Operation Migration staff on Monday led the 2009 class of 20 whooping cranes 46 miles from Decatur, Ga. to Jefferson County, Fla.
Later in the day, workers divided the flock into two cohorts — one that will fly to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Wakulla County, and the other that will head toward Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.
The group has now completed 1,085 miles of its 1,259-mile journey. They have had 79 days of migration — one day ahead of last year’s trek.
Once the first flock reaches St. Marks, the second group will begin its trek to a preserve in Marion County where visitors can watch the flyover at the Dunnellon Airport. Before reaching Marion County, the group plans stopovers in Madison and Gilchrist counties.
In 2001, Operation Migration’s pilots led the first whooping crane chicks, conditioned to follow their ultralight aircraft surrogates, south from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Each subsequent year, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership biologists and pilots have conditioned and guided additional groups of juvenile cranes to Chassahowitzka NWR. Once led south, the cranes are able to migrate on their own, without assistance, in following years.