PICTURES: Magic moment as flighty fledglings join flock of cranes
A project to reintroduce cranes to the British countryside has just released another 19 new recruits to supplement a growing population on the Somerset Levels which now numbers 66.
"As the new birds start to mix with the already well-established flock, this is a very exciting time for the project staff and volunteers," said Great Crane Project manager Damon Bridge.
"The release of a new batch of cranes each year is a really wonderful moment – to see these incredible birds take to the air so effortlessly and gracefully, having only ever really tried out their wings in a three-metre-high aviary is beautiful and moving.
"It is also a little scary, to be honest," he added. "Although they can fly surprisingly well, they have never landed from such heights, and it all takes a bit of practice." The latest release is the penultimate in a series of five such events which are being staged at a rate of one per year. After the final 2014 release, the project's team hope they'll have established a "self-sustaining and growing population" of the magnificent birds.
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Cranes stopped breeding in this country four centuries ago (with exception of a small handful which a few years ago made a tenuous return to Norfolk) but the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) and RSPB are determined this once common bird will once again become a regular feature in our skies.
The project sees eggs from Germany being hatched at the WWT centre at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, where the fledglings are raised until they are ready to be housed in the specially designed aviaries on the Somerset Levels.
It's from these large cages that they're released – not that this has been the easiest of weeks for flighty young birds. Gales have hit the South West in the past 48 hours, but a spokesman for the project told the WMN: "Cranes are pretty tough and also waterproof. In fact, they're as waterproof as a duck.
"Although they look like a stork or a heron, cranes are more closely related to many water-birds. They are remarkable creatures," he added. "They can swim if they have to – so they have no problem with the rain."