Whooping cranes nearing Alabama

The annual Operation Migration winter whooping crane migration is approaching Alabama, with the annual flight of the endangered birds steadily moving through Tennessee, officials said Monday.

The aircraft-guided flock of whooping cranes has been delayed by bad weather in Kentucky, but has been recently aided by light winds and sunshine.

The birds will travel through Winston, Walker, Chilton and Lowndes counties in Alabama, then Clay and Decatur counties in Georgia, before settling along Florida’s Gulf Coast at their wintering habitat in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.

This journey began in Wisconsin, with the birds already flying nearly 600 miles through Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee on their way to Alabama. Although a flight schedule is mapped prior to each annual migration, weather plays a pivotal role in deciding the actual route and times.

In Alabama, the Franklin County viewing site is at intersection of Highway 243 and County Road 75, about 4.25 miles south of the Russellville Airport. The Walker County viewing site is on County Road 20/New Parrish Highway, east of the town of Parrish at the intersection of 269 and 20. Drive up the hill to the church. The Chilton County viewing site is south of Montevallo on County Road 107, which is off County Road 73. Park on 107 just a short way east of where 119 meets 107.

Operation Migration Team members provide daily updates on each leg of their journey on the website www.operationmigration.org. The public can track the whooping cranes on the live CraneCam, which broadcasts daily during flights and while the cranes are at each stopover. CraneCam is at www.ustream.tv/migratingcranes or www.operationmigration.org/InTheField.

This is the 14th group of birds to take part in this project led by Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP), a nonprofit international coalition reintroducing the imperiled species into eastern North America. Operation Migration is one of many partners in the effort supported by Alabama Power.

Since 2008, Alabama Power and others have partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to sponsor the migration. Alabama Power supports the effort through its Power of Flight initiative, which helps fund projects to conserve birds in the Southeast.