FESTIVAL is FAST Approaching!

2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 7th with a fun Paint your own Sign night at the VFW Lodge in Princeton! This is a new event that we’ve just added as a way to get reacquainted with festival friends. Our instructor will have all the prep work done so all we have to do is have an adult beverage and use the stencils, paints and boards provided to create your own keepsake.

The next day features a field trip to nearby Marsh Haven Nature Center near Horicon Marsh. Your trip will include a presentation about Birds, Butterflies and Your Backyard followed by lunch and a boardwalk stroll. Bus transportation to/from is provided.

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff. 

Saturday, Sept. 9th 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. 

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

NEW this year! We’re thrilled to offer a Nature Photography Workshop! 

Love taking photos of birds? Butterflies? Flowers? Mystified by the camera settings? This workshop is for you! Check out the details and register here. Space is limited.

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 silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

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 win back the title from team Chix’s Chicks? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 10, 2017 – we hope to see you there!

“I lost my phone”!

God created the earth and everything on it in six days. On the seventh day he stopped to rest. Not because he was tired, but because he lost his cellphone. It was a problem. When you’re God, it’s more than a little embarrassing to have to yell down, “Hey Adam. Do me a favor and call my cell phone. I lost it!”  Especially when you know the only answer you’re going to get is, “What’s a cellphone?” And so began mankind’s universal journey of frustration that continues to this day. Or at least until Monday… when Colleen lost her phone in the marsh.

The day began as most days here do…. as we walked the birds to a new “foraging destination” Joe had mowed a few days before. I was watching the birds as they madly probed the wetland for each and every “beakable” item waiting just beneath the surface when I noticed Joe and Colleen suddenly doing the same thing… only with their arms.

Then, as their speed increased from 45 to 78 rpm, they began to resemble a couple of costumed cardiac patients digging in a swamp for their pacemakers as if their lives depended on it. A new training protocol, I wondered? Or was this the beginning of some kind of twisted reality show. You have to remember, people in costumes can look pretty funny doing just about anything, no matter how many years you’ve been watching them.

Finally, I just couldn’t stand it anymore and walked over to Joe. “What are you doing?” I asked.  “Colleen lost her cellphone,” he replied. “She fell in the water and it popped out of her costume pocket.” This came as a surprise because I hadn’t seen her fall. But then I rarely do because she has become so skilled at the art of “face plant recovery” that most times it all happens so fast you don’t even see it. Like staring at a hummingbird in flight and trying to see its wings. In fact, the only way I know it’s just happened is because the chicks suddenly all line up like Olympic judges, holding up large scoring cards with big numbers on them.  I joined in the search, but as usual was not much help.

“Can’t we call Jacques Cousteau to come take a look?” Colleen asked. “Nope” I replied. “He and his narrator, Rod Serling, are already busy working on another project; “Eternal Decompression.”

We walked the birds back to the pen while Colleen quietly sang the “Wizard of Oz” song, “If I Only Had a…. Phone.” Then it was back to the parking lot to regroup. At a time like this, who you going to call? Not “Ghost Busters” because the marsh isn’t haunted. No. You call “Detector Man”!  That’s who.  Now, it just so happened I had recently purchased a brand new metal detector. “Plan for your retirement now!” the TV financial guru demanded. “Social Security is not going to be there when you need it. Neither is healthcare.” So… I bought a metal detector. It’s better than a Swiss Bank Account. No account number to forget. And besides, what better way to spend your “Golden Years” than sweeping deserted beaches, metal detector in one hand, beverage in the other, for its hidden treasure of pop tops and thin dimes… the very cornerstones of any financial retirement plan. Those things add up… and pennies really do make dollars. And no Tax Man.

We sped back to camp, retrieved the metal detector from the locked bank vault and returned to the “Accident Scene.” As we walked past the pen, I heard #1 say to #4. “Looks like he’s practicing for retirement.” With shaking hands, I adjusted the detector settings to “She Dropped Her Cellphone” as the metal detector barked to life and the search began. It wasn’t too many sweeps later that the detector began to scream, prompting me to dig way down until my fingers hit the jackpot.  “Got it!” I whispered as I yanked it up and excitedly cleaned it off for inspection. But as with so much of the rest of life, the thrill of victory quickly morphed into the agony of defeat as we confronted the new reality that Colleen had become the proud new owner of a… PAPER WEIGHT. 

“Can you call it to see if it still works?” Colleen asked.

“Better not.” I replied. “We don’t want to disturb the little fish swimming on the other side of the screen, unless of course you’ve got it on “Aquarium App.”

It was then we heard the voice from above call down, “The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away. That is why I created INSURANCE.”

Less than 24 hours later, our good friend Jerry from the Refuge stopped us on the road and passed a just delivered box through the van window. “Your new phone,” he said smiling.  Colleen proceeded to tear open the box with all the calm delicacy of a hungry lion devouring a gazelle… and there it was.  The new phone. She stared at it as if it was a winning lottery ticket. Then her joyful expression quickly faded to confusion and suspicion. “This phone is from a different manufacturer,” she said.

“What manufacturer?” I asked.

“Chicken of the Sea!”

Nice to know the “Man Upstairs” hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

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EMP Whooping Crane Update

August, 3, 2017 – Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month, we have been monitoring wild-hatched chicks, and most adults have stayed in their summer locations. One of the wild-hatched chicks has fledged and another is close to fledging. A huge thank-you to the staff of Operation Migration, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, 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 95 (43 F, 50 M, 2 U). This does not include 2017 wild-hatched chicks. As of 1 August, at least 85 Whooping Cranes have been confirmed in Wisconsin, 1 in South Dakota, 2 in North Dakota, 1 in Michigan, and 1 in Kentucky. The remaining birds’ locations have not been reported during July. See map below.

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

There are currently two wild-hatched chicks alive in Wisconsin. 

W3_17 hatched ~4 May to parents 42-09/24-09 in Adams Co, WI. W3_17 has fledged and has been seen flying with its parents.

W7_17 hatched ~30 May to parents 14-08/24-08 in Juneau Co, WI.

Parent-Reared 2016 Cohort

29_16 (M) and 39_16 (M) spent all of July in Ward County, North Dakota.

30_16 (M) is still in Green Lake Co, WI with 5_12 (M).

31_16 (M) spent all of July in Winnebago Co, WI.

33_16 (F) moved from Murray Co, MN to Day Co, SD, where she is currently.

69_16 (F) moved from Fond du Lac County, WI down to Jefferson Co, WI. She also has separated from 65_15 (F).

70_16 (M) is still in Knox County, KY.

71_16 (F) spent all of July in Winnebago Co, WI.

Mortality

20_14 (F) was found dead on 3 July 2017 at Necedah NWR. Predation is the suspected cause of mortality. 20_14’s chick (W15_17) was seen with mate 37_07 after 20_14’s death, but was then also lost likely to predation (see above).  

16_02 (M) was last seen on 21 July 2017. His carcass was recovered on 28 July 2017. The cause of death remains unknown, but there may be some indication of predation.

UAS’s By Any Other Name

The other day I was looking at my old dictionary. You know, that ten-pound textbook that’s been collecting dust since spell checker took over. It’s interesting that the last few pages list a small collection of acronyms and a few examples of initialism. They referenced agencies like NATO and the FBI but not much else.  If there were ever again a need for printed dictionaries, I would guess that back page section would now take up more space than the A to Z entries.

For years, the computer tech industry has been talking about USBs, Jpgs and a million other abbreviations. And now that we do a lot of writing with our thumbs, even common phases have been shortened to LOL or OMG.  With every new software update, my phone seems to acquire more emoticons so it’s almost as if we are slowly moving back to hieroglyphics. If you can’t think of a snappy response, you simply pick one of those odd happy face characters and let your audience draw their own conclusions. Instead of Instagram, it will soon be pictogram.

Initialism is alive and well in the aviation industry with GPS and ADS-B and is now taking over the nascent drone business. In fact, they are not even called drones anymore. Instead, they are officially UAS or unmanned aircraft systems.

We bought a UAS a year ago, thinking it would be a good way to actually see reclusive birds that are hiding deep in the marsh instead of just listening to that incessant beep on the radio receiver.  Many of the cranes have non-functional transmitters because they only last two or three years. With luck, at least one of the pair has a working unit so we can assume they are together but we can’t be sure. Getting some airborne video helps us confirm they are still safe.

Drones have acquired a reputation as spy devices likely because of their military applications and the rules governing the civilian use of UAS’s are not really understood. Many people assume that a drone flying overhead is up to no good and an invasion of their private property. However, property rights only apply to the surface. Anything above that is part of the NAS or National Airspace and under the jurisdiction of the FAA.

Certainly, a landowner can prohibit a UAS from taking off or landing on private property but flying overhead is legal, providing you follow all the other rules. Drones are not allowed to fly anywhere near an airport and can’t fly too close to people or buildings or above 400 feet. But just like airplanes are allowed to fly low over unpopulated areas, so too can drones.

Still for many people, a drone flying over their property is a hot button and there is a big difference between what is legal and what’s acceptable in a rural setting. To avoid insurance issues and wildlife disturbance concerns many public lands, both state and federal, are no fly zones, which actually means no takeoff or landing zone.

Over 700,000 drones were registered in 2016 and that number is expected to reach 2.4 million by 2020. The FAA has a monumental task trying to find a balance between a rapidly growing UAS market and privacy concerns of the public. We as a society, have learned to live with the fact that we are on camera a dozen times a day as we shop or go to work but most people expect that to end once you are on your own property. 

So for now, our drone isn’t as useful as we had hoped. We do get to fly it with permission and we have found cranes using its high definition camera but annoying local property owners is not worth the return.

Here’s a clip from last October captured by our drone. Can you spot the whoopers?

(You can go fullscreen using the [ ] icon bottom right hand side below the video)

Have you Registered Yet?

2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 7th with a fun Paint your own Sign night at the VFW Lodge in Princeton! This is a new event that we’ve just added as a way to get reacquainted with festival friends. Our instructor will have all the prep work done so all we have to do is have an adult beverage and use the stencils, paints and boards provided to create your own keepsake.

The next day features a field trip to nearby Marsh Haven Nature Center near Horicon Marsh. Your trip will include a presentation about Birds, Butterflies and Your Backyard followed by lunch and a boardwalk stroll. Bus transportation to/from is provided.

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff. 

Saturday, Sept. 9th 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. 

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

NEW this year! We’re thrilled to offer a Nature Photography Workshop! 

Love taking photos of birds? Butterflies? Flowers? Mystified by the camera settings? This workshop is for you! Check out the details and register here. Space is limited.

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 silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

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 win back the title from team Chix’s Chicks? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 10, 2017 – we hope to see you there!

A Day at the Beach

“Which way to the Beach”? Number 1-17 inquired as we entered the pen a couple of mornings ago. It was the very same question mankind has been asking ever since our ancient ancestors first crawled out of the sea half a gazillion years ago. It just so happened we had spent the last couple of days mowing and weed eating a really nice “beach” next to a big, beautiful pond north of the pen.  It wasn’t the Jersey Shore, but it would do.

Colleen flung open the pen door and off we went… to the beach. “Should I bring my pail and shovel”, #7-17 asked?  “Nope”, Colleen replied. “Just make sure you go to the bathroom before we leave… cuz we’re Not Stopping”!

Years of scientific research and study by some of the government’s most famous and revered biologists has proven that if you want to see a whooper chick’s eyes widen to twice their normal size, take them to the beach. Our little adventurers were suddenly all eyeballs as the sights and sounds of a new world began their assault. But their trust in the two white big birds leading them held firm as we traveled over the freshly cut grass path towards the most famous of nature’s amusement parks. 

“Are we there yet,” #2-17 asked?

“Just cool your jets, little lady,” Colleen replied. “It’s all about the journey. Not the destination. And besides, anticipation is 90% of the fun anyway.”

And soon we were there. The beach! It lay before us in panorama. An Eden without the snake. A Lost World minus the Lost. A wide swath of heaven, where the land kissed the sea… ah, the pond, and where the sand had magically turned to soft, freshly cut vegetation. The sun shone down with a benevolent light that animated every tree, flower and blade of grass while the pond returned exact images of our dazed little wanderers in reflection. There was no boardwalk or life guard or Beach Closed Due To Pollution sign. But then beaches are like snowflakes… every one’s different. And it’s all about perception anyway.

“I feel dizzy!” #4-17 commented.  “Maybe we shouldn’t drink the water.”

“It’s not the water,” #3-17 replied. “It’s the cotton candy.”

“Surf’s Up!” shouted #3-17 as the water rose around his hocks.

And so began a very special time. First times are always special, but especially for whooper chicks. And their days are full of them. Each one is met with the same intense, wide-eyed sense of wonder that must be at least partially digested before going on to the next. Within the context of this very new place, the dragonfly, the frog, the snail become new worlds to discover… and conquer.

And for Colleen and I, it is a place of privilege. Watching all of this magic unfold through the thin lens of our costume helmet was like sitting in a blind observing the first day of Creation. Almost overwhelming! But that’s a story for another day.

The minutes passed at warp speed as the beach provided its dose of “experiential shock and awe.” But sadly, life is on a timer… and ours’ began its all too familiar beep. And anyway, the chicks were tiring out from the sensory overload. Fortunately for everything that walks, flies or crawls, there can be too much of a good thing. Good things, after all, do get tiring… and sensing its approach is the most important of our seven senses. Just think of all the aspiring actors whose careers failed because they were never quite able to leave the stage.

“Time to head home,” Colleen announced. “Remember. School tomorrow.”

With juvenile reluctance, the chicks dutifully collected themselves up. “Don’t forget to pick up your trash,” #4-17 said. “We don’t want to give them an excuse not to bring us back here again.”

Six chicks followed Colleen down the path, as #1-17 and I lagged behind, bringing up the rear.

“So… what did you think?” I asked #1.

He paused for a moment in deep reflection, then looked up at me and replied, “Life’s a Beach and then… you Fly.”

Right On, little fellow. Right On.

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Caestecker Library Presentation

If you’re in the area, why not drop by the Caestecker Library in beautiful Green Lake, Wisconsin this Thursday evening to hear Operation Migration’s CEO, Joe Duff give an informative talk and photographic presentation about our continuing work with Whooping cranes?

Time: 6:30 – 8pm   |  Location: 518 Hill St. Green Lake, Wisconsin.

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Visit the Viewing Blind

Now’s your chance to visit the viewing blind at White River Marsh!

The blind is located close to the pensite where there are currently seven young-of-year whooping cranes being costumed reared in preparation for release in just a few weeks.

You can visit the blind on Thursday mornings by contacting Doug Pellerin at 920-923-0016 – Don’t forget your camera!

Here are some photos taken last Thursday by Mako Pellerin: 

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Time to Pill the Cranes

Over the course of the summer, the cranes need de-worming so the ICF medical team measures out the dosage and provides us with a schedule. It all sounds easy but nothing involving Whooping cranes is ever simple.  

They gobble down grapes when we offer them as treats so adding medication to a recognized food source seems logical, except each bird has its own dosage and it doesn’t work if number 2 gets number 3’s pill. As soon as a grape magically appears on the end of a puppet beak, they all run to get it first. Even if you manage to get it to the correct bird, it seems to be fair game until it is finally swallowed. In fact, a grape can change hands (or beaks) up to four times before one of them actually eats it.

Problem two is getting the medication into the grape. A 3/8’s drill bit, twisted by hand into the grape makes a clean cavity for an over-sized capsule.

Problem three is that each bird gets three large, full capsules plus one more that’s partially filled. Problem four is that gelatin capsules dissolve quickly in wet grapes, so if the birds won’t take them today, they won’t keep until tomorrow.

Problem five is that they are on to us. They know the grapes that are medicated from the grapes that are not and I have no idea how. In fact, that brings up a question I have been asking for years. It’s one of those niggling curiosities that makes you wonder, but never comes to mind when there is someone around who could provide an answer. How do cranes know that whatever they find in the mud is edible simply by holding it at the end of their long beaks? The morsels they dig up are either discarded or tossed back and swallowed. And it seems their decisions are always correct because you rarely see them spit it back out. So what sensory system works at the end of chopstick-like beaks?

At roost checks Friday evening, the birds were reluctant to take treats. That could have to do with timing. They may have just finished filling up at the feeders before we arrived. So we decided to wait until after they flew yesterday when they expect something tasty. Problem six: You may have noticed that the grass on the runway has been mowed recently and that left a lot of cuttings, so much so that we could almost use a hay baler. Damp grapes dropped in the grass are covered in straw when they are retrieved and are no longer appetizing. Instead of eating them, the chicks poke and prod until the pill pops out or the capsule ruptures and white power sprinkles out like contraband. 

We also tried some baitfish minnows but first they must learn that fish are edible. They run around with their prize flopping in their beak, attracting the envy of all the others who give chase. Who knows which crane will end up with the fish and that breaks all the rules of dispensing drugs.

All but two birds have now received a full dosage. After all of our discussions and brain storming, the next time we toss them a grape laced with medication, it may all fall into place. The backs of all the other birds may be turned so only the target chick sees the proffered grape. The grass cuttings may have blown away, the grape will stay clean and down it will go with no trouble at all. Or not.

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Site Maintenance

In preparation for the arrival of the young whooping cranes in late June, Wisconsin DNR star Jerry Reetz mowed several paths in and around the crane enclosure. 

One went to the north off the end of the former runway. Another went west and yet another was cut heading to the east or behind the viewing blind.

Anyone living in Wisconsin is aware this has been a rather wet spring/summer so the paths that Jerry mowed have grown over – with gusto! On Monday Brooke, Colleen and Joe attempted to lead the birds to a small pond located northwest of the crane enclosure. 

Once beyond the small treeline and out of site, they encountered shoulder-height grass – not something you want to lead cranes through so they reversed course and spent an hour or so poking around in the water just west of the pen.

On Tuesday, Joe rented a bush hog mower so that he could give the paths another haircut but very early Tuesday, Brooke snuck out with the weed whacker and began cutting the shoulder-height grasses to create a wide path to the pond at the end of the path.

As daylight dawned, the three costumes led the seven young crane colts along the new path to the pond. While Colleen and Brooke poked and prodded with them in the pond and surrounding area for more than 2 hours, Joe cut grass. Lots and lots of grass. 

Here are a couple of photos that Colleen captured during their outing.

Number 3-17 watches something overhead. Photo: Colleen Chase

Register Now – CraneFest 2017!

2017 Whooping Crane Festival in Princeton, Wisconsin

The festival takes place the second weekend in September with activities getting underway Thursday, Sept. 7th with a fun Paint your own Sign night at the VFW Lodge in Princeton! This is a new event that we’ve just added as a way to get reacquainted with festival friends. Our instructor will have all the prep work done so all we have to do is have an adult beverage and use the stencils, paints and boards provided to create your own keepsake.

The next day features a field trip to nearby Marsh Haven Nature Center near Horicon Marsh. Your trip will include a presentation about Birds, Butterflies and Your Backyard followed by lunch and a boardwalk stroll. Bus transportation to/from is provided.

Friday evening the festival kick-off dinner gets underway at 6pm at the American Legion Post 306 in Green Lake, Wisconsin. We’ll have a fantastic buffet dinner, followed by a presentation by Operation Migration’s CEO Joe Duff. 

Saturday, Sept. 9th 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. 

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

NEW this year! We’re thrilled to offer a Nature Photography Workshop! 

Love taking photos of birds? Butterflies? Flowers? Mystified by the camera settings? This workshop is for you! Check out the details and register here. Space is limited.

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 silent auction items lining the school hallways! (Winning bids will be announced at 2:30pm).

The Vendors Marketplace will open at 8am and what a great opportunity to support local artisans and get your holiday shopping started! If you’re a vendor and would like to reserve a booth, we still have a few spaces left but you had better hurry. Please email: cranefestival@operationmigration.org

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 win back the title from team Chix’s Chicks? Beforehand, we’ll relax and enjoy pizza, pasta and salad from Christiano’s.

Be sure to pre-register for this as space is limited.

CHECK out all the events taking place in and around beautiful Princeton, Wisconsin during the Whooping Crane Festival – September 7 – 10, 2017 – we hope to see you there!

The Newbie

Forest Gump’s analogy about his box of chocolates could easily be applied to Whooping cranes. You never know what you are going to get. There are a million variations in domestic cats and dogs but species that are more purebred like most wild animals, appear to be duplicates of each other. All Blue jays look pretty much the same and so do Whooping cranes. So it’s easy to think that homogeneity applies to personality as well as to their appearance. Not so.

One of the definitions of an animal is a consistent response to a specific stimulus so we don’t see radical behavior shifts in animals like we do in some of our friends. Number 2-17 isn’t going to show up one day in leather pants and a Ferrari that she can’t afford, just because she turned 45. That special kind of stupid is reserved for humans.

All Whooping cranes behave mostly the same. They all fly, poke around in the mud and sleep standing up in water, but the similarity stops there. Each bird is an individual and if you are lucky enough to wear a costume and willing to stop talking, you get to introduce yourself as one of their own kind.  It is a rare opportunity to meet a Whooping crane in person. I don’t mean a chance encounter on a wetland trail or the close-up view you get through a spotting scope. I mean to be part of their cohort, to forage in the mud and learn that number 7-17 likes her grapes split open and easier to swallow. Despite their monomorphic appearance, each one with the same shape and color, they can recognize each other, just as they can distinguish between our similar, but distinctive costumes. I was only here for a day or two when they first arrived a month ago, so when I showed back up on Wednesday, I was a new guy and not necessarily welcome.

Being the newbie usually isn’t so bad. The most dominant bird will generally confront you once or twice to see where you fit into their social structure but the 2017 cohort is a tough crowd. The only two that didn’t pick a fight with me yesterday were six and seven and even they were sizing me up. Interaction with dominant birds is a lot like jousting in the corridors of high school; it starts with a lot of squaring off and posturing. These birds are too young to have developed a red patch on the top of their heads that displays irritation, but still, they strut back and forth with their necks arched. They’re like twelve-year-old’s in grade school with their sleeves rolled up to show muscles still waiting for puberty.

The challenging birds will stamp their feet, drop their wings or pretend to preen their leg bands all in an effort to warn me to keep my distance. If I were dealing with wild birds, I would mimic that behavior to convey the message that I was ready to stand my ground. But these are chicks testing their limits and learning about hierarchy. So instead, I don’t provoke a fight but rebuff their attacks. Normally, you can stare them down with a puppet held over their heads but these birds will move in for the attack. They open their wings and jab with their beaks. You can gently push back with the puppet but a couple of times I had to restrain the most aggressive among them. One simple way is to make a loop with your thumb and index finger around their neck and hold it down. The loop is bigger around than their neck so no damage is done or even feathers ruffled. Holding their head down is like pinning a human opponent. It doesn’t cause injury but limits their options. Once they calm slightly and re-fold their wings, I let go. That is a tactic that only works with young birds and only if your fingers are long enough not to be squeezing their neck. 

It is interesting to speculate on why these birds are more aggressive to the costume than any other cohort I have encountered. Maybe it is because at Patuxent they were not taken out individually to exercise with the loud and frightening trike. Maybe that early morning one-on-one adventure into the great unknown was enough to cement the costume in the most dominant position. Or maybe it is because none of us wants to start a fight with a critically endangered Whooping crane. It is far easier to turn our back and walk away. To us that is a simple way to avoid a confrontation but to them, it’s a sign of weakness. We backed down and that’s as good as a win. And maybe all the other birds were watching and wondering if they too should test our authority. 

Over the last few days, I have stood my ground and pushed back often enough to let them know I am not an easy mark, so things have settled down. I can still see the odd confrontation brewing but it is easily deferred without losing face.

Costumed Joe with this year’s cohort. Photo: Colleen Chase

At one point yesterday morning, the birds were all together eating mealworms at our feet when number 2 strutted by in front of me. I could see her puff up as she passed, but then she reconsidered and kept walking. Aha I thought, we’re making progress on our friendship. But just then, number 4 poked her in the butt and quickly turned away. Number 2 snapped around and looked straight at me like I was the culprit. She was mad and I even caught myself holding up my costumed hand as if to say “WAIT, it wasn’t me” while I pointed my puppet at the quickly retreating number 4. I don’t think she bought it and she stood tall ready to take me on. I was laughing so hard at both number 4’s tactic and my reaction that I had to turn my back and walk away. In hindsight, I think I was set up and it was all part of a plan to get the newbie.  

Adult Cranes in Green Lake County?

We’ve been getting a number of questions about the number of adult Whooping cranes located at White River Marsh.

I have to keep reminding myself that just because I respond to a question on the chat, which accompanies the live stream, not everyone reads/see it, so here you go.

Currently there are eight whoopers located in and around White River Marsh in Green Lake County. They include: 3-14/4-12 (The Royal Couple), 5-12 & 30-16, 4-13 & 10-15, and 4-14 (Peanut) and 11-15. 

Some are wondering why we’ve not seen them at the site where the modified costume reared young cranes are. The easy answer is that they’re birds and they fly around and don’t have to keep a schedule.

The more complicated response is that it’s molt time. Whooping cranes molt every couple of years – this means they lose all flight feathers, along with the ability to fly and are essentially grounded until the new feathers grow back. The timing of this is usually when they have young (flightless) chicks to tend to and to protect.

Here’s a recent photo of whooping crane #14-12 in Michigan. As you can see he is currently waiting for his feathers to return.

Male Whooping crane #14-12. Doesn’t he look odd with no black feathers? Photo: Andrew Simon

We did see the two young males, 4-14 and 11-15 at the north end of the runway the day after the CraneCam began streaming but as far as we know, they are the only two that have dropped by.

If it’s any consolation, we did hear a pair unison calling very early this morning.

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Photos!

Brooke shared the following photos he captured this week of the whooping crane cohort currently being raised at White River Marsh in Green Lake County, Wisconsin.

If you’d like to arrange to visit the viewing blind, which is open on Thursdays, give Doug Pellerin a call to check for availability and to reserve your spot. 920-923-0016.

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They Can FLY!

And fly they did yesterday morning!

All seven of the modified costume reared whooping cranes can now fly, at least the length of the grass strip which used to serve as a runway and at most a couple of circuits. 

Some of their landings are less than graceful but they take off with such exuberance, you can’t help but smile. 

If you want to watch for yourself, tune in at roughly 6:30 am CT and watch the action LIVE. Here’s a link to the CraneCam

Yesterday’s outing lasted just under 90 minutes and they explored, flew, foraged, poked, prodded and played with a rather large snake skin. (personally, I’m thrilled it was empty).

Here’s a photo of our eldest crane this year, number 1-17 checking out the snake skin, which was, at first, in the tall grass adjacent the wet area.

Photo: CraneCam grab

And here’s the actual snake skin

Photo: Colleen Chase, snake wrangler

It was really interesting watching the various reactions of each crane colt when they approached the skin. Number 1-17, a dominant male was very apprehensive. He poked and pecked but jumped back each time he made contact.

Next up was Mr. Pokey, Number 3-17. The watchdog of the flock – he grabbed it, without hesitation and shook it violently. He also quickly lost interest.

Whooping crane #3-17 checks out the snake skin

Finally, The other male, number 4-17. (Don’t tell anyone but this guy is my favorite). I love how he acts on impulse and then considers the consequences with an almost “oh crap, now what” attitude. He too, grabbed the snake skin and actually carried it briefly before tossing it aside and moving on the something else. 

(hmmm, it just occurred to me that the only three cranes to actually investigate the snake skin were males!)

You really should try to watch today if you can! They’re maturing and changing so quickly!

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