Sara's Report: CraneTreasure Hunt
April 4, 2008

Dear Journey North,

March 30 was the third Sunday in a row that I went up to Necedah to check for newly arrived whooping cranes. This time I was also meeting Colleen, one of ICF’s tracking interns. Colleen left Florida on March 26th to help track some of the first ultralight-led (UL) birds that began their migration March 25. Now we needed her at Necedah to take care of #735 — and to monitor the growing number of whooping cranes that were arriving in WI.

We suspected that more cranes had returned than we had yet found. Snow banks on some roads blocked my previous tracking trips, but now only one road was impassable (flooded from all the melting snow). We immediately heard and saw most of the birds we knew to be on the southern part of the refuge. They included #309, whose signal is like music to my ears after 4 years of not having her on the refuge. We then made our way much farther north on roads that were now clear. We picked up a number of new signals from birds that hadn’t yet been confirmed back in Wisconsin: #317, 105, 401 and 508, 512, and 505.

Today's sightings made me think that looking for cranes is like a treasure hunt with levels that get more exciting as you go:

• The first level is hearing a signal that you’ve already heard, then seeing a bird that you’ve already seen.
• The next level is seeing a bird whose signal you previously heard but whom you weren’t able to see.
•The next level is hearing a new signal, then seeing that new bird.
• Finally, I think the most exciting level is seeing a bird with a non-functional transmitter (NFT) and confirming that it’s back, alive and well. Seeing them is the only way to know they are back. Crane #303's transmitter doesn’t work but we were able to see her with her mate, #317. They were back on their territory! We were also lucky to see #316, whose transmitter no longer works, with several other birds. We hope that #311 is still with #312 and that #415 is still with #505 but we weren’t able to see them. We’ll have to be patient and keep checking, plus hope the flooding stops so we can drive on.

A GREAT Day Finding Cranes
At the end of Sunday, March 30, we had 27 birds on the refuge! We also knew of two others back in WI for a total of 29. Since that day, 4 more have been confirmed back in Wisconsin. As I write this on April 2, Colleen saw #216 on the refuge. He’s another one without a functional transmitter so it’s a great sighting. There are probably more than these 33 back in Wisconsin that we just haven’t found yet. The treasure hunt will continue! Luckily Colleen is now here to help me.

Sara Zimorski, Aviculturist


Exciting News: #309's First Return in Five Springtimes!

On the right are 213 & 218 and on the left are 309 & 403. This picture is very exciting for several reasons:

The first exciting news is that for the first time ever, #309 returned to WI on her own! ( Well, she might have been following #403, but she’s back!!)  This is the bird who spent her first summer in Michigan and at least part of her next 3 summers in New York. In Dec. 2005 we caught her in NC and brought her to FL, where she eventually ended up living with the 2005 ultralight-led chicks at the Chassahowitzka pen. We hoped she’d follow the chicks back to WI, but instead she left one day early with #520 and returned to New York. We caught both of them in NY and returned them to WI, where they spent the summer. They migrated correctly to FL in the fall and eventually separated and seemed to pair with other birds. Unfortunately #309 separated from her new mate in Indiana during migration that spring and once again returned to NY. We finally caught her (for the third time) last October and returned her to Necedah once again. The very next day she paired with #403. The pair established a territory and built two nests. (Building nests in the fall is unheard of in cranes.) It seemed to be “love at first sight” for this pair. We hoped it would last and that finally #309 would stick with this bird and make it back to Wisconsin. You can’t imagine the excitement we felt when her signal was first detected on the refuge! It’s a great feeling of accomplishment that she made it, as well as a huge relief that we won’t have to make a trip to NY this year to catch her. Now she can truly be part of this population.

The second exciting think about this photo is that #309 and #403 look to be a really good pair defending their territory from neighboring pair 213 & 218. It was fascinating watching these two pairs display and call back and forth to each other. They did unison calls. Their crowns were expanded and bright red. They were strutting. They did drop-wing threats, and I even saw 309 stomp and do several crouch threats. We hope they established their territory borders and will learn to live peacefully next to each other. It was thrilling to see 309 back at Necedah, having gotten there on her own. I have high hopes for her this spring!
Photo Sara Zimorski, ICF

  • More Migration Photos >>