Operation Migration is a non-profit organization devoted to the reintroduction of endangered Whooping Cranes throughout North America.

 

White Birds in the Snow

Guest Author, Beverly Paulan, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Its springtime in Wisconsin. That means it will snow today and be 60 degrees tomorrow. Or 20. That’s the thing with Wisconsin—you just never know what the weather is going to be. What I do know is that with the coming of spring, my work load goes from a standstill to hitting the ground running every day. Spring season for the aeronautics team means fire patrol, eagle nest, waterfowl and whooping crane surveys, quickly followed by osprey and trumpeter swan nesting activity flights. Throw a 12” snowstorm into the mix and the flight schedule gets stacked up waiting for that clear day when we can go. On Monday this week, parts of the state received several inches of wet heavy snow. Of course it was the part that I had to fly over looking for white Whooping cranes. As soon as I departed my home airport, I could see the snow line to the east and south - exactly the direction I was headed. The first stop for me was straight east to Marathon County. This is the home of pair 5-10 and 28-08. They were back on territory last week and I saw them as plain as day - there was minimal snow cover, although the flowages were still mostly frozen. This week however, everything was white. I circled for quite awhile searching in vain for a visual confirmation of the audible tone coming from the tracking receiver. There is no mortality switch on the transmitters so I need to get a visual sighting of each and every bird I hear to ensure they are still alive. An extremely challenging task when everything on the ground is white. After catching no sight of 5-10 or her mate, I snapped a few pictures to look at later on the computer and flew on.
Whooping cranes in snow

The snow covered marsh in Marathon County. Can you see the pair of Whooping cranes? (click to see where they are)

Next stop was down in Wood County to the territory of 12-02 and 19-04. They were found with only a few circuits and they are sitting on a nest. Flight continued down towards the north end of Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. I had to check the north end for nests as fast as I could because the overlying airspace would soon go into the “restricted” mode due to activity at the nearby bombing range. A small, slow Cessna and a fast big F16 really don’t play well together so I wanted to get out of the area quickly. I found two nests on the north end, both with birds with non-functioning transmitters, so I was unable to tell who each bird was. With the locations provided, the ground trackers can get out the spotting scopes and read the colored leg bands. If I could read the bands, I would definitely be flying too low. My flight continued across the refuge, heading further east to Adams County where there was even more snow on the ground. Adams County was the home of 5-09 and 33-07, the pair that was shot in Kentucky on Thanksgiving weekend last year. I sighed at the stupidity of certain people and headed back west toward Camp Douglas National Guard base, Monroe County and finally home. All day I was flying in and out of snow showers, peering down at a snow-covered landscape, trying desperately to see the white birds. To say there were moments of frustration is an understatement, especially when some of the birds I was searching for have non-functioning transmitters. But what joy (and hope) I felt when I found a nest. At the end of the day, I counted fifteen (15) total nests with another being built.  Of those fifteen, there were three where I could see an egg as the adults got up to switch incubation duties. So another spring season begins. Nests to watch, chicks to look for and stragglers to find. Now if the snow that is currently falling would just stop and I could get out to fly the eagle nest survey…
Whooping crane nest with egg

The nest (and single egg) belonging to pair 27-06 & 26-09.

Nesting Whooping crane

Nest (and sleeping crane) belonging to pair 5-05 & 32-09.

Whooping Cranes Heading North

It would seem some of the Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population are heading north. We’ve received a number of reports over the past few days of cranes arriving in areas north of where they wintered. A volunteer tracker in southern Illinois has confirmed eight Whooping cranes, including 2011 birds 3, 4, 17, 19 and 27-06 & 26-09, 38-09, and one other as yet to un-ID’d. A bit further south, two Whoopers (1-04 & 8-05), which I had the pleasure of seeing in December at Wheeler NWR in north Alabama were reported last week in mid-Tennessee. Just a reminder that if you spot a Whooping crane, please report your sighting via the WCEP Report Form.
Mated pair #'s 1-04 & 8-05 in Tennessee.

Mated pair #’s 1-04 & 8-05 in Tennessee.

OPINION LETTER TO LOUISIANA’S THE ADVOCATE

We came across this opinion letter, published in yesterday’s edition of The Advocate, published out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and feel it bears sharing far and wide. The author, Professor James Wilken shares his very candid thoughts about the recent shootings in his home state.

Excerpt: Please, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, end this doomed experiment to establish a colony of endangered whooping cranes in Louisiana. Take the remaining birds away before we shoot them all. After five of these birds have been shot here, it must be evident that Louisiana, once again, gets a failing grade.

CLICK to read full letter Someone knows who carried out this most recent thrill kill in Louisiana - Just as someone must also know who committed the shootings in Hopkins County, Kentucky at the end of November. There’s an easy $15000.00 available in each of these cases for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the parties responsible. Please do the right thing and come forward. Anyone with information in the Louisiana shooting, which took the lives of two Whooping cranes can contact LDWF’s Enforcement Division by calling 1-800-442-2511 or using the tip411 program. Anyone with information concerning the killing of the two whooping cranes in Kentucky is urged to contact Special Agent Bob Snow at (502) 582-5989, ext. 29, or the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources dispatch at 1-800-25ALERT (800-252-5378).

Photos From the Wintering Site

Brooke sent along the following images for your viewing pleasure.
whooping crane wintering enclosure

One of the crane handlers makes the long (and wet) trek out to the pensite.

Whooping cranes in flight

As is typical, often when handlers arrive the young cranes are out foraging but return quickly when they spot the costumes in the enclosure.

#9-13 is the largest of last year's cohort (and also the youngest). This image gives you an good indication of his size as he challenges the costume/puppet.

#9-13 is the largest of last year’s cohort (and also the youngest). This image gives you an good indication of his size as he challenges the costume/puppet.

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Not to be outdone, number 4-13 also shows his moves to the costume.

Number 2-13 interacting with

Number 2-13 interacting with sub-adult number 4-12

Whooping Crane Presentation at St. Marks NWR

If you’re in the Florida Panhandle area this weekend, why not stop by St. Marks NWR to hear OM pilot Brooke Pennypacker speak about the Whooping crane project.

Brooke will be speaking at 2pm (eastern) on Sunday, March 2 in the Barred Owl Room of Nature’s Classroom.

CLICK for a map

Sandhill Cranes Heading North

One of the world’s greatest migration spectacles will be in full swing in March but we’re already receiving reports from Georgia and Tennessee of migrating flocks of sandhill cranes getting an early start. Each spring, toward the end of March, as many as 500,000 will stop to rest and fuel up at Nebraska’s central Platte River at an 80-mile stretch of the river. Smithsonian Magazine’s Alex Shoumatoff and wildlife photographer Melissa Groo documented their trip to Nebraska last migration season for the recent edition of Smithsonian Magazine. (CLICK to read) The most popular place to see the sandhills on the river is the National Audubon Society’s Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon, just outside Fort Kearney. If you can’t make the trip, you can still watch the action via Rowe Sanctuary’s live video feed.
Thousands of sandhill cranes will stop at the Platte River in Nebraska at the height of their northward migration. Photo: Melissa Groo

Thousands of sandhill cranes will stop at the Platte River in Nebraska at the height of their northward migration. Photo: Melissa Groo

Don’t Blame the Hunters

Flying over the heartland of America, we get to see it from a wider perspective than the pedestrians below. Yet we are not so high that it all blends like the patchwork you see from an airliner window. From one or two thousand feet you can see the surface in detail and you realize that between Wisconsin and Florida there isn’t a square foot that has not been changed by man. Every forest has been clear cut several times and is now mixed with non-indigenous species. What was once miles of tall grass prairie is now agriculture fields as far as you can see. In modifying most of the habitat, we have also affected many species of wildlife and sometimes the changes we have made throws off the balance of nature. When populations explode we can no longer rely on natural predators to keep them in check. And that is where hunters can provide an important service. Wildlife agencies can increase take quotas for deer and other game animals and can use hunters to bring them back to sustainable numbers. Apart from helping to maintain a balance, taxes on guns, ammunition and fees for hunting permits help fund much of the conservation work being done. Pro-hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited and the National Turkey Foundation protect large tracts of habitat. But not all people who use guns in the wild live up to the standards of most hunters. Fifteen Whooping cranes have been shot in the eastern flyway by vandals or people who don’t believe the rules apply to them. It is hard to understand what motivates someone to shoot a whooping crane. Maybe it is ignorance of the law or an arrogant disregard for it. Some who have been caught, claimed they didn’t know what it was but that excuse is as indefensible as allowing someone that stupid to use a gun. It is time consuming, tedious and expensive to place a reintroduced Whooping crane in the wild in a migratory situation. It took years of experiments to learn how to raise and breed them in captivity and a number of failed projects before we accumulated the knowledge to make them migratory. Each year since 2001 we have hatched a new generation, imprinted them at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, conditioned them to follow our aircraft in Wisconsin and led them 1200 miles to Florida. On average we add thirteen birds a year to the wild population so the fifteen that have been shot so far represents an entire year of hard work and the support of thousands of people just because someone wanted to kill something. In the wildlife management community this kind of crime is officially known as thrill killing or wanton waste. On the other side of the issue, the people with no respect for the environment call it the three S’s - shoot, shovel and shut up. The most recent shootings took place in Kentucky in November when a young pair was shot with a rifle. The reward for information leading to the arrest is now up to $16000.00 and hopefully, someone will come forward. Maybe if the conviction carries a heavy penalty, it will act as a deterrent, or maybe some the hunting organizations will help with education. After all, many people are quick to blame them and a few thrill killers are tarnishing the good name of conscientious hunters. Ed. Note: We’ve received a number of contributions earmarked for the reward fund. Many private citizens and organizations from Kentucky, including the Kentucky Coalition for Sandhill Cranes, and the Kentucky Ornithological Society. If you would like to make a contribution to help us increase the reward offered in this case, please call us at: 800-675-2618 or visit this link and include “Reward Fund” in the Comment field. Another way to help spread the word is to share the story/video below, which ran on NBC’s Today Show and which includes news of the reward.

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WHO Festival Highlights

Guest Author: Claire Timm P-A-R-T-Y! Everybody loves a party… right? And a “festival” is just another name for “party”… right? So no wonder everyone had such a great time at the 2014 WHO (Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors) Festival at St. Marks, NWR on Saturday, February 1st. The WHO Festival was just a great, big, open-air “party” celebrating the Great Outdoors!Operation Migration joined over 30 other organizations at this annual festival. Groups such as the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ducks Unlimited, Friends of Florida State Forests, Inc., Bass Pro Shop, St. Marks Refuge Association and St. Marks Photo Club all had displays and activities for the crowd that came out to enjoy the day. It was especially fun being right across from Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund and OM’s good friend, Scott Tidmus. Joining me at the Operation Migration table were Colleen Chase, Chantal Blanton and her husband Jim Pinson. Jim was a good sport again this year donning the “Costume” and demonstrating how the Crane Handlers work their magic with the young cranes. 2014WHOFestival_0032.1resizedChantal, Colleen and I answered questions, explained the OM project to those not familiar it and sold OM merchandise…. LOTS of merchandise! Especially popular were the new “Wanda (adult) and Wally (chick) Whooper” plush crane toys. Even though they could be bought separately most went home as a pair!
Wand & Wally Whooper

If you’d like to get your own Wally and Wanda Whooper plush toys, visit our Marketplace!

Brooke Pennypacker even made an appearance stopping by to sign autographs for his adoring fans! For years I’ve been telling him about his “Rock Star” status, especially among the 12 and under set! On Saturday the line for him to sign the OM information brochure had to be proof positive of this. As he always is, he was definitely the life of THIS “party”!
Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Brooke signs autographs for his adoring fans

Added to our display table this year were two custom made banners with the OM logo and 4 photo collages. The collages document OM’s work with the Crane Chicklets from incubation through wintering at St. Marks. The banners and collages truly added a whole new dimension to our presence this year. In fact Colleen, Chantal and I are thinking about taking this “party” on the road and are looking at other local festivals for OM to participate in! 2014WHOFestival_0006.1-resize We want to extend a very special thank you to the St. Marks NWR, St. Marks Refuge Association and Big Bend Flyfishers for hosting this wonderful outdoor “party” and for all they did to create a fun and educational event. It was a grand success and something we were very proud to be a part of. We are already looking forward to next year! Till next time…“Party On”! 2014WHOFestival_0025.1resized

Make Plans to Attend the Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival!

Whooping Crane Festival

Gorgeous weather, boat and birding tours, workshops AND Whooping cranes… What more could a Craniac possibly want?

An outstanding line-up of speakers this year will enlighten you about all the conservation efforts spanning the continent to save these endangered creatures. Back by popular demand is famed photographer Larry Ditto, and our ever popular boat and bus trips are not to be missed. We look forward to hosting you on our island paradise where conservation and preservation rank among our top priorities. Check out the Festival Highlights for activities you don’t want to miss. Review the Schedule and Register early to reserve your spot, as our activities fill up quickly.

Wintering Whooping Crane Photos

Yesterday Brooke promised some additional images would be posted showing the young Whooping cranes interacting with the two sub-adult cranes from 2012. Enjoy!
Whooping crane aggression

Juvenile Whooping crane #5-13 put the run to sub-adult crane #5-12

two adult Whooping cranes and one juvenile

Number 8-13 (female) keeps a watchful eye on the two sub-adult male Whooping cranes. A possible pair in the making?

adult Whooping crane

I’m not sure which of the two male Whoopers this is but he’s spectacular! The most noticeable characteristic of the whooping crane is the large red patch on the head. The red patch is actually skin, which extends from the cheek, along the bill and over the top of the head. It can expand and retract and is used to communicate.