Friday, April 22, 2011

New Tracking Van: test run

Toyota Tracking Van: toro! toro!

It's finally here! The new tracking van is amazing. ICF received a grant to replace the old-school full-sized astro van with this modern Toyota Sienna. It's rugged, it has enough room in the back to transport Cranes or lots of people, AND it's a beautiful ICF blue. How could it get any better?

The antenna is controlled by a state-of-the-art consul system that allows you to stay inside the vehicle to get an azimuth (or direction) on the bird once you know what direction the van is pointing. If you don't know that, then you have to get out of the vehicle and measure that with your compass.

The handle at the top lets you spin the antenna
I triangulated a few birds around the refuge and found that my error (the center circle of the 3 azimuths) was significantly reduced. I had an error of 1 meter on one of my triangulations!

Triangulations, error, and where we place the bird accordingly

Unfortunately, it was a miserable snowy day in mid-April. This is the first time I've experienced Thunder Snow; I didn't even know it existed. I thought storms stopped for the winter season. I guess you learn something new everyday.

a beautiful Easter Wonderland

New tracking van is so rugged, it can handle this!
In short, I love it.

I'd love it more if the weather played fair.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tracking Birds from a plane!

This was an amazing experience! I can't believe that we track the birds from a plane! I found out that I have certain limitations... yes, I got a little sick while looking through binoculars on a bumpy dive. Still, it was awesome and I'd go again in a heartbeat.

We went out on Tuesday to try to track down some birds that might be scattered around eastern Wisconsin and north of the refuge. Our main priorities of this flight were to get a visual on the Quincy Bluff pair (we were hoping they were on a nest) and to train me at aerial tracking.

Boarded the plane around 1000.

Windway plane
 My trusty pilot, Tom, and my trusty boss, Anne, are long-time pros.

Anne took pictures, pointed out landmarks, and manned the "signal sheet" while I listened for birds. The antennas are fixed to both wings of the aircraft. I have the ability to listen to both antennas at once or switch between them so we can figure out which direction the bird is in relative to us.
First landmark: Devil's Lake (from the North). 
Potential site for next year's DAR release, cool stuff

Quincy Bluff: we could barely see the birds after 4 passes

Quincy Bluff again: the birds were just left of center; you can totally see them, right?
After diving a few times over Quincy Bluff, we decided it was best if we took a quick break (my stomach appreciated this).

At the end of the whole trip we flew back right past the Crane Foundation! Awesome!
ICF (Left side of the road)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Coloration and Development

It's that time of the year! The chicks are changing colors and becoming adult cranes. Their new official title is 'yearling.'

Here's where we left off in my last post about coloration:

PJ, whom we now call 19-10, was looking pretty white in October.

28-10 still had brown feathers in December (he was the youngest)
Before they lose all their brown feathers, the cranes start developing their black jaw markings and start losing the feathers on their heads. You can see he still has a light shading of brown on his neck and "tail," which is really the tertiary feathers of his wings:

19-10 at the end of march
Other cranes at this age may have more or less brown, and some may have started losing more feathers on their head to reveal the red patch:

25-10 End of March

A different view of 19-10

Ultralight Yearlings, 5-10 and 6-10, beginning of April

Ultralight Yearling, beginning of March
I'm not sure why the Ultralight birds are more white than the DAR birds, it might be because they are born up to a month earlier.

Here's some bonus video footage I shot while I was down at Chassahowitzka. The sound in this video is two-toned. The yearlings are making both a "peeping" noise that sounds like frogs AND a "grunting" noise that sounds like a big monster or an aggravated pig. The deeper noise develops as the large trachea elongates and penetrates the sternum of the birds. After the rings of the trachea fuse with the sternum, the whoopers are able to make their name-sake sound. It's awesome to hear in person and almost unbelievable.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Inspired again

Not just to blog, though. I'm inspired to WRITE!!!!

I've been working on my masters for 4 years, now. It wasn't the coursework or the degree requirements that have been holding me up. That was the easy part. The hard part about all of this was finding a project for my masters, deciding to move forward with that, and then finishing the darn thing. I can feel it, now. I have the support I need, and there is a place for this project.

Yes, of course it's going to be about Whooping Cranes of the "white" color morph (that's just a joke, they only come in white, but an article I read today clarified that they were discussing only white whoopers). It's going to be about their migratory patterns and it will discuss the differences between the Ultralight and the DAR migrations. It's relevant, it's paper-based, and I see a way to accomplish my goals. These are 3 ingredients for success.

Wait, friends! before you say anything, please don't congratulate me. I haven't written anything yet. I once heard that the worst thing you can do for yourself is announce to the world your anticipated success. This is because someone will inevitably congratulate you and you'll get a small false high of "reward" feeling. After you've experience that reward, you don't feel as though you need to drive yourself to achieve the end result. So if feel the need to say something, be prying or non-committal.

I can't wait to write for the Crane Foundation. I can't wait to start organizing my thoughts into paragraph forms. Next few posts: Crane baby pictures and more Crane Drama! Stay tuned.