Class of 2008 in Florida

March 20, 2009
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St. Marks NWR

"We are waiting for that little signal. The signal from the chicks that they are ready to be on their own, ready to "fly the coop" and head north.

"We wait. And watch. And scrutinize every movement, every behavior. Are they flying more? Are they eating more? In the morning, when they are not in the pen, I breathlessly grab the receiver to listen to the chicks’ transmitter frequencies to find out if I can hear them. So far, every morning we have. But a morning will come when we won’t hear anything but silence. That is what we are waiting for. . .When the length of the day is coupled with the correct weather system and winds, they will go. But how long does the day have to be? Are they waiting for the backside of a high pressure system, or the front side of a low? Will the winds come from the southeast, the southwest, or straight out of the south?

"Only the birds know exactly. So I wait. Wait for that morning when they will not be seen or heard. After that, I can wait once more for new chicks to hatch."
—Adapted from Bev Paulan's Operation Migration Field Journal, March 18, 2009

More! >>

"Trying to Let Go"
Bev Paulan's Operation Migration Field Journal, March 13, 2009

Photo Mark Chenoweth

Operation Migration's Brooke and Bev are winter monitors for the 7 young cranes in the flock's first year at the release site at St. Marks NWR in Florida: #829, 812, 826, 805, 830, 813, 828

Photo Bev Paulan, Operation Migration
Chassahowitzka NWR
"Despite how long they've lived together and how much space they have in the 4-acre, open-topped pen they sometimes still pick on each other," reports Sara.
What do you think the cranes would say in each of Sara's photos below?
Photos Sara Zimorski, ICF

Thinking about poking...


After the poke.

Sara Reports: What a week! On March 17 we had 21 older cranes confirmed on migration, and 6 who are not on their wintering grounds and likely on migration. On March 7 or 8, DAR #28-05 was the first bird to complete her migration back to Wisconsin. Then, last night (March 19) I discovered that 11 more cranes had arrived at Necedah!

Even though these older birds have started or even completed spring migration, we don’t expect the ultralight juveniles to leave until the end of March or early April. Every year the ultralight birds at Chassahowitzka have left within a two week window (last week of March, first week of April) regardless of when they arrive in FL and how long or short their stay at the winter pen is. The timing of their departure seems to be tied in to when the wild flock of whoopers normally leave Aransas. Now we expect this will be true of the juveniles wintering at St. Marks, but we don’t know for sure — so we’ll certainly be watching them and be curious to find out when they leave.

In future years the bird in the Class of 2008 will leave Florida earlier. Some will leave early with sandhills and others will leave earlier to get back to their established territories at Necedah. But I don’t fully understand why the younger, unpaired, non-breeding birds don’t wait longer before heading back. Some things about these birds are a mystery and will probably always remain a mystery.

Eva Reports: The cranes have been little angels at bedtime recently. Most nights they are all standing on the human-made oyster-shell bar, preening well before the sun is completely set. The time we spend with them in costume is very minimal now, and usually only consists of us checking the food level in their feeders every couple of nights. It's always kind of a sad time when we are not able to interact with them, but it's for their benefit, and there's always next year!

Eva is packed up and ready to migrate at anytime, but she hasn't yet noticed restlessness in the youngest birds.