Endangered Whooping Cranes Make It To Florida Following Ultralights

Good Chance For St. Marks Flyover On New Year’s Day

Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Operation Migration Lead pilot Richard van Heuvelen performs a perfect air pick-up on Nov. 19 in Union County, Ky. to lead the eight endangered whooping cranes into Tennessee.
Operation Migration Lead pilot Richard van Heuvelen performs a perfect air pick-up on Nov. 19 in Union County, Ky. to lead the eight endangered whooping cranes into Tennessee.
- photo by Heather Ray, Operation Migration

Eight young whooping cranes that began their aircraft-led migration on Oct. 2, from the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, Tuesday made it to Leon County, Fl., their last layover before reaching their new winter home at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

Terry Peacock, refuge manager for St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, says it is 70-80 percent likely that there will be a flyover at the City of St. Marks field Wednesday.

“We hope to see all our "craniacs" at the flyover tomorrow,” said Ms. Peacock. "We would like our biggest crowd ever in the five years of crane arrivals."

Weather depending, she expects the birds and ultralights should be over the city of St. Marks field by the water treatment plant by 8:15-8:30 a.m.

“We are hoping for good weather on New Year’s Day to complete this, our 13th migration,” said Operation Migration spokesperson Liz Condie. “I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year.”

The field is located at the terminus of Florida State Highway 363, next to the St. Marks River. 

“These birds are in the mode of flying now,” said Ms. Condie. “They took off like a shot this morning as soon as the ultralights revved up.”

They now have flown a total of about 1,070 miles, flying about 30 miles Tuesday morning.

The public should check out the Operation Migration website for the final confirmation at www.operationmigration.org

The public is also invited to follow the aircraft-guided Whooping cranes on Operation Migration’s live CraneCam, which broadcasts daily during flights and while the cranes are at each stopover location along the route to Florida. Visit: http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes to watch the video stream or http://operationmigration.org/InTheField for daily website postings.

This is the 13th group of birds to take part in a project led by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, an international coalition of public and private groups that is reintroducing this highly imperilled species in eastern North America, part of its historic range. 

WCEP partner Operation Migration is using two ultralight aircraft to lead the juvenile cranes through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia to reach the birds’ wintering habitat at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge along Florida's Gulf Coast.

Whooping cranes were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s. Today, there are only about 600 birds in existence, about 445 of those in the wild. Aside from the WCEP birds, the only other migratory population of whooping cranes nests at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta, Canada and winters at Aransas NWR on the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock of approximately 20 birds lives year-round in the central Florida Kissimmee region, and an additional 33 non-migratory cranes live in southern Louisiana. 

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

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.

To report whooping crane sightings, visit the WCEP whooping crane observation webpage at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm.

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