Operation Migration is a non-profit organization devoted to the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes throughout North America.
As we’ve demonstrated on all the past migrations, setting a target departure date is a futile exercise. But, if nothing else, it gives us something to aim at when all of our other targets are moving. The last one passed with us grounded like a Whooping crane with a backpack transmitter. In fact, that’s why it was postponed. The weather has cooperated lately and we have had four training sessions since we committed a crane indignity and grabbed them. In that time they have become accustomed to the attachments and a little less offended with us. They have now passed the stage of distrust and are willing to follow. The problem now is the transmitters.
Backpack transmitters are used on many wild birds because their antennas point in the right direction to reach the satellite receivers, they can be fitted with solar chargers and they are larger for more batteries. The down side is that they are fastened on using Teflon straps around the wings and they seem to disrupt the airflow over the bird’s back. That pulls the feathers up destroying the lift and well as creating drag.
Whether it’s the weight, the straps, or the disrupted laminar airflow, the birds are unable to fly they way they once did. Yesterday we made several training flights circling the pen site as the backpack fitted birds cut the corners and landed back on the runway. The other three locked on to the aircraft and followed it for 13 minutes.
This is an experiment in which we hoped to show that backpacks are a viable attachment method for transmitters, or that they caused problems and should not be used. Flying with the birds, we could have videotaped them at close range and watched for aggression towards the birds with the antennas sticking out of their backs. But so far our backpack cranes have not ventured more that a few hundred yards from the pen.
If the weather continues to cooperates, we will give it one more try. What we see will dictate what we do. Just for our own amusement, we have set next Monday, September 29 as our target departure date.
October 13th is the date we would expect to begin the migration if you average all of our actual departure dates over the last fourteen years. Prior to that, we set a target departure date so we have a deadline when the equipment and the crew are ready. In truth though, it is a good example of the conflict between the ambitions of people and the hard rules of nature and the weather. We can plan all we want but that has no influence over the weather or the birds.
Today was our target departure date for the 2014 migration but it stormed all night, the ceilings are low and wind is gusting to 15. In addition to that, we still have a lot of work to do. The birds received their transmitters this past week. All of them except number 4, whose leg is injured, where fitted with leg mounted VHF units and three of them had backpack satellite devices attached. That meant they had to be grabbed and held for 20 minutes and to a Whooping crane, there is no greater indignity. Their trust in us evaporated when we caught them by the bustle and escorted them out the gate to the waiting handlers who slipped a hood over the eyes and gathered them up.
With patience, they will get over their distrust but some of them are sore from struggling and each one has a different tolerance for new hardware they carry. Add to that a long string of windy mornings and we end up with birds unsure they can fly and reluctant to follow us.
None of this is new. We have faced delayed starts almost every year for one reason or another, yet we manage to get it done eventually. October 13th is a long way off so we will plod ahead. One morning the birds will feel better about us, the winds will calm and off we will go. Nature has its own speed and we would all fare better if we worked with it and not against it.
Bidding is NOW open on our 2014 online Facebook auction!We’re very excited to have 34 WONDERFUL items in this auction, all donated by YOU, our faithful supporters! Here’s where the items are located: http://on.fb.me/XZmyVm. Here’s how the online auction works:
Here’s a FUN way to support whooping cranes!Purchase a 2014 Whooping crane Chip from our Marketplace for $20. Each Chip is individually numbered and contains an alpha/numeric code. As soon as you receive your Chip in the mail, visit www.coinlogin.org to register your name and email, along with your Chip number and code. Over the next few months, we’ll be holding random draws for some fun items so keep an eye on your inbox. Once all the Chips are gone, we’ll hold FOUR additional draws: