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December 8, 2003
Day 54

Whoop it Up! Migration Complete
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They're HOME! Photo OM

It's time to celebrate! This is the day when sixteen 8-month old Whooping cranes left Gilchrist County on the final leg of their first migration south behind Joe Duff's ultralight to see their winter home for the first time. They headed 60 miles southwest, where over 1000 hopeful crane fans from far and wide had gathered at Crystal River Mall to welcome this gleaming squadron of rare, endangered birds. Soon after take off, the birds broke up and 15 flew the distance with Brooke, while Joe had one crane off his left wingtip--and that's just how they flew over the waiting crowd.

It may seem strange that the joyous welcome had to be a silent one---but the hush only lasted until the cranes and planes disappeared from view. As the birds continued flying the final 15 miles out to their winter enclosure on a remote island at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, the crowd erupted with applause, cheers and tears. It was a glorious and historic moment. These people are among the very few who are lucky enough to see wild Whooping cranes in flight! What's more, the 16 whoopers in today's flyover are ONE more than existed in the whole world in the early 1940s!

At 9:59, 2 hours and 5 minutes after take-off, the pilots swooped in low over the wintering site at Chassahowitzka. Waiting at the release pen, Jane Chandler from USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and ICF's Sara Zimorski called the cranes down with a handheld loudspeaker as the pilots performed their final maneuver. At the last second of their low swoop, they pushed out on the control bar to rapidly climb higher, leaving the birds no choice but to touch down for the first time inside their winter home. MIGRATION COMPLETE! This migration logged a total of 31 hours and 53 minutes of flying time over 54 days, covering 1191 miles between the cranes' enclosures in Wisconsin and Florida. The new Eastern flock now numbers 36 birds. We hope you'll keep up with their life stories on the Journey North Web site: Meet the Flock 2001, 2002, 2003.

Still to come is the final health check. That's when the young cranes will receive their permanent legbands with long-life radio transmitters. (This procedure is a change from the previous two years, and will likely take place in a few days. Look for one more report from us as we summarize and show you today's photos.)

This is Jane Duden saying "over and out" from Journey South headquarters at the close of the 2003 Ultralight-led Migration. I invite you to celebrate this GREAT day by folding origami Whooping cranes and reading a wonderful short story, told many years in the future to the youngest cranes by one of the "pioneer" adult "ultra-cranes." You'll find it here:

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


Try This! Journaling Questions
  • List clues in Kathy's story that give facts about the whoopers' first historic ultralight-led migration, which took off with eight birds in the flock. (To learn more about the very first year in the reintroduction project, see Journey North's 2001 Highlights.)
  • Who are the Great White-Winged Ones and the silent, shapeless creatures? Why doesn't the crane in the story know what became of them?
  • Think about the "players" in this great drama, which has been called the conservation equivalent of putting a human on the moon. The pilots, ground crew, citizens who live under the flight path, Refuge workers who see the flock grow year by year, a biologist like Dan Sprague who helps train the newly hatched chicks and accompanies them on migration, one of the oldest flock members or one of the youngest ones--there are many points of view in this unfolding story. Choose one, as author Kathy Miner did, and write your own tribute, poem, or story from that point of view.


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

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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