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Operation Migration – Whooping Cranes – Update: Florida arrival completed.

The flight started over three months ago approximately 25 miles northeast of my house. Eight five-month old Whooping Crane Chicks took their first flight away from their secure home pen and started a long, slow, flight to Florida.

Missed the live transmission?  Check out earlier flights via YouTube. OM will probably post a video of today’s last flight in a few days, so please check back on YouTube.

If you’re interesting in learning more about Operation Migration and keeping current with news on this year’s eight chicks, check out OM’s often humorous, daily blog journal, In the Field.

The final portion of the flight of eight endangered Whooping Crane chicks raised in Green Lake County, Wisconsin this summer, and trained to fly following a UltraLite, (personal aircraft) has been safely completed. UltraLites, piloted by costumed handlers, serve as surrogate parents to teach the endangered birds their migration route. Destined for a backup to the natural (remaining wild born) Whooping Crane flock which migrate between Canada and the Texas coast, the UL trained birds wintering in Florida, will  return north next spring without human intervention. Once taught the migration route it remains imprinted for life.

Now in Florida, the cameras are off. The two live video feeds are:

http://www.ustream.tv/flyingcranes

Live and awaiting the birds arrival at the St. Marks, Fl wintering pen site. This feed will be down until training begins again with new chicks next summer in Wisconsin.

http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes

If you missed today’s  live transmission check back at this link. The camera feed could be working at St. Marks, Florida while the birds are adjusting to their new home. Next summer it will again be transmitting 24/7 at the Wisconsin pen site.

For more information on the Whooping Crane, one of ten rarest North American birds, please visit these sites:

https://www.savingcranes.org/

http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/

http://www.operationmigration.org/

http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/lands/wildlifeareas/whiteriver.html

http://www.fws.gov/refuge/st_marks/

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ZE PLANE, ZE CRATES, ZE CRANES

In 1978 an old television show called Fantasy Island, a character named Tatoo, came running on camera, peeping in his small French accented voice, “Ze plane, ze plane!”  At that time, an estimated one hundred or so wild Whooping Cranes were still very much on the edge of extinction in North American. Certainly, none of them ever arrived via airplane. They summered in northern Canada where they bred, fledged their young and migrated 2,600 miles to wintering grounds on the coast of Texas.

That meager flock of Whooping Cranes were the sole descendants of the last 15 wild Whooping Cranes still alive in 1940. Extinction was possible, where they would only be available as museum mounts, paintings, photographs, and romantic stories of how the largest remaining bird on this continent disappeared from the horizon on our watch. These amazing great white cranes slowly increased in number, and now labelled the Western Migratory Population they are the lone genetic lineage for all Whooping Cranes. Whooper’s bond for life and generally produce only one chick that lives. Reproduction rates are low and after more than 70 years the western population still numbers less than 300 birds.

Hoping to maintain a species comes with knowledge that a single event, an oil spill, hurricane, or a drought causing a lack of fresh water on the Texas wintering grounds could create a life-threatening disaster for this flock. They face new problems from oil-sands, pipelines, and potential wind energy fields on the migration route.  And we cry for the yearly birds killed by hunters, those by accident, or worse, by intent and cruelty.

A little over a decade ago, a second backup group of Whooping Cranes was considered for introduction.  However, there were no native birds in the eastern United States.  This flock was going to be developed from captive birds. They would have no migratory patterns learned from previous generations passed down for millions of years by parents to their fledglings. Humans would need to intervene, but humans raising wild birds doesn’t work. Birds imprint on the first thing they set their eyes on. If it’s a human the bird will grow up and never learn how to be a bird. An entirely new science was going to be put to use, joining several different research groups with one goal.

Whooping Cranes of the Eastern Migratory Population are genetic offspring of the western flock, however, these eggs came from monitored Whooping Cranes via careful selection to maintain diversity.  All of the eggs were hatched under careful monitoring and supervision,  and when grown the birds were then reintroduced into the wild to form a second flock migrating between Wisconsin and Florida.  Different methods of raising chicks at several locations in Wisconsin are being used. Only one is monitored for the public to view via computer thanks to Operation Migration.org.

In a few days, similar words to Tatoo’s greeting will be on the lips and tips of many chat room fingers. They are a dedicated group of Whooping Crane fans,  old and new friends, known affectionately as Craniacs. Daily, for approximately six months they sit in front of their computer monitors, laptops and smartphones to watch the morning and evening antics, routines, growth spurs, and comedic errors of a yearly clutch of endangered Whooping Crane chicks in central Wisconsin. These birds, under the skillful hands of an organization named Operation Migration.org will raise these birds this summer, flight train them, and this autumn lead them behind a UltraLite aircraft skillfully imprinted as a parent bird teaching them the migratory route between Wisconsin and Florida. Next spring, a miracle happens when the birds return to Wisconsin using their own remarkable instincts.

The chicks hatched at  Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland where they undergo physical testing that would undermine a candidate for the Navy Seals. Their personalities are testing to eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive. Some tolerance is allowed for chicks to establish a pecking order, as long as they don’t actually continue to nit-peck like a wife that discovered mouse breath on her husband who said he was working late at the office. After a class is chosen they’re allowed to attend a mixer and see who wants to dance and who’s going to become the wallflower. Of course, someone always trips over their own feet, another peeps and runs, one takes a firm hock sit and won’t be moved, and the sudden bully chases all the other kids around the block. Only the block is round and heavily supervised by people who look like Casper, the friendly ghost with a misplaced appendage – a single wooden crane-like head where a hand would be..

Crane chicks are never allowed to visually come into contact with humans during the nearly year-long training process. With clever manipulations and puppetry the birds own genetic code will imprint onto puppetry and even lite aircraft substituting as parents. It allows the Whooping Cranes to remain wild. Rules number one through one hundred! All humans attending to Whooping Crane chicks for any purpose present in costumes aka ‘tumes’. Imagine a construction helmet and black muck boots, covered in a hybrid of your grandmother’s white sheets drying in the summer sun and a half-blinded person wearing a backward burka in 100 degree heat while all the juicy bugs of summer jump up your petticoat.

Gotta love the dedicated Whooping Crane people. The same crew training in Maryland with the eight chosen finalists will soon be moved to Wisconsin to begin phase two of the training program. But first the chicks are gently backed into standing crates and loaded onto a private airplane where they will receive first class attention on their flight over. Sorry, no reclining seats, headphones, movies, or mixed drinks allowed for the birds and crew. The Craniac’s are free to celebrate the impending arrival of the new kids on the block in any manner they choose. Virtual parties are probably already being planned. Tissues are being stockpiles by laptops, vacation days planned, people will be calling in late, this will be a cheers and tears celebration.

ETA, July 9, 2013, 1 pm CST at

Operation Migration Whooping Crane Cam
http://www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes

THE MOST IMPORTANT POST OF THE SUMMER

Saving any species from extinction is an incredibly difficult job.   Most of us have no concept of the dedication volunteers, researchers, and scientists contribute or the passion, success, cheers and heartbreak that accompany select small groups intrusted to preserving endangered and rare species. The world headquarters specific to saving the world’s crane species is the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Operation Migration, which rears and trains Whooping Crane chicks to follow a migration route from Wisconsin to Florida each year are based in New York and Canada. In summer they work up the road from me near Berlin, Wisconsin. In early autumn they’ll take several weeks, flying just a couple of hours a day, bearing south leading young Whooping Cranes behind Ultra Lite planes. No Ultra Lites, no Whooping Cranes, no second backup group of a highly endangered birds.

Ultimately, through the Ultra Lites serving as imprinted parent birds, the chicks learn the long forgotten winter migration to Florida – the route that was forgotten when the number of living birds dropped to less than 40 and none were left to lead what had formerly been thousand of birds across our skies on annual migration routes. Thanks to conservation measures and efforts of groups like the International Crane Foundation, Operation Migration, and others, the numbers are very slowly growing. However, there are still less than 600 treasured birds alive and far from sustainable numbers.

The major flock of wild birds belong to a natural group that migrates between Canada and the Texas coastline each year. The scary fact is all it will take is a drought, an oil spill, or a hurricane, to make a major impact on the native group. Establishing a second breeding group between Wisconsin and Florida is of major importance, but no federal funding supports the Operation Migration training program. Every dollar for this research group comes from the public. This year the Federal Government decreed Operation Migration had to replace their three Ultra Lite planes before they could fly in 2014. That means that in addition to the expense of training the chicks to fly this summer, they need to buy new planes, redesign the wings for a specific purpose of flight not required by any other aircraft, rebuild and change over engines and other mechanical issues.

To make this happen they only have thirty, yes a short 30 days, to raise the money to do this. I would not normally use links in my blog, but this is a special request and others have already done a greater job than  I  to explain how great the need is. I can only share the reasons for there is a place in my heart and my passion for these great white birds. Not many have yet had the privilege of watching these magnificent birds in flight, many people up here don’t even know what they are. That’s how uncommon they still are. Once seen, they are never forgotten, and once remembered, you know they can never be lost.

To donate visit the link below. We appreciate every dollar and even small contributions are welcome. We give a Whoop and a heartfelt thank you.

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hope-for-the-whooping-crane-takes-flight