Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Whooping Cranes have arrived - they're BACK!!

My alarm went off at 6:00 am this morning. After a quick breakfast, I dressed in warm winter clothes and boots and headed off in my car to Homosassa, Florida - 40 minutes away.  I was going to an exciting event and I pictured lots of people gathered in the WalMart parking lot - it was the designated place to be! 

When I arrived at the parking lot, there were only about 10 cars. So I snapped a photo and waited. At sunrise around 7:30 am, more cars arrived. Some people went into WalMart but others sat in their cars and trucks.  Those were the ones like me - waiting for the exciting flyover!

We all knew that the last five young whooping cranes in the Class of 2010 would leave at sunrise from the Dunnellon area 26 miles to the north and follow an ultralight plane in their winter quarters at the Chassahowitza National Wildlife Refuge south of Homosassa. Other young cranes from this group have already arrived at other winter quarters north of here, and today was the final leg of this year's migration.  The journey of 1,285 air miles that began in Necedah, Wisconsin on October 10, 2010 would be brought to a conclusion today with the delivery of the last five juvenile Whooping cranes to the Chassahowitzka Refuge - 73 migration days later.

As the sun rose and the day became brighter, we watched to the north as we waited.  We slowly came out of our cars and gathered in little groups to chat with others and watch. There was very little wind and the morning was pretty chilly - around 40 degrees, but I was too excited to feel the cold.  For me, this flyover was something I had wanted to see for years.

Then someone shouted "There they are!" and we could see the tiny pale orange ultralight plane off to the north. As it came closer, we could see the tiny dots of four whooping cranes flying on the left side of the ultralight.  They flew directly over us and I managed to snap three photos, hoping they were focused so I'd be able to crop and enlarge them.  The fifth whooping crane came next, flying alone next to the second ultralight, but they were farther to the west and not directly over us, so I wasn't able to get a photo of that one.

The photo at the top of this post was the first photo I took of the cranes.  Below are the others:

Before sunrise in Homosassa, Florida:

Just as the sun came up - WalMart parking lot in Homosassa, Florida:

As the ultralight plane and the four whooping cranes came into view and flew overhead:

Here's the home web site for this year's Operation Migration, which is now complete for the Class of 2010.  You can learn about this year's migration, how the young cranes are raised in Wisconsin and how they are trained to prepare them for this first migration.  More photos of today's flyover are posted there too:

One thing that I learned today from people I met at the flyover - the young cranes are not following the ultralight plane.  They are following a person dressed in a crane suit who is sitting in the ultralight calling them with a special crane caller.  Another tidbit - before they are even hatched, the baby cranes still in their eggs listen to recorded sounds of an ultralight plane.  I didn't take the closeup photo of the two cranes directly above, but wanted to share it with you. Aren't they beautiful? They are the tallest birds in North America standing five feet tall.

Operation Migration is a vital part in saving these beautiful endangered whooping cranes.  What an exciting morning for all of us to see today's flyover.  I wish you had been able to see it with me.  Add it to your list of things to do - go with Linda to see a flyover of the Class of 2011, ok?

Linda Harbin


  1. Wow! That last photo is incredible, Linda!!

  2. Congrats Linda! You finally did it!

  3. Almost like a spiritual experience. You are very fortunate.

  4. Linda ~ what a momentous occasion to be witness to. Thanks so much for sharing it. Looking at the first photos of the WalMart parking lot, I felt an excited feeling of anticipation ... and then came the photos of the cranes. Awesome and beautiful. It was interesting to also know that there was a person in the plane dressed like a crane. I wish I was well enough to make the drive to see this historic journey, but, again, I thank you for sharing your personal experience.

  5. Linda - amazing! You made me cry.

  6. I was so touched. I enjoyed reading the story.