Following is a status report on the whoopers prepared by Tom Stehn, Biologist and Whooping Crane Coordinator for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
TO: Aransas Staff
FROM: Tom Stehn
DATE: March 31, 1998
SUBJECT - WHOOPER UPDATE
Here's some late breaking news that I sent to a middle school educational project that gets posted on the Journey North web page.
On March 30, a whooper juvenile was confirmed on the Platte River in Nebraska. This juvenile is believed to be the 30th juvenile that wintered in Brazoria County, Texas. Also present on the Platte in March were two single subadults.
On March 30, one whooping crane was found dead under a transmission line near Monte Vista, Colorado. This bird was 15 years old and had been raised by sandhill crane foster parents when biologists placed a whooping crane egg in sandhill nests at Grays Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Idaho. Only two cross-fostered whooping cranes remain from that experiment. Collisions with power lines continue to be the biggest source of mortality for whooping cranes.
The two surviving whooping cranes flown behind the ultralight aircraft between Idaho and New Mexico started the migration north on March 5. They are currently staging with sandhill cranes in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. They represent an amazing accomplishment by researcher/biologist Kent Clegg. He raised the young chicks on his ranch in Idaho, taught them to follow an ultralight airplane, and then taught them a migration to New Mexico. He then got the ultralight whoopers to incorporate into wild flocks of sandhills at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
As the wild sandhills started the migration north, the ultralight whoopers went with them and are on schedule for a hoped for return to Idaho in a couple weeks. Check out http://www.gemstar.net/kclegg for Mr. Clegg's web page.
In another ultralight crane experiment, Bill Lishman and Joe Duff last fall flew sandhill cranes they had raised from Ontario, Canada to Virginia. Remember the movie "Fly Away Home" where a young girl led a flock of Canada geese behind an ultralight? That fictional story is based on a real experiment that Bill and Joe did with geese. They have formed a Company called Operation Migration (search for Father Goose on the web - you'll find them at http://fathergoose.durham.net) and hope to help start a new whooping crane flock that would migrate between Manitoba and the southeastern U.S. Their ultralight sandhills spent the winter near Airlie, Virginia. After a 140 mile exploration of the eastern shore of Maryland, the birds returned to Airlie. On March 28, they started the migration (this time in the correct direction), were in Youngstown, NY on March 29, and were sighted in a school yard near St. Catharines, Ontario on March 30. The sandhills are on course to return to near where they were raised in Ontario. How do they do this since they on the journey south, the cranes were flown way east around the end of Lake Ontario, but on the way north are apparently taking a direct route? The navigational ability of cranes is truly phenomenal. On the 31st, the six sandhill ultracranes were only 60 km west of where they were fledged in Scugog township, Ontario.
And now for news of the ho-hum (no ultralights involved here) wild whooping cranes that navigate just 2,500 miles from Texas back to the Northwest Territories to nest. The flock currently conists of 181 birds. One adult female disappeared this winter and is listed as mortality. Two subadult whooping cranes and one juvenile are currently on the Platte River in Nebraska. I know of at least one adult pair that has left Aransas and headed north. I found only 154 whooping cranes when I did a census on March 26. This tells me that possibly as many as 27 whoopers have started the migration. However, most of them won't head north until the second week of April. I'll do weekly flights to document when they take off.