Hope that common sense will prevail

The annual WCEP partnership meeting is taking place today and tomorrow and thousands of people are on edge. Why? The future of Operation Migration hangs in the balance.

A quick background as we understand it: In a vision document outlining the approach for the next 5 years, the USFW claimed that Whooping Cranes reared under the Ultralight-guided method (UL), used by Operation Migration, aren’t as likely to reproduce as cranes reared with other methods, such as Direct Autumn Release (DAR), in which the birds are captive-raised then released with other Whooping Cranes or Sandhill Cranes in the autumn.  It also claimed the UL method was more expensive and less “authentic”.

It is very smart to periodically reevaluate the efficacy of programs like these. There are a lot of resources at stake.  Many people from all groups in the partnership have invested their time, energy, and love. And, most importantly, the survival of an entire species hangs in the balance.

A few points we believe should be considered as the committee meets:

  1. The data should be considered holistically.  In the USFW vision document, only old data (since 2010) was used to determine program efficacy. That means there is 5 years of newer data that hasn’t been considered. Once that data is incorporated:

    Based on data gathered from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) database , UL crane survivorship is 75% vs. 59% for the Direct Autumn Release (DAR) method, and thereafter, annual adult survival is 92% for UL cranes vs. 84% for DAR cranes. Based on these data, the probability of UL cranes surviving to the earliest confirmed breeding age (three years) is 63% vs. 42% for DAR cranes. Projecting survivorship to 10 years of age, UL cranes are three times as likely to be alive as DAR cranes (35% vs. 12%).

  2. UL could prove to be the best method.  While each method has advantages and drawbacks, when looking at key factors (such as how long the cranes survive and whether they can mate and migrate successfully), UL’s recent numbers are the best so far.
  3. OM’s story is resonating and it is entirely privately funded. Beyond methodology, Operation Migration has managed to bring both money and attention to the cranes and their situation. There is something magical about the ability of humans to push themselves to innovate in order to save another species.

It was OM that drew us to Wisconsin. It was OM folks who introduced us to the WCEP and sent us to Baraboo, WI to visit the the ICF (where we joined as members) and see all the collaborative efforts underway to help cranes.  And it was OM’s unyielding base of support, the aptly named Craniacs, through their passion, dedication, and kindness, that warmed our hearts more than we could have imagined. We left Wisconsin feeling hopeful that the birds had a chance because different groups of people were able to work together to ensure their survival.

And our continued hope is that after taking a hard, fair, holistic look at the data, and really considering the pivotal role OM plays as ambassadors for Whooping Cranes,  the USFWS and WCEP will reach a common sense decision:  Give OM more time to fly.

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Gulls, all I really want is Gulls.

The Beastie Boys song “Girls” is pretty catchy and funny (albeit sexist), but one major part of the lyrics was off…today, we right that wrong:

GULLS, all I really want is GULLS

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And in the morning it’s GULLS

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Cause in the evening it’s GULLS

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I like the way that they walk

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And it’s chill to hear them talk

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And they can always make me smile

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From NYC to the Emerald Isle

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<mic drop>

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There is a STAR in Starling.

We heard an odd sound in the park the other day…it sounded like fast morse code clicking. Turned out, it was none other than a gorgeous European Starling. Who knew they make over 10 different calls and can mimic other birds’ songs/calls…including the Red-tailed Hawk Keer?

Hawk Mountain: From Slaughter To Sanctuary

After hearing great reviews of Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Eastern Pennsylvania, we decided to check it out for ourselves. The sanctuary is located about 2-3 hours away from New York City (or a bit faster if Justin Bieber is driving you in his new Ferrari).  The sanctuary is situated along a major migratory corridor for raptors and other birds, and attracts an average of 20,000 hawks, eagles, and falcons each year. We visited on a beautiful October day; the autumn colors were just starting to show and a nice NW wind gave us hope that we’d get to see a bunch of raptors.

We started up the most popular trail, the mile-long Lookout Trail.  After only a third of a mile on an easy path, we arrived at the South Lookout…

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…which includes a guide to help you identify who you might see along the ridge.

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We continued along the trail which started to get a bit steeper and rockier. 

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The final stretch to get to the top was a bit steep.  Thankfully there are steps and railings.  And, as always, we encountered bird lovers of every age and ability along the trail…always an inspiring sight.

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The view from the North Lookout is gorgeous: green mountain ridges and a valley dotted with farms down below.

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We had a decent day in terms of sightings: an American Kestrel, some Bald Eagles, a Peregrine Falcon, a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks, a Cooper’s Hawk, some Black Vultures, and many Turkey Vultures.  Thankfully, our friend and talented photographer Jean Shum joined us and was able to get some nice shots:

A Bald Eagle adult and juvenile that explored the area north of the ridge for quite some time, flying together in harmony…

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…an American Kestrel that was watching us too…

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…a Cooper’s Hawk catching a wind gust…

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…and a soaring Turkey Vulture.

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Sitting at the lookout for hours, waiting serenely for birds to soar by, with fellow watchers pointing binoculars at the sky, quietly helping each other locate each oncoming avian…it was hard to imagine the place as it was in the early 1930s. 

Back then, the lookout was a hunting spot where migrating raptors were shot from the sky by the thousands. A major reason for this, according to the Hawk Mountain website, was that in 1929, at the dawn of the Great Depression, Pennsylvania’s Game Commission placed a hefty $5 price tag on the goshawk’s head (which is about $70 today). Sadly many people didn’t mind the slaughter because hawks, eagles and other birds of prey had a bad reputation at the time.  They were seen as vicious killers and even baby snatchers (a tradition of hoaxes that continues to this day). 

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And, yes, that is THE Thomas Edison. We’re glad he found other ways to spend his time.

A local photographer and conservationist Richard Plough was alarmed by the daily slaughter.  He tried various ways to stop the shooting, including speaking at a meeting of the Hawk and Owl Society in New York City…but all to no avail.  In June of 1934, Plough was contacted by Rosalie Barrow Edge, a New York spitfire socialite-turned-activist.  Edge loved raptors with a passion and, after hearing Plough speak at the meeting, she called him, “He told me Dutch farmers were shooting these poor wayfarers by the thousands.  I went to the scene and it was awful, awful!”  (from a New Yorker feature about Edge in its April 18, 1948 issue).

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(The three photos above are from “A Brief History of Raptor
Conservation in North America
” by 
Keith L. Bildstein)

Mrs. Edge found the owner of the mountain, leased it for two years, and eventually purchased it for $2500 (quite a steal at about $45,000 today, about the same price as the ever-useful Pedal Pub from Hammacher Schlemer). She immediately stopped all hunting activity and turned the mountain into the first sanctuary for birds of prey.  

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Instead of daily slaughter, they started a daily count of migrating raptors. This became the world’s longest running tally of migrating raptor populations. Even more significantly, the counts from Hawk Mountain provided valuable data to support the pivotal book Silent Spring (1962), which “spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, led to a nationwide ban on DDT for agricultural uses, and inspired an environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” 

Hawk Mountain continues to do important work in education, scientific research, and conservation, and provides a peaceful panorama from which to observe the majesty of raptors.

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