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Photo Journals!

Wintering Whoopers

Ultralight-guided Migration



Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!



Date: March 30th, 2006


Reporter: Joe Duff

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: Latest word on migration activity 

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  Number 309 has never returned to Wisconsin since the day she left the state following our aircraft back in 2003. On her first return migration she and eight of her flockmates were flushed from their roost by curious onlookers, and they took off into the darkness. That incident, and a strong wind from the west, pushed them to the east side of Lake Michigan - and there began her wanderings.

Her new traveling mate, 520, also has a break in her migration knowledge that occurred when she was crated over 60 miles between migration stops in Georgia this past fall. Sara Zimorski from ICF reported today that the Tracking Team received a satellite signal from 520 who is presumably still with 309 in Tennessee near our stopover at Hiawassee.

I imagine a heated discussion in 'Whooper-eese' took place between the two of them in the skies over Georgia , but the right bird seems to have won, and their combined instinct has carried them over their migration blind spot. It is too early to speculate, but so far they are at least headed in the right direction and we hope to see them both in Wisconsin this spring.

Sara reported that the remaining '05 chicks apparently split up the first night. 515 and 522 are together and are flying again today. 511 and 521 are together but the team hasn't determined if they are moving today or not. Both pairs were at different locations in Turner County , GA Wednesday night.

The other 14 chicks had been missing but are currently being tracked, and apparently are all still together in a group. They were likely also in Turner County - or very close by - but went undetected until they got up in the air this morning.

Date: March 30th, 2006


Reporter: Liz Condie

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: Wood Buffalo/Aransas Flock

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  In Tom Stehn's aerial census of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and environs conducted on March 29th, he counted 172 adults and 23 chicks for a total of 195 Whooping cranes.

Tom said the previous day’s strong line of thunderstorms brought rain to the Texas Coast and Hill County , the first significant rain for some areas in 4 months. The tail end of this disturbance made for dark, overcast skies for his March 29th census, and the poor lighting conditions made it difficult to find all the cranes.

With 195 whooping cranes of the estimated 214 in the flock located, Tom surmised that 19 cranes were either overlooked due to the poor viewing conditions, or that they had migrated. The Lobstick and Pats Bay families, the 'H', 'T', and Spalding Point pairs, and 3 sub adults were not found despite extra searching. Traditionally, the Lobstick cranes are usually some of the first birds to migrate and they customarily reach Canada 's Wood Buffalo Park before most other cranes.

Tom estimates it is possible that up to 19 cranes have left on their spring migration. So far the only confirmed sightings of Whooping cranes on migration from this flock are two birds reported being on the Platte River in Nebraska .

At Aransas, marsh salinities were measured between 28 and 38 parts per thousand, equivalent in places to ocean water. Crab counts conducted March 27-28 located only 7 small crabs, a very low number compared to usual averages. This low number is correlated to the extreme drought in this part of Texas over the past 4 months, providing harder conditions for crabs to survive. All this translates into tough conditions at Aransas right now for the Whooping cranes, with few blue crabs to eat and high water salinity forcing them to fly inland to get fresh water to drink.  

Date: March 29th, 2006


Reporter: Mark Nipper

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Georgia

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: On the road again....

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  As Joe reported yesterday, our birds are gone. Sometime on Monday, 309 and 520 snuck out, and despite facing a headwind, began their migration. They made it to the Georgia/Florida border. Yesterday the rest of the birds followed.

It was a crazy day of tracking for Chris Malachowski and me. With lots of sun and a gentle south wind, the birds had a perfect day for traveling. They went up the coast of Florida , turned up the Suwannee River and didn’t stop till after 6:00pm in Turner County , GA. This has become the regular flyway for our birds during both the spring and fall migration.

We picked up their flight signals around 10:20AM and went into action. They were moving fast for a good portion of the day, making it difficult to keep up at times. They did make it fairly easy for us for most the day however, by staying in one big group. Eighteen whoopers soaring their way up to Georgia must have been an amazing sight for anyone lucky enough to have spotted them.

We had no trouble at all until the birds all began to land close to roost time. 516's signal was getting weaker, so we pulled over to figure out what was going on. We were able to listen as all the birds began to land within just a couple miles of us. After a short celebration for having completed our first migration day so successfully, we quickly tried to get over to where they were. By the time we did get there though, all but 516 and 522 had flown off to some other roost location.

Chris and I then managed to get ourselves tangled up in the back roads of Georgia and we couldn't locate the larger group. As a last ditch effort we checked out the original place we thought they were landing and luckily heard a whisper of 516's signal. 516 and 522 decided they were fine where they were and they stayed put for the night. Hopefully 516 is continuing his journey right now and will be able to find his way north with his companion.

Now it is time for me to head back to Maryland to prepare for this year's chicks with the staff at PWRC. Please keep your fingers crossed for 516 everyone, and also for our new hatching season at Patuxent.

Date: March 28th, 2006


Reporter: Joe Duff

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: Northward Bound!!!

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  At least twice a day, someone from the Winter Monitoring Team hooks up the trailer that carries the airboat and makes their way to the boat launch ramp on the Crystal River . They push the airboat into the water, park the truck and pull on their hip waders. They cruise five miles through pristine salt marsh and slip into an area restricted to all visitors except authorized personnel from the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge and the WCEP project. They tie up on the far side of the island and walk through the palm forest to climb the ladder into the observation tower that over looks the Whooping crane release pen. They cross their fingers and begin to count birds using binoculars and the radio receiver. This time of year the visits are more frequent because the whole team is on alert standby waiting for the day when the birds they have monitored all year will be gone.

309 is our wayward bird which was blown off course with several others in the spring of 2004. She spent her first summer of freedom in Michigan, and in her peregrinations has visited Ohio, New York, Vermont , South Carolina, and Ontario, Canada. This past fall she was collected in North Carolina and moved to Florida. She spent most of the winter at the Chassahowitzka pen in the company of our youngest generation, and recently became buddies with 520.

Mark Nipper reported that on Monday March 27th these two newly acquainted flock mates departed the Chass pen for parts unknown. 520 carries a satellite transmitter as well as a conventional radio tracking device. This is good, because neither of these birds have made a successful trip north. 520 was a good follower last year, and the only break in her knowledge of the migration route was when she and 10 other birds were crated and moved 64 miles from Terrell County to Cook County in Georgia .

The next few days will be interesting. I am sure an number of arguments will ensue between an older bird that has been lost for 3 years and an upstart that knows most of the way. Given that they are both female, maybe one or the other of them will ask for directions.

Migrating Whooping cranes can cover hundreds of miles on a good day and the Tracking Team must try to keep pace. They deal with fuel stops and traffic, and roads that don't take them where they need to go while following nothing more than a directional beep across half the country. This is a complicated race to the finish line in Wisconsin with one of the players at a ground-based disadvantage, and the other oblivious to the competition. The big problem is nobody says, 'one, two, three - GO!'

This morning, without fanfare or warning, the rest of our birds left the pen at Chassahowitzka and headed north. THE RACE IS ON!!

Date: March 27th, 2006


Reporter: Mark Nipper

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Florida

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: 2005 Cohort Update

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  It has been sometime since the last update. We have been scrambling to get ready for the impending spring migration. We get a little more prepared each day, not knowing whether the birds will leave or not. We wait out the mornings to see if the youngsters will decide to go, and then we go back out and check on them in the evening. If we were actually out at the pen when they decided to leave we would have little chance of tracking their movements. We are able to check on them by calling a cell phone that is hooked up to the receiver that picks up their radio signals.

The last five days or so have brought cold north winds that have postponed migration just enough for us to finish planning and packing. On Tuesday the winds will shift back around to the south according to the weather forecast. After that happens, it is just a matter of the birds getting up high enough and then making the big decision. 516 looks well enough, and has been up flying with the rest of the birds regularly. He is still of concern though. We will be watching him very closely and hoping that he can pull it off.

Saturday morning we went out to the pen to check on a couple of our birds that injured their bills slightly. To do this we were joined by Scott Terrell and Don Neiffer, two members of Disney's Wild Kingdom veterinary staff. 503 has developed a large scrape on the top of his bill over the nares. It looked pretty bad, but we were able to check him out and give him the OK without even having to pick him up. He was held still while the vets checked him out.

A big thank you to Disney, and to Scott and Don for joining our team!

Date: March 22nd, 2006


Reporter: Liz Condie

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: Spring Migration and ARRIVALS

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  A report we received yesterday from the tracking team showed locations at the end of the past week as:
Florida - 15
Still in Florida are 105 and 204; 201 and 306; 402, 403, 412, 415, 416, 417, 419, and 420. 309 is still with the 2005 chicks at the Chassahowitzka pensite. DAR juveniles, male 532 and female 533, were associating with small numbers of non-migratory Sandhill cranes and remained in Osceola and Alachua Counties respectively.

South Carolina - 3
301 and 311 and 318

Location Undetermined - 1
307 has not been detected since December 2 in Alabama .

On Migration or in Wisconsin - 26
- 216 and 303 left Florida around the 6th of March and were last reported (March 13) as being in Tennessee .
- 213 and 218 were last observed on March 14 and are believed to have departed on migration.
- DAR females 527 and 528 remained in migrating Sandhill flocks in Indiana , during the week.
- 107, whose transmitter is nonfunctional, was last reported in Indiana on March 9. (A report on 11 March of a single whooping crane in a flock of 40-50 migrating sandhills in Cook County, Illinois , may or may not have been 107.)
- 211 and 217 departed Florida February 28.
- 310 departed South Carolina March 9.
- An unidentified pair of Whooping cranes was reported in Barthelomew County , Indiana , on 13 March.

In a report from Necedah, ICF's Sara Zimorski advises that:
- 101 and 202 arrived March 18 and they are on their territory at Site 4
- 102 and 212 are at Site 1/East Rynearson Pool. (They are a potential new breeding pair and apparently arrived on March 18 or 19.)
- 203 and 317 are on their territory at Pools 9/19. They also arrived on either the 18th or 19th.
- 205 and 313 also made it to Wisconsin on March 17.208 was present on south Upper Rice Pool. He too apparently arrived on March 18 or 19.
- Potential new breeding pair 209 and 302 arrived in Munroe County March 18.
213 and 218 were tracked into the Necedah refuge on the 19th. They landed on their territory at Site 2 and  213’s transmitter was found to be nonfunctional.
- 316 was present just east of Necedah NWR. He arrived March 17 but no signal was detected for 312 and no visual sighting of the pair was made.
- 401, 407 and 408 arrived at Necedah on March 20.

Date: March 13th, 2006


Reporter: Liz Condie

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: Endangered Species Report

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  Alicia Craig, ABC's Director of the Bird Conservation Alliance (and a member of OM's Board of Directors) sent along their latest newsletter to us. It talks about a new report published by American Bird Conservancy (ABC), that shows that the Endangered Species Act is saving America's rarest birds. The report notes that of 43 birds listed under the Act that breed in the continental U.S. , 44% have increased since listing, and a further 19% are stable or have been stabilized by conservation measures. To download the entire report, visit

American Bird Conservancy asks that OM and its other member organizations encourage their respective members and supporters to call or write letters to their state's Senators asking them to support strong endangered species legislation and to oppose HR3824, passed by the House of Representatives in 2005.

Date: March 12th, 2006


Reporter: Mark Nipper

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Florida

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: 2005 Cohort Report

 Whooper Happenings
Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  It has been classic sunny Florida the last few days. Gentle southerly winds and a lot of sun have made for good migrating weather. More of our adult birds are on the move and the chicks continue to get more anxious. They make pretty regular flights of increasing time, distance, and altitude. 516 has made marked improvement over the last month. He definitely has the willingness to fly and stay with the group. It is usually hard to spot him in the air now because he is right in with the flock.

The easy weather has produced random water levels making things a little tricky at the pen. The winds shift from shift back and forth throughout the day, from east to south to west; so we never know what to expect out there. Some nights the birds are fine to go to roost on the main oyster bar, and others it is way to high. When we got out there Friday it was too high. The birds were nervous about it and went for a flight. When the winds shifted, weakening from southerly back to east/southeast, the water levels went down and the birds settled in nicely.

(Mark again sent some photos which we will post asap. Liz)

Date: March 10th, 2006


Reporter: Joe Duff

Position Opening! 
 Supervisor of Field Operations.

Location: Main Office

2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.

Activity: OM's Ivory-Billed Search Ends

 Whooper Happenings
(Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  For an ultralight pilot, sitting on your hands while the wind blows is frustrating. It's like coming home to find you've been robbed; you're angry, you feel cheated, but there is no one you can blame. If you can imagine what it’s like living with four pilots during the migration when we can only fly on 23 of the 60 days it takes us to get to Florida , you have some idea of what went on in Arkansas . The team was on site for 18 days and managed to fly on only 7. They accumulated a total of 20.5 hours in the air; gathered almost 80 hours of video using the four helmet mounted cameras, and flew many transects. They saw a variety of birds including Pileated woodpeckers - but unfortunately, no Ivory-billed woodpeckers.

Our assistance in the search for the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker was funded by a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We were to be on site for three weeks, divided between Louisiana and Arkansas . However, the weather looked so dismal the end of this past week, we are cut the search short a few days and the crew headed home.

There are a lot of people who have dedicated years to the search for this reclusive bird, and although we are disappointed, it would be unrealistic to think we could find it in just 20 hours. The prime search season is when the leaves are off the trees, so maybe we will have a chance next year.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker Recovery Team is made up of a number of agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the states of Louisiana and Arkansas , the Cornell Ornithology Lab, and others. We met and worked with several of their dedicated members, and are happy we had the opportunity to assist.

Our team is now on the road home to regroup just in time to start preparations for the upcoming Whooping crane season. Twelve of our older generations' birds have already begun the northern migration, so it won’t be long before the whole cycle starts again – (taking a big deep breath here).  

Date: March 9th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: White Bird Update to Mar 4th & Spring Migration
Mark Nipper's latest Report
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  Locations at the end of the week were:
22  Florida
   Tennessee             209, 213, 218, 302
   South Carolina       301, 311, 310, 318
   Location unknown    203, 317, 307
12  On spring migration 102, 107, 205, 208, 211, 212, 217, 312, 313, 316
                                    and DAR birds 527 and 528

Last reported migration locations:
102, 208, 212 Fulton County GA
Jackson County, IN (potentially now in WI)
205, 313         *see below note
, 217         Vigo County, IN (*sighting was either 205/313 or 211/217)
312, 316         Not detected since departing FL March 1
DAR 527, 528  Jasper-Pulaski, IN

Mark's Report
Things have been quiet at the pen. Of course every time I say that, things go very wrong that very night. The water has been at the worse possible levels for the last few days; not high enough to flood the whole island, but too high for the birds to be comfortable on the oyster bar.

The birds want to roost in water, but for some reason they really hate the oyster bar when the water gets high. It doesn’t make a lot of sense because they can still stand on the oyster shell comfortably, but they just don’t like it. They will pace back and forth for a time and then try flying off. When they get up in the air we turn on the loud speaker and they usually come back. The birds are very responsive to the brood call this year; probably more so than birds of the previous years. This has made things easier for us.

506, 516, 521, and 524 have yet to lose their chick voices.

At dusk one evening last week, a small airplane circled the pen at low altitude for about 15 minutes, but otherwise no unauthorized human activity was observed within the restricted access area surrounding the pen.

(See the Photo Journal for Mark's latest pictures.)

Date: March 7th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Wood Buffalo/Aransas Update
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes:  On his aerial census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas on March 1st, Tom Stehn estimated the number of Whooping cranes present in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock at 189 adults and 26 young for a total of 215 birds. One adult and four juveniles died at Aransas this winter, making the peak flock size in 2006 an estimated 220 Whooping cranes.

While conditions were excellent throughout the flight with sunny skies and 10-mile visibility, approximately 4 adult pairs, 1 family, and 11 sub-adults were believed overlooked. Crane movements to freshwater dugouts and prescribed burns made it more difficult to account for all the birds.

Tom reports.....
The N. Pipeline Flats juvenile was not with its single parent (female W-nil) and is believed dead. This juvenile had been seen by itself on several occasions during the past few weeks, a potential indication of illness, and making it more vulnerable to possible predation. No carcass was found, and I can always hope I simply overlooked the juvenile, although extra searching was done in its territory at the end of the flight. Female W-nil was by herself and has not re-paired. For the second consecutive flight, the single adult with a juvenile that arrived late in December and then re-paired was not located. This family did not have a defended territory, so if the juvenile has died, I am unable to differentiate this unbanded pair from other duos. I am worried that this may be another instance of juvenile mortality this winter, although perhaps the family has left the census area.

It is always frustrating not to find all of the cranes on a flight, especially when census conditions are excellent. It is always possible to fly directly over cranes in the airplane’s blind spot and not see them, or cranes may move and get overlooked. It is also possible that a small number of cranes may have left the winter range for weeks at a time before returning, especially sub-adult cranes that sometimes move inland with Sandhill cranes. However, no one has recently reported cranes away from Aransas. Although a pair of Whooping cranes at Aransas was once believed to have started the migration the first week in March, it will typically be 3-4 more weeks before a few Whooping cranes will start the migration. It is most likely that I simply overlooked up to 22 cranes on today’s flight.

The sub-adult whooping crane that wintered with Sandhills 30 miles north of Mexico has not been seen since January 12. It is likely that this white-plumaged whooping cranes has started the migration.

Quivira NWR in Kansas reported over 4,000 Sandhill cranes present yesterday, so the Sandhill migration is definitely underway. About 50 Sandhill cranes were seen at Aransas on today’s flight, down from the numbers seen 2 weeks ago.

Food resources continue to be considered sub-optimal for the Whooping cranes. From habitat use observed on today’s flight, I don’t believe the cranes are finding many crabs to eat. Many cranes were in unvegetated lakes and tidal flats, areas with limited vegetation for crabs to use as cover. Late-December through mid-February is usually a difficult time for the flock. Tides have risen more than a foot since mid-February, however, considerable areas of the marsh including cut-off ponds and extensive mudflats in one area are dry from lack of rainfall. It is noteworthy that the marshes in another area that are mostly connected with the bays are showing normal water levels, a very different scenario from the rest of the crane area.

Habitat use on today’s flight included 21 cranes in open bays (compared to 47 on Feb. 15th when tides were more than a foot lower), 3 on uplands formerly rooted up by feral hogs, 5 standing on dirt roads, 19 on prescribed burns, and 13 near sources of fresh water. The drought in Texas is continuing with rainfall deficits resulting in high marsh and bay salinities that force the cranes to seek out fresh water to drink. The drought is rated as “severe” on the coast and as “extreme” in the Texas Hill Country including San Antonio . Thirteen cranes were utilizing areas burned Feb. 28 on Matagorda Island , a management effort aimed to provide a supplemental food source for the cranes during a difficult period of the winter.

Due to a 9-day closure of state waters to commercial blue crab trapping February 18-26, many active crab traps were removed from interior marshes in the crane area. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department organizes the pickup of abandoned traps annually and solicits help primarily from sportsmen.

Especially notable were about 100 traps no longer in the southern end of the crane range on San Jose Island . These traps may have been removed by the commercial fisherman 1-2 days before the closed season, or else were picked up by members of the general public or State during the closure.

State wardens are believed to have picked up about 100 abandoned traps on the edge of the bay along Matagorda Island . The crane area looks much better than it did two weeks ago with fewer of these 'ghost' traps that continue to catch fish and crabs for months even after they are abandoned. Great progress has been made in the last 5 years picking up thousands of abandoned traps. An estimated 200 abandoned traps are still in the crane range, but many of these are old, deteriorated, and imbedded in mud and no longer are catching critters.  

Date: March 7th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Latest from Patuxent
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Not only is Charlie Robinson helping to repair the storm damage at Patuxent, he is drafting updates and providing us with pictures. Below is 'Patuxent Charlie's' latest report. Check the photo journal later today for pictures of the staff and volunteers' activities that Charlie captured with his camera.

Patuxent Snow Storm Update
It has been three weeks since the damaging snowstorm. I am very happy to report that much progress has been made.  By the end of the first two weeks all 110 pens were cleared of netting, broken shade sheds, support cables; fences and the support poles were repaired. This past week the volunteer corps of various refuge staff and "craniacs" have been working hard to re-cable and pull new netting into the pens. From pen to pen the teams moved, ladders and personnel ready to receive the nets and tie them to the fence and tension them. A quick look around and they moved to the next pen, and the next, until the last pen in the series was done and they gathered to get their orders for the next series. Days went by and much was accomplished.

Once the teams left a series, the crane crew moved in to sweep the pens with metal detectors and magnets, and they also checked for anything a crane could pick up and ingest. At the end of week the first of the breeding Whooping Cranes were placed back into the Blue series. They tell us that the cranes seem to be adjusting and are now getting frisky.

There are two adages that keep coming to mind: one, "many hands make fast work"; two, is the college tavern song, "100 bottles of beer on the wall....." But in this case it was "100 pens in the field, fix one up.....!"

Now about those elusive Sandhills. These birds were chick raised and have been in pens and could not fly more then 8 ft. in the air, but given their freedom they quickly found they could fly. As the time went by the score changed from cranes 9, handlers 0, to 6 - 3, and then all but two were in pens. The crane crew had their work cut out for them because these birds flew from one field to another. Now all but one is back penned. The one still on the loose found that she can fly into the pen with her mate but takes jaunts out at times.

We had the benefit of some good cooks in the facilities who took mercy on us this week and fed us lunch. After being out in the cold with wind blasts up to 25 mph, we truly appreciated these hot meals which helped us to keep going full tilt. A tip of our hats to these ladies!

Date: March 5th, 2006
Reporter: Joe Duff Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Searching......
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Ultralight aircraft are like canoes. They are beautifully crafted, very efficient and lots of fun. However, just like a canoe is not made for high seas, our aircraft only operate in moderate conditions. If your ambition is to use your ultralight for recreation you learn to live with weather delays but if it has a higher purpose, like the recovery or discovery of an endangered species, the limited weather envelope becomes frustrating. Our average migration takes over 60 days but we only fly on about 23 of them. In our search for the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker we need good weather to fly low and slow transacts over miles of remote lowland forest. We have the team and the technology, we just need the time in the air.

The OM crew of four pilots (recently joined by Richard Van Heuvelen) is still at the White River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas . They are getting good flights about every other day but are anxious for a week of good weather and some serious time aloft. The search terrain is so vast and inaccessible that it makes ground surveying a slow process.

At our first search area on the Pearl River , I heard of a hunter who shot a deer just 200 yards into the forest and spent all day getting it out. When you climb high above the White River NWR you get an idea of how large it is and begin to understand how a bird as reticent as an Ivory-billed could existed undetected for so long. Slugging along on the forest floor, dealing with deadfalls, mud, wild pigs and cotton mouths would test the endurance of even seasoned birders. To catch sight of a bird with such a reclusive nature, maximum stealth would be required in an environment not conducive to quiet travel.

Four aircraft flying low and slow over the forest canopy when the leaves are off the trees, offers a birds eye view of this isolated habitat and if the weather would cooperate it would be the perfect observation platform.

We have Chris Gullikson is flying the lead position with the other three aircraft off his wing, each spaced 200 yards apart and an equal distance back. This formation is close enough to cover 2000 foot transacts back and forth across the search area but open enough to be safe for pilots pre-occupied with looking down.

Each pilot has a digital video camera mounted on his helmet and there is a high definition camera mounted on Chris's aircraft pointing down and forward. All of these cameras record directly to a hard drive with several hours of capacity so there is no tape to concern ourselves with and they are plugged into inverters on the aircraft electrical systems so we don’t have to worry about batteries either. The high definition camera is linked to our intercom system so anything we say on the radio is records along with the image.

We have navigational waypoints already established in a pattern over the search area and as we approach one, Chris identifies it over the radio and gives the other pilots a countdown. As we pass over, we cover the lens of our cameras with our hands for a moment. This acts as a synchronized slate, just like in the movies so we can time code all of our cameras to the same point. When this is downloaded to a computer file along with the track history of the GPS units, researchers will be able to view the master (high definition) image and tell exactly where it was recorded. They will be able to listen to our radio communication and hear our in-flight observations so if we spot something of interest (even a Pileated woodpecker) they were know where is was seen.

It took several hours to organize this system and choreograph our flights but the results are impressive and hopefully fruitful. Despite all of our technology and innovation its still up to the weather.  

Date: March 5th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: '05 Cohort Update and 
North Bound Birds!!!
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Right now it is pretty nice here in Florida . It has been sunny, in the 70-80's with easy south winds for the last few days - and it is supposed to stay that way. The birds love it too and are on the move. The chicks are flying around more each day, and some of our adults are already heading north. Two of the direct release chicks are also on the move with the Sandhill flocks that they have been with for the winter.

On Wednesday we again took water out to the island, where it is kept in two large barrels on a raised platform. The water is gravity fed to automatic livestock bubblers at the pen. The barrels are just old pepper containers from Greece . In order to fill them, we bring two similar barrels from the mainland out on the airboat and pump it over to the blind. It can be quite an undertaking - an airboat isn’t exactly a barge and it’s a little tricky with an extra 100 gallons of water onboard.

Thursday I went out to the island for another beautiful morning and was able to get some good pictures of the birds bouncing around in the pen. The chicks are getting whiter and whiter every day, and their voices sound more and more adult-like. 309 was cute, getting the chicks all riled up by calling and jumping around. This is common for her, but it usually just seems to be her wanting to get her turn at the feeders. I think that in her mind, it is always her turn at the feeders. She is a funny bird. She does a lot of preening and makes sure she is always looking her best. Then she also has a permanent splotch at the base of her neck on her chest that looks like she is filthy.

This nice weather also means high water with the southern winds and the birds still don’t like it when there is too much water in their pen. We continue to have to lure/flush the birds back in at night form time to time. This year it has been relatively easy to get them back into the pen after they have been out. Thursday evening I stood in the pen with the loud speaker blaring to attract them. Reluctantly, they will eventually land and roost in the pen, but it is obvious that they would rather be somewhere else.

(Along with this report, Mark sent some great pictures which I will process and post to the photo journal as quickly as possible.

We've been getting lots of calls and emails about the white birds being on the move north. In addition to 107 being reported in Indiana, three birds, believed to be pair 102 and 208, and tag-along 212 were sighted in Georgia. Yesterday I received an unconfirmed sighting of a single Whooping crane in Wisconsin. Hopefully the tracking team will have more definitive info for us in their weekly report.  Liz)

Date: March 2nd, 2006
Reporter: Joe Duff & Chris Gullikson Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office & Arkansas Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Rediscovery and Recovery
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: During one of our extended weather delays on the 2005 migration we had the pleasure of meeting with part of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery Team (IBWRT). Representatives from US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission, and the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University came to see our aircraft and meet the crew.

They discussed with us a plan to help survey large tracts of almost inaccessible habitat where the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker is thought to still exist. It took some time to get the details worked out, but in early February, the IBWRT offered OM a contract to fly over the flooded forests of Arkansas , and with luck, flush Ivory-bills and photograph them in flight. 

In winter when the leaves are down, OM's ultralights can fly safely at 35mph, just 50 feet over the forest canopy. Flying GPS generated transects in a staggered, three or four abreast formation, we can cover a wide swath with each pass. The slow and low approach angle, and relatively quiet operation would catch loafing or foraging birds off guard and cause them to flush, allowing an opportunity for our pilots to observe and record them with digital imaging systems from helmet mounted cameras.

These same characteristics of low speed, low noise, and low angle means any threat perceived by the birds passes quickly, minimizing any stress caused by the intrusion and reducing the danger of birds feeling forced out of their territorial range. During flights at the Necedah NWR our team often passes over various species of waterfowl causing only short term disturbance. Many only look up, and those that do fly, usually return to their perch quickly.

We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Ivory-billed Woodpecker Recovery Team, and thrilled to be able to offer any assistance we can to safeguard another endangered species. Read Chris Gullikson's report below on the progress of the search.

In Search Of…
It has been a long time since I have submitted an update for OM 's Field Journal. The 2005 migration was an incredible experience for me, and a very refreshing change of pace from the technological corporate world that has been my life for the past several years. I met many wonderful people on this adventure, and made friendships that will last a lifetime. Last spring before Joe brought me in as the new pilot, he warned me that this migration business is addictive. Well, he was right, and I am greatly looking forward to returning to Necedah in June to start preparations for the 2006 cohort of Whooping cranes.

The idea of using ultralight trikes to search for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker was first brought up by Bob Russell of the US Fish and Wildlife Service during a visit to Necedah last summer to watch flight training with WCEP Project Direction Team co-chair, John Christian. The idea sounded intriguing, but not very realistic given all the complications of actually allowing us to do over-flights of a National Wildlife Refuge. Fast forward to the present day, and here we are at the White River National Wildlife Refuge in south eastern Arkansas , one of the key search areas for the Ivory-billed woodpecker.

This adventure began February 14th when I left Wisconsin for Ontario . We joined Joe and in convoy drove the two OM trucks to Florida to pick up the aircraft and travel trailer, which we had strategically left behind after completion of the '05 migration. Richard, Brooke, and myself all have other jobs when we are not working for OM, and since Richard was not able to join us for a few weeks, it was decided that we needed to recruit another pilot. I called up Matt Ahrens, one of my local flying buddies from southern WI, and to my surprise he was able to get away for the month to join us on this venture. I knew Matt would be a good fit. He is a skilled trike pilot, very experienced in the film industry, easy going, and a great cook.

After a long two days on the road we arrived in Florida and picked up our house trailer from the repair center in Ocala, FL. Gene Liles of Liles Collision did a great job of repairing the damage to our trailer and we are very thankful for his generosity. We drove down to Chassahowitzka NWR to pick up our aircraft trailer, and after a quick lunch with the winter monitoring crew, we were back on the road. I would have loved to have hung out for a day at Chass to see the birds, but we had many miles ahead of us before reaching our first destination at the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in Louisiana .

The Pearl River Wildlife Management Area in southeast LA is home of the first recent credible sighting of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. On April 1st 1999, David Kulivan observed two Ivory-bills in the Pearl River WMA. This sighting resulted in several searches of the area, and rekindled the hope that this bird was not yet extinct.

On arrival at Pearl River we met with Eric Baka, Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries biologists, to go over all the protocols and logistics of the search. This area is still recovering from Katrina and it was difficult to find a place to operate. Most of the local airports are still in disarray and many are being used as FEMA camps. Farther north the damage was not quite as devastating and the management of the Picayune Municipal Airport just over the state line in Mississippi generously allowed us set up camp and stage our aircraft from there. We spent the next couple of days installing all the equipment necessary to support our helmet mounted video and stationary high definition cameras that we hoped would capture this extremely elusive bird.

Richard had made up some aluminum brackets to mount the cameras to our helmets, and despite him never having seen the camera, they worked quite well - Joe just had to do some minor tweaking to make them fit. Jeff Huxmann (producer of Hope Takes Wing) volunteered his time to document this search, and he was a great help in getting all the video gear working properly. We are using small video cameras with internal hard drives that allow us to shoot up to 7 hours of continuous footage.

Our first day of flying over the refuge was encouraging. Despite a few glitches which were quickly fixed, the cameras were working fairly well. We were flushing Pileated woodpeckers and capturing them on video. After a few flights to test out the new equipment, we decided to do a late afternoon flight in formation over the refuge. We flew along some pre-determined transects laid out from east to west and separated by 2000 feet. Flying in close formation can be hazardous, so we had a pre-flight orientation and 'walked out' our turns in formation on foot on the airport tarmac. It was like a scene from Top Gun…

The eye of Hurricane Katrina tracked right up the Pearl River . Evidence of its destruction was everywhere you looked. Homes had not been repaired, businesses remained closed, and more than 50% of the trees were flattened. It was an eye opening experience flying over this once beautiful forest, but the openness of the canopy allowed us a much better view of the land below us.

Flying at 50 feet above the trees over a forest with very few landing options is a bit unnerving, but we have confidence in our equipment and our excitement of possibly seeing an Ivory-billed mitigated the fear of crashing into the canopy. With 4four of us flying in formation, we were covering a 2000 foot wide swath nearly 6 miles long. If the bird flushed at our approach, we would see it. We saw numerous animals including wild boar, deer, and many, many birds, including a few species of woodpeckers. We were able to fly 6 transects before sunset and felt comfortable with our technique.

Unfortunately, as is often the case flying ultralights, weather has kept us grounded for much of the week, and finally the decision was made to move us up to the White River National Wildlife Refuge, Arkansas where the Cornell Ornithology Lab was doing more intense searches for the Ivory-billed. Packing up four ultralights and all of the misc. gear required to live on the road is no small feat, and it usually takes the best part of a day to get rolling. On Thursday, Joe headed back to Canada to catch up on the ever growing pile of work that accumulates on his desk when he is gone.

The White River NWR is located in southeast Arkansas . At 160,000 acres, it is one of the largest remaining bottomland hardwood forests in the Mississippi drainage. Bob Russell has heard the Ivory-billed here, and there have been various interesting sightings and audio recordings in recent years.

We arrived Friday afternoon at the southwest corner of the White River NW Refuge and were greeted by very enthusiastic staff from the Cornell search team and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. We were given a quick orientation of the search protocols, and were graciously allowed use of the US Army Corp of Engineers campground which has excellent facilities.

It rained heavily Friday night and into Saturday morning, but by mid-afternoon the skies began to clear so we were able to setup our aircraft in preparation for the next day's flight. We were hoping for no winds on Sunday morning, but unfortunately were greeted with a steady breeze out of the north. We knew it would be a rough ride, but the enthusiasm on the faces of all the people who came out to help us convinced us try a flight.

The short flight to the refuge was exciting. Moderate mechanical turbulence tossed our trikes around in the air and we got a good workout just trying to stay on course. Once we were over the refuge the turbulence just got worse, and it was too dangerous to try and get low enough to get effective video. I was seeing several Pileated woodpeckers flush at the approach of my trike, but we were WAY too busy flying to try and get any video.

We quickly abandoned the flight, and I climbed up a thousand feet to try and get off the roller coaster ride that I had not anticipated. The view of the refuge was tremendous! A vast forest stretched out before me reaching 10 miles to the east and no end in sight to the north. How anybody could possibly search this on foot completely baffles me.

We made our way back to our campground to land on the narrow east/west roadway that serves as our runway. The wild gyrations of our trikes as we made our way down through the turbulence to the runway kept a captive audience, but we all landed safely and were able to quickly break our wings down for the day.

That evening we had a little better flying conditions and we were able to fly 8 transects about 10 miles wide spaced at 1500 feet. We saw many Pileated woodpeckers as well as several other woodpecker species. The Red Headed woodpecker with its white trailing edge looks a bit like an Ivory-billed at first glance, but it is much smaller. My heart leapt into my throat the first time I saw one, but I quickly realized it was just a Red Head.

We flew up until sunset with the last 4 transects getting easier to fly as the turbulence subsided a bit. The air out on the refuge is strange, there was a lot of lift, then sink near the open rivers, and random just weird air currents out over the forest. This made it difficult to fly as low as we would have liked, but we were still getting effective video and the birds were flushing at our approach. 

We only flew 2 transects Monday morning. The winds were picking up out of the south and as we were coming back across the refuge on our second transect, we all decided that being on the ground would be a much better option considering how quickly the winds were strengthening. We broke the wings down again, laying them securely down on the ground so the wind couldn't get underneath and send them flying away like a scrap piece of paper. 

As I write this it is Wednesday afternoon and the winds have grounded us since Monday morning. We have hopes that Thursday and Friday we will have flying opportunities between the expected light rain shower activity. The great people from the Cornell search team and the US Fish and Wildlife have been very understanding about our weather issues, and have not pushed us in any way. It is nice to see they are safety-oriented, and hopefully the weather will break soon so we can get in some serious flying.

The plan is to fly the southern part of the White River Refuge where some interesting sightings and audio recordings have been made. We have made a rough estimate of 20 hours to cover this section of the refuge. Time permitting, we will then move up to the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge where the infamous Dave Luneau IBWO video was shot in April of 2004.

Stay tuned for further updates from The Big Woods. If we can get Brooke out of the local Wal-mart, I will make sure he also writes a long overdue update. Walt Sturgeon showed up yesterday to help us with the various odds and ends that always need to be worked on, and Richard Van Heuvelen will be joining up with us on Friday, bringing us back to 4 pilots.

For much more information on the IBWO, please visit Cornell's web site at:

Date: March 1st, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: White bird update week ended Feb 25th 2006 / Photos from Patuxent's damaged crane facility.
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: White bird locations during the week were as follows:

Florida – 31

Tennessee – 6 (213 / 218; 209 / 302; DAR 527 and 528) Low precision PTT readings for no. 527 indicate that these birds may have begun spring migration from Hiwassee on 26 February, presumably with migrating sandhills, and roosted that night in Kentucky.

South Carolina- 4; (318 moved from North to South Carolina.)

Migrating – 1 (107 was sighted with a large number of Sandhills in Indiana.)

Unknown – 3 (307 was not recorded during the week, and neither were 203 and 317 who left the Chass pensite on February 1 with pair 301 / 311 apparently headed for South Carolina.

Predation: New bobcat scat appeared on the boardwalk to the pen on February 19. A bobcat trap containing one live chicken was operated during the week. One raccoon was captured and taken by airboat to be relocated.

Click here for some photos
from Patuxent's damaged crane rearing facilities.

Date: February 28th 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Update
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Here I am back in the field after a quick trip up to Wisconsin. After being away for a few days, (luckily being able to discover where winter had gone) I was anxious to get out to the pen to see the birds. Because no more satellite transmitters were available when we did the original banding in December, we had yet to put one on 508. Yesterday being a nice cool, breezy day, we decided to take this job on.

First we singled out 508 and Marianne moved up next to her and picked her up. The other costumes moved in to help make sure all the body parts were properly stowed away and nothing was caught in the costume. Once we were away from the other birds, a hood was placed over the 508's head. This is a common practice when handling animals as their usual reaction is to calm down. In our case, this also allows us to take off our hoods so we can actually see what we are doing. Because it was very sunny we took the bird back to the blind to put the new band on. The whole process went very well and 508 looked fine afterward. 

The rest of the birds are doing quite well and things have been quiet while I was gone.

Hi Folks: I have to apologize for the delay in posting pictures to the photo journal. Preparing them for the web site is time consuming, and as I am also covering for Chris who is on vacation this week, I am having difficulty squeezing out the time to process them all (about 30). I've enlisted some help however, so I am hopeful you will have new images to look at by tomorrow evening, or Thursday at the very latest. Thanks for your understanding and patience. Liz

Date: February 27th 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Winter Storm Damage Could Affect Whooping Crane Breeding Season
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Most Field Journal readers will likely be aware that a recent rain and snowstorm caused major damage to the endangered species captive propagation complex at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel , Md. We are able to bring you this report/update thanks to the co-operation of Patuxent's Dr. John French, Research Manager and Kathleen O'Malley of the Crane Program Outreach, along with the help of stalwart OM supporter and Craniac, Charlie Robinson (aka Patuxent Charlie).

Patuxent has the largest captive flock of Whooping cranes in the world, and also houses an extensive population of Sandhill cranes. Because the Sandhill cranes are used as surrogate parents to the Whooping cranes, both species are critical to the propagation of the endangered Whooping crane. In the past, the breeding program at Patuxent has provided two-thirds of the birds used in WCEP's reintroduction project.

The rains that fell on February 11 saturated the fields and overhead netting that keeps breeding Whooping and Sandhill cranes in their pens. By evening, the rain changed to a heavy wet snow that collected on the already saturated overhead nets. Technicians struggled through the night to keep the nets free of snow, but the storm moved too faster. During the night, the Center lost power, forcing the staff to struggle with the storm in the dark. By 3:00am many of the nets had collapsed, causing additional damage to the pens and allowing both Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes to escape. 

Snow continued to fall until 10:00am the following morning; the final tally was 18 inches. One-hundred-five of 110 flight-netted pens were damaged, and nine Whooping cranes and nine Sandhill cranes had escaped. All of the Whooping cranes were recaptured by Monday afternoon (Feb 13), but the Sandhills remained loose.

Biologists are concerned that the nearly total destruction to flight pens could impact the current breeding season for the endangered birds at the Center. Ultimately, the loss of the flight netted pens will have the largest impact on the Whooping crane breeding flock. Breeding season has already begun and any disruption of their regular activities, and especially to their familiar environment, can have a serious impact on their egg production for the year. The extent of the disruption to the breeding season will not be fully known until later in the spring.

(Kathleen and Charlie have sent along a virtual album of pictures which I will try to process and get posted to the Photo Journal later today.)

In the words of Patuxent Charlie.....

First, let me explain a couple of names and titles. Near Laurel, MD, is the Patuxent Research Refuge, consisting of nearly 13,000 acres. It is managed by Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Within the Refuge are research areas of both FWS and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The Whooping crane propagation is managed by USGS personnel. Now let me tell you about the hard work and effort of everyone is putting to restore damage from a winter storm.

As Liz reported in an earlier journal entry, a snowstorm on 11-12 Feb 2006 dropped about 18 inches of moist fluffy snow that clung to everything. Earlier it had rained, soaking the ground, fences and netting. By evening, the snow piled up so much the crews could not remove it. Nets started ripping and fences bending and the cranes moved to the edges where there was room.

By Monday some Whooping and Sandhill cranes had escaped. Finally the Whooping cranes were captured but the Sandhills were very elusive and still are at large. By Wednesday. I was asked to come in to help. There were and still are FWS and USGS Refuge Managers, Directors, Biologists, Technicians, Law Enforcement, Maintenance, retired personnel, and Refuge Volunteers all working side by side to clear netting, remove cables, damaged shade shelters, and other supports. At first most of these were under the remaining snow. We had to lift the netting and shake the snow through the net before we could fold and roll it up. If we pulled the nets, the snow would roll up to form snow columns, which were too heavy to handle. As one pen was cleared, we moved to another.

We formed teams to clear a section at a time. These sections called 'series' are named for colors and there are from 20 to 45 pens to a series. Out of 110 netted pens, 105 were damaged. We cleared the White Series and moved to the Purple series. While we moved, the crane technicians moved the Whooping cranes to the White from the Silver Series. Now the Purple was done and again the crane techs moved the Blue to the Purple. Then the clearing crew moved to the Orange series. Finely a day's work had been done, all tools picked up, and we headed for home, tired muscles aching, but with a feeling that progress was made and the cranes were safe. 

Another day dawns and crews arrive back to the pens. The net must be removed from the fence. We found that sometimes pulling it will rip the net loose, but some must be cut. Once the net is free we fold and roll it while others bring ladders and remove the remaining net from the top of the fence. This is the time consuming part. While this is going on, the team is moving to another pen, and others start cutting cable loose and coiling it up. A final check and then it's on to the next, and then to the next, and soon another day has ended and another series is cleared. 

As soon as enough pens have been cleared, a fence company comes in to repair the poles and fence. The plan is to restore the breeding pens as soon as possible and bring back the Whooping crane pairs since breeding time is imminent.

Now about the cranes. None were injured. Some escaped as reported, but they were captured and brailed so they cannot fly out of the un-netted pens. Brailing is the taping of one wing back so the bird can't open it to fly. The brail must be changed every two weeks, so time is important. 

I have been asked if the cranes will breed this year. Breeding pairs have been in their own environment for a year or more and now have been moved to a new location. When they return will they accept the new nets and the trampled down grass and scrub, and new shinny fence? These are wild animals and only time will answer these questions. No one can say for sure, but we hope for the best. 

All who are helping are doing their utmost best, and the joint efforts of both agencies to help these still endangered birds is most admirable.

One more matter I must report on. At various times, moving from one site to another, I would spot one of the nine loose Sandhill Cranes and report their locations. If the techs had time they would try to capture it. I found one in a wetland marsh and watched while the crew tried to capture it. As the crew moved in it took just a stroke of its powerful wings and it was in the air - 5 feet, then 10 feet. It went above me at about 25 feet, and flew off over the trees. So far, the score is 9-0; that is, all of them are still on the loose.

Date: February 20th 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity:  Update on the Juveniles
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: We went out to the pen Sunday to let the birds out for some exercise. We had assumed that the adults (105 and 204) would still be there and we would just be letting them out and putting them back in. 105 and 204 were not around however, so we were able to let the chicks stay out. It was a good thing too, because they really needed some time out of the pen. Hopefully we wont be seeing that pair of adults for a while.

The weather has been pretty warm the last four days or so, and the water level has been fairly low. This has meant that the chicks had little to cool themselves off with except mud. When we let the birds out it was obvious they had been lying in the mud, maybe even bathing in it, because they were absolutely covered from head to toe. They were a sad sight and they knew it.

The chicks didn't do a lot of flying. They headed straight for the oyster bar and the water to try and get rid of the gunk. I am sure that by now they have managed to get most of the mud off.

(In addition to his report, Mark sent some great pictures which I will try to get processed and posted to the photo journal later today. Liz)

Date: February 16th 2006,
Reporter: Mark Nipper Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: More 2005 Cohort News
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Yesterday, as I was typing out that everything was going well, 105 and 204 flew to Chass. 105 has been our arch nemesis at the pensite since 2002, and his girlfriend can be fairly nasty too. Lara Fondow (Lead ICF Tracker) called to let us know that we were in for some trouble so we quickly headed for the pen.

When Marianne and I arrived, 105 and 204 were in the pen with three chicks and 309. The other sixteen chicks were not in sight. We were able to get the three chicks into the covered pen easily. Then we started hearing the others. They were somewhere to the NNW of the pen island in one of the many inlets and channels in that area. The blaring brood call from the loud speaker eventually got them excited enough to come back. They all landed inside the big pen along the oyster bar area, but by this time it was after 6pm and daylight was fading.

It was immediately obvious that we were in for some trouble. The birds went straight for the feed station or to the oyster bar as if to roost. We had already taken the feeders to the top-netted pen and gotten rid of the water in the bubbler so that the adults would have no access to either. So far this year, the birds have been fairly easy to get in and out of the covered pen; they usually just follow the feeders right in. Tonight however, it was clear that they just wanted to go to bed. They realized that we were heading for the top-netted pen, and we managed to get ten of them inside. The other six (pretty sure: 3, 5, 19, 21, 23, 24) wanted nothing to do with us. They were perfectly content to just go to bed with 309, who was already on the roost.

Short of grabbing them all, it was clear that we were not going to get them into the pen. At this point it was approaching 7pm and getting pretty dark, so we had to settle for them at least being inside the big pen. 105 and 204 were also in the big pen, but in the main pool just across from the main roost. 105 made his way over to the roost but was stopped by Marianne. He went back over to where he had been just as the sun went completely down.

With total darkness making it unlikely the birds would fly out, we had to be content that we had done all we could. As soon as the 'costume' left the roost, the adults came over and ran the chicks and 309 off of the prime roosting area. When we left, all the birds remained in the pen though, and we had to hope that they would all settle in and just go to sleep.

When we arrived at the pen in the early morning we found 105, 204, and all the rest up in the air. 309 and the chicks came down outside the big pen close to the gate of the top-netted pen. Excepting for 505, all the chicks went in easily. 309 was more than willing to join the chicks in the pen with the food. She is more of a chick than most of the ’05 flock. We got her back out and made sure that everything was set for the day before we took our leave. 105 and 204 were inside the big pen pacing the gate into the covered pen and were very busy calling and displaying aggressively during all of our commotion.

Date: February 15th 2006,
Reporter: Mark Nipper Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: 2005 Cohort News
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: It has been smooth sailing for a week now; not a lot has been happening. The weather has been very cold and dangerously windy for much of the past week. This is only trouble for us in getting out to the pen and back. The birds don't seem to mind the weather at all. They just eat more than they might normally.

The chicks are getting very white and their beards and red hats are showing up more and more every day. 510 in particular looks very mature. I have caught myself more than once thinking that she was 309. Many others are in the process of losing their chick voices and they gradually start to purr more and bellow out croaky alarm calls.  

New photos posted here.

Date: February 14th 2006, (Update # 2)
Reporter: Liz Condie Position Opening! Click here to view our opening for Supervisor of Field Operations.
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: News just received
 Whooper Happenings - click here to listen to Mark Chenoweth's latest audio podcast all about Whooping Cranes!

Notes: Dr. John French, Research manager at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center advised that over 100 pens at his facility were damaged, top netting destroyed, and about 6,000 feet of chain link fence bent from the weight of 20 inches of snow that fell this past weekend. Damages may exceed $300K.

All of the Whooping cranes that got lose have been re-captured, but a few sandhills are still roaming the grounds. A few birds suffered minor injuries, but all and all they came through okay. Some have had one wing taped in order to hold them in the damaged pens. The facility is still without electricity.

The staff at Patuxent are doing tremendous work, and are scrambling to try to initiate the needed repairs in order to get them done before the impending breeding season.

Date: February 14th 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Wood Buffalo/Aransas Update

Notes: Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas sent this report based on his February 1st aerial census.

An aerial census at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock at 189 adults + 29 young = 218 total. This includes one Whooping crane in extreme South Texas and one that was last seen January 3rd in South Dakota . One adult and one juvenile died this fall at Aransas, accounting for a peak flock size of 190 + 30 = 220.

Tom noted that overcast skies and haze made for poor visibility, and as a result only 203 Whooping cranes were located. While two adult pairs and 10 sub-adults were not spotted, all 29 family groups were found.

Late-December through mid-February is usually a difficult time for the flock, and food resources continue to be considered below optimum. Tides have come up a little, but are still considered low, thus, most of the blue crabs are in the deeper bay waters and unavailable to the cranes.

A tour boat naturalist reported seeing the cranes catching only a few crabs, but also gigging flounder. The marshes on San Jose Island were particularly dry with large expanses of dry mudflats. The 42 whooping cranes currently located on San Jose is a drop from the 46 seen on the flight of January 11th, and is believed to be a response to the amount of water available. The drought in Texas persists with rainfall deficits continuing into 2006.

Date: February 13th 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: White Birds & 2005 Cohort

Notes: (Apologies for the absence of entries folks, but I've been out of commission with walking pneumonia.)

White Bird News as of Feb/1106
The only significant movement was by 301 and 311 who left Florida February 2nd and were tracked as far as Charlton County , GA. On February 7th they were reported in South Carolina (where 311 wintered last year).

203 and 317 were not located during the past week. This pair left Florida in the company of 301 and 311 and on February 2nd were also reported as being in Charlton County , GA , but they have not been detected since.

2005 Cohort News
The juveniles were released from the pen on February 6th and they remained free for the balance of the week. On their first day out of the pen an airboat and the swamp monster were used to flush them from a potentially unsafe roosting site. Eventually, 309 and all but two of the birds returned to roost in the pen. On the 7th, 9th, and 10th, all 19 juveniles and 309 roosted in the pen, On February 11th all the birds were huddled near the feed shelter when the crew left the pen early because of wind and rain.

Thanks to the Tracking and Monitoring Team.

Date: February 8th 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: DAR & White Bird Update

Notes: Thanks to the Tracking/Monitoring team we have a new update on the activities of the white birds and the DAR juveniles as of February 4th.

DAR Update: All DAR juveniles were on major Sandhill crane wintering areas. 532 and 533 are in Florida . The other two DAR juveniles, 527 and 528, remained in Tennessee.

White Bird Update: Locations of the white birds through last week were: Florida - 33; Tennessee - 4 (209, 213, 218, 302); South Carolina - 1 (310); North Carolina - 1 (318); and unknown - 1 (307).
Who's with who in Florida:
101, 202
102, 212, 208
105, 204
201, 306
203, 317, 301, 311
205, 313
211, 217
216, 303
312, 316
401, 407, 408
402, 403, 412, 416, 417
419, 420

Florida News: Three adult pairs made significant moves during the week, and two of these pairs (203 and 317, and 301 and 311) left Florida . February 1st they returned to the Chass pen but left about noon for Columbia County . The next morning they resumed their north-easterly flight and arrived in Charlton County , GA in deteriorating weather. No additional tracking of these birds occurred during the week.

216 and 303 visited at the Chassahowitzka pensite early in the week. They left February 2nd and landed at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve pensite midday, but an after dark check indicated that they did not roost there. The following day they were detected in the air over Marion County . They eventually returned to the Chass pen February 5th, but left the same day to return to their usual wintering territory.

309 remained at the Chassahowitzka pensite during the week associating with the '05 juveniles when they were not in the top-netted enclosure. She roosted in or near the pen, as did 216 and 303 when they were in the area.

401, 407 and 408 were detected in Polk County associating with a lone 2000 non-migratory female Whooping crane. Also at this site were a pair, and a group of five non-migratory birds.

Tennessee News: 107 was sighted at Hiwassee February 1st.

213 and 218 along with 209 and 302 roosted and foraged in a large pond and an adjacent harvested cornfield on their usual habitat. When waterfowl hunters appeared at the pond, apparently without knowledge of the landowner, the Whooping cranes left the area and returned after the hunters had left the area.

South Carolina News: Habituation to increased local vehicular traffic and approach by humans has raised concerns about 318's welfare, and that of the flock generally.

As the reintroduced population grows and the Whooping cranes naturally disperse more widely to establish their own territories, the project team is worried that the temptation to  approach and/or attempt to photograph the birds will similarly increase. Because the birds' reaction to human interference/intervention is a fright/flight response, there is potential for serious injury even a fatality. Project members fear that their investment of time, effort and money in a bird or birds could be lost due to careless or unthinking human behavior.

In the foreseeable future, with everyone's support and co-operation, this project will culminate in there being enough Whooping cranes in North America that neither sightings, photo-ops, nor the birds themselves will be so rare.

We encourage all to respect the wildness of the birds and to adhere to WCEP's protocols.

 - On foot, do not approach within 600 feet.
 - In a vehicle, keep well outside of 800 feet and remain inside.
 - In all cases remain well-concealed and do not speak so loudly that the birds can hear you.
 - Please do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view Whooping cranes.

Due to technical difficulties, we are still processing the new pictures for the Photo Journal.

Date: February 6th 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Chick update & more

Notes: The birds are still in the mud but they are out of the little pen. Marianne Wellington (ICF taking over for Sara Zimorski) and I let the little guys out Friday morning.

A huge front with some serious thunderstorms moved through the area Thursday night and Friday. The intense colored sky was a dramatic backdrop to the beautiful sight of the chicks bursting from the pen and taking to the air to fly around.

516 still didn't fly all that well, but he did fly. The rest flew several laps, calling like crazy the whole time. We didn't spend a lot of time out there since we could see more lightning not too far away and getting closer.

Yesterday morning (Sunday), 216 and 303 showed up again, so we put the young birds back into the top-netted pen. There are several reasons why we do this. Our main goal for the winter is to keep the chicks safe, (we don't want them to be dinner for bobcats) so we keep them inside the fence at night. The youngsters are still quite ignorant at this point, so we try to nurture and protect them through their first winter. This helps ensure they will be alive to hone their survival lessons when they set out on their return journey north to their summer home in Wisconsin .

The adults of past years have been very territorial, to the point of running the chicks out of the pen. This territoriality led to the death of two birds last year; one chick and one adult. They were forced to roost in inappropriate habitat. The older birds will simply chase/fight until they feel they have control of the area.

Having been free and on their own, the white birds are accustomed to wandering. Though it is unlikely they would do so, we don't want the young birds following them around, perhaps getting themselves into trouble - or worse. More than once this year the adults have gotten excited and taken off, which elicited the same reaction from the chicks. One of the nights we had birds outside the pen we are pretty sure that one of the adults got them riled up.

There is also the chance that the adults could hurt or kill the chicks. Aggression between the birds can develop at any time, and it would not difficult for an experienced adult to get the upper hand on a first year bird. Aggression can take the form of everything from a casual look, to standing on top of a fallen opponent and ripping them to pieces.

Every little gesture of the body, especially the head (red crown) means something between the birds. We are able to understand the basics of their communications, but obviously most is beyond the perception of we mere mortals. 

The physical postures they assume leads to the myriad of calls that the birds have. Their long pipes allow them to make many sounds for every occasion. When it comes to actual violence, the birds' main weapons are their beaks and feet. They have deadly aim and can pack quite a punch with their mouths. They can also do great damage by grabbing and tearing. Mouthfuls of feathers looks funny and may elicit a giggle from us, but it can be serious.

The big guns come out when the birds "jump-rake" each other. The birds literally jump up in the air, and come down kicking their long legs and feet like crazy. At the end of each toe is a sharp claw (as many birds have) which can cause serious injury.
'Attitude' plays a big role too though, and this year's youngsters have a lot of attitude. As a result as we've mentioned before, the '05 chicks have so far been able to hold their own with the adults. When it comes to actual fighting however, the older birds have experience, and more often than not, the chicks quickly discover they are no match for the advanced skill of the adults and they quickly retreat. 

Another fundamental concern about having the adult birds out at the Chass pen has to do with our goal of reintroducing "wild" birds. How wild can a bird that is in a pen eating out of a feeder and drinking from a cattle bubbler be? We make an exception for our young birds, but we would prefer our experienced adults to behave more like wild birds should. Of course, "should" is completely subjective, and is based on our ideals, not the birds'.

Part of being wild is to do what is necessary to survive and multiply. For us it poses a lot of hard questions. Which is more important; that the birds are alive and procreating, or that they are doing it under more 'natural' circumstances. Personally, I like to think that nature is all about being lazy.....minimum output for maximum gain. If a bunch of weird-looking big white things are willing to set out free food, it only makes sense to take advantage.

While I am an idealist and don't think it is good for our birds to be 'living off' us, I am also a realist. Ensuring the youngsters survive the winter to make their first return migration is vital. This means that as long as we take the responsibility for leading birds south, taking care of them as well as dealing with visiting adults also becomes a responsibility - and it is something we have no option but to manage as best we can.

We are processing new pictures for the Photo Journal and will post them as soon as possible.

Date: February 3rd 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: Being kept hopping

Notes:  (Below is Mark's report as of Thursday Feb/2/06)

The birds are still out there in the mud at Chass. We had some new visitors - some of our white birds - and they were not entirely well-behaved guests. As a result, we decided to put the chicks into the enclosed pen until they left, particularly 216 and 303. Even though they are not aggressive, they are definitely not a good influence on the young ones. This year the chicks don't seem to mind the little pen nearly as much as last year's chicks did - hopefully they will never have to be in there for too long. (Mark hopes to let them out of the pen today.)

Wednesday the adult birds were doing all kinds of crazy stuff, but they've now left the pen. Over the last few years one of our problems has been that there is a good place for the adults to winter that is not far from the pen. This means they can get up in the air and be at the pensite in no time at all, and this was the reason for the trouble we previously had with 105 and 204. This year we have four other adults hanging out at that location, and they are able to do the same thing.

203 and 317 are one pair and 301 and 311 are the second. Around midday Wednesday, these four birds were out at the pen. While the airboat was heading back in they got up in the air, and were joined by 216 and 303. The latter decided to land back at the pen, but the others turned away and headed north. They almost made it to Georgia before they stopped for the night.

Often the birds will fly around during the day, but usually they don't seem to have much directional purpose. Thursday however, they continued north a ways, and were stopped in Georgia by bad weather. These are the birds that were in South Carolina last year, so maybe they are going back. 

Yesterday 216 and 303 also decided to take to the air. They went as far as the temporary pen at Halpata where we held the chicks in December. Their departure does mean though, that we should able to let the birds out of the small pen, and that is good. As you can imagine, the antics of these zany adults has given us some excitement the past few days.

We have now been able to get a new camera and I think I have it's workings all figured out  so I will soon be clicking away. Hopefully we will have new photos for you soon. While it is always fun to take pictures out there, it isn't always easy. We have to be very sneaky and shoot the photos without being obvious. No easy feat when you're sinking into the muck and it is hard enough to just stay upright and not topple over into the mud!  

Date: February 2nd, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: White Bird Update

Notes: Here's the latest White Bird Update from the Tracking Team.

January 31 tracker Lara Fondow and intern Chris Malachowski found direct autumn release (DAR) Whooping crane juvenile 532 in Osceola County, Florida. The following day he was observed in a wetland with 65 wintering Sandhill cranes.

532 had last been recorded when he continued migration from Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge, TN on November 30. A planned aerial survey of major Sandhill crane wintering areas in Florida could not be completed until December 12 because of poor weather. Mechanical problems that day grounded the aircraft however, resulting in the search being suspended until January 31 when tracking aircraft again became available.

532 was found in the first priority area searched shortly after the flight began. According to observers, he had been present since at least mid-December. Two of the four DAR juveniles are on major Sandhill crane wintering areas in Tennessee (Hiwassee) and the other one is in Alachua County, FL.

Many thanks to the Wildlife Trust, St. Petersburg, Florida, and especially to Dr. Buddy Powell, who arranged the flight, and to pilot Lew Lawrence.


Date: January 31st, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration, Post Migration, and Winter Photo Journal.
Activity: White Bird Update as of Jan/28/06

Notes: Once again, there were no major re-locations of the white birds with the exception of local movements to forage and roost.

The Tracking/Monitoring team reports that 501, 503, 507, 508, 511, 520, 522, and 523 have all attained their adult voices. The status of 502, 506, 509 and 519 hasn't yet been determined, but the rest of the juvies still have their chick voices.

Other 2005 cohort news includes ongoing concern as the flight capability of 516 continues to appear impaired. A bobcat trap containing two live chickens was set on January 22, but nothing was captured and no new bobcat signs were observed during the past week.


Date: January 31st, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Whooping Cranes going to the
2006 Olympics!

We invite you to consider supporting our good friends at Ijams and help to spread awareness of the plight of endangered species throughout the world.

WHAT: The Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy are coming up in February 2006 and that means its PIN TRADING TIME - the unofficial popular sport at all Olympic Games!

Julie James, the wife of Ijams Nature Center's Executive Director Paul James, will be working for the Torino Olympic Broadcasting Company during the games, and will be trading special pins in support of Ijams' efforts to bring the endangered Whooping crane to Knoxville, TN.

You can support Ijams' Bid for Endangered Whooping Cranes as she trades special pins at the Winter Olympic Games in February in Torino, Italy.

WHY: Ijams Nature Center is a world-class Nature Center and cranes are revered by cultures all over the world. Ijams proposes to construct a wetland habitat that will host a pair of captive whooping cranes. Ijams would be only the 8th location in the U.S. where visitors can see captive whooping cranes up close.

HOW: It's very easy! Simply sponsor Julie to trade as many Whooping crane pins as she can during the winter Olympic games. The more pins Julie trades the more awareness she generates for Ijams, for Knoxville and Tennessee, and for crane conservation worldwide.

Click on the following link to go to Ijams' website where you can read more about this Ijams program and where you can download a sponsorship form.

Pledge $25 or more and upon receipt of your donation, you will receive your very own Olympic Whooping Crane Pin! 

(Actual pin size = 1")

Date: January 29th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Something NEW for "Craniacs"

Thanks to two of OM's long-time supporters and volunteers, Mark and Peggy Chenoweth of Florida, there is something new and exciting for OM's dedicated 'Craniacs' and Whooping crane fans generally.

Mark and Peggy put their heads together, came up with an idea, and after A LOT of work and effort, especially by Mark, a new program (which is really a podcast) called "whooper happenings" was hatched - and you can download it for FREE!

For the uninitiated, (of which I was one) podcasts are short audio programs that can be downloaded in mp3 format to play on your computer via Windows Media Player or with Apple's QuickTime. Podcasts can be played on your computer, burned to a CD, or synched to an iPod or other such device so you can listen while you are on-the-go.

whooper happenings is the first, and we believe only podcast devoted to Whooping cranes, specifically the White Birds, and related topics that affect their habitat and flyways. Mark'
s background in radio is evident in the knowledgeable way he integrates topics into the podcast, and in both his excellent speaking voice and interviewing technique.

In his first
whooper happenings podcast, Mark presents listeners with current information about Whooping cranes across North America, and about those who work to help rescue and safeguard this highly endangered species from extinction. He features interviews with the biologists who handle the birds, as well as those who fly with them, that is, OM's ultralight pilots.

The first podcast includes commentary from Joe Duff, Operation Migration's CEO and Lead Ultralight Pilot; ICF Aviculturalist, Sara Zimorski; Walter Sturgeon, President of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Volunteer Aviculturalist with OM; and two of OM's volunteer top cover pilots, Dave Mattingly and Jack Wrighter who hail from the Touch Our Planet organization. Mark also captured some candid remarks from attendees at the December 13 Dunnellon Arrival Flyover event, as well as comments from those he interviewed.

If you use Apple's iTunes, you can do a search in the Apple store for "Whooping cranes," "Operation Migration," or just "Whooper Happenings," and it will find the program for you. Or, you can use Ctrl + Click on the following link to go to and then click on the POD button, or the direct download program title at the bottom.

Broadband is best as downloading by a dial-up connection can take nearly an hour. The current download is about 13 MB. This first podcast runs about 23 minutes, but future programs will be shorter. Mark welcomes your comments and suggestions to help him make future programs better. Use the 'Comments' link on the podcast download page. 

Mark's goal is to produce one new
whooper happenings podcast a month. All we at OM can say is, kudos to Mark and Peggy!! OM is both grateful and appreciative of their efforts. Please tell other Whooping crane fans about this program.

We hope everyone will take advantage of all the time and work Mark has put into this project for the information and enjoyment of 'Craniacs' and Whooping crane aficionados everywhere.

Date: January 28th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Report #3 for Jan/28/06

White Bird Update as of the week ended January21/05:   

Compliments of the tracking and monitoring team, we can report the most recent locations of the white birds. Outside of movements to forage for food etc, all of the prior years' birds essentially remained in the same locations as previously reported.

1 In North Carolina 318
1 In South Carolina 310
4 In Tennessee   213, 218, 209, 302
33 In Florida 101, 102, 105
    201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 208, 211, 212, 216, 217
    301, 303, 306, 309, 311, 312, 313, 316, 31 7
    401, 402, 403, 407, 408, 412, 415, 416, 417, 419, 420
2 Whereabouts unknown 307, last observed Dec/2/05 in Jackson County , AL
41   107, last  detected Jan5/06 at Hiwassee , TN

As for the DAR birds: 533 is in Florida ; 527 and 528 are still at Hiwassee ; and 532 has not been undetected since November 30/05.

The monitoring team also reported a human disturbance which occurred on the morning of January 20th. A boat with two fishermen was within the restricted access area to the blind. Fortunately, they were not visible to the juvenile cranes at the pensite, and they left after being informed of the access restriction.  

Date: January 28th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Report #2 for Jan/28/06

Note:  This report just in from Mark. For his earlier report (of Jan/21/06) see also the new posting below. Liz

Mark's Update: For the most part, the birds have been doing really well. We had an incident last night but everything has turned out okay. The chicks are all getting pretty white, and seven of them have lost their chick voices.

Each night this past week the birds went to roost right on time and no one had to be herded into the pen. 309 is still there in the middle of the group. Everything has been going well, which was especially nice since we were also busy at the WCEP meetings.

Last night was looking like another easy night as the birds were heading to the roost. The sun was already below the horizon and most of the birds were tucked into bed. The birds must have thought that Sara and I had been enjoying the ease of the last week and decided to make us pay. A bunch of birds including 309 took off and started flying around the pen. 516 also flew, but landed outside the pen and immediately wanted back in. Then a group of seven headed out and away from the pen. They eventually landed in a creek nearby that we call E-creek. We have lost multiple birds in this area in past years, so Sara and I had to suit up and get out there.

516 came in easily of course, but it was soon obvious that the rest were going to make things hard. We turned on our loud speaker playing the brood call, left it in the pen, and then started hiking out through the marsh in the dark.

Once we had gotten as far as we could (without swimming), we found that the birds were still a hundred yards or so up the creek. It was just light enough that we could make out their shadows on the water - - or at least we thought we could.

We could definitely hear them though, and knew they were very excited. Both the chicks and 309 were calling a lot. All of a sudden I could hear flapping and then a shadow was right in front of me. One of the cranes flew right to us, but then turned and went back toward the group.

Then the calling got more excited and the came flapping again. This time five shadows (309 among them) appeared, and they circled shortly before flying to the pen and landing. The loud speaker seemed to have led them right in. This left two birds unaccounted for, but as we couldn't hear/see/get to them, all we could do was go back and see if they had returned to the pen without us knowing.

It was too dark to see when we finally got back to the pen. We had to get a flashlight just to count the birds in the pen. We came up two birds short every time we counted. Radio signals suggested it was 507 and 520 that were not in the pen, but it was very hard to tell. With nothing to do but hope the birds made it through the night, we went home and tried to get some sleep. The good news is that this morning everyone was in the pen and looking just fine.

Date: January 28th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Away reporting delay

Notes:  Our apologies for the time gap between field journal postings. Joe and I were away at the WCEP Winter Meetings and only arrived home after midnight last evening. While we had our laptops with us, we both experienced 'connection' issues and were unable to get online. Starting with today's entry we will try to do some catching up.

Mark Nipper reported that the birds recently spent two days out of the top-netted pen. They were let out Saturday morning (Jan 21) after the crew spent most of Friday putting on finishing touches to get the pen ready.

On Saturday morning most of the birds came right out of the pen, but six or so appeared very nervous. 519 was one of the nervous ones, which seemed to cause a similar reaction in the birds around her.

Some went for a few laps around the pen, including 516, who looked good in the air. He then attempted to come in for a landing in the pen.....the covered pen. Oops. When he realized there was something in the way, it looked like he tried to power back, but he just couldn't. As a result, he landed on the top-netting and Mark and Sara had to struggle to get him off. If you visualize a costumed and rubber-booted Mark and Sara, (not the tallest of team members to begin with) standing sunk down in a foot or two of mud, stretching to just reach the top-netting high overhead, you can understand why it was a struggle. However, Mark said that 516 seemed fine when they finally got him off, and that he followed them easily back into the covered pen and then out into the big pen.

The birds have been roosting on the oyster bar each night without having to be led back into the pen. 309 is still with them, but it appears she is thrilled to have some friends again and doesn't present any problem or threat to the younger birds.

You will recall that 309 is the 'wanderlust' bird that had to be picked up and relocated. On December 15th, Sara Zimorski and Richard van Heuvelen traveled from Florida to North Carolina in search of her. Once they tracked her down, she was crated and flown to northern Florida December 16th where she was released. Mark expressed some apprehension in that if she continues to hang out with the new youngsters, she might lead them astray on the upcoming spring migration. But he also felt that because she is quite submissive, and seems so happy just to have other birds around her, that this may not be a real concern.

When the team went to check the pensite on Monday the 23rd, the birds were all fired up about something. They were running around after each other and screaming like crazy. While 309 didn't lead the screaming, she happily followed suit. Mark said it was funny to hear all the croaky chicks and then 309's perfect adult voice chiming in.

We expect to have more from Mark to report to you within the next few days.

Date: January 22nd, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Wrap-up / Catch-up / Look Ahead

Notes:  Each fall, from early-mid September until the latest cohort is safely in Florida , everything but the most pressing work at the office has to take a back seat to tasks relating to the migration. Between preparations, organizing logistics, and then absorbing a myriad of essential seasonal duties into an already overfull workload, here at the office, we make a hive of busy bees look like slackers.

In past years we have had the last part of December to attend to the innumerable tasks that comprise wrapping up the fall migration - everything from checking and returning borrowed equipment and moving aircraft and trailers north, to doing the allocations and accounting for three months of expenses incurred while on the road. The 'extended' migration this season changed much of that, giving us new duties, new logistics, and a new timetable of tasks to sort out.

Wrap-up and catch-up continues into January. It's when all the things that had to be put on the back burner have to be attended to. It's when OM's summary of the past year's work has to be drafted for the WCEP annual report. It's the beginning of the last quarter of our fiscal year, and when the Board is looking for up-to-date financials and other reports, as well as projections and draft proposals for the next. In the midst of this we are struggling mightily to get out the many thank you's we owe you, our supporters; to write the reports due for last year's grants; to research and prepare applications for 06/07 funding; and to put out the Winter issue of Information magazine. Yup, we are just a tad busy.

On top of which, this Tuesday, the 23rd, marks the start of the three day WCEP winter meeting in Homasassa Springs , FL. On day one each of the teams* meet to review their individual work of the past year, and along with recommending improvements, set their course for 2006. The second day is a plenary session where the team leaders present a summary of past efforts and future plans to all, followed by Q & A and a full discussion. This is important to ensure that the right hand knows what the left is doing. On day three the Project Direction Team meets to discuss the big picture, and they hammer out the agenda and course that the WCEP project will steer in the coming year.

The WCEP meetings are a prelude to those of the North American Whooping Crane Working Group scheduled for early February, and the Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCRT), a joint Canada/U.S organization (established in 1976) will be represented. Attended by biologists, geneticists, researchers and aviculturalists, the gathering focuses on the future of these rare birds, and the various steps and projects underway or contemplated throughout North America that are designed to help remove them from the endangered species list. Joe is a member of the WCRT and will attending this direction-setting meeting, as will OM volunteer, Walter Sturgeon in his capacity as President of The Whooping Crane Conservation Association.

*WCEP Teams: Project Direction, Resource Development, Chick Rearing and Ultralight Training, Direct Autumn Release, Health Management, Tracking and Monitoring, and Communications and Outreach. (Joe is a member of the Project Direction Team and is Team Leader for Chick Rearing and Ultralight Training; Liz is a member of the Communications and Outreach Team. Mark Nipper, who is in Florida assisting with winter monitoring, will also attend the meetings.)

Date: January 20th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Chassashowitska NWR, Florida Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: 516 rejoins flock

Notes:  516 has now rejoined the flock. With the assistance of the Chassashowitska NWR staff everything worked out well. We got 516 in the crate just before dawn Thursday morning. Traffic was light, so we made it to the boat launch in good time, and met up with Bob Quarles and John Kasbohm (USFWS) who already had the boat in the water.

Once the crated bird was in the boat everything went pretty well. We had to go slowly, and even had to get out and push/pull the boat through a few shallow areas, but it was a smooth and quiet ride. Luckily, we managed to get within a hundred yards of where we usually stop the boat, so it was a short walk with the bird.

516 came out of the box just fine and looked good on the walk to the pen. There was a short, shallow span of water that we had to cross, and at first he was a little skittish about getting into the water. But eventually he jumped in and came across to where we were. He followed us to the pen just fine, and went right in. He has always been a good follower, and easy to get in/out of gates. He looked good in the pen, and none of the other birds seemed too concerned about him.

Hopefully we will be able to let them all out in the next couple days. At the moment there are a few older birds out at the pensite and we would like them to leave. 309 never really left, and 301 and 311 showed back up today (Thursday). None of these birds seem to be particularly aggressive towards the chicks however.

I am hoping we will have less trouble with the older Whooping cranes this winter since we seemingly have a tougher bunch of birds in this year's cohort. These chicks have always been very aggressive towards the adults, and do not put up with any 'crap' from them.

Date: January 19th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Good News/Happy Ending

Notes:  Many of you will recall that one of our house trailers was involved in a road mishap on the migration. At one time we feared it was going to cost more to fix it than was practicable, and that it could be the next thing to a write-off. All that was before I got a tip from Laurlin Bedwell at the Dunnellon Flyover event. (Thanks again, Laurlin.)

Laurlin put us on to Liles Collision Service Inc., in Ocala, FL, where we met the warm and friendly owner; Gene Liles. Before leaving Florida we towed our trailer there to be checked out. Gene assured us he could fix it, so we left it in his capable hands and headed home. He took another worry off our minds when he offered to store it on his property after it was repaired until we could figure out how to get it moved to Chass or elsewhere.

You know the expression, "All's well that ends well"? That's how this story ends - in fact very well. Not only did the great people at Liles Collision fix our house trailer.....they donated the cost of the repairs!! How awesome are they?!?!

If you ever have a vehicle in need of work and you are within range of Ocala , we highly recommend Liles Collision Service to you. These folks are not just professional, not just good at what they do, they are good people. While we hope you are never in a collision, we hope that you will support them with your business should you have a need for such services - and tell all your friends too. Sincere thanks to Gene Liles. You can find Liles Collision Service Inc at 4380 NW 36th Avenue, Ocala, FL.

Date: January 18th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida - Chass & Halpata Click to view 2005's Migration & Post Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: 2005 Cohort Update

Notes:  We let the birds at the Chass pen out yesterday (Tuesday). Despite it being very windy which made the birds a little nervous, about half of them still went for a decent flight. With the strong gusts, it wasn't a very graceful sight, but nonetheless, they got some good exercise. 519 was one of the birds that flew. When she landed she came down on the other side of the pen, and as usual, she didn't make it easy for us to get her back into the pen.

309 was at the pensite but she seemed to be of little threat to the chicks. She is a very submissive bird, and the chicks appeared to have no problem controlling her.

We also went over to Halpata to let 516 out for some exercise too. He was excited to get out of the pen and while he took a few short flights, he wasn't able to fly very high or far, and he looked uncoordinated. It was still rather gusty though, so maybe it was good that he flew at all.

We will be moving 516 out to the Chass pen in the next few days. Hopefully, the change of setting, and being back with his buddies will encourage him to fly.

Date: January 17th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office
check photo journal for new pics
Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: White Bird Update

Notes: The Monitoring/Tracking team's update for the week ending January 14th notes little change from that of the previous week.

The numbers of birds in Florida, Tennessee, and the Carolinas remains the same. The locations of 107, 307, and DAR532 are still unknown. For the first time since late December, several birds returned to the Chass pensite. (203, 301, 309, 311, and 317).  The team was hoping this wouldn't occur, and that the 2005 chicks would be left undisturbed for the winter. Hopefully the presence of the white birds won't cause any difficulty.

Date: January 15th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office
check photo journal for new pics
Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: White Bird Update

Notes: The reported locations of the eastern migratory population as of January 7th, 2005 are as follows:

In Florida - 33 + 1 DAR
101, 102, 105
201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 208, 211, 212, 216, 217
301*, 303, 306, 309**, 311, 312, 313, 316, 317
401, 402, 403, 407, 408, 412, 416, 415, 417, 419, 420
No whooping cranes have been present at the Chassahowitzka pensite since December 25th and most birds appear to have settled on wintering areas.

In Tennessee - 5 + 2 DAR
107***, 209, 213, 218, 302, DAR 527 and 528

South Carolina - 1

North Carolina - 1

Location Unknown - 1 + 1 DAR
307 was last seen December 2nd in Jackson County , AL . DAR532 was last seen departing Hiwassee November 30th.

*     Retrieved from Michigan
**   Retrieved from North Carolina
*** Last reported at Hiwassee December 31st. Believed to have remained in the area, however, as her transmitter is nonfunctional she cannot be tracked.

Thanks to the tracking team for their excellent work and updates: Richard Urbanek, Lara Fondow, Sara  Zimorski, and Mark Nipper .

Who is 'hanging out' with whom on their Florida wintering grounds? (Blue for males and Pink for females.)

101 with 202
212 with 102 (and sometimes 208)
105 with 204
306 with 201
317 with 203
205 with 313
211 with 217
216 with 303
311 with 301
316 with 312

with F415
with F420
401 with 407 and 408
with 403, 412, 416, and 417
and DAR533 seem to be on their own.

Associating in Tennessee are:
213 with 218
302 with 209
DAR527 and DAR528

Date: January 13th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office
Check Photo Journal for new pics
Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Wood Buffalo/Aransas Update

Notes:  Once again, thanks to Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas, we are able to give you the latest on the Wood Buffalo/Aransas flock.

The aerial census on January of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated 189 adults and 29 young for a total of 218 Whooping cranes in this flock. This total includes one bird in extreme South Texas, and one last seen January 3rd east of Pierre , South Dakota . On January 8th there was a report of a Whooping crane being at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in the Texas Panhandle. While the report looks promising, it hasn't yet been confirmed, and it could be speculated that it might be the Whooping crane sighted in South Dakota .

The excellent flight conditions and visibility on the latest census day allowed for a complete count. Crane numbers in all parts of their range were as anticipated, with the exception of being short about 5 subadults on the south end of Matagorda Island which were presumably overlooked. Tom Stehn advised that despite movements of the cranes to freshwater and/or uplands making the census more difficult, he was confident they had a reasonably accurate count.

Had there been no chick mortality, (one died after its arrival) the 2005 spring population of 215 would have been boosted to 245. Instead, the estimated peak population of 220 this fall indicates that 25 of the Whooping cranes at Aransas in the spring of 2005 failed to return in the fall. This decrease represents 11.6% of 2005's spring population.

With annual mortality averaging about 9.8%, it is apparent that deaths between spring and fall this past year were higher than average. Only one carcass was recovered during this period however, that of a 28-year-old female crane in Saskatchewan in the fall. Tom said he could offer no explanation for the above average mortality rate.

Today's flight helped to finalize the presence of territorial pairs, including two new duos expected to nest in 2006. In addition to documentation of habitat use, there were three important findings made about specific cranes on this flight.

1) A juvenile not located last week and feared dead, re-appeared right next to the widowed adult. Last week it must have been separated from the female and/or been sitting down in the marsh and overlooked. Thus, mortality documented at Aransas this fall equals one adult and one juvenile; not two juveniles as previously reported.

2) The single adult family first documented as present December 21st may have re-paired. They were seen on today's flight as two adults with the juvenile with typical spacing of a family group. This youngster seems to have more rusty body feathers than some of the other juveniles and can be identified from most other family groups.

3) A pair of banded cranes has re-paired since last winter. Male crane nil-hs (1978) formerly with an unbanded female, is now paired with y/g-Y(1987) and they have a juvenile. They are staying on the extreme north end of nil-hs's traditional winter territory. This territory is located next to the territory where y/g-Y used to winter with Y-nil (formerly Y-G 1985). Tom reports that he has not seen Y-nil this winter, but that there is an unbanded duo wintering in the same traditional territory. He thinks it is possible that the one remaining band has fallen off Y-nil and the crane is still alive with a new mate; perhaps nil-hs lost his mate and re-paired with a younger female from an adjacent territory.

On January 11th's flight many cranes were spotted in locations they normally don’t use.  Observations of habitat use included 12 cranes at freshwater sources, 12 cranes foraging on uplands, and 61 cranes in open bay habitat, nearly triple the amount of open bay use documented in his last report. Tom notes that the amount of open bay use has increased substantially as tides have remained low; the lowest observed so far this winter on any aerial flight.

This is a tough part of the winter for the Whooping cranes, but conditions are typical of January and not unlike what they have faced before.

Date: January 12th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: 'Extended' Migration Ends 

Notes:  516 did not much want to fly this morning. We went out to the Halpata pensite with all three pilots and an army of swamp monsters. Richard lined up in front of the pen and Sara opened the panels. 516 didn't want to come out on his own so Sara had to herd him out.

He did take off behind Richard but then quickly turned away and headed right for the little spot that he has been landing in for the last few days. Today though, we were ready there with a monster, so he kept flying. However, rather than climb over the trees with the planes, he flew through the tops of the trees instead and landed in a clearing right on the other side. It was pretty scary watching him weave through the branches, not gaining altitude but actually descending.

When Sara and I went to round him up he followed us back to the pen and went right in. He seems happy as can be in there. We will be discussing the situation with the vets and hoping that this bird will still be able to join the flock.

Date: January 11th, 2006
Reporter: Joe Duff & Mark Nipper  
Location: Halpata and Chass Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: The 'continued' migration - Day 3

Joe's Notes: As reported over the last few days, the Operation Migration team has been trying to lead the birds from the interim site at Halpata near Dunnellon, to the final stop in Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

It had been a month since they last few with our aircraft and they have spent that time in a wetland pen, so they may have formed an attachment to their new home. At any rate, the alternative was to crate the birds and truck them the last 26 miles. So, despite less than high expectations, we gathered a team to make the attempt. After two days efforts, 7 birds had followed our ultralights all the way. But with the weather still good, the team decided to try again today.

This morning Richard van Heuvelen and Brooke Pennypacker managed to get 3 birds to follow them away from the Halpata site and they headed out on course. Thinking he wasn't needed, Chris Gullikson turned back to collect a few more bird and managed to take off with 8 - including 516!

As you may remember, 516 was the bird injured early in the migration when he became entangled in the top wires of the aircraft. He received physical therapy and medication for a few days, and was crated for a number of stops. He rejoined us in the air however, and made most of the journey with us. Since 516 has been at the pen, Mark has reported that he is a little freaky and reluctant to fly. His problem does not appear to be physical though, so maybe he just flies to a different drum beat.

516 only flew a short distance with Chris and the other 8 birds before he dropped out. This may have distracted the others, and they only flew a few miles before they all landed in a field. Chris landed with them and tried to take off again, but they would not go with him. He managed to contact Dr Richard Urbanek and volunteer Laurie Kramer who arrived an hour later to flush the birds for him so he could take off one more time.

Maybe the time spent with the aircraft on the ground waiting, or the distance from the pen had something to do with their attitude, but they all formed on Chris's aircraft wing and followed right along like troopers. By this time Richard and Brooke were back from dropping off their three birds and they flew chase for Chris as he led them to Chassahowitzka.

After three attempts, and with the support of the winter monitoring crew, the OM team has managed to get 18 birds to follow them to the final destination - leaving 516 as the only bird not making the flight. It looks like the good flying conditions will last one more day so the team has decided to try one more time to get him to follow them tomorrow. 

As you can imagine we are very proud of our birds, and the team, and feel much better about leading the birds all the way, rather than having them crated and trucked to the last stop. After a 1200 mile migration we are much more confident about their ability to return now that they have a complete knowledge of the entire route. We can now release them into the wild knowing that we have done our very best.

Congratulations to all who participated in this extra effort. You deserve our thanks.

Notes: We got all but 516 out to the Chass pen today!! We escaped a potential disaster and were able to pull off a miracle.

All of the birds came out of the pen at Halpata pretty well. They took off with Richard and headed out of the marsh. 516 flew straight to the same area he was in yesterday. The rest of the birds began the circus show with the pilots. After considerable effort, Brooke was able to get away with one bird again.

Both Richard and Chris were battling with the other ten when Richard managed to get away with two. They made it out to the pen at Chass without incident, though it was a slow and bumpy ride. The trouble started after Richard made it away with his two. Chris continued with the last eight until they landed in a field about a mile or so from the pen. He was able to land with them and gathered them all over by the plane. He tried to take back off with them, but they weren't interested.

Chris got his coordinates to us and we sent two swamp monsters around so he could try another take-off. We really did not want to box all eight. Richard and Brooke made it back to the area to provide further assistance. They helped scare the birds up into the air where they latched right onto Chris' wing. We were just hoping to get them back to the Halpata pen without boxing them, but they looked so good that we were able to get all the way to the Chassahowitska site.

While all this was going on went to get 516. He was once again happy to see me, and followed me into the pen without much trouble. Now we'll just have to wait and see what tomorrow will bring for this little guy.  

Date: January 11th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Florida Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: The 'continued' migration

Notes: Yesterday was the second day of the 'continued' migration. Richard van Heuvelen and Chris Gullikson arrived in Florida Sunday afternoon and met up with Brooke Pennypacker in Crystal River. The three pilots went to prepare the ultralights, while Sara Zimorski and I went out to take care of some last minute things at the Chass island pensite.  The pen looked good and was ready for some chicks. On Monday we were only able to get one bird (508) out there.

Because it was the first time the birds were going to see the planes after a month's pause we didn't know what to expect, but I don't think any of us anticipated it to go well. Brooke was able to get 508 to follow him and Chris assisted. In the meantime, Richard and I hung out with the rest of the birds and worked on seeing if we could get them to make friends with the trike again. We sat around the plane giving them treats and letting them get reacquainted. A little thing like this can make a big difference.

We decided to put the birds into the migration trailer-pen in the hope that they would come out of it easier. We also thought that being in a different place for the night might make them more anxious to get out. This was a nice idea, but getting them in there was not so nice. The birds were not overly keen about going back in there after a month in their nice Halpata pen.

In the end, the time we spent with the birds and moving them to the other pen helped considerably. Also a big help were Chass staffers, John Kasbohm and Sarah Palmisano, who assisted by acting as swamp monsters. Their enthusiastic 'monstering' made a huge difference the second morning. The birds really wanted to land over by the Halpata pen, but John and Sarah wouldn’t let them.

Brooke and Chris were able to get away with one bird each. Chris then passed off his bird to Brooke and came back to help with the rest. With some work, Richard was able to get five birds to follow him, and he joined up with Brooke and his two birds.

Unbeknownst to Chris and I, one of these birds broke off and came back. On their way back to the Dunnellon airport Richard and Brooke called to ask where the missing bird was. Chris and I promptly answered, "Missing bird!!?" Once we determined which birds were where, we figured out that 516 was somewhere in the nearby marsh. He was, and it was fairly easy to get him back into the pen. The good news is that he is flying.

Seven birds are now at the Chass pensite. 501, 502, 503, 505, 506, 507, 512, 516, 519, 520, 523, and 524 remain at Halpata. The birds showed marked improvement over Monday’s effort and we hope to get more out to the Chass pensite today (Wednesday).

Date: January 10th, 2006
Reporter: Joe Duff  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Cohort on the move!

Notes: Unlike many birds, Whooping cranes are territorial on both ends of their migration. In the wild, a breeding pair will defend a nesting territory and hatch one, or maybe two, eggs every season. Because of sibling aggression, predators, disease, food shortage, floods, droughts, late springs, early fall, and all the other calamities that seem to conspire against them, they are lucky to lead one offspring to the traditional wintering grounds every other year. That chick, if it survives, will make the return migration, and the parents, pre-occupied with a new family, will chase it off like any other interloper. Eventually when this juvenile reaches breeding age it will likely establish neighboring territories.

As the only naturally occurring flock increases in size from the all time low of 15 individuals to now over 200 birds, they have shown little tendency to widely disperse. There is ample breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park , and their territories are large, but they have not spread out over much of the vast area in Canada's Northwest Territories. Also for a non-colonial bird, they seem content to concentrate in the relatively small area of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

By contrast, we raise 15 or more chicks each year and lead them from the same nesting area to the same wintering grounds. This unnatural situation has caused us concern when we train our chicks each season at Necedah, and are visited by white birds intent on chasing us off or at least causing grief.

Similarly, the older birds stop in at the pen site at Chassahowitzka every fall. If the chicks following the ultralights on their first migration have already arrived, it can cause havoc for the Winter Monitoring Team. The more experienced birds are attracted by the activity and the food and may be tempted to stay the entire winter. Often they are aggressive and injury can result, or the chicks can be chased away from the protection of the release pen.

For these reasons the Winter Monitoring Team hopes that the older birds reach Florida before us each season, and that they have a chance to check out the empty pen. They will most often move on to better habitat, leaving the release pen to the chicks when they arrive.

Our migration has taken so long in the past few years that this is seldom the case. The solution, such as it is, required that we short-stop our birds at an interim site. This year Billy Brooks from the US Fish & Wildlife Service spent countless hours identifying a potential new area and having a pen constructed to house the birds. The plan was to hold the juveniles there until the white birds cleared the Chass site, or to leave the youngsters there in good crane habitat for the winter and establish it as a new wintering site. On December 13th we landed at Halpata near Dunnellon and ended migration 2005 - or so we thought.

As the winter season has progressed most of the white birds have now dispersed, leaving the original release pen open, and allowing us to move our 19 chicks the last 26 miles to spend the rest of the winter at Chassahowitzka.

There are two methods to accomplish this, both with pros and cons. The first is to attempt to lead them by aircraft. However it has been over a month since they last flew with the ultralights, and we already know what spending time in a nice wetland habitat does to their inclination to follow us. Secondly it means reassembling the team and waiting for good flying weather.

The alternative is to crate the birds and move them by truck and boat to the Chass pen. Crating birds is always dangerous, and we have lost some by this method. They would have to be loaded onto a truck and moved over rough roads and then transferred to a boat for the last few miles.

The real concern is that they have made most of this 1200+ mile migration under their own steam, and in this accomplishment lies their knowledge of the route. We have had to crate many birds on this and other migrations, but a few always made it the entire way. Crating all 19 birds may break their chain of knowledge leaving them all confused as to which way to go. Some speculate that once they are airborne they will quickly orient themselves and return normally, but others are not so sure, and our previous studies indicate this is not the case. At any rate, it is too large a risk for speculation after all the time, money, and effort taken to train them and lead them 1200 miles. So that leaves us only one option.

On Sunday a small team of Operation Migration pilots set up three aircraft at the Dunnellon Airport. On Monday morning Richard, Chris and Brooke took off and headed to the Halpata pen site. Mark Nipper released the birds and they spent the next hour cajoling, corralling, and trying to convince the birds to follow them away from what has become their winter home.

As expected the birds were reluctant, and in the end only 508 followed them to Chassahowitzka where Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation was on the ground to call the bird down. Meanwhile, the pilots returned to Dunnellon for another try on Tuesday (today).

This morning was warm and humid but there was a strong trail wind as OM's pilots took off. The birds seemed more cooperative as they slowly became familiar with the idea of again following our aircraft after a month's sabbatical. Richard and Brooke managed to get 6 birds far enough from the pen that they fell into line and followed. Chris played rodeo with 9 others for 20 minutes before finally leading them back.

The team will try again tomorrow. So far we have 7 birds at Chassahowitzka. (509, 510, 511, 514, 521, 522) That may not seem like much for the effort it took, but what is important is that there are now 7 birds that know the way home - and that makes all the effort worthwhile.

Date: January 9th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Wood Buffalo/Aransas Update

Notes: The January 4th aerial census at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of Whooping cranes present at 189 adults + 28 young = 217 total. This included one Whooping crane in extreme South Texas, and another last seen on the 3rd, east of Pierre in South Dakota. There have been no other recent reports of whooping cranes anywhere else. 

The Whooping crane confirmed in South Dakota looked healthy, but its unprecedented late migration could be an indication that it is ill.  A probable sighting of a single crane in Saskatchewan was made on December 8th, and perhaps was this same bird. If a correct identification, this would be the latest a Whooping crane has ever been seen in Canada in the fall.

Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas, said the major finding on his most recent flight was the apparent mortality of another juvenile. A widowed female sighted on her usual territory was no longer accompanied by her chick. The male from this territory died earlier this winter. Although sometimes a juvenile with a single parent gets chased off by an adult interested in pair bonding with the widowed bird, Tom said that this seemed unlikely since the widowed female was by herself.

One adult and two juveniles have died this fall at Aransas, accounting for a peak population of 190 + 30 = 220.

Interesting observations of habitat use included: 8 cranes at freshwater sources, 3 cranes foraging on uplands, and 22 cranes in open bay habitat. The amount of open bay use has increased substantially as tides, associated with the winter equinox, have dropped dramatically .

Cranes are out in open bays presumably foraging on clams and other invertebrates such as blood worms and mud shrimp buried in the substrate. Three cranes were observed on dry mud probing into the wet soil underneath.

A count conducted in late December found fewer crabs and wolfberries. Although the cranes are still eating these items, they are primarily finding alternate foods that, according to research done by Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez, will not sustain their fat reserves.

Salinities are very high due to the drought experienced in central Texas the past 9 months.  Salinities recorded December 28 were 22 parts per thousand in the refuge boat canal and 25 parts per thousand in the adjacent salt marsh. As a result, the cranes are being forced to fly to freshwater sources to drink.

As always, we are indebted to Tom Stehn and his team for the consistently terrific information they send us on the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock so we can provide these reports to our field journal readers.

Date: January 8th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Necropsy - 526
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.

Notes: Having received several email inquiries about the results of the necropsy performed on 526, we thought we would post the information here.

You will recall that when doing a late afternoon roost check on November 10th, (Morgan County, IN) Brooke and Walter discovered 526 dead in the pen. A preliminary examination by our resident veterinarian, Angie Maxted, revealed little other than an injury to the left eye. The body of 526 was sent to USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison for a necropsy.

The necropsy determined there was external trauma to the left eyelid; a puncture through the sclera (white of the eye), and a laceration into the infraorbital sinus but there was no penetration to the brain. Some 'counter coup' bruising was found, and a hemorrhage in the right cerebrum (brain) consistent with a powerful blow to the head.

At 159 days of age 526 was the youngest in the 2005 cohort, but he was a large, strong, healthy bird. It appears that Joe's speculation at the time was probably correct. The fatal injury was most likely sustained in a confrontation with another bird.

Date: January 7th, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Radio Broadcast
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.

An interview given by Joe Duff on Operation Migration and the Whooping crane project is airing today on national radio in the US. For a list of stations carrying the interview and airtimes, visit where we understand it will also be available via the internet.

Date: January 6th, 2006
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Chassahowitzka, FL Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Update
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.

After some much needed time off, I am back in Florida. Sara had the birds out of the pen often during my absence. While 522 is now looking much better, 516 is still not flying very often. He comes out of the pen, but basically turns right around to try and go back in. Sara has also become concerned about 519, who is now very submissive and terrified of both the other birds and the costume.

Wednesday morning we let all of the birds out and most of them took off for a couple of laps around the pen area. We were frantically looking at leg bands of the birds on the ground and we are pretty sure that 516 finally decided to join the group for a flight. It can be pretty hard to figure just who it is you are looking at, especially with the new bands.

The birds flew for a few minutes and then we just walked around the area. 516 once again managed to hang back by himself by the pen. Not until all the other birds and both costumes were a couple hundred yards away did he decide to move down our way. It was obvious he wasn't going to fly so we started to wrap things up. On the way back to the pen he did run/flap a little bit and managed to get a little air in the form of long steps. He looked very off balance and goofy but it's great to see him put out some effort. With the exception of 519, all the birds went back into the pen fairly easily.

We let the birds out again today. This morning was cold (for Florida) with a good breeze, but the birds didn't come out flying. They kind of trickled out of the pen and congregated nearby.  Gradually, most took off in clusters for some laps. 516 came out towards the end and started flapping and jumping around, but I am not sure that he ever took off. 522 did fly again though and is looking very good.

519 has become a total 'nut-job' and definitely wants nothing to do with us. 505 may be getting that way too. 519 gets picked on by the other birds and she is absolutely terrified of the costumes. This is rather disconcerting and it may be that this bird will be a royal pain for the rest of the winter. I guess there will always be at least one. This could make things difficult however when we try to move the birds out to the traditional release pen on the salt marsh island in the Chassahowitzka NWR.

Date: January 3rd, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Update
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.

2005 Cohort: During the past week, the birds were frequently let out of the top-netted pen at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve for exercise. 516 continues to concern aviculturalists, as he either can't or won't fly. 

White Birds: No further migratory movements were detected as of December 31st. As of the beginning of the week, no Whooping cranes remained at the Chassahowitzka pensite.

Date: January 2nd, 2006
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Welcoming the New Year
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.


Do you make New Year
's resolutions? If so, and you haven't made yours yet, perhaps you would consider making one that would help wildlife as well as human kind. Why not  resolve to do something to promote the preservation or restoration of wetlands?

An integral part of safeguarding Whooping cranes and other species is the conservation and preservation of their habitats. Wetlands are the nurseries for many fishes, oysters, crabs, and shrimp. They are the wintering grounds for millions of waterfowl, and the nesting/roosting area for countless egrets and herons, and Whooping cranes too of course.

Wetlands are also a defensive zone for millions of people living in low lying areas and coastal regions. For instance, Louisiana DNR claims that every two miles of marsh equals almost a foot of flood protection for New Orleans.

Did you know - 
- that wetlands provide tasty foods for people, including cranberries, mint, wild rice, and of course, seafood, like oysters, shrimp and crabs.

- that cities built on wetlands include San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, DC.

- that wetlands are being destroyed at a rate of 35 acres an hour. Since the first settlers colonized North America, we have lost well over 50 percent of our wetlands.

- that 43% of endangered and threatened species and plants in the US
depend on wetlands in some way.

We thank you for your support in 2005, and wish you and yours happiness and health in 2006. We look forward to sharing more successes in the Whooping crane project with you in the coming year.

All the very best from the entire OM team.

Date: December 31st, 2005
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main Office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Whooping Crane Stats
Click here for a QuickTime or here for a Windows Media version of our public service announcement.

Notes: The successful completion of the fifth ultralight-led migration brings the number of birds in the reintroduced flock to 60, plus 4 DAR birds. To date, this translates into an above expectation survival rate of about 80%.

Because some birds in the reintroduced flock are approaching sexual maturity, (Whooping cranes generally produce their first fertile eggs between the ages of 3 and 5 years) there is potential for some of the older birds to begin nesting in the spring, that is, late April to early May.

Most Whooping crane nests contain two eggs, but sometimes there is only one; three is extremely rare. Both parents incubate the egg(s) for the 30 days on average it takes for them to hatch. Whooping cranes are occasionally successful in raising two chicks, but one chick reared to maturity per nest is most common.

Whooping cranes are monogamous and mate for life, although they will take a new mate if the original is lost. Below is a chart showing the gender of the Whooping cranes in the reintroduced flock with color codes to indicate the birds that have pair bonded.

Males Totals Females Totals
101, 105 2 102, 107 2
205, 208, 211, 212, 213, 216 6 201, 202, 203, 204, 209, 217, 218 7
302, 306, 307, 310, 311, 316, 317, 318 8 301, 303, 309, 312, 313 5
401, 402, 403, 407, 408, 412, 416, 417 8 415, 419, 420 3
503, 505, 506, 509, 511, 512, 514, 516, 522, 523, 524 11 501, 502, 507, 508, 510, 519, 520, 521 8
DAR 532 1 DAR 527, 528, 533 3
36 28

Summary of known mates/pair bonded birds

101M with 202F 211M with 217F 306M with 201F
105M with 204F 213M with 218F 317M with 203F
216M with 303F

Although Joe, Chris, and I, will have our hands full for the next couple of months wrapping up and completing all the reports and necessary paperwork for 2005, it will be hard not to let our thoughts drift to the coming spring. Will 2006 be the year birds in the reintroduced flock start to reproduce? Exciting thought isn’t it? April isn’t that far away – stay tuned.

Date: December 30th, 2005
Reporter: Liz Condie  
Location: Main office Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: White bird update
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Notes: White Bird Update – current as of Wednesday, December 28

Ten more Whooping cranes arrived on wintering areas in Florida during the week, five of them passing through the Chassahowitzka pensite. One DAR juvenile, 533, also arrived in Florida. She was observed in Alachua County with a large flock of Sandhills.

Of Note: Only two of the nine surviving cranes that wintered in the Carolinas last year have returned to winter there this season.

2001 101, 102, 105 107
2002 201, 202, 203, 204, 205, 208, 211, 212, 216, 217 209, 218, 213
2003 301, 303, 306, 309, 311, 312, 313, 316, 317 302, 307, 310, 318
2004 401, 402, 403, 407, 408, 412, 415, 416, 417, 419, 420 0
2005 DAR 533 527,528,532

Location Summary
Florida - 33 plus DAR 533
Tennessee - 209, 213, 218, 302 plus DAR 527 and DAR 528
South Carolina – 310
North Carolina - 318
Unknown – 107, 307 plus DAR 532
- 107’s transmitter is not functioning so she cannot be tracked. It is not known if she is still at Hiwassee or if she has moved on to another location.
- 307 who was last recorded on December 2nd in Jackson County, AL has not been detected since.
- 532, the sole male DAR bird, has not been detected since he departed Hiwassee November 30th.

Date: December 27th, 2005
Reporter: Mark Nipper  
Location: Halpata Tastanki Preserve, Florida Click to view 2005's Migration Photo Journal.
Activity: Status Report
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Notes: The birds settled into their interim home on the Halpata Preserve fairly well. After we arrive in Florida we conduct health checks on all the birds. This year the checks were done on the 19th and 20th at the Halpata pensite. We also use this opportunity to attach more permanent bands on the birds.

Because the Chassahowitska pen is in a salt marsh, doing this there presents us with challenges. There are a lot of people and gear that has to be transported out to an island that is difficult to traverse. Then, the very sticky, soupy mud makes handling the birds pretty tricky. Here at Halpata, the dry flat ground streamlined the procedure for us, and made it a much simpler and easier process for the birds too.

With nineteen Whooping cranes this season, the health checks and banding took quite a while to accomplish, but it all went well. The birds have been getting used to their new bands for the last few days, and so far, all look just fine. This is the primary reason that we left them in the smaller travel pen for a time. Familiar surroundings make them more comfortable, and this in turn makes our job easier, and the whole process less stressful for them.

Seemingly simple things, like whether to keep the birds in the travel pen or move them 100 yards over to the new one, can have a considerable effect. When it comes to the well-being of the birds, the potential consequences of every decision is considered carefully before any action is taken. It is all part of the animal husbandry that Liz wrote about in an earlier entry. Husbandry encompasses all the things that must be done to ensure the proper ‘care and feeding’ of any creature. Anyone who has a pet practices some aspects of animal husbandry.

In a zoo, you can train a sea lion to come to you, stop, open its mouth, and hold for an oral examination. (Trust me; this is a lot of fun.)Although more difficult, birds can also be trained to carry out a wide variety of behaviours; like say, follow a yellow airborne go-kart with a fan on the back.

In order to keep the Whooping cranes in the reintroduced flock wild, we do not train husbandry behaviors. Instead, we hide their medicines in treats for instance. When we need to relocate them to another spot, we invoke our silence protocol, and costume-clad, we walk/lead them to another area.

The main focus of what we do is to reinforce the imprinting process, and basically, do what we can to make sure the birds trust and like us. This helps ensure that whatever treatments the birds might need will be as stress free as possible.

So that they will gradually become less attached to us, we minimize and decelerate our contact with the birds as much as possible once in Florida. But of course we still check on them regularly to make sure they are okay.

What allows us to do this is our familiarity with each bird, and our knowledge of their individual habits. On those occasions we do visit the pensite we observe their behaviour closely, watching for any telltale signs of problems.

Because anything that would indicate an injury or illness is a sign of weakness to predators and the other members in a social group, wildlife naturally hide any such signals for as long as they possibly can. Beyond obvious physical problems such as limping, we are on the look out for birds standing off by themselves; with heads tucked into wings; or other sluggish/sleepy behaviours. We use the term ‘dumpy’.

Hopefully, the highly skilled ICF staff, Sara Zimorski, Marianne Wellington, and I, will only have to make sure that the birds have enough food and water, and that these nineteen juvenile Whooping cranes will not suffer any major health problems.

On December 24th we moved the birds to the newly built pen. Sara let the birds out of the travel pen and I stood over by the gate to new pen. All but five birds got up in the air and flew around for a few minutes. 505, 520, 523 did not fly much, and 516, and 522 didn’t fly at all. Both of these birds have been acting a little dumpy since the health checks. We are putting 522 on some meds to hopefully relieve some pain it appears to be having.

The new pen is very nice and the birds settled in almost right away. Eleven birds went right in without any inducement, and only the last few had to be coaxed through the gate. The birds are usually only scared by the gate, and once they are in they calm down quickly.

It is great to have the birds in a bigger pen. Yesterday, (December 26th) Sara and I went to the pensite to work with the birds that didn't seem to want to fly the other day - especially 516 and 522. We let them out to run and fly around.

522 is receiving pain killers to help with what appears to be sore shoulders. When we let her out to get some exercise it appears she has made good progress, and flew around quite a bit compared to what she had been doing. Everyone but 516 got up in the air at least a little bit. 516 doesn’t seem to be hurt or sick, it just doesn’t seem to want to leave the pen.

Date: December 24th, 2005
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Head Office Click to view video clips of migration at!
Activity: Update on Cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
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Notes: The aerial census conducted on December 21st at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge estimated 187 adults and 29 young present. With the addition of one bird located in extreme south Texas, this brings the total number of Whooping cranes surviving their migration to 217. One adult and one juvenile died this fall at Aransas, accounting for a peak population of 219.

Birders reported sighting three Whooping cranes in flight on December 14. They birds were sighted about 15 miles north of Aransas in the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area. In addition, good birders reported two sightings of Whooping crane pairs in flight on December 21. If these reports can be confirmed, and presuming they were of different pairs based on the distance between reported sightings, the peak flock size for the winter may reach 223, beating last winter's record of 217.

Tom Stehn, USFWS Whooping Crane Coordinator at Aransas says although there may be a handful of Whooping cranes with some Sandhills north of Aransas, he thinks the flock has completed the migration.

With very good viewing conditions for the December 21st census, Tom noted that any uncertainty about the numbers of birds present was caused primarily by crane movements. "On any given census flight, there are always movements that create uncertainty, and only by doing multiple census flights can an accurate flock total be derived," Stehn said.

"The big surprise of the flight on the 21st," Tom noted, "Was the apparent recent arrival of a new unbanded adult with a juvenile. Two sub-adult cranes were nearby and two additional sub-adults flew in to form a group of four. The four walked towards the two newcomers, with the lead bird of the four exhibiting definite threat postures. Later on in the flight we saw that the two new arrivals had moved on to another location.

Interesting observations of habitat use seen on this most recent flight included 8 cranes on a prescribed burn; 13 cranes at freshwater sources; and 6 cranes on gravel roads. Six cranes were in open bay habitat, and 14 additional cranes were on different kinds of upland areas, including 2 at a game feeder; 3 in feral hog rootings; 3 in upland prairie; 3in oak brush; and 3 on dry sand flats.

"The amount of upland use, including use of a prescribed burn was a notable difference from last week's flight," said Stehn. "This change in type of habitat being used by the cranes is an indication that the main food sources of crabs and wolfberries are diminished, and the cranes are having to scramble to find other food items."

Tom explained that this type of change in habitat use is normal, occurring most winters beginning in late December through mid-February. He noted that relatively high salinities might have also caused the cranes to move to upland areas to look for a source of fresh water to drink.

Date: December 23rd, 2005
Reporter: The OM Team
Location: Head Office Click to view video clips of migration at!
Activity: Season's Greetings!
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Prior to loading his sled for take-off,
Santa (aka Charlie Robinson)
checks wind direction with an expert.

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