Friday, December 17, 2010

Flyover delayed: Whoopers will spend holidays in Gilchrist County

Published: Friday, December 17, 2010 at 2:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 17, 2010 at 6:28 p.m. 
OCALA – Put away the binoculars and start mixing the eggnog. Santa Claus and Father Time will get to Dunnellon before the whooping crane chicks do. The whoopers will not be flying over the Marion County-Dunnellon Airport until sometime in January.

Because the weather has been so unpredictable and because the forecast is not favorable for the next few days, a decision was made Friday to hold the juvenile whoopers in Gilchrist County until a date in January yet to be determined.
“We have been sitting here thinking, ‘We can wait one more day, wait one more day, wait one more day,' through Christmas,” said Liz Condie, Operation Migration Chief Operating Officer. “We just thought that we are going to be so optimistic about our ability to fly, and not get a fly day, and nobody will get home for the holiday.”

So, the birds will be “short-stopped” in Gilchrist County until January so the crew members can return home in time to spend the holidays with their families.

The five whoopers being held in Gilchrist took off Oct. 10 from Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin beginning their first-ever migration. Their 1,285-mile migration will end at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, where they will spend the winter. 

Just before the end of their trek, the birds will fly over the Marion County-Dunnellon Airport, giving the pubic an opportunity to see the rare and endangered birds. In the spring, the whoopers will migrate north on their own.

There is another reason the chicks will be short-stopped in Gilchrist.

Adult whooping crane chicks that have made previous migrations to Chassahowitzka and now migrate on their own have stopped at the refuge looking for a free meal. The staff wants to make certain that the adult birds - called “the white birds” because they have lost all their juvenile cinnamon-colored feathers – are gone before bringing in a new flock of chicks.

“They can be aggressive to the young chicks, and we don't want any of that,” Condie said about the adults.

Condie said she hopes the crew will return to Gilchrist in early January to finish the final leg of the migration.

(The article can be read here.)
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