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.

Wildlife Should Remain Wild

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) officials notice an increase in illegal removal of wildlife each spring. Not only is taking wildlife from nature unlawful, it can have harmful effects on humans, pets and overall wildlife populations. Animals most often taken include squirrels, fawns, turtles and even baby raccoons. Sometimes the intent is to care for a seemingly abandoned ... (click for more)

TVA’s Dam Visitor Centers Open April 1

TVA’s dams make certain that the Tennessee Valley is ready to deal with whatever April showers may come. And three of its most remarkable dams are kicking off the month by opening the doors of staffed visitors centers, which illuminate the agency’s history, offer information about how TVA operates its electric system and explain how the river and its tributaries are managed for ... (click for more)

Finley Stadium Board Members Step In After Paul Smith, Staff Depart

Members of the board of directors of the Finley Stadium Corporation have been filling in and dividing tasks related to running the facility since Paul Smith, past executive director, and his staff resigned at the end of February. Mr. Smith has been credited for the financial turn-around of Finley Stadium, which at one time had to be subsidized by the city of Chattanooga and Hamilton ... (click for more)

Firefighters Extinguish Fire At Senior Living Apartment Complex On Highway 58; 1 Resident Falls During Evacuation

A fire broke out at a senior living facility on Highway 58 Tuesday afternoon. At  2:50 p.m. , several agencies responded to the Silver Tree apartments (formerly known as Napfe Towers) at 5465 Highway 58. Th Highway 58 Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene and reported heavy smoke coming from the sixth floor of the nine-story building. The Highway ... (click for more)

Slaxxon Regret - And Response

Back in the seventies my three oldest brothers had a buddy named Steve Slack. “Slack” was a star soccer player at Baylor and he grew up on Lookout Mountain, which is where I grew up. He and Jimmy, Henry and Bill went to the University of Virginia where they were roommates in an old, beat up house that was painted pink. Naturally, the place became known as the “Pink Palace” but lest ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Oh Yes, I Loved West

One of my most beloved friends died early Saturday morning at the age of 67. Then again, West Oehmig’s only brother – King – died a couple of years ago at 63 so it wasn’t by happenstance I remembered Abraham Lincoln’s famous line: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.” Here are two brothers who lived larger than any other pair I can ... (click for more)