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


Timing is Everything

Joan asks - “Does all these no-training days become a problem for the cranes flight schedule”?

If only we could hatch the cranes earlier so they would fledge in July. That way they would be ready to leave on the migration in August when the weather is still cooperating.

In July the calm mornings allow us to train almost every day, but toward the end of August the fall weather system sets in and training days become as rare as Whooping cranes. It is bad timing because that is just when we need good flying conditions to increase their endurance and keep them following.

This is the season when bad habits are dangerous. If we get another episode of behavior like number 10 displayed earlier in the summer, we don’t have the flying days to correct it. The problem just gets worse as time goes on and the start of migration turns into a fiasco and we have all seen that one act play.

There is nothing we can do about good weather withdrawal. We go through the 12 steps from denial to anger and finally acceptance.  Then, when Indian Summer finally arrives, we start over and somewhere in central Illinois it all comes together. The birds finally get the message.

We get a few flyable days in a row and the reward is a long string of pearls off the wing tip of the lead aircraft and a light at the end of the migration tunnel.

All we can do now is cross our fingers and know that we will see you on the other side.

Yearling Whoopers

On Thursday, we reported the Class of 2013 Whooping cranes had reunited in Dodge County, WI. It seems it was a brief reunion. Gary Masemore sent along this image he captured yesterday showing yearlings 3, 4, 5 & 9-13 again without classmates 7 & 8-13. They’re all still in the same area - just not together - at the moment.
whooping crane group of yearlings

Whooping cranes 2, 4, 5, & 9-13 foraging near Horicon NWR on July 25.

Training Recap

Following windy conditions on both Monday and Tuesday of this week, the cranes have trained for the past two days. Chick’s 8 & 10-14 both seem reluctant to come out of the wetpen to train but once they’re encourage to exit, number 8 does better than the younger number 10, who prefers to wander off into the field to the northwest of the training strip. She pokes and prods and forages for whatever insecty treats she can find, until she realizes that the aircraft is leaving without her. Then she trots across the field back toward the training strip, seemingly panicked that she’ll be left alone. Yesterday during the training session we could hear the two-year old Whooping crane calling occasionally. We knew he was nearby but didn’t see him until the session was over and we spotted him in the pond, calling triumphantly as the aircraft departed. Doug Pellerin sent along the following images he captured while hiding inside the crane enclosure and while the chicks were outside training with the aircraft. It turns out number 5-12 - a former student, was standing behind the wetpen for most of the training session.
2 year old Whooping crane 5-12 stands behind the wetpen while training takes place with the Class of 2014

2 year old Whooping crane 5-12 stands behind the wetpen while training takes place with the Class of 2014

The crane chicks exit the pen ready to follow the aircraft.

The crane chicks exit the pen ready to follow the aircraft.

Richard spends some one-on-one time with chicks 8-14 & 10-14.

Richard spends some one-on-one time with chicks 8-14 & 10-14.

WHOOP! Here it is!

We have a great way for Craniacs to help raise funds AND friends for Whooping cranes!

If you’ve been following our work you’re no doubt familiar with our Give A WHOOP! campaign. Meant to be a quick and fun way to celebrate milestone events; whether they be milestones in the development of our new class of Whooping cranes chicks, such as eggs hatching, or first flight, or milestone events in our supporters lives (birthdays, anniversaries) worthy of celebrating - this campaign is a way for you to WHOOP! in celebration of something and to post a message with your gift. Now YOU can create your own Give A WHOOP! page, which can very easily be shared via email or your social networking sites! Random prize draws will be made throughout the year for both fundraisers and donors and include USB bracelets with the OM logo, embroidered Whooping crane patches, and a copy of a beautiful coffee table book: The Whooping Crane - Images From The Wild by Klauss Nigge.

Want to get started? Visit this link for easy to follow instructions to create your own Give A WHOOP! page.

Currently seven Craniacs have created their own Give A WHOOP! page and we’ve just tossed all the names into a bowl and we’re ready to announce the first winner of a USB bracelet featuring the Operation Migration logo. The winner is…. Lori Verhagan! Lori has raised over a thousand dollars for the Class of 2014 just by sharing her fundraising page on Facebook! Way to go Lori - keep an eye on your mailbox.
Lori Verhagen's Give A WHOOP! page.

Lori Verhagen’s Give A WHOOP! page.

Class Reunion!

Soon after returning to Wisconsin this past spring the Class of 2013 - now a year old - broke up into two groups. In one group was 7-13 & 8-13 and in the other was four cranes, 2-13, 4-13, 5-13 & 9-13. The group of four spent an afternoon at the White River Marsh training site prior to the arrival of the Class of 2014 cranes much to the delight of the CraneCam viewers. Meanwhile, the duo moved east to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, WI Well now it seems they’ve found each other and the two groups are again one group of six. Doug Pellerin managed to capture the following images on Tuesday and is sharing them with us (and you). Many thanks Doug!
Whooping cranes and Sandhill cranes at Horicon

The six stark white Whooping cranes stick out among the large group of Sandhills cranes.


Make a Reservation in the Viewing Blind!

We would like to invite everyone to come out to the viewing blind at the White River Marsh training site. Plan your visit to the Operation Migration Whooping Crane Blind to witness flight training of the young Whooping Cranes, to hear the sounds and to see them fly with the aircraft.

It’s an awesome experience to see them grow from these young colts to beautiful young Whooping cranes. To arrange to participate in a blind tour, please contact Doug Pellerin at pelican0711(AT)gmail.com or call 920-923-0016.

Craniac Sherry Wynn visited the blind last week and sent us the following photos to share with you. Thanks Sherry!

(Click each image to enlarge)

DSC0078_1 DSC0118_1 _DSC0141_1

What it Takes to be Successful at Whooping Crane Reintroduction

Guest Author: Jeb Barzen, International Crane FoundationWhooping Crane Eastern Partnership

For many of us, the whooping crane defines endangered species management. This magnificent bird’s plight embodied many of the conservation issues of the 20th Century.  We are now writing its 21st Century story with a dedicated team of scientists, pilots, volunteers, and philanthropists. For a host of reasons, it is important that our grandchildren, years from now, can experience whooping cranes in Wisconsin as evidence that we patiently worked through many challenges and got it right with this iconic species.

The reintroduction of breeding whooping cranes to Wisconsin is a key step in the conservation strategy to safeguard this species.  The threat that loomed from a recent oil spill near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this past winter should remind us why having a viable second population is crucial to the whooping crane’s recovery.

So why is re-establishing the Eastern Migratory Population of whooping cranes taking so long?  We are attempting to re-establish a species that has been lost from our landscape for over 120 years. Much has changed.  Wetlands of the tall grass prairies in the Midwest, the historical stronghold of whooping cranes, have been substantially altered.  It will take time for these birds to adapt their behaviors and breeding strategies to this landscape and its challenges, and our reintroduction team is learning right along with them.

Since the first whooping cranes were released in Wisconsin in 2001, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership  (WCEP) has accomplished much: good adult survival, good migration routes, good pairing, good egg fertility, good nest establishment and a solid understanding of what is causing nest failure - parasitism by an avian-specific species of black fly.  No other crane reintroduction project has accomplished so much.  Yet our population is not yet sustainable.

Our next gambit is to establish whooping cranes outside of areas that the bird-specific black flies frequent and in areas that might also protect chicks from high predation rates and other, as yet unknown risks. Fortunately, we began to establish whooping cranes in new, experimental areas, as early as 2011.  These birds are just now reaching maturity and we already had one nest this year. More nesting success will likely come next year.

When you endeavor to re-establish, from scratch, an endangered species that is long-lived, our conservation efforts must match that lifespan. Our 13 year old whooping crane population and reintroduction effort, we know now, is still relatively young.  And while we are fully aware of the challenges these birds face, all partners are working deliberately and doggedly to help whooping cranes thrive in Wisconsin.

Volunteers Needed

Every year Operation Migration relies heavily on volunteers. Apart from the three pilots and outreach staff, many of the bird handlers and tracking people are volunteers. We all live in tight quarters and never know if our mornings will start with gusty winds and disappointment or an early call to take to the air with no idea when or where our day will end.  There are long stretches with little to do, punctuated by busy days with too much work and too few breaks.

As you can imagine, it is difficult to find people willing to dedicate three or more months of their lives to help us make the slow trip to Florida each fall. Many are willing to assist but with the weather dictating our progress and the open ended schedule, it is difficult to plan around family and work obligations.

Again this year we are appealing to our volunteer base, only this season our request is a little different. Rather than asking you to give up an indefinite amount of your fall and early winter, we are asking you to give us two weeks.  I hope to develop a schedule of volunteers who can take over the position for a fixed period of time.  Knowing a specific end date should make it simpler for people to plan ahead and I hope this will help us generate more interest in joining our migration team.

Of course, if you are willing to donate two weeks in say, November, we will have no idea of where we might be by then or whether your time with us will be spent twiddling your thumbs in persistent winds or running at high speed as we cross a state or two. Details, such as where and when can be worked out as we go but we can promise you some good company, delicious meals (when we have time to eat), a real sense of accomplishment and our endless gratitude.

We need a ground crew member who is willing to drive one of our motorhomes or truck and trailer combos. That is not difficult but the trucks are diesel and the trailers are 30 feet or better. Some experience is required, especially since backing up is unavoidable. You may also be recruited to help with other duties like tracking, setting up pens or helping to check on birds. Apart from the truck and trailer experience, none of these duties requires special skills and we do have on the job training - such as it is.

I should point out though that it takes a special person to share a motorhome with no guarantee of a daily shower or a regularly scheduled meal time. We have an eclectic team with diverse personalities and getting along can be challenging, considering the random menu of stress and boredom.

We hope to start the migration on or around September 21st. When it will end is anyone’s guess but for now, let’s be optimistic and say December 18th. That’s about 13 weeks or six and a half volunteer periods. Of course we would be very happy if you had more than two weeks to donate.

I suspect that many people would love to run away with this circus but I should caution you. We need able-bodied people who can lift pen panels and drive a large pickup truck pulling a long trailer. We need someone willing to live in a motorhome with a few others and get along with their roommates.

If nothing else, the Operation Migration team is dedicated, but dedication comes at a cost. It is not rocket science but it is not always easy.

I have tried to be realistic but hope I have not frightened you off and you are still interested in helping, please contact Joe by email at: joe(AT)operationmigration.org

Update on Whooping Crane #1-01

Fred Beall, General Curator tells us that Whooping crane 1-01 is doing well since his transfer to Zoo New England in Boston. Fred says "As you can see from the following photo he is adjusting well. It also took a bit of time to adjust to his new surrounding and his diet. He was slow to adapt to zoo’s diet and had lost some weight. Once he began eating again he gained the weight back to his arrival weight. To add to all of this he went into his annual molt (flight feathers). All in all a bit stressful for him but he came through just fine. It is now one week post his introduction to his exhibit and is well received by zoo visitors."
Whooping crane 1-01 in his new exhibit at Zoo New England.

Whooping crane 1-01 in his new exhibit at Zoo New England.

Unfortunately, male whooping crane no. 1-01 was removed from the population on 28 May because of repeated inadequate and uncorrectable behaviors at the Volk Field National Guard Base. He was transferred to Zoo New England in Boston, Massachusetts, on 29 May and will spend the remainder of his life in captivity. He was the oldest Whooping crane in the Eastern Migratory Population.

Replacing an Aircraft is Not Like Buying a New Car…

You can’t just walk into a dealership, pick from a hundred models and choose your favorite color. It becomes even more complex if your needs are as specific as flying with birds. Over the last decade or so, weight shift aircraft like ours have become more efficient, which generally equates to faster. You can now buy a trike that will cruise at 80mph. Bigger engines are common, along with much more instrumentation, back seats, ballistic parachutes, navigation light, brakes, beefier suspension and even heaters, all of which adds to the weight. Our primary need is slow speed. Birds fly at 38mph or thereabouts. When they are climbing just after take-off, the birds fly slower than that and often, we get ahead of them. That means we need to slow to 30 MPH or less. There are times when we would like to slow to 25 but a wing needs airflow over its surface in order to generate lift and we can’t expect miracles. On the other hand, there are times when we need to catch them and 50 or so miles per hour is the minimum we need at the top end. When the Wright brothers first took to the air, they flew at 45 mph and it has been getting faster ever since. Because everyone seems to be in a hurry, there isn’t much call for slow speed aircraft so there are not many from which to choose. Nor are there many manufacturers to choose from - especially within the United States but we needed to be able to see the trikes and work directly with the designers. That meant travelling and flying out of the continent was cost prohibitive so we picked North Wing Aviation. They are based in Washington State which is about as far away from us as you can get but they have been very cooperative. We have been using their wings for 5 or 6 years now so we have a history with them. We have been using Experimental Light Sport Aircraft or ELSA’s, which are designed strictly for recreational flying and can be maintained by the owners or the pilots. The FAA required that we get Special Light Sport Aircraft, SLSA, which are designed for the only commercial use in this category which is to be paid to provide training. To provide an extra degree of safety, these aircraft must be maintained by a licensed aircraft mechanic. Because of the havoc a student pilot can cause on an aircraft, like bad landings and general misuse, these trikes are designed with heavy suspension and lots of back seat controls so the instructor can override his student’s mistake and hopefully, save their lives. All of that extra protection adds weight. So Kamron Blevins from North Wing had to reverse engineer one of his SLSA designs to make it lighter. Richard van Heuvelen had to redesign our prop guard and all of that custom work had to be approved by the FAA.
Kamron Blevins, Designer and owner of NorthWing Aviation alongside Joe Duff

Kamron Blevins, Designer and owner of NorthWing Aviation alongside Joe Duff

Just like the buying experience between aircraft and cars is different, so too is the flying. You don’t just hop from one to the next with the ease of a valet parking attendant. Each one has its own characteristics and those differences have consequences. The pilots need some hours of flying to become so familiar with these aircraft that it becomes second nature. That allows them to concentrate on flying with the birds as well as flying the aircraft. After two trips to Washington State, the fitting of all of modifications, several meetings with the FAA and a number of inspections, our new trikes are ready to fly. Now begins the process of getting the birds familiar with them and the pilots comfortable.  I do wish the Ford Dealer down the street sold airplanes.
A test flight in Washington

A test flight in Washington