I spent twenty years as a commercial photographer and always felt torn between two disciplines. In order to achieve the perfect image, you had to balance the science of of film and light with the emotion of the subject. One was technical and the other creative.

Yesterday we placed the birds in individual containers and quietly loaded them into the van. In doing so, all of us had to balance the science of migration with the disappointment of not having completed our mission.

Normally the end of the migration in Florida is when we say goodbye to the birds we have nurtured for nearly ten months. That pang is balanced by bravado and the satisfaction of having completed our goal. This year we have one without the other and all that is left is the bluster.

Once we get past the short-lived self pity and look objectively at the situation, we see that it doesn’t matter much that we didn’t make it all the way to Florida. The birds will still migrate north. They may need a little assistance but they will still be a part of the population.

The Rearing and Release Team within the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) made the decision about where these birds would spend the winter.

The most important consideration is that we have a new reintroduction site in Wisconsin that we hope will encourage birds to breed in an area free of the black flies that seem to threaten the population at Necedah. The team wanted to give these birds the best chance to get back there, and Wheeler NWR is the option closest to the ultralight-led migration route.

While the rest of the team said their goodbyes and packed up all the trailers and motorhomes, Brooke will stay on and monitor the birds over what is left of the winter. We will keep  you posted, but we expect them to start heading north soon. Many of the birds of all species didn’t make it all the way to their wintering ground this year because of warn weather and many are heading back already.

If you ever get to this part of Alabama you should visit Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Currently there are thousands of Sandhill cranes there along with seven Whooping cranes. It is divided by the Tennessee River and has a variety of beautiful habitat and a very friendly staff.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, our last flight with the Class of 2011 was on January 29. I was the lead pilot that morning, but I wasn’t alone. In fact I had three passengers with me.

Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund has supported this project from the beginning. They fund many wildlife programs around the world and they asked us to bring Safari Mickey along as an ambassador. The best place to see the action is from above, so he accompanied Mr. H. which is a replica of a chimpanzee that Dr. Jane Goodall carries with her as she spreads her message of conservation and hope. Jane travels more than 300 days a year so Mr. H. gets around, but he has never flown with birds before.

The third passenger tucked in the middle was Vic, or Very Important Crane. Vic has been on the migration before and he has visited the United States, Mexico, and South America as he was sent from school to school.

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