Went to Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, Alabama hoping to see some of the endangered whooping cranes that winter there. The three that were visible from the Observation Building were so far away they were little more than white blips in a sea of grey sandhill cranes. But I was told that a group of whoopers were foraging in a field adjacent to a nearby high school so I headed over there and was richly rewarded to find a group of seven including a juvenile, #69-16, called Zion, named after the National Park in celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial, was hatched and raised by foster parent whooping cranes at the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin in 2016. In the fall, she was released into the wild in Wisconsin near an adult pair, the goal being that she would associate with them and follow them when they migrated. She never really bonded with them, instead migrating to Wheeler for the winter with a group of sandhill cranes. At Wheeler, she has begun associating with other whooping cranes.
The two cranes in the first photo can be identified by their leg bands. The bird in front is 11-15. He is a male, hatched on May 11, 2015 at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, captive raised, transferred to Wisconsin in September, and later migrated south to Florida by following an ultralight aircraft, occasionally being crated and trucked to the next stop when he fell behind or the weather was bad. He successfully returned to Wisconsin in the spring of 2016 with several other cranes. In the fall, however, he did not return to Florida, but instead found his way to Wheeler, where he is wintering. His story is at (https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane ... _1511.html
). The other crane is 65-15, a female, named Leola. She was hatched on June 8, 2015, captive raised ,and moved to Wisconsin in the fall. However, instead of being taught to follow an ultralight for migration, she was released near other cranes and followed them when they migrated. She spent her first winter near Goose Pond in Southern Illinois and returned to Wisconsin the next spring. In the fall, she migrated to Wheeler where she is currently wintering. Her story is at (https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane ... s_65D.html