Monday, May 31, 2010

The Road from ISO

I had to walk back, today. It was long, but beautiful.

The road to iso:

The road home:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Eggs and Chicks!

It has been a super busy week. Sorry about the delay, but we've had a lot of fun getting everything ready for the very first babies.

Sometimes, we take the eggs from parents who are negligent nest-sitters. Sometimes, the parents break the eggs. We try to take those eggs immediately after they lay to save as many baby whooping cranes as we can. The parents who don't "sit tight" on their nests or the ones who break the eggs are usually new parents or a new breeding pair. They haven't had enough experience, or haven't developed the instinct. We usually give these newer parents dummy eggs to sit on so they can practice "proper nesting behaviors" until they can be trusted with their own eggs.

For parents who are good at sitting, we leave them on real eggs and let them raise their chick. This is the best practice for the adults and the young. This way the young learn proper crane behaviors.

For those eggs that were taken to incubators, we carefully monitor them until they hatch. These are 4 whooping crane eggs, you can see there is a lot of color variation between the eggs. The color just depends on the physiology of the female.

When the egg gets closer to hatch, we take it out of the incubator (which rolls the eggs as the mothers would), and place it into a hatcher (where the egg remains stationary). We play brood calls to the egg several times a day to encourage the chick to start hatching. In this video you can see the egg responding to the brood calls.

If I had a better camera, you'd be able to hear the chick peeping from inside the egg while it rocks!

When the chick is peeping and becoming more aware of outside surroundings, we make sure not to speak. We don't want it to recognize human voices. When it hatches, we disguise our form with a costume so it doesn't imprint on humans. We want these little guys to be cranes.

After it hatches, we take it up to the ISO compound where we can raise it. We let them see each other so they know other cranes, we also give them role models (adult cranes) to watch and learn from. Additionally, we behave as a crane in our crane costume to ensure the little chicks are eating and drinking properly.

Yes, we're naming them, but the cranes will never know those names (because we don't talk to them). This year's theme is CHEESE!! so first chick is Nacho, second chick is Pepper Jack, and the list will continue.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Getting Close and Personal with Cranes

Today, I had quite a few firsts. I've been here for 2 weeks, so they trust me on my own with the cranes. First thing this morning, they sent me off to do Pod Check on my own. This entailed checking food, water, and the physical health of the cranes. It can be scary at times because some of the cranes are very aggressive. I would say I passed with flying colors. Or maybe I should at least say I passed with no bruises.

Next up, they set me on "defense practice." This is where I and a fellow each have a broom and we are instructed to keep the bird away from the person stealing the bird's eggs (don't worry, the eggs will be returned). It's a little intimidating when the bird is going straight for your face. It's even more scary when the bird tries to avoid you altogether so they can attack the person stealing the eggs. That person doesn't have a broom, so it's like they are defenseless. Even worse, they are carrying the precious cargo: the eggs! I feel as though I did admirably. It must be because of the practice as a keeper. I managed to keep a very agile bird from flying onto the egg-stealer. I wish I could've gotten pictures, but it was a pretty intense time. I'll try to post some pics later if I ever get any. This one will have to suffice for now. Yeah, it's like that:

The reason we took the eggs was so we could weigh them and candle them. Here you can see a 5 day old egg being candled. We hold up the larger end to the light (larger end is towards the right). You can see a lighter color in the egg where the air cell is forming.

We crouch under a blanket to block out the light during candling.

Here's a strangely constructed nest that looks more like a runway.

oops, here we are taking the eggs.

Now it's a sad nest.

This is our official egg-stealing (and egg returning) box. There are two real eggs on the left and one dummy egg on the right. We replace the real eggs with the dummies while we are weighing and candling so the parent cranes will continue sitting on the nest between times and won't be too distressed that we took the eggs.

Sometimes we bring eggs in to be incubated. We have one egg that's so close to hatching that we we play calls to it. Recorded sounds of parent cranes purring to their eggs to trigger hatch. When we played the recording, the egg started to rock a little, back and forth. Amazing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Questioning the Validity of the Program

It's been a bad year for viable egg production across the board (not just ICF). We've been debating how many birds will be raised for release this year (details below). If we don't have many birds, is it worth the time and resource cost to continue with the Direct Autumn Release program? So far, yes. We will continue with the program. But it's good to question what you are doing even if it seems grim. Otherwise, how can you justify your actions to outsiders?

We are continuing the program, even with low numbers, because there is research going on about bird survival past release. There is also research about productivity. We have a very small sample size out there, and the more birds we can introduce to the program, the larger the sample size will be in future years. 

So then I must ask, "if they decide to can my program while I'm still in it, what is my next move?" Make myself useful immediately. I've started a survival study out of the released birds from the mid-90's. I spoke for all of the DAR interns when I offered to be useful beyond the DAR program. I hope that this situation resolves, because I don't want to see the end of it. I want to continue learning about crane husbandry, rearing, and release. I want to see the Whooping Crane in a viable Eastern migratory population.

We estimate the first egg will hatch on May 27th, which is my niece's birthday. I think it's fitting: two chicks on one day.

The Joys of Outdoor Work

I ran to the gym the other night. It's a 12 minute run, which is a perfect cardio warm-up. During my run, I picked up 2 ticks. I didn't notice them until I was on the floor, doing my mat routine. Eww!!!

I'm not a girly girl. You'd think I'd picked up a tick before. Never. This was my first experience. I feel like they are still crawling on me *heebie-jeebies*. Luckily, they were just wood ticks. I know I'll experience many more by the end of summer... and several other things:

Black Flies
Mosquito Swarms
Sweltering Heat
Stinging Nettles
Poison Ivy
Injuries from birds
Injuries from myself
and unsightly tan lines (like raccoon eyes from my sunglasses)

I've missed you, Outdoors!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Feelings on ISO

We picked a lot of weeks today. A lot of weeds.

(and caught some polliwogs)

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Cranes

There are so many kinds of cranes here! I got a close-up visual on many species today during the pod service. The Pod is a building with a circle of exhibits around it. These exhibits are visible to the public while they stroll along the sidewalk circumnavigating the building. Ultimately, I thought this would be a good time to do a run-down of the different crane species.

There are 15 species in the world. ICF has all 15 species! They have various colorations and regions of origin. They all have different calls. I've posted pictures of each species. Feel free to click on the pictures for a closer view of the birds. They are not posted in any particular order.

Most importantly, the Whooping Cranes. There are less than 500 birds in the whole world! ICF is one of the primary organizations contributing to our knowledge about them. ICF is also a key player to their survival in the wild.

ICF also has a lot of Siberian Cranes. We call them 'Sibes' for short. I personally think they are ugly in that albino rat kind-of-way. Nevertheless, they are THE Great White Crane.

This is a Red Crowned Crane. It's making a crouch threat against the other keeper with me. (see Eric in previous posts) The crouch threat is a great way for this particularly aggressive male to protect his egg and his female.

The Eurasian Crane. I have nothing interesting to note about this bird. It's not really endangered (as far as I know), either.

These are the Blue Cranes. They are beautiful, but you would not like to get any closer, trust me. Or maybe you can see the resemblance to a Mr. Montgomery Burns...

Similar to the Blues are Demoiselle Cranes. They are a smaller species, and I've seen pictures of people carrying these cranes around on their shoulder like a pet parrot.

There are two types of crowned cranes: the Black Crowned Crane and the Grey Crowned Crane. This is the Grey. I won't post the other because they are so similar.

These are the Wattled Cranes. Yup, they definitely have a wattle. Gotta love that ugly mug.

We have many Sandhill Cranes: this is a smaller species. We can find these guys all over the eastern states. I know I've seen a few in Michigan. Quite a few wild sandhills have been hanging out around Crane City.

These Brolgas are very intriguing to me. They come from Australia. I like their coloration.

We also have some Black-necked cranes,

some Hooded Cranes,

and some Sarus Cranes.

Most beautiful--in my eyes--are these White-Naped Cranes. Right now we have a pair that are very good parents. They are sitting on a nest and defending it aggressively.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Time to Relax

After a full day of disinfecting... you know, it's nice that this organization has an army of interns that can take the time to literally disinfect the ceilings, walls, and floors by hand. Not many organizations have that... it's time to relax on a beautiful Sunday evening.

My friend Kristin, who is a Field Ecology Department (fed) intern, has purchased several $2 bottles of wine. I brought some cheese. There are talks of watching the Lord of the Rings.

The last DAR intern has arrived, Brittany. She seems nice. Ironically, she and Kari graduated high school together in the same class and haven't met, yet. I'll let you know how the evening turns out, but if it's anything like last night; falling asleep to the sounds of frogs and night insects, it's going to be perfect.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Getting Ready for Baby Chicks!

Today, I did a lot of manual labor. I expect the amount of time spent per day ruining my body by shoveling sand will decrease significantly after this. I also managed to ruin my ears a little working during the smoke alarm for 10 minutes. Meh. Life happens. I figure the best way to move sand indoors is by bobcat, right? :D

I'm just amazed that the ISO facility (where we will be raising the chicks) can be completely gutted and disinfected every year. It's even big enough to allow heavy machinery through. Someone was thinking ahead when they built this facility.

Chicks are expected in T - 10 days!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Roommate

Well, they gave me a roommate to share in my cozy space. She's pretty awesome. She brought a Kayak. Yup, a kayak. I think we're going to get along great. Which is a good thing because we'll be working together side-by-side everyday AND sleeping in a 9x12 space together. Cozy.

Her name is Kari. :)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Dorm Life

Pictures will be here once Kim sends my battery charger from Saginaw. (Ahem, kim...)

It feels like college. Well, maybe it feels like home. I live with 6 other people, and two more are coming. We all rattle around in this guesthouse. The "guesthouse" is a combination of guest housing and offices located in the basement. I'll do my own thing in my room until I emerge to cook, then I may see another live figure ghosting around the kitchen or commons area (which includes an enormous TV and several large comfy couches). We'll chat, someone will start picking at the guitar. Someone else emerges and turns on the TV or does a puzzle. We hang out in the kitchen around the ENORMOUS island (see Pic below). Then we'll retire to our rooms or go out on the town.

Last night, we went out. I got all dolled up because I didn't know when I'd be going out next --though I don't know if wearing mostly black counts as "dolled up." We went to a local bookshop called "The Village Booksmith & Coffeehouse," where a couple of guys hang out on Wednesdays shooting the shit and playing good music. Technically, the event is an open mic night, but there's no mic. Just these guys that show up on Wednesdays, like they have for the past 15 years. Occasionally, they'll get someone to join in. We almost convinced our Canadian friend to step up to the plate, but he sank a little lower in his chair and took a pass.

Baraboo is a surprisingly entertaining little town. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here and there's a lot of outdoorsy stuff! They have Devil's Lake and Mirror Lake which include camping and canoeing, hiking and daytime walks. There's also another conservation group in the area: the Aldo Leopold Foundation. I guess they have a bunch of interns, too, and we all get together to compete for the volleyball conservation cup.

The next two interns to arrive will be my co-workers in the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program. I can't wait to meet them. I hope they're cool, because I'll be spending the whole summer not only working with them, but living with them. (Image is of Eric, intern who's been here the longest, by the ENORMOUS island)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lifestyle Change

I have not had fast food in 24 hours!

It's because I'm not driving to work anywhere!!! hooray! I have so much time during the day, now. I have another 3 hours on my day I didn't have before. I can use this time for so many things, but I think I'll just cook with them.

I've walked a lot more today. I'm looking at life through rose-colored glasses.

Day 1

Please don't worry, I won't be running through daily minutiae in the future. This will just give you a feel for how my day will run.

I've been set up with the Aviculture crew. At ICF, there are 9 species of cranes. All the cranes are adults and it is breeding season right now. We are definitely trying to breed cranes! Many are set up in pairs. Some we allow to breed naturally, others we artificially inseminate (AI). There has been a wild whooping crane landing in crane city (the compound where we keep all the adults/breeding birds). He's been causing quite a ruckus. We keep flushing him away, but he hasn't gotten the hint yet.

First thing: morning meeting where the education staff, veterinary staff, and keeping staff all catch up with each other.

Next we clean for two hours. REALLY??? two hours? "that's it?" you say.

Yes. That leaves plenty of time for cleaning projects and individual projects. It also leaves us free to assist the veterinarians. So for the rest of the day, I watched vet procedures and helped to clean the isolation compound (ISO). I've also been assigned a couple of chapters to read in a book about cranes. I'll be able to read these in my down time.

We had a special staff lunch today. I guess this happens every couple of weeks or so. We brought in a gentleman from The Nature Conservancy who talked about everything we'd need to do to plant a diverse species grassland. OMG!! it makes me want to go out and start harvesting native species' seeds today! Though, he said optimally, you should plant about 50 lbs/acre if you are going to see the max benefit from your planted seed. I don't know how long it would take to harvest 50 lbs of wild seed. :/

He also said it's better to have 5 acres of good prairie than 50 acres of no prairie. So true.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Yes! I've arrived. I had a gorgeous drive through the Upper Peninsula. I was tempted to stop at the little zoo on M-2, but fortunately it was closed. I'm sure I would have been horrified.

I was also tempted by pasties. mmmm pasties.... but resisted since it was about 10 in the morning.

I arrived to a scenic pasture-land. There are rolling hills, lots of trees and the constant sound of bird calls. It'll be nice to leave the windows open at night.

I've unpacked all my stuff into a tiny little room that is meant for two. I'm pretty sure my bedroom at home was bigger than my new room and bathroom combined. Good thing I edited everything I packed 3 times to eliminate extra.

I begin work tomorrow, and I still don't know what to expect. I'm off to meet the other residents of my building, wish me luck!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Well, Crap...

I leave tomorrow. I've just started packing (good thing I can only take as much stuff as I can fit in my honda civic).

I'll be leaving behind a lot of things very precious to me: my close family, my roomies, my new boyfriend, all these great friends and connections I made in the Nawsome, and my cats. Yes, I will miss my cats.

This is a picture of 4 kitties hanging out in my room (indicated by blue arrows). It was taken shortly before I left.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Background

I am about to move from Michigan to Wisconsin. You’d think that since they are neighboring states, it’d be easy, but I have to circumnavigate Lake Michigan. I could take the ferry across, but I didn’t purchase a ticket 2 weeks in advance (plus I hear it’s costly). Instead, I’m looking forward to driving through the upper peninsula. I’ve never seen the southern part of the UP, and I look forward to a long scenic drive on Sunday, mother’s day. I know my mother would be proud that I’m starting this new journey.

The ICF says my accommodations are set up. I expect to have dormitory amenities and very little time to enjoy them (maybe this is a blessing…). I can’t wait to change up my lifestyle. I’ll add a little more activity, remove a whole lot of sitting/studying, and eat at regular intervals (food that doesn’t end in “-meal”).

Assuming you know very little about me, I will give a brief description of where I’ve been.

• I’m finishing up my Professional Masters of Science (industry applicable master’s) which I’ve geared towards developing conservation programs. I love everything about setting up conservation projects and programs. I think it goes along with my personality. I’ve always been a big-picture kind of person. I like making connections between things and people to make the world an easier place to live in.
• I’ve been working with Potter Park Zoo on developing their conservation program strategy and I developed an assessment of programs they can implement at their zoo to increase their conservation impact that fits with the mission.
• I worked at Toronto Zoo in a Conservation/Education/Research internship. I’m not going to deny that I learned a lot about migrating across borders. It is generally frowned upon. I also learned a lot that summer about politics, management, and tracking urban turtles. I loved every minute.
• I was a full time zookeeper at the Saginaw children’s zoo. This is where I discovered my calling to work in the zoo industry. I loved everything about working with the animals and the coworkers were fantastic people full of common sense with a passion for animals and teaching children about them.
• When I wasn’t working at the zoo, I worked at an animal clinic. I like to say I was playing with other people’s pets. It’s true, though: those dogs (and especially cats) got a lot of good attention from me.
• I also worked in the Biology Department at SVSU, which gave me a good working knowledge of biology laboratories, lab test procedures, chemicals, etc. One of my favorite tasks was taking care of the department animals. For some reason, I just love watching snakes eat. When we received crayfish, I had a blast taking care of them.
• Do I really need to say that I grew up in an intermittent zoo? Sequentially, my family had cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, goats, horses, fish, parakeet, finches, and ducks.

My desire to make a significant impact on the survival of wildlife in their natural habitats
is driving all of this progress. It is what I want most out of life: to make a difference.

If this eastern whooping crane population is successful (by that, I mean it can eventually survive with limited (or even better; without) human management I will be able to say that I contributed to that. I made the world a more beautiful place.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010



My name is Jennifer Davis and my life mission is to conserve the beauty of a thriving natural world. I will do this though nature stewardship practices and leading others in conservation.

I'm about to begin an internship rearing Whooping Crane chicks to release in the wild! Located in Necedah and Baraboo, Wisconsin, I will be working for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Crane Foundation. Click here and here if you would like more information about the whooping crane project.

This blog will document my journey through this internship for those who are curious about me and for those who may be interested in participating in the program in the future.

I can't wait to start this new journey, and I look forward to keeping you updated!