Tags:From the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:
In the early morning of October 9, three of the ten young Whooping Cranes in the 'Class of 2011' began their ultralight-led migration from their summer training site at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Green Lake County, WI. This is the eleventh generation of cranes to take part in a landmark project conducted by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private groups working to reintroduce the endangered species in eastern North America, part of its historic range.
The remaining seven colts were reluctant fliers and ended up having to be returned to their White River Marsh pensite. The Operation Migration team will again attempt to get the seven hesitant fliers to follow their ultralights Monday morning - weather permitting.
Guided by Operation Migration's (OM) three ultralight aircraft, the juvenile cranes will journey 1,285 air miles, traveling through Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and Florida before reaching their wintering grounds at the St. Marks and Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuges on Florida's Gulf coast.
"Although this will be our eleventh ultralight-led migration with Whooping Cranes, each year inevitably presents new challenges," said Joe Duff, senior pilot and CEO of Operation Migration. "It took the combined efforts of many people to bring this conservation project to this stage. We have done everything we can to prepare the young cranes, now what we need are favorable winds and a little luck."
The Whooping Cranes that take part in the ultralight-led reintroduction are hatched at the U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD from their captive flock and eggs shipped there by five captive propagation centers across the continent. The chicks are raised under a strict isolation protocol. To ensure the birds remain wild, handlers adhere to a no-talking rule and wear costumes designed to mask the human form.
In 2001, Operation Migration's pilots led the first Whooping Crane chicks conditioned to follow their ultralight aircraft, south from Wisconsin to Florida. Each subsequent year, WCEP biologists and OM pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Florida.
After being led south once, in subsequent years the cranes migrate on their own between their summering and wintering grounds.
Individuals interested in following the journey can watch LIVE via Operation Migration's CraneCam: www.operationmigration.org/crane-cam.html