The Class of 2013 Takes Its Final Exam

That’s whooping cranes, we’re talking about here; the ones that make Wisconsin their home, and specifically, the 8 young crane colts that have been training to fly with ultralight aircraft since the day they were hatched.

As of October 2nd, this year’s class has been officially on migration – the real test of its long summer of training. This account at the Operation Migration website gives a good description of what it’s like to actually launch such an undertaking – convincing 8 juvenile whooping cranes to follow their airplane “surrogate parent” far from anyplace they’ve ever seen before. (And even though it was only 5 miles, a few of the cranes remained unconvinced.)

Since that precarious launch the group has successfully covered 120 miles, and currently remains camped out at the first stopover site in Illinois, waiting for the right flying weather.

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This necessary waiting makes the trip a long one, but we can follow it all through the field journal at the Operation Migration website. Days will become weeks, and then months, but sooner or later the young cranes and the ultralights will fly into St. Marks’ National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Tallahassee, in the panhandle of Florida, and the cranes that we think belong to us, will, for a time, be claimed by the Floridians.

This year, due to budget cutting affecting all government programs, one of the two wildlife refuges that have supported the whooping crane recovery program in Florida, has had to pass up the opportunity to host the cranes. This article in the Tampa Bay Times explains the difficult ramifications facing the manager of Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, which was scheduled to be the host site this year, and the disappointment felt by local fans of the formerly annual visits from ultralights leading the year’s newest whooping cranes.

(The image above, courtesy of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, shows an earlier class of cranes flying their first migration with an ultralight.)