Moultrie Observer

Local News

December 15, 2006

Plane-led cranes spend night in Worth County

ANDERSON CITY — Sometimes you just need a little guidance.

At least that’s what the members of Operation Migration are hoping as they try to return the whooping crane from the brink of extinction.

Speaking by phone during an unscheduled layover in Anderson City, Beverly Paulan, the team’s supervisor of field operations, said the whooping crane was extinct in the wild of the American Midwest when Operation Migration started working with them six years ago. Now, birds raised in captivity are taught to fly the migratory route of their ancestors by following four ultralight aircraft.

“In essence, we’re acting like Mama Crane,” Paulan said.

Paulan said this year’s flock featured the first whooping crane chick born in the Midwest in a hundred years. Cranes from a previous year’s flock successfully hatched a fledgeling, and the family has already successfully migrated to Florida.

The route begins at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin, where the cranes were released from captivity and where the flock spends the summer. The flock left there Oct. 5 en route to their winter habitat, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, near Crystal River, Fla.

“We were hoping to be there two weeks ago,” Paulan said, “but we kept running into weather delays.”

The team was stuck four days in Dawson because of fog and rough winds, she said. The four pilots led the birds aloft Friday morning but made it only 33 miles before they had to set down in a field near Anderson City. Most days the birds can fly 50 to 100 miles, depending on winds.

The team planned to take off at first light this morning, if the weather permits. Their arrival in Chassahowitzka is also dependent upon the weather — and the birds.

“[The] birds didn’t want to go [Friday],” Paulan said. “When the birds stop, we stop.”

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