Personality, Early Training
Chick #6 hatched on Geoff's day off. He had already grown, been moved into his own pen, and started getting exercised outside when Geoff met him. "By the time the week was up, he was taking care of himself like a big kid," said Geoff. "I guess you could say he’s pretty sharp and self-reliant if he was able to fend for himself so fast. In fact, almost none of the other chicks that hatched after him learned to eat on their own that soon. However, he still gets scared if something unexpected rears its head. He was pretty scared when he heard the trike the first few times, so Brooke and I had to work extra hard to keep him calm. When we took him out there the second time he seemed much calmer. I think he knows how to acclimate to scary stuff like a trike engine. He just has to be braced for it first." The first day Brooke and I took the chicks to the big pen that was flooded in the middle, I could only get #5 to get his feet wet. But it didnt' take him long to change. By the third trip to that pond, seemed to spend the most time of the bunch as he casually swam to the middle and all around.
from "Flight School" at White River Marsh in Wisconsin:
The chicks are really picking up following and flying behind the ultralight as it taxies down the grass strip. On July 26th, the team had a brief scare with #6-11, who looked as if he had hurt his leg in the fencing that separates the mowed grass training strip from the tall marsh grass. He refused to put any weight on the leg. He stood perfectly still, holding up his right leg for several minutes. The team was worried! But within a few minutes #6 was walking and then playing in the wet pen as if nothing had happened. Caleb said it was probably the crane equivalent of hitting a funny bone, but it scared the humans!
By August 1, none of the colts were able to take off with the trike quite yet. But #6 (along with #2 and #4) try to follow the trike as it gains altitude. They usually end up looping around and going in for a landing, but real progress came during the Aug. 11 training. On that day both #5-11 and #6-11 were confirmed to fly with the plane. Both birds completed a large J-shaped flight path. After crane #2, #6 and #4 are the best fliers. Then, on August 19, #6 outflew them all. On that day he flew higher and farther, with Richard flying the trike, than all of the other cranes in the Class of 2011!
He's always among the top five fliers but in early September he didn't keep up with the trike as well as usual. Geoff said it was because he was having too much fun grubbing in the dirt the runway." I’ve seen him run around with clods of dirt in his beak every now and then," reports Geoff. The pilots hope he gets back to his better habits soon!
departure week: Geoff sums up crane #6-11: "This fella's probably
one of the biggest birds in the pen. You'd think a bird
as big as him would have no trouble establishing himself in the pecking
order. But, you'd be wrong. When I see him squaring off, he's
usually the one backing down, even to the younger birds like 9-11 or
10-11. This might his make him a gentle giant, but I wouldn't say it
makes him one of the more submissive birds. He just doesn't get into
as many confrontations as you think he would.
First Migration South, Led by Ultralight Airplane:
Crane #6-11 did not make it to the first stopover on Day 1 or Day 2. Instead, he (and the other 4 males in the class of 2011) had to be crated and driven after they didn't stay with the ultralight plane on Day 3. Find day-by-day news about the flock's migration and read more about #6-11 below.
Day 19, October 27, 2011: So far, crane #6 has dropped out of every flight and been crated/driven to the next stopover. Today he dropped out again. He also took two other birds flying with him. He was crated and driven to Stopover #3. The other two birds took off again with the ultralight and reached Columbia County by air. Is Crane #6-11 a bad influence? It's beginning to look that way!
Day 28, Oct. 28, 2011: Richard was losing altitude trying to keep #6 with him when it came time to fly over a highway. Rather than lose one bird in unknown territory, Richard landed with his five birds and sent the GPS location to trackers in thevan. Within minutes they arrived and put #6 in a crate again for the drive to the Green County, WI stopover.
Day 29, Oct. 29, 2011: HOORAY! Crane #6-11 flew his first entire leg of the migration today! Even better, every one of the 9 birds flew the distance on this wonderful day.
Nov. 20, Day 43: After 15 down days, the birds and trikes finally got to fly again! Crane #6 blasted out of the pen and flew the 59 miles to Piatt County, IL.
Dec. 11, Day 64: Headwinds made today's flight to Franklin County, Alabama a long, tiring one. After 2.5 hours of flying, crane #6 didn't like the spot. He stuck with Joe's plane when Brooke and his birds dropped down to land. Joe did another low pass, pretending he was going to land so #6 would drop down and land too, but still #6 refused. He followed Joe's trike as it climbed again. He ignored the brood call that Brooke was playing from the landing spot below. For 15 minutes he flew with Joe's airborne trike as Joe led him back and forth past his flockmates in hopes he'd land. Then Richard and his five birds arrived. That's when #6 flew to Richard's wing, even as those five birds dropped down to land! Crane #6 circled for another 15 minutes (30 minutes total!) before he finally gave up and landed.
February 4, 2012: The nine cranes in the ultralight-led Class of 2011 became the first to finish their migration in a road vehicle. They were crated at the travel pen in Winston County, Alabama and driven to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge to finish the winter and learn to be independent. Banding took place February 8. Brooke will watch over them as they slowly become wild and free. Check this bio page for further news in the life of of crane #6-11!
Spring 2012: First Unaided Migration North:
Whooping cranes 3, 4, 5 and 6-11 traveled together. The group of four arrived in southern Columbia County, WI., approximately 40 miles south of the White River Marsh SWA on April 20, eight days after departing the Wheeler NWR where they wintered. WELL DONE! By May 14 (photo below) they had not moved much and were still together. Hardly any sign remains of their rust-colored chick feathers. On May 31 a citizen scientist sent a photo of the four of them, still together, in Green Lake County, WI. This location is less than 3 miles from where they took their first flights with Operation Migration's aircraft last summer.
Fall 2012: Migrated south to Wheeler NWR in Alabama.
Spring 2013: Completed migration back to Wisconsin on March 29 together with #3, #4 and #5 from his 2011 cohort. Here he is with female #15-11 (DAR) in mid-April, near White River Marsh where he trained with the ultalights for his first migration south.
Last updated: 4/19/13
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