Hugh Pickens writes "Russian President Vladimir Putin is a nature lover. In 2007, the bare-chested president rode a horse through Siberia. In 2008, he fired a tranquilizer gun at a rare Siberian tiger. In 2010, he used a crossbow to shoot darts at an enormous whale in a fog-shrouded bay to collect tissue samples. Now Der Spiegel reports that on his way east to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, Putin stopped at the Arctic Circle to fulfill a mission for which the Kremlin says he prepared assiduously for a year and a half: helping to save an endangered species of crane. In a meadow some 2,000 kilometers northeast of Moscow, Putin donned a white jumpsuit and black aviator goggles before swinging himself into the seat of an ultralight aircraft and as loudspeakers played the recorded call of a mother crane, Putin lifted off and a group of orphaned white Siberian cranes followed, allowing the aircraft to lead them south toward their winter habitat. On the first attempt, only one of the young cranes followed him up, which Putin said was because a high tail wind had caused the hang glider to accelerate too fast. On the second attempt, five birds followed Putin, but only two stuck with him for the full 15-minute flight. Putin's flight, given many minutes of airtime on Russian television, provoked an array of contemptuous jokes on the Internet, one of the most popular being: 'So Putin is off to wintering with cranes. Does this mean he's not going to be back before spring?' The Russian president, however, hit back at critics telling reporters at the conclusion of APEC summit that, 'It's true that not all flew right away, but the ones that didn't fly were the weak cranes' apparently alluding to the errant ways of those involved in protests that have hit Russia over the last year."