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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 14, 2006

Today's Report Includes:

Crane 303 returns to territory!

Photo Richard Urbanek

An Amazing Week
It's been another fantastic week of good news for cranes! Right on schedule, nearly half of the Texas flock left for Canada this week, and a few earlier cranes have now crossed into Canada on their 2,500-mile journey north. The Eastern flock has four pairs sitting on nests in Wisconsin. Wayward cranes #311 and #301 made it across (or around?) Lake Michigan and are back at their Wisconsin home. Crane #303, gone missing from her mate, safely appeared two days ago on her last year’s territory. We hope mate #216, now in Minnesota, soon joins her. Not seen since December, crane #307 showed up on April 6 at Wisconsin’s Necedah NWR! And the first egg for next fall's new ultralight-led flock was laid in a captive breeding center in Maryland. Hooray!

Will the Flock’s FIRST Chicks Hatch? Challenge Question #9
Will 2006 bring the first chicks? Everyone is waiting and hoping! Last year’s first attempts ended in failure. Will this year be different? When will we know? See these helpful lessons, then dig into this week's Challenge Question.

Helpful Lessons:

Challenge Question #9:
“When will the chicks hatch for these 4 whooping crane pairs?

Pair Began Incubating
213 and 218 April 6
203 and 317 April 7
101 and 202 April 7
211 and 217 April 11

To respond to this Challenge Question, please follow these instructions:

Experts Learn a Lesson: Journaling Question
Eastern flock cranes #309, #520 and #318 have gone astray. For the two HY2003 birds, it started with their first migration north. In spring 2004, they left Florida in a small group of flockmates. But the group ended up on the east side of Lake Michigan and appeared to be blocked from returning home. The experts argued: capture and move them back to Wisconsin, or leave them alone to return on their own? The birds were left on their own. Three of the five eventually made it back to Wisconsin, but not #309 (now in Michigan) or #318 (now in Ontario). They have been “lost” ever since. Now it seems that these two head for Michigan. They even have the potential to corrupt other birds, which happened with chick #520. What has this taught the experts?
“A lesson to be learned is that the location a whooping crane returns to on its first migration north may have a powerful influence on that bird's subsequent migration. So any bird that goes off course on its first trip north, we need to catch and return it to Necedah ASAP.” Tom Stehn, US Whooping Crane Coordinator.

Try This! Journaling Question:
Joe Duff said, “We learn more from mistakes than from successes--or at least we should.” What experience have you had that taught you a lot, even though things didn’t turn out the way you planned?

Eastern Flock Field Notes

We began this report with the big news about #307, #303, wayward Michigan cranes #301 and #311, and the nesting pairs in Wisconsin. At least 2 other pairs are defending territories. Only 6 HY2005 chicks are still migrating, or not at the summer home, Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.

Migration is a survival story for reach of the flock’s 64 cranes. Here’s the latest the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) chicks and the older birds of the Eastern Flock:

Each chick has its own map to show the journey north!
( Please use the drop-down menu to select individual HY2005 chicks.
Photo WCEP

Western Flock Field Notes: Tom Stehn's Report

Of the Western flock’s 215 cranes, only 35 remain in Texas: 2 family groups, 28 subadults, and 1 chick all by itself. Alone? Yes. Whooping crane juveniles normally separate from their parents either shortly after arrival on the nesting grounds, or near the end of their first journey north. Sometimes they separate at Aransas, which happened now. Tom Stehn imagined himself to be the chick left behind, saying to its parents, “Where the heck are you going? No way am I going to migrate 2,500 miles just to eat berries and insects!” What does Tom predict will happen to this chick? Would you rather be a large bird (Tom’s choice) migrating, or a small bird? Why? And, of the 215 wild cranes in the Western flock, why are so many subadults still there? See:

NEW! Were They Whoopers? You Be the Judge

People call Tom with many false sightings of whoopers migrating. Why? You understand when you test yourself with this photo and observation activity:

Were They Whoopers? You Be the Judge

Western Flock Now Reaching Canada: Brian Johns Reports
Are you keeping track of the temperatures on the nesting grounds as the cranes head toward their summer homes? Dig out your journals and check the weather in crane habitat.

"The first confirmed report of whoopers back in Canada came in on April 8,” reports biologist Brian Johns near the Canadian nesting grounds. “Because of the location of this sighting near one of the fall stopover areas, I suspect that this is the Lobstick pair with their young from last year. On April 11 another pair was sighted near the Last Mountain Lake National Wildlife Area.

“These cranes have another 1000 kilometers to go before reaching their summer territories on the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park. The temperature there is 8 degrees C and sunny. The snow has been rapidly melting in the park over the last week."

Meet Brian Johns at the whoopers' Canadian Nesting Grounds!

Do you live along the Texas/Canada migration path? Keep your eyes on the skies. You might get lucky and see a whooping crane! See the latest list of confirmed sightings of cranes from Texas heading to Canada.

Faster Flying Free? Discussion of Challenge Question #7
The Eastern cranes can migrate north in spring in just 5-8 days, while their first journey south has taken up to 61 days with the ultralight leading the way. We asked, "Why can the Eastern cranes make the journey north so much faster than their very first journey south?"

Thanks to all the middle school age students who gave us a lot to think about! You mentioned factors such as bad fall weather, the "newness" of migration on the journey south, the birds' growing strength and eagerness to get to their breeding grounds, and the fact that the plane is simply slower than the whoopers. Marcus also noted, "Maybe there are more thermals available to them on their spring migration than on the fall one." Let's hear more from Joe Duff about these last two ideas. Read on!

Those Florida Winters: Discussion of CQ #8
After calculating that the cranes spent 106 days on their wintering grounds, sixth grade homeschooler Marcus gave us CQ #8: "It appears that there is a trend of number of days on the wintering grounds (for the Eastern flock) getting shorter. Are there any ideas on why this may be?"

Marcus and Iselin Middle School students Kathryn and Nick did some great thinking about factors that could affect the length of the Eastern flock's stay on the wintering grounds. There’s more to it than meets the eye. Scientists need to look at all the variables that influence their data, and we all have something to learn about what makes a meaningful conclusion. Find out here, with Tom Stehn’s reply:

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on April 21, 2006.

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