The Class of 2015, Free & Wild, Headed North

The Class of 2015 has officially established its credibility as a flock of truly wild birds, flying off on their own from their protected space at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. With that they began their first wild journey north. Never again will they roost within human made shelters, nor eat foods provided for them from the human world.

Follow the migrations of all the birds of the Eastern Migratory Population of whoopers at the Field Journal of Operation Migration. Many have already returned to Wisconsin, and the rest are moving along the flyway. And read on, right here, to learn where the Class of 2015 has been seen on its migration journey.

This group of five (one of the class had departed earlier with adult cranes) departed St. Marks on Wednesday, March 30th, flying up together, as reported in the Field Journal, the birds “disappeared over the treeline – heading north!” By Sunday, they were in western Kentucky.

The Class of 2015 Photographed in Illinois!

On Thursday, April 7, the five, still traveling together, were captured in one great photo by a newspaper photographer for the LaSalle News Tribune in North Central Illinois. The five were staying at an Illinois River wetland, the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge, on this stopover.

The photo came my way thanks to a Google News Alert for “whooping cranes.”  I get one or two everyday and often they link to whooper stories that are already well-known, or else not pertinent to the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP). But yesterday’s link to this photo of the Class of 2015 birds and the accompanying story in the News Tribune was the rare, thing: genuine news about birds of the EMP!

It was not at all apparent in this story, however, that these were the Class of 2015 birds, or any of “our” Wisconsin cranes. But The Field Journal was reporting the group of five in nearby Putnam County IL. So I put a question, and the news story link, in a tweet to Operation Migration. Seconds later OM confirmed in a reply, that yes, indeed, these were the recently migrated Class of 2015 birds.

“They’ve since moved on,” the tweet concluded. To Wisconsin? There’s no confirmation of that yet, but I believe we’ll  learn that soon.

This is a photo of the final flight of the Class of 2015 on its ultralight-led migration. (Photo by Karen Willes, used with permissioin)

This is a photo of the final flight of the Class of 2015 on its ultralight-led migration. (Photo by Karen Willes, used with permission)

The Irony in the News Story

Lovely as any media attention is for the endangered whooping crane species, craniacs familiar with the Eastern Migratory Population, might scratch their heads at some of the statements included in this report from Illinois. A quote from a wetlands manager that there are few modern records of whooping cranes stopping in Illinois, for one. Whoopers in the EMP – currently about 100 birds – have used various wetland areas in the state, and neighboring Indiana, as migration stops consistently since 2001.

A whooping crane pair at Patoka NWR in Indiana; during fall migration in 2010. (Photo by Steve Gifford; from the Flickr photo stream of Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership; used with permission.)

A whooping crane pair at the Patoka River NWR in Indiana; during fall migration in 2010. (Photo by Steve Gifford; from the Flickr photo stream of Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership; used with permission.)

Moreover, the LaSalle News Tribune missed the fact that for fifteen years LaSalle County has been one of Operation Migration’s stopovers as it has led class after class of young cranes on their first migration to Florida each fall since 2001. It does make mention of OM’s fifteen year involvement in the effort of “reestablishing the eastern population with hand-reared whooping cranes,” noting it had been “shut down this winter by federal wildlife officials,” who are now calling for “less human interaction.”

Such a Complex Story to Report

This is a complicated story, and always has been. The reintroduction of a wild species has so many parts to it, all of them complex, and it can be most difficult for a reporter, in a single story, to convey clearly all that’s involved. It seems obvious to me that the photographer, the writer, and his sources were excited about their five living, breathing, whooping crane visitors.

But how ironic: no recognition that these bird celebrities were the best and newest examples of Operation Migration’s (with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership) “hand-rearing” work; right under their noses. No realization of what the effort to reestablish this population has thus far accomplished; and that it continues.    

4 thoughts on “The Class of 2015, Free & Wild, Headed North

  1. Thank you so much for this great post…And for recognizing the wonderful work of Operation Migration, particularly over the last 15 years of success stories and with this recent graduating class. Thanks for putting a feather in their cap!

  2. And thank you, for that nice “thank you!” OM has so many feathers in their caps – yet what it has done is not always appreciated. In part, I think because it IS such a complicated story. But once someone really learns about whooping cranes and everything OM has done for their cause, then I think, people really get hooked – become craniacs for life, yes?

    • Thank you, Judy, for following this story, and greetings to you. The crane kids are still in Illinois for now – apparently due to a persistent low pressure system, making flight unlikely.
      I just spent a little time catching up with the Campshaws enchanting California wanderings – you sure have traveled far and wide in the past six months or so! (That may just be normal for you guys, but breathtaking from an observer’s point-of-view!)

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