At last, the sun has come out in Wisconsin, and nasty weather has calmed down long enough for the ultralights of Operation Migration to take off and fly to the next stopover site with two of the seven whooping cranes. That’s right, only 2 of the 7 cranes made the ultralight-guided journey to the next stop. It is posted on the OM Field Journal that the other 5 cranes will be crated and driven to the new pen site.
As disappointing as that must be for the pilots and crew, the change of scenery, and reality of a new site, and moving the whole migration project down the road another 28 miles, must feel wonderful. They have only one more stop planned in Wisconsin. They’re that much closer to Illinois, that much closer to the 117 miles of the journey in Wisconsin behind them, that much closer to Florida!
The two cranes that made the flight today (3-14 and 8-14, in case you are following that closely) flew for 42 minutes and covered 28 miles with the ultralights – the longest flight of their lives, thus far, I believe. There are much longer flights to come, but these two should be in good shape for the challenge. Somehow – I know from following this saga for a long time now – the rest will be taught what they need to know; they’ll make it safely into the South, and they’ll return to Wisconsin on their own next spring.
(For more information I urge you to check out the Field Journal tomorrow; OM often will analyze the flight and share observations a day or so after.)
The Aransas/Wood Buffalo Whooping Crane Migration
In other migration news, four individual cranes of the western flock of whooping cranes – that’s the long-established and back-from-the-brink, Aransas /Wood Buffalo flock – made an early and unexpected arrival in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The four, all adults, were first spotted by a fishing guide at Sundown Bay on the refuge on Sept. 11, and were confirmed by refuge staff on Sept. 15. According to the Friends of the Wild Whoopers blog the arrival was a month earlier than former early arrivals.
Until October 23rd, those early four were the only sightings of the Aransas Wood Buffalo flock, and some whooper-watchers were beginning to ask ‘”Is Whooping Crane Migration Late this Year?” No, not really, answers Chester McConnell of Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
The blog included a post in September, written by Wade Harrell, the U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, full of facts and figures about the migration of the western flock. For starters, the length of migration for these whoopers is 2500 miles – more than 1,000 miles longer than the migration undertaken by Wisconsin’s whooping cranes.
Eyewitness Account from a Migration Volunteer
In late July The Badger & the Whooping Crane published a post entitled “This Could Be Yours: a Two-Week Vacation with the Whooping Cranes,” detailing an offer from Operation Migration to sign up for a two-week stint as a helper with the many on-the-ground tasks that must be carried out during the fall migration trip. It’s a trip of 1100 miles that the ultralights and the cranes make in the air. But it’s assisted from the ground in hundreds – maybe thousands of little ways. Operation Migration filled 6 2-week slots with volunteers and this week they shared this post at their Field Journal from volunteer Steve Schildwachter. He does a fine job of conveying all the “hurry up and wait” assignments that go into ultralight-assisted whooping crane migration.