Still Windy

Today will mark 9 days since we arrived at this migration stop and with winds continuing to blow too strong and from the wrong direction, it looks like we’ll be here for another day.

Winds aloft are blowing between 15 - 20 knots.

Winds aloft are blowing between 15 – 20 knots.

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Flying in Formation

Flying is not like driving. Passing a few feet from a car, traveling at highway speed, going in the opposite direction is so common we are not even motivated enough to put two hands on the steering wheel, let alone stop texting. However, aircraft passing within a half mile of each other have the full attention of both pilots. Formation flying in air shows is an entirely different discipline requiring precision and talent.

Flying with birds has its own challenges but does not have the same consequences as a mid-air collision with another aircraft. In fact, we often bump each other without damage to the bird or the trike. It’s more like bumping shoulders with your walking partner as you navigate uneven ground. That proximity to another flying object is one of the most distressing challenges for first time pilots recruited onto the team.

Formation flying with birds is equal measures of art and science. The art is in reading the clues the birds provide and knowing how we can make their work easier. That requires subtle changes to speed and altitude and indicates when we can climb and when we need to glide. The science is not so intuitive.

An aircraft wing is shaped to produce low pressure on its upper surface and increased pressure below. The slightly compressed air below tries to move around the tip to fill the void above and it creates  vortices that rolls out past the wing tip and up, clockwise on the left and counter clockwise on the right. In smooth air, it produces a steady and dependable airflow that our cranes soon learn to use to their advantage. Find the right spot and they are carried along like a bicycle racer slipstreaming the leader who is using up his energy at a faster rate. In the right conditions, the birds close to our wings can glide effortlessly.

Flying in a 'V' or chevron with Whooping cranes.

Flying in a ‘V’ or chevron with Whooping cranes.

Many people still believe that the “V” formation flight of geese and cranes is a sign of nature’s wiser ways and that they take turns leading to share the workload. It is true that the lead bird is doing the most work. With every down stoke of his wings, he creates a swirl of air off his wing tips similar to the little eddy that is generated by a canoe paddle as you pull it through the water. The bird behind can feel the lift that swirl provides and it learns to follow at just the exact spot to take advantage. His wing beats add to the vortices like a well timed pump of the knees can make a swing carry you higher. Each successive bird down the line creates more free lift for the birds behind and each one pushes his way forward until he reaches a spot where he is not strong enough to overtake the bird ahead but stronger than the one behind. If that bird gets tired, it may drop back a few positions and ride on the stronger wake. Like a bicycle racer, it may regain its strength and bully its way forward again.

This ability to feel the lift created by the bird in front gives the flock a common endurance. Strong birds take the lead and weaker birds find their place in the order, all the way to the back of the line where the weakest bird is getting the most assistance. By this process, birds of different strengths can keep up with the leader and the flock can stay together.

Unlike our wings that produce a constant flow of air in our wake, wild birds produce a pulse with each wing beat. Not only must the bird behind find the right spot to take advantage of the wake, but it must also match the wing beat rate of the bird ahead, like stepping in the foot prints of the person you are following. It requires perfect timing and refined flying skills but it come as natural to them as walking does to us. The misconception in this theory is that this process is not based on workload sharing. The birds flying in a V formation are not helping each other with good intentions. Instead, it is based on dominance. The lead bird is the most aggressive and generally the strongest, but only until the extra effort takes its toll and it losses the lead. So maybe it is like driving after all.

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Migration Day 9

Will be spent on the ground in Marquette County, WI.

Sometimes you can tell before you even roll out of bed that it won’t be a migration day. Such was the case this morning when I heard the unmistakable sound of raindrops on the metal roof of the motorhome.

Rain will keep us grounded today.

Rain will keep us grounded today.

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Time To Move On (NOT)

The weather forecasters said this morning’s conditions would be a light breeze from the north. That’s NOT, however, what was delivered. Winds on the surface and aloft were from the west and stronger than what they were supposed to be.

Despite this, an attempt was made to lead the cranes to Columbia County, WI. Unfortunately, the birds refused to fly in the trashy conditions and eventually all were returned to our Marquette County stopover.

It’s been a very busy day as we finally relocated our camp from the White River Marsh area to where the cranes are penned.

Here are some images captured this morning during the attempted migration flight.


Today’s lead pilot, Richard van Heuvelen taxis into position in front of the crane pen while Colleen and Geoff wait for his signal to release the cranes. Joe, in the chase aircraft circles high and to the east.

Initially all seven cranes formed up on Richard trike. Richard reported later that Peanut (4-14) was the second bird in the line.

Initially all seven cranes formed up on Richard trike. Richard reported later that Peanut (4-14) was the second bird in the line.


Even swamp monsters couldn't convince the young cranes to stick with the trike and eventually all were returned to their enclosure.

Even swamp monsters couldn’t convince the young cranes to stick with the trike and eventually all were returned to their enclosure.


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Time to Move On!

There will be some fog to wait out this morning with the temperature and the dew point both sitting at 47F, but everyone is already scurrying around camp getting ready to head out.

Winds are favorable – from the north. Our target will be Columbia County, WI., 19 miles south of our current location in Marquette County.

Richard van Heuvelen is today’s lead pilot and Joe Duff will be flying in the chase position.

Both the CraneCam and the FlightCam will be streaming LIVE this morning.

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Mouseketeer Club

“So, how was it at White River Marsh this year?”

“Well Billy, I’ll tell ya.  It was like one big game of Cat and Mouse… with us being the cat and the mouse being like… well… an invasion of thousands of mice. It is a biological fact that one single pair of passionate mice can produce a minimum of 8 bazillion little mice in a single year. And since the average life span of a mouse is approximately 5 minutes and 37 seconds, well, things happen quickly, if you catch my drift.

“You’re not serious.”

“Yes, Billy, I’m dead serious. Cross my mouse and hope to die! Last spring’s weather conditions caused one of the biggest mice blooms in the history of our insignificant and confused little planet, and each of those little suckers had its own subscription to “Trailer Life Magazine.” You read enough of that stuff and all you can think about is moving into an RV, joining the Good Neighbor Sam Club and enjoying the good life and that’s just what they did. (“Hi…I’m Mickey and the little lady here is Minnie and we’re from Wisconsin and spending our children’s inheritance”).

There were so many mice in the Jamboree that they started charging Heather and Jo-Anne rent. And in the Flair, poor Colleen went to bed every night dressed in a mouse proof sarcophagus designed by King Tut himself. She put out more mouse traps than there are mines in the DMZ separating North and South Korea. Two nights ago she had a terrible nightmare where a giant mouse got caught in a trap and was screaming and thrashing around so much it almost rolled the motor home over! When she woke up she found Richard dancing a one legged jig and yelling in a language she had never heard before.”

“But you are, after all, working on a wildlife project.”

“Yes, Billy. You’re right.  And the truth of it is, before there were Craniac’s, there were Mouseketeers… and I was one of them.  When I was six or seven years old, my friends and I would literally run home from the school bus stop to plant ourselves in front of the TV in time for another episode of the “Mickey Mouse Club”.  It was a great show and all that, but each of us was secretly there for one reason…. to see Annette. The show always began with each Mouseketeer introducing themselves and when Annette popped into view, each of us felt the vague first stirrings of that mysterious magical elixir experienced by all about to enter the Magic Kingdom. It was still years before that feeling would grow into the hormonal tsunami  that would sweep us out to sea and turn us into galley slaves straining at the oars while the greatest Galley Master of them all, Mother Nature, would chant over and over the cadence of our transport and true purpose, “Reproduce… Reproduce!” No doubt our little furry friends march to the same drummer.”

“So didn’t you feel just a little bit guilty trapping those mice?”

“Yes, Billy.  We did, but we looked at it like we were just sending them to a better place. The thing of it is, life is not a Fairy Tale. We are the world’s apex predator and as such we have a responsibility to rid ourselves of things that bother us. We work to eliminate one creature while we strive to protect another. Who knows? A hundred years from now, it may be us human beings that the mice are trying to bring back from the brink of extinction. They may awake every morning to check the weather and see if conditions are right, to train us to follow a turtle that will eventually lead us on a migration to Florida. You just never know.”

“Gosh!  What other shows did you watch when you were a kid?”

“Well Billy, there’s only one other one that I can remember… ”Fractured Fairy Tales.”


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Good Things Come to Those Who Wait…

At least we hope our patience will pay off. It’s been raining for over 36 hours and things are really soggy.

We’re now on the backside of the low pressure system bringing the rain and we’re hopeful it will continue to move out overnight and leave us with a light, northerly breeze for Thursday morning.

We’re down for today but hopeful to be able to continue tomorrow.

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IF you can believe the weather forecasts, we may have a chance to fly Thursday. Richard van Heuvelen will lead; Joe Duff will be in the new trike, flying chase.

We are all packed up and ready to move camp tomorrow, so this will be our last day near Berlin, Wisconsin.

Everyone is very anxious wondering how the birds are going to do now that they are a bit farther away from White River Marsh AKA ‘home’ in their minds.

We had a meeting this morning and we all know our roles and our duties. Now, someone send a memo to the chicks and let them know ‘flying south’ is the name of the game, not ‘boxing south.’

Keep those primaries crossed that our next fly day is a total opposite of last Saturday!

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Wind & Rain…

Will keep us planted firmly on the ground for today, Day 5 of the 2014 Whooping Crane migration.

Winds are from a favorable direction, however at 14 mph, they’re simply too strong. And as if we needed more convincing to stay put, there is still a lot of rain moving through the area.


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Somebody’s Gotta Do It!

Click the link to watch USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s Sharon Peregoy with Mike Rowe in the episode preview of Mike’s new show, “Sombody’s Gotta Do It.”

And be sure to tune into CNN Wednesday night to catch the full episode!

Mike Rowe helps teach survival skills to whooping crane chicks on an all-new Somebody's Gotta Do It. Wed 10/15 at 9pm ET (8pm Central)

Mike Rowe helps teach survival skills to whooping crane chicks on an all-new Somebody’s Gotta Do It. Wed 10/15 at 9pm ET (8pm Central)


Message From a Costumed Handler…

Well another training season has come and gone at the White River Marsh training site. All the hard work by the pilots, the costumes, and the staff members is done here. I should say it’s been a fun year.

It seems every day is different and full of challenges. This year, trying to keep Peanut (#4-14) in the pen while letting the others out to train was interesting to say the least. Being with “Peanut” in the pen as the trikes and the other birds would fly by, he was making loud peeping noise as though to let us know I want to fly with them. Poor Peanut probably wondering why the tumes wouldn’t let him out. It was heartbreaking and It was difficult but he had to rest that leg. He is doing better now and will soon be flying high with his class mates.

Doug spends time with the young Whooping cranes in their White River Marsh enclosure and gets photobombed by a bird.

Doug spends time with the young Whooping cranes in their White River Marsh enclosure and gets photo bombed by a bird.


I think we all love little Peanut, I know us handlers sure do. Here’s a video clip of him attacking the first pumpkin he encountered.

Another interesting time is when Geoff and I were waiting for the trike to come down and out comes #4-12 and #5-12 (the boys) from the grass at the end of the runway, proceeded to walk down the runway and came very close to us. I was so excited I almost peed my pants!

Sub-adults 4-12 & 5-12 drop by for a visit.

Sub-adults 4-12 & 5-12 drop by for a visit.

People often ask me what it’s like to be a costume and if I have a favorite bird. Well, being a “tume” is a fun job and very exciting and rewarding. How can you pick a favorite when they’re all so special and beautiful. I usually answer them by saying that they’re all my favorites.

Well my time is done for the year with this class and I’m already looking forward to next year. What a year it has been for all of us. Thank you so much to all of you for a wonderful season.

Fly high and be free beautiful birds, hope to see you next spring…


Doug Pellerin

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South Winds…

Date: Oct. 12 Migration Day: 3
Dist. Traveled: 0 miles
Total Dist. 19 miles
Location: Marquette County, Wisconsin


Winds from the south-southeast will halt the migration for today.

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