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The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership
is responsible for conducting this reintroduction. Learn more about the unique partnership and the other founding members.


Operation Migration is a registered non-profit organization in Canada and the United States, which relies on public contributions and grant programs to continue our work toward safeguarding the Whooping crane- Will you help?

2002 Fall Field Journal

2002  Winter | Spring | Summer | Fall Migration
2001 Fall  | Spring | Fall Migration
2000
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1998
 

 

Date:Nov. 30, 2002 - Day 49
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Citrus Co., FL - Chassahowitzka NWR
Distance Traveled:29.5 miles
Accumulated Distance:1202.8 miles
Activity:Touchdown! The Whooping cranes have arrived...

Notes: After forty-nine days, of which only twenty-one were flyable, the Class of '02 juvenile Whooping cranes have been delivered to the release pen at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida's central west coast. 

At 7:33 this morning, team leader, Joe Duff led the young birds out of their Levy County stopover as fellow pilots Bill Lishman, Richard van Heuvelen and Brooke Pennypacker moved into position, ready to offer assistance if any of the birds decided to break away from the lead ultralight. One bird was late exiting the pen and Brooke Pennypacker moved in to lend his wing to this tardy flyer. The team had just over 29 miles to travel before arriving at the isolated predator-proof enclosure and this morning's flight went as smoothly as the last five have gone.

Shortly after 8am the four tiny ultralights came into view over the Crystal River Mall before a large crowd, gathered to welcome the endangered birds. Silence fell over the crowd as the cranes and planes passed by and until they disappeared from view heading southwest in the direction of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. 

At 8:39am all sixteen cranes descended into the newly enlarged release pen on the isolated island about 5 miles off the coast, as Brian Clauss and Kelly Maguire, in costumes called them in using the brood call.

More details will follow later today, along with photo's taken during the final flight. 

Date:Nov. 29, 2002 - Day 48
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Levy Co., FL
Distance Traveled:52.8 miles
Accumulated Distance:1174.3 miles
Activity:One more leg!

Notes: We have flown each of the past 7 days since coming and going and coming and going from the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge in east Tennessee last week -- We covered Georgia in a record three hops and a good portion of Florida in the same number and tomorrow, if the weather gods allow, we will deliver these glorious juvenile Whooping cranes the final 28 miles to their new winter habitat on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

But first they will fly over the north field of the Crystal River Mall on U.S. Hwy 19 between 7:00 - 9:30am.  Paula is reporting ideal conditions for the morning flight; our last of twenty-one flights made during the journey. So, if you're interested in witnessing these history-making young cranes as they follow their mechanical surrogates to their destination, be sure to be there!

During the event, speakers from the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership will be on hand and once the migration team has a chance to regroup after delivering the cranes they will be returning to the mall to recount migration tales for everyone.

Yesterday, we had the opportunity to visit the newly enlarged release pen where the cranes will spend the winter and while we were there, Richard Urbanek, USFWS detected the radio signal of last year's crane #5, who departed Wisconsin last Saturday. #5's whereabouts were unknown after he left the Hiwassee refuge earlier this week. Richard said he was close by and he was airborne so I quickly yelled for everyone to get out of the pen and into the observation blind. Within minutes, there he was in full adult plumage on final descent into the enclosure! It was a moment we will never forget and are aware of how privileged we are to have witnessed his first ever return to his winter home.

We now have four confirmed yearlings back at the refuge and crane #6 is more than halfway, in Meigs County, TN -- he seems to like it there; kinda like some other young whoopers who were recently reluctant to leave.

See you all at the mall!

 

Date:Nov. 28, 2002 - Day 47
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Gilchrist Co., FL
Distance Traveled:60.5 miles
Accumulated Distance:1121.5 miles
Activity:82.5 miles to go...

Notes: When we arrived in Florida last year, warm conditions urged us to secure additional stopovers between those already in place so that the cranes would not be stressed by the heat. Even when flying in the early morning, the temperature can rise quickly in the sunshine state and may overheat the young flyers, so to avoid this we had stops every 20-25 miles.

This week the sunshine state is not much warmer than Tennessee was last week and this morning, as again all 16 crane colts lifted off, this time behind Brooke's aircraft, it was only 37F at 7:10am.

With these ideal migration conditions we were able to combine three stops used last year into a single 60.5 mile leg, bringing our accumulated distance traveled to 1121.5 miles and our goal to within 100 miles. The view from below was spectacular this morning as three times the flight team and cranes flew directly overhead as I drove to the next location.

The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership is planning a public flyover at the north field of the Crystal River Mall on US Hwy 19 during the final flight of the long journey.  The earliest possible day this would take place is this Saturday, Nov. 30th. Speakers will be on hand to provide details about the reintroduction and plans for the coming years and the pilots and ground crew members will join the event once they've had a chance to reassemble after delivering the cranes out to the release pen at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Please stay tuned for details and I'll give a heads up the night before the flight once we check the weather forecast. 

We hope to see you there!

 

Date:Nov. 27, 2002 - Day 46
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Hamilton Co., FLORIDA!
Distance Traveled:100.0 miles
Accumulated Distance:1061 miles
Activity:Georgia was PEACHY!

Notes: Yet again Mother Nature repented for the less than ideal conditions she tossed our way in October and early November by providing another banner day.  The entire flock lifted off from Terrell Co., GA at 7:37 am today with the temperature hovering at 40F and a slight haze hanging in the air.

Our destination was 61.6 miles to the southeast in Cook County, Georgia but for the third day in a row these magnificent juvenile cranes were able to handle a double leg which covered 100 miles and led them to our first stopover in Florida -- only 167 miles to go before they reach their new winter home at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on Florida's central west coast. Once there they have a very good chance of encountering yearlings #7, as well as #s 1 and 2 who arrived yesterday at 1pm.

We can almost see the finish line! 

 

Date:Nov. 26, 2002 - Day 45
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Terrell Co., GA
Distance Traveled:98.8 miles
Accumulated Distance:961.0 miles
Activity:Another double-header!

Notes: Mother Nature provided ideal conditions again this morning and for the second day in a row, the planes, cranes and automobiles were able to skip a stopover. With no early morning fog to wait out, the crew was able to get the students airborne before the sun created thermal activity, which made for a smooth two hour flight from Pike Co., to Terrell Co., GA. for all 16 young Whoopers!

On hand for today's arrival were President and Mrs. Carter. In fact the two of them, along with a member of their Secret Service staff were recruited to help us erect the travel pen. It was wonderful to see them again and to show them how their donation last year served as seed funds to secure a new ultralight, necessary for the next three annual flights.

During each of the last two year's this looong State has been challenging but this year we seem to be sailing through it in less time than we spent in Windiana last month.... With a pinch of luck we'll make it to our final Georgia stop tomorrow morning - A couple of pinch's might just get us to our first Florida stopover.... Okay everyone cross your primaries!

(Less than 250 miles to reach the finish line)

#7 remains in the area of the Chassahowitzka release pen. #1 & #2 were in south Georgia last evening. #6 remains in Meigs Co., TN and was joined yesterday by the only remaining wild whooper that had not departed their summer home in central Wisconsin. Crane #5 arrived mid-afternoon in Meigs Co., TN.  ALL OF THE YEARLINGS ARE RETURNING SOUTH....

 

Date:Nov. 25, 2002 - Day 44
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Pike Co., GA
Distance Traveled:107.2 miles
Accumulated Distance:862.2 miles
Activity:Making up for lost time...

Notes: You win some -- you lose some, and after losing so much ground last week to poor weather conditions and then dealing with cranes that did not want to leave our last stopover in Tennessee, we're thrilled to report that today was a winning day!

Localized fog delayed lift off until 9:06am when Brooke Pennypacker exited the field containing the crane enclosure. He emerged from a large break in the tree line with all 16 cranes following close behind and headed down the grass strip, past the small group of onlookers and members of the media. Those who were on hand for last year's inaugural flight commented on how spectacular the sight was this morning as the much larger flock departed with the early morning sun lighting their stark whiteness.

Approximately 1-mile out from the departure, one unwilling bird did turn back toward the pen site, but luckily it was the last bird in the flight order and did not take any others with it when it peeled off. Bill followed the bird to ensure it landed beside Dan Sprague and birthday boy Mark Nipper who were aware of the situation and anticipating its return.  #9 was the offender today and after the last two days we're pleased it was the only one that decided not to fly.

Brooke continued with all 15 cranes -- and even managed to fly a double leg taking the cranes past our intended stop in Coweta Co., and landing them at our Pike Co., host site. Today's was the longest flight thus far for this new class of feathered students: in all they were airborne for 2 hours and 15 minutes. 

Only 366 miles to go -- We're in the homestretch now!

 

Date:Nov. 24, 2002 - Day 43
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Gordon Co., GA
Distance Traveled:67.7 miles
Accumulated Distance:755.0 miles
Activity:Always expect the unexpected...

Notes: (I swear I don't make this stuff up... Honest!)

Chickamauga Lake is a serpentine body of water where the Tennessee River meets up with the Hiwassee River, creating a popular staging area for thousands of non-endangered Sandhill cranes during the autumn season. This meandering lake often creates dense localized fog, which not only adds to the beauty of the gathering cranes, but also delays ultralight-led crane migration departures, as was the case this morning.

Yesterday the pilots were airborne at 7:40 am. This morning they were forced to wait for fog to clear. They delayed their departure until receiving the "all clear" from Paula Lounsbury at 8:15 and at 8:25 they arrived to find the pen site socked in again. The area surrounding our location was faultless: blue sky, no winds and cool temperatures - a perfect day for migrating south, but the area surrounding the cranes enclosure had filled in within minutes. They decided to stand down to wait for the fog to lift -- again.

30-minutes later, four ultralight aircraft and the Cessna returned to attempt to lead the dozen juvenile Whooping cranes south to Gordon Co., GA to rejoin their four flockmates, which had made the trip with little difficulty yesterday. On hand to witness the encore departure from the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge were approximately 30 birders and crane supporters, each with binoculars or cameras pressed to their eyes.

Today's plan called for Joe to land in the less than smooth field adjacent the enclosure and take-off with the dirty dozen, who had chosen to stay behind yesterday. During the 25-minutes immediately after take-off the lucky crowd of spectators watched in awe; some with tears in their eyes as twelve, white and fawn coloured young whoopers lined up behind the lead trike and flew south toward Georgia. Then they watched in wonder as several offending birds broke away and headed right over our heads, with Brooke in hot pursuit, attempting to intercept them before they returned to the enclosure. Dan Sprague, disguised as Swamp Monster was waiting for them and as they neared the area they had just lifted off from, he emerged from the tall grass, cloaked in the camouflage tarp and waving his arms to ward them off. They were in the air again but Brooke could not slow down fast enough and overshot them so Richard moved in quickly in an effort to pick them up on his wing.  Too late - they had already set their wings and were descending like paratroopers; still in the area of the pen but far enough away so as not to be within the reach of Swamp Monster.

I lost count of how many times the remaining cranes and aircraft passed over us but when the pilots decided to yield to the reluctant-to-leave birds, to regroup and refuel, I felt compelled to request an admission fee of the spectators on hand as they had been provided a longer view of these extraordinary young cranes than all of the previous stopover hosts combined.

The pilots returned to our host home and reformulated a plan while refueling the aircraft. At 10am I informed the onlookers that soon the airplanes would return and the new plan called for two separate releases, each with a half-dozen birds. By 10:15 all of the tiny yellow trikes were circling overhead, ready to put plan B into action and attempt to convince the rebels to fly toward Georgia. At 10:21am Joe radioed that the first 6 birds were lining up on his wing. Seconds later, he emerged from behind the distant tree line with 8 Whooping cranes flying behind his aircraft. Dan confirmed he still had 6 cranes inside the enclosure. Quick math: 8 + 6 = 14 cranes, plus the 4 already in Gordon County, GA. = two too many Whooping cranes!

We received word last evening that yearling cranes #1 & #2 had arrived at 3:30 pm in Meigs Co., TN, after departing from the Jasper Pulaski State Wildlife Area on Friday. They had spotted our ultralights and had joined in with the class of '02 cranes! Joe and Richard confirmed that the young group of six whooper colts had been invaded by two wild, year old whoopers who were passing through as they returned to their winter home in Florida.

They continued with the flock, while first two, then a third juvenile turned back to the pen. 5 miles out from the launch site and on course, the two yearlings finally broke away from the flight and it appeared as if they were intent of taking the remaining three juvenile birds with them until Joe maneuvered his trike between them and picked up the three youngest birds. 

It was these three cranes that flew the 67.7 mile leg to Gordon County, GA. behind Joe's aircraft. Bill Lishman flew in the chase position, while Paula stayed back with Brooke to wait for Richard to return so the two could begin the second release of six cranes. These birds just didn't want to leave the Hiwassee refuge and nobody could think of a valid reason why. Eventually, the offending nine juveniles were boxed and transported by road to rejoin the flock. Today was frustrating for the team and entertaining for the spectators and as Brooke and Richard flew their aircraft side-by-side and sans birds to join us at the first Georgia stopover, tracking pilot Mike Voechting of Windway Corp. and ICF intern Lara Fondow passed overhead, informing the ultralight pilots that they were on the trail of Y2001 cranes 1 & 2 as they migrated through Georgia. They may already be in Florida, getting reacquainted with the recalcitrant female #7 who arrived last Thursday.

 

Date:Nov. 23, 2002 - Day 42
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Meigs Co., TN/Gordon Co., GA
Distance Traveled:0 miles/67.7 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles/755 miles
Activity:Even birds have bad days...

Notes: Considering this morning's was the first attempt at an air pick-up for the young cranes, the departure looked perfect. Patuxent's Dan Sprague released the colts from their enclosure on cue - Joe then turned on his crane music and dropped down low over the pen site as it purred their natural brood call, encouraging the birds to follow. 

All sixteen feathered charges were airborne and quickly forming up on the wing of the trike as it crossed over a large pond adjacent the small field, which had been home to the cranes since arriving last Monday.  It looked perfect...

Except, shortly after take-off it became apparent that all was not perfect. From the radio chatter between the four trike pilots and Paula, flying above in the top-cover craft, we gathered that despite the perfect launch the pilots were having a difficult time keeping the birds in formation. Some broke from Joe and headed over to Richard; Others broke from Brooke and headed back to Joe. At one point they did a count just to ensure there were indeed sixteen youngsters and they hadn't been joined by one of our returning Y2001 cranes - It seemed there was one bird that was continually stirring up trouble and encouraging several others to break away. 

Joe reported he had eleven; Brooke had one; Richard had four - good, only sixteen, so what was the problem? They continued to scratch out only five miles, all the while coercing and persuading the reluctant birds to stay with an aircraft, any aircraft. Twelve of the young whoopers had other plans, however, so instead of risking any dropouts over forested areas, Brooke and Joe turned to guide them back to Meigs Co. TN, where Dan had been on standby with the still assembled pen. Paula followed the two frustrated pilots back to this morning's original take-off point then once assured they had made it safely turned south again to catch up to Richard van Heuvelen, as he continued on to Georgia with with Bill Lishman as his chase pilot and the only four birds that were willing to follow today.

So, for the second time in this Operation Duration, the crew and cranes are divided, hopefully only until tomorrow when the plan is to attempt to lead the dozen Tennessee cranes, south to join up with their flockmates in Georgia.

 

Date:Nov. 22, 2002
Reporter:The Team
Activity:It Works!

Notes: It is surprising how familiar the extraordinary becomes when it is part of your everyday life. Halfway through our second migration it seems perfectly normal to get up at 5 in the morning and use an ultralight aircraft to lead a small flock of young Whooping cranes on their first journey south. 

Dressing in a white costume to act as a surrogate parent to rare birds can become commonplace if you do it often enough. A thin veil of fabric removes all awareness of humans from their limited experience and allows us a unique opportunity to interact as just another bird. We are recognized among them simply by our demeanor yet we can use our behaviour, digital calls and a puppet to communicate on their level and reinforce our dominant position within the flock. Whooping cranes are so endangered that most people have never seen one but we work so closely we often become blasé about the exclusivity this study affords us. 

The novelty of our work is judged not by our own perceptions but by the reaction of others and it is only then that we step back and realize the extent of the gift we have been given. Each flight is a team effort with so many potential pitfalls that we spend our time aloft concerned only with the birds and their ability to make the next destination. Flying through spectacular mountain ridges, over the colours of fall while leading a long line of naïve birds that are following the only parent they have known is a responsibility to be taken seriously. There is little time for sightseeing and all attention is focused on the task at hand. Occasionally when the birds have found their cadence and the destination is in sight we begin a long slow descent that allows them a welcome relief from the labour of the journey. We have a rare chance to let our full weight rest in the seat and a moment to marvel at our surroundings. With 16 birds off the wingtip we have one more than existed in the early 1940's.

Whooping cranes are solitary birds and migrate in small groups of 2 to 4 individuals. Nowhere else in history have 16 juveniles been assembled into one free-flying cohort and nowhere else in time have they been guided by such an unorthodox parent. It is a humbling spectacle and we are grateful for their trust in us as well as yours. 

While the migration team languished through another day of headwinds and low ceilings near the Hiwassee Refuge in Tennessee, our spirits have been buoyed by some history making news: 

Whooping crane #7, the lone bird from last year's first reintroduction flight of ultralight-led Whooping cranes, has arrived at the release pen at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. 

This is the solitary bird that broke from the main flock on the return journey this past spring and spent the summer in the company of Sandhill cranes on the Horicon Marsh in southeast Wisconsin. Despite the influence of its more common cousins, instinct prevailed and it has returned to the wintering site selected by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. #7 did not return to her normal summer roost site on Saturday, November 16th and it is assumed she left sometime during the day. 

She arrived in Florida and was spotted by refuge staff on Thursday, November 21st as they put the finishing touches on the now enlarged pen, and her presence was confirmed by radio telemetry earlier today. This is the first time in history that an ultralight-led bird has made a full cycle migration without assistance and it proves the validity of our methods. 

Meanwhile, of the birds that summered in Necedah National Wildlife Refuge where they were raised, #'s 1 and 2 are currently in Jasper Pulaski State Wildlife Area in northern Indiana; #5 is in Marquette County, Wisconsin and #6 is here in Meigs County in Tennessee. Based on our progress so far I am sure they will all beat us to Florida proving once and for all that Mother Nature knows best.

 

Date:Nov. 22, 2002 - Day 41
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Meigs Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles
Activity:Standing down and I'm glad...

Notes: When I fell into bed last night I could hear the wind howling outside so I didn't even bother with the alarm. Of course I was up at 5am regardless and after meeting Paula in the kitchen she confirmed my suspicions about the day - Flight Services had just informed Paula that there were north winds at 27 knots aloft and gusting. Another stand-down day.

I dressed instead to go out for a morning of birding.  Any diehard birders out there know the drill: long underwear (can't they make them so they don't reach your armpits?); light socks under heavier socks, inside hiking boots; flannel-lined jeans (yeah Carhartt!); at least four upper body layers, consisting of a T-shirt, turtleneck, sweatshirt and polar-fleece vest; then wind pants, a warm jacket and the goofiest set of gloves and hat that you can find. Oops - justabout forgot the binoculars... They must be the harness-strap type that rest the weight of them in the center of your back, so that where they go over your shoulders and under the armpits, the elastic hugs you and shows off to all the other birders that you have planned for the cold - and have the appropriate number of layers under your field glasses. 

You are now set for a morning of bird watching - except only other birders will accept you as you are. The birds of course will fall from the sky and out of the trees once they catch a glimpse of you, catching glimpses of them because you look ridiculous!

Anyway, that's what I looked like as I set out and while the winds aloft were far too strong for the ultralight-led migration, they were ideal for unassisted bird migration. Everywhere over the Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers, thousands of migrating Sandhill cranes were rising up a dozen at a time, looking for the warm rising columns of air that would carry them south, toward the next rising thermal. I watched for about an hour then headed over to where I suspected I might find crane #6. Sure enough, there was the tracking vehicle that I used to see at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. Lara Fondow met me as I walked the half mile into the lookout spot - She recounted firsthand for me the travels of her and Colleen Satyshur, both ICF interns, as they tracked #6 over the last few days. Then as we crested the hill, Lara pointed over to her right, "there he is" she said.... There he was indeed, glowing like a beacon amid the gray Sandhill's and yellow corn stubble. I was glad to be here in Meigs County, TN to see him.

 

Date:Nov. 21, 2002 - Day 40
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Meigs Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles
Activity:Standing down and a recap of the last flight...

Notes: Rain showers, which are keeping us grounded for another day are expected to move out of the area later.

A southern gentleman once informed us that you can say anything you like about a person - as long as you preface it with the phrase bless his heart. “Grandpa was a great old man, bless his heart but his breath could kill a horse.” 

These three words, spoken with a slight drawl, somehow softens the criticism in a comment that is not meant to hurt but simply point out a truism. Deke Clark, who flew with us on our last four migrations, is currently recovering from a stroke and is dearly missed on many levels but mostly, as a friend.  His absence is also greatly noted as an Operation Migration Director; an integral part of the field team; and a great leader of birds, however, Deke “bless his heart” possessed the mechanical skills of a banana.

One of the many people it took to fill the void he has temporarily left behind is Brooke Pennypacker. Brooke comes to us from Environmental Studies at Airlie in Warrenton, Virginia where he led the Trumpeter swan ultralight migration experiments. He is one of the very few people in the world with credentials in this odd business of flying with birds and his talents include a substantial knowledge of aircraft and the intricacies that make them fly. 

He has a degree in English literature but based on how long Heather has been to pestering him to produce a written biography for the website, you would never know it. Maybe its because his background is too eclectic to document: During down days we have heard stories of placer mining for gold and forest fire fighting. He is a professional scuba diver, having worked on oil rigs in the north Atlantic and he once drifted down the Mississippi on a raft, while reading Huckleberry Finn. 

All of his patience and talents were put to the test on our last leg as we left Fentress County, Tennessee and headed south. On the previous leg we had hoped to get to Cumberland County but had to stop short due to headwinds in Fentress. This left us with a 67 mile leg to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge but first we had to clear the 2800 foot peaks of the Cumberland Plateau. When we took off this formidable obstacle loomed in the distance some 40 miles south but headwinds slowed our progress to 17 mph. Brooke was to lead and was the only one of us to land on the less than smooth field in Fentress. When he took off all but one bird followed him. Richard circled the pen to encourage the loner while I stayed close behind Brooke in the chase position. The headwind at low level was strong but predicted to swing around to lend us some assistance as we climbed higher. 

Birds, unlike ultralight pilots, are not stupid enough to paddle upstream and all but two of the fifteen birds following Brooke turned back to avoid the headwind. I turned on my speaker and was able to pick them up. Now passing through 500 feet, our ground speed was up to 28 mph and we were far enough from the pen that the birds were reluctant to break away. 

We began a slow, steady climb of 100 feet per minute as the ominous ridge grew larger ahead of us. Richard was finally able to persuade crane #9 into the air but he was 2 miles behind Brooke with his two birds and me with thirteen. Bill stayed behind Richard to act as his chase and from their conversation it was obvious they were having problems right from the start. We had an alternate stop at the northern base of the ridge but landing there meant a hard climb on the next leg so we had hoped to avoid it. 

One of the birds following Brooke seemed to tire early and he had to slow and descend several times to let it catch up. By the time we approached the ridge we were at 3500 feet and crabbing sideways in a westerly, quartering headwind. We had just made the decision to over-fly our alternate and continue on to Hiwassee when one of Brooke’s birds began to descend. He had to make a couple of 360 degree turns to get it back on the wing and we began to separate in the vastness of the mountains. From his distant vantage point, Brooke was able to report that the last bird in the formation off my left wing had dropped down 200 feet below me. 

I led all the other birds down to get him, but he kept going lower and I knew the effort was futile; better to protect the precious altitude the flock had fought so hard for, than to waste it all chasing a tired bird that has already decided to give up. I asked Brooke to watch for it so he could radio its location to the ground crew but instead he led his two charges down to treetop level to retrieve it. 

Bill was about to land at the alternate to refuel but upon hearing the commotion on the radio, elected instead to continue on to help. He kept track of Brooke and the three very tired birds, scratching their way through the mountains. Brooke circled several times and finally managed to work them over to the backside of Walden Ridge, where a little lift carried them up. Richard, with his lone bird managed to climb to 4000 feet but when I landed next to the pond on the refuge he was still 6 miles back and Brooke was another 2 miles farther back than Richard. The Cumberland Plateau and Brady Mountain have always tested us but thanks to Brooke’s determination, all the birds arrived safely.

Despite his varied and welcomed contributions to the team, he can’t write a bio to save his life; bless his heart.

Ed note: Deke continues to improve, gaining strength each day and is one of the driving forces encouraging us to reach Florida, where he and Rebecca are staying with family during his recovery process. We update them often and do not intend to leave Florida until we see them.

 

Date:Nov. 20, 2002 - Day 39
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Meigs Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles
Activity:Same story - Different day

Notes: Localized fog cloaked the area this morning adding to the magical appearance of the Hiwassee river. As we waited for the veil to lift we were entertained by the din of thousands of Sandhill cranes babbling greetings as they reunited on the popular staging area. 

Among them somewhere was a single male Whooping crane, known to many as "number 6" -- The first of his kind to initiate an unassisted southward migration flight in eastern North America in over a century and very soon, four others of his kind should follow suit.

The fog did eventually lift -- with assistance from a 7-10 mph south wind, which prevented us from advancing today... but not from enjoying the magic of migration. 

We will hope for suitable weather tomorrow and in the meantime enjoy the warm hospitality of Tennessee for another day.

 

Date:Nov. 19, 2002 - Day 38
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Meigs Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles
Activity:Stand Down Day

Notes: Overnight rain showers left foggy conditions early this morning and once the fog cleared out, a low cloud ceiling remained making a flight today impossible. 

This next leg of the migration that will take us into Georgia has always been a tough one that last year had Joe and Deke, each with a group of whooper colts separated by approximately 5 miles. The terrain consists of carved valleys, where fog often settles and the busy Interstate 75 adds to the challenge as the pilots will cross it once and then fly alongside it for a few miles before arriving at our first of six planned Georgia stopovers. For these reasons the flight team will wait for ideal conditions before leading our precious feathered charges from the current Meigs County, TN location.

Two days ago I reported that Whooping crane #6, one of the yearling cranes had arrived at the Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana. I received the following report from one very fortunate birder that was among many who viewed this pioneering whooper during his brief stay at JP: 

"Such a gorgeous white pearl in the sea of gray (Sandhill's)! Saturday afternoon (11/16) a whooping crane was enjoyed by hundreds of viewers (every inch of the viewing platform covered with spotting scopes) at Jasper-Pulaski fish and wildlife area, Indiana. The whooper took off and flew north just before sunset (4:20ish), so I don't know if it returned to the viewing area to roost for the night. Hopefully that superstar will make a repeat performance tomorrow."

Unfortunately, for this and the other viewers #6 did not hang around Indiana for long (unlike us) but continued south....  The radio signal of our returning male yearling was picked up by ICF tracker Lara Fondow and Windway pilot, Mike Voechting, one hour ago in, get this - MEIGS COUNTY, TENNESSEE!  - A mere stone's throw from where we are currently being held up by weather.

The race is indeed ON...

 

Date:Nov. 18, 2002 - Day 37
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Meigs Co., TN
Distance Traveled:65.1 miles
Accumulated Distance:687.3 miles
Activity:It's all downhill from here...

Notes: Those that were along for the ride last year will recall the large, imposing hurdle known as "Walden Ridge." This 2800 ft. high component of the Cumberland Plateau forced the pilots to put down, 22 miles short of the intended destination at Meigs County, TN last fall, much to the surprise of a very hospitable poultry veterinarian who handed us the keys to his home as he left for a three day meeting.

This morning, shortly after sunrise the pilots flew the short distance from the Jamestown, TN airport to the crane enclosure in Fentress County and at 7:33 Brooke Pennypacker took-off with all 16 youngsters forming a line, too long for most camera viewfinders, behind his aircraft. 

One observer recently remarked that the departure reminded her of what it would be like if you were trying to herd a field of cats and this morning was exactly like this. One crane dropped low, off of the lead trike and as Joe moved in to pick up this reluctant flyer, Brooke disappeared out of view behind the tree line with his remaining 15 birds. Just as Joe was successful in his quest to give assistance to the reluctant bird and headed in the same direction Brooke had just gone, 10 cranes reappeared from the tree line, heading in the opposite direction, back toward the pen site. 

Richard was heading in their direction at a perpendicular approach and executed a 45-degree turn that appeared as if it were choreographed the Snowbirds and managed to pick all of the wayward cranes up in one swift and impressive maneuver. Once all the pilots and birds were headed in the same direction they began a long slow climb that peaked at 4,000 ft. and they had no problems overcoming Walden Ridge and descending into the Meigs County site.

With the Cumberland Plateau being the highest peak along this migration path - it really is all downhill from here....

 

Date:Nov. 17, 2002 - Day 36
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Fentress Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:622.2 miles
Activity:Past the point of being funny...

Notes: This is now past the point of being funny. Jokes about where to put the Christmas tree or the need to start paying rent to our generous hosts no longer elicit the belly laughs they once did.Instead they deepen the worry and reinforce the weariness.

Last year’s was a exceptionally long journey but here we sit in the pouring rain, 300 miles behind even that prolonged schedule. The ubiquitous rain has kept us grounded for days on end but has yet to soak us through. The team remains committed - it is just that much of the laughter has been replaced by long exasperated sighs.

We are surrogate parents to 16 naïve Whooping cranes and each of us takes satisfaction from knowing we are making a difference but there are many others just as frustrated and on that list we must include our children who may in time be the recipients of this effort. 

Richard van Heuvelen has four daughters, Megan, Sara, Katie and Jessie who miss their father while his wife Jane assumes the responsibility alone. Brooke Pennypacker has a son Devin who must be proud of his father but lonely in his absence. Heather has Chad, Lindsay and Chase all dealing with the challenges of being teens, supported by her husband Steve. My wife Diana tries to explain my absence to our daughter Alex. At three she does not yet understand the significance of Whooping cranes but knows all too well that I am not there. 

Each team member has given up months of precious time with family and friends to be here and collectively we would like to thank all those at home for their support.


Yearling cranes: As of 2:30pm yesterday, Whooping crane #6 had arrived at the Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in north Indiana. 

Whooping crane #7, the female that spent the summer alone in southeast Wisconsin apparently has also departed on her first un-assisted southward migration. After returning faithfully each night to roost in the same location, she did not return on the evening of Friday, Nov. 15th. The tracking team is currently hot on their trail with aircraft assistance provided by Windway Capitol Corp.

 

Date:Nov. 16, 2002 - Day 35
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Fentress Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:622.2 miles
Activity:No progress today

Notes: South winds, light drizzle, low cloud ceiling and predicted snow flurries...

 

Date:Nov. 15, 2002 - Day 34
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Fentress Co., TN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:622.2 miles
Activity:Rain Delay...

Notes: South winds at 6-10 mph will prevent any progress today, however, I suppose we can't complain after having four successful flights since Monday - covering 217.5 miles from Indiana to Tennessee.

I've often wondered how the pilots know they have actually crossed the invisible lines from one state to the next and thought it would be nice if there were some type of marker or sign post like those that welcome road travelers. Our migration path covers mostly remote and often forested areas, which make it near impossible for any type of welcome much less a sign but yesterday morning, just minutes after crossing the line that separates Kentucky from Tennessee there was a welcoming party. 

2300 ft. below the planes and cranes, just outside Byrdstown, TN stood Mr. & Mrs. Hassler - the 80-something year old couple, who were to be the first participants in the recent Whooping Cranes Over TN walk-a-thon. 

Unfortunately, one week before the walk began, Mr. Hassler suffered a massive heart attack and was not able to participate with his wife and had to settle for cheering her on from his hospital bed. We were thrilled to learn that he is recovering and was there yesterday - to cheer on the young whoopers as they entered his home state, very near to the route walked one month ago by Mrs. Hassler and her grown children - Now that's a welcome!

 

Date:Nov. 14, 2002 - Day 33
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Fentress Co., TENNESSEE!
Distance Traveled:45.1 miles
Accumulated Distance:622.2 miles
Activity:Officially past the halfway point!

Notes: Last year's migration path route was 1228.83 miles from the launch at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin to the final winter release pen situated on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.   With today's successful flight; our fourth in as many days, the total distance these six and seven month old Whooping cranes have migrated currently stands at 622 miles - They've made it halfway to their new winter home!

We are currently at the 13th stopover and the fourth of seven States along the new eastern whooping crane flyway, after departing Adair County, KY at 7:22am this morning under a blue sky, crisscrossed with jet contrails, and resembling a blank game of tic-tac-toe. Richard led the birds out of the valley surrounded by a palette of orange, yellow and rich brown leaves and set course for Tennessee, followed by Brooke Pennypacker, who again had picked up 4 youngsters that didn't seem to get a good start out of the pen.

Joe and Bill each flew in the chase position but like yesterday, once they cleared the first ridge to the south, Brooke's cranes decided to make a break and veered over to Joe's wingtip, which left Brooke and Bill in the chase position for the remainder of the 45 mile flight. The highest ridge between our last stop in KY and the Fentress county site was 1750 feet. The highest altitude attained this morning was 2300 feet. Our luck continues....

 

Date:Nov. 13, 2002 - Day 32
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Adair Co., KY
Distance Traveled:54.6 miles
Accumulated Distance:577.1 miles
Activity:Making Strides!

Notes: This is the third day in a row the weather has cooperated, allowing us to advance further south. It certainly makes it easier for us to call home to loved ones that are hoping we'll make it back in time for Christmas, which is - gulp - only 6 weeks away... On days that we don't progress, we tend to avoid the phone calls that bring disappointment for those back home.

The aircraft were readied in darkness this morning and it was barely sunrise when Richard van Heuvelen moved into take-off position.  Patuxent's Dan Sprague and OM intern Mark Nipper released the birds on Richard's cue and they were airborne behind the small yellow trike within a short distance as the field was situated on a long slope, with take-off heading downhill. As they veered right, and on course, Joe radioed that several birds had stayed behind so Brooke moved in to attempt a second take-off with this reluctant group of 6 cranes, while Bill flew chase for Richard and the other 11 birds. Brooke was airborne within seconds with the laggers following his aircraft - just as 7 of Richard's group turned back for the pen. Joe instructed Richard to continue on course with his 4 remaining birds and he moved in to intercept the returning group of 7 trouble makers. 

After several minutes and an equal number of circuits, they eventually had all of the cranes corralled and in their possession and they flew on, to catch up to Richard, who was by now about two miles into the 54 mile flight. As they crossed the ridge to our south, we overheard Brooke radio that his birds were moving over to fly with Joe's group and that he would fly chase for him.

I arrived at the next location in Adair County, just as top-cover pilot Paul Maeder advised the ground crew that Richard had landed with his original 4 cranes at 9:17am and Joe had touched down with 11 birds within seconds of Richard and Brooke had just landed his aircraft, followed by the last crane, who had obviously decided to rejoin Brooke at some point during the 1 hour and 56 minute flight. 

This is our last scheduled stopover in Kentucky... Didn't we just get here yesterday? What a huge difference compared to Wisconsin, which seemed to hold us in it's grip for ever, and Indiana that appeared intent on blowing us back north. The autumn leaves of Kentucky are beautiful; the terrain is molded into rising mounds and carved valleys. We are progressing south with these brilliant Whoopers and it feels fantastic!

Apparently also progressing south, is one of the five yearlings cranes, which returned north to central Wisconsin, unaided last spring. We received word last evening that crane #6 had moved south by approximately 140 miles from a staging area in Marquette County, WI to Kenosha County in southeast WI, and is in the company of Sandhill cranes. Richard Urbanek, USFWS and interns Lara Fondow and Colleen Satyshur with the International Crane Foundation will be tracking this crane, as well as the other four yearlings as they progress south. 

I can't help giggling when I wonder if they might just beat us to Florida?

 

Date:Nov. 12, 2002 - Day 31
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Washington Co., KY
Distance Traveled:90 miles
Accumulated Distance:522.5 miles
Activity:Lucky Kentucky!

Notes: For the first time in this migration, the pilots were able to pass over a scheduled stop and continue guiding all sixteen juvenile whoopers on a double migration leg. Today brought a nice and gentle tailwind out of the north, which provided additional airspeed to the flyers, enabling them to travel exactly 90-miles beyond Jennings Co., Indiana and into the bluegrass hills of Kentucky. Today's was the longest flight these youngsters have ever experienced and they handled the 1 hour and 57 minutes beautifully, with fifteen surfing off Joe's lead aircraft and Richard leading the remaining lone crane for the entire flight.

 

Date:Nov. 11, 2002 - Day 30
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Jennings Co., IN
Distance Traveled:65 miles
Accumulated Distance:432.5 miles
Activity:Better than expected...

Notes: After spending four days apart and with everyone nervous over what seemed like constant tornado warnings in both Hendricks and Morgan counties yesterday, it was with great relief that we began getting ready to start today's flight. The flock and the team have been separated with 13 cranes in Hendricks county and the other 3 birds, twenty-four miles to the south in Morgan county, since last Thursday's flight. We had hoped to rejoin earlier than today but persistent south winds dashed any chances until this morning.

Yesterday's storms persuaded the Hendricks team to remove the wings from the ultralights and stake them down to prevent them from blowing away, so the first item on the agenda this morning was to mount these on the trikes. Joe and Brooke arrived to begin the process and found the large white triangles barely visible beneath the fallen leaves and rain water, which had accumulated through out yesterday and overnight, changing our camp sight from bean field to waterfront property.

Preparation time today was just over an hour and at 8:39am Brooke moved into position adjacent the crane enclosure as Joe circled above. Bill Lishman had arrived a few minutes earlier to assist in the chase position and top-cover pilot Paul Maeder, filling in temporarily for Paula and Don Lounsbury flew overhead in his aircraft, ready to clear the cranes and planes through Indianapolis airport zones. Brian Clauss from the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center departed our location with crates and headed south to get into position at approximately the halfway point, in case there were any dropout birds today. 

Richard van Heuvelen waited at the Morgan county location with ICF's Kelly Maguire, volunteer Gord Lee and cranes #9, 12 & 13, ready to either lift-off and join the larger flock guided by Brooke and Joe, or stand down should the pilots decide that Morgan county was the destination for today.

Brooke applied full power and he soon appeared from behind the distant tree line with 13 brilliant white birds following close behind. After circling the bean field twice, allowing the cranes a chance to form up on his wing, he began heading southeast. Two birds broke-off from the main flock and Joe moved in to pick these two up, giving them the benefit of the draft created by the aircraft wing. The two continued with Brooke leading 11 and Joe leading 2 and at the halfway point of the 24-mile flight the two pilots found themselves at 3200 ft. altitude and in smooth air over Brown county, Indiana. If they descended the ride became bumpy. The cranes were in great shape and the air was smooth at their altitude so they decided to head for Jennings county, one stopover site beyond Morgan and our last scheduled stop in this State. 

In his faster aircraft, Bill flew ahead of Brooke and Joe and headed east toward Richard's location, ready to fly in the chase position for him, watching over the smaller flock of three. As he descended toward the pen site, he got tossed about and Paul Maeder confirmed that there was a headwind at the lower altitude. Doubtful that they would be able to convince the three juveniles to climb through rough air to 3000 ft. altitude and smoother air, Brooke and Joe advised them to transport the three cranes in crates to the Jennings county site instead of running the risk of losing any during a flight in less than ideal conditions. 

Bill and Richard proceeded south in their aircraft to the new stopover site, while Brian and Kelly prepared to relocate the youngsters and the travel pen. In all the flight this morning lasted 1 hour and 52 minutes and covered 65 miles, bringing our total distance migrated to 432.5 miles - officially 1/3 of the way to our final destination in Florida.

It was exactly two years ago today that we arrived at the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve with 11 Sandhill cranes, in a "dress rehearsal" migration south along the same route used today with these precious few whooping cranes.

 

Date:Nov. 10, 2002 - Day 29
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Hendricks Co. & Morgan Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles & 0 miles
Accumulated Distance:367.5 miles & 391.5 miles
Activity:WIndiana

Notes: Again we are grounded by south winds and rain. 

Many have asked about the five yearling cranes that returned un-aided to the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin last April after wintering at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge on the central west coast of Florida.  Satellite data received Saturday indicates that the cranes are still located in central Wisconsin under the watchful eyes of the ICF monitoring team of Richard Urbanek and his interns Lara Fondow and Colleen Satyshur. Once the yearlings decide to initiate their first solo southward migration the trackers will be following along by ground and air, recording their movements and habitat selection.

Tom Stehn, Whooping crane coordinator and biologist for the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge submitted the following report about the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock:  The whooping cranes at Aransas are starting to show up. My census flights at Aransas are as follows: October 24th 2 adults + 0 young = 2 / October 31 19 adults + 1 young = 20 / Nov. 6 78 adults + 8 young = 86.

I received 3 separate sighting reports of whooping cranes in the northern half of Texas on November 4 and 5th. There was apparently quite a migration in progress. After tremendous storms at Aransas Refuge that brought 7.4 inches of rain on November 3 and another 0.93 inches the following day, the skies cleared on November 5th and stayed that way with north winds bringing ideal migration conditions. I believe a majority of the cranes arrived at Aransas on November 5 and 6.

So far, about half the flock has arrived. I'm expecting at least 173 birds in the Aransas flock this year, at least reaching the same total as last year. With 17 chicks fledged in mid-August on the nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park to counter balance over-summer mortality, I'm hoping for a slight increase in the flock.

(Thanks Tom!)

 

Date:Nov. 9, 2002 Day 28
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Hendricks Co. & Morgan Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles & 0 miles
Accumulated Distance:367.5 miles & 391.5 miles
Activity:Winds continue...

Notes: The Gulf of Mexico continues to send warm winds our way preventing any progress today.

 

Date:Nov. 8, 2002 Day 27
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Hendricks Co. & Morgan Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles & 0 miles
Accumulated Distance:367.5 miles & 391.5 miles
Activity:Warmer Temps

Notes: Winds before sunrise were blowing directly out of the south at 15-20 mph and were predicted to increase by mid-morning to 25 mph. While this is bringing warm air into the area, it also means today is a no-fly, stand down, not going anywhere day.

 

Date:Nov. 7, 2002 Day 26
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Hendricks Co. & Morgan Co., IN
Distance Traveled:32 miles & 56 miles
Accumulated Distance:367.5 miles & 391.5 miles
Activity:Confused?

Notes: If the information above has you puzzled, you're not alone -- It was just that kind of day. After standing down for the past three days our patience was rewarded when we awoke to calm but frosty conditions early this morning. The first television news crew arrived at 6am, followed closely by several others and by 7:30 am aircraft wings were relieved of their thick coatings of frost and engines were warming up.

The rising sun revealed a light haze over Boone County and as the ultralights took to the air I contacted Paula Lounsbury who was warming her own aircraft engine at a small municipal airport south of our location. Paula reported 1/8 of a mile visibility near Indianapolis and recommended we wait an hour to allow the sun time to burn off some of the patchy ground fog. I radioed Paula's advice to the pilots who were reporting about a mile of visibility overhead and they readily agreed to wait it out.

Each pilot took turns lining up for their final approach and upon touching down, would advise the others when the harvested soybean-field-turned-landing-strip was clear for the next aircraft to land. Just as Richard was arriving we heard Bill radio to the others that he had just experienced an engine out and would have to put down in the field north of our location, amid a pair of confused horses. One of the many benefits of these 365 pound ultralight airplanes is that the delta-shaped wing will act as a large kite should the pilot lose engine power. The pilot can still maneuver the craft, shifting their weight or moving the wing bar from side to side, depending on which way they need to turn to line up a safe landing. As soon as Bill was safely down he radioed to the ground crew and Gord Lee jumped into one of the 4-wheel drive trucks provided by Dodge to make his way across a couple of bumpy, frost-covered fields in search of Bill and his now silenced trike.

Once assured Bill was okay, everyone retreated inside to the kitchen of our host since last Sunday and to welcomed pots of hot coffee. Allan has been playing bachelor since Tuesday morning when his lovely wife Pat traveled west to visit with their grandchildren. It's one thing to play bachelor when its only you playing but throw 12 houseguests into the equation and you'll understand why I had mental images of finding Al curled up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor, mumbling "they're never going to leave...never ever,"  I didn't find him on the floor -- instead he was being the gracious host, pouring coffee and asking everyone if they wanted some cereal. I hugged him and assured him that we were going to leave -- soon, very soon.

We dutifully waited out the hour and contacted Paula again. Conditions were better but still not great -- wait longer. How long? I asked, nervous that I'd let Allan down... Another hour was the response. For the next hour I avoided Al.

Finally at 9:30 Paula gave the all clear and the flight team, sans Bill sprang into action. Brooke would lead today's flight, followed by Richard van Heuvelen and Joe Duff, while Bill, his visiting son Aaron and Gord worked to retrieve Bill's injured aircraft from the horse field; transport it back to the site; remove the wing and mount it on Deke Clark's aircraft that was waiting in the aircraft trailer, ready for a situation like today's. 

At 9:40 am all 16 birds departed, following Brooke's purring trike out of the soybean field and began the steep climb needed to clear the trees bordering the field. Once over the trees they veered southeast on course as we watched in amazement from below while monitoring the radio communication between the three ultralights. 

Shortly after, we heard talk that a couple of birds had broken off and were turned back toward the pen site. Richard gave chase and intercepted the two errant cranes, as Brooke continued with his group of 12 and Joe with the two that had joined his aircraft. The three pilots radioed the number of birds each had and eventually gave the all clear to Dan Sprague and Kelly Maguire to begin dismantling the pen.

After giving a final, reassuring goodbye to Al I departed by ground and also headed southeast toward our next destination but as I continued to monitor the aircraft frequency I began getting nervous when I overheard the communication going on between Paula, who was now airborne in the top-cover Cessna and Joe and Brooke, who between them had 14 young cranes. The birds were having a hard time forming up on the wing of the aircraft as they were getting jostled a bit by a headwind. Paula advised them that the air was smoother at higher altitudes but Brooke's group of 12 didn't seem to want to climb. Next I heard that Richard was flying with his two cranes, 5-miles back from the other two pilots, and at the smoother altitude. He had everything under control and was on course to the next destination so Paula focused on doing whatever she could to assist Brooke and Joe and their 14 youngsters.

As they neared Indianapolis they also neared an ominously wide cloud bank, which likely formed from rising ground fog. Most ultralight pilots enjoy flying among clouds, except when they are leading Whooping cranes, so the two began urging the birds to climb to 1000-ft and go over the cottony mist but these young flyers have never seen clouds like this and were appropriately nervous. They moved from the left side of the wing to the right side, trying to find a comfort zone but when there are 14 birds, each with a 7-8 foot wingspan, vying for the same comfort zone they can tire quickly and soon after making it over the cloud bank, one crane began descending and was determined to land. Coordinates were noted and passed on to Brian Clauss who was also enroute to our next stopover and within minutes Brian had crated the dropout and had him safely stowed in his vehicle. 

At about the same time that Brian was gathering this wayward crane, Brooke's group began dropping back, unable to stay with the aircraft. Joe and Brooke began discussing options and the two decided to land in the first isolated field to allow the birds a rest before taking off to fly the remaining distance to the intended stopover. Again Paula provided coordinates, which were not far from my location so I proceeded to them after alerting Dan, Kelly and Mark of the current status. 

Richard continued on with his two cranes to Morgan County, 56-miles from our departure point and as he landed and climbed out of the pilot's seat, he looked around for the birds, which he assumed had landed with him. They weren't were they were supposed to be and he finally spotted them as two small white dots against the blue sky. They had located a warm rising column of air and were circling, riding the thermal about a 1/4 mile away. He climbed back into the seat and took-off in their direction, eventually joining them as they circled higher and higher and after two attempts he finally convinced them to stop messing around and land with him and this time when he climbed out, there they were beside him, waiting to be led to their enclosure.

Joe and Brooke kept their group of 14 cranes occupied by probing in the soybean field and mud and I made visits to the distant but neighboring homes to explain the somewhat strange activity that had taken place while we waited for the second travel pen to arrive at the unscheduled location 24-miles short of the goal.

Finally, by 4pm we had two groups of cranes, each safe inside a predator-proof enclosure and each with a motorhome nearby containing separated members of the migration team. We'll hope for calm conditions early tomorrow and plan to reunite both crane, and human flocks as soon as possible.

Date:Nov. 6, 2002 Day 25
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Boone Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:335.5 miles
Activity:Deja vous

Notes: Our morning routine has become reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day, in which the characters experience the same day, over and over again until they get it right. In bed by 10pm each night, hoping for better weather in the morning; awake at 5:30am we reluctantly open the door and feel the strong breeze that refuses to leave us. If it's not windy, it's raining. If it's not raining or windy there is a low cloud ceiling.  I don't know what we have to do to get it right and finally break out of this Groundhog day routine but if anyone has any ideas we're open to suggestions.

The good news is the cranes are doing great and the crew hasn't yet hurt each other despite the cabin fever that has set in. We've watched a lot of movies and made a lot of balloon "creatures" (they don't quite resemble animals). And Mark and Dan are getting very artistic with an Etch-a-sketch - thanks to Darlene and her thoughtful boredom box which she gave us before departing the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge - 25 days ago.

Date:Nov. 5, 2002 Day 24
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Boone Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:335.5 miles
Activity:The waiting continues...

Notes: East winds and rain prevent any progress today.

 

Date:Nov. 4, 2002 Day 23
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Boone Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:335.5 miles
Activity:A Teaser Day...

Notes: At 6am it was too windy to fly so the crew milled about in the home of our Boone Co. hosts waiting for a high pressure system, visible on the weather maps to move into our area and push out the clouds. 

At 8am Paula Lounsbury contacted the local weather briefing office and was told that the system would soon be upon us -- hurray up and wait. At 9am we were again assured that the low clouds would be on their way out of this area by 9:30am. We waited but one look at the sky told a different tale. Each hour, on the hour until 1pm Paula called and each time she was told conditions "should" improve shortly...

It's now 2:30pm and there is still low cloud cover over our heads making a flight today unsafe for the cranes and pilots. I guess we'll just hurray up and wait for a better day.

It was exactly one year ago today that we departed from this same stopover.

Paula Lounsbury's perspective: It’s another “Stand-Down Day” on migration. Our pre-dawn checks usually begin with a look at an online weather site, when Internet access is available, followed by a phone call to a local Flight Service Station weather briefer. This morning’s sky looked ominous but nevertheless the usual routine was carried out with cautious optimism. Heavy low clouds hung over the trikes and bird pen and a light but blustery wind rustled the tops of the trees. Although the weather outside said “NO GO,” the briefer painted a pretty picture of the developing weather. The clouds were to part and the sun to shine before noon, we were told. The slow, improving trend could begin by mid-morning accompanied by a light northwesterly flow. Perfect! We could be winging our way south in excellent conditions and even have breakfast before we go.

The morning passed pleasantly with seconds on coffee while eyes were glued to the Weather Channel’s radar picture. Over and over we watched heavy rain inundate Texas and Louisiana and snow fall in the northeast, while outside the skies remained stubbornly gray.

Another call to the pre-flight briefer brought news of improving weather to the south but not at our location. The forecasts now indicated improvements to begin here a little later than first thought. The weather would be better by noon, perhaps. At 1:00pm the skies remained dark and unrepentant. If our collective will could clear the skies we’d be basking in the sunshine. Tense but hopeful, and ready to spring into action at the moment the time was right, we spent all day waiting for the sun that never shone.
Date:Nov. 3, 2002 Day 22
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Boone Co., IN
Distance Traveled:48.3 miles
Accumulated Distance:335.5 miles
Activity:Central, Eastern or Twilight Zone?

Notes: We're right around the area where we cross back and forth over the invisible line that separates the central time zone from the eastern zone. Though most of us hail from Ontario, Canada in the eastern zone, we began the journey in Wisconsin in the central time zone. Then, just for added confusion, the clocks were turned back an hour last weekend. For the past three days my base has been situated in central and the crew and the cranes in eastern. This makes for many confusing moments when planning dinners or departures -- one almost needs a calculator to figure it out.

This morning at 7:43 am eastern the flight crew lifted off with Joe initially in the lead aircraft, Brooke flying chase and Richard and Bill circling overhead, ready to move into position in needed. As Joe gained altitude and made a slow sweeping turn to bring the cranes on course, 15 of them broke away and Brooke moved in to lead this large group, while Joe carried on with the 1 bird that had stuck to him like glue.

Another single bird dropped off from Brooke's group leaving him with 14 birds and Richard maneuvered his aircraft, quickly getting into position in front of the drop out and providing it with lift, which is generated by the wake of air as it rolls off the large wing of the ultralight.

Brooke continued with his 14, flying at a slightly lower altitude than Joe but as they approached the lead trike, all of Brooke's birds decided to veer right and climb to re-join the single crane off Joe's right wingtip, which meant that Brooke was again back in his chase position. 

Once everyone was eventually on course they were rewarded with smooth as glass air conditions and 1 hour and 13 minutes later the pilots and all 16 cranes arrived in Boone County, Indiana, 48 miles further south and still in the eastern time... I think.

 

Date:Nov. 2, 2002 Day 21
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Benton Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:287.2 miles
Activity:Windy Indy

Notes: Click on the link above and you'll see why we're still here in Benton Co., Indiana -- West winds at 10-15 mph continue and our goal is to take these cranes to Florida, not the Chesapeake Bay region.

The birds are safe in their travel enclosure but they get excited by the winds blowing through the open panels and are as anxious to get airborne as the pilots are. We will all have to be patient for at least another day...

 

Date:Nov. 1, 2002 Day 20
Reporter:Joe Duff
Location:Benton Co., IN
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:287.2 miles
Activity:Grounded by wind

Notes: So far we have covered 287.2 miles, and it has taken us 20 days. Those of us depressed by our dismal progress, spend the hours of downtime recounting these numbers and the results don't help the mood. We have traveled just 14 miles per day or averaged slightly more than one-half mph. Despite our large volunteer contingent, migration is the most expensive portion of the field season and averages just under $1,000.00 per day or roughly $100.00 per mile. At this tortoise pace, we could have crawled faster. If this option were really available we may yet consider it, but that kind of thinking comes from the "glass is half empty" point of view.

From the other perspective we do have a number of things for which to be thankful: Despite our sporadic progress the birds are becoming accustomed to the routine of migration and the team is learning as we go, how to get them all out of the pen at one time. This is no easy feat as many of the more eager birds will charge out and take flight almost immediately leaving the others behind. The handlers must try to contain the more aggressive, while encouraging the more reluctant. The pilot must judge the take-off roll so the leaders do not get ahead of him, yet delay it long enough for the slower birds to have a chance. The start is critical and if the last birds out are too far from the aircraft they are often discouraged and turn back. Practice makes perfect for pilots, birds and ground crew and yesterday was a textbook example of how it should be done.

Our travel pen consists of several interlocking panels, each 6 feet tall and 10 feet long. Dan Sprague and Mark Nipper swung out two of them creating a funnel shaped opening 20 feet wide that channeled the birds out in the direction of the departing aircraft. Before he left the ground, Richard Van Heuvelen had all sixteen birds flying in a tight but jumbled formation directly behind him. As we turned on course they began to take advantage of the wake created by the wing and started to form a long thin line. We climbed to 800 feet, into glass smooth air and eight birds surfed on each wingtip while the other three aircraft followed behind with no other function than to stare in awe.

Despite our best efforts we are at the mercy of the weather yet thankfully our hard work has paid off. These birds are better prepared for this long and arduous trip than any we have raised in the past. We are also thankful for all the supporters we have met along the way. They have opened their homes and their hearts to us in unbounded hospitality. They provide isolation for the birds and power for our trailers, dinners for the crew or just a place to hang out on rainy, windy days. Although we are the recipient of their generosity we must remember that we are not the reason. Not to question the sterling personalities of each and every team member, myself excluded, many of the people we meet are kind to us because they support the work we are doing. It is their way of helping the cause; of contributing to the survival of a creature older than mankind and their consideration comes at a time when it makes all the difference.

 

Date:Oct. 31, 2002 - Day 19
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Benton Co., INDIANA
Distance Traveled:43.3 miles
Accumulated Distance:287.2 miles
Activity:A slight rain delay...

Notes: The team stood around this morning waiting for a system which brought light rain to move out of the area and at 8:30 am we were rewarded with ideal migration conditions to carry the flight entourage into Indiana.

Anticipating the better weather, the team was ready to move and at 8:40 am Richard van Heuvelen led all 16 young cranes out of the grass strip, leading them in flight, away from Kankakee county and the home of Steve and Carolyn who arranged a great neighborhood dinner for the crew last night in their hangar. (Extra points for the BBQ'd pork chops and baked apples!)

With the temperature reading 5.1 Celsius in the air and a 4mph tailwind out of the northwest, the pilots and cranes had a smooth flight, which lasted 1:07 and covered 43.3 miles. Bill Lishman commented that he, Brooke and Joe could have stayed in bed because from the moment of lift-off the birds stayed on Richard's lead trike, with eight off each wingtip for the duration of the entire flight to Benton County, Indiana. It's all south from this point on.... 

FLORIDA or BUST!
Click to see Halloween - Migration style...

 

Date:Oct. 30, 2002 Day 18
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Kankakee Co., IL
Distance Traveled:56.3 miles
Accumulated Distance:243.9 miles
Activity:A Great Day!

Notes: People often ask; what is the best part of what you are doing? 

Without discounting the pleasure and sheer joy experienced each day we have the privilege of seeing these awe-inspiring cranes flying toward their new winter habitat, the very best part is actually two parts combined -- It's the method we are traveling, shared with the fantastic and genuine people we join at each of our stopover locations.

At some stops we are reuniting with old friends we've met over the past two fall flights, and at others we are meeting new friends, which we hope will become old friends. We are traveling through the midwest and eastern portions of the U.S. in a way that allows us to veer from urban areas and experience the character and charm of the many small towns that dot our flight path.

Three days ago we had the pleasure of meeting Vicky. When we arrived in LaSalle County on Sunday, Vicky was a new friend who invited the entire crew to her home. This amazing woman tirelessly kept our crew of twelve fed over the past three days while we waited out the weather. She opened her home and her heart to all of us, allowing us to sleep in her home, do our laundry, shower, use her computer, her television and enjoy her never-ending hospitality. By this morning when it was time to move on, Vicky had become an old friend and she was right there beside Scott Flaherty and me as we watched our 16 marvelous feathered flyers take to the air following four small yellow ultralights. 

At 7am central time, Joe took-off into the wind, heading west with 15 cranes. As he turned south, on course to our next location in Kankakee county, 14 cranes spotted the enclosure and veered toward it, breaking away from the aircraft. Brooke moved in to intercept and picked up the line of birds. Crane #1 was a bit late exiting the enclosure, until Dan, in costume quickly moved behind her and herded her out the gate.  This oldest of the flock peeped excitedly as she was airborne and once freed from the confines and confusion of the 30 other flapping wings, she quickly caught up with Richard as he passed close by to lend her his large wing.

Joe continued with crane #18, our youngest and the only one of the original group that didn't break from his aircraft. Brooke guided the main flock of 14 birds about a half mile back from Joe and Richard followed up the pack with #1, who after sitting out the last two flight days was eager to follow.

Bill Lishman watched from above as he zigzagged back and forth, higher and further back keeping an eye out for any drop out cranes, but today, for only the second time, all 16 birds flew the entire leg, which is the longest to date. The group covered 56.3 miles this morning and were airborne for 1 hour and 47 minutes, much longer than the 52 minute departure day flight from the Necedah NWR on Oct. 13th.

Shortly after arriving the cranes were led to their already set-up enclosure which they eagerly entered, anticipating fresh water and chow after the long flight and the ground crew and pilots were greeted warmly by three time hosts and old friends Carolyn and Steve.

It is a great day indeed.... With a bit of luck tomorrow we'll see Indiana.

Date:Oct. 29, 2002 Day 17
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:LaSalle Co., IL
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:187.6 miles
Activity:No Go...

Notes: Today brought more east winds... and just for a bit of variety, rain. The feathered youngsters are doing just fine and because they did not get a chance to fly yesterday, the handlers will allow them some free flight time this afternoon to exercise their wings.

 

Date:Oct. 28, 2002 Day 16
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:LaSalle Co., IL
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:187.6 miles
Activity:Standing Down

Notes: Winds out of the east early this morning prevented a flight today. We'll be standing down and see what tomorrow brings.

 

Date:Oct. 27, 2002 Day 15
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:LaSalle Co., IL
Distance Traveled:47.9 miles
Accumulated Distance:187.6 miles
Activity:Two in a row...

Notes: After waiting so long to leave Wisconsin it seemed only fair that the weather would provide back-to-back migration days, allowing us to advance even further south into Illinois.

Take-off from Ogle County, IL got underway an hour ahead of our last four flight days because of the one hour "fall-back" and at 6:45 am, Richard left the remote grass strip followed by a long line of stark white cranes, who this morning appeared very eager to fly as they fell into a waving line off his left wing. As he led them out of the field they appeared as a long banner, slowly displaying a message that required no text. 

As it turns out, two youngsters turned back to the pen right after launching and another lagged behind, still in the pen. Dan managed to encourage the pair back into the air by temporarily disguising himself as the "swamp monster," but by the time the pilots realized they did not have all 16 youngsters with them it was too late to turn back and attempt to pick them up.

Richard continued south and slightly east with the group, still in one long line as Brooke and Joe flew behind, followed by Peter above. Members of the ground crew followed below and caught the occasional glimpse as our paths crossed.

After getting my "complimentary" 3am wake up call because not one but two eager hotel desk clerks turned back the clocks making my 5am request arrive two hours ahead of schedule, I failed to remember that the sun would actually rise an hour earlier -- duh -- and I was running late. But hey, I did make it (barely) in time to see this near perfect take-off.

Still feeling like I was a bit behind schedule (like we actually have a schedule?) my wide awake right foot was apparently a wee bit too aggressive on the accelerator, according to the State Trooper whom I had to pleasure of meeting this morning. As luck would have it, just as I was explaining the project to him, four ultralights appeared overhead, sounding like large mosquito's. He had to look up, and as he saw the 13 birds pass over behind the lead trike, his grin spread... He watched until they disappeared out of view then quietly said "you'd better slow it down a bit ma'am" and walked back to his car. I'll bet it's the first time he'd heard (and seen) that excuse...

Total flight time 1:20 with slightly overcast skies and a cold 34 degrees. The flight was assisted by a 3-4 mph tailwind and the pilots were encouraged by the eagerness of the flock today. Maybe the birds are finally switching into migration mode. 

 

Date:Oct. 26, 2002 Day 14
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Ogle Co., IL
Distance Traveled:47.9 miles
Accumulated Distance:139.7 miles
Activity:Good News -- Sad News...

Notes: At first light this morning it appeared that we would be forced to wait out the wind for one more day but by 7:30 am, the winds had calmed so Joe took-off to test the air. He reported back that conditions were fine and we had better get going while we had a small window of opportunity.

Everyone sprang into action, bidding a fond farewell to our very generous and warm hosts of the last five days who provided an equal number of fantastic dinners. The four trikes were airborne and covered the short distance to the pen location in minutes. Joe and Brooke would fly the lead positions and Richard, joined today by pilot Peter Cheney, flew higher, circling overhead and ready to give chase.  Peter is a friend of OM's who is a well qualified trike pilot and agreed to fill in for Bill Lishman until Bill returns to join our flock on Monday. Little did Peter know that he'd have to sit out five days of weather before getting the chance to fly with the cranes.

The take-off was scattered, partly because of the location of the pen. Situated in a valley, with powerlines running the west side and trees to the east, there is only one way out and convincing the cranes to climb so soon after their release from the pen was not as easy task. Joe departed at 7:53am and made it out of the valley with six birds -- the remaining ten scattered. Brooke radioed to Joe to continue on course and he would turn back to attempt a second take-off with the reluctant birds.

At 8:08 am Brooke was climbing out of the valley, on course with a second group of six cranes and radioed back to Dan that the four birds that had returned to the enclosure should be transported by crate to our first stop in Illinois.

Total flight time: 1 hour, 4 minutes.  The twelve cranes that made the entire leg, did so without dropping out and handled the flight beautifully.

On a sadder note: The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership health team announced today that crane #10, the juvenile whooping crane that had sustained injuries when it collided with the lead ultralight aircraft during the departure flight from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, was humanely euthanized on October 25th.

The October 13th lift-off from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin at 7:55 a.m. (Central) went beautifully but halfway into the anticipated 39-minute flight, winds shifted to the west, becoming increasingly unstable. The deteriorating weather conditions caused a bird to come into contact with the wing of the lead aircraft and pilot, Joe Duff, landed at the first available opportunity in a recently harvested soy bean field.

Crane #10 was transported to the International Crane Foundation where it was examined and received treatment from Director of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Barry Hartup.

"Over the subsequent days, the bird was diagnosed with severe exertional myopathy," Hartup said, "which causes physical and metabolic derangements to muscle tissue and despite improved attitude and healing of his visible wounds, the bird never regained his mobility, nor its appetite."

Health care staff worked hard to rehabilitate crane #10 yet despite these efforts, the bird never responded to 12 days of care aimed at regaining limb function and the health team believe his prognosis for recovery was very poor.

While the loss of this whooping crane is unfortunate, project leaders point out it has always been expected that birds may be lost during the study and that such losses would not impede the continuation of the study.

"It is always unfortunate to lose one of our study birds," said Beth Goodman, Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Whooping Crane Coordinator and project Bird Team Leader. "The Partnership has taken extraordinary measures to minimize such losses. The project members constantly evaluate our protocols and processes with risk reduction management in mind. However, risks are part of any scientific study."

 

Date:Oct. 25, 2002 Day 13
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:Ho hum...

Notes: Same story -- different day... Rain, low cloud cover and cold. Standing down.  I think I'll move to a new hotel just for a change in scenery...

 

Date:Oct. 24, 2002 Day 12
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:Not so friendly skies...

Notes: Rain, mixed with snow will prevent a flight today.

Date:Oct. 23, 2002 Day 11
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:Standing Down

Notes: Today's weather is an exact replica of yesterday's -- winds out of the NE at 10-15 mph. Some have asked "Wouldn't this provide a tailwind for the cranes and planes"? The easy answer is yes, however, if the wind at ground level is blowing at 10-15 mph, the winds aloft would be stronger -- too strong to attempt a flight with our precious cargo.

Brooke joked this morning that if we stay at our current location for much longer the county officials may begin charging us property taxes...

 

Date:Oct. 22, 2002 Day 10
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:The Wind Continues...

Notes: It was exactly one year ago today that we arrived at our current location with the 2001 Whooping cranes -- it was day five of the fifty-day journey.  We are already at day ten of the 2002 southward migration and will be staying put, at least until tomorrow morning, to see what the weather has in store for us.

During our extended stay in Green Co., WI last year, October 24th was a day that does not hold positive memories for the team as it was the day that brought the wind storm, which partially collapsed the travel enclosure and allowed the cranes to escape into the dark night. As a result of the storm, one special flyer, crane #3 collided with a nearby power line and died instantly. If anything positive can be taken from this loss it is awareness of how power lines and communication towers affect migrating birds in the wild everyday.

Date:Oct. 21, 2002 Day 9
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:Great lengths... sort of

Notes: With SE winds blowing at 10-15 mph this morning we are forced to stand down but considering that the crew didn't have a chance to regroup until after 9pm last night, it's probably a good thing.

Yesterday was another less than perfect flight with several young cranes dropping out for variety of reasons. To start with, the take-off was hindered by three birds who seemed reluctant to exit the doors of the enclosure because there was a small stand of trees that they would have to walk next to before they could join the waiting aircraft on the grass strip. Once the entire group was out, some birds were already airborne and as the three trikes lifted off, three other birds decided to turn back and join the two costumed handlers who had not had time to hide inside the pen because they were trying to ensure all of the cranes made it out of the pen.

As the group made their way toward the treed ridge to the south, two birds that were flying at a low altitude actually clipped some tree branches and dropped out, landing in the forest below them. Dan Sprague, of USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Kelly Maguire, of the International Crane Foundation were able to track and capture these two after approximately two hours and once in custody it was apparent that crane #1 had sustained a laceration on the inside of her thigh, no doubt caused by a tree branch.  #1 was taken to project veterinarian Dr. Barry Hartup at ICF for treatment and received stitches to close her wound, as well as an order of two days rest and antibiotics, as a preventative measure. Once the the doctors visit was completed crane #1 was transported to join her cohort, here in Green County, where Dan had already delivered the other reluctant youngsters to.

Joe waited with the penned group while Brian Clauss went out to retrieve the bird that was not willing to follow Joe the entire leg. Eventually all 16 birds were in the travel pen -- probably discussing among themselves the great lengths these large, billowing white figures go to to make sure each of them arrive at at the same location... If they only knew.

P.S. Happy Birthday Lin!

 

Date:Oct. 20, 2002 Day 8
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Green Co., WI
Distance Traveled:47.20 miles
Accumulated Distance:91.8 miles
Activity:Success!

Notes: It seems odd that we were at such a beautiful location in Sauk County, Wisconsin, with such wonderful people hosting us and yet the only thing on our collective mind was leaving... This morning, after spending 4 nights and 3 days at one of the best stops along our route we bid a fond and hasty farewell to our hosts -- Nancy, Dick, Jane, Mr. Boo and Thatch, we'll miss you and your beautiful property.

The weather finally cooperated, allowing us to move onward and at 7:31 am Dan and Kelly released the cranes from their overnight enclosure. They were eager to fly and it almost appeared as if they were not planning to wait for the aircraft as they made a long and slow pass over our location before finally returning to join the slower to take-off aircraft, still idling on the grass strip adjacent the pen.

Joe radioed to Brooke and Richard and within seconds the three trikes were airborne amid 16 eager whooping cranes as we watched enviously from below. Brooke took the lead this morning with Richard and Joe flying chase -- They began a slow climb, gaining the necessary altitude to make it over the ridge which lay just to the south of our location. Brooke led the young birds on a course parallel to the ridge and as he turned to make another pass to gain more altitude, three cranes decided to head back to the pen site. Joe gave chase but was not able to catch up to them before they were on the ground next to Dan. The decision was made to transport these reluctant flyers to the next location in the crane taxi.

As Brooke was just about to crest the ridge, two others decided they too preferred not to fly and dropped out on the top of the large hill, next to a lake. ICF intern, Lara Fondow was on the case and ready to gather these two up. 

Brooke and Richard carried on with the group of 11 cranes as Joe and Bill followed close behind. Some of the group were lagging behind so Joe moved in to pick these up.

At 47-miles, this morning's flight was longer than the first two legs combined so it came as no surprise that some of the younger birds did not quite have the endurance of their older flock mates. At 38-miles into the flight another of Joe's birds dropped out so he decided to land and allow the cranes to rest in the hopes that they might be able complete the trip, but this wasn't to be and after another 2 miles he was forced to land with his remaining birds.  Paula radioed the coordinates of the single drop out to me and I relayed them to Lara and the pickup team, giving her road directions which would take her to the tired bird.

Brooke and Richard made it to the destination with a total of 6 cranes and passed them off to Brian Clauss, who was already at the location with the enclosure ready to house the birds. Once they were in the pen, the two pilots left to go back and see what had become of Joe and his group of birds. They had little difficulty finding him, thanks to Paula directing them to his exact location. After allowing these cranes to rest for approximately 40 minutes they were off again to complete the 8-miles remaining in the leg.

All 16 cranes are now safely ensconced at the Green County location and the pilots are all safe and on the ground.

 

Date:Oct. 19, 2002 Day 7
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Sauk Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:44.6 miles
Activity:Wind

Notes: One need only take a look at the windsock in this photo to see why we're grounded once again -- Winds are out of the WNW at 10-15 mph and temps have dropped to 10-15 degrees below the normal average for this time of year.

Many of you have inquired about the five yearling cranes that made the unassisted return flight to Wisconsin last April. These cranes will be tracked south, once they initiate their fall flight, by Richard Urbanek, USFWS and two ICF interns; Lara Fondow and Colleen Satyshur. Approximately two weeks ago Dan and Lara observed two of the yearlings, #1 & 2 exhibiting pre-migratory behaviour when they were seen thermalling with a small flock of Sandhill cranes. The next day the four birds that have been staying at the Necedah refuge for most of the summer departed and headed south. Richard and crew gathered their equipment and set off after cranes 1, 2, 5 & 6 but they didn't make it very far. Seems they just wanted to take a day trip and flew approximately 20-miles before roosting for the night near a location they had frequented shortly after they returned in the spring.  The next day the cranes returned to the Necedah refuge. Crane #7 continues to stay where she has been for the majority of the summer approximately 80 miles SE of her fledging grounds at Necedah.

 

Date:Oct. 18, 2002 Day 6
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Sauk Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:44.6 miles
Activity:Holding Pattern

Notes: A second system moved into the area overnight providing another delay for the migration team and cranes. Winds are currently out of the south at 10 mph and rain continues to fall.

The weekend forecast looks promising and hopefully the "clear and dry" conditions they are predicting will materialize allowing us to make a bit of progress toward Illinois.

In Tennessee, walk-a-thon organizers report: "122.9 miles down and only 16.1 to go -- It's sunny and cool - beats wet and cold. No snow here!" 
Photos' from the walk-a-thon

 

Date:Oct. 17, 2002 Day 5
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Sauk Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:44.6 miles
Activity:Standing Down

Notes: The only thing that flew this morning were snowflakes over Sauk Co., and other areas in central Wisconsin. Once the sun came up these flakes quickly turned into drizzle which continued for most of the morning. More later -- it's laundry day (yippee)

 

Date:Oct. 16, 2002 Day 4
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Sauk Co., WI
Distance Traveled: 23 miles
Accumulated Distance:44.6 miles
Activity:progress!

Notes: After sitting for two days in south Juneau County, stalled first by mechanical problems and then poor weather, the migration team progressed early this morning, flying to Sauk Co., Wisconsin. 

After clearing thick frost from aircraft wings, the flight team of Bill Lishman, Joe Duff, Brooke Pennypacker and Richard van Heuvelen lifted off in their yellow trikes, while Paula Lounsbury circled overhead, keeping a watchful eye on the events about to unfold below her. It was 7:58am CDT and the temperature on the ground was a very cold 27F. The sun shone brightly, highlighting brilliant autumn colours against the early morning violet sky. 

There was a flurry of flapping wings and leaps as the 16 juvenile Whooping cranes exited their pen and flew to line-up with Richard's aircraft while he waited to ensure all of the birds had exited and their were no stragglers. There were two late cranes today and while Richard waited for them to reach him, the group of 14 birds spotted Joe's airborne trike as it passed to the east. Seconds later they were pumping their large wings trying to catch up to Joe, while Richard was finally able to take-off with his two charges. 

shortly after, the two youngsters dropped off Richard's wing so Brooke moved in and successfully picked them up. The group continued south, toward Sauk county with Joe and Richard guiding 14 birds and Brooke and Bill slightly behind with the two others.

Bill described this morning's flight as "picture perfect." Joe said "it was one of those flights where everything is going so well, you don't want to risk anything by pushing buttons or even picking up the video camera to capture any footage." Total flight time this morning 44 minutes - the longest the cranes have ever experienced.

 

Date:Oct. 15, 2002 Day 3
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:South Juneau Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:21.6 miles
Activity:Windy Wisconsin

Notes: The wind continues to blow here in central Wisconsin and at 6am CDT, was was blowing out of the north at 15-20 knots, preventing us from progressing further south today. 

The walk-a-thon currently taking place in Tennessee is progressing and more than 60-miles have been covered. This morning I received the following email from a wonderful gentleman in TN that is worth sharing:

"Dear Operation Migration folks-- Good luck on the flight today. I understand that the weather has been even more of a hindrance there than it has been here in Tennessee, but perhaps we are headed for a stretch of cool, clear days in the weeks ahead.

We were among the volunteers who walked a 6-mile stretch of the flight route on Sunday afternoon. Our group seemed richly symbolic of the cause itself.

My mom, who is 76, was hours from death when she underwent surgery for colon cancer this spring -- back from the brink of extinction and stronger than ever. A group of students from Austin Peay University extended their walk and joined us for part of the way. A young woman among the students told us that she was walking to get back in shape because she had just had a baby, 3 weeks ago -- birth and new life. We walked through the chilly drizzle across the Cumberland Plateau at a brisk 5 mph pace, even running across the narrow bridges to avoid traffic delays -- determination.

Tennesseans support and applaud the work Operation Migration is doing. And a special thanks goes out to Jerry and Sandy Ulrikson for their tremendous organizational skill, creativity, and tireless work in raising money and awareness for this effort.

Pete - Oak Ridge, TN"

Thank YOU Pete, for your efforts and your insight and our very best wishes to your mom and all of the other walkers for raising awareness of and funds for the Whooping cranes -- One step at a time...

 

Date:Oct. 14, 2002 Day 2
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:South Juneau Co., WI
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:21.6 miles
Activity:Re-grouping

Notes: Today was spent making aircraft repairs and just generally regrouping after yesterday's less than perfect flight. We have not yet given up hope that crane #10 may be able to re-join the flock at a later date. Should he require a lengthy convalescence period and is not able to fly with the group, the possibility remains that we could transport him the same way that last year's crane #4 made the trip -- in an approved carrying crate. 

This would mean that he would be moved from each stopover in the heated/air-conditioned minivan, (donated to the Wisconsin DNR by the Natural Resources Foundation) and released to forage and roost with his flockmates at each new location. He would learn not only the geography of the stops but also develop into a yearling with his cohorts, on their new wintering site.

Crane #10 is a large, dominant male in the social structure of the group and while it is likely he might initially lose some ranking, it is also likely he could quickly gain back his position within the flock if allowed to return. Our primaries are crossed for him. 

Tomorrow is another day...

Departure Day Photo's

 

Date:Oct. 13, 2002 Day 1
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:(south) Juneau Co., WI.
Distance Traveled:21.6 miles
Accumulated Distance:21.6 miles
Activity:Departure occurred with challenges...

6:45pm: No sooner had I clicked the send button to publish this morning's update when my cell phone came to life signaling a call, telling me that the pilots were on their way to the hangar and the migration was about to begin.

I drove the 15 miles from Mauston, WI back to the Necedah refuge just in time to watch the young cranes embark on the first leg of their first flight south to their new winter habitat in Florida. Today's flight would take the young cranes past the main interstate that last year gave the flight crew such a difficult time. The course has been altered slightly this year so that the birds would cross the noisy highway at a higher altitude. Lift-off took place at 7:55am from site four and from the lawn of refuge headquarters we witnessed four tiny, ultralight aircraft shepherding 17 juvenile cranes across the expanse of wetlands alive with other migrating birds.

One crane decided to turn back almost immediately. Richard gave chase and succeeded in picking up the reluctant bird, only to have it turn back a second and final time. Joe and Brooke continued with their 16 charges, heading south toward the first of many stopovers between central Wisconsin and the Chassahowitzka refuge in Crystal River, Florida.

The 21.6-mile flight was expected to last 39-minutes so when we heard Paula Lounsbury, at 25-minutes out,  say "Halfway point" we knew the winds must have shifted. When the team departed there was a slight crosswind but 25 minutes into the flight, if they turned around to return to the refuge they would have had a headwind to deal with. 

Shortly past the halfway point the wind speed picked up, jostling the young birds to the point where they began to break up and drop out of the flight. As they landed Bill jotted down coordinates, which would allow the ground team to pick up the cranes. Brooke proceeded to stop #1 with seven cranes and Joe was further back with two others when he felt a bump on the wing overhead. Fearing that one of the two had come into contact with the wing, he began to look for a suitable landing site amongst the many cornfields below. Finally he spotted a harvested soybean field and put the aircraft down as smoothly as possible given the current weather conditions. The two cranes also landed and it was evident that crane #10 would require medical attention as it appeared to have sustained an injury to its toe as well as a laceration to the top of its wing. 

Dan and Kelly arrived with a crate, which is used to transport sick or injured birds and while Kelly accompanied the patient as it was delivered to Dr. Barry Hartup at the International Crane Foundation for assessment and treatment, Dan continued on rounding up other's that had dropped out of the flight because of the deteriorating weather. Dr. Hartup reports that while the injuries do not appear to be life-threatening they will require more treatment than can reasonably be given during the migration journey. Team leaders made the decision to remove this crane from the reintroduction and will place him in an approved facility once his injury heals.

The ground crew went into action plugging coordinates into GPS units and gathering the six wayward cranes who were unable to make the full flight and by 1pm all of the cranes were reunited in the travel enclosure at our first of many stops. Tomorrow will be spent regrouping and making minor mechanical adjustments to Brooke and Joe's aircraft and by Tuesday we'll be ready to roll again -- with 16 young cranes.

7:30am: As soon as I stepped outside I knew we wouldn't be migrating today. The slight breeze that was supposed to be coming out of the north and which would have provided a tailwind for the planes and cranes had materialized into a wind blowing out of the west-northwest, grounding us for another day.

The folks in Tennessee, currently participating in a walk for the whoopers have completed the first 55 miles of their migration route, which will see them walk the length of their state (from North to South) raising awareness and funds for the Whooping crane reintroduction. At this rate they will have finished walking the 140 or so miles before we even get airborne. At least some are progressing south... Go walkers go! We're with you in spirit ;-)

 

Date:Oct. 12, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Juneau Co., WI., Necedah NWR
Distance Traveled:0 miles
Accumulated Distance:0 miles
Activity:Rain.... Again

Notes: Another day, another rainy system passing through. Chuck Underwood, USFWS Jacksonville Field Office says if it starts to snow, he'll meet up with us in Florida. 

Paula Lounsbury, our top-cover pilot checked the satellite maps for tomorrow and Monday and is almost positive that the Canadian cold front expected to pass through the area later tonight will push the unstable mass out of here and allow us to begin tomorrow morning. Thank you Canada - and a very happy Thanksgiving to all of our family and friends back home! We'll be thinking of you...

New photos in Photo Journal

 

Date:Oct. 11, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Juneau Co. WI., Necedah NWR
Distance Traveled:0
Accumulated Distance:0
Activity:No Go

Notes: Everyone was in position and ready to go early this morning. Once airborne it became clear to the pilots that today would not be the start of the migration as winds were blowing at 20 knots out of the south according to Paula Lounsbury. 

Because the cranes have not flown with the trike since Tuesday they were released from the pen for a local flight with the four aircraft over Rynearson pond, which delighted the media that had turned out for a second time to witness our departure.  So here we are, another day at the Necedah refuge, which is a lovely place - its just that its time to head south!  

We'll try again tomorrow...

Meanwhile in Tennessee a great group of volunteers are taking part in a walk-a-thon to raise funds and awareness for the Whooping crane reintroduction project. Walkers are traveling the same route that the pilots will lead the cranes over later this month, beginning at the KY border and continuing through TN to the GA border. The week-long event will wrap up with the Chattanooga Whooping Crane Festival at the Tennessee River Park on Amnicola Highway, in Chattanooga.  The event will begin at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, 2002.  Admission to the Festival is free.

 

Date:Oct. 10, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Necedah NWR, Juneau Co., WI
Distance/Time Traveled:0
Accumulated Distance:RAIN
Activity:Standing Down

Notes: Great start... It began raining very hard at about 3am and didn't let up until 7:30am. We haven't even left yet and we're in a holding pattern already.

 

Date:Oct. 7, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Necedah NWR, Juneau Co., WI
Distance/Time Traveled:10 miles/14:32
Accumulated Distance:Training Flight
Activity:17 + 2

Notes: After frost was scraped from windshields early this morning, the pilots made the short drive to the hangar and flew the trikes to the north site where Dan Sprague, Mark Nipper and Kelly MacGuire waited with the cranes. I was positioned on the observation tower with binoculars, digital camera and the two film crews who were hoping to capture some footage of the training flight.

The conditions were ideal; bright blue sky, cold and no wind. Joe was crane leader today, Brooke took the chase position and Richard circled overhead. On cue the birds were released and after some exited leaps and flapping of wings, all seventeen cranes were airborne alongside Joe. 

It was as if the cranes sense this is the week they will begin the journey to their new winter habitat in Florida. Seventeen young cranes lined up in perfect formation -- nine on Joe's right wing; the remaining eight off the left wingtip and headed southwest toward the tower. Within minutes they passed directly overhead, giving the film crews a fantastic opportunity to get that perfect shot. One cameraman exclaimed "nobody can argue that those Whooping cranes aren't following that airplane."

The three pilots continued south for 2 or 3 miles before beginning the long, slow turn, which would return the cranes to the north site. At approximately a half mile out from their destination, two of the returned yearling cranes, numbers 1 and 2 joined the flock, a short distance back from the main group so that when Joe landed the aircraft he was accompanied by nineteen Whooping cranes!

Today's flight was the best one to date and gave us all cause to feel a bit better about our departure this Thursday. All we need now is continued good weather and a couple more flights like today's. It's getting cold here and it is definitely time to fly south!

 

Date:Oct. 6, 2002
Reporter:Heather Ray
Location:Necedah NWR, Juneau Co., WI
Distance Traveled:None
Accumulated Distance:None
Activity:It's not just flying birds...

Notes: Rain and high winds prevented a training flight this morning so after releasing the cranes for an exercise flight, the crew spent a good portion of the day finishing the second travel pen, which will house the young cranes each night during the journey south. After a wonderful send-off lunch of roasted ham with all the trimmings, prepared and served by Jayne & Mike Belsky, the travel enclosure was erected at site 4, aka the north site to ensure that it was stable.

With film crews from the BBC in Great Britain and Canadian Geographic from our home country on hand, a great deal of time was spent working with them and Joe worked on repairing and rewiring the communication equipment on the three aircraft at the hangar. With no electricity in the hangar and daylight fading fast, he was forced to pull the Dodge truck into the entrance of the building to provide enough light to complete the task. Once this was complete Joe and I spent the remainder of the evening cutting and sewing wing slings for the aircraft trailer and canvas covers for the new trikes while the rest of the crew worked on ensuring the equipment and supplies that will be needed for the journey are in order.

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50-min. video featuring the 2001 journey south