When ultralight pilot Joe Duff spoke June 17 at Navarino Nature Center to mark its 30th anniversary, he was a hit with the crowd of nature center regulars, leading to a desire by naturalist Tim Ewing to make presenting speakers a regular practice in the future.
“The guest speaker informed us on the trials and tribulations of working to reestablish a species, working with multiple agencies and the problems of working with wildlife,” Ewing said. Several of the about 40 attendees told Ewing afterward how they enjoyed Duff’s talk. “Navarino would like to continue to have guest speakers,” he said.
The Community Foundation helped to fund the appearance through an Environmental Stewardship Fund grant.
Duff, leader of Operation Migration, told the history of he and his friend and former partner Bill Lishman teaching himself to fly an ultralight and training Canada geese to fly with him (chronicled in the movie Fly Away Home) testing the technique on the much more common sandhill cranes, and teaching whooping cranes to migrate 1,150 miles to Florida. After 15 years of fall migrations, about 100 wild whooping cranes are finding their own way from Wisconsin to the Gulf Coast and back. But out of 19 whopping cranes hatched in this flock last year, only three survived.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife concluded the cause is poor parenting skills by birds raised by people dressed in crane costumes. Duff said it could be a habitat problem, or food sources or black flies that harass the birds off of their nests.
Operation Migration won’t be leading young whoopers by ultralight this fall, but its crew take part in the training and tracking of the young birds.
Learn more at bringbackthecranes.org.