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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 8, 2005

Today's Report Includes:

Today's Migration Data

All Chicks But One are Back in Wisconsin!
Whoopee! All 12 of the migrating hatch year 2004 chicks have returned to Wisconsin in the past few days! They haven’t yet shown up at Necedah NWR, but any day should bring that joyous news. One chick, #418, is the ONLY crane in the entire Eastern flock not migrating. He is still on the Florida wintering grounds. Young #418 found his way to Florida last fall after being left in Wisconsin due to feather problems when his flock mates left with the ultralight. When will #418 leave Florida? Will he find his way back? We’ll keep you updated as we find out! You can see their progress on the map, and get more details on this historic migration here:

Migrating cranes #105, #204 and #412 on March 30 in Thomas County, GA
Photo Richard Urbanek

How are the "experienced" members of the flock doing? Fifteen older ultra-cranes are also home in Wisconsin: 101, 202, 209, 203, 218, 205, 211, 212, 217, 303, 312, 316, 317, 102 and 208. We’ve had no further reports for either #107 (last reported at Horicon NWR in Wisconsin on March 14) or #106 (last reported at Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge, Meigs Co., TN on March 7). Cranes (#301, 309, 318), who spent the winter in North Carolina, were seen Wednesday in western New York, just across the Pennsylvania border! They apparently followed the Lake Michigan lakeshore NE. Where will they end up? Stay tuned, and check their flock charts:

Journaling Questions:

  1. Why were the 2004 chicks able to make their journey north so much swifter than their journey south?
  2. Why are the project leaders and trackers working so hard to keep track of each crane in the Eastern flock?

Who are these HY2004 chicks? (See Banding Codes to find out.) Note the red patch forming on top of their heads.
Photo WCEP

Fly by Night? Challenge Question #8

Whooping Cranes are normally reluctant to fly at night. But on April 3 Group 2 flew nearly 13 hours with the final 3 hours in darkness! Given #412’s history, Journey North Whooping Crane Expert Laura Erickson wasn't very surprised; she remembered Nov. 26, Day 48 of the bird’s journey south. Following the ultralight, one bird broke away as the flock left their stopover in Tennessee and crossed into Georgia. The runaway was chick #412. He ended up continuing south, past Atlanta, then north. Five people tracked runaway #412 for most of the day. They finally found him roosting only 8 miles from where the migration had departed from that same morning!

Whooping Cranes learn their migration route, and Laura thinks that #412 must remember exactly what this area looks like by night as well as day. Laura is wondering about something else. Older ultra-cranes #105 and 204 stayed and flew with #412 all day AND even in the dark.

Challenge Question #8:
“Older ultra-cranes #105 and 204 all stayed with #412 even in the dark as they flew over unfamiliar territory. What do you think this tells us about how whooping Cranes learn their migration route?”

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

Western Flock on the Move: Challenge Question #9
“The whooping crane migration is underway with an estimated 61 cranes having departed the wintering grounds at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge,” reports Tom Stehn from Texas. The excitement begins! Tom tells us that whooping cranes travel in small groups, often in groups of 5 or fewer. Single cranes sometimes even make the migration by themselves. Tom has this new challenge question for you; please send us your answers!

Challenge Question #9
“What advantages can you list for the cranes to migrate at different times and not in large groups?”

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

Imagine how tough it would be to count white cranes from a small plane! Aransas NWR consists of over 70,000 acres that attract thousands fo migratory birds. Tom sent us the flight report from his 7-hour census flight on April 6. How long does it take Tom and his pilot to cover the 35-mile stretch of coastal Texas marsh that the whooping cranes occupy during winter? What percentage of whoopers have departed? When does Tom expect the remaining cranes to leave on migration? What kind of weather are they waiting for? Find all these answers and more in Tom’s latest field notes:

Try This! Log the Main Flock’s Spring Departure
A Reminder: The Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock is the only naturally occurring wild migratory population of whoopers in the whole world, and this entire flock was down to only 15 birds in 1941. That means every whooper alive today is a descendent of those 15. In other words, every whooper alive today either hatched at the Canadian nesting grounds OR is a descendant of a whooper that hatched there. Now that main flock is beginning the journey north to their nesting grounds. They’ve flown this route for centuries. Be scientists and keep track of the flock’s spring departures with Tom’s census reports, coming weekly in April, and a Log Sheet to download and print:

Whoopers Are Weather Wise

Tom reminds us, “In a typical year, most adult pairs don't leave for Canada until the second week in April, give or take a few days. However, last spring the migration was on the early side; nearly one-third of the flock gone from Aransas by April 2.” What are they waiting for?

April 6, 2005 .
April 7, 2005.

April 8, 2005.

With west winds blowing April 6 and 7, the cranes would stay put until the winds switch around to the southeast and provide tailwinds to aid the their trip north.
Do weather forecasts look favorable on April 9 and 10 for migration?

Along Nebraska’s Platte River and the Central flyway, Martha Tacha is watching and sending us news. The weather is always a big factor in migration, as you’ll see in Martha’s field notes, next.

Do you see 6 whooping cranes? Two are on the far right, on in front of the other. Photo Mindy Meade Vohland

Western Cranes in the Central Flyway!
Last time the only confirmed sighting in the Central Flyway had been a juvenile. Since March 28, the bird was with sandhill cranes just east of Grand Island, NE in the Platte River valley. He was last seen on the morning of April 2-- rising in a thermal with sandhill cranes until out of sight. With warm weather and south winds, Martha Tacha is sure he headed north. “The majority of the sandhill cranes have gone. This is believed to be the lone juvenile that wintered with sandhill cranes in Matagorda County, 75 miles north of Aransas,” said Martha. That bird was last seen in Texas on March 18, and "our" loner was first observed in the Platte River valley 10 days later.”

But more whoopers have arrived! On April 6, Martha sent Tom Stehn this photo and said, “Based on the photo and last week's juvenile near Grand Island, you'll be missing at least 7 birds!” These six adults were first observed April 5 on a rainwater basin 19 miles south and 2 miles west of Kearney, Nebraska. Weather was rainy and windy. They were still present the morning of April 7. North winds in the area were forecast to shift to SW by afternoon, so weather conditions for today and tomorrow (April 8 and 9) favor migration with strong (25-35 mph) south winds and mostly sunny skies. Go cranes!

Thanks to Martha C. Tacha of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Grand Island, Nebraska for reporting and sending the photo!

Signals From the Sky: About Those PTTs
crane_Sp04_008 crane_Sp04_009 crane_Sp04_015
A Platform Transmitter Terminal is a satellite tracking device that can be worn/carried by an animal so its position is known.
Why do you think the name and address of OM is on the PTT?
(Photos Operation Migration)

The 2004 journey north is the third year that satellite data has ever been available for whooping cranes. Prior to 2001, whooping cranes had not migrated over the eastern portion of North America in more than a century. The trackers mainly rely on the radio signals while tracking (see April 1 report for lesson link), but on April 6, it was PTT data that helped trackers figure out where the group of 7 was after the birds split off from the group of 11.
How does the data come to us? What are the limitations of PTT data? What do the units look like? Do the leg units bother the cranes? Explore the subject here:

Try This!
Close your eyes. Imagine being in your classroom, day and night, with your eyes closed. Every 2 days, you blink your eyes open for a few seconds. You ONLY have that time to see what is happening. The rest of the time, you see nothing but darkness. As a class, consider the conclusions you might draw, based on your limited observations. Think about that image when you interpret satellite data. The satellite only sends a snapshot representing a moment in time. What might be happening when we're not “looking?” What might be some limitations of satellite data?

Photo OM, WCEP
How Cranes Fly: Links to Lessons
In the best migration conditions, cranes can use their large wings to soar on columns of warm rising air called thermals. Thermals are created as the sun warms the earth’s surface. Soaring on thermals allows cranes to stay aloft for longer periods of time without spending energy to keep flap their wings. Learn more about thermals, and how cranes fly with these fascinating lessons:

Dancing With the Cranes: Video Clip, Story, and Teacher Tip
It’s a rare thing to hear or see a whooping crane, but video clips make it possible. In this video by Heather Ray, a pair of whooping cranes shows you their dance. See the clip and find out three reasons why cranes dance. Then read the fascinating story of a whooping crane that would ONLY dance with a very special human--now a world-famous crane authority.

Dancing Cranes
Watch It Now


Teacher Tip: Viewing Video Clips as a Scientist
Video clips provide an opportunity for students to make authentic scientific observations. Here are some suggestions for viewing video clips as a scientist:

Crane Speed: Answer to Challenge Question #5

Challenge Question #5 asked: “On March 30, the group of 11 flew for 11.5 hours. They covered 450 miles. At what average speed (miles per hour) did the cranes fly?”
Answer: 39.13 mph---crane speed!

Four Differences: Discussion of Challenge Question #6
Last time we asked you to read Tom Stehn’s full report and answer: “What are at least four differences between sandhill cranes and whooping cranes?”
Sandhills migrate at least two weeks earlier than whooping cranes. Sandhill cranes spend several days on the staging grounds along the Platte River in order to choose a mate, while whoopers don’t need the mass of cranes at a staging area in order to form pair bonds. Their migrations stopovers are brief, and they push north as soon as weather is favorable. Sandhills may change mates each nesting season, while whooping cranes generally mate for life. Sandhill cranes are smaller than whooping cranes, and gray-brown in color. Did you think of other differences as well?

A New Average: Response to Challenge Question #7
“ How many days was the 2004 flock on the wintering grounds before departing on their first journey north? Using this number, what is the average number of days on the wintering grounds in the 4-year history of the Eastern flock?”

Using the March 25 departure date for the Eastern flock group of 11, and their arrival date of the previous December 12, we calculated 104 days. Adding that number to existing averages on the wintering grounds 104, 126, 121, 117= 468) and dividing by 4, we get 117 days for the average stay on the wintering grounds.

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 #8 (OR #9).
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 15, 2005.

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