up and multiple ant hills and the task is pretty daunting for our residential type mower. After a battery boost it started and cut a 30 foot long swath before giving up the ghost.

We took it to Bohn Implements in Berlin for repairs but it was obvious that it is too small for the job. We looked at a larger used mower but instead they made us a good deal on a new 22 hp mower more suited to the task. Heather spent most of Friday on it so that our team of volunteers could rake up all the grass cuttings on Saturday. That is a huge undertaking on a 400 foot runway but important if we want the grass underneath to survive. So we spread out a long tarp and raked the grass cuttings onto it, and then dragged it off the runway. Repeatedly.

Next we hung the top nets on both the wet and dry pens, checked the electric fencer wire, laid out the hose for the water pump and fixed the main gate.

It was a hard day’s work but with all the help we finished in record time. There are only a few minor adjustments to make yet but those can be taken care of in the next week.

We are very grateful for the help of Cal Holland, Lois Ballard, Dawn Fronk, Gay Spencer, Rick Vant Hoff, Doug Pellerin, Tom Schultz. Without their help, we’d still be out there battling the work and mosquitos.

The grass inside the drypen before being cut.

The grass inside the drypen before being cut.

Raking the grass clippings onto a tarp before dumping them off to the side. Photo: Gay Spencer

Raking the grass clippings onto a tarp before dumping them off to the side. Photo: Gay Spencer

Tom Schultz clears the grass from below the hotwire that surrounds the crane enclosure. Photo: Gay Spencer

Tom Schultz clears the grass from below the hotwire that surrounds the crane enclosure. Photo: Gay Spencer

Getting the topnet on the dry pen. Photo: Gay Spencer

Getting the topnet on the dry pen. Photo: Gay Spencer

Clearing the grass training strip. Photo: Gay Spencer

Clearing the grass training strip. Photo: Gay Spencer

Before

Before

After

After

Meet the Class of 2015 Whooping Cranes!

This has been the coolest few weeks ever, getting to know each of the Whooping crane chicklets from the beginning and I thought I would share my opinion of each of the chicks with all of you.

#1 (green leg band) is a great bird, she follows the trike well and is calm and sweet.

Whooping crane 1-15

Whooping crane 1-15

#2 (black leg band) hmmmm how can I put this and have it be politically correct? She was a slow learner, she marches to the beat of her own drum. She has done well at trike training over the past 4 or 5 days and we are doing the happy dance! I am hoping “IT” has (finally) clicked. Some days she would not even follow Brooke to the field to try. She was nervous and paced out in the ponded pen. She is calming down nicely now though. Initially, I was voting her Most Likely To Be Boxed, but she is doing so well I have changed my mind.

Whooping crane 2-15

Whooping crane 2-15

#3 (red band) is an awesome bird. Trains well and is consistent. She is not as clingy as she once was and is just “getting” it so well!

Whooping crane 3-15

Whooping crane 3-15

#6 (yellow band) is the mean girl. So mean, she could make Lindsay Lohan cry. It will be interesting to see if she keeps the dominate position or as they get older another puts her in her place. She is an independent girl and good at training.

Whooping crane 6-15

Whooping crane 6-15

#8 (light blue band) is a calm bird. She follows the trike very well and is so cute. She is happy and joyful on walks and skips along with wings spread, although she can slow the group down and be a forager along with #2.

Whooping crane 8-15

Whooping crane 8-15

#10 (White band) is adorable, Brooke let me name her when she was little tiny thing and doing the engine on/off training. At first she was terrified and would cower in my lap (for this training, which takes a few days, I would kneel down and spread the costume flat on the ground between my knees. When Brooke started the engine, if the chick was scared it could run into my lap) So, she was named Chicken Little. She is still the scared one. When Brooke leaves the pen or the Sandhills alarm call she melts down and tries to climb the fence.

Whooping crane 10-15

Whooping crane 10-15

#11 (dark blue band) is also a great little bird. The only male of the group. He follows and is gentle and loves the costume. (He’s my fav. But, don’t tell the others)

Whooping crane 11-15 is our youngest this year.

Whooping crane 11-15 is our youngest this year.

In less than two weeks they will be at the White River Marsh training site and the real world will begin for them. It has been fascinating to see them learn to follow the trike. Brooke’s patience is limitless and the reason each class gets to Wisconsin and starts the season there ready and willing to get the second phase of training underway.

I absolutely love being at Patuxent and am so grateful for the staff here letting me stay and help!

Right Place at the Right Time

Last evening Jo-Anne and I attended a sneak peek showing of “Think Green – Green Lake Country,” which will air this weekend on a number of Wisconsin channels as well as online. The production is part of the Discover Wisconsin series and features the five communities, which comprise ‘Green Lake Country’: Princeton, Berlin, Ripon, Green Lake and Markesan.

I’m sure the producers had a monumental task of editing the content down to just 22 minutes of airtime when you consider all Green Lake Country has to offer. One of the highlights of the episode is the Whooping crane training site in Green Lake County, near Princeton so naturally, Doug and Mako Pellerin and Tom and Wendy Schultz were also in attendance. It was great fun catching up with them and the local Whooping crane Festival committee members.

Before the screening I asked Tom if he and his trailer might be available to help Jo-Anne and I move the mower from our Princeton hangar out to the site the next morning and as usual, he didn’t hesitate.

After loading it into his trailer we made the drive up to the marsh and off-loaded it fairly easily. After a quick boost, Jo set out down the path toward the runway, while I followed and Tom headed to the viewing blind. About halfway there the mower stalled and within seconds, I heard the unmistakable alarm call of a Whooping crane.

Thankfully the grass is quite tall and I’m still short so I was able to sneak up ahead for a peek and saw two glorious white Whooping cranes. Jo handed me her binoculars and I could make out just a hint of juvenile brown on the back of their heads. I quickly texted Tom who unbenownst to me was already snapping photos of them as they stood roughly 50 feet from the viewing blind.

As they sauntered off to the north, we sauntered back to the van where I was able to check legbands and discover the duo was 9-14 and 10-14. Since Brooke and Colleen returned them to White River Marsh in early May they, along with 8-14 have been doing what we call spring wandering – something common among sub-adult cranes.

Jo and I went off to get the tracking van so we could have a listen for number 8-14 to see if she too was in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any beeps on her so we’ll have to wait for a PTT hit to come in to see if she stayed behind at their former location or perhaps moved off somewhere else.

As we were pulling out of the site I heard another Whooper calling and looked up just in time to see number 4-12 fly overhead.

Then later in the afternoon we went out looking for number 4-14 (Peanut) and found him also – north-northeast of the marsh, and 5-12 at the north end of the marsh. If you’ve lost count that’s five Whooping cranes at or very near to White River Marsh. Enjoy the photos!

Whoopers 2015 - 6-17-15_TS

10-14 on the right and 9-14, left.

Whoopers 2015 - 6-17-15_TS_1

Notice the hint of tawny coloring on the back of their heads?

3 yr. old male number 4-12 flies overhead.

3 yr. old male number 4-12 flies overhead.

Peanut (4-14) is a former flockmate to 9 & 10-14. And the only male from the Class of 2014.

Peanut (4-14) is a former flockmate to 9 & 10-14. And the only male from the Class of 2014.

It’s CraneFest Time!

Registration is now open for the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival!!!

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Mark your calendars for September 10 – 13 and help celebrate the return of this incredible crane to Green Lake, Marquette and Dodge Counties in Wisconsin.

Check out all the activities we have lined up this year! 

Join us for the Whooper Welcome bash at Reilly’s Bar & Pub on beautiful Green Lake on September 10th.

On Friday, visit Horicon Marsh and participate in a guided bus tour following brunch. There are even pontoon boat tours of the marsh scheduled for Sunday!

Meet old friends and make new ones at the Festival kick-off dinner, which will be held in the Arboretum Room at Royal Ridges Banquet Facility in Ripon, Wisconsin on Friday, September 11th.

Here we’ll celebrate cranes and other birds with featured speaker Stan Tekiela, naturalist, wildlife photographer and author. Stan is the originator of the popular state-specific field guides such as Birds of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Field Guide, Wildflowers of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc., and Trees of Wisconsin, Illinois, etc. Over the past three decades Stan has authored more than 130 field guides, nature appreciation books and wildlife audio CDs for nearly every state in the nation, presenting many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, trees, wildflowers and cacti.

Stan’s talk will present ‘Uncommon Facts about Common Birds’

Royal Ridges is located across from Comfort Suites – Blocks of rooms have been reserved at the discounted rate of $83/night. To take advantage of the discount, mention ‘Crane Festival’ when making your reservations. Phone: (920) 748-5500

Take in one of the early morning training sessions with the Class of 2015 cranes (weather permitting of course). Don’t forget your camera!

At Saturday’s festival, browse the many silent auction items, attend one or all of the speaker sessions, visit the vendor and artisan booths and bring the kids to see children’s entertainer David Stokes as he introduces his collection of critters that share the wild with cranes!

Saturday evening after the festival, we’ll meet at Princeton’s VFW Hall to swap stories and laughs at a pizza party catered by Christiano’s – be sure to brush up on your crane trivia and artistic skills for the chance to win prizes!

Sunday, paddle down the Fox River in a replica voyageur canoe while learning about the history of the river and seeing the wildlife it attracts. Or join OM volunteer Tom ‘Tume’ Schultz on a guided bird walk in beautiful White River Marsh, home to much more than Whooping cranes (as if that isn’t enough!).

Now you can see how busy our volunteer committee has been coordinating all the activities the 2015 Whooping Crane Festival has to offer! Space is limited for some of the sessions, so be sure to register early to avoid disappointment.

See you at the Festival! WHOOP!

Visiting an old Friend

Whooping crane 3-14 was one of two Whooping cranes that Joe and I managed to capture and relocate back to the White River Marsh training site in Green Lake County on May 22nd. She and 4-14 (Peanut) appeared to stay in the area for a few days before she moved north to Waushara County.

The PTT hits we’ve received on her since have been pretty much in the same location, which can raise a red flag. For that reason, she’s been on my short list of birds that I’ve wanted to double check on once I arrived back in Wisconsin.

The yellow lines indicate location 'points' for Whooping crane 3-14 since she moved to Waushara County, WI.

The yellow lines indicate location ‘points’ for Whooping crane 3-14 since she moved to Waushara County, WI.

Jo-Anne and I had the opportunity today to check on 3-14, once we finished sorting and cataloging the 62 auction items that have arrived at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce office. Huge thanks to volunteers Carol Bielski, Lois Ballard, Rich Smith and Bev Birks who helped make such a huge task not only short but a lot of fun.

After a 40 minute drive to the area of her PTT hits, it’s with much relief that we can report 3-14 is just fine – looks great and is in a wonderful location with no homes in the area. Here’s a photo that Jo-Anne managed to capture this morning.

Female Whooping no. 3-14 foraging in a remote field in Waushara County, Wisconsin

Female Whooping no. 3-14 foraging in a remote field in Waushara County, Wisconsin

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Many readers will remember the Citgo FuelingGood contest OM entered a couple of years ago. Every day for I don’t know how long we cast our votes for OM in hopes of winning the grand prize: $5,000 in Citgo fuel cards. And win we did! I was fortunate to attend the award presentation somewhere-in-upstate-New York and accepted 50 (yes 50!) $100 fuel cards on OM’s behalf. The fuel cards sure came in handy on last year’s migration, and even helped cover fuel costs for a couple of my trips from Rhode Island to the OM office in Port Perry, Ontario.

Heather has used some of the Citgo cards as prizes in various drawings, and they boosted the value of two ginormous gift baskets we raffled at last year’s Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, WI.

Now we’re out in Wisconsin to ready the training site and crew camp in anticipation of the arrival of this year’s “ultralight chicks”, and also to prepare for this year’s CraneFest. Heather hauled one of the travel pen trailers and I followed her, hauling “the Elk”, a large 5th wheel trailer that sleeps 4 crew members on migration. We made the trip without incident in about 16 hours of driving, with a stopover in Mendota, IL.

The 2 trucks were guzzling diesel so fast I could hear the Dodge slurping! Luckily we came across Citgo stations along the way and managed to cover a good part of our fuel expense using those cards.

Citgo, thank you for a gift that just keeps on giving; and Craniacs, thank YOU for your daily vote that helped us win this valuable prize and for your support each and every day! Let the 2015 Whooping Crane Season begin!

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Knock Your Socks Off!

We hope you’ll get a kick out of these new Whooping crane socks available exclusively to Operation Migration!

Pre-order yours today! They’ll be ready to ship at the end of June.

Each pair features a Whooping crane in flight, coming in for a landing, adult with a young chick, crane catching a Blue crab and on a nest with an egg. Lightweight crew style made from 90-94% Cotton, 3% Nylon and 3% Spandex to maintain shape.

Available in two sizes.

IMG_20150522_113848WHCR_socksfront_1Perfect for yourself and for gifts!

Nesting and Chick Status Update

As of Monday, June 8 there are 11 wild hatched chicks surviving. The following table provides the adult pair, hatch date and chick number for the surviving crane chicks.

*Information in RED indicates pair was in the forced renesting group.

 Female  Male  Hatch Date Chick number
 17-07 10-09 11 May W3-15
 5-10 28-08 16 May W6-15
25-09 2-04 18 May  W10-15
 12-03 29-09  ~2 June  W13-15
 24-08 14-08  TBD  W12-15 
 8-05  1-04 ~2 June  W16-15 
 9-03  3-04 ~2 June  W17-15 
 39-07 7-07  2 June  W20-15
 32-09 5-05  2 June  W15-15
 16-07 16-02  2 June  W21-15 
 26-09 27-06  8 June  W22-15 

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan sent along the following photos, which she captured on Monday, 8 June during her aerial survey over Necedah NWR and surrounding area.

W3-15 with parents 17-07 and 10-09

W3-15 with parents 17-07 and 10-09

W6-15 with 28-08 and 5-10

W6-15 with 28-08 and 5-10

W10-15

W10-15 with Mom and Dad. Look how big it is!

Wild Whooping crane chick W13-15 with Mom (12-03*)

Wild Whooping crane chick W13-15 with Mom (12-03*)

Wild chick W12-15 with both parents tending to it.

Wild chick W12-15 with both parents tending to it.

W-15-15

W-15-15 – not easy to spot!

W20-15

W20-15

W17-15

W17-15 with parents

W21-15

W21-15

W22-15

W22-15 Still on the nest platform with parents

Volunteers Needed

It’s that time of year when we’ll be heading out to White River Marsh to get it in tip-top shape for the arrival of the Class of 2015 at the end of June.

Jo-Anne and I will drive out later this week – each hauling something – as we have some Crane Festival duties to take care of next week. Joe will leave a week later to be on hand to help get the training site ready.

This is where YOU come in! We’re in need of a few able-bodied volunteers that live in the area and don’t mind getting their feet wet and their hands dirty. We’re targeting to get the bulk of the work underway June 20-21st (Saturday and Sunday) so that we can finish up the following week.

Some of the tasks that need to be completed include:

Setting up camp
Move equipment from Princeton hangar to the training site.
Mow and rake the runway
Mow inside the dry pen
Attach topnet on wet and dry pens
Repair hot wire as needed
Other pen repairs as needed
Add gravel under the feeders
Run hoses for water pump
Set up water pump
Observation blind preparation
Move camera and get operational
Unload Aircraft trailer

If you’re interested in helping, please shoot me an email heather(AT)operationmigration.org

Thank you!

A Whoophill Called “Whoopsie”

WCEP has confirmed the first wild hatched crane chick in the Wisconsin Rectangle area – unfortunately, it’s not a Whooping crane… well, half of it is. The other half is a Sandhill crane.

The happy family consists of male DAR #16-11 and a pretty little Sandhill crane Mom, and their fuzzy orange hybrid chick, aptly named ‘Whoopsie.’ (Photos below)

This isn’t the first time a hybrid crane chick has been documented. In 1992 a Whoophill was produced when a Whooping crane from the Grays Lake Whooping crane reintroduction paired up with a Sandhill crane. (See 1992 press release)

Visit the International Crane Foundation to read more about this unlikely pair.

Many thanks to Naomi Steinruck for the great photos! (click photos to enlarge)

Sandhill crane (Mom) and Whooping crane (Dad) with their hybrid crane chick at Horicon NWR.

Sandhill crane (Mom) and Whooping crane (Dad) with their hybrid crane chick at Horicon NWR.

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It would appear that Dad is very attentive to the young chick

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Aerial Survey Results

Wisconsin DNR’s Bev Paulan flew over the Necedah NWR and surrounding area Thursday last week and reports the following pairs still have live chicks:

3-11/7-11 with at least 1 (checking images)
14-08/24-08 with 1
9-03/3-04 with 2
2-04/25-09 with 1
18-03/36-09 with 1
1-04/8-05 with 1
29-09/12-03 with at least 1 (checking images)
16-02/16-07 with at least 1 (checking images)
10-09/17-07 with 1
5-05/32-09 with 1
7-07/39-07 with at least 1 (checking images)
5-10/28-08 with 1
Pair 26-07/27-06 is still incubating
* Bev sent along the following message after reviewing her images on Friday:
After reviewing all of my 600 images (I’m serious) I took during yesterday’s survey, I cannot definitely say 3-11/7-11 have only one chick, nor can I say positively 29-09/12-03 still have 2.  I can say with confidence both 16-02/16-07 and 7-07/39-07 only have 1 chick each (but that could change, too, as I only saw 1 chick with 9-03/3-04 on Tuesday).
See how frustrating (and rewarding!) counting chicks can be?
5_10* (Mom) and chick W6-15

5_10* (Mom) and chick W6-15

9-03* & 3-04 with their two wild hatched chicks.

9-03* & 3-04 with their two wild hatched chicks.

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