As the temperatures plunged in Wisconsin last week – into the teens and then single digits and below-zero lows – crane watchers held their collective breath over the fate of the half-dozen young DAR crane colts who were still thought to be at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge.
Already one of the nine birds that had been released to the wild at Horicon in late October had been killed by a predator, and on December 2nd, a second crane death at Horicon, was reported. Another DAR bird (DAR means “Direct Autumn Release”) had singly begun migration in the company of sandhills and was reported November 25th to be safely in Tennessee. But six remained at Horicon, and this was giving fits to the nervous craniacs who were searching the Facebook page of the International Crane Foundation for good news.
When would the remaining birds finally migrate, everyone wanted to know. What was the latest recorded date of the beginning of migration? (December 9th, the ICF staff answered.) Were there still enough remaining Sandhill cranes for the young whooping cranes to travel with? (Yes.) And the unanswerable: Why hadn’t they left yet? What would happen to them as the wetlands froze over?
Then last Tuesday, December 10th, more bad news; two more crane deaths – one on December 4th, and another December 7th, were posted. Also posted was the assurance that the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (of which the ICF is a founding member) “has been working round the clock this week to find the best solution for relocating the birds as soon as possible.”
Finally there was good news reported December 12th, and documented by photographer Tom Lynn. The previous day WCEP staff members went to Horicon to capture and relocate the birds. Instead, they found the signal from radio transmitters on each bird indicated they were finally on the move and headed south on their own – what Lynn calls “the best outcome possible.”
A fourth crane, however, soon abandoned the migration attempt and returned to a frozen cornfield near Horicon, where WCEP staff executed a chilly, yet thrilling capture/rescue in the frigid temperatures.
Here is one of Tom Lynn’s photos of Kim Boardman cradling the captured crane, who is called “Latka”. When it came to actually retrieving the crane, Latka gave little resistance. “It was basically an easy capture,” Tom reported.
Read about the rest of the events of that day, at Tom Lynn’s blog, and enjoy all of his fascinating photos of that chilly capture.
On Friday, there were happy pictures of Latka on the ICF Facebook page (posted December 13th); these had been sent back from her new home at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama. Check them out, and notice her proud wingspan and the prominent still-juvenile coloration – a mix of baby cinnamon feathers, not yet overcome by her new white adult plumage.