Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Great News!!!

Havarti, the smallest bird, has fledged!!! All of our birds are flying like champs. We've been separating ourselves from their daily lives so they can learn to forage on their own. We've seen them eating larger prey more frequently. For example, Havarti caught a snake the other week, but Ricotta stole it and ate it. Two can play at that game, though. Yesterday, Ricotta caught a mouse, but Havarti stole it and ate it (after much struggling and running around, of course).

We've seen the chicks foraging with The Jones's (the adult whooping cranes who also live near Site 3), and we even saw the Jones's roosting in the chicks' day pen! The day pen is the pen without netting over the top so the chicks can fly out or in anytime during the day. We are really hoping that the chicks will follow the Jones's when it comes time to migrate.

I'll have to post new pictures soon, the chicks are turning very white. We're planning to do a final health check and band/tag the chicks in mid October, we're just waiting for the transmitters to be shipped to us. These transmitters are specially made to be lightweight and small. They fit on a small band that goes on the chick's leg just above the hock. We try to keep the transmitters as light as possible so they don't weigh down the birds during flight. Once the transmitter is in place, it sends out signal for a couple of years.

There are a few birds in the flock who have transmitters that no longer send out signals. We'll be preparing a list of priority birds to catch up to do a quick health check and transmitter-change-out. It may be a little difficult, though, since we'll have to find these birds visually. They hide very adeptly in tall grass.

It's looking like October will be a very busy month.

Hellos and Goodbyes

Sadly, Kari left us today. She is wonderful, and she will be missed. She brought a lot of positive energy to the project, and she was very good working with the birds. I'll miss her, we had a lot of good times:

Commuting to the organic farm while worrying that her car might not make it
Coon Bluff Road
Various necessary shows, like Glee, Wonderfalls, and Flight of the Conchords
Looks like Marianne's going to ISO...
Setting off fire alarms
Mouse trailer internet access
Watching the boys talk only about cranes for hours and then slowly becoming those people who only talk about cranes for hours
and the unforgettable... Joys of JELLO cookbook

She is moving on to Connecticut and on to more challenging things. All my best and my love, Kari!

Cherry joined us about 2 weeks ago, to replace Kari's position. Cherry is Awesome! She's from the south, so it's nice to add diversity to the group. We went hiking up to Mill Bluff as a group (including Aubrey, Cherry, and myself). Aubrey and Cherry have a special connection, because they are both into Owl surveys. Aubrey works with an Owl banding project during the evenings about this time of year, trying to determine the habitat usage of the owls during their migration, and she has enthusiastically agreed to bring Cherry along banding, too. What happy chance! (also, according to the picture below, she's the only sane one left... ;) Welcome, Cherry!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tracking in the Floods

 I woke up early on Friday morning to go out and find some cranes. I was very excited to get a start on my day, but I didn't know how long it would take to find the birds. It turns out there was a LOT of rain the day before. This wouldn't be a big deal, but all of the water was slowly gathering and pouring down river filling all the flood plains... and side roads that we drive on to find cranes. I had to keep deciding whether to drive on the road or take a different route. This time I decided to go for it. (below)

I love going out early on the Refuge! You can see so many cool animals when you go out in the morning. If you can pick out the animal below, you win a special prize!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Picture dump!

Sporadic Wing Flapping in the marsh, even though the adults in the background could misconstrue this flapping as a challenge
Fluffy Crane (Gouda)

Yeah, we hang out with the adults a lot. (check out Fontina at the bottom)

This is my walk to work (it's a tough life :)

Mrs. Jones or 30-08

Changing Seasons

If you'll notice, I haven't been posting very much lately. This is because big change is in the air. I'm not always sure what's going on, but I'm getting a feel for the new situation.

They are taking me away from working with the cranes! Good bye my babies! It's a little sad to think I won't be working with them anymore. It had to happen sometime, of course, but I feel like they still like me. I know who they are, their little quirks, what makes them happiest. (The other day I collected several clover flowers for Havarti, but I won't be doing that anymore)

I've been assigned several paper projects and I'll be tracking whooping cranes on the refuge until the end of my internship. Well... not just until the end of my internship... :D

I was hired as the new Tracking Intern!!! I'll be with the cranes through their migration south, maybe during the winter months, hanging out in Chassawitzka (sp?), and then migrating back in the spring!!!!

When my internship with the USFWS ends, ICF will keep me on. It feels amazing that I'm able to stay with this project and (of course) the birds. I'm not going to lie. I've really come to like the project and the people here. There is so much passion and so much talent on this project it's hard not to feel inspired.

I'll try to keep you all updated on the chicks as much as possible, but definitely look forward to more tracking experiences and pictures of adult whooping cranes. Maybe I'll even be able to post pictures of other critters on the wildlife refuge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Whooping Crane Festival!!

Ok, so it's not Sandy the Sandhill Crane, but Prairie Chicken was definitely awesome. She kept approaching people and calling to them. Then she'd turn around and shake her tail feathers in people's faces.

The whooping crane festival was definitely fun. There was a lot of information and lots of local vendors. Kari, Aubrey, and I took the Cranberry Marsh tour. We were allowed to get off the bus and stand in the cranberry field, which was cool. Even cooler, they encouraged us to pick some cranberries off the bushes and taste them. If you can imagine me squirreling away enough cranberries to give to the chicks in my pockets, then touring around the rest of the day trying not to squish that pocket you'd have a pretty good grasp of how I spent the tour.

The Lyon's Club brews a very special beer called Whooper Brew. It is only available during the Whooping Crane Festival. It was alright. I'd buy it again if I was still around next year.

After enjoying a relaxing mid-day at the festival I went back to work with the chicks in the evening. That evening we did our very last PM socialization taking care to divvy out the cranberry cache as fairly as possible.

It was a relaxed, peaceful day. Fall is in the air.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Phantom Crane Fly

I found the most amazing bug this summer.

Thanks to

It floats along on the wind like a bit of fluff. I first saw it harmlessly bouncing along the window pane, and I was immediately fascinated by it's movement.

I would share this bug with you... but alas, due to it's phantom-like nature (really, just it's coloring) it's hard to catch a video of it. The world would be a more wonderful place if everyone could sit down once in a while and meditate on this beautiful creature.

Monday, September 6, 2010

PJ, The Badass

Apparently, Pepper Jack's aggressive tendencies aren't only directed towards me. Yesterday he chased off the adult whooper female and then proceeded to challenge the male.

I stood back thinking, "this is going to be good. Watch this little punk get his butt whooped." The adult male is 8 years older -- that's 16 migrations -- and he's been around the block a few times. I'm going to call him George, for lack of a better name. George knows his territory. He's the one that chased me around with the baby chicks last month. Not even Nacho has been able to successfully stand up to George.

Pepper Jack gracefully opens up his wings in a "I'm-bigger-than-you" challenge. He's obviously a few inches shorter than George from my stand point. George makes a pretty good strike at PJ with his beak. Then Georges wings come out and they start the dance. It becomes an all-out jump-raking and hissing contest. There were 7 other chicks around and all of them rushed in very interested in what was going on, but none of them seemed to want to get involved in the epic battle between the 2 males.

PJ took a few hits, but he gave back a few lucky ones. George didn't seem to know what to think. The big showy battle ended and George went to join his mate, but PJ kept challenging him. I think George didn't want to act like this young pup was chasing him off so they stood there in a stare-off for another 10-15 minutes. Occasionally, one would make a threat stance (where they lower the top of their head so the opponent can see the red crest). Mostly, though they both stood up as straight as possible looking as tall as they can be. Eventually, George backed down! I couldn't believe it.

He and his mate didn't leave the area, they just foraged near us. We thought that was the end, but not even 10 minutes later 6 of the chicks rushed George and his mate again and another all out brawl broke out. While Pepper Jack and George were fighting this time, Nacho snuck up behind George and pecked him in the butt feathers. Tsk Tsk, sneaky Nacho.

Eventually, George ran out of the fray again. He seemed a little disconcerted that he couldn't hold his ground against a bunch of babies. To make it worse, his mate was watching the whole thing. She looked bored most of the time: preening her feathers. How embarrassing. I don't think he'll be getting any dances any time soon.

My little chicks are growing up to be the neighborhood thugs... what am I supposed to think of this?

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Now that the chicks can fly they take full advantage of their abilities. This is wonderful! We want them to fly out of the day pen and act like real cranes foraging around in the marshes.

We check on them once an hour, or so, to make sure they are still alive.
The problem is that once they spot the costume, they start following it like a group of thugs looking for an easy victim who will cough up his treasures (i.e. grapes) without too much of a fight.

Look at these guys. Don't they look a little menacing?

Floating Mats 1, Mario 0

I had a rough night, tonight.

You know how in Super Mario World when you land on the floating mat and stay on it too long, then the floating mat falls and you fall with it into the dark nothingness? Then it's awesome because you get a new body and you get to start over like nothing happened. There's no residual damage in Mario world.

I lost my game versus the floating mats early in the evening which left hours of fun for me to enjoy. No new body. No new clothes. I just got to hang out in the dark nothingness for hours.

I stumbled and fell in the marsh wetting my clothes all the way up to my chest. I can handle that. A little bit of water leaked into my boot over the top. I can handle that, too. The bird I was watching didn't want to leave the marsh, though. For 2 hours I stumbled through those floating mats, and every time I fell the water would leak into my boot a little more. Eventually my boot became a bucket. Yup, water was flowing into my boot so fast I had a few swamp critters in there feasting on my flesh. I just had to deal with it, too. Wet undies, heavy boots, a wet camera and a sad puppet. This night couldn't have ended fast enough.

Though I guess it balances out the wonderful morning I had with the chicks. Everyone was so good this morning and we even got a few more fledged!!!

Maybe even baby Saganaki!!


Friday, September 3, 2010

New Intern!

Aubrey started on Wednesday! She's a cute red-head and promises to be a great roommate and an excellent coworker.

I'm so jealous of her new hip-waders. It must be nice to be leak-free.

Wow, those chicks are big!

I took my first vacation since starting this internship last week. It's only been 7 days since I saw the chicks, but holy crap they are big!

Only one more chick fledged since I left. That's ok... we're still learning. 5 more to fledge and we are golden.

I finally got a picture of the chicks flying! but I can't post it right now due to bandwith the size of a sewing needle.

I'm glad I had my vacation last week, because it's about to get busy again. As soon as the birds are fledged, we're going to band them and release them in different areas of the refuge. At that point I'll be tracking them all day, everyday. In the meantime I'm keeping myself busy writing my thesis, entering data for Richard, and figuring out the right statistical model for this data I'm analyzing for Marianne. I'm sure life would be easier if I had a friendly statistics buddy I could ply with questions. Any takers?