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.

Tennessee Aquarium To Open Southeast's Only Independent Freshwater Science Center Oct. 27

The Tennessee Aquarium will open the Southeast’s only independent freshwater science center next Thursday at 10 a.m. This new home for the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute will be the base of operations for their research scientists, and a central location for other freshwater scientists to convene. (click for more)

TWRA Announces Availability Of Riparian Tree Planing Grants For 2017

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency announces the availability of grant dollars to assist cities, schools, community organizations, civic groups, watershed organizations, and conservation groups, etc., with riparian tree planting projects.  All seedlings must be purchased through the Department of Agriculture, Division of Forestry. Tree planting season in Tennessee is ... (click for more)

Man Being Pursued By Catoosa County Deputies Is Killed After Crash At Ringgold Road Overpass

A man who was being pursued by Catoosa County deputies was killed late Monday night when he crashed his vehicle at the Ringgold Road overpass. The interstate was shut down for an extended period after the accident at 11:20 p.m. The truck driven by the man careened off the overpass and landed on the northbound lanes of I-75. The truck hit the center wall and caught fire. ... (click for more)

Gang Member, 22, Shot In The Arm On Wilcox Boulevard Early Tuesday Morning

A 22-year-old man was shot in the arm in the 1800 block of Wilcox Boulevard early Tuesday morning. Just after midnight, Chattanooga Police responded to a report of shots fired. Upon arrival, police located Jakobi Buthelezi Johnson suffering from a very minor, single gunshot wound. Hamilton County EMS transported the victim to a local hospital for treatment. The victim ... (click for more)

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Picture a sold-out baseball game at Wrigley Field or Nationals Park packed with 40,000 fans. That image represents roughly the same number of women and men who die from breast cancer each year.  In Tennessee alone, an estimated 900 women will die from the disease in 2016. It is a sad statistic, but there is some good news: thanks to early detection and improved treatments, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: What Southerners Sing

Barry Norris plays the organ at Birmingham’s East Lake United Methodist Church and two days ago the church hosted what we used to call “A Singing on the Grounds.” Today it is called a “Hymnfest” and, believe it or not, it is has to be just as fun today as it was 100 years ago when our forefathers tied their horse and wagon to a tree. It just so happens I know a little bit about ... (click for more)