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December 2, 2002

It's a Wrap!

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Photos OM, WCEP

This migration was long for the team and the cranes, but their work has been a huge success. The spring and fall migrations of the HY 2001 (last year's) birds proved the value of the ultralight-led migration technique, and today there's a flock of 20 migratory whooping cranes in Florida! (In addition to this year's 16, four of last year's five juveniles are also safely at Chassahowitzka. Yearling male Crane #6, who was first to leave the central Wisconsin marshes, seems settled into Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in east Tennessee.)

Now the HY 2002 cranes will be learning about blue crabs and tides. All of us who care about them will watch and wait. Will they all survive the winter? Will they avoid predators? Will they choose proper crane habitat? Will they know when and where to return in the spring? You may think this is a lot of work and worry and expense on behalf of so few birds; We share thoughts of two leaders in Whooping crane conservation. Tom Stehn says, "We need species to survive that have been there since the Ice Age. To keep them alive in captivity--that's just not enough." George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, says that losing this species would be "like destroying original works of art of a great master that can never be reproduced." Do you wonder what Joe Duff, Operation Migration Team Leader, thinks? How does this migration experiment also benefit other endangered species? Listen:

What's Next?
Besides their radio-tracking antenna, five of these birds will now get a new antenna on their other leg as they are fitted to carry satellite tracking devices (PTTs, or Platform Transmitter Terminals). This will help ensure tracking the flock during next spring's return migration. For the next several months, all of these magnificent juveniles will freely come and go from their predator-proof enclosure, learning about tides and catching blue crabs.

Dr. Richard Urbanek of the USFWS, with ICF interns Lara Fondow and Colleen, and ICF aviculturist Sara Zimorski will be watching over the five plus the sixteen. A video monitoring system will help them keep an eye on the cranes through the winter. If their instincts are correct, they'll head north to central Wisconsin again, perhaps sometime in April.

As for the pilots and otherWCEP partners, they don't want to be flying birds to Florida forever.With two successful ultralight whooper migrations behind them, they hope to teach this same migration route to a new generation of captive-bred birds each fall for three more years. They estimate that within that time, they will phase out the ultralight planes and see if veteran cranes will lead any newly-introduced birds on the Wisconsin-to-Florida migration route. They'll know they are successful when the next generation starts to learn from this group how to migrate. The goal of this reintroduction project is to build a flock of 125 birds by 2020. With last year's five and this year's 16, they're on the way!

In mythology, Whooping cranes represent long lives, peace and tranquility. That is our wish for this young flock of ancestors for the Whooping cranes your YOUR ancestors will see in the skies over eastern North America. We hope you'll come back in the spring to track this young flock on their first northward migration.

From Journey South headquarters, this is Jane saying "over and out" until spring's Journey North!


Try This! Origami Cranes and Journaling Questions
  • Celebrate the cranes' arrival by folding your own origami cranes and suspending them from the ceiling with string. You'll find all the folding directions and a photo here.
  • The goal of this reintroduction project is to build a flock of 125 birds by 2020. How old will you be then? Write a letter to the children you may someday have, describing your thoughts and feelings on this historic day--the completion of the second human-led migration of an endangered species. Save your letter in a special place. Read it way in the future, or give it someday to your children to share your memories of history in the making!
  • Do you think yearling male #6 will stay in Tennessee, apart from his flockmates at Chassahowitzka? "Since over 10,000 sandhills have wintered there in recent years, quite possibly he's there until spring, said Jim Harris of ICF. "It's no surprise that our cranes are not all making the same choices." What do you predict for Crane #6 and female yearling Crane #7, who now has moved about 135 miles from her former pen at Chassahowitzka?

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

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