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Date:September 30, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION (EMP) CRANE 20-05Location: Main Office

WCEP tracker, Eva Szyszkoski advised yesterday afternoon that Whooping crane #20-05* is now considered to be a mortality and was being removed from the population number.

The female crane, hatched in 2005, had not been confirmed alive since June of 2009. A Whooping crane was reported as being on her usual summering grounds in Jackson County, WI in May of 2010, but the bird's identity was not confirmed nor was it sighted again.

With this removal, the maximum number of Whooping cranes in the EMP is now 96; 50 males and 46 females.

Anyone interested in knowing 20-05's history from hatch to present, can use the following link to visit Journey North's excellent site and read her bio.

COUNTDOWN: The target departure date for this fall's migration launch is now just 7 days away, but MileMaker sponsorships to date will only carry our ten young cranes as far as our second flyover state - Illinois.

There are still many unsponsored air miles over Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida, and we can't successfully navigate our way there without YOUR financial support. Please become a MileMaker Sponsor TODAY.

Click to Sponsor Online                     Click for Downloadable Donation Form To Print and Mail

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Date:September 30, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:USFWS TO REVIEW STATUS OF RARE SPECIESLocation: Main Office

In a press release put out this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will be conducting an in-depth status review of 374 rare, southeastern aquatic, riparian, and wetland animal and plant species to determine if any or all of them warrant being proposed for federal protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.

Among the species that will be included in this review is the Florida Sandhill crane. The Florida Sandhill is a long-legged, long-necked gray crane that resembles a heron except for a bald patch of red skin on top of its head.

The press release stated, " The Service made this decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, after reviewing a petition seeking to add a total of 404 species to the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants, and analyzing information about these species in its files." For more information about this finding, please visit the Service’s Southeast regional web site.

“The Endangered Species Act has proved to be a critical safety net for America’s imperiled fish, wildlife, and plants. Our finding today is the first step in determining whether these species need the special protection afforded by the Act,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe.

Click here for more information about the Endangered Species Program or to read the full press release titled, "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Finds 374 Aquatic-dependent Species May Warrant Endangered Species Act Protection."

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Date: September 29, 2011 - Entry 2 Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:PACK IT Location:White River Marsh SWA

It’s like the wise man said to his disciple, “If that’s your bag, pack it - if it's not, unpack it.” If this wise man ever worked on a crane project he would know that you spend a good deal of your time doing both at the same time. Because packing and unpacking are the very yin and yang of our existence, and because the time goes so fast that we rarely if ever catch up to the present, our right hand is in a perpetual state of putting something in the bag while our left hand is taking something out. A continuum to be sure.

So it is that for the past two weeks, Richard, Geoff, Caleb and I have been packing things up in preparation for migration. Walt Sturgeon was also here all last week to help and inspire us, and when he left we were especially saddened by his departure since he’s a real guru when it comes to packing stuff up.

I, on the other hand, just continue my life long quest for a bigger bag. As the days pass, the camp is looking more and more like it did when we first arrived at the beginning of summer. And if that wasn’t enough, after we leave, our gracious hosts, the Wisconsin DNR, are going to tear the farm house, barn, silo, and out buildings down, and return the place back to the way it was hundreds of years ago. Time lapse photography in reverse. Like they say, be careful about making your mark in life because there’s always someone following you with an eraser.

But the packing up process is easier this fall than in previous years because we have spent the summer virtually living as we do on migration; completely self contained except for the water hose and electric cables that radiate from each camper. Our bathroom is a port-a-potty, and our bathing situation is such that I heard the Marines now describe it as taking a “migration shower”. There is, as it turns out, great wisdom and utility in camping on a pig farm because no matter how badly you smell, the pigs smell worse. Hooah!

The birds are doing their part also. They have been singing the “Every day, in every way, we’re getting better and better” song. Training flights are now exercises in progress and anticipation, rather than frustration. Even #1 is taking to the skies if only briefly. He has, by the way, made a full recovery thanks to 'Dr. Caleb’s' special, twice daily physical therapy sessions, and I am pleased to report the crane and handler are once again the best of friends. “Live and let live,” I heard #1 say to Caleb at the end of training the other day as the two were seen walking arm and wing to the back of the wet pen for some splashing around time.

Not that more challenges are not still awaiting us just over the horizon. We recognize this period of preparation as the calm before the storm. But it is, after all, the contrast, the ebb and flow that for some of us gives the project much of its appeal.

Each and every day we unpack another little adventure, a drama in which we play our roles as best we can, well knowing that there will be days we will revel in their playing out, and others when we wish they had been written for someone other than ourselves.

It reminds me of my favorite Robert Frost poem, “The Bag Not Opened.” I paraphrase, of course, and my apologies to the poet…and the audience. “Two bags lie waiting in a yellow wood and sorry I could not pack and unpack both 'cause that might have made all the difference”. An open and shut case. Hooah!

Note: In his entry above, Brooke talked about challenges, of which we never have any shortage. Ensuring the Class of 2011 is ready for their big adventure and then leading them south is a big challenge. Equally as big a challenge is raising the funds to enable this to happen.

The target departure date for this fall's migration launch is just 8 days away, but MileMaker sponsorships to date will only carry our ten young cranes to the middle of our second flyover state - Illinois. Not the place we want the Class of 2011 to spend the winter.

We have the heart and the hands to get the job done, but we need YOUR help to make it possible. Please become a MileMaker sponsor TODAY. Ten beautiful young cranes are counting on you.

Click to Sponsor Online                     Click for Downloadable Donation Form To Print and Mail

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Date:September 29, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PATAGONIA 2012Location: Main Office

We've previously told Field Journal readers about a travel opportunity described as a "Wildlife Odyssey to the Bottom of the World". Offered by EcoQuest Travel, Inc. one of the co-leaders of this exciting trip to Patagonia is OM's own Walter Sturgeon. The dates for this15 day trip have changed - now, March 7th to March 21, 2012.

Walt's notes about the trip...."Comprising the southern-most parts of Chile and Argentina, Patagonia is a vast land of snowcapped mountains, cold oceans, windswept plateaus and unparalleled beauty. From Chile’s bustling capital of Santiago we will journey south to Punta Arenas and the spectacular World Heritage Site of Torres del Paine National Park. This vast park nestled in the Andes is home to herds of guanaco, Patagonian foxes, diverse birdlife and even the elusive puma is fairly common.

From the glaciers of Torres del Paine we will ply the Straits of Magellan in hopes of seeing Commerson’s and Peale’s dolphins, Magellanic penguins and other seabirds. From Punta Arenas we will travel even further south to Ushuaia, Argentina to search for albatrosses, kelp geese and gentoo penguins along the Beagle Channel and giant Magellanic woodpeckers among the forests of Tierra del Fuego National Park

This trip is designed to highlight the wildlife of Patagonia with a particular emphasis on bird diversity, but we will take every opportunity to see mammals as well. We invite you to join us as we explore the incredible wildlife and breathtaking scenery that makes Patagonia a magical place.

New, is the offer of an optional, 6 day fantastic post-trip extension (March 21st to 27th) that concentrates on the wildlife of Chile’s Lake District and Chiloe Island."


For all the details, contact Walt Sturgeon: sturgeon2ATembarqmail.com. (replace AT with the @ symbol)

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Date:September 28, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DAR COHORT MOVED TO HORICON NWRLocation: Main Office

In a recent press release, Joan A. Garland, Outreach Coordinator for the International Crane Foundation (ICF) in Baraboo, WI announced that the eight Whooping cranes in the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program had been transported to their 2011 release site. DAR is one of two methods utilized by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to reintroduce Whooping cranes into eastern North America.

The young cranes in the DAR program originate from eggs taken from resident captive adults at ICF. There, they were hatched and raised by costumed biologists before being transported to a pen at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Juneau County to give them an opportunity to become accustomed to wetland habitat and wild cranes. Now ranging in age from 10 to 14 weeks old, the 2011 DAR cohort will continue to be tended to and monitored by ICF personnel at their 2011 release site located at the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.

In mid to late October the DAR cranes will be released at Horicon in the company of older cranes. It is expected that the young DAR birds will associate with adult Whooping cranes, and, come migration time, that they will learn a migration route by following these older birds south.

For the past ten years Whooping Cranes in Operation Migration's ultralight-led program were trained and launched on migration from the Necedah NWR; cranes in the DAR program birds have been released there for six years. Many of the adult cranes in this Eastern Migratory Population have bred and produced eggs. However, only three wild-hatched Whooping Crane chicks have survived to fledge and successfully migrate.

While Black flies are strongly suspected by many to be the culprit, WCEP has been doing research to definitively identify the cause of this low level of success. Until the reason(s) for the low level of nesting success is determined, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team ruled out further releases of cranes at the Necedah refuge. As a result, beginning in 2011, two new release sites - the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area and Horicon National Wildlife Refuge - were selected for use by the two release programs.

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Date:September 27, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OM HAS NEW OFFICE LOCATIONLocation: Main Office

If you are a faithful reader of In The Field, you may recall an entry posted back in July about our small basement office being flooded following heavy rains. That happened on July 25th. As a result, Joe, Chris, Heather and I had to carve out a niche in our homes to create a space we could work from, as well as a place to store whatever supplies and files we each needed to keep the machine that is OM running.

We dismantled our desks, cabinets, and bookcases, packed up everything, and crammed as much as possible into one little back room that housed our photocopier, mailing and office supplies, the merchandise we sell, and served as the storage repository for archived records and files. What wouldn't fit in there, was lugged out to a portable storage pod the landlord had dropped in the parking lot for the purpose.

If we'd known at the outset that we'd still be out of the office two months later, there's no doubt we'd have given more thought to how we packed up and what we stored where. Trips to the office to dig through the jumbled piles for things needed throughout the out-of-office period more often than not required Joe's muscle to move heavy furniture or cabinets out of the way, so could rarely be a quick in and out done on one's own. And then there were the things that were totally inaccessible without moving everything in the entire room.

Using call forwarding, to our cell phones and home landlines, we were able to keep that line of communication with callers open. On a daily basis, Chris trekked to Port Perry from her home in Blackstock to pick up mail and do any necessary banking, as well as check for any couriered items that may have arrived. When we had work that required the participation of two (or more) of us, we took turns visiting each other's makeshift home offices to get it done.

While at one time or another when work calls for uninterrupted focus, we all take advantage of the quiet isolation working from home affords, two months straight was a strain, elevated stress levels, and sorely tested our patience. With Joe's and my departure for the upcoming migration looming, and the necessary repairs still incomplete, we had to do something or Chris and Heather would be left in a pickle with no help whenever a return to normal could come about.

Time consuming research and site visits were followed by consultation and negotiations, but we eventually secured a new office space. It is a bit bigger than our old space, is a ground level unit, and is only blocks away from our former location. This last fact made the move we did this past weekend considerably easier.

Two trips using OM's two pick-up trucks, a cube van loaned to us by our new landlord, plus two SUV's and our old space was bare. Thanks to the extra hands and muscle provided by Board Chair Paul, his wife Margaret, Chris's hubby Mike and son Jeff, and Russ, a friend of Joe's, the loading-hauling-unloading that began at 9:00am on Sunday was all done by early afternoon.

Because only three of the rooms in our new space had been vacated by the current tenant, there are piles on top of furniture and boxes on top of boxes on top of boxes that will have to be moved and sorted out once we have access to the entire space. That should happen in the next couple of days. Need I say that it will be a while yet before we are completely settled in and organized, but the worst should be over before Joe and I have to abandon Chris and Heather to hit the migration trail.

After two months of dining room tables transformed into desks, spare bedrooms littered with file boxes and office supplies, and family rooms given over to work space with teetering stacks of accumulated documents waiting for their proper homes, we are all relieved our stint in office-less purgatory is at an end. The pain of sorting out the mess that goes with a move is over-shadowed by our anxiousness for a return to 'normal'.

Our phone/fax numbers will remain the same. Our new mailing address is:
6 High Street, Unit A
Port Perry, ON Canada
L9L 1H8

Joe, Chris, Heather and I have decided how we will celebrate having an office again. We are all going to Give a WHOOP! today. If you'd like to join us - click here.

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Date: September 26, 2011 Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:SLOW START - BEAUTIFUL FINISHLocation: White River Marsh SWA

Saturday greeted us with extensive fog over the area, and so, the waiting game began. As I took off from the airfield, a fog bank closed in over the airstrip. However, off in the distance it appeared to be clear near the pen site so I continued on.

Then, just as I came up to the pen site, the cloud / fog cover came down, forcing me to go under it. I landed on the runway at the pen, and was then unable to take off again. While we waited for the fog to clear we went to the blind to visit with the group of observers - also waiting.

Eventually the fog began to lift so we decided to try and do some flight training with the birds. Geoff and Caleb opened the pen doors to release the birds, but they came out slowly and seemed somewhat confused as the trike accelerated away. With no chicks following, I aborted the take off and turned the trike turned around for a second attempt. At that point, the chicks flew to the trike, which of course was now heading in the wrong direction. Once the birds settled down, they followed the trike as it led them down the runway, and after getting turned around, we all took off into the wind.

Led by the trike, all of the colts got airborne. #1 landed at the end of the runway but the rest continued on behind the trike. About a half mile out, #5 turned back, and the other cranes divided themselves into two groups; four off each wing. Together we headed north into the wind and over the White river where there was clear air but a low ceiling.

Near County Road D we encountered fog right to the ground so we headed west - only to encounter more fog. Weaving a flight path through clear air avoiding fog patches we flew on. But soon the air became too rough, so we made a turn to go back. The trike led the birds, still four to a wing, all the way back to the pen site. As we landed #1 and #5 joined the group of fliers surrounding the trike. Leaving my aircraft idling, I used treats to coax #1 to approach up to the still running trike. All of the young cranes seemed to enjoy this quality time with the trike.

None of the birds that flew on the 11 minute flight were tired and could have continued to fly had the air been calmer. After outing, the chicks back in their pen, I took off into a now clear sky but still rough air for the flight back to the hanger.

It turned into a beautiful morning. The birds had done well. The view of the fall colors approaching their peak in the low lying areas of the White River Marsh was beautiful. Yes, all in all it was a very good morning.

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Date: September 25, 2011Reporter: Walter Sturgeon
Subject:MORE NEWS FROM WRMLocation: White River Marsh SWA

We had a great training session this Friday morning! Nine birds took off and flew with Brooke for varying lengths of time. Two of them returned to the runway after five minutes, 3 more after six minutes, but the remaining 4 cranes stayed with him until he landed after about seven minutes. Brooke worked with them on the runway for a short while before he took off again with all but #9 and #10 who stayed put.

Another successful flight with the seven colts lasted around six or seven minutes before all but one coasted back to land. It was another three or four minutes before Brooke came back with the single crane he was left with. After the second flight training session we let #1 out of the pen to join his classmates for grape treats, but as soon as Brooke started up the trike engine, #1 turned and headed for the pen.

It was good to see #1 run and fully extend his wings several times. While he is still a little slow in folding the one wing, he is looking better every day. At this point in his recovery he has begun to fight his physical therapy which could give rise to injury. As a result we will discontinue it. Given his behavior and his appearing to be trike-shy, it may be that we will have to crate him and move him away from the pen to get him flying again.

Brooke worked with the birds on the runway for a few minutes before he took off again. Seven of the birds flew but #9 & #10 stayed on the runway. He flew with the seven for another six or seven minutes before gradually, all but one came back and landed. The single remaining airborne bird flew with Brooke for another three or four minutes - for a flight of about 10 minutes in total - before the trike and crane both returned to the runway for a landing.

Once we'd returned the cohort to their pen began the three projects that would keep us busy for the rest of the day. When we started up our new pump that gets the water from the well we dug to the wet pen, it only ran for a few minutes before the engine seized. We disconnected it, loaded it on the truck, and off we went to its point of purchase for a replacement. Anyone who has ever returned a piece of faulty equipment will understand that this process took some persuasion and a considerable amount of time. The upshot is however, that we now have a new 5 horsepower pump installed and working just great.

Our next project was to pack up and haul a few loads of 'stuff' from camp, and one load from the Necedah hangar, to the nearby storage building a supporter has kindly given us to use. We used our big white van for this because it's been raining off and on almost every day recently and it's come in handy to keep things from getting wet as we transport. Some of the stored items were the crew's, with the rest being things we identified as either being needed to get ready for migration, or to actually take with us on the migration.

Lastly, we picked up the transmitters that will have to be fitted on the leg of each member of the Class of 2011 before we depart on migration. Because putting the transmitters on the birds usually leaves them slightly discomfited for a day or two, and we don't want to miss any flight training opportunities, we won't put them on until it looks like weather will ground us for a couple of consecutive days.

The repairs and painting of the travel pen trailers are now completed. The brakes have been checked and the wheel bearings repacked, so except for loading up and straightening up inside, they are ready to go.

That about wraps up my pre-migration stint here at White River Marsh. By the time you are reading this I'll be getting ready to leave for the drive home to North Carolina.

Note: Walter will be back in October to join the 'flying circus' for an impressive 8th migration as a volunteer - and we don't know what we'd do without him!

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Date:September 24, 2011Reporter: Walter Sturgeon
Subject:PREPARING TO MIGRATELocation: White River Marsh SWA

Packing up a flying circus to migrate with 10 long legged birds for 2½ to 3 months gets to be quite complicated. You would think that after having done it ten previous migrations with Whooping cranes, and one earlier migration with Sandhills, that it would begin to be quite routine. Well, for whatever reason it never seems to be simple, and 2011 is proving to be no exception.

This year we have the added complication of equipment being in two locations about 50 miles apart, and the need to consolidate them before we even begin to pack for the journey south. We have been gradually moving equipment and supplies from Necedah to White River Marsh, but soon we must make one last effort to completely clean out the Necedah aircraft hangar and transport it to a storage building kindly provided at no charge by a new-found supporter in the nearby town of Princeton. This last push effort is underway, and we’ve already moved some equipment and gear.

All this work means making ‘work lists’ and everyone seems to have at least one. Usually we have so many lists that we need a list to keep track of the lists so none slip through the cracks. The list of staff, interns, and volunteers for the entire migration is assembled up front to ensure we have sufficient personnel. This can get quite complicated, especially as volunteers come and go during the trip.

This year we will take three motorhomes, a camping trailer, an equipment trailer, two pen trailers, two pickups, a 15 passenger van, a tracking van, and three ultralights. The trailers and vehicles must all be checked for mechanical condition and serviced to ensure they are ready to head south. The ultra lights are pretty much kept in peak condition so they are ready to go, but we have a spare engine and lots of other miscellaneous spare parts to pack and take along.

We also have to take all the tools and equipment needed to repair anything that might break down. Depending on the birds’ flying abilities when we first get underway, we might have to make a wing change during migration. This necessitates taking along the topless NorthWing wings to change out with the zoom wings that we often start out with. The ultralight engines are two cycle, so we take along cases of special oil to mix with the gas for the trip.

The travel pen trailers must be repaired and the paint touched up every year. These trailers are hauled over some pretty rough roads and through farm fields to the isolated locations we use to hold the birds until the next flight. This means they are in need of yearly attention to fix any wear or damage that occurred during the previous migration.

That effort is almost complete with only a few more fence panels to repair and paint. These pen trailers carry all the feeders and water buckets, fence chargers, crane decoys, electric fence chargers, and the fencing for predator control, not to mention a whole lot of other stuff that without a list we would surely forget.

 

Photos - Above right: Richard van Heuvelen works on repairs to the travel trailer panels. Above left: Brooke Pennypacker tackles checking the trailer's tires and undercarriage. Right: Caleb Fairfax gives the panels of the travel pen a fresh coat of camouflage paint.

The birds themselves also give us cause for a list. The Patuxent Wildlife Research Center provides a special crane diet for the birds, and we first have to arrange to get it to Wisconsin in sufficient time and in sufficient quantity to get us to Florida.

In case we have a bird emergency, we also have to assemble all the items for the cranes' first aid kits; one for each pen trailer and one for the tracking van. We need to take spare radio transmitters to use should one attached to a bird’s leg fail. The cranes also need treats like corn on the cob, pumpkins, grapes, and cranberries, and we always take spare costumes to provide crew with a change when they get muddy or wet – which of course is inevitable – and we have no access to laundry facilities.

Flyovers are an important outreach activity all along the migration route and to satisfy our Craniac audiences, we need to take along a sufficient quantity of OM apparel, coffee mugs, books, note cards, etc to sell during these events - which helps to raise funds for our work. We give presentations to groups and many schools along the way so we take along handouts for those occasions and audio visual equipment to support our power PowerPoint shows. Reaching the press throughout the journey is another important outreach activity and requires a stack of briefing materials.

We wait until we reach our second stop to come back and winterize our training pen. We will gather up the electric fencing, feeders, water pans, and top netting. The water supply pump and hoses used to fill the wet pen must be removed and rolled up for storage. Personal clothing and other gear used by the crew and interns and not needed during migration must be returned home or stored. We stock up on groceries and other consumables for the 9 or 10 person crew.

The upside of the short distances and often slow progress that we travel at first is that we can trek back for things we may have forgotten – assuming we discover that soon enough into the trip that is.

I have gone on long enough here for you to get an idea of what is involved. As I said in the beginning, going on tour with a flying circus and the current year’s Class of Whooping cranes requires a lot of preparation. And lists, and lists, and lists.

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Date:September 23, 2011Reporter: Richard van Huevelen
Subject:FINDING THE SWEET SPOTLocation: White River Marsh SWA

It's that time of year again when nature calls us to go south. But before we can undertake this long journey the young chicks must be able to keep up and follow the trike for an extended length of time. In order for them to do this they need to "find the wing".

What does this mean? As the aircraft's wing passes through the air, the air is split by the wing's leading edge. Because the top of the wing is curved, and the bottom flatter, the air must travel faster over the longer curved top surface. This results in in more being applied pressure on the underside of the wing - that's what creates lift.

At the same time, the air wants to take the path of least resistance, so it begins to slide sideways toward the wing tip. The result is that the air coming from under the wing tip collides with the air above the wing. Due there being less pressure above the wing, the air rotates in, and upward, creating a rotating vortice.

When the birds discover this 'sweet spot' they quickly learn to take advantage of it, and use this to soar off of. As many of you know, this year's birds have been a little slow catching on. But once they discover this 'free ride' they will quickly catch up.

 

 

Number 12 was a perfect example of this. This past Saturday she found the trike wing along with these vortices and was able to fly for about a half hour before landing. In fact, if it wasn't for deteriorating air conditions forcing us to land, there's no doubt she could have kept going.

 

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Date:September 22, 2011Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: Departure Location: Main Office

Over the last ten years our departure date to begin the migration has ranged from October 5th to the 17th. After averaging those dates, we should expect to leave on the 13th. You can use whatever formula you like, from mathematics to counting the rings on a woolly caterpillar, but in the end, the weather dictates our departure. In fact, when it comes to scheduling, we’re just along for the ride. We can, however set a target date when everything else is ready.

The first factor to consider is the performance of the birds. As anyone who watches the crane camera knows, we have not yet had the 30 minute flights as in the past. The fact that all of our birds are in one cohort, makes it hard to compare with previous years when we had up to three separate groups.

Our older birds have been capable of flight since late July but they are socialized with birds that are as much as sixteen days younger. In every training session there have been a few that stop at the end of the runway and that has caused the development of a few bad habits. Regardless of the duration of training flights, our first stop is only four miles away. It is well within the reach of all the birds; we just have to convince them to follow us away from home.

Even if we left tomorrow there are seven birds that I am confident would make it to the first stopover and that is a higher percentage than most of our migration starts. When we had three cohorts in 2009, some training flights lasted up to 40 minutes. But when we put them all together, we couldn’t get any of them to fly with us, or even follow us on the ground. The entire group has an independent attitude that was scary when we knew we had 20 birds to lead 1200+ miles. Only five of those birds made the first flight to the first stopover. So despite the lack of 30 minute flights this year, the birds are well prepared for the migration, all except number 1.

That bird is still recovering from his great adventure with Caleb. His wing is still sore and he is getting regular treatment. WCEP vet, Dr. Barry Hartup says he is well satisfied with what's being done for him. When we only have ten birds, each one takes on more significance. Delaying the migration slightly would give #1 time to recover, and less time being transported in a crate. During yesterday’s flight, nine birds took off and left him on the runway alone. That abandonment is a great motivator, and I think that once he is feeling better, he will not be able to resist joining his flock-mates. It only takes one good flight for the penny to drop.

Trying to second guess everything that might happen has led us to settle on October 8th as our target departure date for 2011. Before that we have a long list of tasks. The farm we are using is part of the DNR land holdings and will be returned to natural prairie sometime this fall. We must store all the equipment we accumulated over the summer and find a place for all the things that we will not be taking with us.

Thanks to the generosity of Joyce Prachel we have a safe and dry storage area only a few miles away. That is going to be a great help because our hangar in Necedah must also be vacated before we leave. We have ten years of stuff collected there, so at some point we plan a mass clean out and maybe even a runway sale.

Zugunruhe is a German word that translates to 'migration unrest' and describes the excitement birds experience as the fall approaches. In the birds, it is likely triggered by a hormonal change, but in us it has more to do with a long TO-DO list and the anticipation of another great adventure. Sixteen more days and we’re off ---- maybe.

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Date:September 21, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MINI TRAINING UPDATELocation: Main Office

While we wait for a full update to come to us from the crew at the White River Marsh site, we can pass along a tidbit on how things are progressing with flight training.

Walter Sturgeon, our faithful migration volunteer of many years, is there for a few days to help with the many preparations necessary before migration departure. He sent a quick note yesterday afternoon to let us know that Tuesday morning's training went very well. Nine of the ten colts were up all at once and flew for about ten minutes. Walt said that #5 and #7 even flew for another 5 or 10 minutes more.

Two old adages come to mind.... patience is a virtue - and persistence pays off.

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Date: September 20, 2011Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject: CHOREOGRAPHING FLIGHT TRAINING Location: White River Marsh SWA

It’s like the cannibal said to the two missionaries, “Two heads are better than one,” to which the missionaries replied in unison, “That is unless both heads are talking at the same time!”

And so it is with introducing the second trike to the birds for the first time. Confusion. In your mind’s ear you can hear them commenting in exasperation as Richard and I both approached the pen last week, “Oh no! Not TWO of those damn things!!”
But can we blame them? I mean, what would the celebrity finalist on “Dancing With The Stars” who just lost 80 pounds say when they introduce her to a SECOND dance partner the day before the show?

The truth is, that the simple act of flying with birds is, in essence, a dance; a choreography based on trust and familiarity which progresses and grows over time. No high school dance, this - with boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other. It’s cheek-to-cheek from the beginning right through migration with as few bruised toes as possible in between.

So then one day they wake up and what do they see before them but the “Evil Trike Twin”. The poor little things gaze skyward from the pen like a citizen trying to read a government form….befuddled. “Are we seeing double or what?”
And is it any wonder? I mean, when’s the last time you stopped to pick up your “Someone Special” to take him or her to the dance and they get into your car accompanied by his or her identical twin? I guarantee the “Two Times the Fun” song does not start playing in your head. What does play instead is “Feet, Don’t Fail Me Now!”

When Richard and I appeared above the pen for training the other day, we didn’t exactly hear a great round of applause from below. No, “Hey guys, we’re about to have twice the fun as usual!” It was more like “Geeeez! How can there possibly be two of something so UGLY in nature!”

I landed first , did the usual pre-dance ritual, then it was “Point your toe and off you go” as I goosed the gas pedal and away we went into what I hoped would be the wild blue yonder. And for a time, it was. A very short time. Then confusion set in and an entirely new dance began to take shape in the sky. Some birds stayed with me, others turned back to the pen with Richard in hot pursuit, and in no time I was left with one little dancer off my wing - #12. He was smiling at me with that smile that said, “I may be underage, but honey, I’m all you’ve got!”

Around the sky we danced as Richard landed and went over the new choreography with the reluctant rest. Then another false start, and then another, until our little dancers had danced themselves out. Not exactly what you’d call a dance-a-thon.
But not to worry. It’s always this way at first - then second - then third.

The dance takes time to learn and you don’t build trust over night. So the birds return to the pen and Richard and I return to the sky, and as we sit in our trikes, each of us trying to make sense out of the morning’s session, I think of what we can do next time to make the experience more pleasurable. And how in the world am I going to lose 80 pounds.

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Date: September 19, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ANNUAL GENERAL MEETINGSLocation: Main Office

The Annual General Meetings of our two corporations, Operation Migration Inc and Operation Migration USA Inc were held this past Friday in Milwaukee, WI. Among the items of business conducted was the election of the Board of Directors and appointment of the Officers of the Corporations.

The 2011-2012 Board is comprised of Officers:
Chair, Paul Young, Aurora, Ontario
Vice Chair, Dale Richter, Leesburg, Georgia
Secretary-Treasurer, Jamey Burr, Ottawa, Ontario

And Directors:
Joseph Duff, Port Perry, Ontario
Laura Erickson, Duluth, Minnesota
Robert Keeping, Mississauga, Ontario
David Sakrison, Ripon, Wisconsin
Walter Sturgeon, Spring Hope, North Carolina
Marianne Welch, Prospect, Kentucky

As is traditional, the recipient of OM's Volunteer of the Year Award (for 2010) was revealed at the AGM. The Volunteer of the Year Award is a special recognition reserved for OM's most committed volunteers. This year we were delighted to add the name of Colleen Chase name to the list of previous recipients, who, in like manner have distinguished themselves.

Colleen is a resident of Havana, Florida and has been both a donor and volunteer with Operation Migration for a number of years. Over that time she has supported the organization in a myriad of capacities. To mention just a few.... She has assisted at migration flyover and arrival events, and even arranged and hosted a booth for OM at events we were unable to be present for. Colleen helps with tracking and the dissemination of OM merchandise, has pitched in to do website clean up, and puts in many hours as a remote operator of the CraneCam.

We are grateful for the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication Colleen brings to every role she plays as an OM Volunteer, and sincerely thank her for her magnificent support.

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Date: September 17, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:Baby Steps Location:White River Marsh, WI|

It has been almost a week since the infamous day in the marsh. Everyday #1-11 has shown a slight improvement over the last.  Immediately upon returning to the pen after being lost for several hours 1-11 was fatigued, parched, aching, and wounded.  So much so that we were all, Joe, Geoff and I, excited and encouraged to see him get up after only a few minutes and walk over to a water bucket.

It was, after all, the first time I had seen him muster the strength to move in several hours. This is where he stayed for the next thirty or so hours. During this time we had him segregated in a portion of the dry pen. The last thing we wanted for 1-11 was a mutiny of the pecking order; the other colts would have clawed (pun intended) at the opportunity to increase their rank at his expense.

Toward the end of his stint in solitary confinement it became obvious he wanted back with his cohort and into the wet pen. He was moving around and even pacing against the fence adjacent to his aquatic recreation center. Once reintroduced to the cohort 1-11 was hesitant around us costumes, somewhat detached, and skeptical about any delicacies we tried to offer.

He wasn’t himself.  He didn’t fight others for grapes; he was disinterested in smelt, and altogether eluded confrontation with other birds.  This was not the 1-11 we knew.  I was reassured this type of behavior was to be expected after such a traumatic occurrence and can even be observed after a particularly extensive health check.

Brooke was the first to see major improvements. Upon entering the pen one afternoon he was received at the front of the pen by all ten birds.  Around this time 1-11 began moving towards us costumes, taking the occasional treat from us, and was observed by Brooke to shoot down a challenge or two from others in his cohort.  This sounded a little more like the 1-11 I knew.

Over the past week no one has witnessed 1-11 open his wings in person, which is daunting. He has not been following the trike and when let out onto the field paces the pen perimeter looking for a way back into the comfort of his wet pen kingdom.

Brooke and I took him out for an isolated session of exercise to see if we could entice him to open his wings. No such luck. Several times it looked as if our colt wanted to open his wings and run after us but just couldn’t muster the strength or motivation to do so.

This is when it was decided physical therapy of his wings might be necessary. We have been opening his wings for him the past few days to ensure they do not tighten up and offer at least some stretching for the colt.  The video included with this update shows a much-improved 1-11 immediately after one such therapy session.  He puts up little resistance during the wing stretching, takes treats from us and in general appears to be back to normal.  He is nowhere near 100% but I’ll take any improvement.

In this video starting less than a minute after a session 1-11 (white leg-band) is still hanging around with us costumes in the front of the pen, mingling with his cohorts and even shoots down a challenge with a single glance. The challenge comes at the 0:11 mark of the video and is proposed by colt 3-11 (red leg-band).  You will see 1-11 and 3-11 lock eyes and raise their heads.

3-11 looks away first and thus shows his submission to 1-11.  It’s a slow process but 1-11 is coming back.  Any improvement has been an extremely welcome advance in my eyes.  Sometimes I guess you just need to take baby steps.

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Date: September 13, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:A GUT WRENCHING DAYLocation: White River Marsh SWA

What happened Sunday is something I never want to experience again; something anyone with a soft spot for animals dreads. I'll jump right into it as Joe covered most of the beginning details in his update posted yesterday.

While attempting to lead #1-11 through the marsh, I tripped, dropped my phone in a pool, and lost my helmet. On seeing my exposed face, an already swamp-monster-spooked bird took off.

In retrospect, there are a few things I could have done here. I could have backed off, let the bird run off and wait for him to calm down before attempting to pinpoint his location again. I panicked and decided I did not want to completely lose sight of the bird in the marsh. For quite some time I pursued #1-11, which was not easy as he is much more agile in the wetland than I could ever dream of being. In reality I was probably scaring the bird half to death, but again, I panicked because I was afraid of losing the bird altogether.

For the majority of the pursuit #1-11 maintained his trajectory through grasses, but at some point he darted into a thick, almost suffocating, group of shrubs and bushes. By the time he darted into the bushes, I had become so disoriented in the swamp I had absolutely no idea where I was.

Then I saw one of the scariest things I have ever seen. #1-11 was so badly tangled in the brushes the only analogy I can come up with would be a fly in a spider’s web. Wings and legs were all splayed in different directions and tangled beyond mobility.

I was certain the bird was going to be badly injured if I ran in after it, so I paused. I waited a moment and slowly crept up to the bushes. I was able to pull a few branches aside, just enough so he could break free. Which he did. He got out the other side…and collapsed. That’s it I thought. This bird has broken a leg, how could I be so stupid!?!

At this point the bird was beyond exhaustion and hardly moving, his beak was spread wide and he was gasping for air. His body shook with each breath. It scared me more than I care to admit. I moved in and sat down next to the bird. Hoping I could just be easy around him and maybe get him to calm down.

The sun was glaring down intensely, and after our exertions I’m sure we were both feeling it tenfold. I knew Whoopers are especially susceptible to heat stroke, so I wanted to get him somewhere cooler. I hated the idea of handling the bird, and have no idea if I made the right call or not, but rather than leave this exhausted and possibly injured bird to bake in the sun, I carried him into the shade of a nearby forested patch. #1-11 gave little resistance to being carried into the shade.

Here is where I started making attempts to contact Geoff or Joe. This is also where I realized how soaked my phone was, and how completely useless it had become. It was roughly an hour before my phone dried out enough to begin sending broken English messages to Joe. "Help,"read the first one. "Lost. Bird might be injured,’ or something similar followed.

#1-11 was surprisingly docile and made no attempts to go anywhere during this time, looking back it’s probably because he was too tired to stand. Before long Joe was back out in the ultralight performing flyovers trying to determine our location. Rather than leave the bird alone and go out into the field to flag the aircraft down, I carried the bird to the nearest field I could find. Again, I am not sure if I made the right call, but the last thing I wanted to do was abandon my possibly injured avian child.

Out in the open, but still within shade for the young crane, I was able to grab Joe’s attention by waving my arms. Before long he was with me in the thick of the swamp and helped to get the bird to safety. Now, all that could be done was to wait apprehensively to see how our colt recouped.

I made several mistakes during all this that may have changed the situation for the worse. To begin, my radio had died while inside the pen early in the morning. Radios get plugged in to charge every night from now on. Without my radio and with a useless phone, I was essentially stranded and at a loss for communication.

Maybe I shouldn’t have pursued the bird; maybe I shouldn’t have handled him. Maybe this, maybe that. Who knows? There are a lot of maybes and I guess I’ll never know how the situation would have gone if I had handled it differently.

It was an incredibly stressful situation and I could really do nothing but drive on pure instinct. All that matters is I messed up and hope to never make the same mistakes again. I’m not sure if I have ever experienced such gut wrenching feelings for such extended periods of time - and hope not to experience them again anytime soon.

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Date: September 12, 2011Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:SUNDAY MORNING CHAMPIONSLocation: White River Marsh SWA

We get a lot of emails from people who call us wildlife heroes because of the time we spend working with these birds. Although we appreciate the compliment, none of us takes it seriously. In our book, the term hero is reserved for the troops in the Middle East, or the guy who gives up a kidney to save a person he doesn’t even know.

There are times though, when I too am impressed with the dedication of team member, and Sunday morning was a good example. Geoff Tarbox and Caleb Fairfax may not be heroes, but they are wildlife champions of the highest order.

It was foggy yesterday morning and it didn’t burn off until almost 9 AM. By that time the sun was high and starting to generate the heat that gets the air moving more than we would like. Close to the ground though, it was cool and calm enough to at least try to fly.

The plan was to release the birds and bring out the swamp monster to encourage the ones that normally land at the end of the runway to keep flying. It worked well, but it was not what you would call a coordinated takeoff. Five birds were flying nicely on the wing while four others were moving in the same general direction. Number 1-11 however was all on his own.

The problem with radios, phones, GPS’s and any other hand held electronic device is that they work perfectly until you really need them. Just when you are most dependant on them to provide the service for which you paid that exorbitant price, they become as useful as a paper weight, or better still a projectile.

That was the case with Geoff’s radio this morning. As the birds began to tire, I called him to retreat with the swamp monster but my message never reached him. He paraded up and down the runway, just as we had planned, while the birds grew more and more tired. I flew over him, but covered head to toe in the camo-tarp, he could not see me waving him off and so he continued to do his job, just as I had asked him to.

(Our thanks to Doug Pellerin for the photos.)

At this point some of the birds began to break from my wing and head back to the pen, but with the swamp monster still out, that option was closed to them. Some took off on their own, some landed in the marsh, and some I just lost track of in the confusion.

At that point I saw #1 just ahead of me. I knew it must be him because it was the only lone bird, and he was flying just above ground level heading north. Most of the other birds were circling the pen area and I knew they wouldn’t venture too far away. But #1 was heading straight north as if on a mission and I needed to see where how far he went. It was just as well, because he plopped down in some twelve foot high brambles and disappeared. If I hadn’t seen him go in, we would never find him later.

I collected as many birds as I could and headed back to the runway. By this time Geoff could see what was happening and he ducked into the pen to hide the swamp monster. Five birds landed with me and we quickly put them into the pen. Caleb headed north in the tracking van, Geoff waited at the pen to call in any stragglers, and I took off to find #1. I kept my eyes open for other birds thinking they might join the wing when they heard the vocalizer as I circled the site where number one had disappeared.

Geoff radioed that two birds had come back on their own as Caleb arrived at the observation road below me. He parked the van, off loaded a crate and followed my direction into the marsh. I circled ten times but #1 was invisible. He was likely a little spooked and was hiding.

I have always been amazed how well white birds can hide when they want too. Caleb wandered through the tall grass and brush while I headed back to check on other birds. Another one came in and landed next to the pen, so now we only had two missing - with some idea where one of them was. I landed so Geoff and I could make a plan.

One of our supporters, Doug Pellerin, was in the blind and he told us he had seen one bird land behind the pen. I took off and soon spotted him. It took a few minutes to talk Geoff in close enough so he could see the bird and begin the process of leading it back.

When I flew over Caleb again, #1 had found an opening and I was able to direct Caleb close to him. When I was sure he had him in sight, I headed north, worried that I was almost out of fuel. I landed back at the hangar with about ten minutes of fuel remaining. I drove directly to the observation road where I had last seen Caleb, expecting that he would have the bird close to the crate by then. The tracking van was there, the crate was right where he had left it, but no Caleb and no bird.

I texted Heather who was manning the camera and could tell me what was happening. She said Geoff had the final bird in the pen so the only one missing was #1 - and Caleb. I pulled on my costume and heading into the marsh.

By this time the bird had been out there for two hours, and Caleb for one. After I walked only a short distance through that marsh I had to admire his stamina. It was mostly dry, but clump grass made the surface as uneven as a mine field. The grass was chest high and wrapped around your legs. As you pushed through, each footfall could land on a hummock or a hole. From the air I have seen deer running through this same marsh and it makes you wonder how they manage without breaking those delicate looking legs. In the center of this area where the bird landed, the brambles were as dense and as difficult to traverse and any tropical jungle.

I walked the area three times taking different courses and whistling every few step, then listening for a response. None came. Three hours had passed.

Finally we got a text message from Caleb. It seems his phone was wet and its functions were only slowly coming back as it dried out. The bird would not follow him and all he could do was keep it in sight as it moved deeper into the marsh. The bird was injured when it flew into a bramble and Caleb had carried it into the forest for some shade and a level place to set it down. Now he was lost, and for the last hours, unable to communicate.

We tried honking the van horn at the observation road and again from the pensite parking lot but he could not hear either of these signals. The search area was about 500 acres of forest, brambles and marsh and we had no idea where to start. The only option left was to drive back to the hangar and search from above. Geoff headed into the marsh while I drove north to the hangar.

After flying search patterns for half an hour we finally found him a mile from where we thought he was. I landed at the pen and took the van to meet him while Geoff made his way out of the marsh. We parked the van, placed the crate in the shade of a tree and walked the rest of the way to the bird.

It was too exhausted to walk so we had to carry it to the crate. Then we placed it in the van and slowly drove back to the pen. By this time Geoff has locked the rest of the birds in the wet pen so #1 could rest in the dry pen undisturbed. After a rest period and some water, the bird began to respond. We will keep it isolated and see how it is tomorrow.

Geoff retrieved birds and tramped through the marsh while Caleb stayed with an injured bird for four hours or better. They were both hot, dirty, wet, tired, and thirsty, but their first concern was making sure the flock was safe. They may not be heroes but in my book they’re damn close.

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Date:September 11, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:IMPERILED SPECIES LAWSUITS RESOLVEDLocation: Main Office

It is uplifting to get some positive conservation news for a change.

In a story by Matthew Brown and Matthew Daly and carried by the Associated Press (AP) yesterday, it was revealed that government will be considering protection for more than 800 animal and plant species.

The agreement between the government and environmental groups is expected to resolve many lawsuits over the handling of hundreds of animal and plant species; species that could potentially go extinct without government intervention. House Republicans proposed a Interior Department budget that have would barred any new listings under the Endangered Species Act, however, a rare bipartisan vote defeated the proposal.

Gary Frazer, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, "Once a species has been listed, with a few exceptions, we have kept them from becoming extinct. This is an important step toward conservation of all these critters."

Read the full story here.

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Date:September 10, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO 'WHOOP' ABOUT?Location: Main Office

Has something happened in your personal world this week...this month...recently? Something that you are grateful for, or happy about?  Then why not 'Whoop' about it?

Give a WHOOP!, let everyone know what you are 'Whooping' about - and help Whooping cranes at the same time.

What's great is that your $10 WHOOP! might just net you a Give a WHOOP! tee shirt as a thank you gift, or perhaps you'll be drawn to receive the WHOOPING BIG thank you gift of a week's stay (including airfare) at beautiful Mot Mot Manor in Costa Rica.

Click here to read the full details about the terrific Give a WHOOP! thank you gifts. Take a minute to view more images in the Photo Gallery and start dreaming of kicking back in fabulous Mot Mot Manor.

What are you waiting for? Join the fun. Click here and start WHOOPING!

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Date:September 9, 2011Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject: CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENTLocation: White River Marsh SWA

“To fly or not to fly. That is the question.” As Geoff and Caleb draw open the pen curtain each morning, we get our answer.

Our little actors rush onto the stage…,er, runway, with great enthusiasm, no hesitation, no hint of stage fright, thoroughly prepared and ready to perform as expected…their ballet of flight. The engine revs , the trike rolls down the runway and the dance begins. Well, sort of. Some of the birds perform as expected and stay with the trike while others turn back and land almost immediately. What is going on, we ask ourselves.

So, like they say, “The only way to get to Carnegie Hall is practice, practice, practice.” We land and try it again. This time some other birds follow into the air while the rest shortstop at the end of the runway. Then another landing, and another takeoff, and another result. A person can get really frustrated trying to bend nature to their will.

When you work with cranes, you live in a world where how well you are or aren’t doing is totally and completely dependent on how the chicks are doing. You think you took a day off and roll out of bed on the right side for a change only to find a crane problem that puts a stone in your shoe for the rest of the day.

And so it goes. But there is solace in the fact they flew better today than yesterday, and better yesterday than the day before, and in all the years the project has been ‘projecting’, they have never not flown. Not yet, anyway.

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Date:September 8, 2011Reporter: Geoff Tarbox
Subject:WHOOPING CRANE TWO-STEPLocation: White River Marsh SWA

Hey there, boys and girls! Put on your dancing shoes, because today, I’m going show you how to do the Whooping Crane Two-Step! It’s easy! Just take one step forward, and one step back. Isn’t that easy? You too have what it takes be in the 2011 flock!

Caleb and I watched the chicks do the Whooping Crane Two-Step Wednesday morning in training. The chicks took one step forward by having nine birds leave the runway when the trike took off for the first time. The last two days we’ve trained, we’ve managed to pull most if not all the birds off the runway on the first take off.

Since the birds are so far away, it’s impossible to know who’s flying. But perennial sticks-in-the-mud like 11-03, 11-05, and 11-04, have been making efforts to lift off. Granted, they peel off and land almost as soon as the trike turns and flies behind the pen. But it’s not every day we see all the birds at least leave runway. Last time that happened was weeks ago and hasn’t happened since then. So that means the birds are making progress, right?

Right??

Well, this is where some of the birds start taking one step back. A few weeks ago, we were able to get five birds to consistently follow the trike: 11-02, 11-06, 11-07, 11-10, and 11-12. What’s more, the pilots all confidently commented that they could’ve flown them for miles and they’d all keep up. Apparently, they forgot to tell our five fliers this. Because we’ve got some of our ace fliers peeling off and landing with the sticks-in-the-mud.

One of them is for sure 11-10. He can now be found hanging out no more than a couple of feet from the pen doors. However, we’ve got no one but ourselves to blame for that. As Brooke flies with the birds, Caleb and I try to give him a play-by-play of who’s flying and who’s not on our radios. Since it’s hard for Brooke to hear us with the roar of the engine in the background, we have to speak up a little. Unfortunately, 11-10 seems to have heard us as well, and now knows there are costumes in the pen, and would rather hang out with his daddies than work out and follow an ultralight. So now, we were down to four good fliers.

But Wednesday during training, I saw on average only three birds keeping up with the trike. Brooke reports that he saw 11-02, 11-07, and 11-12 flying, so all signs point to 1106 being the other washout. However, he doesn’t usually hang out by the pen gate, so I don’t think he heard us. My guess is he’s too busy having fun grubbing the dirt we scooped onto the runway. I’ve seen him run around with clods of dirt in his beak every now and then.

And add to that, every time the trike takes off, there seem to be fewer and fewer birds taking off with it. The second time Brooke took off, I counted seven birds taking off. But after the third lift off, I counted four. The other birds who didn’t fly didn’t budge an inch, which leads me to invent a new phrase: diminishing returns. Even 11-02 has lost some of her indomitable spunk, as she’s no longer the bird who always flies with the trike; 11-07 is.

So what can our plucky heroes do to get our ace fliers back on their game and keep the sticks in the mud in the air? Swamp monster anyone? Brooke and I talked it over this afternoon, and we believe that if we unleash the swamp monster after the birds take off, it may discourage them from landing. In my experience, that’s when the swamp monster has been the most effective, just after the birds take off, and it looks like we might have one or two who might land. Otherwise, we get birds scattering everywhere.

I just hope that if they do land, they have the courtesy to land someplace where we can easily find them, like 11-01 and 11-03 did last time. Or better yet, fly back to the runway once the swamp monster’s back in his cage. We’ve still got time to get these kids flying, and we’re going to make every morning count!

Now if you'll excuse me, my games are calling my name. Tonight, the Sorceress of Shadows has gone back through time and is trying to change the past, thereby altering the present to create a whole new age of darkness. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. What’s that silly dame going to do? Change history?

Hello there, ladies and gents! I’m Jeffrey Barhox, CEO and President for Life of Operation Stagnation! Thank you for joining us, as we lead a school of endangered snakeheads to follow ultralight aircraft down south to St. Bart’s and Wassochiska! Long live the Sorceress of Shadows!

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Date: September 7, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:VIDEO'S BY CALEBLocation:Main Office

In this video, Geoff and Caleb have taken the young Whooping cranes on a fieldtrip to allow the rest of the team to carry out necessary maintenance at the pensite. Our grass training strip is, well grass, which of course grows! It must be mowed 3 or 4 times throughout the summer months. The whooping cranes are raised isolated from all things human, so each time the team needs to manicure the runway, the birds will be lead to a secluded location - out of earshot.

Caleb captured this video in mid-August, while spending time with the cranes in their sequestering location.

Caleb adds, "This, somewhat current, video was taken during 'mow-day'. Every so often it becomes necessary to trim our organic runway. Shorter vegetation assists both the colts and the ultralights on takeoff. In order to amputate any unnecessary conditioning or taming (boo/hiss/rabble-rabble) we evacuate the whoopers to a remote location. In this case we have mowed a trail away from the runway to a hidden location behind a large group of trees. Although conditioning to the ultralight engine is necessary and in fact essential to the entire project we do not want to throw caution to the wind and allow the birds to become comfortable around just any sort of roaring agitation. The wilder the better."

"So, in this video you can see the birds dawdling with Geoff and I at the remote location mentioned above. Geoff is the suited intern visible in background. All ten colts of our cohort make an appearance in this video, some are just ensemble while a few of the cranes take center stage. Early in the video to the left you can grab a good view of whooper 1-11 (white leg band, number is visible) strolling by. Half way through the first minute whooper 6-11 (green leg band) gives his breakthrough performance with 'Nibbling On My Boot' and 'Silhouette In The Sun'. Next to perform is 9-11 (grey leg band) pops in stage-left to grab a quick drink of water. The poor whooper has a deer fly on its head (I found myself coming up with more and more sadistic methods of killing these satanic spawn). At around the 1:20 mark whooper 5-11 (yellow leg band) comes in for the encore performance of 'Nibbling On My Boot'. I think whooper 5-11 performed it better, but I won't tell 6-11 that."

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Date:September 6, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LOOKING BACK FOR CLUES ABOUT WHAT'S AHEADLocation: Main Office

Looking back at past early Septembers, it was evident that while most of that month's activities don't change, the timing for them can fluctuate wildly.

In previous years, almost without exception, the early days of the month featured health checks, and the integration of cohorts. Most years around this time, weather started playing havoc with training, in some instances causing the loss of a week or more of flight training. Having recently had a slew of consecutive weather related no-fly days, that is one scenario that seems to be running true to form again this season.

We always become more anxious as the summer training season barrels headlong toward the migration season. One larger cohort of cranes this year renders concern about any cohort's lack of progress delaying integration a non-issue. But that doesn't mean we worry and fret any less over how the Class of the Year is coming along. We still sweat every little setback.

We can always find instances of a former generation's cranes faring better, even considerably better than the current one. Back in 2001 even the youngest cranes were flying ~ 4 minutes by this time of year. But we can also find instances of the reverse too. In 2009, the first time the whole Class of that year flew together was October 9th! And, with a bird here, and a bird there, and other birds everywhere, that flight was far from an unqualified success. Despite this, pilots rated that group as the best ever followers. (Remember the myriad of photos of all 20 cranes flying behind one ultralight?)

For those of you who like statistics, you will see from the chart below that, assuming (emphasis here on assuming) an October 1st departure date this year, the Class of 2011 will have the third youngest average age since ultralight-led migrations began in 2001.

YEAR

LATEST HATCH DATE

DEPARTURE DATE

AVERAGE  DAYS AGE
AT DEPARTURE

2001

May 24

Oct 17

168

2002

May 21

Oct 13

161

2003

May 23

Oct 16

164

2004

June 5

Oct 10

172

2005

June 3

Oct 14

157

2006

May 31

Oct 52

140

2007

June 10

Oct 13

150

2008

June 151

Oct 17

1343

2009

June 5

Oct 16

152

2010

May 26

Oct 10

150

10 Yr Average Age at Departure

155

Mean Average Days of Age 

153

2011

May 14

IF Oct 1

145

Note 1 - Latest hatch in 10 ultralight-led generations
Note 2 - Earliest migration departure in 10 years
Note 3 - Generation with youngest average age

Was it bad weather or lack of crane readiness that caused us to leave the on the latest ever migration departure with the youngest average aged Class of the Year (2008)? And was it good weather or that the cranes were ready that in 2006 allowed us to depart on the earliest ever date.

Enough. This could quickly lead to analysis paralysis.

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Date:September 5, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:GET READY. GET SET. WAIT.Location: Main Office

With daylight hours shortening, and the sun's heat dissipating quicker into cooler evenings, our thoughts turn to the fall season and the upcoming migration. The Labor Day weekend is almost behind us, and it's around this time each September that we start our annual guessing game. The guessing game is, of course, what will be this year's departure date.

Our departure is as dependent on flying weather as is our ability to flight train mornings all summer. While we pick a target departure date, it is more about giving ourselves a deadline by which time we must have everything, including ourselves ready to go, than it is having confidence that we will actually start the journey south on that day. Of course we are also guessing/hoping/counting on the young cranes being ready too. Unfortunately, because they don't use calendars, our cranes don't appreciate we've set a schedule, much less follow one.

To figure out a target departure date we look at the hatch dates and age spread of Class of the Year colts, their fledge dates, and compare their flying abilities to those in the Classes of years past. In previous years when we had multiple cohorts, their integration was worked into the equation.

In reality though, there is little science involved in projecting a departure date. Each year's cranes are different, progress at a different rate, and each Class of the Year has a different dynamic. Toss in the variable weather from one year to the next and its effect on training, and our 'scientific calculations' are quite likely to be no more accurate than if we used a dart board.

Joe once described selecting a departure date as a "speculative art form", saying, "We gather our data, align all of our numbers in a neat row - then throw them all in a hat and pick one."

What we picked out of the hat for 2011 is October 1st - the earliest ever target departure date. That date will be we human migrants' deadline to be ready by, and to have all our vehicles and equipment set to go. Ultimately however, we all know that whether that happens or not depends entirely on the Class of 2011 and the weather gods.

I do have a fuzzy memory of actually having departed one year (out of ten) on our target date, but as I more and more frequently find myself in another room wondering what the heck I went there for, I wouldn't put any money on that being correct.

The only thing we are ever sure of is that nothing is ever sure. So, we'll get ready. We'll get set. And then, we'll likely wait.

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Date:September 4, 2011Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject: Downtime Location:White River Marsh SWA

Weather the past few days has prevented any training, or for that matter, much of anything. It's unfortunate because we were just starting to find our swagger, and had been making dramatic improvements daily. I suppose it can't be helped.

I figured, with little to report as far as the Class of 2011 is concerned, I would give our Field Journal readers a look into how I occupy my downtime. While Geoff is busy slaying wizards and warlocks, fighting hordes of zombies, or rescuing his damsel in distress, I try to find other things to do. Other things like....

Hunting for threatened Prairie Fringed Orchids (This photo took help from Bev and Geoff.) My first ever attempt at waterskiing. Yay! I managed to get up my first time. (However, I'm not sharing the photo of myself holding a bag of frozen shrimp to my swollen dome after a rather rough fall.) And thanks to Hillary Thompson for taking this and the next photo. Getting a nice adrenaline dump, whether it's through rope swinging or cliff jumping.

Checking out some amazing and inspiring art at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Exploring the amazing limestone cliffs and caverns in Door County. Draining the Fox rivers supply of Bluegills (This was a particularly lucky day.)

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Date:September 3, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Come out, come out, wherever you are..Location: Main Office

Hey all you MileMakers - - where are you?

Hopefully with the summer season and all its activities and vacation days on the wane, you're back on the Whooping crane flight deck in anticipation of the departure of the Class of 2011 on their first migration. It is you MileMakers that make the annual ultralight-led migration possible, and we need your support again this year.

213 of the 1,285 MileMaker miles have already been sponsored, however, by this time last year that number was over 400. Perhaps the late launch of the MileMaker campaign this spring is to blame, but with migration departure scant weeks away, we hope you will chime in with your sponsorship ASAP and give the 2011 generation of young Whooping cranes a rousing send off.

There are LOTS of choices of miles from which to make your selection.

In Wisconsin, 89 of 117 miles are still up for grabs, and in Illinois, only 35 of 338 miles have been snapped up. There are 87 and 99 miles yet to be sponsored in Tennessee and Kentucky respectively. With just 32 sponsorships so far, Alabama could use some help to get its 292 remaining miles taken care of. C'mon Georgia - just 70 miles left there. The Sunshine State of Florida has 193 miles still without sponsorship.

Becoming a MileMaker sponsor is as easy as 1-2-3. Just click here! The Class of 2011 thanks you for your support.

P.S. MileMaker sponsors have a chance to have their name drawn to receive a very special thank you gift! OM's multi-talented pilot, Richard van Heuvelen has donated one of his fabulous metal crane chick sculptures for us to use as a Thank You gift!

Richard's sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars, and you could be the lucky one to own one of his valuable and unique pieces of artwork. To see examples of Richard's phenomenal metal sculpture art visit his website, The Wooden Anvil.)

MileMaker Sponsors' names will be entered in the Thank You Gift Draw as follows:
1 entry per quarter mile sponsorship
2 entries per half mile sponsorship
4 entries per one mile sponsorship

Visit our MileMaker page.

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Date:September 2, 2011Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:WHEN I GROW UP I WANT TO BE....Location: White River Marsh SWA

The forecast for Thursday morning was right. Fog! Thick fog. Like a giant drop cloth covering the landscape and a guy yells out, “OK…Now go ahead and paint!” Through the camper window the nearby barn and silo were reduced to a mere smudge of shadow, void of even a suggestion of their proud and iconic stature.

So thick was the fog that you could brush your teeth with it, then gargle with it, and make the place you spat instantly disappear. The distant tree line was taking longer to take shape than it did to grow in the first place! A crane handler standing outside the bird pen could hear the birds say, “If those knuckleheads think we’re flying in this stuff, they must be pushing some of our crane chow up their noses!”

Did I happen to mention how thick the fog was yesterday morning?

Squinting out through the 4:00am darkness an even more distressing vision reverse-fades into view….my reflection. Haven’t seen that guy in a while! Made me want to go cut myself shaving just for verification. Gosh! He looks so much older than I remember him! Then a mother’s voice drifts out of the gloom carrying every child’s cosmic question, “So what are you going to be when you grow up?” As I sat, coffee cup in hand, before me a pile of yesterdays far higher than my pile of tomorrows, I wondered.

Fortunately my eyes fell on an old issue of Popular Science magazine I picked up at a yard sale. (They were asking 50 cents but I got if for a quarter. “I bargain, therefore I exist”.) The feature article read, “10 Best Jobs For the Future”.

Excitement displaced melancholy as my fingers fumbled feverishly for the page and I thrilled at the prospect of a new dawn. The first job? “Human/Robot Interaction Specialist”
Job: help humans get along better with robots and get them in touch with their warm and fuzzy side. Education Required: Strong in artificial intelligence. Great! I’ve spent years trying to convince people I was smarter than I really was.

Next was “Fusion Worker.”
Job: manage fusion reactors. Easy! I’m really just a collection of subatomic particles held together by an ever increasingly fragile ego. And besides, I used to work as a certified welder.

Then “Thought Hacker.”
Job: read people’s thoughts. Not a problem. I know that whatever a Democrat says, a Republican will say the opposite.

And then there it was…the choicest morsel of low hanging occupational fruit. “Animal Migration Engineer.”
Job: create new habitats for critters. Trend: Many habitats are now being destroyed faster than a species can evolve. But moving creatures to new homes could save them. After figuring out which species to put where (quite the task), an “assisted migration” effort requires more care than just piling two of everything into an ark. For example, conservationists who currently relocate butterflies identify suitable site with aerial photos and trim local plants to the insects’ exacting standards. Education: Intern with a group like Operation Migration, which leads cranes to new watering holes. (I’m not making this up!!)

Eureka!!!!!!!!!

I accidentally knocked the magazine onto the floor as I grabbed for my phone and speed dialed my mother in Florida.

A sleepy voice answered, “Brookie..is that you?”

“Ya Ma, it’s me. I finally know what I want to be when I grow up!”

“Son…go back to bed. You never were a morning person.”

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Date: September 1, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WHOOPING CRANE RECOVERY ACTIVITIES REPORTLocation: Main Office

Just in - the report on Whooping Crane Recovery Activities for the period October 2010 to August, 2011 authored by Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator, USFWS. Tom's base of operations is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

The report is 41 pages long, and for those who would like to read the entire document it can be found on our Site Map page.

THE HIGHLIGHTS
The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (AWBP) of Whooping cranes rebounded from 263 in the spring of 2010 to 279 in the spring, 2011. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size should reach record levels this fall. Threats to the flock in Texas including land development, reduced freshwater inflows, the spread of black mangrove, the long-term decline of blue crab populations, sea level rise, land subsidence, and wind farm and power line construction in the migration corridor, all continue to be important issues.

Twelve Whooping crane juveniles were captured in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) in August 2011, bringing the total number of radioed birds to 23. Crews visited migration stopover sites to gather habitat- use data. This project is being carried out by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with partners including The Crane Trust, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and others. It is funded by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, The Crane Trust, and the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.

The tracking is the first done on the AWBP in 25 years and is a top research priority of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team. Since the 1950’s, 525 AWBP Whooping cranes have died with only 50 carcasses recovered, and approximate cause of death was determined in only 38 instances. It is imperative that we learn more about Whooping crane mortality.

Based on opportunistic sightings, the Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Project documented 79 confirmed sightings of Whooping cranes in the U.S. Central Flyway during fall of 2010 and 49 sightings in spring of 2011.

Ten captive-raised Whooping cranes were released in February, 2011 at White Lake, Louisiana where a non-migratory flock had resided up until 1950. Seven of the birds were alive after the first seven months of the project.

Production in the wild from reintroduced flocks in 2011 was again very disappointing with no chicks fledged in Florida or Wisconsin. Incubation behavior in Florida and nest abandonment in Wisconsin continued to be the focus of research. Data collected so far in Wisconsin indicates that swarms of black flies play some kind of role in a majority of nest abandonments.

The captive flocks had a good production season in 2011. Approximately 17 chicks were raised in captivity for the non-migratory flock in Louisiana, and 18 chicks headed for Wisconsin (10 for the ultralight project at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area, and 8 for Direct Autumn Release at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge). Four chicks of high genetic value were held back for the captive flocks.

Including juvenile cranes expected to be reintroduced this fall, flock sizes are estimated at 278 for the AWBP, 115 for the WI to FL flock, 20 non-migratory birds in Florida, and 24 in Louisiana. With 162 cranes in captivity, the total of Whooping cranes is 599.

In personnel actions, Dr. Mark Bidwell is the new Canadian Whooping crane coordinator. U.S. Whooping crane coordinator Tom Stehn will be retiring September 30, 2011 after 29 years at Aransas.

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Date: August 31, 2011Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:VIDEO OF AUGUST 28TH TRAINING FLIGHTLocation:Main Office

At this point the young Whooping cranes, now referred to as 'colts' are four months of age. I managed to get six colts to fly alongside my aircraft, while the remaining four were quite content to watch from the grass training strip, adjacent their enclosure.

We have an age range of 16 days from the youngest to the oldest bird. Some are good fliers already and some still need time. With each practice session they get better and they soon realize that if they fly right behind the ultralight wing, they can surf on the wake it creates. Once they all learn this trick, and they are able to stay airborne for an hour or better, we will be begin the migration.

This is the point in the training of the birds that is most demanding on the pilots because we are flying low and slow, but it is also the most rewarding. We condition the birds to follow our aircraft so we can teach them a new migration route but we don't actually teach them how to fly. That's a natural process that happens on its own. But watching them discover that they can fly and accompanying them on those first adventures, is a rare privilege.

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Date:August 30, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ALTERED MIGRATION ROUTELocation: Main Office

Craniacs will have long surmised that the move to the new summer training site at White River Marsh State Wildlife Area would entail some alterations in terms of stopover sites for the 2011 migration. Over the past months, at one time or another and by one means or another, Joe, Brooke, and Richard have all done some investigating to determine an optimum flyway.

Brook and Bev did the legwork that gave us the more westerly route we changed to several years ago. This time the task fell to Richard, and he almost has the three new stops we will need completely nailed down. The criteria for our stopover pen locations remain the same, and in addition, he was asked to try and keep the initial few flight distances as close as possible to what we had in the past. The first few flights are deliberately shorter, which gives the young cranes time to 'catch on' and at the same time, allow them to gradually build endurance.

The flight distances to our first three new stopovers will approximate last year's. While not yet cast in stone, here's how the they compare.

Air Miles

2010

2011

White River Marsh SWA to New Stop #1

5

5

New Stop #1 to New Stop #2

18

14

New Stop #2 to New Stop #3

27

28

New Stop #3 to Existing Stop #4

47

38

Total air miles

97

87

As you can see, this shaves 10 flight miles off the 'as the crow flies' 1,285 mile migration - and the number we use for our MileMaker sponsorships. Because of the time and costs involved to revise all our web pages, map chart etc, we will not be making any adjustments to these documents this year.

We hope you will all understand and indulge us in this, especially given all the additional air miles flown as a result of false starts and Crane Rodeos on many migration mornings. MileMaker, the Migration Map Mileage Chart and Timeline web pages will all be revised in time for the kick off of the 2012 season.

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Date:August 29, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STATE PARKS HAMMEREDLocation: Main Office

A recent BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN expressed concern over budget shortfalls translating into closure of many state parks. Below is that article.

What do following sites have in common?

Baxter State Park (Maine), Cape Henlopen State Park (Delaware), Cape Mears State Park (Oregon), Montana de Oro State Park (California), Ochlockonee River State Park (Florida), and Perdaneles Falls State Park (Texas)?

The answer, they are all state parks, and they are all Important Bird Areas (IBAs) or are parts of IBAs. Although state parks only account for two percent of public outdoor recreational real estate in the U.S. according to the National Association of State Park Directors, they are very important to birds and birders in many states.

State parks are also under budget assaults from coast to coast. In the words of birder and Chief of Public Policy for the National Recreation and Park Association, Rich Dolesh, “What was once unthinkable – the closure of state parks because of budget shortfalls – has rapidly become a reality in many states.”

This is not to suggest that all the mentioned parks are about to be closed, but a number of states are starting to look at state-park “solutions” that might include the exploitation of natural resources at parks, the consolidation of state park systems into other state agencies, the elimination of funding for parks that don’t produce revenue, the privatization of multiple park features, and, the aforementioned simple closures.

The search for new revenue and looking for creative ways to fund state parks is not necessarily a bad thing; however, care must be given to keep the core objectives of parks in mind, in order to protect the character of and visitor experience at state parks.

Already the Arizona state legislature has wiped out almost two-thirds of its state park budget during the past several years; Georgia park financing has been cut by almost 50 percent since 2008; Florida is considering privatizing state park operations; Ohio has approved drilling for oil and gas beneath some of its state parks, and in California 70 of the state’s 278 parks are now slated to close. A Minnesota state-government shutdown, of course, includes "padlocking" state parks.

It won’t be long before budget cuts, consolidation, privatization, drilling, and additional closures take place due to the pressure of state-budget shortfalls, IBAs or not.

Some states seem to understand and appreciate that parks contribute greatly to local and regional economies and will continue to protect them; other states, however, simply don’t get it. For birders, it’s mainly issues of access, accommodation, appropriate management, and simple fairness that are at stake.

For more on the state park scene, see this recent article from THE NEW YORK TIMES

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Date: August 28, 2011Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:VIDEO'S BY CALEBLocation:White River Marsh, WI

In this blast-from-the-past video, taken towards the end of our stint at Patuxent, all the OM chicks have been introduced to each other and are enjoying the day in one of the ponded pens.  In the water taking a bath is my favorite little girl 12-11. She had a thing about sitting as close as possible to us suited interns when we were in the ponded pen with the bunch, it was adorable.

To my right is the slightly more curious 2-11 pecking away at anything she can get her beak on. The whoopers at this point are all over a month old and have started to show some of their white flight feathers. They grow up so fast! Also, you gotta love number 2's slightly crooked little beak!

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Date: August 27, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:CRANECAM FEATURED ON USTREAM!Location:Main Office

The Operation Migration CraneCam streams LIVE video and provides a front row seat for early morning training sessions with the Whooping crane colts and the ultralight aircraft, which will guide them south this fall.

New this year is a partnership between Wildearth.tv and UStream.tv – All streams are now being simulcast on the very popular UStream site - the largest streaming video website. You can access our UStream channel here via this link.

AND, the Operation Migration CraneCam is one of the featured streams this week so we hope to attract and educate a lot of new viewers! The featured position just began late yesterday and already we’ve had quite a few new viewers stop by to ask questions.

Training takes place each morning, (weather permitting) at approximately 7am Central. Occasionally, we'll have a bit of a fog delay, which is typically for this time of year, especially where the training site and camera are located; in the middle of a large marsh. But once the sun rises any fog usually burns off quickly.

Yesterday morning we had FIVE colts launch with one of the ultralights and they stuck right with it as it headed west over the marsh. We were able to follow them quite well for more than a half mile. Until this morning the most we had ever watched take off at once was three young cranes so this is an exciting time to watch their progress develop in preparation for the long journey ahead this fall.

Throughout the day you can watch their social interactions as they forage and poke and prod in the mud, and splash and flap in the wetpen portion of the predator-proof enclosure. No doubt, you’ll see #1-11 as he pokes his flockmates whenever they decide to take a nap. (One of these days another colt is going to unleash some payback on him).

The CraneCam is several miles from where the DSL transmission line is located and it arrives there wirelessly, via a 17db yagi antenna, where a similar antenna receives the signal and then transmits it via DSL to WildEarth.tv servers. From there it appears as a live video stream available for everyone to watch.

The pan/tilt/zoom is operated by a crew of volunteer camera drivers or ‘Zoomies’ – who try to ensure there is always something interesting to see - even during the times when there isn’t any aircraft conditioning taking place. We’ve expanded our team of Zoomies this year to allow us to cover off more hours and we are thrilled to welcome back some from last year, as well as some new drivers who have had no problems at all becoming familiar with the birds and the camera controls.

On behalf of all the viewers – thank you to: Colleen Chase, Sue Walsh, Dave Kitzman, Malcom Strickland, Terry Johnson, Suzanne Elsea, Claire Deland and Ella Moyes – for your quick fingers, keen eyes and the time you spend behind the wheel!

If you have a couple of spare hours each week and would like to learn how to drive the camera, send an email to: heather(AT)operationmigration.org – We can always use more volunteers! We could also use your help to spread the word! Once you login to our Ustream page http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes you can easily share the channel directly to your Facebook or Twitter accounts from within the viewing page. Or if you’re not a social media user, why not copy and paste it into an email to send to your contacts?

If you have a website and would like to embed the LIVE streaming broadcast for your visitors to see, you can also grab the embed code from the Ustream channel.

The CraneCam will be operational from 5:00am – 10pm Central time each day. We hope you can join the cranes and watch them learn to fly with our ultralight-aircraft in preparation for their first-ever southward migration!

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Date: August 26, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MileMaker CampaignLocation:Main Office
Will you become a MileMaker sponsor and help fund the fall ultralight-guided migration of the Class of 2011? MileMaker sponsorships for this year are: $182 for one mile; $91 for a half mile; and $45.50 for a quarter mile. It's fast and easy so why not use the following link and become a 2011 MileMaker sponsor right now!!

This year sponsors will have an opportunity to receive a very special thank you gift! OM's multi-talented pilot, Richard van Heuvelen has donated one of his fabulous metal crane chick  sculptures for us to use as a Thank You gift!

Richard's sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars, so you won't want to miss this opportunity to be entered for chance to own one of his valuable and unique pieces of artwork. (Representation of chick sculpture is shown in photo to the right. To see more of Richard's phenomenal metal sculpture art visit his website, The Wooden Anvil.)

MileMaker Sponsors' names will be entered in the Thank You Gift Draw as follows:
1 entry per quarter mile sponsorship
2 entries per half mile sponsorship
4 entries per one mile sponsorship

The entire southward migration consists of 1200+ miles and to date only 196 miles have been sponsored so we have quite a ways to go. To help please visit the MileMaker page.

As an immediate special thank you for your support we'll send you a secret link where you can select a beautiful E-Calendar image to display on your laptop or PC desktop! Each month through to March 2012 features a full color photograph with calendar overlay. Here are a couple of sample images:


August 2011 September 2011 October 2011

We (and the Class of 2011) could sure use your help!

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Date: August 25, 2011 - Entry TwoReporter: Geoff Tarbox
Subject:THEY'RE STARTING TO CATCH ON!Location: White River Marsh, WI

So summer’s starting to wind down, which mean’s migration’s starting to slowly creep around the corner.  Thankfully, our birds are starting to understand that we are starting to work towards a deadline.  Over the past few days, we’ve had more luck helping more birds find the courage to leave the runway.  At first it started off with one or two.  But now we’ve got even more hanging on the trike!

When we first let the birds out this morning, three of the birds latched onto the trike as it took off.  One of them was no doubt our ace flier 2-11, but I couldn’t tell who the other two were.   Whoever they were, the trike was their new best friend, and all three accompanied them to an empty field where they could hang out, get treats and spend some time away from the pen.  The idea is to show them that it’s okay to leave the pen.  It also encourages them to stay with the trike since they won’t want to stay in an unfamiliar spot for long.

Unfortunately, once the trike was gone, 1-11 started jump-raking and threat posturing towards the remaining birds.  It’s a bad habit he’s gotten into lately when we let him out.  It’s weird since neither Caleb nor I see him do it while he’s in the pen.  He only does it when let out of the pen.   Now, #11 is a bird who’s always liked his personal space, and has never been afraid to jab at birds who get to close or happen to get in his way.  My guess is he finds himself crowded by all the birds who literally rush out the pen.  And once the initial rush is over, and the hype to see the trike has passed, he realizes how crowded he is and tries to shoo the other birds away.  The good news is he seemed to get it out of his system sooner than in the past few days.  I’m not sure if that’s because the birds have learned to give him his space, of if he’s starting to mellow.  Hopefully, the latter because if 1-11 thinks he’s crowded now, he should wait until he’s in one of our travel pens on migration.

Eventually, a second trike came along to scoop up more birds.  This time, two birds took off with that trike.  But they stayed with it and hooked up with the first three fliers.  Caleb and I later realized that our five fliers were 2-11, 6-11, 7-11, 10-11, and 12-11.  We knew this because we could see 1-11, 3-11, 4-11, 5-11, and 9-11 still milling around the runway, getting bored and lonely.

To their credit, when a trike came back for them, they all took off after it.  Not a bird was left on the runway.  Unfortunately, they quickly peeled off and landed once the trike got some real altitude.  Also unfortunately, a couple of these birds (1-11 and 3-11) have yet to make any real effort to leave the runway.  We were lucky just to get them to take off - if only briefly today.  I wish I could fathom why they have no interest in leaving the runway, but we’re not about to become Operation: Nordic Walking for their sakes.  Number 9-11 hasn’t been much better.  We once saw her flying once or twice in mid-July, but has since become a stick in the mud.  Number 4-11 and 5-11 have been hit and miss, flying one day and not flying the next.  I guess they felt it wasn’t their turn to fly today.

Our fliers, on the other hand, have pretty much always been consistently flying the past few days.  At first, we didn’t know who was flying.  But once Richard landed in that field, he was able to pick out birds like 6, 7, 10, and 12.  These days, I’d be more surprised if I didn’t see them fly with the trike.   Sure enough, once Richard’s trike took off, all but #7 took off with it towards the pen – apparently #7 felt like catching her own flight with Brooke.  After a few minutes flying over the pen, all the fliers touched down, all accounted for.  Chicks 7, 10, and 12 landed a little sooner than 6 and 2 did, but Richard thinks he could’ve flown with them for longer had the wind not gotten choppy.  Nonetheless, three cheers for 2, 6, 7, 0, and 12!  And three raspberries for #1, for picking fights.

And while I’ve still got your attention, I’d like to address a rumor that somehow got spread around the CraneCam chatroom.  As it turns out, I’m apparently married, which is a surprise, even to me.   Unless they had the ceremony without me, I’m still currently a swinging single.  I think what ended up happening was that folks got a little mixed up when I did my usual videogame plug-in sign off in my last update.  I meant to say that I was playing a game where my fictional wife was abducted by a mysterious dark presence (it’s called Alan Wake, by the way).  However, I guess some people took that to mean that I have a wife to come home to every day after I train the birds.  The only girls I come home to are ones who need to be rescued by dragons, warlocks, space zombies in whatever game I’m playing.    However, if I do marry a (un)lucky woman who ends up getting kidnapped by a dark presence for real, I’ve got my daring rescue already planned: I’ll go to my Facebook page, and change my status from married to single.   See?  You too can save your loved ones from the dark presence just by pretending they never existed.

Now that rumor’s cleared up, I’m off to play a game where I’m in some sort of dystopian undersea metropolis that’s been torn apart by its own out-of-control political beliefs and genetic research.  Still, any city calling itself ‘Rapture’ can’t possibly be in for anything good and this one’s no exception.   Please don’t take this to mean that I’m living in the bottom of the sea.  First I’m married to someone I didn’t know existed, next I’m living at the bottom of the sea?  My life is getting crazier with each update.   I hope I don’t play a game with a neon green, Russian speaking hippo named Ted, or else I’m going to be stuck with him by the end of migration.  And my fictional wife already said no hippos.

Oh, and everyone join me in wishing my sister Jerusha a happy 30th birthday today!

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Date: August 25, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:EMP UPDATELocation:Main Office

Our thanks to Eva Szyszkoski and Jennifer Davis of the International Crane Foundation for the following update:

Females are indicated by *. DAR = direct autumn release. SM = released at St. Marks NWR. CH = released at Chassahowitzka NWR.

General:
Maximum size of the eastern migratory population at the end of the report period (20 August) was 97 birds (50 males and 47 females).  Distribution included 87 birds in Wisconsin, 1 bird each in Indiana and Michigan, 2 at undetermined locations, and 6 long term missing.

Mortality: :
No. 3-03* was observed injured near a Necedah National Wildlife Refuge road bordering her territory on 16 August and was taken to the International Crane Foundation for examination.  She was emaciated with an infected left hock and was euthanized. Her carcass has been sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison for necropsy. She had last been observed with her mate no. 17-03 on 6 July.

The remains of no. 15-10 (CH) were found east of Mauston, Juneau County, on 18 August. He had last been recorded alive flying over the northern half of the Necedah NWR on 6 July with no. 16-10*.  Information provided by the landowner indicates a mortality date of ~8 August.

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Date: August 24, 2011Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:VIDEO'S BY CALEBLocation:White River Marsh, WI

Our most recent addition to the video compilation is a brief look into the funkier side of the whoopers. Shot inside the wet pen, you can see our 2011 class trying on some of the new dance moves I taught them.

The smooth crane-daddy in the middle is yours truly.  The "dance" is the little hop-and-flutter exhibited by a few of the cranes.  The best example is whooper 3-11 (red legband) on the left at 0:08-0:10 doing a brief hop-and-flutter.

The Whooping Crane dance is a very important later in life as the dance is a major part of courtship and pair-bonding in Whooping Cranes. This brief little dance you see in the video is extremely preliminary to the full-fledged displays put on when actually bonding with their life mate.  For more detailed information on crane dancing check out the page "Dancing with the Cranes" by Journey North (which contains another clip of yearling cranes dancing - just for the fun of it). 

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Date: August 23, 2011Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:MORE SUCCESS...Location: White River Marsh, WI

I first launched from the pensite at 6:51 am and as has become her habit, #2-11 followed me as if tied to the wing of the trike, while the nine others watched from below. Following a wide circuit I made a low and slow approach over the other nine crane colts and succeeded in picking up one more flyer – this time, #6-11.

These two settled in to their now familiar spot just above and behind the trailing edge of the wing and followed me around the pensite before the three of us made another low pass over the runway. This time we managed to convince our youngest flyer; #12-11 to join us before leaving the area and returning to the field where I had landed with them yesterday.

As I passed treats out to my three followers, Geoff and Caleb were getting ready back at the pensite. We had formulated a plan that we hoped would convince every bird to get into the air and leave the ground behind.

I returned to the training site and landed – with #’s 2, 6 and 12. I waited patiently at the north end of the runway to see if the seven reluctant-to-fly birds would join me. Seems they were having too much fun poking in the grass to even notice me, so I taxied toward them. I made three attempts to get them to follow as I did high speed taxi runs. Some of them would follow – sort of… It was time to execute our plan!

I taxied to the front of the pen and managed to get their collective attention and just when I revved the engine and was set to take off – the SWAMP MONSTER made his first appearance of the 2011 season!

For those that are not aware of this tactic; the Swamp Monster is basically a large, plastic camo/brown tarp with a person under it (Geoff, this morning). And it’s the scariest thing the crane colts have ever seen as it advances toward them, making crinkly noises.

And it worked! ALL TEN colts bolted into the air… And it looked as if they might even follow my aircraft. Soon after #’s 5 and 9 landed at the north end of the runway. I decided to carry on with the rest, which included: #’s 2, 4, 6, 7, 10 and 12 who were following really well, and #’s 1 and 3 who were following – but from far back. So far back, in fact, that they dropped out about halfway to my intended destination and landed in the marsh to the west of the pensite.

After a few minutes of rest and treats we were airborne again, and this time, possibly because they were in and unfamiliar area, they all followed me back to the pensite where #’s 5 and 9 were waiting for us.

What about the two cranes that landed in the marsh? Once we had the group of eight returned to their enclosure, I took off to scour the area where I had last seen them and it wasn’t long before I spotted their whiteness in the shades of green below. I circled the area to give Geoff and Caleb a visual marker so that they could trek out to meet them.

While they were walking out, I landed at the pensite and followed behind them. As they approached they waved their puppets and broadcasted the familiar brood call and it wasn’t long before they found #1. After about a half minute, #3 was airborne and flew to join them before we walked them back to the pen and closing the door at 9am - a two hour training session isn't the norm. Hopefully the Swamp Monster won't be either.

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Date: August 22, 2011Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:SUCCESS!Location:White River Marsh, WI

Sunday morning, when I took off for the first time, #2-11 followed me, on the wing, for good long flight over the marsh. As we flew over the pensite #6-11 joined us in mid-flight so I continued on – eventually, leading them both to a remote field smooth enough to land in. After a few minutes on the ground to allow them to catch their breath, while I passed out grapes for a job well done, we launched again to return to the pensite.

As we flew adjacent the grass training strip, another young colt lifted off and joined us in flight. I took advantage of this and decided not to land. Instead, I reversed course and led these three colts back to the remote field to pass out even more treats to my trusting followers: numbers 2, 6 and 10-11.

After a few minutes on the ground, we launched again and headed back toward the pensite where two MORE colts decided that they’d like to give this airborne thing a try. Not wanting to change too much, I flew back to the remote field; this time with FIVE young colts and upon landing, I was able to determine that the two new flyers were 7-11 and 12-11 (our youngest crane this year).

At this point, I was running low on treats but elated that they were distributed to those most deserving. After allowing my new airborne friends to catch their breath, we took off in the direction of the pen again and this time on the return flight, conditions are a bit bumpy. I landed – distributed the remaining few treats I had and then gave the signal to Geoff and Caleb to open the double doors of the pen to let the crane colts return inside. A GREAT day…

Ed. note: view some images of yesterday's session captured by Pat Fisher from the viewing blind CLICK.

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Date: August 21, 2011Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:RECAP OF FRIDAY'S LOOONG TRAINING FLIGHTLocation:White River Marsh, WI

Pilot RVH: Hey #2, wait for me!

The trike continues to fly away over the marsh. Number 2 catches up to the trike.

#2-11: Wow, check out the air coming off this wing! If I hold my head just right I can get a free ride. Woweee!

Number 2 bounces out and back in the wing vortex.

#2-11: Man that was cool.

Pilot RVH: Okay! She's doing it again. That's the stuff!

Number 3 catches up

#3-11: Hey, that looks like fun! Let me try too!

Number 3 falls back a little.

#3-11: Man-o-man, how does she do that. WEEEEEEE!!!

The wingtip vortex makes #3 pop up above the wing behind #2 and #3 slides back and to the side.

#3-11: Whoa, wait for me. Hey, the big yellow thing is banking left. Hmmm, if I turn quickly I'll be able to catch up and have the other wing to myself. Oh Ya! Give it to me. Woohoo! No wonder #2 always wants to follow this contraption. Who knew it was this much fun!

The trike goes into a steep turn. The young colts fall back as the trike accelerates toward yet another bird trying to join the party.

#6-11: Yo! What you guys doing?

#2 & #3: Duh...what's it look like? We're FLYING!

#6-11: Okay, Okay, I got that. That's what I'm doing too.

#2-11: That's not flying. THIS is flying. C'mon, catch the yellow thing!

Number 6 attempts to latch on to the wing but falls back again.

#6-11: Humph, can't... I'm going back.

Numbers 2 and 3 continue to follow, but as the trike flies past the pen, #3 peels off and lands on the runway. After a nice long flight the trike attempts to land but the chicks on the runway chase after it - getting between it and the runway - the trike has to fly on. Now tired, #2 lands.

#6-11: Alright - this is my chance!

Number 6 takes off and quickly finds the wing. As the trike slowly climbs, he gets more comfortable.

#6-11: Ahhh, that #2 knows her stuff. Yesiree, this is good! Oh-oh, we're getting really high.

Number 6 drops below the wing.

#6-11: Oh I want to get back on top but we were soooo high.

The trike continues its relentless climb. Number 6 tries to keep up but stays under the wing. Suddenly the trike dives, almost stalling before recovering, and #6 finds herself well above the wing.

#6-11: Well, this ain't so bad after all. I think I'll stay here.

Number 6 and the trike continue to fly around White River Marsh for another 10 minutes or so.

Pilot RVH: #6 has now flown both higher and farther than all of the other cranes in the 2011 cohort. The next training session should be really interesting. I can hardly wait.

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Date: August 20, 2011Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:FLEDGINGLocation:Main Office

Lately some of the people who watch the Crane camera have expressed concern that the birds are not flying very far yet. When you read the field journals from years past, you find that some of the older birds were airborne for twenty minutes or so by this stage in the training. There are a few variables to consider and a look at the numbers is interesting but one thing is certain. It is not for lack of attentiveness. I have worked with birds for eighteen years and I can’t remember a flock more interested in following than these ten.

We have become accustomed to birds losing interest in the aircraft at this stage of the training. They wander off into the marsh and it can take forever to coax and cajole them back onto the runway and into the pen. This year, all ten birds, even with vastly different stages of development, are eager to follow the aircraft . Some will run out of energy on a short fight and plop down into the tall grass but they head straight back to the runway and I have not yet had to stop and coax a bird back.

One of the problems with this stage of the flight training has always been finding a place to land. We take off with a group of birds on the verge of fledging and they all turn back. This is to be expected so we circle to land ourselves. In their independent stage, the birds will often be all over the runway leaving us no room to safely land without the risk of hitting one. This cohort also stops at the end of the runway but instead of spreading out, they all fly to the other end to greet you on approach. Then they all fly back as we pass overhead.

The only solution is to circle at one end where they will all gather to be as near to the trike as they can even though they can’t all follow it into the air. Then, with caution we can pass over their heads and land. As they chase us down the runway we all end up going the same direction and the risk of collision is reduced.

Every year we record all kinds of statistics about the birds from their age when they are shipped from Patuxent to the first time they fly. That last one is often problematic. It is hard to determine exactly when each bird has the strength and wing development to stay airborne.

A wing, whether is it covered in feathers or fabric, works by passing through the air fast enough to reducing the air pressure above it and increasing the air pressure below. When it is flying close to the ground the air can be trapped between the ground and the wing and that greatly increases the underside pressure. This is known as flying in ground effect. You skim along the surface very easily but it takes a lot more energy to climb above even a few feet. We see this all the time in our young birds. We taxi at high speed down the runway and the bird will fly along happily beside us but they have to land at the end.

In the wild, birds don’t normally have that advantage because they don’t have runways. They spend their time in water and tall grass and in order to fly, they must have enough strength to launch into the air more like a helicopter than an airplane.

So it is hard to say exactly when our birds fledge. Does it count if they have the advantage of an artificially flat and open space or should we set a higher standard? Also, it is almost impossible to watch each bird and record its progress so we have historically said that our birds have fledged when all the birds in a cohort can fly a circuit around the pen. It’s a generalization but it works for record keeping as long as you apply the same criteria to all the birds.

If you look at all the hatch dates since we began this project and compare them to the fledge dates, you find that it takes an average of 96.3 days for our birds to be able to fly past the end of the runway. Our oldest bird hatched on April 28th so it should have fledged on August 2nd and the youngest reached that stage on Thursday of this week.

Between the youngest and oldest birds this year we have an age range of 16 days. Unlike past years, when we would divide into smaller cohorts, this year we are training all the birds together in the largest cohort yet, and there is a 16 day difference in their ability. When they charge out of the pen after the aircraft, some of them simply can’t go past the end of the runway. And when the majority of the flock stops short, it’s not surprising that the older birds also stop. Sticking together is a natural instinct but the urge to fly trumps staying on the ground - even if all your friends are there. It will only be a matter of time before they stop looking over their shoulders at their flockmates and give in to the exhilaration of flying - Trust me, I can relate.

Like with most things, the answer is patience. It took me a lot longer than 96 days to learn how to fly well and but it was certainly worth the wait.

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Date: August 19, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:H2Ohhh Location:White River Marsh, WI

Finally, the month-long wrangle with the wet pen seems to be at an end.  At the beginning of June us here at White River Marsh undertook the project of driving a well-point.  Our ultimate goal was to strike water (We would have been equally as happy with oil) and pump a constant stream into the wet pen. Dreams and aspirations were quickly thwarted by a clay lens some twelve feet down.  We persisted however, we drove down an additional fifteen feet with a jackhammer and sledgehammer before defeat was admitted.  Twenty-seven feet down and the four of us, Richard, Brooke, Geoff and myself, were completely spent.  That was it; we needed a permit to have the well done professionally.

While paperwork was muscling its way through the proper channels Geoff and I occupied our time by shuttling a gargantuan tank of water to and from the pen.  This was done several times a day just to maintain a common water level.  It was hardly adequate.  Though we managed to keep water in the wet pen it was a losing battle in the grand scheme of things.

This week the one-month war is over - a peace treaty was reached.  Over the course of Monday and Tuesday the well was drilled and completed.  Geoff and I hooked up our three and a half horse-power pump and let her rip.  We waited apprehensively... one second went by... two seconds... three seconds... SPLASH!  Hallelujah!  Our pump was pulling pure, sweet, beautiful water from the ground at an astonishing rate.  This was it.  All our prayers were answered.  No more mess.  No more struggle.  Keeping water in our wet pen from now on will be as simple as pulling a rip-chord.

I've included some photos to show you how our set up has changed.

The image on the left shows the behemoth water tank we have been lugging around.  

The image on the right shows the new well and pump set up.

Quite the difference, right?

 

Also, guess how far down we had to go to break through the clay lens?  No, seriously guess.  Thirty-one feet... that’s right, we were only four feet away...

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Date: August 18, 2011 Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:VIEWING BLIND Location: Main Office

Thanks to Richard van Heuvelen we now have a viewing blind at the White River State Wildlife Area training site. Constructed even closer to the pen than the blind we used at Necedah, it is built of hay bales and offers a great view of the early morning training.

Tom Schultz has volunteered to guide blind tours. Tom lives only a few minutes from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area and has been birding there for almost 30 years. He is the president of the Wisconsin Society of Ornithology and has served as their fieldtrip leader and co-chair for about 23 years.

Tom is also an accomplished artist and has done many illustrations for National Geographic, primarily for various editions of their Field Guide to the Birds of North America.  He also illustrated warblers for the Peterson series Warblers guide, published by Houghton Mifflin, as well as birds for other publications. We are grateful that he has offered to host our tours to the blind. He has a wealth of information on local birds and habitat.

Doug Pellerin from Ripon, Wisconsin has also volunteered to host blind tours. Doug has been following the Whooping crane project since the beginning and many of the great photos you have seen on our site are courtesy of Doug. There isn’t much you can ask about Whooping cranes in Wisconsin that Doug can’t answer.

The first dry run tour took place on August 16th. It was attended by the guides and members of the DNR staff and was a success. As anyone who follows this project knows, our birds are raised in isolation from all things human. In order to keep them wild, only a very few people are allowed near them and only while dressed in long white costumes. There is no talking allowed near the birds and all human activity is disguised or concealed.

That means there are a few rules for blind visits. Access is via a long uneven path through the woods so rubber boots are recommended. Bug spray is a must, along with a degree of patience. Visitors have to be in the blind before the pilots arrive and the birds are released, and they must stay there until the birds are back in the pen and the handlers give the all clear.

Pictures are encouraged but no flash cameras are permitted. Talking, loud noises or flashes coming from the blind could send the bird charging through the grass to get away from a perceived threat.

The blind will hold up to eight people including the guide and we hope to attract visitors with a real interest in wildlife. You will have to prove just how interested you are by arriving at 6 AM when the training takes place. And you will have to understand that just like any other wildlife experience, you may be disappointed. We need very specific weather conditions. Most of the flying at this stage of the training takes place close to the ground and it does not take much for it to be too turbulent for that to be done safely. The final decision to fly or not, is often made in the air as the pilot begins his flight from our hangar to the pensite. In those cases we promise to be at the site to answer any question you may have and try to make your visit something less than a waste of your time.

To Schedule a visit to the blind, please contact Tom Schultz by phone: 920-960-1796

Please enjoy these images captured on Tuesday by Doug Pellerin.

Click each thumbnail to view larger image

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Date: August 16, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:AUGUST 4th SESSION - FROM THE PILOT SEATLocation:Main Office

Ride alongside Joe Duff on a training session which took place on August 4th with the Class of 2011. Two weeks ago, we had no cranes actually flying with the ultralight, but you can see, as he passes over them on the grass strip that they are intent on following - even if it is from below and on the ground.

The take-off and landing is a little bumpy as this was shot before the topsoil was dispersed to help fill in some of the rough patches. Be sure to take note of the grapes being dispensed by the crane puppet at the 3:00 minute mark, and as Joe taxiis to the north end of the training strip, watch for two of the cranes flying alongside in 'ground effect' at the 4:09 mark.

'Ground effect' refers to the increased lift and decreased drag that occurs when an aircraft (or bird) is about 1 wingspans length or less over the ground.

Have you WHOOP'd yet?

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Date: August 16, 2011 Reporter:Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:DRESS REHEARSALLocation: White River Marsh, WI

On the drive back from the airfield and Friday morning’s training flight, I followed a car which sported a bumper sticker which said, ”Life is not a dress rehearsal” which was good news to me since I’d left all my dresses in my storage locker in Florida. I’d run out of my favorite shade of lipstick and anyway it was becoming just too much of a pain to pull my costume over that dress. But dress or no dress, rehearse we must because migration day is bearing down on us like a runaway locomotive and the birds are way behind where they should be at this time.

The new site has presented some challenges, which to some of us are a good thing since they thwart the intrusion of the “Been there, done that’s.” An automatic pilot is an asset in an airplane but not on a wildlife project. Or perhaps it’s just that some of us feel most comfortable living in a constant state of worry. A case in point is our runway. It is short and rough and resembles the riffle lined sluice box on a gold dredge. Web cam viewers have observed that each training session is followed by Geoff doing metal detector sweeps up and down the runway like a pensioner on a deserted beach while Caleb follows dragging a wheeled magnet in an attempt to recover the fillings which only a short time before were resting comfortably in my teeth. In fact, Caleb, always thinking of ways to conserve, set up a special recycling bin back at camp to deposit the fillings in.

Heroic attempts have been made to improve the situation with a roller and more recently by depositing bobcat loads of dirt in some of the furrows. As you know from Joe’s recent update, we would have been better served by having rented an amphibious bobcat, one certified by the Cousteau Society, for our last effort and it can be honestly said that we are making progress and that our best efforts are not without their just reward….sort of. As the noted physicist from New Jersey, Al Einstein Botchagaloop once hypothesized , “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction which will sneak up behind you and kick you in the keester” to which he added after a moment of deep reflection, “Forgetaboutit.”

And so it was that the next time the birds came out of the pen, we realized we had created a veritable “Disney World for Beaks” as they diverted their interest from following the trike to following their beaks into the depths of the soft earth and the wonders contained within. Then we realized that our little dirt deposits took on the character of a sand trap in the middle of a putting green, presenting a series of breaking actions as the trike clawed for acceleration down the runway.

So, in response to this challenge and ever conscious of budget, we spent the afternoon compacting the dirt down by foot. As James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, sat in heaven laughing himself silly, Geoff did the “Mashed Potato”, Caleb did the “Hot Potato” and I did “You Want Fries With That?” as we three costumed “Clannettes” impressed our rhythm, our will and our weight upon the earth. In fact, our “Moon Walk” was so smooth and practiced that one could almost hear Neil Armstrong commenting from somewhere in space, “One small step for man, one giant step for absurdity”.

Now I am sure all this effort builds character if it doesn’t first turn you into one. But it’s like Orville said to Wilbur, “You can’t fly if you don’t try…you go first!”

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Date: August 15, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Give A WHOOP!Location:Main Office

Help us celebrate the Class of 2011's ten gorgeous, cinnamon-colored young Whooping crane colts by Giving a WHOOP! You might just be lucky enough to have your name drawn for a fabulous thank you gift consisting of a vacation, including airfare for two in Costa Rica! It's quick and easy to Give A WHOOP....just click here.

With every 50 WHOOPS that come in we will draw a name to receive a thank you gift consisting of an I Give A WHOOP! t-shirt. The names drawn thus far are Dave Sapko, Vickie Wyatt and Hope Brugunier, Maureen Kuntzman, Claire Timm, Jason Wurtzel, Charrie Gibson, Anna Osborn, Christopher Ciccone, Debbie Sommerfield, Rollin Bannow and Mary Lilga!

Congratulations to all the T-shirt recipients! Your names will of course be entered back into the thank you draw for the Costa Rica vacation, (which includes airfare) and which, will be made at the conclusion of the 2011 southward migration.

Click the link below to view a photo gallery of images taken at and around the private residence that you will be staying at should you be the recipient of this great gift: Mot Mot Manor gallery

Have YOU WHOOP'd yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our fundraising goal and enable us to carry out our work with the Class of 2011 Whooping cranes. We'll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws when you WHOOP.

WHOOP Loud & Proud!

And when you're finished WHOOPING, come on by and watch training this morning as the young cranes go through the paces with one of the three ultralight-aircraft, which will guide them to Florida this fall! Training should begin shortly after 6am Central time.

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Date: August 14, 2011Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:CHUGGING ALONGLocation:White River Marsh, WI

Things are chugging along here at White River Marsh.  This past Monday and Tuesday dirt was added to, raked even and stomped down on the runway.  With this endeavor we hope to smooth out the runway's raggedness...maybe we can prevent our pilots from receiving internal hemorrhaging while training.  The benefits, or lack thereof will be seen in the next few days.  Additionally, Geoff and I are pumping water into the wet-pen, though it really is an uphill battle.  Four thousand gallons in on Wednesday resulted in a four and a half centimeter gain in water level...unfortunately, we lost all but half a centimeter overnight.  I foresee a rain-dance in the near future...(CraneCam rain-dance anyone?)

Onto the main reason you're here, the cranes.  Though this is my first year and I have no previous years to compare the progress of the Class of 2011 to, it seems the general consensus at camp is that this batch of whoopers is behind previous years.  Whooper 2-11 is by far our best flyer and pursues the trike regularly.  Alas, if only we could convince the others to follow her lead.  Fortune did smile on us Thursday morning however.  

Whoopers 5-11 and 6-11 were confirmed to fly and follow the trike off the runway last Thursday morning.  Albeit they turned around rather quickly, but they did make it off the runway and complete something resembling a large J shaped flight path. Hey, we'll take it.

In other news a mink was spotted on the webcam and precautions have been taken.  Geoff and Joe spent last weekend mink-proofing the pen by adding additional fencing.  

Also, non-kill traps that had been set out earlier; were re-baited. On Thursday, we had our first catch when a young raccoon was found in one of the traps.  The little guy was extremely docile, nervous and kind of charming.  He was released away from the site and was on his way in no time.

 

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Date: August 13, 2011 Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:THAT LOOKS LIKE FUN...Location: Main Office

Throughout my life I have had more than my share of self induced disasters. Invariably they all begin with the simple phrase “that looks like fun.” You would think by now I would have learned to heed my own warnings but in some cases older does not guarantee wiser. This past week I fell for it again.

Whenever maintenance is needed on the pen or the runway we have to move the birds out of sight and earshot so they don’t become familiar with all the human activity. We let them out and wait until they wear off the exuberance of freedom, then when they have settled down we lead them into the marsh, that’s a little problematic at White River because there is no open water marsh within walking distance so we have been taking them to a dry area on the far side of a treed area. In the high temperatures we have had lately they are only good for an hour or less before we risk heat stressing them.

From the air, I found a pond in the center of a sedge meadow that would be a perfect holding area if we could only get to it. It was much harder to see from the ground and Geoff and I spent an hour slugging through foot tall hummocks and four foot tall prairie grasses. Unless we could create some sort of path it just wouldn’t work.

On the same day I had rented a tracked bobcat to move some top soil onto the runway to help smooth it out. A tracked bobcat is one of the best all terrain vehicles and although I had never driven one before it looked like the perfect machine to cut a path to the pond… and – “it looked like fun.”

For the most part it worked well. It knocked down the grass and flattened the hummocks. When I got close to the pond I thought I would create an open area for better access but when I turned, it sunk through the grass mat we were sitting on and into the bottomless mud below Rather than let my inexperience bury me deeper I climbed on top and called the Wautoma Rental Center to ask for advice. They suggested I use a truck to pull it out but the closest I could get a truck was still at least a quarter of a mile away from where I was stuck. When they stopped laughing they proposed renting me their other bobcat.

After an hour I had the second unit in the parking lot, but fear of a double or nothing situation made we rethink my approach. If I got them both stuck there wasn’t much else we could use to retrieve them. They were too far out for a truck and a tow rope. There were no trees to winch from and they were too heavy to airlift. I swallowed my pride and called Jim Holzwart, State Wildlife Area Manager for advice. After he too stopped laughing he asked Jeff Lang to help. Jeff has many hours of bobcat experience and he brought some extra chain with him.

On our first extraction attempt, it only dug itself deeper and my hopes faded. I traded places with Jeff and while I pulled with the new bobcat, he used the tracks and the bucket of the old one to help push himself out. There is a lot to be said for experience and after a few minutes he had it out.

On the way back to the parking lot we improved our path. Brooke returned the second unit while I used the first one to move the top soil to the runway.

I can’t tell you the relief I felt at getting unstuck. I want to thank Jeff for his expertise and Wautoma Rental Center for giving me a break on the second machine. In the end we have a smoother runway and a nice path leading to a good holding pond - but the ordeal wasn’t nearly as much fun as it initially looked.

 
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Date: August 12, 2011Reporter:Geoff Tarbox
Subject:STILL HAVE A FEW TRICKS...Location:White River Marsh, WI

I wish I could tell you that our kids are flying by now.  I was hoping that at least half of them would be flying laps around the pen.  But anyone who’s watched training on the CraneCam knows that’s not the case.  For the past few days, the only bird we could count on to fly is #2.  All the rest just slam on the brakes and stay on the runway as soon as the trike takes off.   Some of them will fly, but for all of two or three of seconds before landing on the runway.  Only #2 consistently flew with the trike - and even then, for only a couple of laps.

A couple times now, we’ve tried first releasing only our best two or three fliers for morning training (#2, #4, and #6).  But for the most part, the same thing would happen, just with fewer birds chillin at the end of the runway.  If our birds can’t fly, has Operation Migration finally met its match????

No way. We still have a few cards up our costume sleeves.  For one, we can keep training the fliers by themselves.  If we give them a little more one-on-one treatment, they’re free to master the art of flying at their own pace.  Granted, I was a little skeptical about this when Brooke told me about this morning.  I didn’t think the “fliers” were going to do better than they were already.  But then I realized, this morning, we released #1 instead of #6.  And wouldn’t you know?   We saw him flying with #2 for about as long as she did, which has never happened before.

I guess he never flew simply because the earthbound birds were decoying him back to the runway.  But if giving him a little room to flourish was all he needed to stretch his wings for the first time, there’s no telling how much better he’s going to get each time.   We’d still train the other seven or eight “grounded” birds; they’d just be trained separately so they could go at their own pace.

And there’s always the dreaded swamp monster. We’ve got two of them lurking in the supply shed, waiting for just the right moment to be unleashed.  That moment could be sooner rather than later… 

Trying to keep some good vibes flowing, I’m sure some of you may’ve seen some mysterious black critter dart behind the wet pen last weekend.   This is nothing new; Caleb and I have occasionally found what looked like raccoon tracks behind the wet pen.  But this is the first time we saw it with our own eyes.  And unfortunately, it had to be a mink.

On the bright side, it didn’t look like it was hungry for whoopers.  But have no fear.  Even if it changes its mind later, Joe and I mink-proofed the whole bottom of the wet pen fence with several rolls of chicken wire.  Not only that, we’ve got a couple of traps rigged up in the back baited with some nice, juicy cat food.  The only way a mink can get inside our wet pen now is either by airdrop or TNT.  And if mink can do any of that, we’ve got bigger problems on our hands.   I’d say our birds can sleep safe and sound, knowing that any mink that cruises by the wet pen can only look but not touch.

Now that my work here is done, I must focus my attentions elsewhere.  Not only is my wife still held hostage by that dang-blasted dark presence; some jerk calling himself the “Dark General” has thrown the seasons out of whack.  If he thinks he can get away with that, he has no idea who he’s fooling with.
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Date: August 11, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:IT’S THAT TIME OF YEARLocation:Main Office

This is the time of year to get your new $15-Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. More commonly known as the Duck Stamp, the revenues raised from its sale are dedicated to securing wetland and grassland habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System. In fact, Ninety-eight cents of every dollar generated from Duck Stamps goes directly to buy or lease wetlands for protection, making the Duck Stamp one of the best dollar-for-dollar investments in the future of America’s wetlands.

In recent years, revenue from Duck Stamp purchases has totaled more than $25 million dollars annually.  Since its inception in 1934, the Duck Stamp has generated more than $750 million.  Those funds have helped protect more than 5.3 million acres – that’s an area about the size of New Jersey.  And Duck Stamps aren’t just for waterfowl.  Lots of other birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians – not to mention plants and insects – also benefit.

For those outdoor aficionados, sports people, birders and those who enjoy their leisure time surrounded by nature, the Duck Stamp is a great investment. Holding a valid Duck Stamp gets you free admission to all refuges that charge for access. So while you are enjoying your favorite sporting, leisure, or recreational activity you also can feel good about having made a contribution toward conserving habitat for wildlife - land that you can equally enjoy.

You can likely buy your Duck Stamp right in your own neighborhood. They are available at most US Postal Service outlets. They’re also found at national wildlife refuges, and at lots of sporting and outdoor stores - even at stores like Walmart and Kmart.  You can also buy Duck Stamps online. (pictured is the current Duck Stamp by artist James Hautman)

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Date: August 10, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SAVING THE GHOST BIRDSLocation:Main Office

Saving the Ghost Birds: A Celebration of Human Accomplishment
A documentary by David Sakrison, Jack Christ and Video Age Productions.

World Premiere: Tuesday, September 13, 2011 6:00PM at the Stefanie Weill Center for the Performing Arts, 826 North 8th Street, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

Special Guests Include, former Governor Tommy Thompson, Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, David Sakrison, author of Chasing the Ghost Birds and local industrialist and conservationists Terry and Mary Kohler.

Bid on silent auction artwork from Sheboygan County Area High School Students. Bids accepted on items from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 pm on September 13th at the Weill Center.

Through insightful interviews, stunning video footage and a lively soundtrack, the documentary offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the painstaking process of breeding Cranes in captivity, raising them without human contact, teaching them to migrate, and finally, releasing them into the wild. It offers a window into the nit and grit of conservation fieldwork and the empathy, patience, perseverance and dedication of the team members who went to where the birds were and carried out their work.

General Admission:
$10.00 Adults
$5.00 Children, and Students with a valid ID

Tickets are available at the Stefanie H. Weill Center for the Performing Arts Ticket office Weekdays from 10AM to 5 PM or by calling 920-208-3243 or at http://www.weillcenter.com

The proceeds from this event will benefit the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, at the Sheboygan County Municipal Airport and Operation Migration Inc.

Follow Saving The Ghost Birds

 

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Date: August 9, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:VIDEO'S BY CALEB Location:White River Marsh, WI

In this video you will see crane chicks: 6-11, 7-11, 9-11 and 10-11.  10 and 7 are both in the background, 7 is enjoying some nutritious food and 10 is taking a nice relaxing bath.  I can’t blame the little whooper either; this was an incredibly hot day at Patuxent.

As you can see the heat is taking its toll on little 9-11; the bird at the beginning of the clip with his mouth open.   To the left of number 9 you can see that number 6 is really just curious about what’s going on, and keeping an eye on me as I sit with them in the pen.  In this video the crane chicks probably range between three and four weeks of age.

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Date: August 8, 2011Reporter: Heather Ray
Subject:CRANIAC MONTHLY GIVING CLUBLocation: Main Office

In early April of this year we launched our Craniac Monthly Giving Club! and an impressive number of folks have registered! The Craniac Club is easy. It’s flexible and It’s convenient but most of all it is rewarding. Your monthly gift will help ensure that we are able to continue our work to safeguard Whooping cranes and continue our education and outreach.

To launch this new initiative, once you become a monthly donor, you will receive... E-Calendars AND a complimentary Whooping crane PageMarker as a special thank you!

The E-Calendars feature twelve stunning photographs with a monthly calendar overlay for use on your PC or laptop desktop. We’ll send our Craniac Monthly donors a link from which to download the new image of the month to place on your desktop.

Here's a sample of some of the monthly E-Calendars!

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

The PageMarker is 24 karat gold-plated and the laser cut process allows for very fine detailing on the crane. It is lightweight, yet sturdy enough to mark the page in the book you’re currently reading until you're able to return to it. The card on which it is mounted provides information about the ultralight-guided reintroduction in Eastern North America.

Monthly giving provides a reliable, low-cost stream of revenue that sustains our ongoing programs. It is a cost-effective, reliable and a consistent source of funding for Operation Migration and the work we do.

Monthly donations can be processed more efficiently than single or one-time gifts, resulting in a higher percentage of your gift being directed to our work and you are in control! At any time you can increase, decrease, pause or stop your donations, all at your convenience. Each February, we will send you a year-end summary report with your total tax-deductible contribution for the preceding year.

Won’t you become a Craniac Monthly Donor? It’s easy to join and you can contribute any amount you like on a monthly basis: $10, $15, $25 – any amount you like! Visit this link to learn more or to enroll today!

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Date: August 7, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:VIDEO'S BY CALEB Location:White River Marsh, WI

Finally, some footage of OM birds.  This is a video of me walking little 6-11 and 7-11 just after they had been introduced to each other back at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.  They clicked right away and never had the slightest hint of aggression toward each other.  Which is great for us!

Both these whoopers are probably just about 2-3 weeks old at this point.  The noise you can hear in the video is actually a recording of an adult Whooping Crane vocalizing a brood call. We use this so the chicks follow us better and imprinting goes a little smoother. Sorry about the shakiness, this is the worst of the bunch in terms of turbulence.

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Date: August 6, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:LEVI & PEEPERSLocation:Main Office

On August 1st, one of our supporters, Vonda Weilhammer, visited the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to check on #501. As we know this 10-year old male is now referred to as 'Levi' because his former number just happened to be the most popular (and original) style of Levi's jeans.

Vonda reports that he seems very happy with his love Peepers and that the volunteers who feed him say he's doing great. She very kindly sent us the following images to share with you.

 

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Date: August 5, 2011Reporter:Joe Duff
Subject:LAWN MAINTENANCELocation:White River Marsh, WI

Wednesday was grass cutting day at the pensite. The grass on our runway was getting so long that the aircraft propeller was working like a vertical lawn mower, shearing crescent shaped pathways down the middle. For us, cutting the grass is slightly more complex than for the average homeowner. First, we have to get the birds out of sight and earshot and that means we have to lead them out into the marsh on a fieldtrip of sorts.

I am always torn between which job I prefer - Spending time with the birds is always fun but in 90 degree temperatures, that can get tired fast. Cutting grass, however, is one of my favorite pastimes. I think it is because there is only one way to do it. You keep your lines straight, cut right to the edges and don’t miss any spots. When you are finished you can look back and see a job done, as well as anyone could do it. Unlike most other things in life that could always be done better with more time, money or talent, cutting the grass is finite. Except for the more menial tasks, nothing else in life is ever really finished.

With lots of help from volunteers, we built the training site in record time but the work didn’t stop when the birds arrived. We had to widen and lengthen the runway and engineer some method for keeping the water level up in the wetpen.

Next, we have to construct a viewing blind and we started by buying 25 of the old fashioned square hay bales from a local farmer. We are also recruiting a volunteer to coordinate the blind tours. Soon we hope to have a contact person you can call if you would care to get up very early to watch the birds training with the aircraft.

Next on our seemingly never ending list of jobs is to flatten the runway. Considering we created a 600 foot grass strip from a wild wetland, it’s not too bad. But the wheels on our aircraft are small and the constant pounding on the aircraft frame is not the way to treat a machine that carries you aloft. Our plan was to have truck loads of topsoil dumped on the runway so that a team of volunteers and staff could spread it out with rakes and shovels. However, our contractor thinks his dump truck will create more ruts than we can fill so now we are going to rent a tracked bobcat. We’ll run the soil out onto the runway where it can be spread to fill holes.

Dealing with the birds is the difficulty in all of this. The runway entrance is far enough from their enclosure that we can lock them in the drypen section while the dump truck delivers the topsoil but we will have to take them on another fieldtrip to use the bobcat. Keeping these birds wild is a fulltime job and like everything else, it’s never finished.

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Date: August 4, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Give A WHOOP!Location:Main Office
The 2011 Give A WHOOP! campaign launched on Tuesday, June 28, coinciding with the arrival of the Class of 2011 at their brand new Wisconsin home at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area.

Help us celebrate our new site and the Class of 2011's ten gorgeous, cinnamon-colored young Whooping crane colts by Giving a WHOOP! You might just be lucky enough to have your name drawn for a fabulous thank you gift consisting of a vacation, including airfare for two in Costa Rica! It's quick and easy to Give A WHOOP....just click here.

With every 50 WHOOPS that come in we will draw a name to receive a thank you gift consisting of an I Give A WHOOP! t-shirt. The names drawn thus far are Dave Sapko, Vickie Wyatt and Hope Brugunier, Maureen Kuntzman, Claire Timm, Jason Wurtzel, Charrie Gibson, Anna Osborn, Christopher Ciccone, Debbie Sommerfield, and Rollin Bannow!

Congratulations to all the T-shirt recipients! Your names will of course be entered back into the thank you draw for the Costa Rica vacation, (which includes airfare) and which, will be made at the conclusion of the 2011 southward migration.

Click the link below to view a photo gallery of images taken at and around the private residence that you will be staying at should you be the recipient of this great gift: Mot Mot Manor gallery

Have YOU WHOOP'd yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our fundraising goal and enable us to carry out our work with the Class of 2011 Whooping cranes. We'll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws when you WHOOP.

WHOOP Loud & Proud!

And when you're finished WHOOPING, come on by and watch training this morning as the young cranes go through the paces with one of the three ultralight-aircraft, which will guide them to Florida this fall! Training should begin shortly after 6am Central.

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Date:August 3, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:TRAINING UPDATELocation:Main Office

Geoff's update; posted August 1 brought us up to speed on how training was progressing as of Thursday of last week. I thought the bring us even further, I'd swipe Joe's training notes.

Friday July 29:
JD worked with the birds starting at 6:20 am. All of the birds came out on the first try, even number 12 who is often reluctant. We took off to the north and all followed. Most landed at the end of the runway but a few kept going to make a short circle before landing. One bird (id unknown) continued on; making several circuits. I tried to line up with him but he turned too tight. At one point he was on the wing but only for a moment. Many of the birds were reluctant to return to the pen and had to be coaxed inside.

Saturday July 30:
JD worked with the birds starting at 6:00am. They all came out together and followed well. A couple of birds flew tight circuits. Several landed in the tall grass along the side of the runway but made their way back on their own. All are good followers. The older ones are capable of longer flights but turn back prematurely. After a few runs, we put the birds back in the pen except for number’s 2, 3 and 6 who are the best flyers. We tried leading them alone and they followed but did not get on the wing.

July 31:
JD flew with the birds starting at 6:20am. We started by leading only the three best flyers. We took off to the north but there was a slight breeze which I didn't notice so our attempt was downwind. That used up their initial energy. When we tried taking off southbound into the wind the birds left ahead of me so I couldn't lead them. That also happened on the next three attempts. All but three of the birds had to be coaxed back into the pen.

 

And here are a couple images captured at the conclusion of the August 1st training session in which all birds did very well:
Caleb, in the foreground, and Geoff in the background, spend time with the tired colts following a 20 minute training session on Monday before returning them to their enclosure.
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Date: August 2, 2011 Reporter:Caleb Fairfax
Subject:2ND VIDEO INSTALLMENT Location:White River Marsh, WI

This is footage of little 8-11 - that’s right, the monster!  At the time this was captured, there was still hope for this little guy to join the cohort, so I gathered footage of him like the others.

This little guy is, if I remember correctly, somewhere between one and two weeks old at this point and the video is a great opportunity to see the little birds at such a young age.  Walking the birds at a young age is important to ensure their legs develop without problems, also it’s really quite cute how close and attached they are to you when they're so young.

Tune in later this week for the next installment of Video's by Caleb...

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Date: August 1, 2011Reporter: Geoff Tarbox
Subject:MAKING PROGRESSLocation: White River Marsh, WI

I'm happy to announce that the kids are still making progress. We haven’t been able to train them as much as we’d like due to all the rain we’re getting. But all things considered, even after the biblical floods White River got earlier this year, the rain’s a welcome sight. But more on that later.

Even after two or three days of missed training the birds haven’t missed a beat. Now, when Caleb and I open the pen gates for training, all the birds are tripping over themselves to get out to the trike. Even #12, who usually needed a little guidance getting out the gate, is just as eager as the rest of the birds to start training. There are still days when she needs to be escorted out, but those days are becoming less and less frequent. Even though the birds haven’t quite got the hang of flying yet, watching 10 birds glide out of the pen towards the trike is still a sight to behold.

All the birds seem eager to follow the aircraft. Whether they’re flying, or just catching ground effect, I can count on roughly eight or nine of them flapping after the trike. The other one bird (I can’t quite tell who it is) still follows the trike at his own leisurely pace. My guess is that he’s not quite got the hang of gliding or catching ground effect yet. But then again, none of these colts can quite take off with the trike yet. Some of them, like 2, 4, and 6 will try to follow the trike as it gains altitude, but inevitably they end up looping around and going in for a landing.

I’m happy to say that it’s been a coon’s age since I’ve seen one wander off into the marsh - mostly because we’ve set up more plastic fencing along the runway. Now, the only direction the birds can go in is after the ultralight, keeping them nice and focused.

However, there is a downside to all that handy fencing. Remember all those birds who’ll take off and land? Guess where they land. That’s right, behind the fence. And since the fence runs most of the runway, unless the pilot lowers the fence for them, they’ll spend the rest of training cut off from the trike and the rest of the flock.

It’s an inconvenience, but it’s one that should be eliminated as the birds get older (or at least won’t be as bad). By then, they’ll be better fliers, they’ll climb higher than ten feet, and they’ll be better at making controlled landings. Besides, without that fencing, we’d have birds coming and going off the runway as they please, no doubt distracting some of their buddies as they wander off. It’s happened earlier this year, and trust me, that simply won’t do.

Now, why am I excited to see all this rain? Well, for one, it washes out the dry pen so it doesn’t smell like an outsized litter box. Anyone who’s watched OM's CraneCam lately has probably noticed the wet pen mysteriously shrinking. Between evaporation and seepage, our precious little wet pen gets smaller by the day. If there ever was a time for rain, now’s the time.

But we don’t have rely on the oh-so-fickle weather to replenish our precious wet pen. Our magnanimous hosts have lent us a 1000 gallon tank trailer we can fill with water and haul to the site. I’m sure some of you watching the webcam have seen water pumping out through a fire hose into the wet pen every now and then. That’s where it’s all coming from. When it’s all pumped out, we usually gain around a half an inch. It may not sound like much, but believe me, it’s been keeping that wet pen alive. Just the other day, Caleb and I pumped roughly two inches in one day, which made a world of difference. I don’t know what we’d do without it.

Nonetheless, birds all seemed enthusiastic these past few days. I can only hope they keep up the good work as they start learning how to take off after the trike - which I’m hoping will happen sooner rather than later.

I’m eager to see these birds truly fly for the first time. I’ve seen it twice already, but it’s still one of the most magical parts of this job; seeing the kids fly for their first time. In the meantime, I just hope we can get the best of both worlds in terms of weather; flying weather in the morning, rain later on in the afternoon (or even an hour after we’re done training) to keep the wet pen nice and happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I can hear my video games calling my name. Some unexplainable dark presence has kidnapped my doting wife and turned half the population of a resort town into shadowy, raging, violent psychopaths out for my blood. But if this darkness thinks this is enough to stop me in my tracks, it’s only fooling itself.

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