Operation Migration Goes to Plan B
When you work with wildlife, you have to be ready for anything. For eleven years, the pilots of Operation Migration have led young whooping cranes on their maiden migration all the way to Florida. Unforeseen tribulations popped up along the way (lost birds, bad weather, equipment failure), all were dealt with and migration continued. This year, a surprise situation occurred and a new plan had to be implemented, and quickly. With more than 400 miles left to travel, the whoopers put on their breaks and stopped in Winston County, Alabama. For more than a week, the OM team attempted to coax the cranes to follow the ultralights, but time and time again, they returned to the stopover site, leaving the team perplexed and frustrated. Did they stay too long in Alabama, or was the early spring sending a message to stay put? Soon it would be time to head back north. A decision had to be made.
The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) and the OM team met on February 1. Two days later, all nine whoopers of the Class of 201l were crated and driven to the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in north central Alabama where they joined thousands of sandhill cranes, other migratory birds, and seven adult whooping cranes who had chosen to hang out there instead of traveling to Florida. But all is not lost. These nine youngsters know the way home to White River Marsh in Wisconsin and will undoubtedly make it there without any trouble. Next fall when those migratory genes kick in, and they hooked up with other cranes, their second trip south could very well lead them all the way to the Gulf Coast. If not, Wheeler NWR will make a fine winter home for them.
What's the lesson here? The jury is still out on that one. So, we will see what these young whoopers have to teach us. And with that lesson, we can better serve the future generations of whoopers that will one day join the Eastern Flock.