Sunday, November 9, 2003

Aircraft lead whooping cranes to Kentucky

The Associated Press

SEYMOUR, Ind. - Led by ultralight aircraft, 15 migrating whooping cranes flew out of Indiana and into Kentucky on Saturday as they resumed a 1,200-mile journey from Wisconsin to Florida wintering grounds.

A 16th bird, meanwhile, got a ride in a truck after twice turning back after the flock left Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge about 60 miles south of Indianapolis about 8 a.m. Saturday.

The endangered birds later landed at a rural site in Kentucky after swooping over the Ohio River.

The birds are part of a reintroduction project to establish a new migrating flock of whooping cranes in the Midwest. They are being led by three ultralight aircraft from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Their departure from the southern Indiana wildlife refuge was witnessed by about 300 hardy crane fans who braved near freezing temperatures for nearly an hour to watch. Dale and Kathie Wiley drove from Columbus, Ind., to watch.

"We both decided it was awesome. It was the only word to use," said Kathie Wiley.

As of Saturday, the cranes were more than a third of the way along their migration route. They spent 13 days in Indiana because of poor flying conditions. Pilots are escorting the cranes to teach members of the endangered species raised in captivity how to migrate.

The flock left the refuge in Wisconsin on Oct. 16.

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