Friday, December 30, 2011

Goodbye Crane Foundation!

It has been a year and a half since I started at the Crane Foundation.

The worst part of this job:

Hair raising experiences on back country roads
will this covered bridge hold my weight? here's hoping!

Very long, boring days and no weekends
Look what I made in a week and a half!

Hipwaders and floating mats

Long treks into the wilderness for dead cranes
This is not a lewd picture. You can feel the discomfort as dan adjusts his shorts in the chest waders after a long treck through the hot woods. sludging through swamps and being devoured by mosquitoes.

The best part of this job:

Raising the whooping crane chicks for release
As provider

As guardian

Tracking the birds
Aerial tracking

Ground tracking


And finding the cranes!

Having an outdoor job: I am always in the beautiful outdoors. I have seen nearly every sunrise and sunset for the past year and a half.
Cayuga power plant, IN

2010 DAR cohort post release on East Rynearson

Meeting and working with the locals
Charles Murray, crane enthusiast and retired teacher
Local 5th graders at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge
 The people I work with: Everyone here knows the goals we are working towards and they work well together. This is a wonderful environment for teamwork as well as personal growth. The whooping cranes (and other crane species) couldn't ask for better allies.

2010 Field Ecology Department

2010 DAR interns

Tom, the pilot, and Anne


Myself, Eva, and Nancy from the DNR

Thank you, Readers, for your comments and questions. Thank you, Crane Foundation, for being so wonderful.

Signing off until the next blog!

Jen Davis
Whooping Crane Tracker
International Crane Foundation

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Strange Sighting

What is this bird?

 And why is it in America? specifically, at Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee...

Will we band the crane and see where he goes?

These are all questions I was asked during an interview for several papers after I identified this crane as a hooded crane in mid-December. Two women were having a lovely day birdwatching at the Hiwassee Refuge when they spotted this strangely colored crane. When the local Craniac, Charles Murray, appeared on the scene he knew to call me in.

Well, admittedly, I couldn't identify it right away, either. Though the words "hooded crane" came out of my mouth in a quasi questioning tone. After sending pictures of him to the experts at the crane foundation we had our positive identification. We notified the local bird-watchers list serve and the days of peaceful isolation watching cranes from the Hiwassee Refuge observation gazebo were history.

This is what the gazebo used to look like on any given day
Some articles covering the story are:

News Channel 9

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Migration Rundown!

Tuesday, November 29th was a cold and lonely day. It started like every previous day that week: the 7 Dar juveniles were alone, they weren't really flying around too much. They were huddled in a field together. All of a sudden, they were in the air. This isn't really something new. They've flown large circles before only to land back in the same spot. They have done this on multiple occasions over the past week. I was determined to catch a picture of them flying.

As I saw them fly over the hills south of Madison, I noticed that they were with 2 sandhill cranes! This was different; maybe they would actually migrate. I quickly packed away my window-mount scope and camera. I just as quickly unpacked my Illinois map and GPS. I followed them down through Wisconsin, but got ahead of them in Northern Illinois. It's best to be in front of your birds.

I lost them in northern Illinois. The last faint signal I heard was North East of me. I was on a south bound expressway and I was trying to cut East but waiting for a fast road to drive on because they were moving at 75 miles per hour that day.

Once I cut east, I didn't hear their signal again for 3 days. I waited that night for the Satellite transmitters to return a reading to my e-mail. It comes in about 7:00 pm. This was torture because I lost them in early afternoon. Well, the satellite reading was no help: it gave me information from the day before. :(

Wednesday, November 30th, I went a little south and sat a the border of Illinois/Indiana hoping to hear a signal. Worst luck ever: They reading from the previous day showed they were in Terre Haute Indiana. I drove to Terre Haute that night and didn't find a single signal once I was down there.

Thursday, Dec 1st. While I was waiting for the next set of Satellite signals to come in I tracked around Indiana's Western edge. It was a long day but I found a lot of birds. When the satellite PTTs came in that night at 7 pm. I started my drive from western Indiana to South Eastern Tennessee. What? Yes. I drove until 1:30 am to get to Tennessee.

Friday, Dec 2nd. Thankfully, 3 of the birds were still there. 14-11, 17-11, 20-11

The other 4 may have split off during Migration. 2 Arrived in Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Two of the original 7 still haven't been spotted. Also, we're still looking for 19-11, who hasn't been seen since November 16th, in Wisconsin.

Sat Dec 3rd - Tues Dec 13: Since I've been in TN, only one bird split from the 3. 14-11 is down at Weiss lake with Sandhill buddies. Last year, a bird (maybe two) was shot down there so I hope it doesn't happen again this year. Some adults may be on their way to join her since this is a common wintering area for some adult whoopers, but considering events from last year, we'll see if they do join her.

17-11 and 20-11 have quite contentedly remained at Hiwassee Wildlife refuge. I'm here with my buddy from last year, 21-10, or Roquefort. Also, our Michigan bird is here: 37-07.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Migration Analysis

Before I left on migration, I managed to squeeze in a quick presentation on all of the migration analysis work I've been doing. Essentially, here's what I found so far:

All of the whooping crane migration data looks like this. Note that it is roughly 36,000 data points over 10 years in the fall through spring migration months.

Based on a paper by Tacha, et. al. I created an average fly line using all the points. Well, actually I made two, the first fly line (orange) was waaay too jagged for my purposes. The second (blue), using almost twice as many data points for the average was smoother and more suitable to my purpose.

This was my final choice for the fly line.

After that, I wanted to find what percentage of the population was using land near the average fly line. Are all of the birds using this basic route? are half the birds using this route?

So I calculated what percent of the birds were within a certain distance from the line. It looks like this.
This says that 75% of the birds over 10 years of sightings are within 10 miles of the average fly line! This seems unbelievably small given what I know about this population. So I wanted to find out if maybe there was a heavy skew at both ends of the line. There are many sightings of birds on home ranges before they leave for migration and after they end migration in this data set.

In an effort to remove the skew, I didn't address Wisconsin and Florida at all in my next set of calculations:
As you can see, there's a drastic difference between the first set of calculations and the second. This new graph shows that along the flyway, 75% of the cranes are within a 150 mile corridor of the average fly line. If the first set of calculations was too good to be true, then this set of calculations is almost too big to be of any use. How are we supposed to tell Indiana that in order to take local action that would protect the the whooping cranes, they have to cover the ENTIRE STATE? most of the cranes don't fly through the North Eastern quadrant of the state, but you wouldn't know that from this map.

As you can see, I still have some work to do. I would like to include Wisconsin and Florida without skewing the data, and I would like to have a solid product to leave the Crane Foundation with when my internship is through.

I hope I didn't bore you with too much science. Here are some pretty crane flight pictures that I included in my presentation. These are all provided by Eva.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

2011 DAR Release

It's that time of year again. Eight young whooping cranes have been released on the Wisconsin landscape near Horicon Marsh area. We released the birds in groups of threes and fours last year, but this year is a little different because they released the 8 birds together in the same location. I hear they all survived their first night in the wilderness so the future looks promising. Up to this point I have had no interaction with the 2011 cohort, but now that they are released, it will be my job to track them and monitor how they are doing. I can't wait. Good luck, chickies!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


After 3 months of intense, grueling labor we have uploaded most of the old data into the new database!!

What a relief. Now that we all have access to 10 years of whooping crane tracking data. Let's do some conservation!

Here's what it looks like

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Whooping Crane Capture

Wednesday, when I found 1/2 the population of whooping cranes within an 8 mile radius, I identified an injured whooping crane. She had twine wrapped around her right leg so tight, it caused a swelling so large it looked like a second hock. She wasn't placing any weight on her leg, so I called Eva right away.

17-07 using wings to step forward

17-07 is 4 years old. Two weeks ago, Eva saw her with a slight limp, but didn't observe any twine. It wasn't notable at the time since wild birds will develop a limp and miraculously heal within a week sometimes. This time, when I saw her, I was very alarmed at her limp and the swelling around the twine. While other cranes danced around her, foraged in the corn, and acted generally crane-y, she just rested on her left foot and poked around her at the corn nearby. I watched her for an hour trying to get video footage of her behavior. She didn't move around very much and when she did, she used her wings to assist her movement.

After working long hours on Wednesday, finding landowners and obtaining permission to go on their land, we were ready to go for Thursday. Thursday morning, Eva and I found the cranes weren't on that land anymore. Oh well. So we worked another couple hours trying to find the new landowners and get their permissions. It's a little disappointing when that happens: we were pawing at the gates to begin our capture adventure on Thursday only to be set back by the cranes' desire to forage on new land.

OK, so we got permission, and by late Thursday afternoon, we had our team organized: Richard Urbanek (a.k.a. Crane Guru), Eva, and myself. This was an opportunistic capture because her transmitter is dead; we planned to remove the twine binding her leg AND put new leg bands on. Awesome! I think the saying goes 'two birds with one stone.'

Sadly, on that late Thursday evening, the birds flew off both times we approached the birds in cornfields. Maybe they flew because we were trying to entice the birds with corn in a corn field. Maybe they flew because the birds felt less secure in a cornfield than they do in a marsh. Who's to say?

We regrouped for a Saturday morning capture. This time, we were without Richard Urbanek, so we couldn't replace the transmitter. We also couldn't capture the birds with our usual capture technique with the Net Gun. We were handicapped by our need to be close enough to physically grab the bird before she flew away. Nonetheless, we moved forward with the plan because it is only humane and right that we remove the fishline from 17-07's leg. Otherwise, it would eventually lose circulation and fall off.

Saturday morning, the team included Nancy and Annette, 2 vet techs who are experienced in field medicine and animal rehabilitation, Eva and myself. THIS time the cranes were on land we had permission to enter so we got started right away.

Eva and myself walked up to a group of 7 whooping cranes (27-10, Feta, included :), and they didn't fly off! Odds of capture were looking good. As Eva and I pretended to be cranes, chucked grapes at the greedy adults, and worked our way closer, 17-07 didn't react. Eva moved slowly towards 17-07 while I distracted the other 6 cranes, including 17-07's suspicious 'boyfriend,' 10-09. Finally Eva was close enough! There was a brief struggle of feathers and costume but Eva quickly had 17-07 in hand and walked her back to our mini field station. We had set up in the tall grasses to block the view of the other birds.

Eva moves slowly towards injured 17-07
Nancy and Annette analyzed the wound, removed the fishing line, and took pictures while Eva held the bird. I warded off unwanted company (meaning the 6 other whooping cranes who rushed to investigate).
Removing the twine carefully with suture scissors

Right leg swelling due to pressure from the twine
After the twine was removed the swelling should go down
When I was satisfied the other birds would stay at the other end of the pond, I returned to assist in any way I could. Eva had me remove the old, non functioning transmitters. 17-07 is now the only bird in the Eastern Population that does not have any color bands to identify her.

I'm removing the non-functioning transmitters

The vet techs have decreed that she is in good standing. She should recover very quickly (they suggested she'd recover within the week!) because we removed the fishing line before it caused severe damage. If we had not caught her the tissue around the twine would continue to swell, working the twine farther into the leg and cutting off circulation.
Eva releases the bird into the marsh

I feel so great about this capture today! We were lucky with the crane's location, landowner permission, disposition of the cranes, and everything else that went right today. I only wish we could have re-banded her while we had her in hand.

Can you believe this fit around her leg?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

1/2 the population in one day

Yes, 50 cranes is a lot. But I did it. Pictures to come.

Tomorrow, we're going to try to capture an injured crane. What a week.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Picture Dump

 Things I've Seen

Pelicans (Lots of Pelicans)

Goslings! with cute baby bottoms



Cranes Being Cranes

12-05 and 22-07 just sitting. lazy cranes.

27-10 (Feta) my beautiful girl

W1-10 stuffing herself silly while the flowage is drained.
Cranes Reproducing

Male standing over female while she is trying to lay an egg

46-07 sitting tight on nest on a very smokey day (controlled burn nearby)

Crane Momma and baby