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Ultra-light-guided whooping cranes released in Florida
by Pam Rotella
12 December 2012, last updated 13 December

Operation Migration is reporting that its ultra-light-guided whooping cranes have been released at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

The five cranes arrived at St. Marks on Friday, November 23rd, where they were penned during preparations for their release into the wild. Permanent leg bands and final health checks were completed two weeks later.

Pilot Richard van Heuvelen departs Pecatonica, Illinois on 12 October 2012.  Photo by Pam Rotella

Six captive-bred whooping cranes, raised and trained to follow an ultra-light aircraft by crane-costumed human handlers, departed White River Marsh, Wisconsin in September. Operation Migration's ultra-light pilots teach the endangered birds a winter migration route from Wisconsin to Florida.

Mendota Hills Wind Farm near Paw Paw, Illinois, mentioned by Richard van Heuvelen in his Pilot's notes.  Photo by Pam Rotella

The migration was frequently delayed for days at various stopover locations due to wind and weather conditions.

Operation Migration's web site provided a list of flyover locations for crane-watchers to view most departures, and a few locations where people could view arrivals. The site also offered readers the chance to join an e-mail list that received "Early Bird" updates on flying conditions each morning -- a way of communicating whether traveling to a flyover location in the early morning hours would be worth the effort.

Crane watchers stand along the road in LaSalle County, Illinois waiting for flyover, 26 October 2012.  Photo by Pam Rotella

People who lined the road at the LaSalle County flyover location on October 26th saw all six cranes depart for the last time, as one crane would tragically die later that evening during surgery on her broken leg. The remaining five continued the migration to Florida, and were released on Tuesday, December 11, according to Operation Migration's In the Field blog.

Pilot Brooke Pennypacker departs LaSalle County, Illinois with six whooping cranes 26 October 2012.  One would not survive.  Photo by Pam Rotella

All original content including photographs © 2012 by Pam Rotella.