Before beginning the whooping crane migration project with my students three years ago, I never imagined how these birds could have such personalities. Of course, the people that work closely with the cranes for such long periods of time are likely ascribing some human characteristics to the birds. There's no doubt, however, that these birds are real characters! Throughout the course of our study, we learned about the bullies or "meanies", the ones that were serious learners at "flight school", the strong fliers, the one bird that was always sleepy and the bird who prefered to have an ultralight airplane to himself. The Operation Migration team gave them nicknames like Mouse or King. My students quickly grew attached and became eager for updates about their chicks.
Now that the birds have reached their wintering grounds in Florida, our project is, for the most part, complete. The birds are now adjusting, with supervision, to being free and wild. In their field journal, Operation Migration posts frequent updates about how this transition is going. It's a wonderful way for my students to keep up with the birds they tracked, "adopted", and grew to love over the last several months.
Recently, an entry was posted by the "Swamp Monster" who had to be called back to work to get the mischievous birds in line. The Swamp Monster is really a pilot or team member wearing a large green tarp who scare the cranes back to the pen. Here's what the Swamp Monster wrote:
Apparently my favorite victims have become just a tad too independent and were creating havoc around roosting time. My favorite kind of misbehaving youngster--one who won't go to bed at night and wants to stay in the swamp and play. Yum!
On Wednesday night, so Bev told me, the chicks decided to take off out of the pen right as the sun was setting. They went to where they had spent the morning and wanted to poke around in the mud some more. This gave Brooke and Bev fits as they tried to get them back to the safety of the pen to roost. So I responded to their 911 call, and on Thursday went over to help them out. After all, just because I'm a Monster doesn't mean I'm a bad guy.
I took up my position out on the flats surrounded by all my favorite things: stinky mud, mosquitoes, and sand flies. You know, I felt almost at home there. Anyway, sure enough, out came the 7 chicks just after sunset. Boy - did I put on a show for them. Jumping, growling, snarling, blowing my horn, waving my tarp; all the usual things I do.
And do you know what? The little stinkers kept flying. Scared you didn't I? They kept flying alright, but right back to the pen. Darn right they did! When I scare something, it stays scared. They flew right back into the pen almost knocking Brooke down in the process they were so glad to see him. Then they marched right onto the oyster bar to roost like the good little chicks they are, and they didn't budge for the rest of the night.
I think I'll go have some more fun with them tonight. I really love that swamp they live in---a Monster could retire there!
Then, Bev Paulan, who has been with the chicks since they hatched, wrote another entry about how difficult it can be to get the "crane-kids" to sleep when they'd rather play. As a parent of two young children, I could relate to this bedtime routine and I think many of my second graders recognized themselves in this crane misbehavior.
Saturday was my turn to be in the pen with the chicks and stay with them until they roosted for the night. This seems a simple task; just stand out on the oyster bar, do my best crane parent impersonation, and wait for them to fall asleep. Not quite so simple.
Like any parent of an increasingly independent child, I did my best to get them calmed down for the night. Following 'Daddy' Brooke's advice, I stood in the feed shelter for a while so they could get nice full tummies; walked to the fresh water guzzlers so they could get their last drink; slowly walked them to their bedroom, aka the oyster bar, and tried to lull them to sleep with their favorite lullaby, the brood call.
Well like any child who doesn't want to go to bed tends to do, the goofing off started. They all had a good meal and while walking them slowly around the pond, the shenanigans started. First they started jumping about, tossing sticks and feathers into the air. Then they started playing tag, with one bird taking flight - and my heart stopping.
Okay, that burst of energy dissipated, I finally got 5 of the 7 onto the oyster bar. But once again, any excuse to not go to sleep. "I'm hungry," they chorused and they all marched back to the feeders for one last nibble. "I'm thirsty," they peeped as they sauntered to the guzzlers. "I have to take a bath" they sang. Now mind you, all this is at 6:45pm, 20 minutes after sunset ad past their bedtime.
Then it was another game of tag, tugging at my costume, playing with oyster shells, and pecking at each other - "Mom, 828 is looking at me!" More eating, more jumping about, and then, my worst nightmare; the batteries in my MP3 player gave up the ghost drowning us in silence.
Would I ever get them to the oyster bar now? Luckily, darkness won out and they eventually all ended up surrounding me on the oyster bar and slowly calmed down. 812 was the last one to join us, but 805 was so fascinated by my costume, he wouldn't relax. Finally I moved far enough out of his reach that he had no choice and he started to do his pre-sleep preening.
When it became so dark I couldn't see more than 5 feet, I figured it was a safe bet that I could leave them. Slowly, I waded ashore, taking just a few steps at a time to make sure no one followed. Looking back one last time, I could see their reflections in the pond and no one was stirring.
So as quietly as a rubber boot wearing, costume clad handler can walk through water covered mud, I made my escape, and headed back to the blind. No one followed and peace reigned over the marsh. I think I'm getting this chick-sitting thing down.
As you can imagine, my second graders loved reading these updates. In a short time, our cranes will once begin another migration. This time
they will fly north to Wisconsin as wild cranes, without their costumed human "parents" or ultralight airplanes. Each bird has been fitted with a new radio transmitter and legband. We will continue to learn about their progress as they grow into adulthood, learn to survive in the wild, mate and hopefully begin to raise chicks of their own.
This project has been engaging on many level and the interest keeps going. My class received a visit from Operation Migration and we raised more than $1000 for this historic effort. My students have a great appreciation for conservation efforts. They have connected to an endangered species in such a personal way - one in which they won't soon forget. I , too, now claim to be a true "craniac." We wish the best of luck to the Whooping Crane class of 2008!
Last month,I traveled more than 3 hours from Chicago to attend the Necedah Whooping Crane and Wildlife Fest. For the last few years, my class has been tracking the migration of whooping crane chicks following ultralight airplanes. It's an amazing project and as the children became hooked on whoopers, so did I. In Necedah, I met members of the Operation Migration Team, tried "Whooper Brew" (a yummy beer made by local brewery), toured the refuge where the chicks are trained, sat in an ultralight, and saw an adult whooping crane in the wild. It was such a wonderful experience and it made me even more excited about teaching my new class about whooping cranes.
On Wednesday, I received an email from Operation Migration telling me that my name was chosen in the Change4Cranes drawing and that I would receive a classroom visit from the O.M. team. So incredible! Now, my students will be able to experience the same excitement that I did in Necedah. They'll be able to ask questions and learn first hand about the whooping cranes from the people so integrally involved in their conservation. Here's the announcement from Journey North.
Two weeks ago, our study of the endangered whooping crane finally ended. After the longest-ever fall migration (97 days, 1262 miles), the cranes finally reached their wintering grounds in Florida. For days, we'd been monitoring the Operation Migration field journal so we could plan our whooping crane celebration. The weather in Florida was favorable and the cranes made it to their second-to-last stopover site. It seemed that Monday, January 28th, they would fly their last 26 miles to the Chassohowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. That Sunday afternoon, I sent out an email to all to all the families, reminding the children to get their clothing and snacks ready. The kids arrived the next morning bursting with excitement and wearing all combinations of black, white and red - hats, scarves, hair ribbons and more. We planned for a black, white, and red whooper feast and although it was initially hard to come up with food in these colors (and ones that second graders would eat!), we ended up with more than we needed. There were chocolate cupcakes with whipped cream frosting and red sprinkles, black olives and white cheese, milk with chocolate syrup, oreo cookies, blueberries, black raspberries, strawberries and red apples. Before eating, however, we danced like whoopers in honor of the 17 chicks, the ultralight pilots, and ground crew who completed the long journey.
In summarizing this unit, two of my students wrote, "After the party we were so tired. We think the whooping cranes are pretty tired by now."
Here's to a restful winter in Florida. It won't be long before the young cranes get ready to make the spring journey back north, this time without their ultralight "parents."music credit: Groovin with Mr. G by Richard Groove Holmes from the compilation blue break beats, ©1991 EMI Records
Using a wonderful website called Journey North, my class has been studying and tracking the migration of endangered whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida since October. Inspired by the efforts of another school last year, Operation Migration (the organization that spearheads the reintroduction of these cranes) created a fundraiser called Change 4 Cranes. Participating classrooms received small cardboard boxes to collect donations. As happens, our in-school schedule was quite busy and it was hard to find time for one more thing. So, my students took their boxes home to ask family, friends, and neighbors to ask for donations while teaching others about the importance of this historic conservation effort.
Boxes came back bursting and often extra ziplock bags were needed to hold all the change. Right before our winter break, we sorted all the coins into baby food jars and then the counting began. We spent some time talking about the best way to count the different coins (i.e. groups of 10s for dimes, 4s for quarters, etc.) and the children chose the best strategy as they worked with a partner. We kept track of the number of coins as well as their value. When all was finished, I realized we forgot to count several jars of pennies (about 2000 pennies in all!). Somehow I managed to lug a 40+ lb. bag of change to the bank. Thank goodness for canvas teacher's bags and those amazing coin & bill sorting machines! The grand total came to $568.84!
My class is featured on Operation Migration's Change 4 Crane page and we couldn't be prouder. It was a wonderful to learn that every penny really does count!
"Together we are mighty. Nobody makes a greater mistake than one who does nothing because they could only do a little." - Edmund Burke
This fall, our class tracked the migration of 18 whooping cranes from Wisconsin to their winter home in Florida. We learned about the unique personalities of the chicks, how they imprinted on a crane-puppet (robo-crane), and how they trained with the ultralights to learn the migration route. Each week, we followed their progress - the successful days of flying and the many stop-overs. After 76 days and 1,976 miles, we were elated to learn that the "crane-kids" had reached Marion County, Florida after the longest migration ever! Tragically, severe storms that swept across central Florida on February 1st and 2nd claimed the lives of all but one of the cranes.
From Journey North:
"This tragic storm is a powerful reminder of the conservation challenges whooping cranes face. The new Eastern Flock dropped from 81 to 64 cranes as the result of this single storm."
And Operation Migration:
"Our hearts are aching for the young birds that were lost. These chicks were like our children; the start of a new generation of life for the species. We also lament the loss of a year's work by the many dedicated people who helped to raise them from eggs, and of the funds so generously given by so many."
Operation Migration has established a "Remembering the Class of 2006" memorial fund so the work with these endangered birds can continue with a new group of chicks in 2007. One member of Operation Migration has suggested that donors consider
contributing $18 - one dollar for each of the lost chicks,
and $1 in celebration of #615's survival.
My students had a connection to the cranes and hopefully this terrible tragedy will now hold more meaning for them, as will the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship.
Photo by Damien Ossi, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
For the first time in over 100 years, two wild whooping cranes have hatched in the Midwest. Now fledglings, the pair are doing well at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. This historic event brings continued hope in the effort to reintroduce whooping cranes to the eastern U.S. They were near extinction in the 1940s when the last migratory flock included less than 20 birds!
With the help of Journey North, my second graders will track the migration of these amazing, endangered birds this fall. One of the
most interesting things about this project is that the young birds are trained to follow an ultralight plane to Florida for their first migration.
Fun Facts About Whooping Cranes: