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Date:January 23, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - FINAL MIGRATION LEGLocation: Citrus Co. FL
Distance:26 milesAccumulated Distance: 1285 miles
The weather observation from Ocala this morning showed calm winds, 24 degrees with 100’ ceilings and 3 tenths of a mile visibility. The dense fog outside our camp confirmed the observation and also hid the big blue ‘H’ symbol signifying the high pressure center directly overhead. The surrounding observations showed clear skies, and a quick call to Sara Zimorski from the International Crane Foundation confirmed clear skies near the coast where we would be flying the birds.

We drove out to the airport where our trikes were waiting in a spacious hangar provided by Airport Manager, Roy Sieger, at the Dunnellon airport. We encountered dense fog, but were encouraged by a few holes revealing clear blue skies along the way and most of the airport clear.

After topping off our tanks and waiting for the sun to rise a bit, Joe took off for a look around the surrounding area. He came back to report a very thin layer of freezing fog at 100 feet with much of our route to the southwest obscured by a thin blanket of fog. We gave it another hour to allow the fog to burn off and were all airborne just before 9am.

The short flight south to the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve revealed a translucent layer of fog at 100 feet, quickly dissipating as the sun warmed the earth below it. I landed at the pen, gave the signal to Bev and Heather, and the seven cranes were soon aloft - flying the opposite direction my trike was pointed. So, it wasn’t a picture perfect take-off, but I blasted off, carved off to the left and soon had the seven on my wing and on course for their winter home at the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

The air was dead calm and smooth. I climbed to 1200 feet and enjoyed my last flight with these magnificent cranes. We passed over the Homosassa Wal-Mart parking lot where a small crowd was waiting for us. We also passed over Manatees that had gathered in the warmer waters of the Homosassa river, and then flew out over the marshes and islands that make up Florida’s west coast.

I began a slow descent, picking out the airboat parked at the boardwalk that Sara had driven out with Eva Szyszkoski and Rosemary Hartman. I soon had the pen in sight and could see the costumed figures waiting to call the birds down. The air had become a bit turbulent at 200 feet and this extra lift slowed the cranes’ descent. I made a few circles over the pensite at 100 feet with the cranes in tow, then powered up, spiraling upwards, leaving the cranes below me.

At first I thought things were looking good, the cranes continued to circle the pensite as if checking out where to land. Soon however, they broke away and flew back to the northeast.

Richard and I gave chase. He was able to catch them and turn them back towards the pen. While I climbed up out of the way, he continued to circle the birds around the pen. The air was now becoming more turbulent as the thermals rose higher, and the cranes were discovering their nature to effortlessly soar on these thermals.

As they circled, they rose higher and higher while Richard continued to try and coax them down. 804 had separated from the other six and began a mission to get as high as possible, seeking out thermals just north of the pen.

While Richard worked his six, Joe moved in to try and coax number 804 back down. For more than and hour they circled down low in the thermally air while the ground crew tried to draw the birds down with amplified crane calls.

Richard’s six finally grew tired of this game, set their wings, put down their landing gear, and finally landed at their new wintering site. Meanwhile, Joe’s bird continued to soar with no inclination of landing. With fuel supplies getting low and nowhere to land, it was decided to fly this bird back to one of our previously used sites about 10 miles to the northeast.

804 followed willingly and landed with Joe. Brian was enroute to the site with a crate, and soon the bird was in the box and enroute to the boat launch where Sara, Eva, and Rosemary waited with the airboat. I understand the trip went well and 824 is safely back in the pen with his other flock mates.

It has been a long but successful trip. We have a busy time still ahead of us getting trikes and equipment broken down and ready for the journey home. I am looking forward to getting back home, but I know I will be missing my migration family - and will be eager to get back to work this coming June with the Class of 09!!

Date:January 23, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A HAPPY ENDINGLocation: Citrus Co., FL
Distance:26 milesAccumulated Distance: 1285 miles

At 10:53, with the exception of one, the Chass cohort, of young Whooping cranes in the Class of 2008, had landed at the pensite, 5 miles off the coast at the Chassahowitzka NWR.

The landing wasn't without drama, as the birds were reluctant to leave the sky and land at their winter home. It was 10:43 before they managed to get six of the seven on the ground, but still had one flying around unwilling to land. With the trikes eating up fuel, they pilots finally decided to fly the remaining bird to a location where they could land and crate it for transport to the pen by vehicle and then airboat. The ground at the Chass pen is all marsh so they can't touch down but have to perform an 'air drop'.

The six are now all safely ensconced in the top-netted pen where they will be held until the health checks can be performed by Disney Animal Kingdom's Dr. Scott Terrell and his vet team. The seventh and last bird will join them as quickly as the crating and transfer can be effected.

So concludes an eighth successful ultralight-led migration. Don't you just love happy endings?!?!

Date:January 23, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION 2008 ENDS ON 88TH DAYLocation: Marion Co. FL

With the exception of fog, we awoke to conditions similar to yesterday when the Chass cohort was led from Gilchrist to Marion County and the flyover at the Dunnellon Airport.

The team left camp shortly after 7AM; the pilots bound for the airport where the trikes were hangared, and the ground crew for the pensite. Then there was a wait for the fog to lift.

With little fog still lingering, Joe launched not long after 8AM to check out conditions aloft and found conditions not yet favorable. By 8:40am the fog had lifted at the pensite, so the other pilots pushed out of the hangar, and readied for take-off for the short hop to where the birds and ground crew waited at the Halpata pensite.

Chris, lead pilot for today's final flight and the last leg of the 1285 mile '08 Migration, took to the air at 8:55am with the Chass cohort to guide them the last 26 air miles to their final destination.

The journey that began in Wisconsin last October 17th should be all over by around 9:40 when they deliver the remaining seven Whooping cranes in the Class of 2008 to their wintering ground on the Chassahowitzka NWR. They, along with their seven classmates who are wintering at the St. Marks NWR, will be closely monitored until they self-initiate their return north in the spring.

Seven o'clock's chilly 24F is forecast to rise by twenty-five degrees by 10AM, and by forty degrees to 65F by 1PM. This will give all of us a welcome break from working in the cold as we unload, reorganize, and repack for the return trip. Next is the challenging logistics of getting four RVs, an aircraft trailer, tracking van, two travel pens, one other vehicle, and all our crew members back to their respective homes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Before that happens however, as is customary, the team will gather tonight for one last dinner together. It's a time for celebration and retrospection; for a few last laughs together; for hugs and farewells. While we will all be working throughout the coming year in various parts of the country, it will be September 2009 before the entire team is reunited again.

Date:January 22, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:A 'WOW' OF A CHALLENGELocation: Marion Co. FL
We've been anxiously watching the tally of unsponsored MileMaker miles for the past several days. Anxiously watching, but not for the reason you might think.

The other day, Denice Steinmann from Illinois, a terrific supporter and generous donor, contacted us to say that if we were successful at reducing the unsponsored MileMaker miles to 100, she would issue a challenge match for 50 miles!!

We've been holding our breath and watching the number of unsponsored miles go down one by one. Finally, today, thanks to other caring and generous folks, we hit the '100 miles left mark'.

This means that Denice's 50 mile challenge is now in force. Each quarter, half, or mile that is sponsored from here on will be matched by the challenger; thereby doubling each and every contribution - and we couldn't be more excited.

The prospect of finishing the migration, if not tomorrow, within a day or two, AND finishing it not in the red, but with the books balanced, ranks right up there behind delivering all of the Class of 2008 safely to their Florida wintering grounds.

If ever there was a perfect time for folks new to our work on the Whooping crane project to jump in and help - this is it.

We promise you an unwavering commitment to ensuring the survival of this magnificent species. If you can, please help us, and at the same time, stake a claim to your share of the credit for preserving Whooping cranes for future generations.

Date:January 22, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: The OM Team
Subject:AND THE WINNERS ARE....Location: Marion Co. FL
One of the activities that took place at the conclusion of today's Flyover Event was the drawing of two raffle items.

Super Craniac and longtime OM supporter/volunteer, Nancy Drew of Minnesota, again donated one of her marvelous handmade quilts and we've been selling raffle tickets since the CraneFest at Necedah last September. OM supporter and oft time volunteer Mark Chenoweth from Kissimmee, Florida kindly made the draw for us. Giving the box of tickets a good stir and digging to the bottom, he pulled out the winning ticket. The lucky owner of Nancy's beautiful quilt is Lynne Ostergren from Genoa City, WI.

Another Super Craniac and OM supporter, Alice Oneal, also donated an item for raffle. Her beautiful, handcrafted stained glass piece attracted lots of admiration and a very full box of raffle tickets was the result. Alice, who recently suffered a stroke, has been recuperating nicely and she and hubby Herb were able to be on hand this morning to witness the flyover. With the artist herself present, it seemed only fitting that she perform the draw. And the winner was….John Shreves of Corpus Christi, Texas.

Many thanks again to both Nancy and Alice for donating your time and talent to OM. And congratulations to Lynne and John! We will be sending your quilt Lynne, and the stained glass piece to you John just as quickly as we can.

Date:January 22, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DUNNELLON FLYOVER HAPPENSLocation: Marion Co. FL
Distance:60 milesAccumulated Distance: 1259 miles
Launch was just before 8AM, with today's lead pilot Brooke Pennypacker doing the honors. While we still haven't had an opportunity to get many of the details of the flight from the pilots' perspective, we understand that they actually had a bit of a tailwind.

Not only did Brooke launch with all seven birds, he arrived with all seven. It was quite a sight when the planes and cranes came into view. The bright Florida sun gleamed off the deep red of Brooke's leading edge. The seven Whoopers off his left wingtip rode the wave of air cascading back. The sight was almost surreal as the birds barely flapped a wing - for many moments it did look like they were 'on a string.'

As the four trikes and their young charges flew past us overhead, we heard Brooke's voice over the aviation radio saying, "Let's turn and fly another circuit." So, because of the great conditions and the way the birds were following, an appreciative crowd of around 200 was treated to a second 'fly by'.

As in years past, the folks from the Chassahowitzka refuge and the Friends group there did a bang up job making all the arrangements for the Dunnellon arrival event. We especially thank Ivan Vicente and his crew. They have been in on the action from the start and devoted hours and hours to making sure the day would be successful. The always supportive volunteers from Friends of Chass must be singled out for their unstinting efforts. Great job all!!

The terrific, if not close to perfect venue we use for this event would not be possible without the cooperation and support of Airport Manager, Roy Sieger. Roy, who is always Mr. Congeniality, bends over backwards each year to do everything he can to make this event a hit. And, on top of his efforts for the event itself, he allows us to hangar our ultralights until the migration is completed.

Many, many sincere thanks to all the folks who contributed to today's Flyover Arrival event, and this includes the many brave souls who withstood the early morning bone-chilling cold. We hope the amazing sight of seven gorgeous Whooping cranes gliding overhead warmed their hearts if not their hands and feet.

Once the pilots dropped the birds at the pensite, they flew back and pulled up right in front of the waiting crowd. Joe introduced the OM Team, spoke about the migration and responded to questions. Luckily for everyone by that time the sun had been out for some time, bumping the temperature from heavy coat to sweatshirt.

After the conclusion of the event, the OM team, along with some of the folks from the Chassahowitzka refuge, took time out for brunch. Good thing too. You could hear the rumble of empty tummies as we stood on the tarmac. Immediately afterward the team dispersed. Richard and Brian to the Chass pensite to put the top-net on the temporary pen; Bev, Brooke, and Gerald, back to Gilchrist County to dismantle and pack up the travel pen before heading back here; Joe and Dale also took to the road in the van in order to move the Sierra trailer from Gilchrist County to our new Marion County campsite.

Heather and I had the easy job of searching out a place for propane, gassing up our motorhome, and finishing off several media interviews. Hopefully, by 6 o'clock or so, we'll all be together again in camp, and have a few hours to relax before re-organizing and gearing up for what we hope will be the last leg of the 2008 ('09) migration tomorrow.

At the moment, the weather looks good for the 26 mile flight from the pensite at the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve to the Chass cohort's wintering grounds about 5 miles of the coast in a closed area of the refuge. Assuming we are able to fly again tomorrow morning, folks wishing for one final look at the Class of 2008 should gather at the Homosassa Wal-Mart parking lot around 7:45 - 8:00AM and the pilots will do their best to lead the Chass cohort of seven overhead.

Date:January 22, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:?? FLYOVER ??Location: Enroute
Will there be a flyover at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport today? Wish we could tell you for sure, but with the winds, although seemingly light, currently being out of the SW we aren't likely to know for sure until take-off time, some where around 7:45 to 8:00am.

Heather and I are on the road to the Dunnellon Airport in order to get set up for the HOPED for Arrival Event. While we have cell service, camp is in a 'dead zone' and we can't raise anyone's phone. This means that like you, we will only get the 'go, no-go' news some time after we are in place.

See you at Dunnellon - and here's hoping the flyover will happen.

Date:January 21, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: A fat pilot and a frosty wingLocation: Gilchrist Co. FL
Distance:86 milesAccumulated Distance: 1199 miles
With all the activity of delivering half the flock to St Marks, it’s hard to believe that the other seven have been at the same site for a week. They were in a large pasture dotted with cows and planted in rye grass. The aircraft have been parked at the other end under the live oak trees and tied down against the wind.

On our last flight we noticed odd dry smears on the leading edge of the struts and we realized that the cows had been licking our aircraft. We were nervous that they could cause some damage if they started to scratch against them, so we built ourselves a compound using the electric fencer from the second travel pen.

While the aircraft are warmed up and the frost covers removed Beverly Paulan and Heather Ray prepare the pen for the release. When the time comes, they each lift an end of two large panels and swing them open to create a 20 foot gap in the pen wall. Then they run out flapping their costume sleeves like wings to add to the excitement of the birds as they charge after the aircraft.

If there are stragglers in the pen they must hustle them out without chasing them. It’s a delicate balance getting them on their way in time to catch the departing flock without causing undue stress that will be remembered the next time we launch. Once all the birds are airborne Bev and Heather hide in the travel pen trailer to avoid attracting the birds back, or they pull a large tarp over their heads and parade around the pen as a swamp monster.

We use four, almost identical ultralight aircraft to teach these birds to migrate and we take turns being the lead pilot while the other three fly in the chase position. Lead, means you get to take off with the birds but that does not mean you get to keep them.

The grass was too deep around the pen to land so we did what is referred to as an air pick up. It was my turn to lead so I approached the pen from the south, flying as slow and low as possible. Bev and Heather opened the gate and out they all came right on cue.

The temperature on the ground was a cruel 19 degrees, and in the time it took me to get airborne a little frost had formed on the wing. Frost creates a rough layer of crystals on the upper surface and disrupts the laminar flow. That smooth layer of air generates the lift, but the more frost there is to break it up, the faster you must fly to remain airborne. The birds fly at 38 miles per hour once they are up and cruising. When they take off it’s a lot slower than that, and I couldn’t get my wing under 39.

I started flying in S turns hoping the birds would cut the corners and catch up. I circled a couple of times but on each occasion they would fall behind again. The air down low was rough as the wind rolled over the trees and created mechanical turbulence.

A stall in an aircraft has nothing to do with the engine. It occurs when the wing cannot generate enough lift to keep the aircraft up and it begins to fall. That is usually associated with going too slowly. Unlike a conventional aircraft that has a stick and lots of cables and hinges between you and the ailerons, a trike pilot has the wing right in his hands and he can feel every nuance. When the wing begins to stall it gets heavy in your hands. You can actually shake off the stall, momentarily reattaching the laminar flow and allowing you to fly for a few more seconds before the stall builds again. But it’s not easy when the air is rough.

The other factor is the weight of the aircraft, and I am the heaviest of the four pilots. My slowest speed is a couple of miles per hour faster than the rest of them, but the advantage is I can fly faster when we are trying to catch the birds.

The gap between me and the birds grew, and the longer they had to flap-fly behind me without benefit from my wing, the more likely they were to turn back. Instead we needed to get them on the wing and to climb them up past a thousand feet to where the air was much smoother.

Chris radioed to tell me he was in position to take the lead if needed. Knowing that I had no chance of flying slowly enough until the frost burned off, I reluctantly gave up my last opportunity to fly with these birds and asked Chris to move in.

Brooke was behind us both, catching up to one bird that was lagging behind. When it joined his wing, the others followed suit and slid from Chris to Brooke, while I climbed out of the way at a higher speed.

With all the birds getting some assistance from a much slower aircraft, they started to climb. Once past a thousand feet, things smoothed out and we began to consider the other problem.

Eighty-six miles to the east in Gilchrest County is the stopover where the new route rejoins the old one. In some conditions that can be an unattainable distance, so when Bev and Brooke laid out the new route they found an interim stop, one slightly to the north that takes us over more open country. The direct route is over miles of forest leaving very few options if something goes wrong. The problem was that turning more north took us more directly into the wind and the speed over the ground dropped to 31 miles per hour.

The pros and cons were discussed over the radio as the birds slowly climbed through fifteen hundred feet. We could grind along to the interim stop like paddling upstream or, we could cut the corner and take advantage of the faster ground speed and gamble that the birds could make it all the way.

The birds were looking strong, and as we climbed, the time to our destination was decreasing, so we opted for the latter and turned on course.

When you only have seven birds on the wing, each of them is fairly close to the tip and can easily surf on the vortices. Climbing at a hundred feet per minute in smooth air they were not working too hard and the higher we got, the greater the tailwind.

Brooke kept pushing them up, and eventually we reached 4000 feet. At that altitude our ground speed was over 60 miles per hour and it wasn’t long before we outpaced Brian Clauss in the tracking van. After an hour and 35 minutes the birds landed in a secluded pasture and Brooke and I hid them in the next field while the pen was set up.

We kidded Brooke about stealing my birds but we weren’t serious. I’m sorry I missed my last flight with them, but it’s far more important that they arrived safely. I’ll save my goodbyes until we circle the pen at Chassahowitzka.

Date:January 21, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TWO MIGRATION LEGS TO GOLocation: Gilchrist Co. FL
Distance:86 milesAccumulated Distance: 1199 miles
The planes and cranes and the ground-bound crew are now all in Gilchrist County, with just two flights between us and the finish line - Chassahowitzka NWR in Citrus County.

Once we have the RVs set and hooked up, along with our satellite dish, Joe will be able to give us his lead pilot report on today's flight. We also have photos from today's action, and they too will be posted to the Photo Journal as soon as we can.

After an early look at the forecast for tomorrow Chris said he believes we have a good chance of flying. This means would-be flyover viewers will want to join us on the tarmac at the Dunnellon Airport tomorrow morning as we wait for the 'go, no-go word' from the team.

Sunrise tomorrow is shortly after 7:30AM and the pilots at that time, if not before, will determine if a flight is possible. If it is a 'go' they will launch as quickly as possible and someone from the ground crew will call with that information (or that it is a no-go) so we can share the news with viewers joining us at the Dunnellon Airport.

For a map and info on Central Florida's Arrival Flyover event at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport, click the link above and to the right.

Date:January 21, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 86Location: Enroute
Distance:86 milesAccumulated Distance: 1199 miles
It was a clear, cold, 20F this morning. On the surface it was so calm that barely a leaf was disturbed. The winds aloft were out of the NW, and from our departure site and along the flight path the forecast said 15mph also out of the NW.

With favorable conditions expected, camp emptied out quickly. Don and Dale left for the airport where Don's top cover Cessna waited. Everyone else climbed into the van for the 5 mile drive to the pensite. On arrival the first job was to reaffix the trike wings that had been removed against wind damage. While the pilots went about this chore, Heather and Bev started out on their long trek to the pen to get in place and await the signal to open the gates and release the Chass cohort.

Brooke, Chris, and Richard launched and took up chase positions before Joe, today's lead pilot, doing an air pick up, took off with all 7 birds. They weren't airborne long however, before they discovered that they didn't have the conditions were worse than hoped for.

Less than two miles out, Brooke moved in to pick up the birds off Joe's wing as Joe was unable to fly slower than 38mph without stalling out, and the birds were having trouble keeping up with him. The pilots quickly found that getting/staying on course for our next stopover site in Madison County, just 30 miles away, wasn't going to work. Tracker Brian Clauss called to let us know that they weren't having an easy flight and had decided to alter their easterly heading to one that would take them southeast, directly to Gilchrist County.

Moments ago, Brian called again to say that they should be on the ground in Gilchrist County by approximately 9:45AM.

Completion of the migration leg to Gilchrist County today will bring us just one flight away from our next stopover at the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County. It is on the approach to that pensite that the planes and cranes can be seen from the flyover site at the Dunnellon Airport. This will take place on the very next day that we have good flying weather.

Date:January 20, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BONUS OFFERLocation: Jefferson Co. AL
Effective today, the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is offering its members an added bonus. For just $10 more, those becoming members of St. Marks NWR will be given an 'Allied Membership' in Operation Migration.

In addition to being named on OM's website Membership List, Allied Members will receive OM's enormously popular EarlyBird e-bulletin which is sent directly to your email inbox each morning during the annual migration. Be the first to know what's happening and the status of the migration as EarlyBird delivers the word to you within moments of the 'go / no go' decision being made. Allied Members will also be entitled to a 10% discount year round on all items in OM's MarketPlace. (on phone orders only to toll free 800-675-2618)

Note: We would be happy to extend this offer of OM 'Allied Membership' to the members of other Refuge's support groups. For information on how to have your organization or Friends group included please email info@operationmigration.org.

Date:January 20, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 85Location: Jefferson Co. FL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 1113 miles
34F this morning in Jefferson County with NW 6mph winds on the surface and 30mph aloft. Another 'go nowhere' day, and a huge disappointment because just a couple of days ago the weather models were showing potential flying weather for the most of this week.

It's always tough to resist 'counting our fly days' before they materialize, and as we close in on our final destination it is even tougher. Every day spent on the ground is one more day the birds are held in our travel pen, and one more day before their release can be effected. Not unlike the horse that sees the barn, the urge to want to break into a gallop becomes stronger the closer we come to the finish line.

But the end IS drawing near. And as in year's past, once we've delivered our young charges our road-weariness, and all the the stress and strains of the migration will fall away to be replaced by relief, happiness, and a feeling of accomplishment on successfully teaching an eighth generation of Whooping cranes a migration route.

(Apologies to Field Journal readers for the lateness of this posting. I must be losing it. Earlier this morning I did everything necessary to get this entry posted - - but then forgot to upload it.)

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Jefferson County, FL

The Aucilla River meandering from its headwaters in Georgia toward the Gulf of Mexico defines the southeastern boundary of Jefferson County. The river and its drainage system have served as a geologic and hydrologic platform for floral, faunal and human cultural development throughout prehistory.

Since 1983 the Aucilla River Prehistory Project (ARPP) has been exploring the scientific aspects of events in the evolution of Florida's present-day "Big Bend" region. The ARPP has uncovered evidence indicating that some of the New World's earliest colonists arrived in this region over ten thousand years ago. Skeletal remains of mammoths, mastodons, ground sloths, giant armadillos, camels, horses, giant tortoises and saber cats also were found in the area. Sometimes rare stone tools are found.

Date:January 19, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 84Location: Jefferson Co. FL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 1113 mi
Warm again early this morning at 41F. The surface wind is out of the WSW at a scant 1mph. Aloft however it is out of the west which, if it wasn't so strong and gusty, really wouldn't be a problem as our next stopover is almost due east.

With only a a couple of degrees difference between the temperature and dew point there are areas of fog, on top of which we have only a 600 foot ceiling and less than a quarter mile visibility. The wind velocity is on the increase so we will not be flying this morning.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Jefferson County, FL

Lake Miccosukee forms the northern border between Jefferson and Leon Counties. The lake is controlled by an active sinkhole located in the northern end. Its water represents the actual surface of the Florida Aquifer with the caverns beneath the sink reaching into the aquifer. It was a natural prairie lake prior to settlement by Caucasians.

Thousands of years ago the lake connected directly with the St. Marks River on the south end, but today that connection is underground, reappearing above ground in Wakulla County. Much later, the shores of the lake attracted ancient Paleo-Indian and the Apalachee, and from the 1830s to 1860, the land around the lake was home to a few cotton plantations.

Date:January 18, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FROM THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS....Location: Jefferson Co. FL
In our posting yesterday, (Entry 2) we mentioned a couple from Northfield, VT that we had met who volunteer at St. Marks. Among other things we learned as we got to know Gordon and Christine better, was that Christine is a talented writer. She kindly consented to letting us share with you a piece she recently wrote for publication elsewhere.

The Inauguration
by Christine Barnes
Hope springs eternal in the human breast (Alexander Pope, c. 1700). And so it is with us all in the New Year, with a fresh, new government in Washington, in this extraordinary and beloved nation of ours.

The word ‘inaugurate’ come from the Latin inauguare, meaning “to take omens from the flight of birds, to consecrate.” Here at St. Marks Refuge, the atmosphere is doubly electric: in addition to occasional high-fives for the new President, it is the eve of the arrival of the Whooping Cranes which have been en route since mid-October, flying a total of 1200+ miles from Wisconsin, following four ultralights with pilots dressed in goofy-looking costumes.

Today we greeted the advance Operation Migration crew who arrived weary and ready for the ordeal to be over. They show the strain of the three-month shepherd service they have provided, including sadness that the flock is to be divided in a nearby county, and sent to two different sites. It is the last time they will see these birds which they have come to know as individuals, which they have schooled for the moment since last spring.

People come now to the refuge in great anticipation, and the phone rings incessantly. We share in the enthusiasm and expectation, and the hope this research project carries on its shoulders. Staff and volunteers alike give extra hours willingly, knowing this is big – that it is a second chance that we can learn from, and perhaps replicate in other ways.

Who would ever have dreamed that first, a flock of Canada Geese could be conditioned to the sound of an engine, and tricked into thinking their parents were leading them south? And then, replicating that experiment, the gift of survival could be extended to these cranes, following a similar plan? People think ‘outside the box’, and sometimes we surprise ourselves.

In the country now, we must prepare to do some very hard work together, erasing the polarized rancor among us, generated from past years of controversial government. Regardless of where you stand on the issues, it is time to pull together. Helping this nation get back on track cannot be accomplished by one person: it is a collective responsibility we all must share.

And so it is for the little company of Whooping Cranes on the last leg of their journey to begin their lives anew, among the precious few of their wild brethren, the final hope for a nearly-extinct population of this species.

As we watch their struggle to adapt in a world that challenges their very existence, we know this story is not just about the cranes: it’s about hope for our planet. It’s about hope that we can find the ways and means to live side-by-side with all creatures, including each other, all around the world, in peace and harmony and preservation.

We can meet this challenge, and the Whooping cranes can help show us the way. It is, indeed a good omen from the flight of birds.

We thought this a warming and uplifting bit of reading to cheer up a grey, rainy afternoon. We hope you think so too.

Date:January 18, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NO FLIGHT TODAYLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
After a tremendously exciting day yesterday, being stuck on the ground today is a double let down.

The mild temperature we encountered when we first stepped outside this morning was a dead giveaway that the winds had switched around to come out of the south.

Sure enough, when we checked the aviation weather sites online we found we had winds out of the southwest aloft. At anywhere between 20 to 30MPH they were too strong for us to even contemplate flying with the birds. Ditto for the rain forecast to arrive shortly.

Today is being spent reorganizing and repairing. Both Richard and Joe have work that needs to be done on their trikes. Brooke and Brian are on 'pen duty' with the Chass cohort in Jefferson County. Bev is orienting Jane Chandler from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Scott Tidmus from Disney's Animal Kingdom with their duties with the St. Marks cohort. Jane and Scott will take over monitoring duties until the migration is complete and Bev and Brooke can get back on site.

When we last looked out the window, Dale, Gerald, and Don Lounsbury (who has returned to replace Jack Wrighter as top cover) were trying to resolve the Sierra trailer's sewage issues, and Chris was glued to his computer looking at weather models.

At the moment, Heather is wielding the business end of a vacuum cleaner, as we decided that along with laundry, today needed to be 'housecleaning day'. Next on our agenda is to complete (between rain showers) an inventory of what merchandise we have left with us, and then it will be back to grant writing and board of director reports for the two of us.

With just three move stopover locations between us and the final leg to Chassahowitzka NWR (Madison, Gilchrist and Marion Counties) we're chomping at the bit to get going. So, what about Monday? The last word we had from Chris this morning is that he, "likes our chances for a flight tomorrow."

Date:January 17, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ST. MARKS WELCOMES WHOOPING CRANESLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
Distance:28 milesAccumulated Distance: 1113 miles
After more than one crane rodeo, Richard van heuvelen, today's lead pilot, got the St. Marks cohort of seven young Whoopers turned on course. With the OM team thin on the ground this morning, communication was patchy, leaving Heather and I, along with a steady stream of folks arriving at the flyover site wondering, "Are they flying? Are they Flying? Are they flying?"

A couple of chewed fingernails later word reached us, and we let the swelling crowd know that the planes and cranes were indeed in the air; this bit of news drawing cheers and applause. As we listened to the pilots talking via the aviation radio, it became apparent that it was not the easiest of flights. At least twice it sounded like the seven preferred breaking away to stringing along behind Richard's wing. As the flight progressed, our little band of gypsies had managed to get considerably off course - the better part of 10 miles to the east in fact.

After what seemed an interminable and VERY cold wait…arms pointed, heads turned, and a conglomeration of cameras focused on the mechanical mosquitoes in the eastern sky. Then, over the radio we heard Joe say, "Oh, oh, I was afraid of that." The 'that' he was referring to was that the birds had spotted the St. Marks River and were tempted.....oh so tempted.

The cranes and planes were way off course - to the east and at one point even to the south of us. But Richard and his 'wingmen', Joe, Brooke, and Chris, managed to shepherd their charges over the heads of the waiting crowd. And we do mean crowd - an estimated 2,000 plus people!!! Without a doubt the largest gathering for an Arrival Flyover in all of the eight years we've been leading Whooping cranes to Florida. The keen interest and enthusiasm of the folks in the St. Marks area knocked our socks off.

As the trikes and birds went out of sight headed for the 'Whooping Crane Hilton' on the St. Marks refuge, the crowd clapped and cheered in appreciation. And their appreciation must be shared. The success of today's event has as much or more to do with the efforts of others than with ours - and it is our privilege to have met and worked for a brief time with some of the most congenial and dedicated people we've ever encountered on this project.

We want to extend our gratitude to the supportive community of St. Marks in general; to city Commissioner Phil, Zoe, and especially to Sam, (our hero) who went above and beyond the call to make sure everything we needed was well looked after.

We also can't say enough about the staff and volunteers at the St. Marks refuge: Manager James Barnett; Co-manager Terry Peacock, Supervisory Refuge Ranger, Robin Will; Environmental Education Specialist Lori Nicholson…..omigosh, just realized how long this list is going to be.....but we at least have to mention Dallas, Trixie, and David, and the many other refuge personnel who helped make not just today happen, but made it possible for Whooping cranes to winter in Wakulla County. "Outstanding," is not an exaggeration when used to describe the cooperation and support we received from them.

Testament to the quality of the St. Marks refuge staff, and the respect people have for them and their dedication, is the number of committed volunteers they attract. They are quite literally legion - and it was our good fortune to meet and shake the hands of many. Special mention to Tom and Joe who between them contributed more than 100 volunteer hours out at the pensite, and to the work crew from the prison who slogged through the dense underbrush in the heat of the summer to carve out the better than half mile foot trail out to the pen to give our winter monitoring staff access.

Obviously we can't name everyone here - but you know who you are - and via this entry we extend to each of you our heartfelt thanks. To our lifesaver Gordon, and his gifted wife Christine, two volunteers that Heather and I came to know particularly well, how much fun are you!?!?! We are already looking forward to getting together with you next year.

Lastly, and by NO means least, we thank all the caring folks who left their warm beds to come stand in the bitter morning cold to help celebrate what we hope was the beginning of a great tradition - welcoming and offering sanctuary to one of North America's most beautiful and most endangered birds.

It is terrific to add the support of the population of Florida's Big Bend to our family of Craniacs.

For photos taken today from various vantage points click here.

Date:January 17, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 82Location: FLYOVER SITE
Today is three months to the day that the OM Team left the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin leading the 14 young Whooping cranes in the Class of 2008. With luck, the weather and wind will hold for us to make the flight from Jefferson County to Wakulla County Florida this morning - and give viewers an opportunity to witness our aircraft leading half of this year's generation of Whoopers to their wintering ground to the St. Marks Refuge.

In Jefferson County this morning it is 23F with 1MPH out of the northeast, while in Wakulla County it is 23F. Surface wind is NW 2MPH. While at altitude, the NW winds aloft may be a tad higher than we'd like, the pilots are hoping a flight today is doable.

The last word we had was that assuming nothing changed between now and sunrise, the planes and cranes would attempt to launch shortly thereafter for today's short, 26 mile migration leg.

Heather and I will soon be set up on site at the Flyover location and hopefully we'll be joined by a BIG crowd of expectant Craniacs and would-be Craniacs to help celebrate the first ever Whooping cranes to 'take up residence' in north western Florida.

If you haven't already left home and are coming to what we hope will be a Flyover today - dress warmly

To those of you who have responded to our appeal to help us avoid finishing the migration in the red - thank you so much. We now have just 150 unsponsored MileMaker miles with 200 air miles left to travel. A little more help from a few more folks and we'll be there.

Date:January 16, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ODDS FOR TOMORROWLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
We were up even earlier than usual this morning in order to hit the road for what we hoped would be the Arrival Flyover Event in the town of St. Marks in Wakulla County.

As you will have read in the entry below, winds aloft kept the planes and cranes on the ground today. We, along with St. Marks refuge staff and their volunteers, met the stream of vehicles arriving at the site filled with folks turning out in hopeful anticipation of viewing the flyover. Unfortunately, we had to stop them as they came along the road and give them the disappointing news.

Currently, the only difference between the weather/wind forecast for Jefferson County and Wakulla Counties for tomorrow morning is a couple of degrees of temperature. It appears as if surface winds will be both light and favorable. It looks like the winds aloft will be out of the northwest, and depending on altitude, ranging anywhere between 5 to 15MPH. When we asked our weather guru, Chris for his 'best guess' for our chances tomorrow, he said he believes we have better than an 80% chance of flying.

So that's it folks. It looks like tomorrow morning could be your chance to see one of North America's rarest and most endangered birds. C'mon out to the Arrival Flyover Event in the town of St. Marks. Click the link to the right for info and a map. Dress VERY WARMLY - the weather forecasters are calling for record low temps. As we are anticipating quite a large turnout and everyone will want to be in place by 7:45am, we suggest you try to arrive and get parked somewhere between 6:45 and 7:15am.

COOL SCHOOL PROJECT
The Gilchrist Elementary School in Tallahassee participated in a huge 'live' art project yesterday. More than 1000 students and teachers formed a giant Whooping crane which was then photographed from the sky. To see the result of their effort, use this link to be taken to our Craniac Kids webpage.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Jefferson County, FL
Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, is the namesake of Jefferson County. It is the only county in Florida that borders on both the state of Georgia and the Gulf of Mexico. Monticello is the seat of Jefferson County and its only incorporated city. It's named after the estate of Thomas Jefferson, but is pronounced "mont-i-SEL-o," not "mont-i-CHEL-o." Besides Monticello there are twenty-one unincorporated communities in this county.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1931 as a wintering ground for migratory birds, is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States. It encompasses sixty-eight thousand acres spread between Jefferson, Wakulla and Taylor Counties along the Gulf Coast of northwest Florida.

Date:January 16, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NO FLIGHT TODAYLocation: On the Road
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 1085 miles
We just had a call from the team back in camp that the winds are too strong for a flight today. There will be no Arrival Flyover Event today.

Date:January 15, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WHAT DOES TOMORROW HOLD?Location: Jefferson Co. FL
When we asked pilot Chris Gullikson, our resident weather guru, what he thought our chances were for a flight tomorrow morning he said, "50 - 50". Not exactly the numbers we'd like to hear. He said it was going to be one of those mornings it was too close to call; maybe a day we'll have to put a test trike up to see exactly what is what.

With everything laid on and ready for the Arrival Flyover Event at St. Marks, we're really hoping the wind cooperates tomorrow. However, we'll just have to wait and see what the morning has in store for us.

Hopeful viewers should plan to be on site (click the link above and to the right for map and info) sometime after 7AM but before 7:45AM. Attendants will be on hand to direct you to a parking spot.

Please remember that we won't know until moments before take-off time whether or not we'll be making the flight to St. Marks or not, and as a result you could find you have made the trip only to discover the flyover will not happen.

Date:January 15, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NOT FLYING TODAY and FLYOVER INFOLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
Just before dawn it was right on the freezing mark, 32F. We had little wind to speak of on the ground, but up top it was another story - 15 to 20mph. Chris was right. Yesterday he said he thought it might be too much for the birds to handle this morning. Migration Day 80 will be spent on the ground.

Being on the ground gives the team the opportunity to drive to St. Marks to set up the top netted pen inside the new 3 acre open pen that refuge staff and volunteers built on the refuge. The 7 young cranes that will winter at St. Marks will stay in the top netted pen until Dr. Scott Terrell and his vet team from Disney's Animal Kingdom arrive to perform the pre-release health checks our protocols require.

With all the tasks that needed to be accomplished yesterday, Chris's lead pilot report had to take a backseat. No doubt it will come to us for posting in the Field Journal at some point today.

One of the several tasks the team had to perform yesterday afternoon was erecting our second travel pen so the Class of 2008 could be divided into two cohorts; one destined for St. Marks and the other for Chassahowitzka. That division has been accomplished, and the birds in each cohort are: St. Marks Cohort - 805, 812, 813*, 826, 828, 829, and 830*. Chass Cohort - 803, 804, 814, 818*, 819, 824*, and 827. (* denotes female) The primary criteria used to determine the split were genetics and gender.

The current forecast for Friday offers us a reasonable possibility of flying. However, as usual, we shall have to wait and see what tomorrow morning brings.

For those of you planning to make the early morning drive to Wakulla County for the Arrival Event, the Two Nickels Restaurant in the town of St. Marks has let us know that they will be open early to accommodate flyover viewers . Two Nickels is located on Port Leon Road.

Viewers should plan to be on site (click the link above and to the right for map and info) sometime after 7AM but before 7:45AM. Attendants will be on hand to direct you to a parking spot.

As always, remember that weather dictates whether we can fly or not, and you could make the trip only to find we were unable to fly. Also keep in mind that because I too will be on the road travelling to the flyover site long before we will know for sure if we are flying or not, I will have no opportunity to email or post to the Field Journal until after the flight is called off, or the flyover has taken place.

Date:January 14, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION HAS REACHED FLORIDA!Location: Jefferson Co. FL
Distance:43 milesAccumulated Distance: 1085
With our arrival this morning in Jefferson Co. FL we have exactly 200 air miles left before we will have completed the 2008 (& 2009) migration.

The migration team is really slugging it out this afternoon. Not only do both travel pens need to be set up and secured at our Jefferson stop, we have trike repairs that have to be done, and one vehicle that is 'screeching' for attention.

Also ahead of the team this afternoon is the task of separating the birds into two groups; those that will be led to St. Marks and those that will subsequently be led to Chassahowitzka. Using predetermined criteria some of which include gender, genetics, sociability etc., seven of the Class of 2008 will be moved into the second pen preparatory to a flight to St. Marks on the first flyable day - which by the way, will NOT be tomorrow, Thursday. Between the strong winds aloft forecast for tomorrow and all that's on our plates, it will keep both humans and birds solidly on the ground.

Most of the team will be travelling down to the St. Marks refuge tomorrow to help Refuge staff set up the top netted pen in advance of the birds' arrival, and to ensure all is in readiness for the refuge's newest, and we think 'coolest' residents. (They could be considered 'Snowbirds' after all.) With the exceptional cooperation and hard work that the Refuge staff - and their many volunteers - have contributed to making this happen, we are happy to be bringing the first ever Whooping cranes to St. Marks. Based on what we have experienced and from getting to know the folks at St. Marks, we know that everything will be outstanding.

Assuming we have flying weather on Friday morning, we will launch from Jefferson County leading the seven St. Marks birds to their brand new fabulous pensite on the refuge. Again, assuming we have flying weather on Friday, that too will the morning of our Arrival Event Flyover. Click the link to the right for a map and info.

As it is only a short flight of 28 air miles from our stopover site in Jefferson County to St. Marks, you will want to be on site at the Flyover location by 7:45AM. HOWEVER, we must add the usual caveat. Keep in mind that our ability to fly is entirely weather dependent. We won't know for sure whether or not we will be flying on Friday until just before take-off time (approximately 7:30AM), so it is possible that you could make the trip for naught.

Admittance to the Flyover Viewing location will start at 7:00AM. Please look for signs and people directing you to the available parking areas.

 

Date:January 14, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THIRD CONSECUTIVE FLY DAY!!Location: Decatur Co. GA
Distance:? milesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
After months of living in the Central time zone, it was strange to see sunrise shown on the chart as being at 7:37AM this morning. Yesterday, we took off not long after sunrise which was at 6:44 CST. Today it was closer to 8AM.

As Mr. Rogers would say, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." With a bright yellow sun trying to outdo the baby blue sky, the trikes were pushed out from our host's barn where they spent the night. The ground crew - Bev and Heather, left to make the long trek out to the pen to be in place and ready to release the birds. The winds were out of the northwest both on the ground and aloft, and the temp was a favorable 36F.

One after the other, up, up, and away went the trikes and in a flash, Chris, today's lead pilot had the Class of 2008 in the air in what was a picture perfect launch. Just before the planes and cranes disappeared from view, they turned, appearing as if they would circle back. But no - it was a tight turn and the four trikes headed away from us again and quickly became distant specks in the sky.

Somewhere along today's flight - a short leg of just 43 air miles - the Class of 2008 will cross the Georgia / Florida state line. If the weather holds for us one more day, they will get their first look at their winter home on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow.

While we ground-bound folks haven't quite finsihed breaking camp to pull out to caravan to the next stopover, tracker Brian Clauss just called to let us know that the planes and cranes were getting close to landing in Jefferson County.

The entire team was excited this morning at the prospect of finally reaching Florida, just 3 days short of 3 months after we embarked on this journey. Our elation is tempered somewhat however by the state of our finances. Currently, the total of MileMaker miles sponsored is 1058 - 227 miles short of a sellout. With 243 air miles to go, we will be 'in the red' by the end of today.

If you can help, or you know someone who can, there will never be a better time than now. Click the link at the top right of this page to be taken to our MileMaker sponsorship page. To those of you who have already become sponsors - many, many thanks. To those of you who haven't yet - we look forward to hearing from you today.

P.S. - We have a temporary glitch with the Photo Journal and will repair it once we are off the road later today.

Date:January 14, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:ALABAMA TO GEORGIA FLIGHT - Jan 13th Location: Decatur Co. GA
Distance:116 milesAccumulated Distance: 1042 miles
Yesterday morning was one of those dark ones; dark before the sun rose and dark after, A thick blanket of clouds hovered thousands of feet above, seemingly so earthly close as to allow one to poke a finger up into it and watch it disappear from the rest of one’s hand. This is a friendly dark for although it sucks the color from the landscape and lends a slight “other worldly” tone to the day’s endeavor, it cloaks our little craft with its benevolence by blocking the suns rays from reaching earth where they spot fire little sections of earth producing columns heated and therefore rising turbulent air called thermals… speed bumps, to work their mischief upon us; where they push and shove us, lift and drop us in their little roller coaster of fun. Fun only for them, not for us, as our arms quickly get pumped and wearied from the struggle to maintain stability while maintaining the interest and trust of a small group of young white birds struggling to follow the erratic trike.

I sat in front of the pen, engine revving in mechanical anticipation as I looked down the runway to see Joe still hadn’t taken off from the other end suffering what I assumed was a mechanical problem. “Go ahead,” he radioed. So as Richard hovered vigilantly overhead, I gave the signal, pointed my toe, and Bev and Heather threw open the pen doors releasing the flapping hoard of white as we joined and raced down the runway.

Time slowed as it always does in this so familiar and delicious moment. The runway was long and pool table smooth and lusciously green, carved out of woodland by the loving hand of a father for his son who took up flying and flew down to visit after adulthood and career moved him away. After his first landing he said, ”Dad. Could you make it a little longer?” And longer it became. After the second visit, the request was repeated and again answered. And again, until thirty four hundred feet of the most beautiful runway anywhere graced the landscape, and every inch of it built by a father’s love and concern for his son. I hated to leave it, it felt so comforting as it rolled out under my tires but the birds awaited above my wing. So as I pushed forward the control bar and released the runway’s gentle but final grip I was confident that any endeavor begun in a place of such karma could only continue and end well.

827 must have felt it also, because after leaving the pen late he made a bee-line for us and joined up as we slow turned and climbed back over the pen in a cohesive flight of man and bird. From the minute of initial lift I knew this was going to be a great flight and that all I had to do was follow the blinking sign on my dash which commanded, “Passengers please remain seated”… and implied invisibly below it “and the birds will do the rest”.

Above, the sun struggled to break through and cause its familiar havoc, but we remained snuggled below the cloud cover as we winged our way over a shadowy but friendly country side….one which would soon transform into the state of Georgia and our next stop. A tail wind, .an old but welcome stranger, added push to our effort – finally, and after a time we realized we could change course slightly and head straight for our second stop.

This was at the risk of encountering slightly more traffic from a local military airfield, but in this case the reward was worth it, so change course we did and we now felt the added excitement of skipping. Suddenly, Florida was not seeming so frustratingly far away.

“What’s it like to fly with birds?” a reporter recently asked as reporters always do. “Well,” I began as my mouth filled with marbles and my tongue swelled until it completely filled my mouth, and the unearthly noises began to erupt from some unknown place deep within my being and emanated from what used to be my mouth, reverberating in my inner ear in a foreign sounding chorus of gibberish translated by a first year student of Chinese into undecipherable nonsense that was at once incredibly frustrating and belittling to me.

“It’s like this,” I so wished I could say, looking off my wing at these magnificent birds flapping and exalting at their ability to master the sky and fulfill their destiny and at the same time follow this poor shmuck wearing this idiotic white suit sitting in a flying craft of tubes and Dacron more suited to hanging from the ceiling of a museum somewhere. If the Wright Brothers had ever envisioned such a contraption, they would have said the heck with it and just kept on peddling.
But it IS like this. And like nothing else you have ever experienced, and I could string together every word I ever heard, ever learned, ever tried to spell, and string them into a sequence with loving care and much hoped for intelligence and still in the end come out sounding like the village idiot describing the origin of the universe. All one can do is experience it, that’s what here and now and in this little speck of my lifespan I’m doing and I’m doing it with all the attention, the focus, the concentration I can muster because I know soon it will end and all that will be left is this memory, this vision.

There, behind me is a line of all 14 birds and I can watch them, study them, count how many birds back the gliding ends and the flapping begins. I can play with the speed, sculpt the invisible vortex of lift generated from the wing, lengthen it to give the next bird back a free ride. But soon I feel a traitor, for I am not a scientist and it is not for me to ask and look for answers to questions for which I know deep inside there are no answers. I stop my foolish play.

Meanwhile the birds continue their display of flight and of trust. I remember each of them as newly hatched chicks at Patuxent and the long hot hours in costume working with the great Patuxent staff in the seemingly never ending effort to teach them to drink and eat and follow and get along with other chicks.

I also remember with almost crushing sadness the chicks that didn’t make it. The ones that fate or genetics or disease conspired against to crush their brave spirits eliminate them from the flock and thwart their quest for the sky. Some had hearts bigger than their bodies could ever contain and day after day followed us costumed trainers into the Maryland heat and performed wonderfully only to be felled by forces none of us could control. It was only for us to stand helplessly by and comfort their passing.

We miss them terribly and I, sitting here on high with the survivors, miss them all the more. Mother Nature can set a cruel game before us and playing it is by far the hardest part of this endeavor. Perhaps it was just my imagination but I could swear as I looked back at our beloved family of chicks strung back in uniform line off the left wing there were spaces they purposely left in the line - one for each of their missing comrades.

Jack and Gerald radioed from their top cover plane sentry circle above that the ceiling would drop down to twenty five hundred up ahead. My altimeter is at thirty eight hundred, the highest it has been on this migration. In fact, I so rarely achieve such heights I had considered removing all numbers on the instrument after three and replacing the vacated space with a picture of “Tippy”, my first dog when I was four years old!

So, we began our decent grudgingly, for altitude is not easily achieved and is earned only with great effort and power of will. To relinquish it is sacrilege. But down we must go, as the birds stretch their wings in a glide and dispense with any wing beats of effort.

All too soon it is over and the spell is broken. The destination awaits and after landing there will resume the scramble to prepare for the next stop. No time to linger on what has just filled the last two plus hours. That will, hopefully come later.

So land we do at yet another airfield carved out by a great guy who began flying for the Navy in WWll. We, birds and aircraft, are soon in the comfort and security of the product of this man’s labors. And below Brian awaits with the pen. Brian, who tracks us from below and provides our high wire act with a safety net and lends us continuous support and comfort with his unassuming competence and humor; the best friend a pilot, or bird, could hope for.

Date:January 13, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BACK TO BACK FLY DAYS!Location: Enroute
Distance:? MilesAccumulated Distance: ? Miles
At 6AM it was just one degree below the freezing mark and the ground wind was virtually non existent. Could it be possible? Back to back flying days?

The winds aloft also appeared to be cooperating, so before too much could change, the pilots and ground crew zipped over to their trikes and the pensite to get ready for today's flight. It was one of the fastest preps and launches that we've seen so far on this migration.

I barely had time to get to a hidden vantage point about a mile away and take the lens cap off the camera before two trikes taxiing into position appeared, wing covers still in place. Moments later, Richard I think it was, launched, and the pilots in view shed the shrouds from their wings. At this point my cell phone rang with top cover checking in from their position at an airport nearby to see if they should launch. "YES!"

I was still closing my phone when a revving engine alerted me to the lead pilot (Brooke I believe) with all 14 chicks popping up over the tree line. I was a loooong way a way, but it appeared he had the entire Class of '08 on the wing, with the exception of one bird that was trailing. (Turns out it was 827 who was slow coming out of the pen.) As the trike turned, the bird seemed to 'cut the corner' and caught up. A bit of a circuit and they turned on course. In a flash the trike became bird size and the birds mere dots before they disappeared behind the big white marshmallows moving across the blue sky.

Two flights in a row! Hooray!!

We're Georgia bound - destination Clay County with just one other Georgia stop before we cross into Florida. The first stop there is in Jefferson County, and what we refer to as the 'staging area'. This is the spot where we will set up both of our mobile travel pens and divide the Class of 2008 into two groups - half destined for wintering grounds at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (see link to the right for info on the Arrival Event Flyover there) and subsequently, the other half will be led further south to their wintering ground at the Chassahowitzka NWR.

And...wait for it....BREAKING NEWS.... Just got a call from tracker, Brian Clauss. We are SKIPPING. At the end of today's flight the planes and cranes will be in Decatur County, GA, just 46 air miles from the staging area in the Sunshine State.

Sorry, can't restrain myself - Yippee!!

Date:January 13, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDAGELocation: Pike Co. AL
As of January 10th, the size of the Eastern Migratory Population remained unchanged; 73 Whooping cranes, 42 males and 31 females. According to the WCEP Trackers' report, the estimated number of birds in Florida is up to 31, ten more than guesstimated in their report of December 30.

There was no change in the number of birds in Georgia and South Carolina; 4 Whoopers in each state. 7 of the 9 birds previously reported in Alabama remain there. 17 birds were in Tennessee at the end of the report period, and, “8 to 12 Whooping cranes were at unknown locations or of currently undetermined status.” Three of those are:
- 416, which was last observed at Necedah in early October
- DAR740* which was last observed mid November in Michigan
- 205NFT which has not been reported since October of 2007.

Date:January 12, 2009 - Entry 5Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:ONE STEP CLOSERLocation: Pike County, AL
Distance:52 milesAccumulated Distance: 923 miles
Cruising along at 35 miles per hour is a slow way to get from Wisconsin to Florida, but it’s made even worse when you add a headwind. Our take off was delayed this morning by a thick layer of fog and a heavy coating of frost. The ground crew lingered near the pen for almost an hour waiting for us to finally get airborne. Even when the sun had burned off enough mist for us to see the tree line, there were still large patches to the west. We took off with all the birds and only circled once before they settled into the business of migration.

The higher we climbed, the greater the headwind, so we flew just above the fog layer at only 300 feet over the trees. The air was smooth and the bright sun cast shadows of the trees on fog like a projector. Initially it was a beautiful flight, but we were only making 25 miles per hour.

Taking two hours to reach the destination is not that bad, but we knew that the sun would soon burn off the fog and begin to heat the surface. At that low altitude the thermals would start to work quickly and we would be in for a bumpy ride. Chris climbed to 1500 to see if things improved, but the higher he flew the slower his speed. Still he suggested we start the climb now before the birds were tired, or the air grew too rough to keep them on the wing. For a while I was content to enjoy the scenery at low level but we all knew we had to heed his warning.

At eight hundred feet we were down to 20 miles an hour. Brain Clauss in the tracking van called for a progress report and Brooke told him we would reach the destination in one hour and twenty minutes. After twenty minutes of climbing our speed had dropped off so that we were still an hour and twenty minutes out. In fact, it appeared that my GPS was stuck on that number for what seemed like an eternity.

Every time we pushed the birds higher, they would drop off and we would lose all the altitude we gained. We decided that unless we could get them up into smooth air we weren’t going to make it, and the only way to get them higher was to break them up. The next time a few of them dropped off I kept going, hoping they would fall behind and Brooke could collect them.

He slipped in to pick up five birds but the others saw an opportunity to descend and soon I only had 2 on my wing. The reduction from 14 to 12 didn’t help, and Brooke couldn’t get them to climb either. He bumped along, still 70 minutes out, with the air getting rougher by the minute. The birds started to separate again and this time Richard moved in to help. Brooke ended up with 5 birds which is just about the perfect number, but now it was Richard’s turn to lead 7 and fight for altitude. Eventually Chris collected 2 from him and with the birds spread out on four aircraft, we were finally able to climb.

I reached 3000 feet, but never got over a ground speed of 34 miles per hour even though I was pushing the birds at well over 40. Jack and Gerald in the top cover Cessna advised us that there was a lot of air traffic at the Troy Airport and we should stay west of our course and clear of their airspace. A couple of Reservists helicopters flew around us, keeping their distance but frightening the birds nonetheless. They flew under Brooke and around Richard and added to the stress of an already draining flight.

Even at 3000 feet the thermals would rock and roll us occasionally which is particularly disconcerting when you are high up in an open aircraft. Finally I reached the site about 5 miles ahead of Brooke and began a long slow descent. Within a few minute we were all on the ground and another ordeal was over.

It took us 2 hours to cover 52 miles. We faced fog and frost, rough air, headwinds and helicopters. But bad memories fade fast once you’re on the ground - and we are now one step closer.

Date:January 12, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SAFELY ON THE GROUNDLocation: Pike Co. AL
Distance:52 milesAccumulated Distance: 923 miles
Four trikes and fourteen birds are all safely on the ground in Pike County, and while not all of us have made it to our new campsite, it shouldn't be much more than an hour before we're all back together again.

The pilots had an odd incident enroute - apparently they had military helicopters buzzing above and below them. Can't wait to hear Joe's story about this.

Chris G. tells us that weather-wise at least we should have another chance to take to the air tomorrow, although he hedged his bets by saying the wind may pick up and be too strong. I closed my ears at that part, knocked on wood, crossed my fingers, rubbed my lucky penny and got out my rabbit's foot. Maybe I need a horseshoe to hang over the RV door.

In the meantime, check out the Photo Journal to see new photos of today's action.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Pike County, AL
Established in 1821, Pike County was named in honor of General Zebulon Pike, the explorer who led the 1806 expedition that discovered Pike's Peak in southern Colorado. The county originally comprised such a large tract of land that it was called the State of Pike. It is one of seven counties in the United States that bear the name Pike. One of them in Georgia was a stop on previous year's migrations.

Pike County legend claims that the original county name of Zebulon was abandoned when the founders had trouble writing the letter "Z".

Date:January 12, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LATEST WORDLocation: Enroute
Distance:? MilesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
The latest word from Brian Clauss who is in the tracking van whizzing along as close to underneath the planes and cranes as possible is that they are approximately 23 miles from our Pike County destination and all four ultralights have birds off the wing.

Whether they were having difficulty and the pilots deliberately broke them up or it was a thing of their own choosing, we'll have to wait to find out in Joe's lead pilot report later today.

Date:January 12, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WE'RE IN THE AIR!Location: Enroute
Distance:? MilesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
At 4:15am it was 29F and calm, with what little ground breeze there was coming out of the north west. Then I stepped outside and found myself swathed in a giant cotton ball - the identical temperature and dew point had produced dense fog.

On checking conditions at our destination I saw that by landing time it would be 40F and we'd still have favorable ground wind; 4mph out of the NNE. Aloft it appeared as it we'd have a tailwind, but how strong remained to be seen. As the fog began to thin, lights winked on in our other RVs as the team stirred in anticipation of a flight.

Shortly after 6:30AM CST in the weak grey light of dawn, the pilots began refastening the wings on the trikes. While the fog has dissipated somewhat, we were still socked in, and so the wait began. Standing around, rubbing gloved hands and stomping feet to keep warm, we repeatedly checked the time, and anxiously watched as prime flying time ticked away.

But at last, shortly after 8AM we were able to take off. Joe, today's lead pilot, launched with all 14 birds. Not long after he rose above the tree line it appeared they would break off, but he managed to turn and zoom in front to regain them off his wing. As they turned on course, a gap opened up in the line of birds strung out behind, but like champs, they worked to catch up. Our last sight was of Joe's trike with all 14 birds off his left wing flying off into the bright sunlight.

Reaching Pike County today will bring us within 55 air miles of our next stopover location in Georgia. It will also leave us with just over 360 miles to go to our final destination. MileMaker also has a way to go yet.

To cover the cost of the migration we still need sponsors for 266 miles. It will be great to deliver all 14 young Whoopers in the Class of 2008 to Florida. And it would be equally as great to be able to celebrate a fully paid for migration.

If you haven't already, please help us by sponsoring a quarter, half, or mile of the migration. Next to completing a successful migration, a finish that is in the black - instead of the red leaving us in a financial hole - sure ranks right up there.

Date:January 12, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:SO MUCH WORKLocation: Lowndes Co. AL
On our last flight Richard had the lead. He took off with all fourteen birds, while the rest of us stayed clear so we wouldn’t be a distraction. After a few circles around the pen, some expert maneuvering, and a little persuasion from the swamp monster, he had them heading in the right general direction. They broke a few more times, but after 14 minutes they were on course and gaining altitude slowly. The rest of us had little to do, so we cruised along above and behind him and his long line of 14 birds.

The wings on our aircraft are delta shaped, like a wide triangle, so the tips are actually behind the pilot. The birds, of course, are well aft of that. In order to see the last bird in a long string off the wing you must almost turn around in the seat. If you have birds off both wingtips, you constantly swing your head and shoulders from side to side in a demanding exercise that helps keep you warm even on the coldest days. This bird-pilot dance is hampered by a headset wired to the radio, several layers of clothing to keep you warm, and the reduced peripheral vision caused by the costume goggles. To help out, the chase pilot lets the lead pilot know when some of the birds start to fall behind.

Leading a long line of birds is like towing a banner with a very thin cable. If you fly too fast or climb too quickly, the line breaks and you lose your cargo. Each bird on our wingtip is connected to the aircraft by the thinnest thread made of strands of ancient instinct reinforced by weeks of practice. The longer the line of birds, the greater the load on that thread and the more deliberate the pilot must be to keep the flock following.

In the bumpy air below a thousand feet Richard had difficulty getting the birds to climb. The thread was pulled tight and every time he tried to gain altitude, the birds would drop down again. There was also a headwind below a thousand feet that kept our speed over the ground down to 20 to 30 miles per hour, even though we were still flying through the air at the regular 'bird speed' of 38.

Covering 57 miles at an average speed of 25 takes over two hours, not to mention the time it took to get them organized and on their way. Bumpy air reduces the benefit they get from the wing, and several times Brooke told Richard he was losing birds. At 1500 feet the headwind dropped off until the air speed and the ground speed matched, and at 2000 feet we actually had a very slight tailwind, but it seemed impossible to get the birds that high. We cruised along only a couple of hundred feet above Richard flying S- turns to slow down while he bumped and rolled below us, unable to get the birds over that invisible barrier.

An hour and a half into the flight and still down in the trash, the birds began to get tired. When a few of them fell behind we tried to divide them into more than one group. Having fewer birds flying on the wingtip means they each get more benefit from the lift it generates, but breaking them up is not easy. Brooke moved in to collect the stragglers but that put him lower than Richard. All the birds that were still following Richard’s wing felt it was easier to glide down to Brooke’s and soon Richard only had one bird left.

There were birds everywhere, and each of us maneuvered to intercept as many as we could. Eventually, seven collected on my wing, while the last seven were divided between the other three aircraft. With fewer birds each they managed to climb slightly, but the seven on me kept getting lower and we were soon left behind.

We banged along only a hundred feet up with eight miles to go until we crossed a wide pasture. The sun was high and the heat from the field created some rising air. The birds could sense this advantage and began to circle while slowly gaining altitude. This is their natural method of flying and I circled with them. We kettled like a flock of vultures; 7 birds and a red tailed hawk all getting higher with each revolution. At 800 feet the thermal topped out and stopped lifting us but they had had enough. They circled a wetland and could not be convinced to carry on.

Afraid that we would never get them out of a wetland I landed in the large pasture and turned up the vocalizer to call them in. Just as they were drifting away, seven military helicopters flew by in a long parade only a few hundred feet up. This seemed to convince the birds to land near the security of the trike.

Richard managed to land with his birds at the final site and he called down the others birds following Brooke and Chris who then returned to the pasture once they were clear. Chris landed, and we decided to make one more attempt to cover the last 8 miles. We took off and all the birds followed but only until they saw the wetland. This time no matter what we did, they were determined to land in the water.

Chris and I circled long enough to find a field and we landed a half mile away. We contacted Brian Clauss in the tracking van and Brooke circled above to talk him in. Low on fuel, Brooke headed back to the stopover site while Chris and I got out of our heavy winter flying gear and headed off on foot in the direction of the birds.

Our first encounter was with 4 very friendly hunters who helped us, even though we were unannounced trespassers. They explained that we were on a 3000 acre private preserve during the height of rifle deer hunting season. Despite our worries, the birds had found crane paradise; they were in a flooded pasture in a secluded field filled with crayfish and huge grasshoppers.

We dropped the travel pen trailer on the side of the road and Chris and Brian made a side trip to get more crates while I stayed behind to watch the birds. Seven large white birds, four ultralight aircraft and two pilots in long baggy costumes can cause quite a commotion. Word spread quickly that we were there, but not quickly enough. While I waited, one of the residents returned to find our trailer dumped in his front yard with me wondering around. We had spoken to his mother, but she obviously had her misgiving, and he expressed his displeasure, all the while with his 45 in plain sight on the console of his pick up truck. Once he found out our intentions were good, he generously let us continue and even showed us a better access route.

An hour later the birds were coaxed out of the marsh and into their crates and Chris and I flew the last 8 miles. By mid afternoon the birds were secure, the aircraft were tied down and everyone was safe. Seems like a lot of work for only 58 miles.

Date:January 11, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATIONLocation: Lowndes Co. AL
Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, has sent along the results of the fifth aerial census of the 2008-2009 ‘crane season’.

The census was conducted January 8th in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions of Castroville, Texas. Tom was accompanied by observer Felipe Prieto, also with USF&WS. They had excellent weather conditions, however, could not complete the census due to smoke from a prescribed burn on San Jose Island and limitations on allowable flight time.

Stehn said the estimated peak flock size remains at 232 adults plus 38 juveniles for a total of 270. “One sub-adult crane has died at Aransas, and another juvenile has been ‘missing’ on two consecutive flights and is considered dead” said Tom. This reduces the flock to an estimated 268.

“With every crane sighted on the flight, plus 33 cranes known to be wintering in a part of San Jose Island not flown, we tallied 267 cranes,” Tom said. “However, 8 cranes may have been counted twice due to movements. Numerous crane movements to upland areas and water holes made it very difficult to determine exact numbers. Future flights will continue to attempt to pin down the exact number of family groups wintering on Matagorda Island,” he said.

According to Tom, Whooping cranes are showing up in unusual places, presumably related to food shortages and the need to seek fresh water to drink. “With food shortages continuing in the salt marsh,” crane use of uplands, as well as a notable shift to open bay habitat, has cranes staying off their territories,” he said. “This makes it very difficult to determine the identity of pairs and family groups, and leads to much uncertainty during the census count.”

Cranes counted on the latest census flight included 27 observed at fresh water sources; 6 on burned uplands; 25 on unburned uplands including shell roads; and, 79 in open bay habitat. On his flight, Tom found 6 Whooping cranes next to wild game feeders on the Lamar Peninsula as food sources for Whooping cranes continue to be very low, primarily due to the summer drought.

“Although the Tour Boat Captains occasionally see cranes catching a crab, many of the birds have switched to eating razor clams in open bay habitat,” Tom advised. “The increased amount of open bay habitat being used by the cranes is indicative of the food stress the population is facing. 21 of the 79 were foraging along the edges of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and 24 were in open bay habitat. Although the Whooping cranes will fill up on clams, previous research shows they are actually using up fat reserves when feeding on a food so low in protein.

On December 31st, a family group of 2 adults and 2 chicks was photographed on the refuge tour loop by a visitor. Tom said he had no explanation or confirmation of this potential second “twin” family at Aransas this winter and that the grouping was not located on the census flight. The suprize appearance had Tom wondering….”Did it arrive from migration in late December? If so, where was it on January 8th? Was it a twin family, or had the solitary juvenile on the refuge tour loop temporarily joined up with a family group?” Maybe he’ll have the answer with the next aerial census.

At the conclusion of his report, Tom noted that, “The search area has been expanded this winter since the cranes are showing up in unusual places. A group of 12 adults and 2 juveniles was sighted in the interior of the Lamar Peninsula in a location I have never flown over before. This sighting put 4 chicks on the Lamar Peninsula instead of the usual distribution of 3. Where had this extra family come from? Could it be connected with the solitary juvenile that has been in the farm fields north of Aransas, or somehow related to the twin family group sighted January 31st? The total of 20 cranes observed on the Lamar peninsula set an all-time record.”

Date:January 11, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:GROUNDED Location:Lowndes Co. AL
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance:871 miles
46F this morning at 6AM. The official wind chill number was 41F, but with the brisk north wind it felt much colder when we we stepped outside. And we do mean brisk wind. While the wind direction was favorable both on the ground and aloft, it was too strong for the planes and cranes to cope with.

On top of the too powerful winds, we have a band of light rain showers to the south of us stretching across our flight path, and a ceiling that lowers from 1100 feet down to 600 at our Pike County destination. At this point I guess it is superfluous to say that today will be Down Day #2 in Lowndes County, AL.

At our bedtime weather check last evening, the most optimistic we could get Chris G. to be about our chances for a flight today was, "Maybe". As it stands right now, the outlook for Monday appears as if it will be an improvement. By this evening, perhaps Chris will be able to upgrade our chances for a flight tomorrow from "maybe," to a, "definite maybe."

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Lowndes County, AL
The town of Fort Deposit is named after a fort that was built under the order of General Andrew Jackson to serve as a supply depot during the Creek Indian War. There is an annual arts and crafts fair called Calico Fort held on the second weekend of April.

In 1928, Lowndes County was the site of a rare criminal case. Two individuals, Lousie Butler and George Yelder, were convicted of murdering a person who was later found alive.

Date:January 10, 2009 - Entry 3 Reporter:Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:DAY 74 LEAD PILOT REPORT Location:Lowndes Co. AL
Distance:58 miles Accumulated Distance:871 miles

At 2:00pm Jan 8th we were informed that our next stopover site was unavailable so Brian and I volunteered to drive down and check out some potential alternate sites. We quickly gathered up maps and our GPS units and headed off to Lowndes County--a 1½ hour drive. Once there we met with the biologist of the Wildlife Management Area to check on four potential sites he had in mind but all of them proved less than ideal. It was a good effort on the biologists part and we’re thankful for his efforts as its never easy finding a secluded area away from people, roads, hunting, buildings and other obstacles that might hinder the wildness of these birds. The sun was getting low in the sky as Brian and I headed off on our own to try some new sites Chris had found on Google Earth, none of which panned out. We were headed up an old dirt road trying to find the place that the last person we spoke with had directed us to but we were soon lost.

As we were driving along Brian noted some bird boxes in someone’s yard, commenting that they must surely appreciate wildlife. As we drove on we spotted a large field and pond and then the a nearby house, “I’m sure these people could help us” we thought as we turned in their driveway in a last ditch effort to find a location for the next day’s flight. We talked to the owner; scouted the field and to our disappointment it too was not suitable. After a brief discussion with the property owner he told us he had some pasture land across the creek and volunteered to show it to us. We arrived on the pasture just as the sun was setting and to our delight, it was perfect and very secluded. With that job done we headed back to camp in Chilton County to get a good night sleep in preparation for the next day.

The next morning found us with seemingly perfect conditions. We reassembled our trikes before the sun came up. Joe was our wind test pilot and reported favorable condition so the rest of us got airborne as soon as possible. I landed at the pen site flying straight at it to avoid the rough spots in the field, coming to a stop a hundred feet from it. After turning around I turned on the vocalizer, giving Bev and Heather the cue to open the panels and I lifted off with all 14 birds following.

The air down low was a little rougher than anticipated and the chicks were having a hard time forming on the wing. After a few large circle patterns and bit of gain in altitude we were finally able to get on course. We encountered more headwind than anticipated but the chicks kept following and we slowly climbed to were it was down to only a few miles an hour of headwind. All 14 birds and I eventually climbed to about 1200 feet AGL where we stayed for about 2 hours and 12 miles out from our new destination. That’s when they began to split up due to the rough air we encountered. With 12 miles to go in a headwind we decided to let them split up and try to get them on 4 different trikes to give them a break.

Once that rodeo was over Brooke had 4 Chris had 2 Joe had 7 and I was left with 1. Brooke, Chris and I went on to our new site were I landed and called down the other birds. Once the 7 birds were on the ground Chris and Brooke went back to help Joe who had landed in a field 6 miles out. They would have to be boxed and driven the last 6 miles. Chris landed with Joe to help him control his birds until the ground crew arrived with boxes. Then Brooke returned and after tying down his trike, came out to help me with the 7 birds that had made the full flight.

The birds had spent 2 hours foraging and scattering cow pies for bugs to eat and seemed very happy with the situation so I left Brooke with them so I could leave to go and tie down my aircraft. I flew the short distance to our new hosts’ home; landed in their backyard then taxied across the lawn and eventually, tied my aircraft down next to Brooke's. With no time to spare I got the call that Gerald was on his way with the pen behind our white van, which did not have 4-wheel drive to get in to the field. Our new, very kind and generous host volunteered to pull it into the field with his truck, so we headed off to meet with Gerald and Dale Richter.

We quickly transferred the pen trailer over to the truck and headed in to set up the pen. Even though Gerald, Dale and our host had little, if any experience setting up the pen it went up quickly. As they left, Brian arrived with the wayward birds and we decided to release them from the crates inside the pen since they were likely a bit spooked about being boxed.

After driving the van away we donned our costumes and released them. One by one out came 803, 804, 805, 824, 828, 829 and 830; the three oldest birds; the three youngest and one in the middle of the age group for good measure. We’re always a bit wary about having to crate birds so we were relieved to find them in good health and in no distress. As we closed the pen gate we turned to leave and realized we had seven empty, but still heavy, wooden crates that needed to be carried more than a quarter mile to the van that we had hidden from the birds view. Brian and I made several trips to get them loaded into the van before we gave Brooke the okay to return to the pen with the other 7 birds he had been keeping an eye on in an adjacent field.

It was a loooong day and we were grateful to be on the ground in Lowndes County—58 miles further south and at an ideal location with wonderful hosts.

Date:January 10, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NO DEPARTURE FLYOVER VIEWINGSLocation: Lowndes Co. AL
Unfortunately we could find no suitable flyover viewing locations for our departure from either Lowndes or Pike Counties. We searched, and searched, and we searched again, as we knew this would be a disappointment to many folks, but to no avail.

We face many challenges of all sizes and intensities on this project, and particularly throughout the migration. Next to the uncontrollable weather, I think not being able to afford people the opportunity to see these amazing birds must be right up there near the top of the frustration list.

The sight of the young Whooping cranes flying off the wings of the ultralights never fails to thrill us, no matter how many times we see it. The opportunities for the majority of people to see these rare birds are so very few, we feel badly when we can't make that happen.

We have to hope that the culmination of our work - wild migratory Whooping cranes flying the skies in years to come - will be sufficient consolation.

Date:January 10, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 75Location: Lowndes Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 871 miles
53F, this morning with wrong way winds - ESE 6mph and SE 35mph on the ground and aloft respectively. It's totally overcast with heavy dark clouds threatening rain. There will be no flight today.

We have some small hope of being able to fly the next migration leg to Pike County, AL tomorrow, although the winds may prove to be too strong for the planes and cranes to tackle.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Lowndes County, AL
Lowndes County was established in 1830 and is named in honor of William Lowndes, a member of the United States Congress from South Carolina. Its county seat is Hayneville a veritable metropolis of 1177 citizens.

Some sixty years ago, a layer of sedimentary rock more then ten thousand feet below the surface of the earth was discovered in Hayneville. The massive formation, formed during the Upper Jurassic era of the geologic past, is under parts of northwestern Louisiana, southwestern Arkansas and eastern Texas, with some of the formation stretching well across the northern central portion of Louisiana. The geologists who discovered it named it the Haynesville Formation.

Date:January 9, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO/ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Lowndes Co. AL
Brian Johns, Wildlife Biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Service and Co-Chair of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, (WCRT) advised today that as of December 31st, there were 270 Whooping cranes accounted for in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Flock. "This total included 38 young of the year," said Brian.

In his report, Johns noted that habitat conditions on the wintering grounds were poor this winter. He said that lack of rain and low flows of rivers into San Antonio and Guadalupe Bays adjacent to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge had made for very high salinity levels, so high that the cranes cannot drink the water in the bay, forcing them to fly inland to seek fresh water sources.

Brian said that, "In addition to the drought conditions, the upland foods of both wolfberry and acorns are hard to come by. If this wasn't enough, the number of crabs that are available to the cranes is lower than normal. These stressors on the cranes may affect the breeding season but only time will tell.

Stay tuned for additional updates as they are available.

EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE
Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas NWR and WCRT Co-Chair, let us know that Dr. Marilyn Spalding at the University of Florida had advised that the results of the necropsy she performed on 721 indicated possible predation by a bald eagle.

Date:January 9, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:QUITE A DAY - and it's NOT overLocation: Lowndes Co. AL
Distance:58 milesAccumulated Distance: 871 miles
On the first check at 4AM it appeared we were going to have a chance to fly this morning. 32Fm so we had nice cold air; light ESE ground wind of 0 to 2mph. But - it remained to be seen what was aloft, so there was nothing we could do but start getting ready to move - hopefully - and wait for first light.

While the other three pilots pulled their trikes out of the barn where they'd been protected from recent storms, and re-attached the wings, Joe launched to be wind test dummy. Despite the headwind he found aloft, the consensus was that a flight was doable.

With the rest of the trikes circling high and out of the way, today's lead pilot, Richard, swooped down to the pen, In two shakes of a lamb's tail an explosion of wings swept into the sky. After so many days on the ground it was the MOST welcome of sights.

Unfortunately we had a lot to see this morning as the birds tested Richard's leadership time and time again. While we ground-bound folks enjoyed the 'repeat performances' as trike and birds circled and circled again, we knew it wasn't a treat for the pilots. It was only after an extended crane rodeo that the Class of 2008 settled down, and we watched as the birds and ultralights shrunk to dots in the sky.

As they say in the hard sell TV commercials...."But wait....there's more!" Sometimes we think that if it wasn't for bad luck we wouldn't have any at all. Yesterday, we learned that due to circumstances beyond the control of our planned stopover hosts, the pensite location would be not be useable. That set us into a bit of a tizzy, and Richard and Brian off in search of possible alternates - something that needed to be accomplished in an afternoon.

Fortunately for us, after much driving and searching, they discovered an alternate location with accommodating landowners. It meant a few extra air miles from site to site, 58 miles rather than the short leg of 46 we'd expected, but still within the 50 to 60 mile leg length we like to stick to. "But wait....there's more."

The planes and cranes had their struggles along the way - the whole story and the details will come in the pilots report later - but in the meantime we can tell you that 7 birds are sitting at our stopover site with babysitter Brooke who is waiting, likely by now not so patiently, for one of our pens to arrive. The other 7 birds are down in a field with Chris and Joe, who in turn are patiently waiting for Brian to appear with enough crates to box up the birds and bring them the last 8 miles.

In the meantime, some of us have made it all the way to our campsite, some are still on the road, and of course we have pilots and birds in two locations. All in all, quite a day - and it's not over.

Date:January 9, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WE'RE FLYING!Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:? milesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
Just to let everyone know that we're in the air and on the way to Lowndes Co. AL. Satellite can't hold signal for internet connection. More later from another location.

Date:January 8, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject: Location: Chilton Co. AL
As we sit in Chilton County again, for I believe Down Day #9, I have been fortunate to have been asked to do outreach. I love talking to anyone about the project, but especially school children. My philosophy is that if I can reach through to one mind, and get that mind interested in conservation, or maybe even a career in science, then it is well worth my effort.

The past two days, Brooke and I were privileged to have presented programs to Mrs. Williams’ and Mrs. Gilmore’s science classes at the Oak Mountain Middle School. We spoke to probably 300 kids in total. The students were very attentive, polite, and asked some good questions - and for some, it was their first day back after the Christmas break.

Thanks to the classes for being such a great audience for two 'itinerant crane workers'.

Date:January 8, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 73Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
A cooler 38F this morning, and winds, although still in single digits, are out of the SSW. Aloft it is worse news; 40 to 50mph west winds. The migration will be stalled in Chilton County again today. If the current forecast holds however, we should have a decent chance of flying tomorrow.

While Operation Migration's work on the Whooping crane reintroduction project continues year round, it is our annual migration that attracts the most attention. And it is during this time that we receive the most questions. One of the most frequently asked questions is, "Who does what?"

In answer, we prepared the chart below. Each partner within WCEP has agreed to carry out specific roles and shoulder certain responsibilities. They are:

PROJECT PHASE

PERFORMED BY
WCEP PARTNER(S)

AUTHORITY AND RESPONSIBILITY
FOR THE BIRDS RESTS WITH

Breeding/Incubation/Hatching/Rearing Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Imprinting/Early Conditioning Operation Migration and
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Operation Migration
Summer 'Flight School' Operation Migration and
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Operation Migration
Migration Operation Migration
and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Operation Migration
Winter Monitoring at Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, International Crane Foundation U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,  International Crane Foundation
Winter Monitoring at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Operation Migration and Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Operation Migration, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, International Crane Foundation
Tracking of Previous Years’ Birds U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and International Crane Foundation U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, International Crane Foundation
Direct Autumn Release Program International Crane Foundation and
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
International Crane Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Date:January 7, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION NEWSLocation: Chilton Co. AL
MORTALITY
The remains of Whooping crane 721*, who had paired with 307 at the Necedah NWR in June, was found January 3rd in Putnam County, FL according to a report received tonight from Richard Urbanek.

The bird was found on the edge of a wet prairie where the pair had been wintering. Her mate, 307, has since moved to Alachua County where several other Whooping cranes are also wintering. 721's remains have been sent to the University of Florida in Gainesville for necropsy, but Urbanek advised that the onsite evaluation indicated possible predation by an eagle.

The loss of 721* reduces the Eastern Migratory Population to an estimated 73 Whooping cranes; 42 males and 31 females.

WHERE IS 810?
Whooping crane 810, who, due to aggression, was removed from the ultralight cohort and released with experienced migrating Whoopers on the Necedah refuge, has made it to Florida. He arrived in Alachua County in late December with a group consisting of 511, 512, 716, 724 and DAR837,

Date:January 7, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Gerald Murphy
Subject:'UPWARD' PROMOTIONLocation: Chilton Co. AL
This is my fifth year as a volunteer with Operation Migration. The first four years, 2004 - 2007, my primary job was driving the white diesel truck that pulls the Sierra travel trailer from site to site. I also helped take down the pen each morning, and occasionally helped to set up the the pen at the next stopover site. Another of my 'jobs' was cooking breakfast the mornings we didn't fly - and making biscuits, tomato gravy, and other goodies that the crew seemed to like.

Suddenly, migration '08 came along and I was offered a new 'primary job - flying as spotter in the top cover aircraft;  volunteer pilot Jack Wrighter's Cessna 172. I didn't just say, "Yes," I said, "Heck yes!" Now, instead of jumping in the white truck, I jump in Jack's "Plane Plane" (you'll have to ask Jack about that appellation) and we take off very shortly after the ultralights launch. We hang back somewhat until the birds are released, and then we fly circles over the ultralights and cranes at an altitude of around 1,000 to 1,200 feet about them.

Flying top cover is the long way to get to the next stop. If you remember your 10th grade geometry, it is 3.14159 times further around a circle than a straight line across it. In the top cover aircraft we often make 25-30 circles before getting to the next stop. Our purpose is to keep an eye on the birds, ultralights, and upcoming potential hazards. We also stay in touch with various control agencies to clear all of us through restricted airspace if necessary.

All in all though, it is a much more fun job than hauling a trailer with a truck. The only problem I see now is the difficulty Operation Migration might have getting me to go back to truck driving. My hope is that it will prove easier to find someone who can drive a truck hauling a trailer than someone capable of flying (or flying in) a Cessna 172, so maybe it won't be the concern I initially thought it might be.

So OM personnel, be forewarned. I'm probably ruined as a 'trucker', but I do appreciate my new job (even if the pay isn't any more).

Date:January 7, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CREW CHANGESLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Today is another 'crew transition' day.

Joe Duff is expected to rejoin the migration team before the day is out as he completes the long trip from Ontario to Alabama. Joe's extended break gave him the opportunity to spend Christmas and enjoy the holiday season with his family. We're looking forward to having him back with us.

Volunteer and OM Board of Director, Walter Sturgeon, leaves the migration today after almost 12 weeks on the road with us. Walt has been a volunteer since 2004, and as his fifth migration time draws to a close there is no way to thank him enough for all the personal time he dedicates to OM and the Whooping cranes.

Why does Walt make the sacrifices he does? Here's the answer in his own words...
"That is easy to answer. It is a chance to make a real difference; to work with a team of wonderful people who are accomplishing the most exciting wildlife reintroduction project ever attempted.

To be part of Operation Migration's efforts to save a species is an incredibly rewarding personal experience; one not open to many. It is something that I will go on with until it is no longer necessary in order to save the Whooping crane. The year I was born there were only 15 whooping cranes on earth. In 2008, some 68 years later, we have exceeded 500. Sustaining this success story demands that we continue to work as hard as we can until the Whooping crane’s survival is assured."

Another long time OM volunteer, Gerald Murphy, is playing chauffeur today as he rendezvous south of Montgomery to pick up Georgia native, Dale Richter. Dale is also a member of OM's Board of Directors and he will take over Walter's duties for the balance of the migration. We haven't seen Dale since our Annual General Meetings held in Necedah, WI last September so we'll have lots of catch-up to do.

Date:January 7, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SEVERE WEATHER PASSES BUT WE'RE STILL GROUNDEDLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
At 49 degrees this morning, the temperature hs returned to more a seasonal level. The storm system we experienced yesterday has passed through, leaving us with 9mph west winds on the ground and WSW 35 to 45mph winds aloft. It will be at least one more day before we will be able to make our escape from Chilton County, AL.

Parts of Alabama were threatened by some severe weather on Tuesday, Chilton County included. We spent much of yesterday afternoon standing outside scanning the horizon and watching gigantic black clouds scuttle by. Our TVs and computers were glued to weather channels and sites, as we anxiously watched projections of the trajectory of potential tornadic activity. A neighbor down the road from our camp site came by to offer us sanctuary in his basement should we need to seek shelter, but fortunately conditions never deteriorated to the point that measure became necessary.

Frequent pen checks ensured the Class of 2008 was safe, but the team was poised to release the birds should any serious threat arise. Because of fog, rain, and wind, they have so far had only one day of 'flying exercise' during our stay here. Hopefully, when the weather turns favorable, they will be as anxious to get going as we are.

This morning's sky is a uniform dark grey, and the clouds look heavy and moisture laden. The wind is strong enough to keep the trees swaying, and that should help to dry up the many puddles and standing water. Tomorrow's forecast doesn't look as favorable as it did a few days ago, but Friday appears to hold promise.

Date:January 6, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Down Day #7 IN CHILTON CO.Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
If there was any water shortage in this part of Alabama, it has most definitely been resolved. The little creek down the road that until a few days ago was not much more than a trickle, is now a swift flowing stream, and the rushing water can be heard from 50 yards away. The unusually warm temp - 61F at 6AM - has the songbirds fooled, and the spring peepers are singing loudly.

The overnight downpour has stopped, but the south winds resulting from the storm systems that have held us on the ground here for the past 6 days, continue. The forecast is calling for severe thunderstorms, potentially damaging winds, and the possibility of isolated tornados as the day progresses.

The pen will get extra attention today to make sure it is as secure as it can possibly be, and we will be 'battening down the hatches' on our RVs in anticipation of the high winds projected to develop by mid afternoon.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
Just south of Montevallo, is American Village Park. Featuring reconstructed colonial era buildings and costumed historical interpreters, the park commemorates the history of the nation’s beginnings. The 113-acre attraction includes the Washington Hall, patterned after George Washington’s Mount Vernon, a colonial courthouse, and the President’s Oval Office.

Another local attraction is the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum in Calera. It showcases operating trains, two restored depots, railroad artifacts and memorabilia, and an outdoor collection of locomotives, railroad cars, and cabooses.

Just east Montevallo in the nearby town of Columbiana is the Karl C. Harrison Museum. The Museum houses one of the largest privately-owned collections of George and Martha Washington memorabilia outside of Mt. Vernon. Prized artifacts include Martha’s prayer book and an original sketch of landscaping planned for Mount Vernon in 1787.

Date:January 5, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PARTING SHOT AT ESALocation: Chilton Co. AL
Excerpt from January's THE BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN

"In the area of the Endangered Species Act, Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, announced last month a final rule change that weakens implementation of the Endangered Species Act. At issue are Section 7 consultations with endangered species experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. There have traditionally been mandatory consultations for any federal agency where actions (e.g., dams, towers, mining, logging, and road-building) may affect endangered species, even if no negative impacts are likely.

The Bush Administration's new rule will allow agencies to determine on their own (i.e., without consultation with outside experts) what effect their actions will have on endangered species. This could potentially create huge holes in the safety net that currently protects birds and other animals and plants in danger of extinction.

The Bush Administration's last minute rulemaking has drawn heavy criticism from the public, lawmakers, conservation groups, and newspaper editorialists from across the country. Indeed, over 250,000 comments opposing the rule changes - including comments from respected scientific and professional organizations - were submitted to the Interior Department in the 60-day comment period prior to the announced changes. Regrettably the weighty public stir seems not to have generated any positive response from the Bush Administration.

Both President-elect Obama and key Congressional leaders have signaled that they will oppose the ESA rule change. In addition, a number of conservation organizations intend to take legal action to stop these regulations, and at least four lawsuits have already been filed, including one from the state of California.

It is possible that a federal district court could issue an injunction against implementation of the new regulation on the basis that no environmental impact statement was prepared. A new Administration might opt not to appeal the proposed regulatory changes, which could result in the new rule dying a quiet death. Alternatively, a new Administration may still have to restart the lengthy rule-making process to undo the change. As the script unfolds, expect press releases (pro and con) to continue apace.

You can access an archive of past Birding Community E-bulletins on the website of the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) at http://www.refugenet.org/birding/birding5.html

Date:January 5, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BIGGER PUDDLES, BIGGER DRIPSLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
The RV was cocooned in this morning's thick blanket of fog. We could hear, but not see the cows that were mooing loudly 30 yards away in the adjacent field. The puddles had grown as the already saturated ground wasn't able to accommodate the heavy overnight rain, and every indentation, from potholes to footprints now holds standing water.

Along with SE ground winds and SW winds aloft, today's forecast promises more rain. Yesterday, in anticipation of the windy, rainy weather, the pilots broke down their aircraft, removing and stowing the wings, and pushing the trikes into our host's barn for protection. And there they will stay for at least today - and perhaps tomorrow as well.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
The 2007 census gives the population of Chilton County as 42,299; 12% in urban centers and 88% rural. The county covers 694 square miles, 6.8 square miles of it water. Despite Clanton being the county seat the population is not centered on it, rather, it is is centered on the town of Jemison in an area known as Jemison Division.

Date:January 4, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PUDDLES AND DRIPSLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
The rain has let up for the time being, but we've got huge puddles everywhere and the drips off the trees landing on the roof of the RV are so large and loud they sound like acorns hitting.

It's a shirtsleeve 53F this morning but the winds are still against us; south 4mph on the ground and SW 15mph aloft. For the fifth day in a row the cranes and planes will not be flying.

We used yesterday's down day to do some overdue service on vehicles, oil changes, air filters, new wiper blades and the like. One vehicle, our white diesel truck left to go.

Our satellite dish doesn't like to work when it's raining and as a result, the signal is so intermittent it's almost impossible to stay connected long enough to accomplish much. Today we'll take advantage of the lull in the rainfall to get the build up of emails sent off and catch up on our online jobs. However, like the bumper sticker we spotted yesterday said, "We'd rather be flying."

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
Verbena is named for its abundance of indigenous verbena. The town originally was called Summerfield, but was renamed when it was discovered that a small town near Selma already bore this name. Although there are conflicting stories concerning how the name Verbena was chosen, it is generally accepted that Kate Norton, a relative of one of the first settlers, suggested the name. Another of the early settlers, Colonel P. T. Sayre, often wore a sprig of this purple flower in his lapel. It is the only town in the country named Verbena and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Date:January 3, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILL GROUNDEDLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
Strike 1 - 58F and 95% humidity
Strike 2 - SE winds and dense fog
Strike 3 - light rain/mist and 100 foot ceiling

Today will be Down Day #4 in Chilton County. AL.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
Alabama Major League baseball player, Minter Carney "Jackie" Hayes, was born in 1906 in Clanton. His Major League career lasted from 1927 to 1940. During his last year in Chicago, a cinder struck him and he lost the sight in one eye. Later he also lost sight in the other eye. He died at age 76 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Date:January 2, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 67Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 MilesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
When we stepped out side this morning at 4AM we knew from the warm temperature that the winds had swung around. It was 48F, and sure enough, the 4mph ground winds were out of the SSE. Even if we could manage the light ground winds, not so with the plus 30mph SSW winds aloft, and the rain than began to douse us around 6:30. The second day of the new year will be our third down day in Chilton County.

The dictionary says, "Patience is a noun describing the capacity or fact of being patient." Until we read, "Patience emphasizes calmness, self-control, and the ability to suppress restlessness or frustration when confronted with delay," we thought patience was one of our virtues.

Now, being two days into 2009, our patience is again being tested. And with the long range forecast currently calling for unfavorable flight conditions - potentially for several days - the frustration level is ratcheted up a notch.

The cliché, "So near yet so far," was heard as we gathered around the coffee pot. But then, remembering John Christian's story of the Little Engine That Could, it was followed by, "But yes we can, yes we can." Stay with us folks. When it comes to safeguarding the Whooping crane, late, truly is much, much better than never.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
The town of Verbena developed into a popular haven for the more affluent citizenry of Montgomery, Alabama during the yellow fever outbreaks in the late 19th and early 20th century. Fearing the disease, people fled big cities for mountains and resorts, and as a result, the town of Verbena was born. In the late 1870's and 1880's, prominent families from Montgomery built summer homes in Verbena to escape the heat and the possibility of catching the dread disease. Many who came for the summer stayed to become permanent residents.

Date:January 1, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DOWN DAY #2 IN CHILTON CO.Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
Happy New Year everyone!

We'd be considerably happier today if the New Year had brought us some flying weather. At 27F, the temperature is fine, but ground winds are out of the east, and aloft the wind is out of the SSE +20mph - right on our nose.

While the forecast is calling for the day to eventually be sunny with a mid-fifties high temp, the winds will remain out of the SE bringing us light rain overnight which the weatherman says is likely to linger into Friday morning.

The cranes and planes will spend the first day of 2009 (and possibly a couple more) in Chilton County, AL.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
Among Alabama's well-known citizens are two professional baseball players. Clay Palmer Carroll, born in Clanton, pitched for six Major League teams during a fifteen-year career, from 1964 to 1978. Overall, he had a remarkable 1.39 ERA in 22 postseason appearances, allowing just five earned runs in 32 innings. "The Hawk", as he was known, was elected to the National League All-Star team in 1971 and 1972, and is a member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

Date:December 31, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:RINGING OUT THE OLDLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
On checking weather modeling sites last evening, our resident weather forecaster, Chris Gullikson, told us that the prospects for a flight this morning didn't look very good. He said that the weak cold front moving through the area in the morning would bring us northwest winds that would likely be a bit too strong for us.

At 6AM today we had a much milder temp, 40F, and favorable NNW winds on the ground. But Chris was right about the cold front. It was moving through Birmingham just before sunrise and would reach us before we could get on the ground at our next stopover. As a result, in the face of the arrival of this system with its strong NNW winds and accompanying turbulence, prudence called for us to spend the day on the ground in Chilton County.

Now for a 'Commercial Message'.
The good news is that there are sufficient MileMaker sponsorships to cover the migration as far as Pike County, AL - two stops ahead of our current location. The not so good news is that with just 36% of the migration left to go, there are almost 350 miles that still remain unsponsored.

Today is your last chance to make a tax deductible donation for the 2008 tax year. All contributions received up until midnight tonight via PayPal on the website, or by calling the office (1-800-675-2618) whether for MileMaker sponsorships or otherwise, will receive a claimable 2008 tax receipt.

And we do need your help. Wisconsin and Georgia miles are sold out, but we really need the help of all the new Craniacs we've met at flyovers, and the many others we hope we've cultivated as we passed through new areas of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and of course, Alabama. The unsponsored miles in those states number: IL - 75; KY - 30; TN - 43; AL - 137. Hopefully Floridians will jump on board too and quickly snap up the 63 miles left in their state.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL.
Chilton County is often referred to as the true "Reconstruction County." When established in 1868, it became one of the first new counties formed after the close of the Civil War.

Peaches are a multi-million dollar industry in Chilton County accounting for 80% of the annual Alabama peach crop. Peaches were originally grown by Native Americans at a place near the mouth of Walnut Creek that they called "Pokana Talahassi" or "Old Peachtree Town."

Date:December 30, 2008 - Entry 5Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - FLIGHT WALKER TO CHILTONLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:58 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
I had my doubts about flying Tuesday as a high pressure system was located directly overhead and forecast to drift southeast throughout the morning. Ideally, we want to be located to the east of weak high pressure as the counterclockwise flow around the high gives us gentle north winds. With the high center drifting southeast, we would be encountering southerly winds on the back side as our flight progressed.

My typical morning begins about an hour and a half before sunrise. I check various weather sites and decide if I should get out of my jammies. Experience has taught me to have only one cup of coffee, and with luck I won’t have an accident during the flight. (Apologies to Brooke in reference to his flight report from yesterday.)

After gathering up my flying gear, I wandered out to my trike that was tucked inside a massive heated hangar, and began my routine pre-flight. I walked around kicking tires, checking bolts and safety pins, cables and all the other important stuff related to keeping a bunch of aluminum and fabric aloft.

As the sun broke the horizon we pushed out and fired up our trikes, doing the customary 5 minute warm-up before blasting off into the incredibly calm air. I climbed through 1000 feet, comparing my airspeed to my GPS to find that we had about a 3mph push from the north. Above 1500 feet my groundspeed began to fall off and at 2000 feet we encountered a headwind of about 5mph.

827 has been slow coming out of the pen for the last several flights, so for the second day in a row he was coaxed out of the pen before the launch. As I landed and taxied up to the pen, I could see him standing patiently beside the costumed ground crew awaiting my signal to open the pen panels.

I spun the trike around, spooled up the engine, and gave the thumbs up signal. There was a slight hesitation but soon the birds were racing out of the pen and I powered up, airborne within 200 feet, and began a gentle turn to the left out over an abandoned gravel pit. Four birds were slow coming out of the pen so I continued my circle, going back over the four who were now aloft and racing to climb up to us. A few circles and S turns later and we were temporarily on course to the south.

There was a public flyover viewing opportunity at a church just a few miles on course. I had drifted left of track rounding up birds, and had chosen to fly down a valley that would put me well east of the flyover site. Richard helped me get a visual on the church, which was a ½ mile to my 2 o-clock position on the other side of the ridge I was paralleling. The ridge rose in height to the south, and my low altitude would require me to cross the ridge soon or I would not have altitude to get over.

I was torn, I knew a sharp right turn would likely persuade the birds to break off and go back towards the pen, but I really wanted to give the assembled folks a chance to see these magnificent birds. I started to make a very gentle turn and sure enough, they all broke right and the ensuing rodeo likely made for an entertaining show.

We passed birds back and forth between trikes, with Brooke and I eventually getting away with seven each after Richard passed a bird off to me to keep himself free to pick up drop-outs. Another rodeo occurred a few more miles on course after Brooke and I found ourselves side by side at the same altitude, each of us being unable to turn away from the other due to ridges and an approaching power plant. The cranes, seeing their buddies on the other trike, were leaving me, while others were leaving Brooke to come towards me. We again passed birds back and forth and I came out with 13 on the wing, leaving Brooke with the 14th bird - which coincidentally enough was 814.

We were slow to gain altitude, only 500 feet high after 30 minutes yet the air remained glass smooth idespite the steep valleys and ridges below us. There is a certain point in most flights where the birds settle into a nice formation and stop thinking about turning back towards their familiar pen. Today that was at about the 30 minute mark, after our last rodeo.

I was finally able to begin a climb, coaxing the birds along at nearly 100 feet per minute until we got to 1500 feet. It was at this altitude that I finally got a chance to see why we have moved the route west. The Appalachian Mountain chain runs from northern Maine southwest through the Carolinas and northern Georgia. The heavily wooded foothills taper out in central Alabama and our new route takes us over these foothills that can one can actually see disappear off the southwest. Several ridges could be seen rising to the northeast that just tapered away to nothing in the southwest. It was a beautiful sight to see.

As we continued south, our groundspeed began to drop off, the GPS seeming to be stuck at 45 minutes to our destination. We adjusted our altitude down a few hundred feet to pick up a slightly better groundspeed, but we were also very aware that our reduced altitude would also mean that the thermals would reach us sooner. The miles slowly ticked by and every now and then we felt a stray thermal hit us but for the most part it remained smooth. Thermals are not dangerous to fly in and can even be fun, but the turbulence makes it very difficult to keep the birds on the wing. Luck was on our side today and we made it to our destination before the thermals really began to take hold.

Once on the ground, I led the birds away to let Brooke change out of his warm flying gear. Richard landed over at our host's farm and met with Brian to get a plan to setup the pen. Brooke came back to help me hide the birds and then I slipped away to change out of my flying gear that was now becoming uncomfortably warm as the sun rose higher. We soon had the pen set up. I went back to help Brooke walk the birds back to the pen while Richard and Brian drove the van out of sight. With the birds securely in the pen, Brooke and I hopped back in our trikes and flew back to land in our host’s yard where we tied them down and installed the wing frost covers.

Date:December 30,, 2008 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NO CHILTON COUNTY FLYOVERLocation: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:58 milesAccumulated Distance: 813 miles
Regrettably, we have to tell you that we will not be able to have a flyover viewing when we depart Chilton County. Despite searching virtually, online, and driving throughout the countryside looking for suitable locations, we came up empty. We could find no spot near enough to our planned flight path that would accommodate people and cars and afford a view.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Chilton County, AL
Originally home to the Upper Creek Indians, and then part of several different territories and political subdivisions, what is now Chilton County was established in 1868 as Baker County. In 1874, its name was changed to honor William Parish Chilton, Sr., a lawyer who became Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and later represented Montgomery County in the Congress of the Confederate States of America.

William Parish Chilton, Sr. was acting leader of the Provisional Confederate Congress. He became a historic figure when, on February 4, 1861, he gaveled the Confederate States of America into existence.

Date:December 30, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Chilton Co. AL
As of December 27 the size of the Eastern Migratory Population was unchanged at 74 Whooping cranes; 42 males and 32 females. The trackers estimated the following numbers of birds in each of the states listed.
Florida – 21
Georgia – 4
South Carolina – 4
Alabama – 9
Tennessee – 17
Either still migrating or at unknown locations – 16

The remaining three birds are:
416, which was last observed at Necedah in early October
DAR740* which was last observed mid November in Michigan
205NFT which has not been reported since October of 2007.

Date:December 30, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject: YESTERDAY'S FLIGHT REPORTLocation: Alabama
The morning began as flight days always do, dark and cold, though not quite as cold as we’d like. I amended my usual ritual by adding a coffee cup to the contents of my already bulging trike backpack. I rolled the cup in my hand, gazing at the name, 'Harry' on one side, and the insignia of his squadron on the other.

Harry flew two tours in Viet Nam, returned a quiet hero, and continued to serve his country in the Air Force until his retirement. Not long after, he became manager and flight instructor at the Russellville Municipal Airport. Harry gave the cup to Bev who gave it to me. It was a Good Luck cup, and to me represented all the incredible kindness and generosity the folks at Russellville had blessed us with these past many days. If that’s not luck, I don’t know what is.

In aviation it is said that a pilot starts out with two cups - an empty one labeled Experience, and a full one labeled Luck. The hope is that as time goes on, the pilot accumulates experience and fills up that cup before the contents of the Lucky cup is used up. My experience has been that both cups need to be and to stay full. So full in fact, that they spill over onto the table and puddle on the floor. Getting those birds out of there after their long stay and their poor performance last time at bat was going to take lots of both. An hour and seven minutes is what it took just to leave Hardin County, TN behind, and by then 4 birds were so tired they just landed. And then another landed out - -Jack and Brian saved the day by finding locating and retrieving him.

The whole crew, save Joe, arrived a day early and a good flying day was forecast, so the move was a no-brainer. The prospect of moving again quickly vanquished the fatigue of my two long days of driving, the Rip Van Winkle difficulties of visiting an old life and coping with the realization that though you haven’t, as yet, fallen from the high wire, you are barely hanging by your toenails. Besides, sitting is what I do these days, whether in a trike, or in a car, or in a motorhome awaiting weather.....I sit. So what’s a couple more hours of the stuff. And so off we went, the birds and I, accelerating down the field, still in dark shadow, and into the dimly lit sky above.

At first all was well as we sped towards the flyover area where a good sized crowd had amassed, hoping for at least a glimpse of these magnificent birds and the reason for our being here. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to give something back to those folks who gave us so much - - and they loved it. Besides, what better way to say thank you to everyone who has been so overwhelmingly kind and generous to our crew.

It wasn’t long before the birds began to tire of the thank you's and headed back towards the pen. So what appeared to the crowd to be a series of beautifully planned choreographs of flight were really my desperate attempts at cutting off their retreat to the pen and coaxing them back in line and on course.

This aerial tug of war continued for about half an hour when it became clear we were going to have to split them up between trikes if we were to avoid the problem of the last stop, which was tiring them out so much trying to leave that they didn’t have the juice to make it to the next one. I continued on course with seven, and seven headed back where Richard picked them up. Soon, two cohorts of seven, each with a trike, were winging on.

Led by my favorite bird, 813, my group was climbing relatively well after a little coaxing, but Richard’s group chose 900 feet as its ceiling and that was it. No higher. And that wasn’t high enough to insure the success of a skip over the next stop. That decision made for us, we headed on for the remainder of the flight to the first stop.

Soon we were over the field, landed and proceeded with the all familiar ritual; hide the birds while setting up the pen, leading the birds into it and becoming airborne again enroute to an airport, in this case the Walker County-Bevill Field Airport, where we humans roosted for the night.

I was anxious to again see our new friends at the airport, especially the retired corporate jet pilot Bev and I had the good fortune to meet in the spring, and who facilitated the details and the success of this stop for us. Also waiting was our airport host. In addition to being a great guy and generous friend who runs flight operations there, is an accomplished pilot in his own right and races his airplane at the Reno Air Races. Being in the company of these two guys can only be described as Luck.

So trikes tied down and secure, flying gear shed and a sigh of relief breathed, I reached back into my pack and pulled out the cup. Although it looked empty, I knew it to be full and was careful to keep it right side up. I gave it a little rub and placed it carefully back into my pack. Then with a smile I turned away, looked up and thanked the guy that gave it to us, “Thanks Harry.”

Date:December 30, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 64Location: Enroute
Distance:? milesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
Another good looking morning. The temp  was nice and cold at 31 F and once again we had 0 - 2mph winds out of the north on the ground on top of which it looked like we'd have a nice little tailwind aloft.

Today's lead pilot was our weather guru, Chris Gullikson and he took off with 10 of our 14 youngsters. It took some coaxing by the ground crew to get the last four out of the pen. It also took a few circles to get all the birds up and underway and from our flyover vantage point high on a hill about 2 miles south of the pensite, we could see the trikes and the specks that were birds performing the first rodeo of the morning.

It wasn't long before the trikes and birds started to grow in size as they came closer and closer over the tree-topped ridge.  At first it appeared as if they would pass by considerably off in the distance, but as we watched several of the birds broke off and rodeo number two for the day began. Chris had the majority of the birds at one point with Brooke picking up the rest with the exception of one bird that Richard chased down and got on his wing. Then we had rodeo number three.

The crowd gathered at the flyover site benefited from the rodeo however as the circling took first one trike and then another almost directly overhead. There should be some good photos on the many cameras of the folks who gathered to see the first Whooping cranes flying the skies in Walker County.

Our last sight of the cranes and planes was watching Richard drop his one bird off to Chris, who then had 7 if we counted right. Brooke was right there as well with the other seven. By dropping his one charge off, Richard was left free to fly in the chase position just in case any others broke off or dropped out along the way.

A few sales of OM gear later the crowd dispersed and I was able to stand in what was by then brilliant sunshine, and take in the fabulous view of the countryside. Gazing out over the little valley below, I tried to imagine the sight the pilots and birds were experiencing as they zipped along up top enroute to Chilton County, AL, 58 air miles away.

We are expecting to give you two lead pilot postings later today; Brooke's from yesterday as well as one from Chris for today.

Date:December 29, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ARRIVAL WALKER COUNTY!! & DEPARTURE FLYOVERLocation: Walker Co. AL
Distance:53 milesAccumulated Distance: 755 miles
The planes and cranes are on the ground here in warm, sunny Walker County. Brooke landed with 7 birds while Richard had the other 7 - including 827 who apparently was only happy when he had lead position right off Richard's wing. We all shed our winter gear for sweatshirts or light jackets, and then they were soon replaced be even lighter clothes. What a treat.

And speaking of treats, after the amazing flyover(s) in Russellville this morning, dare we hope for as terrific a view for the folks here in Walker County tomorrow? With 31F and 0 - 5mph north winds forecast, we should be able to chalk up another migration leg in the morning.

DEPARTURE FLYOVER VIEWING INFORMATION
The site we've found is just west of CR269 and off Hwy 22, also called New Parrish Hwy. On the north side of Hwy 22 there is are two ball diamonds immediately across from the Parrish Church of the Nazarene. This spot is just east of where the railway tracks cut under the highway. The church parking lot is elevated and should make an excellent viewing location.

While we are reasonably sure we will be able to fly tomorrow morning it is important to remember that our departure is entirely weather dependent and you could make the trip for naught should there be a significant change in what is forecast. You will want to be on site no later than 7AM. If you're looking for OM merchandise or gifts, it will be available for sale at the flyover.

Date:December 29, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 63Location: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:? milesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
This morning dawned with conditions about as good as we could ask for; 32 crisp degrees, 2mph NNW winds on the ground, and although the NW winds aloft could turn out to be a bit stronger than we'd like, if the cranes and planes can find some smooth air, they'd have a nice tailwind.

With pilot Joe Duff still back in Ontario and John Martineau finished his stint as an intern, we all met to review our duties for the morning. Then, as we sipped coffee and waited for dawn, we couldn't help but wonder how the birds would respond seeing it was 16 days ago on December 12th when they last flew a migration leg.

We weren't long finding out what the day's flight held in store for us when Brooke as lead pilot dropped down by the pen to pick up his charges. I watched, along with a surprizingly large crowd of onlookers given the last minute notice of our departure, as in a flurry of wings the birds launched behind Brooke's trike.

At first reluctant, breaking off the trike and turning, they rejoined the wing as Brooke zoomed past to re-take the lead. After a few moments they reappeared, and with Brooke's red leading edge gleaming in the early morning sun, headed straight for us. Three times Brooke circled past us, one of the turns right overhead, giving those watching below - including me - a display we won't soon forget.

The last I heard over the aviation radio was that Brooke still had all 14 birds and was on course for Walker County. More from him later when he has an opportunity to write his lead pilot report.

Date: December 28, 2008 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EARLY RETURN!!! POTENTIAL MONDAY DEPARTURELocation: Franklin Co. AL
Despite standing down for the holidays, the daily weather checks continued. While we projected Tuesday, December 30 as the resumption date for the migration, it appears that Monday, December 29 has the potential to be a favorable flying day. Although a couple of team members have family commitments that will prevent them returning a day earlier than planned, the rest of us will be reunited in Russellville before the day/evening is out.

Folks interested in viewing the (hoped for) departure flyover tomorrow (Monday) should gather at the Russellville Airport's old parking lot. It is just off Hwy 243, right beside the fuel tanks.

Remember, tomorrow's departure viewing opportunity will be entirely weather dependent. This viewing opportunity will also depend on the wind direction being favorable. You will want to be on site no later than 7AM. Keep in mind you could make the early morning trip for naught it the weather/wind turns out to be unfavorable for a flight. If you're looking for OM merchandise or gifts, it will be available for sale at the flyover.

Date:December 25, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYSLocation: Wisconsin
It sure is nice to get back home to see friends and family, (and shovel snow...NOT) but the thought of missing out on good flying weather always weighs on the mind. Luckily, we likely have only missed out on one potential flying day. And this trend is unchanging as a series of storm systems continue to plague the upper mid-west.

Looking into the crystal ball - otherwise known as computer weather models - the first potential fly day appears to fall in quite nicely with our planned return to Alabama this coming weekend.

A powerful storm system sweeping across the nation late this week and over the weekend will bring freezing rain and snow to the north, and potentially severe weather to the mid-south. In its wake, high pressure builds in from the west which should give us the favorable light northerly winds and cool temps that we seek. As of this moment, both Monday and Tuesday look favorable for migrating.

Date:December 25, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz & Heather
Subject:HOLIDAY GREETINGSLocation: Alabama
To our readership, and Craniacs far and wide:

We are sincerely grateful to you for your support this past year, especially given the difficult economic times. We are proud to have been the recipient of your trust as you committed your charitable dollars - dollars that have made, and are making a positive difference in the world. We hope you will carry that commitment into the new year as we work to achieve the goal 125 Whooping cranes in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population. With the 'delivery' of the Class of 2008 to Florida we'll be 70% of the way there!

We hope that your holiday season is filled with loving times with family and friends, and that having helped safeguard a species and contributed to making world a better place, will number among the things you celebrate this festive season.

A Christmas Story
As many of you know, one member of the OM Team or another can often be found in a Wal-Mart store along our migration route. Because the stores are usually along the highway, they are easy to find, easy to maneuver our large vehicles in and out of, and invariably have most everything we might need on any given day, from milk to batteries to a replacement for a broken clamp.

At one such Wal-Mart visit a shopper spotted Brian Clauss in his distinctive OM shirt. He came over to speak to Brian, and they chatted briefly about the ultralight-led migration. As they parted, the gentleman said, "I came in here to gift shop, but I think you can put this to better use." He shook Brian's hand, slipped him a hundred dollar bill, and walked off.

To this unidentified, generous and thoughtful man, and the many other folks who have helped us and touched us in one way or another on our journey south, (too many to mention but you know who you are) we have no adequate way of thanking you. We can only hope that having 88 magnificent, wild Whooping cranes migrating in the eastern flyway will be enough.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to ALL from the OM Team and the Class of 2008!! (click this link)

Date:December 24, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ANOTHER PIECE PUT IN PLACELocation: Alabama
Along with all the preparations taking place at the St. Marks NWR, folks have been busy doing the same to ensure the pensite at the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve in Marion County is also ready for visitors.

Check the Photo Journal for pictures of the results of the efforts of Mary Barnwell (Southwest Florida Water Management District), Donna Bear-Hull and Katie Aldridge (Jacksonville Zoo), Mary Dowdell (volunteer), and Todd Mecklenborg and Billy Brooks with the USFWS.

The work of these individuals exemplifies the depth and breadth of the commitment to the Whooping crane's recovery. This reintroduction project is like a giant jigsaw puzzle and it takes many pieces in order to form the picture. Our thanks to these five hard working people for ensuring one more piece of the puzzle is fit in place.

Date:December 22, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:EXERCISE DAYLocation: Franklin Co, AL
This morning dawned clear and that means cold. After a front moves through it quite often clears out with the unhindered sky allowing any residual heat to be radiated heavenward. The cold we had wasn’t as bad as up north, but by Alabama standards it was downright frigid. 10 degrees to be exact. And that was Fahrenheit, not Celsius.

I quickly filled a jug of water to take out to the pen and drove out to check the birds. On the walk to the pen, which I tried to do quickly to warm up, I passed several miniature ice sculptures that were lying in the grass all around the pen. I’m not sure what created them, perhaps elves (it is Christmas time, after all) or they were just a result of small puddles of water, wind action and the plummeting temperatures. Whatever the cause, it lent a magical ambience to the brightening morning. And what a funny color the sky was, too. It was actually blue. Not the gray, dark gray and light gray we had become accustomed to. It was going to be a beautiful day. The winds were blowing a might hard, maybe too hard for the trikes, I tried to reassure myself anyhow.

The birds were energized by the cold temps and there was much flapping and jumping in the pen as I broke up the ice in the water buckets. I stood for awhile, shivering and trying not to let my teeth chatter too loudly, and just watched the chicks. They were so enthused, that I knew as soon as I got back to camp and thawed out, Brian and I would be coming back to let them out.

And out they came; like a shot out of a cannon. They were airborne almost before they were out of the pen and almost all of them retracted the landing gear for extra warmth. They flew and flew and were gone for quite awhile. Staying true to form 827 stayed in the pen peeping loudly, while the rest of the cohort disappeared beyond the trees. Brian soon got him out of the pen, and, he too zoomed skyward. Eventually they returned to field, lowering their legs an instant before touchdown. Some even stood with one leg tucked up for extra warmth.

We walked as one flock to a small creek and the birds began their ice skating lesson for the day. Some did quite well, while others slipped and slid across the surface. We ended the lesson early like worried young parents, and moved the flock to a hay pile to let them forage. They all eagerly attacked the hay, tossing it about as if searching for their missing mitten. They almost seemed to say “Where is my mitten? I can’t fly without my mitten.”

We encouraged them to fly one more circuit by running across the field flapping an arm. They became airborne and flew a couple of more circuits when Brian signaled me. I walked over to him and whispered, "What's up?" He pointed to his ear, then skyward. Sandhills were flying over and we didn’t want our young charges getting any ideas. Luckily, the chicks all landed around us, and with much grape tossing we got them into the pen, all the while they were looking curiously up at the sky. Soon, chickies, soon, I promise we’ll get going. But not this week, you might get run over by a sleigh full of toys being pulled by some funny looking cranes.

Date:December 22, 2008Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MileMaker Campaign UpdateLocation:Alabama

Though we haven’t exactly had continual access to televisions and the nightly newscasts, we are certainly aware of the current economic picture and realize things are a bit tougher this year for everyone. We can’t help but feel a bit guilty asking everyone that follows along through this Field Journal to do whatever you can to help us reach our MileMaker goals and get the Class of 2008 cranes all the way to their winter home in Florida.

With just a couple of weeks left in 2008 we want to remind you that you will receive a tax-deductible donation receipt for each contribution made to the MileMaker campaign and that a mile, or half, or even a quarter mile sponsorship would make a very thoughtful and lasting Christmas gift!

Currently, there are a total of 403 miles left unsponsored in the 2008 MileMaker campaign. Here’s the breakdown of the remaining miles by state:

State Total Miles Unsponsored
Wisconsin 117 SOLD OUT!!!
Illinois 338 85
Kentucky 93 31
Tennessee 109 49
Alabama 324 146
Georgia 76 6
Florida 228 186
Total miles available 403

Click here to select your mile, ½ mile, or ¼ mile

Thank you VERY much to those of you that have already sponsored miles! Many of you have selected multiple miles, and have issued challenges to encourage others to step up – for this we are most grateful.

Date:December 20, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz & Heather
Subject:THE UPSIDE OF STAYING BEHINDLocation: On the Road
We've received many emails, calls, and have read your GuestBook entries regarding those of us who have stayed behind for the holidays. Your kind words and compliments are appreciated, but you give us too much credit.

I'm sure I speak for the four of us who volunteered to carry on rather than make the trip home, when I say that we don't look at our choice as being a 'sacrifice.' The simplest way to sum things up is with an expression that has almost become a motto when it comes to acknowledging what it takes to accomplish our mission - "It's what we do."

And there are benefits of this unexpected extra time without the workload and pressures of migration. Heather and I had a wildly successful visit at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We were delighted with what we accomplished, and were invigorated by the excitement and enthusiasm of the St. Marks staff and volunteers. Can you believe they have had more than 100 volunteers helping them with the preparation of the pensite and the construction of the pen!!

Getting a firsthand glimpse into the underbrush that had to be cleared just to make a path from the nearest road - into the blind - gave us a very small indication of the enormity of what they've been able to accomplish in a few short weeks with the help of a very cooperative and dedicated group of people. The questions most often asked of us since they agreed to provide a winter haven for half of the Class of 2008 is 'what more can we do' and 'how can we help you'? We really can't thank them enough for their enthusiasm and cooperation and hope that when we do eventually deliver seven of the young cranes to them that this is thanks enough. After visiting the pensite we can't help but wonder if the cranes will even want to return north in the spring!

Now as we've begun to ever so slowly work our way back west before picking up Gerald and then turning north toward Alabama, we're taken advantage of the relief from migration pressures to visit some conservation areas and wildlife preserves. We've had an opportunity to talk with others working with endangered turtles, and picked their brains for ideas for everything from outreach and fundraising to merchandising.

Effective very shortly, other than a potential couple of outreach visits we hope to firm up for next week, we are going to have a special treat - a weekend off - something that we rarely have whether we are on migration or not. The first of the week we will be back on station in front of our computers as well as resume our 'road trip'.

We haven't been in communication, but Bev and Brian are undoubtedly enjoying their stretches of downtime. While Heather and I are considerably to the south and the beneficiaries of vastly more pleasant weather, they still have to visit the pen each morning and afternoon to do the twice daily pen checks. Of course, lucky them, they have the rest of the day and evening to tuck up somewhere warm, or do some exploring, touring or visiting.

All this is to say dear Craniacs, don't feel badly for us. "It's what we do." And we wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything.

Date:December 18, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DOWN THE ROAD A WAYLocation: St. Marks Refuge, FL
On this first ‘non-migration day’ of the 2008 Migration, this posting is coming to you from St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. Yesterday, after leaving the Class of 2008 in the capable hands of Bev and Brian who will be doing the usual down day pen checks in the morning and afternoon, Heather and I mounted up and headed out in our RV for Florida.

It was around 9PM when we arrived at the refuge last evening and it sure was good to get out and stretch our legs and backs after almost 10 hours on the road. In no time at all we had the RV set and the power hooked up. I must admit that it wasn’t much more than an hour later before we too were tucked up for the night.

At 7AM this morning we met up with Refuge Manager, Terry Peacock, and Supervisory Refuge Ranger, Robin Wills, to organize our plan of attack for the day. We started off with an orientation tour conducted by Robin of the most frequented parts of the refuge, and a visit to the St. Marks headquarters and offices -where Heather and I couldn’t resist checking out their gift shop. A couple of t-shirts later, we were back on the road headed for the Work Center and a pit stop to shed jackets etc at our RV.

Next, with Terry taking over as our escort, we scouted out several potential landing areas for the ultralights once they had dropped the birds at their wintering site. The final decision will be the pilots’ of course, and they will check the alternatives out themselves a few days in advance of the actual flight into here. Our last stops of the morning were to check out potential flyover sites for folks to gather to view the arrival of the cranes and planes as they approach St. Marks. More news on this will be posted soon.

Terry returned us to the Work Center at lunch time where the refuge staff was putting on a pot luck lunch. The good food was only surpassed by the good company as we and the friendly folks here enjoyed our meal outside on a oversized picnic table behind the Fire Center Office. Thanks to all for including us and for the delicious meal.

Now, while I’m back on ‘computer duty’, Terry has taken Heather for a drive out to the pensite for a look-see, and to take some photographs which she will undoubted post later today or tomorrow. Next on my agenda is a meeting with Lori Nicholson, St. Marks Education and Outreach specialist to discuss school programs and presentations, as well a meeting with Robin to semi-finalize arrangements for the first ever Flyover Event in the Big Bend area.

It’s likely we’ll be here at St. Marks at least for the rest of the day and evening. Then, as we wend our way back to Franklin County, Alabama, we will detour here and there to pass by some of our stopover locations so we can scout out potential flyover viewing sites. (It’s in the high 70’s here as the south is receiving some unseasonably warm weather. Hmm, think we’ll drive considerably slower going back north than we did coming south.)

Date:December 18, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:XMAS BREAKLocation: Ontario Bound
There seems to be a parade of low pressure systems all stacked up and waiting their turn to spoil our fun. This area of Alabama has suffered from a multi-year drought but it’s been wet ever since we arrived, and it isn’t going to dry out any time soon. Not that I begrudge the State some much needed rain, but I wish it hadn’t coincided with our first use of this migration route. Long range forecasts predicted that we wouldn't be able to move until next week, and even then it wouldn’t be perfect flying weather.

We depend heavily on volunteers to make this migration work but there is only so much we can ask. We knew that if the migration ran long again this year we would have to break for Christmas. The bad weather only reinforced that decision.

So we imposed on our hosts who have generously allowed us to stay even longer that we intended. They have provided us with a hangar for the aircraft, and the birds are in a safe and secluded spot. Over the last few days the team packed up and headed out in all directions. Some won’t be coming back in the New Year. They’ve already been with us for two months and used up all their relationship credits at home. The strain of missed social events, Sunday dinners and birthdays chafes against the patience of even the most tolerant of spouses.

Like everything it’s all a compromise. A wildlife reintroduction run on a shoestring budget must balance the well-being of the project against its limited resources, whether they’re financial, or the generosity of a volunteer. We will take a break now, regenerate our souls with friends and family over the Christmas season, and hope that the New Year brings us Peace on Earth - and maybe some calm winds.

Date:December 17, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STANDING DOWNLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
Last year it was December 17 and Day 66 on the road when we we looked ahead at the adverse long-range weather forecasted and called a temporary halt to the migration. This allowed most of the crew an opportunity to drive home in time to spend Christmas with their families.

Now it's December 17, 2008 - Migration Day 62 - and it appears that two weather systems moving in, one after the other, will keep us on the ground for days, and yet more days.

As a result, for the second time in eight seasons, we've decided to break the migration and stand down. Before the day is out, most of the crew will have departed for their respective home turfs. We know you join with us wishing the them safe travels as they variously head for: Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Tennessee, Florida, and Ontario.

Bev Paulan, Brian Clauss, Heather Ray and I will stay behind in Franklin County, AL with the Class of 2008. The entire team will reconvene on the 28th and 29th in anticipation of what we hope will be flying weather on December 30th.

Between Franklin County, AL and the staging area in Jefferson County, FL (where we will split the Class of 2008 in order to lead half to their wintering grounds on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge) we have 6 stopover locations: Walker, Chilton, Lowndes, and Pike Counties in Alabama, and Clay and Decatur Counties in Georgia. We are working with the folks at the St. Marks Refuge on arrangements for an Arrival Flyover in the town of St. Marks and hope to have the details ironed out before too long.

After we've left 7 of the 14 youngsters in the Class of 2008 at St. Marks, we will return to the Jefferson County staging area and depart there on the next day we are able to fly with the remaining 7 juveniles. Stopover sites from that point on include Madison and Gilchrist Counties before we reach Marion County and the Arrival Flyover event at the Dunnellon Airport. That just leaves the final leg of the migration which takes us to the Chassahowitzka NWR in Citrus County.

Of course it’s anybody’s guess as to how long it will take us to get from Franklin County, AL to Citrus County, FL once we resume. In years past we have completed the second half of the migration in as few as 11 days and as many as 42.

Postings to the Field Journal may be sporadic between now and December 28th/29th as we take advantage of the hiatus to catch up on some long pushed aside and overlooked tasks. Be sure to check here periodically however, you never know what tidbits and photos we may find to entertain you in the interim.

Date:December 16, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILL ON THE GROUNDLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
All of you folks have to be as tired of receiving weather reports instead of flying updates as we are sending them.

The cranes and planes will be ground bound for the fourth day here in Franklin County, AL. Once again we have rain and unfavorable winds. In fact, our satellite dish is also objecting to the inclement weather. We've been fussing and babying it all morning trying to get it to allow us to make a connection and uplink so we can post here. Sorry for the delay.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Franklin County, AL
The Roxy Theater in downtown Russellville once showed current movies but today is primarily used for local events, most notably, country music artist Ronnie McDowell's annual return to his hometown. McDowell made his debut in 1977 with the song "The King Is Gone", a tribute to Elvis Presley, who had died not long before the single's release. From then on McDowell has charted more than thirty Top 40 hits on the Billboard country music charts. Two of them, "Older Women" and "You're Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation," reached Number One on the country charts, and eleven more were in the Top Ten.

Date:December 16, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
As of December 13th, the estimated size of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) remains unchanged at 74; 42 males and 32 females. In the report below, * = females and DAR = Direct Autumn Release birds.

INDIANA
Greene County: 212NFT & 419*NFT, 313* & 318
Vermillion County: 401& 508*
Perry County: 408 & 519*
Gibson County: 412, 511, 512, 716*, 724, 810, DARs 746*, 837*

TENNESSEE
Meigs County: 105*NFT, 501, 402, 107*, 316, 415*NFT & 505, 420*NFT, 506, 533*, DARs 527*, 528*NFT, 737
Lawrence County: 216, DARs 831, 832*, 836, 838*

SOUTH CAROLINA
Colleton County: 311 & 312*

GEORGIA
Lowndes County: 703, 707, DARs739* and 742

ALABAMA
Morgan County: 213 & 218*, 524,
Jackson County: 509, 514

FLORIDA
Citrus County: 101
Putnam County: 703, 721*
Marion County: 516
Pasco County: DARs627NFT and 628,
Polk County: 706, 712, 713, 733
Hernando County: 709, 710, 717*, 722*, 726

LOCATION UNKNOWN
211 & 217* last recorded in Tennessee Dec. 7
303*NFT & 317 last detected in Indiana Nov.21
309* & 403, 520* last detected in Tennessee Dec. 6
310 & W601* last observed in Indiana Dec. 7
727* last observed in Kentucky Dec. 2
DAR744* last detected in Ohio Nov. 18
416NFT last observed at Necedah Oct. 10.
DAR740* last observed in Allegan County, MI Nov. 17 A ground search was conducted Dec. 8 when the area was under 1.5 feet of snow but the bird was not found. Mortality is suspected.

LONG-TERM MISSING
205NFT last observed at Necedah Oct. 2007

Report compiled from data supplied by the WCEP Tracking Team.

Date:December 15, 2008Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WINDY, WINDY, WINDYLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
This morning it is a very mild 54F, and on the ground we have 8mph winds straight out of the south with 25 to 35mph aloft.
The wind direction and velocity are merely strike one this morning, as in addition to the warmer temperature the southerly system is producing, it is also bringing light rain.

Not hard to guess that Migration Day 60 will be spent on the ground in Franklin County, AL.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the forecast is currently calling for 'right-way' 6mph ENE ground winds but 'wrong-way' SSW 15 to 20mph aloft. Far from promising.

Date:December 14, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 59Location: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
In addition to the +40mph winds aloft, we had strong enough winds on the ground through the night and this morning to make the RV feel like we're on the high seas. There'll be no planes and cranes in the air this morning, but everything that isn't nailed down around here will undoubtedly be flying today.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Franklin County, AL
In 1814 the Alabama Territorial Legislature named a large tract of land in Northwest Alabama Franklin County in honor of Benjamin Franklin. The land was once home to several Indian Tribes - Chickasaws, Creeks and Cherokees.

After the War of 1812, the U.S. government appropriated money to improve a route from Nashville to New Orleans. It was named Jackson's Military Road after Andrew Jackson. It passed through Russellville, the town that was to become the Franklin County Seat. The town is named after Major William Russell, an early settler in the area who helped in the construction of the road.

Date:December 13, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:THE HERO IN RICHARDLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
To some people, this project epitomizes all that is good about conservation. We work with a highly endangered species; one of the most beautiful birds in North America, made even more precious by its rarity. We dress in costumes to interact with them on their own level, and even get to fly with them fulfilling, what for some, is a lifelong dream.

Some of those people are so enamored with this project that they often refer to us as, 'wildlife heroes'. None of us take the accolade seriously. It's not like we are risking our lives or defending our country like the real heroes in the Middle East. But once in a while, when things get tough, there is a little hero in some of us.

Yesterday morning the birds were penned in a little valley, and the wind rolled over the hills to cause what is known as mechanical turbulence down low. It was Richard’s turn to lead and I wasn't envious as he landed on the frosty grass and prepared to launch. All but one bird came out of the pen, and off Richard went fighting the wing to keep it as steady as possible so the birds could follow it. About a mile out and two or three hundred feet up he hit another turbulent layer and the birds broke up. First one, then another turned back and he circled to pick them up.

The one bird that stayed in the pen was 827. The ground crew managed to shoo him out, and he took off in pursuit of his flock mates. I was flying chase and dropped in to pick him up just as Richard made his turn. I led 827 to the south and began to climb. It's far easier with only one bird, and it wasn’t long before we reached the smooth air at over 800 feet.

The winds up high were strong out of the north, but I didn’t want to get too far away so I turned back to wait for the rest. Heading into the wind our progress slowed to only 12 miles per hour as we watched Richard struggling below. For over an hour we circled above, working our way north, then tuning south to blast back.

For that entire time Richard collected the birds and turned them on course only to have them break again. He passed over the pen at least 5 times while the ground crew blew their air horns and paraded the Swamp Monsters. He would get them a few miles away and then have to chase them back.

The aircraft we fly are called weight-shift control because you actually move the weight of the aircraft under the wing to make it turn. That’s easy in calm air, but when it’s rough you struggle with the wing, pulling on it like a windsurfer in heavy seas. It’s hard enough at normal speed, but becomes a real challenge when you slow the aircraft to the point of falling so the birds can catch up.

As the morning progressed the turbulence increased, while Richard repeated the same scenario. He’d intercept the flock, get them settled on the wing, turn them on course and then have to chase them as they tried to go back to the pen.

There is a point when frustration and fatigue finally beat the optimist out of you, and it’s time to give it up; but just as we reached that juncture the birds broke once more - but this time they split into two groups. Six birds formed on Richard’s wing and slowly began to climb. Brooke dropped in to pick up the others and manage to collect 3. Chris tried to lead the remaining 4 birds, but after an hour and six minutes, they'd had enough and they landed in a field a few miles from the starting point. Chris circled until Brian arrived, then he took off the catch us.

Richard’s climb was slow. He banged around just above the trees for another 20 minutes before finally reaching calm air. Brooke was off to the right and climbing well, while number 827 and I watched from above.

803 was flying at the back of the line and not getting much benefit from the wing. After an hour and 20 minutes airborne he decided it was time to quit and started to drop. Richard lost most of his precious altitude trying to retrieve him, but finally just had to let him go. 827 and I dropped down to see if 803 would follow us, but he was determined to land.

Chris managed to catch us by then and he took over the care of 803 while 827 and I tried to regain the altitude we'd lost. We flew up a valley and through some air so rough that I left the seat several times, giving me sense of what Richard had experienced for an hour. 827 seemed to sense the seriousness of the situation and stayed close to the wing. We found some lift and circled four times to gain altitude. With each rotation it became smoother and we finally turned on course again at 2200 feet. With 20 miles to go we listened to Chris relay coordinates to the top cover aircraft so they could tell the tracking van where number 803 had landed.

As we passed into Alabama, the snow accumulation on the ground increased until everything below us was white. I knew the ground crew back behind us would have a tough time moving our trucks and trailers over snow covered roads.

After 2 hours and 17 minutes we landed with nine birds on crusty snow over wet grass. For a time we thought we would have to turn back and wait for another day, but the hero in Richard pulled us through.

Date:December 13, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATELocation: Franklin Co. AL
Tom Stehn, Whooping crane coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, advised that the third aerial census of the season was completed December 5. Once again USFWS observers, Tom, and Carey Strobel were flown by pilot Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions out of Castroville, TX.

The third census turned up 229 Whooping cranes, 37 fewer than the previous one conducted November 25. Heavily overcast skies reduced visibility making it difficult to spot the cranes throughout the 8 hour flight. (198 adults and 31 young) “Experience indicates that only 85-90% of the flock can usually be located when skies are a thick overcast,” said Stehn, “and this was definitely the case on December’s census.”

“For the second week in a row, only 2 family groups were located on Welder Flats,” he said. “This makes me postulate that the 4 family groups seen at Welder Flats on the November 14th flight may have cranes that had recently arrived and later moved on to other parts of the crane range. Thus, I cannot add two family groups on to the estimated flock size as I had done after the November 25th flight. Therefore, the current estimated flock size is 230 adults + 40 juveniles for a total of 270. I expect to confirm a record number of Whooping cranes at Aransas this winter, but the flock will probably experience additional mortality.”

Tom noted that his numbers are estimates only, and that the current estimated population total is lower than his previous estimate of 275. He said that future flights would focus on determining the number of juveniles present and total flock size. He also noted that more birds were still in the migration flyway.

Tom told us he picked up a very emaciated whooping crane from near a water hole by the refuge boat ramp on December 1. The crane died while he was driving it to a veterinarian in Port Lavaca. The remains were shipped to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI for necropsy. The crane was an extremely emaciated 2-yr-old sub-adult male with a bad left ‘knee’. Stehn said that organisms were being cultured from the knee to see if it was so badly infected that it could have been making the bird very sick and limiting its food intake. Apparently there were no other indication of disease, although additional tests are being conducted. A Whooping crane observed in Saskatchewan in the fall migration with a severe limp of the left leg could have been the bird that died at Aransas.

Talking about sightings near Aransas, Tom said that, “Whooping cranes are showing up in unusual places this fall, presumably related to food shortages and the need to seek fresh water to drink.” He reported that 14 different Whooping cranes had been reported at wild game feeders so far this fall.

“Food sources for Whooping cranes seem very low this winter, primarily due to the summer drought,” said Tom. A blue crab count conducted by refuge volunteer Katherine Cullen on December 1st found only one crab in an hour of walking through the marsh.” Tom said that observations by the tour boat captains during the first week in December noted some blue crabs were still available for the cranes, however, only a few wolfberry fruits and flowers were seen during the crab count, and follow-up searches that this year’s wolfberry crop was lower than normal.

Date:December 13, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:IF AT FIRST YOU DON'T SUCCEEDLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
When we checked the weather sites this morning conditions were not all that great: 23F, 2mph out of the SSE, partly cloudy skies. Aloft it showed that the SSW winds blowing 10 to 15mph.

Not the most favorable conditions to say the least, as a result the pilots decided to put a test trike up. Shortly after sunrise, in front of the large crowd gathered in the frosty cold hoping to see the departure, all four trikes took to the air. It was only minutes before the bad news came down to us over the radio. "Tell the folks we're going nowhere," said Chris. "We've got at least an 18mph headwind up here and we're coming down."

Joe and Chris landed and taxied their trikes up to the parking lot gate to give folks a close look at their aircraft and to talk and answer questions people had. Brooke and Richard did the same for some other folks at the other side of the airport parking lot.

It certainly was rewarding for us to see the great interest people in Alabama, and Franklin County in particular, showed by turning out so early on a shivery Saturday morning. This is in no small part due to the efforts of Mr. Bill Pugh, and Mr. Harry Mattox, both with the Russellville Airport. They've anxiously kept in touch with us every day for more than two weeks, and have done a terrific job of putting the word out locally, both individually and through their contacts with local media. Thanks fellas!

Chris Gullikson, our resident weather guru, says he's not optimistic for our chances of a flight tomorrow (Sunday). In fact he said he wouldn't lay odds on our being able to depart before Tuesday. That doesn't mean we won't be trying; if at first you don't succeed.....

Date:December 12, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORTLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:57 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
The past week brought a whole new meaning to the term "wind dummy."  As you may recall, last Saturday we flew with the birds in rough air for 30 minutes before deciding to give up and try another day. Then we got airborne on Sunday, and wisely decided again that it was too rough - albeit this time without the birds' input.

Well this morning, after sitting on the ground for a week, we decided to try yet again. With calmer but not perfect air, I landed in the valley, turned on the vocalizer, gave the thumbs up and we were off. 827 hung back in the pen again but the other 13 birds quickly formed up on the wing, and it seemed for a moment it would be another routine flight... NOT!

Once we climbed to 300 feet we were met with rougher than expected air and the chicks seemed reluctant to climb higher. They soon broke off and headed back. Banking the trike quickly I chased them down and soon had them formed up again - only in the wrong direction. Slowly and ever so carefully we turned on course down the valley trying to gain altitude. Soon they turned away, and again giving hot pursuit I quickly had them back on my wing.

This time we ventured further away, trying to keep them distracted from going back to the pen area. But still they turned as they were hit by more buffeting air. It was like they were on a yo-yo string attached to the tip of the wing; they would get flung away and then come back repeatedly.

Back and forth we went until at last they seemed to follow yet another time, but then slowly, one by one, they turned away. Six chicks stuck by me. Three went to Brooke. While four others landed in a nearby field. With the ever so tardy 827 following Joe.

By that time we had been airborne for over an hour so we decided to continue with what birds we had. Chris tried in vain to get the other four to fly with him. When they would not the ground crew was called in to pick them up.

As we headed on course, Brooke and Joe were able to climb to calm air, while I continued the battle for more altitude. At some point we did reach the calm air, but 803 kept flying under the wing and seemed to be tiring. Again, more back and forth - I would go down get 803 on the wing then come back up, so it became a routine of rough air below and smooth air above. Until slowly we began to lose what we had gained and were unable to regain smooth air.

At about 23 miles from our destination 803 set up a glide and quickly lost altitude. With the other five birds also beginning to show signs of fatigue, I knew that they too were at risk of landing out. Always a firm believer that five birds in the air are worth more than six on the ground, I continued on while Chris gave coordinates to Brian of where 803 had landed.

As we climbed the rough air came up higher to greet us. The hills and valleys below were now covered in snow and the chicks stood out stark and crisp in the morning light as they were trounced around in the air behind the trike now in slow descent to keep them interested in following. After what seemed an eternity we were on approach for the snow covered field. Sliding to a stop we sat there a moment appreciating the safe landing. While Chris and Brooke put their trikes away Joe and I walked the birds to a small pond for some well deserved playtime, however, the water was covered in a thin, clear layer of ice. One chick walked out onto the ice, skidding across it, flailing its feet in a peddling backwards motion before breaking through and regaining its footing, then one by one the others tried it as well with equal awkwardness. This provided great comic relief for Joe and I as we struggled not to laugh out loud at them.

We soon convinced them to leave the small pond and walked them to a nearby larger pond without ice, where one by one they proceeded to take a bath. Ducking their heads underwater in an awkward stroking fashion, flailing their wings and crouching down they were soon wet all over. After a few minutes of this they began preening themselves, shaking their wings out vigorously.

Chris and Brooke soon arrived and changed places with us, to allow Joe and I to put our trikes away and wait for the ground crew to arrive with the pen and the drop out birds, which were arriving in crates. To our previous hosts both at the airport and at the pensite -- Thank you for your warm hospitality!!!

Date:December 12, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:DEPARTURE FLYOVER VIEWING LOCATIONLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Distance:57 milesAccumulated Distance: 702 miles
While we wait for Richard to write his lead pilot's report, we can give you the flyover location info. While we tried for the perfect spot, (thanks for your help Bill and Johnny) the terrain and the trees just wouldn't cooperate. As a result, the kind folks at the Russellville Airport have agreed to allow us to use a part of their property for the flyover viewing location.

The viewing location will be the old airport parking lot. It is just off Hwy 243, right beside the fuel tanks. You will want to be on site no later than 7am - and remember to dress warmly. Also remember that you could make the early morning trip for naught it the weather/wind turns out to be unfavorable for a flight.

Date:December 12, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 57Location: Enroute
Distance:? milesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
After days of rain, and we do mean rain, this morning's skies were clear. The temperature is a nippy 27F and the winds on the ground are 5mph out of the NNW. Around projected arrival time at our next stopover location in Franklin County, AL, the forecast is for it to be almost identical; 32F and 6mph out of the NW. Aloft we had readings of NW 15 to 20mph. Not easy but hopefully doable.

All that is to say that we're going to give it a go. Richard is again lead pilot, and here's hoping the third attempt will be the charm to get us out of Hardin County, TN and on our way.

I typed the preceding paragraphs just before we all left camp for our respective positions - mine being the flyover site. Along with a good sized group of new Craniacs, I watched Richard's first of many attempts at departing. 827 pulled his usual trick of hanging back in the pen and was eventually picked up and once again had his 'own trike'. Then we watched as the birds broke from Richard's wing - repeatedly. They would disappear from sight only to reappear headed back down the valley toward the pen.

The Swamp Monster, air horns, and truck horns were all pressed into service to discourage them from landing. For more than an hour the pilots fought to keep the birds on the wing. It looked like each time, there was one bird that was doing the breaking off and leading the other birds away.

The crowd had dispersed and I was waiting for a ride back to camp when - oh oh - first top cover, and then a trike came back into view. They were still having problems persuading the birds to follow. Richard's lead pilot report will undoubtedly be something to read when he gets to it later today.

At last word, at least four birds were down in a nearby field and Brian Clauss in the tracking van had raced to their coordinates. The ground crew is on their way to retrieve the errant four. They will be crated and taken to the next stopover by road. As far as we know at this moment, the rest of the Class of 2008 are split between the pilots and on their way, although the birds are still giving them a bit of a hard time. More news when we reach the other end. Whew, we'll all be glad when this leg is behind us.

Date:December 11, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:NO BATTERIES REQUIREDLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
After all these years there are two things that still amaze me about this project. The first is that we sold the idea to the Federal Government. A small Canadian non-profit with a big idea and no academic credibility convinced the US Fish and Wildlife Service that they should trust one of their most endangered species to a team of ultralight pilots. Still today the dedication of this team and all the WCEP partners plus our stopover hosts and our supporters is humbling.

For me, the second most fascinating aspect of this reintroduction is the mysterious ability of the birds to make it back to Necedah on their own, and in record time. In fact, the idea of accurate, long distance migration is so incredible that it was only recently believed. As late as the mid 1800’s it was thought that birds buried themselves in the mud over the winter like the frogs. Other people thought they transformed themselves into winter birds or even went to the moon during the colder months.

It took us three months to lay out this new migration route. Bev and Brooke flew it four times in her Cessna and drove back and forth to identify safe stopover sites. We produced maps, contact information sheets and Google Earth photographs. Each aircraft is fitted with a pre-programmed GPS, and the ground crew use mapping software to find their way, yet the birds return each spring to the very place it all started without the aid of paper or electronics.

The mechanisms of avian navigation are the subject of lots of research and different species may use varied methods. Although it seems critically important for our birds to make the migration under their own steam, we know that they don’t use landmarks. Often the conditions on the way south are too hazy for them to see more than a few miles, and on the return trip they regularly veer a hundred miles off the course we showed them.

In 1997 we led Sandhill cranes from Ontario, Canada to Virginia. To avoid overflying open water we went round the eastern end of Lake Ontario and southwest to Virginia. On their return trip, the birds headed straight north on a direct line for home. When they encountered the southern shore of the lake they went around it to the west. Their track was shorter than ours, and at least 250 miles from the route we had showed them four months earlier.

Forty years ago it was demonstrated that some birds and fish can use magnetic fields as a navigation aid, but just how that works it still unknown. A variant of iron called magnetite can be found in the beaks of some species. It’s possible that it works like wetting your finger to determine the wind direction. Maybe they can feel a sensation on one side of their beak or the other when it is pointed cross-grain to the earth’s magnetic field.

This would tell the birds which direction is north, but not how far it is to home or when they are getting close. In other words, it would give them longitude but not latitude, and both are critical for accurate navigation. The earth’s magnetic field extends perpendicular from the poles and bends around until they are horizontal to the surface at the equator. If that angle could be measured at a specific spot, the latitude could be determined. With that knowledge birds could figure out their exact location.

They wouldn’t have the reasoning powers to calculate a flight path from anywhere, but they could follow a path that is familiar to them. That could explain how they can make the return migration on their own but not the original trip south. It would also make sense of the fact that our birds have wandered east as far as Vermont and west to North Dakota; they have short stopped in Illinois and Indiana, but never ventured too far north. They seem to have a strong understanding of latitude.

Recent research at Oxford University has identified a molecule that reacts to very weak magnetic fields. This work was done in a lab, but a molecule with similar structure and chemistry has been isolated from the eyes of some migratory birds. It is a long way from fact yet, but it might be possible that this molecule reacts the same way and changes shape when exposed to light and magnetic fields.

Maybe some birds can see the magnetic fields like the pattern of wood grain on a table top, or a shift in color from one direction to another. Maybe they can perceive direction the way we can see the current in a slow moving stream or footprints across wet grass when they are backlit.

Whatever method they use it is humbling when it takes us on average, 65 days to lead them south using all the technology available, and they make it back in a week, no batteries required.

Date:December 11, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILL IN TENNESSEE'S CLUTCHESLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance:645 miles
Tennessee just won't let go. The RV's are rocking in the 18mph wind. Aloft it's blowing plus 40mph. It will be Down Day #6 here in Hardin County, but...if the weatherman lives up to his forecast, we won't have a 7th, as tomorrow is looking very promising.

Assuming the forecast remains unchanged, it is likely that at the very least we will be putting up a test trike in the morning to check the winds at altitude. We are thinking/hoping it will be good enough for a flight, so folks who would like to witness a departure flyover should plan on an early morning.

Here's the flyover location info: The viewing location is 13780 Hwy 69 South, Savannah, TN. Use the entrance marked 'North Gate' and follow the road in and to the right going down the hill. Turn right at the bottom of the hill at the sign saying "Watermelon Hill" and proceed up the hill to the viewing stands. You will want to be on site by 7am - and remember to dress warmly.

(Note to Media: For those of you trying to reach us by phone for information or interviews, our location is in a bit of a cell signal 'black hole'. If you'd like to contact us, please email your telephone number and contact info to liz@operationmigration.org and I will go to a better reception area and call you.)

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Hardin County, TN
David Robinson built the Cherry Mansion at 264 Main Street in Savannah circa 1830. He presented the home as a wedding gift to this daughter and son-in-law, W.H. Cherry. Typical of an old southern mansion it overlooks a river, in this case the beautiful Tennessee River. The home served as headquarters for General U.S. Grant in the spring of 1862 during the Civil War. Couriers interrupted Grant's breakfast there with the news that the Battle of Shiloh had begun.

Date:December 10, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 55Location: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
True yesterday's forecast, we had a very wet Tuesday. By evening, lashing, heavy rain was accompanied by crashing thunder and shots of lightening. While the winds accompanying that system have swung around to the come out of the NNW, and by 6AM this morning had dropped to 12mph on the ground and 20mph aloft, it was not enough to make it acceptable for the cranes and planes.

Compounding the too strong winds, yesterday's high of 58F fell to 38F this morning, and the temperature change produced patchy fog. It will be Down Day #5 in Hardin County, Tennessee.

(Note to Media: For those of you trying to reach us by phone for information, interviews, photos or video, our location is in a bit of a cell signal 'black hole'. To get in touch, please email your request along with your telephone number and other contact info to liz@operationmigration.org and I will go to a location with better reception and call you.)

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Hardin County, TN
Myles Horton (July 5, 1905 - January 19, 1990) from Savannah was an American educator, socialist and cofounder of the Highlander Folk School, famous for its role in the Civil Rights Movement. Horton taught and heavily influenced most of the era's leaders. They included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks (who studied with Horton shortly before her decision to keep her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955), John Lewis, James Bevel, Bernard Lafeyette, Ralph Abernathy, John B. Thompson, and many others.

Date:December 9, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILL DOWNLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
We got the triple whammy this morning, Migration Day 54.

The trees are whipping back and forth in the SSE 16mph ground winds; a system bringing rain and the possibility of isolated thunderstorms has moved in; and aloft the winds are howling at +50mph.

After that summary it is undoubtedly stating the obvious to say that we will be spending a fourth day on the ground in Hardin County, TN.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Hardin County, TN
Notables calling Savannah home are Major League Baseball player Chad Harville, Christian singer Geron Davis, and country singer Darryl Worley. He made his Grand Ole Opry debut in June 2003. "Have You Forgotten" was inspired by the events of the 911 attacks and received a Country Music Association nomination for single of the year. In early 2008, Worley signed to Stroudavarious Records, releasing the single "Tequila on Ice" in June, but the song didn't chart until the week of October 4th where it debuted at #56 on the Hot Country Songs.

Date:December 8, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:DOWN DAY 3Location: Hardin Co., TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles

With a good solid headwind out of the south this morning, it was down day number 3 here in Hardin County, TN and that meant time to let the birds out for exercise. Even though the birds flew behind the trikes for a short flight on Saturday and Sunday, the decision was made to fly them again today. The weather forecast is not very good, in fact down right nasty, for the next couple of days. Rain and thunderstorms are headed our way, so today was the only opportunity.

Or little intrepid group of handlers headed down to the pen this morning and while I stood at the end of the field, and Heather hid in the tall grass to capture some images, Brooke Walt and Gerald walked the remaining 300 yards to the pen to prep it for release. All the birds shot out of the pen once the gates were opened as if they were saying, “what took you guys so long, we’ve gotta fly.”

I stood at the end of the pen field which is actually only a third of the way down a small valley and flapped the arm of my baggy costume to encourage the chicks to fly. They were so anxious to go, that by the time they were down to my end, they were all well above my head and in formation heading south. I watched as all 14 flew down the valley and out of site and while half of me secretly wished for them to keep going to Florida, the other half started to panic at not seeing them anymore.

After what seemed an eternity, especially since I was holding my breath, I spied the chicks in the distance coming our way. They once again flew over my head back towards the pen. After circling several times, they set their wings and came in for a landing around the guys. It was a warm morning (relatively speaking of course) at 40 degrees and the birds needed a break from their vigorous exercise. Much flapping and jumping moved through the flock and soon they were once again airborne. This flight was much shorter and they came back very quickly.

We allowed the chicks to forage for awhile and found turkey feathers for them to play with. We noticed the wind coming up so decided to put the chicks away. They eagerly followed, chasing after the grapes and cranberries we tossed in front of them. After counting beaks and recounting beaks to make sure all 14 were safely in the pen, we closed the gate and slowly walked away to continue our day. (Photos)

Date:December 7, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:OLD FRIENDSLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
Based on the terrain we have been flying over, the new route is certainly safer than our old path over the mountains. If we have a problem, or must land with a bird, there are plenty of options. The one major draw back however is that we miss the stopover hosts that we no longer see. Over the years we have become friends with many of them, and are now restricted to staying in touch through emails.

Al and Pat Roush are longtime supporters, stopover hosts, and friends from Indiana who let us take over their property for days at a time. We will all miss seeing them this year. Al wrote us a letter recently and gave us a hint of what our project has meant to him. I thought we would share it with you.

Hello Old Friends,
     Just a note to let you know I met some other old friends yesterday while birding in southwestern Indiana. Actually, there were six old friends sighted south of Linton, Indiana. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see these migrating Whooping Cranes who started their migrating adventures in their youth by spending some time visiting at our house. By accident, we spotted the first pair at about 100 feet, and we moved away quickly to avoid disturbing them. The male was a huge magnificent creature with a very intense warning stare. I just wish Pat had been with us, she would have wanted to give them a big hug.
     I want to thank Operation Migration for allowing my family to participate in this extraordinary experiment to help this great bird expand it’s range. Hope to see ya in Florida.
Al Roush


All of us on the OM Team will miss all of our friends along the old migration route, but I can’t think of a better gift to leave behind as a small thank you.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Hardin County, TN
In recent years the city of Savannah as well as the county have experienced rapid growth in industry and commerce. Upscale businesses have begun establishing large stores in the town and heavy industry has moved in. One of them utilizes massive amounts of timber, leading to concerns of over-logging the area. The larger firms operating out of Hardin County are American Food Service Co. - custom restaurant equipment, Clayton Homes, Inc. - mobile homes, Packaging Corp of America - kraft linerboard, and Praxis - fiberglass & acrylic showers/tubs.

Hardin County has its own airport, notable for having the world's first thin-white top coating over its runway, allowing much heavier aircraft to land

Date:December 7, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AND YET ANOTHER 'ALMOST'Location: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 MilesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
This morning we woke to 25F under partly cloudy skies with 6mph winds out of the north, gusting to almost 10mph on the ground. Aloft, we saw they'd have 25 to 30mph north winds to contend with.

Our concern was, that although we had favorable winds, they might be a tad too powerful. Regardless, the pilots headed to the airport where the trikes were hangared. The rest of us all headed for our respective positions, all the while wondering if the favorable, but strong winds, would: a) make the flight impossible; b) make it a miserable one for both cranes and planes; c) afford them them a beneficial tailwind.

And after watching the test trike flying over the viewing area and the little valley near where the birdpen is tucked away, the answer was a). A flight in the winds we have today is not a possibility. Richard was testing the air, and the group gathered to view the flyover watched the little trike sway and bounce like mad below the wing. The other pilots were reporting they too were experiencing rock and roll in the trashy air, regardless of what altitude they flew at.

Everyone is back on the ground now and those of us 'ground bound' folks are busy undoing all the morning's departure preparations. It will be a disappointed migration team gathered around the breakfast table in an hour or so. And when we took a quick look at the forecast it bore no good news to offset the disappointment. At the moment the weatherman is promising us wrong-way winds, followed by a system with some rain.

Unless something changes, we could be spending another day or two here in Hardin County, TN.

Date:December 6, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ANOTHER 'ALMOST'Location: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
26F this morning and mostly cloudy. The winds were 4mph out of the SSW and 25 to 30 mph ESE aloft; not out of the right direction, but enough to tempt the pilots into putting a test trike up.

We stood at the viewing site with a small group of folks listening on the aviation radio to the pilots discussing the possibility of a flight. After much talk and thought, their decision was to give it a try.

Richard was lead pilot this morning and he got aloft with 13 of the 14 birds. Joe, in first chase position, went in to pick up the one bird that had been slow to come out of the pen. Those gathered to watch got some terrific photos of all the trikes as they flew past the elevated viewing platform at the Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge.

Everyone had dispersed by the time the call came notifying us that the cranes and planes were turning back. The birds were resisting flying into the winds they were encountering. As a result, I had a double viewing this morning - one going and one coming back. A treat sure, but one I would rather have done without.

Tomorrow is looking very promising for a flight. At the moment they are forecasting 18F, with 6mph out of the north and 25mph out of the NW aloft. Those wanting to see the spectacle of modern aircraft leading an ancient species should take advantage of the great viewing location we have for you here in Hardin County. See Entry 3 for yesterday (below) for the location.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Hardin County, TN
Hardin County was named for Col. Joseph Hardin, a former territorial legislator and North Carolina state legislator. The population is about 30,000 and its seat is Savannah.

Most of the economy of the county is based on tourism with extensive use of the state parks and campsites that dot Hardin County leading to a threat to the environment. The county has attempted to market itself as an attractive place for riverside developers to establish large-scale upper class communities. These tend to be clustered along Pyburn Drive, and Highway 57 adjacent to the Tennessee River.

Date:December 5, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:HARDIN COUNTY, TN DEPARTURE FLYOVER VIEWING OPLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:120 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
The kind folks at Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge in Savannah, TN are allowing us to use their viewing area for a departure flyover.

While we aren’t sure if we’ll have flying weather tomorrow morning, it’s likely that we will be putting a test trike up to see if there is any possibility of us advancing another migration leg to stopover # 15 in Franklin County, Alabama. Failing our being able to fly Saturday morning, the long range forecast looks promising for Sunday morning.

The viewing location is 13780 Hwy 69 South, Savannah, TN. Use the entrance marked “North Gate” and follow the road in and to the right going down the hill. Turn right where the sign says Watermelon Hill and proceed up the hill to the viewing stands.

You will want to be on site by sunrise - approximately 6:50-7:00AM and don't forget to dress warmly. Also remember, that you could make the trip for naught if it turns out that conditions are such that the cranes and planes are unable to fly.

Assuming we can fly, there will be a crew member at the viewing site to meet and chat with those gathered.

Date:December 5, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:WE'VE REACHED HALF WAY!!Location: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:120 milesAccumulated Distance: 645 miles
Seems like the theme of this migration this year has been COLD. I don’t recall having had so many flights where the temperature has been in the teens and low 20’s. But as they say, “That’s what we do.”

We all donned our cold weather flying gear and headed south to the airport where our trikes safely lay in wait under cover of a generously provided hangar. Our flight back north to the pen was a little over 10 miles, and having a wind out of the north meant we had a 20 minute flight just to get to the birds. Staying down low gave us a little better ground speed and I was able to pass low over the church parking lot where a large crowd had gathered to watch us fly.

The pen was setup on the west end of a large soybean field. I landed to the west, spun around and gave the thumbs up to the costumed ground crew. The cranes charged out of the pen, except for 827 who thought the doors would be opening on the other side of the pen. I blasted off and carved a low 360 turn to the right, overflying the pen and picking up 27 who finally found the door thanks to Bev.

Turning south and flying through a gap in the tree line, we began a slow accent. 804 never got on the wing of the trike and quickly dropped back and below me. Richard was in perfect position to pick him up so I continued on with 13 birds instead of circling back for him.

Within a few minutes I had the church in view where a crowd had braved the chill and stood watching us approach from a field. I passed overhead at about 400 feet waving back to the folks who had driven from all reaches of the globe just to see me in my magical flying machine. (Just kidding, but Thank You very much for coming out to see our flyover and I hope you all got a great view!!)

This year’s cohort is flying fantastically this year, and I was amazed at their ability to climb with me. We soon had 1000 feet of altitude and just kept on climbing, encouraged by Joe’s promise of a faster groundspeed above 2000 feet. We kept going, passing through an inversion layer at about 2800 feet above ground level where the temperature finally began to warm slightly.

We had a low of 13 degrees according to Jack in the top cover plane and my frozen toes concurred. I eventually got to 3500 feet above ground level, but dropped back down to 3000 feet as I lost a few MPH due to a change in wind speed. We averaged about 57mph and decided that we could easily skip a site despite my habit of wandering off course to go check out interesting sites along the way.

As expected, a couple of birds had retracted their landing gear to help conserve heat, especially those at the front of the line who were doing very little work as they effortlessly surfed the vortex of air created by the aircrafts wing. I was able to keep myself a little bit warm as I was continually turning my body from side to side to look behind me. The birds were fairly evenly distributed on each wing, allowing me to climb a bit faster than I could have had they all been on one wing.

It was a beautiful flight going over the rolling hills of western Tennessee, heavily wooded but interspersed with many welcome fields in the event one of us needed to make a landing. On a warmer day I would have loved this flight to continue, but I was chilled, and 2 hours and 22 minutes after take-off, we had our 14 cranes back on the ground after a long flight of about 120 miles (plus a few more from my wanderings). The air was rather turbulent down low as the thermals were building and wind was blowing over the valleys.

Brian Clauss was in the tracking van and pulling the travel pen trailer. We easily pulled ahead of him with our groundspeed and he was further delayed by road construction and a detour. We were able to enjoy hanging out with the birds in an open field for an hour before getting word that Brian was 5 minutes away.

Brooke, Joe and I led the birds off to a nearby creek out of view of the pen. After the birds settled down and began exploring their new surroundings, Joe and I slipped off to help Richard and Brian set the pen up. Thirty minutes later, Joe went in to signal to Brooke that the pen was ready while I stood out in the field next to the pen. The birds walked out into the clearing and decided to fly the 200 yards to the pen instead of walking. Once aloft, they likely discovered a bit of free lift and soon they were out of sight, gaining altitude in the thermally air.

What seemed like two hours (in reality was probably 10 minutes) the cranes reappeared from the rim of the valley, their landing gear down and they soon rejoined us on the ground. We silently thanked them for returning, none of really wanting to go back up into the trashy air to herd them back.

We are just getting back from moving the trikes to a nearby airport where once again we have our aircraft safely inside a spacious hangar. I can’t say enough about the generosity of all our wonderful supporters on this project!! Looking into the crystal ball, tomorrow looks like we will have a bit of a headwind component to deal with. We will likely put a trike up in the air if it’s calm enough to test our groundspeed and make a last minute decision if we can go. However, Sunday looks more promising with north winds giving us a favorable push.

Date:December 5, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 50 - WE'RE IN THE AIR!Location: Enroute
Distance:? MilesAccumulated Distance: ? miles
25F this morning with winds at 4mph out of the north. Temp, wind velocity, wind direction, along with the partly overcast skies combined to present us with a potentially great fly day. If the currently 5mph north winds aloft hold, the cranes and planes could have a nice little tailwind to help them out this morning. Might it mean we'll be able to overfly a stop? The pilots will make that call as they approach our next planned stopover which is in Carroll County, TN. And we just received word (826AM CST) that this is the case.

Today's lead pilot, Chris Gullikson, along with Joe, Brooke and Richard, and top cover pilot Jack Wrighter with spotter Gerald Murphy, were the first to leave camp, to drive to the ten miles to the airfield where their aircraft were stored. While they were in the air to return to the pensite, the rest of the crew - me included - also left camp now to get in position; the ground crew to the pensite and me to the flyover location.

The launch was good one with all 14 birds but one rushing out of the pen, anxious to take to the air. At last word, Chris had 13 birds on his wing, while Richard had the 14th. Our next Field Journal posting will be coming to you from Tennessee!

Date:December 4, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TOO MUCHLocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 525 miles
Once again we have too much of a good thing. At sunrise it was 28F under clear skies and the wind was out of the north. But at +13mph on the ground and more importantly, +25mph aloft, the wind was packing too much muscle for the cranes and planes. As a result, today will be day five on the ground in Marshall County, KY.

A look at the forecast for Friday however, makes us believe we should be able to get in the air tomorrow morning and make it into Tennessee. With that hope, we remind folks of the departure flyover viewing location here in Marshall County. Here's a repeat of our previously posted flyover information.

MARSHALL COUNTY DEPARTURE FLYOVER
The viewing spot will be in front of the Lighthouse Missionary Baptist Church on CR1264 (also known as Flat Road) which is off Hwy 402 (previously called Hwy 80). CR1264 (Flat Road) is between Jackson School Road and Wilkins Road. We suggest you use MapQuest or GoogleMaps to come up with driving directions to it from your home location.

Remember to park your vehicles well off the road and please be respectful of private property. You will want to be on site by sunrise - approximately 6:50-7:00AM and don't forget to dress warmly. Also remember, that you could make the trip for naught if it turns out that conditions are such that the cranes and planes are unable to fly.

Assuming we can fly, there will be a crew member at the viewing site to meet and chat with those gathered, as well as offer those interested an opportunity to purchase some OM Gear - at reduced 'Flyover Event' prices. For a preview of the merchandise available at the flyover, click here.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Marshall County, KY
Kaintuck Territory was a theme park located near Benton during the 1960s and 70s. It was largely conducted around an Old West theme. The hourly gunfights were little vignettes of the Wild West, complete with people shot off roofs. It had a steam train, a stagecoach ride, variety acts such as knife throwing, ventriloquists and magicians, a silent movie palace, a funhouse and Country music concerts.

The venue was a natural amphitheater seating ten thousand people, with performances on three stages. In 1976 the Bicentennial Theater was added to Kaintuck Territory, where musical acts including the Statler Brothers, Barbara Mandrell, Billy "Crash" Craddock, Jerry Lee Lewis, Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap , Conway Twitty, Ernest Tubb, The Monkees, and the Oak Ridge Mountain Boys appeared there.

Date:December 3, 2008 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: EVERGLADES DEAL BEING READJUSTEDLocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 525 miles
Excerpt from Birding Community E-bulletin

In a July issue, Birding Community E-bulletin described an impending deal where the U.S. Sugar Corporation, the USA’s largest producer of cane sugar, would sell 187,000 acres of property (or about 300 square miles) in the northern Everglades to the state of Florida for $1.75 billion.

Last month it was announced that the company slimmed down the deal, intending to sell 181,000 acres of farmland to the state, now for $1.34 billion. U.S. Sugar would retain its mill, citrus processing facilities, and other physical assets.

Despite this cutback, this deal would still help restore an enormous part of the northern Everglades, while allowing the company to stay in business. U.S. Sugar would lease its former land from the state for the next seven crop cycles, paying a total of about $60 million.

The revised agreement would grant the South Florida Water Management District, the state's overseer of the purchase, the right to take large chunks of the property over that time, with most of the company's land continuing to be farmed until the state needed it to reconnect Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Needless to say, this restoration is vital for Florida's waterbirds.

The next big step will be to raise the $1.34 billion, primarily with bonds, amid a financial crisis. Upon approval from the district's governing board at its meeting this month - the final hurdle to state approval - the real planning process will begin. A two-year planning period to determine what's best for the Everglades is now anticipated.

You can access past E-bulletins on the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) website.

Date:December 3, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: DAY 4 GROUNDED IN MARSHALL CO. KYLocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 525 miles
No pondering nor weather gurus were needed this morning to determine whether we'd be flying or not. With 40 mph SSW winds aloft it was all too clear that we'd be held on the ground today - our fourth down day in Marshall County, KY.

By tomorrow morning (Thursday), it appears that the winds will swing around to be out of the NNW. What remains to be seen is at what strength; current forecasts show them blowing fairly strongly - maybe too strongly for cranes and planes - but then, that's a day away.

2008 Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Marshall County, KY
Kentucky Lake lies along the eastern boundary of the county. From its settlement until the 1930s, Marshall County was nearly completely agricultural. The creation of Kentucky Lake by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1940s changed this, bringing tourism to the county with resorts along the lake. Industry was spawned by the dam's cheap and plentiful electricity, and chemical and manufacturing plants sprang up, mostly in the Calvert City area.

The creation of Kentucky Lake led to the destruction of several Marshall County towns. Birmingham, about six miles north of the present hamlet of Fairdealing, was one of them. Birmingham residents were dispersed. Gilbertsville, which was at the present dam site, was an incorporated town until the 1970s, when its charter was dissolved by public vote. Gilbertsville was rebuilt somewhat to the west of its original location.

Date:December 3, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATELocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 milesAccumulated Distance: 525 miles
As of November 29th, the estimated size of the Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) remains unchanged at 74; 42 males and 32 females. In the report below, * = females and DAR = Direct Autumn Release birds.

Location Unknown
416NFT was last observed on the Necedah refuge Oct. 10.
205NFT last confirmed on the Necedah refuge October 2007.

With the exception of DAR740, which remains in Allegan County, MI, all Whooping cranes in the EMP are migrating or have completed migration.

LAST KNOWN MIGRATION LOCATIONS
Wisconsin
Sauk Co - 509 & 514
Illinois
LaSalle Co - 216, DARs 831, 832*, 836, 838*
McHenry Co - 733
Indiana
Vermillion Co - 211 & 217*, 401 & 508*
Greene Co - 212NFT & 419*NFT, 313* & 318, 408 & 519
Benton Co - 303*NFT & 317, 309* & 403, 520*NFT,
Vigo Co - 310 & W601*
Gibson Co - 412, 511, 512, 716*, 724, DAR746*, 810, DAR 837*
Ohio
Paulding Co - DAR744*
Kentucky
Laurel Co - 516
In flight - 727*
Tennessee
Meigs Co - 101, 105NFT & 501*, 402, 107*NFT, 316NFT, 505 & 415*NFT, 420*NFT, 506, DAR737, DAR527*, DAR528*NFT, DAR533* (Note: While still in Wisconsin, 415 was discovered to have a fishing line tangled around her left leg and was trailing a piece about 3-4 feet long. She is wary of the costumes and trackers were unable to capture her. On observation, she continues high-step her left leg, indicating that the entangled cord remains.)
Blount Co - 703, 721* 710, 722*, DAR737
South Carolina
Colleton Co - 311 & 312*
Alabama
Morgan Co - 213 & 218*, 524
Florida
Citrus Co - DAR627NFT, DAR628, 706(presumed), 712, 713, 709, 717*, 726*, 710(presumed), 722*,
Suwannee Co - 703, 707, DAR739*, DAR742*

Date:December 2, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NEW ADDITION TO OM'S WEBSITE Location:Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance:525 miles
Operation Migration's Supporting members are familiar with INformation, our semi-annual magazine, which they receive free, as a member benefit. Distributed in April and October, INformation contains a mix of Whooping crane, OM, and other conservation and environmental news, as well as articles by guest authors on a diversity of related topics. While a relatively small publication, INformation has been receiving terrific reviews, and we think it has some fascinating content that the public, as well as Craniacs, would greatly enjoy.

Because the larger the print run, the lower the cost per copy, we'd like to encourage more folks to take out a Supporting Membership and get on our magazine mailing list. Members also receive discount pricing on OM Gear and other merchandise; specials are advertised in each magazine.

Our EarlyBird e-bulletin is another popular benefit of membership. Throughout each year's migration, OM's EarlyBird e-bulletin is delivered directly to members' email inboxes first thing in the morning, within moments of the decision to fly or not to fly being made. Members learn the news of the day first - usually hours before the go, no-go update can be posted to the Field Journal.

As encouragement, we are now providing back issues of INformation online. They can be accessed via the Site Map. The issues are listed under their own section headed "INformation Magazine".

And.....membership in OM makes a terrific holiday gift for family members, friends and co-workers. We will even send you a special card for you to give or send to announce your gift to the lucky recipient.

In the near future we will be adding PDFs of our Annual reports for the fiscal years 2005/2006, 2006/2007, and 2007/2008. These too will be accessible via the Site Map and will be listed under the section heading, "About Operation Migration".

Date:December 2, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ANOTHER 'ALMOST' FLY DAYLocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance: 525 miles
It was great to have a 'go' instead of a no-go morning. Just before pulling out of camp at dark-o-thirty this morning to get in position at the flyover site, I hit the send button on today’s EarlyBird e-bulletin saying, “It's a 'go' this morning. We have 24F, 0 to 4mph out of the SW and clear skies. Aloft the wind is out of the west, but the pilots think the cranes and planes might handle it.” Wrong.

John had chauffeured the pilots to where the trikes have been hangared 10 miles away while the rest of the crew either headed for the pen to get ready for the release, or got a start at packing up and breaking down camp.

Aviation radio in hand at the flyover site we heard the pilots’ voices talking about the wind they were encountering as they tried to fly from the airfield back to the pensite. It wasn’t long before we heard them come to a consensus. The last word that came over the radio was, “It’s not doable, we’re returning to the airfield.”

Thanks to Channel 6, WPSD News we had a great turnout at the 'non-flyover' this morning. It was super to see so many people willing to get up early and brave the cold to get a chance to see the Class of 2008 in flight. I got to meet quite a few of them – terrifically interested and friendly folks – and hope to see them again along with many more when we next try to depart Marshall County.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is not looking very promising based on the current aviation forecasts, but as of the moment, Thursday has the potential to be a fly day.

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Marshall County, KY
Benton is also known for an annual festival called "Tater Day" on the first Monday of April. Marshall County citizens gather on the court square to eat, listen to music and political speeches. It was originated in 1842 as a day for farmers to gather at the County seat to trade their agricultural goods. Today Tater Day is a celebration that includes a festival and parade. Tater Day derives its name from the main items traded - sweet potato chips. Tater Day is the world's only celebration of the sweet potato.

Date:December 1, 2008 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MARSHALL COUNTY FLYOVER VIEWING OPPORTUNITY Location: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance: 525 miles
In the anticipation of and hope for good flying weather tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, we searched out what we think might be a good site for folks to gather to view the cranes and planes when we depart Marshall County, KY for Carroll County, TN.

The viewing spot we found is in front of the Lighthouse Missionary Baptist Church on CR1264 (also known as Flat Road) which is off Hwy 402. CR1264 (Flat Road) is between Jackson School Road and Wilkins Road. We suggest you use MapQuest or GoogleMaps to come up with driving directions to it from your home location.

Remember - safety first. Park your vehicles well off the road and please be respectful of private property. You will want to be on site by sunrise - approximately 6:50 - 7:00AM at the latest - and dress warmly.

Also remember, that you could make the trip for naught if conditions are such that the cranes and planes are unable to fly. Assuming we can fly, there will be a crew member at the viewing site to meet and chat with those gathered, as well as offer those interested an opportunity to purchase some OM Gear.

Date:December 1, 2008 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BLUE MONDAYLocation: Marshall Co. KY
Distance:0 miles Accumulated Distance: 525 miles
34F and 11mph winds out of the west was this morning's bad news. We had rain last evening and throughout the night, but it appears that the weatherman's forecast of light snow is turning out to be correct. At the moment, what's coming down is having a hard time trying to decide if it wants to be raindrops or snow flurries. Need I add that today will be Down Day #36.

Looking back to years past at where we were on Migration Day 46 -
2001 - Gilchrist County, FL on December 1
2002 - Hamilton County, FL on November 27
2003 - Gordon County, GA on November 30
2004 - Meigs County, TN on November 24
2005 - Meigs County, TN on November 28
2006 - Washington County, KY on November 19
2007 - Washington County, KY on November 27
2008 - Marshall County, KY on December 1 (which is about 60 miles further south than our '07 location)

Migration Trivia compliments of Vi White and Steve Cohen
Marshall County, KY
Shape-note singers gather annually at Benton on the fourth Sunday in May to sing from a tune book called The Southern Harmony. This event, organized in 1884 and called The Big Singing or Big Singing Day, is considered by many to be the oldest indigenous musical tradition in the United States.

On the fourth Sunday of each May, an all-day sing-along program of Southern Harmony shape-note gospel music is held at the county courthouse. While other major singings (for example, Sacred Harp Singings) still survive, The Big Singing is the only singing in the world to use the William Walker Southern Harmony system of shape-note singing. Shape-notes are a music notation system designed to facilitate congregational singing.

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