Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Whooping Cranes are back in Florida 2011

Shortly before 10:30 a.m. Friday, a hush came over the crowd of hundreds gathered at the Dunnellon airport to witness what some call a magical moment in nature.

The quietness, however, was soon replaced by the drone of ultra light aircraft engines flying some 500 feet overhead.

Operation Migration pilots Joe Duff and Richard van Heuvelen, along with a support crew on the ground, began their day some 70 miles north of Dunnellon in Gilchrist County. They were determined to lead five endangered Whooping Cranes ever closer to their destination off the Citrus County coastline in the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The yearling birds flew for the first time with the aircraft Friday after nearly a month of down time, resting in Gilchrist County.

The unpredictability of the weather, mainly the wind, has been keeping the birds on the ground, according to those at the event.

Ivan Vincent, visitor services specialist for the Chassahowitzka National Wild­life Refuge, said, “The biggest challenge this year has been the wind. In previous years we’ve had fog to contend with, but not this year. The wind has either been blowing in the wrong direction or too hard for them to fly.”

The last two attempts at a flight were Dec. 16 and 17. Both tries were scrubbed due to high winds.

Vincent described Friday’s weather as “nearly perfect” for flying.

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