Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Whooping cranes could resume journey today

CHASSAHOWITZKA — If the winds die down, a flock of enormous, elegant birds will take off today, continuing a remarkable eight-year effort to keep alive an endangered species.

Fourteen whooping cranes have been soaring south behind an ultralight aircraft since Oct. 17 when they left their home in Wisconsin's Necedah Wildlife Refuge. They arrived in Jefferson County on Wednesday, but strong winds aloft kept them grounded on Thursday.

Weather permitting, some of the cranes are expected to continue a local tradition by flying over cheering crowds at the Dunnellon Airport in Marion County early next week, said Liz Condie, executive director for Operation Migration.

For the first time since the rescue initiative began in 2001, the birds will not all spend the winter on the North Suncoast. Today, half the flock will leave Jefferson County and fly 28 miles to settle at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in the Big Bend area of the Panhandle. The next day, the plan is for the remainder to resume their journey to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

Straddling Hernando and Citrus counties, Chassahowitzka has been the winter home for the experimental flock since 2001. But an intense winter storm in early 2007 changed all that.

All but one of that year's flock perished when lightning and a surprise storm surge caught the birds in an enclosed pen, wiping out a genetically significant group of animals.

The public and private agencies that make up Operation Migration and control the whooping crane project decided that dividing the flock this year would prevent another catastrophic loss.

This year's flight also has taken a new, more westerly route. It was designed to keep pilots and birds safer by avoiding mountains and valleys, especially the Cumberland Gap in Tennessee, which has stalled the flight each year.

The new route had the added benefit of introducing a whole new audience on the ground to the majestic whooping cranes, said Condie.

The enthusiasm and support "was definitely a morale boost for us," she said. "And it bodes well for the future of whooping cranes and other species."

Condie said the appeal of the cranes, the tallest birds in North America at nearly 6 feet, touches a wide range of people from aviators to birders to environmentalists.

Whooping cranes command attention with their size, their grace and their rare status. Their migration helps other species along the way, she said, by raising awareness of the need to protect animal habitat.

"They're a keystone species," she said. "So many other species have a better chance of survival because of them."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

. FAST FACTS

Follow their flight

Keep track of the whooping crane migration at www.operationmigration.org/Field_Journal.html or call the whooping crane hotline at (904) 731-3276.

Whooping cranes could resume journey today 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 11:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning shifts search for defense to free agency

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — As much as he tried, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman left the weekend's draft without acquiring another top-four defenseman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101
  2. Half of Florida lawmakers fail or nearly fail review of support for public records

    State Roundup

    WEST PALM BEACH — Half of Florida's legislators failed or nearly failed in a review of their support for public records and meetings given by Florida newspapers and an open-government group after this year's legislative sessions.

    State Senator Bill Galvano, R- Bradenton (left) and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran ranked on opposite sides of the spectrum in an analysis of support for open records. Galvano scored a B-minus and Corcoran scored a D-plus.
[Times file photo]
  3. Yale dean on leave over offensive Yelp reviews leaves post

    Bizarre News

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Yale University dean who was placed on leave over offensive reviews she posted on Yelp has left her position at the Ivy League institution, school officials said Tuesday.

  4. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park

    Tourism

    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]