Saturday, September 14, 2013

Whooping Crane Class of 2013 Are Growing Up

We have had an exciting few days, at least for us.  For those who don't know, I love the Whooping Cranes.  I have written about them twice before.  and

This past week we attended a talk given by Joe Duff, one of the co-founders of Operation Migration and a pilot of the ultralight planes that guide the Whooping Crane migration.  He was a wonderful speaker.  He was one of those speakers who is so relaxed and tells his story without a script.  He acts like he is speaking to each person individually.  We learned so much that night about how the program got started, about the birds themselves, the  raising of the chicks and the migration process.   The birds never see or hear a human.  The handlers are always in costume when they are near the cranes and that includes when they fly the plane. He told that even when they mow the runway, they take the birds out into the marsh so they won't hear the sound.  As I was sitting there listening, the lady across the table asked me if I had been to her house because I looked familiar.  I guess all gray haired ladies look alike.  Just go to a casino, and you will see that is true.  Anyway, she told me that her house is on the corner of the viewing spot.  Everyday people gather to watch the training flights. The very next morning we went out there.  That day, the flight was called off because of the weather.   All we saw at first was this.  I was sure it was ET coming back for a visit.  Remember, ET Phone Home.

ET Phone Home

Then we saw the trike but no birds.  He flew over to give us the no go sign.
Notice the pilot is in his white crane costume.

We sadly went home.  Fortunately we live less than five minutes from the site.  The next morning bright and early we went out again.  This time there were quite a few people there.  Many of them were from other states.  We saw people from Arizona, Delaware and Georgia.  I believe they were in the area for the Whooping Crane Festival.  This time the weather was great, and we saw what we had wanted to see for a long time.  Who knew this was going on so close to our house.  We will be returning again until they take off for the last time and start the migration process.

First we saw them just over the trees.

Then they got closer.

And closer.

Soon they were right overhead.  Notice there are two ultralights.  The second one picks up any birds that fall behind.

Last year one of the migrating cranes died.  It was injured on one of the landings.  She was rushed to the hospital but died on the table.  In memory of this bird, someone put this little memorial under a tree at the viewing spot.  It says #1012 meaning the 10th chick from 2012.  They named her Ruthie Louisie.
Memorial to whooping crane #1012

We also found out that we could make an appointment to go out to the pen area deep in the White River Marsh.  They have a "crane blind" set up to view the cranes on the ground.  We are going to do that, and if I get some good photos, I will show them.

It just so happened that this weekend the Berlin Wisconsin Conservation Club hosted the Whooping Crane Festival.  We went last year but wanted to go again.

They had activities, a silent auction and some speakers.  We were able to see the ultralight close up.  I can't imagine flying in that flying machine all the way to Florida.  Think how cold it must get in the open air.

We listened to a speaker from the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.  He also is one of the costumed handlers who go out in the pens early in the morning to feed the birds.  We live so close to the marsh and drive through it often, we wanted to hear him speak about other birds that live in the marsh. 

This spring I posted a photo of one of the first Sandhill cranes to return to our area.  There was still snow on the ground.  He was gray in color with a few light tan feathers.

I couldn't figure out why later in the spring the Sandhill's turn a different color.  The speaker said that they paint themselves by preening themselves with the soil of the area.  I never knew that.  It is for camouflage or maybe to look beautiful for the courting dance.

It is a little hard to see, but the sandhill cranes are a dark rusty color.

I know the team of Operation Migrations won't see this blog, but I hope they know how happy they make many people.  Their dedication to the Whooping Crane is amazing.  I don't know for sure, but it seems that they live in trailers in a camp area near the marsh all summer, and then travel with all the equipment from stop to stop along the migration route.  Sometimes they have long layovers until the weather cooperates, and they can continue on.  It's an all day long and 7 day a week tiring job.  I think they are seeing progress, but it is slow.  It's a necessary program because there are still not enough breeding pairs in the wild.  A crane cannot reproduce until they are five years old and then they only lay one or two eggs.  If the egg is hatched, they don't all survive.  It's wonderful that these people work year after year to help increase the crane population.

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