Saturday, January 24, 2009

Whooping Cranes Arrive at Chasshowitzka NWR

The Eagle has to speak!!!!

The last seven whooping cranes have touched down at Chasshowitzka NWR. The area is all marsh and the trikes couldn't land, so handlers in crane costumes were at the pen to call them in. Six of them touched down - #824 liked the warm thermals and didn't want to land so they finally had find a field to land and crate her up and take her to the pen site. Yes, #824 was the gal that I kind of adopted, LOL. Guess she wanted to head on down to the Keys!!

eta: Since I posted this blog I read at Operation Migration that it was actually #804, not #824 who resisted setting down at Chasshowitzka.

It took 88 days to make the journey and I am constantly overwhelmed at the commitment of the crew that makes this possible.

Can't wait for spring so I can visit the International Crane Foundation and see their new Crane exhibit. Camping at Necedah is also a must for summer camping. In the meantime, I'm just trying to keep warm!!

Here are some videos from YouTube of the arrival and interviews in St Marks.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whooping Cranes Arrive at St Marks

They are in Florida!!!! In a staging area the whoopers were split into two groups of 7. The first group, who were destined for the St Marks National Wildlife Refuge have arrived and are in their new winter home.

You can see two handlers in their whooping crane costumes in between the two ponds and the seven whoopers on the right hand side. They will be kept in the enclosure at the top of the pen (it has a net top) until they have been final inspected for health and their permanent transmitters installed. Their interaction with humans will be over at that point and they will be released into the open area. Come spring they will fly back to Necedah, Wi on their own and join the migratory group.

Here are a couple of pictures of the seven arriving. There was a huge crowd of over 2,000 people to watch them fly over to their new home.

There are three more "stops" until the final seven, including my #824, reach the
Chassahowitzka NWR . This is where all the cranes previously added to the flock via the Operation Migration process have been taken to winter. I believe it was decided to split the cranes to prevent the possibility of losing the whole flock to a natural disaster - most of the class of 2006 was lost in an unusual storm February 1, 2007.

Pictures from Operation Migration Field Notes. Please click on the link to read more about this amazing program and the wonderful people who dedicate a large portion of their time to preserving the whooping crane population. Kudo's to them!!!

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Friday, January 9, 2009

Whooping Crane Migration Update

The migration was halted over the Christmas Holidays - mostly due to weather and more weather on the way. Upon returning they were able to fly and made their way to Clinton, Al where they have been grounded for the past nine day!!!

Today, they flew and had all kinds of problems, from the anticipated destination not working out, to finding a new troubles in the air resulting in seven birds reaching the stopover and the other seven in a field where they are awating the ground crew with crates to take them the extra few miles. More reports later.

I wanted to also mention that #810 - remember him? Old "Good Luck"!!! They had to release him at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge as he could not be assimiliated into the flock making the miration with the ultralights. He made it to Florida along with 5 seasoned cranes who had made the trip several times. I was glad to hear that he was ok as I have become quite fond of him!! LOL.

Here's the new migration map - they are hoping to get all cranes, crew and equipment settled in Lowndes County, Al tonight.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whooping Crane Migration - Day 41

The cranes have moved only 3 stops since I last posted. 354 Total miles in 41 days!! They are still in Illinois, but a good day tomorrow could get them into Kentucky and then I think they will feel they are making headway.Above is a map of the progress so far.

From the Whooping Crane Journey North site -

Calm air at last! Many people came to see the young cranes fly over the tiny town of Milmine, Illinois as they departed for Cumberland County, IL. Watching, Liz said, "Over the aviation radio we could hear the pilots chatter as they struggled to get the birds on the wing." It took a bit of wrangling, but finally most of the birds formed up on Richard's wing.
Alas, three birds were troublemakers the whole way, and the team worked hard for today's gain. But they're now in Cumberland County, IL, and hoping to cover the 63 miles to Wayne County tomorrow. If they can overfly Wayne County and continue, they'll cross into Kentucky! Now we're talking!

A couple of pictures -

From Whooping Crane Journey North

Richard van Heuvelen, Operation Migration (OM) pilot. Richard led the ground crew for the 2001 migration and filled in as back-up pilot. Since 2002 he's been a team pilot. A Canadian, Richard has four daughters: Megan, Sara, Katie and Jessie.

Richard is also a master sculptor. Joe Duff says of Richard: "If anything is broken he can fix it and if it doesn't exist he can create it."

Credit for this great picture goes to Mark Chenoweth.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Whooping Crane Update

WOW, still stuck on the ground in Green County. While I am enjoying the nice weather here in Wisconsin the last few days, I believe they need a cold front to come through to get in the air.

I was playing with some digital scrapbooking today and realized I've never posted my whooping crane scrapbook pages here, so here we go. You can click on the pictures to make them larger.

This morning I did this one. The base is a picture I took at the International Crane Foundation. I can't wait until Spring when I can go back with my camera and take more pictures of the lovely grounds and the cranes. They are building a new habitat for African cranes which should be complete by June of 2009. The other two pictures were "borrowed" from the Operation Migration Photo Gallery. Visit there to see some other awesome pictures. I made the frame playing with the cookie cutter tool in Photoshop Elements.

#810 looks lonely there in the pen all by himself. I've gotten kind of fond of the little dickens. The following is a journal entry which tells his story.

As the chicks hatch out at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in the
spring they immediately begin training to become an ultralight crane. Because
they are aggressive at first, they train on their own but eventually they are
paired with another chick similar in age and begin training sessions
This is the first step in socializing these young birds, whom if
hatched in a nest, instead of an incubator, would immediately begin fighting for
the limited food supplies. It's that survival of the fittest mentality inherent
in most wild creatures, and something that must be taken into consideration by
the team when combining the cohorts at Patuxent.
As the chicks grow, others
are added into the group, until eventually a cohesive cohort is formed, and
while little squabbles will always break out, they are usually quickly resolved,
either by the birds alone, or, if necessary, with some handler intervention.
Unfortunately, this was not the case with number 810 - From the time he was
placed with another chick, he went on the offensive. All sorts of chick
combinations were attempted and he just would not play well with others and had
to be watched constantly.
When the first cohort was shipped to the Necedah
Refuge in June two words were written on the outside of 810's shipping crate;
"GOOD LUCK." As a result this young rebel bird spent the first couple of days in
lock down; separated from the others by a fence inside the pen, which would
still allow him to socialize with this others but keep them safe from his wrath.
After observing his interactions for two days, the decision was made to allow
him to mingle and the fence was removed. A couple of hours later, at roost check
handlers found three seriously injured cranes.
All three were transported to
the International Crane Foundation for assessment and treatment, where number
807, a genetically valuable crane, succumbed to her injuries. Number 809,
sibling to 807 and therefore also genetically valuable was returned to Patuxent,
and after a few days of treatment and observation, number 811, ironically 810's
sister was returned to the ultralight cohort. Due to the stress experienced
during the attack from her brother, feathers on 811's wings did not develop
properly, which rendered her unable to fly and keep up with her flockmates and
she is now living out her life as a display crane at the Milwaukee
Eventually, 810 did gain back the trust of the team and was integrated
into the oldest cohort. He was a good follower and a great flyer and seemed to
get along for the most part with the three other chicks in Cohort One or they
learned to stay out of his way.
Then came time to blend the oldest group with
the two younger groups, which had already been mixed. Immediately, 810's old
ways of dealing with stressful situations, which was to lash out at those
unfortunate birds that were within striking distance, resurfaced.
In Mike
Tyson style, He managed to grab hold of 813's beak through the chain link fence
that divided him from the others and he would not let go. Luckily Brian Clauss
had been monitoring him via the WC-TV channel from inside the feed shed and came
to 813's rescue.
The next morning, in an attempt to allow him to socialize
with the others during a training session, this little fighter again grabbed at
several of the youngest cranes and fearing a repeat of the attack that occurred
in late June, where we lost three birds, the decision was made to pull him from
the ultralight study and release him on the refuge in hopes that he will follow
some of the older Whooping cranes south.
Some of you that have been following
our efforts over the years may recall that this is what happened 4 years ago
with number 418. This first ever one-by-one release WCEP bird had feather issues
very early in the season and some of his primaries were pulled so that new
feathers could generate. While they did indeed grow in, they did so too late for
him to train with the aircraft so he was released in November; a couple of weeks
after we had departed the refuge with his former flockmates. Now bear in mind
that we had gotten a two-week head start on number 418, so imagine our surprise,
upon arriving at the Hiwassee State Wildlife Area in Tennessee, to learn that he
had arrived a few days ahead of us!
The tracking team had been closely
monitoring this bird since he departed the Necedah area and had noted him in the
company of various older cranes along the way. When we observed him at Hiwassee,
he was in the company of number 107 -- a first year female.
Number 418 did
eventually make it to Florida that year - and he did successfully return to his
summer home in central Wisconsin the next spring, proving to us that the
one-by-one release method can work. (Crane 418 died in July 2005 after
apparently striking a powerline)
We can only hope that number 810 can put
aside his social inadequacies long enough to meet older, experienced Whooping
cranes and follow them south.
Number 810 was released shortly before dusk on
October 22nd, and after realizing that he was on his own, he apparently flew to
the North training site where he had spent the majority of the summer with
Cohort One. Upon arriving, he was chased off by number 310 and W601* and he
ended up flying to the Canfield training site, where he spent the past three
The latest word we have on him is that he is still there but he is not
alone as there is a pair of older white birds also spending time at the now
vacant site. In what can only be described as another twist of irony – the older
pair of cranes at the Canfield site are 313 and 318; the parents that abandoned
number 810 just over five months ago when they walked off the nest just one day
before he and 811 were expected to hatch.
After spending a great deal of time
trying to socialize and rehabilitate this rogue bird, if we could, we would say
only two words; "GOOD LUCK!"

I have my fingers crossed for #810.

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Sunday, November 2, 2008

Whooping Cranes - 4th Day "Stuck" in Green County

Nothing much new today as the cranes and crew are still in Green County, Wi due to weather. This is not unusual, I guess from the field journal at Operation Migration. It's very warm, but a light drizzle and winds kept everyone on the ground.

Wanted to share a video they took today when they let the cranes out of their traveling pen for some exercise -

I'd be concerned they'd just fly away, LOL.

I used the word "stuck" in the title because of an amusing (but scary to the woman "stuck") journal entry by Brooke Pennypacker (isn't that a great name?). This is a long story, but worth it just for the moral. If you live alone, make sure someone checks on you!!! You could be "stuck"

The name, Wisconsin, I have recently learned, is derived from the Indian word for Velcro. A fact which should have been obvious to me since it was an Indian that first learned that money sticks to the stuff, and thus began the stampede of casinos in the state. This goes a long way to explain why it is that year after year our migration stalls in Wisconsin, seemingly before it ever really starts.

The little arrows of the Winds Aloft Computer Chart point as bold and threatening at us as the ones pointed at Custer’s back at Little Big Horn, and it makes about as much sense for us to launch birds into this headwind as it did for Custer to charge into that hail of hostile arrows. So here again we sit - -stuck!

But as I recently learned, there’s stuck…and then there’s STUCK. Just about the time I pulled out my crying towel and starting soaking the thing with my tears of frustration at our predicament, I met a woman who gave the word, “STUCK” a whole new meaning. The encounter went like this…

While driving through Necedah last Sunday on my way back to the second stop pensite, I chanced to see Harold Carter and his wife Sharon attempting to wrestle a giant reclining chair into a trailer parked outside their second hand furniture store. Harold recently retired from the Necedah Refuge where he spent his entire career. In fact, he was born on the Refuge, and his father was the first Refuge Manager back in the 30’s.

Harold spent many days over many years helping to carve out our bird training sites and construct our bird pens, and his ever constant enthusiasm, expertise, and good humor contributed greatly to the success of this project. So, feeling like I had a few good lifts left in my back and excited at the opportunity to finally return a favor, I pulled over.

“Here comes the cavalry,” Harold said, with his characteristic good cheer. And as we completed the loading, he informed me we were delivering it to the lady who got “stuck” in her bathtub a couple of months ago. “You heard about it, didn’t ya?” he asked. I hadn’t, so on the way he filled me in.

Seems this senior citizen, with bad knees and carrying around a few too many pounds, lived alone at the edge of town. One morning while stepping into her bathtub for a bath, her knee gave out. She lost her balance and fell hard, becoming instantly and inextricably wedged. And there, unable to move anything but her arms, she remained stuck - - -for the next FIVE DAYS!

I was instantly intrigued and fascinated by this story. This was clearly a special woman, so when she came to the door I found myself just starring. “Where do you want it?” Harold asked, breaking the spell, and we were soon at war with this electrified, vibrating monster of an easy chair as we moved it by sheer force of will through the front door; a door too narrow for even the thinnest folding chair.

The battle won, I stood sore and panting in front of a living room wall, every inch covered by photographs of family; sisters, brothers, children, their children and their children. It was truly a wall of pride and achievement, and stood in testimony to this humble woman’s contribution to life. I wanted to understand and felt I was beginning to when I realized she was standing next to me, gazing too at the wall. Summoning the nerve for the question I just had to ask her, the words suddenly came out sounding dull and stupid, giving me the feeling that I’d just passed wind in church. ”Would you please tell me what happened to you. I just have to know.”

Recognizing, I suppose, my sincerity, she walked to the dining room table, sat down and began the story, day by day, what she did, what she thought, and how the ordeal had changed her life. She ran the hot water to lessen the chill, broke the window and the shower door in a vain attempt to alert a neighbor, and she prayed. She was rescued on the fifth day when her son came to the front door to check on her. Hearing her screams, he called the fire department and she was saved. Her story is, in a nutshell, an affirmation of faith, and a story of hope and its power and rewards. Her religious faith played a huge role as well.

And there are some practical lessons to be learned here, for this story is nothing if not a cautionary tale. She went on to suggest - plead even:
1) If you live alone, set up with a family member or neighbor or friend a time every day when you will call and confirm all is well, with an understanding of what to do if the call is not made. Nothing elaborate necessary, just a quick call. Harold and Sharon have set up a free service in their store since they are there from 10 to 4 every day, that anyone who wants to can set this up with them. If they don’t hear from that person, they will respond. Just people caring about other people. Incredible!
2) As much as we need bathrooms and bathtubs, as we age or collect injuries, they may over time become less and less our friend and more and more a potential threat. Making the bathroom more user-friendly, in effect taming it down and reconfiguring it to our changing needs and abilities, is absolutely necessary. Nobody needs to get stuck or injured in the bathroom, even if we enter it with a good read!
3) And finally, believe in people. They will almost always try to help when asked, and it makes them feel as good helping you, as you feel when you help them.

You can’t do anything but feel good after an experience like this, and as Harold and I drove away, I hoped the feeling would last for a good long time. So as I sit here, stuck, at our last migration stop in Wisconsin, the sun is shining, birds are singing, I’m still in one piece and life is pretty darn good.

Now, if I could just figure out a way to put wings on a bathtub!

We should be having some clear weather the next few days, hopefully they can get the heck out of Wisconsin and into Illinois. Then, I will really feel like they are on their way.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Whooping Crane Migration - Day 13

Today the cranes and the migration crew put 46 miles behind them, for a total of 95 miles. I just had to steal some of the gorgeous pictures posted at Operation Migration as the cranes flew over Green County. I think they are stunning.

In this picture the cranes are gliding on the wind coming over the wings of the planes. They are not only beautiful birds, they are SMART.

This picture just blew me away.

Be sure to visit Operation Migration "In the Field" for daily journals from the pilots and crew.

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