Endangered Whoopers Headed South

Hiwassee Refuge is an annual stopping point

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Seventeen young whooping cranes this morning began their ultralight-led migration from central Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). This is the seventh group of birds to take part in a landmark project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperiled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range. There are now 52 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America thanks to WCEP’s efforts.

Four ultralight aircraft and the juvenile cranes took to the air for the first leg of the 1,250-mile journey to the birds’ wintering habitat at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's Gulf Coast.

“This will be our seventh migration along this route and although we have done it before, each season brings new challenges and the weather is always unpredictable,” said Joe Duff, senior ultralight pilot and CEO of Operation Migration, the WCEP partner that leads the ultralight migration. “It has consistently taken us 22 to 23 flying days to cover the 1,250 miles from here to Florida. However, each year, it seems to take a longer period to get those 23 good weather mornings and last season we were on the road for 76 days. The team works very hard to prepare these birds for their first migration and they deserve a break. We are asking everyone to hope and pray for good weather this year and speed the birds to their new winter home.”

In addition to the 17 birds being led south by ultralights, biologists from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reared 10 whooping cranes at Necedah NWR. The birds will be released in the company of older cranes in hopes that the young whooping cranes learn the migration route, part of WCEP’s “Direct Autumn Release” program, which supplements the successful ultralight migrations.

Whooping cranes that take part in the ultralight and Direct Autumn Release reintroductions are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Md., and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis. Chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol and to ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.

Each year since 2001, ultralight pilots of project partner Operation Migration have conditioned and led juvenile whooping cranes to follow their aircraft on their first migration south. Each year’s new class of young cranes is shipped from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to Necedah NWR in June to begin their summer of “flight training” behind Operation Migration’s ultralights in preparation for their migration south. Pilots lead the birds on gradually longer training flights over the refuge throughout the summer until the young cranes have sufficient stamina to follow the ultralights along the migration route.

Graduated classes of whooping cranes spend the summer in central Wisconsin, where they use areas on or near Necedah NWR, as well as various state and private lands.

In the spring and fall, project staff from the International Crane Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service track and monitor the released cranes in an effort to learn as much as possible about their unassisted journeys and the habitat choices they make both along the way and on their summering ground.

WCEP asks anyone who encounters a whooping crane in the wild to please give them the respect and distance they need. Do not approach birds on foot within 200 yards; try to remain in your vehicle; and do not approach in a vehicle within 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Finally, do not trespass on private property in an attempt to view whooping cranes.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 350 of them in the wild. Aside from the birds reintroduced by WCEP, the only other migrating population of whooping cranes nests at the Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and winters at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migrating flock of approximately 50 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region.

Whooping cranes, named for their loud and penetrating unison calls, live and breed in wetland areas, where they feed on crabs, clams, frogs and aquatic plants. They are distinctive animals, standing five feet tall, with white bodies, black wing tips and red crowns on their heads.

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership founding members are the International Crane Foundation; Operation Migration Inc.; Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center; the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin; and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team.

Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, public donations and corporate sponsors.

For more information on the project, its partners and how you can help, visit the WCEP website at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org


Defendant In False Bear Attack Case Pleads Guilty

The defendant charged with filing a false report after he told authorities an animal attacked him last September pleaded guilty in Campbell County Criminal Court this month.   Michael Savage, 28, of LaFollette, claimed he was walking along Demory Road in LaFollette in the early morning hours of  Sept. 4,  when he was attacked by an animal with dark coarse ... (click for more)

10th Annual SBA Dream Bass Tournament Set For May 7

The tenth annual Sportsman’s Warehouse Dream Bass Tournament, which raises money for the Silverdale Baptist Academy Athletic Department will be held Saturday, May 7, from "safe daylight" to 3 p.m. at Chester Frost Park on Chickamauga Lake. Anglers will be fed a dinner Friday night, May 6, at the tournament meeting as well as breakfast the morning of the event. ... (click for more)

County Commission Told To Fully Fund County Schools Improvement Request Would Take 28 1/2-Cent Property Tax Increase; 78 School Personnel Would Be Added

County Mayor Jim Coppinger told members of the County Commission at a budget workshop on Tuesday that it would take a 28 1/2-cent property tax increase to fully fund the county school budget request. The county schools are asking for $24,218,919 in new money for a focus on workforce readiness, literacy and low-performing schools. County Mayor Coppinger did not say whether ... (click for more)

Judge Poole Rules In Favor Of State On Billy Hawk Murder Cold Case Motions

Criminal Court Judge Don Poole has ruled that the state can introduce at the murder trial of Billy Hawk testimony about his alleged drug involvement with the victim in the case, Johnny Mack Salyer. Hawk is charged in the 1981 murder of Salyer, whose body was found in a 55-gallon drum in the Tennessee River. The witnesses indicated that Salyer was cooperating in the drug case ... (click for more)

Marvelous News From Central High School

To Roy Exum:     With all the recent news of major dysfunctions within our educational system, I thought I might alert you to something better. About a year ago you ventured up Highway 58 to Central High School to represent your late grandfather, Roy McDonald, as he was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus during the annual Senior Day festivities. I sort of expected ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Yes, A Social Experiment

JoeySalads, his screen name, is widely known for his funny pranks except for the fact he calls them “social experiments.” So while we are still on the transgender-restroom issue, our boy JoeySalads got a transgender friend to approve his attire before he tried his luck at entering women’s restrooms. I don’t think you’ll be real surprised at what really happened in this video. Click ... (click for more)