Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Alternative Monitoring

I'm supposed to be monitoring Whooping Cranes. However, I haven't actually seen a whooping crane in over two days.

Instead of driving blindly around the state, wasting gas (ouch, costly) and time (driving is a mind-numbing activity), I've decided to employ my time being useful to ICF by monitoring the Sandhill Cranes!

We have thousands of Sandhill Cranes at Hiwassee Refuge and Armstrong Bend! I'm spending a couple hours each day scanning the thousands of legs for leg bands. So far, after 3 days of scanning, I've seen one banded crane! I was really excited when it happened, too. It's almost like going through a Where's Waldo book (yeah, I know I've used that reference before when talking about looking for whooping cranes in the snow, but it seems more appropriate in this scenario because there is so much red and white coloring: the sandhills have red caps on their head and they look kind of white when the sun is glinting off their grey feathers).

Even though sandhills aren't endangered, we still study their population size, growth, migration patterns, habitat use, and behaviors. This helps us understand their needs for future habitat management or population management.

Some of the coolest technology we use to help the whooping crane was first tested on sandhill cranes. For example, we learned that costume rearing sandhills prevents the cranes from imprinting on humans and allows them to live a (more) normal life in the wild: finding mates, finding good nesting ground, migrating with other sandhills, etc. We also discovered that the trick of teaching young birds their migratory path by Ultralight plane works with Sandhills as well as Canada geese. After several sucessful sandhill migrations, Operation Migration's work with Whooping cranes was a go.

Sandhills are a fun crane. I love watching them when I'm not watching whooping cranes. Their behaviors are so entertaining, that I could just watch them for hours. Sometimes when they stand around in a group and the wind picks up, a few will jump up sporadically, like popcorn. They will flap up and land. A disgruntled neighbor might peck or challenge the jumper, or it might even jump up in response, continuing the popcorn effect.

Landing sandhills are the most entertaining part of my day. They lower their 'landing gear' seemingly way too early and they hover slowly down in the air in a full standing position with their wings wide spread until they reach the ground, where they backwing to land a little more gracefully.

Photo retouched from ICF mainpage.

I dedicate this post to Kimberly Schmaeman, who has graciously taken care of my house and cats while I'm off gallivanting around the country. She loves Sandhills above all other birds, and wishes to be serenaded awake every morning by their soothing calls. (love you, Kim!)

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad they're entertaining! Their flying wobble does make me smile every time.