Whooping cranes are about as unpredictable as the weather.
There are a lot of things to worry about when the migration begins to drag on – and on – and on. For some of us, foremost on that list is the long absence from home but on the project side, the birds are the biggest concern.
How will they react to another week in one location and will they follow when the weather decides to cooperate? Cost is also stressful and we worry about how much of a burden we are putting on our stopover hosts who likely expected us to stay for a day or two.
Lately, I have had another late night worry that keeps me staring at the ceiling at 3 am. As you can imagine, the upcoming WCEP meetings cause untold anxiety but recently I have been worried that those meetings will conflict with the end of a very long migration. By the time the meeting dates rolled around, we found ourselves still a hundred and forty miles short of our destination. We are currently in Clay County, Georgia with three more short stops to go.
In preparation for this conflict, I recruited two additional volunteers who have already generously donated weeks of their personal time to this project. But David Nadel and Cindy Hayes have kindly agreed to come back to help us out. Although they are familiar with their assigned jobs like driving trucks pulling trailers and setting up pens, neither are experienced enough to collect drop out birds or track the aircraft from below. One of our long term pilots, Richard Van Huevelen joined us last week.
Richard has been with us from the start of this project in 2001 and even before, when we worked with geese and Sandhill cranes. But he had a large commission as a metal sculptor, which is his other vocation. He was asked by the Canadian Government to help commemorate our upcoming sesquicentennial in 2017 by creating a monument to the north. That kept him busy through most of the year but he is back now and ready to fly if needed.
Still the crew is short critical people while Heather, Jo-Anne, Jeff and I attend these pivotal meetings. Yesterday could have been a fly day, had it not been for the strong winds aloft, but still, we had a plan to go if the weather allowed. We discussed the possible options, ran the scenarios and tried to think of every possibility. But in the end, decided that it is more prudent to stand down while so many team members are indisposed. The risks to the birds outweigh the advantages of getting them there 5 days earlier. So we won’t be flying until we are back next Saturday. We’ll be ready to go again Sunday, January 24th.
And to be perfectly candid, the team felt that because we have worked so closely for so many years, we needed to be together at the end of what may very well be the last aircraft-led migration.
For many years this team has let personal safety, human comforts, family relations, economic gain and exhaustion take a back seat to the needs of the birds. Maybe our decision is partly about the birds and partly about us but if it actually is the last one, maybe they are due a little self-indulgence.