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Date:March 22, 2001
Reporter:OM Headquarters
News:Fashionably Late...

The last update mentioned Bird 13, a female sandhill crane who had not flown away with her ten flock mates on February 25th, but stayed behind at their wintering grounds in Florida. All 11 cranes are from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's ultralight-led migration study in the fall of 2000. We used sandhill cranes on that longest human-led migration from Wisconsin to Florida as a way to prepare for a possible future ultralight-led migration with whooping cranes.

Here is the latest on Bird 13..........

On St. Patrick's Day morning, March 17th, she finally took off to the north, with a light southwest wind helping her along. After making a few stops, she roosted for the night about 31 miles due north of St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve, her home for the last four months. St. Martins is managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Now all eleven sandhill cranes in the migration study have left their wintering grounds.

On March 20, the crane tracker flew in a small aircraft and used radio telemetry to try to find Bird 13. He got a signal from the radio transmitter attached to her right leg, and did actually see her in flight near Mayo, Florida. She was flying alone at 1,000 feet above the ground. The weather ahead of her deteriorated that afternoon into the classic "rainy night in Georgia." We believe that she landed somewhere near Valdosta, just over the Florida border, where she probably spent the night. We can now say with confidence that she is heading north, which is the direction toward Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, where she was raised last summer.

We've had no further word on the location of the other ten cranes that departed on February 25th, but stay tuned here for updates on their whereabouts. If you think you've seen any of these birds, please call the crane tracker at 352-564-8321 or 612-804-0959.

But, please, if you do not have binoculars through which to look (red-over-green banded radio transmitters on the right leg and various colored bands on the left leg), please do not approach any cranes up close. It would be better to not be able to identify the birds than to have them become tamed through contact with people.

Date:March 20, 2001
Reporter:OM Headquarters
News:On the move...

For eighty-seven days our birds relaxed quietly in the warmth of a Florida winter. Although they were not restricted they preferred to wander only short distances from the familiarity of their pen. This sedentary behaviour replaced the drive that kept them going for 40 days as we crossed the country from Wisconsin to Florida. Some stirring in their inner being encouraged them to follow the leader south, enduring day after day of exercise and then mysteriously to settle in one location, content to probe in the mud.

This same instinct; this need to be on their way, has inspired them once more. On February 25th they left the security of their winter home, propelled by an ancient impulse and the memory of a route north. Of the eleven birds that know that route, only ten departed. The one that remained was known as a loner, often observed in the pen when all the rest were off feeding in a nearby pasture. Some difference in her personality held her back, when her flock mates departed.

Since they left, Dr. Urbanek has made every effort to track them. He has driven to Tennessee and back and flown the lower states for hours searching the airwaves for a faint beep from their transmitters. He has kept a listening watch at their Florida pen and the staging areas where wild birds tend to gather on the way to Indiana.

Twenty-three days have passed and their absence reminds us that they are wild now and beyond our control. They are acting like wild birds should, migrating north, unaided and unnoticed. We take consolation in the knowledge that no one has been close enough to notice their large green and red leg bands and reported their whereabouts. No news is good news.

This is a critical time for them. They have left security behind, along with the familiarity of their handlers. We must remind anyone whom they encounter that kindness kills wildness. An offering of breadcrumbs or an attempt to get too close for that all-important photograph could show them the connection between people with costumes and those without. It could teach them all people are as benevolent and good intentioned as their handlers. A lesson that all too often has a high price. Stay tuned… We'll keep you posted.

Date:February 26, 2001
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
News:Update from Florida

Notes: Update from St. Martins -- 12-22 February 2001

The cranes appear more eager to associate with the costumed parent in the pen and there has been a decrease in the use of the cow pasture. Of 14 early morning checks during the period 29 January - 22 February, birds were recorded in the cow pasture only twice. Otherwise, they were found in or immediately adjacent to the pen. During the same period birds were noted making short 5-minute flights out of the pen, circling the immediate area, and then landing back in the pen on 5 occasions. Birds continue to be fed a diet of 100% monensin-treated feed daily as a precaution against coccidia. Beginning 21 February, birds are being routinely checked only once (for feeding), rather than twice each day.

Date:February 16, 2001
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
News:Update from Florida

Update from St. Martins: 2-11 February, 2001
Report from Richard Urbanek; Florida

The flock of 11 Sandhill cranes continue to behave in their normal fashion. Routinely, since I returned from the Recovery Team meeting, they seem more eager to associate with the costumed parent. This behavior may be related to the impending spring migration. Birds continue to be fed a diet of 100% monensin-treated feed as a precaution against coccidia. I am now feeding the birds each morning an amount they will consume in one day. This has reduced the feed consumption by raccoons. 

Another note from Richard reads: "I found OM#2 today (Feb. 13, 2001) in the Savannah marsh, off east side of Rt. 415, approximately 1 mile north of Osteen, in Volusia County, Florida.  He was in a scattered flock of ~32 cranes.  The habitat looked good, resembling flooded old field that had reverted to wetland."  

(Ed. note: OM#2 is the "rebel" crane that dropped out of the flock on the first leg on the migration.)

Date:February 7, 2001
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
News:Photo Gallery is up!

Whew! Finally.... Sorry to all for the delay in getting the gallery up and running.

Check out some of the photographs from last fall's migration: 2000 Sandhill Migration

Date:February 2, 2001
Reporter:Joe Duff - OM Headquarters
News:The Future...

"Audubon" is a name that has become synonymous with all things avian; like a patron Saint of birds. In truth, however, bird issues are only a small portion of the work the organization supports. Their efforts range from education and research to captive propagation and the eventual release of endangered species into the wild. One of their many Louisiana facilities; the Audubon Institute's Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES), south of New Orleans is the newest captive breeding center for Whooping cranes and recently hosted the annual Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCRT) meeting.

Consisting of five Canadians and an equal number of Americans, the WCRT is responsible for the welfare of the Whooping crane and is the agency that first recommended an eastern reintroduction. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is the group conducting the reintroduction and is comprised of eight organizations including ours. Both groups met at the ACRES facility where combined, there was in excess of sixty people attending. It was one of those inspiring events when all the worlds' experts on Whooping cranes gather in one room to discuss the future of the species. Everything known about these magnificent birds could be learned in that room; from fieldwork to fund-raising; genetics of the species to the politics of bringing them back… all you had to do was ask. It makes you speculate on the fate of these birds if Legionnaires Disease had struck during that week.

The Recovery Team met first and covered all the issues from captive breeding techniques to the condition of the only existing migratory flock. Unfortunately, the past year had not been a good one for Whooping cranes. Higher than normal mortality in the Wood Buffalo/Aransas flock coupled with a drought in Texas have taken a toll so that only 175 birds remain in this last wild flock; down from the record high of 188 individuals recorded last year. Additionally, the persisting drought in Florida has resulted in a diminished number of usable wetlands and is threatening the Kissimmee Prairie non-migratory population with increased predation and a food shortage. Add to the equation the two male whoopers that were shot in Florida by William Lonnie Bush the eighteen-year-old moron with a gun. I say moron because he claims he thought the five foot tall birds were ducks. He is either rather stupid or he would like us to believe he is… both scenarios are equally repugnant.

To end on a marginally good note, the Recovery Team congratulated the Eastern Partnership and sanctioned the start of a Whooping crane reintroduction, at least on a scientific level. Many other approvals will have to fall into place before it becomes a reality.

The WCEP began their meetings next. After a round back patting for the successes of last year, we began to discuss the future. A number of obstacles lay ahead, including our omnipresent funding needs. Of much more concern is the need to obtain approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service Director, two Flyway Councils, twenty States and two Provinces. Additionally the Environmental Assessment Process must be completed. After that our only hurtle is the "Experimental Nonessential" Ruling. The Endangered Species Act prohibits many of the things we need to do to carry out this reintroduction. As an example we are not able to introduce these birds into a new area or cross a state line. As well we could not guarantee hunters, farmers, State agencies and other interested groups that all the rules would not change just because we introduced an endangered species. Fortunately, within the act there exists a designation known as the Experimental/Nonessential Ruling. We must prove that these birds, the ones we will introduce, are not essential to the survival of the species and that our experiment could improve the chances for recovery. With this designation, these particular birds would be considered to have the status of "Threatened."

Many of these authorizations require a public comment period and all must pass over many desks… it all takes time. The WCEP regulatory team has been working hard, behind the scenes since we first began to dream of an eastern flock of migratory Whooping cranes and much of our success to date is owed to them.

With many obstacles looming ahead and the population of wild birds under so much stress, it would appear to have been a bad year for Whooping cranes. No one however, was discouraged; we ended the meeting even more determined not to drop the ball. As was often said, "support for this reintroduction is very high on all fronts and it will happen, even if it takes longer than we hoped."

Returning an endangered species to its former range is a battle fought on many fronts. This conflict, however, seems to be one without opposition. Reintroducing a predator species such as wolves has many pitfalls but so far we have met with little resistance. We need only to continue wading through the approval process and locate the funds to keep the hope alive.

Date:February 2, 2001
Reporter:Heather - OM Headquarters
News:Crane Update

Update from St. Martins: 18 January - 1 February 2001

Dr. Urbanek reports that the flock of 11 Sandhill cranes continued their stable pattern of daily activity and movements. Interesting to note is that 3 of the young cranes have nearly acquired their adult voice.

The beagles returned to near the pen area on the afternoon of January 21st and the cranes took flight in response. The birds behaved routinely while being checked by volunteers during the week I was away attending the Recovery Team meetings in New Orleans.

Significant rain has finally appeared; it rained all day January 31st and continued for most of the day February 1st which will help replenish the water levels in the pond inside the release pen. We are continuing to feed the cranes a diet of 100% monensin-treated feed as a precaution against coccidia.

Date:January 22, 2001
Reporter:Heather - Headquarters & Dr. Richard Urbanek - Florida
News:Crane Update

Notes: The flock of 11 Sandhill cranes continued their stable pattern of daily
activity and movements. They typically spend part of the morning in the cow
pasture, leaving the pen sometime between 7 and 8am and returning
between 9 and 10am. The rest of their time was spent in the pen or just outside it. There were no observations of birds in the mowed dog fennel field, flying over the trailer, or at any other undesirable location. There were also no known human disturbance incidents this week.

During early morning pen checks on 6 of the 7 report days, the birds were in the cow pasture (verified by telemetry).

On 14 Jan, two beagles, which are part of a hunting pack heard in the woods to the west went around the southwest corner of the pen at 8:15am and then headed south. The dogs expressed no interest in the cranes, however, the cranes immediately became alert and flew out of the pen toward the cow pasture even though I was standing nearby in costume. I later found that a complaint about these dogs was independently submitted to the Preserve office by some visitors who saw them south of the release area later that day. The owner of the dogs is known and will or has been contacted.

The flock of 11 cranes behaved as a group and roosted each night near the
dummy in the pond within the pen. Raccoons continued to raid the feeders,
making refilling of them necessary every 2 days. The project health team is
concerned about possible contamination of the roosting pond; therefore, fecal samples were collected and forwarded to the University of Florida to test for coccidia and other possible parasites.

Note: The entire OM crew will be in New Orleans this week attending the Whooping Crane Recovery Team meetings. If you send an email and we don't get back to you immediately this is why.

Date:January 12, 2001
Reporter:Heather - Headquarters & Dr. Richard Urbanek - Florida
News:Crane Update

Notes:

I wish we had something a bit more exciting to report but it seems our cranes have taken up a lifestyle similar to many of the human "Snowbirds" that retreat to the warmth of Florida to spend the winters... Warm, lazy days, spent relaxing and eating. Dr. Richard Urbanek is now supervising the care of the birds and he recently filed the following report: 

Jan. 3-10, 2001

The flock of 11 Sandhill cranes spend the majority of their time inside the large release pen and roosting each night in the pond within the pen. They have developed a pattern of flying out in the morning to the nearby cow pasture, where they forage in the grass and loaf -- so far as I know, they have gone nowhere other than the pen or pasture during the past week.

In order to minimize disturbance, I have cut back to just two visual checks of the birds each day, once in morning or mid-day and the other time just before roosting. I do not interact with them except when their feed needs replenishing, which is approximately every 2 days and they happen to be in the pen at the same time. When filling their feed containers, I conceal a bucket of half corn/half pellets under the costume and scatter a small amount of corn from under the costume on the ground near the pond. While the birds are occupied eating the corn I move across the raised 2-track to the feeders and fill them with my back toward the cranes.

The birds have remained together in one group during all of their observed activities. A small raccoon was observed in the pen on 7 Jan; I chased it and it ran out through an almost imperceptible hole under the fence. On the morning of 8 Jan, the owner of the pasture informed that he had seen the cranes in the pasture from his truck.

This period was quiet and uneventful, and the birds seem quite comfortable. They may have developed a rather stable daily activity pattern that could persist for several weeks. Except for the landowner viewing from his truck, there have been no known human disturbances this week.

Date:January 3, 2001
Reporter:Headquarters
News:Crane Update

Notes: Happy New Year!

Reports from Florida:

Dec. 30: This morning, I went into the pen to replenish the feed and also took a quick look at the fence perimeter. It was the first time the birds have seen the costume since the evening of Dec. 28 (when the volunteer did a check from just outside the pen) and the first time the costume has been in the pen with them since the morning of Dec. 27.

The cranes were in the pen every time I checked from the blind today (Dec.30). At one point, a raccoon was by the feeders eating food on the ground, then it got onto the feeder and ate from it directly. While this was going on, the cranes went back and forth between the pond and the middle of the pen. When the birds were in the middle of the pen, they looked at the raccoon and called loudly and did not go any closer to the feeders while the raccoon was there.

Dec. 28: A group of people conducting a local bird survey witnessed all 11 cranes flying above the cow pasture they have been hanging out in whenever they leave the pen, which is southeast of the large pen. The birds circled above the cow pasture for about five minutes around 10 am. The birding crew did not see them land.

At 12:30 the birds were all back in the pen. Later in the evening the volunteer had to approach the pen to check on the birds since she could not see them all from the blind.

Dec. 27: All eleven of the cranes are doing fine. Laura was away during Dec. 24 to Dec. 29th enjoying the holiday season with her family. Several volunteers monitored the cranes during Laura's absence. Their assignment was to don the costume and check the cranes 2-3 times a day from the confines of the newly constructed blind.

IF, while viewing they could not see all eleven birds the volunteer was instructed to approach the pen, in costume to ensure all cranes were OK. This system of checking seems to be working very well. Before Laura departed, she also arranged for the smallest number of entries into the pen by volunteers as possible, which turned out to be just one visit to replenish the food and water supply during Laura's 5-day absence. Since the new blind was completed on Dec. 22, all but three of the checks on the birds have been done from the blind. As far as we know, the birds have not left the pen, except for this morning (Dec. 27) when they flew to the cow pasture southeast of the big pen.

Dec.22: At 6 p.m. last evening all the birds were roosting by the costumed dummy in their winter pen. We had our last volunteer work day Today. 10 people turned up and we accomplished a a great deal. We constructed a blind from eight sections of 4'x8' lattice panels covered with palm fronds and Spanish moss. The panels are standing on their short side and are lashed together and supported with rope and tent stakes. You can see just about all the pen from the blind... It's perfect for "undercover" crane observations!

We also finished repairs to the fence, tested the hot wires (all were getting juice), fixed the puppet on the dummy so that it was right-side-up again, and refreshed the water. Once the work was completed on the permanent pen the birds were led back to the south side of the enclosure but were not led inside it.

We observed the birds from the blind at 2 p.m. and they were foraging just outside the south side of the pen.

Date:December 22, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff/Heather Ray - Headquarters
News:Update

Notes:

Laura Moore is the intern who spent part of the summer working with Dr Richard Urbanek at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. She helped care for the birds that were raised for release with the wild population and she assisted with the tracking once they were on their own. Much of this work took place after we left Wisconsin on our way south and Laura was able to help track our #2 bird which is the one that dropped out of our migration during the first leg. She provided comprehensive daily reports of the bird’s movements for several weeks after our departure and we want to thank her for that effort.

It seems our #2 crane was last seen in Wisconsin in the middle of November. Dr Urbanek reported as recently as Dec. 8th that he picked up a signal from this birds radio transmitter near Cordele, Georgia. We will have to wait an see if this rebel crane makes it all the way to Florida with the wild flock. 

Now that the aircraft-led birds are in Florida, Laura is again assisting Dr.  Urbanek as he attempts to monitor the movements of both the birds we led south and the ones they released in Wisconsin. As well, Laura is filling in while Richard takes some much deserved time off and recovers from a broken hand.

Laura joined the project with a keen sense of the outdoors, a great deal of enthusiasm and very little bird experience. That situation is changing rapidly and we are very pleased with her sense of responsibility and eagerness. 

The Refuge Staff at St. Martins Aquatic Preserve did a good job of building the release pen. This three acre enclosure is not top-netted and the birds are free to come and go. So far the familiarity and the feeding station have kept them from straying but as their confidence grows they will begin to venture farther a field. Initially, the pen required some work to ensure it provided as much protection from predators as possible. This meant that handlers had to walk the birds away from the pen area, while volunteers performed the repairs. 

At this stage of their development, we hoped to slowly wean the birds from the costumed humans and we were concerned about the additional contact. It seems now that most of the work is complete and from now on the birds will be spending more time alone. We are relieved because we feel that this is a critical step in promoting wildness. Laura reported that as we expected the birds are beginning to move out of the release pen more often. Like wild birds they will fly away from their roosting site during the day to forage for food. They return at night to the safety of the pen under the watchful eyes of Richard, Laura and the volunteers. To avoid more contact, these observations will now be done from a blind the crew built outside the pen. 

Again, thanks to Laura and the rest of the crew in Florida, sorry we can’t be there to help and please keep up the good work.

We'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a safe & happy holiday season and good health in the coming New Year!

Date:December 17/18, 2000
Reporter:Laura Moore - Florida
News:Update

Notes:

Dec. 18: Today at about 9:20am all 11 birds flew over the trailer area and continued north, then circled back and went back towards the pen. At 9:30 am I checked the pen and they were not there. At 11:30am they were back in the pen. Our Florida volunteers will continue to monitor the released chicks' during the week of Dec. 24-29, when Richard and I will both be gone.

Dec. 17: All of the cranes were in the pen at 9 am and at 1 pm, but at 5:10pm, one bird: #5 was just south of the pen area. She flew back into the pen, soon after I arrived, then as I was walking the perimeter in my costume, the birds flew out to meet me when I was at the SE end of the pen. 

Instead of landing near me, they kept flying S/SE and circled over the temp pen area, then they landed back by the pen after a couple of minutes. I tried leading them back into the pen but they didn't want to follow. Finally, when I was outside the door of the pen, they flew to meet me, however, most of them continued on in a N/NW direction flying a large circle and eventually returned after about a minute.

Various notes: #9's bill looks almost normal now. Her left wing still tucks a little funny at times -- a primary feather peeks out from the bottom of the wing and the back of the wing sticks up a little bit. This is not affecting her behaviour.

Date:December 13, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - Headquarters
News:Update

Notes:

We have now led birds south on migration so many times that the instinct is as strong in us as it is in the birds. Our only mistake is that we come back too soon. They benefit from the warmer climes over the winter while we head back to our lives in the snow. This is not all bad, we finally get to spend time with our families, rebuild our social lives and we do get regular updates from the crew monitoring the birds in Florida.

What we hear lately is that things have been going well. There are still a few problems with the release pen but repairs are proceeding. During the first attempts to work on the pen, a volunteer led the birds away and stayed with them until the work crew finished. They soon learned however, that birds have a mind of their own and that they know where the food is kept. When they became bored and hungry they simply flew back to their pen catching the workers unaware. Luckily the birds did not land until the crew were able to scramble out of sight.

Laura Moore (intern with the International Cane Foundation ) reported that there was a Great Blue Heron in the pen yesterday but the cranes paid little attention. Also the transmitter on one of the birds has failed but it was replaced with a new one.

Mostly the birds have been staying in the pen but they are beginning to venture off on short forays into the nearby pasture. We expect this behaviour to increase as the birds become more secure. With luck, they will move farther afield during the day and learn to forage on their own.

If their natural instincts prevail they will prefer open areas away from the threat of predators. The lure of an ample food supply and the costumed handlers should bring them back to roost in their pen at night. Eventually, even this familiarity will fade, The gentle or soft release will be complete and our birds will have been returned to the wild.

Date:December 6, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - Headquarters & Laura Moore - Florida
News:Update on our cranes

Notes: Earlier this summer, you may recall mention of "Laura" in a few of Joe's reports. Laura is an intern that worked with the crew while at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin and has now relocated to warmer climates and is spending most of this winter with the cranes in Florida. She is checking on them daily, with the assistance of some additional, dedicated volunteers. She has just submitted her first batch of observations for posting. We apologize for the delay but it seems Laura does not have access to a computer, so the reports may be a few days behind in arriving. 

Dec. 5, 2000: #6 disappeared sometime yesterday (Dec. 4) but returned this morning. Two nights ago she roosted in the pen with the others, but yesterday morning she was gone. We did some tracking with the telemetry equipment yesterday but did not get her signal anywhere near the area, on the way to Inverness, FL (30 miles east of here), or in the marshy area east of Inverness. At 8:30am today, I got all the birds signals but hers (and #11's) and at 9:45am she was back in the pen with the others.
It seems the others were envious of her little excursion and picked on her quite a bit when she returned. As a result, we had a difficult time getting her into the temporary pen since she did not want to go near the other birds. Also she seemed to tire more easily and even sat down a couple of times. I checked on her about 30 minutes ago and she was fine. When Marilyn (the vet) comes out to check #9, I'll get her to look at #6 also.
This morning we worked on the large pen for several hours. 6 people came out to help and we accomplished quite a bit but the fencing is going to require regular checks and regular maintenance. Making repairs entails moving the cranes to the temp pen while we work and therefore, more time around the costume.
#11's radio transmitter has not been working since sometime last week. Usually it doesn't give any signal, but sometimes it makes a constant whine instead of pulsing.
10 volunteers showed up for training today. I trained them on how to check on the birds and we went over some radio telemetry. We have a great group of volunteers who are very reliable and extremely interested in the project. Today another raccoon was in the pen.

Dec. 2, 2000: Unfortunately, the birds saw humans twice today. As Tommie (a volunteer), was leading them from the temp pen, back to the large release  pen, they were briefly in view of a public section of the hiking trail. There were two people on the trail observing. Tommie led the birds away quickly and the humans followed. The chicks seemed to be curious about the people then on the way back, at about sundown the chicks bolted back towards the big pen before the other volunteer and I were finished working on it. 

The chicks circled above a few times but did not land in the pen; they went back and landed by the costumed handler. I've had St. Martin's mow another path to the temp pen so that they don't have to be in view of the public area of the path. Also when we work on the big pen, we have two people lead the birds to the temp pen, and once the birds are securely inside the second costumed handler returns to let everyone know the coast is clear. Once we are done working and have left the big pen, the runner goes back to let the handler in the temp pen know that it is safe to return the birds.

A critter (probably a raccoon) was in the pen by the pond Saturday night. The birds were not scared at all. We have done lots of improvements and repairs to the pen but it's going to require regular maintenance. Animals are digging underneath and even chewing the fence, probably in search of water.

Dec 1, 2000: Today while working on the temporary pen, we heard human voices. Afterwards, I biked the trails and located a spot on the trail where the top corner of the temp pen is visible. There are interpretive signs and a bench at that spot on the trail. I believe the human voices were coming from that area of the trail.

As of today the growth on #9's beak was gone. It is pinkish, raw and scabby where the growth had been. Her nares (nostrils) look fine and you can see daylight through them. But, after flying for a bit, she did some open-mouth breathing. Other than that she has looked fine and her behavior is normal. Her beak doesn't look as if it is improving though, so I've called Marilyn the vet to have her come out and take a look at her.

Nov. 29, 2000: A wild Sandhill was in the pen with the chicks today! While it was with them and even for a little bit afterwards, the chicks were wary of the costume, I feel they may have been sensing the wild birds fear of the costume. The wild crane initially gave the guard call After the costumes had left, all 12 birds flew north. The chicks circled back to the pen but the wild adult continued north. 

Date:November 30
Reporter:Joe Duff
Activity:Overdue Journal Updates

Notes: Nov. 17, 2000

Yesterday was our pack day. Over the last 6 weeks we have settled into the routine of living in motorhomes and trailers. Now the team had to break up and make it to our various homes. The aircraft had to be dismantled and loaded into the large trailer with the motorcycles and other gear. It took most of the day but eventually everything was stowed. The birds were housed in the travel pen and this morning, Dan and I moved them out to the release pen. Once safely away, the crew moved in and packed the travel pen for the last time. We secured the birds in the large pen and left costumes and vocalizers for Richard Urbanek, who with help, will monitor the cranes over the winter.

It is hard to say goodbye after working so closely with these birds for so long but our part is finished. 

They were collected as eggs from the wild and they have been returned. If we've done our job right, they will maintain their wildness and not be attracted to humans, our influence will have been minimal, as it should be. 

They will be wild birds but with a good memory of a summer home and a strong sense of how to return to it.

Date:November 29
Reporter:Joe Duff
Activity:Overdue Journal Updates

Notes: Nov. 15, 2000

The birds have been penned on the island at Chassahowitzka for two days. We have been out there several times; first to look have a look at the pen, then to modify it, after that we made the trip to call the birds down and again to check on them daily. By now, one would think we would have learned the route but the area is so vast and similar that we are lost after the first five miles. We are left to watch Refuge staff member, Jerry Shields expertly steer the airboat through tiny channels that resemble all the other tiny channels. The moon is full and the tides have been high. The night before the island where the birds are was awash but the winds have been too strong, which prevented us from retrieving them. They were only supposed to be out there for a short time in order to test the procedures we will use with Whooping cranes and we are anxious to get them back to St. Martins and to better Sandhill habitat.

The aviation weather forecast was predicting increasing winds for the next few days but with a small window of calm air in the morning. Again we made our plans the night before and at first light, all went our separate ways. Jerry took Dan and Glen Olsen (the veterinarian from Patuxent) out to the pen by airboat. They had to make the last portion of the journey by Kayak to avoid disturbing the birds. Deke and I headed for the ultralights, while Don and Paula went to the airport and Richard drove north to St. Martins to prepare for our arrival. As soon as we were airborne we knew we had a problem. Heading south, the GPS told us we were passing over the ground at 50 miles per hour. That would mean that going north the head wind would slow us to around 20 MPH.

We arrived in only minutes and circled the pen trying to decide if there was any alternative to pushing the birds against a headwind. We had to consider the time it would take us, against the possibility of bad weather for the next few days. We weighed our chances of success against the total lack of landing sites between the island and St. Martins. Finally, we decided to try one attempt and if it proved a failure, Dan would stay at the pen and we could turn back. Deke was to lead and he passed over the pen as Dan released the birds. All but one bird took off and circled once before he intercepted them. The lone bird took off late and although he had the opportunity to follow the others he climbed up to fly off the wing of my aircraft.

We headed north as the wind increased and scratched our way, mile after slow mile. I tried to keep up with Deke but the lone bird kept dropping back. Twice I had to turn to let him catch up. We stayed very low and battled the increasing wind until our arms were sore. After the longest 46 minutes we have ever endured, we circled St. Martins. Most of the birds moved over to join my aircraft and I passed low over the pen. Richard waved the puppet like a signboard and we began a hard climb hoping the birds were tired enough to let us go. Neither Deke nor I wanted to land on that narrow road in heavy winds to get the birds down.

Maybe they thought we were nuts and if we wanted to fly in this trash, they were willing to let us do it by ourselves. Whatever their reasoning, we were happy to see them set their wings in a descent to a landing beside to the pen.

Next we had to battle the cross wind to make it back to Post Oak. It was only then that Paula reminded us that Dan and crew were still waiting for the word to leave the island. Once safely on the ground at Post Oak, I glanced over at Deke and watched him just sitting in the seat of his aircraft for a long time; head down, arms draped over the control bar. We felt like we had gone 3 rounds in the ring with Mother Nature.

Date:November 29
Reporter:Joe Duff
Activity:Overdue Journal Updates

Notes: Nov. 13, 2000

Sandhill cranes use different habitat during the winter than Whooping cranes. The birds we led south this year will be released at the St. Martins Aquatic Refuge near Crystal River, Florida. The refuge staff constructed a large release pen made of 8-foot high plastic fence, protected by an electric fencer. This is in an upland area and more appropriate for Sandhills. When we bring Whooping cranes to Florida, they will winter at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge a few miles south, in Homosassa Springs. Known by the locals as "Chass" this area is 30,500 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries and brackish marshes. The area selected for the Whooping cranes is a remote island only accessible by airboat and although it is great habitat for birds, there is no place for us to land our aircraft. This year we moved our Sandhills out to the island to see if we can encourage them to land without us.

We have worked hard all summer to have them follow us with successful results, now we are asking them to abandon the aircraft and land in a remote and unfamiliar setting.

The coordination for our attempt was complicated. Dan and Rebecca needed to be out on the island in order to call the birds down. They would be costumed and use our birdcalls recorded on the mini-disc player and amplified through a speaker. They had to leave before daylight for the 30-minute airboat ride. If we were successful they would have to walk through mud and high water to leave the island because the airboat is too loud and disturbing for them get closer than a half mile from the pen. Richard Van Heuvelen also had to leave early to release the birds that were penned at St Martins. Don and Paula had to travel to Crystal River Airport to prepare the Cessna and Deke and I had to make our way to Post Oak where the ultralights were tied down. Our base camp was in Homosassa, the aircraft were 10 miles to the east, and the birds were at St Martins, 10 miles farther north and we were taking them 22 miles southeast to Chassahowitzka. We had people at all ends and our crew were spread out everywhere. Paula Lounsbury coordinated everything from above, while Don sat in their Suburban listening to his radio. From there he could use a cell phone to relay messages if needed.

Once we were airborne, Paula informed the others that we were on our way. Richard released the birds and after some initial reluctance they took off. I moved in to take the lead and Deke dropped into the chase position. Our round trip course was a triangle and one leg or another would be against a head wind. Unfortunately, the trip out with the birds was the slow one and it took us 36 minutes to cover the 22 miles. We had to fly very low in order to avoid stronger winds and warmer air but the low level also meant rough conditions. We bounced along at 50 feet over the trees and water at only 25 miles per hour.

Around half way out the birds began to break up and we worried that they would turn back. Deke moved in and picked up several but it was not long until all but one returned to the lead aircraft. As we moved farther away from the mainland the winds picked up and the terrain began to look alike. If not for the GPS we would have never found our destination. We peered ahead searching for the pen but the mist obscured the landscape. I dropped the nose of the aircraft and there were the familiar gray costumes of Dan and Rebecca as they jumped up and down and wave the puppets to attract the birds. We circled once and the bird that was following Deke moved over the join the main flock. I turned off the crane calls that were broadcasting from the aircraft and started a descent as if landing. The birds followed all the way down until we passed over the pen. I made an abrupt left turn and started a hard climb. Focused as they were on landing, this deviation did not seem to dissuade them and they circled only once before touching down next to Dan. We all cheered at our success. It was a problem for which we were not sure we had an answer but it turned out to be a non-event.

A mud soaked handler helped to call the birds in for a landing near the temporary pen at "Chass."

Date:November 28
Reporter:Joe Duff/Heather Ray
Activity:Overdue Journal Updates

Notes:

Well it seems almost everything is back to normal here at headquarters. Heather nags Bill & Joe long enough until they finally do what is requested. The Ontario contingent of the team returned from Florida early last week and since then, I have been pestering Joe for updates. Today he handed me a disk which contained 5 days worth of updates... So here is the update which tells about the final flight from Gilchrist Co. Florida to the release pen at St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Refuge.  I will post the remainder of the field reports tomorrow so stayed tuned.

November 11, 2000: Every morning we get up before dawn to check the flying conditions. By this time, either Paula or Bill has checked with aviation weather and we all offer our opinions. The only real way to know if the weather is flyable is to take off in one of the aircraft and compare the GPS ground speed with the airspeed. This would tell us how long it would take the birds to cover the distance based on the winds.  All factors are considered before we make the final go/no go decision. We must take into account the air temperature, which affects the bird’s endurance, as well as the visibility. We also know that the area south of us is mostly wooded and offers little in the way of landing sites should something happen. Bill encountered just such a scenario last evening. 

The air was smooth and he, like others, could not resist some recreational flying. Two miles to the south, his engine seized and he had to do a forced landing. Ultralights are aptly named and one of their many attributes is lightweight, which means that in a pinch, they can be landed safely in a very small area. Bill put that advantage to the test, finding only a tiny field in a vast sea of trees. The owner had cleared the small field ten years earlier and by shear luck he had mown it for the first time (in those ten years) only the week before. His emergency approach must have been near perfect. He dropped in over the trees and skidded to a stop only a few feet from the fence at the far end. The only damage to the aircraft was a bent front fork from the rough, bumpy ground. Unfortunately, this left us short an aircraft on the last leg and we all felt Bill’s disappointment at not being able to complete the entire journey. 

 This morning, all the factors seemed to be in our favour and we decided to make our final dash. The air was very cold for Florida and we had to remove not only frost from our wings but ice as well. Deke and I took up our positions next to the pen and Dan and Rebecca released the birds. The take off was not among our best but it was not long before the birds formed on the wing and we were heading south once again. At the last minute Paula Lounsbury, flying the Cessna, asked our host Ron Manna if he would like to join her for the flight to Crystal River. As Ron says “She was not finished asking the question before I was climbing aboard”. Because of the cold air we were able to climb with the birds up to 800 feet and take advantage of the best tailwinds. The wind was primarily out of the northeast and it varied in intensity, giving us ground speeds between 34 and 58 mph. The GPS is able to estimate time of arrival but the variable speeds made the numbers useless. At one point I radioed Deke that we had 59 minutes to go and a moment later I corrected that to 1 hour 22 minutes.  In the end we flew for one hour and 23 minutes and covered 65 miles.

We flew over vast areas of reforestation and realized that finding alternate landing sites for next year would be difficult.  Chuck Underwood and Joan Guilfoyle spent the last week juggling media and the many VIP’s that wanted to witness the final arrival. Expecting large numbers of people, we picked a field a mile away from the landing site in which to gather the crowd.  On arrival we circled the area twice on a long descent before landing the birds on an isolated roadway.  An hour later, when the ground crew arrived, we set up the travel pen and moved the birds into their new winter home.  We were able to taxi the aircraft back to the waiting crowd and we were surprised at the number of people who had waited for over an hour to greet us. The entire team gathered for a press conference, group pictures and lots of backslapping, hugs and hand shakes.

Date:November 21
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Ccccold
Activity:Safe & Sound

Notes:

The Ontario Contingent of the team arrived home Sunday, the 19th to a rude awakening as far as the weather is concerned. Very cold and snowy here. I'm sure they had immediate thoughts of returning to Florida to spend the winter with the cranes.

I still haven't seen Joe... I suspect he is busy getting re-acquainted with his wife and their 1 yr. old daughter Alexandra (or Alley Cat as I call her). Below is one of the many guestbook entries received during the migration trip:

Name: Alexandra Duff - 1 Year Old
From: Port Perry, Ont. CANADA
Comments: Fabulous news! Congrats. To all involved. You FINALLY made it!! Can someone tell my Dad he'd better "migrate" his butt on home pretty soon, or else there are 2 "chicks" here that will soon have to be added to his "endangered species list"

Stay tuned for an image gallery to be posted on the site soon... As soon as I get the pictures back from processing I'll create the gallery

Date:November 17
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Snowing
Activity:Heading Home!
Drive Duration:30 hrs.?

Notes:

When I last spoke to Bill yesterday, he reported that the cranes would be undergoing a health check. Once this task was complete the team would start to pack up to begin the loooong drive north this morning.

I'm certain they are departing with mixed emotions... Happy, to head home and re-join their families, proud of the feat that has been accomplished and somewhat apprehensive over leaving the cranes, after having spent the entire summer, fall and even a portion of the spring season with them. The cranes have now graduated and they passed with FLYING colors!

It's getting a little lonely around the office... I'll be glad to see the crew when they arrive back!

On another note, it appears that our guestbook is not working. I've notified Lycos and am anxiously waiting their response.  

Rest assured that we will be updating this site throughout the winter months with news of the cranes as we receive updates from the biologist that will be monitoring their activities over the next couple of months.  Thanks again to everyone that has followed along.

Date:November 15
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Flyable
Activity:"Air-pick up" performed
Flight Duration:46 min.

Notes:

Joe reports that it was raining yesterday preventing them from moving the birds so the cranes spent an extra night at the temporary pen location. This morning, however, proved sunny so Joe & Deke decided to take advantage of the clear skies and re-locate the flock back to the permanent pen where they will winter.

I don't have all of the details yet, but I do know that the pick-up went according to plan and the flight that took 34 minutes two days ago, lasted 46 minutes today, as the tailwind that the crew had hoped for to get the birds south was now a headwind as they flew them north, back to the pen location.

So the cranes are now back at the location where they will spend the winter... In Florida. I wish I were with them... Its snowing here today.

Date:November 13, 2000: 11:15am
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny
Activity:"Air-drop" performed
Flight Duration:34 min.

Notes:

The study is not quite over yet.... As part of this experiment, there was one more little hurdle that had to be overcome. As you know, the Sandhill cranes arrived at their wintering site this past Saturday. 

Since Whooping cranes prefer a slightly different habitat, the partnership arranged to have a temporary pen set up this year, in the location that we would be leading Whooping cranes to in subsequent years.

Since the ultralights cannot land in a marshy, wet area, they had to prove they could still get the birds to land in the vicinity of the temporary pen, even though the ultralights could not. This morning, Joe and Deke departed with the cranes from their permanent pen location and flew south, 22 miles to the location to attempt the "air-drop." 

Covering the 22 miles took them 34 minutes and once they arrived at the pen area, they circled with the cranes three times. At this point Deke flew high, departing from the flock. Deke made sure his crane "music" was turned off and Joe continued circling with the birds.  Dan Sprague was in the pen, dressed in costume, and turned his crane calls on. Joe turned his calls off and but still did one more circuit with the cranes. Eventually, Joe departed, gaining altitude fast, while Dan called the birds in using his digitized crane calls.

Joe reports that the birds circled the pen area twice, losing altitude with each pass and then landed, exactly where they were supposed to land!

This area is only accessible by air-boats, so Dan, Rebecca and Joan Guilfoyle arrived earlier at the location, then Dan donned his hip waders and waddled out to the pen, some 1/4 mile away, while Joan and Rebecca stayed with the boat.

I received a call just after 9 am from Dan, who in a hushed voice said "I'm on the island with the cranes and I can't reach the boat on my phone. Can you call Joan and ask them to come to the South side of the palm trees"? I had no idea that they were even doing this... But I didn't ask questions. You quickly learn not to in this business where it is considered normal practice to fly with birds and dress up in costumes....

The birds will spend the night in the pen and if the weather cooperates, will head to their permanent pen tomorrow, led by the trikes.

Date:November 11, 2000: 9:15am
Reporter:Heather Ray-OM Headquarters
Weather:Sunny, cool and PERFECT
Activity:Final Destination Reached!
Flight Duration:No details as yet.

Success!

I've received word from Joan Guilfoyle, USFWS & Outreach Coordinator for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP)  http://www.bringbackthecranes.org  that they have arrived at the final location! 

This event was witnessed by over 100 news reporters and camera operators who had secreted themselves in an adjacent field under trees and blinds, etc. 

Joe & Deke are still positioned at a nearby secluded location with the cranes awaiting the arrival of the ground crew. I will, as usual include the details of this morning's flight once I speak to them.  

Additionally, scroll down for some updates that arrived via email from Joe late yesterday.  I have included them under the appropriate date headings.

THIS IS FANTASTIC NEWS!!!! Oh, speaking of news, I heard late yesterday from ABC World News Tonight that they will be showing a news piece tomorrow (Sunday, Nov. 12th) during the 6:30 pm EST newscast. Tune in if you can and if anyone comes across newspaper articles, etc. perhaps you could forward a copy of the article to us? These may assist us this winter while we attempt to secure funding for the next migration with Whooping cranes. For our mailing address click on the "Contact Us" link. Please include your return mailing address so we can send you a little something in return. 

Thank you everyone! Stay tuned...

Date:November 10, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Windy
Activity:Standing down
Flight Duration:0 min.

Notes:

Joe reports there are still very windy conditions in their area. Tomorrow is looking promising and they will keep me updated.

Report from Joe: During this migration, we have attempted to protect the birds from "human influence" as much a possible. We hoped to avoid their seeing buildings or other human environments, as well as hearing traffic and similar man-made sounds. Our plan was to remove all human contact, in hopes that once released, they would have a natural fear of all things unfamiliar. 

This is the most difficult aspect of the migration and added the most work, however, I feel the team did an admirable job. Only on occasion was the protocol violated and these situations were beyond our control. 

The following is a list of infractions: 

October 13, 2000: We landed at a private strip and led the birds through a fence line to a harvested corn field. We were moving away from the area where the crew would set up the pen when we were approached by a curious farmer driving a pick up truck. He drove directly across the field but stopped when one of the crew ran to stop him. After a brief explanation he turned and drove off to the east. The birds gathered around the other handler and were very alert. The truck came to within 150 meters of the birds. 

October 23, 2000: The birds were being moved into the pen at a very quiet and isolated airstrip. The pen was erected next to a tree line and a stream. We used the trees as a visual barrier to hide the pen and the birds had a view of the open area to the west. Just as all the birds entered the pen, a pick up truck moved down a road on the far side of the stream. The driver stopped, once the crew alerted him and he shut the trucks engine off. The birds did not see the truck but only heard it at a distance of ca 30 meters. While the driver waited, we led the birds out of the pen and west to a distance of ca 300 meters. At our signal he proceeded along the private dirt road and we moved the birds back to the pen. 

October 23, 2000: At the same location, there is a high cliff, on top of which is located the home of the owners. A spectator, unfamiliar with our needs, yelled down over the cliff and the crew below. He was attempting to pass information along but was unaware his voice was carrying to the birds that were penned at the time. His voice was loud but he was 500 meters from the pen and although the birds could hear the sound, it was distant. 

October 28, 2000: The birds were being held on the ground after a flight, awaiting the arrival of the crew. The ultralights, parked a short distance away, were noticed by a passing aircraft. The pilot flew low over the birds and handlers at an altitude of 30 meters. The handlers waved him off and he left the area. 

November 1, 2000: We landed in a difficult and rough field with the birds. One of the crew was already on the ground and giving instruction to the others by radio. He forgot that he could no longer talk on the radio once the birds landed close by and continued talking in a loud voice. Once his transmission had ended he was reminded of the situation and stopped. The distance was measured at 20 meters. This is unfortunate because the handler was costumed at the time. 

Throughout the migration we have had little choice but to land the birds in areas were they have been able to hear traffic. Based on the number of times this has happened it may be a situation that is simply unavoidable. 

Date:November 9, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:No Change...
Activity:So close but yet so far...
Flight Duration:0 min.

Notes:

Bill called to report that although the weather in Florida is sunny and warm, it is also still very windy and from the South, which means the pilots and cranes would be fighting a headwind if they attempted a flight

The team spent most of yesterday ensuring that all of the details had been taken care of at the final destination.  While our crew has been busy just getting these cranes to Florida for the past few weeks, another equally busy crew has been constructing a large, 3-acre "gentle release" pen where the birds will spend the winter months. Joe called yesterday just to check in and during our conversation, he very casually, made mention of "an Alligator they were attempting to get out of the pen." Huh? A WHAT? "An alligator", he replied (in his typical casual tone).

Ummmm, Joe? How did an alligator get in to the pen? Chuckling, he explained; "the winter pen is situated on a property that encompasses about a million acres. It seems that a few years ago, the manager had an alligator that they had rehabilitated and needed to release.  Thinking that nobody would ever use "that large pond way over there", they decided to release Mr. Gator into it." Oh.... I see.

Here we are 3 years later and in need of a large release pen, in an area that would allow the cranes access to a natural wetland. It just so happened that the pen was constructed, around the pond that the gator had taken up residence in!!! Seems everybody had forgotten about Mr. G... Until a couple of days ago when they were putting some finishing touches to the pen and they heard a big splash.

They are now attempting to re-locate Mr. G to a more suitable area... one that is not surrounded by a 3-acre pen. Just one of those little details that need to be attended to.

Date:November 8, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Rockin' & Rollin'
Activity:Attempted a flight
Flight Duration:15 min.

Notes:

Following an attempted flight early this morning the crew is being forced to stand down for another day. Bill reported that they departed their current location shortly after 7am and once airborne, the ultralights and birds were getting tossed around by a headwind out of the southeast.

They attempted to climb to a higher altitude in the hopes of finding calmer air, only to discover that it was the same as it was at the lower altitude.

The decision was made to turn back as even the cranes didn't want to follow in these flying conditions and kept breaking off. Paula Lounsbury, piloting the Cessna, alerted the ground crew that they would be returning. Paula did a rather quick landing back at the field and immediately managed to get her aircraft out of sight. Meantime the ground crew, reassembled the temporary pen in record time.

The team had managed to get 3 miles south of their take-off location in 15 minutes. It took them only 2 1/2 minutes to return!

Report from Joe:

Nov. 8, 2000: Last evening the air was calm and cool, unlike the south winds that were predicted. In the morning we were all encouraged and thought we might have been afforded a window, through which to make our last dash. I took off to the check the GPS and found much less fog than yesterday. The headwind seemed light and although we knew we could not make the entire trip, we hoped to scratch out another 20 miles. Deke and I positioned our 
aircraft at the east end of the runway and Dan and Rebecca released the birds. All but one took off and followed me as I climbed to the west and Deke moved into the chase position. 


We turned to the south and Deke picked up the bird that was trying desperately to catch up. Once on course he moved up on my right with the intent of letting the lone bird close in on the main flock. This is normally what we would expect to happen but instead several birds moved to his aircraft. He was forced to descend rapidly to avoid birds flying in front of him in the danger area. This, unfortunately, encouraged several more to follow him down. 

Finally, all of the birds were on his aircraft and we settled into a flight that would take us over an hour to cover 21 miles. The birds seem distracted and often moved away from the aircraft sometimes drawn to me and sometimes even drifting toward Bill's trike. Deke and I were flying at the same level and the birds were spread out between us. I turned my digital sound off and he turned his on and we tried a lead change. Normally the one giving up the 
lead will accelerate and then climb high and fast. The birds will try to follow but are out-distanced quickly. They give up and move to the other aircraft, encouraged by the bird calls now emanating from the new leader. 

I warned Deke of my intent and began a hard climb. I was amazed when I quickly put 300 feet between us and realized that one bird had followed me up. He was pumping for all he was worth and crying to me in his immature voice but he stayed with me, refusing to quit. I leveled off high and watched the line of birds off Deke's wing. Without warning, another bird rolled into a tight 180 degree turn and headed back. Others followed and soon the flock was spread 
out over the sky. We quickly made the decision to return, or more accurately, the decision was made for us. 

I followed the lone bird keeping him in sight and hoped that my high climber would stay with me a little longer. Deke led the main group back as we tried to reprogram the GPS to get us home. We had been airborne for 15 minutes but were only a few miles out. Paula Lounsbury, flying the Cessna, radioed the crew to stop dismantling the pen and the truck that was hauling the pen trailer, did a quick U-turn half way down the runway. 

Once we turned around our headwind pushed us along at almost 60 mph and the pen was only minutes away. Paula still had to get the Cessna on the ground before us and I tried to think of a plan to gather the birds and keep them in order to provide enough time to let her land and taxi back to the hangar, out of the way. We were only 1.5 minutes out when I saw her turn on final and disappear behind the trees. I swear it was only seconds later that she called 
"clear of the runway" and we set up for our landing. 

I related that story later to Chuck Underwood (ex US Navy) and he suggested 
"she called-the-ball on a short final and nailed the first wire on the first Cessna trap ever attempted." For us non-navy types that's aviator talk for an aircraft-carrier landing, using an arresting hook and a cable to stop short. We all knew Paula was good but she has newfound respect among the pilots here. 

Once we were clear to come in the landing was rough but safe and all the birds made it back, despite our lack of control. We had never seen our bids perform in this manner and several times their behaviour has surprised us. After it was all over and the flock was back in the pen we discussed it and came up with (what we think) is the explanation. 

We know from observations that birds migrate in favorable winds. They may sit on the ground for weeks, until one day, when the wind is right, and off they go, all leaving within minutes. If they have a knowledge of tailwinds, they must have a sense of the opposite condition. Maybe they can feel that they are making little headway, that they are swimming upstream and there is no 
logic in continuing. Maybe the way they communicate this message is to turn back, to break up until the entire flock gets the idea. Maybe we were the only ones not listening? After all, it is easy for us, we just sit in the seat and open the throttle. A headwind only means we sit a little longer, but they have to work and a million years or so has taught them to conserve their energy. We learned a good lesson and luckily we caught it in time. 

If our aerial break up occurred farther out, we may have lost birds. Unable to keep track of all of them once they break up, we could only hope that they knew their way back. This is likely, but by then our pen would be down and en route to the new site, leaving little with which they would be familiar. That afternoon we drove south and helped the Crystal River crew finish the release pen.

Date:November 7, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Headwind
Activity:Scouting Ahead
Flight Duration:None

Notes:

Here is a brief re-cap of this past weekends activities: On Saturday morning the crew departed Dougherty County, GA and flew to a location NE of Adel, GA in Colquitt County. The air aloft was rather warm so the pilots stayed at low altitudes, allowing the cooler, moist air to help cool the cranes.

The following day, Sunday, they continued on, officially crossing the Florida State line and arriving in Lafayette County, Florida. The air aloft on this day was the complete opposite of Saturdays flight conditions so the crew was able to fly at a much higher altitude, without the cranes tiring.

Monday, brought another shift in the air conditions. The air at the high altitudes reached yesterday were, once again, too warm for the birds and the pilots kept the cranes flying the entire flight at approximately a 100 ft. level. The entire 1 hour and 15 min. flight to Gilchrist County, FL. was bumpy and trashy. Had they been able to take the birds to a higher altitude they may have been able to fly above some of this trashy air, but then the birds would have tired faster in the warmer air conditions.

The crew is standing down for today. Joe reports that there are winds out of the SE at 15mph, and with a dense ground fog covering the area, they have decided to drive ahead to the next location to ensure that conditions there are ideal. Only 74.9 miles to cover!

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has been following along and for all the wonderful emails and entries into the OM Guestbook. Many have brought me to tears.  There are so many great people out there that are passionate about the Whooping crane and supportive of this reintroduction attempt.  I am compiling a booklet containing all of the messages and will forward copies of these to the entire crew once this mission is complete. 

Thank you all so much!

Date:November 5, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - In The Field (added 11/11/00)

Notes:

There is a large low-pressure air mass, southwest of here, which means our winds are out of the south. There are no other systems around that could halt or divert its approach and as it moves closer, the winds will only increase. This does not stop us from hoping and every morning we get up before dawn to stare at the sky through blurry eyes. The only real way to tell is to take-off in a trike and head on course, while watching the GPS. This will tell us our ground speed and how long it would take to reach the next site.

This morning, the news was as bad as predicted. The fog was heavier than usual and our destination was over 2 hours away. Already the air was starting to warm and we decided to stand down until tomorrow. This allowed us the opportunity to drive to Crystal River and meet with all the people we have come to know so well from our many conference calls leading up to this event. Jim Krause, Manager of Chassahowitzka NWR arranged for us to tour the pen they had built out in the open coastal wetland where the new, migratory Whooping cranes will be released during future studies.

Sandhill cranes use different habitat than Whoopers during the winter months and although our birds will be released inland this year, we intend to pen them for a short time in the Whooping cranes release area. This will give us the chance to assess any problems we may encounter and set the protocol to be used. One of our concerns is how to approach the pen. The area is very open and boats can be seen for miles. The standard mode of transportation here is an air boat but they are very loud and this would frighten the birds. We hope to use a regular boat to bring us to within 3 or 4 hundred yards and then use a quiet trolling motor to move us closer. The last distance will be covered by foot and the handlers will wear costumes Once this test is complete we will move this year's birds to St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Refuge. Manager, Seth Blitch and his staff have build a very good release pen in an isolated area and this was the next stop on our tour. Chuck Underwood, USFWS-Media liaison has been migrating with us from the start and has seen the problems we face. He has witnessed firsthand, how a seemingly perfect day can present an obstacle. Un-noticed by most, a wind drifting out of the south at 15 mph may provide a gentle breeze on the ground but be impenetrable by anything that flies at less than 35 mph.

Lately, Chuck has been inundated with calls. Our progress has been followed by many and the media are very interested. As well, the extensive team have worked so hard on this effort for so long, that understandably, they would like to see its conclusion. Chuck has been the middle man. On one hand he has us telling him we can't go and from experience he knows its true. On the other he has the media, who are accustomed to having every resource at their fingertips and have difficulty with answers as vague as he is forced to give. Film crews and airline reservations, press conferences and team meetings all hang on ... "well, maybe tomorrow."? We are 70 miles out and the headwind has us firmly pinned down.

 

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