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Whooping Crane Migration Update: March 25, 2005

Today's Report Includes:

Field Notes from the Western Flock: Not Migrating Yet
“ Two weeks ago, I counted 20 sandhill cranes along with the 211 whooping cranes on my census flight at Aransas NWR,” reports Tom Stehn from Aransas National Wildlife in Texas. “Yesterday all the sandhills were gone, but all the whooping cranes were still present. Sandhill cranes definitely begin the migration at least 3 weeks before the whooping cranes do.” Now Tom has this question for you:

Challenge Question #3:
“ Can you think of a reason why sandhill cranes start the migration earlier than whooping cranes?”

(To respond, please follow the instructions below.)

Tom gives you some clues to help with this question in his full report (link below). He also gives us an update on the 217th crane—-recently left all by itself in Texas. You’ll want to hear why. Where might this young crane be now? See what Tom thinks, and get your clues to answer CQ #3, here:

Crane "decoys" show young cranes to roost in water. The "costumes" also teach the young birds this important lesson.
Eastern Flock: Bobcats Score Again
Sad news: the remains of crane #405 were found on the bank of E-Creek, 200 meters south of the Chassahowitzka pen on March 14. He was apparently killed by a bobcat during the night before. How did this happen?

The crane kids have developed a bad habit of roosting at E-Creek. This has been their main roost site since release from their top-netted pen several weeks ago. The E-Creek area offers safe roosting habitat only at low or extremely high water levels. The chicks have been leaving the pen area as darkness falls to roost at this site. The area between the pen and E-Creek is covered with such thick needlerush that the costumed caretaker cannot walk the birds out. The needlerush plus water conditions, darkness, and poor following behavior make it impossible for costumed caretakers to retrieve juveniles roosting in this area so they can be led to safe roosting in their pen. That’s how the bobcats scored again. What would YOU do?

Some Older “Ultra-cranes” Are Migrating!
All other chicks from hatch year 2004, including the 12 chicks at the winter release pen and the chick #418, remain at their winter locations. Crane #418 successfully migrated to Florida last fall by following a number of experienced whooping cranes after he was released into a small group of them at Necedah NWR. Now crane #418 is on his own after #205, an older male he hung out with over the winter, departed on migration 2 weeks ago. But some of the “white birds” (from the 3 previous ultralight years) are heading north to Wisconsin! In fact, one observer is pretty certain about spotting a whooping crane at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in the past few days. Known to be underway are: #101, 102, 106, 107, 202, 205, 208, 211, 212, 217, 303, 312, and 316, and 317. We update the crane biographies as we get news on each bird’s migration. If you want to know where a bird is, check the flock charts listed here:

HY04 chicks in florida enclosure. Photo WCEP

Ultracrane Juveniles: When Will They Go? C Q #4
The remaining 12 young crane kids at the Chassahowitzka NWR winter pen site should soon be starting their first solo journey north. If all goes as expected, they’ll migrate back to the Wisconsin marshes where they first learned to fly. Operation Migration pilots delivered them to their wintering grounds on December 12, 2004. That was later than expected; will it affect the cranes’ departure on the journey north? What is the average number of days the crane kids have spent on the wintering grounds in years 1, 2, and 3 of the ultralight-led migrations? Stop now and go here to find out:

Next, calculate the AVERAGE number of days each group has spent on the wintering grounds. Then figure out your prediction to the question everyone is asking:

Challenge Question #4:
“ What date do you predict the Hatch Year 2004 crane kids will depart on their first journey north?”

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

Fourth Graders Name the Cranes
Caitie and Dominick holding the 8-foot rope
Connor wears the costume and puppet
HY2004 Flock Names

As the writer of the Journey North crane reports, Jane Duden was invited to visit Ms. Paulus’s 4th grade classroom in Deephaven, MN. Connor got to wear the white costume and puppet used by the ultralight pilots and crane caretakers. Everyone liked the plastic crane leg and legband with radio transmitter and aerial. And Jane was interested in the names the students came up with for the cranes they will track this spring!

Photos Mary Paulus

401 Snipper--snips up treats
402 Axel--after Axel in the Beverly Hills Cops movie who's always in
403 Daunte-- after Daunte Culpepper (a Minnesota Viking football player who is big, dominant, a leader)
405 Michief--a troublemaker
407 Bossy--he's a jerk!
408-Pick--picked on other birds wings when flying
412-Sarge--a real trooper, followed directions well
414 Skiddie--scared of robo-crane, skiddish
416 Necedah--got cast off broken foot at Necedah
417 Thunder--wasn't afraid of thunderstorms like other chicks
418 Weevil--one of the smallest, stood up to larger birds, a pest
419 Princess--has an attitude and only older males would stand up to her
420 Pequeno--means small in Spanish; she's the littlest of all.

Try This! Journaling or Discussion Question
The scientists and pilots know each Eastern flock bird by the unique color code on its leg band. They know every single chick’s hatch date and which male and female crane created the egg it hatched from. The scientists even say the birds’ personalities often remind them of people they know! But they never give the birds a name. Why do you think the scientists don’t name the birds?

Martha’s Mystery Photo: Is This a Whooper, or Not?
At the big crane gathering stopover on Nebraska’s Platte River, Martha Tacha reports no confirmed whooping crane sightings from the western flock, but she expects some soon as they leave Texas. Martha says, “There are a few partially albino sandhill cranes in the flyway that keep things interesting. At least one of these, maybe two, are in the Platte River valley. So, we have been spending some time trying to confirm these as sandhill cranes and not whoopers.” Martha sent this photo of a partial albino sandhill crane that was seen in extreme eastern Colorado on March 14th. You can see why observers would have to look twice at this sight!
Martha Tacha, USFWS, Nebraska
Sandhill cranes, including one albino crane. Do you see it?

Watch for whoopers among the sandhills yourself! See:

Crane #208 with PTT on his right leg and radio transmitter on the left leg (red/white).
Photo Sara Zimorski

You’re the Scientist: Discussion of C Q #2
Last time we asked you to study the personalities of the hatch year 2004 (HY04) chicks to answer this tracking teaser: "Which 4 birds from the 2004 ultralight migration would you pick to wear satellite transmitters (PTTs)? What are your reasons for each pick?”

The PTT birds for HY 2004 are: #415, #418, #419, and #420. How does the team of WCEP scientists choose the birds? Sara explains the reasons here:

Thanks to ALL the students who studied the crane biographies and sent their choices for PTTs! You showed some great thinking. You considered things such as fast learners, leaders who want to be in charge, good flyers, birds that do well when left alone, birds that are stubborn or independent, or birds that especially need to be watched. Thanks to all the Iselin Middle School 7th graders who spent time and effort to answer this question. They are: Roopsi, Brittany, Patrick, Rodney, Melody, Sahaib, Teona, Bryan, Joe, Kurt, Priscilla, Navdeep, and Tapan. Special kudos to Monica, Sirena, Kristen, and Brianna. They picked #418, who did not migrate with his ultalight flock mates and explained why: Last fall he was instead “released in hopes that he'll join up with some experienced ultra-whoopers on the refuge and follow them, thus learning the route. However, the ultra-whoopers might drive him off or battle him, and his position needs to be known so he doesn't get lost.” Well done!

Where are North America’s Tallest birds?
United States Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn gave us the latest whooping crane population figures. See where the world’s whoopers are. How many are in each location?

Ask the Expert Opens Today! (Friday, March 25)
Once again this year, ornithologist Laura Erickson will respond to students' questions. We are thrilled to offer you this opportunity! Your questions will be accepted from 1 pm March 25 to April 8. Ready?

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 #3 (OR #4).
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 1, 2005.

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