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Whooping Crane Migration Update: April 2, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

March 30.
Migrating chicks #301, 303, 305, 309, 312, 316, 318, and 319 at first stopover.
Photo Richard Urbanek.

Eight ’03 Chicks Start Migration! CQ #8
Eight of the 16 chicks took off on spring migration March 30 at 9:33 a.m.! How do we know? Every one was wearing a radio transmitter, plus ALL THREE PTT birds were in that group! The 2003 whooper chicks now on their first journey north are #1, 3, 5, 9, 12, 16, 18, and 19. The eight flew together again March 31, departing at 7:30 a.m. Even though migration conditions deteriorated as the day went on, they kept on. Strong west winds pushed them further east. They finally landed at 6:15 and roosted in Wilkes County, Georgia. (See map at right.) Way to go, whoopers!

Challenge Question #8:
“Based on their lat/long satellite readings, how many miles did the eight chicks fly on day 1 of their migration? On day two?” (See Migration Map and Data)

(To respond to this question, see instructions below.)

ICF tracker Lara Fondow and new ICF intern Denise Maidens are monitoring the remaining ’03 crane chicks still at the wintering area at on Chassahowitzka. Crane #214 is with them. She did not leave with the older trio who bullied her when she first arrived at the pen site. That’s eight youngsters gone and eight waiting to go!

They're off!Click to see antenna on legs.

Keeping TrackYou recall that the experienced whoopers were first to leave. By March 28, four of them were already confirmed back in Wisconsin! Which four? Which crane beat all the others for the second year in a row? Of the 20 Eastern whooping cranes from 2001 and 2002, which four had not yet begun migration by this writing on April 1? Where was the latest sighting of the elusive female #107? Which 2003 chick is the last to attain an adult voice? The progress of each bird in the Eastern flock is kept updated on our “Meet the Flock” pages. Check there for the latest scoop on your favorite whooping crane!

Sara’s Photo Studies and Your Journaling Questions
After “growing up” with them, plus spending time with the 2003 chicks in Florida, Sara Zimorski shares more great photos and comments with you!
“Female #218 is jump-raking and fighting with male #310. When the trio of adults returned to the pen, they were all aggressive to the 2003 chicks. They drove them away from the food shelter--and sometimes even out of the pen. After a while the aggession lessened. The chicks began to stand up for themselves, even attacking and fighting with the older birds. When I was there I saw many of the chicks, especially the males, chase and try to attack the adult females--but never the adult male, #105.”

Journaling Question:
“What is it about #105 that might explain why no one picks on him?" (To help you answer this question, see
Meet the Flock, 2001.)
"Male #305 is chasing/attacking adult female #214." 

Journaling Question:
“How do you think humans are similar and different from animals with regard to social dominance?" (To help you answer this question, see Pecking Order Game.)
"This one shows the 4 adults in the foreground of the picture (on the left) and many of the chicks feeding at the food shelter in the background. I think the chicks felt safer coming into the pen to eat because the costumes were there. I also think they were braver as a large group than they would have been idividually."

Journaling Question:
“Why do the cranes feel safer around the costume?" To help you answer this question, see Where’s My Mommy? Imprinting in the Wild and in Operation Migration.
"This is sort of blurry because I took it through the spotting scope. This one was taken before we went out to the pen, while the chicks were still foraging outside of the pen. You can see the black areas developing on the sides of the chicks' faces and just the
small areas of juvenile brown feathers still visible on their heads and necks. Some are also developing the red patches on top of their heads."

Journaling Question:
“How do whooping crane chicks change as they grow older? "

The Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock migrates 2,400 miles.

Aransas to Wood Buffalo: Migration News from Tom and Wally
In Grand Island, Nebraska, Wally Jobman reports from his USFWS office: “Not much to report for the past week. Two birds were confirmed at Salt Plains NWR in Oklahoma on March 28. Dry weather with seasonal temps is predicted for the next week, so there should be some good migration days mixed in.” Two whooping cranes were confirmed at Salt Plains NWR in Oklahoma on March 28.

Texas weather was great for migration too! Tom Stehn begins his report with some fun news: “We had some great migration weather March 26-28 with winds gusting up to 30 mph from the southeast. I remember what the weather was like because I took advantage of the strong winds and went windsurfing 3 days in a row. Apparently about 20 whooping cranes also liked the wind and used it to begin their 2,400-mile migration. Southeast winds provide the cranes strong tailwinds that push them north at anywhere between 30 and 60 mph.”

Crane Departures and Discussion of CQ #6
How did the whoopers show their restlessness, indicating to Tom that they were “ready” to migrate, but conditions weren’t quite right? You’ll love how Tom describes his flight with whooping cranes. How high did they fly? How many left Aransas, and how many are left (so you can keep track on your log sheet)? What happens during staging? Find the answers to these questions--and Tom’s answer to Challenge Question #6 in his fascinating report.

Lobstick Pair and Twins at Aransas! See many more fantastic photos on the website of photographer
Diane Loyd. Sign her guest book too!

Tom reminds us, “It is still early. In a typical year, most adult pairs don't leave until the second week in April, give or take a few days. However, last spring the migration was on the early side with nearly one-third of the flock gone from Aransas by April 2.”
One more thing: Remember the news about the Lobstick pair and their twins? Tom sent this update: “Last week I reported erroneously the Lobstick twin family as having started the migration. The family of 4 was seen back on their territory on March 26th. Thus, very few cranes had departed by my March 24th flight (last week’s report), with only one territorial pair unaccounted for that day.” Enjoy this fantastic photo of the Lobstick family, sent to us through the generosity of professional photographer Diane Loyd after her visit to Aransas last winter.

Crane #208 last winter in the Chassahowitzka release pen. The PTT is on his right leg with the antenna sticking out at an angle and the regular radio is the red/white
one on his left leg. Photo Sara Zimorski.

Signals From the Sky: About Those PTTs
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. How does the data come to us? What are the limitations of PTT data? What do the units look like? Do they bother the cranes? Explore the subject here:

Then step back for a minute. Think about the information the satellite sends us every two days, and the assumptions we might be making when we interpret the data. Before she makes the migration maps, our mapmaker, Daphne, spends a lot of time sorting through the data and deciding which readings are valid.

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?

HY01 birds back at Necedah April 2, 2003. Can you identify at least one of them with banding codes? Photo OM/WCEP

Compare Today With A Year Ago
On April 1 last year (2003), the young Eastern flock started their spring migration! All 21 cranes in the new Eastern flock were underway, and 37 percent of the Aransas flock were en route to Canada. Two HY2001 cranes had reached home at Necedah. Write a similar paragraph to summarize the status of the two migratory flocks on April 2, 2003. Click here to review the total numbers of migratory whooping cranes in (1) the Eastern flock and (2) the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock. Use the Meet the Flock pages or information in today's report for the other facts you need.

Take a closer look (click on photo) and you'll see that communications towers are even a danger to the ultralight-led Whooping cranes.
Photo OM

Migration Dangers: Link to Lesson
Migration is a dangerous time for Whooping cranes. What are some threats to their safety and well being on their long migrations? What is the only natural enemy in the air? None of the natural hazards are as dangerous to whooping cranes as the human-made hazard of power lines. Find out what makes migration such a perilous journey, and what you can do to help.

Why So Early? Discussion of Challenge Question #5
Last year the ’02 whooper chicks left on April 1. This year, some of those same birds --now almost two years old, along with some nearly 3-year old ’01 birds, left March 13 or 14. We asked you to contemplate: “Why did the experienced cranes leave so much earlier this year?”
This is one of those questions we can only guess at, since we can’t ask the cranes. Your responses interesting and fun to read:
From Iselin Middle School/grade 7:
“Most of the experienced ultracranes probably left early this year because they got confused by the unusual weather we've been having. The temperature triggered a hormonal stimulus in the whooping cranes and they could not resist the response.” Sameen, Ricky, Hijab, Vance, and Nina

“The most "experienced" ultracranes left so much earlier this year because they were experienced. The length of daylight and proximate clues, such as temperature and vegetation changes told them to leave because they did the same thing last year.” Frank, Alex, Sabrina, and Cheyenne

We also asked ultralight pilot Joe Duff at Operation Migration headquarters. Joe wondered if the subadults were maybe thinking about breeding. “No one expects this to happen yet, but we hope to see some nesting behavior and some pair bonding among the two-and three-year-old whooping cranes this year. Even though it took the “new” Florida nonmigratory flock of whoopers about 9 years to produce young, it’s possible that the ultracranes could be thinking about it already.” Joe explained that subadults (cranes not yet breeding age) often start to build nest mounds and collect sticks, but never actually breed. Joe and all the WCEP partners would celebrate any nesting and pairing behaviors. They would be good signs that the costume-reared cranes really DO know how to behave like wild whooping cranes.

Instincts or Learned Behavior? Link to Activity
Your answers to the question above made us think about learned behaviors versus instinctive behaviors. Do people have instincts? Try this activity and see what you decide:

Chick from HY 2003 with new leg band/radio transmitter.

Tracking with Radio Telemetry: Answer to CQ #7
After reading Radio Telemetry: Tracking the Cranes, we wanted you to figure out the answer to: “What percentage of a crane's weight is the transmitter?”
Hooray for 4th graders Ariana and Alex from Ferrisburgh (Vermont) Central School. They know how to get the answer: “First, we have to figure out how much the crane weighs in grams. There are 28 grams in one ounce. A pound would have 448 grams. So a crane that weighs 22 pounds, would weigh 9856 grams. A transmitter weighs 60 grams. That would be less than 1% of the crane's weight. I don't think they would notice it because it was not even 1%.”

In fact, the unit is 0.6 percent of a 22-lb. crane’s body weight, which is about 10 kg. What percent of YOUR body weight would a radio telemetry transmitter be?

What's Your Question? Ask the Expert Now Open!
Is there something about whooping cranes that stumps you? Laura Erickson is our expert, and she's ready and willing to answer your toughest questions. You have until noon CDT on April 9 to send them to us. Meet Laura and see how to prepare your questions here:

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question:

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.
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Whooping Crane Migration Update Will Be Posted on April 9, 2004.

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