The "Chass Ten" arrived
at their winter site Jan. 20. Health checks/banding took place
four days later. The ten juveniles were released on January 28
from the top-netted pen. But the peaceful release was
soon interrupted by the loud arrival of six adult Whooping Cranes
Class of 2008: yearling cranes
804, 814, 818, 824, 827
830. Five of these adult birds are
last year’s tenants at the Chass pen site. The sixth
bird wintered at the St. Mark’s NWR pen site, but chose
not to go back there.
The Problem With Adults
Matt says, "We did not want the adults to harass the young chicks,
receive any supplemental food, or lure any of the young cranes to
flock." So Matt, Sara and Eva began to drive them away.
They spent a long day in costume defending
food and water
stations from the six adults. (Costumed humans tower over
even the largest adult cranes and with a proper turn of the head
can strike fear in aggressive birds.) The adults,
having received no food or welcome after hours of trying, retreated
to an area south of the pen. They spent the night out of sight, defeated.
are still coming back! They want to be here.
they aren't the only adults around. Male
#105 and his mate #501 just arrived. They'd spent more than a
month on Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee. The trackers
dreaded seeing #105 show up.
Why? He has a history of going to the Homosassa Springs
Park to visit the captive Whooping crane pair there.
he took #501 with him.
"Every time #105 visits the park, we must drop everything to
capture him and transport him to a top-netted pen until we can
relocate him somewhere else." The costumed humans have their
hands full at Chass!
aviculturalist Sara is
Winter Management co-leader at Chass with Richard Urbanek, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service Senior Project Biologist. Tracking
Chief Eva and
Matt are with
them. They'll all take off to
track the birds when migration begins.
Photo Eva Szyszkoski. ICF
who arrived this week at the chick's Chass pen? Male #105 and
ten juveniles are behaving well and doing great after arriving January
13. They made it through health check and banding. Now they are free! Christine
Barnes, a member of the winter monitoring team, shares more:
Release day was January 25 at about 4:30 p.m. The
wetland was silent and still. A white-costumed figure moved
the top-netted fence and slowly pulled open
the gate. Out burst the eager young cranes. They quickly took off circling,
flying out toward the bay and back over the pen, circling to the west, then
east, back and forth, enjoying the "jailbreak." Eventually
they landed. The patient handler coaxed them back into the pen. The gates
closed — but
the top net was GONE. The young cranes are free to come and go!
One: A Safe Roost
A big pile of
oyster shells is just below the water’s surface in one of the two large
ponds inside the pen. This human-made ridge ("oyster bar") is a
safe place in the water. A plastic crane stands stiffly at
the end of the bar as a role model.
found that this was a great place to bathe. After baths, the
costumed handler moved onto the oyster bar and the other cranes followed. One
one they claimed their night’s
roosting space on the oyster-shell bar. This was their first lesson
in using in the water as a safety defense.
would have to reach the cranes by splashing through the water surrounding
the roosting site. Roosting in water is like having liquid
It was nearly dark. The handler waited for the "Harley kick:" Each
crane jerks one leg as though starting a motorcycle, then tucks the
leg up and
goes to sleep. Then slowly and quietly, the handler slipped away.
The young cranes were left to the light of the half-moon and their first
night under the stars: no net!