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December 9, 2003

 Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge - Wintering Enclosure

Once the ultralight-migration graduates arrive at their winter release pen they are temporarily contained in a top-netted area within the large 4-acre release enclosure. This allows them time to acclimate to their new surroundings, while ensuring they do not wander away from the area. 

On December 9th, I visited their isolated island home with Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation. Sara will be monitoring the cranes over the next few weeks before fellow ICF aviculturist Marianne Wellington arrives in Florida, allowing Sara to return north to Wisconsin. Here, Sara navigates the saturated salt marsh substrate, trying to not get sucked into the black muck before reaching the top-netted area to ensure the young cranes have an adequate supply of food.
Their containment also provides project biologists preparation time prior to performing the final health check, and affix their permanent leg bands. Each new band will contain a radio transmitter with a fresh battery. In addition to these, female cranes 301, 309 & 312 were also fitted with Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTT's) to allow for satellite tracking. 

Several mill about while one bold youngster challenges the costume by displaying its impressive wingspan.
Note the crane decoy hanging over the cranes - this decoy has been present at all times since the cranes hatched at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. Because its familiar to them the young birds are less nervous by their new surroundings. 
A small roofed structure covers the hanging feeders and is designed to keep rain out of their food supply. Hanging the feeders from the structure also helps to keep ground moisture out of the food.
Cranes enjoy leaping and jumping so the top net is positioned high enough to allow them to still enjoy one of their favorite pastimes. 

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