#209's Capture and Free Ride Home
After we trackers left #209 on her own in Wilkes County, North Carolina on April 16, the local landowner reported her gone the next day. Almost two weeks later (on April 29) Crane #209 was found in Montgomery County, Virginia, by ICF intern Lara and Windway pilot Mike Frakes. This site was only about 60 miles north of her previous location in Wilkes County. According to the landowner, #209 had been there almost two weeks.
WCEP had previously decided if #209 were located again, we would try to catch her, bring her to Wisconsin, and release her with the other birds; so when I got the call from Lara, we immediately started making plans. First and foremost we needed permission from the landowner to go on his property and catch the crane. Lara started working on that while I tried to make arrangements to get down to Virginia to help with the capture and transport back to Wisconsin. On Wed. April 30, with #209 still on the ground in the same location, Lara met with the landowner. He gave us permission to catch the bird, but I was having trouble getting a plane ticket to VA. We were also having problems arranging for a plane to transport the bird, crated in a box, back to WI. With phone calls back and forth all day Wednesday and Thursday morning, we finally had a plan to get me and a replacement pilot (Charles) down to Virginia.
Oops! Where Did She Go?
Just as things were falling into place, Lara called and said the bird was moving. By the end of the day #209 and her trackers were in West Virginia and our previous plan had to be modified.
Charles and I still went down on Friday morning; we just flew to West Virginia instead of Virginia. When we arrived at the airport, we learned that Lara and Mike had gone up in the air to check on the bird. We waited for their return. When their plane landed we walked out and saw immediately from the looks on their faces that things weren't good. The bird was gone. She left before 7:30 so there was no signal (it's solar-powered) and not even a direction in which to head. We spent the rest of the day searching northeast, the same direction she had been travelling the previous day, even going up into Pennsylvania, but Lara never heard #209's radio signal. We spent the night in Youngstown, Ohio and made a new plan for the next day. We couldn't understand why we hadn't heard her signal; if she was flying, she couldn't have gotten that far ahead of us before encountering strong head winds. We decided to head back south and check the last known location again, then head west and eventually home if we found nothing.
Found Flying in Circles
Around 10:30 Lara picked up the signal not far from where #209 had last been in West Virginia. We followed the signal until we were able to see the bird flying, mostly in circles and not making much progress in any direction. After more than an hour of circling and watching the bird, we landed to refuel, make some phone calls, and get some snacks. Lara was able to monitor the signal from the ground at the airport while I went to town to get a box. (Thanks to Cecil at the Clarksburg airport in WVA, who called his wife to come and drive me to the U-Haul to purchase the box for the crane.)
We decided to get back up in the air and check the bird again. Just before take off, Lara could no longer get the signal from the ground so we loaded up and got in the air. After circling for hours without making much progress, #209 finally put on a burst of speed and headed NW, getting pretty far ahead of us. It took several minutes before Lara was able to pick up the signal, and much longer before we were able to catch up and locate the bird in flight. Once we found her, we circled high above and followed her till she landed in a reclaimed coal mine in Morgan County, Ohio.
Planning the Capture
With #209 now settled on the ground, we landed, got a vehicle, and began strategizing about how to get into the coal mine to catch her. We scouted out the area and called the numbers listed for the Central Ohio Coal Company but couldn't get anyone to answer the phone. As darkness fell, we settled into a hotel, made more phone calls and hatched a plan for catching the bird in the morning. Not having any other ideas, I called the local sheriff. He put us in touch with Tom Taylor, who works for the sheriff's office but is contracted to do security for the mine. Tom agreed to meet us early the next morning at the sheriff's office and give us access into the mine.
Huh? Too Easy!
We left the hotel at 4:30am and headed north to meet with Tom. When we arrived we met Tom, who had spent half the night researching the project on the computer. We also met Lloyd Clark, who works for the mine (owned by Consol Energy Inc. and American Electric Power). We headed into the mine after looking at the maps and agreeing on where we believed the bird was. We parked the vehicles at the bottom of the hill. Then Lara, Charles, and I got dressed in the costumes. We headed up the hill following the signal. When we got to the top in an open field, we thought we saw the bird. But before we could say or do anything, she started flying towards us! She landed right next to us and seemed very excited to see us. I picked her up, carried her to the box and put her inside. Charles went back down the hill to get Lloyd and his truck. Lloyd graciously agreed to transport the bird to the airport, where the Windway jet would meet us and take us all back to Wisconsin.
So Glad to be Home
We strapped the box inside and flew to Baraboo, where Richard Urbanek and ICF veterinarian Barry Hartup met us. We loaded the crate into a van and came to ICF so Barry could give #209 a brief health exam, before we headed north to release her.
With no whoopers on the refuge, Richard decided to release her with the group of three cranes: #105, #204 and #218, in an area just southwest of Necedah. She flew to the other birds and, though they chased her away the first few times, she kept coming back. After a short while they let her remain close to them.
Richard and the interns will monitor her closely over the next few days to make sure she's adjusting well and fitting into the group, but she sure seemed excited to see those familiar birds.
A Team Effort
Many thanks to the following folks for recovery of this bird. This was truly a team effort and wouldn't have been possible without help from all of these individuals:
Try This! Journaling Questions
Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).