THE WHOOPING CRANE REPORT: 28
Hurricane Isabel visits Patuxent, but the Cranes Weather the Storm.
After hurricane repairs, the crew continues their own form of pen activities. Pen maintenance is an ongoing task. Record rainfalls this year have caused record vegetation growth, which the crew battles with an army of mowers. These pens have already been mowed several times, but the heavy rain this year has made the lush growth a challenge to control. Here, Brenda, Jared, and Jennifer struggle through the dense weeds to try and restore order, at least for a while.
Photos, Kathleen O'Malley, USGS
On Thursday, September 18, Hurricane Isabel roared across the mid-Atlantic states, making an unwelcome stop at Patuxent. To prepare in advance, the staff did what we could to secure pens, feed sheds, and windbreaks. Some birds were moved out of facilities we thought might be more fragile and temporarily placed in better located pens. We worked hard before the storm to try to anticipate what might happen.
The entire Center was closed down Thursday and Friday in anticipation of the storm. However, once the storm left the area early Friday morning, two members of the crane staff checked the birds while the rains were still falling. They contacted other anxious staff members with the good news--the birds weathered the storm fine. Around 11:00 a.m. Friday morning, the staff assembled to assess facility damage. Some feed sheds blew over in the high winds, but fortunately, only in empty pens. We lost a Bradford pear tree in a sandhill crane pen, and it knocked down part of the fencing, but the birds were uninjured and damage was quickly repaired. Another sandhill crane seems to be having a vision problem, possibly caused by trauma from the storm. She was treated and is faring well now, eating and drinking and moving around her pen almost normally. A number of trees on the Center were lost, but most of that affected roads and power lines, not buildings or pens.
Like so many thousands in the area, Patuxent was without power post-Isabel. Electricity runs our lights, phone system, computer system, and other marvels of modern living. But it also powers the automatic watering system for the crane colony. Because this is a critical function, we have long had a large emergency generator fueled by propane for just such occasions. The generator powers the pumps that runs water to the birds, except for one remote series that has its own well. The birds in that series, the Silver Series, have to be given water buckets until power is restored. We've never needed the generator for more than a day or two before, but after Hurricane Isabel, the generator kept the water flowing for a record six days!
Repair crews from the power companies were at Patuxent early on Friday to tackle some of the electrical problems. But even after the lines at Patuxent were repaired, damage in the area was so extensive, power still remained off.
Scientific specimens in chest freezers and laboratory ultra-low freezers were in jeopardy due to the power outage. More generators had to be brought in to prevent damage to the valuable specimens. All the generators had to be closely monitored, regularly refueled, and serviced when problems arose. Refuge staff from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USGS Facility Maintenance crew helped the crane technicians through this difficult time, while struggling with other problems the storm caused on Center.
The Center didn't officially reopen for a week, until Thursday, September 25, but the crane staff was here daily to ensure the welfare of the birds and provide for their needs. Most of us, like our neighbors, were going home to darkened homes and defrosting freezers. But we were all grateful and relieved that the birds did so well and the crane facility suffered so little from such a devastating storm.
The word from Wisconsin is that the migration might start
earlier this year, possibly by October 8, if weather is good. The chicks
are still at Necedah as of this writing, and have finally become a unified
cohort and are all flying well behind the ultralights. Frequent updates on the activities in Wisconsin can be found on
Operation Migration's website in their Field
Journal. Pictures and information on the individual chicks can be found at the
Class of '03's Bio Sheet. Information about the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge,
where the chicks are living until they leave on migration, can be found on
their website. More information on the WCEP project can be found at:
The non-migratory whoopers in Florida have successfully fledged two chicks. More information about this year's production in Florida can be found on the Whooping Crane Conservation Association's website under Flock Status. Also look under their newsletter articles for more information and photos.
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Click here to ask questions about Patuxent's whooping crane program. Please check our site on November 20th for a web page update!Whooping Crane Reports
Hatch Day (Click on numbered links to view all other egg (negative numbers) and chick days).