I’m Steve Schildwachter and I am fortunate to be one of the volunteers given the chance to help out as part of the ground crew for this year’s migration. As a long time investor in Operation Migration this has been an opportunity to experience how my financial investment is paying off in reintroducing a sustainable flock of whooping cranes to the eastern part of the continent.
Two weeks ago I drove from Florida to Wisconsin to start my two week detail with the migration. During my time with the crew I have come to appreciate the talent and dedication shown by all. A typical day starts around 5am when Joe heads out to check on weather conditions. Heather is also up and sending out updates to everyone. If there is even the slightest chance the birds may fly, the rest of the crew preps the RV’s for the move to the next location.
The pilots move the trikes to the runway; the bird crew heads to the pen; the chase crew drives out in the tracking van to a location from which they can follow the birds as they fly south and the ground crew heads out with the webcams. Then we wait… We wait for the wind to blow at just the right speed and from just the right direction and be stable enough to allow the birds to surf behind the wing.
Steve Schildwachter steps in to play the role of CraneCam operator.
We wait for the frost to melt off the wings of the trikes. We wait for the fog to lift. Conditions have to be just right to give the cranes their best chance of getting to their next stop. The last two weeks the weather just hasn’t cooperated. You can hear the frustration and disappointment over the radios when the pilots are aloft and find fog or turbulence or a headwind, which will not allow the birds to fly today.
But you know that the conditions will, one morning, then another, then another, all come together and the cranes will fly south – getting closer and closer to their new winter home in St. Marks NWR in Wakulla County, Florida.
Then we’ll go online one morning next spring and read that the birds have left St. Marks and are following the migration route they learned – this migration route we are slowing teaching them right now, and flying back to Wisconsin. Then we’ll learn from one of the WCEP partners that one of the cranes from this year’s migration has partnered up with another and is sitting on a nest in some marsh in Wisconsin. Then we’ll see the picture of the chick and remember why we donate our money, contribute to the MileMaker campaigns, give a Whoop… why we have all invested in the future of this species.
So as I end my two week detail with the migration I’d like to thank the seven cranes, Joe, Heather, Brooke, Colleen, Geoff, Jo-Anne, Richard and Walter for putting up with me for the past two weeks. But more importantly I’d like to thank all of you who financially invest in the future of the whooping crane and enable this dedicated crew to continue their work.
Ed. Note: Steve, THANK YOU for the time, passion, interest and funds you have invested in the 2014 migration and in Whooping crane conservation. See you when we reach Florida!