CraneCam is LIVE!

For those that aren’t aware, we quietly set up the CraneCam (aka the Beast) at the White River Marsh training site late last week. After taking the weekend and the first part of this week to brush off the cobwebs and work out a few kinks, it seems to be working very well currently.

You can access the CraneCam via our Ustream channel or

One of the most spectacular highlights from this week was the on camera appearance of four sub-adult whooping cranes! Wednesday afternoon at 4pm central time, four stark white cranes flew from south to north along the grass training strip where they had first learned to fly last summer.

They are cranes 2-13, 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13. They are stunningly beautiful. Majestic. Stately. They’ve changed dramatically, even since we welcomed them to their winter release pen on November 23 last year. They glow now.

They stayed in the area for four hours before heading off to roost in the marsh. They strolled down the runway and investigated the new pond. They poked, prodded and tossed the newly mown grass, looking for tasty treats. They snoozed at the north end of the site for about an hour and then chased of a pair of sandhills.

Here are some screen grabs captured by Jo-Anne Bellemer as I was busy controlling the camera for the excited viewers.


The four sub-adults strolled rather nonchalantly back toward their former pensite.

The four sub-adults strolled rather nonchalantly back toward their former pensite.

There is not a trace of their tawny plumage remaining

There is not a trace of their tawny plumage remaining

#9-13 checks out the new pond and nabs a few frogs

#9-13 checks out the new pond and nabs a few frogs

Again #9-13

Again #9-13

#5-13 tosses aside grass looking for food hiding beneath

#5-13 tosses aside grass looking for food hiding beneath


The only female of the foursome, number 2-13

Texas Water Rights

Guest Author: Tom Stehn, Retired whooping crane coordinator - formerly at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The recent Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the State was not liable for the whooping crane deaths in the 2008-09 winter is a blow to whooping crane recovery, but also has wider impacts. The ruling potentially impacts the health of the Guadalupe River and the bays that rely on river inflows to be productive.

In my opinion, the court’s reasoning was at least partially flawed. The court concluded that the death of the 23 whooping cranes (8.5% of the flock) in the 2008-09 winter was a rare convergence of unforeseeable, unique events, a perfect storm scenario, that is unlikely to imminently happen again. Data that I collected in my 29 years at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge indicated that whooping crane die-offs have happened before. For example, 11 whooping cranes (7.5% of the flock) had died in the 1990-91 winter when marsh salinities had been extremely high. Back then, we didn’t know enough to make the connection between river inflows, blue crabs, and whooping crane health. That connection was fully demonstrated in the recent court case, and the court ruling did not throw out that linkage. More recently, I believe crane mortality was also unusually high in the 2011-12 winter, but that data was not collected after my retirement due to a change in the aerial method of counting the cranes where only a portion of the flock is surveyed and mortality is not documented. Future crane die-offs related to drought and insufficient inflows are foreseeable and will continue to occur.

The need to provide sufficient river inflows to keep our bays productive is just one of the issues facing the whooping crane population.  With the ongoing sea level rise forecast to reach more than 3 feet by the end of the century, all of the current whooping crane marshes will become too deep for the whooping cranes to use. Also, as the climate warms and we no longer get sustained hard freezes, black mangrove, normally killed by cold weather is moving north and will likely become the dominant plant over the entire Texas coast, replacing plants such as Carolina wolfberry that whoopers feed upon heavily every fall. A species that loses its habitat is in for hard times. The picture is also alarming in the crane’s migration corridor, where decreased rainfall amounts are expected to dry up stopover wetlands, and thousands of wind turbines and associated power lines are being built right next to whooping crane wetlands. And illegal shootings of Aransas whooping cranes is still occurring; note the two instances of radio-tagged birds found dead in the last few winters. Now is not the time for the Court to negate measures that would help the whooping crane.

For the whooping crane to survive, people need to remain vigilant and continue working to help the species. Yes, providing the needed inflows to keep our bays healthy and provide the crabs and wolfberries that the whooping cranes need to survive may very well mean people will have to become better water conservationists, but South Texans should be willing to support that choice. Just observe the stream of cars late Friday afternoons pouring into the Coastal Bend for a weekend of fishing and nature appreciation. If you want to see lots of birds and like to catch fish in San Antonio and Aransas Bays that both rely on river inflows, you should be disturbed by the court ruling.

As stated perfectly in the Caller-Times editorial of July 2nd, I totally agree that the state of Texas “needs to develop a management plan in the birds’ best interest and enforce it”.  So far, Texas water managers and legislators have failed to provide minimum conservation flows essential for our priceless Texas rivers and bays. To comply with the Endangered Species Act, the Guadalupe-Blanco River authority should voluntarily write a Habitat Conservation Plan for the whooping crane to provide the necessary inflows. If the GBRA had been willing to do this, litigation would not have been needed in the first place since that had been the main judgment The Aransas Project had asked for in the litigation. In summary, without a change of direction, how can we expect our bays and whooping cranes to remain healthy when new water rights continue to be granted from the Guadalupe River that many conservationists feel is already over-appropriated?

High Expectations and Changing Plans

When the days were getting longer and the eyes of all the male Whooping cranes were beginning to twinkle, we all thought we would have a very productive breeding season. There were high hopes at the captive facilities and a plan to collect eggs at Necedah.

In an attempt to promote renesting, Brad Strobel, resident biologist at Necedah, planned to collect all of the eggs from half of the first nesters. Those are the pairs that normally abandon their first eggs when the blood sucking black flies become intolerable. Taking the eggs from half the nests would test whether more of them would re-nest once the blackflies were gone. We expected somewhere around 22 nests with two eggs each, meaning we hoped to harvest 22 eggs. Brad recorded degree/days to predict when the blackflies would bloom but, unfortunately when that day came, only seven nests were active.  Eleven eggs were collected, eight of which were fertile and five eventually hatched.

In the end there were twenty five nests but the weather delayed them so much that the second nesting coincided with the peak in blackfly numbers. Two chicks still survive and we have our fingers crossed.

Combined, the captive breeding centers produced 106 eggs, 49 of which were infertile and 19 were broken.

So our hopes for a year filled with Whooping cranes have slowly dwindled. With each reduction in expectations, our shoulders drop just a bit more. So far there are seven birds in the Ultralight project, 4 in the DAR study and 4 to be released using the Parent Reared method. Our birds will be shipped to Wisconsin July 8th.

In anticipation of a big year we prepared to build new facilities at White River. We dug a scrape around which we were going to build another wet pen. We will leave that the way it is and hope for more birds next season. We also hired Caleb Fairfax as extra help this year but that did not work out either. Caleb has a standing job offer working as a ship board biologist on the Bering Sea. He will join us again next April if our numbers are up. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed having him with us for the past three months and he will be sorely missed.

Personally I blame the weather. It screws up migration, makes it difficult to test the slow speed of new aircraft, inhibited our ability to prepare the site and messed up an expected good breeding season. Or maybe I am just used to blaming the weather for everything. My feet are sore so it must be that approaching cold front.

The Whooper Weigh In

Once, when I was in college, I entered the gym sauna after football practice to burn out my aches and pains. There, sitting on the opposite bench, was a guy dressed up in a snowmobile suit complete with ski mask and gloves so that only his beady little eyes betrayed he was, in fact, human. My heart began to pound with excitement because I realized that I was in the presence of the first really crazy person I had ever met. This was, of course, back in the days when I was young and innocent and before I discovered that the 1950’s movie “Attack of the Body Snatchers” was in fact a National Geographic documentary.

Finally, a voice from the ski mask squeaked out “I’m on the wrestling team, the weigh in for tomorrow’s match is in two hours and I’m trying to “make my weight,” which meant he was trying to lose just enough weight to qualify for a lower weight class, thus giving him an advantage in the competition. Were he on Weight Watchers, he’d have banked enough points to gorge on pizza, ice cream and beer three meals a day for the next month.

After the sauna and on the way to my locker the coach called us all together and instructed us to fill out the info sheet for the Game Programs and to add 10 pounds to our actual weights so as to appear, on the program at least, more intimidating to our opponents. Of course, their coaches were instructing them to do the same thing, so it was just another case of “Mutually Assured Stupidity”… a relic of the Cold War, which, I suppose, is also why I long ago traded in my water pistol for a BB gun.

But, it did highlight one of the great certainties of life. Along with death and taxes, the issue of weight is inevitable. Especially in America. Seems like every time I turn on the news, the Barbie Doll talking head tells me about a new statistic that warns in the next five minutes or so at least half of all Americans will be obese and the simple act of looking down and trying to find our toes will soon replace baseball as the National Pastime. It’s what the Bahamians call “Dunlaps Disease” which occurs when “Your belly done laps over your belt!”

The fact is, Americans spend more money trying to lose weight than the entire population of India spends trying to gain it. Perhaps we should “Offshore” our weight instead of our jobs and attempt a win-win.  Just think. The next time you call the Bangalor Call Center for technical assistance, the voice will answer, “Hello. My name is Jimmy and I now weigh as much as you do. How can I help you”? There’s presently a Bill on the floor of Congress proposing to replace the words “In God We Trust” on the dollar bill with “You Want Fries with That?” Honest!

And if all this weight stuff isn’t depressing enough, scientists have just discovered that the great dinosaur mass extinction 65 million years ago was not caused by a meteor strike after all but rather by the simultaneous combination of two events; a month long Going Out of Business Sale at a Tokyo Pet Smart and a Curtain Call for extras for the movie “Godzilla.” Turns out that when the world’s dinosaurs ran to Tokyo all at once, their combined concentrated weight shifted the earth’s center of gravity so profoundly it created a wobble in the earth’s spin, which threw it into a new orbit father away from the sun which proved  in the end catastrophic for the poor dino’s. However, once they disappeared, so did the wobble. The earth returned to its normal orbit which left the playing field clear for the emergence of a whole new and improved creature that traveled on two feet that would really give the planet a good trashing. The question now becomes, will an overweight America produce another wobble resulting in the next mass extinction? Stay tuned.

So what does all this weight stuff have to do with whooping cranes you ask? Quite a lot actually.  You see, monitoring daily weight gain or loss is absolutely critical to the health of our whooper chicks. A gain of 10% each day is considered optimum. Any more than that can put too much stress on their fragile developing legs resulting in serious problems… like dooming them to a life walking around looking like a drunken sailor. And any less than 10% can indicate possible dehydration, failure to learn to eat properly, or other problems. Therefore, each chick gets a daily weigh in. In fact, it gets two or three when it is really young.

Who conducts the weigh in’s? Quite often it’s Geoff. After all, who is better qualified to weigh chicks than guy who lost more than 40 pounds since I last saw him at the end of migration last January. That’s right. 40 big ones! Geoff is one of those rare individuals who, when he makes his mind up to do something, he actually does it. It’s a gift, really. Not one Santa put under my tree, unfortunately.

weighing whooping crane chick

Every morning Geoff patiently coaxes each bird out of its pen and onto a scale with a meal worm or two, which means he has to weigh each bird twice – before it eats the meal worm, then right after.

Since all but one of our birds are female, poor Geoff often has to use different scales for different birds because they believe certain scales read lower than others. Geoff, after all, is the Master of the “Yes Dear’s.” He feeds the information into a giant mainframe computer which immediately spits out the all important percentage of weight gain or loss in the last 24 hours.

Then what? Well, that’s where the super secret government “Whooper Diet” comes in. It is the culmination of millions of dollars and years of research and is based on two revolutionary physiological factors previously unknown to man – diet and exercise. Imagine!  It goes something like this; (I hope you’re all taking notes) if a bird is gaining weight too rapidly, we give it more walks or swims or both to burn off the calories. We can even proceed with the dreaded “food withholding” if things are getting too far out of whack. And if the chick is not gaining weight, the process is reversed. More feeding sessions and less exercise.

I realize this all may seem incredibly complicated – even diabolical at first read. But with time, this alien concept begins to make sense. I might add that it is now available in DVD to the general public for three easy payments of $29.95 IF you order now.  And if you call within the next five minutes, you will receive at no extra charge the famous Pennypacker Pocket Fisherman guaranteed to put a smile on your face but catch absolutely nothing, the OM CraneCam’s Greatest Bloopers Video, a bag of meal worms and a Special Edition One Size Fits All Crane Costume from Victoria Can’t Keep Secrets for that special someone in your life. Order now while supplies last.

I know I know.  All this talk of weight just makes you want to give up, dial up the Call Center and ask Jimmy if he’s seen your toes. How’s about a nice hot sauna instead? We’ll even throw in the snowmobile suit.  Just sayin.


Brooke Needs Your Clicks

Yes, your clicks! That’s all you have to do CLICK HERE then CLICK Vote for this story.

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey will be awarding $50,000 to one nominee’s charity and $5,000 awards to six others in their 2015 Eagle Rare Life Awards. The voting period began on May 27th and runs until January 6, 2015 (so we have a bit of catching up to do). We know you can do it though!

Check out Brooke’s Rare Life story by visiting the Eagle Rare site and to learn more about the awards, be sure to watch the video following the photo of our dashing pilot below. And share it! Don’t forget to share!

Please vote EVERY day until January 6, 2015 to help Brooke (and OM) earn $50,000

Please vote EVERY day until January 6, 2015 to help Brooke (and OM) earn $50,000

Texas Water Ruling Reversed

A three-judge panel of a federal appeals court has reversed a ruling that Texas’ environmental agency is responsible for the deaths of 23 endangered whooping cranes in 2008-2009.

The original judgement was handed down in March 2013 by U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack of Corpus Christi and held that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) caused the deaths of 23 whooping cranes by issuing water permits that resulted in diverting water from the cranes. She ordered TCEQ to immediately stop issuing water permits on the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers.

The Court of Appeals did not feel the evidence presented showed a future imminent threat to the cranes, especially since the population has continued to increase.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012-13 winter whooping crane survey, an estimated 279 whooping cranes inhabited the primary wintering grounds and adjacent areas. USFWS’ winter 2013-14 whooping crane survey estimated that 304 whooping cranes inhabited the survey area.

CLICK to read the 34 pg. court decision 



Helping Hands Make it Happen

‘WET’ ‘high water’ ‘make it stop raining’ were familiar words and phrases heard over and over for the past two weeks in central Wisconsin and specifically, Green Lake county. There are a number of road construction projects that are either behind, or have yet to begin because there is so much WET.

Jo-Anne Bellemer and I headed out to Wisconsin help Joe and Caleb prepare the pen site for the arrival of the Class of 2014 whooping cranes. Caleb had been in the area tracking cranes for the past 3 months and Joe arrived from Washington after a cross-country roadtrip to retrieve the new aircraft. We were all there and ready to get to work but we couldn’t get into the training site because of all the WET. We eventually trekked in, slogging through about 6 inches of water at the south end of the runway, only to find that the drypen wasn’t (dry) and there was about 3 inches of standing water immediately outside the gate to the pen.

We had to wait about 3 days before we could move equipment in and thankfully, it didn’t rain during those 3 days. Looking at the iffy-at-best long range forecast, we decided to call on some volunteer help so we could tackle it quickly before it rained again.

Caleb drove the riding mower from our camp, over to the pensite on Monday afternoon – a long slow road trip of about 5 miles, which took an hour. (At least now I know how fast a riding mower moves). He managed to almost mow the entire grass strip that evening then went back on Tuesday to give it another complete pass, making it so short that it’s almost golf-worthy.

You can see just how long the grass on the training strip was as Caleb began mowing.

You can see just how long the grass on the training strip was as Caleb began mowing.

On Wednesday morning our troop of volunteers turned up and we began weed whacking and trimming the tall grass around the perimeter of the crane pen and inside.

If we had released the young cranes inside the dry pen the way it was we'd have a difficult time finding them again!

If we had released the young cranes inside the dry pen the way it was we’d have a difficult time finding them again!

Tom Schultz wields a mean weed whacker and tackles the interior of the dry pen.

Tom Schultz wields a mean weed whacker and tackles the interior of the dry pen.

Of course all the cut grass needs to be raked and moved off the runway. Volunteers extraordinaire Doug Pellerin, Rick Vant Hoff, Deb Johnson and Bev Birks took on this task (and others!) while Caleb and Joe put the top net in place.

Bev Rakes

The top net for the wetpen spent the winter/spring underwater and collected quite a bit of algae, which made for a rather interesting photo.

The top net for the wet pen spent the winter/spring underwater and collected quite a bit of algae, which made for a rather interesting photo.

Even the plastic whooping crane, which hangs in the wet pen to encourage the young cranes to roost in water aka ‘Dummy Mummy’ got a makeover courtesy of Bev and yours truly.

operation migration 045.jpg1

A fresh coat of paint, err, feathers, for Dummy Mummy!

A fresh coat of paint, err, feathers, for Dummy Mummy!

The expression ‘many hands make light work’ definitely applied to our work day as everyone was finished up and we all sat down for a well deserved lunch by 2pm.

We owe huge thank you’s to Deb Johnson, Jo-Anne Bellemer, Rick Vant Hoff, Bev Birks, Doug Pellerin and Tom Schultz – Your tireless efforts and go the extra mile attitudes are not easily found and we are grateful for your hard work and support!

Festival Time is Approaching

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)

Whooping Crane 14-11 – a Senseless Loss

Guest Author: Beverly Paulan

One of the worst aspects of my job as a wildlife pilot is when I find a dead critter during one of my flights. I take it personally. With the collared wolves, it is usually due to illegal shooting so I get mad. With the Whooping cranes it is usually due to predation. I still get mad but it is part of the re-introduction process. It is still a loss but I have learned to accept it. It is part of the dynamic of the wild world and a topic I cover during my educational presentations.

Then there is the memory of a flight from July 23, 2013. I had been asked to fly a comprehensive survey looking for Whooping cranes generally and checking the status of any chicks. There had been a report of a crane over in Waupaca County – one that had been observed by a warden. When I picked up the signal, I started my circuitous route, homing in on the increasingly louder beeps. I tightened the circumference of the circle, but could not see a bird. When this has happened in the past, it has been caused by a couple of reasons. It has always amazed me when a 5 foot tall white bird can disappear, but it can happen. I have found birds standing under trees, emerging from stands of cattails, escaping the black flies in shrubby brush, all doing their best to go undetected and mostly, succeeding. However, during this particular search, I was overflying a wheat field and my heart was sinking with each circle and not seeing the bird.

I did, however, see a strange serpentine trail through the wheat. After one more turn my eyes followed the path and discovered it ended in a crumpled white form. I circled again, dreading what I knew to be down there and then saw that the white form was a Whooping crane. I could trace the path and it was made by this bird, 14-11, as she staggered through the wheat after whatever had happened to her. I couldn’t fathom what had occurred. A predator would have finished the kill, and the trail was in the middle of the field, not near a road, so that ruled out a vehicle strike. The path started cleanly, not with a mashed down circle that would have indicated a crashing bird that struck power lines.


I sent the lead tracker a text from the airplane and let her know what I had found. I also snapped a couple of pictures to document what I had seen that I would email out once I landed. Upon landing I made a couple of calls and the tracker said she was heading out to retrieve the carcass. I contacted the local warden whom I had talked with on prior crane searches and he said he would follow up with an investigation.


When I heard that this bird had been shot and the circumstances surrounding the shooting, my blood boiled. I had been raised in a family of hunters. The cardinal rule is don’t shoot until you are 100% certain of what you are shooting. Identify, identify, identify. If I heard it once from my dad, I heard it 1000 times. This is where hunter/shooter education is critical. This is why the outreach work that Operation Migration and WCEP does is so vitally important to the survival of this species. This bird would be of breeding age this year, had she lived. What has this flock lost by her being senselessly shot? What potential genetic diversity would she have added? What have we, as cohabitants of the planet lost? The world is a lot poorer for having lost one of its gems.  All due to a lack of education. That’s all I have to say about that.

Who’s on First?

Well, the next step of our little journey is around the corner! Our little whooping crane chicks are hard at work, gearing up for White River Marsh. Now, they’re being socialized at Patuxent’s luxurious White Series pond pen, where they have all the space they need to be cranes and mingle with each other to their heart’s content! All the birds are getting along well with each other, with the exception of 10-14.

She’s a bird who loves her space more than life itself and any bird who’s in her three foot bubble is in for a bad time, as she’ll peck or chase them out of her zone of comfort. Luckily, she’s not one for chasing the other birds and once they get away from her, her sunny disposition is back in no time. And she has a lot to be sunny about, as her cutthroat attitude has landed her the top spot on the totem pole. The birds do their level best to stay out of her way but sometimes, it’s not always easy if they want some food at a feeder, or they want to say hi to the costume. Especially the latter, as she loves the costume with all her heart.

But sometimes our birds find ways to scare us that don’t involve establishing an all-too-literal pecking order. Just ask 3-14. On Sunday, all the birds were going back to their pen after a seven hour stint out in the White Series pond pen. Patuxent crane crew matriarch Sharon took birds 2-14 through 9-14 back, while I stayed back with 10-14, as we were worried she’d get pecky with the other birds on the walk back to the pen. After giving Sharon a few minutes head start, I came out with 10-14 and led her back towards her pen. As I got back to the propagation building, Sharon pulled me aside with some horrifying news.

Chick number 3-14 was nowhere to be found. I still hadn’t put 10-14 back in her pen yet, so I went ahead and took her back to her pen, hoping that 3-14 would be found by the time 10-14 was back in her cozy little pen. Only she wasn’t and our anxiety was rising. Sharon insisted that she had all the birds when she came back to the propagation building, but I went ahead and went back to the White Series just in case she was miscounting, or mistook her for 8-14 who also has a pink legband. After all, 3-14 pays attention to the costume almost as much as she pays attention to all the worms she grubs up as you’re leading her on a walk. I could easily imagine her falling behind as she stopped to find a good spot to rustle up some grub and never bothered to catch up with the group.

I searched the pond pen and every last aisle in the White Series, but 3-14 was nowhere to be found. I went out to the half-moon field, where Brooke takes the birds for training, but found no sign of her. I walked along the dirt road running behind the prop building where a sandhill chick briefly went missing a few days before, as well as the farm pond field, where we take chicks for walks. No 3-14. By now, other members of the Patuxent crew were down at the propagation building and were combing the perimeter for any spot where she could be hiding. Brian had taken the trike out, hoping the sound of the engine would attract her. On a hunch, I went into the chick pens to see if she had wandered into another chick’s pen by mistake (which happens fairly often). It was the last place I could look before I started beating every bush like Hansel and Gretel. I took a passing glance at 2-14′s pen and noticed a bird with a pink legband inside it. Sure enough, it was 3-14. She was never lost. She just wandered into the wrong pen by mistake. I easily led her back to her own pen, which was right next to 2-14′s. My next question was if 3-14 was in 2-14′s pen, where was number 2? As I walked out of 3-14′s enclosure, I looked over my shoulder, and saw 2-14 sitting under her heat lamp, preening away. I’m not sure if she ever noticed that she had a visitor, or if she even cared.

Naturally, everyone was relieved as soon as I told them I found 14003. I think everyone had visions of searching for this chick well into the night. And if we couldn’t find her by then, she’d join the ranks of 2-11, who flew the coop on us when we left Princeton three years ago. Only this time, we wouldn’t have any way of tracking her and there are any number of thickets she could’ve wandered into. So I was happy to be the hero of the hour on any number of levels but to this day, Sharon now insists on taking 10-14 back by herself, then coming back so we can lead the other six birds back together. And of course, 3-14, having learned nothing from our little scare, still focuses more on worming than she does following the costume. She’s always one of the last birds to make it back to her pen.

But the next time she pulls a vanishing act, the first place I’m going to look is in 2-14′s pen.

Yet Another Whooping Crane Shot

Wisconsin is home to a long legacy of ethical hunters and bird enthusiasts that dates back to before Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac of the mid-1900s. In the spirit of Leopold’s land ethic, we need your help.

You can help us, and our conservation partners, dispel the myth of the fabled “white sandhills” or albino sandhill cranes in Wisconsin. In a recent case, the claim of this myth lead to the loss of a federally endangered whooping crane that conservation agencies and groups have been fighting to bring back from extinction. Learn the difference between endangered whooping cranes and sandhill cranes, and do not take the law into your own hands.

The case in question dates back to July 21, 2013, when researchers with the International Crane Foundation based in Baraboo, Wisconsin found the radio-tagged whooping crane dead in a Waupaca County wheat field. Our forensics specialists conducted a necropsy at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory and confirmed that the crane had been shot and killed with a .22-caliber bullet.

Continue to the full U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service News Release

Volunteers Needed for Wednesday, June 25th

We believe we’ll have enough of a break in the weather mid-week to begin working on the training site preparations and would love to get some volunteers out to help.

If you’re available and have a pair of boots and work gloves and don’t mind getting dirty and sweaty we’d love to have you! We’ll need some folks with waders also, so that we can hang the topnet over the wet pen (which is very wet currently).

If you can make it, please call 920-573-0905 and we’ll provide the location details. Thank you!

The Whether of Weather

If there is one enemy of this project it must be the weather. Readers of these updates will have noticed the many times we have cursed the weather and scorned those responsible for predicting its moods.

Even when we are not migrating or training the birds, the weather can dictate our progress. It has been an unusual spring in the northern Midwest. We had snow until March, which interfered with the breeding season and delayed the emergence of black flies at Necedah until some of the birds were in their second nesting attempts. That is generally when they have the most success at hatching chicks because the black flies are normally gone by then. But high water and cold temperatures changed everything.

Normally by now things are starting to dry up around White River Marsh and we can bring in our team of staff and volunteers to prepare the pensite and the runway but they are still flooded or the ground is too wet to run a mower. In the worst case we could don boots or waders and use weed-whackers to cut the grass in the dry pen and deep water does not make it possible to stretch the top net over the enclosures.

If the runway stays wet, we could leave that even until after the birds arrive. It would not be hard to walk them into the marsh while we take care of that final job.

Earlier this spring, the staff and managers at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area used heavy equipment to raise the new blind a few feet higher off the ground. That will allow visitors to see over the tall grass and make for a much better view of the training. Last winter, when the ground was still frozen, a local contractor dug us a new wet pen scrape. We anticipated many more birds this season so we laid the ground work for a larger pen facility but, again thanks to the weather, we will likely only have 7 or so birds.

After my long trip to Washington State and back the new aircraft are off-loaded into the hangar but it has been blowing steadily for a week, so test flying over familiar ground is not possible. Still there is a lot to do. Mike Deline is de-wintering the big camera and checking all of its systems. If it ever dries up we will deploy it into the training area so that all the remains to do is turn it on once the birds arrive. That, by the way, is scheduled to take place on July 8th. Thanks, once again to the generous people at Windway Capital. They will relocate their Cessna Caravan to Baltimore on the 7th to be ready for departure early the next morning. This will be their 32nd flight and we cannot thank them enough.  A Caravan is a turbo-prop, ten passenger workhorse of an aircraft. They fly with a two man crew. I can imagine what the costs are for 32 round trip flights from the east coast to the Midwest, not to mention everything else they have done for this project. They really are Whooping crane champions.

All’s Well That Ends Well

I’m here in central Wisconsin for a few days, helping out OM with the many chores that have to be completed before this year’s chicks arrive for summer training. As chairperson of this year’s Crane Festival auction committee, I’m also here to scope out the new locations of the festival and pre-festival dinner, and to meet up with other committee members to start processing the many auction donations waiting for us at the Princeton Chamber of Commerce.

I flew in yesterday, to Milwaukee, and met up with Heather who drove by car from her home in Ontario. Joe is also here, having just arrived the day before with the new aircraft. Sounds simple enough, right? I fly in, Heather drives and takes the Lake Express ferry across Lake Michigan and we meet on Wednesday to finish the ride to Princeton.

Well, it was anything BUT simple!

On Tuesday about 6 PM, Heather and I were chatting online about something OM’ish and then it went like this:

Me: “where r u???”

Heather: “at home”

Me: “you can’t be at home, you’re supposed to be in Michigan! I’m flying to Milwaukee tomorrow morning!”

“No you’re not, you’re flying on Thursday. Are you joking around?”

“Not joking! I’m flying on Wednesday, the 18th!” [can you hear the panic growing in my typing?]

“Nooooo you’re flying on Thursday, the 19th… ”

“No, seriously, I’m flying on the 18th! I have a 7:00am flight and I arrive at Milwaukee at 10:30 AM!”

“But I’m arriving on the 19th – that’s when I have the ferry reservation!”

I can’t include the rest of our chat on this family-friendly site because it escalated from there, but suffice it to say that Heather and I had somehow miscommunicated on our arrival dates. Heather ended the chat with “I gotta go pack and get on the road! Bye!”

I guess she got on the road about 7 PM, after some serious storms passed through (including tornadoes!) and drove until 11:30 PM, just crossing the border into Port Huron, MI where she planned to overnight at a Quality Inn. And she actually crossed the border twice! First time, she engaged the “border guy” in a conversation about birding (he evidently was a birder too!) and then headed for the motel.

Bad signage caused a wrong turn onto a one-way exit back into Canada where she confessed to THAT border guard that she was an idiot (her words, not mine) and had just crossed into the U.S. from Canada 5 minutes earlier. Apparently this is a common occurrence – he quickly produced a large “Wrong Turn Pass” (aka “idiot card”) for her to present when she re-crossed into the US. She happened to get the same border guy as her prior crossing and handed in the pass. He laughed and quipped “you’re not gonna see many birds if you drive like that!”

Fast forward about 5 hours when poor Heather had to get up and get back on the road to drive to Muskegon in time for the ferry. The weather on her drive was horrendous, too – buckets of rain that mandated the fastest windshield wiper speed and lightning bolts all around.

I got up about the same time so that I could get to the airport in time for my 7 AM flight. Things were very calm on my end until I boarded the plane – as soon as we were all seated, the pilot announced that the Detroit airport was temporarily closed due to severe weather there, so we were on hold. They said they’d give us an update in an hour.

At that point I figured my connection in Detroit was a bust, but since it was early in the day, there would probably be other options and Heather would just have to wait. We finally took off about 8:15 and had a very bumpy ride to Detroit where we landed right about the time my connection was scheduled to take off. Since nothing had been flying, it seemed there was still a slim chance that my connection was also delayed, at least I hoped so.

I hit the concourse nearly running and found the flight information board to see the status of my flight. It said “At Gate” and the gate was A69. I was at A16. Do you know how many miles there are between A16 and A69??? A lot!!! Anyway, I fast-walked all the way down a concourse so long you could not see from one end to the other and arrived at A69 about one minute before they started boarding my flight to Milwaukee. YAY!

Meanwhile, on the other side of Michigan, Heather was arriving at the ferry terminal and again confessed that she was an idiot (AGAIN, her words, not mine!) and was there on the wrong date. A guy outside delivered the bad news – the ferry was booked full – but he suggested that she check inside in case he didn’t have the latest, greatest info. The news inside was the same – booked solid – until another co-worker announced “WE JUST HAD A CANCELLATION” and Heather yelled out “I’LL TAKE IT!”!

We both agreed later that we were surprised that the ferry ran at all, because we would have expected the lake to be pretty rough with all the bad weather around. It wasn’t cancelled and Heather reported that the ride was fine.

Back to the skies… my plane (well, actually Delta’s plane with a pilot who looked to be about 16 years old!) was approaching the Milwaukee runway, maybe at about 1000 feet altitude (don’t hold me to that – I really can’t tell) when all of a sudden the engines surged and we went back up. What the heck?!?

The pilot announced that we shouldn’t worry, the weather was fine for landing and we didn’t have any problems. It was just that a Cessna had taken off right in front of us as we were on the final approach. “Oh jeez”, I’m thinking, that’s not supposed to happen at large commercial airports, is it?” So we go around again, approach again, and this time we land without incident. Whew!

I disembark, walk another few miles to baggage claim to retrieve a large duffle bag full of winter clothes that I’m leaving here in Wisconsin for migration, and hail a taxi to head for the ferry dock.

As the taxi turned into the ferry terminal driveway, I texted Heather that I was just arriving at the dock. She immediately texted back “Me too”. I looked up and there was the ferry just approaching the dock.

Can you believe that, after all THAT, we both arrived there at exactly the same time?!?!

The rest of the trip to Princeton was without incident and Joe, Caleb, Heather, and I enjoyed some delicious chicken wings and blue cheese potato chips in Green Lake, followed by an early bedtime since we were both exhausted from our separate, very trying, travel experiences.

Like I said… all’s well that ends well!



The 2014 Whooping Crane Festival is just around the corner, and with it comes one of OM’s most exciting fundraising campaigns, our annual auction. This year we are pleased to announce that the auction will be held in multiple formats – online, silent, and LIVE!  Yes, at the Crane Festival dinner we will conduct a live auction featuring a small number of super-special items. And because we know that not everyone can attend the festival in Wisconsin, we will also conduct an online auction using Facebook.

I’m thrilled to have a great auction committee, made up of Maureen Ellison, Jenny Gibbs, Nancy Kargel, Laura Rowan, Lori Verhagen, and Sherry Wynn.  Maureen is from Princeton, WI, ground zero for this year’s Crane Festival. Nancy is also from Wisconsin. Jenny is from Maryland, Lori is from New Jersey, but originally hails from Wisconsin, Laura and Sherry are from Illinois, and I (Jo-Anne Bellemer) am from Rhode Island. Rounding out the committee is our OM liaison, Heather Ray, who, as you know, resides in Ontario.  Have we got our geographical bases covered or what?!?

You don’t have to be on the committee to help make our auctions successful – 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 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 committee will determine which auction it best suits, and it will be assigned accordingly. No single item will appear in multiple auctions, and the 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 (live or silent) so that it can travel home safely with the winning bidder.

The committee also reserves the right to limit the number of items in certain categories. We believe that if we receive too many of certain types of items (e.g. framed photography), then none of them will receive as much attention as they deserve. If this happens, the committee will either donate it to a worthy organization in the Princeton area, or will return it to you – you decide!

If you come up with businesses that might be interesting in making a donation, email the information to me at jbellemer(AT), 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.

WHAT IF MY ITEM IS TOO BIG AND BULKY TO MAIL OR SHIP TO PRINCETON? CAN I MAKE OTHER ARRANGEMENTS? Yes! Given the geographic spread of Craniacs attending the Whooping Crane Festival, there’s a good chance that we can arrange to have your item picked up and driven to Wisconsin. Just contact me at jbellemer(AT) and we’ll figure something out.

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 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 possible.

WHAT IS THE CUTOFF DATE FOR SENDING IN MY ITEM?  Our cutoff for receiving items is August 8th. 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 8th!

WHEN ARE THE AUCTIONS?  The Whooping Crane festival will be held the weekend of September 13th, 2014. There will be a dinner on Friday night, 9/12, at which there will be both a silent and live auction, each featuring a small number of items. On Saturday, at the festival, there will be a large silent auction. The online (FaceBook) auction will open on 9/2 and close on 9/26.

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 donate the item to a worthy charitable organization in the Princeton, WI area.

Any other questions can be emailed to JBellemer(AT)

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