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Date: December 31, 2011Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:CHANGING DYNAMICSLocation: Franklin County, AL

While most of the team is away for Christmas volunteer crane handlers, Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes, have been helping me with the day-to-day care of the Class of 2011. As a result, what I had only suspected before is now clear to me; the dynamics and behavior of the cranes in our cohort changes based on who is in the pen. It appears the birds can somehow distinguish one costume from another.

My first introduction to changing group dynamics occurred in La Salle County, Illinois when discussing our dominant birds with Brooke. Brooke was adamant about 10-11 being a tough, dominant bird as he had observed that crane pecking and bullying other birds. I staunchly took the opposite view. The 10-11 that I knew was quite a shy bird who was badgered and beat by #5 and #7. We never came to an agreement.

“Do the birds act differently when different costumes are in the pen?” I later asked Richard. “Yeah,” was all he responded.

Back in Livingston County, Illinois I really picked up on behavior change when Walter Sturgeon entered the pen with a clean costume and a freshly refurbished puppet. The birds, particularly #1, went nuts. #1 was frantically trying to establish dominance over this new puppet head. He flapped, rasped, and pecked relentlessly at the 'new bird', and by the time Walter and I were leaving the pen, #1 had aged his new puppet significantly.

It was strange to me, because although #1 was certainly a dominant bird, I had never experienced him trying to pull rank on me. Sure, I had been on the receiving end of a few crown displays, but other than that, nothing more forceful than some strong pecks at my puppet's beak. This is when it became clear to me that when I’m in the pen, I become the dominant one.

Throughout the past week I have seen Gordon and Christine deal with several dominance interactions and it seems Christine receives the worst of it. Numbers 1, 6, and 10 have been the leaders of the offensives on the new costumes. The first few times the 'new costumes' entered the pen, those three birds were determined to establish their sovereignty and the three cranes tried desperately to beat the unfamiliar puppet heads into submission.

They have since calmed down and become accustomed to their interim surrogate parents. I expected the aggression from numbers 1 and 7, but never thought # 6 and #10 would react so strongly. 10-11 even jump-raked the newcomers, something I had never seen a colt do to a costume. The cohort constantly surprises me, and I never quite know what to expect next.

Some of our regular readers might be a little perplexed about my assumption of #7 being an aggressor. While at White River Marsh I never commented or observed a strong personality from this bird. Geoff though, was observant enough to catch her youthful dominance. He noted early on that she wasn’t afraid of going after #1 if he bothered her too much. It wasn’t until we were on migration however, that I first observed her start to take a leading role in the cohort.

At the start of migration when I thought of dominant birds, it was #1 and #5 that came to mind. While #1 has retained his top of the heap position, it seems #5 has dropped down in the pecking order, or at least has backed off. He no longer rushes us when we enter the pen, and seems to not fight for grapes with the same vigor he used to. Numbers 6 and 7 have either filled that void, or pushed him aside as they now seem to have taken on dominant roles within the cohort. I would even go so far as to say #7 is the most aggressive bird. She certainly isn’t afraid of any other bird in the pen and seems to regularly chase other birds around and jump-rake at them.

This leads to another reflection. The birds obviously react differently to different costumes, and seemingly must be able to differentiate between them. It also is plain that the dynamics of the group from within changes as time passes. Much like in high school when popularity rises and falls, the cranes' pecking order shuffles and re-aligns from time to time.

Once upon a time at Patuxent, 12-11 was a tough little girl. 1-11 was top dog, and 9-11 liked the costumes. As time progressed at White River Marsh #1 retained his chief position, #12 became one of our shyest birds, and #9 developed an attitude of indifference and disregard for the costumes. During the summer #5 surged to the top of the cohort and was lost in a grape-desiring frenzy for a few months.

As time has gone on, #5 has calmed down, fading somewhat into the background. Numbers 6 and 7 have taken a liking to their newfound tough-guy roles. #9 has began to warm up to the costumes as she will follow me around the pen sometimes, and come up to peck gently if I crouch down.

There is no doubt in my mind the group dynamics change over time. I am grateful and count myself extremely lucky to have the opportunity to observe such intriguing interactions between these fascinating creatures.

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Date: December 30, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:SANDS OF TIME RUNNING...Location: Franklin County, AL

The time to ring out the old and ring in the new is fast approaching. That means there is just today and up until midnight tomorrow left to save tax dollars through charitable giving.

Supporting Operation Migration's work not only helps Whooping cranes, it means that when you give, you get back by way of a tax reduction. Becoming a MileMaker sponsor is but one way you can support Whooping cranes. There are still unsponsored miles in six of the seven states through which the ultralight-led migration passes. The states with unsponsored miles include:
Illinois with 8; Kentucky with 29; Tennessee with 22; Alabama with 208; Georgia with 9; and Florida with 50.

A 2011 tax deductible receipt will be issued for all contributions received before midnight December 31st. You can contribute via PayPal online, or simply call us toll free before the deadline (1-800-675-2618) and use your Visa or MasterCard. Donations mailed and postmarked by December 31st are also eligible for a deductible receipt for the 2011 taxation year.

We are sincerely grateful for your support.

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Date:December 30, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:DELAYLocation: Costa Rica
Bill Lishman became the first human to fly in formation with a flock of birds in 1988. By 1993 he wanted to attempt the first human-led migration. At that time I was a disenchanted photographer having spent too many years at one thing. His invitation to see if we could actually lead a migration, sounded like a great summer time adventure. Little did I know it would be a life changing experience.

Since that time we have flown with geese, swans, Sandhill cranes and Whooping cranes. I have led birds south nineteen times and covered over 18,000 miles but it has come at a cost. My daughter was born in 1999 and I had to rush home from a meeting in Wisconsin to be there at the birth. Every year we are away from September to whenever the migration is complete. Every fall I miss my wife’s birthday, Halloween, and my daughters Christmas recital.

I am not sure why I am compiling this brief history. Maybe it’s an excuse, or to somehow appease my own guilt for not being with the team now. Whooping cranes are demanding, not only of the people who lead the migration, but of their families. Each of us on the team must balance one against the other and find the limits of what they are prepared to sacrifice. I reached mine when I headed home to join my family a few days before Christmas.

For several months we have been planning a trip to Costa Rica. The rest of the team was prepared to carry on without me so I felt confident my absence would not slow things down. Another week of bad weather ended those plans to carry on so a skeleton crew was left with the birds and the rest of the team headed home too.

The idea was to reconvene shortly after Christmas when the weather improved and I would join them after New Years. But plans are nothing more than ideas and reality hits hard. Over his break Brooke injured his back and should not be flying an aircraft as physically demanding as a trike. With me a few thousand miles away and Brooke temporarily out of commission, we are down to only one pilot. That means the migration is stalled until early in the New Year when Richard and I will carry on.

It is a unplanned for delay and one we would have preferred to avoid, but it is not unprecedented. Twice before we have held birds at this stopover while the team went home for Christmas. This is a longer stay than most, but it compares to previous years when we had to leave the birds penned in Florida while we waited for the older generation to stop in a Chassahowitzka NWR and then move on to their preferred wintering grounds.

It is not ideal, but there is no real down side. Migrations have taken longer with no adverse effect, and the birds are in a secure place in the hands of good people. The only negative is the migration will be prolonged, and of course Brooke has some recovering to do.

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Date:December 29, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE ANSWERS TO TRUE OR FALSE QUIZ IILocation: Franklin County, AL

Here are the answers to yesterday's True or False quiz.

1. Puffins are poor flyers. TRUE
They flap their wings 300-400 times per minute. (The hummingbird, in normal flight, flaps 80 times per second!). However, the Puffin can hold its breath for up to a minute underwater. They can catch an average of ten fish in one dive.

2. Every month Americans throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill a giant skyscraper. TRUE
It is all 100% recyclable. A glass container can travel from the recycling bin back to a store shelf in as little as 30 days. Manufacturers of glass containers have set a goal to have 50% recycled content by 2013 when making new bottles.

3. Monarch butterflies hatched in the early summer migrate in the fall. FALSE
Only Monarchs born in the late summer or early fall with make the round-trip journey. They are the only butterflies to make the massive trip, which is up to 3,000 miles. By the time next year's migration begins, several summer generations will have lived and died and it will be last year's migrators' great grandchildren that take flight. Somehow these new generations know the way, and follow the same routes their ancestors took—sometimes even returning to the same tree.

4. There are nearly 100 species of freshwater mussels in the United States. FALSE
There are nearly 300 species and they are in peril. Habitat destruction and water pollution are their biggest threats. Ohio State University and the Columbus Zoo are working together on a study looking into the Northern Riffleshell species. They were abundant at one time in the upper Ohio River system but now only a few reproducing populations remain.

5. Approximately 5% of the water on Earth is accessible and fit for human use. FALSE
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is only about 1%. Conserving water at home helps protect the water sources available. Collect rainwater at home by using a rain barrel. It’s ideal for your garden or lawn. You’ll avoid using the water from the tap or an outdoor faucet. This reduces your overall water consumption and reduces the amount of energy needed to treat water at a water treatment facility.

6. The North American Wood stork is endangered. TRUE
They typically live in the wild for 11-18 years. The Wood stork uses an unusual yet effective fishing technique. It opens its bill, sticks it into the water and waits for an unfortunate fish that wanders too close. It then snaps its bill shut in as little as 25 milliseconds—an incredibly quick reaction time matched by few other vertebrates.

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Date: December 28, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THERE IS STILL TIME...Location: Franklin County, AL

If you've had no time to think about one of life’s inevitables - taxes - in the rush of preparations for the holidays, you still have a few days to reduce your 2011 income tax.

Because you save tax dollars when you make a charitable donation, giving is not just good for society, it's good for your tax bill too. It means that when you give, you also get back.

OM will issue a 2011 tax deductible receipt for all contributions received before midnight December 31st. You can contribute via PayPal online, or simply call us toll free before the deadline (1-800-675-2618) and use your Visa or MasterCard. Donations mailed and postmarked by December 31st are also eligible for a deductible receipt for the 2011 taxation year.

As always, we are sincerely grateful for your support.

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Date:December 28, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TRUE OR FALSE QUIZ IILocation: Franklin County, AL

Here is a second set of wildlife and environmental questions to test your knowledge. Try this True or False quiz and see how you do. For the answers check tomorrow's Field Journal.

1. Puffins are poor flyers.

2. Every month Americans throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill a giant skyscraper.

3. Monarch butterflies hatched in early summer migrate in the fall.

4. There are nearly 100 species of freshwater mussels in the United States.

5. Approximately 5% of the water on Earth is accessible and fit for human use.

6. The North American Wood stork is endangered.

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Date:December 27, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:THE ANSWERSLocation: Franklin County, AL

Here are the answers to yesterday's True/False questions.

1. Flamingos are pink at birth. FALSE
They are born white and acquire their pink hue from eating brine shrimp among other things. They are considered a wading bird and, like the Whooping crane, have black feathers in each wing. The Flamingo Andino is the most threatened of six species. It nests along the shores of salt lakes in the deserts of northern Chile.

2. The female blue crab mates three times in her lifetime. FALSE
Females mate only once. Mature females have red highlights on top of their pincers. Blue crabs are extremely sensitive to environmental and habitat changes. Many populations, especially in the eastern United States, have experienced severe declines. The constant overharvesting of their ecosystems has had a negative effect. Comprehensive management schemes are currently in place to improve the situation.

3. The use of the Green roof is on the increase. TRUE
A green roof reduces energy use by absorbing heat and acting as an insulator. This, in turn, reduces the demand for air conditioning. Associated pollution and greenhouses gases therefore decline.

4. Recycling one glass bottle saves the energy needed to light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours. TRUE
It also saves enough energy to run a television for 20 minutes or a computer for 30 minutes. Plus, there is 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than making a bottle from raw materials. Recycled glass is used to make countertops, flooring and tiles.

5. The common Marmoset is the only animal, other than a human, to show ‘unsolicited pro-sociality’. TRUE
Researchers in Zurich found a Marmoset offered food to a nearby Marmoset in a cage. There was nothing expected in return and the Marmoset was no relation. They share their altruistic tendencies with the human race.

6. One of the Manatee’s closest relatives is the elephant. TRUE
Manatees have no natural enemies and it is believed they can live 60 years or more. The loss of their habitat is the most serious threat facing the approximately 3,800 manatees in the United States. They are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Threats to habitat include development and pollution of seagrass beds by red tide as well as surface water runoff from construction sites and farms.

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Date:December 26, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:TEST YOURSELFLocation: Franklin County, AL

Want to see how informed you are about wildlife and the environment? Give the True or False quiz below a try and see how you score. Check tomorrow's Field Journal for the answers.

1. Flamingos are pink at birth.

2. A female blue crab mates three times in her lifetime.

3. The use of a Green roof is on the increase.

4. Recycling one glass bottle saves the energy needed to light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours.

5. The common Marmoset is the only animal, other than a human, to show ‘unsolicited pro-sociality’.

6. One of the Manatee’s closest relative is the elephant.

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Date: December 25, 2011Reporter: The OM Team
Subject:HOLIDAY WISHESLocation: Far & Wide

All of us -
OM's Board of Directors, staff and volunteers....
           ...send our warmest and best wishes to you and yours for a happy and safe holiday season.

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Date: December 24, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:FLASHBACKLocation: Franklin County, AL

This is the fourth time we have flown the more westerly migration route. The first was in 2008. That year we arrived in Russellville, Alabama on December 12th and the weather held the cranes and planes in place for five days with no let up in sight before we conceded. On December 18th we broke the migration to allow the majority of the team to go home for the holidays.

The second year on this route was a repeat. We arrived on December 17th and held on hoping for flyable weather until the 21st before releasing the crew to allow them time to get home for Christmas with family. In 2010 we had great weather when we departed Hardin County, Tennessee, and as a result we were able to overfly our Franklin County stop.

Now, as I spend my third Christmas here, I can't help but flashback to something than happened in 2009. At the conclusion of that year's migration each member of the team was asked to write a piece describing what was for them, the journey's most 'memorable moment'. Last night, as I lay in bed listening to a chorus of spine-tingling coyote howls, my mind replayed my most memorable moment of the 2009 migration. Below is what I wrote back then...

2009 Most Memorable Moment
On a migration of 89 days of which just 25 were ‘fly days’, one might rightly reason there were days and more days that - shall we say – were less than exciting. While because of their inevitability, ‘down days’ are borne with some measure of equanimity, when the weather hits us with a lengthy stretch of going-nowhere-days, anxiety and frustration mount.

Such was the case when for the third consecutive year we faced the reality of the migration running over into the New Year. Although once or twice in the past, finishing in time to get home in time for Christmas was a bit of a squeaker, that timing was the rule until the Marathon Migration of 2007.

On December 20th this past year, as we contemplated a forecast of at least a week of unfavourable flying weather, we knew a return to pre-Christmas finishes was not in the cards. So it was that the next day the crew began departing for their respective homes for the holidays with their families, with three of us (Robert Doyle, Geoff Tarbox and I) staying behind to hold down the fort.

What I didn’t know at the time was that staying behind to keep the CraneCam operational would put me in line for a most unexpected experience – and memorable moment.

The weatherman produced day after day of cold, wet, windy, mind-numbing, misery-inducing weather. It wasn’t too many days before I would groan at the mere thought of the four times a day ritual of layering up, sticking my feet in icy, rubber boots, and, laptop in tow, trudging through the mud down to the camera trailer where I’d sit, nose dripping, toes freezing, my mouse manipulating fingers gradually stiffening from the cold, and question my sanity at having volunteered. Until… trip to the CraneCam changed it all.

That morning when tucking the truck out of view behind a forested hill, my peripheral vision caught a blur of movement. As started my trek down the hill to the camera, I peered through the early morning half light to see what it was that had caught my eye. Holeee! Coyotes! Headed toward the pen!

They had seen me too, and for long moments, heads lowered and ears perked, they stood stock-still staring me down. Frozen in place I gaped open-mouthed while my brain raced. “Oh my gawd! Oh my gawd! What do I do? What do I do?” Then my brain said, “Go get back in the truck, stupid.” Never knew my short, fat legs could move so fast.

Secure in the cab, with one eye I watched the coyotes circle and sniff the air, while with the other I cast about for potential weaponry should they look like they were intent on having a Whooper breakfast. It was quickly apparent however, that short of running over and beaning them with my laptop, the truck itself was my only weapon – and exposing the birds to it was a no-no. “Okay,” I thought, “So now what?”

Long before I figured it out the coyotes trotted off in the other direction, casting what I thought was looks of disdain over their shoulders. In the aftermath of the heart palpitating encounter, I of course remembered the hot wires around the pen, and half marveled, half chuckled at the protective ‘mother instinct’ the threat to the chicks had aroused.

While day in and day out I treasured and had toiled for those chicks, they had become, if only for a few minutes, as much mine to personally protect as they ever would. That feeling of possessiveness went beyond the norm. They weren’t WCEP’s chicks. They weren’t even ours, as in OM’s chicks. They were MY chicks. Scant seconds later I rightly returned their ownership to all the world, but not before I indulged myself fully in that emotional, adrenaline pumping memorable moment.

Indeed, those gorgeous youngsters not only belong to the world, but by the time you are reading this they will be out on their own in it. And the world better be careful - - woe betide the human that messes with my,, our cranes. I think I could be the mother from hell.

Date: December 23, 2011Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:TAKING GOOD CARELocation: Franklin County, AL

Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary defines Animal Welfare as, "the avoidance of abuse and exploitation of animals by humans by maintaining appropriate standards of accommodation, feeding and general care, the prevention and treatment of disease, and the assurance of freedom from harassment, and unnecessary discomfort and pain."

Anytime we have or bring animals into captivity, whether we through birth/hatch or capture, we are obligated to protect those animals’ welfare. I believe there are no two ways about it. By controlling the its actions and choices, we must assume full responsibility for that animal.

In the case of the Whooping Cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population, WCEP and its partners assume full responsibility for their well being the minute we are in possession of a fertile egg. From a welfare standpoint, there are pages upon pages of protocols for everything involved in raising these birds.

Every step of the way attention is given to the most minute detail. These include everything from weight management to regular exercise sessions, both swimming and walking to ensure proper development. The U.S.G.S. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland is well known for success at producing healthy Whooping crane chicks.

But the attention to the young cranes' welfare doesn’t end there. We continue to safeguard them throughout the entire time they are in our care. They are given de-worming medications according to a schedule provided by International Crane Foundation veterinarians. They have constant access to clean drinking water, are provided with a specially formulated diet, and follow a specific exercise schedule.

Sometimes weather will prevent training with the ultralights for several days in a row. When this happens, and assuming appropriate conditions, on the third day of no activity we let the cranes out of the pen to give them time to run around, stretch their wings, and forage. Additionally, we provide enrichment toys (pumpkins and corn) to keep the cohort entertained and curious. While we are responsible for them, the ultimate goal is to ensure they live a healthy, stress-free, disease-free, and harassment-free life.

Based on Saunders' definition I believe we do everything we possibly can to ensure the cohorts' welfare. Determining exactly what is appropriate for an animal’s welfare can be a difficult assignment, and yes, we do manipulate the young birds, but it is in order to achieve a broader goal.

We are in control of directing and caring for the cranes until they have reached a point they can be released into the wild. The very fact that so many young cranes have been successfully released into the wild for so many years with so few incidents, lends credence to the efficacy of the entire process.

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Date: December 22, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MORNING PEN CHECKLocation: Franklin County, AL

The rain that was expected to begin falling overnight held off until shortly after 6:00 this morning. It quickly made up for the delayed start however, with giant, pelting raindrops and flashes of lightning. It wasn't long before every depression was filled to overflowing.

The Class of 2011 received their preventative meds yesterday, delivered via grape treats. On his return from this morning's pen check, boots squelching and soaked through - Caleb flashed a smile and gave a thumbs up. He said all the cranes were doing just fine despite the heavy downpour.

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Date: December 21, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:HOLIDAY HIATUSLocation: Franklin County, AL

The already strong south winds worked up a head of steam last evening and the motion of our motorhomes went from rock 'n roll to pitch and heave. Then, the sky opened up. Like a little drummer boy on a sugar overload, the rain played a resounding rat-a-tat-tat on the roof of our 'tin cans' all night long. As a result, this morning there's a little stream flowing between us and the access to the 'facilities'.

With what we've been presented with this morning, and what appears to be ahead of us, at least in the foreseeable future, we have decided that effective today we will take a Holiday Hiatus to allow the majority of the team an opportunity to get home in time to spend Christmas with their family and friends.

Four team members will remain behind to look after the Class of 2011 and keep the 'campfires' burning.

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Date:December 20, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

If you've been watching the national weather, you will have seen the giant system we are under. It's big, and it's not pretty, delivering windy conditions and very soon if it lives up to what the weatherman is promising, also lots and lots of rain.

In a message posted to our GuestBook today, Susan Van Den Bosch from Twin Lakes, WI expressed her appreciation to our migration property owners and stopover hosts. We have often said, but cannot say it often enough, without the kindness and generosity of these wonderful people there could be no ultralight-led migration as we know it. It is great that Susan and so many others are as grateful for and as understanding of the magnitude of these folks' contributions as we are. Reproduced below is Susan's GuestBook entry....

"Every year I am amazed by the families and communities along the migration route. At a particularly busy time of year they open their homes and families up to the OM team and birds for an unknown period of time on sometimes very short notice. While the families remain anonymous to those of us following on the net, I would like to say thanks and God Bless our migration hosts/communities for their support and dedication to the OM team and our precious chicks.

I have witnessed migration flyovers twice in recent years and have been welcomed into the communities near the flyover. The OM team makes an impression wherever they go and leave a lasting memory for all."

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Date:December 20, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 73 - DOWN DAY 9Location: Franklin County, AL

We have a stiff breeze out of the south giving us a balmy temperature in the 50's today. At altitude the wind is from the same direction and considerably stronger. The crew is fast running through all the little jobs, fixes, and miscellaneous tasks that are always cropping up and wanting some attention.

We've taken full advantage of the down days - taking on fresh water, dumping grey and black water tanks, re-filling onboard propane and propane tanks, catching up on 'housekeeping', laundry, correspondence, etc, etc.

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Date:December 19, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

The good news is our equipment issue has been resolved. The bad news is the weather tomorrow will certainly keep us on the ground. The prediction is for SSE surface winds and 20-30mph SSW winds aloft.

We will be watching the forecasts - both short and long range even closer than usual. If it appears we will not have a reasonable opportunity to fly in the next day or so, rather than pressing on, we will consider breaking to allow the crew to go home and to spend the holidays with their family and friends.

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Date: December 19, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 72 - DOWN DAY 8Location: Franklin County, AL

We have strong winds aloft this morning. Indicative of their direction is the rising temperature. In contrast to the previous overnight temperature in the mid-twenties, last evening it was in the 40's and forecast to rise to a high of near 60 degrees before the day is out.

During this and previous stops here in Russellville we've made some great friends. Among those are Harry and Belle, Dick and Joanna, Johnny and Brenda, Hudean and Janice, and Janet and Coy. This shout out is in tribute to the ladies mentioned here. They have been treating us to wonderful, homemade fare every day since we arrived, and we can all attest to their fine cooking and baking skills. What a warm, generous, and thoughtful group of people! We know how fortunate we are, and we are honored to have their friendship and grateful for their support.

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Date:December 18, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Walter Sturgeon
Subject:TRAILER TALESLocation: Franklin County, AL

Several years ago I was hauling the Nomad, predecessor to our Sierra travel trailer, with the white crew cab truck. All together the rig was more than 50 feet long with the turning radius of a train. While pulling it into a camp site over a rather narrow culvert I got the left side wheels too close to the edge. It had been raining, the soft ground gave way, and the trailer slid into a rather deep drainage ditch along a public road.

The trailer was hard aground on the frame on the left side with the wheels dangling in the air and sticking out into the road. Fortunately, we always carry lots of wooden blocks and planks that we normally use to level and chock the trailer wheels. It took all of those, plus the combined efforts of the OM crew, as well as a couple of local farmers with very big jacks and a standby tractor to extricate the Nomad. This was reported in the Field Journal on December 15, 2006.

Two days later, December 17, Bev Paulan our field supervisor on that migration was pulling the equipment trailer through a road construction area on I-75 near the Georgia/Florida border when trailer problems reared their ugly head once again. The road was scored for resurfacing and it was down to two lanes. Hauling the trailers over this surface was much like pulling them over 10 miles of rumble strips.

I was following behind Bev, driving the white truck pulling the Nomad. All of a sudden there was this excited voice on the walkie-talkie saying, “I’ve got a flat. Pulling over.” Luckily, because of the construction, there was a closed lane and also a breakdown lane protected from active traffic by a long line of orange barrels. We were able to get both our vehicles and their respective trailers well off the road.

I pulled off quite a distance ahead of her, grabbed the jack and handle out of the equipment box in the back of the white truck, and started to walk back. Bev on the roadside surveying situation. Much to our surprise both wheels on the duel axles on the right side were gone, rim and all, and the trailer was resting on the brake drums.

The rough road had created such a vibration that the lugs sheared off. Evidently, the first wheel had come off some time before, and because of the roughness of the road, neither of us noticed it. Unfortunately, no one thought to take a picture so my verbal description of the situation we found ourselves in will have to do.

To make an already long story shorter, I continued on to fetch some help, while Bev stayed with the rig enjoying the sunny warm day and caught up on some long neglected reading. One interesting side note to this story was that a supporter named Mark stopped to see if Bev was okay and offered her his gun for protection.
It wasn't too long before I returned with Richard and Brooke, and after a trip to an auto parts store and a roadside repair, we were back rolling down the road again.

You well might ask why I am resurrecting these old stories. Well, this year at our Carroll County, TN stop where we camp at the local airport, there are some awesome drainage contours poured into the concrete parking area. Our own American Idol candidate, Caleb Fairbax, who is not just a pretty face but a skilled trailer-puller, managed to better both Bev’s and my trailer incidents.

Caleb managed single-handedly to get ALL four wheels of our equipment trailer off the ground at once. The picture of this feat is for your amazement and entertainment. When we got done shaking our heads, we all certainly had a good laugh at Caleb’s expense.

Fortunately, because it was originally designed for hauling cars the trailer has a strong frame under it. At the height of the problem on this migration day, it ended up looking like a well decorated covered bridge.

Most of the crew remembered our experience with the Nomad and we had it back on all four wheels in no time using jacks, blocking, and planks.

Caleb will probably be immortalized since none of our equipment has more than four wheels. Leave it to some young whipper-snapper to best us old veterans.

The common theme to all these incidents was that no permanent damage was done to any of the equipment. Considering the number of miles we log, the country roads we travel, the tight places we often have to pull them into, and the constant rotation of drivers, we have a minimum of difficulties and incidents.

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Date:December 18, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 71 - DOWN DAY 7Location: Franklin County, AL

The cranes, planes and OM Team will be on the ground again today in Franklin County. If nothing else, this equipment enforced delay is both prompting, and giving us time to do some much needed living quarters house cleaning, re-stocking of supplies, and we are all giving the local laundromat a workout.

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Date:December 17th, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

We will remain at our Franklin County stop again tomorrow in order to resolve an equipment issue. Long range forecasts do not look promising for Monday or Tuesday.

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Date:December 17th, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 70 - DOWN DAY 6Location: Franklin County, AL

Due to an equipment issue, the cranes, planes, and OM team will be unable to advance today.

Speaking of progress, or lack thereof, a comparison to previous years reveals that on this date in 2010 we were already in Gilchrist County Florida. However, in both 2008 and 2009, the only other years we've flown this more westerly route, we've been right here in Franklin County on December 17.

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Date:December 16, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 69 - DOWN DAY 5Location: Franklin County, AL

The weatherman was correct. We were on the receiving end of lots of rain last evening and overnight and there has been no let up whatsoever today. What ever is in the 'atmosphere' is even playing games with our air cards so our internet connection was coming and going until now.

Photos below taken by Walt Sturgeon of Joe Duff and Richard van Heuvelen leading the Class of 2011 into Franklin County on December 11. That is Joe on the left leading four cranes and Richard on the right leading five.

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Date: December 15, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

As our intrepid Migration Crew Chief, Walter Sturgeon, would say, "It's hard telling not knowing."

That about sums up what we can say about the chances for a flight tomorrow. The winds both on the surface and aloft look about as light as they can be without being non-existent. The stinker is likely to be rain which the weatherman is predicting will be an overnight and all day affair.

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Date: December 15, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 68 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Franklin County, AL

With that good ol' rock 'n roll experience we had throughout the night it would be understandable if everyone woke up thinking we were back in Illinois. Anything not nailed down is blowing by in the 20mph southerly wind. At altitude the wind velocity is more than double what we have on the ground. We will be staying put again today.

"Individuals the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Whooping crane population began arriving on the Texas coastal bend and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wintering grounds in late October.

Habitat conditions appear to be somewhat challenging for Whooping cranes this year, specifically with regard to drought and salinity aspects. Salinity levels in the San Antonio Bay are currently 35.3 parts per thousand, resulting in many cranes frequently utilizing inland freshwater sources.

To date, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has received 14 inches of precipitation, which is approximately 23 inches below the annual average. In addition, harmful algae blooms, known as red tide, have occurred along the Texas coast. Red tide toxins can accumulate in fish, oyster, and clam populations in the bays, possibly causing illness and/or death to cranes and other wildlife consuming toxic seafood. Fortunately, there are no known reports of cranes dying from red tide in past outbreaks; biologists continue to keep a vigilant watch. Recent cooler temperatures have helped reduce red tide blooms.

The first Whooping crane census flight of the season was conducted on Thursday, December 8th, in response to confirmation of the first Whooping crane mortality discovered the previous day. One juvenile crane was found dead from unknown causes. The carcass has been sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI for disease testing.

The goal of the flight was to assess the general distribution and condition of the Whooping crane population. During the flight, biologists noted a significant number of cranes were observed in the uplands, as opposed to marshlands where they are typically found. Field observations have resulted in biologists finding evidence of wolfberry and blue crab remains in crane scat. It appears that cranes are utilizing some resources within the marsh.

A second flight to estimate the population will be scheduled for January. In recognition of extreme drought conditions along the entire Texas coast, refuge officials spent the summer planning for the return of cranes. This included initiating work to maximize freshwater output from existing wells located throughout the refuge.

The Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island NWR, a non-profit organization of volunteers dedicated to supporting the refuge in its goal of enhancing habitat and wildlife, have been instrumental in raising funds for converting windmills to solar pump energy. Prescribed burning, which can provide additional food resources for cranes lasting several weeks, has been planned for over 9700 acres. The refuge recently conducted its first burn of the season, consisting of 654 acres of Whooping crane habitat, and refuge officials observed immediate use by cranes.

After a successful nesting season, with approximately 37 chicks fledging from a record 75 nests in August 2011, biologists anticipate that the flock size could reach record levels this winter - possibly 300."

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Date:December 14, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

It will be a surprise to us - albeit a pleasant one - if we fly tomorrow. The weatherman is promising rain and the aviation sites 40 to 50mph southerlies aloft.

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Date: December 14, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:FLIPPING THE BIRDLocation: Franklin County, AL

The other night our dinner hosts were asking if we all had favorites among the young cranes. Each of us had our own response for our own reasons, but my choice was #1-11

During our sixteen day layover in Illinois, #1 got into a minor altercation that left him with a little bare spot of missing feathers on the front of his neck. It has now grown back but the feathers came in white while the rest of his neck is still the fawn color of youth. This little white rectangle makes him look clerical and also easier to spot when we are flying. You may remember that #1 one was a problem at White River Marsh.

Whooping crane chicks fledge when they are 80 to 100 days old, and until the first time they lift off the ground, the function of their wings must be a complete mystery. I am not suggesting that they actually contemplate the purpose of appendages that fold up on their back and flop around when they run, but there must be a point when the penny drops.

Because of his age, #1 reached that “ah-ha” moment before all the other birds in his cohort. When they all ran down the runway after the aircraft, he was the only one able to follow it into the air. The rest of his flock-mates stopped at the end of the runway when their smaller wings wouldn’t carry them any farther. He soon learned to circle back and join them and it didn’t take long for that action to become habit. Later, when all the chicks began to fly, he soon learned that if he simply landed they would all come back, and in the meantime he could poke in the grass and chase grasshoppers. For him, flying began to mean a quick circuit around the pen and then an opportunity to forage until his friends came home, at which point he would go back into the pen just like all the rest of them.

During the first stages of the migration, he would land in a nearby field before being loaded into a crate for a bumpy ride in the van. Maybe that unpleasant experience convinced him there was benefit in sticking with the aircraft and it only took one completed migration leg before he had it figured out. Thereafter he became one of the best followers. But following just wasn’t #1's forte. If turning back wasn’t working for him, he tried leading.

Each bird has its own flying characteristics and #1 preferred the lead. Instead of tucking in behind the wing, he liked to fly above it. Gliding a few inches above the tip, he would be carried along, but his presence there destroyed some of the lift on that side, and our aircraft would turn in his direction. The pilot would have to shift the wing the other way to balance the uneven load, and two arms and a lot of extra effort was needed to carry him.

To correct this annoying habit, I tried speeding up, slowing down, or even making a steep turn. That would cause all the birds to chase the wing and sometimes he would lose his lead position when they reformed. He would follow in the number 2 or 3 spot for a while, but it wasn’t long before he would work his way up to his favored location again.

All things that fly have a center of gravity or C of G. In an aircraft, it must be balanced in order to fly level. As an example, a Piper Cub, which has tandem seats (one behind the other) must be flown solo from the back seat only or it will fly so “nose down” that it will crash. Even birds have a C of G. Generally it is right at the wings, or the center of the lifting point. That’s why cranes must fly with the legs and neck outstretched while herons fly with the necks curved.

After my arms grew sore from carrying #1 one on my wing tip, I decided to try some behavior modification. I slowed very slightly until his body was ahead of the wing but his legs were still over it. Then I pushed up quickly, which raised my wing, caught his legs and tipped him off balance with his head down.

This upset in his C of G would cause him to plummet thirty feet below the wing before he regained balance and climbed back up. Our trike wings are made of fabric so there was no fear of causing injury and it only took a couple of tries at “Flipping the Bird” before he learned to avoid that annoyance.

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Date: December 14, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 67 - DOWN DAY 3Location: Franklin County, AL

It was a warm 53 degrees at o'dark thirty, the warmest temperature early morning temperature we've experienced since leaving Wisconsin in early October. With a dense fog advisory, a ceiling of 100 feet at our destination, and ESE headwinds at 5mph on the surface and 25mph SSW winds aloft it was 'three strikes and you're out' for the cranes and planes this morning.

There will be no advancement along the migration trail today. The Class of 2011 and OM crew will be spending a third Down Day in Franklin County, AL.

Jointly sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company

The Operation Migration Education Team consisting of Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes, are offering presentations to schools along the migration route. (Within an approximate 30-40 mile radius) Their presentation lasts about an hour, and includes a PowerPoint show with video as well as a variety of interactive activities. Utilizing age-appropriate vocabulary and concepts, experienced educators Gordon and Christine engage and entertain students while expanding their science, math, geography, biology, and conservation knowledge. Optimum grade levels are 3 to 7, and groups size can range from 20 to 100.

If you, or someone you know is aware of schools or teachers you think would be receptive to an interesting and enlightening wildlife conservation presentation for their students, please let us know. Email (replace "AT" with @)

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Date:December 13, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

We don't believe we will have a chance for a flight in the morning. South winds on the surface as well as 20 to 30mph southerly winds aloft will undoubtedly keep the cranes and planes grounded.

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Date:December 13, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Walt Sturgeon
Subject: Bread Making on MigrationLocation: Franklin County, AL

As all of you faithful followers know we have had a lot of time on our hands on this migration. I have decided to try and find a more useful thing to do than play Spider solitaire.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time in Arctic goose research camps and learned a fair amount about making bread. Last summer was an example of my 20 trips to the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic, I spent six and a half weeks at Karrak Lake in the Queen Maud Gulf Migratory Bird Sanctuary as a doing research on several species of geese and ducks.

The camp was 300 miles via air from the closest Inuit village of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and probably 1500 miles from the closest bakery. There were 12 people in camp and they could consume a lot of bread so several of us contributed to the bread supply making everything from normal loaves of white and whole wheat bread to bannock and such specialty breads as Challah (a traditional Jewish bread), hamburger rolls, monkey bread, and several others involving yeast. Bannock is a traditional fried bread that the Inuit will make in their camps or their kitchens. My Karrak Lake bannock is what is pictured to the right and looks like large donuts pile up.

My specialty is Walker Bay bread named for one of the other goose camps I have spent time in. The recipe is quite simple and you can use everything from white to whole wheat or rye flour. The real challenge at Karrak Lake was oven temperature control. The oven was part of an ancient propane stove that was quite old before it was moved from the Cambridge Bay dump to Karrak Lake in 1995. The thermostat didn’t work so the oven was either off or at max fuel flow. We controlled the temperature by propping the oven door open with a wooden spoon and sliding it up and down on a scale that someone had developed using a magic marker on the side of the stove.

Obviously, I got side tracked with the previous description of my efforts at Karrak Lake, but there are some similarities between an Arctic camp and our current situation living in recreational vehicle like a motor home while on migration. In fact in some ways it is more difficult to make bread on migration, the ovens are smaller and only hold two loaves at a time, they tend to burn thing on the bottom, and temperature control is often difficult even though the thermostats are working. Throw in the additional need to find a warm place to let the bread rise and the lack of a counter big enough to spread out the dough to knead it.

In any event, it took four tries to get it right. The first two tries ended up edible, but resembling rather dense bricks when the bread didn’t rise as it should have. The third attempt was much better, but I tried resting it on its top to cool and the result was something that looked like a cake that fell. The picture shows my latest attempt which looks great but it remains to be seen if I can repeat with the same quality on my next attempt. I thought you my like to try this rather simple recipe so I have copied it below. Hopefully your first attempt in the comfort of your own kitchen will be successful and you will get it right the first time.

Mix together and let it work until the mixture froths – about 15 minutes
1 cup lukewarm water
2 teaspoons dry active yeast or one package of same
1 teaspoon of honey or molasses

Mix together in a big container
4 cups lukewarm water
1/3 cup of molasses
1/3 cup of oil
½ teaspoon salt

When yeast is ready, pour it into (2), then add flour gradually and mix it until you get a good consistency. (It will start getting dry and it won’t stick to your fingers.)

Knead until there is no more air in the dough. Do not make it too hard. Then let it rise for 1½ -2 hours.

Split the dough in 4 parts, knead again until no more air.

Shape each piece so that it fits into 4 loaf pans, let it rise for 2 hours and bake for 30 minutes at 375F.

Good luck!

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Date:December 13, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 66 - DOWN DAY 2Location: Franklin County, AL

The low ceiling started to lift, so Richard repeated his early morning test flight around 8:30am. He reported topping out at around 1600 feet and was only able to get up to about 22mph of speed. In fact it was virtually moments after his going aloft before the aviation radios squawked, "No way we can do this. We're down."

The team spent the next while returning trikes the the hangar and vehicles to their positions in camp so we could re-hook up again.

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Date:December 13, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:HURRY UP AND WAITLocation:Main Office

Winds aloft, while out of an unfavorable direction, are not particularly strong so Richard van Heuvelen when up a few minutes ago to check conditions. What he found and what we saw on the CraneCam was a low ceiling, which made for reduced visibility. The team will wait an hour to see if conditions improve and try again.

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Date: December 12, 2011 - Entry 3 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING Location: Franklin County, AL
It is not looking particularly promising for a flight tomorrow. Winds are forecast to be light but easterly on the surface at both at our departure and arrival points, and from 5 to 10mph from the WSW aloft. Between now and then we could see a change either way but maybe we're just being overly optimistic.

Folks in the area who are interested in coming out to watch the flyover departure should note that the viewing site is new this year. It is at the junction of Hwy 243 and County Road 75 which is about 4.25 miles south of Russellville. That viewing opportunity may not turn out to be tomorrow, but it WILL be on a morning soon after.... we hope.

Date: December 12, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:ABSURD ATTACKSLocation: Franklin County, AL

Have you ever said a word over and over to yourself so many times it loses meaning, abstracts, and stretches into the absurd? For some reason the repetition results in a mental disconnect between the sounds being produced, the mental image, and the link between the two. All sense and logic is lost for those brief moments before collapsing back into reality.

“Car, car, car, car…car….” What does that even mean? What really is a car? Pistons firing in a cylinder igniting compressed carbon from ancient bogs resulting in the turning of a crankshaft that ultimately rotates two tires - all steered by an advanced hominid.

I am all to often overcome by these moments of sheer absurdity. I’ve noticed I am prone to what I will dub in this prose, “absurd attacks” especially when I’m spending time with the birds. It would be all too easy to accept what it is I do as normal and forget how absolutely unique and uncommon it actually is. I wear a large white suit to act as a surrogate parent to an endangered crane.


Are you starting to follow me? How many people through out the expanse of human history can say they have shared a similar experience? On a daily basis I dress up in a large white costume, complete with helmet and crane-puppet and go spend time with a group of young Whooping Cranes. This opportunity which I have been given by Operation Migration has allowed me to experience things unimaginable to many, and because of this, has permitted me to think about how lucky I am to be here. I am lucky to be here, now, alive, breathing and sharing this life with such amazing animals.

I felt the desire to express my experience with these 'absurd attacks' after having one in the pen the other evening during roost checks. I was crouched down tossing around a cornhusk as my cohort of nine crowded around pecking away at the earth and me.

I felt the need to try and express how absurdly wonderful my situation was. And, all the while, deal with trying to rationalize the dissociated state in to which I fall, into another understanding - the appreciation that there is something real, so very real, in my situation.

While in the pen all fear about the future melts away, regret for the past…gone. All worries about paying my bills evaporate. All stress and turmoil of the daily grind we as people have created for ourselves is obliterated. When I am in there it is just ten creatures experiencing each other. Ten creatures exploring what the universe has to offer. We are all complex organic machines; complex arrangements of molecules combating entropy.

Yet, there is something more there, even if we as creatures can be broken down to strictly the mechanical and chemical level we still share something ethereal and intangible. We share the beautiful, magnificent, and absurd experience of life. We all share the ability to explore new things, see new things, smell new things, hear new things, and interact with new other unique creatures.

Every time I leave the pen I leave with a renewed sense of awe and wonder at my experience in life. I want to grab everyone I see when I get back to camp, shaking them and screaming, “Don’t you see how beautiful and amazing it all is? Be kind to each other! Care about our fellow creatures! Think outside yourself! We’re all in this together!”

Everyone wants to leave a legacy for him or herself. It’s hard to cope with the idea of disappearing from this earth. It’s even harder to come to terms with the idea that 100 years from now we'll all be gone and we might not have left something to be remembered by.

This leads into the point I may or may not have been trying to make when I started writing this. It is the experiences, the indefinable experiences I am attempting to capture here. They are truly what matters for all individuals. – past, present and future.

In this case, it’s the experiences of the future I want to protect and make possible. Even though none of us will truly know what life is like from within a young Whooper’s head, by protecting their species we will continue to make their exploration of life a possibility. By protecting this species we will be protecting future generations exploration and wonder of the world. By protecting this species we are ensuring future humans and cranes may get to experience the awe and wonder of simply interacting with each other.

Whoa…Sorry, that might be a little intense. But, the feelings that rush over someone during an absurd attack can certainly surge with intensity and wonderful peculiarity. This may or may not make sense, but I felt the need to share. Thanks for listening!

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Date: December 12, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 65 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Franklin County, AL

At 43, it was exactly 20 degrees warmer in Franklin County, AL this morning than it was at the same time yesterday in Hardin County, TN. That alone should have been a good indication of the wind direction. However...

While the weather sites were reporting 5mph ESE winds on the surface, the flag here in camp was hanging straight down in dead calm air. That was the situation on the surface. At altitude on the other hand, the weather sites were reporting 15 to 20mph winds out of the WSW. The question was - if they were wrong on the surface were they wrong aloft.

Only one way to find out; send up a test trike. In fact all three trikes went up to check conditions. What they found was strong headwinds no matter the altitude.

This means we will not have a fifth consecutive fly day, rather, it will be Down Day 1 in Franklin County, AL.

For those of you interested in 'stats', there were three years in which we flew on five or more consecutive days. In 2001 we had two long stretches of flights, one was a five day stretch and the other seven consecutive days. In 2002 we had one occurrence of seven consecutive flights, and in 2004 we flew on six consecutive days. Matching this migration's four straight days of flying were the years 2002 and 2004.

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Date: December 11, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORTLocation: Franklin County, AL
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Hardin County, TN to Franklin County, AL

Aerial littering in Hardin County
We have two hosts at the Hardin County Tennessee stopover, one where we sequester the birds and the crew and the other at the Savannah Airport where the aircraft are safely hangared. Both of them are made of gold. They welcome the birds and us as if we were family and provide all the little things that make three months on the road tolerable.

The pen site here is at the western end of a long narrow valley. The high ridge that runs along the northern side would be a show stopper if we had to climb over it on our departure, but luckily we go the other way. Although we don’t have to gain enough altitude to clear that ridge, it can still create an obstacle for us. Light winds from the north are normally welcome but at this location they tumble over that ridge and cause turbulence in the valley. On more than one occasion we have been bounced and poked by rough air on what otherwise seems like a perfect morning.

After twenty years of leading birds, some of my memories run together, but I have a vivid one from this location. It was Richard’s turn to lead or maybe he drew the short straw. One of our birds that year had developed a habit of turning back shortly after takeoff. One of us would always swoop in to pick him up and he soon learned that if he broke from the crowd, he would eventually get his own personal aircraft to carry him to the next site.

That day I was in position to collect this savvy bird. Like clockwork, he broke and I moved in to collect him. With only one bird on the wing, you can climb better than if you have an entire string. Richard banged around in that valley while I climbed to a thousand feet with my lone bird tucked nicely behind the wingtip. At that level we had a strong, smooth tailwind but I was reluctant to go on course.

If I was the only one to reach the next stop we would have only one bird there and who knew when we would get another flying day. So I turned back and into a headwind that slowed our speed over the ground to only a few miles per hour. We hung there for forty minutes, still flying at thirty eight miles per hour but almost motionless against the ground. We watched sympathetically as Richard banged around in the valley. He would get the birds to follow, but the turbulence would push them away from the benefits of his wingtip and they would turn back in discouragement. Eventually he got them above the influence of that ridge and we all turned on course but I remember the sympathy I felt for him from my lofty and smooth observation point. Today it was my turn to lead the birds out from under that ridge and I was concerned.

Maybe it was my turn for a break today, but when the sun rose this morning, the only thing the weather threw at us was a temperature of 28 degrees. The air was dead smooth as I landed and gave the thumbs up for the crew to release the birds. They all came out and stood at attention but none of them flew. I revved the engine, which usually gets them stimulated but they looked as if they had forgotten the script, eyes wide, necks straight, all wondering what was supposed to happen next. Finally I turned around to encourage them and just as I did the penny dropped. In unison, they all took off leaving me pointed the wrong direction. They flew down the valley in the cold morning air and I move into the lead from just below them. By a hundred feet over the ground, they were all in a perfect line off the right wing.

I picked the lowest spot to clear the trees and climbed slowly over the forest to the south. All of the birds stayed on the wing as we slowly gained altitude. Unfortunately, the higher we got the more headwind we faced. By eleven hundred feet we were down to 28 miles per hour over the ground.

The birds closest to the wing gets the most benefit. The ones at the end of the line have to work the hardest. Generally that is counter to the dominance structure. Usually the most aggressive, push their way to the front and the subservient birds, generally the smallest, are at the back where they have to work the hardest. Looking down at the ground the landscape crept by at a snail’s pace and the GPS told us we had two hours to go. After another thirty minutes, a higher altitude and more headwind, it still read two hours.

Maybe it was our slow progress or maybe they just got tired of swimming upstream, but for some reason, they all turned back. I circled and collected them all but they broke again. Richard moved in to pick up the one farthest away and that encouraged a few more to break. The flock divided and five went to Richard while the other four stayed with me. I was a quarter mile behind Richard so he moved left and I moved right to discourage them from the indecision of which aircraft to follow. As the headwinds slowed us even further, this division helped. With fewer birds on each wing they all got more benefit and we were able to increase our airspeed, if only marginally. We crossed the Tennessee River and watched the ground roll by like drying paint.

It took us two hours and thirty six minutes to cover sixty-seven miles. The closer we got, the slower we went and at one point we were only making seventeen miles per hour. I was five miles from the destination and still had twenty minutes of air time.

Brooke passed us once we were close, and landed first. The field was freshly ploughed and planted in winter wheat and the landing was very rough. He radioed me to avoid it if I could and he ran to the middle of the field to call the birds down. This has worked very well in the past and as I flew over his head, three of the birds landed beside him.

Number 6 however decided he didn’t like this spot and stuck with the aircraft. I did another low pass pretending to land. When his wings were cupped and his legs moved forward as if he was about to touch down, I added power and climbed as hard as I could. Instead of landing he climbed with me stuck on my wing like glue. Eventually I was 500 feet above her but she followed nonetheless. If I flew north she followed ignoring Brooke and the other birds. For fifteen minutes I led her back and forth past her flockmates but she refused to land.

By this time Richard arrived with his five birds. I was confident she would fall in with them and land with Brooke but as they dropped in beside him, number 6 latched onto Richard’s wing and refused to land. For a total of thirty minutes we circled before she finally gave up and landed.

I owe a big apology to a great number of people. I am a late night person and usually the last thing I do is check my aircraft and ensure the everything is ready for the next day. By the time our day was over, that option was not available so I made a list and stacked everything I needed on the couch ready for the morning. We arrived early at the hangar and I switched the web camera from Brooke’s trike to mine. I turned on the computer and realized I didn’t have the data card that transmits the signal.

Yesterday when I landed at the airport, I grabbed the computer, datacard and the camera. I stuck it in my flight suit and headed out to where Richard was holding the birds while the pen was set up. Down in that valley the signal died so the camera would not work. Worried that I would break the datacard, I removed it from the USB port and stuck it in my pocket. It somehow missed my list so there was no camera today. I texted Heather to make my excuses and her last message was “take lots of video.

Thanks to a generous supporter we all have new mini Flip cameras that record video on HD. During the flight, I used mine a lot and captured some interesting footage. When we began our descent, I took off my mitt and pulled it out to shoot a sequence of the birds just below me. At the lower altitude, I was hit by a strong thermal and the aircraft veered hard to the right. I flipped the Flip Camera into my lap and grabbed for the control bar. With all my strength I leveled the wing, and then checked for the camera which of course -- was gone. If anyone from the north end of Russellville, Alabama finds a small video camera with the name Duff on it, embedded into the front lawn, please send us the memory file.

In fact maybe that is why number 6 refused to land. She was minding her own business, setting up an approach to land, when all of a sudden something shiny hit her in the head.

I am always surprised how hard we have to work sometimes for only sixty seven miles.

Photos of today's flyover from Hardin County, TN compliments of Adamsville Craniac, Linda Reynolds.

ABOVE: Today's lead pilot, Joe Duff, rounds the bend from the pensite with all nine of the Class of 2011.

BELOW: Gaining altitude to climb out of the valley.

ABOVE: All nine juvvie Whooping cranes form up in a straight line off Joe's right wing.

BELOW: The flyover viewing site in Hardin County is high on a hill giving viewers a unique perspective. We almost have an eye level view.


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Date: December 11, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Franklin County, AL

Well, that was quite a flight! Joe's lead pilot report will be finished and posted here by 5pm CST so you will be able to read all about it - including the surprise ending.

In the meantime, we've looked at the weather sites, and we don't think we'll have a record breaking fifth consecutive fly day. We'll be ready regardless to see what the morning brings, but with the winds clocking around and becoming southerlies, it's highly unlikely the cranes and planes will be taking to the air.

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Date:December 11, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:ON A ROLL...Location:Main Office

For a 4th consecutive day conditions allowed the migration to advance another stop - Joe Duff launched with all 9 cranes locked onto his wing shortly after 7am and they are currently en route to Alabama.

A new state brings special pricing - Featured is our the Non-Fiction brand OM logo'd sweatshirt. The large tone-on-tone embroidered logo is attention getting, and OM crew can attest to the fact that they 'wear like iron'. Limited quantities are available and only in sizes XL and XXL. Regularly priced at $65, get yours today for the bargain price of $45! Order now to receive in time for gift giving!

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Date: December 10, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
& Liz Condie
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - PREDICTINGLocation: Hardin County, TN
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Carroll County, TN to Hardin County TN

This morning was like, in the words of the great American philosopher Yogi Berra, “Dejavous all over again” as I drove in from the pen to the airport. The moon hung stone cold bright against the blackest of black sky, shared only by the warm and comforting flashes of the airport’s rotating beacon…the great aerial welcome mat that never fails to quicken the pulse with its promise of expectation and anticipation.

It was just how my morning began here last year….exactly…so much so that I wondered if I was having a flashback. Migration is like that. After 10 years, if I stopped for flashbacks, I’d never get anywhere!

The trikes sat expectantly in the hanger awaiting the third straight flying day. They know well it’s either feast or famine. Back in Illinois, just prior to one of our rare flights, I remember thinking on one of the few occasions I walked up to my trike, ”I used to fly one of these things…when I was YOUNGER!”

Richard and I stood on the runway searching the horizon for a remnant of the lunar eclipse which was reported, but no luck. Meanwhile Joe was pulling on the hanger door so Caleb could squeeze into the crack and unlock the door. (You’ll have to wait for Caleb’s music video. The love song begins, “Anything a rat can get his head into he can get his body into so that’s how I’m gettin into your heart.”) But that special touch of the breeze upon our cheeks whispered that all too familiar message, “rough air awaits above”. And soon it began.

Just like last year, it was an aerial pickup. As Geoff and Caleb pulled open the gate at the right precise moment, the birds left the pen and joined the trike a few feet above the ground. And we were off. Not unexpectedly, one bird fell back and was picked up by Richard as the rest of us clawed for altitude in the turbulent air.

Once past the flyover site, the dance begins, birds and aircraft, though the beginning is more the domain of the juggler. The pilot must balance the flying abilities of the fast birds with the slower ones, the confident with the unsure, keeping them all in the dance while enticing, coaxing, imposing a sort of order. And all this while the turbulence rolls the trike around the sky like an idiot’s eyeball in three dimensions. It is at such times that the wonder that is trust becomes so magnified, and profound that it’s origins clearly developed over millions of years.

It is also then that the trike itself becomes like some maniacal exercise machine while the words, “No Pain, No Gain” ring in your ears. “Tell us all you human secrets and we’ll stop this torture”, the alien abductor shouts in your ear, and you can hear your flight instructor’s words,” Sometimes it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground!” But if we could just climb a little higher out of this trash, we will be rewarded by smooth flight with its rhythmic harmony and progress. It’s not until the altimeter winds up to 2200 feet that we escape the sweat zone and the birds fall into the groove. ALMOST.

The journey is punctuated by constant challenges. Most birds fly well, while one or two drop back toward earth and you have to go back down to get them. Then something scares them and off they scatter like a roman candle and have to be rounded up again.

We never enjoyed the tailwind we had hoped for, and soon…but not soon enough…we were descending back down through the trashy air to our destination. Richard, with one bird, was far ahead, and as he was dropping down to land he spoke those words that makes you sit up and take notice. “It’s scary!” he said. He suggested that he land and call the birds down while Joe and I continue to the airport.

He didn’t have to say, “Pleeeeeeze!” Soon the birds parachuted down to Richard while Joe and I turned to go and land at the airport. Once the trikes were hangared, we returned to help set up the pen. Walt and Dave were waiting for us and soon the pen was up and the birds were safely inside.

Part of the team left for the trek back to Carroll County for the balance of our road vehicles. They should be back in camp by 5ish. Then we will have a few hours to unwind at our new temporary camp. Now we cross our fingers that tomorrow will present another good migration day because we still have a very long way to go, and like Yogi said, “It ain’t over 'til the fat lady sings!”

Optimism is in full bloom with the forecast for Sunday showing it is a potential fourth consecutive fly day. Winds on the surface are supposed to be somewhere between 1 and 5mph out of the north, and aloft NNE around 10 to 15mph. As they near our destination, the winds at altitude might actually prove to be a bit stronger.

We are supposed to have a very shivery 21 degrees for launch time tomorrow; the coldest temperature of the migration so far. But by the time the cranes and planes reach our next stop it should have warmed up to a 'balmy' 34 degrees.

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Date: December 10, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:POOR CONNECTIONLocation:Main Office

It seems the cellular/data connections have been as poor as the weather throughout this migration. The team did make it to Hardin County, TN this morning, roughly 1:50 minutes after leaving Carroll County.

We enjoyed a picture perfect launch through the CraneCam and for most of the flight as Brooke had eight young cranes surfing the wake of his aircraft. A lead pilot report and a prediction for tomorrow (fingers crossed for a fourth day of flying) will be posted later today, IF Liz can get a connection. If not, I'll be back.

Just a reminder that there is still one mile remaining in yesterday's MileMaker challenge for Tennessee. Sponsor a mile, or portion of a mile in Tennessee and it will be doubled by a generous anonymous supporter from Knoxville.

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Date:December 10, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A THREE-PEAT!Location:Main Office

Mother Nature has been incredibly kind of late and this morning she allowed the migration team to fly again! It's been rare that we've had three days in a row, so I'm sure everyone's spirits are high.

Lead pilot Brooke Pennypacker performed a picture perfect air pickup this morning at 7:30 CST and currently he has 8 cranes with him. The ninth crane dropped back a bit and Richard van Huevelen moved in to pick it up. Tune in later to learn where the teams ends up today.

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Date:December 9, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:LEAD PILOT UPDATELocation: Carroll County, TN
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Marshall County, KY to Carroll County, TN

Today began with a brief flight from the local airport to the pen site. After positioning the trike, Caleb and Geoff yanked back the panels. The birds paused momentarily, and then launched as one and gathered on one long line off of my left wing with one bird immediately beginning to fall back.

As the group of eight birds began to climb, the one bird fell back and I left it to be picked up by Joe. At that point the birds split. I ended up with five on my left wing and three on my right. Then the end crane of the three on my right broke off and headed over to join Joe and his lone bird.

Now, with five on one side and two on the other we continued on, climbing to about 1800 feet above sea level. As the miles slowly rolled by, one of the birds on my left switched to my right. With the birds almost evenly balanced we were able to pick up the pace. The Kentucky hills quickly became the hills of Tennessee.

For some reason, the cranes on my left became nervous and flew over to join the three on my right wing. And that's where they stayed for the remainder of the flight. With seven cranes on my right wing it was necessary to slow down in order for the birds at the end of the line to receive more benefit from the wing.

As we approached our destination I punched in our second Tennessee stop into my GPS. It indicated another two hours of flight time on top of the two we had already flown. Four hours was to long as we only carry about three hours of fuel and skipping was ruled out. No matter...for today we were happy to just knock off one more leg of our long journey.

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Date:December 9, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Carroll County, TN

Dare we predict a triple? If the forecasts for tomorrow hold, we should be in the air again in the morning. It is certainly our hope as it will go a long way to help to make up for much lost time - most of it spent in Illinois.

We hope to see lots of folks at the Carroll County departure flyover site in the morning. Here's a link to check out the flyover location. Each year this site has offered a super view of the cranes and planes as they make their way south almost directly overhead. See you there!!

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Date:December 9, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:ON THE GROUNDLocation: Carroll County, TN

The cranes and planes are on the ground in Carroll County, Tennessee. YES - after holding in place for for days between so many stopovers it was a happy morning when we knew we were launching for two consecutive days.

We will have lead pilot Richard's update for you before the afternoon is out. Check back here for that as well as our prediction for flying tomorrow.

NEW MileMaker challenge from an anonymous supporter in TN. "In honor of the migration team and their young trusting Whooping cranes reaching our state this morning, and considering there are still 33 un-sponsored miles in Tennessee, I am issuing a challenge to my fellow Tennesseans. I will match every 1/4, 1/2 or full mile from TN MileMakers up to a total of 3 miles."

Date:December 9, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:A TWO-FER!Location:Main Office

For the second day in a row the cranes and planes are on the move! Today's lead pilot Richard van Heuvelen launched with the cranes from our Marshall County, KY stopover at 7:42 CST. Currently, they are heading to the first migration stopover in Tennessee!

Check back later today to learn the outcome but in the meantime, there is a new OM Marketplace special!

First, just in time for the gift giving season, is a two-for-one offer. Our 24 karat gold-plated Whooping crane PageMarker makes a perfect stocking stuffer for the student or bookworm in your family. Regularly priced at $15 each, while the Class of 2011 is in Tennessee, you will receive two of these lightweight, beautiful renderings of a Whooping crane for the price of one! Even better news - no shipping charges apply when ordered on their own. No need to increase the quantity of your order - we'll automatically add the second PageMarker to all orders we receive while we migrate through Tennessee!

The second Tennessee special is for one style of our OM logo'd T-shirt. Regularly priced at $20 and reduced to $15, they will be specially priced at $10 for the entire time we are in Tennessee (Usual shipping charges apply.) The specially priced T-shirts comes in Tangerine and Military Green. Tangerine tees are available in sizes Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. The Military Green tees are available in Small and Medium only. Both feature the classic OM logo screened in white over the left chest and are 100% preshrunk soft cotton.

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Date: December 8, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:LEAD PILOT UPDATELocation: Marshall County, KY
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Union County, KY to Marshall County, KY

When the weather blows wind in your face for a month at a time, and the rain pours down every other day, you start to think you have endured just about all it has to offer.

In the eighteen years I have been migrating with birds, we have encountered frost, snow, hail, and even the edge of a tornado. I thought we had seen it all but there was one more weapon in the weather's arsenal.

Western Kentucky has had so much rain this fall that most records have been broken. With vast areas of flooded fields, it must look like paradise to the birds but its not at all comforting for the pilots. Drop out birds are a common occurrence but if we were to lose one here, we would never reach it with the tracking van and a crate. And if a trike had to land, we would have to wait until spring to get it back, maybe the pilot too.

With the extensive flooding, it wasn't only the fields we fly over that caused us concern but also the ones we have to land on. Most of our stopover locations are farmers fields and even the usable ones are saturated.

Our aircraft weigh 400 pounds plus fuel and us. They land on three small wheels and a muddy field can make for a short landing --if you're lucky enough not to roll it over. The other issue is getting the pen trailer in and out. It weighs 3500 pounds and rides on two tires. As always, we can depend on the generosity of our hosts or their friends. At both ends of this migration leg we had farmers with large tractors eager to help.

It is hard to say what portion of a bird's behavior is driven by instinct and what comes from something more. I can only say that there have been moments in my history of flying with birds when the stress level was high and I started to fear for my own safety. Maybe they can sense that anxiety, but every time that has happened to me, the birds have tucked into formation and behaved themselves. I like to think that they realized I was in trouble and want to help.

Apart from hoping the engine wouldn't quit, today wasn't necessarily one of those high tension days, but the birds decided to cooperate anyway.

We took off from the field with the birds right off my wing. We climbed slowly and did a few S-turns to let the stragglers catch up. One bird could not make up the difference and Brooke moved in to pick it up. As he did, two others moved over to join him. The six that were still with me, locked onto my wing and began a steady climb.

The air was cold at 32 degrees and a headwind slowed us down to 25 miles per hour over the ground. Once we reached a thousand feet, we managed to increase that to 32. We leveled at 2000 feet and settled for a two and a half hour trip to cover sixty miles. The birds formed on the wing with three on each side. That is the perfect formation because they get equal benefit from the wingtip vortices.

You have to take clues from the birds to judge your speed. If they weave up and down or raise their heads to create drag, it's a good indication that a little more speed would help. On the other hand, if they start falling behind, you know you are going too fast. I kept increasing my speed a mile per hour at a time, and at 47 mph they locked in and seemed most happy. That is a lot faster than we are accustomed to leading them but the glass smooth air helped. For over an hour they barely flapped a wing and there were no challenges for the lead. They just tucked in and kept flying.

Brooke and his three birds were a few miles behind and Richard stayed in the middle keeping his eye on both of us. It took two hours and twenty minutes to cover 61 miles and when we landed the field was soft but it held us up.

Maybe the idea of migration has finally dawned on these birds, but I think they knew I was worried about this one.

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Date: December 8, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Marshall County, KY

At the risk of jinxing things, the entire team is excited about what tomorrow's forecast appears to be presenting us with - the potential to fly on two consecutive days.

Conditions look reasonable if not good all round. We have a super departure flyover viewing site at this stopover location. Click the link to check it out. Round up your family and friends and we hope to see you there!

Don't forget to Give a WHOOP! We are after today's flight and if we make another leg tomorrow you might even be able to hear us...

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Date: December 8, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 61Location: Marshall County, KY

Great to shake loose from Union County after 5 days on the ground there. Touch down here in Marshall County was at 9:41CST when Joe landed with six of the Class of 2011. About 5 minutes later Brooke landed with the remaining three cranes, which we think might have been numbers 3, 9, and 12. He had a bit of a time on arrival as #9 acted up a little.

All nine Whoopers are safely in their pen, and by noon, the trikes should be be tucked away in their Marshall County hangar for the night. And, we hope it is JUST for the night.

More from Joe, today's lead pilot, later this afternoon. The guys still have to trek back north for the rest of our vehicles, make the drive back south, and get camp set up.

As we cross into Tennessee (hopefully tomorrow) we will offer our fourth special pricing of the migration on OM merchandise.

First, just in time for the gift giving season, is a two-for-one offer. Our 24 karat gold-plated Whooping crane PageMarker makes a perfect stocking stuffer for the student or bookworm in your family. Regularly priced at $15 each, while the Class of 2011 is in Tennessee, you will receive two of these lightweight, beautiful renderings of a Whooping crane for the price of one! Even better news - NO shipping charges apply when ordered on their own.

The second Tennessee special is for one style of our OM logo'd tees. Regularly priced at $20 and reduced to $15, they will be specially priced at $10 for the entire time we are in Tennessee (Usual shipping charges apply.) The specially priced T-shirts comes in Tangerine and Military Green. Tangerine tees are available in sizes Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. The Military Green tees are available in Small and Medium only. Both feature the classic OM logo screened in white over the left chest and are 100% preshrunk soft cotton.

Get ready to place your orders - the special pricing will start as soon as we make it to Tennessee.

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Date: December 8, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:SUCCESS!Location:Main Office

At 7:32am CST today's lead pilot Joe Duff launched with the Class of 2011 Whooping cranes from our Union County, KY stopover. At present, Joe has 6 young cranes soaring off the wing of his aircraft and Brooke Pennypacker has the remaining 3 birds.

Destination is Marshall County, Kentucky - 63 miles further south.

The CraneCam is streaming LIVE video of the flight - Come on by and join us for the flight!

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Date:December 7, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, KY

Well, here we go again. Conditions as they are forecast this afternoon don't rule out at the very least an attempt at a flight in the morning. Winds will be out of the NNW and we'll have clear skies at departure and overcast at destination.

As always, we'll have to wait and see what morning brings. The whole team has fingers crossed.

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Date: December 7, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 60 - DOWN DAY 5Location: Union County, KY

Our attempt to freeze-frame yesterday's forecast of conditions was an abysmal failure.

The relatively calm air of the very early morning hours became pant leg whipping wind by 5:30am. Richard came into my motorhome with his flight jacket on and said, "What the heck happened!?!" Yesterday's forecast for this mornings weather at our destination in Marshall County had also changed and this morning was showing a 50% chance of rain by what would be touchdown time for the cranes and planes.

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Date: December 6, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, KY

If it was possible, we'd try to freeze-frame the conditions we see forecast for tomorrow morning. The picture was negligible wind on the surface here in Union County, and by the time we'd arrive in Marshall County, a scant 1mph worth of NW wind. At altitude it is promising us a 10 to 20mph NW push. Give us ten of those in a row - perhaps fewer - and we'd undoubtedly be over the Georgia/Florida state line.

As the predictions for tomorrow stand, it would be downright silly to bet against our being able to fly tomorrow! I am really hoping this is the last time I will be typing Union County beside "Location" until next year.

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Date: December 6, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:GHOST BIRDSLocation: Union County, KY

Saving the Ghost Birds, the acclaimed new documentary on Whooping crane recovery, is available on DVD for pre-Christmas delivery. This stunning, new 55-minute video documents 80 years of efforts to pull the Whooping crane back from the brink of extinction.

Produced with the help of Operation Migration and the International Crane Foundation, Saving the Ghost Birds includes exclusive interviews and original film footage, bringing viewers up close to these magnificent birds and to the biologists, aviculturists, pilots, volunteers, and others who are part of this cutting-edge conservation effort. See the trailer on YouTube.

Saving the Ghost Birds was written by David Sakrison, the author of the book, Chasing the Ghost Birds: saving swans and cranes from extinction. Sakrison and Video Age Productions spent nearly two years filming, interviewing, and documenting this amazing story — part environmental essay and part adventure tale.

You can order the DVD in time for Holiday delivery. It is priced at $19.95 plus shipping and handling.

The companion book, Chasing the Ghost Birds, is available for $16.50. The book chronicles three cutting-edge conservation projects: returning trumpeter swans to the Midwest Flyway, international efforts to save Russia’s endangered Siberian cranes, and Whooping crane recovery.

Order the DVD and the book together for $31.95, a savings of $4.50. Shipping for the DVD, Book, or both:
To the USA $5.25 - delivery within 4 - 5 business days
To Canada $12.25($US) 

Click the link to order online or call Video Age Productions - 920-748-7434.

Special Holiday Offer: Order the DVD/Companion Book package by December 31st and receive an autographed copy of Chasing the Ghost Birds.

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Date: December 6, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 59 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Union County, KY

After days of deluge, the rain finally stopped so it was time to check wind conditions.

We found favorable and potentially flyable winds both on the surface and at altitude when we checked the aviation sites in the wee hours of the morning, although it was likely we'd encounter a moderate headwind somewhere along the way to our destination in Marshall County. Aloft it appeared we could have a 15 to 20mph tailwind, and all our minds turned to all the usual tasks that needed to be done to get ready for a flight.

Unfortunately, as sunrise approached, the surface winds picked up so strongly, any chance of flying was ruled out. The upside - if there can be an upside to being down for another day - is that it will give the field where our pensite is located in Marshall County a day to do some drying up. A visit to check it out yesterday saw our truck mired in mud up to its axels and it took a neighbor's big tractor to free it up.

Attend a free presentation by OM personnel at the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, IL (near Effingham) at 6:30pm this evening. Take Exit 82 off Highway 70 and go north about one mile to a four-way stop. Turn east (right) onto Highway 40 and go about 2 miles. Turn south onto BCN Lane. Look for a lighted sign announcing the Ballard Nature Center site. For those wishing to use their GPS, Ballard Nature Center is located at 5253 E US Highway 40 Altamont, IL.

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Date:December 5, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, KY

We should have favorable flying conditions tomorrow, at least as far as the wind direction and velocity are concerned. There are, however, two unknowns.

The first is whether the rain will have stopped by sunrise both here and at our destination in Marshall County. The second has to do with what the conditions will be like in the 'trough' separating the two weather systems overhead. The system to the east of us has winds from the SSW and winds in the one to the west of us are coming from the NW. This phenomenon of parallel systems with opposing wind flows can produce very unsettled air in the trough between them - and that's about where we'd need to fly.

We're not taking any bets on our chances for advancing tomorrow, but we're crossing our fingers that conditions will improve before sunrise.

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Date: December 5, 2011  - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 58 - DOWN DAY 3Location: Union County, KY

Rainfall records are being set here in Kentucky and elsewhere as the huge system moving out of the SSW continues affect many states along a line stretching from Texas to New York.

A Flood Watch remains in effect through late tonight for all of western Kentucky, southwest Indiana, and portions of southern Illinois and southeast Missouri. As much as 5 inches of rain is expected giving rise to flooding of low lying lands and creeks and streams overflowing their banks. A few roads susceptible to high water problems are already either blocked off or water covered, especially in far west Kentucky.

PRESENTATION TONIGHT: Flying with Birds – Safeguarding a Species

Come out to the John James Audubon State Park this evening at 6:00 p.m. to learn the incredible story of how endangered Whooping cranes are being taught to migrate following ultralight planes. Join us in the Friends of Audubon Meeting Room to hear the inside story of this amazing project presented by Joe Duff, someone who knows what it is like to fly with the birds!

With spectacular images as a backdrop, Joe will lead you through the captivating story of this unique project. His dynamic and enthusiastic delivery is enhanced by a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation which offers an overview of the methods and work being done to safeguard the critically endangered Whooping crane from extinction.

Come out and learn about what has been described as "The wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon."

Tonight's presentation is open to the public and is FREE of charge. Look forward to seeing you at the John James Audubon State Park in the Friends of Audubon Meeting Room. The park is located at 3100 US Hwy 41 in northern Henderson, KY, a half a mile south of the US 41 bridge over the Ohio River.

MileMaker Challenge
Last Friday we issued a 5-mile MileMaker challenge - IF we could bring in 5 miles before this morning, an anonymous donor from Illinois agreed to match each contribution, effectively doubling your MileMaker sponsorship. Well, we're thrilled to announce that not only did you step up to complete this challenge but you did it a day early! Thank you to everyone that took advantage of this very generous offer!

But it's a new week and we're excited to issue a NEW matching challenge for the MileMaker campaign! A 10-mile MileMaker matching challenge has been issued by one of OM’s long-time Wisconsin supporters in honor of what she calls the “early risers Whooper club”, the faithful UStream chat group that logs on every morning to find out if the cranes will fly and to share their exuberance and joy about this conservation effort.

In her words “things have come a long way since the early days when the migration could only be followed by word of mouth, without a website or field journal. Today, people from across the country and beyond are participating first hand in this awesome adventure through the lens of the CraneCam, and it’s particularly heartwarming to know that teachers and students are starting their days with OM.

I was so inspired on November 30, (the finally leaving Illinois day), when the UStream friends passed the cyber hat and collected donations for two miles right before my eyes. You are amazing folks and this challenge is in your honor.”

So, what do you say? If you haven't already, perhaps you would consider becoming a MileMaker sponsor today? Of, if you have already, maybe you would like to take advantage of this generous opportunity to DOUBLE another sponsorship? Until the 10 miles are raised, every 1/4 mile becomes a 1/2 mile, every 1/2 mile becomes a FULL mile, and every 1 mile sponsorship, automatically becomes TWO miles!

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Date: December 4, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, KY

From what we see, the southerly system that's dropping non-stop rain will soon be starting to shift. By Monday morning the winds will have worked their way around to come out of the north. Unfortunately it doesn't appear the weatherman will have turned off the tap by then. He's forecasting 100% probability of precipitation, and if he's right, we will spend yet another day in Union County.

Thanks to Georgia Craniacs S & B, who host two pairs of our adult Whooping cranes on their property each winter, we have a photo to share with you. The first pair to arrive was 7-07 & 39-07*, and we believe the pair joining them is 3-07 & 38-08*.

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Date: December 4, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 57 - DOWN DAY 2Location: Union County, KY

If you've been watching the national weather you will have seen the size of the system moving up from the south to cover much of the eastern half of the country, including the tri-state area. Winds aloft this morning are in the 50-60mph range and the pitter-patter of rain on the roof of our motorhomes began shortly after 6am. We will be spending at least another day here in Union County.

I think all the crew will agree; this year's migration seems interminable. However, with the exception of 2010 when on this date we were five stops ahead of where we are now, we are not doing badly compared to previous years' records on this route.

On December 4th in 2009 we were right where we are now in Union County, KY. And, on this date in 2008 we were in Marshall County, KY, just one stop ahead. Not that those comparisons make us feel much better about the 33 days that we spent in Illinois in total - 28 of those going nowhere.

Why not think about reserving the evening of Tuesday, December 6th to attend a presentation by OM personnel (if you are within driving distance of Effingham, IL). The presentation is scheduled for 6:30pm at the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, IL. Through a PowerPoint presentation and an exuberant narrative, you will learn about the inside workings of the one-of-a-kind project which has been hailed as, "The wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon."

For those unfamiliar with the area, take exit 82 off Highway 70. Go north about one mile to a four-way stop. Turn east (right) onto Highway 40 and go about 2 miles. Turn south onto BCN lane. Look for a lighted sign announcing the Ballard Nature Center site. For those wishing to use their GPS, Ballard Nature Center is located at 5253 E US Highway 40 Altamont, IL. Hope to see you there!

If you read yesterday's Field Journal entry by Linda Boyd you will know that we employed some unusual tactics to ensure a departure of the Class of 2011 from Wayne County, IL instead of a repeat of what Brooke described in his entry as a Day at the Beach.

Between the trek out to the flooded field in cumbersome outfits, and getting their exercise 'Swamp Monstering' by running back and forth with tarps a-waving and air horns blaring all the while hoping for no overflow into their rubber boots, Caleb along with our three intrepid volunteer Monsters did a masterful job.

Surely their efforts are worth WHOOPING! about. If you haven't already WHOOPED!, please Give a WHOOP! today and let Linda, Bill, and Scott know how much their going above and beyond the call was appreciated.

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Date: December 3, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, KY

As we suspected, Sunday will undoubtedly see us going absolutely no where - unless that's heading for cover out of the forecasted 3 to 5 inches of rain. If that wasn't enough to keep us grounded, the 50 - 60mph winds they are calling for aloft   sure will be.

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Date: December 3, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Linda Boyd
Subject:KAYAK MONSTERLocation: Union County, KY

Good news, better news, and bad news, or, how I ended up sitting in a pond in the middle of a bean field.

The good news last Wednesday was that conditions were finally favorable for flying out of Piatt County, IL where we were pinned down by strong winds for 10 days. The better news was that the winds were so favorable that we were able to skip Cumberland County, IL and go directly to the next stopover in Wayne County, IL. The downside of skipping a stop is that there is no pen at the stop beyond the skipped site. The pilots and the Whoopers arrive before the pen does, and the pilots have to babysit the birds until the pen arrives and is set up for them. It also means that the pilots need to lead the birds away from the pensite so they don't see humans setting it up.

Wayne County has had unusually high rainfall lately, and the landscape which we remembered as fields and fields, this year looks more like lakes and lakes. Now comes the bad news part. The pilots had little choice but to lead the birds to a nearby flooded bean field while the pen was being put together. They had a ball (the Whoopers, not the pilots). While the Whoopers frolicked, the pilots were wondering if, on the next fly day, the Whoopers would want to fly to our next migration stop or just fly over to the nearby pond and play some more.

That question was answered the next day when the morning proved to be fly-able. The birds shot out of the pen and went more or less straight to their new swimming hole. The ensuing rodeo of cranes and trikes ended a couple of hours later with the birds back in the pen, and the humans huddled in a meeting to decide what to do about this situation.

The upshot of the discussions was four swamp monsters and a kayak. Yes, believe it or not, a kayak. We would surround the flooded bean field with tarp-bearing Swamp Monsters including one in a kayak in the middle of the flooded field. That kayak-monster would be me.

After this plan was hatched, our host, recruited as a swamp monster himself, set out to find yet another person who would be willing to be at our site before the crack of dawn with the thrilling mission of standing up to their...let's just say north of the top of their boots in mud and water, wave a tarp, and sound an air horn—who could refuse an offer like that?

The crew set out to get more Swamp monster outfits, more air horns, and a kayak. I set out to embellish my monster outfit. This was not entirely a vanity thing. If my hands were holding a paddle, they could not hold the eye-slit opening of the tarp in place. I needed a costume modification and found just the ticket at a second hand shop; a large, purple straw sun hat sporting a ten-inch brim with the last six inches of brim unraveled into a rather chaotic bramble. Perfect. I could poke my head out of the tarp, turn down the brim down to cover my face and be able to see through the bramble ends.

By nightfall, we were set with enough monsters, outfits and air horns. I modeled my hat which looked to me like a big shaggy monster head, but looked to everyone else like a big crane nest. Did I care what they thought? It was my hat and I was going to wear it.

Friday morning dawned - actually it pre-dawned - beautiful and calm, with the potential for a great fly day. We Swamp Monsters tucked our tarps and air horns under our arms and began our trek to the field, now known as Bean Field Lake. I launched my kayak--no small task wearing an 8 foot x 10 foot blue tarp, adjusted my hat/nest and was on the field/lake paddling and watching the last two monsters walking/wading (poor landlubbers) to their appointed positions.

Soon we were all in position, the ultralights were up in the sky, and we got the signal that the drama was about to begin. Two ultralights with birds on wing were seen going wide of Bean Field Lake as we monsters rattled our tarps, sounded our air horns, and I smacked my paddle on the water surface. They were gone in an instant. Then we could hear the sound of an ultralight returning. But more tarp rattling, air horn sounding, and paddle splashing sent them on their way.

So there I was on Bean Field Lake, having spent a morning paddling on this serene spot, watching a beautiful sunrise and all, for the most part, without a crane in sight. The plan either worked very well or never needed to work at all. Either way it was a success. The birds were off.

I paddled back to shore and got into my RV for a dry, road drive to our next stop in Union County, Kentucky. As I crossed the Ohio River I noted that it was flooding everywhere. The Ohio River is not suppose to crest in this area until December 10. Would that mean we will be in flooded fields again? Would we need to activate Operation Swamp Monster again? Will I yet again be called on to be Swamp Monster of the Lake?

Why, I might be so good at this monster thing that our head swamp monster, Caleb, might want to write a song about me. I can hear something like, “She'll Be Paddlin 'Round the Bean Field When She Comes”...It's not Eddie Van Halen, but it's a toe-tapper.

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Date: December 2, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 56 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Union County, KY

Progress is stalled again today with the threat of rain and southerly winds on the surface and at altitude. A system currently over Texas is moving our way and is projected to be overhead by flight time Sunday. It is packing 50+ mph winds aloft and with no change to it's path, will undoubtedly mean a second Down Day for the Class of 2011.

Billy Brooks out of the USFWS Jacksonville office let us know last evening that 2-11 has reached Florida. She was reported as being in Lake County, Florida. Lake County is in central Florida just south of Marion County and to the east of Citrus County, the location of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. One other unidentified Whooping crane is also in the area. We have no information as to her 'travelling companions' from her last reported location in northern Georgia.

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Date: December 2, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:LEAD PILOT UPDATELocation: Union County, IL
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Wayne County, IL to Union County, KY

“How ya gonna keep’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Parée?” goes the chorus of that popular post WWI song. In our case, it’s the beach not Paris that has gripped the imaginations of our little gang of chicklets.

Leading the chicks down to the flooded field/pond the day before yesterday at the conclusion of our flight while the pen was being erected was like giving a private screening of the movie “Beach Blanket Bingo” starring a cast of bikini clad lovelies to a group of adolescent boys.

I mean, which would you rather do…spend the day splashing around at the beach or flap, flap, flapping behind an ultralight going who knows where, piloted by some bozo wearing a white sheet. Yesterday’s attempt at migration made their choice loud and clear as we added a migration leg to nowhere to our route.

So how do we get these birds to leave the pond? Times like this, “Who ya gonna call?...Ghost busters!?” Well not quite, but close. The “Go To” folks in this situation are none other than the “Swamp Monsters”. They are, as many of you already know, a cadre of mild-mannered, unassuming, ordinary citizens who are able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, born with powers far beyond those of mortal men. All they require is a blue tarp and a broom closet in which to put it on.

This morning, as I staggered through the grey light of dawn towards the trikes, I spied a suspicious group circled ritualistically in the shadow of the Jamboree. Zombies, I thought in desperation, probably called together by Geoff for the occasion. You never know about zombies; one day you can’t spell it, the next day you are one! But as I reluctantly crept closer, I realized they were not zombies at all but Swamp Monsters, each holding a crane costume in one hand and a blue tarp in the other.

Caleb was giving them last minute instructions as to where around the pond to position themselves, and the what's and when's of the upcoming action. He and a neighbor would position themselves at the far corners of the pond while Scott, our host, would hide on the runway just out of sight of the birds. Linda would paddle out to the middle of the pond in a tarp covered kayak so as to be in position to dunk any birds that landed nearby. (Kidding)

So as Joe and Richard hovered overhead, I landed at the pen for a normal launch. However, I knew this was not to be when I saw #1 and #3 holding little sand buckets and shovels, #5 dragging a cooler, #6 with a portable radio, #7 and #9 holding up a beach umbrella with their beaks, and #12 with a beach blanket under one wing.. Geoff just stood at the gate shaking his head.

I cut the engine, went into the pen, and with Geoff’s help confiscated all the beach wear, throwing it into the trailer and yelled, “And besides, you have to wait 30 minutes after you eat to go swimming or you’ll drown!” Then, back at the trike, I gave Geoff the wave. He swung open the door and I goosed the throttle as Scott, with perfect timing, suddenly jumped up from his hideaway. Off we went down the runway.

Then the birds did a 180 back towards the pond. But the other Swamp Monsters were waiting. I could see Linda clearly as she did one Eskimo roll after another in the shallow muddy pond until she looked like a victorious mud wrestler after a match. One look at this sea of Swamp Monsters and all plans the birds had for today’s beach party were cancelled. I turned on course with 7 birds while Richard picked up #9 and #12.

There was soon time to enjoy the remaining miles of the Illinois landscape as the familiar checkerboard of 90 degree geometries passed below under a thick blanket of haze. The wind was neutral, no help nor hindrance. My thoughts drifted back to the past weeks of wind… of when we learned that the State Bird of Illinois is the Windchime; of our visit from the local tax assessor demanding we start paying real estate taxes; of the mailbox Joe put up at the end of the driveway at camp; and, that the most popular dance at the Governor’s Mansion is called the “Perp Walk.”

We learned that Illinois is now the only state in the union without a Concealed Carry Law and that the reason they don’t need to carry guns for protection here is because it’s so flat you can see the bad guys way off in the distance in plenty of time to get out of their way. That makes the best protection against attack a bowling ball, except that if you miss the bad guys, the ball will keep rolling and possibly take out a couple of grain silos or a Wal-Mart before it stops.

Just then I heard Richard call out that one of this birds, #9, was turning back, and so began a drama which continued for another half an hour, until about 13 miles from our start he was forced to land and let Walter and Dave crate the bird so he could continue on with #12.

Meanwhile our little group, which included Joe flying just above and behind, gave up any hope of skipping a stop due to the unfavorable winds and we began our decent, arriving at our destination soon thereafter. Richard arrived about 20 minutes later. Joe and I hid with the birds while Walt, Dave, and Richard put up the pen. Soon, with the birds safely in the pen, we were off again for Sturgis Airport to hangar our trikes.

All migrations legs are memorable, but some are more memorable than others, especially the ones that involve facing new challenges and overcoming new obstacles. Today’s leg falls neatly into this category. But it’s like they say, “Life’s a Beach!” And if you don’t believe me, just ask one of our chicks.

I just heard that if we have 5 miles sponsored between now and Monday, December 5th, an Illinois Craniac will match them mile for mile. How about it folks? Are YOU a MileMaker yet?

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Date: December 2, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Union County, IL

Judging by the weather models we've checked, today was another 'one-off' flight. South winds return to plaque us tomorrow, and at a strength we're not likely to challenge. Don't forget to check to see where our departure flyover viewing location is for Union County. Although it may be the first of the week before we will be able to give you something to see.

An anonymous donor felt badly about the wind in her home state of Illinois that held us up for weeks. This prompted her to issue a MileMaker challenge. IF we can find sponsors for 5 miles before Monday, December 5th, she will DOUBLE EACH MILE RAISED!

Double the value of your sponsorship and become a MileMaker right now!!

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Date: December 2, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:KENTUCKY - - FINALLY!Location: Union County, KY

Once the initial crane round-up was done, the short migration leg from Illinois to our first stopover in Kentucky was completed relatively quickly. Brooke led seven and Richard picked up the other two cranes, numbers 9 and 12. At one point #9 just broke away and headed down. Richard continued on with #12 while David and Walter moved in with the tracking van to pick up #9.

All nine of the Class of 2011 are now safely in their pen in Union County, and it won't be long before the pilots will be arriving at the hangar to tuck away their aircraft. Return here later today to read Brooke Pennypacker's lead pilot report.

What a great day to become a MileMaker!!! And this just in! An anonymous donor feels so bad about the wind in Illinois - that held up the cranes for so long in her home state - she has issued a MileMaker challenge.

IF we can generate 5 miles before Monday, December 5th, she will DOUBLE EACH MILE RAISED!

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Date: December 2, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:PROGRESSING!Location:Main Office

Conditions this morning are the best the team has seen in a long time. Shortly after 7am Central time, today's lead pilot Brooke Pennypacker moved in to launch with the birds. In light of yesterday's events when the young cranes only wanted to frolic in the flooded fields, four swamp monsters and a kayak - yes, a kayak, were employed this morning to deter them from the same field.

Currently the pilots and cranes are heading toward the Kentucky state line but with the northerly winds aloft, dare I hope for a skip today?

This fall we have been putting one item of OM Gear on sale as we migrate through each state. In Wisconsin it was our Windbreakers, and in Illinois our long sleeve tees - and then appropriately our WIND-breakers again. Those specials end as we cross into Kentucky today and we're offering two new specials for while we are going through that state.

The first is our always popular OM logo'd sweatshirts. The large tone-on-tone OM logo is attention getting, and OM crew can attest to the fact that they 'wear like iron'. Limited quantities are available and only in sizes XL and XXL. Regularly priced at $65, get yours today for the bargain price of $45!

Also on special is our 10 pack of OM Holiday cards. Regularly priced at $7, the 10 pack Holiday cards will sell for just $5 each, or purchase two packs for $10 and we'll give you a third pack, until we cross into Tennessee.

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Date: December 1, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject: Thanks to Ray Wichus!Location: Wayne County, IL

The past two days have given the Operation Migration team quite the adventure. There is much to cover, but for now I will only elaborate on yesterday's exploits. On Wednesday morning in Piatt County, the birds took off and the Swamp Monsters went into action. While running around as the 'muck-monster' I was able to spot the birds soaring back over the field. I had no exact count, most were fastened to Richard’s wing, but one bird, as far as I could tell, was plummeting.

The young colt went down near some distant trees and it looked like it would be a stress-free recovery. Boy, was I wrong.

My radio alerted me to another crane down in a nearby field. Geoff and I split. I pointed him in the direction of the bird that I had a visual on, and then departed to collect the other bird. Before I was the equivalent of a block away, Joe had managed to encourage the bird that was in the field back into the air, and they were on their way south.

Joe radioed to say all three pilots had birds on the wing, and we were now on our own to collect the bird down in the forest. I returned, but could not spot Geoff or the colt. I was also having difficulty communicating with Geoff. I pulled out our tracking equipment and darted through the birds' transmitter frequencies while aiming the antenna in the last location I had seen Geoff and the bird.

I stopped on 12-11’s frequency, and sure enough, several loud beeps confirmed what I feared. 12-11 had again gone down, and quickly at that. This is when things got interesting. Geoff called to let me know we had a problem. The bird had gone down on the opposite side of a river, and it was unlikely we would be able to transport her across. I asked Geoff if he would stay there and keep a visual on her while I came around the other side with a crate. He agreed and I raced to the other side.

Based on my map there were two driveways that lead into the general area of the bird. Alas, it also seemed like her location split the difference between the two. In order to determine the best route I parked midway between the driveways and again pulled out the tracking gear. The equipment indicated I should take the driveway to the east. I followed the gravel road until pulling up at a residence. I was instantly relieved when I saw a Conservation Police vehicle in the driveway. If anyone was to understand my situation and be willing to let me trek onto their property it would be the owner of the vehicle.

After knocking for some time it was clear no one was home, so I decided to go for it. I loaded a crate onto my back and started trudging into the woods. The side of the river the bird had gone down on was high up with an abrupt drop - maybe twenty some feet - down to the waterway below.

I charged along the top of the hill. Some distance in I hit a barricade. There was a solid four, maybe five-foot fence blocking my path. I had to stop for a moment and consider my options. Quickly pacing up and down the fence I found there was no easy access through. I was obviously not going to be able to lead the bird through the fence, and even if I got the crate over the fence and to the bird, there was no way I would be able to bring the crated bird back over the fence without risking injury to the bird. This path was out of the question. I phoned Geoff and explained the situation. I told him I would attempt the other driveway.

As I marched back out onto the property I spotted someone in the driveway. Not to sound to romantic and fairytale-esque, but this man would be my Knight-in-Shining-Armor for the day. I quickly apologized for trespassing and explained the situation. He was incredibly quick to assure me I had done no harm, he was aware of the project, and was enthusiastic to lend a hand. Phew! This is when we introduced ourselves. This man was Ray Wichus, the conservation police officer and Game Warden for the region.

I explained where I believed the bird to be and that I had no clue how to access the area. We both made a few phone calls. Ray thankfully took charge. Ray thought that, based on what I had told him, he knew where the bird was and how to get there. We hopped in our vehicles and I followed him down a small, almost indistinguishable, road. He was well aware of what was needed, of the requirement for costumes to prevent imprinting, and how essential it was to keep vehicles out of sight.

Saying I got lucky doesn’t even begin to cut it. It’s amazing how fortunate I was to bump into Ray. We stopped some distance along the path and he told me it was likely 12-11 was just down the way. He volunteered to hang back while I got the bird.

I threw the crate over my back and walked down the path. Sure enough, Geoff came into view across the river, and just to the west of me was 12-11 fiddling with debris on the ground. She certainly seemed relieved to see a costume so accessible and followed me readily. I had hid the crate behind a brush pile moments before. As I walked up with her to the brush pile I filled in behind her. I could feel the adrenaline pumping a little, “You got this, you got this, don’t mess it up, don’t mess it up, I told myself over and over in my head.

As soon as we turned the corner I quickly grabbed her and moved her into the crate. The entire action lasted mere seconds. The door slid down and I knew she was safe. I peeled my helmet off and took some several deep breaths.

I waved to Geoff across the river to try and sign to him that everything was golden, the bird was safely in the crate and that I would be bringing her back over to camp shortly. At that point Geoff headed out to begin tearing down the travel pen.

I went back to ask Ray for some his assistance. He helped me carry the crated bird back to the vehicles and get her crate secured. I thanked him for his help and apologized for having to run off. He was very understanding. The rest of the day was, by comparison to our morning, a breeze, as Geoff and I packed up camp and moved on south.

I want to thank Ray Wichus again for all his help. I do not know how I would have / could have handled the situation had I not met him. Thank You Ray Wichus! You were a huge part in ensuring that bird's safety, and it meant a great deal to me and to our whole team!

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Date: December 1, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Wayne County, IL

It's been rare that we've looked at the aviation weather sites and said, "Boy, does tomorrow look like a good day for flying!" That does describe what we're seeing for the morning as of our research afternoon however. With northerlies both on the surface and aloft and both of reasonable strength, we should be Kentucky bound in the morning.

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Date: December 1, 2011 - Entry 1 Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 54 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Wayne County, IL

After the three trikes testing the winds at different altitudes, it was decided that while it would be a long flight given the short mileage for today's leg, it was a 'go'. While Joe and Richard got into position overhead and out of the way, today's lead pilot, Brooke, landed at the pen to launch with the cranes.

Some went up and some headed directly for the field nearby that recent rains had turned into a pond. Despite five costumes doing their best, no way were those birds going to be coaxed out of there. Recognizing that it would be more than an hour before they could be 'organized' for another attempt, the pilots called it. Today it was water and not wind that defeated us. It is Down Day 1 in Wayne County.

Conservationists and Craniacs within driving distance of the Ballard Nature Center in Altamont, IL (just off Hwy 70 west of Effingham) are invited to attend a presentation by Operation Migration personnel this coming Tuesday evening (December 6th) at 6:30.

Come and hear the incredible story of how Whooping cranes, the world’s most endangered crane, are being taught to migrate following ultralight aircraft. With spectacular images as a backdrop, you will hear the inside story of this amazing project in a way that captivates the imagination as much as raising endangered species awareness. Through a PowerPoint presentation and an exuberant narrative, you will learn about the inside workings of the one-of-a-kind project which has been hailed as, "The wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon."

For those unfamiliar with the area, take exit 82 off Highway 70. Go north about one mile to a four-way stop. Turn east (right) onto Highway 40 and go about 2 miles. Turn south onto BCN lane. Look for a lighted sign announcing the Ballard Nature Center site. For those wishing to use their GPS, Ballard Nature Center is located at 5253 E US Highway 40 Altamont, IL. Hope to see you there!

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Date: November 30, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Richard van Heuvelen
Subject:LEAD PILOT UPDATELocation: Wayne County, IL
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

Piatt County to Wayne County, IL

It was a clear, cold morning as we headed for the hangar across the open corn field. With a creaky jerk, the door to the hangar was opened to reveal our long lost trikes, covered in cobwebs. The air was dank in the long unopened hangar. After cleaning off the dust and accumulated debris, and digging out the mud daubers from our pitot tubes, we were ready to go.

The 'boys' opened the pen to release the chicks, who casually strolled out and stood there not knowing what to do. Truth be told, it had been so long that I was not sure what to do either.

After all this time on the ground would they follow? Would they tire quickly? They seemed much older, more mature. They appeared not to recognize the trike at first. But then, some memory in their tiny little brains clicked, and they were all airborne at once, almost getting ahead of the trike.

Then that flash of memory faded, and they headed back for the pen. The trike was having none of that and circled sharply cutting them off. Thankfully, some remnant of memory stirred once again and most of them formed up on the wing -  encouraged by the swamp monsters on the ground.

But in moments #12 and #9 veered off. #12 headed down the now more familiar river, and #9 flying erratically around as if trying to figure put what was going on. Later Joe would pick her up on his wing, and #12 would be picked up by Caleb and Geoff to make the trip by road.

With seven cranes 'in tow' I turned on course and began a slow climb, trying to get to calmer air and hopefully a tail wind. Soon #3 dropped down and I left him and his confusion for Brooke to deal with.

After a while the six birds turned back and I turned to cut them off. Just then Brooke flew overhead and as I completed my turn back on course I found myself with seven confused birds and one confused pilot. Happily, they settled on nicely and seemed to regain their familiarity with the trike.

As we climbed higher, the miles ticked by. But then, #3, still not convinced this was proper procedure, suddenly began to drop down. Not wanting to lose the hard gained altitude I left him to Brooke to pick up again, and watched as he struggled to get him on the wing and then up to higher altitude.

Soon we were all on our way, gaining more altitude, and also a tail wind. This gave us momentum so we decided to continue on past our next stopover in Cumberland County, and we flew on to our last stopover in Illinois.

Not such a bad day for a bunch of confused birds and pilots.

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Date:November 30, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING AND...Location: Wayne County, IL

We'll have headwinds on the surface and aloft in the morning - but if they are light enough we just might have a shot at another migration leg. We're not counting our chickens yet, but we ARE hoping...

Richard's lead pilot report will be posted late today, in fact it might be more like this evening. He, David, and Brooke have driven back 120+ miles to Piatt County to retrieve two of our vehicles; the white truck pulling the Sierra travel trailer, and the Dodge with the Arctic Fox slide-in camper pulling our second travel pen trailer. We hope to be at full strength with drivers in a stop or two.

If we are lucky enough to fly tomorrow....or the next day, we have a departure flyover viewing location here in Wayne County. It is directly east of Barnhill, just south (0.2 miles) of the junction of County Road 200N and County Road 2400E. There's room to pull your vehicles over at the top of a small rise. Click for Google Map.

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Date: November 30, 2011 - Entry 2 Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:DOUBLE SUCCESS! Location:Main Office

The adage 'good things come to those who wait' certainly held true this morning - the migration team was able to SKIP the Cumberland County, IL stopover and continue on to the last stop in Illinois, located in Wayne County.

No doubt the ground component of the team will have a lengthy drive today before any more news arrives.

Why not celebrate by sponsoring a mile, or portion of a mile through the MileMaker campaign? There are still 496 un-sponsored miles looking for good homes.

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Date: November 30, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:AIRBORNE!Location:Main Office

The last day of November is also the last day for the team in Piatt County, IL! Lead pilot Richard van Heuvelen is winging his way south toward our next migration stop with seven birds and Joe has one other that he managed to coerce back into the air after it had initially dropped out soon after launching.

The ninth crane (ID unknown) landed in a field across the river from the pensite and is currently being transported to the next stop by crate. Stay tuned for updates later today.

The CraneCam is streaming LIVE video - Come on by for the flight! Please bear in mind, however, that we're at the mercy of the signal available to us so the stream may stop/start as the signal drops.

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Date:November 29, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

Oh how we wish our crystal ball was working. The forecast for tomorrow is, as my Grandmother used to say, "almost, nearly, but not quite" what we'd like to see.

The winds both on the surface and aloft are expected to be out of the northwest tomorrow morning - which is good. However, it remains to be seen if they will lighten up sufficiently or if they will prove to be too powerful to allow a flight. With the luck we've been having lately with the wind, even putting the odds of flying at 50-50 might be pushing it. Overly optimistic or not - that's the call we're making.

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Date:November 29, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 59 - DOWN DAY 9Location: Piatt County, IL

On a daily basis, our hosts, their neighbors, and other local residents we meet tell us "never seen anything like it." They are referring of course to the relentless high winds much of the state has been experiencing for most of the month of November. One individual remarked that they couldn't remember such weather in the more than 40 years they'd lived here - consolation, however small to us.

Last year on this date we were 'enjoying' Down Day 2 in Hardin County, TN. In 2009 we were right here in Piatt County for the second of two Down Days. In 2008, the first year of the new more westerly migration route, we arrived in Marshall County, KY on this date.

In an email dated November 25 that was recently forwarded to us, Lisa Lehnhoff, Biological Technician at Alabama's Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge advised that two adult Whooping cranes had arrived there. According to Lisa, the cranes, pair 13-02 and 18-02, "appeared to be cozying into their winter home." Although this pair has not successfully hatched and reared any chicks, eggs from their failed nests have been rescued, transported to Patuxent, and the chicks hatched became members of the ultralight-led program. The most recent of these is 17-07.

We've also been notified that two other cranes, 7-07 and his mate, 39-07* have arrived on their wintering grounds in Lowndes County, Georgia. With the north winds lately, another pair, 3-07 and 38-08* who winter in the same vicinity, could also be turning up in the next short while. Our thanks to these cranes' Georgia 'guardians' for sharing the photos below.

Top Left: Enjoying the winter habitat. Top Right: A visit from a pair of Sandhills. Below: The four year-olds exhibiting fine form.


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Date: November 28, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter:Heather Ray

This morning Liz issued a challenge of sorts... IF we could collect 25 WHOOPS in support of our Give A WHOOP Campaign, we would share with you a 'music' video that the self-proclaimed 'Eddie van Halen' - aka Caleb Fairfax produced yesterday.

I think it's safe to say that the wind and rain is taking its toll on Caleb and the others...

It also looks as if the team will have to endure such conditions again tomorrow. With strong surface winds predicted to be 18mph and an 80 percent chance of rain in the morning, they will spend yet another day in Piatt County, IL. Just for a change of pace, however, there is an 80 percent chance of snow after the noon hour.

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Date: November 28, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:WOULD YOU PAY TO SEE IT?Location: Piatt County, IL

To set up what follows here, I think it best to first repeat my intro of yesterday's Field Journal entry by Intern Geoff Tarbox.

Because we haven't been doing any flying lately, our interns are pretty much the only team members having any contact with our 'chicklets.' Knowing it has been a while since we've been able to give you any 'crane news," this morning I asked both Geoff and Caleb to write an update for the Field Journal. Both quickly assented and disappeared to get at their task.

I guess I wasn't specific enough about what I was looking for. When I received their 'work product' later in the day, that old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for' immediately came to mind. Too much Down Time obviously plays with one's mind. I think we'd better get some flying weather least before Geoff and Caleb lose it....completely. Below is what Geoff penned for your amusement. Caleb's piece will follow in a future Field Journal entry.

If you've read Geoff's entry, you will have gathered that despite the frustration of many Down Days, we still manage to remain relatively upbeat and keep our sense of humor. And speaking of humor, Caleb's 'work product' had us howling with laughter.

Caleb, now dubbed our 'resident Eddie van Halen', put together an audio/video piece that we think is so special, we're wondering if you wouldn't be willing to pay 'admission' to see it.

As they say in the MasterCard commercials, "It's priceless." BUT, if we received 25 WHOOPS! (smile) we'd be persuaded to share it with everyone. Chalking up 25 WHOOPS! would also give our spirits a lift. Okay - we're beginning the count down now - so c'mon...start WHOOPING!

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Date: November 28, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 51 - DOWN DAY 8Location: Piatt County, IL

At o'dark thirty it was difficult to tell whether or not today would be a fly day. Early, it seemed we had quasi-reasonable conditions on the surface, but the winds aloft were packing a powerful punch. As sunrise neared, the wind picked up and here in camp we clocked it at almost 15mph. Enough said.

Volunteers Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes, our two professional educators have now joined us. They are all set to start their visits to schools to give presentations to students on Whooping cranes, the reintroduction project, and the ultralight-led migration. They are able to visit schools within about a 30 to 40 mile radius of our migration route.

Teachers who would like to arrange for an educational, interesting, and fun presentation for their students can contact Gordon and Christine directly. Their email is: class-visit(at) Replace (at) with @). If you are unsure of your distance from our route, just send us an email to inquire.

Date: November 27, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

Assuming what we see on the weather sites this afternoon remains the same or improves, it could be a morning for at least sending up a test trike - and crossing all our fingers.

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Date: November 27, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FORLocation: Piatt County, IL

Because we haven't been doing any flying lately, our interns are pretty much the only team members having any contact with our 'chicklets.' Knowing it has been a while since we've been able to give you any 'crane news," this morning I asked both Geoff and Caleb to write an update for the Field Journal. Both quickly assented and disappeared to get at their task.

I guess I wasn't specific enough about what I was looking for. When I received their 'work product' later in the day, that old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for' immediately came to mind. Too much Down Time obviously plays with one's mind. I think we'd better get some flying weather least before Geoff and Caleb lose it....completely. Below is what Geoff penned for your amusement. Caleb's piece will follow in a future Field Journal entry.

Geoff's Field Journal Entry
Okay folks, I've just invented the latest dance craze. It’s going to sweep America off its feet. The Charleston, the Mashed Potato, the Mamushka, the Hokey-Pokey, the Macarena; they've got nothing on – The Mi-Gr-ation!

It's fun, it's easy, it's addictive! Pull up a chair, and I'll walk you through it! Still sitting in that chair? Good. No, keep sitting there. I said just sit there! Now I'll tell you what the next step is.

Where do you think you're going? You! Yes, you! I saw you get up! Keep following the rest of the flock! You put your right arm out, you put your right arm in, you put your right arm out and then you flap it all about.

Look, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but waving your wings…er..arms around is just making you look silly so stop that right now.

Hang on, Where’s your costume? Where’s your puppet? This is a classy dance and you need wardrobe and props. Okay, grab the water buckets two by two, lift lift those feed bags, yell, 'Yahoo!' Alright!!

Now, what makes this dance so much fun is that you can add your own personal touches and your own steps! The possibilities are endless. You can lean forward, stretch your arms, and hammer away at the keyboard on your laptop. You can stand on one foot and hop about looking for a decent cell signal. You can lean back, put your right arm out, and hit the play button on your DVD player and watch 'Love Actually,' since it's in time for the Christmas season!

You see? The possibilities ARE endless! Me, I like putting my right arm out toward the wall, pull my right arm in, and start playing with the handheld game I just pulled off my bunk. See? You can actually multi-task while dancing! Ain't that something!

Okay, let's shake things up a bit. Now we're actually going to stand up. Vibrate those legs and get that blood pumping! Keep it going! Keep it flowing! Okay, now put your left arm out, close your hand and start screwing the hose to the grey water tank. Put your right arm out, and pull it back in as you open the grey water tank lever! No! No! That's the black water tank. Try again. That's it! Work that arm! Keep breathing, nice and deep! That's the key! That's odd, the grey water smells like stir-fry. We haven't had that since we left Wisconsin.

Okay, now lift those legs, keep 'em moving! Right back towards that chair you were sitting in for four hours! Now lean back and don’t go anywhere. After all, that’s what we’re doing.

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Date:November 27, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 50 - DOWN DAY 7Location: Piatt County, IL

If it isn't the wind, it's the rain. If it isn't the rain, it's the wind. Today they decided to conspire. It has been a week since we arrived here from Livingston County. Perhaps we'll be able to shake loose tomorrow. Sigh.

The movie, “The Big Year” was released across the U.S. on 14 October. We wrote about the expectations for this film in September of last year, and also in April of this year.

The plot of this "sophisticated comedy" features characters played by Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, each of whom is at a personal crossroad. One is experiencing a mid-life crisis, another character a work-life crisis, and the third character, a no-life crisis. Each spends a year of his life following his own individual birding aspirations, highlighted by cross-continental journeys of life-changing experiences.

E-Bulletin hopes it proves to be a thoughtful and fun film, yet doesn’t make fun of those who enjoy birding and its unique subculture. Watch the official trailer.

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Date: November 26, 2011- Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

It appears we'll have winds out of the north tomorrow - - however... its velocity is the bad news. It will take an awful lot of taming down before we'll be thinking about getting into the air in the morning. We're giving odds of 80-20 against that happening.

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Date: November 26, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:The HaciendaLocation: Piatt County, IL

Another Down Day. The wind is blowing, the rain is coming, and when I turned on the Weather Channel this morning, the Barbie Doll weather girl, who, as it turns out is from Jersey, pointed her finger at me and said, “Forget about it!” It was then I came to the realization that I had actually traveled more miles when I was an eight year old kid kneeling on the front seat of my parent’s car, swinging the steering wheel back and forth while making vroom vroom sounds, than I have traveled while on migration.

And it’s worse for the birds. A trip to the bird pen is like a visit to a ship that never leaves the dock…a “Love Boat” minus the LOVE. The birds just look at you like, “This ain’t exactly what you promised us when we signed on this cruise!” as we shrug our shoulders and mime back, “Don’t you get the Weather Channel?” and then, “Hey fellas, how about a couple of great big juicy pumpkins???.”

But then, I guess we are all prisoners of our own circumstances, whether on the move or at rest, and we never get 'off the clock' except for that one time. So like a crew of “Papillion”, that famous French prisoner on Devil’s Island, we spend our days putting one foot in front of the other while humming the theme from the movie, “Hurry Up And Wait.”

It’s at such times I think of Robert Timm and John Cook. You see, confinement does, after all, have its own special pantheon of heroes and these are mine. On December 4, 1958 they took off from McCarran Airport in Las Vegas, Nevada in a little Cessna 172 named “Hacienda” after the hotel that sponsored the flight. And, they didn’t land again until February 7, 1959, having flown continuously for 64 days, 22 hours, 9 minutes and 5 seconds (or as they say in Jersey, “Almost 65 freeeeeking days!!!!) thereby setting the world flight endurance record which still stands today.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with airplanes, a Cessna 172 is the plane our dear friend and top cover pilot Jack Wrighter flew on migration, and it is smaller than the Cessna 182 that Don and Paula Lounsbury flew over us for so many years.

Timm and Cook stripped out what little there was inside, leaving only a pilot seat and adding a small mattress and sink. They flew in 4 hour shifts, one resting while one flew, and they were refueled in the air twice a day from a speeding truck below which pumped 95 gallons of aviation gas into their belly fuel tank from a hose the copilot winched up while hanging out the door of the plane. They also brought up their food, water, and other supplies in this way.

They flew continuously above California and Nevada for 1,550 hours until the engine carboned up and they were finally forced to land. Timm died in 1978 and Cook in 1995 and the “Hacienda” hangs today from the terminal ceiling at McCarran Airport. And so, like everything else in life, it’s all relative.

“So Papillion, how’s about passing me the TV remote…..and that bag of chips while you’re at it?”

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Date: November 26, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 49 - DOWN DAY 6Location: Piatt County, IL

Just when you think it can't get worse... Today we have surface winds out of the south at 15 to 20mph on the surface and out of the SSW at 40 to 60mph aloft. If that wasn't enough to keep the cranes and planes grounded the onset of rain would do it.

OM Volunteer Linda Boyd snapped this picture three mornings ago when we had very favorable winds but heavy fog. The photo was taken as we waited at our new Piatt County departure flyover viewing location.

The vehicle you see in the foreground is our Ford Jamboree motorhome which, besides being home to two crew, carries a selection of OM merchandise for sale. Linda and I did a brisk business with the Craniacs present as we all waited hopefully to see the planes and cranes fly over.

The enthusiastic and patient crowd that turned out to view and photograph the flyover braved the numbing north wind for hours as the pilots kept pushing launch time forward in the hope that the fog would dissipate.

When Linda took this photo the site was deserted, as even those with 'heavy duty' camera equipment abandoned their posts and retreated to their vehicles to try and warm up.

As you can see, visibility was hopeless at this point, so in an attempt to 'sweeten' their morning, I went from car to car up and down the roadside to share some of one of our Piatt County host's fabulous homemade peanut brittle. We look forward to that treat every year. Thanks Mary!!

Despite what was likely the longest wait at a flyover in migration history, almost all of the viewers hung in until the bitter end. Their vigil was rewarded when pilot Joe Duff dropped in to spend the better part of an hour visiting with them and answering their questions.

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Date: November 25, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 48 - DOWN DAY 5Location: Piatt County, IL

Wind, wind, and more wind, powerful and all from the wrong direction and more of the same in the forecast. That about says it all.

With holiday decorations out in full force in all the stores, we thought this might be a good time to suggest that you think about including OM's Marketplace on your list of places to shop. No crowds to battle and no hunting for a parking space. If you are looking for conservation enhancing presents, we might just have the perfect gift for some people on your list.

Browse our online store for apparel, books, DVDs, jewelry, and more. Some gift suggestions....
• Chasing the Ghost Birds - soft cover (paperback) book (and 'Saving the Ghost Birds' soon to be available DVD)
• Zippered canvas tote bag - roomy and durable
• Derrick, the plush Whooping crane - cuddly and kid-safe
• 24K gold plated Whooping Crane PageMarker - perfect for the bookworm on your list
Sustaining Membership in Operation Migration - the gift that gives to OM and Whooping cranes all year round.

Order online, or call the office toll-free at 1-800-675-2618. Please order early to guarantee holiday delivery.

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Date:November 24, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

In the historical play, Richard III, when the hunchbacked villain-king is about to meet his doom at the hands of the future Henry VII, Shakespeare has him crying, "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse." We'll soon be parodying that cry with, "Progress, progress, our souls for some progress!"

The long range forecast offers us little hope of a fast getaway from Piatt County. Although we have seen abrupt weather changes, sometimes as quickly as from one hour to the next, it appears there is little hope of that happening in this case. As it stands, it could be as late as Monday or after before the Class of 2011 will be in the air again.

This date in 2010 saw us three stops ahead in Union County, Kentucky and ended up with a 78 day migration. In 2009 we were still back in Livingston County, IL, and finished the migration in 89 days. In 2008 we were right here in Piatt County and completed that year's journey in a total of 88 days. Of course all those stats and .50¢ still won't get you a cup of coffee.

In the meantime, we're predicting we'll spend a day or two more right where we are.

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Date:November 24, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:A MEANINGFUL DAYLocation: Piatt County, IL
So here we sit, like a table of Pilgrims gathered patiently around an empty box of pop tarts, a half empty glass of milk and a great big stocking full of coal, as if awaiting Gary Larson cartoonization , complete with comical caption… “Which one of you got your holidays mixed up and hung that stocking over the fire place?” or “Now, how do we get this reindeer dung off our boots?

Actually, the crew is upbeat as usual and simply turns up the radio volume to deaden the noise of the wind as we accept another down day and think of the very first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Waupanog Tribe of Plymouth, Massachusetts back in 1621 when they heard the Pilgrims were finally sailing back to England after running out of taped reruns of the “Benny Hill Show” and “Are You Being Served”. And of the day in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday. Seems good ol’ “Honest Abe” hated the Detroit Lions football team more than he did the Confederacy and believed their annual televised defeat on Thursday, November 24th was cause for national celebration.

But seriously, Thanksgiving is probably the most meaningful holiday of the year; a day to celebrate what we have been given, and what we have given; a day of connectivity, community and unification unencumbered by politics or religion or ethnicity.

And the spirit of Thanksgiving has special resonance to those of us here on migration, for to paraphrase Blanche Dubois in Tennessee William’s play, Streetcar Named Desire, “We have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Were we to write a thank you note to each and every one of the wonderful people who have given so generously in so many ways to the effort to save these incredible birds, we would all have died long ago of writer’s cramp. At the very top of this list are our families, our friends, and the very special people in our lives who endure our absence while they continue to love and support us and “keep the home fires burning". Their blessing is the greatest gift of all.

So here’s wishing you and your families a wonderful Thanksgiving. And remember, things could always be worse. You could play for the Detroit Lions!

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Date: November 24, 2011Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 47 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Piatt County, IL

We have many, many things to be thankful for today - we just wish that flying a leg of the migration was one of them. Yesterday's northerly winds have swung around and by sunrise we had flow from the SSW both on the surface and aloft. The Class of 2011 and their wingless companions will spend Thanksgiving Day with their feet firmly planted on the ground.

In a report received yesterday from Martha Tacha, USFWS, Grand Island, Nebraska, we learned that there are still a few Whooping cranes migrating along the western flyway.

A single adult Whooper was reported being at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas and another at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma on Tuesday. There have been no confirmed sightings of Whooping cranes north of Kansas since November 9th.

Two more single-parent families have been observed. A family observed on Monday the 21st in southwest Missouri has since moved into northeast Oklahoma. The juvenile in that family is the northern-most GPS-marked crane in the flyway. A second single-parent family, also with a GPS-marked juvenile, has remained in central Texas since ~ November 17th. "That brings the number of families with only one parent that have been observed and photographed in the flyway this migration to three, which is both uncommon and troubling," said Tacha.

Martha also reported that a GPS-marked juvenile died in west central Kansas around November 11th. The cause of death is as yet unknown.

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Date: November 23, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

If the winds predicted for the morning were out of a favorable direction we'd be predicting that tomorrow would in all likelihood be a fly day.

The forecast is calling for very light SW surface winds and moderate SW winds aloft. That doesn't entirely rule the chance for a flight, but, it does mean we will be having another of those mornings Joe referred to in his entry below. We'll have to wait and see.

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Date: November 23, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 46 - DOWN DAY 2 - A TEASER DAYLocation: Piatt County, IL

First you pin your hopes on a morning three or four days into the future that is forecast to be flyable. That optimism is based on the predictions of a hundred different meteorologists who post their calculations on a multitude of websites that are available online. Each of those is based on projections and some degree of expertise, but the variation between sites is so dramatic, you would think the only tool they had in their arsenal was a wet finger held high over their heads.

We all meet in the predawn cold, armed with our Droids or iphones, and compare notes. Some of us are elated that today is finally the day, while others are convinced the sky is about to fall. We argue the merits of each weather source and quote the indefensible accuracy rates claimed by their marketing departments. In the end we have to rely on the only tool that has ever worked; we wait and see.

This morning was one of those wait and see days. The only negative score in the combined forecasts was the matching temperature and dew point. Warm air can hold more water in the form of vapor than cold air can. When air cools, at some point the moisture in it condenses and forms a cloud, or if it is on the ground –fog. Today the air had already cool enough to reach that point and we woke to low visibility.

Our aircraft operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). That means we need at least three miles line-of-sight visibility before we can fly. This morning we had less than one. It cleared up slightly and we referred to the air chart again. We are close to the Decatur Airport which is controlled by a tower. When the tower is active, this area is known as Class D airspace. When the tower is closed, it is considered Class E, requiring only one mile visibility. But the Decatur tower was open so we were grounded.

When it finally cleared enough, we sent an aircraft up to have a look but everything that had held us down, had moved off to the south creating a wall of fog along our route. We landed to wait it out, and as we stood outside the hangar, we watched another wave of fog move in.

Three times the weather teased us, and three times we fell for it. The ground crew prepared the pen. The public supporters stayed a little longer at the flyover site, and three times we took off only to find a different problem. Before noon the breeze began to pick up and winds that were going to push us south moved around to hold us back. After five hours and multiple tries, we finally called it as another down day.

It’s funny how many times you can fall for the same trick. It reminds me of when my daughter was five and she would point to the button on my shirt. I would look down only to have her flick my nose and laugh hysterically. I fell for it then just to hear her giggle, but she is not five anymore and my nose it getting sore.

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Date: November 23, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:FOG DELAYLocation:Main Office

Winds this morning are out of the northwest at a manageable level, however, the team is currently waiting for the fog to lift, or clear, or whatever fog does when it vanishes.

The CraneCam is streaming live so once they get moving we'll be able to join them in flight. CraneCam Link

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Date:November 22, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt County, IL

I've been looking for the 'hold' button on the weather sites. Checking today both surface winds and aloft look very promising so I wanted to do a 'freeze-frame' and save it for the morning.

What we're seeing in the forecast is about as good as we've seen in a while. We're very hopeful for a flight tomorrow.

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Date: November 22, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Caleb Fairfax
Subject:BEHAVIORS - izzle-nizzle-bodizzle!!Location: Piatt County, IL

As mentioned in previous posts, 1-11 has displayed the signs of cohort aggression on his neck. When I entered the pen this past week I panicked a little. I got close to 1-11 to try and get a good look at his neck (where Brooke had noted he was missing some feathers) and I thought I saw blood.

There was a larger patch of feathers, probably the size of a quarter, that appeared to be missing. To top that off it was dark with something. My first thought, “Oh my gosh, blood!” I tried to get a solid look at what was discoloring the bald spot. Light was fading on the horizon and the bird's mask acts like a pair of sunglasses, which made it incredibly difficult to determine exactly what was wrong. After spending a significant amount of time looking at 1-11, I decided it was likely mud from another bird pecking at him.

When I arrived back at camp I quickly found Joe and brought this up. I prefaced my panic with the assumption that the spot was likely mud, but, there certainly was the possibility it was blood. It was decided it would be worthwhile for someone to hang back after morning pen check to observe the birds from within the pen trailer.

Based on my experiences within the pen the past few weeks, I assumed 7-11 had been the aggressor. She had made several brutal maneuvers at me, and I could only adopt the idea that she was the bird hazing others in the pen.

Geoff and I arrived at the pen early in the morning, followed our usual routine, and then he left. I hid inside the trailer and watched through a small peephole for the next two hours. I was unable to attain an answer to our problem, but I was able to observe some interesting behavior of the birds.

To begin, I was surprised at the lack of aggression I saw. The birds almost seemed…civil, with each other. I saw sharing, playfulness, and passivity that are rarely observed in humans. The first thing I saw was 1-11 acting friendly with 10-11. Usually when a bird is at a feeder or pecking at a pumpki, they fight off any other birds queing in out of curiosity. 1-11 did exactly that, except with 10-11. He was the only bird that could approach 1-11 without getting berated. I even observed them eating from the feeder together and pecking at the same pumpkin. I can’t say for sure, but I certainly got the vibe they were friendly with each other.

I wasn’t entirely wrong in my assumptions about 7-11, as the bit of aggression I did see came from her. I saw her win a few challenges, peck at a few birds, and even chase after another. She won a challenge from 5-11, pecked at 10-11, and chased 12-11 around the pen while jump-raking. I almost jumped out from the pen trailer and screamed, “Leave her alone you jerk!” when she went after my baby girl 12-11. I barely managed to quell my anxiety and keep watching.

I also witnessed some interesting behavior from 3-11 and 10-11. 10-11 was displaying his cage anxiety. He would walk to the north side of the pen and then run/flap to the south end. Then he would walk back and repeat. He followed this routine for fifteen minutes. At one point he opened his wings, held them up and ran around in circles for several minutes. I couldn’t help but smile; he was very cute. Like a child bubbling over with energy, he clearly wanted to get out and fly. I wish I could have helped.

3-11’s behavior was a little worrisome. I saw him repeatedly jump and grab the top netting with his beak and pull it down. I have heard horror stories about a bird which likely broke its neck jumping into the top netting so I was quite concerned. The reality is there is very little we can do to prevent this behavior. A bored bird will play with what’s available and the top netting is essential.

It looked as if the bird was aware of the dangers presented by the top net as he would only jump high enough to snatch the net with his beak. I never saw him jump high enough to catch himself within it.

Aside from the mentioned behaviors, I observed a lot a walking, eating, drinking, and pecking. Nothing was too out of the ordinary or frightening. All the same, I am glad I stayed back and watched. I was able to see some interesting behaviors, smile when the birds acted cute, and learned more about our curious little creatures.

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Date:November 22, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 45 - Down Day 2Location: Piatt County, IL

Rain through the night continues into this morning and if the weatherman is right, it will continue into this evening. The forecasted probability of precipitation remains high for Wednesday, so we won't even worry about what the winds are doing until we know the inclement weather has moved through.

EMP News
Nothing official yet, but rumor has it that the recent winds from the north encouraged a mass exodus of adult and sub-adult Whooping cranes from their core summering area in Wisconsin. Perhaps as many as 40 could now be on migration.

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Date:November 21, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie

NEW Piatt county Flyover Viewing Site  - PREDICTING

Location: Piatt County, IL

The departure flyover site we've used in the past here in Piatt County has never afforded those braving the cold mornings much of a view. In an effort to improve this situation, Richard and I went on a 'site hunt' this morning, and we think we've come up with a much better spot - one that should give viewers a great opportunity to see the cranes and planes much closer.

The new flyover viewing site is on 1000N about 500 yards east of where it intersects with 300E.

Directions: South on #32 from the town of Cisco; turn left/east onto 950N; at the 'T' in the road turn left/north onto 300 East, then turn right/east onto 1000 north. After about 500 yards there is a little rise in the road that will offer a bit of an elevated view.

We aren't expecting flying weather for Tuesday, but we're hopeful for Wednesday. Check back here Tuesday afternoon for our best guess for a flight on Wednesday.

Date:November 21, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:EMP CRANE UPDATE  -  SHARING PHOTOSLocation: Piatt County, IL

EMP crane updates
The latest word on 2-11 is that she has made her way to Georgia. A confirmed sighting had her migrating over Chatsworth, Georgia on Friday. Chatsworth, as the crow flies, is about 21 miles north east of the Gordon County stopover on our former, more easterly migration route. From the photos it's clear she is travelling in the company of Sandhills.

17-07, the crane that had a fishing line removed from her leg, appears to be recovering nicely. In an email received last evening from WCEP tracker, Eva Szyszkoski, she advised that she observed 17-07 again on November 17th. "She looked fabulous!" said Eva. 17-07 was also observed in flight and Eva reported "...her leg no longer dangles to any degree."

Thanks to Veronica Anderton for sending along the photos she snapped in Livingston County.

Top Left: After an aborted attempt to depart Livingston County on Friday, November 11th, Joe Duff landed in a harvested field adjacent to the departure flyover viewing site to have a word with disappointed Craniacs.

Top Right: Joe takes off to return to the site where our trikes are stored.

Bottom Left: Richard van Heuvelen gives the flyover viewers a great show as he flies by leading 7 of the Class of 2011 toward Piatt County.

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Date: November 21, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 44 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Piatt County

'On paper' we should have been flying this morning, at least according to the projections on the weather sites. We knew it was no where near a sure thing however, with strong gusts of wind at our departure point, and possible rain at our destination.

The attempt was on though, with all three pilots airborne at by 7:30AM. It wasn't very long before it was declared a 'no go' as they found trashy conditions at all the altitudes they tested.

Saving the Ghost Birds, the acclaimed new documentary on Whooping crane recovery will be available soon on DVD for pre-Christmas delivery. Watch here for an announcement and ordering information in the near future.

This stunning new 55-minute video documents the 80 years of efforts to pull the Whooping back from the brink of extinction. Produced with the help of the International Crane Foundation and Operation Migration, Saving the Ghost Birds includes exclusive interviews and original film footage, bringing viewers up close to these magnificent birds and to the biologists, aviculturists, pilots, volunteers, and others who are part of this cutting-edge conservation effort.

Click here to view the trailer.

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Date: November 20, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORT - Incremental Frustration Location: Piatt Cty, IL

If you had told us when we landed at Livingston County that we were going to be there for half a month, the frustration level would have been unbearable. Instead, our disappointment grew a day at a time like the crush of a constrictor slowly squeezing the spirit out us and the birds. We set our sights on so many days that were forecast to be good, only to have our hopes blown away by a consistent wind that even the locals said was unusual.

Even this morning wasn’t a great migration day. The wind was still strong, but at least it was from the right direction. By 4 AM the trees were still whistling and it looked like we were about to break another down-day record. But as the sun came up it calmed slightly and we pushed Richard’s aircraft out so he could test the conditions.

The field where the birds were penned runs north and south and is surrounded by trees. There is a gap at the north end where you can make a turn if they aren’t able to climb over the forest, but it’s tight. The beans have been harvested long ago, but the ground is wet and muddy so instead of landing, we used a technique we call an air pick up. I made a slow pass from the south and dropped low once I cleared the trees. Just prior to that, I had called Geoff and Caleb on the radio to release the birds and I turned on the vocalizer.

The birds came out faster than I anticipated and took off north into the wind. I held back to let them decide for themselves which way to go at the end of the field. They cleared the trees and turned left, so I cut the corner to take the lead. All nine birds formed on the wing and I called for the swamp monster to discourage any from landing as we passed west of the pen.

Over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of another aircraft coming in from behind on my left, and so did the birds. First one, then five broke to follow it. Brooke radioed that I should stay on course so I continued south with two birds on my wing, then another one broke. Less than a mile from the pen I had one, and Richard had seven as we began a slow climb.

Brooke circled back to look for one crane that had disappeared, and after a brief search he found #12 between the edge of the river and a tall tree line. To get to the bird, the ground crew had to cross the river and that required driving around the concession. Brooke stayed on station to talk them in.

Richard and I were a mile or two apart and climbing slowly toward a low ceiling. The air was not smooth, but the wind that had held us back for so long, was now pushing us along at close to 60 miles per hour. Thirty seven miles from our destination, #1 dropped off Richard’s wing and began to descend. He slowed to let it catch up, but it kept going down. He was reluctant to follow it because we needed to climb to get as high as we could over the wind farm just ahead of us. Sometimes the large swinging blades cause such a spectacle that the birds are reluctant to fly over them.

Walter and David were below in the tracking van and had us in sight. Richard gave them directions to where the bird landed and then continued on, but when they arrived, the bird was flying again. This could have been a dangerous situation. Richard was already a few miles south with six birds. I was ahead of him, and Brooke was just leaving our departure point, 37 miles to the north. If the bird kept flying Walter and David would lose it for sure. Luckily we heard over the radio that it had landed again. With the tail wind and no birds, Brooke was able to catch up to them in short order. He landed and helped them box #1.

Meanwhile I climbed with #7 to over 2000 feet to keep him as far from the wind turbines as possible to lessen any reluctance he might have. The ceiling above us was dark and made up of multiple layers of undefined clouds. I began an immediate descent when the visibility dropped to minimums, but we were clear in seconds only. I found an altitude around 1800 feet where the air was reasonably smooth and the tailwind brought our ground speed up to 55.

After one hour and seventeen minutes we circled the field and landed next to the pen. Richard landed a few minutes afterward. We put seven birds into the pen and our aircraft into the hangar of one of our generous hosts. In a few minutes Brooke landed and the other two birds arrived in their boxes.

It is hard to believe we stayed at one site for fifteen days. In that time we experienced profound generosity. Wayne and Ida, Terry and Marty, Dave and Rene provided us with shelter for our birds, our aircraft, and our trailers. They extended their welcome when we felt guilty for overstaying, they sympathized when we couldn’t hide our disappointment. They opened their homes to us and their hearts to the birds and there is no way to ever thank them enough.

Maybe the only way to truly show our appreciation is to do our best for these birds and ensure they get to live their lives wild and free.

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Date: November 20, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Piatt Cty, IL

Looking at the weather sites this afternoon, aviation and otherwise, has got us crossing our fingers for tomorrow's predicted surface winds to at least drop out, if they don't change direction. Unusually, what's happening aloft appears to be more promising than what's forecast for the surface, so it is probably going to be another last minute go, or no go decision.

We're all pumped at advancing a migration leg after being stuck on the ground for so long. Today would be a great day for everyone to celebrate our becoming 'unstuck' by Giving a WHOOP!

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Date: November 20, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 43 - FLYING!!Location: Piatt Cty, IL
Air Miles:


Accum Miles


From - To 

 Livingston - Piatt County, IL

The morning didn't start out looking like we'd be leaving Livingston County behind us. We began the day with NNW 15mph surface winds and 15-20mph winds out of the west aloft - favorable direction but not velocity. The forecast called for the wind to drop out as the morning progressed, so the crew stood around on the runway...waiting, waiting.

Once the test trike was in the air it wasn't long before it was called, 'a go' and the scramble was on with everyone heading every which way to get to their positions. More from Joe, today's lead pilot later today.

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Date:November 19, 2011Reporter: Joe Duff
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 42- DOWN DAY 15  /  WINDBURNLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Wind is one of the corrosive elements that, given time, can erode mountains and turn rock into sand. For us it wears away our resolve, and after two weeks of constant blowing, it has left us as irritated as a farmer’s cheeks.

Windburn is the despair that multiplies each morning as the trailer door is wrenched from your hands. It is the worry that doubles each day that the birds can’t fly, and the concern that they may not follow us when it finally subsides. It is the growing aggression in the pen as the distraction of pumpkins can no long substitute for their desire to fly. Windburn is the mounting cost of a crew that sits idle, and the nagging recognition that there is nothing we can do about it.

That last realization is likely the most debilitating. This crew is made up of people who have spent their lives being self-reliant. They are motivated, and accustomed to getting their own way through hard work. They face a challenge with the relentless endurance of the Illinois wind. That’s likely why sitting idle for two weeks is so demoralizing. We can’t go over it, through it or around it. We can’t build a solution, or jury rig an answer. Instead we have to sit feeling helpless, worthless.

When faced with a solid obstacle it is my practice to step back and reassess. I try to think laterally and outside the box. That persistence generally prevails.

Some of our supporters have called that dedication, but that’ is one of those vague words you can’t really quantify. There is no threshold of extra effort, after which a hard worker finally reaches the status of “dedicated”. Earning the rank of “dedicated” should involve some sort of selflessness. Is it fair to assign that accolade to someone who pursued a career they loved, or maybe it should be reserved for the guy who spent a lifetime working in an unfulfilling job so his kids wouldn’t have to?

And then there is the question of levels of dedication. It’s hardly fair to use the same term in the epitaph of a career sales person as one would a soldier who dragged his friend to safety under fire. Maybe those individuals move up from “Dedicated” to “Hero”.

Each of us has our own idea of what dedicated means; our own threshold of self-sacrifice, after which we are not prepared to give any more. For the most deserving, it’s when there is nothing left to give.

I am a firm believer in Mark Twain’s observation, “The harder I work the more luck I have,” And whether you have earned the status of dedicated is up to others to determine.

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Date:November 19, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject: SAME OL' - SAME OL'Location:Main Office

This morning's conditions are pretty much the same as yesterday's - strong south winds on the surface and even stronger south winds aloft. The cranes and planes will be grounded again today in Livingston County, IL. Looking ahead to the next two days, there is a northerly flow of air arriving, which the team hopes will allow them to advance further south.

Just a reminder that if you're looking to compare this year's Whooping crane migration with past year's, take a look at the Migration Timelines page. And if you're hoping to watch the Class of 2011 as they depart each migration stopover, you can check out the Public Flyover page. Each stop is listed by County name and contains a link to Google maps.

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Date:November 18, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:TWO WEEKS DOWNLocation:Main Office

With strong winds blowing from the south at 30 knots aloft this morning, the Class of 2011 will stay yet another day in Livingston County, IL. It was exactly two weeks ago that they arrived.

There are still a few miles remaining in the Craniacs C & J of North Florida matching challenge. They will match up to 10 MileMaker miles - or parts thereof - that are sponsored by NEW MileMakers.

So c'mon all you folks that aren't already MileMaker sponsors, this is your chance to double the value of your contribution and at the same time guarantee another 20 miles of this fall's migration of the Class of 2011 is funded.

And there's a bonus! 2011 MileMaker sponsors have a chance to have their name drawn to receive a very special and unique thank you gift! OM's multi-talented pilot, Richard van Heuvelen has donated one of his fabulous metal crane chick sculptures for us to use as a Thank You gift! 

Richard's sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars, and you could be the lucky one to own one of his valuable and unique pieces of artwork. To see examples of Richard's phenomenal metal sculpture art visit his website, The Wooden Anvil.)

MileMaker Sponsors' names will be entered in the Thank You Gift Draw as follows: 1 entry per quarter mile | 2 entries per half mile | 4 entries per one mile sponsorship

As an extra thank you for your support, we'll send you a secret link where you can select a beautiful E-Calendar image to display on your laptop or PC desktop! Each month beginning with May 2011 through to March 2012 features a full color photograph with calendar overlay.

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Date:November 17, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

It is with considerable confidence we predict that we won't be flying tomorrow morning. In fact, the winds will be blowing from the wrong direction any where from 40mph and up for the next two or three days. We've resigned ourselves to at least a day or two more in Livingston County.

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Date:November 17, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

According to the WCEP Tracking team, as of November 12th, the maximum size of the Eastern Migratory Population was 105 birds; 54 males, 51 females.

From the mapped locations supplied by tracker, Eva Szyszkoski, it doesn't appear as if the EMP cranes have much notion of migrating as yet. Crane locations as of this date (or last known locations) were: Wisconsin – 94; Minnesota – 2; and Michigan – 1. The remaining Whooping cranes have either not been located recently or are long term missing.

Seven of the eight 2011 DAR juveniles released October 21 on the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Dodge County, WI  remain in Dane County where they've been associating with several Sandhills. A breeding pair of Whooping Cranes has since moved into the same area. The eighth DAR juvenile didn't leave the Horicon area until October 29th. It has moved to Rock County and has not been observed with any other cranes.

Providing aerial tracking assistance were Wisconsin DNR pilots Bev Paulan and Mike Callahan, and Windway Aviation pilot Tom Trestor.

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Date: November 17, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 40 - DOWN DAY 13Location: Livingston Cty, IL

When I sat down at the computer this morning shortly after 3:00am the temperature was 26F and the winds out of the west were pushing 9mph and climbing. Aloft the aviation sites were promising we'd find WNW winds of up to 30mph. The decision to call it another 'no go' day quickly became an obvious choice. Sadly, were we not much more than 60 or so miles to the south of our current location, we'd be in the air today.

So it is that the Class of 2011 will spend its 13th day on the ground in Livingston County, IL, surpassing all previous records of consecutive days down on any migration since the project started in 2001.

The only comparable stretch occurred in 2007, the last year we flew the old, more easterly route. Come December 17th of that year we'd already been grounded in Cumberland County, TN for 11 days. With neither the short nor long range forecast offering any hope for flying, we began an early Holiday Hiatus, to allow crew to go home to spend Christmas with family and friends. Had we not broke the migration at that time, the weather would have kept us grounded for around another 7 days.

2007 was characterized by several over-long periods stuck on the ground. They included 9 days in Juneau County, WI, 8 days in Washington County, KY, and 7 days in Hamilton County, FL. Those long stays, combined with only two instances of back to back flights throughout the entire migration, were the major contributors to the 2007 migration becoming the longest on record, 97 days, and to finishing the latest, January 28th.

We have links to two items for Craniacs to check out today. The first link is to a podcast with Dan Alanso, Refuge Manager at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Dan talks about Whoopers and climate change. This comes to us via Bill Brooks, USFWS, Jacksonville, FL.

The second link was kindly sent to us by Chester McConnell, Trustee Emeritus and Webmaster for the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA). Chester's article expands on the report we posted yesterday about the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping Crane population.

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Date:November 16, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

We should have a better 'chance' of flying tomorrow than today offered. Winds are predicted to be 6 to 10mph from the NW on the surface, but they are still looking to be fairly strong aloft, ~25mph.

As always, we will have to wait and see what the morning actually brings. If it looks at all reasonable, perhaps we'll see a test trike go up.

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Date:November 16, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

The latest report on the Western Population noted that this past spring, 278 Whooping cranes left the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas to migration north. From a record setting 75 nests, approximately 37 chicks fledged on the flock's summering grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park. Based on that production, the expectation is for this population to grow to a record level of ~300 cranes this winter.

Many of the Wood Buffalo-Aransas cranes have already arrived on their Texas wintering grounds. There have been confirmed sightings of Whoopers both on and on the Aransas refuge, including 26 cranes on the Blackjack Peninsula.

As of this most recent report, 12 of the 21 cranes with active radio transmitters have arrived on the Texas coast. The remaining Whoopers in the population are scattered between North Dakota and the Aransas refuge.

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Date:November 16, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie/Caleb Fairfax
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 39 - DOWN DAY 12Location: Livingston Cty, IL

This morning we found ourselves looking at about +10mph of surface wind and a powerful 30 to 40mph aloft. North winds are the order of the day, and the further south we looked along our route, the harder the wind was blowing.

The short story is, we have wind from the right direction but it's much too powerful to be safe for the planes and cranes.

As our time in Livingston County continues to grow, our cohort’s frustration and aggression develops as well. Over the past few days it seems the pumpkins and corn, used as enrichment and distraction, are fulfilling their purpose less and less. The birds have shown decreasing interest, and its clear what they really want is to get out and expand their wings.

As Brooke's photos showed in a recent update, 1-11 has been of the receiving end of some of this aggression, witness the bald patches on his neck. And, more feathers have vanished from his neck since originally detected by Brooke. This is worrisome to say the least.

1-11 is not the only creature to on the receiving end of some aggression. On entering the pen in the past few days 7-11 has nearly dragged me into the mud. Had she succeeded, the crew may have never heard or seen me again. The entire cohort would have picked me apart in no time as a welcome change from their muddy monotony. I’m kidding of course, but the birds really have taken to giving me a good thwacking when I’m available. I guess I cant blame them so I take it gracefully, I know they’re just frustrated.

To top everything off, coyotes abound at night. A single howl sparks a chorus of resonating calls that seem to come from every direction. I can only imagine how our young Whoopers interpret this daunting call of the wild. To them the howls are alarming and threatening I’m sure, but we have luckily not seen any obvious signs of coyotes circumnavigating the electric fence. That doesn't mean however, that they haven’t dropped by for a look.

To change the subject, I must admit, I have not been incredibly pressed to rush out of Livingston County. Our hosts are incredibly hospitable, and the Bass fishing has been superb. Hopefully weather will give us a break so we cab finally move on. Then I'll have to say goodbye to the biting Largemouth Bass - but, hello to a calmer group of Whoopers.

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Date:November 15, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

You know the expression...'be careful what you wish for'..? Well, for days we've been wishing for the winds to swing around and come out of the north instead of the south. It looks like we'll get our wish tomorrow but...

No doubt you've also heard the expression...'too much of a good thing'...? That too is a real possibility for tomorrow. It appears we'll be looking at 10mph north winds on the surface and as much as 30mph aloft. Hmmm, I wouldn't put any more money on our chances of making it to Piatt County tomorrow than I would have bet on our attempt to beat through the headwinds today.

BUT, I can guarantee you that we'll all be up and at'em nonetheless. Nothing like optimism. Or would that be called cock-eyed optimism?

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Date:November 15, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 38 - DOWN DAY 11Location: Livingston Cty, IL

Keeping an internet connection long enough to check the aviation weather sites on the internet continues to be a problem. For most of the day yesterday we had no service whatsoever, and that was again the case this morning. We eventually managed brief glimpses of the weather conditions before we'd be bumped off again. What we saw was that the winds aloft, although from the wrong direction, were dropping out.

The scramble was on. Crew scurried while Richard launched his trike to test the conditions aloft. He found smooth air, but with the headwind his airspeed over the ground was 20mph. That would have made the flight to Piatt too tough for the birds to handle, and take far too long to complete the leg.


On 29 October, the new artwork for the 2012-13 Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (commonly called the "Duck Stamp") was chosen. There were five qualifying species in the competition: Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Wood Duck, and Gadwall. An image of a male Wood Duck by Joseph Hautman was ultimately chosen. (Joe Hautman has now won the contest four times!) Click the link for details and to view the artwork.

This colorful illustration will appear on the 2012-2013 stamp and the proceeds for the $15-stamp will go to the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund (MBCF) to secure wetland and grassland habitat for the Refuge System.

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Date:November 14, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

On the afternoon of our tenth Down Day here in Livingston County, readers, like us, must be thinking...enough already! I wish I could say we think that is the case.

All that seems to change in the forecast is the velocity of the wind. Tomorrow we will still have southerly flow both on the surface and aloft. That being the case the cranes and planes will have to wait it out a while longer.

Having to talk about 'wind' virtually every day from migration start to finish, I got curious about the device used to measure it. Instruments used to measure wind speed are called "velocity anemometers," and I was surprised to learn there are/have been numerous types and designs.

There are Cup, Windmill, Hot-wire, and Laser Doppler Anemometers. There are also Sonic and Ping-pong ball Anemometers. I found it very interesting reading, and if you too are curious, there are multiple sites on the internet with descriptions and pictures. For a quick overview you could try Wikipedia for a start.

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Date:November 14, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

After hanging on for dear life yesterday for fear of being blown clear back to Wisconsin, the utter stillness of the early hours this morning was downright eerie. By sunrise the wind had snuck back however, including up top where it had yet to lose much of its punch. Standing outside you could almost smell the rain in the air. Sure enough it arrived in short order. Thunder and lightening accompanied a pounding, driving rain that created large puddles in the wink of an eye.

Whatever was happening 'in the air' it affected our internet and cell phone connections this morning. Without our communication links It was like everyone in camp had been struck 'deaf and blind'. By early afternoon the lurking cyber gremlins were gone and we are able to 'see and hear' the world again.

We had a terrific turnout for Joe's presentation last evening at the McDowell Methodist Church. It was filled to capacity including three extra rows of chairs put in across the back of the room. Everyone was invited to stay afterwards for cider and treats and we can certainly vouch for the skill of the bakers here in Livingston County. YUM. Thank you ladies!! Our thanks to everyone for attending, and special thanks to Sara, Terry, Ida, and the many others who helped to make the evening the success it was.

MileMaker received a boost last evening as some attendees became sponsors. (If you aren't a MileMaker sponsor as yet there's no time like the present!!) We also experienced the generosity of the folks in this neck of the woods when our hosts 'passed the hat' and it came back filled to the brim.

A couple of Piatt County Craniacs were in attendance last night and they are working on finding a venue for a possible OM presentation when we reach that stopover location. Any news on this will be posted here.

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Date:November 14, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:MIGRATON DAY 37 - DOWN DAY 10Location:Main Office

The winds continue to blow and hold the team firmly in place in Livingston County, IL. Looking at what's in store for the rest of the week, Wednesday, at this point, is looking very good.

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Date: November 13, 2011 - Entry 3 `Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

This afternoon we had winds on the ground blowing around 30 plus mph with gusts reaching almost 50mph. Rock 'n rolling doesn't even begin to describe our 'ride' as we worked in our motorhomes today.

I wish we could say that after the lashing it gave us today the wind has blown itself out. While still out of the south, surface winds in the morning will be more 'normal', but aloft they will have only calmed down to... 20 to 40mph. Guess we'll have to wait to see what Tuesday offers.

Date:November 13, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:OM PRESENTATION TONIGHTLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Joe Duff, OM's co-founder, CEO, and senior pilot will be giving a PowerPoint presentation at 6:30pm this evening in the basement of the McDowell Methodist Church.

Come and hear the incredible story of how Whooping cranes, the world’s most endangered crane, are being taught to migrate following ultralight aircraft.

The McDowell Methodist Church is about half way between Fairbury and Pontiac, IL, just past the corner of 1400 N Road and 1800 E Road. (Rt. 24 west of Fairbury to 1800 E. Rd; N on 1800 E Rd. to 1400 N. Rd. East on 1400 N. Rd few hundred yards to McDowell Methodist Church.)

Hope to see you there!

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Date: November 13, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 36 - DOWN DAY 9Location: Livingston Cty, IL

Virtually all of Illinois is being blasted with high winds today. From our current stopover location, south to where we cross from into Kentucky, surface wind velocity is in the +20mph range. Every one of our Illinois stopover over locations is under a high wind advisory. Aloft winds are blowing a ferocious 50 to 80mph.

It being Down Day 9 here in Livingston County means we are approaching challenging the longest span of time stuck on the ground since moving to the more westerly route in 2008. In 2008, weather kept us grounded in Green County, WI for 11 days, and for the same number of days in Winnebago County, IL in 2010.

WINDbreaker Bargain
With the wind we've been experiencing it seemed appropriate to put our Windbreakers on special. So, while we are in Illinois, our Men's and Ladies OM Logo'd Windbreakers will be marked down from their regular price of $30 to the bargain price of $20!

Perfect for cool, breezy fall days, the jackets fold down for tucking away in a purse or backpack. Both Men's and Ladies styles are available in sizes from Extra Small to Extra Large. Click the link to read the description on our MarketPlace webpage, or to place your order. Order yours today. Regular pricing resumes when we reach Kentucky.

Date:November 12, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

What we're predicting for tomorrow is.... a great turnout at the McDowell Methodist Church at 6:30pm! Check out the entry below for the details and we look forward to seeing you there!

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Date: November 12, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:YOU'RE INVITED - Flying With Birds, Saving a SpeciesLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Everyone within driving distance is invited to come join us for a presentation on the Whooping crane reintroduction project and learn about the young cranes that Operation Migration is leading south.

Joe Duff, OM's co-founder, CEO, and senior pilot will be giving a PowerPoint presentation at 6:30pm Sunday evening in the basement of the McDowell Methodist Church.

Come and hear the incredible story of how Whooping cranes, the world’s most endangered crane, are being taught to migrate following ultralight aircraft.

Learn the inside workings of this amazing project from someone who knows what it is like to fly with birds! Joe has likely accumulated more hours in flight alongside more species of birds than any other human.

Every autumn since 2001 when Operation Migration’s innovative technique was approved by the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team, OM's ultralight aircraft have led a new generation of Whooping cranes from central Wisconsin to coastal Florida; a feat that has established a new population to an ancient flyway in eastern North America, and boosted the population of the world’s of wild migratory Whooping cranes to almost 100 birds.

Described as, “The most successful wildlife reintroduction project in conservation history,” and, “The wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon,” you will be enthralled and awed as you learn how this ambitious project is safeguarding Whooping cranes from extinction.

The McDowell Methodist Church is about half way between Fairbury and Pontiac. It is just past the corner of 1400 N Road and 1800 E Road. (Rt. 24 west of Fairbury to 1800 E. Rd; N on 1800 E Rd. to 1400 N. Rd. East on 1400 N. Rd few hundred yards to McDowell Methodist Church.)

Hope to see you there!

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Date: November 12, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 34 - DOWN DAY 8Location: Livingston Cty, IL

No one would have been happier than us to have been proven wrong about our prediction for this morning. Unfortunately, the weatherman was spot on and therefore so was our conclusion we'd be unable to fly today.

The temperature this morning was great, the cool 43 degrees of the wee hours dropping to a crisp 34 by dawn. The weather condition calling the shots today however was once again the wind, particularly winds aloft - westerlies blowing between 20 and 40mph.

UPDATE RE #17-07*
In a communication that came to us recently, WCEP tracker Eva Szyszkoski updated us on the condition of the injured 2007 Whooper, #17*. (* denotes female) Readers may recall that she was captured not long ago to remove a fishing line that was wound around and abrading one leg.

17-07* was found with a group of Whooping cranes in a corn field in Juneau County, WI on November 5th. When first observed, she was laying down, but Eva said, "that she stood for a few minutes before laying down again." Then, about 15 minutes later, the bird stood again, this time for approximately seven minutes before once again laying down.

Eva noted that, "17-07* is still limping, but I would classify it as a heavy limp as opposed to severe. She is not using her wings to walk and will put weight on the leg. When she was standing and eating she almost always had the leg down touching the ground as opposed to holding it up at a 90 degree angle. There is still a noticeable bump at the location of the injury."

17-07* and her male companion 10-09 have occasionally been returning to one of the pools on the Necedah refuge to roost. To Eva's eye, 10-09 seemed very protective of her.

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Date: November 11, 2011 - Entry - 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING - COME TO AN OM PRESENTATIONLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Hate to admit it and would love to be totally wrong, but we're undoubtedly not going to be flying tomorrow morning, and that goes double for Sunday morning. Between the southerly winds on the surface and the 30mph and +50 mph winds forecast aloft for those days, it's no contest.

Local residents of Fairbury, Pontiac, and the surrounding area are invited to join us Sunday evening for a presentation by Joe Duff. Joe's PowerPoint presentation is filled with great images and amazing video clips and is always a hit. Come and learn about all the work that goes into reintroducing Whooping cranes into Eastern North America, and the cranes that we are migrating through your area.

Come on out to the McDowell Methodist Church Sunday evening. Show time is 6:30pm in the church basement, with coffee, cider, apples and cookies on offer. About half way between Fairbury and Pontiac, the McDowell Methodist Church is just past the corner of 1400 N Road and 1800 E Road. (Rt. 24 west of Fairbury to 1800 E. Rd; N on 1800 E Rd. to 1400 N. Rd. East on 1400 N. Rd few hundred yards to McDowell Methodist Church.)

Our thanks to Sara Hostetter for pulling this event together.

Date: November 11, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Geoff Tarbox
Subject:AN 'ALMOST' DAYLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

We hope you can appreciate Geoff’s entry, much of which he obviously spent writing with his tongue in his cheek (either that or seven consecutive down days have finally done him in).

Today we came dangerously close to making progress to Florida. Caleb and I went out to the pen to get it ready for this dreaded, impending disaster. I somberly knocked down the inner electric fence while Caleb grimly undid the rope holding the release panels. We could feel the icy breath of progress creep down our spines when some silver lighting parted the foreboding clouds.

As I worked on the electric fence, I could hear the pilots on the radio remark that air was trashy up in the sky. They tried not to sound too pessimistic, but they weren't fooling a soul. Next, all three of the pilots noticed their airspeeds were steadily dropping. But that wasn't enough to get us out of actually migrating.

But lo, an angel was sitting on our shoulders when Brooke realized that winds were only going to get worse the longer they stayed up there. The clouds had parted! The threat of migrating had been vanquished! It's been years since we finished migration by Thanksgiving, but not on our watch. At least for today, we were spared a fate worse than death.

However, our birds probably still carry this foolish notion that they're actually supposed to fly. Birds like 1-11, 3-11, 5-11 and 11-09, should know better. But these last few flights, it seems they've lost all common sense and flown with our perennial problem children, 4-11, 7-11 and 12-11. So with the damage done there, Brooke, Caleb and I figured we might as well let the birds out and get some exercise.

I can remember the good old days when I could open the gates to their pen and the birds would stare at you blankly - like I’d just asked them the hardest question out of an advanced physics book. Now they just run out without a second thought and start flapping around the field. Hmph. Kids, I tell you. And don't get me started on how eight of them took off right away. They must've been up there for at least a minute and a half. Show-offs.

However, once the birds landed, Brooke noticed that one of the cranes was still circling around in the air. Every now and then he would see him appear and disappear over the tree line. In a corner of my mind dawned the realization that I hadn't seen 11-05. Caleb and I frantically started counting the birds on the ground, coming up with each eight each time.

Once we realized there was no miscount, we threw on our vocalizers and started looking behind the pen trailer for him. Finally, I could see him too, appearing from behind another tree line and flying from west to east before vanishing from view once more.

As Brooke pointed out, it looked like he was contemplating flying without us. Unless he was looking for the trike, none of us could comprehend what madness would drive a bird to such a ruinous fate. Especially from 5-11, who we thought we could depend on to see through our charade.

Whether it was because he couldn't find the trike, he missed his buddies, or he regained his common sense, he decided he belonged in Livingston County with the rest of us. There will be no free-thinking like that if we can help it.

Once all nine birds were accounted for, Brooke, Caleb, and I ran them up and down the field. Sometimes, four or five of them would run or flap after us. More often or not, they just looked at us like we were speaking in tongues. As long as they're on the ground where they belong, all is right with the world. I'm always impressed by Caleb's (misguided) enthusiasm. He gets into the act, jumping up and down, flapping his sleeves like noodle-y wings. Such ambitious nonsense.

Before we put them all away, all the birds except 1-11 decided to check out and take to the skies once more. This time, they had the audacity to fly off to the north, and disappear into another field. The whole scene reminded me of when we let the birds out for some exercise at the Canfield site in Necedah back in 2009. Bev and I watched as the birds disappeared behind a copse of trees and became almost became specks in the sky. Thankfully, they remembered they were OM birds, and they all came back.

Today was no exception. After a minute or so of patiently baited breath, they came back; a couple at a time, right back into the pen. Clearly, we have these birds right where we want them. And the weather's finally cooperating with us and saving us the trouble of guiding these birds to favorable wintering grounds in Florida.

I've just typed a page and a half trying to 'make lemonade out of lemons'. But it’s not working. Oh well.

We got all birds back safe and sound. No birds are attempting to migrate aimlessly without us. There must be weather ahead that will be kinder to us than that of the past few days. At least we're still ahead of where we were in 2009. I'm not so sure we're ahead of last year any more. If we're still in Illinois by Thanksgiving, I'll know for sure.

Until we actually can fly, I might as well kill time by playing a game where I'm trying to escape an elaborate laboratory controlled by a sadistic super computer. My only weapons are my wits, and a gun that opens portals to anywhere I want (almost).

No luck on getting one that can takes us to Florida though. But you all will be the first to know if I find one.

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Date: November 11, 2011 - Entry - 2Reporter: Joe Duff

The level of anxiety and stress, in the crew and the birds, is directly proportionate to the speed of the wind and the length of time it blows.

We have been hunkered down in Livingston County Illinois outside of the town of Pontiac for a week. This is prairie farm country, and at this time of year most of the crops have been harvested. That leaves nothing to inhibit the wind except the square sides of our motorhomes and trailers, and some nights they buffet like small craft on high seas. In fact sitting at this table typing on my computer almost requires a Dramamine. (Gravol for all us Canadians)

It’s during extended stays like this that we most admire our hosts. We arrived here en masse last Friday and plugged into every outside receptacle they have. We filled their yard with trucks and trailers and their implement shed with aircraft. One of the bays of their garage has been converted to a family room complete with a wood stove and a TV. They generously allow us to use it for team dinners and a little recreation, and even supplied a few meals for the entire crew. Like most people in this area, they are gracious and hospitable despite our long stay.

With our aircraft secure, our motorhomes tied down, and the birds in a safe place, this is a good spot to be stuck. But after days of wind and rain, the anxiety level increases regardless of the surroundings. Our job is migrating and it is hard to change that focus.

For the last few days, our hopes for progress have been pinned on today. As the weather systems battle over this section of prairie, today was supposed to be a brief cease-fire. Very fitting considering today is Canada's Remembrance Day and the USA's Veterans Day. That’s when we celebrate the end of World War I, on the 11th hour --of the 11th day-- of the 11th month in 1918.

But the break in the weather wasn’t as final as the signing of the Armistice. In fact the wind was still blowing, albeit lighter than it has for the last week. Never a team to miss an opportunity, we said our goodbyes and sincere thank yous, and pushed the aircraft out. We took off and turned on course to check how long it would take us to get to the next stop.

All three of us hung in the air and watched as our GPS units told us our speed over the ground was only 22 miles per hour. The air was smooth and cold at 29 degrees, but it was moving in the wrong direction. From the forecast, we already knew that the winds at our destination were stronger, so we had to admit that it would only get worse. We few around hoping there were other options at different altitudes, but the only way to make the GPS numbers read higher was to fly in the opposite direction.

Even that attempt, as futile as it was, brightened our attitudes. A short but failed attempt to do what we are here to do is better than no chance at all.

Enrichment is a term the zoo keepers use to describe improving the environment of captive animals. Toys and other distractions are often used to relieve the boredom. We use pumpkins and corn cobs to achieve the same result for our cranes. We let the birds out today for a little enrichment. They flew around the field and worked off some of the stress of being stationary for too long.

Maybe today’s exercise was a little enrichment for the crew as well. A chance to prepare for departure and to fly around a little to at least pretend we were on our way.

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Date: November 11, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 34 - DOWN DAY 7Location: Livingston Cty, IL

It was a week ago today that we flew from LaSalle to Livingston County, and despite an attempt to put another migration leg behind us this morning, it appears we'll be here for at least another day... or two.

This morning's wind conditions were not favorable as far as direction was concerned, but they tempted us with the lower velocity than we'd been seeing.

All three trikes launched to test conditions at different altitudes aloft. While we stood watching from the departure flyover viewing site, the ultralights flew not far off at staggered heights. The crowd of Craniacs and I listened in on the pilot chat over the aviation radio and it didn't sound very promising. At best, where they found some smooth air, they could only make about 20 to 22mph. With conditions even less attractive at destination and knowing they would progressively worsen as the morning wore on, the pilot consensus was it was a no-go.

With that decision made, all that was left to do was for everyone to 'head for the barn,' and in short order all the crew in our various vehicles were back in camp. Brooke and the interns immediately headed for the pensite to check the cranes and let them out for some exercise.

Under normal circumstances when we are down, we let them out for some exercise every third day. That hasn't been an option here because of the ferocious wind we've had day after day, but with the cold temp and lighter winds this morning it was decided to give it a try. Walter was put on standby in the tracking van and Richard with his trike just in case they got 'any funny ideas'.

Among the folks at the flyover was nearby neighbor Sara Hostetter (who allows us to use her property for off-road parking for the departure flyover). Sara has agreed to try and find a venue for us to give a special presentation to local residents interested in learning about the project and Operation Migration's role in reintroducing Whooping cranes to eastern North America. Once arranged, we'll post information about this right here in the Field Journal so keep an eye out here for further news.

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Date: November 10, 2012 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Looking at the forecast for tomorrow we don't see what we'd describe as a potentially great opportunity for a flight. It is more like a giant maybe, but it is about the best looking day of the several that follow so....

Assuming the current projections hold or don't get worse, it is possible we'll put a test trike up - and then cross our fingers that the conditions found aloft are favorable for a flight.

Click here to find the departure flyover location from Livingston County. If there's a chance of us flying we'll see you there. REMEMBER, you could make the trip for naught as even we won't know if it is a go or not right up until flight time - that is, shortly after sunrise.

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Date: November 10, 2011 - Entry 3 Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:WILL 2-11 MOVE?Location: Livingston Cty, IL

In an email just in from Tom Schultz, (who has been keeping an eye out for errant 2-11) we learned that Green Lake County, WI was on the receiving end of seven inches of snow yesterday. Tom suspects that Waushara County, the last known location of 2-11, would have received much the same snowfall.

This being the case, there could be a mass exodus of cranes - both Whoopers and Sandhills, once the current unfavorable migrating conditions take a turn for the better.

It remains to be seen if 2-11 will migrate with the Sandhills she has been associating with, and that Tom seems to think will first head for Jasper-Pulaski in Indiana as a waypoint. Hopefully our young Whooper will depart with her adopted Sandhill friends and they will soon continue far enough south to find food and warmth.

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Date: November 10, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:LA WHOOPING CRANESLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Headlined, "A Biologist Decries Slaying of Whooping Cranes," an article by Andrew Revkin that appeared in The Opinion Pages of the NY Times carries a message from John French, Research Manager at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, MD.

Use the link above to read John's poignant commentary about the sixth and seventh shooting deaths of Whooping cranes raised at his Patuxent facility.

Five of the seven Whooping cranes shot over the past 4 years (1 in Indiana in 2008, 3 in Georgia and 1 in Alabama in early 2011) were part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership's project to reintroduce migratory Whooping cranes to eastern North America. The most recent shooting resulted in the mortality of two of the ten young cranes that were part of an attempt to restore a non-migratory population of Whoopers to Louisiana.

Thanks to Sara Zimorski, Wildlife Biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, we can correct some information we previously provided about the LA cranes here in the Field Journal, and also add to it.

In her note to us, Sara said, " It is true that there are likely only four of our original 10 birds still alive, but two of them are technically missing." She noted that while it is presumed the two missing cranes are mortalities, they don't have any evidence of them being dead. Here is the current status of the 10 young cranes released this past February at While Lake, Louisiana.

L1 – Had been with the two birds that were found shot. She disappeared and her transmitter stopped working at the same time the two birds were killed. She is still missing and as it is suspected that "something bad happened to her" it is believed she is likely dead.

L2 – Still alive and associating with L4.

L3 – Still alive, by himself.

L4 – Still alive and associating with L2.

L5 – Still alive, by herself.

L6 – Missing. Her transmitter stopped working and she has not been seen or reported, so while there is no evidence of her mortality, it is suspected that she is dead.

L7 Had always flown with one leg hanging down but it never bothered her when she walked so she was just monitored. In June a local landowner reported seeing her and indicated she was sick or injured. She was captured and found to be emaciated. When she was put into the pen she sometimes had an issue while walking with the leg that dangled during flight. Her leg was not broken and no real reason to explain the leg problem or her emaciation was found. Unfortunately she developed a respiratory problem while she was being treated. That along with the fact that here leg showed no real improvement, and with only a slight weight gain is what led to the decision to euthanize her.

L8 – Shot and killed.

L9 – Dead, likely predation. Due to Mississippi River flooding in the spring the location couldn't be immediately accessed and by the time that could occur, hardly any remains were found.

L10 – Shot and killed.

Click here to read a host of postings about the new Louisiana population.

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Date: November 10, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 33 - DOWN DAY 6Location: Livingston Cty, IL

We have 34 degrees this morning, but with the wind chill it feels like 24. That's a great temperature for flying with birds, but the delivery vehicle for that colder temperature is a west wind gusting to 18mph. Aloft it is much the same, but the wind up top approaches close to double the velocity.

With the drop in temperature any precipitation that falls today is more likely to be snow than rain, and the weatherman says there is a 20% chance of that happening.

Today will be Down Day 6 in Livingston County, IL, topping the previous longest stay at this location of five days in 2009.

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Date: November 9, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Both the short and long range forecasts couldn't look much worse for the cranes and planes waiting for an opportunity to return to the sky.

As far out as the weather models go at present, all are painting a picture of very strong winds, and with a minor exception, all coming from the wrong direction. If the projections are correct and nothing changes, we could be spending a LOT more time in Livingston County.

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Date:November 9, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:NEW REFUGE VISIONLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Excerpt from the November BIRDING COMMUNITY E-BULLETIN

"Earlier this year, readers of the E-bulletin were told about the planning for last summer's Refuge Vision Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, a process to benefit the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Last month, the finalized vision document, “Conserving the Future: Wildlife Refuges and the Next Generation,” was released. This document represents the result of 18 months of study and public conversation about conservation and the strategy for the Refuge System over the next decade.

Among its most vital points, this 21st-century strategic vision for the Refuge System acknowledges that the nation’s population has grown "larger and more diverse … and the landscape for conservation has changed—there is less undeveloped land, more invasive species, and we are experiencing the impacts of a changing climate."

The document's final recommendations incorporate extensive suggestions from the public, with implementation expected to be largely complete within about five years. Birds, of course, are essential to the plan, and birding also has a role to play. Read more...

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Date: November 9, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 32 - DOWN DAY 5Location: Livingston Cty, IL

Have you ever been sedately driving along in the centre lane of a three-lane highway only to have two giant semis roar up, one on each side, and then barrel by buffeting your miniature by comparison vehicle? Then you know what it feels and sounds like in our motorhome this morning as it is pummeled by +30mph gusts.

There isn't much of anything that can make us feel better about being stuck on the ground with contrary winds. However, that doesn't mean we don't look for something that might do that. So it was this morning that after five days of waking to the whoosh and bellows of Illinois' infernal wind machine, I was driven to check out the timeline of previous migrations to find some consolation, however small.

What did I find? On Migration Day 32 in 2010 we were one leg further along than we are this year. BUT, while we had already reached our next stopover site in Piatt County, we'd by then also racked up four Down Days there, and it would be six mornings later before we had the weather to again move on. Small consolation to be found there, so I scrolled back even further.

Two years ago on Migration Day 32 we were one stopover short of our current location, and, if you'd come looking for us in 2008 on Day 32 you would have found us two stops behind in Winnebago County.

Somehow I had the thought that these kind of findings would make me feel better - if only marginally - about not advancing again today. Nope.

Date: November 8, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Illinois is on its way to earning a new nickname... Illwind-inois. It appears that tomorrow is going to serve up the same tired old meal we've had for the past few days; strong southerly winds flavored with rain and garnished with thunder. We're ready and anxious for a menu change!!

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Date: November 8, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:PEN LIFELocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Below are a couple photos of 'life at the pen'.

Note that #1 has been given a "love bite" part way down his neck. (that spot of ruffled feathers) I just knew it was a bad idea to show the chicks the movie "Dracula" on Halloween - but they seemed to be so bored. Seriously, being stuck in a pen for long periods of time can result in unwanted aggression, so we give them pumpkins and corn treats in the hope of avoiding that situation.

Not that being down is easy on the crew either. Perhaps that's why every one is wearing a turtle neck shirt these days!

Date: November 8, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 31 - DOWN DAY 4Location: Livingston Cty, IL

The threat of an approaching thunderstorm along with the expected south winds will give us yet another day on the ground in Livingston County.

Just in - a challenge from Craniacs C & J of North Florida. They will match up to 10 MileMaker miles - or parts thereof - that are sponsored by NEW MileMakers.

So c'mon all you folks that aren't already MileMaker sponsors, this is your chance to double the value of your contribution and at the same time guarantee another 20 miles of this fall's migration of the Class of 2011 is funded.

And there's a bonus! 2011 MileMaker sponsors have a chance to have their name drawn to receive a very special and unique thank you gift! OM's multi-talented pilot, Richard van Heuvelen has donated one of his fabulous metal crane chick sculptures for us to use as a Thank You gift! 

Richard's sculptures have sold for thousands of dollars, and you could be the lucky one to own one of his valuable and unique pieces of artwork. To see examples of Richard's phenomenal metal sculpture art visit his website, The Wooden Anvil.)

MileMaker Sponsors' names will be entered in the Thank You Gift Draw as follows: 1 entry per quarter mile | 2 entries per half mile | 4 entries per one mile sponsorship

As an extra thank you for your support, we'll send you a secret link where you can select a beautiful E-Calendar image to display on your laptop or PC desktop! Each month beginning with May 2011 through to March 2012 features a full color photograph with calendar overlay.

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Date: November 7, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

Not fair! The winds swung around to come out of the NNE this afternoon - while it rained on us. By what will be flight time tomorrow morning they will be back to coming strong out of the SSE on the surface and SSW aloft. With that forecast in mind we're sure not expecting to vacate Livingston County tomorrow.

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Date: November 7, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

On the latest WCEP Information teleconference call we learned that 17-07 (the Whooping crane recently captured to remove a fishing line tangled around one leg) seemed to be improving based on the last time the crane was observed. WCEP tracker, Eva Szyszkoski, told us that while observing 17-07 on October 21st she could see that the bird was still not putting her full weight on the leg. She noted however that the bird seemed to have a better range of motion and she didn't seem to be using her wings to assist her to walk as much as she had before.

Other news shared was that DAR37-07, which had not been found since the end of the spring 2011 migration, turned up in Jackson County, MI. This crane winters at Hiwassee in Tennessee, but his summering ground in Michigan has never been discovered.

As of last week it appeared that none of the older cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population had as yet begun their migration south. Eva noted that while the more mature birds were still sticking close to the Necedah refuge, some of the younger ones were doing a bit of pre-migration wandering, but as of this report, even that seemed to be taking place within about a 10 mile range of the refuge.

Seven of the eight 2011 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Whoopers released at the Horicon NWR on Friday, October 21st left that location on October 27th and moved to a small area of marshland in Dane County. There are some cut corn fields nearby where they are content to spend the day foraging before returning to the marsh habitat to roost in the evening with a few dozen Sandhills. The eighth DAR crane left Horicon two days later than his flockmates, but its location was unknown.

The newly reintroduced Louisiana Whooping crane population is believed to be down to four birds from the 10 released in February of 2011.

Mortality summary: One crane observed flying with a leg dangling was captured and when it was found that the leg was broken the bird was euthanized. Two cranes were lost, presumably to predation, when flood conditions displaced them from their usual habitat. The two cranes that were recently shot and killed were 'part of a trio', and the third crane has neither been found since, nor have any transmissions from its transmitter been picked up. Biologists on location feel it is likely that something has happened to that crane as well, as it is too young to be out there alone.

The next group of young cranes destined for Louisiana are scheduled to be shipped shortly after Thanksgiving. 16 or 17 captive-reared Whooping cranes will make the trip from the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland to White Lake, Louisiana via USFWS aircraft.

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Date: November 7, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 30 - DOWN DAY 3Location: Livingston Cty, IL

The strong winds that have kept us grounded for the past couple of days dropped off considerably overnight. It was still blowing around 3am, but by 4am it was like it was teasing us as it would go still and then gust.

If the winds were coming from any other direction (instead of south on the ground and WSW aloft) we'd be putting a test trike up. As it stands, we don't need a test flight to know our fate. Today will be Down Day 3 in Livingston County, IL.

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Date: November 6, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTING - #2-11 SIGHTED AGAINLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

We've been on the receiving end of high winds for the past two days and today we clocked gusts in excess of 25mph. While less strong, we expect to continue to be plagued by winds from the south tomorrow (SSW on the surface and WSW aloft). Without a miracle turnaround, it will undoubtedly be another no-fly day.

Tom Schultz emailed to let us know that #2-11 was once again sighted in the same field she was originally found foraging with Sandhills.

Tom watched her for about a half an hour this morning. He noted that he didn't see any direct interaction between the Whooper and the Sandhills. He did note however, that "they seemed quite comfortable with one another although the Sandhills did appear to move slowly out of the way if 2-11 happened to come close."

The picture here is compliments of Tom. Use this link to view the video he took this morning.

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Date: November 6, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

We know only too well the effect the state of the economy is having on all of us personally. And those same economic difficulties are impacting Whooping cranes.

But we can't explain to the Whooping cranes that times are tough... and the need for your financial support is greater than ever.

Your investment in this imperiled species ensures they will be around for our children and the children of tomorrow. Please help us preserve the wildlife you cherish and become a MileMaker sponsor today.

Perhaps you know someone you could email or telephone to encourage to join you as a MileMaker sponsor. All sponsors are acknowledged on our MileMaker Recognition Webpage. Every quarter, half, or one mile sponsorship brings the Class of 2011 that much closer to the safe haven of their Florida wintering grounds.






































This morning's 'pumpkin entertainment' is brought to you compliments of Livingston County resident, Julie Fosdick, who generously raided her pumpkin patch on behalf of the Class of 2011, and by Caleb, who snapped the photos below at roost check time yesterday evening when he delivered the treats.

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Date: November 6, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 29 - DOWN DAY 2Location: Livingston Cty, IL

Through the night there are several clues transmitted to us about we can expect in the morning. The roof of the motorhome is an acoustical marvel, magnifying any and all sounds, including of course the pitter-patter of rain. Then there is the rock-a-bye-baby motion as the wind buffets the boxes on wheels we call home.

One other clear signal as to what's happening outside comes to us from our propane furnaces. Last night they were almost completely silent, telling us the rock-a-bye-baby effect we were experiencing was the result of southerly winds delivering warm temperatures. Stepping outside at dark o'thirty to an almost balmy 50 degrees confirmed that.

Very strong wind from the south both on the surface and aloft (up to 45mph!) ensure the cranes and planes will spend a second down day in Livingston County.

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Date: November 5, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

I think we're going to be safe in saying there's no way we'll be able to fly tomorrow. There's going to be a system right over top of us by morning that will produce 15mph winds out of the south on the surface and winds blowing as much as 50 to 60mph aloft.

If you are planning on joining us for the departure flyover, here in Livingston County or any other spot along the migration route, check out this link for all the locations.

Maybe if everyone WHOOPED! all at once..... hint hint.

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Date: November 5, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

"Whooping Cranes Spotted All Along Migratory Route," was the headline in the latest update received from Chester McConnell on the Wood Buffalo-Aransas  Whooping crane population (WB/A P). Chester is with the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) and he has been posting all the news regarding that flock's fall activity on

According to this report, 128 of the guesstimated 300 cranes in the WB/A P, have been positively spotted ranging from North Dakota to Texas.

Martha C. Tacha, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Grand Island, Nebraska, said, “Lots of activity in the flyway since the last update a week ago. I'm sure the weather front that moved through the flyway recently will move the cranes some more!" Tacha added, "The cranes are still strung from North Dakota to Aransas, Texas but there are currently more cranes in Kansas and Oklahoma than last week.”

At least two Whooping crane families have lost a parent, particularly unfortunate given the flock may face a difficult winter at Aransas. Link to story. There was also some good news reported by spotters however. At least five families appear to be travelling with twins.

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Date: November 5, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 28 - DOWN DAY 1Location: Livingston Cty, IL

Drats. The weatherman was right. Strong winds out of the southeast is what he predicted and that's exactly what we've got. We're grounded in Livingston County.

We have more pictures to share with you from yesterday's departure flyover. These compliments of Chris and Charlie Linnell, who never miss LaSalle County flyover.

What a honey of a shot... Brooke with six of the Class of 2011 strung in a line off his right wing.

Richard approaches the departure flyover site with the watchful eye of top cover pilot Lou Cambier in his Cessna appearing in the background. Joe initially left flying ahead with Brooke and his six charges. This photo was taken on his way back to help Richard as he rounded up the reluctant three cranes.
Walter Sturgeon captured this photo shortly after Friday's launch from the pensite in LaSalle County. Walter took this shot from road as he and Bev Paulan followed along beneath the flight in the tracking van.
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Date: November 4, 2011 - Entry 4Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

It appears today's fly day will almost certainly be followed by a down day. The winds are swinging around to come out of the ESE on the ground and from the south aloft - both ratcheting up into double digits.

Once again I couldn't resist looking to see how our progress so far compared with other years. Here's how we stack up. In 2010 we arrived here in Livingston County on November 1st. That's three days earlier than this year. But in 2009 we didn't hit this stopover until November 21st. In 2008, the first year we flew this more westerly migration route, we managed a skip and flew from LaSalle County directly to Piatt County chalking up 114 air miles that day.

Now how's that for 'variety'?

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Date: November 4, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:LEAD PILOT REPORTLocation: Livingston Cty, IL

It was a dark and stormy night full of screaming winds and booming thunder. I rode the rocking camper as it swayed in the violent gusts. As I lay in my bunk thinking that there was no way we could fly in the morning, I realized it was all a nightmare, and as I came out of my slumber, it dawned that it was dead calm and quiet with bright moonlight streaming through the window. I looked at my watch and decided it was time to get up to seriously check weather.

First step to weather checking is opening the door. If it does not get pulled out of my hand, it is not windy. If my face stays dry, it is not raining. And so it was this morning - forecasting a potential fly day.

The weather was actually as good as it could be, and with short preparation we were ready to fly. It was my lead, so I took off first to check the winds. The surface winds were light out of the north---the right direction for today---and I wanted to make sure they were still light aloft. A slight headwind started at about 500 feet up, but not enough to preclude departure.

Joe and Richard departed while I landed to get ready for the release, and soon birds were let out of the pen and we were all on our way. All nine were following closely---too good to be true I thought, and sure enough, soon three birds were turning back.

Walt and Bev stayed under me in the tracking van as I continued south and Richard and Joe headed back to round-up the errant three, all watched over by Lou, our top cover pilot. Richard soon had the three rounded up and he and his charges headed south without further incident.

The rest of the flight was a simple effort of remaining seated and keeping the trike pointed in the right direction while the six chicks trailed off my left wing. As the wind farms sprouted up out of the flatness of the landscape, the chicks paid them no mind and followed effortlessly. The anticipation of encountering the wind farms was worse than the actual fact of it. No bird appeared the least bit fazed by the spinning turbines.

The hoped for a tail wind never materialized and a head wind was the order of the day. My speed slowed to a mere 20 miles per hour at one point. The landscape of Illinois passed slowly beneath me, but soon enough the farm with the pre-set up pen appeared and we fought our way down through trashy air to a muddy landing.

Richard was moments behind me, and within five minutes all the chicks were taking turns at feeders and water pails. After securing the electric fence we again took off and headed for camp. It appears that migration is returning to normal----if there is such a thing.

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Date:November 4, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter:Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 27 Location:Livingston Cty, IL
Air Miles:


Accum Miles:


From - To:

LaSalle County to Livingston County, IL

A great flight today with all nine of the Class of 2011 making the entire journey under their own steam. Brooke lead six from start to finish, and Richard brought up the rear with the other three but it took some convincing. He had a crane rodeo there for a while before he convinced them it was 'get out of Dodge' time.

We were lucky again today to have Lou Cambier fly top cover for us. Lou flew down from Winnebago County to our stopover location in LaSalle for this morning's launch, and he kept an eye on our pilots and their charges for the flight to Livingston County. Thanks Lou!!! See you next year.

The crowd at the departure flyover site in the town of Sheridan this morning had a marvelous view - or I should say - views. We watched first as Brooke and his six cranes flew past, and then everyone hung in there to wait for the last three. Despite the rocky start, Richard managed to lead #3, 5, and 9 directly over our heads giving folks a terrific photo op. Thanks to the Craniacs who came out to the flyover - it was super seeing everyone again.

And thanks go to Laura Rowan for sending along this great photo of Richard leading #3, 5, and 9 to share with you.


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Date: November 4, 2011Reporter:Heather Ray
Subject:AND THEY'RE OFF!Location:Main Office

At 7:52 CT today's lead pilot, Brooke Pennypacker launched with the group of nine cranes from the LaSalle County, IL stopover. Shortly after take-off, three birds broke away but were quickly rounded up by Richard van Heuvelen.

That was 90 minutes ago and we're not sure if they're skipping a stopover or not, so be sure to tune in later to find out. The CraneCam is streaming live - CLICK to watch.

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Date:November 3, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: LaSalle Cty, IL

The forecast calls for the inclement weather to leave us before the morning, and the surface winds to be both from a favorable direction and doable. If there is going to be a fly in the ointment, it will be what waits for us aloft. Right now the prediction is for strong winds aloft - maybe too strong - maybe not - perhaps just trashy.

It looks like it will be a test trike morning....

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Date: November 3, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

The story below, published online by on October 27th, definitely falls in the 'don't believe everything you read' category. It illustrates how difficult it can be to get a story across to journalists, much less to have the facts recounted accurately, as well as why none of us should believe everything we read.

Below is the article in its entirety. The comments [in parenthesis] are ours.

Title: Whooping cranes hit obstacles during migration [hit obstacles?]
Wildlife officials said they have hit another stumbling block while teaching young whooping cranes to migrate. [stumbling block?]

According to Bay News 9's partner paper, the Citrus County Chronicle, officials said the 18 cranes [10, not 18] took off from Wisconsin on Oct. 9 and have made it less than 20 miles so far. [47 miles as of Oct. 27, not 20]

On top of that, officials are now searching for a missing bird.

The plan is for the cranes to follow an ultralight aircraft to Florida. Some will go to the Panhandle, while the rest will migrate to the Chassahowitzka Wildlife area. [Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge]

This is the eleventh group of young birds to be part of the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership migration, a coalition whose goal is to reintroduce the whooping cranes in eastern North America. Officials said that the birds have only made it to Citrus County in four of the past 10 years. [have been led to and released in Citrus County every year for 10 years.]

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Date: November 3, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie / Brooke Pennypacker
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 26 - DOWN DAY 3Location: LaSalle Cty, IL

The very high winds along with lots of rain overnight carried right on into the morning. We are still being 'showered', and the corn stalks in the fields surrounding us are bowed over with the force of the wind.

During our days of going no where, Brooke took the time to pen a posting for the Field Journal and provided some photos taken at our campsite at White River Marsh and other locations to prove his point.

DOWN TIME by Brooke Pennypacker
There’s a Wisconsin farmer’s saying , “If you can get into it, you’re going to get under it.”, meaning if you can drive it…,be it car, truck or piece of farm machinery, it’s eventually going to break and you’re going to have to fix it.

On migration, we put the collective seat of our pants into a lot of rolling stock. With three motor homes, one travel trailer, a slide in camper, an equipment trailer, two pen trailers, two pickup trucks, two vans, and three trikes, all we need to qualify for the Carnival Tax Credit is the Ferris Wheel and the barrel of water for the taunting clown to splash into when the ball hits the bulls eye.

Crawling under any one of these things is like diving into the Undersea World of Jacque Cousteau. Hard to believe that right down there under our very bottoms lies an alien world; a veritable galaxy of pipes and lines, bearings and jacks, things that support and transport great loads and work ever so wonderfully - -  right up until the time they don’t.

For weeks and months and years they lie quietly under there until that time when they suddenly and unexpectedly go into full rebellion mode and cry out for attention. It is then we are forced to enter that twilight world of “Down Time”.  Here are a few pictures to prove it.

Above: Caleb makes repairs to the White Van.
Below: Joe, with the help of a stopover host, repairs a bent coupling off the Sierra travel trailer.
Above: David changes the oil on the Dodge truck.
Below: Walter fixes the cabinet locks and closures on the Jamboree motorhome.
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Date: November 2, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: LaSalle Cty, IL

Looking at what the weatherman says he has in store for us for a while leads me to think that I'm going to get very tired of typing 'LaSalle County'. The wind conditions for tomorrow look like they will be even worse that the past two days - blowing into the 20mph range and above. That would make the chances of advancing a migration leg non-existent.

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Date: November 2, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Liz Condie

Thanks to Bill Brooks of the USFWS Jacksonville, FL office for making us aware of an article that appeared in the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times. The piece, written by journalist Mark Collette, is titled, “Red tide a concern as whooping cranes land at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.”

Use this link to Mr. Collette’s story.

We've also had several links sent to us by various people relating to other news that could potentially affect the migrating Wood Bufflao/Aransas population. It appears that an argument rages.

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Date: November 2, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 25 - DOWN DAY 2Location: LaSalle Cty, IL

Double digit wrong-way winds will keep the planes and cranes on the ground in LaSalle County for a second day.

Thanks to Chester McConnell of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) for alerting us to the latest news on the Wood Buffalo/Aransas Whooping crane population.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge officials report that the first Whooping cranes of the 2011 migration season have arrived and have been observed in several locations. There is no count as yet, but at least one pair and one sub-adult have been recorded.

Chester noted that a few cranes still remain at Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada's Northwest Territories. However, he said, " The WCCA has received reports of Whooper sightings from 17 cooperators telling of birds from Saskatchewan, Canada to Aransas, Texas.

According to Robert Russell, bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in St. Paul, MN the Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) population of whooping cranes rebounded from 263 in the spring of 2010 to 279 in the spring of 2011. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size may reach record levels of around 300 this fall.

Excerpts from the WCCA release...
"While there have been many studies of Whooping crane travels, wildlife biologists still do not know all they need to about migration routes. With more wind farms and other developments occurring in the migration paths, more precise information is needed. Twelve Whooping crane juveniles were captured in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2011 for attachment of radio-tracking devices, bringing the total number of radioed birds to 23. The radio signals are used to track movement of the birds. According to personnel of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge none of the 22 radio-tagged birds in the flock had arrived there as of Friday October 28.

Habitat conditions at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are fair. Park Ranger David True said recent rainfall of about 2 inches has replenished drinking water sources for the Whoopers for the present. Other refuge personnel confirmed that about 20 ponds created by windmill pumps are available for the birds to drink. The Whooping crane flock will also will benefit from prescribed burns across almost 10,000 acres of the refuge this year. Natural foods found on the burned areas supplement the primary blue crab diet found in the saline marsh areas. The prescribed burn acres make it easier for the cranes to find prey, and they feed on creatures that perish in the fires.

While the current habitat conditions are improved, "More rainfall would be useful" according to Ranger True. Rainfall is essential to restore fresh water inflows to Aransas Refuge and create proper conditions for blue crabs and other aquatic animals used as food by Whooping cranes.

While the Whooper population is on the rebound, current threats to the flock are also increasing. In Texas threats to Whooper habitat include land development, reduced freshwater inflows, the spread of black mangrove along coastal areas, the long-term decline of blue crab populations, sea level rise, land subsidence, and wind farm and power line construction in the migration corridor. While the Canadian nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories Canada are relatively safe, the migratory Whooping cranes must have both their summer and winter habitats which are about 2,400 miles apart.

The WCCA has initiated a habitat protection program to improve the winter habitats in the vicinity of Aransas NWR on the Texas coast. James Lewis, WCCA Treasurer, reported in “Grus Americana” (May 2011 issue) that the Association approved expenditures of $286,750 to acquire three tracts of private land currently used by Whooping cranes. The three sites are located within the lands designated as Critical Habitat wintering areas along the Texas coast and are considered essential to the conservation and recovery of Whooping cranes."

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Date: November 1, 2011 - Entry 3Reporter: Liz Condie
Subject: PREDICTINGLocation: LaSalle Cty, IL

It appears quite likely that we will be spending a second day on the ground in LaSalle County. Much like today, the winds are forecast to be contrary and strong. The good news is however, Friday is looking promising.

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Date: November 1, 2011 - Entry 2Reporter: Linda Boyd
Subject: The Epic Flight of Whooper 5-11Location: LaSalle Cty, IL

Note: Catching up on another Field Journal entry.

What luck! How many people get a chance to fly in the top cover plane. That was my luck the day OM flew the migration leg from Columbia County to Green County, WI. I slid into my seat and immediately top cover pilot, Lou Cambier, taxied his Cessna onto the runway and we were off into the air.

Before I knew it, we were looking down on a beautiful fall landscape with just enough mist in the low lying areas to make it look like a magical realm. Then we saw the real magic; an ultralight aircraft seemingly suspended in the morning air with several of our Whoopers scurrying behind it like baby ducks catching up to mom.

Brooke with his charges was already out of sight, so it was Richard right below us with five beautiful birds. Joe was also out of our sight, but we knew he was positioned high in back, waiting to come in and pick up any stray birds. Soon all three ultralights were shepherding birds to Green County—a great start to a migration day.

At one point, one of Brooke's birds broke away. He circled back to find it but couldn't, and he worried that the other two birds he had on his wing would also break off or, at the very least, be somewhat confused about what they were about. With this in mind, he headed off for Green County, and called top cover to locate the break-away bird. Immediately we got on that task.

I was soon wishing we were looking for a needle in a haystack — at least the needle doesn't move. For some tense minutes we searched the air below, when, (out of the blue), Lou saw a white bird flying all by itself far below us. It didn't take long to see the black flight feathers tipping the wings and we knew we had our young crane.

We radioed down to Goeff and Caleb on the ground telling them where the bird was, where it was headed, and our best guess of how they could get there. Except... that the bird was still flying and as fast as we told the interns where he was headed, he'd change course. Nailing Jello to a wall would have been easier. Nonetheless, this pattern proved to be our modus operandi for the next two hours — an impossibly long time (it seemed to me) for a young Whooper to fly. The young colt was flap-flying which takes a lot more energy than soaring with the wind. Picture an Olympic swimmer doing the butterfly, but for two hours!

Lou did incredible maneuvers with his plane to keep the bird in sight despite the bird constantly changing direction. Anything seemed to make him switch directions; an approaching highway, a village. Who knows what was influencing his seemingly random path.

Meanwhile, on the ground, the interns were 'flying' in their vehicle trying to keep pace with our updates on which direction to go. Several times we had the feeling the young colt was tiring. Its flying pace was slackening off, and we felt sure he would land. But no, whether spooked by something he saw or heard on the ground, he would pick up his pace. We imagined the young bird in a panic, desperately looking for his fellow birds, an ultralight, the pen, anything that he was familiar with.

Finally, he circled a field, slowly descended, and at last landed. Happiness that our bird was now down and retrievable turned to apprehension when we realized he had landed among several Sandhill cranes. The the unfamiliarity of the costumes flush the Sandhills taking our young Whooper with them as #2-11 did earlier this week? Or, would his tie to us still be sufficiently strong?

In suspense, Lou and I watched from above as the interns, their vehicle parked out of sight and the crate tucked into the trees, walked around the treeline and came into view. At last Whooper and interns could see each other. It seemed to me like an eternity passed before the bird made its move. Thankfully, it rushed to the interns. A heartwarming greeting on both sides seemed to be taking place on the ground and we circled the happy scene until we could see that the bird was in its crate.

Then, we flew off—mission accomplished. Lou set me down on the airfield in Columbia County and sailed off toward the horizon. I then set out in my RV for a more mundane, down-to-earth journey by road to our stop in Green County. And thus, passed another unforgettable day on migration.

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Date: November 1, 2011 - Entry 1Reporter: Liz Condie / Joe Duff
Subject:MIGRATION DAY 24 - DOWN DAY 1Location: LaSalle Cty, IL

Double digit wrong-way winds will keep the planes and cranes on the ground today. Had we been able to fly to Livingston County this morning we would be right on track with last season's migration progress. On the other hand, we're still well ahead of the timeline for 2009 when we didn't make it to Livingston until November 20th.

Note: Between it being a Down Day today and having a somewhat reliable internet connection at this location, we hope to be able to catch readers up today with Field Journal updates.

ACCORDING TO THE PLAN - by Joe Duff (Flight Green County, WI to Winnebago County, IL)
Even a well written plan can never anticipate the many variables that reality has in store. No matter how many contingencies are described, or details added, it’s just so much paper when it happens in real life. That doesn’t mean that a plan isn’t important. Our protocol is volumes long, but it is almost impossible to document everything that might happen while flying with birds. The flight from Green County, Wisconsin to Winnebago County, Illinois was a rare exception to that rule.

The frost was heavy in the early morning, but we had our wing covers in place and they did their job. We warmed the engines before pulling them off and were airborne before it had a chance to re-form despite the 25 degree temperature. The pen in Green County is at the end of a short runway that is cut from a hay field on top of a hill. It runs a couple of hundred feet before dropping off into steep gully. It is long enough, but there isn’t much room to spare.

I gave the thumbs up to Geoff and Caleb and they opened the pen gates. Although we have released these birds to fly at least a hundred times, they all meandered out as if they didn’t know what to expect. The two handlers climbed into the enclosed pen trailer to avoid distracting the birds, but they still stood there as if wondering what to do next. I revved the engine and tried to aim the prop blast in their direction. That has the same effect as wind in their face and usually gets them moving in the right direction. Normally I would taxi down the runway so they could see that the aircraft was leaving but I didn’t have that much room left, so there we sat.

Geoff popped out of the trailer with his swamp monster costume on and off they went. Because they were in front of me and I couldn’t risk running into them I lagged behind, but once they were off the ground I took off and caught up. This let me move in from behind and collect them all. We headed on course and they fell into position on the wing. Three left broke and circled the pen but I kept going with six birds while Brooke moved in to gather the rest. (Photo below compliments of Nan Rudd)

The air was rough for the first few hundred feet and we bounced along with Richard out in front of me to give them more incentive to follow. We climbed slowly and passed right over the crowd gathered on the hill at the flyover site. Lou Cambier was flying top cover for us and had Jess Thompson along as his spotter. Lou stayed back with Brooke who gathered the three and headed on course.

Once I reached calm air at 400 feet, Richard turned back to help Brooke while I carried on with all six birds in a perfect line off one wing.

About 5 miles from the departure point #6 left Brooke’s wing and disappeared. Brooke did a circle but could not find him. Lou and Richard spotted the bird headed on his way back and Richard moved in to collect him. With two aircraft and the rest of the birds ahead of him, #6 finally decided to stay with Richard as he climbed to smooth air.

Despite the less than picture perfect departure, the rest of the flight worked like a ‘paper plan’. We climbed to 1,000 feet and were pushed along at a ground speed of almost 60 miles per hour. It only took us 37 minutes to reach our destination and we circled a few times before landing. The birds walked straight into the pen and we tucked the aircraft into the hangar. By mid morning we were finished and all that remained was to relocate our camp.

Sometime things works like the plan --- but not often.

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