This is gonna be boring…

I have procrastinated this as long as possible – it’s time to write my final post for the Field Journal. There are several reasons for my procrastination. For one thing, CFO work is pretty boring unless you’re a ‘number cruncher’. I happen to get excited when I need to create new Excel spreadsheet, but that’s not great grist for this mill. Also, I have struggled with what to say in a ‘final farewell’ post. The third, probably most significant, reason is that I am a procrastinator. Always have been, always will be.

A few people have asked me what in the world I’m still doing since the decision has already been made to dissolve the corporations. Others have asked me what happens to money that OM has left after we’re done with the work of shutting down the two corporations. Read on if you’re curious about these momentous questions, or if you simply don’t have anything better to do right now.

There’s a LOT to do. If you’ve been following the Friends of Operation Migration Facebook page, you’ve seen pictures of the office as Joe, Heather, and Chris gradually emptied it out. There were archives of records to sort out – what to keep, what to shred, what to recycle. There was office equipment to be sold, donated, or dumped. I realize this doesn’t answer the question about what I’ve been doing, although I did go up to Ontario last week to help out and to meet with our accountant. It was cold.

OM, like any business, subscribes or takes advantage of a lot of services – all must be identified and cancelled, from EZPass accounts to credit cards to internet and phone services, and so on. And timing must be carefully coordinated so I don’t pull the rug out from Joe’s Canadian credit card before he pays for the final truck repairs. Speaking of trucks, trailers, and motor homes, all that equipment had to be sold – some in the US and some in Canada. We even used an auctioneer in Wisconsin to get rid of a ton of small equipment like trailer hitches, tools, water hoses, pumps, and the like. We still have one truck left to sell – click here if you’re interested!

The process to dissolve a corporation in New York, where our US corporation is registered, is complicated. Pulling together all the forms, affidavits, etc. etc. for that process has taken a while. It’s much easier in Canada, but still takes time to research the PROcess and then put everything together.

That’s probably all you ever wanted to know about what I’ve been working on, so let me answer the second question – if we have money left after we sell all the physical assets, where does it go. The answer is the same in both countries – it must be donated to ‘like-minded non-profits’. OM’s mission is migratory species conservation and education, so any non-profit who will receive part of our final distribution has to align with those objectives. Where possible, we would choose organizations with a Whooping Crane connection because that has been OM’s specific labor of love, although our mission is not species-specific.

The decision as to who would receive our final donation(s) belongs to our Members, and they made that decision on September 24th, based on recommendations from the Board of Directors. OM’s U.S. corporation will make its final donations to Sylvan Heights Bird Park, Zoo New England, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, and the International Crane Foundation. In all cases, the donations are to be used specifically for Whooping Crane conservation and education.

Our final Canadian funds will be donated to FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program). FLAP is a registered charity that pours all its efforts “into protecting migratory birds from the life-threatening dangers of human-created environments.”

Once these donations have been made, the coffers will be empty. I will then work with the accountants in Canada and the U.S. to close the books, do a final audit, and prepare the final filings.


Here’s the part that I’ve been especially procrastinating… the final paragraph. How to express what Operation Migration has meant to me in the few years that I’ve been involved. The short answer is that it has meant everything – being directly involved in helping to save a species, working with (and learning from) such passionate, hard-working, creative, and entrepreneurial people, wow, just wow, what a privilege! I’m sad that it’s coming to an end – not for me, a ‘short-timer’, but for my friends who have given their heart and souls for 15, 20, 25 years, fighting uphill battles year after year on behalf of the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes, a population that did not exist until Operation Migration led the 2001 cohort into the skies on the first aircraft-guided southward migration. 

I need to stop because now I can’t see what I’m typing. Thank you Operation Migration for the incredible opportunity to be involved in something so exciting and meaningful (unlike insurance). And now I have to go work on an Excel spreadsheet. Yay!

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Over the years we have had many friends of Operation Migration who volunteered their time and expertise to become members of our Board of Directors.

Like volunteers for all nonprofits, there are those who help out a little when it’s convenient, and those who give selflessly. Some attend the monthly meetings and must be reminded of what was decided at the last gathering, while others show up with new ideas and the willingness to make them happen.

Over the years we have had our share of both but our current list of Directors fit soundly into the second category. They have followed the organization for years, contribute time, talent and tenacity and have stood by us, literally to the end.

Doug Annes is one of those Directors. His wife, Christy Smith got Doug involved when she took on the responsibility of coordinating the first Berlin/Princeton Whooping Crane Festival in 2012. The more Doug learned, the more interested he became and he joined the Board that same year.

Doug took the time to share a parting message and we are grateful for his hard work, his friendship and his eloquence…

For a little more than twenty years Operation Migration has performed miracles. Teaching wild birds to migrate using small sport aircraft was an act of visionary boldness. I hesitate to call these aircraft “planes” but fly they did. Cranes would not usually follow such aircraft but OM did the hands-on work of imprinting, training, and practicing until the birds could both follow the aircraft and remain wild.

As we face immanent and accelerating climate change, habitat destruction, and species extinction, it is sometimes hard to have faith in mankind. The image of the cranes flying behind the ultralight aircraft is powerfully romantic, suggesting a partnership between Man and Nature. It communicated a faith that we can work with Nature to find a Harmony that does not poison and destroy. OM offered a poetry of hope.

Having worked a bit with OM, I am aware of the days and hours devoted by the OM staff to executing this vision. The devil is in the details and the OM project was chock full of details. The OM staff never failed to impress with their attention to these endless details. Awakening before dawn, attending to the birds regardless of the weather, adapting to the vagaries of individual animal behavior, waiting, the endless waiting for the requisite weather conditions to fly, it was always something and the OM staff never hesitated.

I engaged with OM as I left my middle years, and faced my own unforeseen need to migrate to my older years. Little did I understand at the time, but the entire OM project provided metaphors for my own life journey. Leaving the “homeland” of a younger body and a lifelong career, required a migration of a sort to a new place, perhaps vaguely familiar but full of uncharted spaces.

Most of all, I will treasure the friendships of the OM staff and supporters some of whom I may never see again. Looking back, it was a vibrant time of life infused with purpose, intoxicating relationships, and sometimes wildly and improbably beautiful.

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EMP Whooping Crane Update

Whooping Crane Update – November 27, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month Whooping Cranes have left Wisconsin and many have reached their wintering locations. Many birds are still on the move! A huge thank-you to the staff of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the Whooping Crane Eastern Migratory Population.

Population Estimate

The current estimated population size is 101 (45 F, 53 M, 3 U). As of 27 November, approximately 19 Whooping Cranes are in Illinois, 33 are in Indiana, 1 may still be in Michigan, 7 are in Kentucky, 5 are in Tennessee, 11 are in Alabama, and 1 is in Georgia. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month or they have left Wisconsin but haven’t yet been confirmed further south. See maps below.

Wild-hatched birds

As of 27 November, five wild-hatched chicks are still alive, all of which have left Wisconsin with their parents.

W1_18 (F) is in Knox Co, IN with her parents.

W3_18 (F) is likely in Hopkins Co, KY with her parents but we have not yet confirmed IDs.

W5_18 (M) is still with his parents in Greene Co, IN.

W6_18 (M) is now with his parents in Lawrence Co, IL.

W10_18 (U) is with parents in Greene Co, IN. 

2018 Releases

16_11 (M), 73_18 (F), and 74_18 (M) have left Wisconsin and are currently in Jasper Co, IN.

77_18 (M) left Wisconsin with Sandhill Cranes and is currently in Lowndes Co, GA. 

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (F) migrated south with 11_15 (M) and is now at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

W7_17 (F) is still at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) migrated to Jackson Co, AL, where they wintered last year.

28_17 (M) left WI and is now in Jasper Co, IN.

24_17 (M) was in Greene Co, IN, but has left and is now in Lawrence Co, IL.

72_17 (M) left MI and is now in Jay Co, IN.

36_17 (F) migrated with females 2_15 and 28_05 from Wisconsin to Kentucky, where the remains of 36_17 were found on 21 November. The other two females are now in Meigs Co, TN. The cause of death is not yet known.

38_17 (F) migrated with 63-15 (M) to Randolph Co, IL.

39_17 (F) is in Jasper Co, IN and has been seen associating with other Whooping Cranes as well as Sandhill Cranes.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

7_17 (F) migrated to Cumberland Co, IL, presumably with 4_14 (M).

3_17 (M) was last seen with 30_16 (M), 5_12 (M), and 67_15 (F) in Green Lake Co, WI. The group has not been seen in WI recently, but have not yet been confirmed further south.

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are now in Alexander Co, IL.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F) were in LaSalle Co, IL, with 10_15 (F) and 4_13 (M) but then left and are now in Marshall Co, KY. It appears they are still on the move.

8_17 was last seen in Sangamon Co, IL in May, and then showed up at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL, during November.


The carcass of 36_17 (F) was collected on 21 November in Kentucky, but the cause of death is not yet known (see above).

Whooping Crane #38-17

It would appear this young parent-reared female Whooping crane has finally had enough of Horicon Marsh and is heading south for the first time.

Regular readers will recall this now 1 1/2 year old Whooping crane became the first bird in the EMP, which failed to migrate. Instead, she chose to stay at Horicon Marsh for the entire winter season after her release. Refuge staff put out supplemental corn for her and she somehow survived the brutal cold.

This past summer, she met up with a 3 year old male Direct-autumn Release (DAR) crane, #63-15 and he seems to have convinced her to head south with him.

Taking a look at their route thus far, I’d hazard a guess that he is taking her to his old winter stomping grounds in Randolph County, IL but time will tell.

According to her GSM device, these two left Horicon midday on Nov. 21st.

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Journey of the Whooping Crane

If you’re in the Corpus Christi, TX area be sure to tune in tomorrow evening to catch “Journey of the Whooping Crane on KEDT – the local Public Television station. Check local listings for show times.

“Journey of the Whooping Crane” is a one-hour natural history documentary produced for Georgia Public Broadcasting illustrating the remarkable life story of Whooping Cranes. At five feet tall, and a wingspan over seven feet, the Whooping Crane has the distinction of being North America’s tallest bird and sadly, also one of its rarest. Habitat loss and hunting pressure from European settlers in the late 1800’s reduced the population of this iconic animal to just fifteen birds by 1940. Since then, in an intense effort to protect and restore the species, a broad coalition of NGO’s, private interests, and government agencies has worked collectively and tirelessly to nurture the remaining wild flock to its current population of about six hundred birds.

Check out the films website to learn more. Digital download (purchase) will be available sometime in December.

Flashback Friday

In preparation for our eventual closing, we’ve been spending the past couple of weeks going through 25 years of accumulated “stuff” at the office. 

It’s a bittersweet process to say the least but I came across this photo and wanted to share it… 

These are the “actor geese” featured in the film Fly Away Home. Many people don’t realize that after their starring role in the film, the geese were led on a migration to the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center in South Carolina, where they wintered before returning home to southern Ontario the following spring.

Joe Duff leads 31 Canada geese over Virginia in the fall of 1995, Photo: Operation Migration

#fbf #flashbackfriday

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Heading South

This past spring we saw male Whooping crane #4-14 (Peanut) capture the heart of a young female crane #7-17. The latter was a costume-reared crane raised at White River Marsh and Peanut was an aircraft-guided bird with a leg injury and a stabilizing brace, which made him miss the majority of the southward migration flights. This led to him being retrieved from Wabash Island and driven back to Green Lake County, WI in the spring of 2015.

Because of his past, he has become a favorite of most Craniacs and our team.

Another reason we are so invested in him is that he stayed in the White River Marsh area so we’re hopeful he will eventually nest and raise young there.

He and #7-17 spent the entire spring and summer just south of the small town of Princeton and were occasionally spotted by the locals.

Last week we received GSM hits indicating #7-17 was on the move south and we can only assume Peanut is still with her. Have a look at their flight path.

With a great tailwind, these two covered close to 200 miles in their first 4 hours of flight.

If their flight plan is similar to last fall they should arrive at Wheeler NWR any day now. (Let’s just hope he avoids Wabash Island).



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Cranes on the Move…

Photographer Gordon Garcia sent along the following images for us to share. They feature two young male Parent-Reared Whooping cranes #’s 19-17 & 25-17.

These two are currently on their way south and stopped in Kane County, IL for a few days. They may return to the same wintering area used last year, which was Jackson County, Alabama.

Whooping crane #19-17 on the right and #25-17 on the left. Photo: Gordon Garcia

This is a fantastic photo to illustrate the difference between N. America’s two crane species. Sandhills on the left and the two male whoopers on the right. Photo: Gordon Garcia

#25-17 has a conversation with a Sandhill crane. Photo: Gordon Garcia

#19-17 with the double white legband in the foreground and #25-17 in the background. Photo: Gordon Garcia

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EMP Update

November 1, 2018 

Below is the most recent update for the Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping Cranes. In the last month migration has begun! A huge thank-you to the staff of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Natural Resources, the International Crane Foundation, and all of the volunteers who help us keep track of the cranes throughout the year. We appreciate your contribution to the recovery of the Whooping Crane Eastern Migratory Population.

Population Estimate

The current estimated population size is 102 (46 F, 53 M, 3 U). As of 1 November, around 54 Whooping Cranes are in Wisconsin, 3 in Michigan, 9 in Illinois, 13 in Indiana, 2 in Kentucky, and 1 in Alabama. The remaining birds’ locations have not been confirmed in the last month or two. See map below.

Wild-hatched birds

As of 1 November, five wild-hatched chicks are still alive, all of which have fledged, are with their parents, and are banded.

W1_18 (F) is still in Juneau Co with her parents and is now banded.

W3_18 (F) is still with her parents in Adams Co.

W5_18 (M) has migrated and is now with parents W3_10 and 8_04 in Greene Co, IN.

W6_18 (M) is still with his parents 1-04 and 16-07, but they have left Juneau Co, WI, and have not yet been seen further south.

W10_18 (U) is still with its parents 4-08 and 23-10, but they have not been seen on territory in Juneau Co, nor further south yet, but are presumably on migration or staging somewhere in Wisconsin. 

2018 Releases

16_11 (M), 73_18 (F), and 74_18 (M) are all still at Horicon NWR in Dodge Co, WI, and are doing well.

76_18 (F) was released at White River Marsh in Green Lake Co, WI, on 2 October. She moved around the area on her own for a week or so, and was seen with other Whooping Cranes. Her carcass was found on 12 October in the same field 30-16 (M) and 3-17 (M) were seen. The cause of death is likely predation.  

77_18 (M) was also released at White River Marsh, on 11 October. He associated with target pair 5-12 and 67-15 for a while, but is now with a group of Sandhill Cranes. He is still in Green Lake Co, and seems to be doing well. 

Parent-reared Whooping crane #77-18 with Sandhills. Photo: Tom Schultz

Whooping crane 77-18. Photo: Tom Schultz

2017 Wild-hatched chicks

W3_17 (F) is still in Adams Co, WI, and is now with 11_15 (M). She has also been seen with her parents and their new chick, 24_09, 42_09, and W3_18.

W7_17 (F) has left Minnesota and as of 24 October was the first Whooping Crane to arrive at Wheeler NWR in Morgan Co, AL.

Parent-Reared 2017 Cohort

19_17 (M) and 25_17 (M) left Polk Co, WI and are currently in Kane Co, IL.

28_17 (M) is still in Sauk Co, WI.

24_17 (M) is in Dane Co, WI.

72_17 (M) has been moving around a little bit and is now in Jackson Co, MI.

38_17 (F) is still in Dodge Co, WI with 63-15 (M).

39_17 (F) is in Winnebago Co, WI.

Costume-Reared 2017 Cohort

7_17 (F) is still with 4_14 (M) in Green Lake Co.

3_17 (M) is still with 30_16 (M) and sometimes also with 5_12 and 67_15 in Green Lake Co, WI.

4_17 (M) and 6_17 (F) are on the move and were in Shawano Co, WI at the end of October.

1_17 (M), 2_17 (F) are currently in Winnebago Co, IL and are sometimes associating with 10_15 (F) and 4_13 (M).

8_17 was last seen in Sangamon Co, IL in May, but her whereabouts are still unknown.


The carcass of 76_18 was collected on 12 October in Green Lake Co, WI (see above).

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Operation Migration Resigns from WCEP – Dissolves Organization

Operation Migration took flight 25 years ago when two artists-turned-aviators developed a method of teaching birds a new migratory route. The innovative approach helped stabilize the dwindling population of the magnificent Whooping crane.

Bill Lishman and Joe Duff developed the aircraft-guided migration method into an effective means of reintroducing endangered Whooping cranes into an area they had not inhabited in over a century.

Our first migration flight leading Whooping cranes occurred in 2001 – shortly after the 9-11 attack on the United States. It was a time when the nation needed an uplifting story; one of ordinary people working to save an endangered, North American species.

For 15 years, Operation Migration pilots and a dedicated ground crew led Whooping cranes on a journey toward survival. During those years, we contributed more than $10 million dollars and covered 17,457 miles with a total of 186 trusting Whooping cranes trailing off our wingtips.

Each of the cranes that survived the winter period in Florida returned north the following spring, and continued to migrate annually thereafter. Gradually, the number of cranes began to increase, giving hope for the species, which in the 1940s numbered only 15.

The aircraft-guided migration method was ended in the fall of 2015 when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a document titled “FWS Vision for the Next 5-year Strategic Plan” that claimed the method was “too artificial.” They suggested that cranes raised by our costumed handlers resulted in inattentive parents that did not adequately protect their offspring.

We continued work for another 3 years based upon our belief that the goal of a self-sustaining Eastern Migratory Population of Whooping cranes was attainable. However, with new management directives authorized by the Whooping Crane Recovery Team and implemented by Region 3 of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we no longer believe this goal to be achievable.

As a result, we cannot continue, in good faith, to accept contributions or justify assigning our staff and volunteers to carry out the work outlined in the strategic plan imposed on the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

This led us to an extremely difficult decision: The management and Board of Directors are withdrawing Operation Migration from membership and participation in WCEP and dissolving the organization. This decision is heartbreaking for us all but we have exhausted all possible avenues to avoid this outcome.

Supporters from around the world have generously contributed to Operation Migration’s aircraft-guided work, its successful costume-rearing program, and education and research efforts, all of which have contributed to the recovery of Whooping crane. When our work began there were fewer than 500 Whooping cranes in North America. Today, the species total stands at more than 700 – a significant part of the increase is attributable to your help.

While disappointed that we were unable to achieve our long-term goal to establish a self-sustaining Whooping crane population, we take great pride in Operation Migration’s accomplishments, which your support and time helped to make possible:

  • Hundreds of thousands of people are more aware of the plight of Whooping cranes and wetlands thanks to our blog posts for the past 19 years;
  • Our partnership with Journey North, a distance learning program, brought information about Whooping cranes to millions of school-aged children worldwide;
  • We hosted the first-ever LIVE streaming camera featuring wild Whooping cranes; 
  • We raised awareness for the Whooping crane and gained global attention for the efforts to save them through the aircraft-guided program for 15 years. Our work was featured in numerous news stories, documentaries and published in many books and magazines that inspired people to care about, and take action for these vulnerable cranes;
  • The reintroduced Whooping cranes are avoiding humans, selecting proper habitat, pairing with other Whooping cranes and are producing offspring;
  • Aircraft used in our work are now on display at three distinguished locations: Disney’s Animal Kingdom, The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), as reminders that people can take innovative action to help wildlife species in trouble;
  • Operation Migration contributed images to numerous educational textbooks over the past 20 years to help tell the story of Whooping cranes to students of all ages;
  • Our work garnered the attention and support of President Jimmy Carter and noted conservationist Jane Goodall.

We are grateful for the awards we have received over the years, which include:

  • 2002 National Wildlife Federation “Conservation Achievement Award;
  • 2003 Canada Post “Canadian Environmental Award”;
  • 2004 The Whooping Crane Conservation Association “Honor Award”;
  • 2006 American Birding Association, Partners in Flight “Outstanding Contribution to Bird Conservation”;
  • 2009 U.S. Dept. Of The Interior “Partners in Conservation Award”.

So many accomplishments, and all achieved with your help. We want to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all Operation Migration members, supporters, volunteers, and staff (past and present).

Your financial and emotional support kept us going more than you will ever know during many stressful and trying periods over the past 18 years of this reintroduction project. You have been like family to us.

There would not be Whooping cranes migrating over eastern North America without your support.

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Crane Spotting

Photographer Al Scherwinski was out and about last Friday when he encountered two Whooping cranes in Adams County, WI. 

Never without his camera, Al sent along the following photos to share with you.

Male #11-15 has been bopping around, never settling down for long in one place. Until this past spring, he and Peanut (male #4-14) were best buds but then #4-14 found female #7-17 and wanted nothing to do with his former bud.

It’s nice to see that #11-15 found himself a new (female) friend and it will be interesting to see if they travel south in the next few weeks.

Foreground is young female Whooping crane #W3-17. Male #11-15 is in front of the Sandhill crane. Photo: Al Scherwinski

Male Whooping crane 11-15. Photo: Al Scherwinski


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Whooping Crane #38-17

Regular readers will recall female Whooping crane #38-17 didn’t migrate south last winter. She was released at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in September and, while she flew well, she only ventured about a mile away from the refuge, all winter.

She survived the cold with supplemental corn put out by refuge staff and she likely ate snow, in place of water, when the surrounding marsh was frozen for weeks at a time.

This summer, she met up with a 3 year old male Whooping crane, #63-15. He had been using an area of the refuge a bit northeast of 38-17’s typical foraging and roosting locations. 

Since the two found each other, they’ve been exploring the surrounding areas together and Doug Pellerin recently sent along a couple of photos to share.

Let’s hope she follows her new friend south this winter!

Male Whooping crane #63-15 is on the left. #38-17 on the right. Photo: Doug Pellerin

Photo: Doug Pellerin

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St. Marks is Open for Visitors!

Make plans to attend the Monarch Festival this Saturday!

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More Whoopers Head South

It seems the pair spotted in Knox County, Indiana over the past weekend weren’t the only ones that caught the early southward migration bug.

Monday afternoon, volunteer tracker Leroy Harrison spotted “George & Gracie” aka 9-03 (F) & 3-04 (M) at their normal winter location in Wayne County, IL.

This pair hatched two chicks in the spring but sadly, neither survived to fledge.

9-03 (left) and 3-04 arrived in southern Illinois over the weekend. Photo: Leroy Harrison

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