The young whooping cranes that comprise Operation Migration's Class of 2010 arrived in North Florida on Friday morning, the earliest Florida arrival since 2004.
Following the ultralight aircraft that the birds are taught to consider their parent, the cranes landed at their stopover site in Jefferson County. That sets up half the flock for one more flight to land at their wintering grounds in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Panhandle in the next few days, weather permitting. The remaining birds will complete the final leg of their more than 1,200-mile migration from Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles Hernando and Citrus counties.
Ten has been the lucky number for this year's migration. It is the 10th anniversary of the project to reintroduce whooping cranes to the eastern United States. The group left the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin on Oct. 10 and arrived in Florida on Dec. 10. The class also comprises 10 birds.
While the birds learn the migration route to Florida behind the ultralights, in the spring instinct will kick in and they will fly north on their own to the area where they fledged.