Anger, Frustration, Impotence.

How do I describe the emotions I felt over the past two years. Every time I visited the Operation Migration website I was met with another horrid headline:

TWO WHOOPING CRANES SHOT IN LOUISIANA.

ONE WHOOPING CRANE SHOT DEAD IN TENNESSEE.

WHOOPING CRANE FOUND DEAD, SUSPECTED FOUL PLAY.

I can only imagine the heartbreak of everyone who’s worked and donated towards the introduction of the eastern flock. I couldn’t help the waves of hopelessness that washed over me.

“Whats the point? People are idiots. There’s no chance for this flock if the mentality of so many doesn’t change.”

To call these events frustrating is the understatement of the project. When so many of us give so much and pour so many hours of our lives into a single bird only for some troglodyte to kill it is…disheartening to say the least.

I couldn’t help thinking of Sisyphus, the Greek king. In the mythology Sisyphus is punished for eternity by rolling a boulder uphill. Only for the boulder to come tumbling down upon reaching the summit. Those in WCEP invest months of the year, hours of frustration and buckets of sweat into each and every bird. After all this, we still have to be slapped in the face with headlines of dead Whoopers.

All spring, summer and fall those involved are rolling the birds’ survival uphill. And every time we lose one it feels like the boulder, like an inevitable tide of ignorance, comes tumbling down on us.

Unlike the mythology however, I believe we will eventually get that boulder rolling uphill and over the summit. A self sustaining flock is possible, even with all the aggression the birds encounter from faceless individuals. I believe this because I have seen and met so many of you that give so much of yourselves to the Whooping Crane project. I know there is a chance with so many of you supporting OM and WCEP.

Now that I got that out of my system. Its good to be back everyone. Im looking forward to introducing some new healthy Whoopers into the eastern flock this year and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of old friends.

Ed. Note: WELCOME BACK CALEB! We’re thrilled to work with you again!

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Auction Items Needed

Auction_form_header

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)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.

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)operationmigration.org 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)operationmigration.org.

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NEEDED – MILEMAKERS!

Each year we launch the MileMaker fundraising campaign – This very important campaign raises the funds necessary to carry out the 1200-mile aircraft-guided Whooping crane migration from Wisconsin to Florida each fall.

The way it works is quite simple — We have determined that each mile of the 1200-mile southward migration has a cost of $200 associated with it. This covers insurance, fuel and maintenance costs for the ground vehicles and aircraft, food for the cranes and the crew, any repairs or maintenance required for the crane enclosures, etc.

By far, the MileMaker Campaign funds the largest portion of our annual budget and is critical to the success of our annual crane migration.

Even though the Class of 2014 Whooper chicks have yet to begin hatching, we must begin to fundraise for their upcoming migration. Currently, only 112 miles of the 1200 mile trek are sponsored, so we have a long way to go. Please consider becoming a MileMaker sponsor and help us help the Class of 2014.

You have the choice of sponsoring a full mile ($200), a half mile ($100) or even a quarter mile ($50). In addition to helping these young Whooping cranes, your name will be entered into a draw for an incredible thank you gift, which will be held at the end of the campaign on December 31st or when all 1200 miles are sponsored. If your name is drawn you will receive a two-week stay at a private home in beautiful Costa Rica!

Sponsor a full mile and you get four entries into the Costa Rica trip – sponsor a half mile and you get two – and quarter mile sponsors receive one entry into the draw.

We’ll also list your support on the MileMaker recognition page so everyone will see your support of Whooping cranes.

As an added bonus, all MileMaker supporters will receive a secret link to a selection of monthly E-calendar images for your PC desktop. Download all of the images at once, or return each month for your new photo! Here are a couple of the monthly calendar images:

Aug14_th Sept14_th February 2015

It’s the start of a new Whooping crane season! will you help?

 

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WHOOPING CRANE FESTIVAL 2014

MARK YOUR CALENDARS!

And 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!

 

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The FAA

I know a seasoned airline pilot who once told me that the acronym FAA stood for the Federation for the Abolishment of Aviation. I guess when you are the federal agency responsible for an industry that transports millions of people at 400 miles per hour and at 35,000 feet, you have to impose some strict rules that require expensive and time consuming compliance.

That draws lots of criticism from the aircraft owners and operators who must abide by those regulations. In fact, is it hard to find anyone with good things to say about the FAA but Operation Migration is a grateful exception to that rule. When the FAA instituted the Light Sport Aircraft rules, their intent was to create a category of aircraft registration and pilot licensing that was easier, and less expensive to navigate. The LSA rules were designed strictly for recreation with no commercial application.

They can’t be used by companies as an inexpensive alternative to helicopters for inspective pipe lines or power grids. It is not legal for employees to use them for small crop dusting jobs, checking on the cattle in the back forty or selling rides at tourist attractions. For valid safety reasons, those jobs are restricted to certified aircraft and commercial pilots. The only exception to that rule is to accommodate instructors. That means that the only people allowed to charge a fee for flying a Light Sport Aircraft are the people who teach you how to fly it. To add an extra degree of safety to that exception, the FAA allowed for Special, Light Sport Aircraft which are made to an approved manufacturer’s standard and must be maintained by an FAA approved mechanic instead of the aircraft pilot or owner.

The FAA granted OM an exemption because their commercial licensing program does not have a category for pilots who fly weight shift control like the systems used on our trikes. Also because they felt it was to the benefit of the American People to let us continue to introduce Whooping cranes. The original exemption they granted us was in affect for 2 years. In that time they asked us to upgrade our credentials from LSA certificates to private licences, which we did. They also wanted us to upgrade our trikes from Light Sport Aircraft to Special Light Sport Aircraft. They knew that would take some design work and money so they gave us the two years to comply.

I have been working closely with Kamron Blevins, owner and designer of North Wing Aviation in Washington State. He has modified his Apache trike design to fit our needs. Richard van Heuvelen created prop guards to fit the different frame style and FoxPro High Performance Game Calls of Lewiston, PA developed and donated custom amplifier systems to broadcast the crane call. I will be driving out to Washington in June to help with the final assembly of the trikes. Kamron will test fly the wings and tweak them for slow flight and the FAA will do the required safety inspection.

With all of this underway and the breeding season gearing up, the FAA came through for us again. They issued an exemption to the flying-for-hire rule, allowing us to continue, yet ensuring we are doing it as safely as possible. If you are interested in our application and the FAA ruling click here.

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REUNITED…

Well well, looks like whooping cranes 4-12 & 5-12 have gotten over their disagreement. You may recall these two male cranes spent most of last summer in and around the White River Marsh training site and then both were waiting at the St. Marks NWR winter release pen in Florida when we arrived with the Class of 2013.

Early this spring, #4-12 chased his best buddy 5-12 off and migrated back to Wisconsin solo. Since then both have been spending time separately in the area surrounding White River Marsh.

Doug Pellerin has been volunteering some time this spring tracking the returnees and spotted these two together again on Friday.

whooping cranes

Whooping cranes 4 & 5-12 spend time together in Green Lake County, WI

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CAPTION THIS… Results

When we combined the comments on the original post with those received on our Facebook post, we had more than 100 GREAT caption suggestions but in the end this pop culture classic was chosen. Thanks to everyone that played along!

Keep an eye on your mailbox George…

George Burton submitted the winning caption "OPPA GANGNAM STYLE"

George Burton submitted the winning caption “OPPA GANGNAM STYLE”

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Calling All Auction Item Donors!!!

Auction_form_header

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)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.

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)operationmigration.org 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)operationmigration.org.

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Caption This!

Photographer Gary Masemore of Wisconsin captured the following photo of DAR whooping crane 18-11 at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge earlier this week.

This photo is just begging for a caption - Include your suggested caption in the comments section (please keep it as clean as possible). On Monday we’ll select the best one, publish the results and send the winner some goodies!

What's your caption for this photo? List it in the comments below!

What’s your caption for this photo? List it in the comments below!

 

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Catching up with the Class of 2013

For the first few days after returning to White River Marsh SWA in Green Lake County, Wisconsin the six young whooping cranes continued to socialize as one group for a short time. Recently, however, cranes 7-13 & 8-13 have branched off on their own and have spent the past few days in Dodge County.

This leaves cranes 2-13, 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13 still in Green Lake County and yesterday while tracking these and other returnees, Doug Pellerin captured the following images to share with us.

From left to right: 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13

From left to right: 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13

Lift-off!

Lift-off!

After a short flight the trio landed and were joined by #2-13.

After a short flight the trio landed and were joined by #2-13.

No doubt this deer was curious about the large white cranes.

No doubt this deer was curious about the large white cranes.

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Magnificent Whooping Crane Month of May

The Friends of Patuxent invite you to celebrate the Whooping crane during Magnificent Whooping Crane Month. Admission is FREE and many fun, family activities will be taking place, including:

  • “Story Time” by author Mary Beth Mattison – May 3 at 1 PM; May 17 at 11 AM.
  • Tours of the Whooping Crane Observatory on Sundays from 1 PM to 2:30 PM. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Tiny Tots Programs – May 4 at 11:30; May 5 at 10:30. (Registration is required; call 301-497-5887 for reservations.)
  • Whooping Crane Puppet Shows on May 10 at 10 AM and 11:30.
  • Whooping Crane presentations by Dr. John French, Research Manager at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center – May 10; Brooke Pennypacker of Operation Migration – May 17, and Ken Lavish, Volunteer Crane Technician – May 31 (all at 1:30 PM).
  • Whooping Crane Migration Game – May 31 from 10 AM to 12 Noon.

Throughout the month of May: compare your height to that of a Whooping Crane, check out how these birds grow from an egg to an adult through photos, view fascinating videos about Whooping Cranes, and much more! CLICK to see entire calendar of activities!

Location: National Wildlife Visitor Center, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel, MD 20708, just off Powder Mill Road between the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Rt. 197, see detailed directions at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/patuxent/VClocation.html

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Don’t Forget Mom!

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, we want to let you know that we have some very special new items in our Marketplace.

An artist and author as well as an educator who focuses on healing practices, Georgia Lang Weithe creates unique one-of-a-kind and production art jewelry pieces. Operation Migration is carrying three special crane pieces that we’re sure you, or Mom will love!

Click the link below each image to jump to the appropriate item page.

This sterling silver flying crane pendant/chain retails for $35 + shipping.

This sterling silver flying crane pendant/chain retails for $35 + shipping. CLICK for details

Maybe Mom would prefer a brooch/pin? CLICK for details

Maybe Mom would prefer a brooch/pin? CLICK for details

This unique standing crane measures 1 ½ inches tall and 2 ¼ inches wide. Take a closer look at the body. It's made by pressing a Maple tree seed pod into the mold. CLICK for details.

This unique standing crane measures 1 ½ inches tall and 2 ¼ inches wide. Take a closer look at the body. It’s made by pressing a Maple tree seed pod into the mold. CLICK for details.

 

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Encore! Wakulla Wildlife Festival

Plans laid in February at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge WHO Festival hatched as OM  put on its WILD at the Wakulla Wildlife Festival on Saturday, April 19th.  What a happy way to celebrate Wakulla County’s new residents, the wild adult Whooping Cranes who chose to winter here this year!

Spirits were high in the 6:45 a.m. twilight as our feisty North Florida volunteers led by OM Board member Colleen Chase chugged coffee and a tasty breakfast at Savannah’s.  It was just 5 miles to the festival venue at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, a National Natural Landmark graced by one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, acres of canopied forest teeming with wildlife, and a Lodge built in 1937 that still serves guests in grand style year-round.

The Park and Festival staff bubbled southern hospitality and directed us to a spacious exhibition tent.  Colleen Chase, Claire Timm, Lynn Walsh (aka Maxgreenwing,) Karen Willes, and I scurried to set up educational displays alongside OM  merchandise and brochures under the tent to protect them from the intermittent drizzle, while Jim Young attached the OM banners to display frames.

Our first official visitor was Jeff Hugo, Park Facilitator for the fest, who gave us a hearty welcome!

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What a perfect location for the OM table, with a lovely view across the green where a parade of masked wildlife characters snaked among beekeepers, mullet-smokers, a blacksmith, and vintage tractors under the live oak trees.  Music wafted all day from local talent on the bandstand, and we were a short flap-hop away from the Festival’s delicious complimentary lunch.

Operation Migration’s magnet was the silent costumed Crane Handler (Jim or Colleen), who alternately crouched down to “feed” the chick model a plastic bug, or stood “watching” kids with the puppet head as they passed by.

Kids’ reactions to the costume are a hoot.  Little ones may zoom right up and hug or look underneath the billowing cloth, while others try to grab the puppet-head, and a few tentatively peek out from behind their parents’ legs.  But the box of crane food items draws them in, and next thing you know, they’re helping the ‘Tume feed colorful replica lizards, bugs, mice, and snakes to the chick model.  Or they pose for pictures next to the huge Whooping Crane cutout.

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Colleen explained to visitors why the costumed handler is silent and showed how each part of the costume helps in training chicks without imprinting them on humans.  Claire, Lynn, Karen, and I answered lots of questions and guided folks through the educational photo collages of:  Early Training at Patuxent, Flight Training in Wisconsin to follow OM’s ultralight aircraft, Migration to Florida, and  Wintering lessons taught to the young Whoopers at St .Marks NWR.

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Karen shared a new display about mated Whooping Cranes 11&15-09 who winter nearby in Leon County.  She patiently explained why humans must protect and respect these and all Whooping Cranes, giving them the distance they deserve to preserve their wildness and avoid habituation to humans.  Also prominent were signs deployed this winter to teach people not to intrude on the birds’ roost site.

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About half of our visitors first learned about Operation Migration and the Whooping Crane reintroduction at this festival.   Many were inspired enough to pick up some OM souvenirs and a brochure listing webpages to follow progress online.

Each of us visited other displays at this eclectic gathering of over 30 exhibitors plus vendors, wildlife and art shows, living history demonstrations, and reenactors.  Lynn took a glass-bottomed boat tour on her lunch break and excitedly shared a looooong list of wildlife she’d seen.

When drizzle slowed the flow of atendees, we visited with nearby tent-mates.  Mission San Luis reenactors learned that Whooping Cranes still lived freely in Florida when their site was established in 1656; Apalachee Audubon’s Kathleen Carr shared spring birding news; Park volunteers entertained kids with face-painting and mask-making; we met educators from the Tallahassee Museum and Wakulla Environmental Institute of Tallahassee Community College; and Florida Wild Mammal Association volunteer Nick Baldwin, a St. Marks Photo Club member, snapped photos of all the fun.

Among OM friends who stopped by were Jack Rudloe of the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab who supplies blue crabs for the young cranes overwintering at St. Marks NWR, and supporters from the St. Marks Refuge Association & Photo Club.  Oh, and did I mention the costumed cormorant who cuddled up to Colleen and OM’s ‘Tume?

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We also spoke with those whose passion is protecting wild Florida habitat – - so necessary for migratory and resident wildlife.  Among these were Wakulla Springs Alliance, Wakulla Wetlands Alliance, Friends of Wakulla Springs, Florida Trail Association-Apalachee Chapter, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Division of Forestry, Florida Native Plant Society, North American Butterfly Association, Pew Charitable Trusts, Sustainable Big Bend, and many others.

It was inspiring to interact with so many caring kids and families.  They give us hope that the next generations will carry forward the mission of Operation Migration and the many other organizations represented at this Festival.

We congratulate and thank Wakulla Springs State Park, the Friends of Wakulla Springs, and the many sponsors and volunteers who hosted this extraordinary event.  We felt honored to share OM’s mission  with so many new friends.  Thanks, also, to Paul & Betty Hamilton and Ken & Connie Clineman, St. Marks NWR volunteers who helped us with access to display materials.

And….. we invite you to come WHOOP it up at the next Wakulla Wildlife Festival!

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Ed. note: Huge thanks to the volunteers for organizing this event and to the photographers for capturing the day!

 

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Young Love – First Nest in White River Marsh!

During my sixteenth summer I worked for a youth program run by the Department of Lands and Forests here in Ontario, Canada.

Being a Junior Ranger was very popular and it was an achievement just to be accepted. It was a lot like a mini version of boot camp. Kids from all over the Province were shipped to parks and forest projects to spend the first summer away from home, building trails, thinning forests and controlling invasive plant species — even back them.

The team of pimple faced, testosterone raging, combatants — into which I fit well, spent our time at the end of a 25 mile logging road in a wilderness area of the boreal forest. We lived in tents, ate at a mess hall and spent our time thinning out poplar trees so the pines could grow and planting saplings by the thousands.

That is when I became familiar with blackflies. We worked in teams, all strung out in evenly spaced rows. Each of us carried a tray of tiny trees sprouting in little plastic tubes and a tool for punching a hole in the ground into which we dropped a tree and secured it with a well placed foot step. We marched in increments, across meadows, clear cut sites and forest fire burns. Much of it was low country and as we plodded along, we raised clouds of blackflies.

Mosquitoes are a nuisance but wearing nets and long sleeves takes care of most of them. Blackflies however, are evil. They are too tiny to swat except to brush away fifty or more at a time. They collect in the seams of your clothing and crawl under the layers to bite you behind the ears, in your hair line and all the places mosquitoes don’t seem to find. Annoying as mosquitoes are, they still delicately remove your blood through a built-in straw. Blackflies are like tiny, airborne piranha. They tear off a chuck and sit in a tree to eat it. In the end, you are left with tiny little scabs which bleed when you succumb to the intolerable itch.

According to Dr. Peter Adler of Clemson University and one of the world experts on blackflies, there are 254 recognized species in North America. At least three of them are known to target birds, and it seems that all three are present at Necedah.

When we battled blackflies in northern Ontario, we had jackets, hats, nets and several coats of citronella. Plus we had hands to brush them away and react to the worst of the itching. We were also driven by the false bravado of adolescence and the fear of being the first to wine about something as trivial as a bug.

The Whooping cranes however, lack any protection from insects that can burrow through their feathers. They sit on a nest in a blackfly paradise, day after day as the little monsters seems bleed them dry.

Still, as much as I hate blackflies, there is a place for them on the landscape. I can’t imagine how stealing blood and tormenting animals has any direct benefit to the ecosystem, but they are food for something. There are people within WCEP on both sides of that discussion.

Through the expertise and generosity of Dr Peter Adler and Dr Elmer Gray et al, most of the blackflies in and around Necedah were killed in the spring of 2012. No suppression methods were used in 2013 and the blackflies made a complete comeback with numbers as high as they ever were before the use of Bti. That resilience is a good indication that controlling their population, at least until the Whooping crane population gets established, would not have any long term affect on blackfly survival.

The nest abandonment in 2013 was so closely aligned with the blackfly bloom that it is impossible to deny the cause. But that is only part of the problem. Even though more pairs hatched eggs and produced chicks in 2012, only two survived to fledge. There are layers to this problem and using Bti is not the only solution. The next step in the research should be to aggressively determine what is happening to the chicks between the time they hatch and when they can fly away from whatever it is that is getting them. Unfortunately that isn’t simple. Whooping crane chicks leave the nest shortly after they hatch and follow their parents and they learn to forage. They wander the extent of their parents’ territories and are impossible to track using fixed cameras. And much of the habitat is not easily accessible by even the most practised and stealthy biologist. Still WCEP is nothing if not innovative and I am confident we will find a solution.

In the interim was are about to begin our fourth season at White River Marsh. This habitat is outside the range of the blackfly species that targets birds so we hope for better recruitment. Mike Callahan, pilot and tracker for the Wisconsin DNR has been tracking birds from above and confirmed a nest this week, although in an odd location.

His report stated “As of 1:00 today, (April 24) 7-11 is sitting on what appears to be a nest barely above water in the center of the woodlot. 10-11 is foraging in an ag field 500 feet south of same woodlot”. This location is in the Grand River Marsh which is part of the White River complex. The pair is only three years old so we allow them a little confusion but it is a good sign. If the nest survives and they fledge chicks, it will be a great sign.

WC 2014-04-18 07,10-11_e

We have all appendages crossed.

 

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