As most of you know, half our team is Canadian and the other half American. While today may be the American Thanksgiving, we want you to know that wherever you live, we give thanks and appreciation to you each and everyday.
As most of you know, half our team is Canadian and the other half American. While today may be the American Thanksgiving, we want you to know that wherever you live, we give thanks and appreciation to you each and everyday.
When we left the story Saturday, the crane colts 29 & 39-16 had roosted with 24 & 42-09 at “their” cranberry bog through an overnight storm. I was anthropomorphizing that the adult cranes had given one last effort to keep these juvenile delinquents safe.
I think I was reading our adult cranes right! When they came off roost the next morning, all four flew out of the wetland together. As they neared the south boundary of the cranberry bog the adults made a gentle curve to the southwest and away from the chicks who were a pace behind. The young colts landed in their favorite cornfield corner.
Adults 24 & 42-09 must have kept going as they did not come back that morning. As I went to grab lunch I looked for them to no avail. No sightings. No beeps.
They did not show during the afternoon and at 4:30 – almost dark – I left the chicks, who were in a dry cranberry bed. I went in search of our adult white birds again. No beeps. But, on a happier note when I came back an hour later the colts were roosting in the wetland.
Our adults did not show Sunday. Wisconsin DNR pilot, Bev Paulan did her crane survey flight Monday and they were nowhere to be found. Safe travels White Birds – thanks for trying!
Meanwhile, the brats have not roosted in the wetland since Saturday night. They have however, acquired some wanderlust. They are venturing out further and last night roosted almost 3 miles from their usual security blanket of a cranberry bog. It breaks my heart that the field they roosted in is just a few hundred feet from our adult cranes usual roosting pond.
Right now they are in a field with a couple of hundred Sandhills. It’s raining and that is a good thing, Brooke says a wet field with puddles is safer than a dry one.
Since Monday they have been surrounded by Sandhills. Number 29-16 is not chasing them as often and he is happily foraging in a flock of at least fifty.
So now I hope that this bit of wanderlust and good manners will propel them up and south when the Sandhills go… It’s all about hope.
When your days are spent sitting in a truck listening to an electronic beep coming from the leg band of a whooping crane that’s deep in the marsh, it is challenging to keep your focus. Between recording observations, you catch up on emails, read reports, write updates and walk to relieve your aching back.
Deer hunting season opened this past weekend and all the back roads that I once had to myself, are now full of pickup trucks. When you are the only one carrying a tracking antenna instead of a rifle, it prompts a lot of questions. Hunters are outdoor people who love nature and sometimes we talk for twenty minutes, swapping adventure stories. They often ask where the cranes are, then voluntarily head in the opposite direction.
I am watching number 30-16 and his adoptive parents, 3-14 and 4-12. As I have reported before, they roost deep in the marsh and spend most of their days foraging in an isolated cow pasture a mile to the north. In fact, I’ve gone days without actually seeing them.
Maybe it’s like watching for celebrities, except Whooping cranes are far less common. According to the latest census, there are 482 Whooping cranes in the wild, give or take a few. Between sports, movies, TV and politics, there are more celebrities mentioned in one monthly edition of People Magazine than there are Whooping cranes in the world.
For the fans of movie stars, a little glimpse of their heart throb is all it takes and that’s the way I am with the cranes I have been watching. I sit in the truck well before sunrise, my camera ready like a paparazzo waiting for the big break. I track them down with locators and if these birds had rights like the rich and famous, they would already have a restraining order against me.
Each one of these 482 cranes represents a chance at survival for a species that has existed for a million years. The tallest of North American birds, the white ghost of the marsh, struggling back from the brink of extinction. Yet we are more interested in famous people with baby bumps or the latest controversy of the Kardashian’s.
I am writing this on my phone and when I poked out “Whooping” the auto correct suggested whopper But when I typed “Ka”, it spelled out Kardashian. Maybe that says it all. In 2015 we spent more than 60 billion dollars on our pets, yet we struggle to safeguard critical endangered species.
Things are changing though. More people are interested and even the hunters are missing a chance at an early start to ask about the cranes. It all come down to who you think deserves celebrity status.
Support us when you shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/16-1560518 and Amazon donates to Operation Migration.
Now I see them – Now I don’t… and it’s mostly I don’t.
Such has been the routine since last Monday when my two young Whooping cranes decided to be elusive – like Whooping cranes should be.
When they were released in late September, they were in a fairly open area and anyone driving by the field could see them.
Now that they’ve moved further south they seem to be selecting more appropriate locations in which to spend their days foraging.
From the start, well as soon as they found their wings, these two have been selecting suitable roosting locations each night. Each day, they fly to a field about 3 miles from their roost location. Unfortunately, for me, this field is a half mile away and out of sight from the adjacent road and their location is in a gully so I can’t even get their beeps from my receiver.
The closest road to the south is about a half mile from their location and there is a gap in the trees so while I can’t see them, I do get to hear their faint beeps.
To help make my point, since Monday, I’ve seen them for a total of 2 minutes. I managed to snap the following photo rather quickly and in poor light as they left the roost site this morning.
It’s interesting to note that both of them have their legs/feet tucked up into their breast feathers for warmth.
So far, we have one bird that appears to have been adopted. Until recently, the two crane colts that Brooke and Colleen are watching, have mostly ignored the adults despite sharing the same area. And Heather’s two haven’t seen another Whooping crane since September 30th. Comparing the diverse behavior of these discrete groups is like observing separate species.
Parent Reared crane number 30-16, in the company of adult Whooping cranes 3-14 and 4-12 and known as the Royal Couple, have been roosting near our old pen site at White River and foraging in a cow pasture, a mile to the north.
In contrast, the pair of young cranes Heather has been watching have been bopping around like one of those erratic rubber balls you regret buying for your kids cause all of your glassware is in jeopardy. She barely tracks them down and off they go again, leaving her wandering the back roads in search of that elusive beep-beep.
At the low end of the activity spectrum, the two chicks Brooke and Colleen are monitoring, forage and roost in the same field and for weeks, barely flew a few hundred yards.
It is hard to imagine how these young cranes perceive life so far. Hatched this spring, each day is a new experience and they have no concept of what the future holds.
There are hundreds of Sandhills gathering in preparation for the migration. The Royal Couple and their newfound chick ignore them as they keep to themselves and choose isolated surroundings, close to water. They maintain vigilance and whether they intend to or not, they are teaching good lessons to this callow chick.
Heather’s birds are making it up as they go. Other than a few short lessons at Patuxent, they have never been taught to roost in water but they seem to make good choices in that aspect. They have shared wetlands with as many as 1000 Sandhills but are often seen alone during the day. They seem oblivious to cars and once walked in the direction of a coyote, drawn by curiosity rather than repelled by caution or fear.
Zugunruhe is a compound German word (movement – anxiety) that describes the hormone driven excitement preceding and during migration. It is obvious in the Sandhills gathering in large flocks and you can see it rubbing off on Heather’s chicks. They are active but don’t really have a direction yet. Let’s hope they take some cues from the Sandhills or that the wind is blowing to the south when they do decide to leave.
My chick is taking in the lessons his adoptive parents are teaching. His adults know what to expect and when they are ready, they’ll show him the way south without much fanfare.
Brooke and Colleen’s pair is another story. They just recently discovered the joys of roosting in water after more than 50 high risk nights spent roosting on dry land. They have barely left their bedroom let alone explored the neighborhood so migration might come as a shock. They have just begun to hang out with the adults so maybe when the older birds leave, they will take the hint. We hope they’ll be able to keep up.
After fifteen years of controlling every aspect of our birds lives, from the habitat they experienced to the route they took south, it is hard to sit helplessly, watching this abbreviated version of nurture and nature take its course.
What these birds lack in experience is countered by all of the good wishes and high expectations from the teams watching their every move. Hopefully that’s enough.
The definition of anthropomorphize is to ascribe human features to something. Am I doing it? I’ll report the facts then you tell me.
Tuesday, October 25 was the last day our target pair of adult whooping cranes came to visit the crane colts. For 20 days no adult whoopers, then Tuesday the 15th of November 24 & 42-09 came back to our field.
Since returning, they have stuck with the chicks more than ever before. Sometimes all four fly together. Sometimes the chicks take off and the adults eventually follow. Sometimes the adults go and the chicks follow… eventually.
Thursday 24 & 42-09 went to the wetland in the chicks cranberry bog, for the first time ever. The chicks did not follow. The adults eventually went to the chicks in the dry cranberry bed.
#29-16’s GSM hits showed the chicks spent at least part of Thursday night with the adults about 3 miles away in the adults normal roost spot. Wow!! But the chicks flew back to their dry cranberry bed in the middle of the night. Sigh.
Friday around noon all four birds took off. The colts landed in their favorite dry cranberry bed whereas the adults went to the wetland next to it. I sighed again. If you read Brooke’s recent post you know how important water is for roosting. Then 15 minutes later as I watched the chicks took off did a little circling and instead of landing in the favorite corner of the harvested corn field they landed next to 24 & 42 in the wetland! Eeeeeeeee!
I stayed till almost dark – watching them till around 2, then I left the bog and listened to beeps from the road as I didn’t want to flush birds in the 30-40 mph winds as darkness approached. They were still together and in the wetland when I left late yesterday.
As I drove here this morning I was antsy-er than usual. Were they still together? In the wetland? Did they go flying in the dark in the wind? Were they on the corn field in this wind and snow??
Nope, they were in the wetland with the adult whoopers and a gazillion Sandhills!! Around 7 am they all took off. Adults went to their territory and chicks landed in their favorite corner of harvested corn. Since, they have gone a bit farther than usual in their morning explorations. It’s now 9 am. The chicks are alone in the corn field.
So, did the adults do their best to teach Mutt and Jeff about roosting in water? Interesting that this lesson happened just as the weather got really nasty, isn’t it? Did they think “Even if those brats won’t follow us, maybe we can teach them to get their fluffy butts in water with other birds before the storm”? It looks that way to me…
I keep remembering 5-12 who came back to the St. Marks pensite three times for the class of 2014. The class that had the 600 mile gap of knowledge in the migration route. There is no doubt he talked them into going north with him. Each time he came back to St Marks he would cry and call and whine.
So, anthropomorphizing or not? You tell me…
This is going to be an interesting weekend. I so hope it’s got a happy ending.
If William Shakespeare had been an ornithologist instead of a playwright, he would have written, “To roost or not to roost. That is the question.” And if he had been a realtor, he would have written, “Location, location, location” followed by “Closings are such sweet sorrows.”
But what does this have to do with crane chicks, you ask? Plenty. If you’re a whooper chick and you want to have any real future, you must first learn to be a good rooster. Sound crazy? Maybe a little, until you stop for a moment and think about just how important the rooster is to America. Take Bob Dylan, for instance. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. “When the rooster crows at the break of dawn, look out your window and… I’ll be gone. You’re the reason I’m travelin’ on. Don’t crow twice, it’s alright.” And then there’s John Wayne. The “Duke” made about a gazillion movies without a single Academy Award Nomination until he played a cowboy named Rooster Cogburn in the movie “True Grit.” Then, “I’d… like to thank the Academy…”
Now, few Americans know just how close the Founding Fathers came to choosing the rooster as the symbol of our great country. Ben Franklin wanted the turkey, George Washington wanted the dollar bill, but it was Joe Bochagaloop, congressional delegate from Jersey, who nominated the rooster. And the rooster might well have won if it hadn’t been for the fact that Joe was also the Founding Father of the thin crust pizza. Seems that “Mr. B” who was at the time, in charge of procurement for the Continental Army, was buying thin crust pizzas from his brother Vinnie and charging the government for thick crusters, then pocketing the difference. He was so pleased with himself that he wrote a book about the whole affair entitled, “The Art of the Steal” which skyrocketed to No.1 on the Best Sellers List and made Joe an instant celebrity. The reality show offers began pouring in, which made the other Fathers so jealous that they banned him from any further participation in the Continental Congress. But it all turned out for the best for Joe because he returned to Jersey, repackaged the place as “New and Improved” Jersey and sold it back to the Continental Congress as the 13th state. Besides, any national anthem that begins with “Cock-a-doodle-doo” would just wind up irritating our NATO partners. Too many high notes.
The truth is, to Joe, the rooster was far more than just a male chicken. It was the very symbol of democracy itself… for what is democracy if not the ultimate quest for a safe and secure place for all its citizens to… roost. After all, in most of nature, sleep is a requirement. Waking up is not. And most of us sleep at night. But night is dark and dangerous and full of things that go bump. Night is the predator. “Yes. You can go to your friend’s house, but be home by 8 o’clock.”
In Whooper World, we know all too well how cruel and indifferent the night can be. It can and sometimes, does transform a beautiful whooper chick so full of hope and promise into an inanimate, heart wrenching pile of feathers. And so it is the “somewhere” that becomes critical. It can mean the difference between life and death. “Put that gun down, Sweet Pea. I swear to you I spent the night playing cards with the guys! Honest!”
Good roosting choices, therefore, become the order of the day and that means water. Water is benevolent and pro-whooper; a lifeguard, gate keeper and junkyard dog all rolled into one. It provides an alarmed moat for defense… a gated, guarded nocturnal community that announces any predator’s approach with its splish-splash alarm, giving whoopers ample time to flush. Without the benefit of such warnings, our little roosters become, well… sitting ducks.
But Mutt and Jeff are nothing if not thrill seekers. For the past 54 nights since their release, they have chosen to spend their nights in the exposed dry of either a harvested corn field or the neighboring cranberry farm. With perfect roosting habitat within walking distance, this is indeed puzzling and not at all what we would have expected. But then, if I have learned anything during my years in Whooper World, it is that the more I know about whoopers, the less I really know. And it turns out that I am in good company, because the more I know about our whooper experts, the less THEY know. It’s no one’s fault because in Whooper World, the words “I don’t know” simply don’t exist. But we try.
All of this doesn’t make our everyday morning arrivals any less of an exercise in breath holding. We sit staring into the darkness in hopes its leaving will reveal Mutt and Jeff standing upright and healthy, ready to take on the challenges of the new day. It is a nail biter to be sure. Lots of drama goes on backstage before the curtain goes up and it isn’t always good. And we never get used to it… with good reason. It wasn’t all that long ago that we arrived to find poor little 34-16 reduced to that all too familiar pile of feathers.
Why Mutt and Jeff refuse to surrender each night to the good rooster within them is a mystery. Is roosting in good habitat hardwired or learned behavior? Nature or nurture? Was the course “Roosting 101” back at “Whooper U.” an 8 o’clock class and they just slept through it? Or maybe they just identify more with hens than roosters. Like all the other mysteries of life, only the “Shadow” knows.
So, we continue our daily vigil and our practice of deep breathing while the new administration considers a replacement for our national symbol. I don’t know what they’ll come up with this time, but I do know the bird that would get my vote.
The rabbit’s foot.
At some point in the near future, the birds we are monitoring will decide it’s time to leave. An ancient instinct will cause a complete change in their behavior and rather than spending their time poking in the mud, they will flap their wings all day.
They have spent the last two weeks using a single field from just after sunrise to dusk. Yet some unknown change in their body chemistry will transition them from laid back loafers, to airborne athletes. It will happen without warning. No planning or fanfare. They will just take off one day — and be gone.
In anticipation, we have all packed a bag. We will load up our vehicles and attempt to follow them, relying more on reports from their electronic hardware than actually trying to keep pace.
I have always harbored an ambition to follow them in an aircraft. Load up the back seat with a tent, sleeping bag and a pocket full of cash. Minimize the planning, simplify the lifestyle and replicate their freedom.
Of course it’s an unrealistic dream. They can soar all day but the trike only has a three hour range. They fly with impunity over cities and through controlled airspace, while I would run the risk of FAA incursions, violations or interception by the military. They pick a likely spot and land quietly while my noisy arrival would alert the landowners of a trespasser. And I am sure that one rainy night spent under the wing of the trike, or a cold, hungry morning fighting thermals at 2000 feet would alter my definition of freedom.
Yesterday I disassembled the aircraft and packed it away for the winter. I started by removing the propeller guard. It’s been 20 years that I have been flying trikes with prop guards and you get accustomed to the performance — or lack of it.
Richard Van Heuvelen built our prop guards. They are surprisingly light and strong and they’ve saved a lot of birds from certain death. But they cause drag and it takes a lot of energy to push them through the air.
It was a nice afternoon so I took off for one last flight. The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was without the percussion of the prop blades passing within inches of a tubular cage. And the climb rate was much higher than I expected. Once at altitude, I could throttle farther back reducing the fuel burn and making less noise.
I turned south to check on the birds thinking they they might take the hint but they no longer need us to show them the way. It’s now part of that mysterious instinct, the one they are about to pass on to the chick.
For twenty three years I have led birds south in the fall. By now the instinct is as strong in me as it is in the birds. Which is why I’m up here flying around with no place to go.
What’s with the ENCORE! you ask? Well, with last year’s FWS decision to halt costume rearing of Whooping Cranes for the Eastern Migration Population (EMP), we had quite a few costumes left with no purpose. Not wanting to be wasteful and, with those ever-important three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in mind, we approached the very talented Mary O’Brien with the idea of using the costumes to make Whooping Crane keepsakes!
So, the costumes are making a return (ENCORE!) appearance. I’m sure you’ll agree that the finished product is absolutely adorable (thanks to Mary’s creative talent)!
Here is your chance to own a piece of history! Each of these ENCORE! Whooping Crane Moppets is made from a costume worn by either: Joe Duff, Brooke Pennypacker, Richard van Heuvelen, Colleen Chase, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Doug Pellerin, or Heather Ray during our past work with Whooping Cranes. (Don’t worry, Mary washed them really well before creating each ENCORE! Moppet.)
There are only a limited number available!
Christmas is just around the corner – you can surprise your favorite Craniac with a one-of-a-kind piece of Whooping Crane history!
Each Moppet bears the legbands with the exact color combinations of some of your favorite Whooping Cranes in the EMP – including some that are no longer with us 🙁
In addition to your ENCORE! Moppet, you’ll receive a one-page biography about your Whooping Crane/Moppet along with an embroidered Whooping Crane crest, suitable for stitching onto your favorite jacket or sweater, or even onto the Moppet if you like.
Each ENCORE! Moppet sells for $200, which will help to replace some of the income the MileMaker campaign used to generate.
Take a look at these adorable faces – then choose your favorite ENCORE! Moppet!
It seems since I returned from Ontario last Wednesday, my two cranes (31 & 38-16) have been on a mission to keep me running.
They finally moved about 10 miles away from the area they had been frequenting since their release back in late September, which makes for a shorter drive each way. Unfortunately, they’ve been bopping around more frequently since then and the roads between their locations are anything but direct.
Still, I’ve been able to keep fairly good tabs on them and on Friday, I was fortunate to see them thermaling! It was an amazing sight to see them climbing higher and higher and I’m not convinced they intended to as in several of the photos I captured, they look quite awkward.
Take a look at the following photos. It’s almost as if they were fearful of falling out of the sky…
A number of folks have been wondering what these two will do without adult Whooping cranes to show them a migration route. Hopefully, they’ll follow Sandhill cranes – just like 69-16 did last week. She turned up at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in north Alabama late last week after migrating from Dane County, Wisconsin with Sandhills.
There are still hundreds of Sandhills in the area and I captured these two photos late last week at the roost area that 31 & 38-16 have been using since relocating. (Click photo to enlarge)
And here they are yesterday in flight with a group of their grey cousins.
I just wish they’d decide to head further (much further!) south – soon!
I’ve just finished a fun and interesting week of tracking and monitoring the parent reared chicks 30-16, 31-16, and 38-16 in the White River Marsh and Marquette County. Joe asked me to fill in for him and Heather as they took some much needed time off to go back to Canada for a visit.
No. 4-12 and 3-14 (AKA) the Royal Couple have adopted chick 30-16 and have been together for weeks now. But on Sunday 30-16 decided to spend some time flying around with 4-13 and 8-14 a newly formed couple maybe just to say “Hi” or something… who knows? That night he was back with the Royal Couple roosting in White River Marsh.
I also tracked 31-16 and 38-16. These two chicks have spent their time in Marquette County foraging in cut corn fields. As I mentioned earlier, I saw 4-13 and 8-14 on a couple occasions which was pretty exciting. They are the alternate white bird pair for 30-16. It was a good week. Note, Chicks 31-16 & 38-16 have now moved to another area since I last saw them.
So ya… About 40 minutes after the eagle episode Wednesday morning, my two whooping cranes took off. Of course my first thought was ‘oh, they’re just flying over to that pretty little wetland they occasionally like to have a midday snack in.’ So I drove the mile or so over to that location…. and heard nothing. Saw. Nothing.
‘Okay, perhaps they circled back’ so that’s what I did. Nothing.
I checked a couple miles north at their preferred roost location. Nothing.
I checked a mile south at their release field. Nothing.
OMG – I had one job. Keep track of the cranes. I LOST MY CRANES.
They’ve done this before but I’ve always managed to locate them relatively quickly. Not so Wednesday. I drove in circles. Increasing the circumference with each pass. Nothing. After a couple hours, I decided I could be more productive back at camp where I could scan the 40 or so data sheets waiting for me, while I waited for a GSM email to arrive telling me where my birds were.
This morning, I still hadn’t received an email so I decided to head out and check their roost location again. Nothing. I drove the same circuits as yesterday, hoping that maybe they had returned. Nothing. Again, I headed back to camp to try to get some more officey-type stuff accomplished.
At 11 am I finally received GSM hits! And the last location noted was only 30 minutes earlier and a few miles from where they were yesterday and for the past 6 weeks. I headed out quickly – hoping to catch them.
I FOUND my birds!
Then they took off again – but this time I managed to keep up with them. We ended up about 10 miles southeast (did you catch the ‘south’ part?) of where they’ve been since they were released. Still in the same county but – it’s 10 miles to the south. AND they’re among a couple hundred Sandhill cranes!
I’ll take it.
Yesterday morning shortly after 31 & 38-16 arrived at their favorite foraging field in Marquette County, WI, two adult bald eagles swooped in. One landed a short distance away from the two whooping crane colts and the other went at the young cranes – talons out.
I held my breath all the while cursing myself for forgetting my camera.
Sensing the attack, both cranes crouched low to the ground then leaped into the air with their own feet and claws out in front of them as protection from the eagle. It was an amazing sight to see and all I can offer is this photo I snapped with my phone shortly after the melee occurred.