Pike County a stop over for whooping cranes

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The whooping cranes are in flight, but when they might fly over Pike County remains a mystery.

Operation Migration, which has played a lead role in the reintroduction of endangered whooping cranes into eastern North American since 2001, took flight from The White River Marsh training site in Green Lake County, Wisc., on Oct. 2, 2013.

Using ultralight aircraft, Operation Migration pilots act as surrogate parents and guide captive-hatched and imprinted whooping cranes along the planned migration route.

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Seven states and 1,285 miles separate this year class of young whooping cranes from their summer home in Wisconsin and their wintering grounds at St. Marks National Wildlife Reserve in Florida.

There are 21 planned stops along the way, with Pike County as Stop 19.

Mother Nature and the willingness of the cranes to lift off dictate the timeline for the journey.

On Friday, Operation Migration was on the ground at Stop 15 in Winston County.

According to Operation Migration’s Early Bird Migration News conditions on the surface appeared to be calm. The update read: Aloft there may be a headwind. The pilots will be getting airborne shortly after sunrise to check conditions and to determine how long it would take to fly the 37 miles to the next destination in Walker County.

Liz Condie, Operation Migration spokesperson in the field, said the ultralights were able to take off with the young cranes following.

“However, the whooping cranes kept turning back and turning back so we’re back on the ground,” Condie said. “Sometimes that will happen.”

Why the young cranes would refuse to follow, Condie said, no one knows.

“They haven’t told us that,” she said, laughing.

The next stopover in Alabama will be in Walker County, and then Chilton County and Lowndes County before the cranesstop in Pike County. The cranes will fly a total of 324 miles over Alabama.

Just when the whooping cranes will stop over in Pike County is “up in the air” so to speak. And, just where they will overnight is a well-kept secret.

“Migration stopovers are listed by county name only so as to protect the identity of the migration hosts,” Condie said.

L&L Lakes near Springhill as been a stopover point but not on this migration route, Condi said.

However, Condie said there is a possibility that a viewing site will be designated in Pike County so people can watch as the young whooping cranes take flight on the last two legs of their long journey to their winter home.

The public will be informed through local media.

The Whooping Crane is the most famous endangered bird in North America. In part because it is large, distinctive and photogenic and partly because, since 1967, Canadians and Americans have cooperated in a successful recovery program to safeguard it from extinction.

Pike County is Stop 19 on the Ultralight-guided Whooping crane Migration Route. The last stop, Stop 21 at St. Mark’s Nationa Wildlife Reserve in Florida will complete the flight from the White River Marsh training site in Wisconsin.