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November 26, 2004
Migration Day 48

Away to GEORGIA—and Searching for a Runaway Crane
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Yee haw! Thirteen cranes landed in Walker County, GEORGIA after crossing another state border and flying 49.2 statute miles in one hour and 51 minutes. What about the 14th crane? That would be runaway crane #412. The runaway bird covered half of Georgia before turning back to TN and the Hiwassee Refuge. He wasn't located until 6:30 p.m., after flying another 160 miles and ending up about where he started. Here's what happened:

A Slow Start
First, the pilots waited until almost 10 a.m. for the fog to go away. Then Richard, Joe and Brooke flew back and forth over the pen area for almost 30 minutes before finally convincing the 14 crane-kids that it was high time to leave Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. (We said it was great crane habitat, right?) About ten miles out, #412 from Richard's group of seven began to drop back. Joe and Brooke and their birds were flying behind Richard's group. In order to try to get the tired #412 to fly with them, they would need to drop a precious 1000 feet in altitude. With noisy Interstate Highway 75 coming up, they decided it was best to keep going. Mark and Tatiana then tracked #412 from below, while top cover pilots Bill and Mike kept watch on the bird from their plane above. Richard (with six cranes), Joe (with five), and Brooke (with two) continued. The pilots were forced to stay between the north/south mountain ridges as they made their way south into Georgia. With 13 crane-kids, they landed at 11:40 a.m. in Walker County, Georgia.

Airborne Predator!
Meanwhile, Heather was watching from the ground at the new stopover site. Richard had landed, and soon Joe and his birds came into view. Joe began spiraling downward with the birds intent on landing near to Richard's trike. Heather noticed what, at first, appeared to be a Sandhill crane circling just above the whoopers. She also noticed that the whoopers seemed reluctant to land. Apparently, Joe had noticed the extra circling bird too--and then he gave chase. The bird was a Golden eagle! Golden eagles are natural predators of Whooping cranes. They have been known to take whoopers down while in flight. Heather watched our spiraling cranes descend as Joe went after the eagle, trying to chase it away. The huge bird didn't give up easily. After about two minutes of Joe's flight maneuvers, the eagle finally fled. Not a moment too soon, as Brooke appeared in sight with his two cranes. While Brooke and Richard gathered the remaining birds into the pen, Mike and Bill were still trying to keep an eye on the runaway crane. The bird was a little white speck far below their plane, and they soon lost sight of him entirely. Mark and Tatiana in the tracking van had a weak signal on him; they were driving back and forth across I-75, trying to get a stronger signal.

#412 is Found 
Joe took off, hoping he could locate the rebel bird and guide it to the pen site. But time and gas ran out. Joe was forced to give up and land shortly before 1 p.m. Mark and Tatiana followed the bird south as far as Adairsville, GA. Then they lost the signal. Richard and Patuxent's Charlie Shafer went out in another tracking vehicle to try locating the bird. It was after 5 p.m. and #412 was STILL airborne. Finally the bird was located at at 6:30 p.m.—back at Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge!

Wild Cousins Reach a Milestone: Over 200 in the Flock!
Whooping Crane Coordinator Tom Stehn, who made the historic count when the world's whooper population broke 100 cranes in December of 1986 at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, reports fantastic news: "The number of cranes present at Aransas is estimated at 213 and consists of 129 adults, 52 subadults, and 32 chicks. The record total exceeds the previous high of 194 reached by the population last winter (2003). The population of whooping cranes has doubled in the last 18 years. The results of today’s flight [Nov. 24, 2004] are the most satisfying experience I have ever had in my career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife."

Just 15 Whooping Cranes were alive in 1942. Journey North shouts CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL WHO ARE HELPING BRING WHOOPING CRANES BACK FROM THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION!

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Try This! Journaling Questions
  • Why didn't Brooke and Joe want to drop low enough to try to retrieve #412? For a clue, read what happened on the 2001 migration.
  • You'll want to update your Migration Chart with today's progress—and other notes from this eventful day.
  • Today's stop should have been Gordon County, Georgia, 20 miles farther south. But the team found out yesterday that the traveling pen set up there nearly a week ago started sinking into the mud after all the rain. They quickly changed their plan (and the pen) to Walker County. Heather said, "The Walker County area had also been drenched; setting up the pen in the dark while slipping around in cow poop meant that the guys didn't return to camp until well after dark last night." Of all the difficulties they've run into so far on this migration, which would YOU find the most frustrating to deal with? Why?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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