A few years back I took a trip out to the Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin. I began to travel to Necedah the year before because it is known for being one of the best places in the world to photograph endangered Karner Blue butterflies. On this particular trip it was early October, which is a bit late in the season for Karners, but I had a free weekend day and wanted to go photograph some place that I had not photographed so often. The day was going well, photographing primarily red-headed woodpeckers, when as I was walking along a dirt road I spotted a pair of large white birds flying my way. As the got closer I was excited to see that it was a pair of whooping cranes.
The whooping crane is one of the largest birds in North America and it is highly endangered. They stand about 5 feet tall and have over a seven foot wingspan. Because of habitat loss and unregulated hunting the population of the whooping crane dropped to just 15 birds by 1941. They were added to the endangered species list in 1967. Since this time their population has been increased slowly to about 400 - 500 birds today.
Most of the cranes, around 300 or so, are a part of a flock that breeds in Wood Buffalo Park in Canada and winters in Aransas National Wildlife refuge in Texas. This flock are the decedents of the remaining 15. However there is concern about the population since they breed and winter together in the same location. A disease, natural disaster, or man made disaster could easily wipe out the entire flock in one shot. In order to avoid potential disaster the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership began to release birds into central Wisconsin. Young birds where then trained to fly to wintering grounds in Florida using ultra light aircraft. This project was based out of Necedah NWR. These birds are a part of the eastern flock, easy to tell because of the tracking bracelet on one of the legs, which now numbers over 100.