On the Road Again…

Young of year cranes change almost daily. It’s like watching your child develop over 16 years all condensed into a few months. They go from adorable little fluff balls to near five feet tall before our eyes and pass through all the familiar stages like defiance and independence.

This year’s cohort have been model cranes. Not once during the summer training did they hesitate to follow us, unless their immature wings couldn’t carry them any farther. But two weeks in one spot and less than ideal flying conditions changed all that.

When Brooke launched with them yesterday, they flew like troopers for a mile or so before one, then another peeled off and headed back. They reminded us of so many birds from years past that had to be coaxed and cajoled to leave the first or second stopover.

Brooke left with four while the others circled toward the pen – reluctant to land for fear of Heather and Colleen parading up and down the field in swap monster garb.

Swamp monsters. Photo: Jo-Anne Bellemer

Swamp monsters. Photo: Jo-Anne Bellemer

That gave me an opportunity to collect them for another try, but the birds that eagerly followed just a few weeks ago, now ignored the free ride offered by the wing of my trike. They flew in opposite directions making it difficult to gather them and finally landed in a field a few hundred yards to the south of the pen.

They stuck close to a tree line negating any chance of doing a low pass over their heads and convincing them to take off one more time. I directed Heather and Colleen to them before breaking off to catch Brooke who was now struggling with his four. The air below a few hundred feet was rough and turbulent. He would get them just short of smooth air but they would drop down again back into the trash. Headwinds slowed him to 28 miles per hour while I cruised at 50 just a few hundred feet higher.

It took him 29 minute to cover 14 miles and had to circle back a few times to pick up stragglers. I caught up to him just as they landed and helped put the birds into the pen. At least that willingness to go inside has not changed. Another good day or two of flying and they will be back to the birds we recognize.

We tied down the trikes and headed back to the previous site to box the other two and tear down the pen just vacated.


The access road is a tractor trail over rocks and sand and up a steep hill. It proved too much for our eleven year old diesel truck and every time I put it into four wheel drive it protested with a loud bang and grinding metal. Generous as always, our stopover host brought down his fifty year old tractor and pulled us out with ease. Back in two wheel drive it worked fine so at least we were not stranded.

We all met back at camp for several hours of packing and cleaning up the mess accumulated over the summer. By 6 pm we were set up at the new site all tied down, plugged in and tired. Fly days are exhausting, especially when we leave base camp for the first time but two weeks is too long a rest period. I am sure the birds feel the same way.

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  1. Barb October 15, 2015 7:41 pm

    Oh, one other thought, will the cranes stop at all the stop over places next year when they do this on their own?

  2. Barb October 15, 2015 7:40 pm

    By having such a long stop over, are you ‘teaching’ the cranes not to fly in weather that is not ideal?

  3. Ruth Mitchell October 15, 2015 6:01 pm

    I pray that you are able to fly again soon…so they are anxious to go!!!

  4. Dorothy N October 15, 2015 4:03 pm

    I guess the 2015 colts were too goody-two-shoes to be true. Now that they’ve shown their independence, maybe they won’t have to keep exercising it to prove how grown-up they are (or are not).

    Your tale gives us such a sense of being there. Much appreciated!!!

  5. Kay Huey October 15, 2015 2:20 pm

    I had surmised much of what you wrote, but certainly not the details.

    I’m chalking this up to a learning process for myself. The lesson? No matter how strong the initial baby and early childhood foundation may be, I can see that things can fall apart with adversity.

    I watched these youngsters daily, through good times and bad. What eventually happened at the first stop became so difficult for me to watch, I eventually gave up — except for brief glimpses. I’m sure you also saw changes in their pen behavior. There was not much that could be done, except to provide healthy diversions to their anger and misery. I mightily cheered the tumes who bore pumpkins and corn stalks on the long trail to the colts. Indeed, the colts were much calmer when I dropped by later on in those two weeks.

    I now feel relieved. Sure, yesterday, the colts didn’t have the overwhelming trust that they once had. Velcro had turned into removable tape. But I feel that with one or two more reasonable fly days they will be the dream cohort once again.

    I trust that the incredibly wonderful lessons learned at Patuxent and White River will guide them.