December 7, 2010 — Ten young whooping cranes learning the migratory route from ultralight planes are 63 percent of the way to their final nesting grounds in Florida.
As always, weather — including winds of 20-40 mph — has been one of the biggest problems delaying their progress. The birds and planes left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge nearly 60 days ago, and are now in Alabama, having covered nearly 814 miles of the 1,279-mile trip. They reached the halfway point on November 27, when they arrived in Hardin County, Tennessee.
But as of Sunday, there is one less whooping crane making the flight. Nashville avian vet Dr. Lutz diagnosed whooping crane #2-10 with a torn tendon in his wing. Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) officials decided that he would be returned to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center where he would become a research bird.
Since departing Necedah on the 2010 migration, #2 has traveled all but about 40 miles of the more than 800 air miles logged so far by his classmates, in a crate in the back of a van, often starting to fly, but quickly landing in adjacent fields and woods. On Sunday, he left on his last road trip to the research center.
After more than 10 years of teaching whooping birds the migration route, Operation Migration’s Joe Duff said the excitement is still there. Duff writes in the Field Journal: “It is too incredible an experience to become mundane, no matter how often it is repeated. Each flight is a new challenge when anything can happen and often does. So as we pull on our flight suits and prepare to take off, I for one still fight the nervousness….”
And the nervousness stays up to the landing. “…There we were at 3,000 feet in an open aircraft surrounded by ten magnificent and extremely rare whooping cranes,” Duff writes. “We carried with us the dreams of a million people, the survival of a 20 million year old species and the future of 10 juvenile birds. It is hard to imagine how that could ever become routine.”
The cost to teach young whoopers the migration route isn’t cheap. But you can help defray the cost by voting daily until December 31, 2010, for Operation Migration in Pepsi’s Refresh Everything Project. Operation Migration is currently in 10th place for the $25,000 prize.
Shirl Ganey braved the cold to witness and capture on film the whooping cranes as they departed from Walker County, Alabama. Photo credit: Operation Migration
The whooping cranes fellow their ultralight “parent” as they depart Hardin County, Tennessee. Photo credit: Operation Migration/Patrick and Marion Marsh