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Historic Whooping Crane Migration Nearing Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge

December 18, 2006

Sarah Palmisano, (352) 563-2088 ext.210

Jim Kraus, Project Leader for the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex Refuge, announced today that 18 endangered whooping cranes and their ultralight aircraft escort are staging just north of Marion County, making a December 18 arrival highly possible, weather permitting.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), an international coalition of public and private organizations with whom the Refuge has partnered with, is conducting this ultralight-led reintroduction project in an effort to return this highly imperiled species to its historic range in eastern North America. As a part of the project, the cranes are shown their migration route between Wisconsin and Florida by following behind ultralight aircrafts causing the route to be imprinted by the cranes for future migrations.

Some of the previously released cranes, now over a year old or more, continue to "zero in" on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge wintering site when they initially return to Florida in the fall. Most disperse inland within a few days, but a few seem to "hang out" for extended periods of times; taking advantage of the free food found in the on-site feeder stations. Unfortunately, they also tend to harass the new ultra light-led juveniles. To counter this, project managers decided that holding the new arrivals off-site for a period of time would allow the older birds the opportunity to visit Chassahowitzka site, realize no food or fresh water is available, and then naturally disperse inland.

Last year staff from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), with assistance from Disney Animal Kingdom, Jacksonville Zoo and other volunteers, prepared a 600 acre site within the 8,200 acre Halpata Tastanaki Preserve located in Marion County, Florida, as a holding pen location for the new whooping cranes to negate this potentially harmful situation. This two-acre open pen and a half-acre top-netted pen have been constructed to provide a safe temporary home for the project whooping cranes while they wait for their older relatives to clear their winter home on the Chassahowitzka Refuge. Once the older birds clear the area the new arrivals could then be moved into the site. However, if the older birds decided to take up residency on the Refuge, then this holding-pen would then become the chicks’ wintering site. The project area at the Preserve is closed to the public during the birds' stay in order to continue the isolation process used to help the birds adapt to the wild.

Refuge staff, Friends members and volunteers have once again partnered with the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport and the Yankee Air Force to conduct the Flyover Event at the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport. They are busy preparing the site for a possible December 18 arrival. Last year’s event proved that by having it at the airport, the ultra lights could fly lower over the crowd with the birds and return almost immediately to land and answer questions. The Dunnellon/Marion County Airport is one of the only locations that the local public will have an opportunity to view the ultralight led migration.

The window for a possible flyover at the Dunnellon/Marion County Airport, 15070 SW 111th St., off of Hwy 484 E, will be December 18 starting at 7:30am. Please see attached map. This is subject to change depending on weather conditions, the cranes or the ultralight aircrafts. Don’t forget to bring your camera and chairs. The Yankee Air Force will provide a pancake breakfast for a small charge.


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