Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New home working for whoopers

Follow the whooping crane training and migration at You can watch the training from a webcam mounted above the crane pen.

By David Horst

PRINCETON -- Crouching shoulder to shoulder in a shelter made of straw bales and old two-by-fours, we wait to watch the hard work that makes miracles happen.

Five-foot-tall birds – wild birds that had no parents – follow a manmade flying machine one time for the two or three months it needs to reach Florida, and then they fly back to this very spot in spring, unassisted, in a couple of weeks. It can only be described as miraculous.
Pilot Joe Duff leads five of the young whooping cranes.
See more photos.

The birds are 10 whooping cranes, incubated in Maryland and flown in by plane. They spend nights in a well-fenced shelter, waiting to be released for their morning training with ultralight pilot Joe Duff, CEO of the nonprofit Operation Migration. We are maybe 30 yards away in a blind, camera lenses or fixed gazes peeking through an opening formed by the triangular steel lattice of an old antenna tower placed between rows of bales.

It is about 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 28. Another beautiful day is breaking. The tight quarters chase away the hint of fall nip in the air. We’re at the White River Marsh, just east of Princeton, the new home of the grand experiment in teaching whooping cranes how to migrate.