Photo Journals!

Wintering Whoopers

Ultralight-guided Migration



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Date: November 14th, 2005 - Day 32
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click for a map of our migration.

Activity: Another day at Muscatatuck / Legislative update

Notes: Another day will be spent at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. Our optimistic pilots were expecting a tailwind, but instead encountered a strong headwind. The crew will spend the day catching up on e-mails and other chores.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has officially introduced a resolution designating March 8th, 2006 as nationwide "Endangered Species Day" to raise awareness about the threats to endangered species and the success stories in species recovery. Your help is needed to help put Endangered Species Day on the calendar! Please call your Senators today and ask them to sponsor the Endangered Species Day Resolution.

We need senators' support as soon as possible, because the resolution is up for consideration by committee on Thursday, November 17th.

Endangered Species Day has added importance now, as the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which for three decades has kept 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, is currently under attack in Congress. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bill seriously weakening the ESA. It is now up to the Senate to save the Endangered Species Act. Supporting Endangered Species Day is a great way for senators to show their commitment to protecting endangered species.

Date: November 13th, 2005 - Day 31
Activity: Muscatatuck Takeoff??

Notes: Conditions may be favorable Monday morning for a takeoff from Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge. If you would like to view takeoff please click here for directions listed in our November 11th entry. Again, this dawn-time departure viewing event is weather dependant and the decision to go, or not go, is made minutes before the birds take flight. Thanks for your understanding!

Date: November 13th, 2005 - Day 31
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click for a map of our migration.

Activity: Changing of top cover pilot

Notes: We have now been at this migration for 31 days and covered only 439.1 miles or 14 miles a day. Last year was our longest migration ever, and we are now 143.7 miles behind that demoralizing record. The team is in good spirits, the equipment has performed flawlessly, our hosts have been gracious and generous and the birds, despite interruptions in their acquaintance with the aircraft, have followed as surely as if we ourselves were feathered. The only inhibitor in the whole equation is the one variable we can’t control or even influence, and therein lies the frustration.  To the casual observer this has been a delightful autumn; record high temperatures with minimal rain but to airborne migrants it has been a constant battle against persistent winds. The air around high and low pressure systems rotates in opposite directions. We have been caught between the two in a churning mess of instability that takes place a thousand feet above the surface, and notable only if you have business there.

Each mile of the migration costs $184.00 but the costs goes up with every down day and this year we needed a break more than any time in the past. Historically the second half of our migration takes less time, but we are still in the open landscape of Indiana, and have yet to face the mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Don and Paula Lounsbury have been part of the Operation Migration team since the beginning. Don walked into Bill Lishman’s shop in Ontario in 1993 after hearing about his work on the nightly news. He drove the back roads until he found Bill’s home, and while we were assembling the first aircraft, he volunteered to help.  He met and married Paula since we have known him, and they have become an integral part of the team. They celebrate their anniversary with us every year and without them there would be fewer Whooping cranes in the world. During a normal flight they monitor two radios; one tuned to the Air Traffic Control frequency and one tuned to ours. This keeps our channels open so the chase planes can tell the lead pilot what’s going on with the birds and where to expect the other aircraft. Only when we are spread out and our resources stretched, do we hear from Don and Paula. They take over as communication centre, spot missing birds, direct the ground crew to drop-outs, and find us an isolated place to land when we need to be on the ground.

Many of the fields we use are inaccessible to their Cessna and they often park at a nearby airport. They start their morning by providing the team with an early weather report, and are generally airborne before us. They circle a thousand feet above our ultralights and keep tabs on all of us until we reach our destination. Then they announce to the rest of the team that we are safely down while they return to the starting point to move their motorhome. Don drives while Paula flies to the nearest airport and they finally are established at the new site by late in the afternoon. We don’t always meet every day, and it’s sometimes as if they were flying a parallel migration. Their charm and enthusiasm for the project makes them an ambassador of Operation Migration, and they’ve made friends with many of the airport managers along the way. 

This year Don and Paula have other obligations, and they will be leaving us in the next few days to drive back to Canada. They will be missed, but we hope to see them one more time at the end of migration in Florida. In the interim, Dave Mattingly has generously agreed to help us. Dave is a retired Captain from United Airlines (Sound familiar?  What is it about retired airline captains that makes them so generous?) who has formed a non-profit called Touch Our Earth. They provide pilots and aircraft for humanitarian and environmental causes. Dave and his volunteers will provide top cover services for the remainder of the migration, and they already know it could be a long haul. We will miss Don and Paula until next year but are looking forward to this new partnership. Lets hope it’s not a trial by fire.

Date: November 13th, 2005 - Day 31
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click to compare Past Years

Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click for a map of our migration.

Activity: Housekeeping and Appeal Update

Notes: The crew was kept firmly on the ground today due to strong south winds. "Windiana" is living up to its reputation.

It’s been a while since our last update on the “Will We Run Out of Gas?” email appeal. Response has been terrific, and more often than not, your pace of gift giving has outstripped our ability to process them. The generosity of supporters, both old and new, continues to warm our hearts, and renews hope for finishing the 2005 migration before the gas tank runs dry.

As you know, we started out still needing sponsorship for 584 miles, or $107,200. We happily report that we have processed contributions totaling $80,322 - which equals 438 miles. This leaves just 146 unsponsored miles to go, and takes us so close to the Georgia-Florida border that we can almost taste the orange juice!!

We are getting so close that we can't help but wish to find a generous donor who would take us the rest of the way - How about that for a challenge? Take us the 146 miles left in the home stretch and become a FloridaMaker! If this happens, you will certainly read about it here!

The email appeal has given us many stories to tell, and hopefully one day we will find a way to share them all with you. One such story is of members of organizations like the Ornithological, Audubon, and The Wildlife Societies who, on learning of our circumstances, not only made substantial contributions, but circulated our appeal and issued challenges to their fellow chapters - some even offering to match these funds. Knowing the good work such organizations do, and how hard they too must work to raise funds, we cannot help but be affected and humbled.

Please do not misinterpret our slowness with your tax receipts and our thank you letters as being a lack of gratitude. We are working flat out, and juggling the many additional priorities the migration season imposes on us. We appreciate your understanding and patience.

If you have seen us on TV, heard us on the radio, or read about us in print, we would appreciate hearing from you. Please let us know by mailing us the newspaper page, or E-mailing the TV or radio information to liz@operationmigration.org. A compilation of media coverage is an important component of our year-end project report. Thanks!

Date: November 12th, 2005 - Day 30
Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Visiting with fans

Notes: After a great flight down here yesterday, it was especially disappointing to wake up to unfavorable flying conditions today. Not that it wasn’t predicted. Yesterday, as with most days, I asked “Hey Chris, how about tomorrow?”

”No way,” was his reply.

But hope springs eternal, as they say, so we pulled Joe’s trike out of the hangar since it was his turn to be the “wind dummy.” Up into the dark sky he went, only to radio down to us, “We’re not going anywhere today - too much headwind.”

But it did give our crew the opportunity to go out into the refuge and meet all the folks that had gathered at dawn to watch our launch. With all the day-to-day challenges and duties of migration, we don’t often get the opportunity to meet and talk with the people that come out on dark, cold mornings to see the birds takeoff. This morning there were about 80 people waiting. We answered questions, talked about the project and hopefully lessened their disappointment. Their interest in, and enthusiasm for the project makes our whole crew feel much better, and that feeling will carry us through another “down day.”

Date: November 11th, 2005 - Day 29
Location: Jennings County, IN
   
   

Click here to compare Past Years!

   

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Public fly-over at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge

Notes: On Saturday morning there is a possibility that the migration will continue on to Kentucky. This possibility is weather dependent. If we do not fly Saturday morning, Brooke Pennypacker, and other members of the crew, will be on hand to give a talk and answer questions for visitors. If we do takeoff from Muscatatuck visitors will be treated the live spectacle of our migration! If you hope to watch takeoff in the morning here's some information to help you out.

How to get there: Muscatatuck is about an hour's drive from Louisville, Kentucky, and Indianapolis, Indiana, and is approximately 86 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. The refuge is located on U.S. Highway 50, just three miles east of the I-65/U.S. 50 interchange at Seymour, Indiana. If arriving from I-65 use the Highway 50 exit that will take you east toward North Vernon. The main entrance on U.S. Highway 50 is marked with large brown signs. To view takeoff visitors should be in place by sunrise (about 7:20AM eastern time) On arrival visitors should continue 4-miles down the main road until they see Refuge staff members who will direct everyone to parking spots.

Please keep in mind our flights are weather permitting. Unsuitable weather can delay our departure by a day, or even days, depending on weather conditions. Thanks for your understanding and patience in this regard.

Date: November 11th, 2005 - Day 29
Reporter: Richard vanHeuvelen
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 46.0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Rehashing this morning's flight.

Notes: With the forecast being less than favorable, but still a possibility, everyone got up early. While the ground crew prepared for departure the pilots headed for the airport to ready the trikes. With everything ready to go we waited in the cold dawn for daylight. We had to let the sun come up before getting the trikes out of the hangar lest frost should form on the wings during engine warm-up. Joe led off with Brooke, and I followed with Chris bringing up the rear. Some chicks were already out as Joe flew past the pen for an air pickup. Some followed him from the pen, and others flew towards him, then turned around to follow as well. Three chicks were still in the pen, but followed Brooke out, and then turned and joined Joe’s trike as he turned to get on course. With all the chicks following Joe at a distance, it’s sometimes difficult to fly slow enough  while the chicks catch up. One crane turned toward the pen . Brooke went after it and a few moments later the rest tried to follow as well. I cut them off to keep them from circling back to the pen. It was then that they formed up on my wing and, heading on course, I began a slow climb over Brown County, Indiana. It was important to get some altitude, as down low there was a stiff headwind. At about one-hundred feet above ground, we were making about twenty-two miles per hour ground speed. As we climbed the ground speed increased quickly, but I was so busy watching the birds, the GPS, and altimeter, it seemed like an eternity before we got to a respectable ground speed. Chris had promised better ground speed as we climbed and was out ahead climbing quickly to confirm this. Meanwhile, one bird turned back to join Brooke and his bird. With me leading seventeen birds and Brooke two, it wasn’t long before he and two chick, passed us up high.  They had already found the promised increase in ground speed. With that in mind, we continued our slow climb. Twenty-six, twenty-eight, thirty-one miles per hour… this seemed to take a long time, but not really. Then one of Brooke’s chicks turned back and joined up with us. Now with eighteen birds, and approaching fifteen hundred feet, the chicks began to fly faster, and it was difficult at times to keep ahead of them. As we cleared two thousand feet, we were getting around forty miles per hour ground speed.

Then one dropped down low and fell back, so Joe moved in and picked it up. Chris moved in to keep watch over the procession. Now with Brooke well in front with one bird, me with seventeen, and Joe following with one, we all changed course for Muscatatuck. We had deviated off course to avoid the Atterbury military training area, and were now clear of it. This helped our ground speed slightly, as we continued our journey. The hills of Brown County passed below us, the leaves now mostly gone. It was hard to enjoy the scenery as 503 was constantly challenging the aircraft, with others happily helping him out. For a while 503 flew right in front of the nose of the trike. I watched him in wonder for a moment, his silent wing strokes causing a slight flutter through the trike. He craned his head back once in a while as if to see if I and the other chicks were still following. Ha! Now he new what it felt like to lead and keep watch at the same time. He must have sensed my thoughts, for he suddenly flew back and took up a spot on the wing. Other than the fact that it was difficult keeping ahead of the birds, it was a great flight on a beautiful morning, and everything went very well. The landing at Muscatatuck was uneventful. After putting the birds away, we lifted off again in our trikes.  The refuge had kindly cleared out the maintenance building to store our aircraft. Before landing on the lawn beside the maintenance shop, I took a moment to enjoy the still air, doing graceful steep turns, feeling the air flow over the wing. Still pumped by the wonderful morning, I landed my trike on the lawn next to the maintenance shop.

Date: November 11th, 2005 - Day 29
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Jennings County, IN
Distance Traveled: 46.0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 439.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Amazed by cranes

Notes: The OM team is like the worst in-law story you’ve ever heard. We arrive en mass, with little notice at some ungodly hour in the morning. We take over the front yard, pilfer power for our trailers from any source, beg and borrow internet connections, restrict the use of the property even to the owners, and we can’t tell them when we’ll be leaving. Not complaining about this self-serving behaviour is the measure of Indiana generosity.

As the days dragged by in Morgan County, we began to worry that our extended stay would wear out our welcome. Our hosts, Kevin and Sheila must have sensed our concern, and they spoke to Aaron, the farm manager, who came over for a visit. He told Brooke that he felt like we were part of the family and not to feel like we were imposing. He made us feel like we were welcome as long as we needed to be there and we had an insight into just how charitable Midwesterners can be.

We kid about the weather here and refer to the state as Windyana, but the support this project receives from our hosts and others in the state is inspiring. If we have to be down for a week or more there is no better place. The birds were in a field isolated enough that we could let them out for exercise if we couldn’t fly, and the aircraft were tucked safely in a hangar 15 miles away, courtesy of Bob Burton of Twelve Oaks. Our hosts gave us the run of their cabin down by the lake, and all of us took advantage of the WIFI connections and the satellite TV.

It was my turn to lead and the plan was to conduct an air pick-up. We often use this method to avoid landing in muddy fields or taking off down wind. We fly low and slow over the pen and release the birds at the right moment. I set up my approach, and dropped down once I cleared the trees.  Charlie, Kirill and Angie opened the gate but I was late. Some birds were already out while others were still inside. I flew slowly by as they took off after me but they were far behind. At the end of the corn field I turned sharply to the right, and they cut the corner gaining on me. I flew several “S” turns to bleed off speed, and they were catching us until one broke for home and Brooke gave chase. The others decided to turn back, but Richard was in the perfect position to cut them off and 18 birds formed on his wing. He began a slow climb while Brooke retrieved the last one. The air was cold at 28 degrees and we had a slight headwind, but the birds appeared strong as we passed through 1000 feet on our way up. With one bird, Brooke was able to climb faster, and soon he disappeared ahead of us taking advantage of a slightly diminished headwind at a higher altitude.

Richard had 6 birds off his left wing and 12 off the right in perfect formation. When his wing would move up or down, a wave would pass through the line of birds as if he was trailing a ribbon. This undulation looks like the slow-motion snap of a whip as the curl travels down the row of birds, often sending the last bird high above us as if cresting a white cap. If the motion reaches the last bird on the down stroke, it can send him below the aircraft in a position where he must work hard to catch up. This happened today to number 516, who found himself behind and below the group. I moved in to pick him up while Richard carried on with the rest. Chris moved in to fly chase for Richard, and in the next hour I slowly climbed to 3000 feet with my one bird.

Brooke arrived first and landed with his bird, while Richard flew a long slow approach with all of his birds following him in.  As number 516 and I circled in a slow descent coming down from 2000 feet, I had an opportunity to study his flight methods. To descend quickly, cranes swing their legs forward, cup their wings, and almost stand up straight in the air. I never get tired of watching this display - the two of us, held in suspension, a thousand feet up, dropping at 500 feet per minute while I watch the feathers on the back of his wings curl up in a full stall. We circled three times like this until he finally landed with his flock mates. There were already three pilots and Mark on the ground, so I flew over and landed at the refuge’s maintenance shop where our camp was established.

I continue to be amazed at these birds. We worried about flying with a flock this large, but after being shut in the pen for more than a week, they all followed us to the next site with little resistance. Anyone who has followed this study will know that’s unusual.

Date: November 11th, 2005 - Day 29
Location: Jennings County, IN
   
   
   
Activity: Progress!

Notes: 19 Whooping cranes have finally arrived at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge after a long wait in Morgan County, Indiana. Brooke led number 508. Joe escorted number 516, and Richard had the remaining 17 birds behind his aircraft. No cranes were boxed. We'll have more details on this morning's flight later today.

Date: November 10th, 2005 - Day 28
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: How do you tell when you have hit the bottom?

Notes: Today is a sad day in camp for a number of reasons. We tried to fly this morning but, once airborne, we found that the air was very rough all the way up to 1500 feet. We have been held firmly on the ground by headwinds for the last week. Finally a high pressure system moved into the area so the winds are from the correct direction but this morning they were too strong. By tomorrow the center will have moved east and we will once more be on the wrong side facing headwinds again. We have been watching this pressure area for a week and when it finally arrived it passed so quickly we didn’t even get a chance to take advantage.

Today is our eighth day in Morgan County, nine if you count the day we arrived. Tomorrow we will set a record: the longest stay in one location since we started leading Whooping cranes in 2001. In fact this is the longest period any of our birds have gone without seeing the aircraft and that includes all the years of training at Necedah and all the migrations. And there is no light at the end of the tunnel. When they are sedentary in the pen for this long they get reluctant to leave and we can expect our next flight, whenever it happens, to be challenging. Very depressing, but not the worst of it.

Last night at roost check around 4:30pm, Brooke and Walter found 526 dead in the pen. It was still warm when Brooke removed it and carried it back. Our immediate reaction was to assume aggression between birds due to their long stay in one place, but usually that kind of fight results in multiple injuries that are very obvious. Number 526 only had one injury around the left eye and there were no signs of aggression in the other birds. They didn’t even seem ruffled.  A brief field examination by Angie Maxted, our resident veterinarian, could shed very little light on the details, and 526 is now on its way to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison for a necropsy. Number 526 was our youngest bird, but was a strong, large male, a long way from the bottom of the dominance order.  It is possible a disease or ingestion of a foreign object caused a collapse and the other birds pecked at him once he was down. He could have jumped up in the high winds blowing through the pen and hit his head on something hard. Or maybe, in one of their confrontations, another bird threw a lucky punch and knocked him out. There are stories of a Whooping crane killing an Indian hunter with a well-placed jamb to the eye and maybe that’s what happened, but it’s all speculation so far. Either way this long stay in one spot doesn’t help. Today we will let the birds out and walk them off to an isolated spot while we move the pen to a fresh site and avoid the fecal accumulation. This will give them time to exercise and help relieve the boredom that can lead to antagonistic behaviour. We will also give them a pumpkin to play with. Visiting the pen more often won’t help as they sometimes compete for our attentions. We will just do the best we can and hope the weather improves --- soon. Number 526 lived for 159 days and had not missed a single leg of the migration.  He was large, healthy and impressive, and will be missed.

We also heard recently that number 304 died some time around October 23rd and was found on the Necedah NWR. The cause of death has not been determined and we are waiting for results from a necropsy. That leaves 41 white birds and 19 chicks.

It’s all a numbers game.

Whooping cranes can begin breeding at age 3, but are most likely to fledge their first chick when they reach five years. In the only naturally occurring flock that migrates between northern Canada and southern Texas, an experienced pair of good breeders will bring one chick south every other year. If the same equation is applied to our flock, that means that a bird must survive, on average, five seasons and 10 migrations in the wild in order to produce a single offspring. At an average of one chick every other year they must survive 7 years just to produce enough Whooping cranes to replace themselves, which equates to zero population growth.

A successful reintroduction of an endangered species depends entirely on the number of individuals that survive to reach breeding age and pass on their genetic heritage. If you have a reintroduced flock of 100 birds and only 20 are female, only 20 pairs can be formed and the viable population is, in reality, limited to 40 birds. The rest have no way to sustain their lineage. 

If, in those 20 females and the 20 males they breed with, there isn’t a full representation of all the genetic material available, then the population is further limited.

If, in their learning of the migration route, they disperse too widely and do not frequent the core reintroduction area, their genetic pedigree could also be lost to the rest of the population. It’s all about the numbers.

The survivability of our birds depends on how well we prepare them for release. Isolating them from all things human keeps them wild and away from towns and cities. Encouraging them to roost in water keeps them safe at night. We can even vaccinate them against many avian diseases, but despite our best efforts there are things we can’t prepare them for like powerlines or bobcats.

During our 5 years working with Whooping cranes, among others, we have lost 5 birds to bobcats,  three collided with our aircraft and two hit power lines and last night we lost 526 in the pen, possibly to aggression. But the most disheartening were the two that have been shot since this project began.

Through clubs, licence fees, taxes and donations, hunters and hunting groups are responsible for most of the conservation work conducted in this county. They protect habitat, promote good husbandry practices that ensures the survival of many species. The people who killed these birds carry guns and probably have hunting licenses but that is their only similarity to real hunters. There are a large number of people out there who feel they have a right to shoot anything that moves. Unfortunately they disguise themselves as hunters but they are not. They are instead cowardly, self-serving pillagers of the environment, who don’t have the integrity or the values of true hunters. How do you prepare a bird for that?

Date: November 9th, 2005 - Day 27
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Standing down/the final flyover

Notes: Today is our 8th day in Morgan County. This matches the longest single stay of last year but all the amateur meteorologists on the team are confident we are out of here tomorrow. You will note that I did say amateur. Last night we watched the thunderstorms and the lightening show on the northern horizon, and this morning we woke late to strong winds and low ceilings. Another laundry day.

Unlike many species, Whooping cranes are territorial, both in their nesting area and on the wintering grounds. They don’t gather together in large numbers like Sandhill cranes, and a migrating flock will normally consist of the two parents and one chick. Once the offspring are on their own, they return to where they were hatched, and try to claim a territory for themselves. They fight their parents for the prime spot and usually set up housekeeping next door. In our case we now have 41 birds concentrated on three nesting grounds (our training facilities at Necedah) and one wintering site at Chassahowitzka. In Wisconsin, we chase them off as best we can, but there is no real fear of aggression or injury because our chicks are protected in the pen unless we are there with them training. In Florida however, the pens are not top netted and our chicks are free to come and go. This allows the older birds the opportunity to chase of the younger birds off and to steal food with impunity. But the habitat around the release pen is not ideal for Whooping cranes, and if the older birds arrive before we do, and they don’t find any young chicks to harass, or a free meal, they often wander off to more preferred locations.

The Winter Monitoring Team, led by Dr Richard Urbanek with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation, are counting on this behaviour to ensure that the young birds have the release pen to themselves for the majority of the winter. Even if we arrive early and some of the older birds have not yet checked in at the winter site, the Monitoring Team wants to ensure there is no welcoming party there for them. This may mean postponing the arrival of the chicks for a month or so and that could be arranged by stopping them short of the final destination.

To that end, Billy Brooks, of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Gainesville, has worked long and hard to identify inland marshes where another pen could be set up. This would act as a holding pen for a month or so, or as a new wintering release pen, if the older birds never do clear the Chassahowitzka site. Billy conducted an extensive search and evaluated each candidate, listing all the pros and cons. Eventually, we selected on a natural marsh at Halpata Tastanaki Preserve just south east of the town of Dunnellon, Florida. This 8100-acre site is managed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, and they have spent the early fall knocking down the brush and burning the area to restore the habitat to open freshwater wetlands. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has loaned us the portable pen they use to release their birds into the non-migratory flock, and by November 15th the site will be ready.

If we are late arriving in Florida (like that’s never happened) and the white birds have all visited the Chass pen and moved on, then we will use the Halpata site as a stopover, moving on to Chass the next day. However, if there are still older birds at the release pen, we’ll end our migration temporarily at Halpata. I say temporarily because by January 20th the Project Direction Team will have decided if it is appropriate to move the birds to Chass or leave them there.

The down side of leaving them there is the Halpata site is located in good crane habitat. If our 20 chicks spend the winter there, they will no doubt want to spend next winter there too, and we will be facing the same problem - white birds interfering with chicks. Also the good habitat could encourage them to wander, and they may not return to the pen at night and to the protection it affords. And, like the Chass site, there are bobcats around.

The downside of moving them to Chass is the danger involved in crating 20 birds and moving them 26 miles, not to mention the last few miles by boat. Additionally, with 41 white birds in the population, all having been led to Chassahowitzka, there is a good possibility that a few will drop in periodically over the winter only to find a good reason to stay, and all the effort will have been for naught.

To mitigate some of the danger of shipping birds, we will use our aircraft to lead as many as will follow us, the last 26 miles to Chassahowitzka. I have my doubts we can encourage them all to accompany us as it will have been over a month since they last saw the aircraft, and they may be out of practice. Many of our team members will be in Florida to attend the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership meetings in mid January, so that has been designated as the decision date. Either we attempt to move them, or leave them at Halpata.

All of this means that the fly over, normally scheduled for the Crystal River Mall, will be moved to the Dunnellon Airport.

This event is always necessarily short notice, but has become very popular. Last year we over flew a thousand people, all gathered to witness the arrival of the Class of 2004. Because Crystal River is a populated area and we still have 10 miles or more to go before arriving at the pen, we have had to maintain altitude, and some people have complained that they can hardly see us at 1000 feet or better. The area around the Dunnellon Airport in not built up and is only a few miles from the Halpata site. This will mean we will be a lot lower and the opportunity to see the birds will be better. Also, once we drop off the chicks, we will return to the airport in only a few minutes, whereupon the team will be glad to answer questions and meet the supporters.

The Outreach and Communications Team will ensure that a local radio station keeps people posted if you are interested in watching the flyover and we will keep you updated on this site. And who knows, maybe in January we will do another flyover at the Crystal River Mall.

Date: November 8th, 2005 - Day 26
Reporter: Richard vanHeuvelen
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Remembering the past 2 flights

Notes: After being held down in one place for a week, you're left with a lot of time to think. Morgan County is beautiful this time of year, and touring the countryside is inspiring. Which leads to thoughts of recent flights. When we left Benton county conditions were questionable. After testing the air twice that morning we decided to go for it. Using the term "go for it " should have been our first clue. The fog had lifted somewhat, not entirely, but still within the limits of Visual Flight Rules. After some circling and confusion, the birds eventually began following us. I had six birds, Joe had seven, Chris escorted one and Brooke flew with five. After getting on course, and ten miles out, things deteriorated and we were forced to fly lower. It was too late to turn back as we had a good tailwind, which made getting back impossible. The flat terrain of Indiana gave us many options if we needed to land but that would, no doubt, draw the attention of curious farmers so we pushed on at tree top level. At that altitude the air became very turbulent, and number 503 landed in a field. I left him there knowing Mark was nearby and ready to pick him up. We were only ten miles out. At six miles out the fog seemed to lift somewhat and even though the trike was rocking to and fro, we were relieved. After landing with the birds I looked over to see Chris get out of his trike to mockingly kiss the ground.

The next day was perfect except for frost on our wings. After defrosting and waiting patiently in the morning sun, we were able to lift off. At first we were greeted by a headwind which quickly turned into a tailwind and smooth air. This turned out to be a banner flight, probably the best yet from Boone County to Morgan County since the project began. After our experience in the fog the day before, sitting down for a week seems a small price to pay for calm air.

This morning we let the chicks out of the pen to fly around. I'm always amazed when they come in for a landing. Their long legs dangling down, wings set for slow decent. Click here to view a few photos.

Date: November 8th, 2005 - Day 26
Reporter: Mark Nipper
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Waiting, Waiting, Waiting.

Notes:Well, we are down again. By this time I don't know if we even expect to go in the morning. The birds are doing fine out in their pen. If we have to be down... this is a great place for us to be down. The birds are in a secure place and we do not have to worry much about any trouble at the pen.

Date: November 7th, 2005 - Day 25
Reporter: Charlie Shafer
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Standing down again.

Notes: The weather reports for this morning were forecasting light winds out of the south and west.  We thought that we might have a window this morning to fly the birds to the next stop at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.  Unfortunately, we awoke to a thick fog blanketing our current Morgan County stop.  As the fog lifted, the pilots took off to test the air for turbulence and measure the flight time to our next destination.  Once airborne and at altitude, they were greeted by a 15 mph head wind from the south.  The flight would have taken far too long and the birds are reluctant to follow the ultralights in such a strong head wind.  So we are standing down yet again in Morgan County.

Date: November 6th, 2005 - Day 24
Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Waiting for our window of opportunity.

Notes: A powerful storm system swept across Indiana early this morning bringing high winds, hail, and even a few tornado reports to southern Indiana and Kentucky. Richard, Charlie, and I sat in darkness for hours while the winds shook the motor home and the continuous lightning gave us brief glimpses of the trees straining against their roots. One mature tree actually did come down just 100 feet away from us. We went out to check the birds at first light and were relieved to find no damage to the pen and all the birds looked relaxed and happily playing in the standing water.

Today, again, we were unable to make progress due to high winds. We may have a small window of opportunity to fly tomorrow morning as high pressure builds in from the west, but this is forecast to move east of us quickly, leaving us once again in a southerly flow. The forecast for the rest of the week does not look promising and looks suspiciously familiar to the past week with a tight pressure gradient across the Ohio Valley keeping the winds southerly and temperatures well above normal.

Date: November 5th, 2005 - Day 23
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Standing down/ update on Aransas flock

Notes: Another day will be spent here in Morgan County. Strong south winds have once again prevented flight.

Gerald Murphy, who has been filling in for Walt Sturgeon since October 28th, returns to his home in Florida today. Soon Walt will rejoin migration after spending some time in Spain attending a meeting of the International Wild Waterfowl Association, an organization Walt is the President of.

An aerial census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas on November 2nd estimated the number of whooping cranes present as 113 adults plus 14 young for a total of 127. With an estimated 235 whooping cranes expected to arrive at Aransas this winter, this means approximately 54% of the flock has completed the migration.

A strong Pacific cold front crossed Texas on the evening of October 31. The leading edge of the front provided excellent migration conditions throughout much of the flyway October 31 and November 1.

Reports of whooping cranes scattered throughout the migration corridor are still coming in. Most of the birds had departed from northern Canada by October 22 when temperatures got well below freezing.

Date: November 4th, 2005 - Day 22
Reporter: Bill Lishman
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Flashback to 2000

Notes: During the fall of 2000 Operation Migration conducted a test migration with a flock of Sandhill cranes. This had two main purposes. One was to see if a species of crane would use this migration route. The second purpose was to make sure our route was appropriate for the more endangered Whooping crane. This practice flight helped iron out many kinks before our crane cargo became more valuable.

Below are two Journal entries I wrote during this 2000 test migration while in central Indiana.
I hope you enjoy!

October 12th, 2000
The next leg started as routine. Airborne just before sun up and on a southerly heading, we cruised smoothly over the brightly lit Indian summer of Indiana.  I stayed high for a time observing the two trikes and the string of birds as their shadows painted an imaginary stroke across bean fields, pastures,  corn fields, freeways,  railway tracks, horse farms, woodlots, shopping centers, sleepy villages, and a variety of indefinable properties.

This time we had a little headwind and the ground speed was not what we had become accustomed to over the past few days.  In August I had picked a hay field at about thirty-two miles out, and the evening prior we had alerted the field’s farmer that we might be stopping.  But, as we approached, the birds seemed in good form and we opted to continue on to the Bluebird Field.  Through Don on high in the Cessna, the farmer was contacted just prior to our passing over and was informed that we would be doing just that.  Throttling back, I dropped down, and like a swallow cruising for insects, skimmed the proposed landing spot. I saw the farmer and his son standing on the back porch and I signaled to them to look up where Deke and Joe and their 12 wards cruised a thousand feet above.

A few wooded drumlins began to herald the beginnings of a more interesting landscape.  Back at an altitude above the birds, the urban towers of downtown Indianapolis made up the easterly horizon.  Our route kept us outside of the Indianapolis air space. Bluebird Field (no longer used by our migration team) hid in the center of a corn field nestled behind a two hundred foot high east-west drumlin and did not reveal itself until I was almost over it.   The easterly third of the strip shimmered with water, the remnants of a downpour, that less than a week ago, within an hour or two, had dumped eight inches of rain.  There was ample room to land on the westerly two thirds but there was someone walking out on the runway.  Circling counterclockwise I did a low inspection waving to the man, who got the idea and strolled off the westerly end.  Another circuit and I gingerly skimmed on to the soggy field – fortunately it was only damp and the tires did not sink in. It was only moments later that Deke and Joe appeared over the ridge with birds in close formation, doing a perfect landing to the west. It had taken almost two hours to cover the 53 miles.  It was another good leg.

The owner of the property is an aircraft mechanic for a large airline and has a hangar with a pair of classics fully restored - a late 1940's Piper Cub and a similar vintage Aronca Champ. When Dan and Richard showed up with the pen vehicle I pointed them to the rice paddy end of the runway. The two bird leaders had led the cranes off down the edge of the corn field.  Erecting the pen in the shallow water would give the birds a new dimension, after all, they do have long legs for wading.  Unfortunately, the trailer got off the hard ground of the runway and sank up to the axle in mud. A long rope was found, and with a large degree of struggle we were able to extricate it.

October 13th, 2000
Now clear of the Indianapolis air control zone our next leg veered more easterly.  We arose to a clear sky above and fog on the ground. The question was, is it fog or mist? At the westerly end of the strip it was almost clear. I got in the air first and saw that the vapour was only thin in the valleys.  Joe was hesitant but launched to the west, while I circled over the ridge and watched the two craft and birds appear ghost-like out of the vapours. Since leaving the Wisconsin border we have been cruising over what geologists refer to as the Midwest Craton.  This is a layer of soil over virtually undisturbed flat bedrock that has remained boringly stable for hundreds-of-millions of years. Then we cruised over what used to be part of Canada, the southerly terminus of the last ice invasion. The earth and rocks that had once been Lake Ontario tumbled to their final resting ground here where the melting ice had let it be.  It is again like the terminal moraine of Wisconsin.  At just above tree-top we flew over rolling hills intertwined with rivers and dotted with lakes.  This land is covered with a blanket of oak, maple, walnut, and a variety of other hardwoods, in a cacophony of reds, oranges and yellows.  The mist whispering through the shapely valleys was highlighted by the morning sun, and the shadows of the hardwoods drew long colourful streaks through these scarves of mist.

In just ten minutes under an hour we arrived at our next scheduled stop. The mists dissolved into clear sunlit air.  Somehow my GPS coordinates were a little off and I found myself searching for the runway.  Fortunately Paula, who was the pilot of the Cessna on this leg,  (She and Don take turns, one driving, and towing their travel trailer while the other flies) pointed me to the field and we landed beautifully on a dew-covered undulating runway again hedged by a tall patch of corn and surrounded by woods.  We were on the edge of the Hoosier National Forest. (Another spot we no longer use) The hostess and her neighbors awaited us under a large walnut tree near their rustic home at the southwest end of the clearing.  I think it was a wonderful spot, but it became obvious that a nearby highway produced a great deal of traffic noise.  There seemed no escaping human intrusion.   Fog and headwind forced us to rest for three days at this location.

We were made most welcome by a high-spirited community who claimed the only time you need to lock your car in this county is in the fall when well-meaning neighbors want to fill it up with oversized zucchinis.  Some of the crew had real beds in local homes and we were all treated to real showers.  Dan found a good fishing spot and spent several hours catching and releasing.  Each evening a potluck dinner was thrown with the crew as guests.  On the last evening the local storyteller invited us to his campfire, made with several huge tree trunks that he must have ignited the week before we arrived. Much local history was colorfully revealed that evening.

Date: November 4th, 2005 - Day 22
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Teaming up with weather.com

Notes: Before the sun rose this morning the crew in Morgan County knew this would be a "no go." The rush of northward air rattled the crackled leaves of oaks, towering over he crews' parked RV's. This wind is a sure sign of standing down another day.

Operation Migration has teamed up with weather.com to offer you something we think you will appreciate. You tell us all the time how much you enjoy our photo journal – so we are pretty sure you will REALLY enjoy seeing the migration action on video! Since we can’t take you all on migration with us – we thought this would be the next best thing. And there’s more! Soon you will also find a still image story board that conveys the project’s story in pictures, and keep an eye out for weather.com’s blogs for commentary by their writers.

Click here to visit to weather.com’s website....and enjoy the 2005 Whooping crane Migration Show!!!

Date: November 3rd, 2005 - Day 21
Reporter: Liz Condie
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Down day

Notes: Strong winds from the south have prevented a flight today from Morgan County to Jennings County and the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge.

The Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge enables us to offer Operation Migration and Whooping crane supporters a viewing opportunity of takeoff from the refuge. Muscatatuck's nine miles of roads are open seven days a week and it is an exceptionally fine bird watching site. Located in south central Indiana, the refuge covers 7,724 acres near Seymour, and includes a 78-acre parcel, known as the Restle Unit, near Bloomington. Special management emphasis here is given to waterfowl, other migratory birds, and endangered species.

How to get there: Muscatatuck is about an hour's drive from Louisville, Kentucky, and Indianapolis, Indiana, and is approximately 86 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. The refuge is located on U.S. Highway 50, just three miles east of the I-65/U.S. 50 interchange at Seymour, Indiana. If arriving from I-65 use the Highway 50 exit that will take you east toward North Vernon. The main entrance on U.S. Highway 50 is marked with large brown signs. On arrival, (by 7:15am) visitors should continue 4-miles down the main road until they see Refuge staff members who will direct everyone to parking spots.

Please keep in mind our daily flights are weather permitting. Unsuitable weather can delay our arrival by a day, or even days, depending on flying conditions. Thanks for your understanding and patience in this regard.

Date: November 2nd, 2005 - Day 20
Reporter: Joe Duff  
Location: Morgan County, IN
Distance Traveled: 55.2 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 393.1 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Getting down to the business of migration.

Notes: It's great when a plan comes together. It only took ten years of preliminary studies, a partnership with the Federal Government, a hundred permits, lots of hard work by a dedicated team and the support of many of you. But today it all worked.

Our flight this morning was the culmination of all those things not to mention 20 incredible birds. Winds were forecast to be out of the south so we were slow to get moving this morning expecting to be down for another day. We cleaned the frost from the wings and took off to find that the air was smooth and, surprise of surprises, drifting slowly from the northwest. The pen was situated in a field surrounded by trees and Brooke dropped down low and passed slowly by as the ground crew released the birds. They were slow to come out so Brooke did a tight turn inside the tree line and tried again. "Swamp monsters" were used to motivate the reluctant ones. Once in the air, Brooke did two more turns before he had enough altitude to clear the trees. This constant circling around the pen confused a few birds who wanted to land but the fearsome swamp monsters on the ground kept them airborne as Brooke went around again. Richard and I moved in where we could to help collect birds and start them on course.

We have been attempting to encourage number 516 to rejoin the flock and our strategy has been to release it in the morning with the others. We expected it to fly for a while and then turn back but that short flight would be the physical therapy it needed to build endurance. The problem is that when it turns back others are apt to follow and this happened a few times before we finally got them on course.

Once we had them all going in the right direction we started our count to see if any were left behind. I was out front with 13 and Brooke fell in behind with one. Richard managed to pick up 6 and was a few miles back while Chris flew chase for him.  One bird dropped low behind Richard  and Chris moved in. After collecting the bird, he realized he had 516. When a bird is flying behind the wing of one of our aircraft it can derive all the benefit created by the wake and 516 took up that position. He would break once in a while and turn back but Chris managed to coax, encourage and cajole him in to stay with him. Several times during the flight it dropped low or just veered off in another direction but he always came back with Chris' help

The sun was well up by that time and it began to heat the ground, causing the thermals to begin so the air down low was not as smooth as it had been. Don and Paula circling overhead reported a 9 mile per hour tailwind but that was at 1500 feet and we had a long way to go to get up there. We climbed with our respective charges to 1000 feet and picked up a 10 mile per hour tailwind. Don and Paula cleared us through the western edge of Indianapolis airspace and we sat back in bright sun, smooth air with a ground speed of 50 plus miles per hour. We did a long slow descent over our destination and after an hour and twenty minutes we landed next to the pen that the team set up yesterday. Birds are creatures of habit and they are now used to the routine. Normally we have to entice them into the pen with treats like grapes or cranberries but today we just opened the gate and most walked straight in. Once they had water and feed we set up the electric fence perimeter wire and took off again. We flew to a neighbours a few miles away who generously offered the use of his hangar. So by 1:00 PM the birds were home, the aircraft tucked away safely and the camp was established. Now that’s the way it’s supposed to work, and it only took ten years of experience to figure it out.

Date: November 2nd, 2005 - Day 20
Location: Between Boone County, IN and Morgan County, IN
   

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Activity: In the air!

Notes: Frost caused a short delay this morning, but now 20 Whooping cranes are on their way to Morgan County, Indiana. As of 8:49 AM Eastern time Richard had five birds, Joe had 13 birds, Brooke had one bird and 516, who has been recovering from a sore wing, was with Chris. Early in the flight 516 was challenging Chris' aircraft for lead position. Later in the flight Chris reported that 516 appeared a bit tired. We'll have more details of this morning's flight later today.

Date: November 1st, 2005 - Day 19
Reporter Mark Nipper  
Location: Boone County, IN
Distance Traveled: 49.1 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 337.9 Miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: A bird in the bush

Notes: We squeaked through to Boone County, Indiana today.  It was rather windy and visibility was poor too.  The tracking van had left ahead as usual and I was about five miles down the road and already it wasn’t sounding good over the radio.  Birds and planes were all over the place but the pilots rounded them up eventually and got on course to the next stop.  Richard had six birds, Joe had seven, Chris had one, and Brooke brought up the rear with five birds.   Brooke is often the guy left in the dust fighting with the most stubborn of birds and usually comes out as the hero getting them to follow after a huge effort. 516, once again, did not make the trip.

With about ten miles left, 503 landed in an agricultural field. This bird had been struggling to keep up for about ten miles or so.  After arriving at the scene, shortly after it landed, I began to determine which field the bird was in using the radio signals, but this became very strange.  The signal kept sounding like the bird was flying for short periods.  This happened several times when all of sudden the signal was back the other way and there was a bird crashing around in a thick hedge row between these two immense fields.  Poor 503 was thoroughly tangled up in some pretty nasty vines and was understandably rather upset about it.  After freeing it, and getting it out to the field, it became obvious that it didn’t really want to be in the field, and wanted to hide in the tree line.  This ended up working out just fine because there was no way that one person was going to get back to the van and get a crate and get back to the bird without it seeing everything.  I placed a vocalizer in a branch of a tree with a clearing of nice moss bedding underneath. The welcoming brood call made 503 rather happy and allowed me enough time to get the crate out.

A big "thank-you" is in order for our hosts in Benton County. Beyond alowing us to camp on their property for many nights, they also, once again, helped pull our mobile pen out of the mud!

Date: November 1st, 2005 - Day 19
Location: Boone County, IN
 

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Activity: Fog delay...but progress!

Notes: After a fog delay the pilots were able to make progress today into Boone County, Indiana. 18 birds flew the whole route. 516 was allowed to fly, but opted to fly back to the pen in Benton County. 516 has been crated for ground transport to Boone County. Another bird dropped out 6 miles from our Boone County location and has been transported as well. We'll have more details about this morning's flight later today.

Date: October 31st, 2005 - Day 18
Reporter Angie Maxted
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance: 288.8 miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Update on 516

Notes: We’ve been down a few days now here in Benton County, Indiana, and it seems like wherever the crew goes we get asked about how number 516 is doing.  We reported several days ago that 516 did not want to extend his right wing and did not attempt to fly with the other chicks when we let them out of the pen on the 25th for some exercise.  After careful evaluation that day, we were able to determine that he probably had strained or sprained his carpal joint a week previously when he tangled with Brooke’s trike, and that joint was now getting stiff as it healed.  He has been receiving piroxicam for pain control since the injury was discovered.  Also, for the last several days he has been receiving a personal exercise session in the mornings, and physical therapy on his wing in the evenings (click here to see photos) For physical therapy, we have been putting a warm compress on his right carpal joint for about five minutes, then work his wing on passive range of motion exercises until his joint loosens up.  The first day we started the therapy his wing was relatively stiff and it took some time to work out the stiffness, but saturday night his joint was able to be fully extended right away and he needed only limited physical therapy.  During his exercise sessions, we let him out of the pen by himself and run with him to encourage him to fly near the pen.  At first he seemed a little awkward and was reluctant to extend his wing fully, but yesterday he flew about 100 yards or so 6 or 7 times and looked great.  The crew is very encouraged by his willingness to fly, at least around the pen, and we are going to encourage him to fly with the rest of the group on our next leg of the journey once the wind dies down.  For the last 5 legs he has made all or most of the journey in a crate, and we hope that he will soon have the strength and the stamina to keep up with the other birds.  Our obvious goal is to get him back on track as soon as possible, and he continues to look better every day.

Date: October 31st, 2005 - Day 18
Reporter Joe Duff
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Accumulated Distance: 288.8 miles

Click here for a map of our migration.

Activity: Waiting for the winds to turn.

Notes:It’s Halloween so trick or treat. The trick is we reintroduce Whooping cranes and the treat is we get to go home - someday.

If we have to be stuck somewhere in headwinds, we would rather it be here in Benton County, Indiana. Our hosts are generous to the point of emptying their drive shed to allow us to wedge our four aircraft in out of the wind. But more importantly, the birds are penned in an isolated field far from buildings or other human environments. We can let them out for regular exercise with little fear of disturbance, and even work at number 516’s much needed physical therapy. For us it is a little remote; the nearest town is 18 miles away with not much to offer. It is a good time to catch up on maintenance, reports and all the house cleaning duties that come with being on the road. There is even time to watch one of the videos we found in a boredom-box sent to us by supporters. 

Wind rotates around a high pressure area and we are on the back side of this one. The entire system has stalled, so we have been facing a few days of headwinds before we will be able to move again. The landscape here is flat and there are few geographic features to interfere with the movement of the wind. It can be blowing briskly on the ground but a few hundred feet up it can be smooth. If it is blowing from the right direction we can take off in air we normally wouldn't trust, but today it is coming straight out of the south. 

At least it is not one of those days that teases the crew into thinking we have a chance. The kind that make you get up early and defrost the wings only to send an aircraft up to get bounced around. Then, when we finally decide it is a down-day the wind drops and the taunt begins again.  These mornings you can hear the wind even before we get up and there is no doubt about our progress for the day.

There is an independent nature to a crew who will dedicate their time to save a species from extinction, and to say there are more leaders here than followers is an understatement. Too much down time is a dangerous thing, especially when it's Halloween and we already have our costumes.

We passed by a house in a nearby town with a variety of Halloween lawn ornaments. Some of these decorations looked strangely familiar, and a little bit spooky. Even more scary, during takeoff from Kankakee County, we had an unexpected intruder in our flight. Luckily the cranes were unfazed by this bizarre moment. The intruder then swerved to the west and disappeared. Maybe she realized we were migrating with a wetland species and wanted to stay dry?? Strange things happen during Halloween! Click here for a closer look.

Date: October 30th, 2005 - Day 17
Reporter Gerald Murphy
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to view the 2005 Migration Photo Journal.

Accumulated Distance: 288.8 miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Activity: Grounded again

Notes: It's a beautiful morning in Indiana, but southern winds are too strong for the birds and team to make progress today. We take consolation in the fact that our location here in Benton County is one of the most isolated stops on migration. The birds are in safe accommodations far from any human influence. A vast majority of the corn fields here have been harvested, so the cranes are unlikely to see any human activity, which is important to keep the birds wild and unacclimated to humans.

Mark, Angie, Charlie, and Kirill will finish medicating the cranes today (15 of 20 birds completed). This is a routine medication and does not indicate any health problems. Our hosts have invited us for a fish fry tonight which we're all looking forward to. This is an annual event which we have come to appreciate.

Walt Sturgeon was taken to the Chicago Midway Airport yesterday to continue on to a European conference, and I was picked up an hour later and will be taking Walt's place at least until he returns. I was with migration for the full trip last year and will be performing the same duties - driving the white truck and pulling the Nomad travel trailer - the home for four (or five) of the team during migration.

Date: October 29th, 2005 - Day 16
Reporter: Joe Duff
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled: 0 Miles

Click here to view the 2005 Migration Photo Journal.

Accumulated Distance: 288.8 miles

Click here to compare Past Years!

Activity: Introductions to the 2005 crew

Notes: Mark Twain once said that success is a matter of luck and the harder you work, the more luck you have. This is certainly the case with the Whooping crane reintroduction. Following a protocol as strict as ours is a hard discipline and the more dedicated the crew is to this procedure, the more birds survive to be released. Eighty percent of the birds we taught to migrate are still alive and that is a direct result of the people on this team. The crew has evolved over the years and this season we have many seasoned veterans and added a few new members.

It is hard to believe I have known Richard Van Heuvelen for better than 15 years. He has worked with Bill Lishman most of his life building underground houses, airplanes, sculptures and all the things that were a part of Bill’s career. He has many talents but the most outstanding is his ability to make solid steal bend to his will the way the rest of us would shape tinfoil.  Richard is a practitioner of practical application. While the rest of us are calling 1-800 numbers to get advice from the manufacturers, Richard will use simple tools to make the needed correction while we’re still on hold. He can create, modify, repair or redesign just about anything and we use his skills often.  For many years he would join our team every fall to lead the ground crew during the migration. His duties kept him too busy to consider flying but as our operation grew, so did his interest. Once airborne we haven’t been able to get him back on the ground and now we take advantage of another of his talents. There is a trust among the few who fly closely together while leading birds. Richard is a respected member of that team and has earned his Masters in Migration.

Brooke Pennypacker has a long and colourful history that is revealed, an ounce at a time, in the stories he tells.  He begins by relating an anecdote to illustrate a point and adds detail for background and humour to sustain interest. One tale begets another and soon he has the attention of the room as he captivates us all and divulges another episode of his past. Like Richard, Brooke is self-motivated, believing that things get done when you do them. In the air he is dedicated to the birds and is reluctant to leave stragglers for the ground crew to retrieve. Often he is the last to arrive as he nurses a few tired and discouraged birds to the destination. Brooke has a degree in English Literature but is the most reluctant of writers. He also has the respect of the entire team but is the last to acknowledge it.

Chris Gullikson’s interest in flying began, like a number of people, with Powered Parachutes. And, like some, he soon became bored with the lack of speed and switched to weight-shift ultralights. Like with everything he tackles, he digs deeper than most and soon becomes an instructor. One day while flying near his home, he happened upon one of our migration stops while we were approaching. Not wanting to interfere or cause a distraction he landed in a field to get out of the way and later emailed an apology for any disturbance he may have caused. We invited him to visit and the friendship began. Non-profits like Operation Migration are not able to pay large salaries for talented staff but over the winter we negotiated an arrangement that is more to our advantage than his. The qualifier is that he had never worked with birds before and we thought it would be some time before he would be useful. But that was an underestimation and a mistake you can easily make with Chris. He is quiet and humble and willing to listen and that often belies his extensive knowledge. Like all of us in the crew - self-taught and motivated,  he knows a little about a lot of things, but Chris is more apt to listen than talk and it is only after encouragement that the extent of his expertise is revealed. He is an expert weather forecaster and leads Storm Chasing tours on the side. He has an engineering degree in electronics, and works with his father building high quality saddles. He has an understanding of birds more intuitive than learned and in short order has become a member of the trusted team.

Bill Lishman was the first person to fly with birds almost 20 years ago. He is the co-founder of Operation Migration and a promoter of its cause. He is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors and assists with fundraising. Considering the large number of birds we have this year, Bill agreed to participate in the migration as a scout pilot long enough to get us underway. He flies an ultralight that looks the same as the rest but has a larger engine and a faster wing. It is too fast to lead birds but perfect for flying chase. He can speed ahead or double back and lend a hand even when we get spread out. He can pick up lone birds and carry them back to the flock or mark the spot where one landed and direct the ground crew. Bill has had a multifaceted career primarily centered around sculpture but he has worked successfully at many other art forms from architecture to film making and others too extensive to list. His long history, easy charm, warm humour and knack for telling entertaining stories puts him in high demand on the speaker circuit and makes him a welcome addition to the migration team.

Mark Nipper is now in his fourth season with Whooping cranes. He began as an intern and was instantly liked by all. It is often said, by people who know, that if there is a way to hurt itself, a Whooping crane will find it. There are so many aspects to their daily care and training that we needed someone to oversee it all. Mark is our Supervisor of Field Operations but his authority is not in the title, it is in the knowledge he has accumulated and the respect he has earned. His dedication and diligence extends past the care of birds to concern for the people and supporters of this project. He goes out of his way to ensure they are entertained, enlightened and thanked. He is conscientious, congenial and competent.

Charlie Shafer once worked for ICF and is now an aviculturalist with Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. He helped conduct the early training in Maryland and spent a large portion of his summer in Necedah and now he has agreed to accompany us on migration. Charlie bears the weight of all this time away from home with quiet discipline and I can’t say I have ever heard him complain. He is always dependably cheery and has an encyclopedic memory without the know-it-all attitude that normally accompanies that quality.

We are very privileged to have Angie Maxted with us this year as an intern because she is a fully accredited veterinarian. The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Health Team has provided us with a list of veterinarians along the route who have agreed to help if we have an emergency. Having Angie along gives us the reassurance that our birds are healthy even before a problem shows up but it is not the only advantage. Angie is dedicated to the birds and ready to help with any task. She is always friendly and never fails to tackle the hard jobs and her bus driving experience makes driving one of our motorhomes a breeze.

I first met Jeff Huxmann in 2001 when he volunteered his skills as a videographer to the project. We are always apprehensive about the media because most of them don’t understand our strict isolation protocol and a few think it applies to everyone but them. Jeff has been a staunch supporter, defending our methods to others and working within the restrictions we place in his way. He is deeply concerned about the environment and is motivated more by his desire to help than an ambition to get rich. Jeff is joining us this year to provide outreach services, keep the supporters updated and provide footage for the Weather Channel website. Starting next week weather.com will post regular updates on our migration with streaming video filmed by Jeff. Jeff is easy going and a welcome addition to our team and easy to find. If you need him, just listen for the laughter.

Walter Sturgeon
is the Assistant Director of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, the President of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association and the President of the International Wild Waterfowl Association. He has also made 20 research trips to the Canadian Arctic. In fact, he has more credentials than any of us, but his primary qualification comes without a title. Walter has raised cranes for 30 years and keeps a flock of 40 birds at his home. He has become a celebrated name in the conservation of Whooping cranes  Last year he volunteered to help us during part of the migration and this season he will be part of the team for the entire trip, no matter how long it takes. Walter is jovial, charming and always happy. He drives one of our large trucks pulling a 36-foot trailer, he assembles pens, cares for birds, helps to fuel aircraft and is the first to sweep the floor when it is needed. In fact he is willing to help wherever he can and not shy about getting messy. We are honoured to have him as a team member.

Don and Paula Lounsbury are as much a part of this project as anyone. They have participated in every migration from the beginning and have now spent over a decade migrating. They volunteer their time, motorhome and aircraft to the cause along with their good spirits. When things are moving smoothly we hardly hear a word from them. They quietly conduct their business and clear us through the pitfalls of air traffic control. But when things don’t go as planned and our resources are spread thin, they are the calming voice from above. They have spotted lost birds and conveyed coordinates to the ground crew. They have relayed messages to team members and landowners and kept us all together. They have even found us secure places to land when we needed to be on the ground and talked all the pilots into the same field. They are quietly efficient and politely professional and responsible in no small way for the success we have enjoyed. They are a big part of the trusted team.

Kirill Postelnykh is a graduate student from Oka Biosphere Reserve in Russia. He has worked closely with Tatiana Zhuchkova who was with us last year. In fact Tatiana recently married Kirill’s brother. He joined us in late summer and has not had the time Tatiana did to become fluent in English. Despite this disadvantage he is a great addition to the team. We have him driving one of our trucks pulling the aircraft trailer and caring for birds. It is interesting to see America through his eyes and I can only sympathize with the isolation he must feel. Last Saturday the team took him to a Badgers football game and I think he was overwhelmed. Kirill hopes to learn our methods so that they can be applied to a reintroduction of Siberian cranes in Russia.

Last year we were short a driver at the last minute and we called upon Gerald Murphy who had offered his service through an email message. A cohesive team is a big part of our success and we were all concerned with bringing in a stranger. But our fears were unfounded. Gerald dedicated over 64 days to this project without one complaint and we all grew to respect him. This year he has offered to fill in for Walter, who is traveling to Spain for 10 days of meetings.

Sandy and Jerry Ulrikson accompanied us last year for the entire migration. They provided outreach services, driving skills and friendship. This year they were not able to join us and are sorely missed. We hope to see them at the southern end, if we ever make it.

Date:October 29th, 2005 - Day 16
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled:0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:288.8 miles

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Activity:Laundry day

Notes: Our location in Benton County, Indiana experienced gusty southern winds, despite a forecast of calm morning air, so the migration is grounded for the day. 5 miles away from the pen location the air was indeed calm, causing the crew to wonder why this stream of northward flow was taunting them. The crew will spend today doing laundry, and other necessary chores that have accumulated over the past few busy days.

Date:October 28th, 2005 - Day 15
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location: Benton County, IN
Distance Traveled:43.2 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:288.8 miles

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Activity:Good progress

Notes: The clear skies and a slight wind out of the north that greeted us this morning was very promising but that was at 5 AM, over two hours before the sun came up. As we made our preparations we watched fog forming and the conditions deteriorate. By sunrise we couldn't see the windsock across the runway.

As the friends of our hosts gathered to witness our departure, we kicked the ground and wasted time, and it wasn't until 9 AM that we finally took off. The fog had cleared in our area but farther south there was a thick blanket and the pilots decided to stand down for another half hour. The winds were forecast to be calm all day so we had time to wait, but the sun was coming out. That meant that thermals would start to develop and the air would become rough despite the lack of wind. At 9:30 I taxied down to the pen and called for the release of the birds.

Angie Maxted, our vet in waiting, had conferred with Barry Hartup, DVM from the International Crane Foundation, and the two decided that 516 was unlikely to have a fracture and needed therapy instead. Part of that treatment was to let her fly so she came out of the pen with the rest. Seventeen birds took off with me and we began a climbing turn to head on course while three others, including 516, stayed on the runway. Brooke landed to start the process over and all three took off with him. We didn't expect 516 to make the entire flight but it was worth the effort to get her some exercise. She landed in a field a short distance away and was put back in the pen until she could be crated. 

Meanwhile Brooke picked up the extra two birds while  I carried on with seventeen. They all formed a straight line off my left wing and we climbed slowly to 1100 feet. We picked up a tailwind and the ground speed increased to over 50 miles per hour. As we expected this late in the morning, the thermals began to bounce us around even higher up. The black earth of ploughed fields draws more heat causing the air to rise and as we passed overhead the rough air made it difficult to keep the wing steady for the birds. The higher ground speed meant the flight was over in less than and hour and we circled the pen even before Mark arrived in the chase van. Richard landed first to call the birds down and as he bounced to a stop he reported that it was rock and roll down below the treetops. Seventeen birds landed with us while Brooke circled overhead and his two joined us on the ground. We are now in Indiana and slowly getting closer to our destination.

Date:October 28th, 2005 - Day 15
Location: Over Illinois and Indiana

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Activity:Takeoff!...after a long fog delay.

Notes: Fog covered the Illinois farm country in Kankakee County, delaying takeoff by almost 2 hours. After letting the sun burn off the fog, Operation Migration pilots launched with the birds at 9:33 AM. As of 10:03 AM Joe was escorting 17 birds and Brooke was with two birds. Joe anticipates arrival in Indiana at about 10:30 AM central time. Number 516 was given the opportunity to fly today, but was reluctant to join the aircraft. It has been boxed and is being shipped to our stop in Indiana.

Date:October 27th, 2005 - Day 14
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location: Kankakee County, IL
Distance Traveled:56.0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:245.6 miles

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Activity:Remembering a great day.

Notes: Today was another great day. We started in the cold dawn of the morning and it took a little longer than normal to warm up our engines. In the crisp air Brooke took off with nineteen birds following obediently. 516 was once again boxed due to its sore wing. It was a beautiful takeoff as Brooke and nineteen chicks did a long climbing curve to get on course for Kankakee County. The chicks slowly climbed behind Brooke for about fifteen minutes, when eleven chicks slowly fell back, unable to catch up. Since we had a long way to go it was decided that I should pick them up. As I flew in to pick them up another delinquent chick fell back and joined up on my ultralight's wing, making twelve birds total. Brooke was now with seven birds making good time gradually disappeared with Joe in the distance. Meanwhile the other twelve were a little unruly and had to be coaxed back into line with Chris behind keeping watch.

To stay in front of the birds the control bar needs to be pulled in to gain speed. This constant tug takes considerable amount of exertion and before long it was no longer cold inside my flight suit. Slowly the sixty miles to Kankakee County slipped by, passing over the flat farm land intertwined with strips of forest and wetlands and the odd village. The pastoral scene deteriorated as the decay of Gotham City came into view as factories, and giant refineries passed below us. The surreal scene was punctuated by the smelly haze and plums of smoke, and flaming chimneys reaching up as if to pull us from the sky. But soon it was behind us, with the refreshing view of the trees still in autumn color along the Kankakee River.

Today was in stark contrast to yesterday, when I struggled to get two birds to follow, fighting all the sixty miles to keep them on the wing. They were frightened of something and I could hear them peeping over the sound of the brood call and the roar of the engine. They were afraid every time we crossed a highway or busy road. They were not impressed by the commuter jet that passed by only a few hundred feet away either. I spent a long time coaxing them to LaSalle County, only to drop them off, and go back six miles to find a dropout bird who refused to fly back with the trike. So I stayed with this dropout to wait for Mark and Chris to come and get it and crate it back to the site in LaSalle County. With a flying time of 2.9 hours guiding two birds yesterday, and only 1.6 hours guiding twelve birds today, you can't help but see the irony of migration.

Date:October 27th, 2005 - Day 14
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location: Kankakee County, IL
Distance Traveled:56.0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:245.6 miles

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Activity:Knocking on wood

Notes: If I could find some wood to knock on I'd comment about flying two days in a row and finally making some headway, but pilots are a superstitious lot. Yesterday's flight was a struggle from start to end as we battled reluctant birds and headwinds. In the end, three cranes were crated and the other 17 made the trip under their own steam. Today was more like what we had in mind when we suggested this aircraft-led migration thing. 

We had a warm hangar to keep the frost off the wings and a long, smooth, grass runway from which to launch the birds. Brooke taxied to the pen and lifted off with nineteen birds. He made one turn to head on course and started a slow climb. A few miles out a group of birds fell of the wave created by his wing and dropped down below him. He began a descent to collect them but then, over the radio, we discussed the merits of breaking up the group. The fewer birds being carried by one aircraft equals more benefit each bird receives from the vortices. We had a long way to go and a slight headwind, so Richard moved in to pick up the stragglers, while Brooke maintained his altitude with the seven birds that stayed with him. We climbed to twelve hundred feet, or better, giving us enough height to clear the highways without spooking the birds and settled into the business of migrating. We past over a very developed section of the state and photographed the contrast of white birds against the spectacle of industrialization. 

A chase pilot's job is to keep tabs on the birds and relieve the lead pilot of constantly turning his head to check on them. As I took pictures, I was delinquent of my duties, and it was not until I put the camera down that I noticed a lone bird far below me. The flight was going so smoothly that we had not heard a word from the Lounsbury's in the top cover aircraft until Paula apologized for not mentioning the drop out sooner. It appears that while they circled us from above, they had discussed the situation and surmised that Brooke and I must have noticed and were conducting some sort of experiment to see if it would follow from below. I only found out the rest of the story once we were all on the ground or I would have left out this paragraph and let them continue to think we had a higher motivation than daydreaming.
I pushed the control bar out and began a fast descent to collect the lone bird. Number 520 was panting hard and anxious to join me. He dropped into place and soon closed his beak and began to breath normally. We landed in turn with all the birds and, now familiar with the pen, they walked straight in. Another 56 miles behind us. 

It has been 10 days since Brooke's encounter with number 516 and it still seems to be sore. Today Angie called Barry Hartup to make arrangement for an X-ray. Hopefully it's just a bruise and he will be back flying with us soon.

As a side note: We normally try to post our journal entries as soon as possible to keep you up to speed on our where-a-bouts and adventures. Today was one of those days when we couldn't find a connection. We wonder through developed areas looking for a signal or seek out hotel managers to borrow their wireless connection. We can connect to the internet through a cell phone, but when the signal is poor, we drive for miles in search of the little guy from the commercials who says "can you hear me now" so we can give him an earful. As time passes we get more frantic knowing we have a lot of dedicated followers. Our hope was to have a RV-mountable two-way internet satellite in place by this year, but that costs $4800.00. With financial constraints, this became too extravagant to add in to our budget, but it is certainly on our wish list.   Until then please bear with us while we figure our our glitches!

Date:October 27th, 2005 - Day 14
Reporter:Liz Condie
Location: Kankakee County, IL
Distance Traveled:56.0 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:245.6 miles

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Activity:Smooth flight

Notes: On checking with weather.com at the usual 4 AM, it seemed certain that we would be flying today, barring winds higher up. The web site reported crisp temperatures of 34 degrees, a 5 mile per hour wind out of the north, and partly cloudy skies with a promise of mostly sun to come. A weather check for our Kankakee County, Illinois destination called for wind being 0, or calm.

Takeoff was at 7:36 AM. Brooke was the lead pilot today and he had all the birds at takeoff, excepting 516 which was crated and transported again today. A number of birds fell back from Brooke's wing so Richard and Joe picked up these birds and escorted them to Kankakee County. After 1 hour and 41 minutes of flight the birds were back on the ground and are now inside the mobile pen. We'll have more on this morning's flight later today.

Date:October 26th, 2005 - Day 13
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location: LaSalle County, IL
Distance Traveled:60.1 Miles

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Accumulated Distance:189.6 miles

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Activity:Wrangling cranes

Notes: For the last few days we have had wind out of the perfect direction to push us south but they were far too strong. This morning the air was calm and we expected a slight push in the right direction but it never materialized. In fact throughout the entire flight we faced a small headwind. 

Number 516 has been reluctant to fly lately, still suffering from a sore wing after getting tangled in Brooke's flying wire, so we decided to crate him before releasing the rest of the birds. 

My aircraft is now equipped with a North Wing, M-Pulse 17.5 square metre wing. While we learn its characteristics I have been reluctant to take the lead and been content to pick up birds in the air that drop off the other pilots. Now confident that it has the correct speed envelope, I took my turn as lead this morning and taxied to the end of the runway. There are so many birds with us this year that its hard to count them coming out of the pen. You wait long enough for the air to turn white with flashing wings and add full power. Once airborne you have to rely on the ground crew or chase pilots to tell you how many stayed behind. Sixteen birds followed me and the rest were slow to come out. Brooke picked up the stragglers with Richard, while Chris dropped in behind me. Three miles out we were still struggling for altitude and one bird dropped down to fly just above the grass. There were power lines in every direction but Chris managed to move in and pick him up before he got too close. We began a slow climb, me with 15 birds and Chris with one, while we listened to Brooke and Richard battle with the remaining three. Number 505 has been difficult in the past, preferring to turn back rather than stay with the rest of the flock. Brooke concentrated all his efforts on this bird while Richard moved in on the other two. As usual we were spread out, me in the lead, Chris a mile behind, Richard nine miles back and Brooke still circling near the takeoff site. Every time he would get number 505 a few miles out it would turn back, and it was only after 30 minutes of aerial drama that the bird finally agreed to follow him. 

By this time one bird dropped off my wing and I circled down with the rest of the flock to pick it up. It joined the others again but began to descend once more. This time it looked like it was intent on landing, so we called Mark who was only a minute behind. Don and Paula circled overhead and talked him into the field to put the bird in a crate. 

We continued on, making slow headway, Chris with one bird, me with 15, Richard with 2 and Brooke finally on course with number 505. Six miles from the destination another bird dropped off my wing and began looking for a place to land. Chris decided to land with it and his single bird to give them both a rest, so he selected a secluded harvested bean field and landed. This portion of Illinois is flat and open and it's hard to believe no one came out to investigate. After a short break he took off again but only his bird followed. The one that left me would only fly a few hundred yards before landing again, so Chris flew the six miles to the destination and arrived around the same time as Richard. They both dropped off birds who were eager to land next to me, finally able to rest. Then the two aircraft headed back to find the one they left six miles out. Brooke arrived after being airborne for 2 hours and 6 minutes and walked number 505 to the pen while I took off to see if I could help. Richard had tried to encourage the lone bird into the air, but it would not go more than a field or two, so he landed in an open bean field and waited for Mark. Chris and I circled above to talk Mark in, while Don and Paula headed back to move their motor-home to the next stop. Chris landed to help Mark carry the crate the quarter mile to where Richard and the bird were resting. 

I arrived after one hour and thirty nine minutes and coaxed my birds into the waiting pen. Richard flew overhead and dropped off his two. Number 516 was trucked the entire leg while 522 was picked up 12 miles from the destination. Number 523 had to be crated and moved 6 miles to the pen. Finally, sometime after 11:00, all the birds were safely in the pen. We are now in LaSalle County, Illinois, 60.1 miles farther along.

Date:October 26th, 2005 - Day 13
Reporter:Liz Condie
Location:Between Winnebago County, IL and LaSalle County, IL

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Activity:Farewell to Winnebago County

Notes: First light - decision time. Look - 39 degrees. Check - ground wind 6 miles per hour out of the north. Ponder - an ultralight goes 'upstairs' to check things out....and Yes! It's a go. As of 8:00 AM Joe had 15 birds on the wings of his ultralight. Chris had 1 bird, and the ground crew watched as Brooke and Richard struggled to encourage 3 birds to fly to LaSalle County.

The decision was made to crate and transport 516. You will recall this is the poor critter that got caught up in Brooke's aircraft wires. It still seems hesitant, and the team was afraid that if it wouldn't or couldn't stick with the flock, it would tempt others to break off and follow it.

Today's destination is in LaSalle County, IL. Named for the explorer Robert de la Salle (the Frenchman who sailed down the Mississippi to claim Louisiana for France). LaSalle has a population of 112,335 and covers 1,135 square miles. As with many of our stopover hosts, the folks waiting to greet us later today are wonderful supporters and old friends. These 'reunions' are one of the joys of the annual migration. The only downside is that we have an equal number of farewells. Which leads us to saying thanks and goodbye to our Winnebago stopover friends.

We'll have more information on this morning's flight later today.

Date:October 25th, 2005 - Day 12
Reporter:Liz Condie
Location:Winnebago County, IL
Distance Traveled:0 miles

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Accumulated Distance:129.5 miles

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Activity:Tracking the wild Whooping cranes.

Notes: Here is a quick update of confirmed sightings of migrating Whooping cranes in the Wood Buffalo/Aransas flock.

A total of 21 adults have been spotted in Mountrail, Emmons, Sheridan and Dunn Counties, North Dakota and in Sully County, South Dakota. Farther north, Brian Johns, of Canadian Fish and Wildlife, reports seeing a group of 19, that's right 19(!) Whooping cranes on October 18th, in the Muskiki Lake area in Saskatchewan. A group of 13 cranes was observed in the same vicinity earlier this month.

At the other end of the flyway, Tom Stehn reports that 2 adult Whooping cranes have arrived at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, bringing the number up to 3. The front that reached the Texas coast on the evening of October 23rd brought temperatures in the 50's, and 20-30 mile per hour winds out of the north - perfect conditions for Whooping crane migration.

As of 10 AM yesterday morning, there were 15 birds at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in northern Oklahoma that had all started to migrate, which, excepting the Aransas arrivals, seems to be the southernmost sighting so far.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's (WCEP) migratory population of 42 Whooping cranes consists of 25 males and 17 females. 27 individuals are in the core reintroduction area in Wisconsin, and 11 are in the southeastern part of the state. 3 birds are known to be in central Minnesota. The lone unaccounted for bird is number 309, who was last seen in August in a hayfield in Lewis County, New York. It will be beyond exciting if 309 remembers its lessons and turns up in Florida in the weeks to come!

Chris Danilko in our Port Perry office put together the chart below of WCEP's 42 birds. Blue numbers are male birds, and pink numbers are females.

WEEKLY TRACKING OF 2001-2004 BIRDS - 42 birds in total. 25 males, 17 females.
Date
Week of Oct 16-22, 2005
Wisconsin Reintroduction Area - 27 birds
101 202 101 challenged intruding 208 while 202 assoc w/208
102 interacted w/DAR chicks and adult WC, 102 & 307 were chased away by 211 & 217
105 204 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills & other Whooping cranes
201 306 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills & assoc w/304
203 317 remained on their territory
205 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
208 aggravated & challenged 101 on his territory
209 assoc w/other WC in the area
211 217 appeared at site 3, foraged w/DAR chicks-only minor aggression but dominant & aggressive toward other adults that appeared at Site 3-drove them off
212 appeared at Site 3 
213 218 roosted w/sandhills
216 303 Wisconsin
301* 311 Wisconsin
302 313 visited cranberry reservoir and harvested cornfield
304 observed w/201& 306 then w/216 & 303
307 roosted w/sandhills, visited Site 3 Oct 21st & 22nd, joined 102 on 22nd
310 Wisconsin - observed w/other Whooping cranes
318* Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
Southeastern Wisconsin - 11 Birds
402 403 412 416 417 w/sandhills in Columbia & Marquette counties
107** Wisconsin - last reported with sandhills Oct 20th
312 316 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
415 Wisconsin - observed w/sandhills
419 420 Wisconsin-w/sandhills in Marquette county
Minnesota - 3 Birds
401 407 408 aerial search on Oct 20th located them 18 mi. from previous Morrison Co. location.

Unknown - 1 Bird

309 last seen Aug 13: reported Lewis County, New York
* retrieved from Michigan
** nonfunctional transmitter

Date:October 25th, 2005 - Day 12
Reporter:Liz Condie
Location:Winnebago County, IL
Distance Traveled:0 miles

Click here to view the 2005 Migration Photo Journal.

Accumulated Distance:129.5 miles

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Activity:Gusty winds

Notes: The bright sunny rays beaming over the horizon makes it look like a beautiful day in Winnebago County today - but unfortunately, not for Whooping cranes and ultralights. Strong, gusty winds force the team to stand down again today.

On Sunday, Angie, Charlie, Richard, and Kirill headed out to the next stopover location in LaSalle County. They spent a good part of the afternoon setting up the mobile pen, and as it was pouring rain, they got thoroughly soaked in the process. Living in trailers and mobile homes means the opportunity for a nice shower is welcomed, but yesterday's dousing wasn't exactly what the team looks forward to.

On the agenda for today is trike maintenance, so our pilots will be kept busy. The field team may get an opportunity to let the birds out of the pen so everyone can get some exercise. 

Everyone please cross your fingers and toes for better weather tomorrow.


Date:October 24th, 2005 - Day 11
Location:Winnebago County, IL
Distance Traveled:0 miles

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Accumulated Distance:129.5 miles

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Activity: Standing down

Notes: It is a beautiful morning here in Winnebago County, with the clouds clearing out, but a no-fly day nonetheless. It wasn't the brisk temperature or the bit of frost that kept the crew on the ground. Gusty winds were the culprit.

This stopover is in Illinois farm country, and the birds are ensconced in a restored prairie wetland area. The pen was placed at the end of a grassy strip near a pond. While 'the kids' don't have access to the pond, they and their human buddies did get to have some play time in it yesterday.

Date:October 23rd, 2005 - Day 10
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Winnebago County, IL
Distance Traveled:35.5 miles

Click here to view the 2005 Migration Photo Journal.

Accumulated Distance:129.5 miles

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Activity: Stealing a base

Notes: For some mysterious reason the leaves have been late to change colour this year or maybe it's just because we have not had a strong storm to knock them all down. Normally we seem to be a week or so late for the best display, and presented with more brown than gold. This year we have been able to enjoy a spectacular exhibit for the first time and when we arrived in Green County the beech trees were at their peek. The brilliant yellow canopy seemed to collect light or even produce its own. But as we lingered, waiting for favourable weather, they began to shed their leaves like the contents of an hour glass leaving behind the skeletons of summer.

The fading display adds to our anxiety and when we woke this morning to calmer air than forecast we began to take interest. Our generous hosts had cleared out their drive-shed to allow us to store our wings out of the frost. This gave us a head start and we were able to launch the birds by 7:48 AM. Richard landed next to the pen and Charlie and Walter released the birds while the rest of us circled near by. It seemed like half the birds took off and circled before Richard was able to get airborne, and half followed him out. The pen is situated on the top of a hill, and once you use up all of the makeshift runway, you find yourself airborne over a valley. He turned left and led the birds between the ridges and over the home of our hosts and a collection of their friends and neighbours. The other half of the birds began to form on my wing and as I followed Richard I collected more. Brooke landed back at the pen to encourage a straggler to follow him but Walter and Charlie were having a difficult time getting it out from behind the pen. Number 516 finally took off with Brooke but broke away after only a minute . It landed in a field only a 1/4 mile away and would not be coaxed back up. This is the bird that was tangled in the wires of Brooke's wing and it may still have been sore or maybe it just recognized Brooke. 

Richard had nine birds on his wing and they began a strong climb in the cold air. I followed with 11 while Chris turned back to lend a hand. It soon became evident that number 516 would have to be crated so Chris sped up to catch Richard leaving Brooke to deal with it. 

Flying on the wake created by our wings is an efficient way for the birds to conserve energy but if one of them drops behind, it is like falling off the wave you have been surfing on, and it's hard to catch up. When this happens the lead pilot can give up all the altitude he worked so hard to gain or let the chase aircraft deal with it. One bird began to drop behind Richard, and Chris moved in for the pick up. To perform this task correctly, you have to wait long enough so you don't become a distraction for the other birds that are following the lead. If you move in too close, and below the lead pilot, the birds may see you and are apt to begin a descent just because its easier to go down than up. So you wait until the straggler is well behind the leader before you make your move. You have to be careful of the turbulence caused by the propeller of the lead aircraft as it can throw you into a steep and unexpected turn. You move in close to the loan bird and bleed off your speed to match his. Then you tuck your wing-tip in front of him and watch as he stops flapping, and begins to glide. After a minute or two his beak will close as he stops panting. 

Whooping cranes seem to prefer flying at 38 to 40 miles per hour. If the air is smooth, and we can create a clean wake, they can soar behind us at higher speed. Richard reported an airspeed of 44 miles per hour, while I was cruising at 39 miles per hour. I watched him disappear into the haze, and I settled back for a nice flight at 1200 feet. By the time he arrived I was 2 miles behind and Chris was in the middle, while Brooke was just getting underway with little to do except enjoy the ride. 

Don and Paula Lounsbury have been camped at the Monroe Airport, 15 miles to the south of our Green County location,  and this morning we could not reach them by cell phone. Once we were in the air, they could hear our communication and prepared to take off. We had a tail wind, giving us a speed over the ground of almost 55 mph. This left Don and Paula with only enough time to fly directly to the next stop and land before we arrived. Once we were on the ground, at the quiet end of the runway, they would not be able to land because of the disturbance it would cause the birds. Paula reported that they were safely down when Richard had 2 minutes to go. Eight birds circled once and landed with Richard and one followed Chris in. I circled down from a thousand feet and flew the length of the runway at a foot off the ground with 11 birds off the wing tip while Chris captured the landing on tape. We walked all the birds to a large pond and let them frolic before putting them in the pen.

Considering the poor weather that was forecast for this morning and the rain that started shortly after we arrived, we felt like we were able to steal a base today. We are now in Winnebago County and have crossed into Illinois. The delay has put us behind, but our last stop is was of our favourites. Bob and Nan and their dog Blanch are warm and generous and we were sorry to say goodbye.

Date:October 23rd, 2005 - Day 10
Location:Winnebago County, IL
Activity:Southward movement....finally!

Notes: With a strong tailwind, 19 birds took flight from Green County, Wisconsin, and have arrived in Winnebago County, Illinois. 516, the bird that became entangled in the top wires of an ultralight on our flight to Green County, was not eager to fly today. With much coaxing, it took flight along side Brooke's ultralight.  516 then opted to land in a field less than 1/4 mile from the pen. 516 has been boxed and transported to Winnebago County. We'll have more details of this morning's flight later today.

Date:October 22nd, 2005 - Day 9
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:0 Miles

Click here to view the 2005 Migration Photo Journal.

Accumulated Distance:94 miles

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Activity:Waiting for the wet and wind to move on

Notes: Overcast, wet, and windy conditions have prevented the migration from moving into Illinois.

Date:October 21, 2005 - Day 8
Reporter:Liz Condie
Location:Head Office

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Activity:Update on Email Appeal

Notes: Our thanks to the many who so quickly and so generously responded to our "Will We Run Out Of Gas?" email appeal.  

The successful completion of the annual migration may be the result of our work, but it is YOU amazing, generous, and committed folks who make it all possible. Your staunch support and deep concern for the fate of the endangered Whooping crane never ceases to impress us. 

One donor who called in said that she wasn't in much better financial shape than OM, but she believed in and loved our project so much that she wanted to give what little she could. She was in tears. By the time the call was finished, so was I.

This example of strength of commitment is far from isolated. When taking donations, there have been more than a few occasions where we have wondered if the proffered contribution was taking food off someone's table. It is wonderful to see the donations coming in as they have been. It is indescribably moving to be on the receiving end of such outpouring of emotions.

Each year we project the migration portion of our expenses and divide that number by the 1250. migration miles between Wisconsin and Florida . Last year, it meant the cost to sponsor a migration mile worked out to $184. This year, despite the cost per mile actually being $197, in the interests of affordability, we made no change to the sponsorship figure. 

However, the long and short of it is, we needed to sellout MileMaker - that is, raise $246,250 in sponsorships, in order to cover the cost of the 2005 migration. Despite our best efforts we came up short. But by surpassing revenue goals in other areas and drastically cutting expenses, we were able to reduce the shortfall to about $107,200 - leaving us roughly 21 miles short of the Kentucky/Tennessee border - about 584 miles from our Florida destination.

Since sending out the "Will We Run Out Of Gas?" appeal, we've received the equivalent of 311 miles in donations and MileMaker sponsorships. That means the migration has funding to 129 miles north of the Georgia/Florida border. We can hardly believe it! Only 273 miles left to go!!! AND YOU DID IT ALL IN LESS THAN 2 WEEKS! Applause, applause to you all.  

In addition to being enormously gratefully to those of you have already responded to our appeal - and to those of you who are planning to do so, we also want to thank the many of you who have gone the extra mile and forwarded our appeal to your friends, family, co-workers and business contacts.

If you've already "chipped in for gas" you have our heartfelt thanks. If you haven't, won't you please take a minute now, and help "fill up our tank". Donating is easy. You can use your Visa or MasterCard to contribute via PayPal right here on our website - just click on "Contribute" on the menu to the left.  

We are a little behind getting receipts out, so we ask for your patience.

Date:October 21st, 2005 - Day 8
ReporterBill Lishman
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:94 miles

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Activity:Waiting for favorable winds

Notes: At dawn, a slight mist in the hollows indicated little wind, and the day looked hopeful. Joe returned from the top of a nearby hill where he had done the wet finger check of the winds. "Slight northeast," he reports. It is one of those iffy mornings which can only be determined by a test flight. At about 7:30 AM Joe was airborne off the frosted grass using the new strut-braced wing that has been loaned for a test. This wing has no king post or top wires which can be a potential hazard to the birds. A small crowd had gathered on the road to watch. All pilots waited, helmets under their arms, for the signal from above. After five minutes "It's a no go" crackles through the radio. Joe reported that the wind, which we had hoped would push us south, was doing the opposite, and so again we are grounded for the day.

Date:October 20th, 2005 - Day 7
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:94 miles
Activity:Grounded by headwinds.

Notes: From ground level the day looked perfect for flying. Calm, frosty air filled the Green County valley where we are camped. While the pilots were testing the air for the expected flight, it was immediately apparent that a flight with birds would be difficult. Headwinds picked-up speed as the pilots gained altitude. With a 700-foot ridge to cross over, the headwinds at this altitude would become too strong for flight to our next location in northern Illinois. We'll wait another day and hope the weather changes in our favor.

Date:October 19th, 2005 - Day 6
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:94.0 miles
Activity:Standing down/516 looking better.

Notes: Well, I woke up this morning the third time my alarm rang and then finally just turned it off for good.  There was no mistaking the sound in the tree above the motor home.  Strong winds out of the south have given us some beautiful weather the last couple days.  Of course the winds don't make it any easier to migrate.  By now the winds have clocked around to the North again but are still way too strong.  Still, we've been able to fly four of the last six days, so none of us has room to complain.  I mean, just how bad could a sunny day in Green County, Wisconsin, be?

Our last stop was in Sauk County.  Anyone who has been there knows that it is one of the most beautiful areas in the country (and no, that does not include the Dells). Our hosts there catered to our every desire since the beginning.  Delicious meals morning, noon and night; endless tours of the property's many nooks and crannies; and all-nighter bongo frenzies were all too normal.  The meager thanks given here are only a shadow of those required for their time, effort, and friendship over the years.

Getting the birds out of Sauk County is always interesting.  Our stop is at the base of a ridgeline that's not easy for the birds to get over.  Yesterday as I am sure you all know, we had yet another misadventure navigating those hills.  Brooke and 516 took the 3-hour tour of the area.  516 got himself caught in the supporting wires of the wing and Brooke was forced to land.  The bird was released from the wires and was miraculously... fine.  He even wanted to keep flying.  After several tries to keep him in the air, it was finally obvious that this poor bird just wasn't going to make it.  Brooke landed with the bird and waited for Charlie and Angie to come and box him up for the trip south.

516 has been watched very closely for about a week now.  Before we ever left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge we had noticed a small fracture in his bill.  The first day of migration he did not leave the refuge and came back to the pen with a limp and swollen foot.  This same foot had been swollen a couple months ago.  Then yesterday he decided he would hitch a ride on Brooke's wing, followed by being stuck in a box on a long, bumpy ride in a motor home.  Not a small list of troubles, for even the most hardy of individuals.  Through all of these misfortunes he may have walked a little funny over to the pen, but he was still the feisty little bird he always has been.  This morning the little guy looks even better still, and we are all encouraged by his quick recovery.

Date:October 18th, 2005 - Day 5
Reporter:Chris Gullikson
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:46.1 Miles
Accumulated Distance:94.0 Miles
Activity:A sigh of relief

Notes: We awoke to a beautiful fall morning with no wind and just a light ground fog covering the runway and surrounding fields. The fog quickly burned off as the sun broke the horizon and Richard took to the air to check the conditions aloft. His report was promising, a gentle tailwind and glass-smooth air.

The rest of us lifted off and I fell into the first chase position while Brooke landed at the pen and gave the order to Walt and Kirill to release the birds. Brooke took to the air with 19 birds while 510 had to be coaxed out of the pen by Walt who quickly snuck back into the pen trailer to grab the swamp monster. I hung with Brooke while Richard landed back at the pen and was soon airborne with his bird with a little help from the swamp monster.

Our Sauk County site lies at the northern edge of a beautiful ridge in the middle of the Baraboo Hills, just north of the Wisconsin River valley. Brooke had 19 birds on his wing and was working hard to get his birds to climb, snaking his way up the heavily wooded ridge. A few birds were dropping down low at treetop level but still following. I hung behind him until it became apparent that these birds would not be able to catch back up to the lead trike so I dropped down to lend these birds my wing and give them a free ride. As soon as I dropped down to these birds, a couple birds broke from Brooke, enticed by the lower trike. I soon had 4 birds on my wing, flying just above treetop level and looking at another 200 feet of altitude before we were able to clear the top of the ridge. 

It was at this point that Brooke radioed that he had a bird caught in his wires and I looked over to his trike, horrified to see a bird hanging by its leg in one of the upper wires. Brooke happened to be over one of the very few un-wooded areas on the ridge which turned out to be a pasture and he quickly landed with his dangling bird, leaving the rest of his flock just off to my southeast. I was in the best position to pick up these birds so I continued on with my 4 up the ridge and slowly caught up to the 14 birds just as we topped the ridge. Suddenly I had 1000 feet of altitude and 17 birds on my wing. This should have been a wonderful experience for me but all I could think about was what Brooke was dealing with back on the ground. To our relief, he soon radioed back to us that the bird was fine and that they were actually back in the air flying again.

I continued on out over the river valley with 17 birds on my wing, Richard having picked up one of the birds that had dropped back behind the main group. 

My 17 birds were flying great with me until the lead bird off my right wing started to get bored and decided he wanted to lead for a while. I had to pull in hard on the bar to keep the charging birds from over-flying my wing where I can't see them and where they can easily get caught in the top wires. I was able to pull ahead of them and get the lead birds back into the favored vortex generated by the wing, but in doing so I was beginning to lose some of the birds further back in line. Joe was able to drop in behind these eight birds and pick them up, leaving me with a more manageable nine, who continued to challenge me on occasion. 

I normally pride myself in my navigation skills, but this morning I would have failed a flight test miserably. My head was on a constant swivel and I was hardly paying any attention to my GPS. Joe and Richard made a few funny comments on my direction of travel but being the new guy I am allowed to make these blunders.

I dropped another bird as we approached highway 151 and Richard was able to swing over and pick up this bird. The birds spooked briefly as we flew over the highway, climbing hard and trying to fly over the wing but they formed back up nicely once we left the noise of this manmade structure behind us.

Richard was able to speed away from me, his 3 birds latched firmly on his wing, so he landed first at our Green County pen site, and I followed in with my eight birds that flew an extra circuit before landing next to our trikes. They seemed quite happy to check out their new temporary home and most walked into the pen on their own without the usual coaxing of grape treats.

We are all delighted to hear that 516 is doing just fine. The bird only received a slight abrasion on its leg and was eager to fly with Brooke to a field more suitable for the ground crew where Charlie and Angie boxed the bird and drove it to our current stop. Angie gave the bird a good look over and besides being a bit sore the bird is back with his buddies and is fully expected to join us on our next flight, which may or may not happen tomorrow depending on the weather.

Date:October 18th, 2005 - Day 5
Reporter:Don Lounsbury
Location:Green County, WI
Distance Traveled:46.1 miles
Accumulated Distance:94.0 Miles
Activity:Concern for 516

Notes: At 7:57 AM Brooke Pennypacker took off with 19 cranes.  510 was slow to come out of the pen and Richard picked-up this bird. Within ten minutes of takeoff, one of Brooke's birds, number 516, became caught in the wires on top of  the ultralight and sustained a slight abrasion on one of its legs. Brooke conducted an emergency landing with 516 in a cow pasture. The remaining pilots quickly took over the lead and continued on to Green County, Wisconsin. After about 10 minutes to examine 516, Brooke assessed that the bird was well enough to continue flying. Brooke took off again with 516, however, it was lagging behind and he decided to land in another field about 7 miles from our Sauk County location. Ground crew were given coordinates to locate the bird for transport to Green County. A short time later, something spooked 516 and it began to fly again. Brooke took to the air and led the bird to a harvested soybean field. Charlie caught up to Brooke and 516 resting in this field where 516 was crated and shipped to Green County.


Date:October 18th, 2005 - Day 5
Location:Sauk County, WI
Activity:Takeoff!

Notes: At 7:57 20 cranes departed Sauk County, WI. As of 8:30 AM, the birds were still in flight headed toward our next location in Green County, WI. We'll have more information later in the day.


Date:October 17th, 2005 - Day 4
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location:Sauk County, WI
Distance Traveled:0 Miles
Accumulated Distance:47.9 Miles
Activity:Standing down and catching-up

Notes: A strong head-wind, coupled with on-and-off drizzle, has made another leg of migration impossible. After 3 days of progress it doesn't hurt for the pilots and crew to catch-up on sleep and on needed chores around camp. As of 7:45 AM, Joe Duff was happily still in bed, I was sipping a cup of coffee, Brooke was discussing the virtues of various ultralight wings with our migration hosts, and the cranes were safely housed in their pen.

Date:October 16th, 2005
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location:Juneau County, WI
Distance Traveled:22.8 miles
Accumulated Distance:47.9 miles
Activity:Awed by the beauty

Notes: It was difficult to get up this morning. It was so comfortable in my sleeping bag, but Chris and Charlie were stirring about. I walked outside to see that the sky was clear and cool with a slight frost on the ground and, of course, the frost covered our wings as well. After defrosting the wings we all got airborne before I landed at the pen where Walt and Angie released the birds. All except 505 came out.  19 excited Whooping cranes were springing and jumping, then followed my trike up the hill, and we all became airborne. With 19 birds on the wing we climbed slowly, and made a long curve south, gradually coming on course for Sauk County. Brooke, meanwhile,  had picked up 505 and was making good progress.

It was a beautiful sight.  18 birds were on my right and 1 on the left, as I climbed up to get over the Baraboo Hills, all in full Autumn colour. The air was clear and cool. 19 white cranes, following me in perfect formation, stood out stark against the deep colours of the passing forest below. I couldn't help but become bewildered by the beauty and tranquility of the scene. This, today, was about the most beautiful flight I ever had.  A truly awesome morning.

The landing in Sauk County was equally as inspiring as the flight. With a long, slow circle around the farm, and landing in the freshly mowed field next to a rock face in full fall colour. The end to a really excellent flight!



Date:October 16th, 2005 - Day 3
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Sauk County, WI
Distance Traveled:22.8 miles
Accumulated Distance:47.9 miles
Activity:Congratulating the flock

Notes: Cranes are a 65 million year old species and evolved shortly after the last dinosaurs disappeared. Sometime in their ancient history they became migratory and this behaviour has become instinctive. Despite the fact that we have to teach them a route, they are predisposed to move north and south with the changing seasons. That ancestral impulse became evident today when we took off for our third leg of migration 2005. 

Since we integrated all three cohorts into one group, they have flown together several times but never as a cohesive flock. Their fear of leaving home added to the confusion and left us questioning our ability to get them south. However today was a perfect example of how migration should work. It started with a light layer of frost on our wings but the cold air increases the bird's endurance noticeably so we didn't complain. Richard Van Heuvelen landed near the pen and the rest of us circled to the east. On his mark the handlers released the birds and he took off in perfect formation with all the birds except one. Number 505, our problem bird that did so well yesterday, somehow got stuck in the pen and did not come out with the rest. Brooke landed next to the pen and took off with him in close pursuit and they began to follow the rest. 

Richard climbed slowly into crystal clear skies and began to pick up a slight tail wind. One bird fell off the wave and tried hard to catch up but the distance between him and Richard increased. I moved in to pick it up and it rested nicely on my wing. Once it caught its breath, it tried repeatedly to speed ahead and join the rest of its flock but then would fall back, discouraged by the distance. Tucked in behind the wing it took advantage of the free ride and I climbed until I was slightly above and behind Richard. As if understanding the maneuver it used the height to speed ahead and finally catch its flock-mates happily slipping into line. The rest of the flight was almost relaxing. We sat back to enjoy the Baraboo Hills of central Wisconsin, painted in fall colour, dappled by morning sun and softened by patched ground fog. 

We covered 22.8 miles in 36 minutes, and even contemplated going to the next stop. But this is the first time they have flown so well and a lesson they needed to learn. Pushing them an extra hour and risking dropouts would be premature, so Richard made a large loop with his 19 cranes and landed. Brooke arrived with 505 a short time later. 

After the birds were safely in the pen we went flying again just for the beauty of it. But somehow it's not the same without the rest of our flock. I think this migration thing is catching on.

Date:October 16th, 2005 - Day 3
Reporter:Paula Lounsbury
Location:Sauk County, WI
Distance Traveled:22.8 miles
Accumulated Distance:47.9 miles
Activity:Excellent flight!

Notes: At 7:47 AM 19 cranes formed on the wing of Richard's ultralight. 1 crane, number 505, didn't come out of the overnight pen in time to takeoff with Richard.  Brooke landed outside the pen, waited for the bird to come out, and gave this bird a private escort. The air between Juneau County and Sauk County was perfect for migration; smooth with a 10 knot tail wind. 36 minutes later, Richard landed with 19 birds. A few minutes later, Brooke guided 505 to the pen site, where the bird was called down by a loud-haler broadcasting a Whooping Crane contact call. No birds were boxed and transported. A very successful flight! We'll have more details later today.

Date:October 15th, 2005 - Day 2
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Southern Juneau County, WI
Distance Traveled:17.1 miles
Accumulated Distance:25.1 miles
Activity:A successful day

Notes: At the interim site we only have the dirt-track access road to use as a runway. It runs east and west and was not lined up with the wind this morning. Rather than risk a crosswind take off we performed what we call an air pick-up. We fly low and slow into the wind past the pen and at the pilot's signal, the handlers release the birds. If the timing is just right they take off just as the aircraft is passing. That is how it is supposed to work. This morning I was to lead and when the ground crew was ready I started my pass and radioed them to release the birds. Unfortunately they didn't hear my signal and it was not until I was very close that the gates were opened and only some of the birds took off. I circled once and collected a few more but I was too far ahead of them and Brooke moved in to take the lead. This was the bird's first experience at an air pick up, and they seemed as confused as the pilots. Eventually, I led 9 birds south. Richard had 6, Brooke had 3 and Chris and Bill played air rodeo with two birds that they had to finally give up on and lead back to the starting point. The air was rough and at 3000 feet above ground there was a 35 miles per hour wind, but it was blowing in the correct direction. We never did get that high, or anywhere close to it, but even at a thousand feet we were high enough to get the birds over the interstate without too much trouble. One bird dropped way back and once over this obstacle we began a decent so it could catch up. Richard and I arrived at the same time and circled, as we got lower. 

The landing site is a rolling harvested soy bean field between two rows of trees. Both Richard and I were nervous about getting into rough air that could be lurking down there. I decided to land in the next field over, while Richard, braver than I, set up his approach next to the pen. Our fears were unfounded and we both landed safely. Brooke landed with his three birds and then we tried to find a path through the trees to lead the birds that landed with me, over to the pen. There were too many brambles so I took off again and led them over. Chris arrived along with Bill after delivering the only two delinquent birds back to the ground crew at our starting point. Bill, by this time had been back and forth flying chase for almost everyone. His aircraft has a bigger engine and a faster wing. He was able to speed ahead or double back checking on birds and helping out. Don and Paula were overhead providing top cover but are camped at the airfield, one stop to the south, so we have not yet seen them, just heard their welcome voices over the radio. 

In past years we have only been able to convince a small percentage of our birds to follow us to our current location in southern Juneau County . This year, using the interim site, we have managed to get 90 percent of our birds here under their own steam. Most amazing is the fact that number 505 made it. All summer he has been our most reluctant bird and seldom ventured more than a mile from the pen. I think we are making progress.

Stats on today's flight:

Takeoff: 7:38 AM Central time
Flight Duration: 27 minutes


Date:October 15th, 2005 - Day 2
Reporter:Bill Lishman
Location:Southern Juneau County, WI
Activity:Another leg completed!

Notes: At 7:38 AM the cranes launched from our new site in Juneau County. As of 8:30 AM 18 birds were safely penned at our current location in southern Juneau County. 2 birds, 507 and 512, returned to the launch area and will be crated and shipped. We'll have more details later in the day.

Date:October 14th, 2005 - Day 1
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Juneau County, WI
Distance Traveled:8.0 Miles
Accumulated Distance:8.0 Miles
Activity:First leg completed

Notes: When you expect the worst, anything less is a pleasant surprise. 

Every year, the first day of our migration seems to turn into a debacle. Our birds are so conditioned to stay close to the refuge that, once we venture beyond the borders of their experience, their loyalty to the aircraft is put to the test. For some, the tenuous thread that holds them to our wingtip is stretched to its limits but holds long enough for us to reach our destination. For others it snaps like a spider web in the wind and they turn tail and head for home. 

Bill Lishman has graciously offered to join the migration team this year for at least a few weeks, so five ultralights taxied onto the runway and took off just after the heaviest fog cleared. On the way to the site we checked the wind speed and discussed the low level turbulence and assigned Brooke Pennypacker to fly in the lead position. He landed at the west site while the rest of us circled, waiting for the launch. 

All twenty birds charged down the runway after him and he turned south getting bumped by the wind over the trees. This was enough to separate the group and Chris picked up some while Richard turned back to get others. I picked up two that were down low over the water near our east site. They would surf on the wingtip for a few moments but fall back, flying slower than I was able. I flew "s" turns and cut the corners hoping they would catch up but each time they flew lower. I listened over the radio as Brooke and Chris neared the highway just south of the refuge. The rush of air and the roar of colourful trucks scared them and they exploded away from the aircraft in bewilderment. Five birds turned back and he continued on with 4 others while Chris dropped down to collect 3. 

By the time these errant five flew over head on their way back to the west site I had had my fill of the two that would not be convinced to leave the area. Following the old adage of two in the bush versus five in the hand or some such thing, I abandoned the reluctant ones and climbed up to join the five. They locked onto my wing and we turned south. Over the highway they sped ahead and it was all I could do to keep up. We arrived at the site as Brooke and Chris were clearing the area and Richard was parked on the ground next to the pen. I set up an approach as if intending to land and at the last moment began a hard climb. Walter Sturgeon and Richard Van Heuvelen waved their puppets and four of the birds landed while one made a desperate attempt to catch me. When I out-spaced him he turned once again for home. It took a few minutes to catch him and when I did, I noticed his mouth was open in a pant and froth was forming on his mandible. He fell in behind me and I started a slow decent to let him rest in the glide. This time he landed without hesitation. 

While this was happening Brooke was back at the west site starting over again with the birds that had returned. Bill was coordinating from overhead and Chris collected four birds that he found wandering just south of the highway. Three birds formed nicely on his wing while I nursed the other in over the trees. One quarter mile from the site he finally gave out and landed just beyond the tree line. I landed and walked back to lead him to the pen. Chris had to chase his three because they would not land and in the corralling he lost one that landed in a small clearing to the west. The others eventually came down and once we were both on the ground we headed off into the forest to look for the clearing. We walked down railroad tracks in time to see Mark and Angie crate the bird and drive it to the site less than a mile away. In all we managed to convince 15 birds to follow us to the new site which is a record for a first day. The others will be crated and moved down this afternoon. Now that they are in new territory we hope their insecurity will keep them closer to the ultralights for the next leg, but tomorrow we have to cross an interstate, so we will see. Migration 2005 is off to a great start.

Stats. on today's flight:

Takeoff: 7:42 AM
Flight Duration: 32 minutes

Date:October 14th, 2005
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge - Juneau County, WI.
Activity:Takeoff!

Notes: At about 8:00 am the 2005 cohort of Whooping cranes started on their long journey south. As expected, the new location 8 miles south of the refuge proved valuable today for the first leg of migration. The air was still at ground level, but above the trees the air was a bit too rough for an extended flight to southern Juneau County. The decision was made to land at the new location and avoid potential problems. As of 9:15 AM 14 birds were safely housed in the mobile pen at the new site. 2 birds are being sought after dropping out of the flight and 4 birds are at the west site back at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. We'll have more information for you as the day progresses.

Date:October 13th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Pondering takeoff

Notes: The day before our migration is to begin is like opening night at the theatre. Everyone is running in circles looking after last minute details and checking the weather on the hour. The aircraft are fueled, the trailers packed, our feet are sore and our minds racing. Meanwhile the birds are sequestered in the pen oblivious to all the activity and anxious to get out, considering they have not flown since Monday. That could make them enthusiastic to follow or lethargic and just like every other aspect of migration, only time will tell. 

We have managed to find a stopover only 8 miles from the refuge and will land there if the birds are reluctant to leave home and begin to break up in the air. We also have our regular stop, 22 miles to the south and if things are looking good we may carry on. With luck, all of the birds could follow us to the farthest stop, but more likely we will have some at each site and a few that just went back to the refuge. 

Date:October 12th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Preparing for the starting gate.

Notes: In the four days we have given ourselves by postponing our departure date, we managed to train the birds twice. This morning, however, we took off into low cloud ceilings that became even lower as we neared the training site. We turned back and landed in fog so thick it was almost light rain and spent the rest of the day packing the million things we may need on migration, from a spare engine to 10 bags of bird food. We replaced all four tires on the two travel pen trailers and stocked them with everything the handlers will need. These enclosures are constructed of ten-foot-long wire mesh panels that are six feet high. They hook together to form a large circle that is covered with a top net. (Click the photo of the pen at right to see a larger version.) We added a few more panels to accommodate the greater number of birds this year and had to change the trailer suspension to carry the extra weight.

We have been looking for a stopover site just south of the refuge where we can land our birds before the fear of leaving home gets the better of them. They are so conditioned to flying around their home base that when we lead them too far astray their insecurity overwhelms their loyalty to the aircraft. Our hope was to find a site just at the breaking point and trust in the fact that day two is always better. The area south of Necedah is mostly forested with only a few fields that are often bordered by roads or buildings. In total, there are three that are isolated enough for the cranes, but we have had little luck convincing their owners to let us use them. We did, however, get permission to use one and we will set up the travel pen there tomorrow. 

Our birds are short-term flyers and all of their experience has been over pristine wetlands where the biggest threat has been some disinterested bald eagles.  Our second stop (normally our first) is over 15 miles from the Necedah Refuge. In that distance we have to cross interstate 90/94, and we know from experience it will be a challenge. The birds are farther from the noise of the aircraft engine and aren't wearing headsets. They can hear the rush of air and roar from below. The movement and the colours of speeding cars are too much for them, so we need altitude to get them across major highways. Sometimes, we can trick them by crossing at a forest where their view is obstructed until they are right overhead and the fastest escape is to fly straight. 

Don and Paula Lounsbury, who have flown top cover for us since the very beginning, are here and ready, as is Bill Lishman, who will join us in his ultralight for two weeks until we get underway. If the weather turns out as forecast, it will be quite a spectacle: five ultralights and 20 Whooping cranes. In the meantime, we have one more training session and another day to get ready.

Date:October 10th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Practice flight

Notes: Today was to be our departure date, but after a long discussion with the team we all decided to give it a few more days to see if our birds will fall into line a little tighter. In the wild, Whooping crane parents would head south with their one chick when the weather turned cold. We have 20 chicks with an age range of 44 days and getting them all ready to head south at the same time is a tall order. 

Yesterday, we moved the birds over to the west site and took an hour to encourage them into the travel pen we had set up on the runway. This will help get them used to the new enclosure that will be home for the next month or so. This morning, Richard Van Heuvelen landed next to the pen and Mark and Kirill released the birds by opening up two of the 10-foot panels. This new environment was strange to them and even the lead birds first out of the pen stood tall, watching for a signal. Richard's experience told him he could use this moment of confusion and he held his position while the more shy ones came out onto the runway. He took off to the north into a cold, dreary sky with solid clouds down to a few hundred feet. We headed north but it wasn't long before the groups started to break up. I moved in to pick up one bird that was low and to the left, while another dropped down to my wing. I climbed with these while Chris moved into the chase position and Brooke tried to keep some others from landing back at the runway. Mark and Kirill covered themselves with the plastic tarps we call the "Swamp Monsters" to keep the strays from landing while Brooke tried to lead them off. Richard, Chris and I made a wide circle of the refuge while Brooke did small circuits around the site. We landed after only a few minutes, but the exercise was encouraging. Apart from a few birds, the flock seems to be coming together.

Date:October 9th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update/Migration start date moved to October 14th

Notes: Saturday morning dawned cold and clear with no fog, the nicest flying weather we have had in a long time. Just back from my last visit home, I took the opportunity to lead, and planned to take off to the north. The birds charged out of the pen and I waited too 
long for the reluctant ones, so several landed in front of the aircraft, barring my way. I radioed Brooke and Chris that I would depart to the south, and carefully turned the aircraft around, mindful of the cluster of birds around me.

They were all so eager to go that the entire flock moved in front of the aircraft. Then, too impatient to wait for me, they took off.  Knowing my faster take-off speed would mean I could run into them, I had to check my inclination to go and allow the birds a head start. 
Once airborne, I circled in front of them and they formed on the wing tips in perfect order - at least for a minute or two.

Number 505 has been a reluctant flyer all summer and he broke from the aircraft, taking number 506 with him. I kept gong while Chris circled back. Brooke fell in behind me as chase. We flew past Necedah National Wildlife Refuge's observation tower and headed north, slowly gaining altitude. At this time of year, the refuge is alive with fall migrants. The ponds were dotted with every widgeon, duck, grebe, and goose you can imagine, and hundreds of Sandhill cranes were flying in every direction. A Trumpeter swan flew just below us, and two juvenile Bald eagles, oblivious to our passing, swooped after fish.

Nineteen minutes out, we were at the north end of the refuge and three birds were trailing behind. A month ago we cleared and mowed a landing strip in this area so we landed there with 15 birds, three of which were puffing hard. After twenty minutes we took off in perfect formation and headed back to the east site.

In total, five birds dropped out of a 26-minute flight, indicating that some do not yet have the endurance to begin migration. This consideration, and the benefits a little added preparation would mean, made us rethink our proposed departure date. Rather than October 10th we will now target October 14th and hope for good weather.

Our hope was to find a stop just south of the refuge at the point where some birds have historically decided to turn back. We would land the birds at this point, and hope the strange territory would encourage them to follow more closely the next day. The area south of the refuge is mostly bush with only a few farm fields - and of these, only three are isolated enough to be suitable. Unfortunately, their owners refused to let us land on their property.

We have upwards of 40 stopover sites between here and Florida, but we can't find even one within a few miles of our home base. That means our first leg will be over 20 miles, and at 32 miles an hour, the birds will have to stay airborne for 40 minutes or so. Oh well, after this many years we kind of expect the first day to be a fiasco.

Date:October 7, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Head Office
Activity:Status Report

Notes: Only a very small portion of philanthropic dollars donated in the US are given to environmental causes at the best of times, and recent weather related catastrophes have understandably pushed them even farther down the list.

The soaring cost of fuel, increased expenses, the large number of birds we have this season and resulting added staff needed, has made it very difficult to raise enough funds to keep us going. To make ends meet, we made cuts to our already lean budget, and reduced the wages of senior staff, but we still have concerns. All year, along with training and preparing 20 birds for migration, we have been frantically fundraising. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we still have a budget shortfall, one that has caused us indigestion and insomnia for months. Our WCEP partners too have not had an easy time securing support, so we are in good company.

Through our fundraising efforts, and thanks to our MileMaker Sponsors, we have enough funding in place to get us almost to the Kentucky/Tennessee border before we run out of gas figuratively and literally. As a result, we are about to send out a special E-mail appeal to every contact address we have. We will be appealing to every individual, group, club, organization, corporation, and foundation we know, for their help.

Over the years we have faced many tough challenges: from convincing the federal government this concept had merit, to keeping our birds wild; from developing aircraft that can fly safely with birds, to crossing the Appalachians with our precious flock in tow. But no challenge has proved as difficult as securing ongoing funding.

The OM team understands our obligation to the partnership, and, most importantly, to the birds - who ask nothing in return. So, one way or another, we will get them to Florida. But it is a heavy burden to place on the people who have already shouldered a lion's share of the load. Please help if you can. Click here to contribute or call our office at: 800-675-2618

Date:October 5th, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Operation Migration Headquarters, Port Perry, ON
Activity:5 years and counting.

Notes: This is year five of our Whooping crane reintroduction and by any measure it has been a success. Thousands, if not millions, of people have been touched by this story and hopefully we have focused a little of their attention on conservation and the plight of endangered species. There are now 42 wild, migratory Whooping cranes where none existed for more than a hundred years and most of them are content to spend the summer in central Wisconsin. In fact 30 birds summered within the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge proving the Recovery Team selected appropriate habitat when they chose this area. 

The media attention generated by this project has benefited all of the members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. Certainly Necedah National Wildlife Refuge is now recognized for the jewel that it is among the over 500 National Wildlife Refuges within the Fish and Wildlife system. Larry Wargowsky, Refuge Manager at Necedah, was recently invited to the National Press Club in Washington where Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, will release the results of Banking On Nature 2004. This is a quantitative study of the economic benefits to local communities of National Wildlife Refuge visitation. Necedah is in the report partly due to the highly visible Whooping crane project. Jim Kraus, Refuge Manager at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, will also attend this event. 


Half way there:
Many people have asked if this is our last year leading the migration south This question stems from the very beginning when the Whooping Crane Recovery Team asked us for a five year commitment so that the success or failure of this study could be properly evaluated. We gave them the assurance they needed to start the process but that certainly was not the extent of our obligation. 

By next spring we expect that up to 60 Whooping cranes will begin the migration to central Wisconsin. That number equals four times the total population in the early 1940's and half way to the goal set by the Recovery Team. In order to be considered self-sustaining this population must contain 25 breeding pairs and approximately 125 individuals. 

The Direct Autumn Release (DAR) program began this year with four birds and could help augment our numbers but its success remains an unknown. The technique involves releasing captive reared chicks with our older generations in the hopes they will lead them south, but the opportunities are limited. Whooping cranes are not colonial birds and do not normally congregate in large numbers. This reclusive behaviour means they are not always receptive to intruders, particularly once the have selected mates. Sub-adults will often gather in bachelor cohorts and these are the birds most likely to accept a stranger but there are not enough of these groups to absorb numbers as large as the 20 birds we will lead south this year. It is possible that DAR released birds will follow Sandhill cranes south which achieves the same result but many are concerned they may become overly attracted to this other specie and cross-breeding could occur. The Direct Autumn Release program has every opportunity to succeed but it will be a few years before it can accommodate large numbers of birds and in the interim the ultralight led method will continue. 

The Recovery Team proposed that in order to safeguard Whooping cranes from extinction three discrete populations should exist. There are now over 200 birds in the only naturally occurring flock that migrations between Wood Buffalo National Park and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. We will soon have up to 60 birds in our migratory population and the Florida non-migratory flock once had nearly 100 individuals. That number has slipped recently with high mortality and low fertility in their breeding pairs and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has stopped releasing additional birds. In fact, that is the reason we have 20 chicks to lead south and 4 birds for the DAR method. If there is little improvement the Recovery Team may have to stop further releases to the non-migratory flock because this flock could be considered non-viable. A third flock will then have to be established in order to achieve the recovery mandate and the ultralight-led method is the most likely alternative. We could be at this for a while yet. 

Date:October 5th, 2005
Reporter:Mark Nipper
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: Well, I can't even remember the last time I sent something in. Really, not too much has been going on the last couple weeks with the birds. We have not been able to train much at all in the last three weeks because of weather. Fall is here at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. We have had a decent amount of rain (which we needed) and more wind than we would ever want. Our days have been spent madly trying to get everything ready to roll for the migration. As usual, we have saved all the work for right before we leave. I just don't know how we would live without the maximum amount of stress at the end.

All twenty birds are doing well as far as health goes. A few birds are a little wheezy at times, but it is nothing serious. It is currently rather warm and humid, which always brings out he wheezes in the birds. A lack of exercise from not being able not get out with the plane as often doesn't help either. 

When we have been able to fly, the birds follow fairly well. The birds all come out of the pen in a shot and get going with the plane. Well, actually, this year since we have so many birds the pilot needs to wait a little bit just for them all to get out. This bunch of birds goes in and out of the pen easier than any other year so far. And with more birds than ever, that part of the job being easy is really nice. A handful of birds gets up in the air before the pilot is able to take off, but it has not been a problem yet. When Richard van Heuvelen has had all the birds with him in the air it is such a cluster it is hard to make him out (it is often hard to find him on the refuge). The birds then thin out and form up on the plane pretty well. 

Today I went outside around 5:30 AM, or so, and it was blowing like crazy just like Tuesday and Monday. The last day we trained was Sunday and we missed a few days before that. We waited 'till about 08:00 AM and let the birds out on the runway. Charlie Shafer (recently arrived from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center for the migration), Brooke Pennypacker, and Kirill went with me to let them out. Chris Gulikson went into the bunker to take pictures. (Click on picture at right to see his photos.) They all ran/flew around and were happy to be out as can be expected. Aggression has been an issue with so many birds, but we have been fairly certain that most of it is while we are with them. Kids trying to get attention is the usual theory. Today, 519 had her head down foraging when 520 decided to stomp on it, apparently. 524 was also aggressive as usual. Charlie Shafer, being the "new kid," was picked on by several birds, especially 511 who hates most of us.

Date:September 28th, 2005
Reporter:Angie Maxted, DVM
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes:  This morning it is raining, and my bosses thought it would be a good time for me to type up an update.  This past week has been very hit-or-miss as far as the right conditions to be able to train. Some days we have had rain, sometimes wind, and scattered in there we have had brief periods of good early morning weather and were able to train the birds.  Mark Nipper wrote in his update on Tuesday September 20th that that date was the first day all twenty birds were trained together, even though the two cohorts (1 and 2/3) were still being housed separately at site one.  On Wednesday, all twenty birds were trained together briefly before the winds started to pick up, then we combined the two groups within the pen after training and the birds have been living as one big group since that day.  There have been some mild displays of aggression since combining the birds as they figure out the pecking order, but nothing out of the ordinary or that has us too concerned for the safety of the birds.   #519 has always been a relatively submissive bird but has suddenly become pretty gutsy. She will chase almost any bird that comes near her, but will generally back down to other more dominant birds.  In fact, a couple of days ago, we noticed that she was missing a patch of feathers on the left side of her face.  We guess that she tried to take on one of the more aggressive birds and paid for it with a few feathers.  The feathers are growing back nicely now, and we think she learned a valuable lesson because she has been a little more mellow the past few days.

The birds also got a brief training session on Friday morning, but that too was cut short by rapidly increasing winds.  No training Saturday or Sunday due to rain.  On Monday we didn't train because it was windy in the early morning, but later in the morning we let the birds out on the runway for some exercise. For about thirty minutes the birds flew around site one and foraged on puffball mushrooms that have sprouted up all over the runway. Yesterday (Tuesday) was the first good training session the birds have had in over a week We had calm winds and little to no fog over the water. Mark Nipper, Kirill P. (a visiting aviculturist from the Oka Crane Center in Russia), and I let all the birds out simultaneously Joe Duff took off with twenty birds, with Chris Gullikson in the chase position. A few of the birds only made a quick circuit then landed back on the runway, but Joe continued to fly with fourteen birds for about fifteen minutes while Chris picked a fifteenth bird and flew with it alone for the remainder of the time.  The other five birds came back to the runway at various times and were stuffing themselves with puffballs. All of the birds came back into the pen without too much extra encouragement.

The birds are progressing nicely in their training, now the people need to get into gear to get ourselves ready for the migration. The departure date will be here before we know it, and there are still pen modifications to make, vehicles to get ready, and cleanup to do around camp before we leave. We've been busy around here, and it will only get busier.

Date:September 23rd, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: Funny how the temperature dropped dramatically here in central Wisconsin on the first official day of autumn. Someone switched summer off and it went from the high 80's to the low 60's like the fire went out. But cold air is more dense than warm and provides more substance to push against with feathered wings and as the pressure builds, a greater number of oxygen molecules are packed closer together. A lung full of cold air provided more relief so lower temperatures are a welcome change to Whooping cranes. Brooke, Richard and Chris are home enjoying one more break before the migration begins so I'm the only pilot in camp for now. 

When I got airborne Friday morning and headed for the East Site I felt a little cold and lonely but that mood changed the instant 20 birds came charging out of the pen and we took off to the south. Without a chase pilot I was reluctant to take them far. If some of the birds decided to break and head back there would be no one to intercept them. They would return on their own and begin to learn a bad habit so I circled Rynearson Pond two or three times and brought them back to the East Site after only 10 minutes and 19 seconds. 

The weather deteriorated Saturday and Sunday so the hangar is cleaner than it has been in a while and my airplane sparkles again. It also gave us time to compile the endless list of things to be done before the migration begins. Richard is changing the suspension on one of our travel pen trailers while Mark stocks them both with everything the ground crew will need. With 20 birds, food storage will be an issue. The pelletized blend of grains, protein and medication was developed by Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and we will need a special shipment to meet us some place in Tennessee. We are adding more panels to make our mobile pens larger to accommodate more birds and Chris is putting the final touches on his aircraft. This is the trike that Deke Clark once used and it has been sitting in the corner for two years. It is one of mine from the Fly Away Home days and it has just received a new engine, instrument panel, sound system and a major inspection it ensure it is airworthy. 

Each year we set a target date for the migration to begin and this year its October 10th. It really means that the crew will be ready and the next step will be up to the weather. 

Over the summer our birds learn to follow us around the refuge. At first their endurance is limited so we make tight circuits around the pen. As they become stronger, our circles widen but we are reluctant to lead them too far away in case one drops out over strange territory. This method protects them while they learn to fly but makes them very cautious about leaving the area. On the first day of migration, as we head south past the boundaries of their experience, their attraction to the aircraft is stretched thinner by the security of home as the two get farther apart. In the past we have been lucky to arrive at the first site with half the birds while the others are inevitably spread out over the 20 miles we covered. It is not until late in the day that they have all been found, grated and delivered to our first stop. Once in new territory they are more attentive and usually the second leg is much better. 

To cure this problem and make day-one less traumatic for us and the birds, we have found a stop only 5 miles to the south. Just when they begin to doubt our intentions we will land next to the familiar pen. There is no guarantee this will work but it is worth a try. It will, however, make for a humble beginning. Just as we are waving to the crowds that gather to witness the launch of Migration 2005, we will be reducing power and setting up the approach for a landing. It will add one day to however long this migration will take, but, if it works we will have more energy in reserve to fight the battles that surly are ahead.



Date:September 22nd, 2005
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:Training update

Notes: After working for weeks with our small cohorts, you get used to seeing 6 or 7 birds charge out of the pens, eager to take off with the aircraft. Now that we have removed the separation barrier between cohorts 2 and 3, and led cohort 3 over to the east site, all of the birds are at one location. When we took off this morning from the airport and headed out over the refuge, we could see the fog hanging just north of the east site. This limited our range and meant we would not have a large area in which to train them. We sat on the runway for 20 minutes hoping it would lift but everything seemed still so we conversed over the radio and decided to let them all out for a short flight. Richard Van Heuvelen taxied up to the pen while I circled overhead and Chris sat on the ground at the south end of the runway. Mark and Kirill (from the Oka Crane Breeding Center in Russia) released them from both gates at once and 20 birds came charging out at Richard. His one word comment violated the Radio Operator's code of behavior but left no doubt that he was a little intimidated by the number.  Twenty birds (click image at right for more photos) and their reflection on glass-smooth water against a background of fog, tinted yellow by the rising sun, made a surreal visual even if you couldn't see through the camera's viewfinder.  Chris picked up 3 birds that didn't take off and I collected one that fell behind Richard. We made a few loops around Rynearson pond in front of the observation tower and headed for home. The flight only lasted 9 minutes but it was the first time all of the birds have been trained together. Migration is one step closer.

After our training session, we all flew over to the observation tower to give the crowd a view of the three aircraft. When we fly with birds our attention is focused on the flock and there is little time to enjoy the scenery or the freedom flying can provide. Afterwards, it is hard to resist a little "hot-dogging" and Chris has shown he is no different than the rest of us. None of this is dangerous but it is fun to relieve the tension with a few tight turns and hard climbs. Our aircraft are all identical and the pilots are costumed so when we hear comments on the aerial display I always blame the new guy for the aerobatics. I flew low over the marsh and 100 yards in front of the tower I pushed up into a steep climb and rolled into a 360 wondering how much I was adding to his reputation. 

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership began their annual fall meetings this week at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and heard reports from the various teams. Plans were finalized for the migration crew and promises were made for support vehicles and equipment. John Thomton has spent the spring and summer with us as an intern and we were grooming him to join us in migration. Fortunately for him, but to our detriment, he has taken a job with Disney and left early this week. With Mark Nipper, Angie Maxted and Charlie Shaffer from Patuxent, we have many good aviculturists to handle our birds. Walter Sturgeon has volunteered to join us and brings his 30 years of crane experience along with him. We now need a person that could help out generally and drive one of our vehicles, so if anyone you know wants to run away with the circus, drop us a line.

Date:September 21st, 2005
Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Location:Necedah National Wildlife Refuge
Activity:20 Whooping Cranes in Flight

Notes: Today we set a new milestone in Whooper history. It began with a somewhat foggy morning with a slight breeze. Joe and I decided to go to the airport and try flying to see if we could get a window of opportunity to train. Yesterday we let all of the chicks in all cohorts out of the pen at the same time. Sixteen of the chicks followed well while Joe and Chris gathered the other four to follow their trikes at different intervals before we all returned to the pen site.

With limited training lately, we were anxious to train at every opportunity. Taking off from Necedah airport was rather bumpy, but we decided to fly out to the refuge anyway so that we could communicate with the ground crew. Upon arriving over the site, we found calmer air over the water so it was decided to take the chicks for a short flight. 

All of the birds were released at the same time and all came out eagerly. With the trike surrounded by a few enthusiastic chicks, most of the others took off without the us. After a moment of maneuvering, a successful take-off was managed with the remaining chicks following. The trike quickly overtook the main group, and for the first time we had twenty chicks following one aircraft. Looking back at the vast group of birds, I was struck by a sense of awe and excitement, twenty birds following all at the same time. Both Joe and Mark chimed in over the radio, "Wow! That's a lot of birds. Awesome." and it truly was. There were so many birds that we only managed to get nineteen in the photo. 

Note: Whooping cranes are not colonial birds and do not gather in large flocks. This may be the only time in history that 20 Whooping cranes have flown in formation, and is certainly the first time that that number has followed an aircraft.

Photos:
Click on a thumbnail image for an enlargement/complete photo.



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