Pen Preparations

Last view of the old top-netted pen.
This marsh excavator pushed in the new fence posts, at least those it could reach.
The middle posts were too far for the machine to reach so we used metal poles and pushed them in by hand.
Once around the other side of the pen the excavator could be used again to push the wooden posts into place.
Everything was measured so the posts were evenly spaced and placed 30 feet out from the old fence line.
Making the new gate frame.
Moving some of the grating that creates our main walking path to the top-netted pen.
Lifting the dreaded top net a little bit at a time.
Stretching and spreading the net out so we can see which direction it needs to be pulled.
New net stretched out across the new fence and the marsh towards the old fence posts.
New, expanded top-netted pen!
Most of the hard working crew: L to R: Keith, Randy, Ron, Eric, and Chance.

Prior to coming to Louisiana to work on the whooping crane reintroduction project I worked on the eastern migratory whooping crane reintroduction project and had helped build, modify, and maintain pens for the birds in WI and in FL.  Whooping cranes are curious but sometimes not all that bright and if there’s a way for them to injure themselves they’ll do it so we always have to build the pens to try and keep them safe and protect them from hurting themselves.  There are a few basic rules for building a whooping crane pen: 1) make it round or fence off any sharp or tight corners – this prevents birds from getting “stuck” in a corner or having one bird trap another in a corner.  2.) Use as little metal (screws, nails, nuts, and washers) as possible and don’t drop anything because even though you can’t find it the birds will and then they’ll swallow it.  Besides you’d be amazed at what you can build and hold together with plastic cable ties (but don’t drop those either)!  3.) Make sure the fencing is tight because if there’s a gap a bird will surely find it and stick it’s head or beak through but not always get it back out as easily.

With these basic rules in mind and after visiting several sites and reviewing photographs of various crane release pens the maintenance crew from the Rockefeller Refuge designed and built a fantastic pen for our first group of whooping cranes.  I’ll admit I was nervous the first time I went out to see the pen – after all it’s hard to know exactly how to build a pen for these birds when you’ve never worked with them before.  I was immediately relieved upon seeing the pen, they had done a fabulous job! 

We planned to use the pen again for our second group of birds but our second group and likely all future groups will be larger than the 10 birds we received earlier this year and the top-netted pen would be a bit too crowded with more birds so we had to enlarge it. 

We ordered a new net and gathered up additional supplies and got to work starting early on 7 November.  New perimeter posts had to be placed and the fencing had to be cut and then reattached.  All of that was relatively easy even though we were working in a flooded marsh; the hard part and I mean really hard, was getting the new net up.  The net is large and square (our pen is round) and the material snags on everything so it had to painstakingly be lifted and pulled over the poles and posts to get it in place.  I’ll admit it quickly frustrated me so I moved on to weed-eating and other tasks but luckily the Rockefeller guys have more patience than me and they stuck with it and by the end of the second day the new net was up.  Because the pen was built so well in the first place aside from expanding the top-netted portion of the pen there was relatively little maintenance that needed to be done – some repairs to the electric fence and weed-eating around the perimeter.  Of course there are always lots of little items like charging the battery for the electric fence and getting new hooks to hang the feeders from but we got the bulk of the work at the pen done in 2.5 days.

It’s hard enough building something in a normal location but building something in a remote area of marsh only accessible by boat, with a tug and barge needed to bring equipment and materials to the site is a whole different ball game.  I can’t thank the crew from Rockefeller enough for building such a great pen in the first place and for working so hard on the recent maintenance and modifications.  They are patient and hard-working and never complain even though I’m sure they want to.  They are great about making sure things are done correctly for the birds and I sincerely appreciate that.  So thank you Eric, Randy, Larry, Keith, Chance, Ron, Kenton, and Kim; you guys are some of the unsung heroes of this project!!  And now bring on the birds, we’re ready!! 

Update written by Sara Zimorski