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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 15, 2005

Today's Report Includes:

#412 is First Chick Home!
The only HY 2004 chick that did not depart with his 11 flock mates on March 25 was the FIRST to arrive home at Necedah NWR in Wisconsin! Crane #412 was back on the Refuge April 7. HOORAY! Where are the others? For details of the 2004 chicks' spring migration, see:

For details of your favorite 2004 chick’s migratory journey, or journeys of any of the other 32 whoopers of the Eastern flock, click on the flock chart for their hatch year on this page:

Eastern Flock Field Notes: Four Busy Generations
A total of 28 Whooping Cranes are now in the vicinity of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Wisconsin. As the Eastern flock returns, ultralight pilot Joe Duff has some heartwarming comments about the birds he’s led behind his tiny plane: “There are now four generations of Whooping cranes returning each spring to the core introduction area in and around the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Despite the fact that they have made this trip before, and their behaviour is somewhat predictable, it is still exciting when the latest additions make a beeline for central Wisconsin. This year, however, there is more to be excited about. Numbers 211 and 217 have been seen nest building on East Rynearson Pool, only a short distance from where they were trained to follow our aircraft. And 213 and 218 have begun building their nest near the site 2 training area. There are others that have pair-bonded, but this is the first indication that breeding may take place sooner than we expected. This encouraging news must be tempered with the realization that inexperienced birds often make poor parents, and that it may take a year or two before they successfully raise a chick. Nonetheless, the Tracking Team will keep a close watch from a safe distance, and the rest of us will be waiting to pass out cigars.” (Next week we’ll share more about the nesting and chick-rearing process.)

Two (#310 and #313) of the Eastern flock’s 45 members are still in southern Michigan. Will they come back to Necedah? Joe says, “They are far enough south that they could circumnavigate the lake and make it home, but none of us holds out much hope.” You can read more about these cranes on the “Meet the Flock: Hatch Year 2003” chart.

Numbers #301, #309 and #318 were reported in New York State late last week, but they have now been confirmed in Ontario, Canada! Their location would mean they’d somehow have to get around two large water obstacles to make it home. The Great Lakes are confusing them, and they are lost. Joe Duff adds, “The Tracking Team have their hands full for now, but once things settle and we get an accurate fix on these errant birds, they may be moved back to Wisconsin in an effort to reorient them.”

Pictured here are "lost" whooping cranes #301, #309 and #318. The three spent summer 2004 in Michigan when getting around Lake Michigan stymied them on their first journey north. From Michigan, they migrated south and spent the 2004-05 winter in Jones County, North Carolina. The trio was monitored over the winter by Operation Migration volunteer Walter Sturgeon. (Walt is president of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association.) Walt took these photos on what turned out to be the cranes' last day at their Jones County, NC winter area.

Cranes #301, #309 and #318 lift off from their winter habitat on March 30 to start the long trip northward.
Walt had taken his usual position in a deer blind just moments before the three white birds lifted off; thermalling high into the air and proceeding northwest.
Over the next few minutes the beeps on Walt's telemetry receiver faded into the distance as they cranes left on their journey north.

Try This! Journaling Questions
What might be the disadvantages of capturing and moving the cranes in Ontario? The advantages? This wouldn’t be the first time relocation was necessary. Read about the experiences of Crane #209 and #207:

Photo OM, WCEP
Countdown to Migration for #418: CQ #10
Imagine you are #418 and decide when you’ll leave the wintering grounds. What date do you plan to depart? Keep these facts in mind as you calculate your departure date:
  • #418 didn’t arrive in Florida until late December. He wasn’t confirmed on the wintering grounds until Jan 3.
  • For the first three ultralight-led flocks, the average number of days spent on the wintering grounds was 121 days.
  • The hatch year 2004 flock left on the journey north after 104 days, earlier than expected.
    Now, you are ready to calculate your answer to:

Challenge Question #10:
"What date do you predict Crane #418 will depart Florida on his first journey north? Explain your prediction.”

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

Photo OM, WCEP
Finding “Home:” How Do They Do It?
Are you wondering if #418 will come back to Wisconsin, migrating all by himself? We'll just have to wait and see. It's his first journey north, so how will he know where and when to stop?

When the birds were in "flight school" at Necedah last summer, the Operation Migration team made sure the birds developed their recognition of the area at Necedah NWR where they learned to fly. Lead ultralight pilot Joe Duff explained then, "We fly these birds locally a lot. It gives them a wide picture of what they're looking for on their way back. When they reach the latitude they're familiar with, they think 'Now, it's around here somewhere. Let's just look for it.'" Hear Joe explain more:

Whoopers Reach Canada! Field Notes from Brian Johns

Brian Johns sends exciting news from Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park, nesting grounds of the natural (Western) flock. How long did it take the first whoopers from the Texas wintering grounds to reach Canada? In what size groups did they travel? What’s the outlook for the nesting season? Brian has the answers right here:

“The Canadian portion of the whooping crane migration has begun. On April 9 and 10 the first cranes were reported in Saskatchewan. They had traveled the 3000 km from Aransas to Saskatchewan in about 10 days. One of the sightings was of a pair of cranes and the other was of a group of three. Groups of 3 are generally a breeding pair and their young from the previous year. The group of 2 were sighted in Southern Saskatchewan near Estevan and remained in the same area for at least 3 days. The group of 3 only stopped for the night then continued on their way.

Brian Johns

“The Saskatchewan staging area and the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park both received greater than normal amounts of snow over the winter. This increased snowfall should lead to better water conditions than we have experienced in the last few years. I have my fingers crossed that all the pairs will arrive safely on the nesting grounds and have a successful breeding season. Stay tuned for next week's update."

Brian Johns
Canadian Wildlife Service

Western Flock Field Notes: The Big Push is On!
Aransas NWR Viewed From Tom's plane
Adult with Twins at Aransas.
Biologist Tom Stehn had a perfect day for flying over AransasNational Wildlife Refuge to count remaining whooping cranes on April 14. In the last week, Tom found that 103 adults and 20 young left for Canada. They will migrate 2,400 miles. How long will it take? How many miles will they travel per day? How many hours per day will they fly when conditions are favorable (providing thermal currents and tail winds)? What do they do on days when headwinds blow in their faces? Tom tells the story of this week’s census flight with his usual storytelling magic, and he answers last week’s Challenge Question #9, here:

North of Aransas, at the USFWS office in Grand Island Nebraska, Martha Tacha reports at least two confirmed sightings of migrating whoopers in central Kansas. Pull out a map and see if you can pinpoint the whoopers’ locations as they head for their nesting grounds in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. Here’s the code: A is adults and J is juvenile. How many cranes were in each of these two groups?

  • 2A-1J is a family group, seven miles south of Great Bend (April 11)
  • 5A-1J is a family group traveling with 3 other adult birds, four miles SE of Pawnee Rock (April 11)

On April 6 a large group of 14 adults in Stutsman County, North Dakota, was confirmed as whooping cranes heading for Canada. Martha also received news of a curious sighting of 4 in Minnesota! If these 4 were indeed whoopers, do you think the Minnesota birds would be from the Western Flock or the Eastern Flock? Why?

Fly by Night? Discussion of Challenge Question #8
Last time we told you about #412’s 13-hour detour on April 3. Crane #412 is building quite a history for himself! Surprisingly, older ultra-cranes #105 and 204 stayed with #412 even in the dark as they flew this marathon day over unfamiliar territory. We asked, “What does this tell us about how whooping Cranes learn their migration route?”

Iselin Middle School/7th graders sent their thoughts:
Roopsi, Patrick, Rodny, and Brittany think whooping cranes learn their route by landmarks. “This way, when they return on that same route, they know where to go.”
“This tells us that the whooping cranes need to follow other cranes as they learn their territory,” added Monica, Sirena, Brianna and Kristen.

Here is what Journey North’s expert Laura Erickson thinks: Although Whooping Cranes usually follow pretty much the same migration routes from year to year, the ultra-cranes almost always follow a different path in spring than they did in their first fall when they stayed with the ultralight. The cranes must be able to communicate with one another when one of them recognizes and feels comfortable with the landscape. Older birds (in this case, #105 and #204) that are unfamiliar with an area probably feel safer trusting the experienced bird (younger #412, who had already wandered this same territory as a “runaway” on the journey south 5 months ago). Trusting the younger but experienced #412 probably seemed safer to them than going down to land in a strange spot. Laura summed it up this way: “The coolest thing about #412's adventure is that he was apparently confident enough about recognizing the ground that a three-year-old and a four-year-old crane stayed with him when they were NOT familiar with the area in the dark. Did you guess that two almost-adult cranes would trust such a novice enough that they would fly at night?” (You know that whooping cranes migrate during the day, often soaring and sun-warmed columns of air called thermals.)

Photo OM, WCEP
Why Do They Leave At Different Times? Discussion of CQ #9
Last time Tom Stehn told us that whooping cranes travel in small groups, often in groups of 5 or fewer. (What further proof did you notice in reports from Brian and Martha, above?) Single cranes sometimes even make the migration by themselves. Tom asked this challenge question: “What advantages can you list for the cranes to migrate at different times and not in large groups?”

Iselin Middle School 7th graders put some excellent thinking into their answers. Joe and Kurt listed these advantages to flying in small groups: more food to eat; not as easily seen; better for hunting; fewer cranes in danger if a storm would happen or a predator come after them. Sirena, Kristen, Brianna, and Monica said finding food and rest stops would be easier for a small group than a large group. There would be less chance of getting into fights. Very impressive answers!

Tom gives his thoughts in his full report at the link below. How many dangers does Tom name as he gives his answer to CQ #9?

Migration Dangers: Link to Lesson and Teacher Tip
Whoopers face only one natural enemy in the air while migrating. What is it? Add other perils on the ground and in the air, and migration is a dangerous time for whooping cranes. Read Tom’s page describing the risks of migration. How many are due to human actions?
Reading Writing Selection
Reading and Writing Connections

Teacher Tip: Reading and Writing Connections

Tom’s short nonfiction article is an ideal selection to explore with our companion teacher-created reading lesson full of ideas to Read, Revisit, and Reflect. You’ll find the link at the top of the selection, by the book icon. One example of many you'll find:

Before you Read: Ask students about their journeys/vacations/travels. How did they prepare for the journey? What were possible dangers? (Connecting to Students’ Prior Knowledge)

#401, Age 1 Day. Photo Kathleen O'Malley, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

Coming Next: Baby Whoopers Learning Life’s Lessons

Migration excitement will continue next week, but there’s a whole new nesting season ahead. What must baby whoopers learn from their parents? What must they learn on their own? We’ll explore that fun topic with a brand new Journey North for Kids series. Migration and the life cycle of whoopers are topics to fascinate and enchant.

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 #10
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 22, 2005.

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