Date: December 18, 2013 Migration Day: 78
Dist. Traveled: 101 miles
Total Dist. 804 miles
Location: Chilton County, Alabama

Yesterday was another long day that included a skipped stopover, crating four cranes and a tire blow out.

Until Richard van Heuvelen has his lead pilot report ready, I’ll provide some brief details and some images.

Richard launched with seven cranes, as number 5-13 again decided to lag behind in the pen. They formed up very nicely on his wing initially, but soon after taking off a couple peeled off and Brooke Pennypacker moved in to lend them a wing. Shortly after this we heard on the radio that Richard had four and Brooke now had four as well because apparently during one of the many passes over the pensite, number 5-13  read his memo that said we would be flying today and made it out of the pen and into the air.

Whooping cranes fly with aircraft.

Richard launches with seven of the eight Whooping cranes

Just when we thought all was well and they were on their way, the radio chatter started up again: Brooke: ‘two just broke from me again’ Richard: ‘I’ve got these four locked onto the wing so I’m going to continue on course’ Brooke: ‘okay, I’ll see if I can round these two up again’ Brooke: ‘this sun is so bright that I’m having difficulty keeping an eye on them, they may just head back to the pen so get the costumes onto the field and you’ll have to crate them’ Brooke, ‘found them, let me see if I can convince them to get on my wing’ Brooke: ‘now my other two have joined the two that don’t want to fly’ Richard: ‘my birds are doing great and I’m 20 miles out from Walker County, what do you say we skip and continue to Chilton County?’ Brooke: ‘sure – go for it, I’m going to see if I can get these four back to the pen and the ground crew can crate then up for transporting by ground’

Whooping cranes land with aircraft

Brooke Pennypacker lands with his four reluctant-to-fly Whooping cranes, while Richard carries on to Chilton County.

As Jo-Anne and I head back to retrieve four crates, I wondered which cranes didn’t want to fly. I’d put money on number 5-13 just because of his late exit from the pen. Sure enough after we suited up and began crating, there’s number 5-13 with his yellow leg band. Along with him are cranes 2-13, 7-13 and 8-13.

Crating goes quickly and smoothly and within 30 minutes they’re all boxed up and loaded into the vehicle with Geoff Tarbox behind the wheel chauffeuring them to Chilton County. Meanwhile, Colleen, Jo-Anne and I head back out to the field to break down the pen and get Colleen on the road.

Next it’s our turn to get our trailers ready to travel. We breakdown and pack up the Sierra RV and hook it up to the truck that I drive and when that’s ready to roll, we get the aircraft trailer hooked up to Jo’s truck. By 11:45 we’re ready to head out and begin the 2 1/2 hour drive south.

The stretch of Interstate 65 that cuts through Birmingham will rattle your teeth and your kidneys – especially when you’re hauling large, heavy trailers. Honestly, it’s worse than most of the gravel and dirt country roads we’ve been on since leaving our Wisconsin home base in October. Evidence of this is that just as I was exiting the highway, Jo, who was traveling 2 or 3 vehicles behind me was dodging black tire debris, along with everyone else on the road going 70 mph. I, of course, didn’t notice a thing as it was all taking place behind me.

As I took the off ramp, Jo radioed that I had blown a tire on the Sierra trailer and since I couldn’t exactly stop in the middle of the ramp and was on my way to a black water dump station about a 1/4 mile away, I put on my hazards and hobbled into my destination, texting Liz on the way to let her know about the tire and our location.

Within 30 minutes or so, we had dumped the RV and Richard, Brooke and our migration host had arrived and were changing the tire, while Jo and I continued to our stopover in her truck with the aircraft trailer.

Turns out this was the exact location where Joe Duff blew the exact same tire last year.

Four cranes flew 101 miles and the other four arrived by road… It’s always something.


Share Button


  1. Gay Spencer December 19, 2013 11:23 pm

    The four crate travelers look to be two sibling pairs!

    Brother #5 and Sister #2, Brother #7 and Sister #8.

    Hmmph. Whenever I got in trouble as a teenager it was my big sister’s fault, so maybe we can blame it on a misguided sibling thing.

    • Heather Ray December 20, 2013 7:01 am


  2. Nan Butler December 19, 2013 1:04 pm

    I have been following you guys for years in hopes of getting to see a flyover. I am south of your current location at Lake Jordan on the Coosa River.
    We had a death in the family last week and when telling our out of town company about Operation Migration I was surprised to learn that my sister in law is very close friends with Brooke’s cousin since 3rd grade. They were roommates at Auburn and she was Maid of Honor in my brother and sister in laws wedding, and I have met his cousin several times! Not surprisingly she was very familiar with your organization…small world!
    So, is the weather looking promising for tomorrow? If so will there be a flyover? Maybe…just maybe…. I will get to see you guys and strike this off my bucket list!
    Thanks for all you do!

    • Heather Ray December 19, 2013 6:47 pm

      Tomorrow isn’t looking promising with south winds, unfortunately

  3. Ellen December 19, 2013 9:52 am

    As a resident of Alabama, I sympathize with your journey down I-65. I’ve been here 25 years and they’re never NOT working on some stretch of the interstate! Go ahead and mark that stretch of road for future OM travelers, because I’m sure that even 20 years from now it won’t be any better! I’m glad you all made it safely to Chilton County. Best wishes on the rest of your journey.

  4. teresa young December 19, 2013 9:40 am

    I so admire what you all are doing and every morning the first thing I do is look for your email to see your status. Yes, we all are flying with you. Keep up the wonderful reports!!!!! This year 3-13 has won My heart.

  5. Warrenwesternpa December 19, 2013 7:42 am

    Skippity-Do-Da. Heather

    Heather, I enjoyed reading your report this morning as always and the pictures. The warning about exploding tires came very close to us several days ago. I keep my space of 200 feet or more behind any trailers, except when passing, but at 70 mph you can approach tire shrapnel so quickly. At the first sign, the follower should be gently on the brakes and the flashers operating. Many years ago, I was following too closely and a recap went unit under my car. I almost lost control and ripped out the exhaust system and the rear hydraulic brake lines. Scary!

    • Heather Ray December 19, 2013 8:53 am


  6. Jeanne Plumb December 19, 2013 6:53 am

    I’m trying to imagine that perfect migration where the birds fly eagerly every day, frequently skipping stops, fully funded, and the weather oh so ideal. But then, every migration would seem like all the others. This migration has definitely been frustrating, difficult, downright crappy at times, but it is certainly going to be in your memories as that year that…. And, if it weren’t for these “adventures”, I’d be less inclined to tune in today to see what happens! I think I can say with some certainty that a lot of us “fly” vicariously through you and we really appreciate EVERYTHING that you do to take us along on the ride.