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Give A Whoop

Date:January 25, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CATCHING UPLocation: Main Office
As you can tell from the location entered above, Joe, Heather, and I have arrived back home. We started yesterday's drive at 6:30am from southern Tennessee. After numerous stops along the way - diesel for the van; gas for the truck; coffee to put in and pit stops to let it out; and a meal to tide us over, we arrived home just before midnight last night.

After 12 days short of four months away, it sure is good to be home again. But, I must admit, it does seems a bit strange yet, and I am thinking it might take a day or two to re-acclimate. Last night the hunt was on for my stock of toilet paper, and this morning it had to be a paper towel in the coffeemaker. Where on earth do I keep my coffee filters anyway?

But this Field Journal entry wasn't meant to be about me. It was meant to let you know that we will continue to post entries here as usual. We expect to have news of the results of health checks on both the St. Marks 10 and the Chass flock from Disney's Dr. Scott Terrell very shortly. With Brooke Pennypacker now on site (as of Friday) at St. Marks to take charge of winter monitoring there, we will have regular reports from him too.

In addition to posts from Brooke, we are hoping for reports from Disney personnel (Scott Tidmus, Dr. Scott Terrell, and Jay Therien) who, on a rotation basis, are assisting with monitoring at St. Marks. We are fortunate to have the able assistance of two volunteers (Christine Barnes and Gordon Perkinson) this winter. Christine and Gordon spent time learning and taking training at Necedah last summer in order to be able to help out at the pen at St. Marks. Christine is a gifted writer, and we look forward to sharing her impressions and experiences with the St. Marks 10 over the coming weeks.

So...all of this is to say, stay tuned. Although we may run a wee bit behind with postings until we get our feet back under us again and as we play catch up, you will still be able to get your Whooping crane 'fix' here - not to mention the photos that Scott Tidmus has captured and promised share. 

Date:January 24, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:KEEPING YOU POSTEDLocation: On The Road
Joe, Heather and I are finally on our way home. With Joe driving our white van hauling the aircraft trailer, and Heather and I driving the blue truck pulling the CraneCam trailer, we managed finish up in St. Marks, FL yesterday before hitting the trail for home.

Interestingly, from our campsite outside of Dunnellon, Florida to the office in Port Perry, Ontario it is a 1,287 mile drive, two more than the air miles flown on the migration. And speaking of miles, while the planes and cranes flew 1,285 miles from Wisconsin to Florida, the ground crew driving/hauling vehicles each logged more than 5,000 miles.

I left home for Wisconsin on October 7th, and if today we can chalk up the remaining 750 miles we have left to drive, I will get to again sleep in my own little bed tonight - 110 days later. Color me happy.

Date:January 24, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
On January 21st, Tom Stehn, Whooping crane coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, conducted the fifth aerial census of the 2009-2010 Whooping crane season. 253 Whooping cranes were sighted; 235 adults and 18 juveniles.

While this census found 10 less cranes than on Tom’s previous census flight, he believed that some cranes were overlooked as the search time was shortened due to the flight time being limited by fog. Due to reported crane movements, the search area was expanded much further out into upland areas, however, only three additional cranes were found in the uplands at Welder Flats, whereas 12 had been located there the previous week. This difference Tom said, seemed to account for the 10 fewer cranes found on today’s flight compared to the previous flight.

Stehn said, “More telling than the total number of cranes tallied was the distribution observed that seemed to confirm the estimated flock size. It definitely appears that one juvenile has died since arriving at Aransas,” he said. This juvenile had been found in the refuge’s South Sundown Island territory. On this last flight a pair believed to be the South Sundown Island pair was seen very close to their territorial neighbors to the south. It seemed clear that I was looking at adjacent territorial pairs, and that the South Sundown Island pair was missing its chick.”

Tom said, “It is also possible that the Dewberry Island pair at Welder’s Flats has lost their chick, but it is also possible they had moved to Matagorda Island where an unexpected family was spotted.

“The territories of adult cranes remain difficult to figure out,” Tom noted, “ as many of the crane pairs have left their marsh and are searching for food on the uplands. An unusually high number, 52 cranes, were on unburned uplands. Four were found on the C14 refuge burn; 13 were in open bays; two were at a game feeder on Lamar; and, 182 were in salt marsh.” Stehn reported that, “Blue crabs are at extremely low levels and the cranes are having to look for other sources of food. This is a very stressful time of winter for the Whooping cranes.”

One additional juvenile that apparently separated from its parents during migration was sighted near Medford, Oklahoma December 14-25. It has not been re-sighted but is presumably doing okay in an unknown location.

With the inclusion of the chick last seen in Oklahoma, Tom's current estimate of the flock size is 263; adults 244 plus 19 juveniles. One chick has died since arriving at Aransas.

Date:January 23, 2010Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:MAKING IT POSSIBLELocation: St. Marks, FL
When you attempt to describe the Operation Migration team words like dedication and tenacity come to mind --- or maybe obsessive compulsive would be more accurate. Either way there is an excess of talent and the ability to handle just about any situation.

We had a retired veterinarian with us this season, along with a nuclear engineer. We also had a telecommunications expert, an electrical engineer, several IFR pilots, a marketing executive, a professional fund raiser, a non-profit specialist, a storm chaser, a flight instructor, a metal fabricator, a saddle maker, an airline captain, a commercial photographer, and a deep sea diver. That’s not to mention a lot of talented computer people, some experienced trike pilots, and a collection well trained aviculturists.

All of us at OM want to thank the many people who make this possible. They give up weeks of their lives to live in motorhomes never knowing when they will get their next shower. They deal with overwork or boredom, often on the same day and are constantly guests on other people’s property.

They adapt to over-eating at the invitation of our hosts, or not getting breakfast until 3:00 in the afternoon. They live with the limitation of how much fresh water we can carry and the capacity of the grey water tanks, and the icy reality of propane bottles that always run empty in the middle of the night.

They tolerate the restrictions of 12 people and only four independent vehicles to get around in so no outing is ever accomplished alone. They put up with laundromats and greasy spoons, ‘borrowed’ internet connections and poor cell phone reception, yet they return each year to volunteer again.

For six years Walter Sturgeon has helped us during the migration. He has thirty years experience raising cranes and has performed all of the jobs on migrating from roost checks to spotter in the top cover aircraft. He also oversees the moving of camp and drives our biggest truck pulling our longest trailer.

Gerald Murphy planned to assist us for the first half of the migration this year, but because of all our delays, he only made it as far as our first stop in Illinois. Among other talents Gerald is a skilled breakfast practitioner who can whip up biscuits and eggs in the time it takes to check the winds and call it another down day.

David Boyd helped move the camp and drove one of our trucks while his wife Linda, worked with Liz at the many flyovers events we held. Bright, articulate and always in a jovial mood, they were a great addition to the team and we hope they come back. Great adventurers, they would explore the countryside when ever we were down for a few days.

Jack Wrighter was recruited to this project with the expectation of spending a couple of weeks providing top cover in his Cessna 172. That was four years ago and he has flown countless hours since then, always circling overhead, clearing the way through air traffic control, reporting conditions, relaying messages to the ground crew and spotting wayward birds.

John Cooper, a retired airline captain, joined us in cold Wisconsin this year. He was Jack’s co-pilot and spotter. His friendly smile always cheered up the team when the delays became tedious.

Don and Paula Lounsbury have been at this as long as I have. They volunteered to fly top cover in 1993 and have accompanied every migration since. They flew the second half this year, replacing Jack and John in Illinois. After chaperoning us as we skipped a stop on a particularly long flight they had a fuel flow problem and lost their engine. The only field available was wet and freshly ploughed, and their aircraft flipped during the emergency landing. They were unhurt but could no longer provide top cover.

After the Christmas break the two top cover pilots decided to join forces. Don in his motorhome, and Jack in his Cessna, teamed up to see us to the end of the migration.

Without the commitment of our volunteers, and the generosity of our many good-natured stopover hosts, this project could not be accomplished. And without people like Walter and Gerald, Jack and John, Don and Paula and David and Linda it wouldn’t be much fun either.

Date:January 22, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE ST MARKS 10Location: St. Marks, FL
Disney Animal Kingdom's Scott Tidmus, along with Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes have been taking care of the monitoring until the OM crew could get organized and packed up. Brooke will be arriving here in St. Marks by dinner time, and as of tomorrow he too will enter the morning and evening pen check rotation.

Many of you are likely aware that yesterday we had some storm fronts going through both of the wintering pensite areas. Scott reported that all the birds came through the storm safely. The storm produced about 18 inches of rain in the pen - and with the water up to their hocks, the birds were loving it. Their human caretakers however, were not so happy nor were they faring so well due to washed out roads and flooded trails.

Already the St. Mark's 10 are being exposed to more natural food items, including crabs, shrimp, and minnows. Their plumage continues to change, and Scott is detecting small voice changes, so the handlers should be hearing some adult voices before too long. Scott promises to try and get some photos to us very soon.

Date:January 22, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Heather Ray
Subject: BreathlessLocation: Citrus Co. FL

There is a rather well used quote that I love which is, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but rather by the moments that take your breath away”. Yesterday morning I was left breathless for 54 minutes when I was invited by Jack Wrighter to fly with him and Don Lounsbury in Plane-Plane – our top-cover aircraft.

This migration was my sixth journey south with Whooping cranes, but until yesterday I had never seen the operation from up high. What a sight!

After waiting for the fog to clear we took off from the Dunnellon airport seconds after our four ultralights, and quickly climbed above them. I couldn’t believe how tiny and fragile they looked from our vantage point 1500 feet above. We circled overhead, and I watched as Erin and Geoff prepared to release the remaining 10 members of the Class of 2009 from their temporary pen below, and listened as Joe gave the cue to release them for a final air pickup. The young cranes came charging out of the pen, and I held my breath as they fell into position off Joe’s right wingtip. (Photo Left: Joe Duff moves in for an air pickup.)

Once on course they never wavered in their flight order – it was a beautiful sight to behold as they followed Joe over the tall pines, which soon gave way to housing developments, golf courses and eventually the shopping malls and box stores that flank Highway 98.

All too soon I could see the solid land below give way to twisting rivers and small bays, and knew that the ride of my life would soon be over and that these young trusting Whooping cranes would just be beginning their new wild life - one without ultralight leaders and pumpkin treats; one with Blue crab and snails and free flying over the salt marsh of their new winter home. And I felt so happy for them! (Photo right: About a mile or so to go to the winter release site on the Chassahowitzka NWR.

After a successful air pick-up, the cranes quickly lined up off Joe’s right wing. The team from ICF that will be doing the winter monitoring at Chassahowitzka called the birds down using a loudhailer broadcasting the brood call.

Date:January 21, 2010Reporter: Joe Duff
Distance:26 miles (Marion County to Citrus County, FL) Total Miles 1285
We all know the weather conditions we experience while trying to lead these birds south are the result of a million little variables. They range from moisture content of the air to the topography it’s passing over and from the heating affect of the sun to the rotation of the earth.

Despite the science behind it, there are times when it feels like there’s an evil little mind in control of the weather; someone with a nasty disposition and a mean sense of humor. After playing with us like a cat with a mouse for 89 days, it seems his mood had changed, and he allowed us two perfect days to finally deliver these birds to their winter home.

In the rotation of pilots we use to share the responsibility of leading the birds I had the privilege of guiding them on our last flight.

Thick fog lingered until 9AM and gave us some time to leisurely prepare for the flight. When we finally took off the air was surprisingly smooth despite the high sun angle. It was 55 degrees as I lined up a slow approach toward the pen from the east and dropped down close to the ground.

Geoff Tarbox and Erin Harris released the birds for the last time. Erin told me later there were tears in her eyes as she watched them form on the wing and fly away. It only took one circle for them to settle into a slow climb in perfect air. We even had a slight tailwind that pushed us along at 44 miles per hour. We climbed to 1500 feet to safely pass over the Crystal River Airport, while Don Lounsbury and Jack Wrighter in the top cover aircraft contacted any local traffic.

This year’s flock has a history of not wanting to give up altitude. Several times we have had to circle over our destination to get them down. The tidal pools and salt marsh around the Chassahowitzka pen make it impossible for us to land, so we were worried about our limited options if it happened again. Planning for all the variables that Whooping cranes can throw at you is challenging, but we did have a spot on the mainland picked out for a pen if needed.

At six miles out we began a slow descent. Dropping at about 100 feet per minute the birds can set up a comfortable glide so they stayed formed on the wing while we lost altitude. This seems to set the precedent for landing in their little minds as we arrived at the pen at 200 feet. We circled wide and set up an approach just as if we were about to touch down. When their wings we cupped and their legs about to drop like extending landing gear, I added full power and began to climb as fast as the aircraft could. I continued to circle throughout the climb so even if they tried to follow they would be close to the pen. The crew on the ground used their vocalizers to call them down, and I aimed the web camera on my aircraft at the ground so our internet audience could watch the last seconds of the migration.

At 2000 feet all four trikes and the top cover aircraft circled the pen and watched as the last ten birds completed the 2009 migration.

We turned on course for the Dunnellon airport and flew along in perfectly smooth air. It only takes one good flight to forgive the weather gods for all the wrongs they have heaped on us.

It is all over for another year, and we each deal with the end in our own way. There wasn’t much radio chatter on the way back. I thought about all the work and frustration, the fun and camaraderie, and, the challenges we need to face next season. I felt relief too that we could stop messing with these birds and finally let them be wild. But mostly I was glad that after I landed for the last time I wouldn’t give a damn what the weather would do.

Date:January 20, 2010 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AND THE WINNING BIDDER IS...Location: Citrus Co. FL
The bidding on a spectacular piece of quilted wall art by award winning quilter and designer, Roberta Williams, opened early last fall. The auction, conducted by 'silent bid', ran through until 5:00pm EST last evening.

The highest bidder and therefore the winner of Roberta's lovely work of art – with a terrific bid of $5,050, was Gary Jones of New Glarus, WI.

Congratulations Gary!! and thank you so much for your very generous bid and support of OM and Whooping cranes.

Date:January 20, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 89 - THE ENDLocation: Citrus Co. FL
At 89 days, the 2009 migration which launched October 17th from the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, will go on record as the second longest in the project's nine year history, beating out the 2008 migration by one day. Although taking one day longer, we actually finished three days sooner as the last migration day in '08 was January 23rd.

As we wind up things at this end, we will continue to post news about the Class of 2009 - for instance about their health checks etc - and also share some photos and video.

These photos taken at yesterday's flyover at Dunnellon were kindly sent to us by Fred Wasti.

Top Left: Richard leads the 10 birds over the watching crowd.

Top Right: A great shot of just the young Whooping cranes.

Bottom Right: As lead pilot Richard turned to head to the Halpata-Tastanaki Preserve, the stopover pensite, the birds formed a gorgeous straight line off his wing.

Click to view video of the Arrival Event on photographed and produced by Bruce Ackerman .

Date:January 20, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
SubjectSAFE, SUCCESSFUL, SAYONARALocation: Citrus Co. FL
Safe - At 10:05am, 901*, 903, 904*, 905*, 907*, 913, 919, 924, 927, and 929 were all on the ground and OM's trikes turned for the return flight to their point of departure at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport. By the time you are reading this, the birds should be safely ensconced in their large wintering pen set five miles out in the marsh in a closed area of the Chassahowitzka NWR.

Successful - A great wall of emotion hit when I heard Walter's voice on my cell phone advising the last remaining birds in the Class of 2009 were on the ground and already checking out their winter residence. It is always a bittersweet parting. On the one hand it means we have to say goodbye to a group of birds that we've all come to know well, but on the other, it also means that before long they will be starting their new life as truly wild, migrating Whooping cranes, which in turn signals the successful completion of our annual mission.

Sayonara - The Class of 2009 are not the only ones we will be saying goodbye to. The balance of today, and most if not all of tomorrow, will be taken up with all of us - OM's migration crew - packing, organizing, and shuffling our belongings from one vehicle to another (no small job) in preparation for relocating the vehicles and and we occupants to our respective locales. After that, we will all be saying Sayonara to one another at our traditional End of Migration dinner, where some big grins and hard farewell hugs will be exchanged, likely along with a few inevitable tears.

Date:January 20, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FINAL LEG UNDERWAYLocation: Marion Co. FL
At approximately 9:15am, OM's trikes and the last half of the Class of 2009 launched. They are enroute to their wintering ground on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, a flight of 26 miles that with today's condtions the pilots estimate will take about 40 minutes.

Date:January 20, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 89 AN UNKNOWNLocation: Marion Co. FL
Not exactly what you might think Florida weather would be here this morning. We woke to a temperature just above freezing. With the temperature and the dew point once again almost identical, we have more fog to wait out, and a low ceiling to contend with.

Surface winds are out of the southeast and negligible but they should swing around to come out of the northeast as the morning progresses - favorable for a flight to the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge with the last ten young Whooping cranes in the Class of 2009. This last leg is just 26 air miles, and even with favorable winds, the weather conditions approaching the coastline can often provide a bumpy ride.

It could easily be as late as 9:00am before we know one way or the other whether today will be the final day of the 2009 migration.

Date:January 19, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FLYOVER ACCOMPLISHED!!Location: Marion Co. FL
Distance:60 miles (Gilchrist County to Marion County, FL) Total Miles 1259
It was a super day, a super flyover - lead pilot Richard van Heuvelen even led the Class of 2009 in a circle over the airfield - and a super turnout; more than 700 people.

The sun finally came out and gave us beautiful blue skies to act as a backdrop for the glistening white cranes as they glided overhead. The crew all assembled in front of the waiting crowd to say a few words and to thank everyone there as well as OM's terrific sponsors for helping us to help Whooping cranes. Special thanks and great appreciation was expressed to Duke Energy, the sponsor of the CraneCam which has brought so many people world-wide so much pleasure this year.

After a bite of lunch, the pilots and ground crew assembled to see if the weather would co-operate long enough for us to fly the final leg to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Joe was again wind dummy and launched to test conditions. He found that we would have a +12mph headwind, so the decision was made to call it a day and wait to try tomorrow morning.

We will be trying as soon after sunrise as possible, but it is likely that the morning will bring conditions similar to what we experienced today - that is, fog, and having to wait for it to burn off before determining if a flight is possible.

We hope to give you a fuller report, and provide some photos, but that will have to wait I'm afraid. Other duties scream for attention, and we still have to collect and move vehicles from campsite to campsite. By the time all is done I think there will be a whole crew of people ready for bed.

Date:January 19, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LAUNCHEDLocation: Marion Co. FL
The birds and trikes are in the air...launch was at 9:02 and it should be an approximate two hour flight. We still have fog on the ground here at Dunnellon, but it should have burnt off by the time the Class of 2009 arrives.

Date:January 19, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ARRIVAL FLYOVER??Location: Marion Co. FL
The crowd is gathering here at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport hopeful of seeing the remaining 10 young cranes in the Class of 2009 flyover with OM's ultralights this morning. As of 8AMish the team is still waiting and hoping the fog will clear.

If my laptop battery holds out I will try to update again.

Date:January 19, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 88Location: Marion Co. FL
Heather and I are in Marion County having driven down here after the flight from Gilchrist yesterday. We spent some time at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport prepping all that could be done there in advance in anticipation of the Arrival Flyover happening today.

There is very heavy fog this morning across northeast Florida. On the ground it stretches from Gainesville to Ocala. Despite manageable wind conditions, a very low ceiling combined with only about 1/2 mile of visibility is likely to delay any launch of the cranes and planes.

Regardless, come join us at the Dunnellon Airport and cross your fingers with us that today will be 'the' day. We expect to get reports via cell phone from the ground crew on whether or not they are able to launch. If that happens, once they are within range, we will be able to pick up the pilots' chatter on the aviation radio.

8:30 to 8:45am should be plenty early enough to arrive, and earlybirds can enjoy the coffee and breakfast foods being made available by the Friends of Chassahowitzka. OM and others will have a booth set up, so please stop by and visit us.

Because we have to be on the road by 5:45am in order to arrive in time to set up for today's hoped for event, this posting may be the one and only entry to the Field Journal I will be able to make until after the flyover event is over. Should time and opportunity allow however, I will post what news I can as the morning progresses. No promises.

Date:January 18, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORTLocation: Gilchrist Co. FL
Distance:86 miles (Jefferson Co. FL - Gilchrist Co. FL) Total Miles 1199
Pessimism loomed in camp early this morning as we gazed upon the waving flags lining the road along the campground. The 2000 foot stratus cloud deck was blocking out the stars, yet dimly lit up by the ever present light pollution. The wind was coming from the right direction, the concern being how turbulent the air would be.

Our trikes had weathered the copious rains and wind over the weekend with the wings lowered to the ground and tied down. As we re-assembled our trikes, the wind seemed to be settling down a bit, raising our hopes for a flight.

Richard was aloft first and radioed down that the air was smooth at 500 feet. The rest of us were soon airborne and I found the air a bit rough below 400 feet but not too bad, so we quickly made the decision to attempt a launch.

The pen is out in the middle of a large cow pasture along a rutted farm road, thus requiring an air pickup. I came in from the south, gave Erin and Geoff the cue to open the doors and watched as the 10 remaining cranes busted out of the pen and began climbing up to my altitude. I quickly joined up with them and began a turn back to the south as stragglers began a turn back to the pen. I increased my turn to pick up two stragglers and soon had the group on the wing and on course.

The 2000 foot cloud deck kept the temperatures up over night by not allowing radiational cooling to take place. Radiational cooling under clear skies at night creates a low level inversion, or cold pool at the surface. This cold pool is 'decoupled' from the winds higher aloft, and allows us to fly in the very calm air it usually creates. This morning we did not have this decoupling taking place and the air was a bit turbulent under the low cloud deck. With only 10 birds on the wing, we were able to continue on and I finally found a little smoother air above 700 feet.

As we flew on, filtered sunlight could be seen ahead – we had a large break in the stratus deck and would soon be out in sunshine. As I got to the edge of the stratus deck, I could see the sky ahead of me littered with small, scattered cumulus clouds, their bases at about 2000 feet. When I got out into the 'hole' of clear sky, the thermals could be felt rising up from below, where the earth was being heated by the sun's rays. Clear of the stratus deck, I began a climb to get above the small clouds and building thermals.

Once above 2200 feet, the air became absolutely calm and I sat back and enjoyed the view of the cranes lit up in the sunshine with a dark grey stratus deck for a backdrop. It was a beautiful sight and the warm air - in comparison to previous flights – allowed a thin pair of gloves making it easier to take many pictures of this incredible sight.

Our ground speed was about 50mph making this 80 mile flight relatively short. The hole in the sky that allowed us to climb to 2500 feet was narrow, and as we approached our destination I was forced to descend below the bases of the clouds that marked the south edge of this hole.

Pulling the bar in and reducing the throttle a bit, we found ourselves once again in the turbulent air. Richard had gone ahead to pick out the field to land in. I began to circle, trying to coax the birds down who were following well but still higher than me, and enjoying the thermals that were giving them free lift. Joe landed on the field below us and had his vocalizer turned up to help coax the birds down. I kept circling the field hoping to lure them down but they must have caught some good thermal lift and began to spiral upwards.

We had too many trikes causing a distraction in the sky so I elected to land with Joe and watch while Richard and Brooke tried to round up the spiraling cranes who seemed determined to keep flying. At one point they actually disappeared from view as they went up into a cloud, but then thankfully reappeared again. This went on for 20 minutes, but eventually Brooke and Richard got them convinced to land next to Joe and I.

We led the cranes off into a hiding place, leaving Brooke to watch over them while they enjoyed a shallow pool from the recent rains. Brian arrived with the pen trailer and the four of us made quick work of getting the pen setup. While Richard and Brian drove off to hide the van, Joe and I donned our costumes and walked over to the next field where Brooke and the cranes were relaxing by the water. The cranes went airborne for a short time as we walked them back to the pen, and I had visions of having to get aloft to chase them down in the thermally air. But they landed after a few minutes, and were soon in the pen.

Tomorrow is looking promising for us to make it to the flyover at the Dunnellon airport. High pressure just off Florida’s west coast will bring us light northwest winds at crane altitude and it should be calm on the ground. Hope to see you there!!

Date:January 18, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Moments before 10:30 this morning, the Class of 2009 landed in Gilchrist County, FL - but not without a lot of coaxing. They wanted to keep flying. As the pilots were trying to get them to descend, apparently they caught a thermal and soared back up. Richard and Brooke worked them around for almost 20 minutes before successfully 'talking' them on to the ground.

Chris Gullikson, today's lead pilot, should have his update for us to post here before the afternoon is out. Check back for the details of what sounded to me like quite a flight.

We believe we will have favorable conditions for a flight tomorrow and if that holds true, it means the Arrival Flyover Event will take place, as it has in years past, at the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport.

The airport is located off SW 147th Court, which is off Hwy 484, just outside of the town of Dunnellon. Click here for map. You might want to use MapQuest or Google Earth for driving directions. Sunrise tomorrow will be at 7:32am and given good flying weather, the cranes and planes should be in the air shortly thereafter. It is a 60 mile flight (approx. 1.5 hrs) so viewers will want to be in place by around 8:30 to 8:45am.

Note to CraneCam Viewers: There will be no broadcast from the pensite in Gilchrist County this afternoon. The CraneCam is enroute to the Dunnellon-Marion County Airport to be set up for what we hope will be the second Arrival Flyover Event of the 2009 migration. Assuming flying weather and that all equipment is working as it should, the broadcast of the flight in the morning will be via the TrikeCam; of the flyover event, via the CraneCam; and, of the Arrival Flyover, via the handheld camera.

Date:January 18, 2010 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 87 AND WE'RE IN THE AIR Location:Jefferson Co. FL
The weather projections we made at late yesterday afternoon rang relatively true this morning. The temperature was a bit warmer than forecast, but the winds, both on the surface and aloft, were about what was expected.

We had manageable and favorable NW winds aloft, but were worried a low ceiling would be the deal breaker. The team was all in place by sunrise, and were waiting to see if the ceiling would lift before the earth warmed up and created the trashy air that is the nemesis of the cranes and planes.

Just after 8:15am, after a couple of test trikes went up to test conditions, we had lift off. The Class of 2009 is on its way to Gilchrist County, FL

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
An enterprising Monticello businessman named John H. Perkins built the "Perkins Block" in 1890, setting up various businesses on the building's first floor. The second floor included a large foyer and an opera house with unparalleled acoustics and the largest stage in the region. Performances included both professional touring groups, and local productions. Shortly after the turn-of-the-century, however, the railroads were re-routed, bypassing Monticello, and the wealthy patrons who had once wintered in South Georgia and North Florida sought other destinations.

The opera house faced financial disaster, live performances were discontinued, the building abandoned, and it soon fell into disrepair. In 1972 the Monticello Opera Company was formed by a handful of people who had the vision of saving the opera house from the wrecker's ball. This organization also has provided opportunities for young performers and maintenance and restoration of this unique facility are ongoing.

Date:January 17, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
The forecast is calling for 40F by sunrise and 4mph surface winds out of the NW. Aloft, the winds at the back of the system that was over us and is now moving off to the east are still projected to be strong. Assuming the winds aloft are manageable, there is still the potential for the ceiling to be too low to allow us to fly.

Tomorrow will likely be one of those days that we won't know whether or not a flight is possible until the very last second when we put a test trike up to check conditions for ourselves.

Date:January 17, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AN INTERESTING READLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
Supporter Lou Anderson emailed to tell us about an article that recently appeared in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Argus Leader. The subject matter was poaching, but it also talks about the shooting of 217 in Indiana and other similar events. For an interesting read click here.

Date:January 17, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PHOTOS FROM TODAY'S PEN CHECKLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
Thanks to Erin for snapping these photos in between her morning pen check duties.


Top Left:
905 gazes out of the pen while 903 heads behind the divider. That's 913 by the water pan.

Top Right:
907 is the bird in from of the still very cinnamon 927.

Bottom Left:
904 is very white compared to 907 (in the middle) and 919 in the foreground.

Bottom Right:
929 was 'dancing' this morning, and it looks like 903 (right) was being tempted to join in.


Date:January 17, 2010 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: MIGRATION DAY 86 = DOWN DAY #4 Location: Jefferson Co. FL
At 4am the temperature was already in the high 50's heading toward today's forecast high of 65F. While the rain hitting the motorhome's roof had morphed from rat-a- tat to plink-a-plink, it still called for an umbrella to make the trip to the washroom. Any question in my mind about the state of the wind for today was answered when it blew my umbrella inside out.

While my umbrella told the tale on the surface, the laptop held the answer to what was going on aloft. The storm system was indeed still hanging above us with the winds aloft registering +40mph. Another going nowhere day. Sigh.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Beau Turner, son of Ted Turner of CNN fame, "is fighting for a world where children have every opportunity to touch the face and hear the voice of Mother Nature." The Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center is located south of Tallahassee on 160 acres leased to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Center is used to create a stewardship ethic among youth by offering programs to develop outdoor skills and instill an appreciation for the environment and wildlife.

Date:January 16, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
If you've been looking at or listening to any weather stations today, you will have already surmised that we aren't holding out much if any hope for a flight tomorrow.

The system that's over us is gradually moving through, but not fast enough to take with it more rain, 20mph southwest surface winds, and 40 to 50mph winds aloft. 

Date:January 16, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:COLOR US REDLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
The cranes and planes have now flown 1,113 of the 1,285 mile journey from Wisconsin to Florida. With just 172 more miles left leading the Class of 2009 south, that's 86% of this migration's job done.

Perhaps it was those three consecutive flight days with three consecutive skips that did it, but we've managed to outstrip MileMaker sponsorships. Subtracting the 1,072 miles that have been sponsored so far from the 1,113 miles already flown leaves us 41 miles 'in the red' - and that's only as far as Jefferson County. We still have three to four more flights to go.

Craniac and OM supporter, Denice Steinmann said she is anxious to see us finish the 2009 Migration 'in the black' by having MileMaker fully sponsored. To help this happen she has issued a huge challenge.

Between now and the conclusion of the migration, Denice will match ALL MileMaker sponsorships - be they for 1/4, 1/2, or 1 mile - UP TO 100 MILES!

So many of you have already become MileMaker sponsors for which we are so very grateful. We hope that many of the new folks, who for the first time this year have come to follow our work and the remarkable saga of this Whooping crane reintroduction effort, will help us take advantage of Denice's generosity.


Date:January 16, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:HAPPY RETIREMENT WISHESLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
On New Years Eve 2000 my daughter was only 15 months old. The experimental migration with Sandhill had been completed some 60 days earlier, and we were still waiting for the permits that would allow us to begin a Whooping crane reintroduction. Ten years later there are 85 birds in the Eastern Migratory Population and the migration was on its 72nd day with 583 miles yet to go.

In the interim there have been many changes. There have been lots of successes - and a few failures. New people have joined us and some old friends have left. As the manager of the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, Larry Wargowsky, is one of those who were here from the beginning, or at least he was until this past December 31st. That is when Larry retired from Federal service. He gave up the excitement of administration, the challenge of politics, and the satisfaction of management, for the tedium of hunting and fishing and sitting on his back deck with a cold one.

Not only was Larry a well liked manager in charge of 44,000 acres of pristine habitat, he was also an integral part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. He served on the Project Direction Team and helped initiate and organize the Necedah Crane Festival.

In year one there were only about five of us spending the summer at the annex complex on the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge. These days there are trackers and DAR people as well as interns for other projects, and the parking lot is full to capacity. Larry and his team have accommodated all of our needs. They have built pens, created runways, and managed the water systems.

Throughout it all, Larry has been a good friend to Operation Migration and he will be missed as the refuge manager and our primary contact person. Fortunately he doesn’t live far away, so between fishing trips we hope to join him occasionally on his back deck.

We wish you a happy retirement Larry, and the entire OM team looks forward to seeing you again come summer. (We’ll bring the cold ones.)

Date:January 16, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 85 = DOWN DAY #3Location: Jefferson Co. FL

It was in the low 50's around 4AM and headed for a high in the mid 60's later today. The overnight rain has paused, but the approaching low pressure system over the gulf continues to move toward us. As it approaches gusty southeast winds of ~20mph and thunderstorms with potential heavy rainfall are forecast.

Jefferson County is under a flash flood watch from 7:00am through to this evening. Needless to say, we won't be flying today.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
The Wacissa River is a large, spring-fed stream located in south-central Jefferson County. Its headwaters are located about a mile south of the town of Wacissa, where the river emerges crystal clear from a group of large limestone springs. From its headsprings, the river flows approximately 12 miles south through a broad cypress swamp before breaking into numerous braided channels rejoining the Aucilla River a few miles further south. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has declared it an Outstanding Florida Waterway.

Date:January 15, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
The high pressure system that allowed us to fly west-southwest on Wednesday continues to drift off to the northeast while low pressure builds in the western gulf of Mexico. The winds have backed to the east at the surface and southeast aloft, creating what would be a headwind for our long flight to Gilchrist County. As the low pulls closer to Florida, southerly winds will increase and chances of rain will go way up.

A cold front is expected to come through sometime on Sunday, followed by favorable northwest winds on Monday. It will be a waiting game to see if the winds prove favorable on Monday, but given the current forecast, it certainly looks like we will not be migrating before then.

Date:January 15, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OM FEATUREDLocation: Jefferson Co. FL

Each year, the organization, Environment for the Americas (EFTA), chooses a theme, develops the materials, and does the promotion for International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). For 2010 the theme will be Power of Partnership as it relates to the conservation of migratory birds.

OM submitted a proposal to EFTA to have the Whooping crane included as one of the 20 featured species, noting that this year's theme for IMBD echoed the motto of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership. The selection committee approved our submission, and the Whooping crane will be featured on the 2010 IMBD poster, t-shirt, and on a panel in the educational booklet being printed for distribution throughout North and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Below is a slightly reduced and edited version of EFTA's latest promotion for IMBD, and in it they announced that Operation Migration is the featured partner for the month of January. This link will take you to the EFTA website and the full webpage.

Date:January 15, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Heather Ray
Subject:WHICH IS THE MONSTER?Location: Jefferson Co. FL
We've created a monster… and its name is “CraneCam” – over the past 14 weeks since departing from the Necedah NWR in central Wisconsin, I’ve gotten to know my monster pretty well. I’ve spent numerous hours cajoling him to power up and play nice… and many more hours sitting beside him with my head stuck inside his belly (where his electronic components are stored), tapping his mouse to direct the Pan, Tilt and Zoom that his camera is capable of, so that for the first time ever, you could observe a southward migration.

On those rare days over the past eighty-four when we were blessed with suitable flying weather and were allowed to relocate from one migration stopover to another, I’ve wrestled with him to pack him up and get him ready to hit the road – and then deployed my monster at the new location a few miles further south.

All things considered, I feel I have a pretty good relationship with CraneCam and I hope to continue our rapport but just as humans have their limitations, so too does my monster. His Pan speed isn’t the quickest and it’s often hard to keep pace with the ultralights and the young cranes that follow them. CraneCam’s Zoom capabilities are pretty impressive but the Tilt is limited by the metal housing which holds his camera eye and protects it from the elements.

Such was the case at the arrival event on January 13th when I attempted to catch the 10 St. Marks cranes as they flew over the crowd of 500 or so. Once Brooke with his trusting young cranes came into view I attempted to Tilt and Zoom in on them but quickly realized they were just too high in the sky for my monster to see with his camera eye, so I announced into his microphone that we would not be able to show you the stars of the show. Instead I thought the next best view would be to leave it directed on the crowd who had stood in the cold for more than 2 hours waiting for these rare snowbirds to arrive, while I snapped still images to post later that day.

Almost immediately, both Liz and I began receiving emails and text messages from frustrated online viewers. “Point the camera!” – “I can’t see the birds” – “would be nice if we could see the cranes!” And others that were too strongly worded to include here.

We agree – it would have been best if we could have shown you the stars of the show – the 10 juvenile Whooping cranes – but we simply could not. But perhaps the monster isn’t the camera itself, rather it is the expectation that the camera has created.

He is currently parked in the space beside my camper because until now we haven’t been able to get him into the field where the second group of 10 cranes are patiently waiting for weather to improve so that they can continue on to their new winter home at the Chassahowitzka NWR in Citrus County, FL. We will be trying again later today to deploy the CraneCam – but no promises.

As soon as we get suitable migrating conditions, I will, however shoot and broadcast using a handheld camera. Please be patient and stay tuned for the next live broadcast.

Date:January 15, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 84  = DOWN DAY #2Location: Jefferson Co. FL
No change this morning from what was projected for us yesterday weather and wind-wise - crosswind and headwind. We will spend Migration Day 84 on the ground here in Jefferson County.

With the finish line almost in sight, you can appreciate that we are chafing at the bit to get going. On Migration Day 84 in 2008 we were sitting right where we are now. The difference is that last year our second down day in Jefferson was four days later - January 19th.

To tie or better the 88 day length of the '08 migration we would have to finish with a flight to Chassahowitzka no later than Tuesday. We can say with certainty that is not going to happen based on the forecast of precipitation tomorrow. In other words, the '09 migration is soon to become the second longest in project history.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
In the early spring, attractive blooming trees once beautified the fencerows along the country roads and lanes of Jefferson County. Clusters of whitish, rose-throated flowers and broad, heart-shaped dark green leaves identified them as tung trees, (Aleurites Fordii)

Tung, grown commercially in it's native China for 40 centuries, is prized for the oil that is extracted from its nut. All parts of the tung tree are poisonous, with the nut especially toxic. Tung oil was once considered, "the world's finest quick-drying paint oil." It was introduced in the Jefferson County area in 1906, and by the late 1950's, there were over 12,000 acres of tung planted in the county, making it the center of Florida production. All of the tung orchards in Jefferson County have now been abandoned, and most plantings have been bulldozed with the land being used for other crops, pasture or timber. Only an occasional tree that escaped the bulldozer shows its spring ornamental bloom.

Date:January 14, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Jefferson Co. FL
It's hard to come down from the high of safely delivering the first ten of the Class of 2009 to their wintering grounds. But if there was anything destined to bring us down quickly it was the wind conditions today, and also what is in store for us tomorrow. Both on the surface and aloft the winds are unfavorable, and their differing directions could produce some wind sheer.

It is doubtful that between now and the morning there will be a significant enough change in what is projected for us to be able to fly, but we'll wait and see what tomorrow looks like before we throw in the towel.

Date:January 14, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - from flight January 13/10Location: Jefferson Co. FL
Distance:28 miles (Jefferson Co. FL - Wakulla Co. FL) Total Miles 1113
There are days in one’s life that are so filled with significance and emotion that they simply defy the ability of mere words to describe or express. Yesterday, for me, was such a day. But in a world where, as the poet said, one’s reach must exceed his grasp, I will try.

The excited anticipation of starting began on a morning at the end of last March when seven St Mark’s chicks took to the air, caught their first thermal, and after soaring high above the pen in wider and wider circles, suddenly headed north on their first return migration to Wisconsin.

Long days of hard work, worry, and hope by so many lay between then and now. So it was with a special excitement pulsing through the crew that we readied ourselves for yesterday’s flight. We would fly 10 of this year’s 20 chicks to St Marks NWR where a whole new world awaited them.

After Monday’s aborted attempt due to weather and a fly over crowd waiting at St Marks, the morning blessed us with favorable conditions. When Erin and Geoff pulled open the pen doors as they had skillfully done all migration, the birds charged out and were instantly airborne.

Then, as expected, the ten had a collective thought balloon hanging just above them that said, “Hey, something ain’t right here! Where is everybody?” as their other ten flockmates called out from the second pen below. So around we went in an indecisive, unsure, non-committed, aerial dance of now you see them, now you don’t.

We would no sooner collect as a unit and start on course when one, then two, and then the rest would break and head back for the pen. But the trike is a persuasive tool. Months of intensive training rise to the occasion at such times, and after a period of forever, we were collected up on course to St Marks with only the occasional change of heart, subsequent round up and resumption on course.

A tailwind – I had forgotten what it was and had to look it up - pushed us nearly towards the waiting crowd at St Marks. Soon we were circling above them as car windshields, cameras, and smiles flashed from below. Then it was off to the pensite where Scott Tidmous from Disney's Animal Kingdom and Barb Clauss from Patuxent waited to call the birds down to their new winter home. (Photo by Bernie Campoli)

As we made our descent through the trashy air above the marsh, the birds' flight behavior began to change; each bird staring down in awe and anticipation at all that water and marsh and unknown, and a special excitement rippled through them. Their heads moved around in rapid jerks, wing beats became irregular and unsure seemingly in an attempt to understand just what new world they were about to enter. Soon into their vision appeared the pen and the two white costumed figures of Scott and Barb, their arms flapping up and down and the loud haler coaxing, almost pleading for a landing. Then, with a low pass over the pen 910 landed, followed shortly by the others as I climbed in tight spirals above.

The scene was exceptionally emotional and bittersweet for me because Beverly Paulan was not down there to experience it. For three and a half years she had worked tirelessly to these rare moments of triumphs a reality and spent more time with the birds than any of us. She was scheduled to leave Monday to begin a new job as a pilot with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, a long held dream of hers. She postponed her flight an extra day so she could be in the pen calling down the birds on Monday in a way bringing closure to 3 ½ years of constant effort.

But Monday’s weather decided it was not to be and she flew back north thatafternoon. She had cared for the birds last year down here and contributed greatly towards our success. She was so well attuned to the birds in fact that she correctly predicted a week in advance the day they would leave for migration north. She will be missed.

But it was also for me a homecoming because last year the refuge staff, volunteers and neighbors embraced not just our birds, but Bev and I, welcoming us into their families; a family we felt honored and privileged to a part of.

So the day continued seeing old friends, and new ones, listening to the beautiful voices of young school students singing us a thank you song, a school Bev had done a presentation for last year, and more handshakes and laughs and the good cheer of a successful effort.

Then, just before sundown we were back north at our staging area and covering our trikes and fueling up in preparation for a hoped for departure in the morning with the remaining ten birds. As the sun finally descended to its place of rest and as I sat on the back step of the Fox cleaning the ravages of a cow pie from the bottom of my boot, I reveled in the majesty of the day.

It was one of true wonder. But indescribable.

Date:January 14, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 83 = DOWN DAY #1Location: Jefferson Co. FL
26F in Jefferson County this morning, with very light surface winds. The villain in today's piece are the winds aloft, both in terms of strength and direction. After considering the conditions at the pensite, and what was forecast to be waiting at altitude, the decision to stand down was made at 7:10am.

Neither the short-range nor long-range forecasts are encouraging. From appearances at the moment, it could conceivably be Monday at least before we are able advance another leg of the migration.

Note... the CraneCam cannot be deployed at the Jefferson County pensite location. This means there will be no viewing opportunities until a departure is possible from this site.

Our primary handheld video camera 'threw a wheel' a few days ago so it has been out of commission. We have a handheld camera that has now been patched and pieced together, and assuming it stays operational, we will be using it to broadcast the departure from Jefferson County.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Ernest I. "Boots" Thomas, Jr., one of the heroes of Iwo Jima, was raised in Monticello and enlisted in the Marines during World War Two, reaching the rank of Sergeant. On February 23, 1945 during the fierce battle to capture Iwo Jima Island, Sgt. Thomas and five other Marines raised the U.S. flag atop Mt. Suribachi. Later that day AP photographer Joe Rosenthal asked the Marines to recreate the event so he could photograph it.

Thomas did not participate in this second staged flag raising and thus doesn't appear in what is called "the most famous single photograph ever taken." He was killed in action eight days later and the only tribute to the heroism of Ernest I Thomas, Jr. is a monument erected in his honor in his boyhood home of Monticello.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 6Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING - and FLYOVER INFO FOR JEFFERSONLocation: Jefferson Co. FL

We've gone from heavy frost and a temperature in the 20's this morning, to 56F by 4pm this afternoon. It will drop again overnight, but the weatherman is promising us temperatures that will continue to climb.

It appears as if by flight time tomorrow we could possibly have headwinds aloft. Our flight path to stopover #24 in Madison County, FL is almost due east of where we are in Jefferson County. It is only a short 30 mile leg however, so if the headwind isn't too strong, we might be able to do it. Chris G is giving us a 25% chance of flying.

Unfortunately, due to the location of the pensite and surrounding terrain, and the scarcity of roads and pullovers under the flight path within an appropriate viewing distance, there will be no departure flyover from Jefferson County. Should we be lucky enough to fly in the morning, attempting to hit the mark for a flyover would add a complication to the already tough conditions anticipated.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MADE IT!!Location: St. Marks, FL
The Arrival Party is in full swing!! Flyover accomplished, with even a circle around by Brooke and the 10 Whoopers, and the brids are now on the ground at the St. Marks "Hilton" - the fabulous pensite on the refuge and the wintering ground for first half of the Class of 2009.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:8:10AM UPDATELocation: St. Marks, FL
We have a launch. Moments ago, the 10 birds destined for the St. Marks NWR took to the air behind today's lead pilot (we think Brooke). Estimated flight time for the 26 mile leg in todays wind conditions is 32 minuntes.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:7:50AM UPDATELocation: St. Marks, FL
The trikes are warming up despite there now being a bit of a breeze. Richard is launching - he is 'wind test dummy' again this morning. We hope to hear that they are able to launch very, very shortly.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:7:25AM UPDATELocation: St. Marks, FL
The pilots still think a flight today is doable. They are waiting for sunrise and we are waiting to see if it will be a test trike situation again this morning. The team is almost in place, and we should have more news around 7:50 to 8:00am.

Date:January 13, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FORECAST - 6:40AM ESTLocation: St. Marks, FL
24F in Jefferson County this morning, with light NW surface winds. In Wakulla County, today's destination, it is slightly warmer (27F). Here, the light surface winds are out of the NE.

The winds at altitude appear to have lost some strength and have a more northerly component than yesterday. Once again, the pilots think a flight today may be doable - so sometime shortly after sunrise (7:33am EST) they will give it a try.

Watch the Field Journal, we will again try to post updates of news "as it happens" this morning. KEEP HITTING REFRESH so that the new updates will come up for you as we post.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 8Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: St. Marks, FL
The forecast and projections for tomorrow look very similar to what we saw for today - - only better. We will be trying for the second morning to lead the ten birds destined to winter at the St. Marks NWR from Jefferson County.

We hope those of you who weren't able to make the Arrival Flyover Event this morning will be able turn out tomorrow. We also hope that those of you who did come out today will be able to return to help celebrate the arrival of the Class of 2009 here.

Once again, here is the flyover information -

The location of the St. Marks Arrival Flyover event is in the town of St. Marks at the San Marcos de Apalache Park. Viewers will want to be on site by ~7:45am to 8:00am to get parked and get in place.

Follow Hwy 363/Port Leon Drive into St. Marks. At the 'T', turn right onto Riverside Drive/Old Fort Road. On your left will be the entrance to the parking area for the viewing site. Be sure to stop by OM's booth (beside the flatbed stage) to say hello and also check our our merchandise. You'll want a souvenir!!

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 7Reporter: Joe Duff
There are a lot of things that don’t work well in the cold, including me. Wings can fly better in the dense air but they can also frost up easily becoming a hazard. Oil is too thick to lubricate, cords too stiff to bend, and goggles fog up. Even the glue on Velcro won’t hold when the temperature drops below freezing. Yesterday morning it was 17F degress at 6am as we waited for the sun to break the horizon before we dared push the aircraft out of the hangar.

The relative humidity was 57% so the air was quite dry. At least that’s what I reasoned as I pushed my aircraft out, fired up the engine, and left three tire tracks in the frost on the runway before any could form on the wing.

The first thing we all do after getting airborne on cold mornings is to reduce the speed of the aircraft to see how slowly it will fly. It only takes a thin layer of frost to destroy all the lift it was engineered to produce. The extra speed needed to keep us aloft makes the aircraft too fast for the birds, who never seem to accumulate frost. Maybe we should cover our wings in feathers.

As we taxied into position, the MP3 player that drives the vocalizer would not turn on despite the pre-take off check. With the birds anxious to go and the other pilots in position, there was no time to fool with cold batteries, so off we went without the encouragement of the bird-call that we normally broadcast from the lead trike.

Excited about flying, the birds didn’t seem to notice as we circled to let the stragglers catch up. We circled again a mile or so out which happened to be close to the fly over site. Liz, Linda, and a host of viewers had a good view of the birds as the gap closed and they again formed on the wing.

Once the birds settled into the business of migrating I took a moment to check the MP3 player. Sticky back Velcro secures it to the instrument panel, but the glue failed in the extreme cold. The little electronic unit swung for a moment on the end of the cord before it pulled away from the jack and disappeared over the side. That solved the problem of trying to change batteries with numb fingers while flying the aircraft and leading birds. It also eliminated an important tool we use to keep the birds following.

A couple of times they veered off and I could have used the vocalizer to encourage them back, but with a little maneuvering they managed to re-form.

In past years many of the birds would break off and persuade others to join them. In fact number 827 developed a habit of leaving the flock within minutes of the start of every flight. He would fall behind knowing that one of us would give chase and he would have the benefit of an aircraft all to himself for the remainder of the trip.

On one difficult departure from Hardin County, TN last year Richard was struggling to get the bird on the wing. He was in low level turbulence trying to persuade them to climb. Number 827 broke away and headed back to the pen. I intercepted and picked him up and the two of us climbed into smooth air at a higher altitude. Not wanting to get too far ahead we turned back and flew against a strong headwind. Our speed over the ground slowed to 17 miles per hour but 827 stayed only six inches off the wing tip riding on the wake. He hung there without an ounce of effort as we climbed and turned and watched Richard and the rest of his flock struggle in the rough air for the next half hour.

This year however the birds tend to stick together and most often they all follow the lead aircraft for the duration of the flight. This could be the result of the perfect weather we had in August that allowed us to fly on 19 consecutive days, or it might have to do with group dynamics. In a flock of 20 birds there is safety in numbers, and maybe even a little mob psychology. One rebellious bird wouldn’t have much influence on a flock as large as 20. So maybe it’s the large number of birds that keeps it together.

Whatever the reason, they seemed content to stay with me despite the loss of the MP3 player, and we climbed slowly to 3000 feet. Our destination was only 43 miles away. We could have gone farther, but it is the last stop before St Marks and it is the staging area where we set up two pens and divide the flock in order to lead ten to St Marks and carry on to Chassahowitzka with the others.

So despite the smooth air, light tailwind, and all the altitude, we began to descend. The birds however didn’t like to give up so easily and I had to go back up to get them. They would follow, but only if we came down slowly. Dropping at 100 feet per minute it can take half an hour to lose 3000 feet. During that time we drifted to the south east a few miles. We had to fly against a head wind to make our way back and they began to break.

That is when I could have used the vocalizer. Brooke landed to help call them down but he was too far way for them to hear the crane call from the ground. Chris was flying behind me with a passenger in the back seat. On this flight one of our Craniacs became the first person to join us as an observer.

I asked him to move in with his vocalizer blaring to help move the birds back over the pen. They all formed on his wing for a few minutes giving his passenger an experience of a lifetime. I circled around and picked them up again and this time they had the idea. We landed next to the pen and all the birds landed around us.

After leading them into the pen and tying down the aircraft we headed to the camp. On the way I stopped to buy a new MP3 player and some better Velcro.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 6Reporter: Liz Condie

Where are they now? The following summarizes the known locations of the majority of the Whooping cranes in the EMP s of January 9th. The location of 12 birds is unknown and seven are long term missing.
(* = female; D = Direct Autumn Release; NFT = non-functional transmitter)



I.D. #


101, 804, 814, 818*, 827, 830*


212 & 419*


307 & 726*, 713, 408 & 519*, 514, 712, 829


402 & D746*

Mascotte Lake

509, D942*




709, 717*




703, 707, 739*




310 & w601*, 311 & 312*




213 & 218*, 524, D627, D742*




D831, D838*




105 & 501*, 107*, 316, 415*, 505, D527*, D528*, D737, 828


318 & 313*


506, D932*, D934*, D935*, D936*, D937*, D940* D941






303* & 317, 216 & 716*, 512 & 722*, D938


416, D533*





309* & 403

Juneau County, WI - Dec 7

401 & 508*

Winnebago County, IL - Dec 9


Brown County, IN – Dec 12


Jasper-Pulaski, IN – Dec 6

805, 812

Columbia County, WI – Dec 10


Sauk County, WI – Dec 10


Lawrence County, TN – between Nov 29 and Dec 11




Marion County, FL - Dec. 22, 2008


Paulding Co. OH - Nov. 18, 2008


Necedah NWR – May 11


Jackson County, WI – June 16


Necedah NWR – June 26


Necedah NWR – June 23


Juneau County, WI – May 6

This photograph of 804, 814, 818*, 827, 830* when they stopped off at the Chassahowitzka NWR pensite was taken by Sara Zimorski (ICF) on January 8, 2010.

This report has been compiled from data supplied by WCEP trackers Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 81 = DOWN DAY #1Location: Jefferson Co. FL

The many people that turned out this cold morning for the Arrival Flyover Event at San Marcos de Apalache Park in St. Marks went away disappointed when we announced that we had to stand down for the day due to the high winds. It was nonetheless great to have an opportunity to greet many old friends and to meet many new ones.

One of the many items featured in OM's 'booth' at the event was our Craniac Kids Whooping Crane Activity Booklet. We offer it free to teachers and educators with just a small fee for shipping and handling. (Click here to order.) The Activity Booklet was recently the subject of an article by Marcia Davis, writing for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

In the article, Davis quotes writer and artist Vickie Henderson, author and illustrator of Operation Migration's new Whooping Crane Activity Book as saying, "Whooping cranes will need the assistance of generations to come - future biologists, educators and diplomats." Click here to read the full text of Marcia's article.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:8:00AM UPDATELocation: St. Marks, FL
Sorry folks...sorrier than you know. We are down. Richard radioed down that the wind has picked up too much, it is too turbulent, and there is a heavy frost to deal with.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:7:55AM UPDATELocation: St. Marks, FL
By 7:45am the wind had picked up at the pensite. With the exception of Richard, the pilots still haven't unstaked the trikes or dropped the wing frost covers, but were giving it some time. They are still hopeful that a flight is doable, so Richard is launching to test conditions.

Keep refreshing this page to see more quick updates as news comes in.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: 7:20AM UPDATE Location: St. Marks, FL
Word just in. The ground crew is doing a check of the 10 juveniles that will be left behind today; those destined for Chassahowitzka NWR. Once that is done they will check the 10 St. Marks birds and ensure all is ready at that pen for their launch. The pilots are enroute from camp to the pensite, so we should know before too long what the frost situation is and have an update on the potential departure.

Date:January 12, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FORECAST - 7:00am ESTLocation: St. Marks, FL
Chris G. reports that conditions look good. There is a wind aloft but it is not expected to hold us back - nor give us any push Conditions on the surface are calm, although there is frost and that could cause a bit of delay of the take-off.

It looks like the St. Marks Arrival Event is almost certainly a go today. More news as it comes in... and as I am able to connect and post here. 

Date:January 11, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: St. Marks, FL
Well folks, I'm in St. Marks hopeful of an Arrival Flyover tomorrow morning. Now before you get too excited, you need to pay attention to the word, "hopeful".

The Jefferson County stopover site is east of St. Marks. While our previous stopover in Decatur County, GA was almost straight north of here, we had to jog the route to the east in order to miss Tallahassee air space. This means the flight from Jefferson to Wakulla County is an unusual one for us. It is more of a west-south-west track.

The surface winds tomorrow are projected to be out of the WNW, and at altitude, mostly out of the west. It appears we could have either a headwind and/or a crosswind situation. HOWEVER, we are 'hopeful'.

Because just like you, I won't know if we are flying tomorrow or not until it happens (or not), we will be setting up at the flyover site in "hopeful" anticipation. If you are wanting to see the flyover, you will have to do the same - that is, get here by 8:00am ish and hope with me - and maybe be disappointed with me too.

As soon as the pilots test the skies in the morning (~7:45) and make a decision as to, go, or not go, we'll let everyone know as quickly as we can. This is a very short migration leg, just 26 air miles, so once the decision to go is made (AND assuming no crane rodeo) the cranes and planes could be at the Arrival Flyover within the hour.

Date:January 11, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Rendezvous times twoLocation: On The Road

It is great to welcome volunteers David and Linda Boyd back to the migration. David drives our white diesel van which hauls our aircraft/equipment trailer, and Linda helps me with outreach, assists at flyovers, and the sale and distribution of OM Gear along the flyway.

Through the boredom of many Down Days, and despite being exposed to all of our foibles, they smiled through it all. In Joe Duff’s words, they are, “a great addition to the team, a calming influence with great humor, have excellent culinary talents, and a do-anything attitude."

David and Linda drove from their home in Rhinelander, WI over the weekend and arrived (with snow on the bumper of their vehicle I might add) late yesterday. We’re tickled to have them back as part of the migration crew.

Volunteer Top Cover pilot, Jack Wrighter also rejoined the migration late yesterday afternoon. Jack flew in from Tennessee, and hooked up with Don Lounsbury who drove his and Paula’s motorhome up from central Florida. Don flew with Jack as spotter this morning. We had a great time catching up on all their news, and it is wonderful to have them back with us.

As a consequence of their return, we have a story to share with you. Apparently Jack’s Cessna has literary skills previously unknown to us.

How I got involved with Operation Migration
By Plane-Plane

My name is Plane-Plane and I am a Cessna 172 aircraft. More than 10,000 Cessna 172s just like me have been manufactured since my model introduction in the 1950s. Most, including the very first one produced, are still flying today.

I’m a bit younger, having rolled off the assembly line in 1960, and my condition today is as good as it was more than four decades ago. The five owners I have had over the years have been very good to me. I have had very little exposure to the elements, having been fortunate to have lived inside hangars ,most of my life.

Each year, my licensed mechanic gives me a thorough inspection inside and out, searching for and correcting any little abnormality before it becomes a problem. Most of my components, subject to wear, have been replaced with new and improved ones, and I have also received many technological improvements over the years.

My last two owners replaced all of my dated instruments with modern units, giving me a near-airliner instrument capability. GPS (global positioning system) units were not even envisioned in my early years, and now I have two of them. My first radio was a clicker channel model, similar to the old TV sets in the early 70s. Today’s radios are electronic with LED displays, and are much more reliable. I have two of them; more back up. A few years back I also was treated to a new paint job and a new interior. I didn’t think I really needed it, but once again, all of my owners have been very good to me.

I have been asked many times how I became known as Plane-Plane. My previous owner, a female commercial pilot and flight instructor, was looking for an airplane for personal use and to teach her son how to fly. After spending quite some time searching for the perfect airplane, she came across me, an older but beautifully maintained 172.

She had her 5 year old granddaughter with her when she first looked at me. The little girl ran up to me, gave me a big hug, and lovingly said “Plane-Plane”. That pretty much sealed the deal and the name stuck.

After successfully teaching her son to fly (I helped of course), she maintained me for several years as her personal “baby”. A new employment opportunity for her resulted in much less flying time for me, and it was decided that I needed a new owner who would give me more attention.

About that time, her neighbors and close friends, Jack and Judi Wrighter, had both retired from the airline industry and were looking for a ‘retirement mission’ airplane. When they discovered that I was for sale, there were no negotiations. A fair price was mentioned, accepted, and the deal was done in one day. The only stipulation, was that I retain my name. Thus, I am still Plane-Plane.

About a year later, my new owners, Jack and Judi, were at my hangar applying another coat of wax (I think about the 20th, I lost count), when a gent named Dave Mattingly walked up. He said he heard Jack and Judi were retired and might be interested in a flying mission. Dave had just returned from Wisconsin, where he met a group of people using ultralight aircraft to lead endangered Whooping Cranes in order to teach them a migration route from Wisconsin to Florida. The group, called Operation Migration, needed another top cover airplane and crew to supplement its single team of Don and Paula Lounsbury in their Cessna 182.

In 2005, the 5th migration year, Jack and Dave flew me up to check this outfit out. We immediately fell right into rhythm with these wonderful people and their work with endangered Whooping cranes. Along with Jack, Judi, and several other volunteer spotters and pilots, I have participated as relief to Don and Paula’s Cessna 182 in each migration since. And, it is my intention to continue supporting this unique and amazing effort as long as I have a willing pilot and spotters to keep me on course.

Date:January 11, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TOUCHDOWN IN FLORIDALocation: On the Road

The Class of 2009 touched down in Florida this morning for what we hope will be the first season of many. They are now housed in two separate travel pens, divided as indicated in Entry 1 for today.

The scorecard reads -
Last year - Arrived in Jefferson County January 14th on Migration Day 79.
This year - Arrived in Jefferson County January 11th on Migration Day 80.

The two photos below were snapped at this morning's departure.

And what about this great picture taken by Lou Kellenberger at this morning's Decatur County departure flyover!

Check back later today (around 5pm) for our 'Predicting' entry when we will give you our best guess as to what we think our chances are for a flight in the morning - and making the Arrival Flyover at St. Marks.

The location of the St. Marks Arrival Flyover event is in the town of St. Marks at the San Marcos de Apalache Park. Viewers will want to be on site by ~7:45am to 8:00am to get parked and get in place.

Follow Hwy 363/Port Leon Drive into St. Marks. At the 'T', turn right onto Riverside Drive/Old Fort Road. On your left will be the entrance to the parking area for the viewing site. Be sure to stop by OM's booth (beside the flatbed stage) to say hello and also check our our merchandise. You'll want a souvenir!!

Date: January 11, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FLORIDA BOUND!Location: On The Road

After three glorious. consecutive days of days of flying and skipping, and then three more stuck on the ground, we finally shook loose this morning.

The cranes and planes are in the air making their way from Georgia to our first stopover location in Florida in Jefferson County behind today's lead pilot, Joe Duff. Joe, who along with the rest of the team went home for the Christmas break, enjoyed a three week visit with his family before rejoining us on January 7th.

Joe gave those gathered at the Decatur departure flyover location a simply terrific view with the bright sun sparkling off all 20 birds.

Today will be an even busier day than usual. The Jefferson County stopover is our 'staging area'. It is the location where we set up both of our travel pens and split the Class of 2009 into two groups; one destined for wintering grounds on the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the other on the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge.

Unless something untoward happened to change the plan, the division of the Class of 2009 will be as follows:
To St. Marks: 906, 908*, 910, 911, 912, 914*, 915*, 918, 925*, and 926*.
To Chass:      901*, 903, 904*, 905*, 907*, 913, 919, 924, 927, and 929.
Among other factors, everything from gender to genetics, and from socialization to amount of crating experienced is considered in arriving at the division.

As I mentioned, today will be a very busy one for everyone, but we should be able to manage further postings here later in the day.

Date:January 10, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Decatur Co. GA
We are hopeful of tomorrow being a fly day.

The departure flyover viewing location for Decatur County, GA is outside of Climax, GA on Bell Dixon Road, just east of where it is intersected by Fewell Road. Click here for map.

Viewers will want to be in place by sunrise (approximately 7:30am). Our ability to fly on any given day is entirely weather dependent. So, it is important to remember that you could make the trip for naught, if, in the morning, we find that weather and flying conditions are such that we are unable to launch with the birds.

Date:January 10, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ON MIGRATION TOO LONGLocation: Decatur Co. GA
Comedian Jeff Foxworthy made a name for himself with his one liners, “If you - - -, you might be a redneck.” Taking a page from his book, here are 15 ways to tell that you’ve been on migration too long.

- If you spend your first waking moment listening for wind, you've been on migration too long.

- If you yell ‘Yippee,” when you find a place to dump the RV’s holding tanks, you've been on migration too long.

- If you’re unfazed that you have no more clean underwear, you've been on migration too long.

- If you ask, “Where are we?” or, “Where were we? three times in one day, you've been on migration too long.

- If you think a solid breakfast is a package of crackers from a pit stop enroute to the next stopover, you've been on   migration too long.

- If the propane runs out at 2:00am on a freezing cold night and you just curl up tighter and pray the Propane Fairy will change the bottle, you've been on migration too long.

- If the jeans you’ve been wearing for the past ten days start looking, ‘clean enough’, you've been on migration too long.

- If your idea of a staying up extra late is 9:00pm, you've been on migration too long.

- If your only interest in vegetation it’s potential as a spot behind which to seek ‘relief,' you've been on migration too long.

- If the highlight of your week is getting to use a real bathroom, you've been on migration too long.

- If your pajamas, indoor, and outdoor clothes are all interchangeable, you've been on migration too long.

- If your appetite instantly disappears at the mere thought of pizza, or chilli, or beans, you've been on migration too long.

- If your hair dryer now only comes out to thaw the pipes from the RV’s holding tanks, you’ve been on migration too long.

- If you call where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, ‘Monticello,' you’ve been on migration too long.

- If five days between showers starts to seem not so bad, you definitely have been on migration too long.

Date: January 10, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:Lily The BearLocation:Decatur Co. GA

Just a note to let everyone that is attempting to access the CraneCam know that the technical issues are not with your computer, or even ours. The stream is working fine, however the issue is one of overwhelming traffic caused by a 3 year old Black bear named Lily.

Our partner launched a new cam late last week, which features Lily inside her den and the story was featured about an hour ago on the Today Show. The resulting traffic has caused the WildEarth servers to crash and they are attempting to add additional servers as I type this.

Stand by and if you'd like to check out Lily in her den located in Ely, Minnesota, you may want to wait a little while and then visit - Thanks for your patience and we wish Lily all the best with the impending birth of her cub(s)!

Date:January 10, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 79 = DOWN DAY #3Location: Decatur Co. GA

From last evening until noon today this area is under a hard freeze warning and a wind chill advisory. While just half the strength of what is blowing aloft, the 15mph northwest winds are giving us a wind chill temperature of 11F. Not only will we not be flying, we will be trying to stay inside our tin cans as much as possible this morning.

As the day wears on however, it is supposed to warm up to close to 40F and the winds should start to drop. As the cold front moves off, we should be seeing some potential flying weather moving in.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
"Swine Time," the annual festival of the city of Climax, is held on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. This city of only 300 citizens may attract 35,000 people to the festivities. A parade down Main Street kicks off the event featuring contests including best dressed pig, corn shucking, hog calling, chitterlings eating, pig racing, syrup making, baby crawling, and the Great Greased Pig Chase. There also is a beauty contest for different age groups, where the winners are crowned "Miss Swine Time" and "Little Miss Swine Time." Not once is the swine flu mentioned.

Date:January 09, 2010 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Decatur Co. GA

Looking at the weather models and projections for what tomorrow has in store for us wasn't a happy experience.

It looked so bad in fact that Chris Gullikson, OM's personal weather guru, wasn't even moved to give odds on our chance for a flight. While we never give up hope until there is no hope left, I think we will all be completely astonished if tomorrow turns into a fly day.

Date:January 09, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie

The following charts show the numbers of Whooping cranes in the wild and in captivity in North America as of January 5, 2010.

Wild Populations




Adult Pairs

Aransas/Wood Buffalo





Florida Non-Migratory





Eastern Migratory





Total in the Wild





A The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population is currently estimated at 264 birds.
B 52 chicks hatched in Canada in 2009 but only 22 fledged. 21 completed the migration, but one chick may be missing.
C The 20 juveniles in the EMP ultralight-led migration program are added to the wild population after their release in Florida.


Captive Populations




Breeding Pairs

Patuxent WRC, Marylan





International Crane Foundation, WI





Devonian Wildl. Cons.Cent./Calgary





Species Survival Center, Louisiana





Calgary Zoo, Alberta





New Orleans Zoo, Louisiana





San Antonio Zoo, Texas





Homosassa Springs Wildl State Park





Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida





Jacksonville Zoo, Florida





Milwaukee County Zoo, Wisconsin





Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park, NC





Total in Captivity





E The captive numbers do not reflect the 34 chicks hatched in 2009 that entered reintroduction programs in Wisconsin.

TOTALS (Wild + Captive) 398 + 153 = 551

Date:January 09, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
On January 5th. Tom Stehn, Whooping crane coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, conducted the fourth aerial census of the 2009-2010 season. Flying with Cessna 210 pilot Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions, Tom sighted 244 adults and 19 juveniles for a total of 263 Whooping cranes.

Stehn noted that this census found 19 more cranes than were present on the December 10 flight when some birds were still migrating.

“One additional juvenile separated from its parents was sighted near Medford, Oklahoma December 14-25 bringing the current estimated flock size to 264,” Stehn said. “In addition, the South Sundown Island chick known to be at Aransas was not found on this last flight, so one chick can be added to the peak flock size for the 2009-2010 winter, bringing the total to 265 Whooping cranes. Tom said it was not know if the entire South Sundown Island family group was overlooked on the flight, or if the chick had died and its parents were sighted off of their territory, but not identified as such during the flight.

In his update Tom commented, “The discovery of 19 additional cranes is really good news. If cranes moved around during the flight, I am concerned that perhaps this tally is artificially high by a few birds due to double counting them. Future census flights will attempt to pin this down. The current estimated flock size of 264 is surprisingly high, but indicates that survival between spring and fall 2009 was excellent. The 21 wintering chicks that successfully migrated out of the 22 fledged in Canada, added to the estimated flock size of 247 in the spring of 2009, meant that a maximum of 268 cranes could have arrived at Aransas this fall. One crane seen injured in Saskatchewan in the fall migration is believed to have perished. The fact that we are accounting for 265 out of the potential 267 is excellent news.”

Tom's Report on Habitat Use and Food Resources
Tides have lowered somewhat with about 30% of the mud flats dry on San Jose Island. However, few observations have been made this winter of cranes feeding in open bay habitat, and only six cranes were seen in open bay habitat on the January flight.

Salinities in San Antonio Bay are currently 14 parts per thousand, low enough that the cranes are drinking directly from the salt marsh. 65 cranes were located in unburned uplands, 10 were on refuge prescribed burns, 12 were at feeders on private lands, and 2 were on shell roads. The presence of so many cranes in the uplands, and cranes traveling longer distances than usual into uplands, is indicative of food scarcity. A crab count conducted December 18th found only 1 crab. No commercial crab traps were sighted on the most recent flight, another indication that crab populations are at low levels.

The cranes since Christmas have not been observed catching blue crabs, whereas before that, some crabs were still being taken. A few wolfberries were still available to the cranes the week before Christmas but have tapered off since then. With blue crabs in very short supply, and the wolfberry crop finished for the year, the cranes are entering the period of the winter when food shortages sometimes occur and the cranes end up using up fat reserves to survive.

Date:January 09, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

Suzanne Hall Johnson from Colorado has issued a MileMaker Challenge. She will match all 1/4, 1/2, and 1 mile sponsorships up to 5 miles.

At the moment we've actually logged 18 more miles than are sponsored, so the migration is now in the red. There are still 264 miles to go before the entire route is fully subscribed. With Suzanne's challenge, now is a good time to double the value of your sponsorship.

Date:January 09, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 78 = DOWN DAY #2Location: Decatur Co. GA

It felt even colder this morning than the 17F it was with the windchill factored in. The northerly 10mph surface wind is brutal on any exposed skin. At altitude it is equally as nasty as far as the cranes and planes are concerned; the 20 to 30mph winds left no doubt about what was in store for today - another day on the ground here in Decatur County, GA.

For those of you keeping score, last year we arrived at this stopover on January 13 (Migration Day 78) and departed on the 14th (Migration Day 79). So, we're still ahead of the game date-wise, but unless we can fly tomorrow and that's not looking too promising, we're going to fall behind 2008's track migration day-wise. C'mon Mr. Weatherman...get with the program!

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Decatur County is divided by the Flint River which flows to meet the Chattahoochee River. Together, they form the Apalachicola River that flows to the Gulf of Mexico. At the junction of the two rivers, the Jim Woodruff Dam forms Lake Seminole. A system of locks there allows barge traffic to travel between the inland port at Bainbridge and the Gulf of Mexico.

Date:January 08, 2010 - Entry 5Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
The morning dawned crisp and clear with no wind. A perfect day for migrating. All 20 birds came out of the pen in a eruption of white, quickly flying above the wing and clearing the trees quite abruptly. Slowly turning on course they began to catch the wing.

As we climbed the birds formed up in an orderly fashion in a long line off my left wing. As our altitude increased, so did our ground speed, and soon we were doing approximately forty-six miles per hour. This boded well for skipping yet another stop.

A large layer of cloud cover had formed overhead while we were preparing for our flight, and this kept the thermals down to a minimum. As we approached the first stop we began consider skipping on to the next stop. However we would soon be out from under the cloud cover and in full bright sunlight. This meant that there would be potential for more thermal activity.

Soon we were in full sunlight and did not find the expected thermals so we decided to continue on to stopover #21 near Climax, Georgia. We headed on our new course and continued to climb to find better ground speed. This took a while, but we did eventually climb through 3700 feet ASL, [above sea lever] reaching a ground speed of 48mph.

904 led most of the first leg before 906 took over. Once in a while a group of seven or eight birds would drop off at the end of the line. Pushing the bar out we would slow down to let them catch up and they would soon be back with us. On one occasion a lone bird broke out from the back of the line and out of the slipstream. It charged ahead past all of the other birds, and butted in front of 906 who had been flying erratically, diving below the wing, and leading the rest of the birds with it. I guess 905 disliked this behavior, as it made the birds at the back of the line work harder, and decided to take the lead away from 906.

It seemed to work as after that the birds stopped dropping down. About 25 miles out we began a slow decent. This allowed the birds to fly faster and still catch a break. We started to lose altitude before arriving so as not to have to circle around the landing site trying to convince the birds to land.

As it turned out we were down to a couple of hundred feet on arrival but the birds began to climb again and flew back north a couple miles where they had eyeballed a nice marshy area to land in. But that also was not to be. I caught up to them as they circled the pond, cutting them off. They regained interest in the wing and followed it back to our stopover site and this time landed as a group next to Chris and Matt and their trikes.

Yay! I made it to Climax with twenty chicks how awesome is that!

Date:January 08, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
The departure flyover viewing location for Decatur County, GA is outside of Climax, GA on Bell Dixon Road, just east of where it is intersected by Fewell Road. Click here for map.

Viewers will want to be in place by sunrise (approximately 7:30am). Our ability to fly on any given day is entirely weather dependent. So, it is important to remember that you could make the trip for naught, if, in the morning, we find that weather and flying conditions are such that we are unable to launch with the birds.

Date:January 08, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:I'M LIKE THE MAYTAG REPAIRMANLocation: Decatur Co. GA
Between the longer time on the road due to the skipped stopover, losing an hour on the switch from Central to Eastern Time, and CraneCam and equipment issues on arrival, all those things that usually get accomplished on the afternoon of a fly day didn't quite get ticked off the list.

As a result, everyone is on the move today. Chris and Walt left shortly after 7am to return to Pike County for the white van and the aircraft trailer. Richard, Barb, and Erin have gone to the next stopover in Jefferson County, FL to set up our second travel pen there. Bev and Brooke are in St. Marks to check out the wintering pen. Heather and Matt have gone to town on two missions. They are in search of a laundromat to wash all the costumes, and also for a place to get a tire repaired.

The right front tire on the blue truck has been gasping for air about every second day To the right you can see what it looked like this morning. Past time for fill ups and time for a real fix.

If you were counting crew heads out on errands, there's only two left unaccounted for. Geoff and I. Geoff is the 'on duty bird babysitter', so that leaves me holding down the fort. Just like the Maytag repairman....I'm the lonliest gal in camp.

Date:January 08, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
The scene as the four pilots gathered at the end on the grassy strip runway to drop the frost covers from the trike wings. You can see from the reflection in the water how calm it was. Crouched down in the bushes behind some tree cover some distance from the site, this is what I saw moments after Richard launched with all 20 birds.


Date:January 08, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 76 = DOWN DAY #1Location: Decatur Co. GA
Are you old enough to remember that old Dinah Washington song, "What a Difference a Day Makes?" After treating us to three consecutive days of great flying conditions the weather gods decided they'd given us enough.

Delivered to our doorstep this morning was an extra helping of cold, strong wind, and rain which began falling overnight but has paused for the moment. Today will be Down Day #1 in Decatur County, GA.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Decatur County, created by an act of the Georgia General Assembly on December 8, 1823, was named for Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. a hero of the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. The youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the United States Navy, he was first American celebrated as a national military hero who had not played a role in the American Revolution. Bainbridge, the county seat, was named after U.S. Navy Commodore William Bainbridge.

Date:January 07, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LooooNG DAYLocation: Decatur Co. GA
Distance:116 miles (Pike Co. AL - Decatur Co. GA) Total Miles 1039
While we'd all be tickled to pieces to have a fourth repeat tomorrow, I think everyone would admit to feeling relieved that the weather projected for the morning will most definitely keep us on the ground. I guarantee we'd be as bushy-tailed as all get out if we got flying weather in the morning, but as everyone is pretty darn beat it would be a toughie.

There is a nasty cold front moving our way, and in fact the leading edge has arrived as the thermometer is already starting to plunge. It is bringing with it precipitation - whether that's going to be rain, snow or freezing rain/sleet - we will have to wait and see.

Along with some technical difficulties with the CraneCam this afternoon, we had some equipment issues, and between those things, and losing an hour to the change back to Eastern Time, not everything that needed to be done got accomplished. Although we'll be staying in place in Decatur County, GA, Friday is going to be one busy day.

Photos from today's departure will be ready for posting here tomorrow, as well as information on the departure flyover location for Decatur County.

Date:January 07, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TRIPLE THREATLocation: Decatur Co. GA
We're a triple threat! With today's flight featuring yet another skipped stopover (Clay County, GA) we set a new record. Three flights in three days and three skips. Can y'all (I now speak 'southern') hear us cheering?

Almost all the ground crew has arrived at our new campsite and it's time to get set up. And some crew still has to backtrack to Pike County to pick up the white van and the aircraft/equipment trailer. More news later once that's all done and we get a chance to have some breakfast. Now that we're back on Eastern Time, (it's 1:35pm EST) breakfast will be even later than it usually is on fly days. No wonder I'm hearing everyone's tummy rumbles.

Date:January 07, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 75Location: Pike Co. AL
Not so cold this morning and very calm at 4:00am. As sunrise approached conditions remained favorable both on the surface and at altitude. In the half light, team members started moving around readying for the possibility of a third consecutive fly day.

By 6:40 the pilots were at the trikes to fuel up. The wing covers would stay on until the last possible moment. By 6:50 the ground crew (Erin and Geoff) were in place at the pen to check the birds and prepare for the release. By 7:00 Bev and Barb hit the road to get in position in the tracking van. Then there was nothing to do but wait....

It took a while for the sun to come up sufficiently for the pilots to feel confident about dropping the frost covers. At 7:35 today's lead pilot, Richard, launched. There was a bloom of white as all 20 birds came over the rise from the pen on the tail of Richard's trike.

Tucked in the trees a distance away, Walter and I watched Richard make a shallow turn to the left, and up over the tree line he and his charges climbed. In the time it took to click the shutter on the camera three or four times they were gone - just like that.

Just as the airborne contingent got on course, a helicopter flew over our heads going north, then turned south. We held our breath for a few moments when the pilots spotted two others lower down but cutting right across Richard's flight path. They continued to spot others but thankfully there was no serious interaction.

With the Class of 2009 well on their way to Georgia, the pilots radioed the okay to the ground crew to dismantle the pen. Before they left radio signal range, we heard the pilots talking about a tailwind, leaving us to speculate our ultimate destination - Clay County or Decatur County, GA.

Very shortly, the work of breaking camp will begin in preparation for the ground crew's departure. We'll be on the road headed for Stopover #20 but hoping to hear our destination is going Stopover #21. The pilots won't make that call until the cranes and planes are approaching Clay County and they can weigh a number of factors into the decision.

Date:January 06, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Pike Co. AL

The weather models of the moment call for us to have negligible SE surface winds in the morning and westerly winds aloft. As this next leg is where we swing east into Georgia, a little push from the west isn't too much of a bad thing. Based on what we're seeing at around 4pm this afternoon, we are giving ourselves a 60-40 chance of being able to fly tomorrow.

Despite several hours of searching, which continued until it was too dark to see any longer, we could not find a suitable viewing site for the departure out of Walker County. Very sorry folks.

Date:January 06, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SKIPPED A STOPOVERLocation: Pike Co. AL
Stopover #18 in Lowndes County missed a visit from the planes and cranes this morning as they all just kept on going.

Two days, two flights, two skipped stops. Has a nice ring to it doesn't it? Even nicer music to my ears are the date comparisons. Last year on what turned out to be an 88 day migration - the second longest on record - we arrived here at Stopover #19 on January 12. It's taken 70% of the migration to do it, but we've finally pulled ahead. Whether it stays that way is a whole other question.

Regardless, we're happy today. The Class of 2009 are safe and sound on the ground in Pike County, AL.

With the exception of Bev and Barb in the tracking van and me in the Jamboree, all the ground crew is still on the road. Won't be long though before the hustle  and bustle of setting up camp will be underway once again.

Date:January 05, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 74Location: Chilton Co. AL
Distance:111 miles (Franklin Co. AL - Chilton Co. AL) Total Miles 813

The morning started with an irate banging on the camper door. Staring up at me through the window was none other than the local property tax collector.

“Let’s see,” he began. “Four trikes, 5 campers, 2 pen trailers, 1 equipment trailer and 1 tracking van. You’ve been here so long we’re looking at some serious money here.”

"Will you take a check?” I countered. “It’s a good one and you can cash it when the banks open at nine.”

“Why not?” he answered. “From what I’ve seen of you guys, you’re not much of a flight risk!”

Then my alarm rang out and woke me up.

I looked out to see the flag hanging motionless as if exhausted from weeks of belting out its chorus of, “You Ain’t Leavin' Today” song. Then Walt appeared out of the cold dark and said, “Don’t believe it. They just sprayed it with water last night so it would freeze and fool us into getting airborne at least one more time before hell freezes over." After our two previous aborted attempts to leave, we were due some favorable consideration from the weather gods.

I was soon at the pen revving the engine as the birds squealed in electric anticipation. I could swear I heard one of them comment to the others in disgust, “This guy again? Why don’t they send us a pilot who can actually fly?” Before I could protest in my defense, Erin and Geoff threw open the gates and we launched into the beginning of a rodeo which lasted long enough to turn the goose bumps that the single digit temps had covered me with, into beads of sweat.

The trashy air did its part to express its disfavor at our leaving, but soon we were scratching at the thick, cold altitude that would thwart its malice. As we climbed, I couldn’t help but feel we were being lifted up, higher and higher, by all the friends we were leaving behind who had blessed us with a never ending bounty of kindness and generosity and good wishes. You never forget folks like that, and you try just that much harder so as to not let them down.

And in the upstairs there awaited something called a tailwind, which I had heretofore believed to be restricted in reality to an act which good manners required me to say, “Excuse Me." I had long since believed its existence in the sky to be nothing more than urban legend. But, there it was on the GPS, and as we all know, even GPSs with Mr. T talking don’t lie. Could it be an illusion? 67 miles per hour ground speed! That’s about a 30 mph tailwind! Perhaps Elvis hasn’t left the building after all. The ground rolled out beneath us faster than a 400 lb man on a treadmill during a stress test. Amazing! Can a trike pilot even breath at this speed?

And there, below me to the left was Walker County Airport where another incredibly kind and generous friend stood watching as we overflew the stop he had worked so hard to arrange, and rearrange, and rearrange again, as we tried and tried to make this leg of the migration.

But the regret that always fills me at these times, a regret that even the thrill of progress doesn’t quit dissolve, is always calmed by their words, “We understand completely and we wish you and the birds well.” Without such people, the world would surely tilt off its axis and tumble into a very dark abyss.

As we approached giant smoke stacks from two massive power plants, the birds began to balk at this intrusion into their world, and an even ten broke back from the string of 20 in protest. Richard moved in and picked them up and after some coaxing they rejoined the effort.

On my trike for the first time was the famous Trikecam, a veritable eye in the sky hopefully transmitting in real time the flight of the birds. Chris, in his ever ingenious fashion, had put this little rig together for less than the cost of 10 people going to a movie, and it was going a long way to accomplish a long held wish of the project to give folks the experience of flying with birds.

I had hoped to accomplish this by contracting Howard Hughes to build a giant trike called the “Spruce Trike” with a giant back seat that would accommodate a few hundred people at a time. That was until someone informed me that Howard Hughes had been dead for years. Oh well. My Newsweek magazines don’t get forwarded too good these days.

But I couldn’t help but wonder at just how far we had come since the days of David Letterman and his MonkeyCam, where the little fellow was released to climb around the studio rigging and give us the hope that someday we too could be a monkey. And later, much later, we were treated to Animal Planet's CritterCam, virtually everything that moved had a camera on. Even the cams had cams on them!

Then , like the roll in a player piano, our next stop appeared below and down we went to greet it. The thermals had started to work their treachery on the layer of air between us and the ground, so down through it we dropped absorbing its kicks, punches and round houses.

The birds, not friendly towards instability, chose to remain aloft as possible since thermals are their friends, and for millions of years their allies in their quest for travel and freedom. Coaxing them to relinquish the companionship of this friend took effort, but in the end, their buddies clad in white won the day and soon the migration leg came to an end.

Birds safely in the pen, trikes safely nested down for the night, and the traveling carnival fully arrived, we found ourselves sitting around a warm and welcome table with our hosts ,eating Brunswick Stew and corn bread, drinking sweat tea, catching up on a year’s worth of happenings and enjoying the warmth and camaraderie which only a project like this one can generate.

How lucky we all are.

Date:January 05, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
With NW surface winds forecast to be 0 to 5mph and conditions aloft similar or better than today's, we are anticipating/hoping for another fly day tomorrow (Wednesday) morning.

The departure flyover viewing location for Chilton County is south of Montevallo on CR 107 which is off CR 73. The viewing location on CR 107 is just a short way east of where CR 119 meets CR 107. Click here for map.

The early morning is quite cold so remember to dress warmly and be on site by 7:00am. Everyone attending the flyover will receive a gift of a pair of binoculars compliments of Southern Company.

Date:January 05, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:AT STOPOVER #18Location: Chilton Co. AL
Four trikes, four pilots, and 20 Whooping cranes are all safely on the ground in Chilton Co. AL. Going to be a busy afternoon. Once the ground-bound team makes it to Chilton, because we are short a driver we have to make trips back to Franklin County for vehicles, then there is camp to set up. More as soon as we can.

Date:January 05, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 74Location: Franklin Co. AL
We had the brrr factor at work this morning. 4F with the windchill when I stepped outside at 4:00am. The weatherman delivered variable WNW surface winds of around 5 to 6 mph, but there was little change to what has been lurking aloft; strong NW winds of anywhere from 20 to 30mph.

The scene here this morning was one of deja-vu; crew moving around getting organized, scraping windshields, and loading vehicles. That done, there was nothing to do but to wait for official sunrise (6:58am), hopeful of an opportunity to launch.  Would the birds and wind cooperate and make the third attempt to depart Franklin County the charm?

Fear of a frost build up on the trike wings had the pilots waiting until the very last second to open the hangar doors and push out. (Left: Pilots costuming up and waiting for sun to come out.)

At 7:15am CST Richard took to the air. He was barely up when he did a fast turnabout and landed back on the runway again, concerned about frost build up on the wing.

In just the very few minutes out of the hangar, the other three trikes on the ground had also already gotten frost accumulation on the wings, so the pilots delayed take off and moved their trikes into the weak morning sun.

After a few minutes, Chris launched with Richard right behind him. Today's lead pilot Brooke was next off, with Matt bringing up the rear. Within moments Matt came over the aviation radio saying he was having problems with his helmet and needed to return to the runway. The other three trikes circled while Matt resolved the issues with his headgear, watchful all the while for icing on the wings.

At 7:43 we watched as Brooke disappeared behind the tree line to pick up the birds. Chris' voice came over the aviation radio with the good news that they could find a 17mph push at 2200 feet above ground level. Then, way off in the distance we could see the Class of 2009 trailing Brooke's trike as they climbed toward the ridge to the south.

There was some reluctance on the birds' part and Richard called for the Swamp Monsters and also for the truck to get ready to blast down the runway. We could see Brooke, not much bigger than a bird in the distant sky, circling and circling, trying to get the birds on the wing.

At 7:53 Chris came over the radio saying, "Looking good Brooke," and if you couldn't hear the loud sigh of relief from the ground here it was only because you weren't listening hard enough. Brooke said he was in trashy air at his lower altitude, and as a result gaps formed in the line of birds before they would again re-group. Chris promised smooth air above 2000 feet and Brooke worked to get them to climb.

Hopeful, but not totally confident yet, the pilots radioed the ground crew to hold off taking down the pen for a while. Brooke was still having to circle to keep the birds with him. By 8:01, from what we heard on the radio, Richard was high and behind, Chris and Matt were ahead and to the south, and Brooke had all 20 birds on the wing.

You will have to tune back in later today for the rest of the story, and I hope we will be telling it from a new location!!

Date:January 04, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Tomorrow morning it looks like we'll have NW winds at around 6 to 8mph on the surface and anywhere from 15 to 25mph aloft. But....we've about given up the guessing game.

Our prediction for tomorrow is (a) that we will fly, or, (b) that we will not fly. We'll just hope for the best when we go to bed tonight and then get up in the morning and see what kind of conditions Tuesday has in store for us.

Date:January 04, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 73 = DOWN DAY #9Location: Franklin Co. AL
At 4:00am the temperature with the windchill was a frosty 8F. On the surface the NW winds were gusting 8mph, and up on the ridge over which the cranes and planes have to climb the winds were out of the north and blowing a steady 10 mph. While surface conditions were somewhat better to the south of us, aloft, high velocity winds of 25mph plus blanketed the entire flight path.

Reluctant to throw in the towel, it was decided that if conditions at sunrise still weren't favorable, we would stand at the ready for at least an hour in the hope of a change for the better. Richard launched to check out the air at altitude and as the minutes ticked by hope dwindled. He didn't find anything different from what we already suspected. Wind too strong and too bumpy - it's a no fly day. A dejected crew made for their respective motorhomes to strip off the layers of cold weather gear.

Our anxiety to leave is heightened by precipitation on the way in the form of snow appearing on the radar screen. With the cold temperatures we're experiencing, accumulation is possible.

Date:January 03, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Oh how great it would be to just once type in this space, "We're flying tomorrow - guaranteed!" But unfortunately, neither Mother Nature nor Old Man Weather gives guarantees, so here we are once again reduced to second guessing both of them.

The latest check of what's in store for us tomorrow looked awfully similar to what we saw yesterday at this time. If the wind velocity was less, it was marginal, and if there was a difference in cloud cover, it too was imperceptible. This led Chris G to repeat his odds from yesterday; that is, an 80% chance of flying.

Once again it is virtually certain that the pilots will not attempt to lead the birds dead into the wind in order to provide a flyover. After today's struggle, as quickly as they can get them on the wing they will be turning to get on course.

Date:January 03, 2010Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 72 = DOWN DAY #9Location: Franklin Co. AL
At 4:00am it was a brisk 18F and an even brisker 9F with the windchill. The weather stations were reporting a 7mph NE surface wind, and up to 20mph at altitude. Strong winds but perhaps doable, so everyone was in motion to get into position.

Four trikes launched and Chris reported bumpy air through 2700 feet. He finally found some smooth air above that, but the trick would be to get the birds through the trash up to that altitude. Brooke, today's lead pilot, launched shortly after 7am with all 20 birds. Several times they turned back in to the wind, and several times Brooke maneuvered to get them back on the wing.

The birds continued their reluctance to climb, so just in case, the pilots called for the Swamp Monster to get in place. By 7:55, more than a half an hour after launch some birds were lagging, leading the pilots to discuss breaking up the birds onto more than one trike. Still engaged in a rodeo, the pilots radioed to the ground crew to continue to stand by at the pen.

Matt, flying well above the rest, reported 'ripples' at 3200 feet and Brooke acknowledged there was a lot of trashy air between his altitude and where Matt was flying. With the little prospect of smoother air at higher altitudes, and after the trikes had been airborne for more than an hour, and the birds for 42 minutes, the pilots made the decision to call it a day.

There was a collective groan here on the ground when Chris radioed the crew at the pen to get ready for their return. At 8:22 the birds were back on the ground at the pen. We will all - crew and birds - be spending at least one more day in Franklin County.

One bird went down. The pilots radioed the coordinates to the tracking van and Bev and Barb sped to the site. Costuming up, before going to its location, they will crate it, and transport it back to the pen.

Date:January 02, 2010 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL

This afternoon's check of the weather models revealed that we could have a possible fly day tomorrow. Chris G is giving us an 80% chance - considerably better than we've had of late.

If we do fly however, with the projected wind direction being out of the NNE on the surface and out of the NNW aloft - and a tad strong, it is virtually certain that the pilots will not be able to lead the birds dead into the wind to accomplish a flyover. If they are able to get the Class of 2009 up and into the air, their prime objective will be to get them on the wing and turned on course as quickly as possible.

No doubt those who came out for what turned out to be an aborted departure on Tuesday will be glad they did, as that is quite likely to be the only opportunity to view Whooping cranes in Franklin County this migration.

Date:January 02, 2010 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 71 = DOWN DAY #8Location: Franklin Co. AL
Once again, although out of the right direction, the very strong winds are our nemesis this morning. With gusts on the surface of up to 18mph, and ranging from from 30 to 50mph aloft, there was no need to even put a test trike up. Today will be Down Day #8 in Franklin County, AL.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
The State birds of the U.S. States on the Whooping crane flyway (north and south) and summer and wintering grounds are:
Wisconsin and Michigan – American Robin or Migratory Thrush     [American Robin]
Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky - THE CARDINAL GROSBEAK     [Northern Cardinal]
Tennessee and Florida - COMMON MOCKING-BIRD     [Northern Mockingbird]
South Carolina - GREAT CAROLINA WREN     [Carolina Wren]
Alabama - THE GOLDEN-WINGED WOODPECKER    [Northern Flicker or Yellowhammer]
Georgia - FERRUGINOUS MOCKING-BIRD    [Brown Thrasher]

Date:January 01, 2010 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL

First the good news. Conditions have improved from what we've had over the past couple of days. Now the bad news. They haven't improved quite as much as we'd like to see. In fact, from what we are seeing on the weather models at the moment, it appears as if Saturday is almost going to be a clone of this past Tuesday when it was a case of, 'close, but no cigar'.

While Chris G is giving us 60% chance of being able to fly tomorrow morning, my prediction is our odds are more like 40%. I'm hoping that he is the one who is right!

Date:January 01, 2010 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SIGHTING WHOOPING CRANESLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Throughout the year we get many emails reporting sightings of Whooping cranes – for which we are very appreciative.

There is a special website for folks to go to, and it has a sighting reporting form. The sighting report goes to all the WCEP partners and is most especially useful for the trackers. (A permanent link to the reporting website can be found under the "Links" column to the right of this Field Journal.)

Many of the sightings can be confirmed as being of Whooping cranes, but some turn out to be a case of 'mistaken identity'.

The US Fish and Wildlife service has a great webpage to help people identify and distinguish between different birds. While designed primarily for Sandhill Crane hunters, the site has good information for anyone with an interest in birds.

Below is just one of the helpful graphics from the FWS webpage.

Date:January 01, 2010 - Entry - 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MORE CREW CHANGESLocation: Franklin Co. AL
After a two week stint with us, we said goodbye to Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s Robert Doyle on Wednesday when his replacement Barb Clauss arrived. Barb, also a member of the Crane Ecology team at the Laurel, MD facility, will be with us until next up in the rotation, husband Brian Clauss, another crane handler/trainer from Patuxent, will arrive to relieve Barb from migration duty on January 14th.

Back to help us out once again is volunteer ultralight pilot cum chef, Matt Ahrens. We welcomed Matt to Alabama on Monday, December 28th when he arrived in camp with Chris Gullikson. Chris had picked him up on his return trip from Wisconsin after his holiday break. Matt will fly in Joe’s place while Joe continues to spend time at home with his family.

More re-additions to the migration crew are in the offing. Top cover pilot, Jack Wrighter along with pilot and spotter Don Lounsbury, both volunteers, are expected to rejoin the crew in early to mid January.

Date:January 01, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 70 = DOWN DAY #7Location: Franklin Co. AL
While less strong than anticipated, Chris had it right with his prediction for this morning. As a result, all 31 pairs of feet will remain firmly planted on the ground today (11 human, 20 avian).


from the Board of Directors and staff of Operation Migration

Date:December 31, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
OM's amateur meteorologist, Chris Gillikson says he doesn't like our chances for a flight on New Year's Day. A cold front is moving through our area tonight, lowering the ceiling, bringing with it blustery northwest winds, and the possibility of snow flurries.

When pushed, Chris conceded and quoted 90 to 10 odds against our chances of flying. But I think the 10% might just have been a matter of not wanting to entirely rule out the possibility for the third straight day. Guess we wait and see what the morning brings.

Date:December 31, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:WHAT IS THE PENALTY?Location: Main Office
Since we posted the increase to the reward for information leading to the apprehension of the individual(s) who shot Whooping crane 217*, we’ve received numerous inquiries about the potential penalty that an individual(s) might receive. Here is the answer.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) protects not only the animals and plants themselves, but also their critical habitat. Although it is an essential and very important law, because it has an impact on the future of property that is occupied by listed species, it can sometimes be a hard one to live with.

When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first contemplated reintroducing Whooping cranes into their former range they had to consider all the consequences. Both the nesting grounds in Wisconsin and the wintering area in Florida are on federal land already protected, but the majority of the 1,200 miles in between is privately owned. If reintroduced birds listed as endangered were to establish territories on that land, it could become critical habitat and subject to all the restrictions outlined in the Act.

Naturally, there was some resistance. Everyone wants to see a bird as beautiful as a Whooping crane protected from extinction, but no one wants to lose control of personal property.

Within the ESA there is a provision for such occurrences. It is called the 'Experimental, Non-essential Designation'. Under this specially enacted regulation, the birds the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) introduces to eastern North America are deemed not critical to the survival of the species, but rather, are an experimental population and therefore have the status of Threatened. This removed the risk of property restrictions, encouraged support, and 20 States and two Canadian Provinces agreed that reintroduced Whooping cranes would be welcome in their jurisdictions.

Without this change in the laws none of the work done by any of the WCEP partners would be possible, and this population would not exist. But there are some drawbacks. All of us would like to see the person or persons who shot number 217*, the most important bird in the eastern population, caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law - but these birds are not protected by the Endangered Species Act. They are however covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and people who shoot them are subject to a fine of up to $15,000.00, or a jail term of six months, or both.

Date:December 31, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 69 = Down Day #6Location: Franklin Co. AL
The rain, 200 foot ceiling, and winds dead out of the south, leave no doubt about where the Class of 2009 and all of us on the migration crew will spend New Year's eve. Today will be Down Day #6 in Franklin County, AL.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
If you are outdoors during migration season and you hear cranes calling overhead but none are in sight, it is likely that they are flying so high that they are invisible to the naked eye. There is a distinct difference between the calls of Sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes. Click the links to listen and you might be able to identify them if you hear them.

Whooping Crane
Sandhill Crane
Whooping Crane
Sandhill Crane

Date:December 30, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
About all we can see for tomorrow is more of the same of what we had today...southerly winds and rain, rain, rain. Given that, we reiterate yesterday's prediction of our changes for flight on Thursday morning as being somewhere between zero and zilch. Drats!

Date:December 30, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MORE THAN HALF WAYLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Lisa and Carl Saunders emailed to say they wanted to give Give a WHOOP! campaign a shot in the arm. They couldn't think of a better use for a $100 bill they received as a Christmas gift, that challenging folks to Give a WHOOP! They will match the next 10 Whoops that come in - which means your contribution will be doubled!

We are only 56% of the way there toward our goal of 10,000 WHOOPS! We hope the photos below (taken at the aborted departure from Franklin County, AL December 29th) will serve as inspiration, and that you'll think they are something to 'whoop' about.

A second ultralight (piloted by Matt Ahrens) hovers high above and behind lead pilot Brooke as he tried to convince the Class of 2009 to climb.
(Photo courtesy of Phil Free/Southern Company)
The need to reduce the size of this fabulous photo doesn't do justice to the beauty of the young birds as they flew right over the heads of flyover viewers.
(Photo courtesy of Phill Free/Southern Company

Bottom: The bottom two photographs were snapped and sent to us by Alice Baker so we could share them with you. Alice managed to capture the two extremes; a picture of all 20 young cranes following Brooke's ultralight, as well as one of a lone bird enjoying an effortless ride as it surfs the airflow off Brooke's left wing.

Date:December 30, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
The current estimate of the number of Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population is 85; 48 males and 37 females. WCEP trackers report there was very little movement of birds over the past two weeks. The number of birds in each state and their locations as of December 26th are shown below. (* = female; D = Direct Autumn Release; NFT = non functional transmitter)



Wayne Co. 408 & 519*



Vermillion Co. 211 (surviving mate of 217*)
Greene Co. 212 & 419*, 318 & 313*
Knox Co. 317 & 303*, 216 & 716*, 512 & 722*, D 938
Jackson Co. (Muscatatuck NWR) 307 & 726*, 416, 506, D528*, D533*, 713, D932*, D934*, D935*, D936*, D937*, D940*, D941
Vigo Co. 310 & W601*

Eleven Whooping cranes pause their southward migration at the Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge in Indiana.
Photo courtesy of Mark Trabue



Meigs Co. (Hiwassee WR) 105 & 501*, 107*, 415*, 505, D527*, D737, 828
Lawrence Co. D831, D838*.



Morgan Co. (Wheeler NWR) 213 & 218*



Lowndes Co. 703, 707 & D739*



Colleton Co. 311 & 312*



Citrus Co. 101 (possibly)
Hernando Co. 709, 717*
Alachua Co. 829



403 & 309* Juneau Co. WI Dec. 7
316 Kasper-Pulaski FWA, IN Dec. 12
401 & 508* Winnebago Co. IL Dec. 9
402 & D746* Jackson Co. IN Dec. 11
412 Jackson Co, IN Dec. 12
509, D942* Sauk Co, WI Dec. 8
514 Greene Co. TN Dec. 15
524, D627, D742* Rock Co. WI Dec. 5
727* Brown Co, IN Dec. 12
733 Jasper-Pulaski FWA, IN Dec. 6
804, 814, 818*, 824*, 827, 830* Dodge Co. WI Dec. 4
805, 812, 813* Columbia Co. WI Dec. 10
D836 Lawrence Co. TN Nov. 29
712 Alachua Co. FL Dec. 21


Long-term Missing - 7

516 Marion Co. FL Dec. 22, 2008
D744* Paulding Co. OH Nov. 18, 2008
706 Juneau Co. WI May 6
511 Necedah NWR, WI May 11
520*NFT Jackson Co. WI June 16
D628 Necedah NWR, WI June 23
724 Necedah NWR, WI June 26

This report has been compiled from data supplied by WCEP trackers Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski, and Jess Thompson.

Date:December 30, 2009 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 68 = DOWN DAY #5Location: Franklin Co. AL
As the minutes ticked away from 4:00am forward, the southerly winds increased and the system bringING rain to the area edged its way closer to us. Not even close to weather suitable for cranes and planes to take to the air. Today will be Down Day #5 in Franklin County.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Phil Campbell, Alabama is the only town in the world by that name, and to have both the first and last names of an individual. In the 1880s, a railroad work crew leader and engineer by the name of Phillip Campbell established a work camp in Franklin County.

As the area around the camp developed, a prominent businessman told Mr. Campbell that if he would construct a railroad depot and add a siding to the stretch of railroad passing near his business, he would name the developing town after him. Phil could not pass up that deal and built both the depot and siding.

In 1995, writer Phil Campbell organized a convention of people who shared their name with the town. Twenty-two Phil Campbells and one Phyllis Campbell hailing from all over America, attended it. The story of the Phil Campbell convention was published nationally and was even mentioned in Ripley's Believe it or Not.

Date:December 29, 2009 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
For tomorrow we are looking at surface winds dead out of the south and southwest winds aloft. The rest of the bad news is that the forecast rain has the potential to begin to fall at our destination while the cranes and planes would still be enroute. We rating our chances of a flight in the morning at somewhere between zero and zip.

Date:December 29, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NO DEPARTURE, BUT GREAT FLYOVERLocation: Franklin Co. AL

The just shy of 80 people stomping and shivering in the cold this morning were eventually rewarded with some terrific views of the Class of 2009 as Brooke led them overhead in what turned out to be an abortive departure attempt.

We waited at one end of the runway and listened to the pilots' voices over the aviation radio as a bit of a rodeo seemed to be going on out of our sight at the other end.

While all 20 birds came readily out of the pen, it was readily apparent they weren't happy about climbing into what at low altitude was rough air. The pilots called for the Swamp Monsters, and that deterred the birds which had turned tail from landing out back at the pen.

We watched as Brooke and his 20 charges flew way to the west of us before he was able to slowing make the turn and work his way back. But it is true that all things do come to he who waits... making me awfully regretful at not having my own camera in hand.

At one point when overhead the birds were illuminated by the sun as they trailed off the trike wing and the sight was breathtaking. Those at the flyover this morning are encouraged to send their best photo to us if they are willing to share.

Date: December 29, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:REWARD REACHES $10,000 MARKLocation: Franklin Co. AL
According to an announcement made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a private citizen has pledged an additional $2,500 to the reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who shot a Whooping crane near Cayuga, Ind., between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1, 2009. With that contribution, the total reward now stands at up to $10,000.

The citizen, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed sadness and frustration with the loss of the crane and said that the offer is an effort to help wildlife law enforcement officers find the perpetrator.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is offering $2,500 for information leading to an arrest and conviction. On Dec. 15, Defenders of Wildlife and the Indiana Turn in a Poacher or a Polluter Program (TIP) each pledged $2,500 toward the reward.

Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources continue to investigate the shooting.

Date:December 29, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:'09 YEAR END APPROACHESLocation: Franklin Co. AL
With just 60 hours remaining in 2009, we thought some folks might appreciate being reminded that the deadline for online tax deductible receipts for the '09 taxation year is midnight, December 31st. Under IRS and CRA rules, checks which are dated and postmarked by December 31st - regardless of when they are received at the OM office - are eligible for a 2009 deductible receipt.

We hope you have all enjoyed our Field Journal entries documenting our progress (and lack thereof) on the 2009 migration, and what is about to become the third consecutive 'multi-year' migration.

As the end of 2009 approaches please think of Operation Migration if you are thinking of a year-end gift to receive a charitable tax-deduction. Your tax-deductible year-end contribution will not only take your commitment to conservation and the environment one step further, it will help us ensure a future for Whooping cranes. Alternatively, you might consider honoring someone you care about with a gift membership in Operation Migration - a portion of which is also tax deductible.

Contributions or memberships may be done via PayPal right here on our website or, by calling the office toll free at 1-800-675-2618. And remember, tax deductible receipts for 2009 will be issued for all contributions made right up to midnight December 31st.

Date:December 29, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 67 A 'NO GO'Location: Franklin Co. AL

At 4:00am it was looking like today could be the day we departed Franklin County. A crisp temperature in the teens and no wind to speak of on the surface, but what was waiting for the cranes and planes aloft?

As it turns out, too much turbulence was what was in store for us up top. While Chris found smooth air at around 3,000 feet, it was too trashy below that. Try as Brooke might, he couldn't convince the birds to climb up to altitude. After several attempts, he could see the birds were tiring and beginning to mouth breathe. One more attempt - as much to give them some exercise as anything - and Brooke and the Class of 2009 sailed overhead of the big crowd gathered at the end of the airport runway. With the blue sky and sun glinting off the white feathers the view was stunning.

We watched as the trike and birds wheeled and made back for the pensite. Tickled at the glorious sight. Frustrated with no flight. Disappointed at not advancing. Discouraged at having to add yet another 'down day' to the migration chalk board. Today was most definitely a 'downer'.

(Photos will be posted later this morning)

Date:December 28, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
It is looking very promising for a flight tomorrow morning. The only fly in the ointment might be that the favorable winds could be too strong. We expect to be up and ready for an attempt at the very least however.

The departure viewing sight is the old parking lot at the Russellville airport. It is just off Hwy 243, adjacent to several large fuel tanks. Dress warmly, and be on site by 7am.

Date:December 28, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BITS AND PIECESLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Not a doubt in the world the winds were out of the north this morning. With the temperature having dropped down into the teens during the night, the furnace in the motorhome would hardly click off before it would click back on again. So much for filling up everyone's propane.

There was less wind down at the CraneCam this morning - no banging of the trailer door thankfully - but enough to warrant earmuffs and a hoodie. The Class of 2009 looks healthy and remains energetic. On several occasions over the last week I've noticed some of them hock sitting, so they are obviously feeling safe and comfortable in their pen.

Yesterday afternoon Robert went out to medicate the birds. About every couple of weeks they are given de-worming medication. Cranberries are injected with the meds and each bird is given two 'treats'. Starting with the bird with the lowest band number, Robert worked his way through the group until they had all received their required dosage.

The latest word from the holidaying crew is that everyone is now on their way back. Chris and Matt Ahrens are somewhere in Illinois and Heather and Richard have made it as far as Tennessee. The eastern seaboard bunch have yet to call in, but they too are undoubtedly wending their way to Alabama.

We will be checking the weather models later today, and will return to the practice of posting a "Predicting" entry around 4:30 to 5:30pm here in the Field Journal with our best guess for the chances of a flight tomorrow.

Date:December 27, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LAST DAY OF SOLITUDELocation: Franklin Co. AL
This will be the last day alone in camp for Geoff, Robert, and I. We suspect that at least some of the team may be leaving home today to start making their way back to Alabama...and none too soon.

Despite vowing not to, I have been unable to resist checking the aviation weather each day. So far, as you no doubt have gathered, the weather and winds have been such that we haven't missed a flyday. Tonight however, we will have a change for the better. The current southwest surface winds will start swinging around today, first to come out of the WSW, then the west, then the WNW.

By Monday morning, winds both on the surface and aloft should be out of the northwest, although up top it appears they could be pretty strong. At this juncture, Tuesday certainly looks like it will dawn with favorable flying conditions.

Cold but sunny at the CraneCam today. Still a bit frosty and the standing water once again froze overnight. While I watched from my perch at the camera, Robert did his usual morning pen check. When he walked the perimeter, he discovered evidence that something had tried to approach the pen during the night. One of the hotwires was sagging, and there were scuffle marks in the surrounding ground leading Robert to speculate that whatever it was, it had received a pretty good 'zap'. It would be great if next year we could find someone/organization/corporate sponsor who would fund adding infrared to our camera set up.

In preparation for a hoped for departure in a day or two, we'll be topping up all the vehicles' fuel tanks; filling everyone's propane tanks; and tomorrow morning we will bump up the heat in the unoccupied trailers so everyone will return to a warm 'house'.

Here's hoping it won't be long before we get this show back on the the air.

Date:December 26, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:PHOTOS TO EXPLAINLocation: Franklin Co. AL
It took a while to convince the CraneCam to cooperate this morning, so the 7:00am live broadcast had a bit of a late start. The temperature and heavy frost may have had something to do with the problem. It was more by good luck than by good management that I eventually got it to maintain a continuous stream. A teckie I am not.

All the standing water from the recent rain is now frozen over, as was the water in the buckets in the pen. Robert had to break it up when he did the morning pen check so the birds could have access to it.

Those of you who were watching the CraneCam the afternoon of the very high winds will have heard quite a lot of banging.

This photo shows you what was making all the racket. It was the flip up door on the camera trailer - the part you see here with Duke's logo on it. Even though I leaned hard against it to try and keep it from banging and disturbing the birds, the wind had enough strength to out muscle me....and, I'm no flyweight.

Date:December 26, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ENDING WITH A TREATLocation: Franklin Co. AL

Hercules finally stopped trying to topple the motorhome, so albeit a little late, the Sugar Plum fairies had an opportunity to dance on our heads last night as we three zonked out to recoup some lost sleep.

It was great fun watching the ‘cranelets’ yesterday afternoon. Lots of low fly-bys, which I tried my darnedest to follow with the pan button on the CraneCam. For me, every time they spread those gorgeous wings is just as awesome as the time before. I think this year’s bunch have some devilment in them. Twice, after Geoff set up a fresh water bucket, one or more of them would knock it sideways, and then nonchalantly saunter away. Was that noise them snickering behind his back?

The wind stayed fairly strong for the day, and by 4:45 it was again blowing hard enough to make the camera bounce around and the cam trailer door start to bang. Nothing like Thursday afternoon’s gale force wind thankfully, but what it lacked in ferocity, it made up for in coldness. It had a bite to it that turned the bare finger and thumb trying to work the laptop cam mouse pad into stiff icicles.

The birds were as active as ever – maybe even more so. They are a vigorous and dynamic bunch and I could swear they’ve gotten bigger and whiter just over the last couple of days.

As I sat there driving the camera, I could feel the temperature dropping. And I knew that meant I was going to have to have a serious motivational chat with the Honda generator. You see, it is not fond of working when it is cold. It can take some arm twisting to convince it that it needs to wake up from its overnight hibernation.

When Geoff appeared after finishing the afternoon pen check, I quickly shut down the camera in case I needed him into help me persuade Mr. Honda to wake up. After countless pulls on the cord, I was ready to give over and have Geoff try, but when I looked up, there he was.... gone.

Where on earth did he go? Finally I realized he’d left to take a second container of water down to the pen. So, I gritted my teeth and muttered under my breath, ‘You start this time or I promise ’m gonna kick you!’ Varooom, varoom, varoom. If only I had known the pigheaded thing was susceptible to threats...

My outdoor adventures concluded for the day I returned to the Jamboree to ditch my fashionable rubber boots, ‘de-layer’, and tackle some paperwork. I was deep into the pile and making good headway when Robert stuck his head in the Jamboree door. From where I sat in front of my laptop, I could hear that he’d brought his growling tummy with him.

We rounded up Geoff, and off we went to a local eatery for a late meal. Surprize. Geoff announced that his parents were treating us to dinner. Thanks Mr. & Mrs. Tarbox!! What a nice present with which to end our Christmas Day.

Date:December 25, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OH, THE WEATHER OUTSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL...Location: Franklin Co. AL
Wow, yesterday was quite the day! I should have cottoned on it was going to be a wild one at 6:45am when I was parking the truck for the walk down the hill to the CraneCam. That's when I spotted four coyotes ~100 yards away from where I sit to drive the camera. The arrival of the truck didn't faze them one bit, and because of my proximity to the pen, I couldn't honk the horn or make any other loud noise to try and drive them off.

Not being a coyote expert, I couldn't tell if they'd had a successful hunt, or were still hungry and looking for breakfast. So, unsure whether or not they'd think me a tasty morsel, I decided to sit in the truck and wait them out. After about 10 minutes of moseying and nosing around, they wandered across the field away from the pensite and disappeared into the trees. Whew...that was a relief, but I must admit as I powered up the laptop and camera to start the live broadcast, I cast more than a few nervous glances over my shoulder.

If you've been watching the CraneCam you will have seen how active the Class of 2009 is. They pace, do low fly-bys the length of the pen, pound the upturned footbath pans, attack the pumpkins, and then, like a wind-up toy run out of steam, calm down for a while before starting up again. When Robert did the morning pen check yesterday, he found that they had pulled out all the ground pegs in the pen that he'd pounded in to secure their feed buckets. Little devils.

As the day wore on we started to keep one eye on the weather forecast. The wind was seriously picking up, and at the afternoon pen check, Geoff made a circuit of the pen checking that the ground stakes were holding firm and top netting was as secure as possible.

By 4:30 it was blowing 26mph on the surface here at the airport with gusts from 35 to 50mph. The flag atop the pole at the airport terminal was standing straight out, and when a gust would send it flapping, it sounded like a whip snapping. Even a couple of the aircraft tied down on the tarmac were being bounced and pushed around.

As we watched the radar screen, the giant storm system to the west of us inched toward us. The deep orange and red spots were worrisome, especially when we saw the winds aloft were blowing 70mph, but we battened everything down and then hunkered down ourselves.

The rain hammered down, and as the wind drove it, it looked like grey curtains moving in waves across the tarmac. The motorhome rocked - and I do mean rocked!! It's a good thing I'm an old sailor and don't get seasick. The storm battered away through the evening and into the night. As I crawled up to my bed in the cab-over, I gave myself a kick in the behind. Earlier, I had thought I should turn the motorhome into the wind. (see, it's the old sailor coming out again). I didn't do it, and although the Jamboree was catching it broadside, at that point no way was I going out to disconnect everything and move it.

I fancy myself a sound sleeper, but whether it was things going bump in the night (like me), or it was having the birds in the back of my mind, I woke up again and again. Finally, when one particularly strong gust made it seem like the motorhome wanted to heel over, I clamored down the ladder and made for Erin's empty, ground level bed. And there I stayed until it was almost light.

Anxious about the birds, I decided to leave earlier than my usual 6:45am to go down to the CraneCam. As I was hauling on my rubber boots, I saw that Robert had the same idea. As soon as he said, "Wasn't that a scary night?" off we charged. Thankfully, we had nothing to be worried about. The pen was secure, the birds were just fine, in fact, as energetic as all get out, and the CraneCam was none the worse for wear.

At the moment, the weather here is a scaled down version of yesterday's, with the exception of the temperature. As a result, the precipitation can't decide whether it wants to be rain or snow. The wind is having no problem figuring things out however. It is happy to drive either form of moisture sideways as hard as it can.

You know how the song goes...
Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go, let it snow...let it snow...let it snow

And if you for one minute believe that's even remotely what we're thinking... you need to back off the egg nog.

Date:December 25, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: The OM Team
Subject:WE WISH YOU A.....Location: Here and There

To all Craniacs, and to Craniacs-to-be...

OM's Board of Directors and staff send you their wishes for a warm and wonderful Christmas. We hope you have a happy and safe holiday with friends and loved ones.

Date:December 24, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:VIRGINIA EVENT PLANNEDLocation: Franklin Co. AL
For our friends and Craniacs in Virginia.....mark your calendars

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center's Dr. John French will be giving a lecture in Reston, VA on Wednesday January 6, 2010 at 7:00pm.

Entitled, ‘Flight from Extinction: Helping Whooping Cranes Survive,’ Dr. French will describe the remarkable journey of survival that begins before Whooping crane chicks are even hatched and ends with taking flight behind an ultralight aircraft to learn a migration route. For details visit: USGS Public Lecture Series

Date:December 24, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WATCHING THEM GROWLocation: Franklin Co. AL
It's not going to be very pleasant here today. Already the Jamboree is doing a little rock n' roll as the alternating SE and ESE winds buffet my motorhome. The overnight rain has stopped, but the weatherman says it will be back in spades shortly. He's calling for thunderstorms in fact, so I guess I'd better break out the rainsuit for my time at the CraneCam today.

As I watch the birds while I am at the camera, I can't help but marvel at how big and how white they have become. It seems like it has been no time at all since they looked like this. Almost impossible believe these little brown fuzz balls can mature into majestic, five foot tall white birds.

Date:December 23, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WARM AND UNEVENTFULLocation: Franklin Co. AL
The frosty mornings are gone, blown away by the strong but warm southeast winds. It was in the mid 40's by lunch time but it is not going to hit the predicted high of 58F. No complaints here though. The 'departed crew' are all in snow, so there is some small consolation to spending Christmas in Alabama.

Our Whooper kidlets continue to be an energetic lot. They pace back and forth, back and forth, and, if the wind kicks up a bit, some will leap into the air and sort of do a low flying run from on side of the pen to the other. This morning they were attacking a new pumpkin. Doesn't take them long to demolish it.

A short trip to the service station to get gas for the generator which charges the CraneCam was all the excitement I had today. A nice, quiet, uneventful day, and, as Martha Stewart would say, "...that's a good thing."

Date:December 22, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ALL'S QUIETLocation: Franklin Co. AL

The last two mornings have been sufficiently nippy to produce frost. As I scraped the windshield for the run down to the pensite I sent out little pleading messages to the CraneCam..."please don't be frozen... please work." And so far so good. With 3 pairs of socks in my rubber boots and the rest of me layered up to keep warm, I'm sure I look like a Roly Poly toy as I tromp through the long grass and down the hill.

On my next trip, which is at ~10:45AM, it's been a different story. By then the sun has been out, and if it wasn't for the wind, it would be almost warm enough to be out in a sweatshirt. It makes it very pleasant to sit and drive the camera for the 3:00 to 4:00pm viewing period. Who would ever have thought I'd be grateful for south winds?!?!

The Class of 2009 is doing just fine. If you've been watching the CraneCam you will have seen they are quite an active bunch. By this morning they had finally managed to decimate the big pumpkin left them on Sunday, and they were working on a newly left squash.

The birds are enjoying playing with the extra foot baths that have been put in the pen; pounding them, tipping them, and moving them around. The funniest sight was when one of the birds, having upended a tub, jumped on top of it and did the Whooping crane version of clogging. I had to put both hands over my mouth to suppress a giggle.

With four trips to the CraneCam daily, and a ton of 'real' work to do, the day flies by. And with just Geoff, Robert, and I left in camp, it is so quiet that it brings to mind the line, "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" from the poem Twas The Night Before Christmas. While the absence of the busy down day bustle of a dozen people coming and going was almost disconcerting yesterday, today it just feels peaceful. 

As Geoff, Robert and I each reside in different motorhomes, we have so far had only 'sightings' of one another; while on a foray to the facilities, or, as one of them sets off for a roost check or me to the CraneCam. Geoff is a Transformer buff which keeps him entertained. He is also heavily into - dare I say addicted - computer games, and can seldom be pried away. Robert enjoys movies, and has a pile of DVDs stocked up to help him while away the evenings. As for me, I'm a voracious reader, and once my laptop is shut down for the night, it's not long before my nose is buried in a book.

Frankly, the quiet and a bit of solitude are welcome. Mind you it's only day two of the holiday break, so I may end up changing my tune before this week-long hiatus is over.

Date:December 21, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject: ANNOUNCEMENTLocation: Main Office
For four years now, Beverly Paulan has been in charge of the welfare of the birds while they are in Operation Migration’s care. The fact that you can say all that in one short sentence does not give adequate credit for the amount of work it entails.

Bev, like Brooke, spends her entire year with the birds, beginning when they hatch at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. They, and our interns join the rest of the team in Necedah in the summer, and are part of the migration team during the fall. When the rest of us go home at the end of that arduous journey, Bev and Brooke stay to monitor the flock at the St Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

Apart from her work with the birds, Bev has helped us keep our growing web audience informed with regular updates from the field. She has also assisted our education and outreach efforts by promoting the project in schools.

Before joining us, Beverly ran a flight school and once owned an air charter business. First and foremost Beverly is a pilot, and speaking from experience, I know that can not be denied for long. Shortly after accepting a position with OM she was offered a flying job with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR). Despite the fact that it was her dream job, she wanted to work with cranes, so she turned it down. That offer was reiterated recently, and the temptation was too much.

Beverly will be leaving OM in January to join the WI DNR flight team and we wish her well. She made a great contribution to OM over the years, but this new job will let her mix wildlife and flying, and even allow her to get home once in a while. Can’t say as we blame her but she will be missed.

Date:December 21, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: DISCOMBOOBALATEDLocation: Franklin Co. AL
After more than two months of hopping from bed to the outdoors to check the wind/weather while waiting for my laptop to boot up, this morning felt very strange. With no need to do either to determine what had to be done, and in what order, I spent my first 10 waking minutes being totally 'discomboobalated'. (A perfectly good word according to my Grandmother.)

Habits die hard though, so on my way to the 'facilities', I stopped to take note of the American flag atop the nearby pole. The breeze out of the SSE had it snapping and waving straight out.

A cup of coffee later, sense and order were restored and my day began in earnest. As much as I rather be migrating, I have to admit that having a few days to concentrate on reducing my backlog of 'regular' work feels almost like someone has given me a present. It's been just one day short of 11 weeks since I left the office and home, and if I don't relieve some of the paperwork/email build-up/pressure I'm afraid the dam will burst.

Right now however, it is time to find my rubber boots and layer up (frost this morning) for the trek down to the CraneCam. C'mon back here later this morning for more OM news.

Date:December 20, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
On Migration - Where are they now?
The Eastern Migratory Population (EMP) is currently estimated to consist of 48 males and 37 females, for a total of 85 birds. All the Whooping cranes in the EMP are on migration. According to WCEP trackers, as of December 12, there were two Whooping cranes in each of Illinois, Kentucky, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia. Eight birds were in Tennessee, 33 in Indiana, the locations of 27 birds were unknown, and seven cranes are long-term missing.

WCEP Tracker Jess Thompson visited with us last evening and let us know that 712 and 829, both males, had reached Florida.

Date:December 20, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:BREAKING FOR THE HOLIDAYSLocation: Franklin Co. AL
With the inability to fly a migration leg this morning, and the advent of several days of south winds, the decision has been made to stand down for a few days to allow members of the migration crew to travel home to be with family and friends for the holidays. In fact, with the very long drives ahead of them, most have already left and are on their way.

Intern Geoff Tarbox, Patuxent’s Robert Doyle, and I, will hold down the fort here in Franklin County, AL. Geoff and Robert will tend to the Class of 2009, and I to the CraneCam in addition to my regular duties.

The entire team will reconvene on Monday, December 28th for what we hope will be a ‘fly day’ on Tuesday, December 29th.

The CraneCam’s regular schedule of live broadcasts will remain unchanged, that is, mornings from 7:00 to 11:00 CST, and from ~3:00 to 4:00 afternoons.

As usual, I will continue to post entries here in the Field Journal as information of interest, or news comes in.

After tomorrow morning, EarlyBird emails will be suspended until December 29th.

Date:December 20, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 66 = DOWN DAY #3Location: Franklin Co. AL
We had too much of a good thing this morning. Desirable northwest winds, but both on the surface and aloft they were way too strong for cranes and planes. There are a bunch of disappointed faces in camp as you can imagine. So much for yesterday evening's optimism.

Today will be Down Day #3 in Franklin County, AL.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Dismals Canyon is located in the town of Phil Campbell. It is a privately owned nature conservatory designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service. Dismals Canyon features a natural swimming pool and natural shelters used by various Native American tribes for over 10,000 years.

Nature trails, rare luminous insects, and natural rock formations also are attractions. "National Geographic Map Guide to Appalachia" and the April 2005 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine featured Dismals Canyon. The canyon was selected as one of the shooting locations for the filming of the Discovery Channel special, "When Dinosaurs Roamed America". Its vegetation and broad leaf trees are typical of those that existed in the dinosaur age some 100 to 200 million years ago. The canyon's tall trees and ferns are similar to fossils paleontologists have found near dinosaur relics.

Date:December 19,2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
We're hoping for a flight in the morning. The winds are out of the northwest, and while this afternoon they still look as if they might be a tad strong aloft, we are optimistic about our chances.

C'mon out for the departure (we hope) flyover.  The viewing location is at the airport's old parking lot - just off Hwy 243, right beside the fuel tanks. You will want to be on site for 7am. Also remember that you could make the early morning trip for naught if the weather/wind turns out to be unfavorable.

The first 100 people will receive a gift of a pair of binoculars. They are compliments of one of our generous sponsors, Southern Company.

Date:December 19, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Don & Paula Lounsbury
Subject: Top Cover Pilots’ report of December 4th’s flightLocation: Florida
Friday, December 4th began like every other migration day with an early start on a very cold, calm morning. We made our way to the Effingham airport to prepare our aircraft for the morning flight of overseeing the cranes and ultralights on another leg south on migration.

As we completed our preflight checks, we quickly removed the wing covers, now heavy with frost, and stowed them in our car parked in the adjacent lot. The covers would have to wait until we returned to be properly defrosted and repacked. We had to keep moving before more frost formed on the now exposed flying surfaces.

Just before 7:00 AM, we were airborne as the rising sun was shyly peeking out from the eastern horizon. In the pale light, we made our way to the pensite where we would begin our observation duties and found the ultralights still on the ground with their frost covers in place. We began to circle the field to wait until conditions were right for the ultralight crews, and, in the meantime, made some airborne message relays to and from the pilots and the crew at the pen; to Heather and Liz at the public flyover location; and, to Bev and Sharon in the tracking van.

At last, everyone was ready and the birds were released from the pen. Brooke was leading, and before long the entire flock formed a trail of pearls off his right wing. We watched as he led them over a small crowd assembled on the ground and treated the stalwart early-risers to a sunrise spectacle. And ,so began another day on migration.

For over an hour we made large shallow circles high above the ultralights until the decision was made to overfly the first planned stop and proceed to next stopover on the route. It was a break we sorely needed. At last, the Weather Gods were on our side. When, at last, the stopover site came into view Richard went ahead and landed, creating an arrival target for Brooke and the birds.

Reluctant to end their idyllic morning flight, the birds lazily continued to circle even after the others were waiting for them on the ground. It was our favorite kind of morning. The weather was excellent and the birds cooperated beautifully, giving us nothing much to do but observe. It was perfect.

We said our goodbyes and, “We’ll see you later,” and turned northward to retrace our flight to our car and motorhome waiting for us 100 miles away. We looked forward to having a shower and breakfast, walking our dog, and preparing to join the crew at the Sturgis airport, our new rendezvous point.

Remarking at what a great flight we’d just had, we were not prepared for what happened next. The engine suddenly surged and then became very quiet. The next three or four minutes were both interminably long and incredibly short. We, unfortunately, found ourselves in a large muddy field upside down but, fortunately, were completely unharmed. What followed was a flurry of activity with the “first responders” of White county arriving on the scene quickly and efficiently.

Kudos to these wonderful, dedicated people. Our thanks, also, goes to the occupant of a nearby home who had some unexpected guests who needed to use the phone And thanks , too, to the property owner who helped immensely over the next few days.

We now find ourselves in our Florida condo doing what everyone else does; that is, to tune into the daily updates on the OM website to see how the cranes and planes are progressing.

Note: We are happy to be able to tell you that within a couple of weeks, Don Lounsbury will team up with Top Cover pilot Jack Wrighter, and to return to the migration. We'll be thrilled to have them back with us.

Date:December 19, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 65 = DOWN DAY #2Location: Franklin Co. AL

The wind was almost with us this morning, WNW 4mph on the surface but gusting to +9mph. Between the low ceiling and the stiff winds aloft however, it was not favorable for planes and cranes. It wasn't even a day for a test trike.

Today will be Down Day #2 in Franklin County, AL.

Date:December 18, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Our weather guru, Chris Gullikson, thinks our chances for a flight tomorrow are about 60-40. The weatherman is still calling for rain, but the radar shows it moving through pretty quickly. It appears as though we should have favorable winds, that is out of the northwest, both on the surface and aloft. It also looks like the weather at our next stopover site will be even more favorable than what we may end up departing in.

60-40...not great odds, but better by a long shot than have zero chance.

Date:December 18, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, advised he was increasing his population estimate to 244.

Tom wrote, "Since my last census flight on December 10th, I have received confirmed reports of six more Whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population, including two more chicks. As a result, the estimated flock size of 238 has now been increased to 244 (223 adults + 21 chicks).

"The 21 chicks accounted for indicate very good survival from the 22 that fledged in Canada," Stehn said.

Tom's next census flight may not occur until early in January during which he expressed a hope of detecting at least a few more cranes; at least sufficient to reach the 247 birds that were present at Aransas last spring.

Date:December 18, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Erin Harris
Subject: Advantages to Down DaysLocation: Franklin Co. AL
Even though we’re anxious to get to Florida, there are some advantages to having down days. One of them is being able to recover from the previous migrating day, and the other is the ability to go exploring.

Excluding Florida, without this job, I would have probably never have traveled to any of the seven states we drive/fly through. I certainly never would’ve seen them the way I am seeing them now. Before this, I had never been to Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, or Tennessee.

The down days give me an opportunity to actually explore our location. Even if it’s simply going to the nearest city for dinner, that’s a new experience. I certainly would never have had the pleasure of eating great catfish or discovering Caramel Pie.

When winds kept us on the ground, yet again in Hardin Co. TN (Wed. Dec. 16), the entire OM crew went out for breakfast. Bev mentioned that she and Brooke were going to the Shiloh Battlefield, and asked if anyone else was interested in going. Of course I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. Once we were all finished and ready to go, Brooke, Bev, Geoff, Robert Doyle (from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center), and I piled in the truck and headed for the Battlefield.

When we got there, we all watched the introductory video about the Battle. The battle took place from Sunday, April 6, 1862 to Monday, April 7, 1862, and for many years was considered one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the United States. With Brooke as the driver of our tour truck, we drove around the Battlefield, stopping at various important spots.

One of the major fights took place in a field called The Hornet’s Nest, where on April 6, the Union and Confederate soldiers fought a bloody battle. After about 7 hours, the Confederate army surrounded the Union soldiers, giving them no choice but to surrender. The next day, the Union army regrouped and forced the Confederate army to retreat. This allowed the Union army to eventually push on to Mississippi.

We also stopped at some of the monuments where Generals Wallace and Johnston fell, and where Union and Confederate soldiers camped. After exploring the Battlefield a little further, we headed off to see one of my favorite spots, the Shiloh Indian Mounds.

The Shiloh Indian Mounds are located on the Battlefield. The trail through the town is 1.1 miles, and leads you through a Native American camp to the Tennessee River. The camp has multiple platform mounds of clay of various heights, where they built their homes. The size and location of the mound indicated your status in the community. The higher the mound, the bigger your house, the closest your mound was to water, the higher your status.

The highest and biggest mound where the Ceremonial House stood was closest to the river. When we walked to the top of the 25 foot mound, we got a breathtaking view of the Tennessee River and the valleys on the other side. I have never seen anything like it. It was absolutely gorgeous! After we all ate a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we headed back to camp.

As much as I love working with the chicks, it is the extras that make this job even more special. After all, I don’t get the chance to meet wonderful people, like our hosts, or explore a historic landmark with a raging river and luscious green valleys behind it every day.

Date:December 18, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 64 = DOWN DAY #1 IN FRANKLIN CO. TNLocation: Franklin Co. AL
The weather can play havoc with more than just our ability to fly. This morning it's affecting our internet signal as well, which is why this report of our being down today is a little later than usual.

The rain that began overnight continues to fall today, and may stay with us through and into Saturday. The crew is taking advantage of the down day to tour the NASA facility in Huntsville, AL, an opportunity arranged for them by our good friend and Craniac, Fred Applegate. While they are gone, Richard, Robert, Heather and I are 'holding down the fort'.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
The town of Belgreen, population 2000, is distinguished by the myths passed on through oral tradition in the community. Whether the stories are true or not isn't important, as they are part of a rich tradition of Alabama storytelling that truly keeps Belgreen immortal, no matter how small the community is. Moses Hollow in a low-lying stretch of road has a reputation of being "haunted." If you were to leave your car in neutral at the bottom of the hill, a ghost will push you up the hill and leave handprints on the back bumper - or so the story goes.

Another common legend among Belgreen natives depicts an incident in which a caravan of circus animals was wrecked on Old Highway 24. Thus, many non-native animals were freed in some parts of the community. For example, stories have existed for years about a giant grizzly bear in the area. Many residents have claimed to have seen the Belgreen Bear, but very few actual accounts and pictures of the bear have surfaced.

Date:December 17, 2009 - Entry 6Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin Co. AL
That "R" word appears to be looming in our future. Easterly winds carrying precipitation are headed our way and that weather could linger as long as into Saturday. Even if we were lucky enough to be able to sneak out of Franklin County ahead of any rain in the morning, a flight wouldn't be possible. The rain is forecast to begin at our next stopover location in Walker County by sometime this evening.

We think our odds of being able to depart Franklin County tomorrow are zero.

Date: December 17, 2009 - Entry 5Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Distance:57 miles (Hardin Co. TN - Franklin Co. AL) Accumulated Distance: 702 miles

With head winds predicted for 10 to 15 miles per hour, it was looking like a miss again this morning, but the wind was calm so we decided to test the air. Once airborne, we found a ground speed of about 30 miles per hour down low and 25 higher up. This would give us a little over two hours flight time.

After landing at the pensite I turned on my vocalizer, got into position, gave Erin and Geoff the thumbs up, and we were off. We slowly climbed through the valley, rock walls on the left and a treed hill on the right. /The valley curved to the left, and we were soon out of sight of the pen with the valley below widening out.

Two birds were lagging behind so we circled around to pick them up with the valley floor below, and the flyover site full of people above us up on the cliff. As the birds caught up, we turned up the valley and began to climb out of it before turning on course.

As we climbed and headed on course the head wind increased, but it was necessary to keep climbing to avoid the rougher air below. As we climbed, the rough air seemed to follow us up, but it did slowly get smoother and the birds followed faithfully.

An hour into the flight and we had just made twenty miles; to turn back would have been easy. But the young birds seemed eager to follow so we continued on, feeling it would be better to land out than go back. With some altitude below us we continued on with the air not perfect, but smoother and slower.

Slowly the miles ticked by. Normally on a good day it's about a mile every minute, to a minute and a half. But today it was about three to four minutes per mile; agonizingly slow. The real estate wasn’t exactly zipping by below us but fortunately the birds didn’t seem to notice or care, which was unusual. I guess having not met our hosts or any other locals in Hardin County, they were not as fond of the local countryside as the crew was.

At times the ground speed slowed down to below 15mph. I would anxiously look back at the birds expecting them to turn back. Once in a while they would start to fall back and I would have to slow down or descend slightly to let them catch up. Twice they began to wander on their own, but would turn back as the trike did a couple of slight turns without getting to far off course.

Determined, we kept on, despite the dismal ground speed crossing the Tennessee river where we found more headwind and rougher air. Some birds were beginning to tire, flying with their mouths open, which made me more aware of potential landing spots. But as we crossed over the mountainous terrain we came upon a stretch of flat land that seemed to give us lift, and even though I was trying to descend to allow the birds some rest, we continued to climb - some times as much as five hundred feet per minute.

This gave the birds some much needed rest and soon their mouths closed and we continued to climb. This worked out to be very advantageous and we were able to fly a little faster. But it didn’t last . We were about 15 miles out when the changing terrain brought rougher air again and the birds began to struggle with the wing. Easing them along, we began a slow decent at about seven miles out and were at tree top level by the time we reached our destination in Franklin County.

After circling the site a few times we landed near a small marshy pond where we held the birds while the pen was set up. With the long slow flight it felt like we had stolen 2nd and 3rd base only to hit a home run. Woo Hoo!!!

Date: December 17, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ON THE GROUND IN ALABAMA!Location: Franklin Co. AL
Here we are at long last at our first stop in Alabama. Richard was lead pilot this morning, and watchers had a picture perfect view of the post launch from the viewing stand at Horse Creek Wildlife Refuge and Animal Sanctuary. As Richard lead all 20 birds in the Class of 2009 along and out of the valley, two straggled behind. Eventually they turned back toward the pen, but Richard swooped around - all the other 18 in tow - and picked up the two wayward birds on his wing. They turned and gave us a beautiful view as they disappeared over the trees.

We know that the cranes and planes had a very slow and likely very rough flight this morning. Hopefully Richard will tell us the whole tale in his lead pilot update.

Top Left: Richard and the Class of 2009 just after launch from the pen.

Top Right: Getting 'organized', not quite on the wing as yet.

Bottom Left: Our view as the young cranes flew by our elevated viewing location this morning.

For those interested in attending the Franklin County departure flyover, here is the location information.

The kind folks at the Russellville Airport have agreed to allow us to use a part of their property for the departure flyover. 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 by 7am. Also remember that you could make the early morning trip for naught it the weather/wind turns out to be unfavorable for a flight tomorrow morning.

Departure morning, (be that when it may out of Franklin County and every county throughout Alabama) we have a gift for the first 100 flyover viewers at each site compliments of one of our terrific sponsors, Southern Company. More in a later update.

Date:December 17, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 63Location: Hardin Co. TN
We're off to Alabama. REALLY rough and slow flight underway. Stay tuned.

Date: December 17, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:LOSSES COVEREDLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Few of us at Operation Migration have the luxury of having only one responsibility. Along with working with birds, we have the added obligation of school presentations, equipment design or aircraft maintenance, and more. Of all the jobs that a non-profit requires of its staff and volunteers none are as challenging as raising the funds needed to make it all happen.

There are those with a natural talent for engendering benevolence in others. Born with the capacity to inspire people to support a worthwhile cause they are in high demand and as rare as Whooping cranes. Teaching birds to migrate and leading them south takes hard work and lots of patience, but is not rocket science. Fundraising however requires pure talent.

After struggling all year to generate enough money to cover our costs it seem counterintuitive to ask you to stop, but that is what we are about to do.

Operation Migration is blessed with a munificent support base who follow our slow progress south. With each obstacle we face, or setback we endure, our Craniacs step forward and dig deeper to help us meet the challenge of the day.

The break-in at the hangar in Necedah is an example of that support. The senselessness of that act angered many people, and motivated some to send in donations to cover the losses. As a non-profit we are unable to collect money for the personal property that Brooke, Bev, Richard and Geoff lost, but then we started to receive checks endorsed directly to them.

An article in Canada’s largest newspaper prompted a donation from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, a donation large enough to pay for the damaged wings. Between the Necedah Lion’s Club, the Juneau County Crime Stoppers and two OM supporters the reward for information leading to the arrest of the perpetrators is now up to $3000.

Although the break-in is still disturbing, we have now received enough money to cover all of our losses, OM's and those of our team members. We would like to thank you all for your kindness and generosity.

In fact we will be returning some of the personal checks with a letter expressing our sincere thanks. In good conscience we can not accept any more donations for the losses incurred as a result of the break-in, but that does not mean we are fully funded for all the rest of our expenses. We still have half the migration to complete (MileMaker has 300+ unsponsored miles) and next generation will begin hatching in less than 5 months. Your support is critical to safeguarding Whooping cranes and we are truly grateful.

Date: December 17, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Wildlife law enforcement agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources continue their joint investigation of the shooting of Whooping crane 217*. She is the First Family matriarch, who, along with mate 211, are the only Whooping cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population who thus far have successfully reared young.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents are conducting a joint investigation into the shooting incident which took place near the town of Cayuga in central Vermillion County, Indiana. In addition to the Endangered Species Act, Whooping cranes are protected by state laws and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It was announced yesterday that in addition to the initial $2500 reward posted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, contributions from two organizations have tripled the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who shot and killed 217*.

Defenders of Wildlife, a national non-profit conservation organization, and the Indiana Turn in a Poacher or a Polluter Program have each donated $2,500 bringing the total reward monies to $7,500.

Anyone with information should call the Indiana Department of Natural Resources 24- hour hotline at: 1-800 TIP IDNR
(800-847-4367), or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 317-346-7016. Callers can remain anonymous.

“To kill and abandon one of 500 remaining members of species shows a lack of reverence for life and an absence of simple common sense,” said John Christian, FWS Assistant Regional Director for Migratory Birds. “It is inconceivable that someone would have such little regard for conservation.”

Date:December 16, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Hardin Co. TN
We have a much improved forecast for tomorrow. Without wanting to jinx things, it looks like a sure bet that we'll be leaving Hardin County, TN for Franklin County, AL in the morning.

Once again, here's the flyover site information. The viewing location is off 13780 Hwy 69 South, Savannah, TN on the property of Horse Creek Wildlife Refuge and Animal Sanctuary. Use the entrance marked 'North Gate' (which will be opened by 6:45am) 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.

Date: December 16, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 62Location: Hardin Co. TN

Wish I had better news. We had a nice cold 22F this morning and what we thought were reasonable surface winds out of the NNE. What we were unsure of was if the cranes and planes could handle the strength of the NE winds aloft (~20mph).

The pilots left for where the trikes were hangared at the Savanah airport a few miles away. Then camp became a ghost town as the rest of us headed out to take up our positions. The three attempts it took to get out of this site last year were in the forefront of all our minds as we pulled away.

Chris Gullikson's last words to me before I left for the flyover site were, "If it's as rough as I think it might be, folks could be in for a long viewing period." In short, he meant it could be quite a rodeo. As it turns out there was no rodeo, in fact no flying whatsoever. Joe called from the airport to say conditions were so poor that it was not even worth putting a test trike up.

Richard, who was last year's lead pilot out of this location, would have been on lead again today. He's been taking our good natured ribbing about it being because he needs the practice, with a grin.

Today will be Down Day #5 in Hardin County, TN. C'mon Tennessee...let our Whooping cranes go!

Note to CraneCam viewers: We pulled the camera trailer out last evening in anticipation of a launch this morning as it could have presented a danger to the birds. In anticipation of a launch tomorrow morning we are not re-deploying it today, but will take advantage of having it back in camp to re-charge the batteries and do some routine maintenance. Broadcast tomorrow will be via the hand-held and the TrikeCam - assuming a flight of course.

Date:December 15, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING and FLYOVER INFOLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Wondering at our chances for tomorrow? We should have a nice cold temperature of ~25F, so that's good. Surface winds are forecast to be 5mph out of the NNE, and aloft at 15 to 20mph also out of the NNE. Think that sounds good for a flight? We aren't sure. Chris thinks our odds of flying tomorrow are 70-30 - that 70 is in our favor.

Our flight path from Hardin County, TN to Franklin County, AL has a northwest to southeast trajectory. With the NNE winds projected for the morning we could be a crosswind situation, and, with their strength, also in for a wild ride.

We're up for the attempt however, so if you'd like to witness what we hope will be a departure, here's what you need to know.

The viewing location is off 13780 Hwy 69 South, Savannah, TN on the property of Horse Creek Wildlife Refuge and Animal Sanctuary. Use the entrance marked 'North Gate' (which will be opened by 6:45am) 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.

It's going to be COLD so dress warmly. Last year's departure took three tries. Here's hoping just one try does the trick tomorrow.

Date:December 15, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

At our current location receiving a signal, for both internet and cell phones, is sketchy at best. Today, reception via air card is out entirely, our satellite receiver is operating at minimal strength, and cell phone connections come and go. For this reason we may or may not be  able to post further entries here today. We'll do our best, but can make no promises.

Date:December 15, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 61 - Close but no cigar. Location: Hardin Co. TN
The mercury is sinking rapidly. Yesterday's high temp in the low to mid 60's has given way to almost half that this morning. Yes, that's a good sign of the winds swinging around to come out of the north. A combination of negatives will keep us grounded again today though.

However, if the weather patterns continue to unfold as we believe they will, tomorrow should be another story. In the meantime, today will be Down Day #4 in Hardin County, TN.

Date:December 14, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Hardin Co. TN

Slim to none. That's at what Chris Gullikson rates our chance of flying tomorrow. Our elevation here is 443 feet and it looks like the ceiling will be down to about 500 feet. Strike one. The winds aloft would have us flying into a crosswind situation. Strike two. The forecast is calling for dense fog until at least 10am at our destination. Strike three.

Okay - we're out. Nothing like rubbing our noses in it.

Date:December 14, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie`
Subject:DID YOU KNOW?Location: Hardin Co. TN
Did you know that more than $300 billion dollars was donated to U.S. charities in 2007? (Source: Giving USA 2008)

Did you know that on average in any given year, only 3% of all charitable dollars are directed to environmental causes (i.e. $9 billion)? And of that 9 billion, only 3% ($270 million) is designated for wildlife conservation?

Wonder where the money comes from?
Individuals gave 82.3%   -   Foundations 12.6%   -  Corporations 5.1%

The year’s biggest gift giving time is fast approaching. We hope, as you think of what to give to your friends and family, you will also think about giving to charitable groups, to what every cause is meaningful to you.

We know these aren’t the best of economic times. Many folks are out of work and are not having an easy time of it. But that doesn’t mean there can be no giving. When people are hurting it is all the more reason to share, and ‘checkbook charity’ isn’t the only way to help.

There is no doubt that donations of dollars are vital to keep organizations operating, but there are other equally as important ways to give. Offer your time and expertise to an organization in your home town. Man the phones, help with building repairs, clean their offices once a week, do filing, run errands, organize a fundraiser; in other words, become a volunteer. The lack of human resources to do even the simplest of things, pinches organizations as hard as their limited budgets.

I like to think that what I do and what I give are my contributions toward helping to create the kind of world I would like there to be tomorrow. My wish for the holiday season would be for everyone to give something away; a gift in kind, their time or talent, money - if only a token amount, or even a gently used toy.

If Operation Migration and the Whooping cranes is one of your ‘causes’ and you are already a MileMaker sponsor, thank you so much. We still have over 300 unsponsored miles though. Would you share this message with your friends and colleagues and ask them to help us reach our goal of all 1285 migration miles sponsored?

Date:December 14, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WELCOMING A LITTLE ONELocation: Hardin Co. TN
If you are waiting for a call, an email, or other service from our Port Perry office and wondering what could be taking so long, here is your answer. Chris Danilko, our Office Manager, bookkeeper, and the oil that keeps the OM engine running smoothly, was off last week.

She and husband Mike traveled to London, Ontario to help out son Jeff, and new Mom Tanya with Abagail Machenzie, our newest and littlest OM'er and soon to be Craniac. Congratulations to Mom, Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa. Lucky Abagail. She's got the best kind of grandparents - first timers. LOL

Chris was already struggling with a two week backlog, so she'll undoubtedly be even more swamped now. I know she'd appreciate your patience as she races to catch up.

Date: December 14, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 60 = DOWN DAY #3Location: Hardin Co.

Nothing good to be said for this morning's weather if you're a Whooping crane trying to migrate south. Warm temp - 50F headed for a high of 61F by afternoon; high humidity - 93% making breathing difficult; early morning fog; and, daunting 35mph southwest winds aloft. Today will be Down Day #3 in Hardin County, TN.

Note: For the many of you who have requested a commemorative print of First Family matriarch, 217*, we have made one  available on our OM Gear webpage. Click this link to view and place your order.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Geologically, Hardin County lies in the Western Valley of the Tennessee River. The river enters the county at the middle of its southern border and flows northward in a west to east direction. The western side of the river, making up one-third of the county's six hundred square miles, is rich bottomland with some hills and ridges. The land east of the river is higher, with a steadily increasing elevation moving toward the eastern boundary. East Hardin County also contains extensive rich bottomland along the lower portion of several creeks and on the inside of river bends.

Date: December 13, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Hardin Co. TN
We're not expecting to be able to get out of, Hardin County tomorrow. The south winds will bring us even warmer temps, which in turn will give us fog in the morning. Combine that with anticipated 35mph southwest winds aloft, and ... need I say more?

Date: December 13, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
This afternoon we received a copy of the News Release that was sent out December 11th by the Juneau County Sherriff's Office regarding the break-in, vandalism, and theft at our hangar in Necedah.

Date: December 13, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:GOOD NEWS AND GREAT NEWSLocation: Hardin Co. TN
On December 9th, a reporter from the Toronto Star newspaper called for a telephone interview concerning the recent break in at our Necedah, WI hangar. Before I go on with this story, you have to appreciate that despite the idea for ultralight-led migration being initiated by Canadians, and researched and developed in Ontario, Canada, Operation Migration rarely attracts any coverage from Canadian media. This makes what I'm about to tell you even more extraordinary.

The Good News: As a result of the story appearing in the Toronto Star, several other Ontario media, including the Scugog community newspaper from OM’s Canadian home base of Port Perry, have called and have done or are doing articles. Although the stories focus on the break-in, there is collateral benefit in that they also describe the work of the reintroduction project.

The Great News: While the entire crew was all sitting down to breakfast after standing down from December 10th’s aborted flight, my cell phone rang. The caller was Mary Desjardins, the Executive Director of the Toronto Dominion Bank’s Friends of the Environment Foundation.

Mary said, and I quote, “I am happy to offer a donation of $15,000 from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation to cover the cost of damages resulting from vandalism of your Wisconsin hangar. Our team was shocked by the story in this morning’s Toronto Star and felt moved to take action. Protecting species at risk is one of our funding focus areas. We hope that word of this donation may also spur additional donations for your worthwhile cause.”

Later in the day Mary emailed to tell me that she had since issued a response to the Toronto Star reporter who wrote the article, (link to it is below) indicating to him that it was the Foundation’s hope that their contribution would kick start additional contributions.

And Mary's wish would be our wish too – along with raising greater awareness for the plight of the Whooping crane with more of the Canadian public and media. Click here to read the Toronto Star article.

Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. They have helped to turn a dark cloud over our heads to one with a silver lining.

Date: December 13, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 59Location: Hardin Co. TN
It was already in the mid 40's at 4am this morning so no need to check a windsock for the wind direction. As for the rest of it, the weatherman was right again; its the 'R' word, and it's coming down steadily. Aloft, even it if was blowing in the right direction - which it is not - it's about 10 times as powerful as we like to see.

Today will be Down Day #2 in Hardin County, TN.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
The story of Hardin County begins with the prehistoric mound builders of the Woodland and Mississippian Periods. Savannah, the modern county seat, is built partially within a wall and trench, and amid a line of fourteen mounds on a bluff parallel to the Tennessee River.

These prehistoric peoples also built a considerable structure covering approximately four acres in the northwest corner of the county near Middleton, and several mounds at Pittsburg Landing in what is now the Shiloh National Military Park. After the Mississippian era, Hardin County, along with most of the rest of West Tennessee, became an area shared by various Indian tribes as a rich hunting ground.

Date: December 12, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie

Don't get excited. The fact that I am including information on the departure flyover viewing location in the same Field Journal entry as our prediction for a flight tomorrow is merely coincidental - not meaningful.

Once again, unfortunately, we are confident we will not be flying tomorrow. In addition to a continuation of the rain that is currently falling, we anticipate 30 to 40mph WSW winds aloft at our departure site, and honking 50 to 60mph winds approaching and over our destination.

Again this year, the kind and generous folks at Horse Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and Animal Refuge are allowing us to use their viewing area for our departure flyover.

While we aren’t sure what day that will happen, (for sure it will not be tomorrow) here is the address.

The viewing location is off 13780 Hwy 69 South, Savannah, TN. Use the entrance marked 'North Gate' (which will be unlocked by 6:45am) 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.

Don't forget to dress warmly - and 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. Last year it took us three attempts before we made a successful departure.

Check back here late each afternoon/early evening for our best guess about our chances for a flight the following day.

Date: December 12, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Chris Gullikson
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - DEC 11TH FLIGHTLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Distance:67 miles (Carroll Co. TN - Hardin Co. TN) Accumulated Distance: 645 miles
We have arrived in beautiful Hardin County, Tennessee and it looks like we could be here for several days waiting for the right wind and weather conditions. It is a great place to be stuck for several days though, and it appears we might get a few days of warmer weather to get out and appreciate the local sights.

To recap yesterday’s flight, I first want to go back to Thursday morning and talk about the weather. We had a cold front that moved through Wednesday night bringing us much colder air on northwest winds. High pressure was building in from the west behind the cold front, and we were all hoping for a flight with a good potential to skip our Hardin County site and continue on into Alabama. While the winds did settle down by sunrise under clear skies, they were still in the 5-10mph range, which is often a sign of rough air aloft.

The four of us got airborne at sunrise and found the air turbulent up to about 600 feet where it finally smoothed out. I was surprised to find only a 4mph tailwind component in the strong west winds at 1000 feet. Our expected 50-60mph groundspeed was not there, making the flight longer then originally anticipated.

With cold air advecting aloft from the northwest winds creating steep lapse rates and clear skies allowing the surface of the Earth to warm quickly - we knew we would be having thermal activity early, and the winds were already at our upper limit of flying with cranes. It was going to be quite a challenge climbing the birds through 600 feet of rough air, dealing with thermal activity, and mechanical turbulence later on in the flight. As a result, we all agreed that Friday would be a down day.

Friday was a completely different day weather-wise. High pressure was just to our east, and the air was almost stagnant. Aloft it was out of the southwest and would be coming from the southeast as out flight progressed. A layer of stratus at several thousand feet had moved in during the early morning hours and would block the suns rays, eliminating any thermal activity.

The temperature was once again COLD - in the teens I think - requiring several layers including turtle necks, sweatshirts, vests, and finally the snowmobile bibs and jacket. Through continued trial and error we all have found the right combination of protection for our hands, feet ,and faces. On a long flight in 2007I got mild frostbite on my nose, making it much more susceptible to cold air, so I am careful to keep it covered with a fleece balaclava. Richard and I have heated grips on the control bar of our trikes, and we all use air activated heat pads in strategic locations when we fly in these cold temps.

My turn to lead!! Getting aloft I was delighted to find the air absolutely smooth. We had a 3mph headwind component at 500 feet, but in such cold, smooth air, the birds would easily be able to fly for several hours with the help of the vortex of air generated by the wing.

The pen's location in a rain soaked field required that an air pickup be employed. While Erin and Geoff listened on the radio, I did a slow approach from the west towards the pen and called for a release as I approached from about 300 yards away. The young cranes have had some recent experience at this technique, and all were quickly airborne and flying to the east in front of me.

I was able to drop in front of them, flying right at 34mh and just above stall. Like any athlete, it takes several minutes to stretch the muscles out, get the blood pumping, and find their aerobic rhythm for long distance flying. 34mph is just not slow enough for many of these cranes, and they were falling back behind me and turning back to the familiarity of the pen.

I turned to gather them back on the wing, and once again turned south where a group of Craniacs waited in the chilly air at the flyover site. Three times I had to go back, as one crane would break off my wing, taking the rest of the flock with it. It can be quite difficult trying to get an accurate count of cranes while flying at stall at low altitude, and I was glad to have Walt and Erin and Heather radio to me that I had all 20 in tow. The rodeo was short lived, and I was soon passing over the flyover event with eight on my left and twelve on my right, climbing strongly in the glass smooth air.

(CraneCam screen capture by Fred Wasti)

I have noticed for the first time this year, that the cranes seem to prefer to fly on the upwind side of the trike. We had a light quartering wind from the southwest, making the trike crab to the right of the actual flight path, and soon after getting on course, all the birds were flying on the right wing. The occasional bird would fly over to the left wing and get a free ride, but would usually move back over to the right side.

I have noticed this over the last 3 flights, perched behind whoever has the group of 20 on their windward wing. About half way into the flight we must have crossed the axis of the high pressure center and the winds backed from the southwest to the southeast. The crab angle was rather slight, and I really didn’t notice the change, but all the birds suddenly surged out in front of the trike, crossed over and settled into formation on the left side. Richard was the first to comment that the crab angle had changed, and it just solidified my impression that these birds like the windward wing.

This was turning into a long flight. At departure we were looking at just under 2 hours to reach Hardin County, TN. Brooke and Richard were keeping track of the winds aloft, and advised me that climbing was not helping their groundspeed. I plodded along at about 1000 feet above the ground with my groundspeed slowly dropping as the wind became more southerly.

The GPS clicks off time to the next destination, we were 1 hour and 45 minutes to our destination and 30 minutes later it showed 1 hour and 40 minutes. With my ground speed falling off into the low 20’s, the landscape below just seemed to at a standstill. Flying in a chase position a few hundred feet above and behind me, Richard radioed to me that he had a slightly better ground speed at his altitude, and I was able to coax the birds up another 500 feet to lessen my headwind component and pick my speed up to about 27mph.

Eventually our Hardin County location came into view. I pulled the bar in, reduced the engine RPM, and began a slow decent from 5 miles out. The cranes were locked onto the wing in the smooth air and most were gliding in tight formation, trading altitude for airspeed and getting a break from their long flight.

(TrikeCam screen capture of lead pilot Chris Gullikson by Nancy Maciolek Blake)

Richard and Brooke landed ahead of me in the long valley, and without any thermal lift for the cranes to enjoy, they quickly descended with me and landed, vocalizing their loud and excited peeps and looking for treats in the field.

Bev and Sharon in the tracking van were slightly delayed after encountering a closed road blocking their path across the river, but after I helped Brooke lead the cranes away to a hiding spot, and walked to the northwest side of the valley, I found that with Richard's help, they were well underway with setting up the pen.

Bev gave Richard and I a ride back to our trikes and she and Sharon retreated to watch from above the valley, ready to track should the birds decide to take off while they were being led to the pen.

I put my costume on and wandered down the valley along a small creek in search of Brooke and the cranes. I found them in the shallow creek enjoying a refreshingly cold bath. No…Brooke was not taking a bath. When Brooke spotted me from a distance, he began to lead them away from the bank of the shallow creek. There were a few stragglers in the water, but they soon followed us as we began the long two mile walk back to the pen.

We kind of figured they would not be willing to walk the whole two miles, and sure enough, 16 birds were soon airborne and flying big circuits around us. Richard was waiting in his trike and took off when he saw the birds flying overhead, getting them on his wing and trying to lure them over to the pen and the air that was now becoming a bit thermally under clearing skies.

As Brooke and I made our way back to our trikes with the four cranes who stayed with us, we figured it would be much easier to just fly over to the pen instead of walk the mile and a half that remained. While he took off to fly the four cranes over, I went to put my flying gear back on behind the cover of a large tree. I came back surprised to find 905 hanging out around my trike so I started up and flew her over to the rest of her buddies.

With all the cranes safely in their pen with fresh food and water, it was time for us to put our bird gear away and get some food in our bellies. We made the short flight over to the Hardin County airport where a huge hangar awaited our trikes and the generous people at the airport had supplied us a lunch buffet. Like I said, not a bad place to be down for several days!!

Date: December 12, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

The third aerial census of the 2009-2010 Whooping crane season was conducted December 10th in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions of Castroville, Texas with USFWS observer Tom Stehn.

Sighted on the flight were 211 adults and 19 juveniles for a total of 230 Whooping cranes. This was an increase of 20 cranes since Tom's previous census, December 2nd. Tom said, "With 230 birds at Aransas and eight known to still be in migration, we can account for 238 Whooping cranes at this point. However, I am expecting up to 22 juveniles based on August fledging surveys done on the nesting grounds by the Canadian Wildlife Service."

With that number of juvenile produced, Tom projects that the flock may experience a break-even year with a population total of around 247.

Here is the balance of Tom's report.
Migration Update: Cold fronts that reached Aransas on December 4th and 9th helped 20 additional cranes complete their long, 2,400 mile migration. Additional cranes are known to still be in migration. Four were present at Quivira NWR on December 7th even though the marshes were about 90% frozen.

Four were recently sighted west of Mad Island Preserve in Matagorda County, Texas (about 40 miles northeast of Aransas). Two cranes that have been staying east of Tivoli ~15 miles north of Aransas were located on the December 10 flight in the Hynes Bay Unit of the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Crane Identities: We are not sure if the Lobstick pair has returned this fall. However, two cranes that may have been the Lobsticks were sighted on the Lobstick territory on December 9 and 10. If present, the Lobstick male is 31 years old.

Habitat Use: Tides measured at the refuge boat ramp were high (2.7 feet). Salinities currently at 8 parts per thousand in San Antonio Bay have dropped noticeably in November and December so that the cranes are drinking directly from the marsh and have stopped making flights to fresh water dugouts.

An extremely heavy rain event on November 20th with some coastal areas getting up to 16 inches has filled refuge dugouts and swales and flooded portions of the uplands on San Jose Island and Welder Flats. Conditions are very wet. Since that rain event, some blue crabs seem to have moved into the marshes, and some cranes have recently been observed catching blue crabs 2-3 inches in size.

However, 65 cranes were sighted on uplands on this latest flight. These cranes were mostly foraging on patches of bare ground; some flooded and some dry. This behavior is indicative of a less than optimal food situation for the cranes. Although some wolfberry flowers are still present in the marshes, few berries are present, and have stopped making up a significant part of the crane diet.

An additional five cranes were on a shell road in the uplands. No cranes were at game feeders or in open bay habitat, and there are currently no prescribed burns in the crane area. The largest group size observed was eight birds seen on the uplands on San Jose accompanied by Sandhill cranes. More black mangrove was noted on Ayes and Roddy Islands.

Flight Conditions: Visibility was good for most of the flight, but darker overcast skies at times made for somewhat challenging viewing conditions. Due to limited flight hours, the aircraft was usually kept at 140 knots making it a lively task to find all the cranes. Total flight time was 4.6 hours and we felt a very good count was achieved despite some crane movements that had to be sorted out as cranes moved to and from the uplands.

Date: December 12, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 58 and NEWS RE CRANECAMLocation: Hardin Co. TN
At 4am the temp was in the 20's and, after all the wind we'd had lately, it was so calm it was almost eerie. Today's story has less to do with the weather where we are, and more to do with the weather enroute and where we are going.

10mph variable winds lay ahead of us, and that's just on the surface. On top of that, with 90% odds of running into precipitation  - either rain or ice pellets - all smart cranes and planes will stay on the ground this morning. Today will be Down Day #1 in Hardin County, TN.

We will be deploying the CraneCam as soon as possible this morning. However, despite camp being up on a hill, our current location is close to being a cell signal black hole. With it been virtually impossible to maintain a signal in camp, it remains to be seen if we will be able to secure any kind of a signal for the CraneCam as the pen is tucked away down in a nearby valley. I'll post here again re the CraneCam as soon as we know one way or the other.

Date: December 11, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Hardin Co. TN
Sorry folks, I have no lead pilot report to post for you. But, thanks to flyover attendee, John Bendall, I do have a super photo to share.

We were unable to deploy the CraneCam this afternoon. Heather has been suffering with a pain in her right side ribcage for some time, and lifting some pumpkins today did her in. Once we reached Savannah,  I drove her to emergency where x-rays revealed she had a cracked rib and some badly pulled muscles. A couple of injections later, a stop to fill prescriptions, a quick bite to eat, and it was off to bed for a very drowsy Miss Heather.

Now for tomorrow. Even if the weatherman isn't 100% right, we can almost 100% guarantee you we will not be able to fly. South winds and rain that may turn to ice pellets appear to be the order of the day.

We will post the Hardin County flyover departure site here in the Field Journal tomorrow.

Date: December 11, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
We have another Give a WHOOP! challenge.

Anna Wrighter Johnson (top cover pilot Jack Wrighter’s sister) and her husband Jack Johnson, wanted to honor Jack Wrighter's volunteer role with Operation Migration. They will match every WHOOP! given by someone who has yet to Give a WHOOP! up to $500.

In their note to us communicating their wish to propose this challenge, Anna and Jack said, “We are so very proud of Jack, and it is an honor to contribute to the efforts of such a dedicated group of people. We are wishing you the best during this migration.”

If you have not yet participated in Give a WHOOP! this is your opportunity to double the value of your $10 WHOOP! It’s easier than falling off a log – just click one of the following links to visit the Give a WHOOP! Description page or the Give a WHOOP! Details page

Better yet, click this link to go right to where you can give YOUR WHOOP!

Date: December 11, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 57Location: Hardin Co. TN

Had to put extra woolies on this morning to deal with the 15F temperature. Last night's forecast for minimal surface wind held, and the only possible fly in the ointment was what was waiting for us aloft - a possible headwind.

The weather models showed winds aloft as light, but there's only one way to find out what actually is happening at altitude; launching a test trike. That meant we were all galvanized into the usual early morning scramble. As I drove the several miles from camp to the flyover location, I hoped the faithful folks who kept coming out each morning to view our departure actually got to see it today.

Just before 7:30am we saw trikes approaching in the distance, and shortly thereafter the aviation radio crackled. It was Chris asking the ground crew to release the birds. What remained to be seen was would the gathering actually get to see anything. The position of the pen and gates meant a release to the east. Today's launch was going to be an air pick-up. Would the birds follow and latch on to lead pilot Chris' wing? A launch to the east lessened our chance of getting a good flyover view, while a turn to the west enhanced it.

It turned out to be an 'organized' rodeo if that isn't a bit of an oxymoron. Chris was leading the birds to the southwest to turn on course when they broke and headed back for the pen. He zoomed wide to get back in front of them and they grabbed back on to the wing. As he turned again they followed, but then a group broke away again. Some faithfully followed as Chris cut the renegades off and gathered them back behind him once more.

After that it was text book. Within a very short distance they were flying beautifully off both wings, and to the delight of the viewers, flew right over our heads. We watched until the perfect formation disappeared from sight.

Having said goodbyes to the little crowd of viewers, it was time to hit the road - but not before taking a few minutes to see if I could snag a signal to upload this posting. The answer was, no, despite three attempts.

Once flight was underway, the pen was dismantled and packed up; the camera trailer hauled out of the field; and trailers hooked up to vehicles for hauling. Within an hour or so all the ‘breaking camp’ duties were accomplished and everyone was on their way.

The decision as to whether a skip is possible is usually made by pilot consensus as the cranes and planes approach the next stopover. If the conditions ahead and the birds' performance permit, they sometimes elect to carry on past the next stopover. This was not the case this morning. The cranes and planes are all safe on the ground in Hardin County.

This officially puts us past the halfway mark of the migration, albeit by only 2.5 miles, but we're more than half way nonetheless. As Martha Stewart would say, "That's a good thing."

 Check back here later for this morning's lead pilot, Chris Gullikson's version of today's story.

Date: December 10, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Bev Paulan
Subject:Engine Gremlins: 3 - OM: 0Location: Carroll Co. TN

Seems the bad luck just keeps on coming. It’s almost as if someone has asked for extra helpings of it. And not unlike eating three helpings of Thanksgiving turkey, I’m stuffed with it. Full to the brim with the bad luck. Wishing for a trip to the purgatorium to be rid of it.

Yesterday, our morning started out with trying to hold on while getting dressed in a swaying motorhome. Not swaying in a gentle , isn’t this cozy way, but more in a holy moly we’re goin’ over way. The winds were howling out of the northwest across several fields running into nothing until it hit our snug little home. Riding out a typhoon on a sailboat would have been less rocky. Thank goodness the occupants of said camper are pilots and love rollercoasters. No airsick bags were needed!

So right at the get go of the still dark day, we knew we weren’t flying, so it was off on a quest for pumpkins. The 20 pre-adolescents we are hosting had gone through all the pumpkins and had sent out an SOS for more, so Brooke and I mounted up to go retrieve some generously donated unfrozen, un-squashed squash. Waiting until a more civilized time of day and having arranged for the pick-up, we set off in the here-to-far trusty tracking van.

After attempting to navigate as Brooke drove (I say attempting because I was trying to read Brooke’s handwriting), and correcting for a wrong turn, Brooke suddenly said “It died”. “Who died?” was my response and the quick answer along with a look that said way more, was “The van, did, Ms. Genius”. Sure enough with absolutely no warning and definitely no fanfare, the van just up and quit. No chugging, no squealing, just that awful sudden silence that goes along with any engine failure.

And if any of you are keeping score, this is now Engine Gremlins 3, OM-0. Luckily, unlike Chris and Don and Paula, we were already on the ground and had to merely pull over to the side of the winding narrow hilly country road, ensuring we were safely out of the flow of traffic.

Our first phone call was to the provider of the pumpkins---and here is where I would like to thank Mrs. Rushing not only for her kind donation of orange-juvenile-Whooping-crane-distracters, but for also providing us with the name of a tow truck service to come to our rescue. After a quick call and explaining our dilemma, a wrecker was dispatched to our location. A very short time later, the flat bed came, loaded us up and we were on our way to an auto repair shop for what would hopefully be an immediate repair. With the hope of flying the next morning (this morning) we needed the van, especially crucial with the absence of top cover.

After first one stop where the soonest we could be helped was the next day, we were toted to another shop, where upon hearing our plight of potential flight, we were ushered into the waiting room and told no problem. And no problem it turned out to be for the wonderful people at Cowan’s Auto Repair---thanks to Jeff and his staff, they diagnosed the problem (bad fuel pump), ordered up a part, drove to get the part and had it in all in a half days work. Not only did they get us back up and running in short order (I never got to see all of Oprah), but they replaced a bad headlight as well and wished us luck with our birds.

We eventually got to pick up the pumpkins, got our other errands done and finally made it back to camp in time to prepare for the next morning’s pre-flight scramble.

Since I am a big believer in things coming in threes, I feel we are now done with the engine issues and will make the rest of the trip with no problems. I can at least hope, can’t I?

Date: December 10, 2009, Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll Co. TN
We hope to turn today's disappointment into something more satisfying tomorrow - like a flight.

We are still looking at clear skies, but with even an colder temperature of around 15F, and very little northeast surface wind. Aloft, Chris Gillikson is thinking we could encounter some headwind flowing just above the surface air, but he was still willing to go with projecting a 70-30 chance of flying. The 70 being in our favor.

We'll head out to the Carroll County flyover departure site again early tomorrow morning...perhaps #6 will be the charm.

Note: Thanks from the team to Jean and little Charlie and Harry for delivering dinner to us the other evening. Scrumptious and very appreciated!!

Date: December 10, 2009Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 56Location: Carroll Co. TN
Our motorhomes stopped their wind driven boogie-woogie just before the arrival of the 'wee hours'. Under clear skies at 4am this morning we had a frosty 22F with 1 mph surface wind gusting to 4mph out of the west. A check of conditions at our next stopover (Hardin County, TN) showed that at 25F it was slightly warmer there, with slightly stronger winds; WNW at 5mph.

The main focus of today's story though was what was happening aloft. The weather models showed lot of wind strength at altitude; a powerful 20 to 30mph blowing from the WNW.

At 6am, as I pulled out headed for the departure flyover location, everyone else was also preparing to vacate camp. Once in place, we waited not so patiently for the test trikes to render their verdict and pass it along via the aviation radio. On hold until we received the 'go' or 'no go' word, we stood stamping our feet in the cold with the usual questions swirling in our minds. Will we be able to fly? And if so, will we skip? Or, will we be undoing all this morning's preparations, and going back to set up camp again in Carroll County.

Waiting is always the hardest part. But harder than the waiting was listening to the aviation radio and the pilot's discussion of the difficulties a flight this morning would pose. A lot of trashy air lower down and would they be able to lead the birds above it? The anticipated good tailwind turning out to be a mere 3mph push. Worsening conditions to the south and no where to put the birds down if it came to that. Then, came the pilots' consensus decision - rather than take a chance with the birds we would stand down and try again tomorrow.

Disappointing? Yes, sure, especially when were were mentally geared up for another potential skip. But then again, what's one more day. Today will be Down Day #5 in Carroll County, TN.

Date: December 9, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
In a Press Release received shortly before 7:00pm CST this evening, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced the cause of death of 217*. The seven year old Whooping crane, matriarch of the First Family, was shot.  She was the dam of Wild601, the first Whooping crane to be hatched in the wild in Eastern North American in more than a century.

The shooting occurred near the town of Cayuga in Vermillion County, Indiana sometime between November 28th, when she was last recorded by trackers, and December 1st when her carcass was found.

"This is likely the most important bird in the entire Eastern Migratory Population," said Operation Migration CEO, Joe Duff. "We are all saddened by the loss and troubled by the motive behind the act."

Click here to read the full Press Release distributed by FWS.

Date: December 9, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll Co. TN
Things are looking up. The temperature has been dropping steadily all day, and the winds are slowing swinging around from coming out of the south. Right now they're westerly, but should swing some more to become WNW later tonight and stay from that direction into the morning. The projected 7mph or better surface wind by flight time is a tad stronger than we'd like, but not a deal breaker.

At altitude we could have a different story however. Everyone knows that too much of a good thing isn't good for you. At least that's what my Grandma used to tell me. We're hoping that is not the case for us tomorrow morning. The NW winds aloft are likely to be around the 25mph mark...and that just might be too much of a good thing.

But...we'll be ready to go regardless. A reminder re the departure flyover location here in Carroll County - at the junction of Price Road and Long Rock Church Road outside Huntingdon, TN. Hope to see you there around 7am!!

Date: December 9, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 55Location: Carroll Co. TN
Gusty winds buffeting the motorhome rattled me awake shortly after 3am, and there was no let up as the morning progressed. Alternately coming out of the WSW and the SSW, the strong wind has brought with it very warm air, raising the temperature to 50F. Aloft, the WSW winds are gusting as high as 45mph.

Last night I thought we might float away. This morning I think we might blow away. The one thing we won't be doing this morning though, is flying away.

Today will be Down Day #4 in Carroll County, TN.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Although the Dogwood is not Tennessee's state tree it really should be. Tennessee nurseries grow more Dogwoods than any other state, and have been doing it for more than one hundred years.

Date: December 8, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll Co. TN

It sure looks like Carroll County, Tennessee is trying for Juneau County, Wet-consin's title. And at the rate things are going it just might take it away. Since last evening when it started, there has been sufficient rainfall for the weather people to issue flood warnings here.

Water is streaming in fast running rivulets everywhere. It is a shin-deep wade to get to the aircraft trailer, and it's over the sides of my running shoes on the pavement where our motorhome is parked. It's virtually impossible to step anywhere without getting a soaker.

The current forecast calls for this wet, wet, wet, to continue until the early morning hours of Wednesday. Although the weatherman is promising that the sky should clear to give us partly sunny/partly cloudy skies, he is also predicting the rain will be replaced by 18 to 20 mph WSW surface winds and close to double that aloft.

I think I am safe when I say we'll be spending tomorrow in Carroll County - assuming we haven't floated away before then that is.

Date: December 8, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
So far, only 1,389 people have shown that they give a whoop about Whooping cranes by participating in OM’s “I Give A WHOOP” campaign. Collectively, the WHOOPS! made by these caring folks total 4,757. And that's simply terrific.

BUT - - surely - - there are more than just 1,389 people in the world who care about the survival of the species – and who could spare a ten dollar bill to declare and demonstrate their support.

We know our CraneCam and TrikeCam have attracted many, many new folks to the project, and we'd love it if your appreciation for our live broadcasts extended to supporting our work with Whooping cranes. If you are a CraneCam viewer or are a newcomer to Operation Migration and you haven’t WHOOPED, won’t you please Give a WHOOP! today?

Our goal is to gather 10,000 WHOOPS! and then send the all the names on the Give a WHOOP! honor roll to those agencies in whose hands rests the future of the Whooping Crane Reintroduction project. The idea is to demonstrate the strong public support for Operation Migration’s and the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s work to safeguard the endangered Whooping crane.

Please WHOOP! today (click here for details) and show YOU are one of those people who Give a WHOOP! about Whooping cranes.

Click here to view video clips of messages we received in celebration of our having flown 10,000th miles leading and teaching young Whooping cranes a migration route.

Date: December 8, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 54Location: Carroll Co. TN
Oh no, it's getting warmer again and you know what that means - winds from the south. At 4am it was pushing 40F degrees and the surface winds were just 2 to 4mph, but gusting to 7mph. Aloft they ranged as high as 30mph and were also out of the ESE.

By 6am the ceiling was down to 500 feet, the barometer was falling, surface winds were above 10mph, and the radar showed those forecast thunderstorms closing in. Nothing good for cranes and planes in that lot. Today will be Down Day #3 in Carroll County, TN.

We still have a chance however, to equal or better last year's progress. To do this we need to get in and out of Stop #14 in Hardin County, TN on or before December 12. Hope you're rooting for us.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Natchez Trace State Forest is partly located in Carroll County. The area in and around Natchez Trace Park was settled during the 1830's by a band of settlers led by Joseph Morris. The Morris family and others left the worn out land of North Carolina piedmont area in 1832 to settle the fertile West Tennessee lands along Birdsong and Maple Creek.

This area also gains historical significance from the days of the old Natchez Trace, now the Natchez Trace Parkway. The name Natchez Trace originally applied to an ill-defined series of trails and paths beaten out by Indians and perhaps buffalo. Several of these trails, when joined together, lead to a northeasterly direction from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee.

Later, settlers would travel down the Trace to sell their goods, often on foot, further tramping out and identifying a more definite Trace. The threat of Highwaymen along the old Natchez Trace became so great that returning travelers soon sought alternate routes and one of the more often used was the Notcha Trace which followed a route in the vicinity of what is now the Natchez Trace State Park.

Date: December 7, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING Location: Carroll Co. TN
I think we can safely make the same prediction about our chances of flying tomorrow as we made at this time yesterday for a flight today. Not at all good.

While the wind should swing around to come out of the ENE, it will carry with it more rain if not thunderstorms that could linger as long as through the night Tuesday. As it stands, we are pretty sure we'll be spending a third day on the ground here in Carroll County.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Named for Governor William Carroll, Tennessee's Carroll County has an estimated population of around 30,000. Huntingdon is the county seat, and also home of the Marching Mustangs, Tennessee Division 1, State Marching Band Champions in 1978, '79, '91, '92, 2003, and '05, very impressive for a town of less than 5000 people.

Date: December 7, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Class of 2009
Subject:PUMPKINSLocation: Carroll Co. TN
Dear Humans,
     Hello to everyone in Carroll County from the Whooping cranes in the Class of 2009. As you all know, there are 20 of us migrating with OM's ultralights this year, and it seems we've depleted all the pumpkins our costumed handlers had stocked up and were hoarding for us in the travel pen trailer.

     If any of you still have some pumpkins (not frozen) you'd like to get rid of, we'd be awfully glad if you would donate them to us. We like the large size ones best, but because our handlers have to physically carry them to us from the truck parked about a half a mile away, they prefer to get medium size ones for us.

     Should you have pumpkins we could have, and you'd be willing to deliver them to us, please email with your name and phone number and put 'Pumpkins' in the subject line.

Thanks humans - from the Class of 2009.

Date: December 7, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 53 = Down Day #2Location: Carroll Co. TN
Stepping outside this morning it was surprizing to discover how warm it had gotten. Although it was still just 31F it felt almost balmy compared to the last couple of frosty mornings we'd had.

The SSE winds had brought us the warmer temps, and the overnight rain gradually eased to become more of a light mist before ceasing altogether. Much like everyone else, we tend to pick on the weatherman when he is wrong, but I must say that in this instance, we very much dislike that he was right today.

This will be Down Day #2 in Carroll County, TN.

Date: December 7, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENTLocation: Carroll Co. TN
[Brooke's lead pilot report of the flight from Cumberland Co. IL to Union Co. KY]

Joe Bachagaloup, noted Jersey poet and philosopher, once stated in a stupor of grand, alcohol-induced profundity, “If ya wanna find happiness in life, ya gotta learn to laugh through the tears.” He was obviously cutting an onion at the time. Of course, he also said, “The stairway to heaven has a railing made of pizza,” but you get the idea. And the Bible tells the story of Moses, who, while descending the mountain carrying the Commandment Tablets, dropped the stones, and chipped off the Eleventh Commandment which said, “Thou shalt laugh when you want to cry.”

Our dear friends Don and Paula Lounsbury have flown top cover for us at least part of every migration since this whole ultralight-led migration began. Their calming and competent presence on each migration leg always kept us safe and gave me the secure feeling that I was part of a flock watched over by some pretty special shepherds. In fact, I used to joke that I traded in my St. Christopher's Medal for one with their pictures on it and which said, “Don and Paula Protect Me. And they always did.

Two days ago, after shepherding us safely to our first Kentucky stop, and on route back to pick up their motorhome, they experienced an engine failure and were forced to make an emergency landing in an agricultural field. Their expertise and experience got them down without injury, but their airplane was badly damaged due to the rough field condition. Whatever elation we felt at the conclusion of the mornings bird flight instantly vanished, and was replaced by our deep concern for our dear friends…our family.

But life and updates (no matter how late) must go on, and so it is in the spirit of the Eleventh Commandment that I scribe this offering.

Friday morning came as we expected, optimists that we are, cold, dark and frosty; so frosty in fact that I had to reach into my wallet and pull out a phone card some guy had given me at CraneFest to scrape the windshield of the van. The card must have been activated because on the second scraping pass I heard my mother’s voice call out, “Brookie! Is that you? Why are you bothering me this early in the morning? And by the way, when are you going to grow up?” I would have bought a proper scraper long ago at Wal-Mart you see, but if I had, I’d have no more reasons to go to Wal-Mart, and thus, I’d have no more reason to live.

The scraping job complete, it occurred to me that today was my turn to lead - the birds, that is, and it had been so long since I flew with birds I had to rush into the camper, turn on the computer and do a Google Search on Whooping crane to see what the darn things looked like!

Good thing too, because next thing I knew I was sitting-in my second favorite position-in the trike with 20 birds dutifully strung out in a line off my wing, each with a thought balloon hanging over its head which said, “Haven’t we seen this guy somewhere before?” I waved goodbye to our wonderfully kind and generous hosts, knowing regretfully that I was too high and far away for them to see me.

I silently thanked Erin and Geoff for the great job they did releasing the birds from the pen with their usual perfect timing. Then, with the other three trikes nearby, Don and Paula above us as top cover, and Bev and Sharon below in the tracking van as bottom cover, (although I would never call them “bottom cover” to their faces!) I settled in for a long ride.

The altimeter slowly wound up to first, 1000 feet, then 2000, and finally just over 3000 in an unsuccessful attempt to find the hoped for tailwind, the existence of which I then placed in the category of ;urban legend’. Then I heard Joe call out on the radio, “17 degrees”, then, “15 degrees”, and then, “13 degrees.”

So much for global warming unless of course you count what goes on in Mrs. Magilicutty’s microwave. At the rate we’re going I will get to fulfill one of my life long dreams - landing on the Polar Ice Cap. I began to feel the icy probing fingers of “Bill the Chill” as they searched my snowmobile suit for any opportunity to break through and wreak discomfort and misery on my normally warm and fuzzy self.

But the birds love the cold air and therefore so do I. Their lungs crave its oxygen rich exuberance, and their wings love to beat down upon its invisible, thick caress. Their skinny little legs however, are another story. So first one bird, then another, and another, activate the ’Gear Up’ lever and their legs fold up into the warm down of their body, appearing to render them candidates for a handicapped parking sticker.

I remembered years ago in a yoga class trying the same maneuver. Fool Lotus Position, I think they called it. But once in it, I couldn’t extricate myself from it and found myself staring at a new career selling pencils on a New York street corner. All I could do was sit there in helpless panic, my legs tied beneath me like a pretzel. Finally, Maharishi Bachagoloup and his beautiful assistant, Hold the Mayo, dragged me down to the local hospital emergency room where the doctor smiled wisely and squirted my legs with mustard, then pulled them apart, which caused me to spend the next few days walking like I was headed to the Men’s Room. And to this day, I still get monthly calls from a collection agency demanding a check for $4.21 because my HMO refused to cover the cost of the mustard. “An Experimental Procedure”, they said. I have every confidence the President’s new Health Plan will cover mustard.

Ahead and around the sky was a curtain of thick haze obscuring the usually crisp horizon; a horizon which, because of the flatness of Illinois, was actually the curvature of the earth. And below, buildings and towns and all that was man-made was pushed reluctantly into view like self conscious actors onto a stage absent of direction, dialog, and rehearsal, first appearing as smudges, then vague forms never to assume full definition.

Gray and ghostly they flowed beneath us in their secret passing. I hovered above in my own stupor, feeling like a piñata hanging from the heavens not to be fully awakened until jolted awake by the imagined strike of a baseball bat against my temple and the sound of a little Mexican boy yelling, “Feliz Navidad Gringo Birdman. Now fork over the candy!” Must have dozed off, I thought. Damn that Richard! He promised to remind me to tear off that bumper sticker on the back of my trike that says, “I Stop For Hallucinations”.

Meanwhile, 906 is flying an arm’s length ahead, seemingly daring me to do to him what school boys do to each other in the school yard; an act which, if movie lore is to be believed, is the real reason that “Father Goose” got his name way back when, and that the original title, “Fly Away Home” had more to do with zippers than with wings.

With all 20 birds still in attendance, I had all the confidence of a teacher taking his students on a class trip to Wal-Mart, and was able to get all my Christmas shopping done without worrying about a single student. All the long hours and hard work of so many devoted people for so long during the early part of this project made this all possible, and I sat enjoying the fruits of their labor in my, “In Case Of Emergency Break Glass” status.

Below, the single right angled geometries of Illinois passed in perfect order. Illinois , is, after all, the place where the 90 degree angle was invented, and the name Illinois is Indian for, “Checkerboard of the Gods”. One does not have to strain the imagination to see the older gods sitting around playing celestial checkers, while the younger ones hopscotch away their eternity.

Anything less than a straight line and right angle is considered pure sacrilege in Illinois; so much so that the intergalactic tourist industry which has long considered planet Earth the way Earthling Retirees consider Branson, Missouri, absolutely forbid any member of their tour groups to get mischievous and create a crop circle in Illinois. After all, Illinoians are not to be messed with, and no self respecting Martian wants to wake up some morning, walk outside his crater only to find a giant, green John Deere combine bearing down on him driven by an irate Illinoisian shouting, “Make my Hay…er, my Day, ya little ET Wannabee!”

Such musings are interrupted again by the, ‘906 Show,’ as he flies a foot or two to my right, then my left ,then just ahead, obviously playing the, Who’s Leading Who game. Perhaps he’s considering applying for my job next year. After all, he knows you learn to fly a trike from the back seat in the beginning, and it appears to me that I am now sitting in his.

As he elevates up to wing level, each of his wing beats is directly transmitted into the palms of my hands as they grasp the control bar which pulses in perfect synchronous rhythm. “This is what real flying is all about, ” he seems to be saying. And just as I never ceased to marvel at the trust in me he showed as a tiny chick back at Patuxent when he walked so confidently only inches away from my potentially crushing, lethal footsteps, he now flies only inches away, reassured by a re-awakened trust that lethal contact with the trike is not in the order of things this morning 3000 feet over Illinois.

Below lies our stop, the one Bev and I visited yesterday and toured with the landowner who, for the second year, generously offered to host our group. Wonderful folks that again this year we must disappoint by over-flying them, since conditions dictate that it must be so. But it is with great reluctance and regret that we overfly, and this act of regret is softened by the knowledge that they understand and wish us well.

Then there is the river, and beyond it Kentucky, and the next stop in our struggle south. And as the altimeter unwound itself and the ground came up to retrieve its little cast of wayward wanderers, I think the birds too tried to remain in the moment, to feel it completely, to cherish it, to savor it, and to attempt to wring from it all the indescribable good feelings contained within it. For we know such feelings are fleeting, passing like smoke in a breeze. They cannot be contained or held on to. And only if we are lucky, very, very lucky, can these feelings linger within us for more than a few brief moments. Then it is back to reality and struggle, and the quest for yet another small victory always haunted by the certain knowledge that every silver lining has contained within it a cloud. Such is the emotional rollercoaster ride of migration - and of life.

As the 21 of us touched down, the day’s battle won, I radioed our thanks to Don and Paula as they circled overhead for the last time. Richard and I headed off to hide the birds in a gully, while the rest of the crew set up the pen. Don and Paula headed back north to keep their appointment with destiny, and to affirm the power and the necessity and the absolute dignity of the Eleventh Commandment.

Date: December 6, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll Co. TN
We can say we will be looking at a down day tomorrow with a reasonable degree of confidence. We can already feel and smell the rain that is forecast to begin falling here by mid evening, and the weatherman suggests it will continue at least through to the wee hours of Tuesday morning.

Linda and I visited with the few hardy souls that turned up at the flyover viewing site this morning and we're hoping that more folks will come out for the next one. In case you missed the location it is at the junction of Price Road and Long Rock Church Road just outside of the town of Huntingdon. Click the link to see the site marked on Mapquest.

Date: December 6, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff

Saturday morning we took off from the Sturgis airport where our trikes were hangared and headed north to where the birds were penned. The radios were strangely quiet without Don or Paula’s calming voice.

It was my turn to lead, and we decided on an air pick up. I called for the release of the birds and did a slow pass from the north skimming the harvested bean field. They charged out in perfect timing with the aircraft, but two of them moved in front.

There are no brakes on an airplane. You can’t just slow it down by tapping a peddle. The feet of the lead bird were only inches ahead. When they touched the windscreen, he realized how close he was and began to speed up. He climbed, but hit the leading edge of the wing and tumbled a few feet before regaining his composure. More like bumping in the hallway than a serious impact. We all jockeyed for position and soon found the order.

In their initial climb they can fly slower than the aircraft, and I flew 'S' turns while they caught up. With full fuel and all the cold weather gear wrapped around my bulky frame, I can slow the aircraft down to just over 35 miles per hour. That’s about three too many so we circled several times while they formed on the wing and dropped back again.

At about 300 feet I was able to fly in a straight line long enough to hang the airplane on the verge of stall. They formed a long line off the right wing and settled in. To the south of us was the Ohio River and a thick layer of fog was drifting to the east. We stayed to the west and crossed back into Illinois for a mile or two before crossing the river one more time.

The TrikeCam had been fitted to my aircraft, and I moved the camera to give viewers an inkling of the spectacular view. It is hard to describe the beauty of these birds when the sun shines off their extended wings. They dropped a few feet below me, and I looked down at 20 birds with seven foot wing spans.

There is something opulent in their brilliant white feathers, flashing black tips, and the golden remnants of their youth all cross-lit by the morning sun. Multiple layers of birds in loose formation added dimension to a view only possible from the front seat of an open aircraft flying at their speed. It was a stunning scene beyond the capacity of any camera or even words. No matter what technology we use we can not bring that image to you with even a faction of the impact it has on the eye witness. All we can do is stare in awe and try feebly to describe it later, with little luck.

We began a slow climb in hopes of finding a predicted tailwind, but even at 3500 feet we only had a seven mile per hour push. The birds stayed in line most of the time. You balance your speed and your rate of climb to keep the leaders in check, while not outpacing the ones at the end.

The higher we climbed the lower the temperature dropped. At 17.4 degrees and a 38 mile per hour wind-chill for three hours it’s impossible to stay warm. Each of us has our own tactics, from heated hand grips to hot packs taped to boots, but they only serve to prevent frostbite, and do little for personal comfort.

When we approached our first stopover site the air was calm, the birds were high and strong, so we reset the GPS for the next stop. 14 miles from our destination the workout began to show in the birds. A group of eight or ten kept dropping back, and we circled several times losing altitude with each turn.

The morning sun was beginning to create thermals, and below 3000 feet the air was getting rough. When they broke again I let them go. We hoped to divide the flock so each trike could lead a few the remaining miles. With fewer birds they each get more benefit from the wing flapping less and gliding more. My plans seldom work however, and as Brooke picked up eight birds, another seven decided it was easier to fly down there with him than to carry on with me, so they descended to join him.

We circled the pen site several times, worried that if they got too far away they may catch a thermal and disappear. Instead, they landed beside us and we spent the next hour foraging in a bean field while the pen was prepared for them.

At a maximum speed over the ground of 45 miles per hour we took 2 hours and 56 minutes to cover 120 miles. In two days we have covered 231.5 miles. We flew from Illinois to Tennessee and it raised the spirits of the entire team.

We have had many challenges this year, but the birds are strong flyers, and everyone is alive and well. You can’t ask for much more. This project carries on in defiance of all things that try to drag us down.

Date: December 6, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:THE THIRD EVENTLocation: Carroll Co. TN
They say bad things come in threes, and Friday, that superstition was confirmed.

First, while we were in Winnebago County, IL Chris lost his engine and had to make a forced landing. Then we discovered that our hangar in Necedah, WI had been vandalized. Friday, after providing top cover for our three hour flight to Union County, Don and Paula Lounsbury were headed back to our starting point in Cumberland County to retrieve their motorhome when their engine quit.

Their Cessna 182 was at 4500 feet when it began to sputter. Paula, in the left seat, diverted heated air into the carburetor in case ice build up was restricting the flow of fuel. She also switched fuel tanks immediately and used the primer to nurse the engine back to health. But it quit despite her fast thinking. Over the radio they declared an emergency and issued a mayday distress call.

Both Don and Paula are high time pilots and their aircraft is meticulously maintained. As they glided down they prepared for a forced landing in text book fashion. They closed the fuel valves and feathered the propeller; they synched down their safety belts; cracked the doors so they wouldn’t jam; secured the cabin; and picked an open flat field for their runway.

At this time of year in southern Illinois the crops have been harvested and many of the fields have been disked. With the inch and a half of rain that fell this week there is standing water everywhere. The only field available to Don and Paula was soft and damp, and when they touched down at the slowest possible speed, the nose wheel dug in. It collapses under the strain, and their momentum carried the tail up and over the top in what Paula described as, "an elegant roll."

As they hung upside down in their seat belts they realized that neither of them had been injured, not even slightly. Before they made their way out of their beloved and now forlorn looking airplane, another one had responded to their distress call and was circling overhead directing the police and EMS to the scene.

Heather Ray and Erin Harris were on their way to the next stopover when they got the call from Don. They diverted to the scene and stayed with Paula while Don headed north to get their motorhome where their dog Breton was in desperate need of a walk. Thanks to the understanding farmer, they will camp next to the wreckage until the FAA, the NTSB and the insurance adjusters have finished their investigation.

The cause of the engine failure will be determined by the authorities, but Don thinks it had to do with ice. During the last few days we have had lots of rain and then the temperature dropped to 13.5 degrees Fahrenheit. When they removed the covers for the early morning flight they were frozen to the upper surface of the wing. They inspected the wing to ensure they were clear of ice and checked the fuel levels. It seems however, that the fuel tank vents located on top of the wing were frozen closed.

In a normal aircraft if the vents are blocked a vacuum is created as the fuel is used up. The pressure increases as more fuel is extracted until it overpowers the fuel pump. The engine generally quits from fuel starvation shortly after start up, usually as you do your run up check in preparation for take off.

Don and Paula’s aircraft has bladders in the fuel tanks, so the blocked vent simply meant that the bladders began to suck inward as the fuel was expended. They were airborne for roughly 4 hours flying top cover for us at 60% power. Then they headed north at 75% power for about 10 minutes when the bladders had finally collapsed as much as they could and no more fuel could be extracted. They still had 3 hours of fuel left despite the fact that it couldn’t be used. Even the fuel gauges read an appropriate amount.

Whether their aircraft will even fly again remains to be seen. When their ordeal is over they will join us for at least for a day or two on their way to Florida. Unless we can recruit a volunteer we will fly the rest of the trip without top cover.

Date: December 6, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 52 = DOWN DAY #1Location: Carroll Co. TN
At 20F it was very chilly again this morning, but because there was almost no surface wind, it didn't really feel that cold.

Initially, despite the winds aloft being out of the WSW, we thought a flight today might be doable. It wasn't long though before we were disabused of that notion. This next leg, from Carroll County to Hardin County, TN is one of the longer ones - just short of ~70 air miles. With conditions south of us not even as favorable as they were at our departure point, and no where to put down should that become necessary, the decision was made to stand down for the day.

With what looks like a couple of days coming up with south winds carrying rain, we were all hoping desperately for good enough conditions to get in the air today so we could advance one more stop. Wishing won't make it so however, so we will have our first down day in Carroll County.

Last year we arrived at our next stop, #14, in Hardin County on December 5th and were stuck there for six days, finally escaping on the 12th after two aborted departure attempts. That means, if we can manage to get in and out of Hardin County on or before this coming Saturday, we'll have at least caught up to last year's timeline if not bettered it. A positive thought to hold on to as we nurse our disappointment for today.

Here's another neat photo of the recent flyover departure in Cumberland County. Our thanks to Jayne Ozier for sharing this with us.

Date: December 5, 2009 - Entry 5Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll Co. TN
Here's what it appears we will be looking at tomorrow morning. A temp in the low to mid 20's with a light ESE breeze on the surface, and an equivalent temp but increasing ESE winds ~5+mph at our destination in Hardin Co. Aloft it looks like we'll have light SW winds - not ideal by any stretch, but we suspect it might be worth a shot. At the very least we'll be putting a test trike up.

Linda and I scouted the area this afternoon and found we had little choice for a suitable departure flyover viewing location. After checking out several other sites, we settled on the junction of Price Road and Long Rock Church Road just outside of the town of Huntingdon. Click here for a link to the site marked on Mapquest.

You will want to be on site no later than 6:45 to 7:00am. Dress warmly!! Remember, that you could make the trip for naught if conditions are such that the cranes and planes are unable to fly.

Assuming we think we might fly, Linda and I will be at the viewing site to meet and chat with those gathered, as well as offer any interested an opportunity to purchase some OM Gear.

Date: December 5, 2009 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:STILLS OF TODAY'S FLIGHTLocation: Carroll Co. TN
This entry is for those you who don't watch, or aren't able to watch the TrikeCam. Frederick Wasti of Marshfield, Massachusetts was enjoying the TrikeCam this morning and decided to capture some images to send along.

Top: The lead bird slips forward and gets abreast of the wing.....


Bottom: Couldn't be lined up better.

Top: ....and then pulls ahead.


Bottom: TrikeCam catches Joe taking photos with his 'happy snap' camera.


Date: December 5, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 51 = TENNESSEE!!Location: Carroll Co. TN
As you can see, we managed to skip another stop. Two flights in two days and two skips as well... can't beat that!

The pen that was dropped off late yesterday in Marshall County, KY has been retrieved by Bev and Sharon driving the tracking van. It is being set up right now (11:30am). Once that's done, the pilots will be freed up to move their trikes to safety for the day/night.

Walt -driving the white truck hauling the Sierra trailer; Dave - driving the white van hauling the aircraft/equipment trailer; Geoff - driving the Flair motorhome; Erin - driving the Dodge/Arctic Fox hauling the travel pen pulled out of the field in Union County; and Heather - driving the blue truck/Mountain Star hauling the camera trailer, are still on the road but should be arriving here to join the rest of us in camp within a couple of hours.

Joe was today's lead pilot so hopefully he will have a flight report to me to post for your reading enjoyment later today. And, we'll light a fire under Brooke for one about his flight yesterday too.

Date: December 5, 2009 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge conducted his second aerial census of the 2009 season December 2nd.

Flying in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions of Castroville, Texas, Tom said they had very good visibility for most of the flight. Mid-day NW winds gusting to 25 made for a bumpy ride however, and made the task of finding cranes more difficult.

191 adults and 17 juveniles were sighted for a total of 208 Whooping cranes, up from the 117 observed on the first census done November 12th.

“Based on August fledging surveys done on the nesting grounds by the Canadian Wildlife Service, I am expecting up to 22 juveniles,” said Tom. “ With that number of juvenile produced, the flock may experience a break-even year with a flock total around 247 expected.”

In his report Tom noted, “Cold fronts that reached Aransas on November 16, 20, 24, and 30 helped the cranes complete their 2,400-mile long migration that had begun 2 months ago for some.”

He said that additional cranes are known to still be on migration in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, although numbers are much lower than the big wave of cranes that moved through Oklahoma and Kansas back in mid-November.

“Three other Whooping cranes are presently near the coast. On December 1st, one was confirmed in a flock of Sandhills about 50 miles northeast of Aransas. Two cranes have been staying north about 15 miles north of Aransas. The addition of these 3 birds brings the estimated total on the coast to 211,” Stehn said.

In his report, Tom address habitat use saying, “Tides measured at the refuge boat ramp were high (2.5 feet). The marshes on San Jose Island were notably flooded with large expanses of open water. Salinities dropped noticeably in November so that the cranes are drinking directly from the marsh and have stopped making flights to fresh water dugouts. Salinities on December 2nd were measured at 15 parts per thousand (ppt) at the refuge boast ramp, and at 5 ppt in the adjacent marsh.”

“The refuge received 7.8 inches of rain in November as El Nino ended the drought. The largest rain received was 4.35 inches on November 20th. Other areas, including Rockport and Lamar got between 12 and 16 inches of rain during that same storm event.”

“The Whooping cranes have responded to the flooded conditions with 33 cranes seen on uplands during the most recent flight. I’ve seen this before when cranes utilized freshly flooded uplands with Aransas having received additional rain December 1st.”

Two cranes were near an upland crane feeder on the Lamar Peninsula. No cranes were in open bay habitat, and there are currently no prescribed burns in the crane area. The largest group size observed was 7 birds seen on in salt marsh on the south end of Matagorda Island. Numerous photographs were taken to document the spread of black mangrove into the crane area.

Date: December 5, 2009 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 51Location: Union Co. KY
At 4am this morning there was not even enough wind to register a windchill factor, which was good, because it was just 19F without it. Any stirring on the surface was out of the northwest, and the weather models showed the potential for a nice little push up top.

With this morning's early weather looking at least as favorable if not better than yesterday's, camp came to life even earlier than usual. Stopover #12, Marshall County, KY is next.... or will it be Carroll County, TN? That's what was on all our minds as everyone pulled out to get in position.

At 7:08 am the four trikes, one by one - Joe, Brooke, Richard and then Chris, launched to fly the ~nine air miles from camp to the pensite. Now it's a matter of waiting for, a) word of the launch, and then, b) the destination.

To the right is a super shot captured yesterday at the Cumberland County flyover by Ron Ghere of Mattoon, IL. Thanks for sharing Ron.

Date: December 4, 2009 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SKIPPINGLocation: Union Co. KY
Distance:111.5 miles (Cumberland Co. IL - Union Co. KY) Accumulated Distance: 462 miles

Photo: Lead Pilot, Brooke Pennypacker and the 20 young Whooping cranes in the Class of 2009 put on a show for flyover viewers as they depart Cumberland County, IL. (Photo compliments of David Bough)

Skipping a stopover is good, but it sure does make for a long day. While it's an a longer time in the air for the cranes and planes (today's flight was just 6 minutes shy of 3 hours), it's an extra couple plus hours for the ground-bound crew who travel the roads.

Once the the cranes and planes were well on their way, the pilots gave the ground crew - Erin and Geoff - the okay to tear down the travel pen, and Dave and Walt lent a hand. Once it's disassembled and loaded onto the travel trailer, it gets hooked on to the Dodge diesel/Arctic Fox. While they were doing this, Heather hitched up the camera trailer to the blue truck.

Then, it's everyone back to the campsite where Dave hitches the aircraft/equipment trailer to the white van, Geoff gets the Flair ready to roll, and Walter battens down the Sierra motorhome and hitches it up to our white truck. Finally, the caravan is ready to hit the road. By this time Linda and I are also on our way, having repacked the merchandise cases in Jamboree after the morning's flyover.

Everyone was on the road wondering, wondering... how was the flight going? Are conditions good enough for a skip? Finally the word came; we're going to Kentucky!! Flip, flip went the pages in the Migration Route Black Book. Tap, tap, punch, punch new coordinates into GPS units.

Along the route Linda and I met up with Bev and Sharon in the tracking van. They had made a detour to hitch up our second travel pen which, days before, we had left at the skipped Wayne County, IL stopover site. They then headed straight for the pensite in Union County where the pilots and the Class of 2009 were waiting.

Eventually, two by two, the ground vehicles all arrived at camp. The pen equipment pulled out of the field in Cumberland County was scoured and reloaded on the trailer, the trailer hooked up to the tracking van, and Richard and Brooke took off to get it down to the next stopover in Marshall County.

Joe and Heather changed hitches on the white van to see what they could do with the camera trailer. Bev took on fresh water in the Arctic Fox and headed back to babysit the Class of 2009. While Linda and I did inventory, Dave, Walt and Chris unpacked the wing covers and spread them out to dry. Now, there's considerably more to setting up camp than just arriving and parking, but I'll spare you all the glamorous (not) parts.

By this time it was getting on to 3 pm and as my Aunt Dorothy used to say - our stomachs were talking to our backbones. It was definitely time for breakfast, or lunch, or early dinner - whatever. At that point we didn't care what it was or what it was called as long as it was food!

All the full tummies came back to camp and promptly disappeared - each bunch into their own home away from home. It will likely be a while yet before Richard and Brooke make it back, but once they do, a long day of on the go will be concluded. (This means it could be a day or more before Brooke will be able to get to his lead pilot report for today.)

No late night for our bunch tonight... not with the prospect of a second consecutive fly day in the offing for tomorrow.

Date: December 4, 2009 - Entry 2 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union Co. KY
It's still looking very promising for a flight in the morning. Not wanting to jinx things, but if we had today's weather again tomorrow, and it appears it could be at least as good, Tennessee would not be out of the realm of possibility.

A note to CraneCam viewers: The cam will not be operating from this stopover site. Just too muddy to get the camera trailer in - and we're afraid if we did manage it, we might have real problems getting it back out. On a cheerier note, if we are able to fly in the morning, you'll be able to watch the TrikeCam, and hopefully we will be able to get the CraneCam set up okay on arrival at the next site.

Union County Departure Flyover: Apologies to those who would have liked to have viewed a departure of the cranes and planes from Union County. Last year, despite thoroughly scouring the countryside, we could not find a suitable departure flyover viewing location. Any site safe for cranes is too far away, and any site suitable for people is too close to the pensite. - and therefore also not safe for planes and cranes.

The best we are able to tell you is that our hoped for flight path does cross 492, just to the east of town of Dekoven. While by that time they may be fairly high, keeping an eye peeled may reward the viewer with a glimpse.

Date: December 4, 2009 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 50 IS MAGICLocation: Union Co. KY
Cumberland County is behind us, and for that matter so is Illinois. Favorable winds and cooperative birds allowed us to skip over Stop #10 in Wayne County, IL. The Class of 2009 is almost (if not already) in their travel pen, and it shouldn't be long before we see trikes coming in at camp to be hangared for the night.

This the second year for the more westerly route, and the second time we have skipped Wayne County. At the moment, the weather for the morning looks equally as good as today so who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Do not have all reports in as yet but thought everyone would be anxious to learn what was happening today. Hope to have more news soon... as well as Brooke's lead pilot report later in the day.

Date: December 3, 2009 - Entry 4 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Cumberland Co. Il
Very cold temps and favorable winds are forecast for tomorrow. We think our prospects are pretty good for a flight in the morning.

The departure flyover viewing location is along CR626E (also called Frontage Road) just east (approx half a mile) off Montrose Black Top Road (also called Spring Creek Road) and just west of CR 575E. We suggest you use MapQuest or GoogleMaps to come up with driving directions to it from your home location.

You will want to be on site by sunrise - approximately 6:50 - 7:00AM. Remember, that you could make the trip for naught if conditions are such that the cranes and planes are unable to fly. Assuming we believe we can fly, Linda and I will be 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 3, 2009 - Entry 3 Reporter: Liz Condie
In this report, *=Female, D=Direct Autumn Release.

As of November 28th the estimated size of the Eastern Migratory Population is 48 males and 37 females for a total of 87, one less than previously reported due to the mortality of 217* (see Entry 2 below). Trackers report there were 25 Whooping cranes in Wisconsin’s core reintroduction area; 16 elsewhere in Wisconsin; 1 in Lower Michigan, 7 in Illinois, 16 in Indiana, 8 in Tennessee, and 1 in Georgia. Locations of the remainder are unknown.

On Migration – last known location
105 & 501* Meigs/Rhea Counties, TN.
211 & 217* Vermillion County, IN
212 and 419* Green County, IN
216 & 716*, 512 & 722*, and D938 Knox County, IN.
303* & 317 Knox County, IN
310 & W601 Vigo County, IN
311 & 312* Meigs County, TN
313* & 318 Greene County, IN.
401 & 508*; 212 & 419*; along with 829 Winnebago County, IL.
415* & 505 have not been located since they left Necedah NWR Oct. 28.
703 Lowndes County, GA Nov. 22
D831, D836, D838 Lawrence County, TN
707, D739* McLean County, IL
D533* Meigs/Rhea Counties, TN
Unidentified Whooping crane Jasper-Pulaski SFWA, IN

Yet to migrate
101, 107*
213 & 218*
307 &726*, 316
402 & D746*, 403 & 309*, 408 & 419*, 412, 416
506, 509, 514, 524
D527*, D528*, D627 & D742*
709 &717*, 712, 713, 727*, 733, D737
804, 805, 812, 813*, 814, 818*, 824*, 827, 828, 830*
D923*, D934*, D935*, D936*, D938, D940*, D941, D942

(509 and 942 with Sandhills in Juneau Co. WI. Photo supplied by R. Urbanek)

Long Term Missing (more than 90 days)
516 (last recorded in 2008)
D744* (last recorded in 2008)
706 (last detected May 6)
511 (last recorded May 11)
D737 (last reported in Michigan June 14)
520* (last reported June 16)
D628 (last detected June 23)
724 (last detected June 26)

This report was compiled from data supplied by WCEP Trackers Richard Urbanek, Eva Szyszkoski, Sara Zimorski, Jess Thompson, and J. Longenecker, and K. Wyman.

Date: December 3, 2009 - Entry 2 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FIRST FAMILY MATRIARCH DEADLocation: Cumberland Co. IL
217*, mate of 211, the pair whose offspring is W601*, is dead. Because W601* was the first Whooping crane to be hatched in the wild in the U.S. in more than a century (in 2006), the threesome was dubbed the First Family. (A second chick was also hatched - W602, but was predated on the Necedah NWR in late summer of 2006.)

In a report received late yesterday, Dr. Richard Urbanek advised that the mortality was discovered on Tuesday by WCEP Tracker and ICF Tracking Field Manager, Eva Szyskoski during an aerial flight over Vermillion County, IN, a traditional migration stop for this pair.

Richard reported, that while the male was was spotted 217* was not visible. Her transmitter signal was tracked to a location a few miles away where her carcass was found by Tracking Intern Jess Thompson. Richard noted that the recovery site was not the mortality site. The carcass has gone for necropsy to the National Wildlife Heath Center in Madison, WI.

Date: December 3, 2009 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 49 = down day #3Location: Cumberland Co. IL
26F at 4am this morning and it felt considerably colder with the windchill. Surface winds were swinging back and forth between the west and the north and blowing strongly. Aloft we had even stronger winds - NNW at least 20mph.

Although the snow forecast for last evening never materialized, and the radar for both our departure and arrival sites is not showing any precipitation, the wind today will nonetheless make it Down Day #3 in Cumberland County, IL.

Date: December 2, 2009 - Entry 3 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Cumberland Co. IL
We think our odds of having favorable enough weather to fly tomorrow morning are so slim that they are barely with mentioning. Looks like strong WNW surface winds and even stronger NNW winds aloft. Put that with the weatherman's odds of snow - 90% chance - and I think we'd we wise not to hold our breath for a take-off.

Friday and Saturday seem to be shaping up favorably however, so - we'll keep our rose colored glasses on for then.

Date: December 2, 2009 - Entry 2 Reporter: Walter Sturgeon
Subject:LAST QUIZ QUESTIONSLocation: Cumberland Co. IL
If you missed parts one and two to the Quiz, click here. Part One or Part Two.

What year were the first eggs produced from the captive birds at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center?
Answer: The first egg laid by a captive Whooping crane at Patuxent was on April 18, 1975.

What year was the Endangered Species Act listing the whooping crane signed? By whom?
Answer. It was signed in 1973 by then President, Richard Nixon. The Endangered Species Act was adopted in 1973 with the Whooping crane being one of the initial species listed as endangered.

What year was the first Whooping Crane Recovery Plan signed?
Answer: The first US Fish and Wildlife Service WHOOPING CRANE RECOVERY PLAN prepared by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team, was edited by Scott R. Derrickson, and signed by the Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service on January 23, 1980. At the time, Former Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, eloquently described the story of the Whooping crane as “… a love affair between a civilized sophisticated Nation, and an enormous, elusive bird. We, the people, who slaughtered the bison and exterminated the passenger pigeon, have had a shift of conscience in the last fifty years and have made the preservation of rare species of wildlife one of our national conservation purposes”.

Note: The information used to develop this quiz was taken from Jerome J. Platt’s book: “The Whooping Crane – North America’s Symbol of Conservation” which is available on Operation Migration’s website Merchandise page.

Date: December 2, 2009 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: Migration Day 48 Location: Cumberland Co. IL
34F and surface easterly winds of 3mph at 4am this morning, but by 5am they had shifted to come out of the NW at 6mph. Aloft there was a 5 to 10 mph north wind that could have given the cranes and planes a great little tailwind.

You'd think we could have been flying wouldn't you? Nope. As favorable as it was wind-wise for a flight this morning, we could go nowhere. There is a nasty weather system moving up toward us from the Gulf of Mexico bringing south winds and rain. The timing of the leading edge of that system was such that it would hit our destination area before we could arrive. Conditions that we couldn't chance flying the birds into.

Today will be Down Day #2 in Cumberland County, IL.

We expect rain to reach us here at stopover #9 in the next hour or so, and by this evening, strong NNW surface winds are expected make the thermometer plummet sufficiently to turn any residue precipitation into snow. Even with favorable conditions here at our stopover location in Cumberland County, our ability to advance will depend on how quickly the system to the south of us moves on - and in which direction.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Cumberland cOUNTY
Neoga, meaning "deer'" in the Kickapoo Indian language, is in the northwest corner of the county. It was incorporated in 1856 and is called home by about 1,800 people.

Date: December 1, 2009 - Entry 2 Reporter: Walt Sturgeon
Here are the next six questions I posed to the attendees at the WHOOP! It Up event in LaSalle County. See how many you can get correct. Click the link to review the first five Q & A's.

What year was the first whooping crane nest found in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP)?
Answer: 1954. After years of searching, the nest was found by accident in WBNP. Just before 5 o’clock on June 30, 1954, when a pilot of a helicopter going out to check a fire reported by radio telephone that he had just observed two adult Whooping cranes and one rusty-colored juvenile near the Sass River.

Who was the biologist that confirmed this discovery?
Answer: Dr. William Fuller. He was the biologist at Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) when the discovery was made. After the helicopter returned to base it refueled and took Dr. Fuller back out to the area where the cranes had been seen and he was able to positively identify a pair and take photographs. There was no juvenile with the pair, leaving open the possibility that it was a different pair than had been seen earlier. On their way back to base near the Nyarling River they spotted another single crane about 30 miles from the earlier location and photographed it as well. That winter 21 adult birds arrived at Aransas.

What year was the first whooping crane eggs collected in WBNP?
Answer: 1967. In 1964 the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Wildlife Service agreed on a plan to obtain eggs from the only known nesting area in the Northwest Territories. The eggs were to be taken to a proposed propagation center near Laurel, Maryland to be hatched and the young reared to establish a captive breeding flock. By 1966 the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center had become reality and was ready for the eggs to be collected in the spring of 1967.

Who was the USFWS biologist that participated in this first pickup?
Answer: Glen Smart. In 1967, Ernie Kuyt of the Canadian Wildlife Service and Glen Smart of the US Fish and Wildlife Service made the first egg pickup. The biologists took one egg from each nest they found, and left one egg behind. The egg pickup was accomplished by helicopter. The parents returned to the nest after the disturbance and incubated the remaining egg and cared for the young.

How many nest were found during the first collection?
Answer: Six. The biologists took six eggs in 1967, nine eggs and one hatchling in 1968, and nine eggs in 1969.

How many chicks were fledged from the first pickup?
Answer: Three. Incubation of five of the 1967 eggs was completed artificially at Patuxent, where three of those birds survived. From 24 eggs and one hatchling taken from the wild nests in three years, 15 young Whooping cranes survived to become breeding stock for captive propagation. In 1967, 43 Whoopers arrived at Aransas including 5 juveniles.

Date: December 1, 2009 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 47 = DOWN DAY #1Location: Cumberland Co. IL
We keep wondering when/if we'll ever get a second consecutive fly day on this migration. Well, we didn't need to wonder about it this morning - it was not going to happen today.

29F early this morning with SSW surface winds at 6mph. The unfavorable winds aloft blowing a strong 25 - 30 mph eliminated any need to even put up a test trike.

Today, as November gave way to December, we took a look at our progress versus the 2008 migration. On December 1st last year it was Migration Day 46 and we were 175 miles and three stopovers ahead (in Marshall Co. KY) of where we sit grounded today.

Contributing to the negative difference in this year's timeline is the fact that we skipped two stopovers in '08 (Livingston and Wayne Counties). Even in 2007, which, at 97 days was the longest migration on record, we were 205 miles further along the route as of December 1st.

BUT, hang on a minute... all we need to catch up if not surpass previous timelines, is a string of days with favorable winds, or, even a few short bursts. They're coming, I just know they are ... I can feel it in my creaky old bones.

migration trivia compliments of vi white and steve cohen
Cumberland cOUNTY
President Thomas Jefferson authorized construction of the Cumberland Road (National Road) on March 29, 1806. It was one of the first major improved highways in the U.S. to be built by the federal government. Construction began in 1811 at Cumberland, MD, on the Potomac River, and the road reached Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia) on the Ohio River in 1818.

The approximately 620-mile road provided a gateway to the west for thousands of settlers to reach the Mississippi River. But funding ran out and construction stopped in 1839 at Vandalia, about half way across southern Illinois. Later, construction resumed and ended at the Eads Bridge over the Mississippi in East St. Louis, IL.



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