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|Date:||March 22, 2001|
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
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|
|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
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
Check out some of the photographs from last fall's migration: 2000
|Date:||February 2, 2001|
|Reporter:||Joe Duff - OM Headquarters|
"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|
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|
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|
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
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|
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
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|
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.
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|
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|
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
|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.
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.
|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
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.
|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
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
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."
|Reporter:||Joe Duff/Heather Ray|
|Activity:||Overdue Journal Updates|
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
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
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.
|Activity:||Safe & Sound|
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
|Drive Duration:||30 hrs.?|
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
proud of the feat that has been accomplished and somewhat apprehensive over leaving the cranes,
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.
|Activity:||"Air-pick up" performed|
|Flight Duration:||46 min.|
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:
|Flight Duration:||34 min.|
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."
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:
|Reporter:||Heather Ray-OM Headquarters|
|Weather:||Sunny, cool and PERFECT|
|Activity:||Final Destination Reached!|
|Flight Duration:||No details as yet.|
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,
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
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|
|Flight Duration:||0 min.|
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|
|Activity:||So close but yet so far...|
|Flight Duration:||0 min.|
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
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
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....
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.|
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
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
|Date:||November 7, 2000|
|Reporter:||Heather Ray - OM Headquarters|
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
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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