Volunteer in Training…

The Whooping Crane colts are in training and so am I. As I am writing this, I have been in camp now for just under 24 hours and still have a lot to learn. Yesterday was move-in day. Actually, I had dropped off most of my stuff at camp last Thursday before heading to Milwaukee for a meeting, but after just a short time here I learned that where I stowed things was not the best and have already “un-stowed” and “re-stowed”.

Let me define “camp”. Picture a circle of conestoga wagons. Now turn them into RVs and add a few vans, utility trailers, a porta-potty, an old concrete corn silo, and a 35 foot aircraft trailer that I will be pulling once we start migrating, and you have a picture of camp. There are 4 RVs – 4 people share 1, 2 people share 2 of them, and 1 person is in 1 of them. I’m in the RV with 3 other people, and that’s part of the learning process. Where do things get stowed? What’s yours? What’s mine? What’s ours? What needs doing and how can I help? How in the world does the toilet work??? OK OK too much information!

It was chilly overnight – and so far the heat in our RV is not working – good thing for warm sleeping bags! Richard (a pilot, metal-smith, and fixer-of-all-things) is working on it. Hopefully it will be fixed by tonight, but if not, more layers will do the trick.

How chilly was it? Well, this morning, when we headed to the pen-site to observe training, the truck’s windshield was ice.

That leads me to whooper training.

We’re up before sunrise (every day!), get dressed, have a coffee, and wait for the pilots to decide if the weather is suitable. This morning, there’s no wind, but there’s quite a bit of fog that has to burn off prior to the pilots being able to fly. Two pilots head to the small airport about 10 miles away where the aircraft are hangared. One handler heads to the pensite where he meets up with a volunteer handler who lives here and therefore is not at camp. Heather and I also head to the pensite because she wants to set up an antenna and wifi signal in the parking lot and see if it will work for a news crew who is coming on Wednesday morning. I go along to help out (and take pictures of the birds training!!!).

As I said, there was frost on the pumpkin, errrrrrr, I mean ice on the windshield. Yes, it was cold as we stood around stomping our feet waiting for the fog to clear. Finally the fog is thin enough that Heather texts Joe and says “OK to take off”. Once in range, all communications between the handlers, the pilots, and Heather are by radio. It’s really cool to be a fly on the wall listening to one pilot tell the other how many birds are following, how many are dropping back, if any have headed back to the tiny grass runway outside of the pen, or that he’s picking up two that have dropped back.

The pilots land on the runway, the handlers are given the hand signal to open the pen doors, and 8 “happy flappy” colts run out towards the aircraft, hopping and flapping because they want to FLY! Joe times his takeoff so the birds run behind him and quickly get in the air. But this time they are so excited they fly out in front of him so he aborts and walks them back for a re-start. How many restarts does a bird get before (s)he is disqualified from the race, I’m wondering!

Some of the birds find the “sweet spot” behind the wing and some obviously require more training. Migration is only days away – they better get going!!!

Migration is currently targeted for September 30th. Of course this is weather permitting – and there seems to always be a better chance that they WON’T fly than they will because the wind speed (or lack thereof) and direction has to be perfect. And no fog – seems like there’s always fog here in the morning! It’s very pretty at camp, but not so much at the pensite when you’re freezing cold waiting for training!

Well, time for me to get back to my training. HEY, CAN ANYONE SHOW ME HOW TO OPERATE THE TV???

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  1. M. L. Walsh September 27, 2013 6:14 am

    Ditto barn, Claire and Christy 🙂 Great read

  2. barncat11 September 26, 2013 8:55 pm

    Jo!! I so enjoyed your post and look forward to many more to come!

  3. Claire DeLand September 26, 2013 7:31 pm

    Wonderful entry, Jo . . . you may be officially “in training” in some ways, but in others, like writing great stuff for folks to read, you’re a Pro in every way!!!! Thoroughly enjoyed this and seeing things through your eyes. Thanks!!!

  4. Christy September 26, 2013 6:03 pm

    WOW! The new kid can write!
    Well done, JoBel!