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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 16, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Here a Crane, There a Crane, Everywhere a Whooping Crane
What a week for whoopers! The 16 chicks in the tiny new Eastern flock are scattered along their migration path, with only one Eastern whooper (#214) still remaining in Florida. The two tidy groups of eight chicks split and scattered since our last report, and most of the older ultracranes are now in Wisconsin. At Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, only 9 whoopers in the main flock remain after a huge departure week. (More later in this report.) On April 15, Tom Stehn said, “With the current sunshine and strong SE winds, any crane that doesn't depart from Aransas today needs a ‘check migration clock’ light”—-like the “check oil” lights in our cars!

With a record high of 194 birds in the natural flock at Aransas last fall, you might think the migrating whoopers would be easy to spot. But we have just 10 confirmed sightings between March 8 and April 12. This week, we have a map of those sightings. Have the Aransas whoopers reached their Canadian nesting grounds yet? “We have no confirmed whooper reports as of April 15. They should be arriving any day now,” said Brian Johns, Wildlife Biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Service at the whooping cranes’ northern nesting grounds.

When you look at the maps of the two migratory flocks—-the natural flock and the reintroduced flock—-could you expect to see any cranes overhead where YOU live?

Follow the progress of each bird in the Eastern flock with our charts:

Group of 5 HY2003 migrating chicks at their location
in St. Joseph County, MI.
Group of 5 at their second location in MI: Berrien
Group of 5 at their their Mercer County, Ohio location.
Photos Richard Urbank

Whooper Sighting...or Not? Challenge Question #10
What do you immediately know about this bird by looking at both legs? Which whooper is it? (Use the banding codes to identify the bird.)
Photo Operation Migration

On Tuesay, April 13th around noon, a Minnesotan named Gina and her two daughters saw an astonishing sight:

“What we saw, I think, was definitely a pair of Whooping Cranes. Their markings are so distinct, and they were so huge. They were all white with only black on the ends of their wings. I've considered the other possible birds and I think these must've been whooping cranes. They were soaring and they looked like they were dancing, which is a courtship thing. So could they be nesting?...or maybe passing through? Land is very marshy all around here and the Montrose Marsh, which is gigantic, is a mile or so away. (Montrose is the name of the closest town.)”

Challenge Question #10:
“Based on the migration maps for BOTH migratory flocks, do you think these birds could be whooping cranes? What does Gina say that makes it seem likely? What, if anything, would make it seem unlikely?”

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Experts are trying to determine the answer to this challenge question too! Next week we’ll consider your answers and share what the experts said. Journey North reported the sighting to Tom Stehn and Operation Migration. With Whooping cranes so rare and endangered they try to keep track of every one. Citizens can help by reporting any sightings.
Another sighting was sent to us by Judith Petty: “My daughter is a professor at St. Louis University. On her return to St. Louis on Easter Day - - from Rockford, IL, on Interstate 55 Just outside of E. St. Louis- -in a marshy area she saw 3 adult Whooping Cranes!! Very exciting! But should they have been there? We know they are headed north to Wisconsin and places; but didn't know why they were a bit out of line with the normal migration.” Journey North reported it to Heather and Tom. Heather replied: “I believe the 3 seen in St. Louis are #304, 306 and 317, last seen in flight north of Dalton, GA on April 9th. This is the only other group of three that are a) still traveling together and b) NOT in OHIO.... They've covered some good ground if it is them!” What do YOU think?

Sara’s Photo Studies and Your Journaling Questions
Once again, ICF’s Sara Zimorski shares some photos she thinks you’ll like. After training and migrating with them, Sara really knows these cranes. Thanks for sharing, Sara!
"Marianne Wellington took this photo of #312 this winter in the release pen. As you can see, she has both a regular radio transmitter and a PTT. When she and #303 and #316 broke away from the other 5 birds in Ohio last week, Richard tracked them for a short while, then left them so he could track the other five birds. He felt comfortable leaving them because 312's PTT has been working very well and Richard knew he'd be able to locate the birds later based on the data we receive from her satellite transmitter."

Journaling Question:
Trackers need to think fast sometimes. Imagine you're a tracker. When a group you're tracking splits up, how would you decide which cranes to follow? Where did this group of three cranes probably spend April 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13? (See Spring Migration.)
"I took this photo of the former trio
of #105, #204, and #218 earlier this winter. Based on reported
sightings, it seems #218 has separated from the other two birds. Earlier in the winter, #218 was aggressively chasing #204 in an attempt to drive her away; however, #204 was persistent and stuck around. Eventually #218 gave
up and stopped chasing her. It will now be interesting to see if #105
and 204 remain together as a pair or if they, too, will split up."

Journaling Question:
“How does #218’s behavior illustrate what we know for sure about whooping cranes?”

The Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock migrates 2,400 miles.

Going, Going, Almost Gone! Nine Cranes Left at Aransas
“By mid-April, the whooping crane migration has gone from “on schedule” To “ahead of schedule,” writes Tom Stehn from Aransas. “I was amazed on my aerial census flight April 14th when we could only find 14 whooping cranes remaining at Aransas, whereas one week ago on April 7th we had counted 109. The weather had been absolutely impossible for migration April 11-13 when a cold front brought strong north winds gusting to 30 mph. Cranes are just not going to struggle north against such strong headwinds. They would much rather stay at Aransas a few more days and fatten up on delicious, nutritious, high-in-fat-and-protein blue crabs, their favorite food. A crane can eat up to 80 blue crabs a day, which is quite a feast for a bird that only weighs 15 pounds. So the 95 cranes that started the migration since my previous flight on April 7th did so April 8-10th, or they did so late morning on April 14th.” When Tom went back on the afternoon of the 14th to check on 5 of the 14 cranes that he counted that morning, they were gone. He thinks they left on migration, which leaves currently just 9 whooping cranes at Aransas!

What made Tom believe the five cranes left later on the morning of April 14? Which 9 are left? Tom tells us about a single adult that raised a chick this winter while “dating” another adult. The pair didn’t stay together. Will the chick migrate with the parent--or leave later, alone? Can it find its way alone? Do cranes mate for life? Tom explains. How can you tell the males from the females? Tom explains that, too. What does Tom predict about the 9 remaining cranes, and what is he curious about? Read for the answers here:


Clip: Fly Away Home--and Beyond (6 minutes)
Watch It Now


Fly Away Home—and Beyond: Video Clip
With just three more crane reports remaining this season, we thought you’d enjoy sitting back for a beautiful 6-minute review of the whooping crane recovery plan. If you saw the film “Fly Away Home,” you know a bit about the beginnings of Operation Migration, who pioneered in conservation of migratory species through ultralight-led migrations. Here’s a peek at some clips from “Fly Away Home” and other highlights of the experiment that led to the first human-led migration of an endangered species: the 2001 migration with the first birds of the new Eastern flock. You’ll see the Canada geese ultralight flight from “Fly Away Home,” followed by glimpses of the hatching, training, and first migration of the HY2001 chicks. Before you view, see fun facts shared by Operation Migration’s Heather Ray, who put the video together:

  • The music is "10,000 Miles" sung by Mary Chapin-Carpenter.
  • Joe and Bill were the first ever to fly ultralight aircraft across the width of Lake O. Joe doesn't swim. They wore float suits, just in case. But you'll also notice a "chase boat" below them in one shot.
  • The city over which the geese are flying is supposed to be downtown Toronto; however, this shot was digitally created for the movie. The guys never actually led the geese through the largest city in Canada.
  • The shot of the two little girls in bathing suits near the beginning is Anna Paquin (Amyin the film) and Carmen (Bill Lishman's daughter). they were the same age when the filming occurred and spent quite a bit of "down-time" together.
  • The early aircraft shots are of Bill in the “Easy Riser.” He crashed many times before he figured it out.

Cranes Pay Attention to Weather
As always, weather played a big role in this week's migrating for both migratory flocks of whooping cranes. Poor migration weather kept the eastern flock grounded or scattered, while the Aransas whoopers were “outta there” in huge numbers. Wally Jobman says, “The remainder of this week looks good for migration across the central U.S. Low pressure to the west and high pressure to the east will produce warm south winds for the Aransas cranes.”

April 13, 2004
April 14, 2004
April 15, 2004

Take a look at weather maps for the past 3 days as you think about cranes and migration: The sun produces thermal air currents during high pressure systems, which bring clear or partly cloudy skies. Thermals and strong SE winds are perfect for migrating cranes; thermals hold them up aloft, and a good tailwind pushes them in the right direction so they can travel farther with a minimum of flapping their wings. Cranes probably start to migrate when barometric pressure begins to fall, because that's when winds start to come out of the south--as a high pressure system is leaving and a low is approaching. Low pressure systems are associated with rain, which makes it very difficult for cranes to fly long distances.
Studies have proven that birds are extremely sensitive to small changes in air pressure. Do you wonder how cranes know whether the barometric pressure is high or low? How is it helpful for birds to be able to detect changes in air pressure? Do some investigating with this lesson, which applies to ALL birds:

Where’s the Water? Links to Lessons
While the cranes pay attention to the air pressure, people along the migration trail are concerned about other things related to weather:

  • “Migration habitat in eastern Saskatchewan is adequate with many wetlands; however in western Saskatchewan it is very dry,” reported Brian Johns from the nesting grounds of the main flock.
  • “Flows in the Platte River in Nebraska continue to decrease and predictions are that the river will be dry by June 1 unless there is a dramatic change in the drought situation,” said Wally Jobman from his location on the critically important staging grounds on the Platte River in Nebraska.
  • The human population of Texas is expected to double in the next 48-50 years. Besides oil and chemical spills and disease, this is another threat to the whooping cranes that winter in Aransas. Why? Why do whooping crane winter deaths increase and breeding success decrease during years when not enough fresh water flows from the rivers into the estuary at Aransas? Find out here:

Journaling / Discussion Question:
Do you feel that the freshwater needs of wildlife should be protected by law in places where water shortage is a problem?

Earth Day Is Coming
What can YOU do to help make it a healthier planet for all living things? This online quiz helps you think about what you use and how you live. You will be astonished!

You can also share what you know about whooping crane survival needs, and how human actions can endanger the birds and their habitat. A new article in the April 2004 National Geographic magazine is a fantastic story to share and enjoy with friends or family:
“Cranes. Symbols of luck and majesty, cranes have been called ‘wildness incarnate.’ But with wildness disappearing and their luck running out, the great birds are getting some help from scientists and self-described ‘craniacs.’” By Jennifer Ackersman. Also map supplement: Bird Migration.

Tracking With the PTT Data: Answer to Challenge Question #9
“What distance did the cranes in group one cover between the time their location was known on April 3 (Macon County) until April 5 (Clermont County), when it was known again for certain?”
Answer: 272 miles. Justin L. was close!

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to: jn-challenge-crane@learner.org
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #10.
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on April 23, 2004.

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