March 28, 2003
The first whooping crane to return to Wisconsin from Florida in 2003 has been confirmed by biologists from the International Crane Foundation (ICF). The crane was spotted from the air Wednesday by ICF Intern Colleen Satyshur in Dodge County, Wisconsin. It was amidst approximately 300 sandhill cranes. This crane, identified as “number six”, is one of five of the endangered birds from the first year of a multi-year reintroduction effort that began in 2001.
Ultralight aircraft led an additional 16 cranes from Wisconsin’s Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to Florida’s Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in the fall of 2002.
"After so many reports of people seeing a whooping crane, it was exciting to finally confirm it was #6,” said Satyshur. “I had tracked #6 south in the fall, so it was like old times!”
Richard Urbanek, a biologist working for ICF and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, reported that whooping cranes #1 and #2 from the “Class of 2001” have started north from Pasco County, Florida, apparently beginning their migration. Number 7 from that flock is also nearing the end of her migration. The last confirmed sighting of #7 was in Jackson County, Indiana, on March 17, where she was observed feeding with about 100 sandhill cranes.
Number 5 remains at the overwintering site on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge with the 16 chicks from this year’s ultralight-led migration. Last year, the Class of 2001 chicks returned to Wisconsin in mid-April and there are thoughts that this year’s chicks might do the same.
The Class of 2001 was the first whooping crane flock to be guided by ultralight aircraft along the new eastern North America flyway. Project partner, Operation Migration, led the juvenile cranes on a 1,200-mile journey through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and halfway through Florida before arriving 50 days later at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Their unaided return last spring marked the first time in more than a century that endangered whooping cranes flew freely over the eastern portion of the United States - an area once used by the species before loss of habitat and unregulated hunting caused the entire population to plummet to only 15 individuals. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is a consortium of non-profit organizations and government agencies working together to return the migratory whooping cranes to eastern North America, which is a portion of its historical range.
WCEP founding members are the International Crane Foundation, International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin, Operation Migration Inc., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and National Wildlife Health Center, and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
Many other flyway states, provinces, private individuals and conservation groups have joined forces with and support WCEP by donating resources, funding and personnel. More than 60 percent of the project’s estimated $1.8 million budget comes from private sources in the form of grants, donations and corporate sponsors.
WCEP thanks Windway Capital Corporation for donating its plane and pilot to assist in the radio tracking effort.
For more information on the project, its partners, and how you can help, visit the WCEP website at http://www.bringbackthecranes.org for updates on the spring migration visit http://www.savingcranes.org.
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