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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 30, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Eastern Flock Migration Data

Migration Stalled for 8 Eastern Chicks
One look at the map and you know that this year's migration is a bit messier than the previous years, with only three of the 16 HY2003 chicks officially done with their first spring migration. We’ve heard nothing new on #307 and #302, last recorded migrating in Illinois on April 16. Five Ohio cranes are still where they were last week, but the Ohio group of three departed and were stopped by Lake Michigan. Cranes #304, 306, and 317 are likely still somewhere in Minnesota, or at least close by. Sara reports, “A sighting of three whooping cranes flying along the Mississippi River in Pepin County was reported to us on April 25, and we believe these were the three MN birds--though we can't know for sure.” Follow progress here:

On Saturday, April 24, the smaller group of three Ohio cranes [Group 1B on the migration map] departed the area where they’ve been since April 9 and flew in the correct direction towards central WI before encountering the eastern edge of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is a formidable obstacle directly in the path of the cranes’ northward migration to Wisconsin. "On April 25 they hit the lake at the exact same area as the Ohio group of 5 [Group 1A on the map] did when they attemped to continue their migration on April 10. All of these birds are trying to do the right thing, trying to get home to central Wisconsin. But the lake is a huge obstacle that they don't know how to get around. Additionally, if the birds were to find their way around the south edge of the lake, they'd likely need a SE wind and they simply haven't had that in the recent weeks," explained Sara.

Cranes #303, #312, and #316 in their new location in Berien Cty., Michigan. They can't seem to figure out how to get around it and north to Wisconsin.

Photo Richard Urbanek, USFWS

Journal Question: This is the first group of ultracranes in 3 years that seems to be stopped by the obstacle of Lake Michigan. Why do you think this is happening to these cranes?

You’re the Scientist: What to Do?
It’s a worry: What do you think will happen with the 8 birds in Ohio and Michigan? Sara Zimorski says, “I'm not sure; none of us are. We briefly talked about this issue on our conference call Tuesday, and will continue to discuss the situation and possible options in the coming weeks.” Sara shares some of the interesting facts, issues, and options talked about by the WCEP Bird Team. Sara explains the Team’s ideas and what they plan to do:

Crane #312 Harmed: A Lesson About Litter

Crane #312, barely one year old, would have died from starvation and dehydration if this had gone unnoticed. Richard sent these photos of the piece of trash, carelessly tossed there by a human, and which very nearly killed an endangered Whooping crane - one of only 430 or so left in this world.
This is the ragged top otf the aluminum can that was stuck on #312's mandibles.

Click to enlarge so you can read the words printed on top.
"Marianne Wellington took this photo of #312 in Florida this winter. One reason those birds were left alone in Ohio is because we knew we'd be able to keep track of them through #312's PTT data. Her PTT has been working very well, and that's how Richard knew she, and presumably the other two birds, had left Ohio and gone to Michigan. We are very lucky her PTT works so well. If we'd lost track of those birds, #312 might have died with that can stuck on her beak because she would have been unable to eat and drink," said Sara Zimorski.

Richard Urbanek and Spotting Scope.

When Richard Urbanek arrived on April 26 to monitor the three cranes newly arrived in Michigan, he saw an alarming sight. Viewing them from the spotting scope mounted to his vehicle, he noticed the crane #312 had what appeared to be the ragged top of an aluminum can lodged over her beak. After observing her for a short time, he saw that she was unable to open her beak. There was no way to tell how long the can top had been wedged over her beak, but something had to be done to help her. Wearing his costume and using corn to bait the young cranes, he was able to convince the young cranes to approach the familiar costume. As soon as he could safely do so, he grabbed 312 and very carefully removed the lid of the aluminum can. It had substantially cut into her lower mandible, but her blood-clotted wounds appeared clean. Richard immediately released her to join the other two birds, #303 and #316.

Richard reported on April 28 that #312 was again eating and drinking normally. “She’s just not carrying herself with her usual strut, and she's been sticking her beak under her feathers a lot, as if in roosting position.”

The upper and lower mandibles comprise the bird’s bill. Bills (or beaks) are made of keratin, a fingernail-like material. Under that outer layer are more tissue and blood vessels, especially close to the base, making it possible for the bill to grow. By the time you get out to the tip of the bill, it’s mostly keratin.


Photo Operation Migration



Heather's Mystery Photo: Challenge Question #12
Operation Migration's Heather Ray has a challenge for you. She sent these clues and the photo. She wants you to figure out. . .

Callenge Question #12:
“Who is this crane?”

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

Clue #1: Green over white RADIO transmitter on left leg, the only leg visible. (The right leg is tucked up into roost position.)
Clue #2: No traces of tawny brown feathers tells us it’s an adult.
Clue #3: Considering the date the image was taken (4/24) and looking at the surrounding vegetation, tells us that this adult crane has returned NORTH to an area where there has yet to be any active growth among the cattails and normally tall grasses.
Bonus clue: SHE prefers solitude

Photo Operation Migration.
Click to enlarge!

Brian Johns’ Field Report from the Canadian Nesting Grounds
The eight chicks from the Eastern flock are stalled by Lake Michigan, but in the center of the continent the migrating families from the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock are hurrying to Canada’s far north for the new nesting season. (See map; it's waaaaay up there!) Now for the latest news, photos, and crane calls from Brian:

Dear Journey North:
I haven't been able to confirm whooping cranes on the nesting grounds yet; however, my spotters have been seeing and hearing sandhill cranes in the Wood Buffalo National Park area for the last week so there should be whooping cranes there as well. The earliest pairs usually have established their territories and have begun nest construction by this time. Whooping cranes maintain a territory that they defend from all other cranes. This territory is used for nesting and raising their young.

A pair of cranes and their unison call. (click for sound)

Crane on Nest in Canada.
Photos Brian Johns, CWS

The way that a crane pair defends their territory is to tell other cranes that this portion of marsh property is taken. The cranes do this by calling loudly. The territorial defense call is the Unison Call. It gets its name because both the male and female call in unison with each other. During the call, the cranes stand erect and throw their heads back to make their call penetrate further into the marsh. The call is a series of chucking sounds that can carry for up to 3 kilometers across the marsh. Click to hear a unison call that we recorded from one of the pairs nesting in Alberta whose territory we were intruding upon. Some of the early pairs will likely be incubating eggs already. Both the male and female share incubation duties.

Brian Johns, Canadian Wildlife Service, Wood Buffalo National Park

Try This! Research and Journaling
In such vast wilderness, how and when was the nesting place of the world's last remaining migratory flock of whooping cranes discovered?

Tom Stehn’s Field Report: Three Stragglers Still at Aransas
Tom thought the last 3 cranes would be gone when he flew his survey on April 28. “But during our survey, writes Tom, “it was hard to deny the sight of three 5-foot tall white birds standing together around the same pond. Thus, three ‘stragglers’ are still here, while 190 whooping cranes (98% of the flock) have migrated.” Why isn’t Tom worried about these 3 yet? Do you think the three included a chick left behind by its parents? See what Tom thinks.

“When whooping cranes migrate, they fly during the daytime and stop every night, often in unfamiliar territory. This is because they fly on a slightly different migration pathway every year as they get blown off course slightly to the east or west, depending on the winds,” explains Tom. He lists six perils; some might surprise you! Name them all, and also find out why migration gets even more perilous as the human population grows. What important question does Tom have for YOU? Find it all here:

Baby Book: HY2004 Ultra-chicks
More chicks have hatched for this year’s new ultralight flock! “We just started circle pen training for the first time on the oldest three chicks,” reports Dan Sprague from Patuxent Wildife Research Center where the babies hatched. “We have four babies so far and they are cute!” See for yourself!
Heather Ray explains:
Chick #1, age 6 days, in his chick run. (He's the tiny brown fluffball in the center. Chicks are on green turf for good footing.) Find the brood model, heat lamp, and the puppet head dangling over crumbles (food). In the next run with wood shavings is the now-grown #206, held back at Patuxent due to a wing injury as a chick. He now serves as a role model for the new chicks so they know how their own species looks and behaves.
Chick 401 (you met him last week, just after hatching) at 1 day of age. Thanks to DNA from the cell membranes of his eggshell, he has been identified as a male.
Meet our 4th chick, number #405. (The 4th chick of HY2004 died soon after it hatched, so there is no chick named #404.) What’s on his feet? When the chicks begin walking, the handlers watch the chicks’ toes. If toes show any sign of turning when the chicks begin to walk, the experts often splint and tape the toes. This helps them grow properly.


Fly Away Home: Discussion of Challenge Question #11
We asked, "Why were the first cranes back able to make the journey north so much faster than the journey south? Try to give 3 reasons."

Double high fives to Iselin Middle School 7th graders Anita, Ritesh, Nina, Robert, Ricky, Nina, Hijab, Sameen, Alex, Frank, Cheyenne, Sabrina, Mansi, Nick, Jessica, Caitlin, and George. “The first cranes were able to fly north faster than south because they knew where they were going. As the cranes flew south, they memorized the landmarks and the routes they took. They stopped more going south because they were new to the area. When migrating north, the weather is better, permitting the cranes to migrate more quickly. There is also more food in the spring, giving the cranes the energy to travel. Finally, an obvious reason, some cranes left earlier, so they got back home sooner.” Good thinking! You remembered that the weather last fall was pretty bad; it took 54 days for the journey south!
We’d like to add more about something you hinted at: Last fall, the young cranes didn’t know where to go, so they needed to follow the ultralight plane. A really important thing about following the ultralight is that the cranes had to FLAP. When wild whooping crames migrate, they normally choose days with good thermals. Riding thermals makes it possible for cranes to migrate long distances with very little flapping. They can cover more distance per day. The cranes flololowing the ultralight were not riding thermals. With all they flapping they had to do, they got tired out fairly quickly. The ultralight could only land in specific places where the cranes would be safe from human disturbance. All this adds up to a migration that stretched out over several weeks. The spring migration happens without these “slow-down factors.”

Year-End Evaluation: Please Share Your Thoughts!
Please take a few minutes to share your suggestions and comments in our Year-End Evaluation Form below.

In the coming year, Journey North will be fundraising to secure increased support from foundations, corporations and individuals. Your supportive comments will be a tremendous help. Thank you!

Journey North
Year End Evaluation

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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 #12.
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The FINAL Whooping Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on May 14, 2004.

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