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    The longest study using ultralight aircraft to teach whooping cranes a new migration route ended in Citrus County, Florida when the migration team of Operation Migration Inc., a founding partner in the Whooping Crane
Eastern Partnership (WCEP), flew the last 25 miles of a 1,200 mile journey, landing in a secluded location.

   The cranes were moved to their final winter home on December 5, when the costumed pilots led the birds to a remote, isolated site on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

   The WCEP group passed through Tennessee on their migration stopping in Cumberland County near Crossville on November 9.  The birds were kept in a secluded pen while ground crews searched back into Kentucky for a lost crane
on November 10.  One bird had separated from the flock before entering Tennessee. The single whooping crane was located in a field in good condition and was transported by ground to the pen in Cumberland County. 
   The crew again attempted to fly on November 11, but the flight was canceled due to weather.  On November 12, the migration continued with plans to reach the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge
near Dayton.  When the migration group attempted to cross Walden's Ridge, high wind conditions would not allow the ultralight planes to safely cross the mountain.  The Operation Migration pilots were concerned some of the whooping cranes may not be able to climb to a suitable elevation without being injured or becoming separated and were required to make an unscheduled landing in Bledsoe County near Dunlap.  The crew located a suitable pen site for the birds in a farmer's field for the night. 
    Just after first light on November 13, the migration continued with the ultralights and whooping cranes successfully crossing the mountain range with the goal of flying to a landing strip constructed for this (migration
on the Hiwassee Refuge.  The pilots soon discovered the landing strip was covered with a thick morning fog.  The decision was quickly made to land on the historic Hiwassee Island and wait for the fog to burn off.  After about an hour, the fog had lifted and the migration made their last stop in
Tennessee at a special pen built by TWRA and volunteers located near the landing strip at the Hiwassee Refuge.
   On November 14,  the migration continued south and left Tennessee on their way to the next stop in Gordon County, Georgia.
   At approximately 7:43 a.m. on December 5, the whooping cranes completed their last phase of the migration when they were successfully transferred to their new winter home on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County, Florida. 
   The planes and cranes officially completed the migration after flying over 1,224 miles over a 50-day period.
   The whooping cranes will go through a soft release and a final health check before being allowed to come and go at their new home.  Biologists from the International Crane Foundation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will monitor the birds throughout the winter.
   In the spring, all eyes will again focus intently on the
"Chassahowtizka Seven," as one observer has dubbed them, in hopes the birds will return north to their summer home at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin.
   The arrival in Citrus County marks the end of a historic first step to reintroduce a migratory flock of whooping cranes into eastern North America.
   Over the next four years, additional whooping cranes will be introduced to the southern migratory route from Necedah National Wildlife in central Wisconsin to Florida's central west coast.  Ultimately, it is hoped the project will establish a self-sustaining flock of at least 25 breeding crane pairs.
   In order to maintain their wild nature, the young whooping cranes, raised by costumed handlers and in isolation, will continue to interact only with costumed biologists and not be exposed to humans.  A temporary feeding station and night pen will be provided for a few days, after which they will
be allowed to come and go as they choose.  Throughout the winter, the cranes will have fresh water and feed provided as a supplement to their daily natural diets.  They will also be
monitored by biologists and tracked on their return route in the spring of 2002.
  Whooping cranes are the most endangered cranes on earth, having recovered from a low of only 21 birds in 1941 to slightly over 400 today.
   Nearly half of that number, however, live in one wild migrating flock that moves between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U. S Fish and
Wildlife Service, on the Gulf Coast of Texas, and are subject to hurricanes, contaminants, and disease.  To help ensure the species' survival, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team (WCEP member) decided that a second wild flock of migrating whooping cranes should be established in the eastern United States.  In 1999, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership was formed to bring together critical expertise from federal and state governments and non-profit organizations.
   Other partners include the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the International Crane Foundation, the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
   The introduction project also has the support of 20 eastern U.S. states, including Tennessee, numerous public and private agencies and organizations, as well as private landowners throughout the seven-state flyway.
   For updates on the cranes throughout the winter and on their return next spring, please visit the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership web site at:




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