Join the 2005 Mile-Maker Campaign!


Operation Migration is proud to be a founding member of WCEP

Photo Journals!

Wintering Whoopers

Ultralight-guided Migration


Date:

June 27th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Socializing the chicks.

Notes: We are still rolling right along here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, despite training being mostly rained out today. It is getting close to the second ship date, which will be on July 6th. Our social groups are shaping up nicely and training is going well. Over the last few days we have been working on getting this second cohort into one big group. With all of the strong personalities and the large age spread it has been rather challenging. 508, 509 and 513 seem to have reached an understanding with 513, who is in charge. 510, 511, and 512 have been getting along nicely, with 512 having to assert his dominance only every now and then. We have also been trying to get 515 and 516 into this "510, 511, 512" group so that they might possibly join the next shipment. These five birds have been walking together and Sunday we took all eight out to the White Series pond pens. We put the group of five in one pen and the three older dudes next door so that they could just look at each other on the first day. They looked… and really didn't seem to care too much. The first step is always small, but still very important.

Unfortunately, we have had some trouble this last week as well. We are a little worried about some of our chicks' health and whether or not those birds will be able to make the trip. 513 has had a swollen face and mouth which has caused the bill to grow incorrectly. At the moment he is able to follow and train and forage just fine, but we don't know how bad the bill will get. 514 has had a broken toe for a few days and has fallen and cracked some ribs now as well. This poor guy has missed training and socializing walks for about a week now. We are treating both of these birds and watching them carefully with the hope that they will be joining us in WI. 523 is getting over the respiratory trouble it has had for so long and is doing well enough to have treatments reduced. 526 has recently developed a small problem that has kept it inside the last two days but he is recovering quickly and may be able to go out later today. Other than that, and a few very minor leg issues, we are looking pretty good health-wise.

Our two groups of little guys are still doing just fine. At the Circle Pen, 519, 521, 522, and 523 are still pretty cute running in their tight little pack. 521 is still in charge and has actually been becoming increasingly aggressive the last few days. We are watching this guy closely because he likes to pick on 522 and 523 in particular. 523 is already the smallest and a little timid and does not need any help being isolated from the group. 520 and 524 have been getting bored easily at the circle and spend more time foraging than following, but that could pass by tomorrow morning… hopefully.

Date:

June 24th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: Another week and I am just managing to get to the computer. Things are going pretty well here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (PWRC). We have all of the birds in groups and they are training well. 513 is still an aggressive pain, but I think that things are getting worked out between him and 508 and 509. 508 had also been a highly aggressive bird, but she seems to have grown out of it and is allowing 513 to dominate this group of our oldest birds. 508 and 509 have been getting along for about a week or two and we have very slowly and painfully been trying 513 with them. We could not try him with any other group because all were too small and submissive. Today we trained these three together for the first time at the half moon field and it went surprisingly well. 513 throws a few quick pecks at the beginning of each training session to make sure everyone knows who is in charge, but that is about it. Though the integration isn't finished yet, we are pleased with this progress. (See photos)

519, 521, 522, and 523 are still doing well together at the circle pen. These guys are hilarious. They run in a tight little bunch in the circle. They are constantly knocking into each other and a couple of them really compete to be the closest to the trike. After a few minutes, they will start getting tired and hot, or just lazy, and break up a little. There is usually a bird in every group that will linger behind and forage on its own. For a long time, I thought that 519 was that bird. Lately, however, each bird has been taking a turn at this "lagging" behavior, (as we call it in our records).

520 and 526 are doing very well training at the circle pen. 515 and 516 have recently graduated to the half moon field and are doing well out there. They also had their first walk out to the white series pond pens this morning. (See photos)

Date:

June 24th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe DUff

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Chick update from Necedah

Notes: With temperatures in the mid 90's, it feels like the dog days of summer, even though it is only June. The ticks are almost as plentiful as the deer flies, but the mosquito season was short-lived. We count our blessings.

Most of the preparations have been completed for the transport of cranes from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, but the shipment of the second cohort has been delayed until July 6th. For now, therefore, we have little to do. Brooke Pennypacker is here, along with Robert Doyle from Patuxent, and our new pilot Chris Gullikson. Consequently, we have many years of experience, and a lot of talent, for only six birds.

There are three types of people needed to conduct a normal training session: aviculturists, pilots, and handlers.

Because physical symptoms draw the attention of predators, birds have a powerful ability to mask illness. For this reason, an experienced aviculturist is a critical team member. He/She can identify telltale signs that might indicate a health problem in one of the birds.

Along the same lines, our pilots are adept at spotting the traits that lead to undesirable behaviour in the birds. For instance, a trained eye can see that a chick reluctant to join us is not necessarily afraid of the aircraft, but may simply be gate-shy.

Handlers are the third necessary element to training. Handlers help move the young cranes from place to place while fending off the older cranes that are attracted to the activity.

While at Patuxent, the Whooping cranes are trained using an aircraft that has had its wing removed. This allows us to exercise the birds daily, regardless of wind conditions. With 22 birds that must be trained every day, it is important that we not be limited by the weather. Once a cohort arrives in Wisconsin, we begin training without the wing so that everything in the young cranes' world is not changing all at once.

On the first day of training, we delivered the aircraft to the site on a trailer and pushed it to the pen. We let the birds out and they were eager to explore. We started the trike and they dutifully followed, insecure about their wide-open surroundings. On day two, we used a different method, taxiing the trike to the pen. The noise of the approaching engine, though familiar, was too much for number 502 and she would not come out of the pen. She pushed against the back fence as the others tentatively came out the gate. We shut off the engine and spent 10 minutes coaxing her out. Once the engine was started again, and we began to taxi, she headed for the protection of the tall grass. Torn between hiding and following, she ran through the scrub brush, parallel to the runway, as the trike and the rest of the flock headed north. Once we reached the end of the training strip, we stopped and began foraging for meal worms. Number 502 headed deeper into the marsh. Unafraid of the aircraft, but ever adventurous, number 501 began to wander off to see what number 502 had found. I abided by an old adage and abandoned the two birds in the bush for the four birds in hand and headed back to the pen.

Once we had coaxed, cajoled, and corralled number 502 back to the pen, we spent the better part of an hour foraging for treats around the aircraft. The birds and I poked the propeller, flicked the antenna, and generally kicked the tires until all the scariness was out of it. For the rest of the day, we replaced the heavy wooden gates with a wire mesh panel, Afterward, we parked the trike right outside. This gave the flock a view of the aircraft and lessened its mystique. This process was repeated the next day, and on the fourth day, number 502 was the first bird out of the pen and first in line to run beside the aircraft. We had proven that, if you can identify potential behavioural problems early, they are usually easy to fix.

Adults 101 and 202 have a territory next to the north training site and have been there for most of the spring. We became the intruders and they let us know they were not happy about our presence. Lately they have been keeping their distance, which may be a sign that they are beginning to molt. This would give us a two or three-week break in their avian assault. In that time, the handlers, trikes, and chicks will become well-established on this territory.


Date:

June 18th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Location:

Necedah National Wildlife Refuge

Activity:

Crane update

Notes: The integrity of the captive breeding flock is maintained by ensuring that it has a complete representation of all the genetic material available, and, to that end, it was decided that several females would be held back rather than be shipped to Necedah. The gender is determined by analyzing a portion of the egg membrane, but it takes time to get this information back, and in the interim, all of the chicks are trained with the aircraft. We recently found out that numbers 18 and 25 are female and are therefore destined to be captive breeders. That leaves us 22 birds for this season.

Each bird is assigned a number when hatched that indicates year, species and other information. When birds are pulled for holdbacks or illness we end up with numbers missing from our list of birds.

Number 504 died of scoliosis recently so six birds, numbers 501 to 507, were shipped to Necedah on June 15. Numbers 508, 509, 510 , 511, 512, 513 and 514, (seven birds), will be sent to Wisconsin on or around July 6. Another nine birds, numbers 515, 516, 519, 520, 521, 522, 523, 524 and 526, will arrive around July 13.

Since there was concern about numbers 515 and 516 being too small for the July 6 shipment, the Patuxent team suggested moving them to the last shipment. Because numbers 518 and 525 are being held back for breeding, there are two open spaces on the last shipment for numbers 515 and 516.

The challenge of fundraising

Two weeks ago, with the help of many people, we held a combination Fly-In, Art Show and Birding Event in Tullahoma, Tennessee. The City of Tullahoma supported this event along with the Tullahoma Airport Authority.

Dan Hicks and others from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency manned their display all weekend. George Archibald from the International Crane Foundation gave a presentation. Bill Lishman brought his original Easy Riser aircraft and Mike and Sandy Loehle displayed their collections of stunning WWII replica kit-built aircraft. Vickie Henderson, long time supporter of OM, showcased her artwork along with Gene Canning from Canada. Richard Van Heuvelen is one of our lead pilots and a respected and accomplished sculptor, brought several pieces of his work to display. He also flew one of our trikes at the event. Lynn Bales, Paul James and Patty Brown from Ijams Nature Center came out to join us along with Walter Sturgeon from the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation.

Several ultralight pilots showed up plus a lot of old friends like Don and Paula Lounsbury (top cover pilots) and Tom Pelfry (Tennessee stop-over owner). Tim Tucker and his wife Deb spent the whole weekend giving flights in his trike and donated all the money to OM. Chris Mahoney was on her feet all weekend doing everything from taking tickets to selling "T" shirts and generally promoting this project. In the end, the event, which was not well-attended, did not generate money for the project, but, as always, we found a great deal of support in Tennessee.

We want to thank everyone involved for all the support and hard work, including all those that drove long distances to be with us. We laid the ground work this year for a bigger and better event next year, but it is a big job and we are a small organization. We will see how it pans out.

If you have the means to contribute to Operation Migration you may do so by clicking here to contribute online. You may also contribute over the phone by calling our office at 1-800-675-2618.

Date:

Friday 17 June 05

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: We have been getting the birds together into groups the last few days. 519, 521, and 522 have been doing well together. There is neither much aggression nor dominance play in this group. 520, 524, and 526 are also getting along. 524 and 526 challenge each other, but it rarely goes too far. Unfortunately, we have removed 510 from her group with 508 and 509. 508 proved to be too aggressive for her. We will have to try her with 511, 512, and 514, all of which are still doing well, and are training at the half-moon field now. This group is more easy-going and will hopefully be a better fit for this little girl. Numbers 508-514 are all going to be together in the next shipment of birds from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to Necedah. 515 and 516 are still doing well and have been bumped back into the third shipment. These two are going to be too small for the second shipping date.

Date:

June 15th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Location:

Necedah, Wisconsin

Activity:

First cohort of the Class of 2005 delivered to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

Notes: At 12:20 PM the first of the class of 2005 arrived at Necedah.

In all we expect to train up to 23 birds this season, and the first cohort arrived today. The Cessna Caravan (turbo-prop 10 passenger) aircraft, generously provided by Windway Capital, landed at Baltimore Airport yesterday afternoon in preparation for this morning's flight. BWI Airport is only minutes from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, and apart from a quick fuel stop in Sheboygan, they flew directly to the little airport in the town of Necedah, five miles from the pen site. Due to the age spread of the flock we will have to make 3 shipments again this year. Windway Capital makes this all possible and has from the beginning. Because of their generosity the birds undergo much less stress than shipping by truck or through a commercial carrier. In fact if it were not for the support of Windway this project would not be possible. 

Patuxent recently acquired an endoscopic unit, and they are now able to remove ingested foreign objects from the birds before they depart Maryland. In the past we would offload the bird crates from the aircraft and move them to the annex on the refuge. While still in their containers, the birds were weighed and x-rayed to ensure they had not ingested anything abnormal. Patuxent is an older facility and despite diligence on the part of the team, there is still the odd nail or screw that is missed by the metal detectors and the magnetic sweepers. Whooping crane forage almost constantly, probing at this, pulling on that, and poking at the other thing. It is inevitable that they will find whatever was lost a few inches below the surface. This is called "hardware disease," and last year at least one bird in every cohort we shipped had swallowed something. There exists a friendly rivalry between Patuxent and ICF, and during the last examination I could not understand why Barry Hartup, veterinarian from the International Crane Foundation, was so adamant about ushering me out of the exam room. Once alone, the health team emptied the contents of the junk drawer into the x-ray plate before exposing it. The next day, in their report they circulated an x-ray image of a Whooping crane that looked for all the world like he had spent his life in an auto wrecking yard. Silhouetted over the black and white image of a healthy Whooping crane chick was everything from a bent nail to a door hinge.  

All six of our new arrivals came through the shipment with flying colours, and we will give them a few days to orient and recover before we resume their training. We will start with the wing removed from one of the aircraft, so we are not changing too much at one time. Later on we will add the wing, and spend many hours getting the birds used to the new appendage.

Chris Gullikson, our new pilot, arrived last Monday. He was eager to help but there wasn't much to do. Richard Van Heuvelen has been here since June 1st, and as I expected, he accomplished most of what needed to be done. We have two more sites to prepare, and the next shipment is tentatively booked for June 28. Our last group should arrive sometime around July 13. 

John Thompton (new intern with OM) also arrived this week and Robert Doyle (aviculturist from Patuxent) is here as well.  

The three birds 401, 407 and 408 that took off last week and flew to Minnesota are back on the refuge, indicating that the westward excursion was just as we suspected &endash; fun.  

In order to accomplish this study, the US Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, had to enact a provision within the Endangered Species Act that designates our flock of Whooping cranes as experimental, nonessential. This means they have the status of a threatened species. The seven direct-line states through which we pass agreed to cooperate, along with 13 others states and two Canadian provinces into which the birds may disperse. Number 309 has made it a personal mission to visit all of these States as an ambassador for the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. She spent her first summer in Michigan and wintered in North Carolina after a brief visit to South Carolina. This past spring she dropped in on Ohio and New York before crossing the border into Ontario. Recently, she has been confirmed in Addison County, Vermont. There is some evidence that our birds seldom wander much farther north than the introduction area and they may have some knowledge of their latitude. This may be a clue to their navigation ability. It is interesting to note that Necedah, as well as the location 309 used her first summer in Michigan, and Gananoque in Ontario, and where she is now in Vermont, are all on roughly the same latitude. It seems she still has not settled down for the summer, so rather than attempt to capture her where she is, the Tracking Team plans to set up a pen in Wyoming. It's only a matter of time before she shows up there.

Date:

June 11th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

You can always rely on Whooping cranes to make you humble.

Notes: I have been flying for the better part of 30 years but these avian masters of flight can outperform us their first time airborne. It takes us 2 months to lead them south on their first migration but they can make the return trip in less than a week. Now, just when we thought we knew it all, and we predicted that the spring wandering was over for the season, numbers 401, 407 and 408 took off - and flew to Minnesota.

No one knows what motivates these peregrinations; the birds simply take to the air without fanfare or finite destination. Rising air carries them aloft and there is ample food wherever they choose to land. They pay no heed to border or restricted airspace and their time is measured in seasons. Maybe it's nothing more complicated than fun and, in reality, what better reason to fly?

Number 309 was last reported near Gananoque in eastern Ontario on May 9, but was confirmed last Friday in Addison County, Vermont. Now that she is back in the US, the Tracking Team may reconsider the option of capture and returning her to Wisconsin. That is if she stays in one place long enough. In reality, Necedah was our choice for a reintroduction but may not be hers.

Date:

June 8th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

General Whooping Crane News

Notes: Fifty-four nesting pairs of Whooping cranes have been counted in Wood Buffalo National Park by Brian Johns of the Canadian Wildlife Service and they are beginning to expand their range. Whooping cranes are territorial and the population has now grown to the point where they have moved out of the park. Brian reported that each nesting pair requires up to 4.5 square kilometers as a nesting territory and they defend it against all others. This is the first time birds have spread out into adjoining wetlands

The Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada, recently announced that their first artificial insemination (AI) Whooping crane chick has hatched. This is a technique used by captive breeding centers to manipulate the genetics of the flock. Often a pair of birds will bond and breed properly but may not be genetically suited. On the other hand, birds that should be bred, to increase the diversity of the population, may not get along. This difficult method of assuring the pedigree of the offspring has been accomplished at other breeding centers, but this is a first for Canada and the Calgary Zoo.

Mark Nipper has been keeping count for us of the eggs that hatch at Patuxent and their fate. We are currently training 23 birds in preparation for shipment to Necedah. A few have been pulled from the migration program and will be added to the captive flock. These birds are genetically important. Many people have asked why these birds are being held back, so I offer the following explanation (please keep in mind that I'm not a geneticist):

All of the Whooping cranes that exist are descendants of birds hatched in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center was the first captive Whooping crane breeding center in North America and their original eggs came from that flock. Since then, Parks Canada, similar to the National Park Service in the U.S., has prohibited egg collection because there is some evidence it can hamper the population growth of the western migratory population of Whooping cranes. The bottleneck that took place in the early 40's, when only 15 birds existed, left little genetic diversity for the Whooping crane and their reproduction has been closely monitored ever since.

Each of the six propagation centers uses a number of reproduction methods, like natural pair bonding, egg swapping, and artificial insemination (AI) to increase the number and quality of birds. In fact, these breeding procedures are so controlled that it is likely that there is more diversity in the captive flock than in the wild flocks where the birds themselves select mates to reproduce. In other words, there is a small possibility that the wild flock may homogenize over time, like putting too much salt in the soup. This makes the captive flock very important to the survival of the species.

The Whooping Crane Recovery Team maintains a study book and uses DNA identification to document all of the chicks produced in captivity. Some birds are more productive than others and therefore their bloodline is over-represented within the population. Others do not produce many chicks or are too young to breed successfully making their offspring genetically significant. The Recovery Team would like to increase the number of birds in captive flocks by as many as 56 birds over a period of years. This would ensure a complete representation of the all genetic material available and allow them to continue producing viable chicks for release into the wild.

Our first shipment of 6 crane chicks will arrive in Necedah on June 15th. The transport aircraft, courtesy of Windway Capital, will fly to Baltimore on Tuesday in preparation for the early morning flight. The early departure will ensure cool temperatures and reduced stress during the loading process. The cranes should arrive around noon at the Necedah Airport, which is only 5 miles from the training pens. The next shipment is tentatively scheduled for June 28, and the final for around July 13.

Date:

June 6th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Notes: First, let me apologize for my delinquency. Keeping the website updated is an obligation I really enjoy and take very seriously, but it is only one of the balls I must juggle. This responsibility lands firmly in my hand at least once a week and, laden with guilt, I pass it to the other and launch it back in the air. This website is our main connection to most of our supporters and it is an honour to be a spokesperson for the birds you have helped to safeguard, but I must either learn to write faster or become a better juggler.

Mark Nipper has been accumulating accolades from many of our readers for his reports from Patuxent and I thank him for helping out. Those of us who know Mark well were pleasantly surprised by his eloquence compared to his normal, almost indecipherable, emails

There are six Captive Propagation Centers around the US and Canada and, during breeding season, their curators meet by conference call once a week to discuss the results of Whooping crane romance. Some eggs are the product of natural pair bonding but the need to safeguard critical genetic material often means artificial insemination, egg swapping, and incubators, making courtship more of a formality. This reproduction season began slowly and it looked for a while like we would only get 15 or 16 chicks, but, as Mark reports, things have turned around and eggs are now hatching like popcorn. Tom Stehn, co-chair of the Whooping Crane recovery Team, predicts we will eventually ship 24 chicks to Necedah this season and the Supplemental Release Team will start with 6 to 8 birds which were initially raised at the International Crane Foundation.

Richard Van Heuvelen is currently in Necedah preparing for the arrival of the first cohort of cranes. It looks like it may be a dry season, so, with the extra lead time, he is organizing deeper well points for the solar pumps used to provide fresh water to the birds. Richard is one to those self-motivators who sees what needs doing and takes care of it. Although it was not my intention, I suspect by the time the rest of us get there that most everything will be completed.

Our administrator, Chris Danilko, produced the following chart to help locate all of 43 white birds in this population. Her original goal was to help her keep track so she could answer the many questions called into our office. Now it has turned into a tool we all use so I thought we should share it periodically with you.

WCEP Whooping Crane Population Status
Week of May 22 to 28, 2005

Pairs / Social Groups / Bachelor Cohorts (Male - Female)

Current Location/ Notes

Wisconsin - 40 birds

101

202



Wisconsin

102

107



Wisconsin - 107 Not seen this week

105

204



Wisconsin

201

306



Wisconsin - (Nest building May 14)

203

317



Wisconsin

205




Wisconsin

208




Wisconsin

209

302



Wisconsin - 302 Possible molting

211

217



Wisconsin

212




Wisconsin

213

218



Wisconsin

216

303



Wisconsin -Seen mating May 26th

304




Wisconsin

307

311



Wisconsin

310

313



Wisconsin

312

316



Wisconsin

412




Wisconsin

401

407

408


Wisconsin

415




Wisconsin - With sandhills

402

403

416

417

Wisconsin

419

420



Wisconsin

418




Wisconsin - With sandhills

Michigan - 2 birds

301

318



Found foraging in an alfalfa field in Lower Michigan

Ontario - 1 bird

309




Last known location Southeastern Ontario - Gananoque, Leeds County on May 8th. She was noted leaving that area.

Location details provided by the WCEP Tracking Team. Dr. Richard Urbanek(USFWS), Lara Fondow (ICF), Sara Zimorski (ICF)

Graph prepared by Chris Danilko

A bird's instinct to migrate must be something akin to adrenaline flowing through their veins. They sit sedentary all winter and are suddenly compelled to take to the air and cover 1200 miles in short order. They target their summer range with the exactitude of a marksman but once they arrive, seem to suffer residual effects, wandering randomly for a few weeks while the high wears off. With the heat of summer, they again settle into a routine and their limited movements become predictable. As you can see from Chris's chart, we are approaching that lazy summer season of hot sun and cool marshes with no real need to go anywhere. Dr. Urbanek, as head of the Tracking Team, reports the location of each bird to the rest of the partnership once a week and recently almost every entry begins with "remained on or near its territory."

Now that the Tracking Team can finally catch their breath, it is time to consider the birds that did not make it back. There are still two in Michigan that have not been back to Wisconsin since the day we led them south. They spent their first summer of freedom on the east side of Lake Michigan, blocked from returning home by miles of open water. Their migration south was also off-course and they wintered in North Carolina. Their spirit to migrate is intact, but whatever mysterious mechanism they use to navigate has been skewed to the east and they wandered into Ontario earlier in the spring. One moved farther east while two made it back to Michigan. The Tracking Team will use an aircraft to locate them and make plans to move them back to Wisconsin in an effort to reorient them. The bird that was last seen in eastern Ontario poses a more difficult problem. Despite international cooperation, moving a migratory bird across the US-Canada border involves a lot of "red tape." Brian Johns of Canada Wildlife Services will assist in tracking the bird, which was last seen near Gananoque on the northeastern shore of Lake Ontario. It is only a short hop over the Saint Lawrence River - the boundary line between Canada and the US. Maybe the bird will make it easy on us by crossing into the US without our help, but somehow I doubt it.

Date:

June 3rd, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: You know that saying about not putting all of your eggs in one basket? Well, no one told the cranes. We are up to #524 (the 24th bird to hatch in the class of 2005 migratory flock) with three more that should hatch today. That makes nine new chicks in half as many days. I thought things were as busy as they possibly could be; but I guess I didn't have a clue. All those little mouths have to be kept full and every chick over five-days-old has to get enough exercise, and don't forget training and the hundred-sum odd adults to take care of. Luckily the fantastic staff here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center is making it work by pulling triple duty. Breaks are rare, lunches are short and often on your feet, and we have reorganized the schedule to cover the evenings. There are four Operation Migration people here, but nothing would get done without the skilled and experienced Patuxent staff to coordinate the efforts.

Numbers 511, 512, and 514 have been training together and we are going to give #509 and #510 a try in the circle pen. The old guys are in their usual groups out at the white series and half-moon field. The rest of the cranes are still singles at the circle pen. Numbers 501-507 received their pre-shipment health exams yesterday. It didn't allow for much to get done but is just something that we have to deal with. The birds receive a physical exam, blood and fecal samples are taken, they get a West Nile vaccine, we de-worm them, and they all get their new big leg band. We give them a larger color band now to help their adjustment when it comes time to get their radio transmitters. These guys ship out to Necedah on the fourteenth of June. John Thomton leaves for Necedah this Monday to head over ahead of time and get some much needed time at home along the way.

It is pouring rain this morning and doesn't look like it is going to stop any time soon so we probably won't get much done until Sunday.

Date:

May 28th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Chick Update

Notes: We have had quite an addition to our new flock. Quite a few additions I should say. Most of the babies are doing pretty good. We do have one big concern with #517. The bird was malpositioned in the egg and had to be assisted to get out. The other #517 made it out a few days ago and is a genetic holdback because it is genetically valuable as a breeding bird. If #518 is a female, it will be held back as well.

We are trying to get some more groups formed up. #511 and #512 walked together yesterday and had #514 join them today. #514 was beat up by #513 yesterday, so we hoped it would do better with these other two. It is a very scared little bird, pretty much all of the time. We also have #509 and #510 who did well together today. #501, 502, and 503 have begun training behind the trike at the 50-yard-long Half-moon Field this week. These birds are also beginning to spend some time in the White Series pens where our chicks are moved to when they are 25 to 30-days-old. #505, 506, and 507 are still training at the circle pen but are doing well and will be moving out to the big field soon.

That's the extremely brief version. The past week has been pretty nuts with so many chicks popping out and I believe we have three more to go this week.

Date:

May 20th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: It's finally raining here at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. We haven't had a decent rain in over a month. We also have three new babies over the last few days: 512 on May 16th, 513 on May 17th, and 514 on May 19th. 514 is from the International Crane Foundation egg that we received last week. It is a pretty small chick but is active and seems fine. 512 and 513 are doing fine as well. 510 has been of some concern though. This bird eats and drinks all the time on its own but has not been gaining weight or maintaining proper hydration.

We are starting to get a few troublesome birds. 504 and 503 have been consistently a pain in the butt for about a week now. They start off great during trike training, but then get distracted and gradually pay less and less attention. These two have been able to walk together in the afternoons, but do not get along well enough to train together. When they are in separate pens these two seem to be buddies. They lie down in their pens next to each other on either side of the fence and bask in the warmth of their heat lamps.

Most of our chicks train independently with the trike, but 505, 506, and 507 is still our only group of birds behaved well enough that they can train together. They are funny little birds. Dominance in this group seems to change every day. They follow the trike pretty well for most of the time. 508 is doing much better in terms of being less frightened of the trike, and 509 has had its first training and did well.


Date:

May 18th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Spring Migration Update

Notes: The last of the 2004 birds made it home on May 16th. Number 418, the one bird to make it to Florida without the aid of our aircraft, has returned to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. For a while the team was concerned when he stopped at an urban park in metro Chicago. But he moved north into Washington County and on Monday he landed in East Rynearson Pool on the Refuge. Number 418 was removed from the ultralight study when missing primary feathers meant he was not able to keep up with the training and his flockmates. Once his feathers regenerated he was released with the older, experienced Whooping cranes and he eventually followed several different birds including Sandhill cranes to Florida. He made the return trip alone. He was the last to migrate and the last to return.

Chris Danilko developed this graph from information supplied by the WCEP Tracking Team.

WCEP Whooping Crane Population Status
Week of May 8 to 14, 2005

Pairs / Social Groups / Bachelor Cohorts (Male - Female)

Current Location

Wisconsin

101

202



Wisconsin

102

107



Wisconsin

105

204



Wisconsin

201

306



Wisconsin - (Nest building May 14)

203

317



Wisconsin

205




Wisconsin

208




Wisconsin

209

302



Wisconsin

211

217



Wisconsin

212




Wisconsin

213

218



Wisconsin

216




Wisconsin

304

303



Wisconsin

307

311



Wisconsin

312

316



Wisconsin

412




Wisconsin

401

407

408


Wisconsin

415




Wisconsin

402

403

416

417

Wisconsin

419

420



Wisconsin

418




Wisconsin (Completed Migration May 16)

Michigan - 4 birds

310

313



South East Michigan (last known location)

301

318



Possible north shore of Lake Michigan

Ontario - 1 bird

309




South-eastern Ontario - Leeds County on May 8th. Last known location ( She was noted leaving that area.)

Location details provided by the WCEP Tracking Team. Dr. Richard Urbanek(USFWS), Lara Fondow (ICF), Sara Zimorski (ICF)

Graph prepared by Chris Danilko



Date:

May 16th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: 510 hatched yesterday (see photo) and 511 has hatched just this morning right before lunch. 511 is a potential genetic hold back for the captive breeding flock if it is a female but for now needs the same care as the rest.

508 has been out to train the last couple days. It is still pretty young and is quite scared of the trike. 509 will go out to meet the trike today or tomorrow. Both of these little birds are pretty active in their pens; 508 has some hate in it, too. Last night 508 and 504 were found fighting through the plexi-glass that separates their pens. Their food bowls were right next to each other and they were fighting over them. 508 is about 5-7 inches tall while 504 being quite a bit older, is around 2 feet tall. Birds that young can be violent enough to take on full adults sometimes too. It is a great example of the instinctual aggressiveness of these chicks.

Training for the rest of the birds is coming right along. 507 has been added to the 505/506 group (see photos). The three of them get along pretty well. 505 is slightly bigger than 506 and then 507 is obviously the smallest. 506 is the most aggressive, but the dominance is hard to tell during training. Just because 506 is starting everything doesn't mean it is winning. With these guys it isn't true fighting, though, it is usually just bumping chests to see who is bigger. Neither 505 nor 507 cow down to 506 readily. This afternoon, Angie and John took these guys for a walk and John had the camera (see photos).



Date:

May 12th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: We have two 508's and a 509 now, with five more chicks due next week. The reason we have two 508's is one is a genetically valuable bird that will be held back for breeding purposes. It comes from a pair here at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center that has not previously laid any eggs. The 508's hatched Sunday, May 5th and 509 hatched May 11th. The 8's were giving us a bit of a scare for a couple days. They were not gaining weight well and had to be tube fed. As of yesterday they have made a comeback and are doing well. Overall, the chicks this year have been really good at learning the food and water routine, little 509 (see photos) included… and yes, it is quite cute.

Yesterday there was a successful transfer of two eggs from the International Crane Foundation, in Wisconsin, to our facility (Patuxent Wildlife Research Center) here in Maryland. Many thanks go to Nat Warning, who flew from Wisconsin with his valuable carry-on.

Exercise is still moving right along with 501 & 502 (see photos), and 505 and 506 (see photos) as two groups we are able to walk and train together. 501 is dominant over 502, who is a very scared bird in general. Today in fact 501 was a bit of a jerk during training. While at the circle pen stage we stop occasionally to give treats to the birds in the little inner-circle of sand. (see photos) This morning, after each of these brief stops, 501 would chase after 502 as she came running after me in the trike. I am not sure if 502 was following me or just running away from 501 but it worked out well. So far 501 doesn't have the "hate" (though she is getting close) and seems to be just ensuring her dominance. 505 and 506 are also playing the hierarchy game. They are just seeing who is taller and bumping chests so far, with little real aggression. 507 (see photos) has been able to see the trike, but due to maintenance work the last couple days, has not been able to train just yet. Tomorrow we will see how good this little one can do.

We also now have all three interns (see photos) with the arrival of Angie Maxted. Angie has recently graduated from Iowa State Veterinary School and was able to get some crane vet experience at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) with Barry Hartup, the lead vet there. Last year, during a brief stint at ICF, she made a few trips up to Necedah to help us with our '04 flock. She also has a variety of field experience with different bird species.

Date:

May 12th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

414 lost to a predator.

Notes: Yesterday the Tracking Team announced that the remains of 414 were found in Juneau County, Wisconsin. Feathers and bone were scattered over a large area indicating a full size predator.

This unfortunately brings to 7 the number of birds lost in the last year. It also brings many of us to our knees.. We spend so much time nurturing our birds, doggedly adhering to a restrictive protocol, and despite our best attempts to think of them as wild animals, we still become attached. There is satisfaction in maintaining a costume-rearing discipline and the entire team takes pride in the fact that none have yet been tamed. They avoid human environments preferring natural habitat, and appear to be truly wild, but wildness comes at a cost. The rules for the untamed are harsh, and the consequences final. If we want our birds to be wild we must accept that they face real hazards.

Still the mortality is so high this year that we can't help but become introspective and question the methods we use to prepare them for release. It may be time to give serious thought to developing and instituting a predator avoidance protocol, or at least become more adept at teaching them the value of roosting in water sufficiently deep and far enough from shore to keep them safe during the night. There must be some way to keep them vigilant and instil in them a natural fear of furry things with teeth. The problem is that being surrogates, we are at best, marginal parents.

Without being taught, our chicks somehow develop a social structure as do wild birds, and instinctively they understand the meaning of the adult calls. We carry digital recorders to broadcast these calls, but our repertoire is limited, and our ability to use them appropriately restricted. It's like teaching a foreign language when you only know 6 words. If wild parents led their chick too close to a danger area and were attacked, they would take to the air and immediately teaching their offspring to be vigilant, what danger areas to avoid, and to take flight at the first sign of trouble. If we set up a similar scenario we could stage the approach of a simulated predator and sound the alarm call but we can't run fast enough to make an proper escape nor can we get instantly airborne. And if this replicated attack is not carried out with enough vigour to seriously scare our charges, they might simple stand in surprise and our imitation predator would have no choice but to stop short of causing injury. If you charge an enemy to frighten it off and it doesn't run, what then? The lesson learned by our chicks would be confusing at best and tolerance to predators at the worst.

Over the course of the summer season our birds learn to water roost in their overnight pens and we keep it deep enough to teach the proper lessons. However during the migration it is impossible to find wetland sites with aircraft access at each location so they are forced to roost on dry land. They are protected by the pen but this experience may teach complacency. We hope the lesson is relearned during their stay at the release pen in Florida, but last year that was a problem. Many birds from previous years checked in on this pen before moving on to better habitat. Their interaction with the juveniles was often so aggressive that the young birds were moved into a top netted enclosure that had no provision for water roosting. This experience may have led to complacency, but that would not explain the death, by predator, of older birds that by now should know better.

What ever the cause it will keep us up at night and you can be sure it will dominate the discussions around the camp. We will try our hardest of fix it, but maybe it is just the way of things wild.

On a brighter note #418 has moved north. This is the last of the 2004 birds to make it back to Wisconsin after he made it to Florida without the aid of our aircraft. Earlier this week we all held our breath when he was reported in Washington Park in metro Chicago. This urban recreational area is very accessible by people, and 418 has a habit of staying in one location for long periods. Thankfully, he has now moved north and found a safer area in Washington County, Wisconsin.

Date:

May 6th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Location:

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Activity:

Chick update

Notes: Two birds have been added to our flock. 506 hatched on May 2nd and then, while I was having my weekend (a luxury of my time here at PWRC), 507 hatched out on May 4th. These two birds are cute as can be, of course, and are doing pretty good. Click here to see photos of our 2005 chicks.

505 and 506 are eating and drinking on their own. 507 is a little… well "crazy" is the only way to put it. This little one runs around his pen screaming more than anything else. The poor little bird is healthy enough, it just needs time to calm down a bit. Hopefully today is the day it calms down as we have been getting it to eat and drink a little more. There are always birds that are scared, angry, or just plain nuts, but they all figure it out eventually.

In other news, we found out the sexes for the first six of our birds. 501, 502, and 504 are females while 503, 505 and 506 are males. In order to determine this we take a small sample of the eggshell and membrane to send to a lab. We all like to make guesses based on behavior, but it is never for sure until we get the results back.

Earlier I reported that 504 had eye and respiratory problems. Thankfully these problems have cleared up and she appears fine!

Training is progressing for 502-504. Each of these guys is spending 10-15 minutes with the trike now. They are doing very well keeping up with the trike and paying attention. 502 is still a little more nervous than the others and 503 is still a little more distracted, but everyone is getting good scores. 501 has not been training for the last few days due slight health problem that she is quickly recovering from.

Charlie Shafer (former International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration intern, now Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Biotech) has also been getting high scores with the trike. We have been getting him some time behind the wheel so we can have more help with training.

Date:

May 5th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

And then there were 44.

Notes: This has been a long, hard year for Whooping cranes. It began last spring with a number of health issues at Patuxent that eliminated five birds from our study and then number 422 died in the summer from blood loss caused by a broken leg. During the migration number 406 succumbed to EEE (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) at the last stopover. Meanwhile one of the infamous Michigan birds was lost over the summer and another of that group died while they were near Cape Romain. Number 215 was found dead in Alabama and 405 was taken by a bobcat near the Chassahowitzka pen along with 214.

Now the Tracking Team have reported that 106 was found dead on May 3rd in Jackson County, Wisconsin. You will recall that this is the bird that was seen pair bonding and copulating with a Sandhill crane. Sometime between April 12th and 22nd this male had injured its leg. Observation through a scope indicated the tarsus was fractured below the hock and it was not weight bearing. However the leg was straight and the Health Team was confident it could heal normally if the bird could survive. Many birds will hunker down and hide when they become flightless from moulting and this situation was considered similar. Although the bird was not roosting in water, letting it fend for itself and heal naturally was considered much less risky than capture, transport and treatment at a rehab center. Only the head and neck were missing from the carcass indicating a small predator. A necropsy will be performed and we will keep you posted

No further nesting behaviour has been reported from any of the known pairs however Dr Urbanek suspects 105 and 204 may be nesting but his team can't get close enough without disturbing the birds so that's only speculation. Seven 2004 cranes have now reached the core reintroduction area in Wisconsin and completed the spring migration. That means that 34 birds have at least dropped in to visit the Necedah area. Six appear to still be in Indiana or southern Wisconsin and satellite tracking indicates that 418, the bird that migrated without ultralight assistance, is in Fulton County in north central Indiana. The three Michigan birds (AKA South Carolina birds AKA Ontario birds) appear to have split up. Two (301 and 318) were reported at the very tip of the Bruce Peninsula which is a spit of land that divides Georgian Bay from the rest of Lake Huron. Now it appears they have made the jump over open water and are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This is very god news and if they keep going west they could eventually make it home. On the other hand we just received a unconfirmed report that the last member of this notorious group has been sighted south west of Montreal in the Province of Quebec. This report comes with a fairly convincing picture of what appears to be a Whooping crane in flight but no bands are visible.

Date:

May 4th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Washington DC visit.

Notes: It has been a very busy time for all of us here. Richard Van Heuvelen (it was his birthday yesterday) is on his way to Wisconsin. From there he will fly to Florida and visit with Deke Clark for a day before he heads north again. Deke has generously agreed to loan us his motorhome once more and Richard will deliver it to Necedah. Once back in Wisconsin Richard plans to work with the Refuge staff to begin setting up the pens for the new season. Normally this work takes place in mid June but by then the grass is so high that it is tough to get the top nets off the ground or out of the water and back in place. The early start will make things much easier.

Last week I drove down to Patuxent and delivered another aircraft to the training team. With the high number of birds we expect this season they will need a second aircraft to keep up with the training. Whooping crane chicks are aggressive to each other for the first few weeks and must be trained individually until they learn to socialize. On top of all their other duties each training session lasts 20 minutes or so and we expect up to 24 birds so the load on the staff is staggering. Mark Nipper has been at Patuxent for over a month, along with two OM interns and another will be joining them in mid May. The OM crew has helped the Patuxent staff prepare the facilities and make ready for the chicks that will soon be hatching like popcorn.

While in Washington I was honoured to give a presentation at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. For years we used 35mm slides and a carousel projector and often our venue was a tent at a birding festival. Under these poor conditions I had everyone convinced I was a great photographer but PowerPoint quality and an IMAX screen picked out all the shortcomings.

John Christian from the US Fish and Wildlife Service was there along with Kelley Tucker from the International Crane Foundation. The three of us were able to brief several staff members from the offices of Senator Feingold (WI-D) and Senator Crapo (ID R). On April 29 they introduced the Crane Conservation Act that would provide $25 million over five years to benefit all species of cranes that are threatened or endangered worldwide. A portion of those funds would be allocated to Whooping cranes and benefit the WCEP program.

Date:

May 3rd, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Patuxent chick update

Notes: Chicks 501, 502, and 503 are progressing well and we have a new addition to the flock: #505 (see photos of 2005 chicks). We have a slightly sick bird. 504 (see photo) has had eye and respiratory problems since hatching and requires a little extra attention. It eats/drinks very well and follows the costume just fine but it has a hard time seeing out of one eye so these activities are a bit more challenging. This little bird is on a medication regime to hopefully alleviate both problems. It is a funny little bird when outside. Whooping crane chicks normally peep quite often, but there is a very distinct difference between the sounds of peeps that signify fright, aggression, or comfort. When the birds are calm and comfortable, they make a little "twirling" peep, like a purr. When they become scared, the peep becomes very loud, insistent, and high pitched. 504 is very calm and hardly makes a sound, good or bad.

Thanks to Joe Duff for fixing up our trike we were able to get the birds out to the Circle Pen (CP) (see photo). Just as a refresher, the CP is roughly 30 feet in diameter and 2 feet high. It has an inner circle that keeps the chicks from just running straight across and can also serve as an exclusion pen if we have aggressive chicks. The sand ring just inside the fence gives us a handy place to drop treats and a nice smooth service for the real little ones to run on. The three older birds have all been out to the CP and walked around with the trike parked (but not running yet) at what will become the start/end position of training. So far they all seem pretty comfortable out there and none show any aversion to the trike. The next step (as soon as it stops raining) is to start the engine up and get them used to the sound. We have played the loud recording of the brood call and engine noise dubbed together (BCE call) since before they hatched but it is always a little scary when the noise and its source are right there looming over you.

Another great addition to the CP area is our newly renovated ditch and bridge (see photo). For a long time we have had a small, crooked and uneven land-bridge over a cattail-infested ditch to walk the birds across; hardly ideal to say the least. This year the refuge facilities staff helped us dig out the ditch, replace the culvert pipes, and make the bridge wide and flat. Now we have a great open area to walk the birds through in order to get to the White Series (WS) pens and the Half-moon field (HM). This is just one more example of how the refuge staff at Patuxent, Necedah, and down in Chassahowitzka make this project possible. Without their tireless efforts, we would not be able to do our jobs as well.

Date:

April 25th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Hatching continues

Notes:Our staff encountered a windfall this weekend with the arrival of three new chicks. I checked in on Saturday to take a look at one chick that had pipped (broke its eggshell) on Friday and arrived to find that two other chicks had completed the hatching process first.

All of the new chicks are doing fairly well today. #2 is eating and drinking on its own, and #3 likes to run around the pen. Slow-hatching chicks, like #4, cause us some concern and is therefore being watched closely. So far, #4 is doing just fine. #1, our first chick of the season, is still doing very well. It is eating and drinking independently and will be going outside soon.

The chicks aren't the only ones learning. Interns Dan Rauch and John Thomton have been busy conditioning and feeding the birds with the help of the staff.

Along with doting on our first chicks, we have been finalizing our preparations for this new flock over the last few days. We brought our adult Whooping crane models over to our chick-raising building. We are using one of our veteran adults, #6-02. This bird was unable to join the flock in 2002 and has since become a fantastic model in our Propagation Building. She calls to the chicks and even tries to feed them through the walls of the pens. Our other adult model is 6-02's pen-mate and good buddy. This bird, used as a model last year, is a little nervous at times, but is a great model for the chicks.

Date:

April 24th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff:

Activity:

Keeping up with the flock.

Notes:As each new generation of Whooping cranes is added to this population, the burden on the WCEP Tracking Team grows exponentially. Yet their ability to track the birds and keep the rest of the Partnership (and their respective supporters) informed has not diminished. During the "off" season, when the birds are reasonably sedentary around the core introduction area, the coverage-territory of the Tracking Team only includes a few states. They keep close tabs on a 100-mile radius area around the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge but must also regularly check on birds in Illinois and Indiana. Then of course there are a few in Michigan. All of this is hampered by weather, faulty radio tracking devices, the birds' propensity for selecting isolated habitat, and the fact that Whooping cranes can easily cover two hundred or more miles in short order and may not be where they were yesterday.

During the "on" season the, Tracking Team's workload explodes. There is no fanfare or warning signs when the cranes decide to begin their migration. They take to the air without notice and the Tracking Team must be ready to follow with the urgency of a fire department. There is no coordination to the movement of the birds. The new generation usually departs the wintering grounds in one or two groups, but the older birds leave sporadically from many different locations with a variety of destinations in mind. While en route, the trackers must keep up or jump ahead in an attempt to intercept the faint peep emitted by the leg-mounted radio carried by each bird. Food and sleep are afterthoughts, as are regular hours and a social life. Also, there is no time limit to migration. It could last a week or a month.

There are only four people on the WCEP Tracking Team. The leaders are Dr. Richard Urbanek of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Sara Zimorski, of the International Crane Foundation. Julia Watson joined the team last year and has had a "trial by fire" ever since. Lara Fondow has been on the team since the beginning and knows the birds as if she were one of the flock. There are restrictions on the type of aircraft US Fish and Wildlife Service employees are allowed to fly, so Dr. Urbanek covers a lot of the ground work while Lara is often airborne. Windway Capital had generously provided aircraft and pilots since the start of this study. Without them, the movements of these birds would remain a mystery.

Despite the small team, huge surveillance area, limited resources, and unpredictability of migration, the Tracking Team has kept us all informed on the location of these birds. Due to their hard work and dedication, we are usually able to tell you of the movements of each bird and its habitat selection.

It is through the Tracking Team's reports that we have learned a few new bits of information:

-Number 418 has finally begun the migration, and roosted in Georgia on the first night out.

-The three birds in Ontario (301, 309 and 318) have moved north and are in isolated territory within Algonquin Provincial Park, east of Georgian Bay.

-217 and her mate, 211, produced an egg in their nest on East Rynearson Pool in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, they are new to this behaviour and did not attend the egg overnight... and so the egg was taken by a predator.

Date:

April 20th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Class of '05 hatching

Notes: Well we have a 501. It hatched out this morning and has been moved into the one of our ICUs. It is still very early but our first little chicks looks good. It is a very good pooper. Barb got a chest full this morning while checking on it and left a trail all the way to the eagle room (ICU room… Patuxent Wildlife Research Center used to care for a variety of endangered species). So our trek has officially begun. It won't be long before we are overflowing with babies. Our next few chicks haven't pipped yet but are responding to calls from within the egg. The staff is able to tell when the chick is getting close to pipping by purring (brood call) to it. The egg is floated in a warm water/betadine solution and then called to. If it is far enough along it will wiggle and maybe even peep a little.

Here are pictures of the first hatched chick for 2005. We would like to introduce number 1. Baby and surrogates are doing just fine. Congratulations to all involved!

Date:

April 19th, 2005

Reporter:

Mark Nipper

Activity:

Preparation for a new season

Notes: Well I have been here in MD for almost a month now. We have been working on the preparations for the new cohort. Cleaning and repairing all of our holding facilities is a long arduous job. There is extra work this year in order to get extra pens ready. Since we are hoping to have more chicks than usual we are going to need much more space. We are hoping to have the chicks living outside at an earlier age in order to free up pens for the newly hatched chicks. The staff has been working on this since before I got here and we are just now getting done only a day before our first chick is hatched. That's right 1-05 pipped today. Of course we don't know if it will even hatch successfully but it is still exciting; well exciting and terrifying anyway. It is great to think of beginning another year of raising little crane babies; teaching them to eat and drink, taking them for their first walks out into the world, and kicking off the training that will eventually get us to Florida. Of course juggling large numbers of chicks at the same time can be pretty nuts.

In order to handle our hopefully increased numbers we will have the help of three interns this year. Dan Rauch is a local to Patuxent and has been helping with the prep work for the last few weeks. He has had a variety of wildlife jobs and has even worked at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center a time or two. He also helps on his family's farm and is a chef with a high profile catering company. Dan is a good humored, hard worker that has been invaluable so far. John Thomton has just joined us from Chicago and is catching on fast. He has also been in the field for the last few years and worked at the Brooksville Zoo. Angie Maxted will join us later next month. More on her later.

Date:

April 18th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Pairing up

Notes: Spring is definitely in the air. There are 28 birds in the central Wisconsin reintroduction area and if you are a "half-full" optimist, this group includes eight potential pairs.

Numbers 101 and 202 have built a nest on the territory they defended last year near our north training site. Number 202 spent April 16 sitting as if incubating and on April 17 both birds spent the day foraging south of the Refuge. This was a perfect opportunity to check out the nest and evidence was found of an egg that apparently had been destroyed the previous night.

Number 107 has summered on or near Wisconsin's Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Area ever since her first return to Wisconsin and in fact has not been seen around Necedah since May 4th 2002. She has kept company with Sandhill cranes and her choice to remove herself from the general population has been discussed on many conference calls. We have even considered moving her back to the Necedah area but it seems that thoughts of romance have drawn her out of isolation. She is now with 102 in Adams County 20 miles east of the Necedah NWR. Number 102 is another female but it is interesting that 107 moved from her favoured home just around the time of her sexual maturity.

Numbers 105 and 204 are moving back and forth between the refuge and foraging area to the southwest while 201 and 306 are on cranberry property and farm fields nearby. Numbers 203 and 317 are still young but they may be a tentative pair as they are seen most times, but not always, together north of the refuge.

Numbers 211 and 217 worked on their nest on the refuge last week and on April 17 the male (211) roosted alone while the female stayed on their nest indicating that egg laying may be imminent.

Numbers 216 and 303 hang out together but are still young as are 312 and 316. The former frequented the north end of the Refuge while the latter are just east of Necedah NWR.

Number 106 is still paired with a Sandhill crane but no eggs have been produced.

Number 418 our first supplemental release bird is still in Florida

For those of you having problems following the convoluted path of three birds that have now moved in Canada, the story began last year when they were flushed into the night by a curious spectator on their return migration and blown off course by strong west winds. Eight birds ended up in Michigan but three of them managed to circumnavigate Lake Michigan to make it back to Wisconsin. One of the remaining birds was found dead and in the fall the last four migrated south, setting a course almost parallel to ours. If they had followed the same heading but departed from Wisconsin they would have arrived safely in Florida but their starting point was 200 miles east of Necedah which brought them to South Carolina. From there they moved up the coast into North Carolina where they wintered in marginal habitat. One was lost to a predator and the final three headed north this spring. Like a car with one flat tire, their navigation ability pulls to the left and they encountered Lake Erie east of Cleveland. From there they moved into New York State and must have slipped around the eastern end of the lake near Niagara Falls. They moved north again to east of Lake Huron. One of these birds carries a satellite tracking device. Brian Johns of Canada Wildlife Services and Co-chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team notified us today that they roosted last night only 30 miles north of our headquarters in Port Perry, Ontario.

As we mentioned before these birds will probably be moved to Wisconsin to bring them back into the population. Some have asked why not lead them back using the ultralights instead of shipping them in crates. These birds are now sub-adults and like any teenager they no longer listen to their parents. It is unlikely they would follow us at all let alone 600 miles to Wisconsin. That is half the distance of our migration route and we would have to identify about 12 stopovers and somehow get around Chicago. These birds are obviously disoriented and moving them home can hardly make things worse.

Stay tuned for the next episode of "The Amazing Race".

SUMMARY

Wisconsin Reintroduction Area - 28 birds
101, 202 - one egg laid, destroyed
102, 107 - both female
105, 204
106
201, 306
203, 317
205
208
209
211, 217 - possible egg-laying behaviour
212
213, 218 - nest building
216, 303
302
304
307
311
312, 316
412

Southern Wisconsin - 7 birds
402, 403, 415, 416, 417, 419, 420

Winnebago Co., IL - 4 birds
401, 407, 408, 414

Lower Michigan - 2 birds
310, 313

Ontario - 3 birds
301, 309, 318

Florida - 1 bird
418

Date:

April 15th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Spring Migration update

Notes: Three birds (301, 309 and 318) have now been confirmed in Ontario, east of Lake Huron. Although a plan has not yet been formulated, they will most likely be returned to Wisconsin in an attempt to reorient them. With two of the Great Lakes separating them from the core introduction area, there is little likelihood they would make it back on their own. I can attest to Ontario being a great place for birds and people, and we would love to see them eventually disperse into Canada, but for now, they need to be in proximity to the rest of the population. The more opportunity they have to mingle, the greater the chance of proper mate selection and eventually breeding.

The gender ratio of this population of Whooping cranes stands at 28 males to 17 females. If they were all to pair-bond and mate, that would mean that 11 males would have no way to pass on their lineage, as a result, the viable population is really only 34. Hence the importance of providing every opportunity to mix. This logic is balanced against the desire to let wild birds be wild, and the fear that moving them in crates may leave them confused as to their whereabouts.

In the early 1990's we conducted studies with Canada geese and Sandhill cranes, moving them from one stop to the next in a specifically designed trailer. At each site we would let them fly around the area to get their bearings. Then we would put them back in their crates and truck them to the next stop, hoping they could connect the dots on the return migration. Birds moved to the wintering ground in this manner always failed to return to the introduction site the following spring, and over the years we have formed an opinion, if not a highly scientific conclusion.

Once our birds arrive at Necedah NWR they are never again kept indoors. They are exposed to the daily tracking of the sun and they only move under their own steam. Unlike humans they are not subjected to artificial stimuli like indoor lighting, underground transit, or elevators and cars that erodes our sense of direction. This constant exposure to the outdoors enhances their situational awareness much like our pioneers that could cover great distances with minimal navigation aids yet a high degree of accuracy. During the migration our chicks move from site to site by following our aircraft, and along the way pick up clue that are mysterious to us, but reliable enough to get them back home unaided. If a bird drops out and we have to move it to the next site in a shipping crate, it may lose it situational awareness, so we strive to keep dropouts to a minimum. We also hope our flock stays together on the return trip so at least a few have a knowledge of the entire route.

All of this aside moving birds back to the central reintroduction area should give them a point of reference and hopefully start them off on the right wing again.

Date:

April 13th, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Spring Migration Update

Notes: Since we first took to the air in 2001 and led seven Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida, many of you have followed our progress on this website. During the migration, we provide daily updates and our audience has grown to over half a million readers a year. Many of those reports were written by Heather Ray. For some of you, she became the face of this organization. Unfortunately, Heather is no longer with Operation Migration and it is our job to step forward to fill the void. As you can imagine, these are busy times and we hope you will bear with us during the transition. We all know that Heather will be missed by many of you, but as she often said, "This is not about us, it's about the birds".

Chris Danilko, in our home office, and Geoff Dixon, our Director of Development, join my partner, Bill Lishman and me in thanking Heather for her outstanding contributions over the years and wish her well in the future. We will continue to work hard to safeguard Whooping cranes and bring you up-to-date information on the birds that your support helped reintroduce.

The training season is almost upon us and this year we expect more chicks than ever before. The Whooping Crane Recovery Team has allocated OM up to 24 birds and Mark Nipper is already in Maryland to assist the staff of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Chris Gullikson will join us this year as a pilot-in-training. In truth, Chris is a well-experienced ultralight pilot and instructor from Wisconsin. He guides Storm-Watch tours on the side and has a background in electronics. Most of our electrical work falls on my plate and I know just enough to get me in trouble, so I am most excited about passing on this duty.

Our Mile Maker program is well underway and we thank you for your donations. As you know, fundraising is our biggest challenge and your continued support (both morale and financial) is what keeps us going. We also thank our many OM members who have patiently awaited our overdue newsletter. In-Formation has undergone a metamorphosis and will emerge next month as a glossy full-colour magazine.

At the start of our fifth season it is a time for reflection. We look back at our achievements and forward to our goals. Despite the challenges it really is about the birds.

There are now four generations of Whooping cranes returning each spring to the core introduction area in and around the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the fact that they have made this trip before, and their behaviour is somewhat predictable, it is still exciting when the latest additions make a beeline for central Wisconsin. This year, however, there is more to be excited about. Numbers 211 and 217 have been seen nest building on East Rynearson Pool, only a short distance from where they were trained to follow our aircraft. And 213 and 218 have begun building their nest near the site 2 training area. There are others that have pair-bonded, but this is the first indication that breeding may take place sooner than we expected. This encouraging news must be tempered with the realization that inexperienced birds often make poor parents, and that it may take a year or two before they successfully raise a chick. Nonetheless, the Tracking Team will keep a close watch from a safe distance, and the rest of us will be waiting to pass out cigars.

Not quite as encouraging is the report that number 106 has been engaging in the same activity, but with a twist. On April 10 it was seen copulating with a Sandhill crane. This bird, and number 107, who spends every summer in Horicon Marsh NWR, have a history of keeping company with Sandhills. During early training at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center the chicks are penned next to adult Whooping cranes that serve as sexual imprint models. We also use recordings of adult birds to reinforce this conditioning and ensure they don't suffer an identity crisis. Both of these birds are from the first year, and did not have the benefit of interaction with the previous generations that now hang around the training sites each summer.

We still have two birds (310 and 313) in southern Michigan, and they have been tracked while flying, once while the tracking aircraft was on the west side of Lake Michigan. They are far enough south that they could circumnavigate the lake and make it home, but none of us hold out much hope.

Numbers 301, 309 and 318 were reported in New York State late last week, but may have moved into Ontario. There have been unconfirmed sightings and a low grade satellite report putting them on the east side of Lake Huron. This would mean they would have to somehow get around two large water obstacles to make it home. The Tracking Team have their hands full for now, but once things settle and we get an accurate fix on these errant birds, they may be moved back to Wisconsin in an effort to reorient them.

Thirty nine Whooping cranes are now roosting in and around central Wisconsin; two are in Michigan; three may be in Ontario and one (418) is still in Florida.

So far this spring 15 eggs have been laid that could be allocated to WCEP. Twelve are from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, one is from the San Antonio Zoo and two are from the Calgary Zoo in Canada. The first hatch is expected on April 21st. Here we go again.

Date:

April 8, 2005

Reporter:

Joe Duff

Activity:

Spring Migration Update

Notes: Of the forty-five Whooping cranes in the Eastern migratory population, 38 have arrived back in Wisconsin. Two birds from 2003, numbers 4 and 11, along with 412, left their roost site in Sauk County, Wisconsin on April 7th and made the short flight to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in mid afternoon. Number 412 becomes the first bird from last year's flock to officially cross the finish line and make it back to Necedah. He roosted in East Rynearson Pool very close to the training sites.

2004 birds numbers 2, 3, 15, 16, 17, 19 and 20 remained in Dane and Sauk County south of Necedah while the others, numbers 1, 7, 8, and 14 were in Fond du Lac County to the east. However, when these last four birds were checked by aircraft later in the afternoon they had left the area.

The only bird that has not yet begun the northward migration is number 418. After making the trip to Florida by following other birds and not our aircraft, it spent most of the winter in Pasco County, Florida where it remains still. The class of 2004 only spent 103 days on the wintering grounds. This is the shortest period yet and number 418 obviously knows the way so we are not worried yet. However, we will pay close attention over the next few weeks.

Number 107 has returned faithfully to the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge area in Wisconsin and numbers 310 and 313 are in southern Michigan. Numbers 301, 309 and 318 are birds that spent last summer in Michigan and then migrated to South Carolina. They moved up the coast and spent the winter in marginal habitat in North Carolina and were monitored by Walter Sturgeon of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. Early last week they were on the southern shore of Lake Erie east of Cleveland but have since moved farther east into New York State.

Summary:
1 bird has arrived back at Necedah NWR
37 other birds are also in Wisconsin
1 bird (number 106) has not been located
2 are in Michigan
3 are in New York
1 is still in Florida.

Date:

April 6, 2005

Activity:

Spring Migration Update

Notes: The group of 11 juveniles resumed migration yesterday from a large marsh north of Bass Creek, west of Afton, Rock County, Wisconsin, at ~10 am. After encountering cloud cover, they shifted their flightpath northeast and landed at ~1:30 in a wetland in Fond du Lac County, WI.

The group composed of adults #105, 204 and juvenile #412 roosted Monday night in a pond near Oriole, Perry County, Indiana. When the site was checked at 9:00 am Tuesday, the juvenile remained but the two adults were gone. Because no signals were detected during the 30-minute drive to the site, the pair apparently left quite early. Whooping crane #412 resumed migration alone at 9:25 am. While progressing over southern Indiana, he joined migrating Whooping cranes #304 and 311. The three birds remained together and landed to roost in a wetland located in McHenry County, Illinois, at ~6:40 pm.

Date:

April 5, 2005

Reporter:

Heather Ray

Activity:

Spring Migration Update

Notes: The group of 11 juveniles resumed migration yesterday from a wetland and harvested cornfields near Chili, Miami County, Indiana, at ~9:25 am. They landed to roost at a large marsh containing two Sandhill cranes in south-central Wisconsin, at ~6:15pm. During the 9 hour flight they covered 200-miles.

The trio, consisting of two adults and a juvenile whooping crane, #412 continued northward also yesterday, covering just over 240-miles. They departed their Catoosa County, GA location at ~9:59 am and landed to roost in south-central Indiana at ~6:50 pm.

Core Reintroduction Area - The following Whooping cranes arrived in the Necedah NWR area on or before March 29: 101, 202, 209, 203, 218, 205, 211, 212, 217.

March 30th brought the arrival of: 303, 312 & 316, and the next day, March 31 saw 102 & 208 complete their northward journey.

There have been no further reports for either #107 (last reported at Horicon NWR on March 14) or #106 (last reported at Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge, Meigs Co., TN on March 7). 

All other Whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population are still enroute to their northern destinations, except for the juvenile #418. 

This young crane was raised with the rest of the hatch year '04 birds at the Necedah NWR, but in late August his primary, or flight feathers began to fall out. Upon examining the bird, WCEP veterinarian Dr. Barry Hartup with the International Crane Foundation discovered what appeared to be an infection in the feather shafts. The remaining affected feathers were plucked in the hopes they would regenerate, however, this young male was not able to continue aircraft conditioning with his flockmates, and the decision was made to pull him from the ultralight portion of the study, and to use him as the first "supplemental release" Whooping crane.

By mid-October crane #418 sported a new set of flight feathers, including some rather unique white and black primaries, and was released into a small group of older, experienced Whooping cranes on the Necedah NWR after the ultralight migration team had already departed. He successfully followed a number of different "white birds" south before eventually arriving in Florida on January 3rd.

His successful southward journey bodes well for the supplemental release program, which will continue this season at the Necedah NWR. Dr. Richard Urbanek, biologist with USFWS will forge ahead with the supplemental release program using later-hatched chicks produced at ICF. This additional reintroduction method will be used by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership to complement the success of the ultralight-led migrations. Using the two methods together gives the partnership flexibility in leveraging all captive-produced Whooping crane chicks made available to the eastern reintroduction.

Date:

April 4, 2005

Reporter:

Heather Ray

Activity:

Spring Migration Update 

Notes: Though we haven't received any reports from the tracking team concerning the group of eleven '04 juvenile cranes, PTT data that came in over the weekend would indicate they haven't moved since arriving at their north-central Indiana location on March 30th. Considering they logged more than 22 hours of airtime in the two flight days that brought them to their current location, they certainly earned the rest!

We received a report this morning that pertains to the migrating trio of Whooping cranes, which includes #412. Richard Urbanek reports: "In spite of 10-15 mph northwesterly winds, nos. 105, 204, & 412 resumed migration today from a partially flooded, harvested cornfield in Mitchell County, Georgia, at ~9:30am. The birds appeared to stop briefly at Little Tallapoosa Lake, Carroll County, at 1823, and then resumed northbound flight. They continued flying after dark and stopped briefly along an upper tributary of Spring Creek in Floyd County, at 8:09pm. They then again resumed northbound flight and finally landed to roost in Catoosa County, Georgia, at 10:40pm. The two adults and the juvenile remained together. The day's flight took approximately 13 hours with the final 3 hours in darkness."

The county names in Richard's update seemed very familiar to me so I checked my logbook from last fall's ultralight-guided journey. Sure enough, after leaving the Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge we had crossed from Tennessee, into Catoosa County, GA on November 26 - Day 48 of the southward migration. The reason this stuck in my mind was that during that particular flight, we had a crane drop back from the flock, seemingly unable to keep up to Richard van Heuvelen's aircraft. It was tracked from the air by Bill Lishman and Mike Lyons in the top-cover aircraft, and from the ground by Mark Nipper, Tatiana Zhuchkova, and Charlie Shafer for more than 8 hours as it continued southward. 

Crane #412 eventually made it as far south as Atlanta, before turning around to head north again. He was finally located only 8-miles from that morning's departure point at the Hiwassee Refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee - 8 1/2 hours after first leaving.

It's no wonder the trio was able to navigate this area after darkness fell last evening - This young male Whooping crane; #412 could likely fly it with his eyes closed!

Date:

April 1, 2005

Reporter:

Heather Ray

Activity:

Spring Migration Update - Day 7

Notes: Day 7 of the spring migration for the hatch year '04 juvenile cranes brought a large mass of unstable westerly winds, and thankfully, NO movement.

The large group of eleven crane-kids stayed put at their north-central Indiana location yesterday. Further south, the trio consisting of #105, 204 & the twelfth juvenile, #412 made minimal progress yesterday moving just 15 miles northward.




Home | Our Work | Get Involved | In the Field
Merchandise | Links | Contact Us




Now you can donate online through CanadaHelps.org Canada Helps accepts and processes credit card donations and forwards these to OM, without keeping a fee.

Compare Vocalizations!

Whooping Crane calls
Unison (334kb wav)
Flight
(223kb wav)

Sandhill Crane calls
Unison (259kb wav)
Flight
(227kb wav)
Vocalizations courtesy of Dr. Bernhard Wessling

Outdoor INDIANA
Article

©1994-2005 Operation Migration Inc.™ & Operation Migration - USA.™ Not to be reproduced for purposes, public or private without written consent. To obtain consent please visit the Contact Us page.