Tracking and Retrieving:
Help from Two-way Radios and Marsh Music

Adapted from Operation Migration Field Journal
by Charlie Shafer (Oct. 24, 2007)

Trackers go into action when any of these valuable birds drops out of a flight behind the ultralight. Charlie tells how trackers and pilots work as a team. How are 2-way radios and something called "marsh music" important helpers too? Here's Charlie's story:

Ready. . .Set. . .Gone!
As the ultralights approached the pen, I parked the tracking van along the flight path while Megan, Nathan and Bev prepared to open the gate and release the birds. I listened on the radio for the pilots to say, “The birds are off.” Then I listened closely to hear how the birds were forming up and following the ultralights. Would trackers be needed today?

Everyone Into Action
Soon Richard and Chris each had a bird drop out. They gave the GPS coordinates over the 2-way radio. Bev and Megan drove off in search of the two dropouts, while Nathan stayed behind to start taking down the travel pen. I was busy following the group of birds on Brooke’s wing in case any should drop out closer to our next stop.

Searching for Dropouts

As soon as the pilots were close to safely delivering the birds to the next stop, I turned around and drove back north to help Bev and Megan find the two missing birds. After a quick cell-phone call we decided Megan and Bev would look for #735, who landed out close to the pen. I would find #727, who was just a little further south.

Crane #727’s signal was coming in loud (meaning she was close) near the GPS coordinates that Chris gave me. Unfortunately, by the time I had put on my costume and assembled a crate, #727 had flown off. I headed north again to try to pick up her signal, but it was fading in and out. Usually, this means that a bird is flying, but I could not see her on the ground or in the air.

Help from the Pilots
As luck would have it, the pilots were headed back north again and they began an air-to-ground and air-to-air search. Joe located #727 in a small mowed pasture surrounded on all four sides by forest. (No wonder I couldn’t see her.) Apparently she had flown down into this clearing in the woods, but did not have the energy to take off and fly back out.

I was able to drive back to this clearing and box up #727 in a crate, while Joe kept watch from the sky above. Meanwhile, Bev and Megan had located #735 and boxed her up also. I met up with them to load 735 into the van so we could drive the birds down to the next stop. Then Megan joined me in the van.

What happens when cranes that have never heard human sounds must be driven in a van on the highway? Why do trackers want to prevent them from hearing vehicle and traffic noises? Charlie explains:

Soothing Sounds
Megan and I drove south to join up with the team and birds at the new stop. We listened to "marsh music" all the way. What do you think marsh music sounds like? Listen to our marsh music!

The marsh music is what we play to the chicks at the captive breeding center in Maryland when they are in their indoor pens. We also use it on migration when we transport the birds by vehicle. The recorded "music" of the marsh helps to block out the road and other traffic noises, and it keeps the birds calm.

Marsh music also has a calming or sleepy effect on the people in the van. Something about repetitive cricket chirps, duck quacks, and Barred owl hoots just puts you to sleep. We survived the monotony of the marsh music, got the birds unloaded, and walked them safely out to the pen at the new site. Mission accomplished!

Try This! Journal Questions
  • Charlie did two things to prepare for retrieving a crane dropout: put on a costume and assemble a crate. Tell why each step is important.
  • What do you think of the idea of playing marsh music? Explain.
  • What music do you like to hear when you are under stress or want to relax? What is your best way to calm yourself?



Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).