Cranes fly back home, and they do it without the plane.

spectr17

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Cranes fly back home, and they do it without the plane.

By Tim Renken. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 05/31/2001
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/co...ry?opendocument

The sandhill cranes made it back to Wisconsin. Just as important, probably, when they got there they avoided humans like the plague.

A group of biologists and an army of volunteers last year mounted Operation Migration with the aim of creating a second flock of whooping cranes. Whoopers are facing extinction. Only 187 of the migrating flock survive in the wild, and they could be wiped out in a single hurricane since they live and migrate together between coastal Texas and northwestern Canada.

Operation Migration is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Its early efforts were fictionalized in the movie "Fly Away Home." It is working to lay the foundation for a second flock, one that would winter, summer and even migrate in areas far removed from the present flock.

Last summer, Operation Migration undertook to teach young sandhill cranes to migrate the 1,250 miles between eastern Wisconsin and Florida by having them follow an ultralight plane. In 1993 a private group did that with Canada geese, inspiring the movie.

In 1997 the Canadian founders of Operation Migration, pilot/photographer Joe Duff and sculptor/naturalist Bill Lishman, led seven sandhills on a migration from Ontario to Virginia. Sandhills are similar to whoopers in many important ways, but a lot more numerous. The birds completed the migration, but when they returned to Ontario they weren't wild enough. They went to schoolyards and golf courses begging for handouts.

Last year's operation used hacking methods much more meticulous. It started with birds who in the egg heard the sound of an ultralight motor. When they could run, they followed a wingless ultralight. When they were able to fly, they were led on ever-longer flights behind the ultralight. The migration last fall was a big deal with thousands of people in seven states, including Illinois, participating. Led by two ultralights, 18 young birds averaged about 30 miles a day, resting at 36 remote sites and spending the nights in portable pens guarded by costumed, silent handlers.

Seven cranes were lost enroute. The rest landed at the Chassahowitzka National Refuge in east-central Florida. A crowd of journalists watched from a distance. They spent the winter as wild sandhills. People wondered what they would do come spring.

On Feb. 25 they disappeared from the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve, puzzling scientists who had hoped to track them back north. Because the radio transmitters the cranes were wearing have a range of 15 miles, nobody knew where they were for 62 days.

They landed on the same grass strip on which they trained at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Wisconsin on April 27. When people tried to approach them, they fled. They have been avoiding people ever since.

Will they nest this summer and will those adults lead their offspring back to Florida this fall? Those are two of the many questions. Another is whether Congress can be persuaded to adjust the Endangered Species Act so that whoopers can be used in a similar experiment.

If such a migration is successful with whoopers, that would probably be the beginning of a long and costly effort to re-establish the cranes into areas where they were indigenous before habitat destruction and relentless killing for the millinery trade reduced their number to just 15 by 1920.



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For more information

www.operationmigration.org

midwest.fws.gov/whoopingcrane
 

Grumpy

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Spec,we have thousands of Sandhills on the Island,which is  a little east of WI.The numbers have been growing steadily for the last 10 years
 

spectr17

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Grump,

Is that Manitoulin Island where you deer hunt? I've nver seen a whooping or sandhill crane in person. You get any pics of them?
 
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