The Good News Cranes
By Rod Myers
By Rod Myers
In late June, videographer Chuck Johannson, my father and I traveled to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Necedah, Wis. We went because I was asked to consult on the placement of one-way viewing windows in an observation blind. The blind was built into a small bluff 100 yards from a large netted pen which was to be the summer home of 10 young whooping cranes. The pen was large and covered a section of marshy grass in shallow water at a lakes edge.
It was quite an experience getting from the car to the blind as 100 feet of sugar sand lay between me and the blind. The official parking lot to the blind walkway had not been completed. The only solution was to lay long 2″ by 8″ planks down to act as accessible tracks for my wheelchair. I felt like some sort of pampered, ill-prepared special tank crossing Normandy beach. Lets put my ego aside now; my part in this project was very tiny. We did get some tremendous video footage, though.
In mid-July, the young cranes arrived from the captive breeding facility of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. After years of planning, the birds had arrived, thanks to the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. This is a coalition of nonprofit government and nongovernment agencies including the International Crane Foundation.
While the eggs were being incubated, workers at the breeding facility played an audio tape of engine sounds of an ultra-light airplane. Researchers believe that birds, before they are hatched, tune in to their parents calls. As I write, the birds are on their way south following white ultra-light planes with pilots dressed as cranes. This adheres to the strict protocol, as all others who raised the young cranes were dressed in crane outfits. The birds were not to imprint on humans.
After weeks of practicing short flights following the ultra-light planes, the birds, the crane-dressed pilots, the white winged ultra-lights and a large ground crew in motor vehicles headed for Florida in late September. Their destination is the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. So far, the project has gotten much publicity. The BBC is doing a special on it, as is Wisconsin Public Television. Omni Max Theatres has expressed serious interest in filming the flight, and they may be filming the migration now.
Film crews from around the world have visited the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to cover the story of those who hope to start a wild migrating flock of whooping cranes in Wisconsin. This is a 10-year project with new young birds brought in each year. With good luck, whooping cranes will be breeding at Necedah in five years when this years group becomes sexually mature.
At one point, there were only 17 whooping cranes left in the world; now there are more than 400, with less than 300 living in the wild. About 220 live in a migratory flock which summers in Canada and winters in the Aransas Refuge in Texas. The second flock resides year round in Florida. I hope to stumble upon a new flock in Wisconsin a few years down the road.
May I say once again, I am glad the cranes are getting so much publicity. The coverage of their flight south is a beacon of good news in a world currently mired in bad news. To check out the progress of this special whooping crane migration, click on to the Operation Migration website homepage at operationmigration.org
Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.