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‘CraneCam’ Provides Live Window to Annual UL-Led Migration

A shot of the in-flight migration from Operation Migration’s CraneCam.

October 14, 2010 — Eleven young whooping cranes and three weight-shift trikes have begun what is the 10th year of the effort to re-introduce the cranes into their natural migration pattern. There are now approximately 96 whooping cranes in the wild in eastern North America thanks to Operation Migration’s work. Nearly extinct in 1940, there are now about 570 whooping cranes in existence, approximately 400 of them in the wild. Now you can be part of the action as Operation Migration is providing a live “CraneCam” to follow the Class of 2010 whoopers as they learn their migration route south.

Joe Duff is the leader of the team of ultralight pilots and volunteers trying to teach young inexperienced whooping cranes how to fly cross-country to Florida for the winter. His October 13th report in the Operation Migration field journal describes the first flight away from their home base in Wisconsin. He writes that leading cranes on migration is like walking on sand. For every positive step you take forward, there is a little backward slippage.

On the first long cross-country flight of the migration, Joe noticed that one bird was falling behind, getting overheated, and flying with its tongue out. Crane No. 15 couldn’t maintain altitude, so he stayed with it until they came across a harvested soybean field and they both landed and sat for a 20-minute rest. Later three birds and their trike escort were resting in a cornfield. When they took off, the birds were too frightened to cross an interstate highway to land at the next stopover. After three unsuccessful attempts the birds picked a different field and landed, so the trikes followed. Pilots on this adventure had better be ready for off-field landings.

Anyone living along their 1285-mile route from Wisconsin to Florida can have the opportunity to see the rare birds and their aircraft escorts. The stopover points are closed to the public to protect the birds, but a nearby flyover location is often announced. The entire trip can take weeks or months. The only way to know when they are in your area is to monitor the Field Journal or Facebook page. Those of us who take pride in our own cross-country flights should be humbled by these pilots who do it with a group of rare and fragile birds.

Follow the CraneCam here.

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