Friday, January 28, 2011

Eating everything out of the fridge, again!

This  tracking job is really unpredictable. I'm surprised I ever buy groceries... except that by the time I settle into a place for longer than a couple days it feels like a luxury vacation, and I want to eat well. However, when it's time to move, I inevitably have to finish off my reserves, because I don't want to haul food around in the van. I especially don't want perishables in the van. It's not like I can cook up a meal in my hotel room.

I'm on the move again. I gave away the remaining beer in the fridge again. This is the 6th barely touched 6-pack of local microbrew that I've given away in the past 3 months. I'm constantly leaving behind eggs, butter, potatoes, celery, and carrots for others to consume. That means by the time I reach the next location, I have to buy those things again. At least my spices will travel with me. It would be unreasonably expensive to replace the spices.

Since I'm replacing my kitchen all the time, I've made an art out of grocery shopping for the ephemeral stay:
  • Potatoes (cheap, can travel, several good meals)
  • Various veggies (no fridge or cooking needed)
  • Eggs (cheap, several good meals)
  • Bread
  • Beer (in my case, it is obviously not to be consumed; just looked at)
  • Mayo and Mustard (to go with the eggs. No one feels bad about leaving those behind)
  • Soup (they are cheap, they keep, and they round out the veggies)
  • 2 fruits per day (yum. best part of the day)
  • Granola bars (these days, granola isn't really "health food" but I try to stick to the better kinds. Also, you don't need milk to eat them, unlike cereal)
  • Milk (just a pint or two for a different beverage than water, also doubles up for scramble eggs and mashed potatoes)
Sometimes, I'll get a little saucy and purchase an avocado or two to make veggie dip. I've been thinking about trying avocado/egg sandwich...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bleak January and rays of hope

I miss the Tennessee sunshine. Wisconsin's sun is a rare but welcome friend. I visited the sun yesterday while I was out with my snowshoes. It was almost too bright with the snow-glare, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

The insurance company totaled my tracking van. I'm upset that it took so long for them to come to this conclusion. If they had decided that at the beginning, we could've paid for repairs right away and I would've been back on the road weeks ago. Now they've left us with a half-repaired wreck. My opinion on insurance companies has not been improved by recent events.

USFWS, our partner in crane rearing and crane monitoring, will let me borrow their vehicle!! It's an SUV, it's a guzzler, but most importantly, it has an antenna!! hooray! It's fun to drive around government vehicles; the other cars on the road don't always know you can't pull them over, so it'll be a fun little power trip.

On a better note, the long-awaited database is finally functional! I've been entering my crane sightings all weekend. I'm almost halfway through October's observations! Yes, it will take a long time to enter all the information that I've stored up since I started tracking, but it will be worth it.

The database is so cool! It has an interactive map like Google Earth. You can store each sighting to a location on the map, and add more specific information about the birds to each location. The best part about the database is the search functionality. I can't show you how awesome it is without being physically with you to show you. You'll just have to trust me that it's the tops.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Pics, Old Posts

I understand that the my "Release" entries were a bit wordy. I went back and added a map and some pictures from release day. I humbly thank Aubrey for bringing her camera along on one of the most important days of the project.

Chick Release Part 1: The Planning

Chick Release Part 2: The Release

Other New Pics at

Banding Day!

And now, Gorgeous picture by Aubrey of the Chickies on East Rynearson Pool, Necedah before they Migrated.

Crane Video: Juveniles on Migration

I stumbled upon this video and had to share!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I just received bad news that my van will be in the shop longer. They found "supplemental damage," which they defined for me: more damage you find inside the wreck once you open it up to start fixing it. This means that they are waiting for further approval from the insurance adjuster. That will probably take another week in itself, at least. THEN who knows how much longer it'll take for them to fix it.

In short, the van has been in the shop for a month. Mostly, it's been sitting around doing nothing. Now, it's going to remain in the shop for an undisclosed amount of time. The wreck was NOT that bad!

I'm just frustrated that I'm not out with my birds. I miss them, I want to get back to them, and it's frustrating to have to sit here while my job is waiting for me in Tennessee.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Loss of Three

I will admit that I didn't want to write this post. I've put it off until the Crane Foundation published their press release.

3 of my babies were found dead on December 30th in southern Georgia. They were shot by hunters while foraging in a field. Gouda, Fontina, and baby Saganaki (20, 24, and 28-10) are a huge loss to the program. The perpetrators haven't been found, but the investigation is ongoing. Thankfully, the other 2 cranes with them, Ricotta and Goat (23-10 and 26-10) have been seen alive in fields nearby.

This is the last picture I took of the group when they were still together near Snow Hill, TN. They were with their adults: 6-05, 6-09, and 38-09.

Notice how fascinated Ricotta is with 6-05's prize. I don't know if it was a fish or a big mess of river muck, but 6-05 kept pecking at it, picking it up and flipping it. At least it's better than the bucket he was playing with the day before.

That day, December 13th, they all flew off to the South, but I lost their signal in Chattanooga. I wish I was able to follow them that day. Maybe we could have monitored them a little better. Maybe the presence of my van would have warned away the hunters. I also wish the young ones would have stayed with the adults. When the adults (all bachelors) reappeared at Snow Hill a week later sans juveniles, I was a little worried that they got into trouble.

They weren't at the time. A local farmer at the scene of their deaths had reported the group showed up a couple weeks before they were found dead. They had been foraging around in his fields for a couple of weeks before the incident.

They were all good cranes. Fontina most of all: one of our best flyers. I know they've changed and grown since beginning their migration. But you tend to keep some personality traits. She was not only valuable because she was a female, but also because it seemed she kept the group in line. She didn't take unnecessary risks. I always thought she'd make a good momma crane: responsible, strong, and just social enough to know to find a mate. I'm projecting a personality on to her, so I'll stop. But I really liked that crane.

Goodbye baby Saga. You had so much youthful joy. I will miss your enthusiasm for life.

 (thanks, Aubrey, for the pictures of Saga)

Goodbye Gouda. I always thought of you as a goober when you were young, but you turned into quite a charming young crane. You will be missed.

And goodbye Fontina. I had trouble finding good photos because you were always close by our side. But you were beautiful and your memory will be cherished.

Thanks again, Aubrey.

Migration South a Success

The birds haven't moved in a while, so we've determined we are now in the "wintering months."

All of my Direct Autumn Release birds successfully migrated! They all went as far south as Hiwassee Refuge, they all migrated south east, and they all met up with some adults along the way. Each white dot represents a known stop-over point.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Small Hang-ups

Before Christmas, I was in an accident with the tracking van. The gentleman with the wrecker assured me that if I was going to be in an accident, I chose the right kind: the one you walk away from.

New valuable life lesson: don't brave hills covered with black ice. Get a hotel. It's worth it.

Since then, I've been tracking cranes around Hiwassee for the past 2 weeks in a Rental Car. Yeah, it's a little cramped, but it is SO nice to have a vehicle that can accelerate. AND come to a full stop within a 1/4 mile.

Because it's taking so long to get the tracking van fixed, my boss decided to fly me up to Wisconsin to work on data analysis and data entry. When my van is out of the shop, I'll return to Tennessee to pick it up and continue tracking. I can't wait to get back down there to see how my cranes are doing. Though really, they are probably doing the same thing they're always doing: foraging.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roquefort's Migration

During the first week of migration, November 23rd- November 30th, Roqfort went further than the rest of the chicks in only a few short days. It’s probably because he hooked up with the right group of adults. While the other juveniles were taking their time flying south, Roq and his adults were making a beeline for their wintering territories.

He blasted through Wisconsin/Illinios in 2 days. Flew through Indiana and Kentucky in the next 3. He showed up in Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Tennessee the following day.

When choosing a resting place for the night, the cranes, like us when we’re travelling, like to find a place that has both food and a place to sleep. The cranes like to roost in water because it is safer. I’m not sure if it’s because predators don’t like to attack birds in water, or if it’s because the birds could hear the predator coming if it has to splash through water to get to them. It’s not a fool-proof system, but it seems to work for the cranes. Roq and his gang of adults found a great stop-over in Southern Indiana, just outside Louisville, KY. It was fabulously high on foothill, there was an awesome cornfield to graze in and a cute little pond/stream in the center of it. I enjoyed staying there, too, because it was located in fantastic wine country.

Apparently, Roq’s adults weren’t getting along between the pairs. They kept jostling over territory. 24 & 42 flew off to continue their migration the the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alabama.5-05, 15-04, and Roquefort foraged in the area a little longer before taking off to cover the final miles between Southern Indiana and Hiwassee Refuge. 

When they arrived at the refuge, they spent so much time on Hiwassee Island that I was never able to see them. Three days of patience paid off, though. I finally saw them at Armstrong Bend, which is a peninsula made by a bend in the river just north of the island. There are fields at Armstrong Bend, and it is a State protected refuge, so thousands of birds pass through there daily. It's a well known staging and wintering area for migrating birds. I haven't taken any pictures of Hiwassee or Armstrong bend, but it is BEAUTIFUL territory. Especially when the sun is rising over the rivers, casting a pinkish glow over the fog. The mountains in the background provide a surreal or mythical landscape. I enjoy waking up with the dawn; even if I don't see the cranes right away, the view is worth it.

Back to Roquefort; he remained with 5-05 and 15-04 for the whole month of December. The 3 of them can be seen almost every day at Armstrong Bend. Sometimes other whoopers on the refuge will join them there: 37-07 (known as the Michigan bird because he's the only whooper that flies up to Michigan) and 28-08. 12-04 (Super Dad) and 27-05 (First DAR Bird EVER) stopped in when they were passing through the area. They are now down at Weiss Lake with the other Juveniles.

Everytime the adults are jostling each other for territory at the refuge, I like to watch Roquefort. Usually the males will defend the territory more aggressively and the female will join in if she's feeling like it. 5-05 does a good job defending his area, I've seen him chase off 37-07, 28-08 (who is a female), 12-04, and numerous sandhills. I haven't seen Roq become involved, but he's always standing by, watching intently. I've never seen him stray from 5-04 and 15-04, so I wonder if he's become like an adopted son. Or maybe he's more like a foreign-exchange student. Either way I'm glad that he's found a pair of whoopers that will teach him the ropes. He's chosen well, I think.

(I'll post more pictures of Roquefort at Armstrong Bend later if I get them)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wintering Grounds

Great News!

Most of the chicks have reached their wintering grounds!

(37-09 and Feta/27-10)

I'm happy to announce that Pepper Jack has caught up with Havarti, Queso, & Feta (22, 25, & 27-10) and they will most likely be wintering at Weiss Lake, AL. Weiss Lake is an ENORMOUS lake that straddles the Alabama, Georgia border in the north of the states. There are a lot of rivers and marshy areas surrounding the lake, so there should be enough food for the 4 juveniles (yes, I have to stop calling them chicks) and their adults.
(Havarti/22-10, sweetie)

22, 25, & 27-10 left the adults they were with originally (13-03 and 18-03). We don't know if they found this lake on their own or if they came down with different adults, but they have arrived and it's a good spot, so I'm happy about it. PJ came down from Indiana WITH 11-02 and 30-08!!  George and Trixie are still with him. I was a little worried that George was going to keep them all up there in Indiana. Apparently, Weiss Lake has been a previous wintering ground for him, so they will likely stay.

(37-09 and 22, 25, 27-10)

Every time I go down to Alabama to check on them, I always see PJ hanging out with the adults rather than with the other chicks. I'm not surprised by this. I'm not sad about it, either. Sometimes cranes have difficulty being reincorporated into a group. PJ was separate for so long that he may not feel like part of the group, or the group may not accept him. He IS with the adults, though. He's learning valuable things from them and hopefully he will follow them when they begin their migration north.

(PJ/19-10 is center of George&Trixie, 12-04 & 27-05, also Great Blue Heron)

19-10 with 12-04 (a.k.a Super Dad)