January 11, 2006 in Whooping Crane
Whooper Reintroduction Updates
Winter 2006: Monitoring the Whooping Cranes
It has been almost a month since the 19 ultralight-led cranes arrived in Florida on December 13. This year, instead of taking the birds directly to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge pensite, the cranes arrived at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County. By holding the cranes at this temporary site, it has allowed the previous years’ cranes the opportunity to arrive at the Chassahowitzka pensite and naturally disperse inland. In past years, when the older cranes arrive at Chassahowitzka there has been a ready-supply of pelleted food provided for the juvenile cranes. Many of these older cranes would hang around the pensite, eat the food, and harass the younger cranes. Most of the previous years’ cranes are already on their inland wintering grounds now, so the decision was made to move the 2005 cohort to Chassahowitzka.
Keep in mind that it has been almost a month since these cranes have flown with Operation Migration’s (OM) ultralights. Moving these birds is no small task! After being home for only a few weeks, OM pilots Richard Van Heuvelen, Brooke Pennypacker, and Chris Gullikson returned to Florida to fly the cranes yet again. Monday morning the first attempt was made to fly the cranes the 20+ miles to the Chassahowitzka pensite. One bird, number 8-05, successfully made the journey and spent the night by herself in the top-netted pen at Chassahowitzka.
Yesterday they were able to fly six more birds to the pensite. Numbers 9-05, 10-05, 11-05, 14-05, 21-05, and 22-05 all arrived safely at Chassahowitzka. Sara Zimorski was stationed at the pensite to call the birds down. As the ultralights fly over the pensite the pilots turn off their flight calls, as Sara plays recorded crane calls to entice the birds to land.
This morning was another beautiful flying day. Richard and Brooke led three cranes to the Chassahowitzka pensite. Chris’ eight birds were a bit more stubborn. He was able to fly them away from the Halpata site, but then they landed in a nearby field and didn’t want to leave. Richard Urbanek, USFWS, and Laurie Kramer arrived with the “Swamp Monster” (fancy name for tarps), used to help scare the birds away. The Swamp Monster did its trick, and all eight cranes took off with Chris. By this time, Richard and Brooke had arrived to help fly chase behind Chris and all eight cranes were successfully delivered to the pensite at Chassahowitzka. Only one crane remains at Halpata–number 16-05. They will try to fly him to Chassahowitzka tomorrow.
Update by Joan Garland, ICF Education Outreach Coordinator. Report provided by Sara Zimorski, ICF Aviculturist.
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