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Date:Tues. Jan. 15, 2002
Topic:Florida Update
Reporter:Joe Duff

Notes:
Radio tracking devices like the ones that our birds wear have a tough life; attached upside down to the leg band they must be completely waterproof and temperature insensitive. They must contain enough battery life to last several migrations; weigh less than 30 grams; and be strong enough to withstand the constant pecking of birds wishing to be unencumbered. It is not surprising when one malfunctions and that is what happened to the radio unit on crane #10.
On Sunday, January 6th the monitoring team noticed the absence of a signal from this birds transmitter and asked the WCEP Bird Team for approval to change the unit. This means capturing the bird, cutting the old band off and refitting a new one. The entire time the bird must be hooded to prevent her seeing humans and held in what handlers call the standard football carry; keeping the wings protected from injury and the legs accessible - not to mention the beak safely out of jabbing range. With approval obtained, the plan was to switch the band in the morning on Thursday, January 10th but when the team, including Marilyn Spalding DVM, Richard Urbanek and Marianne Wellington arrived, #10 was not with the rest of the flock.
The night before, all the birds had moved out of the pen to roost in an area that was not the best. In order to be safe, wading birds like cranes sleep in water at night. This makes it difficult for predators to sneak up on them without being noticed. The area our birds selected was a narrow stream with the shoreline so close that a bobcat could easily pounce on them. Although we have no evidence of what happened, we do know that in the morning the rest of the birds returned to the pen but #10 was not with them. There are many documented cases of birds that have disappeared - only to turn up, sometimes years later but without a tracking device we can only wait and hope.

Date:Fri. Jan. 4, 2002
Topic:Progress Report
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
With Richard away for the holidays, Marianne continued to monitor the birds, even spending Christmas Eve on the island along with refuge employee Takako Hashimoto and the six wintering whoopers. Notes from Marianne's report indicates fresh Bobcat tracks were seen along the path leading to the pen on Dec. 23rd, so on Dec. 24th a live trap was set up along the trail. Later in the evening the two island campers heard the distinct and startled cry of a Bobcat and based on the direction it came from couldn't help but wonder (and hope?) if the cat had found the electric fence surrounding the release pen. 

Since then they have not seen any fresh tracks or other signs of Bobcats and the only animal caught in the live trap was a very sorry Raccoon, which was released.  The cranes have kept to their pattern of flying out of the pen at approximately 7am each day and foraging in the area southeast of the release pen and among the oyster beds. Often they will fly large circuits around the island before returning to the safety of their enclosure. On Dec. 22nd the costume offered a Blue crab to the cranes and while number's 10 & 7 were most interested in it, they were quickly displaced by two of the more dominant birds, number's 1 & 6. 

Marianne was able to capture some still images taken from video footage and sent these along with her report. Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

 

#7 foraging in water

#5 carries a Blue crab

 

Date:Mon. Dec. 24, 2001
Topic:Progress Report
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
Richard Urbanek and Marianne Wellington from the International Crane Foundation are monitoring the cranes during their stay at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Recently Richard filed the following report:

"The birds appear to be adopting a foraging pattern similar to that of the Sandhill cranes last year. They typically spend part of the morning outside the pen, foraging in the adjacent burn or pool and the remainder of the day in the pen (or for a few birds, just outside the pen). Some birds have spent some time probing in the pool within the pen during low tide.

On 15 Dec #7 captured and ate a shrimp on the burn south of the pen; she also pulled off and ate the legs of a blue crab I offered. On 18 Dec #10 was observed carrying and dissembling a blue crab she had captured in the pen.

Birds continue not roosting in water and not showing any attraction to the costumed dummy. On 14 Dec, # 6 was still outside the pen just before dark and was herded in. On 15 Dec, #'s 4 & 6 were led/herded in. On 17 Dec, #'s 7 & 10 were led in. On the other four evenings all birds were already in the pen just before dark."

Ed. note: Be sure to check out the "lighter side" of human-assisted migration. Seasons Greetings to all of our friends and supporters!

Date:Tues. Dec. 18, 2001
Topic:A Loss
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes: Whooping crane killed by bobcat

Crystal River, FL - The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) announced today that a whooping crane which was part of a migratory reintroduction study was killed by a bobcat yesterday.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist monitoring the birds discovered during a routine check on the birds Monday morning that the bird referred to as #4 had been killed by a bobcat. All the birds had been accounted for during the previous afternoon check.

The crane was located approximately 40 yards outside the protected pen. The other six whooping cranes were found safe inside the pen. A necropsy, performed by Dr. Marilyn Spalding, University of Florida veterinarian, indicated the death was consistent with a bobcat kill and that bird #4 was otherwise in good health and condition.

"Every effort has been made to provide for the safety of these birds," said Jim Kraus, refuge manager for the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge where the birds are located, "and while it is unfortunate we lost a bird, it does not come as a surprise. Predation has always been a possibility and is part of the natural order. It is also why we went to great lengths to provide as safe an enclosure as we could, while still allowing the birds to develop their independence and wildness."

The pen is constructed with eight-foot high mesh fencing that is partially buried to prevent predators from digging under the fence, and is surrounded by two rows of electric fencing to discourage predators from approaching the enclosure. Bird #4 was found outside of this enclosure.

USFWS biologist Richard Urbanek and International Crane Foundation biologist Marianne Wellington are monitoring the site during the birds’ winter stay at the refuge.

A bobcat was successfully live trapped at the site earlier today and relocated to reduce the danger to the remaining birds.

The whooping crane reintroduction study is a cooperative effort of WCEP public and private partners and aims to re-establish a migratory flock of cranes back into the eastern North America landscape. In the first phase of the study, ultralight aircraft are being used to lead young chicks south from their fledging area at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to suitable wintering grounds at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge along Florida’s central-west coast. The ultimate goal of the project is to reintroduce enough birds to the fly-way to establish a
self-sustaining flock containing at least 25 adult, breeding pairs.

Date:Mon. Dec. 17, 2001
Topic:Sandhill Migration
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
During last year's Sandhill flight and again this year with Whooping cranes, we used private land belonging to "Doug & Bonnie" as a stopover site just south of Atlanta, GA. Doug submitted the following email to me over the weekend: "On Saturday, Dec. 15th between 1530 EST and 1620 EST approximately 22 flocks of Sandhills passed over our place. There were between 50-75 birds in each group--they picked up a thermal just north of our strip and climbed with some groups joining others, spiraling up and continuing on. I estimate the bird count to be 1200 to 1400 birds. An awesome sight and the noise was loud! They appeared in waves which looked like the waves of aircraft during the D-day invasion. They would approach low 500 feet approx. Then just north of us there is an area of up drafts (thermals) on sunny days. They would go to that area (about 4 miles North) and circle in the thermal to about 1500-2000 feet, randomly in a mass then they would form up in a v and continue on South. In our 33 years here we have never seen anything like it. We usually see two or three flocks at a time but certainly not over twenty groups in a 40 minute period."

Thanks for the report Doug! During this year's trip I heard the familiar gurgle of Sandhills flying overhead and was able to capture a photo of them, as they kettled upward gaining altitude. 

Date:Sun. Dec. 16, 2001
Topic:Progress Report
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
In his weekly report, Richard Urbanek tells us that #4 is now responsive to the costumed caretaker, approaching without hesitation and purring (contact call) in response while the other six cranes are still wary and demonstrate only weak attraction to the costumed handlers and the costumed dummy. The dummy was erected in the center of the large pond inside the pen enclosure to provide them with something familiar and to encourage the birds to roost in water at night. Water roosting is an important behaviour which will help keep the cranes safe from predators. Any intruders keen on reaching the birds will have to approach them by wading through water and the splashing sound will warn the birds. While the caretakers have not witnessed any water roosting firsthand, Dec. 11th videotape from the monitoring camera did show some of them in water, apparently foraging as darkness fell.

The cranes are venturing outside of the pen during the day, often to forage on the adjacent burned areas without standing water. On Dec. 10th and 11th, they were observed foraging in shallow water in the pool southwest of the pen and #5 caught and ate a snake-like animal in this shallow water (yuk). 

Sessions to encourage birds to eat blue crabs took place on four days between Dec. 8th - 13th. Although there was some interest, these sessions resulted in no observed consumption. The crabs were too large for the birds to swallow whole and they did not know how to break them up. They showed little interest in broken pieces of crab, which did not move. On Dec. 12th Richard caught a smaller crab (species unknown, intermediate in size) and offered it to the birds. They were very interested and #4 seized and ate this live crab.

Last year's Sandhill Cranes: As of Dec. 11th, cranes  4, 9, 11, and 12 continued to be detected by radio telemetry at Jasper-Pulaski wildlife area in Indiana. Sandhill numbers at Jasper-Pulaski have remained about the same since significant migration occurred from there on November 20th. It is therefore likely that most of the project Sandhill's remain at this location but that the two birds (#'s 3 and 5) that left Hiwassee State Wildlife Area in Tennessee on Nov. 26th could have arrived at their final wintering destinations.

Date:Thur. Dec. 13, 2001
Topic:Progress Report
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
Hello everyone from OM Headquarters' in Ontario! Richard, Joe, Gord and I arrived home safely last Sunday evening after the long drive, which began in Crystal River, FL on Friday the 7th. We first drove to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD and bid farewell to Damien, Deke, Rebecca and the OM RV trailer that will stay on site at Patuxent, ready to welcome Joe back once the new chicks hatch next spring. Damien will go to work helping to prepare the captive Whooping crane flock for the upcoming breeding season and Deke & Rebecca will be busy finally unpacking their belongings, which have been in storage since they arrived home from the '98 Sandhill migration to find their condominium burned to the ground. Imagine arriving home, intent on relaxing after being on the road for more than 4 months - you approach your street and see an orange glow in the night sky directly over your neighborhood. As you draw closer, the unmistakable pulse of red lights nearly blinds you as you watch firemen dousing flames and realize there is nothing left of your home. This was the situation that greeted them at the end of the '98 migration and since then they have been anxiously waiting for the building to be re-constructed so they could once again have a "home" that wasn't on wheels for at least part of the year.

Before departing Florida, Dan and Damien, along with members of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership Bird Health team performed a final health check on the "Chass-Seven." Three of the birds were fitted with satellite transmitters which will allow us to monitor their activities over the winter and during the return trip north in the spring. Bird's 5, 2 & 4 were the recipients of this new fashion accessory and were chosen because of their ranking and status within the flock: #5 is a dominant male - the handlers and pilots refer to him as the "policeman" of the flock. #2 is a like-minded female. And, well, #4 was selected because of his propensity to wander. This would make locating him much easier should he decide not to make the return trip north with his cohort's.

Marilyn Spalding, DVM reports that preliminary test results indicate that the cranes are all healthy and that CPK levels, an indicator of stress was very low in all the birds. Richard Urbanek and Marianne Wellington of the International Crane Foundation have been monitoring the young cranes in their new surroundings from a blind constructed approximately 300 feet from the pen and report that they are making daily flights outside the pen and are returning at night to roost. They are not, however, very receptive to the costumed handlers, which is not unusual following the necessary handling involved during a health check. Following the Sept. 11th health check/banding procedure, Joe reported that it took almost two weeks for them to accept and trust the costume. 

The birds have been foraging inside their pen, eating snails and even some of the smaller crabs. They haven't quite figured out how to attack the large crabs as yet.

six of the young cranes in their new winter home...
Date:Thur. Dec. 6, 2001
Migration Day#51
Weather:Rain
Accumulated miles traveled:1223.8 miles
Topic:Mission Accomplished
Reporter:Heather Ray

Notes:
Joe, Deke and Richard were airborne at 7:24am yesterday intent on delivering the cranes to the remote location off the Florida mainland. They had a short distance to fly before reaching the temporary pen near Homosassa where the birds had spent the last two days. Joe was prepared to do an air pick-up as the field the pen was located in was very small, surrounded by live oak trees. As he neared the field Damien released the birds and they waited impatiently, poised in their pre-flight posture for Joe to pass low over them. They seem to know the drill now: exit pen, line up, point beak in the direction the trike is flying and ready, set, lift-off! It's 7:31am.

They pump their long, elegant wings and with each stroke gain the altitude which will eventually bring them in proximity to the tiny aircraft they view as their trusty guide. Once out of the field they head west and are soon gliding over the vast wetlands of the Chassahowitzka refuge. The refuge is an intricate network of waterways and islands, most accessible only by airboat, which is how #4 made the trip out to his new home on Tuesday. Ensconced in his familiar crate, he was loaded onto the deck of the boat and once the engine was started, he could be heard crying loudly over the noise as they headed out to the island. Dan made the trip with him along with Bob Quarrels from the Chass refuge, who operated the airboat and Marianne Wellington from the International Crane Foundation, who along with Richard Urbanek will monitor the cranes over the winter. Once at the island, #4's costumed escorts carried the crate through the needle rush and black muck, into the large open-topped pen and released him, giving him his first look at these strange surroundings. After a couple of minutes they used the puppet to lead him inside the top-netted section of the pen where he promptly began probing in the muck and picking up tasty snails. #4 spent Tuesday night alone waiting for his flock mates to join him yesterday morning and when Dan and Marianne arrived at the pen yesterday, ready to call in the remaining six cranes, they noticed a lot of empty snail shells in the section of the pen which still held #4.

Soon after Joe picked up the six birds radio contact with him was lost as he ventured further out, however I could still hear Paula's voice as she flew top-cover. At 7:43am, I heard Paula exclaim "Wow! That was great. Let's head back to Crystal River airport" and I knew that Joe had successfully performed the whooper air-drop and delivered the six cranes to their new winter home. The "Chass-seven" have arrived, and with them - hope for survival of the species.

Date:Wed. Dec. 5, 2001
Migration Day#50
Weather:Warm
Distance/Duration:?
Accumulated miles traveled:1217.8 miles
Topic:No rest for the weary
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Citrus Co., FL

Notes: And you thought we were finished? Currently the cranes are in a temporary holding pen located on the mainland near the Chassahowitzka refuge. The next step in this project is to fly them the remaining distance to the permanent open topped pen that the refuge staff and volunteers have built on a remote island off the coast. The pen measures approximately 350ft x 150ft and is constructed from 10ft high fencing with approx. 2ft buried under ground to prevent alligators and other predators from digging under it. There is an electric fencer unit around the perimeter to deter feral hogs and anything else that may view our birds as a tasty treat. Inside, there is a feeding station, which will provide fresh food and water to the birds during their stay as well as a costumed dummy to provide them with something familiar. 

Today we will attempt to do an air pickup from their temporary location and fly them to the remote site where an air drop will be performed. This involves having Damien at the temporary site to release them on cue and Dan on the ground in the permanent pen to call them in once Joe does a very low pass over the pen and then a sharp and fast climb while the birds are already on their final approach. On final, Joe will turn off his crane vocalizations and Dan will begin playing his over the loudspeaker on the ground. The idea is to trick the birds into thinking they will be landing with the aircraft but at the last second, the aircraft will quickly move out and the cranes won't have time to recover from their approach and will ultimately land in or near the pen.

Once inside, they will be housed in a secondary top-netted section until the Florida veterinarians have a chance to do a final health check and fit three of the birds with satellite transmitters so that we may track their movements over the winter as well as their return trip in the spring. When this procedure is complete, the top net will be removed and the cranes will be free to fly and discover their new winter home during the day and hopefully, always return to the safety and familiarity of the pen.

So, you see we're still at the mercy of Mother Nature, hoping for good weather this morning so that we can get the job finished and return home in time for Christmas.

Date:Mon. Dec. 3, 2001
Migration Day#48
Weather:PERFECT!
Distance/Duration:25.1 miles / :40
Accumulated miles traveled:1215.2 miles
Topic:Final Destination Reached (finally!)
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Citrus Co., FL

Notes: Following a journey of forty-eight days and 1217.8 miles, Operation Migration has successfully delivered 7 endangered Whooping cranes to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida. The trip consisted of 25 individual flights with the longest flight lasting 2 hours and 9 minutes and the shortest only 38 minutes. The journey began on October 17th at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Central Wisconsin and proceeded south through Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and halfway through Florida. Twenty-three days were spent grounded due to inclement weather, including a very strong storm which battered the travel pen used to house the cranes during stopovers and resulted in the loss of one bird, #3 when it escaped the pen and collided with a power line. 

A few words from Joe, Dan, Deke and Heather:

"The road to recovery has been long and arduous. We have conducted ten studies to develop the technique and and led Sandhill cranes along the same route in preparation; we have trained Whooping cranes for over 7 months and covered 1217 miles in 48-days. We have delivered seven healthy birds to the wintering site and maintained their tentative hold on wildness and although it seems like we have reached our destination, it is only just beginning. Before this new population can be considered self-sustaining we have many more miles to cover. We celebrate our successes one at a time." 
Joe Duff

"There are no words to express the greatness of this team; those who have supported us; or these birds. Twenty-five breeding pairs migrating between Wisconsin and Florida and then the fat lady can sing"!
Dan Sprague

"The 100-year void in the eastern flyway is filled. Whooping cranes will again soar over this portion of North America."
Deke Clark

"During the past 4 weeks I have had the privilege of working alongside the best team possible; these selfless people who came together in the name of preserving and safeguarding the Whooping crane from possible extinction. Most of us have not had a day off since July; most have been away from their families for a very long time. We can now return to our loved ones - proud that we have succeeded in planting the seeds for what will grow into the first migratory flock of Whooping cranes in Eastern North America after a 100-year absence and satisfied in a job well done. Thank you teammates, friends, family, Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership members and OM supporters. Now, when do next year's chicks hatch"?
Heather Ray

Thanks and appreciation goes out to everyone that visited this website and traveled along with us. Your encouraging emails and guest book entries helped more than you will ever know. And our sincere appreciation goes out to all of the donors who literally helped get these birds to Florida. When we began, we were short of our budget goal of $365,000.00 by just over $17,000.00. Thanks to your generosity, we not only met this goal but exceeded it by a further $10,000.00, which will help with next year's flight.

We hope you will continue to drop by to check out additional photo's and for updates through out the winter to see how the cranes are doing in their winter home and to follow them north when the initiate the return migration in the spring. 

Onward & UPward,
The OM Team

The view from below this morning at the Crystal River Mall as 6 of the Whoopers were escorted to their winter home.

Date:Sun. Dec. 2, 2001
Migration Day#47
Weather:Cooler temps, patchy fog
Distance/Duration:52.7 miles / 1:11
Accumulated miles traveled:1192.7 miles
Topic:last stop before final flight
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Levy Co., FL

Notes: With a slight tailwind providing assistance this morning the team was able to lift off at 7:26 am under clear skies. We had two potential stops selected in case we could only make it another 20 miles and the crew did use this stop but only temporarily. Once the patchy fog at our second destination cleared the pilots and cranes were airborne again and headed south to our second last stop on this journey. If the weather holds, tomorrow we will fly the remaining 25.1 miles and finally deliver our passengers to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Area where they will spend the winter. 

If anyone is in the Crystal River area tomorrow morning the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is planning a public fly-over event at the Crystal River Mall on U.S. Hwy 19, north end parking lot. See the link to the left for details. I hope to see you there!

Topic:Stalled Systems
Reporter:Bill Lishman
Current Location:Gilchrist Co., FL

Notes: The weather system seems to be stalled. For the fourth day we arise to a clear sky. Seemingly no wind, ground mist and dew so heavy that by tipping the trike wings there is enough run off for a quick cold shower if we were so inclined. At least it isn't the frost of further north.

Our mornings have become almost ritual: fuel the aircraft, tie downs undone, ball up the ropes and zipper them into the wings, and remove the tarp that has kept the cockpit free of the heavy condensation. Brakes set, a couple of squirts of the primer, ignition on, choke on, throttle cracked, pull once, twice. The engine vibrates into life shaking off a spray of the remaining dew; next, while the engine warms I pull on the costume, headset, helmet and hood in that order. (I have to make sure the tinted goggles fit well over the spectacles). Then gingerly I climb in and wait for the engine to come to temperature. Radio on, headset plugged in, and checked, GPS on and destination set, ignition check then seat belt clipped and the bungee securing the control bar released. Deke and Joe have gone through the same routine. 

In our crane burkas we look like the recent media pictures of Afghani Women under the Taliban about to take flight. We taxi to the west end of the field and one, two, three we climb into the golden sun that has just broken over the horizon. The ground fog this morning is really mist compared to the last two days. The question is will # 5 fly this morning? We orbit around the field that has been home to the crane pen for the last two days and wait for Dan's signal on the radio - he does a little purr that actually sounds more like a burp when he is ready to do the release. Deke with dismay in his voice claims only 20 mph ground speed on heading. Joe tries the same at tree top level and gets a reading closer to thirty. There is a brief interchange interrupted by Dan's burp and Deke wings in for the pickup. From my vantage, higher and to the north, it looks perfect with the birds emerging from the pen, taking wing and staying with Deke from the start. I hear Joe commend Deke on the timing. Deke leads only five birds out, #5 is still poorly and voluntarily stays in the pen to travel in the van along with #4. On heading Deke's lead is short lasted. The birds break and three move over to Joe's wing. The air is smooth and the image of the two craft with their entourage is silhouetted against wisps of sunlit mist threaded through the treetops. 

I fly a couple of hundred feet higher and shoot video. This morning the video camera works, for the past two days the camera has balked at the near saturation humidity and shut itself down. Today I kept it in a plastic bag until airborne then with some difficulty extracted it in the forty mile an hour breeze that constantly tries to rip things from our hands. Keeping at tree top is the only way to progress if I climb to five hundred feet the head wind is so strong even at fifty miles an hour airspeed Deke and Joe who are flying at ten miles an hour less airspeed are making better time across the patch work of reforestation and cow pastures. 

For a time we parallel a power line then cross over and are soon flying along a highway, Joe is only a hundred feet up cruising above the highway. Deke with his two is a few hundred feet back, higher and to the east of the highway. A dump truck on the highway catches up and roars by under Joe's group and the birds explode up frightened by the rumbling behemoth. Joe veers west and the birds regroup on his wing. Deke's two break off from his wing and slide downward over the highway to join Joe's group and the five string off his left wing for the duration of the flight. 

We pass over patches of misted pastures with great knarly trees erupting through the silken shroud. In one field a small fire creates a fifty-foot tall flattop mushroom with a wisp that wanders strangely southward over the field. Strange because the wind is decidedly out of the southeast. At another location we pass over a few farm buildings and standing in the field facing the road is a strange apparition, a huge scale Santa Claus reminding me that it is almost December. In another field a family of pigs who have been rooting in the white sand tilt their snoots skyward and intently watch as we pass over.

As expected the air starts to get slightly bumpy. The open fields grow fewer and farther apart as we near the airstrip of Ron and Maryanne Manna's near Branford. As we cross his field, I wave to Ron and two neighbors out on the runway watching our passage. 

I speed ahead to the landing site a few miles farther on and find it lightly misted. It is pockmarked pastureland surrounded by cypress and pine. I shoot an approach to show Joe the landing area he acknowledges the location. I climb up and around to the north and he does a circuit while Deke lands into the sun throwing up a spray of sunlit dew. I then follow Joe in videotaping a nearly perfect crane plane formation landing. We have covered another twenty miles in forty-one minutes at this rate in Florida the longest state yet.  

Date:Sat. Dec. 1, 2001
Migration Day#46
Weather:Fog, drizzle, Low Ceiling
Distance/Duration:0
Accumulated miles traveled:1140.0
Topic:Standing Down
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Gilchrist Co., FL

Notes: Deja vous, vous and more vous. The team was in place and ready to go this morning. The pilots were airborne, the handlers were in place and ready to release the cranes and the remaining members of the road crew were ready to hook-up the trailers and get moving. The radio banter we listened in on told the story, low ceiling, fog and drizzle had quickly moved in to the airstrip where the pilots had lifted of from minutes earlier.

The next words we heard were "roger that, stand down." 

Date:Fri. Nov. 30, 2001
Migration Day#45
Weather:South Wind
Distance/Duration:0
Accumulated miles traveled:1140.0
Topic:Standing Down
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Gilchrist Co., FL

Notes: At 5am this morning I stepped out of my motel room and immediately knew there was no need to rush. The wind was strong even at that hour. When I arrived at the site, slowly people began emerging from their trailers, sleepy-eyed and with the familiar look of disappointment on their faces.

We checked the weather online maps and if accurate, tomorrow is looking hopeful and may even provide a slight north wind for a change. This will help us get to possibly the last stopover site along the route.

We have a total of 77.8 miles remaining in this long journey. 

Date:Thur. Nov. 29, 2001
Migration Day#44
Weather:Warm & Sunny, Patchy Fog
Distance/Duration:20.0 / :41
Accumulated miles traveled:1140.0
Topic:Baby Steps
Reporter:Heather Ray
Current Location:Gilchrist Co., FL

Notes: At 7:17am, three ultralights and 5 Whooping cranes departed Suwannee Co. and headed south to our next stop-over location, 20 miles away. The flight lasted :41, under clear skies and a warm 58 F. The pilots had to stay at lower altitudes as Paula, flying above in her Cessna was reporting a 20 knot headwind at 1500 ft.

At 7:58 the flight team landed in Gilchrist County and is currently waiting for the ground crew to arrive to set up the travel pen.

The team decided to crate #5 for today's trip just as a precautionary measure until the results of the blood work come back. #4 also made the trip, this time with company, in his crate.

On the way in to this location, I passed a Christmas tree farm and found myself wondering if I should stop and pick one up. Then I couldn't decide who's motor home could accommodate it? 

 
Addendum Nov. 28, 2001:
Marilyn Spaulding took x-rays of crane #5 this afternoon and after having them developed reported to the team that everything appeared normal. There were no obstructions, no foreign objects and the neck structure showed nothing out of the ordinary. Blood samples were also drawn and will be tested for contaminants. Results should be back in a couple of days. Dan and Joe checked on the birds at around 4:30pm and Dan reports that #5's posture has improved but still appears to be submitting submissive behavior.

Depending on tomorrow morning's weather, we will attempt to proceed south to our next stopover, 20 miles away. #5 will be included, with close attention paid to his behavior during and after the flight.

Very special thanks go out to Drs. Dan Wolfersteig and Elisabeth Reid of Suwannee Oaks Animal Clinic who kindly made a radiograph machine available and developed films for us.

Date:Wed. Nov. 28, 2001
Migration Day#43
Weather:Warm
Accumulated miles traveled:1120.0
Topic:An Attempt
Reporter:Joe Duff
Current Location:Suwannee Co. FL

Notes: At 7:43 this morning Deke performed an air pick-up and began to climb out of the field that the travel pen was located in. 

Within seconds, I could hear Joe's voice over the aircraft radio telling Deke that it appeared as if one of the birds was flying with his neck held in an unusual posture. It looked to Joe as if it was holding it's neck much like a heron would. Deke managed to get a visual on the bird, still flying well within the formation in the second position, and confirmed Joe's opinion. 

The second bird in the order, #5 is holding it's neck in a strange manner

With the ground speed reading at 27 mph, and with an estimated flight time of :50 to the next location, the decision was made to turn back and have our on-site vet, Marilyn Spaulding, DVM from the University of Florida examine the crane to determine the reason for the change in posture. Upon landing, Marilyn donned her costume and with puppet in hand went to examine the bird. The examination turned up nothing definitive, so thought it best to contact local equine veterinarians to see if we could track down a portable radiograph unit to take an x-ray of the bird's neck, in the hopes of locating the problem. The pilot's and handlers were all in agreement.

It could turn out to be a simple explanation such as, perhaps seconds before release from the pen the bird may have been eating and simply had some food lodged in its long throat, or it could be something more serious. We will take the cautious route and perform the x-ray's.

At this point, we are definitely down for another day, concerned for the health of one of our hero's. I will update as soon as possible.

Date:Addendum to Mon. Nov. 26, 2001
Migration Day#41
Topic:Our Shining Star...
Reporter:Joe Duff
Current Location:Suwannee Co. FL

Notes: We have faced so many challenges on this migration that every person on the team has been called upon to do more than expected. Each day there is a new hero that has helped to move these birds safely south, without a serious breach of the protocol. 

Paula Lounsbury, flying the Cessna 182 as top-cover, has been our "Angel on High" on more than one occasion. Her husband Don, who gave up his turn in the pilot's seat in the name of consistency, has often been our only connection with the rest of the team. Heather Ray has covered all the details that we always forget; managed to write the updates that keep you all informed and have them posted before we are hardly on the ground. Bill Lishman who flies an aircraft too fast to lead birds has dropped out of his normal scout position to lend his wing to a tired bird and carried him home.

Every day, someone on the team performs above and beyond the call and today's hero was Deke Clark. Deke's star shines so bright that it's hard to notice a particular brilliance. We live in his motor home, his truck pulls our aircraft trailer and he volunteers six months of his life, every year to the leading of birds. When we issue him a cheque to cover his expenses, he signs it back to us. Our first conversations took place on the phone over four years ago. He began calling us before he retired as a Boeing 777 Captain for United Airlines. He had heard about our project and wanted to help and my immediate reaction was one of skepticism. I assumed he only wanted to add "flying with birds" to his list of aviation achievements and that he did not realize the level of commitment necessary. 

Leading birds is the payment that makes up for the 14-hour days and six months away from family and friends but it was a price he was willing to pay. Since that time he has worked with us through four migrations, became a leader of birds and a good friend. Today he came to the rescue of two birds that needed his help. We started our flight late, waiting for the fog to burn off. We only had 20 miles to fly and were not expecting problems. These birds have flown for 100 mile legs and this seemed like an easy hop.

Unfortunately, we underestimated the effects of warm air on our flock's endurance and five miles short of our destination, #6 dropped back. He was soon joined by our lead bird, #1 and the two of them began to fly at tree-top level. We were passing over a large forest and Deke was moving in to pick them up when they spotted the only open field and headed in to land. Deke followed them but quickly realized the plowed surface was too rough and landed in the next field over. He shut down his aircraft and scaled a barbed wire fence to reach his charges and led them to the shade of row of trees.

Once they stopped panting, he led them through a gate and back to his aircraft. Bill had landed and he lent a hand to hold the birds while Deke prepared to depart. By now the sun was higher, the wind had begun to blow and he had to use full power to avoid the turbulence on take-off. He lost track of the birds and Bill who still had to get to his aircraft, was not yet able to communicate on the radio. Deke climbed higher and began a circle search when he spotted the ground crew parked on a sideroad, ready to lend a hand. They were able to tell him over the radio that the birds had caught a thermal and were climbing high above him. Deke powered up and at 1500 feet finally found his birds - soaring on a rising column of air. He moved into position, they formed on his wing and he started a long, slow descent, to join me and the rest of the birds at our destination. During the entire episode, not one person came out of the many houses around the area, nor did a car drive down the road that ran along the field's perimeter. We were lucky today, as we have often been. We managed to get the birds closer to their winter home without exposure to humans. The more people like Deke that we have on our team the more luck we seem to have.


Our internet service provider was experiencing difficulties over the past two days during a scheduled update to their ftp server. As a result I have been unable to post messages. It does appear to be working now but if I do disappear again, it should only be temporary and I will update as soon as I can. It would appear that the "Jokester" has a friend in cyber space...

Date:Tue. Nov. 27, 2001
Migration Day#42
Accumulated miles traveled:1120.0
Topic:Success...
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Warm and sunny
Flight length/duration:20.4 miles / :45
Current Location:Suwannee Co. FL

Notes: Though we are still in Suwannee Co. the team did fly this morning with 6 cranes a distance of just over 20 miles. This brings our migration total to 1120.0 miles since departing Necedah, WI on Oct. 17th, nearly 6 weeks ago. #4 traveled in his regular position contained in his crate, in the back of the tracking vehicle. Despite the patchy ground fog this morning the pilots were able to lift off at 7:35 to begin the short 20-mile jaunt south. While the fog is typical of this area in the fall, the warm temperatures we've been experiencing are not. 68 Fahrenheit at the time of departure is unusually warm and if we are not careful the cranes could overheat. This is why we have added some unscheduled stops to fill in the gaps of our normal 50-60 miles legs. 

Two-thirds of the way through the flight the pilots encountered a blanket of thick ground fog that almost obscured the ground. With his faster wing, Bill was able to race ahead to ensure that the fog would not hinder our arrival and that there were no people or animals present at the landing site.

Once everything was sorted out after this morning's flight, the crew posed for a team photo. With fewer than 100 miles left in the journey we thought we'd better have a photo taken now before we run out of time.... Wow! We're almost there!

Date:Mon. Nov. 26, 2001
Migration Day#41
Accumulated miles traveled:1099.6
Topic:A little step forward
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:fog, then sun
Flight length/duration:20.9 miles / :38
Current Location:Suwannee Co. FLORIDA!

Notes:  Once the fog cleared shortly this morning the pilots and cranes departed at 9:15am under very warm conditions. Given that the weather has been less than cooperative the past few days, and that the next location was a short 21 mile flight, and with little headwind to fight, it was decided to make the trip, which would bring us that much closer to our ultimate destination. With approximately 1.5 miles left in the flight, two cranes; #'s 1 & 6 felt that they had had enough and dropped out. Bill and Deke circled the area that the birds went down in and landed in an adjacent field that was half-way suitable for the trikes to land. 

Once the two cranes rested for about 40 minutes, Deke was able to convince them to join up with him to continue the remaining short distance. Success, however small, is still success.


Addendum to Nov. 24, 2001 - Joe Duff:

All right, enough is enough. This joke is not funny anymore. We have been on the road for 39 days not to mention the time away from our families during the training of the birds that began last spring. On the migration alone we have faced rain, fog, hail, snow and a perpetual headwind. Even on the frustratingly few times when the wind was forecast to be in our favour, we found that it only existed above 3000 feet. Before we enjoyed our meager reward we had to claw and scratch through turbulence for half the flight until we finally gained enough altitude to reap the small benefit. We have had to deal with high winds that knocked down our pen and killed a bird that we had come to respect. We have faced ridges that seemed insurmountable and frost that delayed almost every departure. We stood down for a week when the FAA banned all flying and modified our migration route to allow for the ten-mile security zone around nuclear generating stations. We have flown in the smog of inversions and the smoke of forest fires, yet the joke continues. 

For the next four days the winds are forecast to blow out of the south. We no longer think in terms of 60 to 70 mile legs but would be content with half that distance. This morning, after three days on the ground, we waited for the fog to clear and took-off in headwinds and haze. The temperature and winds aloft were higher than on the ground so we kept the birds low to keep them cool and make the best speed possible. Just over the trees the turbulence was rough but we maintained a ground speed of 35mph or better. Three birds surfed on each wing as we passed over private homes on a Saturday morning. It is a common sight to see a homeowner standing in his backyard sipping coffee as we approach. The reaction is predictable as he drops his coffee and dashes for the back door. As we pass by the house; husband, wife and kids, still dressed in pajamas charge out the front door with cameras in hand. 

When flying ultralights like ours the wing is controlled with a horizontal bar like in a hang glider; push out to go up and pull in to go down. In rough air these movements require strength and our shoulders are often still sore from the late flight while we work at it again. The visibility at low level was only a mile or two at best and Paula had difficulty keeping tabs on us as she circled above. Fifteen miles from our destination the jokester began to play with us again and the fog started to thicken. Deke and I moved lower as Bill climbed above and Paula lost us completely in the murk below. We were flying at tree-top level over dense forests, with less that a 1/4 mile visibility. We passed through low cloud that obscured all but the top few feet of the trees directly ahead of us and our flight moved from risky to dangerous. If we had not been leading birds the solution would be simple and the nearest field would provide an escape. But most fields are surrounded by houses and people and the effort we put into these birds could be lost in one such encounter. We were ten miles out and inclined to push on but the veil was so thick that the sun was obscured and it instantly became darker. 

As the joke continued, my headset battery failed and I lost contact with the rest of the crew. All pilots are constantly on the lookout for a place to land if something were to happen. We add isolation to that survey and check every field we fly over for a place to hide the birds should the need arise. So far on this trip, I had not seen a suitable spot but as the situation became more serious, we passed over a freshly harvested cotton field. The last thing I was able to communicate on my radio was to call the landing and I circled with the birds, unable to see the far end of the field. Deke was behind us and landed to give the birds a target with which they were familiar. I lined up with the rows and landed between the stubble on ground rougher than we would normally use. Bill passed overhead but then lost the field in the thickening soup. He landed a field or two over and began to call the ground crew. Paula was flying above and listening to the radio chatter. She waited until she was sure we were safe before heading north to find an airport that was not socked in. We waited on the ground for an hour and a half as the fog cleared and we then took-off to fly the remaining ten miles just as the farmer discovered the activity in his field and came to investigate. The birds were oblivious to the encounter as we climbed over the trees and headed south. 

Despite the jokesters' best efforts, we've managed to push ahead. You would think that by now he would see that we are serious and that his humour only strengthens our resolve. We could use a break and god knows we deserve one. But if he gives it to us or not we are still bringing these birds to Florida!

Date:Sun. Nov. 25, 2001
Migration Day#40
Accumulated miles traveled:1078.7
Topic:South winds
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Partly cloudy, windy
Flight length/duration:0
Current Location:Hamilton Co. FLORIDA!

Notes: It was on day 40 of our Sandhill crane migration last year when the team arrived at the final destination in Florida. Today is day 40 of the Whooping crane migration and the crew will be staying where they are, 138.4 miles away from the location they will ultimately deliver the cranes to.

Remnants of the storm that has pummeled the southeast are lingering in the area, producing south winds and preventing us from proceeding south today. 

Date:Sat. Nov. 24, 2001
Migration Day#39
Accumulated miles traveled:1078.7
Topic:Made a Break for it!
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny, light winds, then...FOG
Flight length/duration:38.6 miles / 1:14
Current Location:Hamilton Co. FLORIDA!

Notes: With a large storm cell predicted to move into the area later today, the team decided to take advantage of the tiny window of opportunity presented to them early this morning and make a break for Florida. Departing at 7:34am, under sunny skies and with light winds out of the east, the pilots and cranes headed south toward Valdosta. Simultaneously, I was heading down I75 and it was as I entered the city limits of Valdosta that I hit a thick wall of fog. I continued a short distance, hoping I might drive out of it and find the other side of the wall sunny, and I wondered as the miles ticked by if the pilots and birds were alright. A few miles south of Valdosta, I pulled over at the first truck stop and called Chuck Underwood, who was back at his hotel to see if he had heard anything. He hadn't and was unaware of the fog south of his location. I dialed Don Lounsbury who informed me that the flight team had also hit the wall and had found an interim landing location and that he was on his way back to the Cook Co. airport to pick up Paula. 

Finally, Bill called to assure me that everyone was alright and gave me the coordinates of the makeshift landing site so I turned back and headed north toward Valdosta and into the wall again. I had no problems locating them and was amazed at the location they had found. It was a recently harvested cotton field, complete with cotton stubble and deep tractor ruts. The plan was to wait out the fog and complete the 10 miles south to the intended stopover in Florida. At 10:36am, the fog finally lifted and the pilots were again airborne with the birds, taking 19 minutes to reach our first location in Florida. 

The Whooping cranes officially touched down on Florida soil at 10:57 am today! 

Date:Fri. Nov. 23, 2001
Migration Day#38
Accumulated miles traveled:1040.1
Topic:Rained Out
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Storm system moving through
Flight length/duration:0
Current Location:Cook Co. GA

Notes: A storm system moving through the area this morning is bringing much needed relief to this area that has not seen any moisture in weeks. However, it also brings a delay to the Whooping crane migration for at least today. 

This is day 38 of the migration which began on Oct. 17th from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin. Of the 38 days, we have flown on 19, covering 1040.1 miles and have stood down for an equal number of days: 18 for weather and 1 day was spent retrieving crane number 6 after he dropped out of the flight on Nov. 10th in Kentucky. The pilots and cranes have spent 29 hours and 38 minutes in flight so far and we have another 177 miles to travel before reaching our final destination.

By comparison, last years Sandhill crane migration took 29 hours and 51 minutes to complete the route, over 40-days. The pilots and birds had 31 days of flight over the 40 days, with 9 down days: 7 for weather and 2 for mechanical repairs. 

Date:Thur. Nov. 22, 2001
Migration Day#37
Accumulated miles traveled:1040.1
Topic:Explaining Weather
Reporter:Joe Duff
Weather:Highs, Lows & Thermals
Flight length/duration:0
Current Location:Cook Co. GA

Notes: There are three mammoth high-pressure systems covering most of the continental U.S. A high is like a balloon of air packed into a smaller than usual area and it moves out from the center as the pressure tries to equalize it with neighbouring low systems. This movement of air, from high to low pressure areas, usually creates a light wind and as it moves outward, the rotation of the earth causes it to revolve around the high in a clockwise direction, like the water in a sink as it swirls down the drain. If a high is to the north of you, the wind, if there is any, will be from the east; accordingly, if the high is off to the west, the winds will be out of the north. 

We have been waiting most of the migration for this latter condition and although we have had our share of high systems, the period when they are most beneficial to us always seems to pass in the night. Invariable, we find that by morning the system has moved and the accompanying winds are out of the direction in which we need to travel. With three huge highs dominating the weather picture, we counted on an extended period of favourable winds. This morning we were excited by the prospects of a tailwind and an easy flight but our enthusiasm dampened as soon as we were airborne. We had stored the aircraft at the Dawson Municipal Airport and had a short flight to the field were the pen was located. This gave us time to check our speed on the GPS and on course; it was down to less than 30 mph. We had 60 miles to go and with low-level turbulence, we would be pushing the birds to their limit. 

We began the flight by heading east to avoid the control zone around the Albany airport and started to slowly climb the birds up to higher altitudes and more favourable winds. We passed through an area of "sheer" where winds moving in different direction create a layer of turbulence caused by the friction between them. Above 2000 feet the air smoothed and the speed increased to over 50; finally the tailwinds we hoped for. Halfway through the flight the birds broke and I moved in to collect two of them while the rest returned to Deke's wing. Occasionally, one would drop behind and he would have to slow and lose altitude to retrieve it. His lower level would mean lower speeds and two birds and I would slowly pass him. Then I would drop down to give my birds a rest and he would overtake us. We leap-frogged our way to the destination and began a slow descent that took 16 minutes just to get down. We landed after 1 hour and 34 minutes with little signs of fatigue in any of the birds. This morning, we took-off to check the conditions only to find that the high had moved again, leaving us with fog and headwinds and making the next destination unattainable. 

The weather giveth and the weather taketh away. But there is more taking than giving and this migration thing is wearing thin. We still have 177 miles to go and the prospects for a tailwind do not look good. We have had to scratch off every mile we've covered and our trials are not over yet.

Several people have asked us why our daily migration legs only last an hour or two and cover as little as 40 miles at a time. Leading birds requires concentration and effort as we maneuver the aircraft to place the wing in front of them and keep it there. The stress and pressure sometimes makes it seem like an eternity but in reality our journeys are small compared to the daily flights of wild birds. Normally cranes migrate during midday when the sun's heat is the strongest and it creates thermals or rising columns of air. They soar on these elevators like hawk or eagles, seldom flapping their wings. Under good conditions they can stay aloft for hours and cover hundreds of miles at a time with little effort. 

We are not able to fly the way they do and our aircraft, although state of the art, perform at a fraction of their ability. Instead our birds learn to use the wing of the aircraft and the vortices or wake it creates to surf through the sky and ease their workload. This can only happen when the air is smooth and the wing remains stable. If we encounter turbulence and the wing begins to bounce around the birds must move away and follow from a safe distance. When this happens they are forced to flap-fly and they soon tire. Our flights are therefore limited to the calm air of early morning. The period also coincides with cooler temperatures, which prevents the birds from overheating. This learned behaviour is temporary and once on their own, they will instinctively fly like wild birds and use thermals to make their way north. 

Our Sandhill cranes from last year learned this lesson well. They used favourable winds and thermals as they left Necedah National Wildlife Refuge last Monday and in one day made it to Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana, almost 300 miles south. Just as wild birds do our birds learn the migration route on a one-way trip. They follow us south as they would follow their parents to the wintering grounds where they separate from them as they mature and become more independent. It is then up to us as surrogate parents to remain calm and patiently wait for their return.

Date:Thur. Nov. 22, 2001
Migration Day#37
Accumulated miles traveled:1040.1
Topic:Standing Down
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Headwind & Fog
Flight length/duration:0
Current Location:Cook Co. GA

Notes: Once the ground fog dissipated this morning, Joe took-off to test the questionable flying conditions. The report he provided over the radio removed any doubt: Ground speed of 16mph indicated a flight time to our next location, the first stop in Florida, would be almost 2 1/2 hours. The migration crew will spend Thanksgiving day in Cook Co. GA, giving thanks to all of the supporters who have stepped forward with donations to make this first migration flight with Whooping cranes possible. We really could not do this without your generosity.

Chris reports from headquarters that a supporter of OM, who obviously cares about the Whooping crane and believes in this reintroduction effort has increased his already generous contribution by an additional $5,000.00. This amount will be added to the matching funds challenge and brings our goal to within easy reach. Somehow, a simple "thank you" doesn't seem to convey our appreciation, however, THANK YOU from the entire migration team and the Whooping cranes!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Date:Wed. Nov. 21, 2001
Migration Day#36
Accumulated miles traveled:1040.1
Topic:Last stop in Georgia
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Ideal
Flight length/duration:60.1 miles / 1:34
Current Location:Cook Co. GA

Notes: After being weathered in for two days, the strange blend of cranes, planes and humans was able to progress farther south to Cook County, Georgia and our last stop in this long State. The pilots performed an air pick-up at 7:26am under sunny skies and with a light frost coating the fields and set their course for our current location. Once airborne, a slight headwind slowed their progress until they were able to climb to a higher altitude where they found assistance from a 10 mph tailwind.

Bill reports that while all 6 cranes formed initially on the wing of Joe's trike, two birds soon broke off and Deke moved in to pick them up. When the trio of pilots arrived on location at 9:00am, Deke was leading four cranes and Joe had the other two. Bill was able to capture some wonderful video footage, which I had a quick look at while waiting for the ground crew to arrive. 

From OM headquarters in Ontario, Chris reports we have reached $6,214.00 in pledges toward our goal of $17,000.00. We have four more stopovers before reaching our final location in Florida and when the matching funds challenge expires. 

Date:Tues. Nov. 20, 2001
Migration Day#35
Accumulated miles traveled:980
Topic:Standing Down
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Thick Fog
Flight length/duration:0 miles
Current Location:Terrell Co. GA

Notes: A thick fog bank has halted any possibility of progressing south today. Top-cover pilot, Paula Lounsbury reported IFR conditions south of our current location, which would make for NO visibility. We will stay where we are for another day and hope for better conditions tomorrow.

Date:Mon. Nov. 19, 2001
Topic:Sandhill's On The Fly!
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Perfect for fall migration
Flight length/duration:Approx. 270 miles
Current Location:Jasper Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area
Good news from Richard Urbanek:
Greetings from Jasper-Pulaski SFWA, Indiana. The main OM group left Necedah NWR on fall migration this morning, 19 November, along with thousands of other cranes in Central Wisconsin. Sky was clear and wind was NW at 12-18 mph. Radio-tracking indicated that the 5 birds with functional transmitters in the main group of 8 remained together through the flight. OM #5 was also tracked simultaneously. The main group landed at Jasper-Pulaski at 1620 EST.

Great job Richard! 

Wouldn't it be a hoot if they beat us to Florida?

Date:Mon. Nov. 19, 2001
Topic:Ups & Downs
Reporter:Dan Sprague

Since my first human-led crane migration project in 1996, I have learned there is only one thing that is entirely predictable: there will be ups and there will be downs. I've spent sleepless nights in the bird trailer bunk being knocked silly by raging windstorms and deafening hail in southern Wisconsin; the cost of which was one very special flock mate and a champion among birds. I've seen our first hate mail in the form of a letter to the editor of a newspaper that covered our story; the author of which felt that money for whooping cranes could be better spent on other things. I've been ensconced in fire ants underneath my costume, unable to get relief until escaping the presence of the flock into a dense stand of Georgia conifers. Some days, I can't even find a tree to pee behind for fear of it becoming a Kodak-moment for one of several videographers, poised to capture history in the making. I miss my wife, my dog, my cat, my parrot, my fish and the house I left, early in July - unfinished repairs and all.
 
Last Saturday, thanks too a visit by a most enthusiastic supporter, I found perspective and realized all these things for what they were; nothing but small bumps in a big road on a very important journey. All my life, I have been inspired by great humanitarians and conservationists, and before me stood the epitome of selfless idealism: former President and First Lady, Jimmy and Roslyn Carter. Project partner Chuck Underwood, USFWS and I had about 30 minutes to kill before the pilots, with whooper's in tow, were slated to arrive on site. We talked a little about birding and travel but mostly about cranes and planes. One might have thought the former leader of the free world was about to experience his first Christmas by the level of his excitement. He had so many questions that it was with shear relief that I discovered I had just enough answers and delight that he seemed to hang on my every word. As if being the center of attention in such a discussion was not the greatest compliment that I have ever received for our work, he went even further. The most charitable and inspirational person that I have ever had the pleasure to meet, thanked me for my important work with the most gracious praise that I have ever heard. I want to humbly thank you, Mr. President, our spirits our soaring high above the Georgia skies this week.
Sincerely,
Dan Sprague

Date:Mon. Nov. 19, 2001
Topic:Staying Put
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Warm with a headwind
Flight length/duration:NA
Current Location:Terrell Co. GA

Notes: With everyone in position and ready for lift-off, Paula Lounsbury reported the temperature aloft was 55F and that there was a headwind. The GPS indicated that our 60 mile flight would have taken more than 2 hours to complete. Two hours in cool temps perhaps but in today's warm air, the trip would have been too long for the young birds and the decision was made to stand down for today. We'll hope for favourable winds to arrive tomorrow morning. 

Chris reports we have received $5,300.00 toward our funding challenge. Our need is to raise $17,000.00 before our final arrival in Florida to meet this year's migration budget. All donations will be matched dollar for dollar. Be sure to let the page load completely to hear the Unison call of the Whooping crane. Thank you to those that have helped so far!

Richard Urbanek/ICF submitted the following regarding the 2000 Sandhill cranes:  OM #5 returned to Necedah NWR and roosted on East Rynearson Pool last night (17 November). She also spent the day there today with >1,000 cranes and is roosting there again tonight. This is the first time OM #5 has been back on the refuge since she was with the group of 9 returning OM birds on 27 April, when the group made one overnight stop and then left the next morning. She has apparently spent most of the spring/summer/fall in Marquette and southern Adams Counties, last record being at Quincy Bluff.

The current group of 8 OM birds spent the week of 11-17 November at their favored spot in Monroe County. They only returned to the refuge to roost here last night on East Rynearson. This morning they flew back to Monroe County. They left there about noon, spiraling upward initially with a group of 3 wild sandhills following, then flew back as a solitary group to the refuge, where they are roosting tonight. There has been no known interaction with OM #5 (nor is it likely).

Summer-like weather continued here today (18 November) with highs in the 60's and a warm SSW wind. However, a significant cold front is finally going to move in tomorrow. Significant migration should occur this week.

Date:Sun. Nov. 18, 2001
Topic: Crane Census
Reporter:Joe Duff
Current Location:Terrell Co. GA

Sometimes it is hard to keep track of the birds and where they fit in the flock order. The following is a list of individual bird history as of NOVEMBER 16th: 

Number 1: Male: Most dominant bird, however, he is not aggressive to the costume. Often leads the flight directly behind the wing of the aircraft but has been seen at the end of the line. 

Number 2: Female: 
Often aggressive and will challenge the handlers occasionally. This bird injured her beak and the upper and lower mandibles do not meet at the tip. This makes her recognizable in the air where she is often in the lead position. 

Click thumbnail for larger view

Number 3: Male: Killed at stop #3 when the pen was knocked down by high winds and the bird hit a power-line flying in the dark. 

Number 4: Male: This bird was injured early in the training and developed a bad habit of dropping out of the formation. It dropped out on the first leg and encouraged number 6 to leave as well. It was retrieved after several hours and returned to the flock, however, it was not allowed to fly again due to the extent of its behavioural problem and the fear of losing other birds. It has been transported in a shipping container to each site and spends the remainder of each day and night with the other birds. It is crated in the morning before the other birds' take-off. Our hope is to take it to Florida and see if it accompanies the other birds north in the spring. 

Number 5: Male: Second most dominant bird in the flock and is often likened to the "policeman" of the group. This is the first bird to investigate a newcomer to the pen and is often aggressive to handlers that wear different shoes or boots. If a handler holds the puppet in a submissive position, number 5 will challenge it. Dropped out of the flight between site's 11 & 12 and was retrieved the next day. 

Number 6: Male: Dropped out of the flight on the first day with number 4, however, managed to complete the flight, after much effort from Deke and Bill. It dropped out of the flight between site's 10 & 11 and was retrieved. 

Number 7: Female: Subservient bird that dropped out between site's 5 & 6 and between site's 11 & 12. Number 8: Female: Died prior to shipping to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. 

Number 9: Female: This bird injured its wing during early training while still at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. The damage occurred while still young and its feathers were underdeveloped. As a result, it was not suitable for migration and was transported to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans four weeks ago. 

Number 10: Female: Most subservient bird in the group and is not aggressive to the costume. Has been seen in the lead position during flight but is also known to occupy last position. 

Number 11: Male: Died of Capture Myopathy during the pre-migration health check and banding procedure on Sept. 11.

Date:Sun. Nov. 18, 2001
Topic: Another leg completed
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Warm
Flight length/duration:45.7 miles/1:32
Current Location:Terrell Co. GA

Notes: With no frost or fog to worry about, the team was able to get an early start this morning, getting airborne at 7:25am. Once aligned south, however, they were greeted with a slight headwind, which slowed their projected flight time of 1:20 down to an actual flight time of 1:32. At just before 9am Joe came in for a landing with 5 cranes and Deke flew with his usual lone crane. One more stop in Georgia and we're Florida bound!
The young cranes circle once before parachuting in for their landing.

Date:Sat. Nov. 17, 2001
Topic:Misc. Responses
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Warm
Flight length/duration:NA
Current Location:Marion Co. GA

Notes: Many people have been asking about our defiant crane, #4 and what the future holds for him. #4 will be delivered to Florida with his flock mates to spend the winter, in the hopes that when the flock initiates a northern flight in the spring, he will return with them. The team has been reluctant to attempt another flight including him during the migration trip because we can't run the risk of him dropping out again and perhaps influencing another bird to go with him. During the course of the training season, #4 had a habit of cutting short his flight sessions with the trike and yet he did fly very well with the flock when they ventured out on their own. It is for this reason that we would like to see him stay in the experiment. 

Next, numerous visitors have inquired about last year's Sandhill cranes. Several of these birds still have functional radio transmitters and Richard Urbanek, USFWS/ICF has been monitoring their movements since they returned to the Necedah refuge in Wisconsin in late April of this year. As of two weeks ago, eight of the ultralight Sandhill's, including #2, the rebel dropout of last year's flight (there's one in every flock) had returned to the refuge and were among a large flock of wild cranes, exhibiting pre-migratory behavior. Considering that the wild cranes are still at the refuge, it is not surprising that our birds have not initiated a southerly flight as yet. As I understand it, the temps in the area of central Wisconsin have been above normal over the past week. Once they begin to consistently dip lower, the cranes should head south - to warmer climes and more abundant food supplies. We'll keep you posted.

Date:Sat. Nov. 17, 2001
Topic:Ever have one of those days?
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny with slight haze.
Flight length/duration:52.1 miles/1:28
Current Location:Marion Co. GA

Notes: The flight team departed Pike Co. GA at 8:02am today under sunny skies and with a slight tailwind. The flight lasted 1:28 and all 6 birds handled today's flight well despite the warm temperature aloft.  Luckily, their day has gone better than mine. 

Earlier this week, my husband's new cell phone died. Steve took it to the phone center late Thursday and was given a new replacement phone. Unfortunately, when they pulled up our joint cellular account they programmed his new phone with my cellular number and it was not until yesterday morning, when he began receiving calls inquiring about the migration that the mistake was discovered. When the pilots landed yesterday Bill attempted to reach me and was somewhat surprised to hear Steve's voice. Things were eventually straightened out - or so we thought. After take-off this morning, I attempted to contact Chuck Underwood to advise him that the team was on their way to his location and I was greeted by a rather unfriendly recording advising me that the wireless unit I was using had an incorrect serial number and would need to be re-programmed. Lovely... I made several other attempts all with the same results. No problem, I thought - I'll just dial 611 for service, except that I'm in Georgia and my cellular provider is in Ontario, Canada. The nice lady at the other end of the phone connected me with Bell Mobility where I was informed that business hours on weekends were 9-5. It was only 8:20am. I dutifully waited until 9am while I continued driving south to our destination. At 9am on the nose I was dialing 611, in search of another connection to Ontario. After losing the signal several times, I finally reached another service operator who instructed me (once I pulled over) how to re-program my phone. I ran through the simple procedure a total of 5 times before I almost tossed my phone into the ditch in frustration. Okay then, I'll just drive to the landing site and use someone else's phone to call my husband and get him to visit the phone center back in Ontario and try to fix things at the center that made the initial goof.

Except.... The coordinates I had been given to the landing site led me down a Georgia-red dirt road. At first I was a bit suspicious but proceeded with caution, knowing that we do select out-of-the-way places as landing sites to maintain isolation for the cranes. When I finally ran out of dirt on the dirt road I reviewed my situation: Here I am, a lone female on a no longer dirt road in the middle of somewhere in Georgia, with no working cell phone. Time to turn around! Once headed back, about a quarter mile from my turn- around point I crested a hill and was greeted with a camouflaged figure pointing a rifle in my direction. I kid you not - Gulp. Oh boy, now what? I cracked my window open only far enough to stick out my hand and gave a feeble wave at the figure. It began to approach and I could make out that the figure belonged to a 30-something young man. He didn't necessarily look angry so I put my mouth up to the opening in the window and stuttered that I thought I was lost in a big way and did he happen to see three small airplanes fly over with birds? His face beamed! (Whew) "oh yeah, I saw them fly over with the geese honking behind them a little while ago." Relieved, I didn't care to go into the explanation that they were in fact Whooping cranes, I just wanted to get the heck outa there, so I asked him if he could tell me how to get to the address I was looking for. Thankfully, he did and after he stepped away from the van, my foot jerked on the accelerator and I was moving away from the gun toting camo-man. Not far down the path I heard a shot and my foot instinctively applied pressure. Eventually, I located the property and some of our ground vehicles. Still, no sign of familiar faces, so I began trying to get through to my cell provider yet again. With each successful connection came the same set of instructions from a different customer service rep. My frustration level was definitely about to peak when Gord Lee arrived towing the OM travel trailer. He offered me his phone to call Steve. Surprisingly, it had a signal and it even worked - I was ecstatic at this small success, which just goes to show how my morning had been so far. Steve assured me he would get the ball rolling to get me communicating again and I gave him Gord's number to keep me updated on what was happening. Next, I drove into the nearest town, 10 miles away, only to discover that there weren't any hotel's or motel's, so here I am, now about 35 miles away from the rest of the crew and rather close to tomorrow's destination, in a seedy motel, with Gord's cell phone - hoping that the battery doesn't run out before I hear that my own phone is once again operating. Am I having fun yet?

Before departing for the town with no hotel, Rebecca had handed me my camera, which Deke had taken with him on this mornings flight. I had asked him if he would try to get some pictures while flying and upon landing because we were expecting a special visitor at the arrival site. Once I checked into "tres seedy" I checked the camera and found two rather blurry photos of the sky only (No birds) and one image showing Deke and Joe with their visitor - Former President Jimmy Carter.
I think I can safely say that Joe and Deke had more fun than I've had. And the bad news is the day isn't over yet!

Date:Fri. Nov. 16, 2001
Topic:Continued Success!
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny, localized ground fog & ice on wings
Flight length/duration:40.8 miles/1:06
Current Location:Pike Co. GA

Notes: Another day, another successful leg of the journey completed. The team was again delayed this morning by not only ground fog, courtesy of the Chattahoochee River but also ice that had formed on the wings of the aircraft. Departure occurred at 8:36 am from Coweta Co. Georgia and the crew headed south with 6 cranes formed perfectly off the wing of the lead trike. With an air temperature reading of 60F the team decided not to forge too far ahead as it would have been difficult on the birds to fly any great distance given the warm temps. Pilots and birds are safely on the ground in Pike Co. Georgia following a flight time of 1 hour and 6 minutes. Currently awaiting the arrival of the ground crew to assemble the temporary pen.

Total miles accumulated: 880.2

We have been fortunate this trip in that we have had the extreme pleasure of meeting the most wonderful people during our travels. I'm not sure whether it is a common love of birds or that this reintroduction project is capturing the hearts and imaginations of people everywhere but every person we have had the opportunity to meet with has treated us like family. Thank you all - and our sincerest appreciation is extended to all the caring people that have answered our funding challenge with a donation. Chris reports we have received pledges thus far to the tune of almost $4,000.00. We've got a little way to go yet but I feel optimistic we will reach our goal by the time we deliver the Whooping cranes safely to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Stay tuned...

Date:Thur. Nov. 15, 2001
Topic:Another Leg...
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny
Flight length/duration:65.8 miles/1:27
Current Location:Coweta Co. GA

Notes: Our departure was delayed until 8:32am this morning due to localized ground fog but once airborne the take-off was picture perfect! Joe executed an air pick-up due to the restrictions of the field that the temporary pen was located and all 6 cranes formed up on Joe's right wing, once clear of the field. 

The pilots and birds had a 10 mph tailwind to assist them on this leg of the journey making this morning's flight to south of Atlanta only 1 hour and 27 minutes. 

Total miles accumulated: 841.4

 
From the cockpit of the Top-cover aircraft: 
Many times I have mentioned Paula Lounsbury, our indispensable top-cover pilot. Paula and her husband Don have flown in the cover position for each of our migrations since 1993 and have kept watch over our pilots and their charges, whether Canada geese, Trumpeter swans, Sandhill cranes and our current precious cargo of endangered Whooping cranes. I asked Paula to take time out of her busy schedule to write a brief report from her cockpit: Nov. 12, 2001
"A beautiful day dawned in Tennessee, but as the birds and trikes lifted off for the morning departure south, things began to unravel, rather abruptly. One uncooperative bird eventually was led back to our departure point by Bill and Deke so he could be boxed for transport in the “bird-taxi.” With the unexpected return to the field by Deke and Bill, the three trikes became separated and Joe was once again, flying below me alone with his flock, without the benefit of a chase aircraft. The air was unexpectedly turbulent and the visibility was poor in the morning haze. After deviating from our planned route in search of calmer air, Joe decided it would be wise to land the birds in a field rather than continue to our destination and risk loosing a bird enroute. From my position aloft, I first helped Joe select a suitable field in which to land the tiny trike and the cranes. Next I assisted Bill, who was quickly nearing our position, to locate Joe and the birds. Deke was last to come in so I had to first determine exactly where he was and once I knew this, I talked him in to the unexpected stop to join up with his fellow pilots. Next, as if this weren’t enough, I radioed the ground crew to advise them that there had been a change of plans and directed them by road to the location so they could set up the temporary pen. All in all a typically busy morning, Now, where did Bill go?"

Date:Wed. Nov. 14, 2001
Topic:Georgia!
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny & Cool
Flight length/duration:67.2 miles/1:45
Current Location:Gordon Co. GA

Notes: Departure time this morning was 8:55am out of the Hiwassee refuge. About 10 miles out from the departure sight, one bird appeared as if it was planning on keeping with the tradition of the past few days by breaking off but Bill was able to follow it down long enough to pick it up on his wing and continue, leading it the remaining 50 miles into Gordon Co. GA. Joe flew with 4 cranes and Deke had the other single crane. #4 will arrive momentarily by road. The cranes that flew the route are currently in their travel pen resting after the flight.

Total miles accumulated: 773.6


Date:Tue. Nov. 13, 2001
Topic:The Beast
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny & Cool
Flight length/duration:17 miles/1:20
Current Location:Meigs Co. TN

Notes: The flight team lifted off this morning at 7:42am Central time under clear, sunny skies. 6 cranes formed up on the wing of Joe's trike to begin the long, steady climb necessary to fly over the 2800 ft. ridge immediately to our south. With Bill watching from above in the scout position and Deke following Joe, ready to give chase if needed, the three trikes first flew west, then east, then back west and I began to wonder what the cranes must have been thinking.... With each pass the pilots and cranes were slowly gaining the altitude needed to get over the large obstacle. About 20 minutes into the zig-zag flight, one crane decided that he'd had enough and turned back so Bill managed to maneuver in front of the bird to guide him back to the temporary pen, which was still set up. #5 was the rebel crane this day. I believe they must be having a pre-game huddle each morning in the pen to decide which crane will be the lucky one to get a free ride to the next location.

Eventually, Deke and Joe disappeared from sight with the 5 remaining cranes and we were left to determine what was transpiring by having our own human-huddle around Chuck Underwood's radio receiver. Snippets of banter between the trike pilots and Paula, flying top-cover told us that they had made it over the "beast" AKA the ridge! 

Chuck made contact with Wally Aiken, the manager at the Hiwassee Refuge to tell him that they were enroute and their ETA was approximately 20 minutes. Unfortunately, once they climbed over the beast they were met with a south wind that slowed their travel down to 21 mph turning 20 minutes into 1 hour and 20 minutes. 

Someone mentioned to me this morning that I should bring to everyone's attention our current funding challenge. OM is still short of this year's budget goal and a very generous individual has issued a challenge of sorts. Each and every dollar raised between now and the final landing day in Florida will be matched, helping us reach our goal. The button above left explains how. Be sure to let the page load completely to hear the Whooping crane unison call. 

On another topic, I learned an important lesson this morning that will serve me well for the remainder of the migration. The early bird gets the shower ;-)

Total miles accumulated: 708.4


Date:Mon. Nov. 12, 2001
Topic:An un-scheduled stop
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny & Cool
Flight length/duration:22 miles
Current Location:Bledsoe Co. TN

Notes: With a twist of irony this morning the frost that had hindered the team earlier in the journey, assisted this morning by forming and in doing so kept the thick fog of yesterday at bay. Three trikes and 6 cranes lifted off at 7:00 am Central time under sunny skies, intending to head to our last scheduled stop in Tennessee, however, shortly after lift-off it became apparent that one crane had other plans when it broke away from the main flock off Joe's wing and turned back. Deke gave chase and landed with the bird back at the temporary pen after a short flight. We assumed it was #6, the same bird that gave them a struggle on Friday but it turned out to be #7, who was crated and placed in the tracking vehicle along with his flock mate #4. 

Joe continued on with the other 5 cranes, climbing with them so that they would have enough altitude to cross the high ridge immediately to our south. He managed to coerce the birds over this ridge and continued southward 

Joe lifts off with the 6 cranes. One bird turned back shortly after this.

over the valley that lies between this and a second ridge approximately 25 miles farther south. The air was warm and became trashy the closer they came to the second mountain ridge and the birds began to balk at having to climb higher still to get out of the unstable air and over the next ridge. It was obvious to Joe that he couldn't convince them to continue so he radioed Bill and they began looking for an alternate landing spot amid the vast areas of forest in the valley below. We received word that they had landed safely with 5 birds about 22 miles south of our last location and 18 miles to the north of our intended stop so we pulled out the map and altered our road course. Everyone is safe, including the cranes and pilots.

Total miles accumulated: 691.4


Date:Sun. Nov. 11, 2001
Topic:Fog then Wind...
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Sunny & Cool
Flight length/duration:0
Current Location:Cumberland Co. TN

Notes: Heavy localized fog this morning delayed any type of departure until  9:00am. Once the fog cleared two trikes went up to test the conditions and found that at anything more than 350ft altitude they were getting trashed and the closer they got to the high ridge to the south of us, the more they were getting bounced. It would be tough getting the birds to climb to the altitude necessary to climb the ridge in this type of rough air so it was decided to stand down and hope for better conditions tomorrow.


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