Bummer News In Florida

Those storms and tornado in Florida that hit Thursday night that killed and injured many people also put a huge dent in the whooping crane reintroduction project as well. This is from the Chicago Tribune:

MILWAUKEE -- All 18 endangered young whooping cranes that were led south from Wisconsin last fall as part of a project to create a second migratory flock of the birds were killed in storms in Florida, a spokesman said.

The cranes were being kept in an enclosure at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Fla., when violent storms moved in Thursday night, said Joe Duff, co-founder of Operation Migration, the organization coordinating the project.

"The birds were checked in late afternoon the day before, and they were fine," he said Friday.

The area of the enclosure was unreachable by workers at night, and all the birds were found dead, Duff said. He speculated that a strong storm surge drew the tide in and overwhelmed the birds. The official cause of the deaths was not immediately known, but he said it may have been drowning.

The thunderstorms and at least one tornado that hit central Florida caused widespread damage and killed at least 19 people.

For the past six years, whooping cranes hatched in captivity have been raised at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin by workers who wear crane-like costumes to keep the birds wary of humans.

Ultralight aircraft are used to teach new groups of young cranes the migration route to Florida. From then on, the birds migrate north in the spring and south in the fall on their own.

Duff described the loss as an "unavoidable disaster" for the whooping cranes project that ironically followed a milestone.

For the first time in six years, an entire group of young birds reared at the Necedah refuge had made it to the Florida refuge without the loss of a single crane.

The project's previous losses all involved individual birds killed by predators or fatally injured in accidents.

"It's a fluke. It's an unforeseen thing," Duff said. "So many birds and they were such good birds. It was our hardest migration and our most difficult one to fund."

The various groups and agencies working on the project had seen the size of the flock grow to 81 birds with the latest arrivals, but the loss of the young cranes drops the total back to 63, and there may have been additional losses.

Duff said there was no way of knowing whether other whooping cranes that winter in the area had survived the storm.

Operation Migration
is part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Partnership officials and Duff said the work would continue.

Members of the whooping crane recovery team were meeting in Louisiana when the Florida storm occurred, going over the past year's progress and setting goals for this year, when they learned what had happened, Duff said.

After the initial shock, "it just reinforced the support and determination to get this done," he said.

The whooping crane, the tallest bird in North America, was near extinction in 1941, with only about 20 left.

The other wild whooping crane flock in North America has about 200 birds and migrates from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. A non-migratory flock in Florida has about 60 birds.