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Great Lakes Article:

Headwinds ground whooping cranes


Article courtesy of the ASSOCIATED PRESS

November 28, 2001

Headwinds in northern Florida on Wednesday stopped a small flock of endangered whooping cranes and its ultralight aircraft escort from Wisconsin from continuing their migration south.

The flock attempted to fly but turned back in Suwannee County, south of the Georgia line, said Joan Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Operation Migration, which is conducting the experimental migration.

Weather permitting, the seven young cranes could still reach their final destination at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on central Florida's Gulf Coast by Saturday.

They have traveled 1,120 miles since departing the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin 43 days ago.

They have not been in the air each day. The journey has been delayed by fog, rain, hail, snow and a perpetual headwind, according to members of the group on the journey with the cranes.

Group leaders eventually reached a point where they no longer thought in terms of 60- or 70-mile legs, but half that amount.

Last week, over Thanksgiving, they were grounded in Georgia for three days by inclement weather, then on Saturday, took advantage of a small window of light winds and made it into northern Florida's Hamilton County.

Remnants of a storm that pummeled the Southeast kept them in Hamilton County on Sunday.

They flew Monday and Tuesday, averaging 20 miles each day.

By Wednesday, they had fewer than 100 miles to go.

"The weather's the one thing you can't count on,'' said Heather Ray, administrative director for Operation Migration. "Ultimately, it's mother nature who's being the director of this journey.''

The cranes were hatched and raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland before researchers transported them to Necedah.

The goal of the project is to create a second migratory flock of whooping cranes, with the birds finding their own way back to Wisconsin in the spring.

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