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Egg collection phase now complete

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One week old  crane chick 8/5/10Arrived back in the UK (Hull P+O ferry port) early Saturday morning having driven with Richard all the way from Angermunde to Rotterdam over Friday.  Friday’s journey was painless and pretty uneventful  -  approx 10hrs drive on easy roads in dull, overcast and occasionally rainy weather with little traffic.

Over our last few days in Germany we re-visited some of the sites where we had removed eggs a couple of weeks ago – and were really relieved to find that at least two pairs so far have re-layed, or at least, a pair of cranes has used the same nest site.The German team were pretty convinced that they were re-lays – and we were very happy to accept their assurances - but without the birds being ringed it is very hard to be conclusive about this.  We also managed to get back to one of the sites where we had removed one egg only and we found no egg in the nest, and no egg shell remains.  This is very likely a hatch, as the chick would only have been a couple of days old – and the usual behaviour is for one or both of the adults to take the young chick into the safety of the dense vegetation within the wet hollow and hide.  The eggs are also too big to be taken by aerial predators such as ravens, and access by ground predator would have been impossible as this particular site was surrounded by very deep (chest deep) water.  The German team will continue to monitor all the sites that we gathered eggs from over the coming weeks to assess what kind of impact the egg collection this year may have caused and to help shape the future years of egg collection.

We dropped off all the kit at Slimbridge around mid-day Saturday  - incubators, disinfectants, plastic sheeting, waders, scales, callipers, thermometers, etc etc and popped in to see the chicks, Roland, Amy and Nigel at the crane school.  All were in good sprits although a little short of sleep and time off – I know that a couple of 90 hours weeks had just been worked!   

The oldest chick is now exactly two weeks old and growing incredibly rapidly. At two weeks old they are around 14” high….or 35 cm high and are definitely starting to develop very clear character traits.  They really are adorable little creatures and it is very hard to resist the urge to talk to them as you feed them!   I took photos of all the birds (23 out so far) to go onto the ‘meet the cranes’ pages of the website  - which will be up an running by the time the birds are transferred to Somerset.  On these pages you’ll be able to follow a particular crane’s progress and find out where it was last seen, where it has been feeding, how far it has moved about, and in time – who it pairs up with, and when it first nests!  

I think that instilling natural, wild-bird  behaviour in these birds is going to be quite a task – but it has worked with Whooping Cranes at the International Crane Foundation and the rearing techniques that the project is using are no different – so it should work here too.  However, although WWT and PCT have both reared cranes in captivity and using the puppet rearing technique – the birds have never been subsequently released into the wild so the Somerset release really is going to be ground breaking.  I get a serious dose of the butterflies every time I think about it!   

It is great news that all is going well with them, with all but two now hatched and the two left to hatch are most definitely alive and well – the eggs are rocking and rolling all over the place.  One chick had put on a little too much weight and was starting to develop slightly bandy legs so this bird had been put on a special exercise regime (extra swimming and walking) and a reduced protein diet given, to help slow down the growth rate and allow its bone development to catch up.

It is great to know that the birds are in such safe hands, and that they are being so closely monitored and cared for.  I just hope that Roland, Amy and Nigel will be able to say ‘goodbye’ to these birds in a few weeks time as they head out into the wild to fend for themselves.  I think this is going to be hard for us all!

The photo at the top of this post is a one week old crane chick, and below is a two week old crane chick, and a young hatchling chick.

Crane Chick at 2 weeks old 8/5/10

Hatchling Chick 8/5/10

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Damon’s role is to act as the hub of the project - making sure everyone involved knows what is going on and that it is all running smoothly. He is also responsible for project community awareness work in Somerset, construction of the release enclosure, and running the post release monitoring work in Somerset.  Damon works alongside the RSPB reserve teams in Somerset.