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Sandhill Crane Experiment
by Steve McCadams

 A flock  of  sandhill  cranes being led by ultralight aircraft from Wisconsin  to  Florida  reached the midpoint of their journey earlier this week, having traveled  624  miles  since  leaving  Necedah  National Wildlife Refuge on October  3.  After fifteen stopover points, the entourage of twelve cranes, four aircraft, seven vehicles and twelve biologists, pilots and ground crew flew further south into Fentress County, Tennessee.

 "The weather has slowed us up a bit," said Chuck Underwood of the U.S. Fish  and  Wildlife  Service  and  the  Whooping  Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).   "Morning  fog delays our takeoff time and warmer air temperatures tire the birds more quickly."

 Except  for  a  mechanical problem early on, weather has been the only limiting  factor  in  the  group's  progress toward reaching Chassahowitzka  National  Wildlife  Refuge in Crystal River, Florida.   Originally expected to  take  32 days, the trip is now estimated to take approximately two more weeks.

 "We  had  excellent  flying weather from Wisconsin all the way through central  Indiana,"  said  Bill Lishman of Operation Migration, Inc. another member  of  WCEP.   "Despite  delays these last few days, the trip is going very well.  And we could have blue skies and a nice tailwind tomorrow!"

 If  the migration study is successful and the sandhill cranes complete the  journey  to Florida and return on their own to Wisconsin in the spring of  2001, the same training procedure and route could be used with whooping crane  chicks  as  part  of  the second phase of the study.  If all goes as planned  and  necessary  approvals  are  obtained from the Flyway Councils, States  and  other  involved agencies, the study may eventually lead to the re-establishment  of  a  migratory  population  of  whooping  cranes in the eastern  United States.  

Whooping cranes are endangered and currently found in  the  wild  only  in  the  western  United  States  and central Florida. Captive-reared   whooping   crane   chicks  from  the  International  Crane Foundation  and U.S. Geological Survey's Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, also part of WCEP, were used to start non-migratory flock in Florida.

 WCEP,  also  including  the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin  and  the  National  Fish  and Wildlife Foundation, was formed in October  1999  to  coordinate  the  ultralight  migration study and address issues  regarding  recovery of the whooping crane.  

 For more information on the  project,  its  partners  and regular migration updates, visit the WCEP Website at

The information above is compiled by outdoor writer
Steve McCadams

    Steve is a professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area and host of the The Outdoor Channel's television series  IN-PURSUIT.