Ultralight-Led Whooping Cranes Learning Migratory Route

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On October 17 at 7:15 a.m., central daylight time, 8 whooping cranes took off from Wisconsin's Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, following two trikes on the first leg of a human-led migration that will teach them a migratory route to wintering grounds at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

This flight, which is expected to take from 5 to 7 weeks, is part of an ongoing recovery effort for whooping cranes, which were on the verge of extinction in the 1940s and today number only about 260 in the wild.

In 1998, a coalition of state and federal governments and the private sector formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to coordinate and fund last year's sandhill crane study* and this year's whooping crane study, according to WCEP. More than 35 private landowners have volunteered their property as stopover sites for the cranes and migration team. A temporary pen keeps the cranes safe from predators between each morning's flight.

"We started training 10 whooping cranes in April '01," said Joe Duff, lead pilot, trainer and cofounder of Canada-based Operation Migration. "Those remaining in the study were selected for their overall suitability in terms of strength in flying and successfully following the ultralights. We are prepared for the possibility that not every bird will complete the full migration."

As this issue of Ultralight Flying! magazine went to press, the team was in Dekalb County, Illinois, having progressed a cumulative migration distance of 193.4 miles. One crane was being transported in his crane crate as the pilots preferred to wait until they were flying over more open terrain in case the crane decided to drop out of the flight. This would make tracing him easier.

If you would like to track the cranes' progress, check out the following Website: www.bringbackthecranes.org .

*See "Flightlines: Sandhill Cranes Successfully Return North," July 2001 Ultralight Flying! magazine.

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