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Date:Oct. 2, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes: With less than a week to go before our target lift-off date of Oct. 8th the weather has cooperated only twice this week. On Monday, Sept. 29th Joe flew the group of sixteen cranes for about 15 minutes, taking them from the east site over to the north site, where the water level and quality is better.

Dan Sprague reports that Richard van Heuvelen was able to lead the flock in a flight of slightly more than 30-minutes this morning. Two cranes, 302 & 306 dropped out partway through the session but were retrieved by the aircraft and led back to the north site. 

WHERE DID THE YEAR GO????? It seems as if we returned from Florida not very long ago, and already there is a new generation ready to guide south?

Date:Sept. 30, 2003
Reporter:Joe Duff

Notes: A hero is defined as a legendary figure, endowed of great strength and ability. The term has often been inappropriately applied to the members of this team but no one here accepts the accolade seriously. From our perspective the real heroes are these rare and wonderful birds that evolved some 65 million years ago. Firmly established long before the appearance of man they witnessed the shifting of mountain ranges, the advance and retreat of the ages of ice and finally the threats to their existence that accompanied our arrival. With blind ambition we pushed forward across this continent from east to west and forced them to the edge of extinction but with determination bordering on defiance they have persevered and have stalwartly refused to accept the world as we have distorted it.   

Despite their claims to the contrary there are many heroic qualities in this team. Each member is dedicated beyond the norm and the fact that most have been away from home every summer and fall for four years now is evidence of their commitment. Sara Zimorski from ICF is scheduled to work a normal five-day week but she is here every weekend. Mark Nipper and Beth Anderson started the season at Patuxent in April and have taken off less than a week all summer. Mark, like the rest of us, won’t get another break until the migration is over in late November and probably won’t get home until close to Christmas. 

Operation Migration is a small organization with limited funds so no one is doing this for the money. Richard van Heuvelen has four daughters at home and a sculpting career that gets neglected for half a year at a time.  Brooke Pennypacker lives his life for the birds; first flying with Trumpeter swans at Environmental Studies at Airlie in Virginia, and now, Whooping cranes for OM. You can tell he has spent his life self-employed. He sees the things that need to be done and has them half finished before they become a problem. 

Dan Sprague and Brian Clauss, both from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center have been rotating between here and home all summer, taking turns working with the captive flock back in Maryland and in the field here at Necedah. Dan and Brian have been working with Operation Migration since 1996 when we did our first study with Sandhill cranes. They have the uncanny understanding of bird behaviour that comes only from a deep appreciation and years of hard work. 

Heather Ray lives and breathes this project, but unfortunately doesn’t get to work with the birds often. She saves them in other ways like raising the funds to keep us all going, dealing with outreach issues and most notably, she is responsible for the website you are visiting now. Heather is an overworked insomniac who’s often in the office at 3am. She is driven and if she had different interests she’d likely be rich.  One of the unsung champions of this project is Chris Danilko, our administrator who has never even seen these birds. She keeps the bills paid, the communications open and the home fires burning.

It has been a long and busy summer. Despite the current economic climate our Mile-Maker campaign has been successful. Although we have not made our annual budget yet, thanks to all of you, we are a lot closer. 

Due to good weather and hard work on the part of the field team the sixteen birds we raised this season are healthy and ahead of last year’s flock by a good two weeks. Already they are flying longer, which begs the question; why aren’t we leaving sooner? If history is any indicator this upcoming migration will take the better part of 2 months to complete. None of the field team members actually live in Necedah and all deserve a break before we start. When all of the equipment and people are in place it will be time to leave and if luck and the weather are on our side that will be October 8th; putting us a week ahead of last year.

It is 1228 statute miles to Chassahowitzka NWR in Florida; a short migration by avian standards but long when you mix ultralight aircraft and birds together. Each is more efficient without the other but the combination is necessary, at least for the first trip south.

Autumn is notorious for bad weather and even now we are getting a taste of what is to come. Due to high winds we have only flown with the birds once in the last eight days and the gap in training is slowly eroding our advantage. Once the migration begins these weather delays will add pressure to an already overworked team, and at a thousand dollars a day, they will eat away at our confidence and our finances. Keeping birds isolated from any human contact is difficult enough even in closed areas of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge but maintaining that separation while hop-scotching across the continent is much more problematic. One curious intruder could inadvertently wipe out half a years work and tame our birds to humans, leaving them without the natural fear that keeps them wild. This restrictive protocol complicates everything we do but the team has lived with it so long it is second nature.

As October 8th looms closer, almost everything is in place. When we are not working with the birds we pack and try to prepare for all the things that could happen. Each member knows the vehicle they will be driving and all their responsibilities. Thanks to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation we have a brand new diesel truck to pull our aircraft trailer and two wonderful supporters, Jane Stedman and Sandy Blakeney have generously loaned us their personal RV. This will pull one of our travel-pen trailers, and give us a little more accommodation so that everyone will at least have a bed instead of a fold-down dining table or a mat on the floor.

Despite the tight quarters, the strict protocol, the long hours, the seemingly endless weather delays and the constant worry this team maintains their sense of accomplishment. They meet every challenge with determination, dedication and a will, equaled only by the birds themselves. 

Maybe they are heroes after all...

(Ed. note: In front of this great team, stands an even greater leader... Thanks Joe!)

Date:Sept. 28, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes: The unfinished items on the "things-to-do-before-heading-south" list still outnumber the completed tasks but we are making headway.

Orchestrating an expedition involving eleven humans; sixteen cranes; seven ground vehicles, and four airplanes takes a bit of organizing. You might expect that since we've been there and done this twice already, it would be easier the third time around... in a way I suppose it is, in the sense that we have a better understanding of WHAT needs doing, but time always seems to run out before everything get done. 

At home in Ontario, I took advantage of the today's rain and sat down with laptop and mapping software to try to put the finishing touches on the ground-travel route. The television was on for background noise and before long, I realized that Fly Away Home was playing - so much for the travel route.

Though I had yet to join the OM flock when Columbia Pictures and the Fly Away Home cast moved into our small town in '95, I've heard countless stories about the experience from Bill, Joe, and Richard. Since its release in 1996, I've seen the movie many times and it still manages to captivate me but it wasn't really the story that grabbed my attention today, as much as it was the realization of just how far our small organization has come since the year of Fly Away Home.  With the assistance of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, and the financial support of many caring individuals and groups, we've accomplished some fairly significant steps toward safeguarding the most endangered crane of the fifteen species worldwide - Wow!

Alright, back to reality... An email message from Joe indicates that today marks an entire week that either wind, rain (or both) has hampered training - leaving the cranes and the pilot grounded. It figures... as soon as we set a target departure date, Mother Nature reminds us that she is indeed in charge...

Date:Sept. 23, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes: With equal minutes of daylight and darkness, today officially signals the first day of Autumn. Each season signals change, but no other does it with the vibrant colours and fanfare that fall brings. Amid the reds, oranges, yellows and browns are restless birds; each species fattening up in preparation of their southward sojourn to warmer climates and abundant food sources - And all of them wondering when should we leave?

I usually try to keep track of when we first get asked the WHEN question, so I was a bit taken aback this spring, before the chicks even began to hatch, when a curious supporter telephoned to ask me "when do you think you will arrive in Florida?"  As we participated in the 3rd annual Necedah Crane Festival this past weekend, the burning question on everyone's mind was "when will you leave." If I didn't know better I'd almost think the folks around Necedah are looking forward to getting rid of us....

The migration team has been asking themselves this same question over the past couple of weeks, and have set a target date. This is the date by which the cranes will be ready; the crew in place and ready to head south, and each of the 38 potential migration hosts will have been checked and notified of our possible arrival. And the date is.... October 8th.  Weather permitting of course!

Now that that's out of the way we can start pondering the answer to when we might arrive in Florida...

Date:Sept. 17, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Fall movements... ALREADY?

Notes: Brooke reported a record 29-minute training flight yesterday morning with all sixteen cranes - Go cranes!

As I prepare to head out today to join the rest of the team in Wisconsin, it seems our yearling cranes are also getting the urge to head out... The ICF monitoring team reports that the male/female pair; 203 & 213 left the Necedah refuge on Sept. 15th and headed south to an area in southwest Wisconsin where they had spent a few days earlier this spring. This pair left the refuge on only one other occasion this summer and it was a short overnight trip to an area about 10 miles from the reintroduction site. This morning brought news of another yearling with the migration itch. The lone female crane 201, which had spent the entire summer in neighboring Minnesota, has also decided to leave her chosen marsh and yesterday returned to within 16 miles of the central Wisconsin Necedah Wildlife Refuge. 

Perhaps the lack of rain this summer is signaling an early southward migration for these cranes and other migratory species, which rely on healthy wetlands. 

Hopefully, some of the adult and yearling "white birds" will still be there tomorrow morning so I can view them from the tower...  See you at the Necedah Whooping Crane Festival this Saturday!

Date:Sept. 15, 2003
Reporter:Joe Duff
Activity:Training Update

Notes: At the beginning of this reporting period the team experienced cool, dry weather and all sixteen birds were led on flights of up to19 minutes. During one training session, two wild Sandhill cranes, along with 102 and 101 joined the formation, resulting in a total of twenty birds following the trike. This is a record number of cranes ever led by one aircraft. The adult crane, 102 moved up in the formation until she took over the lead position directly behind the wing. Several chicks proceeded to attack her, eventually forcing her out of the formation entirely. 

The weather became increasingly warm and humid as the week progressed and the endurance of the flock was eroded accordingly. The birds showed signs of fatigue and the flight durations were shortened to 17 minutes then 14 and eventually, only 10 minutes. Despite the abbreviated durations all of the juvenile cranes continued to follow faithfully except for 302, and occasionally 313 who both have acquired a habit of landing alone at the west site as the aircraft passes close by. After the flock landed back at the departure point these birds were successfully retrieved using the aircraft. 

Water issues continued to be a problem and the wet pens at all three sites were dry. All of the birds were moved from the north site to the east site to allow the team and refuge staff an opportunity to flush out the wet pen at the north site. This was done to remove accumulated fecal build-up using large pumps, and water from a pond at the north end of the training facility. 

The weather continued to deteriorate and the birds were not trained on September 11th. Finally on September 12th, 13th and 14th the heavens broke and it rained heavily. The wet pens at all three sites are now flooded and the birds are again water roosting. 

This resulted in three consecutive days without training; however, on September 15th all sixteen birds were led on a 24-minute flight with no interference from wild white birds and no dropouts.

Date:Sept. 7, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Sad news...

Notes: On Aug. 17th & 18th, ICF/FWS biologist Richard Urbanek, along with Sara Zimorski and Lara Fondow, also with the International Crane Foundation, retrieved three yearling Whooping cranes from the eastern area of South Dakota.  The three female yearlings: 203, 207 & 215 had wandered west after returning to their summer home at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in April with several of their flock mates. 

It is typical for juvenile cranes to wander for a short time after returning to their northern range, especially unattached females, however, South Dakota is not listed as one of the twenty possible dispersal States/Provinces included in the Non-essential Experimental Plan (NEP). The NEP was published as a federal rule, and was necessary to carry out this reintroduction. Listed States and Provinces include the primary flyway States of: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida, as well as the neighboring States, and two Canadian Provinces; Ontario and Manitoba. This means that should any of the WCEP cranes wander into any of these listed areas, they are considered to be "experimental" and "non-essential" to the overall Whooping crane picture, however, should they venture outside of these listed areas, they once again become "endangered," and along with this come several considerations - The land they inhabit becomes endangered species habitat, regardless of what the owner planned to do with the land is just one consideration.

The NEP ruling is what allows us to dress up in goofy costumes, carry puppets, and lead these special endangered cranes across the country, using an aircraft that resembles a flying lawn chair. The NEP ruling also affords these cranes the same protection from hunters they would normally receive under the Endangered Species Act.

Once it was discovered in early June that the cranes had moved to a South Dakota marsh, only 7-miles past the state line shared with Minnesota, the proper authorities were notified and numerous conference calls ensued. The decision was made to leave them alone for awhile to see if they might return to either Minnesota or Wisconsin on their own.  Unfortunately, the hot dry season turned their once marshy area into a dry and cracked bed and the girls decided to move on... Farther WEST - to excellent habitat with an abundance of crayfish. The joint decision was made between the Central Flyway Council, South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and officials with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to collect the wandering females and return them to the reintroduction site at the Necedah NWR.

A plan was worked out and Richard drove west to set up a temporary holding pen near the area where the cranes had been roosting. The next day, Sara and Lara drove out to join him for the capture attempt, which would take place on the evening of August 17th. Windway Capitol Corp. had again offered the use of an aircraft to return the birds to central Wisconsin and waited for word from the retrieval team. That evening the three donned the white costumes, familiar to the cranes, and approached the birds. It became immediately evident that after almost a year of spent away from the costumes, these cranes hadn't missed them - at all. Eventually, one bird, #215 was captured by hand - the transmitter was replaced, and Lara drove the bird back in an air-conditioned van through the night for release on East Rynerson Pond, at the Necedah NWR, the next morning. The original transmitter on this bird had become non-functional since July 30th so the decision was made to replace all three transmitters.

Lara arrived at the refuge in the early morning of the 18th of August and after a brief exam by Patuxent's Brian Clauss, 215 was released on her old stomping grounds.  Sara and Richard had stayed in South Dakota for a second attempt at collecting 203, and the apparent ring-leader of the group, crane 207.

Eventually, 207 was captured by hand and herded into a nearby temporary enclosure, where it was hoped that her calls would lure in the timid and wary 203. After some time this is exactly what happened and the two were placed in individual containers and driven to the airport where they were placed in an air-conditioned room to await the arrival of the Windway aircraft that would fly them and Sara back to Necedah, WI.

The two birds were released later that afternoon on the south end of East Rynerson Pond. 203's release was unremarkable. 207, however, could not fly and stumbled when walking - both are significant signs of capture myopathy. She was therefore transferred to the pen at the east Site for further evaluation by the health team. 

The news was not good - the ring-leader and most dominant of the group of three females continued to show signs of severe capture myopathy despite intensive therapy administered by several members of the field team, under direction of ICF's Dr. Barry Hartup. After continued tube feeding and physical therapy sessions, crane 207 remained alert and responsive; often biting the hands that fed her, but 12-days after her capture from South Dakota: on the afternoon of August 30th, although her legs were strong, she would still not willingly stand. With heightened concerns over regurgitation of tube feeding, and a very poor outlook for her future as a wild crane, at that time she was transported from Necedah NWR to ICF to be humanely euthanized.

This leaves us with a total of twenty-adults and yearlings from the '01 & '02 migrations; hopefully we'll be adding sixteen more to this total very soon...

Many thanks goes out to the field team, and especially Sara Zimorski, Lara Fondow, Richard Urbanek and Dr. Barry Hartup for doing everything possible to rehabilitate 207.

Date:Aug. 26, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Necedah NWR
Activity:And then there was one...

Notes: Cohort, that is! All three smaller groups have now been combined into one large cohort of cranes. Currently the group is housed at the east training site, divided only by chain link fencing, which allows them to socialize and interact with each other, but also curbs any aggression that might take place. 

The cranes have also flown together twice since being combined. This didn't occur last year until September 22nd, so we're ahead of last years schedule by almost a full month.... Click to see images taken over the last few days.

Date:Aug. 22, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Necedah NWR
Activity:Training update

Notes: Following a two-day break in training due to windy conditions both groups of cranes flew with the aircraft this morning. The larger group at the west site had two training flights, entertaining about a dozen people positioned on the public observation tower at the refuge. This morning was the first time this group had flown with two aircraft - Brooke taking the lead followed by Joe flying the chase position. The first flight lasted approximately 20 minutes and the next flight about half that time.

Next the pilots flew over the the north site and worked with the smaller group of the six oldest chicks. They too performed wonderfully and followed the aircraft for around 25 minutes before the winds picked up and the session was ended.

Click to see photos of this morning's flight.


Date:Aug. 18, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Lights out...

Notes: Like millions of others we lost all power just after 4pm on Thursday, August 14th in what the media is referring to as the Blackout of '03. Of course it just happened to be one of the hottest days this summer...

Roads were clogged with commuters when the blackout occurred during the height of the business rush hour; Some were stranded in elevators and subways, others on amusement rides, and a handful of miners spent several dark hours in an underground mine shaft in northern Ontario. We were fortunate in that we simply drove home, only mildly aware that our town's few sets of traffic lights were not functioning. BBQ's were fired up and creative meals were prepared using items that might spoil if left without refrigeration.

With no television, computers, air-conditioning or even lights to read by we were reminded of pre-technology days gone by and watched the night sky put on a spectacular show.  We counted passing satellites and picked out constellations in the clear night sky, which for the first time in many years contained no light pollution whatsoever to dim the brilliance of the stars. An added bonus was the planet Mars and its red hue as it rose from the southeast.

In addition to losing hydro service, and all the conveniences that went along with it, we were also without all telephone service for a good portion of the  extended-by-the-blackout-weekend when the Premiere of Ontario declared a state of emergency and urged all non-essential workers to stay home on Friday.

Many of you likely noticed that our website was down, as was our email service. I spoke with our server this morning about the unusually small number of messages that we did receive once the system was restored, and they unfortunately said that there is no way to retrieve any that didn't make it through to us, so if anyone sent an email to us between last Thursday and late Saturday and have not received an expected response, please re-send your message and we'll get to it as soon as possible.

Now back to Necedah Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin where the night sky is equally spectacular. When the Whooping crane chicks arrive at the Wisconsin reintroduction site the group is divided, based on age, into smaller and more manageable cohorts with each housed in one of three training sites. With two crane shipments earlier this summer, the first group of birds to arrive was divided into two cohorts. The six oldest cranes were moved to the north site, and the other four were moved to the east site. Two weeks later, the remaining group, which contained the seven youngest chicks arrived from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland and they were moved to the west site, following their arrival health exam.

In the last update I mentioned that the oldest group of birds had flown with the aircraft for 20-minutes - and that particular flight was cut short only by Brooke's weak bladder. Thankfully, since last Tuesday's 20-min. flight, Brooke has cut down on his coffee consumption and on August 13th the younger, cohort two cranes made an impressive flight of 25-minutes! Brooke led them from the east site; across the water of the East Rynerson Pond too see if they had the flight endurance necessary to make it to the west site and allow us to begin amalgamating the cohorts into one cohesive flock. They didn't disappoint so the next morning the flight was repeated, but this time the middle group of four cranes landed on the grass strip outside the west site enclosure, where inside, the crew had already erected a fence to divide the large enclosure into two sections. This will allow the two groups of juvenile cranes to see each other, and provide controlled interaction through the fence until the team is satisfied they will not be aggressive toward each other.

We spoke with Brooke after this mornings training and were thrilled to learn that the fence was removed on Sunday - no apparent aggression was observed and we now have only two cohorts.

Oh but wait - There's even more great news! Yesterdays and today's training flights with the freshly combined group - the ten youngest of this years class, each lasted for 32 minutes! AND, this morning's flight was no ordinary 32-minute training flight - not only did it contain the ten juvenile Whooping cranes, but two wild adult whoopers also joined in...

Date:Aug. 12, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Onward & UPward

Notes: The weather has been on our side lately and the field team reports that over the past three weeks only two days have been missed due to rain and windy conditions.

This morning, Brooke Pennypacker was piloting the aircraft used to lead the oldest group of six cranes and informed us that the flight lasted 20-minutes! (In fact, he said he would have kept going but he had to use the bathroom...)

An August training flight lasting 20-minutes is much more advanced than last year's cranes were capable of achieving at this same stage, which means: Thanks to a lot of hard work from a dedicated team, the pilots better cut down on their fluid intake prior to take-off from now on.

Date:Aug. 7, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:An unfortunate loss...

Notes: Whooping crane 314 sustained serious injuries during training this morning when she apparently ventured too close to the rear wheel of the ultralight as it was taxiing for take-off.  The injured bird was immediately transported to the International Crane Foundation for evaluation and medical treatment.

Shortly after arriving at the crane foundation, Dr. Barry Hartup reported to the team that the 82-day old female Whooping crane went into cardiopulmonary arrest while already under anesthesia, and the decision was made not to attempt resuscitation due to the extent of her injuries and poor prognosis for recovery.

Some of you may recall that crane 314 is the bird that has had a persistent limp since arriving at the reintroduction site on July 1st. The team suspected a slipped tendon, which was aggravated each time she would run after the aircraft. The decision was made to exclude her from training sessions last week - perhaps by providing some time off, and allowing her flight feathers to develop further, she would not have to run as much to get airborne.  During training sessions earlier this week her limp seemed less noticeable and it appeared as if the time off had indeed helped her but we can't help but wonder if the original leg issue may have contributed to this mornings incident.

Despite the numerous successes experienced during the first two years of this reintroduction, it is still an experiment, and while every effort is made to ensure the safety of the cranes and the pilots, unfortunately accidents can still occur. We take consolation in the fact that the mortality rate would be much higher if these cranes were hatched and raised in the wild.

The field team will now regroup and focus on conditioning the remaining sixteen crane colts in preparation for the southward migration this fall.

Date:Aug. 3, 2003
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah NWR - Wisconsin
Activity:Training Update and funding issues.

Notes: Just when we became used to the fact that there are now 21 Whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population we have added more. Although they are still under our care, and have not technically been released, they are still Whooping cranes and they are in Wisconsin.

The field team has been building in momentum since June 12th, when the first few arrived to make the final provisions to the pens and training sites. Dan Sprague and Brian Clauss of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center will take turns in Necedah, and of course, Brooke Pennypacker and Richard van Heuvelen are back, along with Mark Nipper who has been helping Dan and Brian, since the chicks began to hatch two months ago. New this season is Beth Anderson, OM intern who had also been helping out at Patuxent and has since joined us at the reintroduction location.

At each of the three training areas we have a large top-netted enclosure, which features two areas divided by a large gate. One is a high security pen on high ground is known as the dry pen, and the other is built in water and named wet pen, accordingly. In the past these slightly less-secure, plastic-fenced water areas provided a place for the cranes to forage during the day, and we then moved them into the safer dry area at night - but we had it wrong and in the long run, cranes are safer roosting in water. The sooner they learn this, the better chance they have to survive in the wild, so over the winter the Necedah staff removed the plastic fencing and replaced it with more secure chain link and now the birds spend most of their time up to their hocks in wetlands.

Every year we predict an easier season and finally, that may be an accurate prediction. We don’t have new aircraft to assemble, nor travel pens to build. The improvements to the three crane enclosures mean sufficient water flow, and less worry over bacteria build up, and we have more help than the first two training seasons. 

Our base of operations at the Necedah refuge is at their maintenance facility and is referred to as the annex. Rich King, resident biologist for the refuge has a large staff of interns this season so the area is much busier. The interns carryout plant surveys; bird counts, and Karner blue butterfly surveys and they come and go in trucks, with 4-ft. aluminum antennas sticking out of the roofs. They are collectively known as the butterfly girls.  Lara Fondow, who assists Richard Urbanek is also based at the annex and is still tracking the movements of our twenty-one returned Whooping cranes. 

Each morning, before she drives out to pinpoint their location she will often stand in the back of her pick-up truck in the camp parking lot and do a quick radio signal check. She can tell if the birds are flying, or on the ground, simply by holding the antenna either horizontally or vertically. The other day she announced to anyone within earshot that we had white cranes coming in - later that evening there were nine wild Whooping cranes on the refuge. At times there is so much crane movement she must feel like an air traffic controller. “211 -you’re number three on the approach, follow that big white bird on short final. 212 - you are clear to land, please contact ground control after touchdown.”

Each spring we have to make new costumes and based on the condition of the older, used ones, I am always amazed that the cranes manage to stay so clean.  This year we made some modifications and rather than using a baseball cap as the basis for the headgear we used a white construction helmet. Looking through a tinted visor tends to restrict your vision somewhat so at least the helmets under the white fabric protect your head from the low doorways inside the pens. Unfortunately these helmets are so hot that many of the team members used a Dremel to cut vents in the hard plastic. The entire thing is covered in white fabric but it does let a little heat escape. Ever the artist, Richard van Heuvelen used markers to decorate his and Brian’s headgear with intricate shapes, including a heart just above the peak. The dark heart shape is still visible through the fabric and now, in full costume, the two look a little like Care Bears.

Our biggest problems this year are recruiting new pilots and fundraising. Between Patuxent, the International Crane Foundation and the interns we hired, there are enough aviculturalists but pilots are a different story. With cranes being such a rare species you would think it would be the other way around but finding a few pilots who have the time and wherewithal to dedicate 3 or 4 months a year has proved challenging. Of the five that expressed interest over the winter, none could make such a long-term commitment on short notice so we are still looking.

Fundraising is equally difficult this year, given the current state of the economy. Despite numerous applications submitted, it seems foundations are keeping a close eye on the grant funds they have until the economy improves.  

To date, we have only managed to raise just over a third of the total money needed to carry out our work this year, and there are 17 juvenile Whooping cranes, currently undergoing flight conditioning in Wisconsin that will need to be guided south, 1200-miles to a new winter habitat this autumn.  If you would like to help, or perhaps know of someone that may be able to contribute, please check out the new Mile-Maker club page. 

Date:July 27, 2003
Reporter:Joe Duff
Activity:Close encounters of the crane kind

Notes: In the last couple of weeks, cohorts 1 and 2 have missed two days of training, while cohort 3 has missed three. Monday morning was too windy to fly so all three groups were let out to exercise. The cranes have had access to the wet sections of their pens every night and the water levels continue to be ideal. 
Crane 314 of the youngest group has had a limp that shows up when it runs after the aircraft so we have left it out of the first half of most training sessions. It continues to be a good follower and the limp seems to be improving. All of the cohort 1 cranes have fledged and are now flying circuits around the training site in an attempt to follow the aircraft. Two birds from the second group are able to make half circuits and often land in the marsh, however they are easily encouraged to come out. 
Each of the three training sites seems to have its share of older Whooping cranes and they are generally at the sites when we arrive, or they fly in shortly thereafter. Cranes 211 and 212 tend to frequent the east site but rarely cause problems. A variety of white birds have been seen at the north site and crane 208 is often at the west site.  The chicks have run the older crane-intruders off on occasion but so far the only disturbance their presence makes is if they call to the handlers and aircraft, or stand in the middle of the runway, preventing us from landing the aircraft. 
On July 21st, while we were exercising the youngest group, a wild Sandhill crane walked into the pen while the chicks were out. Its frantic call, and the response from its mate while we tried to get it out of the pen caused the whooper chicks to scatter. It took an hour to convince them it was safe and okay to return to the pen. 

In an effort to ensure that all three cohorts are trained every day we often have to rush off to the next site before winds increase. On July 23rd we decided to lengthen our training sessions and spend more time concentrating on individual birds. The independence and aloof attitude of crane 311 has been a concern recently however improvements were noted after the extended training session.

Date:July 9, 2003
Reporter:Heather & Field Team
Location:Necedah NWR, Juneau Co. WI
Activity:Training is in full swing

Notes: The second shipment of young Whooping cranes arrived at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on July 1st, consisting of the seven youngest cranes, which brings our total for this season to seventeen. These seven will make up the third cohort and will be housed at the West Site, which is visible from the public observation tower located on the refuge. Crane 316 was separated from the others to avoid known aggression issues.

I had the opportunity to visit the refuge during the last week of June and every visit to the tower, was rewarded with the sight of, at the very least one, and on a couple of occasions as many as nine of our twenty-one returned adult and yearling Whooping cranes.  Many times their unison calls broke the silence; a sound difficult to find words to describe, yet once heard, remains in your heart and memory forever.

The first of the seventeen cranes to officially get airborne was the female crane #303, taking her first short and low flight on July 1st. The others in her cohort have since followed suit and are all taking short "ground effect" flights alongside the aircraft. This oldest of the three groups was introduced to the large wing of the trike on June 29th.

Cohort Two consists of only four cranes: 307, 309, 310 & 311. Originally, 310 & 311 had to be separated while inside their enclosure, however, they have since settled their differences and are now sharing a pen with the other two in their group. During a recent training session 310 & 311 got airborne enough to clear the fence of the pen and attempted to get inside the wet area once they spotted the costumed handlers inside. Yearling cranes 211 & 212 often drop by to observe the training from a safe distance. They have not exhibited any signs of aggression toward the youngsters and flush easily when provoked. This group was introduced to the wing of the aircraft on June 27th.

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