March 31, 2005
Spring Migration Update - Day 6
Notes: The migration tracking team reports: "The group of 11 juveniles (nos. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 19, and 20) resumed migration yesterday morning from a field in Oconee County, South Carolina, at 8 am. This was the first day since beginning migration on March 25th that they had optimal migration conditions - a tailwind and clear skies. They landed to roost 11.5 hours later in a wetland located in north central Indiana." Many thanks to WCEP Tracking Team members Richard Urbanek (FWS), and the International Crane Foundation's Lara Fondow and Julia Watson for the great tracking efforts and reporting work as they continue to monitor the return of the Class of 2004.
In optimal conditions cranes are able to use their large impressive wingspans to soar on thermal activity, created as the sun warms the earths surface. This allows them to expend little energy and to stay aloft for longer periods of time. During yesterday's impressive 11.5 hour flight they managed to cover approximately 450 miles - or 39.13 miles per hour!
Remember that only 11 of the twelve juveniles departed from the Chassahowitzka NWR last Friday, and that crane #412 had decided to remain at the winter pensite with two older "white birds." Yesterday this young male left to begin heading north with the same two adults that had spent almost all winter pestering the young cohort. Richard reports that the trio took off from the pen area at 10:15am and flew north. They landed at 5:30pm in Thomas County, GA., logging roughly 175 miles on their first migration day.
Some of you may recall mention in the Fall 2004 Field Journal about one of our fantastic migration volunteers, Walter Sturgeon. Walt has been monitoring the three MI cranes that found themselves in southeast North Carolina this past winter. The following is Walter's report from yesterday pertaining to the trio.
Whoopers 301, 309 and 318 left Jones County, NC at 8:45 am yesterday 3/30/05. The rest of this story might seem unbelievable but I am going to tell it anyway. I arrived in the area yesterday morning at 4:30 am. The birds were in their new roost site. I drove around to the other side of the Trent River to the area beside the oxbow swamp. I was in the deer stand/ blind at the northwest end of the field at 5:45. I could hear all three birds from the elevated stand. At about 6:30 the signals got louder indicating that the birds were in the air. After about 10 minutes they apparently settled down in one of the cornfields near their former roost site. The signal was weaker but greater than it was in their new roost site.
At about 8:15 the signal grew louder again and at 8:35 the birds landed in the shallow pond right in front of the deer stand/blind. They were only 100 feet or so away from me. It was definitely the closest they have come during my over three months of observing them. They walked out of the water and around the end of the pond. Only one of the birds demonstrated any feeding activity. After about 10 minutes, at 8:45, they took off, circled the field twice, flew right by my stand, and headed off to the northwest. I monitored the radio signal on 301 until 9:20 am when it finally faded out. I felt like they had just dropped in to say good-bye and for a photo opportunity.
Now comes the unbelievable part. I left the radio receiver on for the entire trip back to my home in Spring Hope, NC. I thought I might get a signal from the birds since I was traveling in a northwesterly direction. When I was less than a mile from my house, I picked up a signal. I pulled into my driveway and got out the handheld antenna. During the next 30 minutes (from 12:05 until 12:35) I followed all three signals from the southeast to the northwest and right over my house.
When the signal was the loudest my captive cranes started calling like I have never heard them call before. While I could not find the birds overhead they obviously saw them. The signal from 318 was the last to die out about 10 minutes after the other two at 12:35.
It has been an unbelievable winter - I wouldn't have missed the whooping cranes return to NC for anything in the world. The last known whooping crane in NC was shot in April 1875 near Wilmington. The sad part of the story is that we had to keep their location quiet and only very few people got to see them and most of them only saw them for a fleeting minute or two as they flew overhead. I was lucky enough to be able to watch them for over 25 hours in the field and in the swamp during the 15 trips I made to the area to monitor the birds.
My hope is that it won't be that many years before we don't have to keep them secret, and that many whoopers find that the coastal plain of NC is a good place to spend the winter. Thank you all for your continued efforts in behalf of the whooping cranes and for making this wonderful and unforgettable winter possible.
Photos taken by Walt yesterday and also one that shows #412 with his two adult traveling companions.
March 30, 2005
Spring Migration Update
Notes: Only nine of the 45 Whooping cranes in the eastern migratory population still remain on their selected wintering areas. Those that have not yet initiated a northward migration include: 304 & 311 (South Carolina); 418 (Florida); 105, 204 & 412 (Chassahowitzka NWR, Florida); and 301, 309 & 318 (North Carolina).
And over a thousand miles to the north-northwest, ten "white birds" have been confirmed back in Wisconsin including: 107 (Horicon NWR); and 101, 202, 209, 213, 218, 205, 211, 212 & 217 who have all been detected and observed in and around the Necedah NWR area over the past week.
The eleven juveniles made some additional progress yesterday (day 5 of their first spring migration). After departing from Evans County, Georgia at 8:20 am the young group logged eleven hours (wow!) of flight time and landed to roost at 7:20 pm, roughly 200 miles north-northwest of their previous roost location. This brings their accumulated distance to approximately 460-miles.
If you've been doing the math then you're likely wondering where the remaining fifteen Whooping cranes are... (45 - 9 - 10 - 11 = 15) We are too and as soon as we find out we'll let you know ;-)
March 29, 2005
Class of '04 Migration Update
Notes: Many thanks to Richard Urbanek (USFWS), and to Lara Fondow and Julia Watson (ICF) for providing the following update.
On Easter Sunday the group of eleven Whooping cranes that had departed from their Chassahowitzka NWR winter habitat on Friday, March 28th made some decent progress and covered approximately 62 miles. They spent the night in Dixie Co., FL before resuming migration yesterday morning at roughly 10:45am.
The flock was blown eastward by 20-25 mph westerly winds and landed at approximately 5pm to roost in a pond among farm fields in the east-central Georgia.
March 28, 2005
Notes: Late Saturday we received word from the tracking team that eleven of 12 juvenile Whooping cranes had departed the winter release site at the Chassahowitzka NWR during the morning of Friday, March 25th. Good Friday, unfortunately wasn't such a good migration day, as the northbound cranes encountered a line of heavy rain storms accompanied by gusting northwest winds shortly after leaving the area.
The grounded cranes waited out the storms for most of the day not too far from their winter home. They eventually launched again in late afternoon and hit a second series of storms, which this time included hail. They landed to roost at approximately 4:15pm only 15 miles north of the pensite.
Richard Urbanek reported that on the evening of March 24th the dozen youngsters roosted with adults 105 and his mate 204 in saltmarsh about 1 mile west of the pen. Early the next morning, Lara Fondow and Julia Watson both with the International Crane Foundation and members of the tracking team detected that the telemetry signals for all but one crane were advancing northward and began tracking the group by ground.
Crane #412 stayed behind with the two white birds near the winter pensite. Saturday brought continued poor weather with more rain and wind grounding the group, but apparently the group managed to make some additional progress yesterday, although details are sketchy. ICF's Julia Watson did provide confirmation that the group was last tracked into north Florida late yesterday before the signals were lost.
The poor weather over the region prevented any aerial tracking to take place but we understand from Julia that Lara Fondow is airborne today, so we hope to receive additional news later. We'll keep you posted as we learn more about the youngsters.
Elsewhere - Whooping cranes are turning up everywhere, including a pair that has already returned to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. The pair could be either #101 & 202, or #102 & 208.
We also received word from Patty Meyers, manager of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, WI that on March 14th the female #107 was confirmed back at her favorite summer haunt.
Recent PTT hits for crane #312 placed her south of Lake Michigan in Illinois. Hopefully, she is still traveling with her fall migration and wintering companions; 303 & 316. This is the trio that successfully found their way around the bottom of Lake Michigan last summer, and returned to the reintroduction area in central Wisconsin, after finding themselves on the wrong side of the large Great Lake last spring.
OM's Mark Nipper left Florida last weekend to make the long drive northeast to the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Mark will assist the crane crew at Patuxent in preparing for this year's new generation of Whooping cranes that will comprise the Class of 2005. Flock Manager Jane Chandler reports there are currently five eggs that have been produced and the crew is hoping that all of these will be fertile but it's still too early to tell.
Mar. 22, 2005
Spring Migration Underway...
Notes: ...for some of the white birds, but the juveniles are staying put for now. In addition to those mentioned in the last update, Whooping cranes 102 & 208 departed on migration from Pasco County, Florida on March 19.
317 was reported in a flock of migrating Sandhill cranes in Brown Sanctuary, Sarett Nature Center, Berrien County, Michigan, on March 18. He had departed on migration from Colleton County, South Carolina, between March 11 and 15.
303, 312 & 316 departed on migration from Marion County, FL on March 20. It'll be interesting to see where at the north end this trio turns up as these are the two females and their male companion that successfully circumnavigated the lower end of Lake Michigan in late July last summer, after finding themselves in Michigan, and on the wrong side of the Great Lake.
The group of four, consisting of cranes 205, 211, 212 & 217 that departed Pasco County, FL between March 10 - 12, were reported on a mudflat in Blount County Tennessee of the evening of March 13. There were no further reports for cranes 106, 107 (traveling independently) or for the pair; 101 & 202. We did, however, receive an unconfirmed report of two Whooping cranes in DuPage County, Illinois on March 16, which may have been these two, as they left their FL winter location on either March 12 or 13.
All others, including the twelve juveniles at the winter release pen and the juvenile 418 remain at their winter locations. #418 successfully migrated to Florida last fall by following a number of experienced Whooping cranes after he was released into a small group of them at the Necedah NWR. This young male is currently on his own after #205, an older male he had been associating with over the winter departed on migration sometime between March 9 - 12.
Mar. 15, 2005
Bobcat Strikes Again...
Whooping crane #405:
April 24, 2004 - March 14, 2005
Notes: This morning brought sad news from Dr.
Richard Urbanek, USFWS
and member of the winter monitoring team that the
remains of juvenile Whooping crane #405 had been
found approximately 200 meters from the winter pen
site in an area referred to as "E-Creek."
The juvenile cranes have developed a bad habit
of roosting at E-Creek, and this has been their
primary roost site during the past several weeks,
since release from their top-netted enclosure. The
area provides safe roosting habitat only at low or
extremely high tide levels. Typically the cranes
leave the pen area as darkness falls to roost at
this site. Whereas in past years costumed handlers
would have ventured out to retrieve the birds and
walk them back to the safety of their release
enclosure, this winter the area between the pen and
E-Creek is covered with rank growth of needle rush
through which the juveniles cannot be walked.
The remaining twelve young cranes wintering at
the Chassahowitzka NWR
winter pen should soon be initiating their first
solo northward journey. Based on past years, each
cohort has spent on average, 121-days at the winter
habitat, however, since we didn't get them to their
winter home until Dec. 12th, they may just decide
to depart sooner. April 9th is the latest date on
which any of the three groups have begun heading
north. This was the date the 2001 cohort of five
Whooping cranes departed on. Of course everyone can
recall the embarrassment cast on us when their
1200-mile return trip to the Necedah NWR was
completed in only 10-days vs. the 50-days it took
to guide them south the previous autumn.
Each of the young birds is acquiring their stark
white adult plumage, and most, if not all, now have
their adult voices. Take a look at this page of
were taken during the first week of March. Notice
how much the young birds have changed compared with
the images on this page,
which were taken in early September - six months
The results of our informal poll indicate 32% of
respondents believe the 2004 wintering whoopers
will begin to head north sometime during the week
of March 27 - April 2. Coming in a close
second, at 29% is the week of April 3 - 9. Here in
the north, March indeed came in like a lion,
dumping 10 inches of fresh snow on us during the
first two days of the month. Many are now referring
to the 04/05 winter as "the winter that just
refuses to give up" and with temperatures in
Wisconsin and Ontario continuing to be cooler than
the normal daytime highs we can only hope that
March lives up to our expectations and goes out
like a lamb.
Some of the older "white birds" have, in fact,
already departed from their winter habitats.
Whooping cranes 106 and 107 are traveling
separately. The female #107 was last observed in a
flock of migrating Sandhill cranes on Feb. 25/26
near Cecelia, Hardin County, Kentucky. She had
spent the winter at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in
Meigs County, Tennessee.
A former flockmate of 107; a male, #106 chose to
spend his fourth winter season in Alachua County,
Florida. He was last observed at this location on
March 3rd. Ironically, he appeared on March 6/7 at
the Hiwassee Refuge in Tennessee. And a group
consisting of four 3-year old Whooping cranes,
including #'s 205, 211, 212 & 217 departed from
their winter habitat sometime between March 10 -
And finally, a pair; #101 (male) & 202
(female) departed from their Citrus County, Florida
location on either March 12th or 13th. This pair is
one of three couples that have formed and that we
will be watching closely over the next few weeks
for any signs of possible breeding/nesting
behaviour. While it still may be a bit early for a
4-year old male and a 3-year old female to begin
breeding - anything is possible.
The two other pairings that have occurred
include #105 (male) & #204 (female), and #102,
a 4-year old female who has paired with the male,
#208. Wouldn't it be wonderful, if during the
5th anniversary season, we see our first wild
hatched Whooping crane chick guided to Florida by
its parents, who are using the same migration route
we instilled in them?
Mar. 3, 2005
60 Minutes Wednesday
Notes: We're received quite a bit of feedback
since the 12-minute segment aired on CBS' 60
Minutes last night. Most were positive, but a small
number expressed disappointment. Fortunately, the
less than satisfied few, realize like we do that it
is nearly impossible to tell a story such as this
one accurately and fairly in such a small amount of
time. In all, we feel that
CBS did a wonderful job of capturing the magic
of this reintroduction, however, we feel it
necessary to state publicly that we could not
possibly do, what we do, without the assistance of
our colleagues within the Whooping Crane Eastern
or the support of our teammates, volunteers and of
course you - our supporters.
Those familiar with this project realize it is
successful because of the team effort of a rather
unique partnership consisting of nine founding
members. Some of them are non-profits, including
the International Crane Foundation,
the Natural Resources
Foundation of Wisconsin, Operation Migration
the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Others are state agencies such as the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources', or federal
agencies, including the United States Fish and
and the U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research
Center and National Wildlife Health Lab,
but each shares a common goal; to safeguard the
Whooping crane by restoring a migratory population
to eastern North America. None of us can do it
alone, yet together, we're able to accomplish great
things for this endangered crane.
We would also like to take this time to
recognize the co-founder of Operation Migration
Inc., Bill Lishman,
because if not for his ability to see the bigger
picture, none of this would be possible. In the
early 1980's Bill took
inspiration from a number of sources; once, while
flying his ultralight aircraft he was joined by a
flock of wild ducks that took to the air as he
passed by overhead. He flew among them for a short
time and the all too brief encounter changed his
Impressed by the work of Konrad Lorenz
who first documented the natural instinct of
imprinting; and prompted by naturalist Bill
Carrick, who was teaching geese to fly with his
power-boat, Bill spent several seasons perfecting
the technique. Finally in 1988 he successfully
encouraged a small flock of Canada geese to follow
his homemade ultralight aircraft on flights around
his Blackstock, Ontario home. This phenomenal
achievement garnered support from the scientific
community and the seed was planted.
Bill, along with associate Dr. William Sladen of
at Airlie, Virginia began work with Trumpeter
swans, however, at the time their plan was so novel
that it met with resistance from many regulatory
agencies. The two men decided to attempt a
migration experiment with non-endangered Canada
geese to prove the technique, before tackling an
endangered species and in 1993, Bill asked friend
and fellow ultralight pilot, Joe Duff to assist
In the fall of the same year, using two modified
ultralight aircraft, Bill and Joe conducted the
first human assisted bird migration, leading 18
Canada geese from just south of Port Perry, ON,
across Lake Ontario, through New York,
Pennsylvania, West Virginia and finally, to
Warrenton, Virginia. Sixteen ultra-geese
survived the winter and the next spring, 13 were
confirmed back in Ontario. This proved the
technique was viable and paved the way for several
experiments that have culminated in the
reintroduction of Whooping cranes into Eastern
Mar. 1, 2005
60 Minutes Wednesday
Notes: We've just received word that the CBS
produced story featuring the ultralight-guided
Whooping crane migration will air tomorrow
March 2nd at 8pm ET on CBS - Correspondent: Charlie
Sorry we couldn't provide a bit more advance
notice but we just found out ourselves 10 minutes
Feb. 21, 2005
Aransas NWR Aerial Census
Notes: Each week during the winter season, Tom
Stehn, Biologist at the Aransas National Wildlife
and Co-chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery
carries out an aerial census of all visible
Whooping cranes in the Wood Buffalo - Aransas
To give those that perhaps aren't aware of the
history of this only naturally occurring population
some background: In the early 1940's this
population numbered only fifteen. Only 15
individuals separated the species from
extinction... Over the years it has increased,
albeit slowly to include, for the first time ever,
more than 200 individuals, but it took more than
six decades to reach this point.
The following report is an excerpt from last
An aerial census on 16 February, 2005 of the
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding
areas estimated the number of Whooping cranes
present at Aransas at 183 adults + 32 young = 215
An additional juvenile Whooping crane is
wintering with Sandhill cranes in Matagorda County
where it has been since early December. This is
believed to be the same juvenile separated from its
parents in the fall migration and reported in
Colorado and Oklahoma in November. It was still
present as of February 14th. This bird is thus the
record 217th bird in the peak Aransas-Wood Buffalo
population for the 2004-05 winter, and a record
34th juvenile to make it to Texas. One chick is
believed to have died this winter at Aransas.
The current estimated size of the Wood Buffalo -
Aransas population is 183 + 33 = 216.
Meanwhile, back in the east, the central Florida
non-migratory population currently stands at
sixty-nine (69) and includes 35 males and 34
females. And the WCEP
migratory population consists of a total of
forty-six (46), including 29 males and 17 females.
To see the Class of '04 at the winter pen site
check out the winter Photo Journal.
Feb. 18, 2005
Port Aransas and Memory Lane...
Notes: For those that have not yet had the
opportunity to visit the Port Aransas, TX area,
which is the winter home of the only naturally
occurring wild population of whooping cranes, I
hope you'll consider joining us next week as we
travel to the gulf coast to participate in the
annual WHOOP it UP Festival.
The Port Aransas festival is one of the best
organized, and best attended events that we've had
the good fortune to be invited to, and since we
weren't able to attend last year, we're looking
forward to next week's visit. Today's New York
Times featured a story about the area that you can
At the Whooping Crane Recovery Team meetings
held last week at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife
Research Center, we had the opportunity to get
reacquainted with others in the Whooping crane
conservation world that we don't work with on a
daily or even monthly basis. One such person is
Megan Lauber. Megan is the crane coordinator at the
for Endangered Species Research (Acres) in New
Orleans, and is the person who received Whooping
crane #109 in the fall of 2001 when an early wing
injury resulted in her removal from the ultralight
study. Megan assured me that #109, now known to
many as "Sioux" is the star attraction at the new
public Whooping crane exhibit just inside the main
gates of the Audubon
Zoo in New Orleans. Sioux and her mate Kiowa
have a beautiful home (pictures)
and are performing a very important job - that of
educating the public.
After speaking with Megan I couldn't help but
recall the series of events that occurred during
our very first Field Season... Because it is
important that the Whooping cranes we introduce
into eastern North America remain wild, refrain
from giving them nicknames. Instead we refer to
them by number, hoping to convey the idea that they
are not pets, but wild creatures. Cranes, however,
are individuals and their personalities often shine
through. Despite our attempts at remaining
detached, we do form attachments and each human
member of the team has their personal favourites. A
favourite to most everyone was number 109 from the
first project year. This small and rather
submissive female sustained an early wing injury
while still at Patuxent Wildlife Research
Center. It was hoped that time and exercise
would correct the problem and many hours were spent
training her separately. She seemed aloof and
disinterested in the aircraft but if you spent time
with her she would come around and begin to follow.
All of the other birds picked on her and with the
damaged wing compromising her ability to fly we
were worried that she would not be able to keep up
during the southward journey.
A health check is carried out on all the young
cranes prior to our departure and during this
examination the veterinarians were able to document
the extensive damage to her wing. The final
decision was made and she was removed from the
study. That year the pre-migration health check
took place on September 11. We began at sunrise and
didnt finish until both towers of the World
Trade Center had collapsed. It is sadly ironic that
we lost Whooping cranes 9 and 11 (to capture
myopathy) on the same day that America lost so
Feb. 7, 2005
Bobcat Strikes Again... ;-(
Whooping crane #214
May 16, 2002 - February 2, 2005
Notes: Yesterday, Lara Fondow with the
International Crane Foundation
recovered the remains of Whooping crane #214
approximately 1 mile southeast of the
Chassahowitzka winter pen. This almost 3-year-old
female crane had apparently been killed by a bobcat
on February 1st or 2nd.
Caretakers had reported weak, intermittent and
unusual radio signals to the south and east on
February 2nd & 3rd. During the dusk pen check
on February 5th, Lara detected signals indicating
probable mortality. Crane 214 had returned to the
Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 29th when former
flockmates 211, 212, and 217 were occupying the
site at that time. They were intolerant of 214 and
were persistent in chasing her away from the area.
The last visual record of 214 occurred on Feb. 1st
when caretakers observed an aerial dogfight in
which one of the males, #212 chased her to near her
The eastern migratory population of Whooping
cranes now stands at forty-six (46) - With a gender
ratio of 29 males to 17 females.
Feb. 1, 2005
Notes: Many believe this to be the slowest time
of year for us so I have to smirk when we receive
messages that begin with "I trust you are
receiving a well deserved rest now that the
migration is over..." or, "so, what exactly
do you do for the rest of the year when you're not
The truth is that what some consider to be the
slow season is anything but slow. In fact, I
would argue this is the busiest time of the year.
Our staff is cut to only four full-time people
during the early part of a new year, and final
grant reports are due, as deadlines for new
funding applications barrel toward us. Project
reports must be written, compiled, proofed,
printed, and distributed. Images and footage must
be cataloged, and a full schedule of meetings and
conference calls attended to plan and prepare for
the upcoming season. We manage to operate on a
shoestring budget but at times, things such as
website updates take a back seat to the obligations
we have to our granting foundations. My apologies
for the delayed update.
Our main concern at the moment is our financial
situation. As you all know, the recently completed
migration from Wisconsin to Florida was the longest
yet, at 64-days. A full two weeks longer than any
of the preceding three, and each day spent on the
road, whether we actually move or not, costs $1000
to support the team, and the young Whooping cranes.
Add this additional $14,000, increased fuel costs;
unexpected damage sustained to Deke's motorhome, as
well as to Brooke's aircraft, and a substantial 30%
decrease in the exchange rate when converting US
donations to Canadian funds, and hopefully, you'll
get an idea of why we're currently facing a funding
Now, take into consideration the devastating
tsunami in southeast Asia - The
December 26th tsunami disaster is
perhaps the largest, most widespread natural
disaster in recorded history. Our hearts go out to
the victims and the survivors who must live with
grief and loss and yet move forward to rebuild
their lives. So many, ourselves included, have
donated much needed funds to help those in the
affected areas begin to pick up the pieces,
however, we can't help but wonder how much of an
effect this disaster, so many miles away, will have
on our own fundraising efforts this year. There's
no doubt it will - we've already seen a decrease in
support just as we did in the months following the
man-made disaster of September 11, 2002.
can only hope that you'll come through for the
Whooping cranes again. I realize that many of you
have already given to tsunami relief efforts,
however, if you can manage another contribution, no
matter the size, we could certainly use your help
right now. Please consider making a donation, or
purchasing our newest
video Hope Takes Wing. For a limited time
you can purchase the video AND the 2005 Operation
Migration calendar for $30, which includes shipping
if you're a past Mile-Maker get your name on the
list early this year - we've already kicked off the
2005 Mile-Maker Campaign
to help us overcome the burden of the un-budgeted
expenses we incurred last fall during the 64-day
"Operation Duration." Give us a call at
800-675-2618 to make your contribution.
When you work for a struggling non-profit
organization, from time to time you can't help
but think of the sports stars that are making
obscene amounts of money in their multi-year
contracts. Take Alex Rodriquez for example: Here's
a 30-year old, doing something he loves to do -
play baseball. Last year, A-Rod's income was a
whopping 21.7 million dollars. That's $59,525.70
each and every day, whether he actually gets out of
bed or not.
Every sport has their stars - Football has
Manning, McNabb and Moss. The NASCAR circuit earns
mega-bucks for Gordon, Waltrip, and Earnhardt Jr.
Being great at putting a large rubber ball through
a nylon net earns Allen Iverson $6,200.00 an
hour... C'mon people - we're talking games! Since
when has wildlife conservation become a luxury item
that receives focus and attention only when
financial situations allow such luxury's?
If A-Rod, or Iverson were feeling generous and
decided to fund our work for one year, they would
still have oodles of money left over. Does
anyone out there know how to reach Alex or Allen?
As we enter into a fifth season of raising
Whooping cranes, we can't help but reflect on the
many successes this reintroduction has experienced.
After only four seasons, already there are 47 wild
migratory Whooping cranes using the eastern flyway.
Three times the number that existed in the early
40's when we very nearly lost this magnificent bird
The five cranes that became the pioneers of the
new eastern population in 2001 are now 4-years of
age, and some have already formed pair bonds. With
a bit of luck they may even begin to show signs of
nesting behaviour this year. It would be a tragedy
if we weren't able to continue our work to
safeguard the Whooping crane because of financial
Many thanks to the winter monitoring crew for
the following Jan. 23-29th update.
During the past week between three to nine older
whooping cranes (usually three) were present at the
winter pen at the same time. Because of the
presence of these older, aggressive cranes, the
juveniles were allowed out of the top-netted
enclosure less than usual. The juveniles were out
for most of the day on January 24th and for 1.5
hours on the 29th. On the former date, the
unexpected arrival of additional birds from Pasco
County contributed to problems in returning
juveniles to the top-netted enclosure. Chicks 419
and 420 could not be retrieved on that night. They
roosted in a nearby creek along with older white
birds 203, 216, 102 and 208. Tides were relatively
low that night. Otherwise, all juveniles roosted in
the top-netted enclosure during the remainder of
So far juveniles 402, 407, 412, 414, 415, 416,
417 and 419 have attained, or nearly attained adult
Jan. 12, 2005
Winter Update: Jan. 2 - 8
Notes: Yearlings 303, 312 and 316 left their
Marion County, FL stop and arrived at the
Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 2nd. They have so
far been the only HY2003 Whooping cranes to
complete their first unassisted southward migration
to the Chassahowitzka area. These are also the same
three that managed to successfully circumnavigate
the south end of Lake Michigan last summer and
return to the central Wisconsin reintroduction site
located at the Necedah
National Wildlife Refuge. (More on them below)
Whooping crane 205 and the young #418 male departed
from their Madison County, FL location on Jan. 2nd.
According to PTT readings for #418 they roosted in
Central Gulf Coast saltmarsh on the St. Martins
Marsh Aquatic Preserve that night. The next morning
they passed over the pensite at Chassahowitzka NWR
and proceeded southward to a wetland in Pasco
County. This site was 2 miles north of where #205
had spent the previous winter. The next day the
pair moved to the nearby ranch where birds 211,
212, and 217 are wintering.
Cranes 209, 213 and 218 remained in Franklin
County, Tennessee, at least through the check on
Number 317 remained alone in Colleton County, SC,
while former flockmates 304 and 311 spent the week
nearby, also in Colleton County. Whooping crane
#307 spent the week in Beaufort County, SC.
Public reports indicate that the female #107 crane
from the first reintroduction year remained in the
large stopover/wintering Sandhill flock on Hiwassee
Wildlife Refuge, located in Meigs County, TN
through the week. She has a nonfunctional
transmitter and is not trackable.
A trio of Whooping cranes comprised of yearlings
301, 309 and the youngest from the 2003 project
year, #318; remained in NC throughout the week.
Crane 214 remained in Sumter County, FL through the
week. Number 105 and his mate, 204 returned to the
Chassahowitzka pensite on Jan. 3rd and roosted in
an area southwest of the pen. They returned to
Hernando County the next day and stayed there for
the remainder of the week.
The 4-year old male, #106 remained in Lake County,
FL where he associated with migratory Sandhill
cranes and non-migratory Whooping cranes.
Cranes 211, 212 and 217 stayed in Pasco County, FL
through the week along with another pair which
included a first year male (#101), and his female
mate from the 2nd project year, #202.
Cranes 201 and 306 remained together with wintering
Sandhill cranes in Volusia County, FL through the
week, while Whooping cranes 203 and 216 chose to
stay in the same area of Pasco County, which is
also occupied by cranes 101, 202, 102 and 208.
Whooping cranes not located during the week include
#302, who was last confirmed in Iroquois County,
Illinois, when he resumed migration on Dec. 12th.
and yearlings 310 and
313, who were last confirmed in Nelson County,
Kentucky, on Dec. 5th.
The thirteen Hatch Year 2004 (HY04) juvenile birds
at Chassahowitzka winter pen were released from the
top-netted section several times over the past two
weeks, but their periods of freedom always seem to
be cut short when some of the older Whooping cranes
inevitably return to stake a claim, and the feeding
station. It's almost as if these older birds have
some sixth sense that alerts them to the fact that
the chicks have been released and therefore there
must be food in the feeders.
For instance, there were no older cranes present
at the pensite on the morning of Jan. 2nd so the
youngsters were released from the top-netted
enclosure. All of them flew shortly after release
and eventually landed inside the large open-topped
section. In the early afternoon three yearling
cranes, 303, 312 and 316 returned from an
hours-long foraging excursion and landed at the
To avoid aggression, the juveniles were then
returned to the top-netted enclosure. On Jan. 5th
they were again released for exercise and after
flying for several minutes they landed inside the
large open-topped section of the release pen. The
three yearlings were present and cranes 312 and 316
were aggressive and interfered with caretaker
control of the juveniles. The trouble makers left
that afternoon, so the juveniles were released the
following morning. They spent all day out of the
top-netted enclosure and roosted that night on the
oyster bar, which was constructed 2-years ago to
provide a suitable roosting area, no matter what
the level of the ever-changing tide may be.
The three yearlings returned to the pen on late
morning of Jan. 7th and 312 and 316 attacked the
juveniles and then began eating from one of the
feeders. The juveniles were returned to the
top-netted enclosure and the feeders in the main
section of the pen were emptied - again.
Juvenile cranes 407, 412, 415 and 416 are
developing their adult voices.
(Many thanks to the WCEP
Winter Monitoring Team for providing the above
Jan. 5, 2005
A Few Very Special People...
Notes: It takes an unusual type of person to
help teach Whooping cranes to migrate. One must
possess a proven work ethic to tolerate the long
hours, and then something better described as
dedication when the hours turn into weeks, and then
months. One must be adaptable to endure the tight
quarters and congenial to survive the many
personalities. They must be able to put up with the
unpredictability of weather and unreliable cell
phone connections, and they must be willing to be
away from friends and family for long periods with
no forecast of how long their exile will
Some days require long hours of hard labour to
prepare for the next flight, only to have it
postponed because of strong headwinds. People who
volunteer to help on migration must be willing to
work 14 straight hours one day and none the next.
Most of all, they must be able to stare out the
window at driving rain and high winds, when the
aircraft are tied down and the birds sequestered in
the pen, and not get discouraged by the 1000 miles
still left to go.
It takes an unusual person, but over the years we
have found a few and we would like to publicly
thank them for the special characteristics that
make them friends to the Whooping crane, and of
Gerald Murphy volunteered by email early last
season and has been reiterating his offer ever
since. This past fall we called his bluff and when
he arrived in Wisconsin a few days before the
migration was to begin, we met one of those special
people. Gerald lives in the panhandle of Florida
and was a victim of the 04 hurricanes. He
stayed home just long enough to secure his home
before joining us for 70-days. He left his lawn
strewn with fallen trees and his wife Ann alone at
home. He is one of those amiable types, always in
the same good mood, and ready to help with any
task. Gerald became a fast friend of the entire
crew and a well-respected team member. We all want
to thank him for his efforts and Ann for tolerating
his extended absence.
Walter Sturgeon has 30 years of experience working
with various crane species. He has spent many
research seasons in the high Arctic and is the
Assistant Director of the North Carolina Museum of
Natural Sciences. He is also the President-Elect of
the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA).
Walter joined us for a good part of the migration,
taking a break only to chair the annual meetings of
the WCCA. With the rest of us he patiently waited
out the long delays and kept the crew entertained
with endless stories and good humour. We thank
Walter for his support not only on the migration
and are grateful to his wife Gay who looked after
their flock of 32 birds while he was looking after
Don and Paula Lounsbury have been flying top-cover
for us since the very beginning more than
10-years ago. Our aircraft fly at 40 miles per
hour, while theirs cruises at over 100. They must
constantly fly in circles, keeping an eye on the
ultralights, and the cranes below, while often,
explaining their strange course to the air traffic
controllers that track them on radar. They keep a
listening watch over two radios; one to monitor us,
and the second for other air-traffic, and although
we enjoy their company in the air, our best flights
are when we dont hear a word from them. When
things go wrong as often happens they are there
like angels ready to help when we need them
Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson once owned a large
lakefront home in Tennessee. In a major effort to
downsize they packed all their belongings into a
motorhome and ran away to join the OM circus. Sandy
entertains the crowds that gather to watch the
departure of the birds and ultralights and Jerry
hauls one of our large trailers They are now
important members of the team
During the early stages of the migration this year
Don and Paula were busy repairing their aircraft
engine so Bill & Marilyn Stoeckmann of
Wisconsin filled in for a few days. They had big
shoes to fill but managed nicely. One of our birds
dropped out of the second leg and by coincidence
landed on Bills property.
Over the years a great many people have volunteered
time and money to save Whooping cranes. This past
season we were very fortunate to have added a few
more to that distinguished list.
Jan. 5, 2005
One loss explained, and another discovered...
On December 11th, one day before arriving at the
Chassahowitzka NWR winter pen with the Class of
2004 Whooping cranes, the team suffered the loss of
a very special female crane #406.
Dr. Marilyn Spalding at the University of Florida's
of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville performed a
necropsy and provided the members of the Whooping
Partnership with the following results:
"The cause of mortality of the ultralight-led
Whooping crane (#406) while on migration on 11
December was determined to be Eastern Equine
Encephalitis virus. This virus is normally
transmitted by mosquitoes among birds. When
transmitted to other species, including some birds,
horses, and humans it causes disease that can be
fatal. It rarely causes disease in Sandhill
cranes but Whooping cranes seem to be more
susceptible. It appears that several of the
birds may have contracted the virus as evidenced by
changes in their blood chemistry at the time of the
final health exam in Florida. Bird #417 was
temporarily ill, likely from the same disease. The
virus was probably contracted in southern Georgia
or northern Florida. The Florida Department
of Health noted viral transmission to sentinel
chickens in nearby counties during the time that
the birds were moving through the area. Since
all the surviving birds appear to be currently
healthy, and the cold weather has decreased the
numbers of mosquitoes, it is unlikely that there
will be additional cases."
In the last update the tracking team had
provided information about three 2-yr. old cranes
that had been occupying a flooded area in Limestone
County, Alabama. One of the three; a young male
Whooping crane #215
was found dead on January 3rd. The cause of death
is currently under investigation.
Jan. 3, 2005
Winter Update Dec. 19 - Jan. 2nd.
Many thanks to the FWS/ICF/OM
winter monitoring team for compiling the following
Whooping cranes 101 & 202 left their
overnight stop in Vernon Bottom along the
Cumberland River, Monroe County, KY on Dec. 19th.
They apparently roosted at an undetermined location
in southern Georgia that night. On December 20th
they completed their fall migration, arriving in
Pasco County, FL at the same location used by crane
#101 during the previous two winters. They had
begun migration from Necedah NWR on Nov. 28th
Cranes 102 & 208 were detected in flight just
east of Decatur, AL on the afternoon of Dec. 23rd.
They apparently roosted at an undetermined location
in northeastern Alabama that night. They had last
been checked and confirmed near the intersection of
Will, Grundy, and
Kankakee Counties, Illinois, on Dec. 14th. They
arrived at the winter pen site on the afternoon of
Dec. 30th. This pair had begun migration from
Necedah NWR on Dec. 1st.
Cranes 209, 213 & 218 remained in Franklin
County, TN at least through the last check on 24
December. The trio had begun migration from Necedah
NWR on Nov. 21st.
Crane 203, 215 & 216 remained
in floodings and harvested cornfields in Limestone
County, AL until Dec. 23rd. On that morning #215
separated from the other two birds, but weak
intermittent radio-signals were inadequate to
locate and confirm later status of that individual.
The other two birds arrived at the winter pen site
on the afternoon of Dec. 28th. The group had begun
migration from Monroe County, WI on Nov. 21st.
Yearlings #303, 312 & 316 remained in LaPorte
County, IN until leaving to resume migration on
18-20 Dec. They apparently roosted in or near
Fairfield County, South Carolina, on Dec. 22nd. On
Christmas day they had apparently arrived in
Florida and arrived at the Chassahowitzka pensite
at midday on Jan. 2nd. They roosted on that night
near the constructed oyster bar in the pen after
spending most of last week in Marion County,
They were the first HY2003 whooping cranes to
return to the Chassahowitzka pensite after fall
migration and the three yearlings that had
successfully returned to Necedah NWR on July 28,
after spending several weeks in Michigan. The trio
had begun migration from Sprague Pool, Necedah NWR,
on the 20th of November.
No. 302 was not located during the week. The last
record was as he resumed migration from Iroquois
County, IL on Dec. 12th. No. 317 apparently
remained in a large complex of wetlands and flooded
cornfields managed for waterfowl in southeast, SC,
not very far from the Wildlife Management Area
where yearlings 304 & 311 spent the week.
Crane 307 apparently remained in marsh and a
harvested cornfield in Beaufort County, SC. He had
begun migration with juvenile crane #418 on Nov.
The female #107 was reported remaining in the large
stopover/wintering Sandhill flock on Hiwassee
Wildlife Refuge, Meigs County, Tennessee, on Dec.
20th. (note that she did not leave on Dec. 12th as
reported in last week's update). She has a
nonfunctional transmitter and is not trackable.
Cranes 201 & 306 were not located during the
week. They were last recorded leaving Hiwassee
Wildlife Refuge, Meigs County, Tennessee, to resume
migration on Dec. 12th. Crane 201 had begun
migration from Kalamazoo County, MI, on or shortly
after Nov. 2nd, while crane 306 had begun migration
with #205 from the East Training Site, Necedah NWR
on the 7th of November.
Yearling Whooping cranes 310 & 313 were not
located during the week. They were last confirmed
in Nelson County, KY on Dec. 5th but were not
present at this site when it was next checked on
the 15th of Dec. They had begun migration from
Juneau County, WI on Nov. 7th.
Nos. 301, 309 & 318 remained in Jones County,
NC through the week. They had begun fall migration
from Mason County, MI on the 7th of November.
Florida Wintering Areas: Whooping crane 214
remained with Sandhill cranes in Sumter County.
Cranes 105 & 204 remained at the winter pen on
Chassahowitzka NWR until Dec. 19th. On that morning
they returned to their alternate wintering site in
Hernando County, where they stayed for the
remainder of the week.
The male #106 remained in Lake County, where he
associated with migratory Sandhill cranes and
non-migratory Whooping cranes. He had begun
migration from the large
Sandhill crane staging area in southeastern
Clark/northeastern Jackson Counties, WI on Nov.
Cranes 211, 212 & 217 flew into the winter pen
shortly after cranes 105 & 204 left on the
morning of Dec. 19th. The three birds then remained
at or near the pensite on Chassahowitzka NWR
through the remainder of the week. They roosted on
the oyster bar in the pen on the evenings of the
19th, 22nd & 24th, and in the tidal creek/pool
west of the pen on the 20th, 21st & 23rd. They
moved on Dec. 26th to the Pasco County site, which
was used by cranes 211 & 212 during the
2004 Juveniles: The 13 HY2004 juveniles (10
males, 3 females) were held in the newly
constructed top-netted enclosure at the northwest
corner of the main pen during the week. They were
allowed to leave the enclosure to fly and forage on
Dec. 19th, however, cranes 405, 414 & 415
remained in the enclosure and #402 returned inside
just after walking out. All others flew around the
pen area for several minutes before landing.
We just received word from Mark Nipper that the
#418 juvenile completed his first southward
migration today, arriving in Pasco County, FL with
his traveling buddy #205. Apparently, the two male
cranes first flew over the winter pensite for
almost an hour before heading inland to the
location where #205 had wintered last year.
Dec. 22, 2004
Weekly Update: Dec. 12-18
Many thanks to the FWS/ICF/OM
winter monitoring team for compiling the following
Fall Migration: Whooping cranes 211, 212
& 217 left from their overnight stop west
Chebanse, Iroquois County, Illinois, on December
12th. They arrived in the pensite area of
Chassahowitzka NWR at 12:45 EST three days
later on December 15th. They had begun migration
from Necedah Lake, near
Necedah NWR, on December 11th.
Nos. 101 and 202 remained with large numbers of
Sandhill cranes in frozen flooded farm fields north
of Wheatfield, Jasper County, Indiana, until the
16th of December. On that afternoon they moved to
nearby Jasper-Pulaski SWFA. They resumed migration
the following morning. On December 18th they were
tracked to roost with approximately 100 sandhills
in Monroe County, Kentucky. On Dec. 20th they
completed the southward migration, arriving
in Pasco County, FL. This is the same wintering
location used by the pair during the previous two
winters. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR
on Nov. 28th.
Nos. 102 and 208 remained at least through the last
check on Dec. 14th in an area southwest of Chicago,
Illinois. They had begun migration from Necedah NWR
on 1 December.
Nos. 209, 213 & 218 remained through the week
in a flooded area in south-central TN. They had
begun migration from Necedah NWR on 21
Nos. 203, 215 & 216 left Greene County, IN on
December 14th. They roosted that night along the
Cumberland River in Davidson County, Tennessee. The
trio resumed migration the
following morning and roosted that night in
Limestone County, Alabama. They remained in
harvested cornfields and floodings at that site
through the remainder of the week. They had begun
migration from Monroe County, Wisconsin, on
Nos. 303, 312 & 316: PTT readings for crane 312
indicated that the group remained in northwestern
Indiana, at least until December 18th. They had
begun migration from Necedah NWR on the 20th of
No. 302 resumed migration from Iroquois County,
Illinois on December 12th. He had occupied this
same area since arriving on Oct. 25th or 26th. He
was not located during the remainder of the week.
He had left Necedah NWR with no. 317 on October
17th when the pair moved south to Jefferson County,
WI. On the 24th of October he separated from crane
No. 317 remained in a large complex of wetlands and
flooded cornfields in the southeast portion of
South Carolina, through the week. He had left
Jefferson County, WI on the 7th of
Nos. 304 & 311 were located on Dec. 18th during
an aerial radio-search in an area approximately
14-miles south of crane 317 (above) in southeast
South Carolina. Their last verified location was
near McIntosh, Liberty County, GA on November 24th.
They had begun migration from Necedah NWR on the
5th of November.
No. 307 remained in marsh and a harvested
cornfields in southeast South Carolina, just north
of the Georgia State line through the week. He had
begun migration from Necedah NWR on November 7th
with juvenile crane #418.
Whooping crane #418 & #205 remained among the
large Sandhill flock on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge,
Meigs County, Tennessee throughout the week. Nos.
107, 201 & 306 departed from Hiwassee to resume
migration on Dec. 12th and were not located during
the remainder of the week. #418 had begun migration
with #307 from just south of Necedah NWR on
Crane #201 had begun migration from Kalamazoo
County, MI on or shortly after November 2nd. #'s
205 & 306 had begun migration from the East
Training Site, Necedah NWR, on the 7th of
Crane #107 has a nonfunctional transmitter and
is not trackable. Cranes 418 & 205 departed
Hiwassee to resume migration on December 19th,
flying to Turner County, GA. The pair left this
roost site at 9:05am and arrived approximately 4
hours later in Madison County, Florida!
This juvenile Whooping crane is the first in the
new eastern migratory population to make his
inaugural southward migration with the aid of older
Whooping cranes rather than ultralight
Yearling cranes 310 & 313 remained in Nelson
County, Kentucky at least through the 5th of
December. They were no longer at this site when it
was checked 10-days later on Dec. 15th and they
were not located during the rest of the week. They
had begun migration from Juneau County, WI on Nov.
Another trio of yearlings, Nos. 301, 309 & 318
remained in Jones County, NC at least through most
of the week. They had begun their fall migration
from Mason County, Michigan, on the 7th of
Florida Wintering Areas: No. 214 remained on
a cattle ranch in Sumter County, Florida, through
105 & 204 remained on a cattle ranch in
Hernando County, FL until the 17th of Dec. On that
date they returned to the pensite at Chassahowitzka
No. 106 was spotted on a cattle ranch in Lake
County, Florida, on December 13th. He remained
through the week and associated with migratory
Sandhill cranes as well as some of the
non-migratory Whooping cranes that occupy the area
year round. He had begun migration from
southeastern Clark/northeastern Jackson Counties,
Wisconsin, on November 21st.
Cranes 211, 212 & 217 arrived at Chassahowitzka
NWR on November 15th. They roosted that night in
the northwest part of the pool within the pen, near
the top-netted enclosure containing the 13 newly
arrived juveniles. On December 16th they remained
at the pen through the day, and roosted in the same
area as they had the previous night. On December
17th cranes 105 & 204 also returned to the pen.
The trio of 211, 212 & 217 moved farther about
a mile west into the saltmarsh. On the 18th of
December all five of the older birds were south of
the pen in the morning and in undirected flight for
approximately 1 hour around noon then nos. 105
& 204 returned to the pen and the other three
birds returned to the saltmarsh 1 mile west of the
Hatch Year 2004 Juveniles at the Chassahowitzka
Pen: The thirteen HY2004 juveniles (10 males, 3
females) were led by ultralight aircraft to the
pensite on Chassahowitzka NWR on December 12th.
They were placed in the newly constructed
top-netted enclosure attached to the northwest
corner of the main pen. They were color banded and
equipped with permanent transmitters on December
13/14. The three females (#'s 415, 419 & 420)
were also equipped with Platform Terminal
Transmitters (PTT satellite transmitters). They
were kept in the enclosure through the week.
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