Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

November 30, 2003
Day 46

Onward to Gordon County, Georgia
Photo OM

A year ago today marked the END of the migration for the 2002 whoopers and ultralights, but this year's birds haven't been so lucky. Still, we've got some great news: the cranes and planes got airborne after 4 days stalled at stop #15. Today's flight brought them 68.3 miles closer to their winter home! They're in Gordon County, Georgia, 754.1 miles into the journey.

Total flight time this morning was 2 hours and 50 minutes, but what a struggle. Most of the young cranes kept breaking away and turning back toward their enclosure. After several overhead north/south passes, Richard van Heuvelen finally gathered 13 reluctant-to-leave cranes. He proceeded on course behind Joe, who was about two miles ahead with the 3 others. Brooke anticipate the birds might turn around again, so he flew close behind Richard. Sure enough, Brooke soon intercepted 5 cranes that broke from Richard's aircraft. A minute later, 4 more turned back! Richard continued on course with his remaining 4 cranes, while
Paula radioed back to Mark Nipper that 4 cranes were inbound to the pen and they would need to be crated and delivered to the next site in Georgia.

Both Brooke and Richard had their hands full. Crane #303 kept challenging Richard's aircraft for the lead. This meant each time Richard increased his speed to overtake his lead position, his other 4 cranes would drop off the wake of air made by the large wing and lose their flight order. Meanwhile, Brooke had his own ongoing battle with #301, one of three birds he was still guiding. Every pond or lake they passed over beckoned to this bird. No sooner had Brooke chased after #301 when another small lake would appear in a valley below. This obstinate, water-loving crane would peel off again, each time forcing Brooke to lose precious altitude as he also tried to keep his other 2 birds with him.

Because of the wooded terrain under today's flight path, two possible stopover sites had been planned. The first was 50 miles to the south
in Walker County. After hearing the frustrated snippets of radio talk, Heather expected the planes and cranes to land there. She was waiting when Richard came into view with 5 birds. Seconds later, Joe appeared with 4. They were quite high, approximately 2200 ft. and they began discussing the possibility of making it the remaining 20 miles to the second stopover. A tall ridge loomed directly south, but they had plenty of altitude. They felt confident they could nurse the young cranes over it. On the other hand, if they were to land in the field here, they worried about a repeat performance like last Tuesday's when they had to climb over the Walden Ridge in Cumberland County, TN. They chose to keep flying. Brooke followed behind by about 5 miles—fighting all the way with the flock's oldest crane. After Brooke passed, Heather left to catch up with them all in Gordon County, Georgia. What a day!

Map the Migration
Make your own map using the latest migration data

Try This! Journaling Question
  • How many miles of the 1225-mile journey remain?
  • Any crane flying directly in front of the nose of the trike is also in danger. If the bird decides to move up and over the wing of the aircraft, it runs the risk of getting tangled in the guy wires of the overhead wing. Another danger is that the pilot's field of vision is restricted not only by the helmet and white fabric cover over their headgear, but also by any flying crane poop (sorry).
  • The four crated cranes are 302 ("Fruitcake"), 307, 311 and 318. Any surprises here? (You may wish to record this information on your chart.)

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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