Friday, July 30, 2010

Close Encounters

I had a few close encounters with a pair of wild whooping cranes today. I don’t know whether they like our chicks or they are worried about us usurping their territory. First thing in the morning, I saw the wild whoopers right outside of the fence on the chick pen. The adults were brood calling our chicks!

Next, I was out with a group of 5 chicks in the marsh. We were having a good time foraging around. We went up to the old oak tree (which is very peaceful: grass, breeze, raspberry bushes) and continued on to one of the pool marshes at the southern extent of our designated site. When I emerged from over the hill, right in front of me was the male adult whooping crane! I try not to freak out. The adults have been known to stomp on chicks in the past. I simply move quickly out of his range and try to hurry my chicks along with me. All of a sudden, in front of me in the pond a duck starts splashing about. He’s screaming and splashing and making so much of a ruckus that the adult male whooper comes over to check it out! Oh no! Now my chicks are back in harms way. So I turn the crew around and go back the way we came, back through the ditch, back up the hill, back along the bank to the old oak. It seemed as though we had lost site of the crane, and we were safely out of his territory. So I take my chick down into the marsh we started at. We’re having a good time foraging for bugs, taking baths, forging new paths when all of a sudden, I see a spot of white at the top of the hill (insert Jaws music).

He’s investigating my back trail. I start moseying forward to get out of the marsh. I look behind me, he’s under the old oak tree looking directly down onto my trail in the tall grass… and he’s stalking down the hill (jaws theme gets louder).

I freak (calmly, of course). I turn up my brood call, start jumping to get my chicks’ attention and move very swiftly and emphatically forward. The one near me seem to understand my urgency, but the ones further back are distracted by the wonderland of bugs. As the group is moving forward, I look behind me, and he’s caught up with my last chick. He’s in the pack we’re all moving very fast, and I have no help. I pray that someone has seen what’s going on and will come out to help.

I clear the marsh. One, two, three…. Where’s four? There. Ok, four. Where’s five? Who’s missing?

The adult clears the marsh. He doesn’t count. Where’s five? Feta. Where’s my little girl, Feta? She’s the smallest, I hope she’s not dead in the marsh. We gotta get out of here, I’ve still got four! I’ll go back for her later.

Finally, 2 costumes come out to help me. Safe. One costume gets between the adult and our group. The other costume helps me to usher the chicks to the night pen. All of a sudden, Feta comes out of the marsh! Oh, thank goodness!!! We go back and get her. Five. Five chicks alive and safe.

What a day.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Pepper Jack, the Good and the Bad

Our second oldest chick, Pepper Jack, has been one of the more interesting crane personalities ever since he was a hatchling. I remember when he was 2 days old I was trying to feed him with the puppet, but he kept pecking at the puppet’s eye and then glaring through the costume mask into my eyes. I’d always take extra precaution to divert his attention from my eyes and to the puppet head, but I’m pretty sure he’s known since the start that we’re not really cranes.

PJ is so independent from the costume and relaxed around other chicks that his personality is strikingly different from Nacho’s (who loves costume, and sometimes bullies other chicks). So different, in fact, that all the interns assumed he was a girl for the first 2 months of his life. When the blood tests came back showing he was male, it still took a few weeks to adjust our pronoun usage.

Today, the jerk bit me. It took me completely by surprise. He nailed me 7 times with enough force to bruise me in the arm (or the puppet’s neck) and the leg. Well, it would’ve bruised if I’d been wearing less clothing. I was so surprised that I quickly put him back in the night holding and ran to my supervisor to get some advice about this novel behavior.

Marianne suggested that maybe he’s old enough to start challenging the parent, and this is to be expected. All we have to do is show a little bit of dominance by placing our hand on the base of his neck and guide him away from the costume (gently, of course). So I did this. It took 7 tries, but it worked. He stopped pecking me. It didn’t help his tendency to stray, though. I guess I can’t have everything.

On the other side, Pepper Jack is so gorgeous! His wing feathers have grown in, and they have the most beautiful shading from white to brown of all the birds. I’ve attached pictures below. He looks like a little angel.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Vole! Food Fight!!!

I was with Nacho, Pepper Jack, and Gouda in our new home, when suddenly, something caught Nacho's eye. He lunged at it, but didn't catch anything. Then I heard the rustle, too. Gouda's attention caught, he jumped at the opportunity to catch it. Effectively, what happened was nacho and Gouda caught the vole together. But no one was happy with splitting the prize, so an all-out rumble broke out between the 3 of them.

Stealing, chasing, grabbing, and squealing, they all got so involved with fighting each other, that at one point, someone put down the vole, and they continued fighting between each other and wandered away from the prize!!! I couldn't let it go. I was like, "c'mon guys!!! you caught something awesome, now you gotta eat it!" Then I pointed at it, and Gouda remembered, quickly nabbed it, and the chasing continued.

Pics below of the scene:

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tracking Cranes again!

Today, I had breakfast with one of the interns of ICF's Field Ecology Department at the Crane Café. It's such a cute little café. Then they took me into the field to show me how to triangulate coordinates while tracking animals. It was awesome…ly simple! I can’t wait until our position opens up to be more of a tracking position.

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve had enough crane-baby cuteness. I’ve been a keeper, I’ve served my time cleaning poop and giving out clean water dishes. I’ve done the behavior training and I’ve done the physical observations of the animals. It’s time to go out into the field!

Not yet. Not until these babies fly.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

We've Arrived!

Necedah is like a wonderland for cranes. We've moved everything over to the wildlife refuge; all of our personal belongings, the food, the costumes, the puppets, and of course, the cranes.

Everyone is safe and seems very happy in their new homes. They have soooo much room out there! They can catch bugs all day and sleep in the grass whenever they want.

I was out with the birds all day, yesterday, walking around the marshes. We've started wearing hip-waders under our costumes, and trust me, we need them! We take every step after calculated estimate of mud-sturdiness. Nothing like chasing after a grasshopper in the grass only to stumble into a hole and submerge your boot. The cranes looked at me funny when I flailed to catch my balance.

Then I got to look at them funny when each of them fell into mud-traps. That'll teach them. :P

Now that I've seen the cranes out there, I can tell who's really great at hunting, and which ones are really good at exploring. One of our smallest, Havarti, really makes up for her short stature by being one of the best hunters. I've seen her take down the biggest and fastest bugs while the larger birds are staring off into the sky.

There are so many new places to explore, I can't wait to take them to the berry pit.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Picture dump!

I've been working with the chicks on and off because they send me up to Necedah to prepare the site. I'm post some my more recent pics and videos below.
I got a few videos of the chicks eating clover (you'll find these first and last, below).

This video is of Havarti tearing into a clover plant to enjoy the juicy blossoms. Notice his adorable ear feathers!!!

Next, some pictures.

Havarti and Roquefort stand off (Havarti usually backs down in the end).

Usually, the beak will show something (flowers, bug, etc.) to the chick, who investigates and tries to eat the item.

Havarti acting excited that the wind is picking up in the Iso Prairie.

Pepper Jack standing in the prairie.

This final video shows how competitive these birds are. Pepper Jack starts out foraging, but quickly sees that Gouda is trying to eat something interesting. Pepper Jack steals it, but can't manage to eat it, either. Then Gouda wanders off to find something new.

We're Moving!!!

Yes, I move on Monday.

The chicks move on Tuesday.

I'm all packed up, trying to eat everything out of the fridge before I have to go. It looks like the new accommodations will be missing a few vital elements: sheets, air conditioning, probably most cooking utensils, the internet. At least it has a toilet (there was a bit of a debate about that last week).

,I'll come back with Richard Urbanek, my boss, and we'll load up the chicks in the truck and haul them up to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge!!!

This is so exciting!

Let's all go to Space Mountain!

This is Kari's analogy that she crafted while crane-mommying a party of 4. It's so funny I had to share it here.

Taking out 4 chicks to the South East Pond is like being a single mother with four kids at Disney World. First, you get everyone into the car and say, "we're going on a trip to Disney World, where do you wanna go, guys?" They all start screaming, "Oh boy! Oh boy! We wanna go to Space Mountain!!"

So everyone starts running to space mountain. But Fontina's afraid. She says, "but I don't want to go to space mountain, I can't see it and it looks so far away. I think I'll just sit here in the picnic area."

So you leave the other kids in line to space mountain, and you go back to Fontina and say, "but I'm a single mother, and we all have to stick together. It's not scary. I promise, Space Mountain is super fun! you're going to have a good time at Space Mountain."

Fontina looks up at you doubtfully and starts shuffling away, so you say, "if I leave you here, you're going to be kidnapped and raped, so you have to come with me so we can all be together. I just left those other kids in line and they could be kidnapped and raped if we don't get back to them soon! We have to get back to our spot in the line to Space Mountain."

So you bribe Fontina by giving her candies, and maybe she won't notice you are heading back to the line to space mountain. Maybe when she gets back to line, the other kids can convince her of how fun it will be.

Eventually, you get to Space Mountain, and everyone starts running to the water and they all take baths, and you say, "you see, Fontina? I told you Space Mountain is awesome!" Then she agrees as she finds all the goodies she can handle and makes new discoveries while she explores Space Mountain.

This is a picture of 'space mountain': Fontina is the one closest to the camera.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Flight Feathers!

As promised, I took some pictures of the chicks with my new camera. It's so exciting that they are growing flight feathers! the blue areas on the feathers you'll see below are still growing. They are aptly named "blood feathers."

Sometimes when the wind picks up, the birds will try to jump into it with their wings out. It's going to happen. It's going to happen very soon!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The loss of Superchick

I got bad news today. In one of my previous posts (Link with pics), I was tracking a nesting pair of cranes in the wild. They had 1 baby, which we named Super Chick.

He walked over a mile a day! He and his parents would walk from the marsh I was tracking him in, to the next marsh over, and back again. Unfortunately, he lost his mother about a week ago. Which is another aching loss for our program (we only have about 100 birds, we don't have any to spare!)

His father protected him alone for an entire week, which makes him Superdad. Sadly, the battle was lost, and we will mourn baby Superchick.

[update from the field 10/10/10: The female of this pair was not lost! She returned to him sometime during the summer and the pair were seen together in their territory and on the refuge off and on during the following months. We're so glad that she's alive. She was the very first DAR bird released. She flew 450 miles on her Very First migration on Thanksgiving day in 2005.]

Building flight muscles

When the wind picks up, and a chick is feeling particularly frisky, they'll start to flap their wings. Maybe they will dance a little. I take this as an indication that they are ready to RUN!!!!

We encourage this by running with our wing (well, we only have one wing, afterall) out. I love it when they run: building their flight muscles. It won't be long before they have feathers, so they'll be able to catch the wind and fly. Nacho is already growing in his wing feathers. I wish I could show you a picture of how awkward he looks. Soon. I promise.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Weekend at Necedah

This weekend I had 2 main tasks: 1. Track wild birds and make sure their chicks are still alive, and 2. Get the chick house ready for the big move. It's official that we are moving on the 15th. Right now, that's about a week away. There's so much to do! (again)

I took a few pics with my phone from this weekend. I also took a few wildlife pics from some friends. (My camera's supposed to arrive soon! It's going to be so much better!)

This first one I took when I arrived at the Refuge. The frog wasn't super excited to be in my hand, but he stayed there long enough to get a good camera phone shot. That either says that he was really scared, or he was enjoying the heat of my hand.

This is a porcupine hogging the two-track. Talk about a slowpoke!

The chicks up there are almost getting as big as Nacho! These two were such good parents, the chick would walk back and forth between the parents as they alternatively offered him goodies from the swamp.

Not getting attached!

I know we're not supposed to get attached to these cranes. They're wild animals. They are really vicious in the wild (I've seen scars that birds from previous years left on their former 'crane mommies').

But I LOVE baby Saganaki!!!!!!!!

I can't help it.

He runs everywhere! he's go so much enthusiasm for life. The other day I left his run, turned around and looked in on him from the spyglass, and he was dancing around! Hopping and stumbling, he had his wings out to balance himself, happy as can be.

He stopped for a little, looked down at his water dish, put both feet in the bowl, bent down to drink. Then he got up and started dancing around again. I just can't stand how cute he is.

He makes me giggle like a little girl. :D