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September 21, 2002
Sixteen Take Off Together!

Fifteen---Count 'em--Whoopers! ( (9/21, after one crane dropped out)
Photo Heather Ray,

The 17 cranes, now all at one site, decided on their own to speed up the process of merging into one large cohort. By themselves, they knocked down the wall in the pen that separated the group of ten from the older group of seven who joined them last week. This is a process the crew likes to ease into. Cranes can hurt each other in dominance struggles that may arise based on the birds' ages and whether they're males or females. But this group of cranes is giving no trouble. The birds decided they could work it out on their own. That's the first surprise.

The second surprise came today during the training run. It was their first training flight after a few days off due to weather. When the gates to the pen were thrown open, all the cranes rushed out in a flurry of feathers to follow Joe's trike down the grassy airstrip and into the air. All, that is, except Crane #9, who was way in the back of the pen and didn't quite make it out in time for take off. Richard, who was flying the chase plane, soon ended up with 8 birds off one wing and 8 birds off the other wing. When Crane #15 dropped out, Joe was free to land with her while she rested. A bird that gets out of the pen late and has to fly harder to catch up will get tired. She had an easier flight back, where she could fly close to Joe's wing.

It was an exciting day! Never before have so many whooping cranes been seen in the air at one time and place! Any visitors to the Refuge at dawn could have seen this exciting moment from the Refuge's observation tower. Today was also the day of the Necedah Lion's Club Whooping Crane Festival in the town of Necedah. Operation MIgration and all the WCEP partners had displays and were there to answer questions of citizens. Festival visitors could tour Necedah National Wildlife Refuge on a special bus with rangers to explain the sights. Many were lucky on their bus tour to see yearling cranes #1 and #2 (from last year's FIRST ultralight-led group) foraging in a marsh within view. Wild whoopers are back in Wisconsin for the first time in over a century, and Wisconsonites are thrilled!

Try This! Journaling Question
  • Why was today's flight of 16 whooping cranes in the sky all at one time and place so unusual? (Hint: think about how cranes migrate in the wild, in groups of two or three.)
  • Why does a bird closer to the ultralight wing have an easier flight?

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

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