EMP UPdate – August 1, 2016

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the whooping crane eastern migratory population.

Population Estimate

The current maximum population size is 100 (48 F, 50 M, 2 U). This total does not include wild-hatched chicks from 2016. As of 1 August, at least 90 Whooping Cranes have been confirmed in WI, 1 is currently in Michigan, and 4 are in Illinois. The remaining 5 birds have not been confirmed in WI yet this spring. See map below.

2015 Wild Chicks

The bird we presume is W10_15, based on size and lack of bands, has been seen regularly in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

The other unbanded bird, W18_15, has been hanging out in Monroe Co, WI with an adult male, 16-04.

Parent-Reared 2015 Cohort

14_15 (F) has been in Jefferson Co, WI throughout July.

20_15 (M) is currently in Walworth Co, WI.

DAR 2015 Cohort

61_15 (F), 62_15 (M), 63_15 (M), and 67_15 (F) spent all of July at their wintering grounds in Randolph Co. IL. They are currently still in IL.

65_15 (F) has still been with 27_14 (F) in Marathon Co, WI.

66_15 (F) spent July moving around in southeastern WI and was last reported in Racine Co.

68_15 (F) has remained in Dunn Co, WI throughout July.

64_15 (F) was last seen leaving Horicon in fall of 2015 with a large group of Sandhill cranes and has not been reported at a winter location nor in WI this spring.

UL 2015 Cohort

1_15 (F) has remained in Rock Co, WI throughout July.

6_15 (F) is still in Winnebago Co, WI.

8_15 (F) is still in Calumet Co, WI.

10_15 (F), and 11_15 (M) spent the first part of July in LaSalle Co, IL, but then came back to WI and are currently in Dane Co.

2_15 (F) spent all of July in Walworth Co.


There have been a total of 46 nests by 29 different pairs. Seven nests had eggs removed as part of the re-nesting experiment, 2 nests were incubated past full term, 23 chicks have hatched from 16 nests, and the remaining nests failed. There are at most 3 chicks alive at the time of this update.

W3_16 spent July in Wood Co with parent 4_11. W3_16 has likely fledged and hasn’t been seen on territory since 17 July. We got PTT locations from 4-11 at Necedah NWR but have not yet gotten a visual of the duo.

W7_16 is with parents 29_09 and 12_03 in Juneau Co.

W9_16 is with parents 1_04 and 8_05 in Juneau Co.


Suspected Mortality

Male 11_02 was last seen on 1 July, 2016 on territory with mate (15-09) and chick (W12-16) in Juneau Co, WI. 15-09 and W12-16 were seen together without 11-02 on 5 July, and 15-09 was seen alone on 11 July. By 13 July, 15-09 was seen with male 11-09 (her previous mate before 11-02). DNR and Refuge staff have searched extensively on the ground and from the air for 11-02 with no luck. At this time, he is suspected dead and has been removed from population totals above.


Tracking Photos

Doug Pellerin was out in White River Marsh doing a bit of tracking on Friday and came across some old friends.

On the left is female Whooping crane #3-14 and on the right, male #4-12.

On the left is female Whooping crane #3-14 and on the right, male #4-12.

Another shot of the 'Royal Couple'

Another shot of the ‘Royal Couple’

And here is male 5-12 with some Sandhill companions.

Male Whooping crane #5-12.

Male Whooping crane #5-12.

Of course we’d prefer he spend more time with the female #8-14 we heard him with two days earlier… maybe he’s taking things slowly.

Chick Check

Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan flew a survey looking for chicks yesterday and located:

W9-16 with parents 1-04/8-05 and W7-16 with 12-03/29-09.

29-09 & chick W7-16. Photo: Bev Paulan

29-09 & chick W7-16. Photo: Bev Paulan

Bev searched Wood County for 45 minutes looking for Mom 4-11 and the oldest of this years wild offspring #W3-16 to no avail. Hopefully this means the chick has officially fledged and is still with Mom.

A PTT hit placed  4-11 on Necedah Refuge yesterday afternoon, so refuge staff will check tomorrow to see if W3-16 is still with Mom.

In other news, Doug Pellerin and I went out on White River Marsh yesterday checking for signals and were delighted to find female 8-14 and male 5-12 TOGETHER. No visuals but strong radio signals in the same location. Yay!

Same ol’ Same ol’

Yesterday I mentioned that the cranes had pretty much settled down and were not moving around as much as they had been earlier in the season.

Take a look at this grab which shows the GSM hits for one crane: Female number 6-15 and only for the month of July. She has been moving very little – in fact she seems to be traveling between four main locations – all within a square mile.


Quick Location Update

There isn’t a whole lot different to report as we’re now in the heat of summer and all but two cranes are at their last reported locations.

When cranes return from the southern terminus, there is typically a spring wandering period – especially for younger birds that haven’t yet established a territory that needs to be defended.

The 2015 cranes appear to have finally settled down – except for the two youngest; 10-15 & 11-15.

They spent the first part of July in LaSalle County, IL and returned a couple weeks ago and are now in Dane County, Wisconsin.

White River Marsh

I thought you might like to see the actual river the White River Marsh is named after.

I captured these two photos during a pleasure flight over the weekend.

As you can see the river has many switchbacks. 

Here is a popular roost location for numerous Sandhill cranes and even a couple of Whooping cranes. 

This is the location CraneCam viewers often see sandhills/Whoopers landing in or leaving from at the north end of White River Marsh.

It’s AUCTION Time!

The 2016 Whooping Crane Festival is just around the corner, and with it comes one of OM’s most exciting fundraising campaigns, our annual auctions. We are pleased to announce that, like last year, the auctions will be held in both at the Festival AND online! At the Festival’s Friday night dinner we will feature a few super-special items, then have many more items available for fast and furious bidding at Saturday’s Festival. And because we know that not everyone can attend the Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin, we will conduct an online auction on our Facebook page.

How can you help make our auctions successful? I’m glad you asked! You can help in three ways. First, if you have an item you’d like to donate, we’d be thrilled to accept it. Second, you can help us by thinking of businesses who might be interested in making a donation. Lastly (and most importantly), you can BID BID BID when the auctions open! Read on for more details…

To donate an item, click here. Fill out the online form and click “Submit.” Then, just ship or mail your item to the Princeton Chamber of Commerce (The address is on the item donation form and below) who has graciously offered to receive and store all our items until the Whooping Crane Festival in September.

Once we have received your item, the auction committee will determine which auction it best suits, and it will be assigned accordingly. No single item will appear in multiple auctions, and the auction committee reserves the right to make this determination. For example, many of the items that are light weight and easily mailed will be assigned to the online auction. If it is heavy or bulky, it will be featured in one of the auctions held on Festival weekend so that it can travel home safely with the winning bidder.

If you come up with businesses that might be interested in making a donation, email the information to me at jbellemer(AT)operationmigration.org, including the name of the business, the address, and a brief description of what they do and/or what you think they might offer. I’ll then send a solicitation letter to the business explaining OM’s mission and the auctions.

Below are some FAQs that hopefully will answer your questions. If not, feel free to email me!

HOW DO I DONATE AN ITEM? Use our online form to tell us about your item and then ship it to the Princeton Chamber of Commerce at 104 E. Main St., Princeton, WI 54968.

CAN I DECIDE WHICH AUCTION I’D LIKE MY ITEM FEATURED IN? While we wish we could offer that option, it simply isn’t feasible due to the many items and the amount of work we have to do. The auction committee will decide which auction is best suited for your item in the best interest of OM.

CAN I SUGGEST AN OPENING BID FOR MY ITEM? The only opening bids that will be set are to cover postage costs for items that will be mailed to the winners. Otherwise, we can run afoul of IRS rules and regulations. (see next question/response)

WILL I RECEIVE A TAX DEDUCTION RECEIPT FROM OM? No, OM cannot issue tax receipts for goods donated without running into IRS rules about “fair market value”. The IRS states that to issue a tax-deductible receipt for a donated item “Fair Market Value” must be determined by obtaining three appraisals for each item. As you can imagine, this simply isn’t feasible.

WHAT IS THE CUTOFF DATE FOR SENDING IN MY ITEM? Our cutoff for receiving items is August 12th. This allows us enough time to inventory the items, determine which auction they go in, photograph them, and write descriptions. As you can imagine, we have a lot of work to do and cannot leave many items until the last minute. On a case-by-case basis we can make exceptions, such as if we make other arrangements for your item because it is being driven to Wisconsin. Other than that, August 12th!

WHEN ARE THE AUCTIONS? The Whooping Crane Festival will be held the weekend of September 10th, 2016. There will be a dinner on Friday night, 9/9, at which there will be a silent auction featuring a small number of items. On Saturday, at the all-day Festival, there will be a much larger silent auction. The online (Facebook) auction will open on 9/6 and close at noon on 9/25.

WHAT IF I DON’T USE FACEBOOK – CAN I STILL PARTICIPATE IN THE ONLINE AUCTION? Facebook is our best online venue as there are large numbers of supporters communicating regularly there. To bid on Facebook, you can either set up an account there temporarily, just for the auction, and then close it afterwards, or have a friend who DOES use Facebook submit your bids.

WHAT IF MY ITEM DOESN’T SELL AT ONE OF THE AUCTIONS? We have never had an “orphaned item” at prior auctions, but in that unlikely event, we will either hold onto it until next year, or we will donate the item to a worthy charitable organization in the Princeton, WI area.

Any other questions can be emailed to JBellemer(AT)operationmigration.org.

A Visit to Necedah NWR

Betts Secor and Sue Wren of LaSalle, IL visited Necedah National Wildlife Refuge over the weekend and submitted the following photographs to share.

Sue said they were thrilled to spot three pairs of Whooping cranes!


With legbands out of view, we’re not sure who this pair is. The Canada geese sure seem curious. Photo: Sue Wren


2 yr. old female 19-14. Photo: Sue Wren


Whooping crane 19-14 snags a small fish. Photo: Sue Wren


Another pair at the refuge. Photo: Sue Wren

Public Sightings

wcep_logo_250Public reports of whooping crane sightings are an extremely valuable tool for monitoring crane locations, and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) encourages people to continue to monitor and report such sightings. Nonetheless, while we certainly don’t want to discourage people from observing whooping cranes in the wild and reporting their sightings, we do want to remind people that for the benefit of the cranes, it is best if you keep a respectable distance.

Approaching cranes too closely can result in birds becoming habituated to humans. Habituation, in turn, can put the cranes at risk from people who mean them harm.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. If you’re on foot, do not approach the birds within 200 yards; if in a vehicle, remain inside the vehicle and at least 100 yards away. For reference, a football field is 120 yards long from goalpost to goalpost. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view or photograph whooping cranes.

We also want to take this opportunity to remind people that do see whooping cranes and are interested in reporting them to use the Eastern U.S. whooping crane reporting site located here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm

We thank you for your help in tracking cranes and for your consideration in helping to promote the safety of these birds.
For more information visit: http://www.bringbackthecranes.org


Registration is now open for this year’s festival!

The Whooping crane festival takes place the second weekend in September. This year’s activities get underway Thursday, Sept. 8th at 6pm with a meet and greet at the Goose Blind in Green Lake. Come on out and join everyone for an evening of fun activities.

Friday morning take in a tour at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin then join us at the American Legion in Princeton at 6pm for our Festival kick-off dinner!

Saturday, Sept. 10th brings the all day FREE festival for all ages at the Princeton School. Kids can take part in one of the interactive and informative sessions with David Stokes – the snake, turtle, frog man. Kids can also build their own birdhouse, have their face painted or take part in some of the other fun activities.

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

David Stokes is entertaining for children AND adults!

Be sure to check out the MASSIVE origami crane in the main gymnasium. The crane will be folded by the students of the Princeton School under supervision of Mako Pellerin. It is expected to have a wingspan of more than 30 feet and will be on display on the stage inside the gymnasium!

Mako provided this artists depiction for the massive origami crane she and the students will be making at the festival.

Mako provided this artists depiction for the massive origami crane she and the students will be making at the festival.

We have a fabulous speakers line-up this year so check it out and make plans to attend one or all of the sessions throughout the day.

Arrive early and take part in the pancake breakfast put on by the Princeton School students. The hotcakes start flipping on the griddle at 8am!

Stay for lunch and enjoy many local food offerings, including brats, cheesecake and many other favorites. Place bids on the many silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm)

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and we currently have twenty vendors and artisans lined-up. If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

This is a great opportunity to start your holiday shopping or to find some really neat bird related items! As you can see Saturday’s Festival has something for everyone!

Saturday evening we’ll see a Crane Trivia re-match! The VFW Lodge in Princeton will be the place for this epic brain battle. Will team OMG hold the title for another year? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza and pasta from Christiano’s. Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

Sunday is a day to unwind and relax with an early morning walk in the marsh with leaders Tom Schultz and Joe Duff. Again, space is limited so be sure to pre-register. Psst, a special treat will be served up in the blind!

Choose one of three available voyageur canoe trips along the Fox River. This hand-built craft is a replica of the French fur trader craft used along the historic water routes that supported settlement of much of Wisconsin. Trips start at 10, noon and 2 pm and last just over an hour. While the canoe holds up to 14 paddlers, it is recommended you pre-register to reserve your seat.

Be sure to reserve your seat on one of three available trips: 10 am, noon and 2 pm.

Be sure to reserve your seat on one of three available trips: 10 am, noon and 2 pm.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 8 – 11, 2016

The Life of a Tracker

Guest Author: Doug Pellerin

This is my third year tracking whooping cranes for the International Crane Foundation (ICF) and Operation Migration (OM). I’ve enjoyed my travels and all the wonderful experiences I’ve had while tracking the cranes.

The reason that we go out tracking is to pinpoint the location of the cranes and to identify the different types of habitat that they are in and to make sure that they are safe.

Tracking the cranes can take me to some very rural areas and explore places I’ve never seen before. The best part is when I get to see the birds in the wild, which is awesome and meeting some really great people. I’ve had some people approach and ask why I’m holding an antenna in my hand and waving it around. Of course, I explain to them why I’m there and what I’m doing. Most people are curious and seem to take a great deal of interest in our work.

There is one part of tracking that I don’t enjoy as much. That is when I cannot find the birds no matter how hard I try and it does happen. When I go out to a certain area and can’t locate them or even get a signal, it’s frustrating, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Tracking last year’s ultralight-led cranes has been challenging to say the least. Two of the 6 birds split off from the group which left numbers 6, 8, 10 and 11-15 and these four stinkers have been all over the place, but that’s what young whoopers do.

Whooping cranes 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 in Winnebago County, Wisconsin earlier this summer.

Whooping cranes 6, 8, 10 & 11-15 in Winnebago County, Wisconsin earlier this summer.

The same four cranes in Washington County, Wisconsin.

The same four cranes in Washington County, Wisconsin.

I’ve tracked these four birds for a couple of weeks and then all of a sudden, they split up leaving two of the birds together while the other two went in different directions… oh well. That’s the life of a tracker. I wouldn’t change any of it.

Knowing the locations of the birds and how they are doing gives me great peace of mind and a great appreciation for the work that OM and ICF does. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to ICF and OM for the opportunity. I wish you all the best for your future.

Doug Pellerin

As the Marsh Turns…

Over the life of this Whooping crane reintroduction there have been so many moments reminiscent of a soap opera.

The latest such moment is that the pair consisting of male 11-09 and female 15-09 have reunited!

This is the pair also known as the ‘Cowpond Cranes’ for their wintering location on the outskirts of Tallahassee, Florida.

The female had recently paired with another male, number 11-02 and successfully produced two chicks this spring (W11-16 & W12-16). Sadly, W11-16 was last June 27th and W12-16 only recently has disappeared. The adult male 11-02 is currently MIA and hasn’t been seen in the past week.

Time will tell if this pair stays together long enough to return to their usual winter home near Tallahassee…

The reunited pair consisting of 11-09 & 15-09. Photo: Bev Paulan

The reunited pair consisting of 11-09 & 15-09. Photo: Bev Paulan

Chick Season

There are not many times in life that are as exciting as Chick Season. When I was seventeen years old and for a while thereafter, chick season lasted 365 days a year. But in more recent years, chick season has meant working at Patuxent and sharing in the daily excitement of working with cohorts of brand spanking new whooping crane chicks. It was a time of great excitement and promise and the challenges and rewards of that experience will always occupy a front row seat in the theater of my memory.

But while this was happening, there was, in Wisconsin, another Chick Season. It was a kind of parallel universe where pairs of adult project whooping cranes paired, nested, laid eggs and attempted to do their part to insure the success of the reintroduction. However, this is where our reintroduction efforts hit the wall. At first, black fly infestations chased the birds off the nests during incubation, leaving the eggs vulnerable to predation.  Video from nest cameras documented the birds swarmed by dark clouds of black flies causing them to flee into the nearby woods for relief. Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR pilot, would also observe this from the air. So the main problem was the black flies… or so we thought.

However, things were not so simple. In years of low back fly populations due to experimental Bti treatment or natural conditions, the birds did not abandon their nests and the eggs hatched. However, it was rare for a chick to survive to the age of fledging. Last year, at least 23 chicks were documented as hatching but only two survived to fledge.

This year, 22 chicks have hatched and only four unfledged chicks are alive as of Monday. Obviously, the project goal of a self-sustaining population of whooping cranes simply isn’t possible with such poor reproductive success. Like peeling an onion, one layer is removed only to reveal another.

This parallel universe was not really my own until this year. With no ultralight project and no Patuxent and no nests in the Wisconsin Rectangle to the east of the original release area, my 2016 chick season was limited to three off-refuge nests. Pair 3 & 7-11 had a chick but eventually lost it and 24 & 42-09 nested, laid one egg and incubated about a week when the nest failed and they re-nested a mile or so away. They hatched a chick last week. It was exciting to see what good parents they were as they took turns bringing food to the chick. Sadly, after two days the chick was gone.

Meanwhile, the other off refuge successful pair on my radar was 12-02 and 4-11 in Wood County. 12-02 was a proven winner and last year raised a chick to fledge by himself after his mate was predated.  Sadly, this year Bev spotted his carcass from the air on June 2nd. 4-11 has raised the chick by herself since then.

Since the chick will fledge shortly and must be banded and the mother needs replacement of her non-functional transmitter, there is some planning and preparation to be done. And so Friday I went to Wood County for the first time and these pictures are the result.

Now, if I could only get them interested in a trip to Patuxent in time for Chick Season.

Mom 4-11 and the oldest wild hatched Whooping crane chick of the year, W3-16. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

Mom 4-11 and the oldest wild hatched Whooping crane chick of the year, W3-16. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

W3-16 is believed to have hatched on May 3rd. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

W3-16 is believed to have hatched on May 3rd. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

10-week old Whooping crane chick W3-16. Photo: Brooke Pennypacker

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