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August 28, 2001

Introducing the Chase Plane

Photo courtesy WCEP


Another milestone in training happened today! The cranes got their first exposure to two ultralights instead of just one. During migration, two planes will be flying with the birds: one will fly lead with pilot Joe Duff and "tow" the flock. The other ultralight flies "chase" with pilot Deke Clark and picks up any birds that begin to lag behind or start to drift off.

What did the young cranes think when TWO planes showed up? Jennifer Rabuck, park ranger at Necedah, said the birds at Site 1 showed interest and watched the other plane briefly. They stuck closely to the lead plane, both in the air and on the ground. When the second plane landed and taxied to them, they followed a ground handler (a human wearing the white crane costume) over to inspect the new plane. Then, the cranes were easily led back to the first plane. The second plane took off again to circle at a distance. The flock of whooping cranes danced and flapped a bit at its departure, then followed the original pilot into the air. Hooray!

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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