Update: May 22, 2015: All five of the young cranes of the Class of 2014 have been successfully returned to Wisconsin after weeks of wandering in southern Illinois and western Kentucky. In two action-packed “rescue” missions spread over two weeks, the pilots and crew members of Operation Migration tracked and captured them and returned them to the White River Marsh flight training area, where as young crane chicks they learned to follow the ultralights last summer. There are many good posts, like this one, providing all the details of the “rescues” at OM’s Field Journal.
Drama and mystery: these are the most compelling elements, tightly woven throughout the survival story of the whooping crane species. Most likely they are important elements of every wildlife story as perceived through the imperfect lens of the human eye.
For me, they are the key ingredients that captured my attention for whooping cranes. And crane drama and mystery are never on display more distinctly than during the spring migration of the EMP cranes as they fly back north into Wisconsin.To begin with, the most-worried-over migration always belongs to that of the youngest chicks – especially the ones that learned the migration route to Florida by following the ultralight aircraft of Operation Migration. As you may know, this year’s OM Class of 2014 included seven chicks, and last fall, they were essentially trapped for weeks-on-end in Wisconsin by weather conditions that made it impossible for cranes and planes to fly together. As winter approached, drastic measures were needed to move them further south with speed, which means they did not fly much of the migration route before Tennessee.
Where is the Class of 2014 Right Now?
Here is a quick synopsis of their fate, thus far into their young lives: five of the seven left Florida, beginning the journey north, a week ago! And fortunately they are in the company of one veteran migrator, Crane #5 of 2012 – an adult crane that liked to frequent the pensite of the ultralight chicks. (Afer all, he, too, had been an ultralight chick just two seasons ago.)
This is just what the crane pros in the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) were hoping for – an experienced, adult crane guide to migrate with the Class of 2014, and guide them home! Here is a link to OM’s Field Journal describing the successful beginning of their migration.
But wait! It turns out that it’s not that simple. After 4 flights and 5 days of the journey, the Class of 2014 cranes and their adult crane traveling companion arrived in southern Illinois. Since then the Class of 2014 has stayed on the ground, mostly avoiding storms.
Not long after arriving there, however, adult crane guide, 5-12, took off on his own. The drama of the northward migration of these young cranes has always been intense for all the obvious reasons. But now with the disappearance of 5-12, the mystery of migration intensifies. Where has he gone? Why has he left the youngsters? Is he safe somewhere?
More Whooping Crane Drama to Come, One Mystery Solved
I wrote above that 5 of the seven cranes left Florida together. But what of the other two? One of the cranes, sadly, has already become a victim of the harsh demands of life in the wild; crane 2-14 was predated in FLorida on the night of March 15th, near her semi-protected winter pensite, at St. Marks NWR.
In late March crane 7-14, proved to be the most adventuresome of the bunch – or maybe she just knows who her friends are. She left on migration in the company of two older cranes that, like 5-12, had also been staying close to the chicks’ winter pensite at St. Marks. Before March ended, crane 7-14, along with 4-12 and 4-13 were positively confirmed back in Wisconsin.
At the end of today, nearly a week after arriving in Illinois, the five other Class of 2014 cranes remain there, “on migration.” What’s next for them? I don’t think anyone really knows . . . so stay tuned!
One part of the mystery of their of migration, though, has been solved: late this afternoon, Operation Migration posted that crane 5-12 has been confirmed back in Wisconsin. But why he took off without the five ultralight chicks, why he continued on a solo journey home to Wisconsin – that will most likely remain his secret – a mystery forever.