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The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
is responsible for conducting this reintroduction. Learn more about the unique partnership and the other founding members.

Visit ICF site for winter updates

Date: Mar. 31, 2003
Reporter: Heather Ray
Activity: On the move...

Notes: No sooner had we received word about crane 016 being confirmed in Dodge County, WI., when word came that the pair 011 & 012 that had been wintering in Pasco Co., FL decided to depart the sunshine state and head north.

On March 25th, the first day of their northward migration the pair covered 210 miles in 7 hours before arriving to spend the night in Berrien Co., GA. The following day they continued 180 miles north but after encountering a severe thunderstorm with heavy rains, the pair retreated a short distance south to roost in Henry Co., GA.

At approximately 10am the following morning, the whooping crane pair left their wetland roosting area south of Atlanta. Until this point the cranes had been averaging 30-32 mph but with a tailwind of 12-20 mph assisting them north on this day, they soon got ahead of the tracker.  The last radio signal, northerly and faint, was detected near the Kentucky/Tennessee state line shortly after 5pm 

On March 28th the wind was even stronger and directly out of the south at 20-30mph, throughout the day. During the late morning, brief, intermittent signals were detected from Larue County, KY, but eventually, radio contact was lost.  Later in the day a brief, weak signal was detected to the northwest from near Edinburgh, Indiana, at 2pm.

On March 30th we received word from the folks at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that a pair of Whooping cranes had been spotted in Lake County, IN - Very near to the same location that crane #016 had roosted just last week.  A second note today informed us that the birds were seen lifting off this morning shortly after 9am and "heading north."

Date: Mar. 27, 2003
Reporter: Heather Ray
Location: Port Perry, ON
Activity: First (and second?) Arrival in Wisconsin!

Notes: Last weekend, I received reports of "a glowing white crane, amid a sea of gray Sandhill's" at the Grand Kankakee Marsh in Lake County, Indiana. Based on the color combination of the birds leg bands, which could be seen using a spotting scope, we have determined that the star of the marsh was the male crane #016. A similar report, on Wednesday, March 19th from the same area meant that this migrating crane had likely spent five days in Lake County before he was seen leaving early Sunday morning and heading north.

This past Tuesday, in an aircraft contributed by Windway Capitol Corp.,  ICF intern Colleen Satyshur was airborne over Wisconsin with tracking receiver tuned to the frequency of crane 016. During a check of the southeast portion of the state, Colleen detected the familiar beep from the transmitter worn by the same crane she had spent so much time tracking south last fall. Though, he didn't require a great deal of active tracking beyond Tennessee because once he arrived at the Hiwassee refuge, he decided to stay! Eventually, he moved further south, into Florida where he met his former flock mate - a sassy female known as "number 7." Crane 017 had arrived in Florida in mid-November, beating all the others (including us) in the race to their winter range. 

Not to be outdone again, Whooping crane 016 is the first to return home to the wetlands of Wisconsin where they first learned to fly. 017 was last spotted in Jackson County, Indiana on March 17th, foraging with a group of Sandhill cranes - only 3 miles from the stopover location we used when guiding the cranes south with the ultralights. Everyone knows how reclusive this female is... Perhaps she has already returned to Wisconsin, making it back before 016?

Date: Mar. 16, 2003
Reporter: Heather Ray
Location: Port Perry, ON
Activity: Spring is in the air!

Notes: We're officially five days from the start of spring but with temperatures over 50F this weekend, waves of migrating songbirds returned to our area.  Their spring songs, combined with the promising trickle of melting snow and ice has taken too long to arrive. Its been a hard winter here in Port Perry, Ontario where we still have about 2 feet of snow, yet across the Great Lakes in central Wisconsin there is little if any snow, following a season that was equally cold. In fact, for the first time in a long time, three of the five Great Lakes froze completely over.

Ah, but it's starting to warm up and with the warm weather, come reports of Sandhill cranes returning to Wisconsin, which is a sure sign of spring!

In the last report I mentioned that Whooping crane 016 had departed his wintering location in Madison Co. FL on Feb. 15th and likely returned to his old stomping grounds at Hiwassee.  To refresh everyone's memory, 016 was the male crane that eventually met up with 017 in Madison Co. FL earlier this year. And everyone knows 017 is the female crane who broke away from the flock as they were returning north last April during their first unassisted migration flight.

This sassy female took the long way home from Florida, arriving at the Necedah refuge on May 3rd last spring, whereas the other four cranes arrived together on April 19th so by the time she arrived - fashionably late, the others had already dispersed. The next day, she decided to move east and eventually south and spent the entire summer in the Horicon Marsh wetlands. The last time she had been with any of her own kind was April 12th, 2002, the day she decided to split off from the returning group: Until January 3rd of this year, when somehow crane 016 ended up in the same wetland as her!

The two only stayed together for about 3 days before 017 worked her charm and the male moved - about 4 miles away... (this is starting to resemble a soap opera!)

As far as we know, the two remained separate during the time they stayed in this north Florida wetland area. We also know that 016 was spotted flying north on Feb. 15th with a flock of Sandhill cranes, as I mentioned in the Feb. 28th update, below. A visual check by the monitoring team on Feb. 17th confirmed that indeed the male had vacated the area and 017 was still there.

On March 2nd, a fisheries biologist with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and another gentleman who is an avid birder, both reported seeing a pair of Whooping cranes amid a large flock of Sandhill cranes, in a wetland area adjacent the Cumberland River, where it crosses the TN/KY state line. A subsequent visual check confirmed that indeed 017 had also left the Madison County wintering location. 

Sooooo, with 015 still at the release site with the 16 still-wintering youngsters: and the pair, 011 and 012 still (confirmed) in Pasco Co. FL, we can only assume that the two Whooping cranes spotted along the Cumberland River by these two credible witnesses were none other than the on-again-off-again and back on-again 016 and 017. 

Tune in next week to find out where these two end up. Will they stay together? Or will the domineering female, 017 drive him away, again?

Date: Feb. 28, 2003
Reporter: Heather Ray
Location: Port Aransas, TX - Port Perry, ON
Activity: Various updates

Notes: We'd like to extend a huge thank you to the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce and especially Anne Vaughn and Kathy Acosta. The Chamber recently hosted the annual Whooping Crane Festival, in which Joe Duff was a featured speaker, as well as Jim Harris from the International Crane Foundation. The entire festival was well attended by birders and craniacs from all over North America, and we had a great time meeting everyone and getting the word out about the eastern reintroduction project. Anne, Kathy and the rest of their staff ensured that the event ran smoothly and they should be congratulated for their efforts.

On Sunday, many of our friends and colleagues from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership boarded the Wharf Cat and headed out along the intra-coastal waterway to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge hoping to see some Whooping cranes in their wintering habitat.  

The Aransas refuge was established in 1937 and consists of over 70,000 acres of brackish tidal marshes among the short, salt-tolerant vegetation. It is this habitat that attracts thousands of migratory birds on their journey between North and Central America.  Mild winters, bay waters, and abundant food supplies attract over 392 species of birds to Aransas, including pelicans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, shorebirds, ducks, and of course Whooping cranes, which use these same saltwater marshes as their winter feeding grounds. Productive tidal flats provide clams and crabs for the whoopers to eat before they begin the 2500 mile spring migration to their breeding grounds in northern Canada.

Patuxent's Dan Sprague and Jerry Ulrikson, organizer of the Tennessee walk-a-thon were the official crane counters during our tour and they tallied our crane sightings at 43 of the total population which now stands at 185.

Over the next three days we attending WCEP meetings where last years results were presented and plans for this year were discussed and at the conclusion of the meetings awards were presented. Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson were presented with the first ever "volunteer of the year" award from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership for their outstanding efforts in organizing the 2002 "Whooping Cranes Over Tennessee" walk-a-thon. This event raised over $13,000.00 for this reintroduction as well as habitat enhancement and outreach facilities at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, TN.

Yours truly and Chuck Underwood; FWS Region 4 were each presented with an award for our co-leadership of the WCEP Outreach Team during last year. Both Chuck and I have decided to step down and pass the duties on to Joan Garland of ICF and Rachel Levin of FWS Region 3 and we have no doubt they will do a great job for the outreach and education team.

Florida news: The sixteen young cranes and their "crane-sitter" 01-5 had some very special visitors in late January when Dan Sprague and wife Joann accompanied Deke Clark and his better half, Rebecca out to the isolated area of the Chassahowitzka NWR. The only means of transportation to the release pen is by airboat and on the day of their visit, temperatures in Florida had dipped to the low 20's. Cold by any stretch of the imagination but toss in a 6 mile ride on an airboat and you definitely qualify as a certified "craniac"!

The tide level was very low, which prevented the group from viewing the cranes from the observation blind, however, Deke and Rebecca were rewarded with a view of about half of the large flock as they flew over the airboat. This was the first time Deke had seen any of the cranes since suffering a stroke a year ago and those that were with him to share the moment report that he was overjoyed at the spectacle of their flight. We're thrilled that they made it out to the pen site and wish we could have shared the experience with him... Deke continues to work hard at rehabilitation and is making great progress.

A few of the wintering cranes have acquired their adult voices and plumage and we hope to have some photos up shortly, which show how much they've changed since we last saw them on Nov. 30th. It's getting more and more difficult to tell the juveniles apart from the '01 crane #5 who is still with them at the release site.

For the most part, the birds are continuing to use the safety of the open-topped enclosure for nighttime roosting but on occasion they have roosted in a wide creek about a mile south of the pen site.

Cranes 01-1 and 01-2 are still located in Pasco Co. FL about 30 miles southeast of the refuge and 01-7 remains in a large marshy area of north Florida in Madison Co.  The male 01-6 departed Madison Co. FL on Feb. 15 and was seen flying over southern Georgia among a flock of Sandhill cranes. We suspect he may have returned to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge but are still awaiting confirmation.


Date:Jan. 22, 2003
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Sacramento, CA
Activity:A New Season

Notes: Endangered species in North American are normally assigned a team of leading experts whose mandate it is to arrest the decline and formulate a plan for recovery. This is often a daunting task and their success is dictated by the science available, the extent of the problem and, unfortunately, the charm of the creature in question. 

Like many other keystone species, Whooping cranes are known in conservation circles as charismatic mega fauna; animals so large and appealing that it is easy to generate public interest in their salvation. This interest can be translated into support that safeguards not only the target species but also the habitat it uses, thereby saving other less engaging residents of the same ecosystem.

The Whooping Crane Recovery Team is a joint Canada/U.S. organization established in 1976 and the team met this week in Sacramento, California. Biologists, geneticists, researchers and aviculturalists; all discussing the future of these rare birds and the various projects designed to remove them from the endangered species list. Six captive breeding centers around North America now protect a total of 119 birds (61 males and 58 females) and produce all the chicks available for the release programs. Only 15 birds, including 4 breeding pairs survived in the early 1940's so the genetic material available is severely limited and the Recovery Team's first priority is to ensure as much diversity as possible at each captive breeding site. Many of the captive pairs have limited breeding success, while others are more productive and therefore their pedigree is over represented. This makes some genetically significant, and others designated as "surplus," if that term can be used for such rare birds. 

In order to increase the diversity of the captive flock the Recovery Team recommended that it be expanded to 153 individuals over the next thirteen years. This year, 4 to 5 of the more valuable birds will be held back from the expected minimum of 36 that will hatch in captivity. Nine birds were allocated to the Florida non-migratory release program that began in 1993 and 18 to 20 were allotted to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership, conducting the ultralight-led reintroduction in eastern North America. Any additional birds hatched this season will form a second cohort to be released in central Florida.

Adding another 2 to 4 birds this season will increase our workload only slightly but the schedule is already taxing. The majority of the field team are not Wisconsin residents, which means extended periods away from family and friends. After three years this becomes a little tired and our solution is to expand the team to allow each member some much needed time at home. Many people have speculated that we have the world's most desirable job and recruiting team members, particularly pilots with experience flying trikes, could open the flood gates to many who would like to add flying with birds to their list of accomplishments. 

A little sobering thought may be in order before you rush to submit your resume. It cannot be denied that flying with birds and leading them across the country at the pique of fall colours is a world class adventure but it comes with a lot of other responsibilities -- Our season starts in early spring and requires a large commitment of time and effort. The birds require attention every day and we work many hours preparing them for their long migration. Each member of the team must be costumed and work in absolute silence whenever we are near the birds and it is a discipline that demands patience. The pilots also become bird handlers and it takes time to learn how to interact with the flock.

Leading birds with an aircraft is not particularly difficult, however, very little training time is available. We are much more concerned with the lessons the birds are learning, than making them available to teach pilots. All summer we live on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in very close quarters, which only become tighter when the team enlarges and the migration begins. More interesting than difficult, the work requires long hours but the rewards are many.  We have the opportunity to save a species from extinction, while participating in a history-making conservation study and enjoying an adventure that is second to none. Operation Migration is a registered charity and like most, is under funded. Our ideal candidate would be someone financially independent, or retired, with a love of flying and passion for the creatures that taught us the art.

Dr. Urbanek reports that our sixteen cranes wintering in Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida are doing well. Bobcats have so far not targeted the flock this year -- four live traps around the pen site are monitored daily and no new bobcat signs have been seen recently.  Improvements to the release pen made this year include a 300% increase in size and the addition of a large oyster shell roosting area. This allows the birds to roost in water even when the storm driven tides are higher than normal. As a consequence the birds are spending almost every night within the protection of the release pen and they need much less human contact than last year. Just like their natural parent, the human surrogates are withdrawing from them as they slowly gain their independences and begin to venture farther a field during the day.

Number 14 is the first to acquire her adult voice and like the others, most of her mature plumage. No unauthorized persons have been observed in the restricted area near the pen. Of the remaining birds from the 2001 season, the paired birds numbers 1 and 2 remain in Pasco County, Florida and number 6 is in a wetland in Madison County, Florida, about 4 miles from the number 7 female. The number 5 male remains at the release site -- crane-sitting the juveniles. 

All are doing well, using suitable crane habitat and avoiding humans just like wild cranes should.

Date:Jan. 10, 2003
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Headquarters - ON, Canada

Notes: The still juvenile whooping cranes continue their daily routine on the isolated salt marsh of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge under the watchful eyes of the International Crane Foundation monitoring team. Richard Urbanek, Sara Zimorski, Colleen Satyshur and Lara Fondow venture out to the large release site twice each day, and in pairs to perform their monitoring duties. Each morning and early evening the crane caretakers make the airboat ride to check and record water depths and salinity levels; replenish the gravity feeders with crane chow, and ensure that the water bubbler is working so that a supply of fresh water is available should the salinity count be higher than the acceptable level of 21 parts per thousand (ppt). Storms, which brought heavy rain over the past couple of weeks have kept the salinity counts between 13-15 ppt, which is safe for crane consumption.

Upon arriving each morning they note the whereabouts of the young birds if they are not still inside the enclosure and each evening before departing, they ensure that the cranes are inside the safety of the predator proof pen. The birds seem to have settled into a routine that involves early morning foraging excursions out of the enclosure and on a couple of occasions they have moved to areas out of sight and were only detectable by the beeps of their radio transmitters. Last year's cranes were reluctant to roost inside the enclosure on several nights due to fluctuations in tide levels and two of the HY '01 cranes were lost to Bobcats. To overcome any additional losses, caretakers would lead the cranes back inside the pen before departing for the mainland. The addition of the oyster shell roosting platform this year has reduced the need for the monitoring team to retrieve the birds before departing, as the cranes are utilizing the new roosting area inside the enclosure. Of course just to make sure they keep the handlers on their toes, occasionally one or two birds will decide to miss their crane curfew and still need to be reminded...

HY01 #5 is still keeping the sixteen juveniles company at the wintering site and HY01 cranes 1 & 2 have moved slightly south to Pasco County, FL. The headstrong female, #7 has remained in the same area of Madison Co. that she began occupying after being the first crane to make the unassisted return journey to Florida. 

It seems we must now apologize to the state of Tennessee, which had been hosting the HY01 #6 male since he arrived in Meigs County on November 19th last year. Until recently it appeared as if this crane would stay in TN with a large group of Sandhill cranes, however, on January 3rd he departed along with many of his crane cousins, and flew south to Florida. The following day, HY01 Whooping crane #6 arrived in Madison County, Florida, no doubt surprising the #7 female whom had not seen another of her kind since splitting from the northbound group last spring and continuing the return trip to Wisconsin on her own. For the first time since early April '02, cranes 6 & 7 are reunited. These birds never cease to amaze us...

Date:Dec. 18, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Wintering Update

Notes: As we continue to try to locate our desks, which are buried under piles of paperwork that accumulated during our two month absence, the young cranes are settling comfortably into the release pen at the Chassahowitzka NWR.

To accommodate the larger number of birds this year, refuge staff worked long hours over the past year to enlarge the enclosure, which now comprises three to four acres. Surrounded by 8-foot fencing, the top of the pen is open, allowing the cranes to come and go as they like and investigate other areas. The bottom of the enclosure is gator-proofed with heavy wire screening, and other predators are deterred from gaining access by three strands of electric fencer: one, several inches from the top of the fence and two others, nearer the bottom.  Amenities inside include a dry land feeding station, where there is a constant supply of high protein crane chow and if salinity levels are too high on any given day, fresh water is provided.

A new addition this year is a large oyster bar.... Okay, before you envision the birds bellying up to the oyster bar for take-out, here's the real picture. Last year, tidal fluctuations were such that on one evening the cranes would be roosting in 9" of water and the next night the water level would be at 36" -- far too deep for roosting, floating maybe... To compensate for the fluctuating tide, refuge staff and volunteers organized the construction of an artificial roosting area, made from oyster shells. This graduated roosting area will accommodate any level of tide and provide a roosting location in water for the young cranes. Water roosting is an important survival trait for cranes -- if a predator approaches the flock under the cloak of darkness, its chances of a successful capture are reduced greatly if the birds are alarmed by the splashing water.

Since the juvenile cranes were delivered to the pen on Nov. 30th, Hatch Year '01 crane #5 has also been in the pen. Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation, and a member of the monitoring team that visits the pen site twice each day, reports that #5 at times, asserts dominance over the youngsters. "When he wants to eat, he eats, making the others wait." 

Perhaps they'll learn from him, how to pick apart and eat Blue crabs -- IF he leaves any for them to find.

#5's flockmates, cranes 1 & 2 have situated themselves in a suitable area approximately 20 miles north of the release pen and crane #7, the first of the five yearlings to make the return flight to Florida, is quite content amid a flock of over wintering Sandhill cranes in north-central Florida. Crane #6 remains in Meigs Co., TN, also in the company of thousands of Sandhill's.

As the twenty-one cranes in the new eastern migratory flock spend the winter months in the south, we'll be in the north, at OM's headquarters in Ontario -- unpacking the leftover boxes from our office move that occurred only three weeks before departing on the migration, and trying to settle in. There are reports to be written and grant applications to be submitted for year three of the reintroduction. With your help, (thank you!) we did reach our budget this year, but I should also take this opportunity to remind you that the end of the year is approaching, and if you think you might have some extra money and could benefit from a tax deductible receipt, we will put these funds to good use with the Hatch Year '03 chicks. 

This study is not trying to determine why a species is declining -- This is a direct action project that is returning an endangered species to a portion of its former range. We can do it -- With your help...

Date:Dec. 12, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Port Perry, ON
Distance Traveled:1438 miles
Duration:30 hours
Activity:Return Migration...

Notes: Following a 30-hour northward migration, which began on Dec. 4th in Crystal River, FL., we arrived home late Friday to a warm welcome from our families -- and 6 inches of cold, unwelcome snow. Personally, I'd prefer to stay in Florida during the winter and return north when the cranes say it's time, but responsibilities, both at home and the office prevent me from wintering in southern climes.

The crane youngsters underwent a final health exam performed by Marilyn Spalding, DVM, along with Steve Nesbitt of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on December 2nd, two days after arriving at the isolated release enclosure. Several others from Operation Migration, the International Crane Foundation, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Chassahowitzka NWR were on hand to assist with the various duties involved to ensure the process moved along as quickly as possible.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Richard Urbanek applied satellite tracking devices to five of the sixteen cranes, based on their position in the overall dominance structure of the flock. This year the recipients of the Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTT's) are cranes: 1, 2, 8, 11 & 17. 

Data is sent by email, several times each week, informing us of the locations of the PTT birds and all of the data received thus far indicates they are staying close to or in the open-topped release pen. 

Date:Dec. 2, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Citrus Co., FL
Activity:Wrapping up...

Notes: Once departed from the teeming-with-life wetlands of Wisconsin, we moved (slowly) over the farmlands of Illinois, west and south of Chicago, and eventually carried on, entering the flat terrain of north Indiana. Halfway through the State the terrain became more interesting, as did the weather, when perpetual winds and even tornado warnings threatened the migration team, including our young-of-year feathered charges.

Patience prevailed and eventually Windiana relaxed it's grip, allowing us to advance south and cross the Ohio river, which signals the blue grass State of Kentucky, where green rolling hills, embellished with vivid red and orange splashes of fall foliage greeted us. The weather was kind and only two days were spent in Kentucky before moving into Tennessee -- the Volunteer State

As the flight team progressed to the first stop in Fentress County, the ground support team took notice of the spray painted whooping cranes along the shoulder of Hwy 127; placed here in early October by volunteers Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson, at each mile of the route, walked by the many participants of the Whooping Cranes Over Tennessee Walk-a-thon. This successful endeavor raised $15,000.00 which not only helped support this Whooping crane reintroduction but also will help enhance and support crane habitat at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in Meigs County, TN. Looking back, I'm not so sure the crane habitat in Meigs County requires any enhancement, as our young flyers were certainly reluctant to leave the area and we met up briefly with hatch year '01 cranes; 1, 2 & 6, who were making their inaugural unassisted return flight to Florida.

After waiting out the weather for five days, it took the pilots two separate flights on as many days to convince only seven cranes to follow them into Georgia, while the remaining nine youngsters made the trip in crates -- becoming part of the road crew, which now included the Ulrikson's as they too began their southern migration to Florida, Operation Migration style.

Tall Georgia Pines welcomed the team and in the three days that followed our entry to the State, so too did a wonderful tailwind as the cranes and planes advanced in record time over the red soil, mature pecan groves and glowing white, ripe cotton fields of Georgia -- the longest State in the new eastern Whooping crane flyway.

The tailwind continued as we advanced into the cranes winter-home State of Florida, marked by grand Live Oak trees, draped with Spanish moss, which swayed in the breezy, unusually cold air. It seems ironic that the worst frost conditions the pilots had to deal with on this long journey, occurred in the sunshine State...

The second generation of ultra-whoopers are now foraging in the newly enlarged release pen, constructed by the staff at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, along with many dedicated volunteers. Over the winter they will be monitored by biologists with United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the International Crane Foundation as they learn the fine art of dining on Blue Crab and refine their skills and become wild adult Whooping cranes. 

We look forward to their return to Wisconsin in the spring of 2003.

Date:Nov. 30, 2002 - Day 49
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Citrus Co., FL - Chassahowitzka NWR
Distance Traveled:29.5 miles
Accumulated Distance:1202.8 miles
Activity:Touchdown! The Whooping cranes have arrived...

Notes: After forty-nine days, of which only twenty-one were flyable, the Class of '02 juvenile Whooping cranes have been delivered to the release pen at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida's central west coast. 

At 7:33 this morning, team leader, Joe Duff led the young birds out of their Levy County stopover as fellow pilots Bill Lishman, Richard van Heuvelen and Brooke Pennypacker moved into position, ready to offer assistance if any of the birds decided to break away from the lead ultralight. One bird was late exiting the pen and Brooke Pennypacker moved in to lend his wing to this tardy flyer. The team had just over 29 miles to travel before arriving at the isolated predator-proof enclosure and this morning's flight went as smoothly as the last five have gone.

Shortly after 8am the four tiny ultralights came into view over the Crystal River Mall before a large crowd, gathered to welcome the endangered birds. Silence fell over the crowd as the cranes and planes passed by and until they disappeared from view heading southwest in the direction of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. 

At 8:39am all sixteen cranes descended into the newly enlarged release pen on the isolated island about 5 miles off the coast, as Brian Clauss and Kelly Maguire, in costumes called them in using the brood call.

More details will follow later today, along with photo's taken during the final flight. 


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