Standing Down Till Sunday…

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.

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  1. AintThatAmerica January 24, 2016 11:57 am

    A lot of praying going on above, but I don’t think she gets involved with Whooper Migration. There are still ways to establish the eastern population. Hopefully everyone will support the other methods and work toward a viable population.

  2. Jill Morazzini January 22, 2016 1:43 pm

    Thinking of all of you at OM. I certainly hope the meetings go well. Thank you for everything you do for the colts.

  3. tnbrdr Wanda Hawley January 22, 2016 1:42 pm

    The meetings sould be over and hopefully you have your answer. Good or bad its time to get back and lead the kids to St. need to do this… for yourself and all the Craniacs who have been there with you all these years. Lets celebrate the fabulous success you have achieved – win or lose.. I want to selfishly tell you what OM has meant to me over the years I have followed. It has been a unwavering bright spot in many dark days for me and I have rejoiced with you when Peanut and the others made it and cried when some others like Marsha who was such a problem child was found so tragically a victim of probable predation. I have managed to be at 4 flyovers ,without a doubt they were some of the most memorable days of my life. if I had it to give I would donate a million dollars. I’m afraid my donations are a lot less substantial. THANKS OM for your dedication and I hope you have another 5 years to assist these fabulous creatures to find their way back.

  4. Bill St. George January 22, 2016 1:23 pm

    I’m confident that you and the rest of the OM team will win the day, Joe. You have so much information that they never considered in their proposal. Best of luck 🙂

  5. Shirley Green January 22, 2016 1:22 pm

    Didn’t realize comments could be posted. Holding my breath that the decision makers understand the importance of OM, and how many people are following the adventure. The number of Brooke’s Rare Life votes should make that clear, and I hope that number was presented at the meeting. God Bless the whole team, human and crane.

  6. Mary Ann January 22, 2016 12:42 pm

    My heart is with you all and behind you all the way. I have you all in my thoughts everyday.

  7. Mrs. Nally January 22, 2016 11:48 am

    What about the snow ? Is the blizzard going to affect where you are now ? Have been worried about that. Prayers for your lightweight being allowed.

  8. Kathleen Kaska January 22, 2016 10:54 am

    I’m late to the party, if you can call it a party. I didn’t realize this might be OM’s last year. I’m pulling for you and will get the word out. This is one of the most valuable conservation projects ever and it should continue!

  9. Barb and Steve Speck January 20, 2016 8:08 pm

    Is there someone we can contact to encourage them to keep this incredible program? I’m sure there are a lot of us willing to do that! Also – what is the critical timeframe?

    • Peter Smith January 21, 2016 7:52 pm

      Barb and Steve,
      I am just another passionate craniac. I have no idea if the decisions have already been made or not. I hope that Joe and team will have more information for us when they return from these meetings. If you’d like to read the letters I have previously sent to Eastern partnership leadership (including names and postal mailing address), let me know and I will email you my correspondence. My email:

  10. MC January 20, 2016 2:51 pm

    It would be a devastating loss if OM were not able to continue this very valuable and important work. What will our world be like when we give up on our precious feathered friends? All of you at OM have our appreciation and gratitude for all you do. I pray that the human beings who will be making these decisions will remember their HUMANITY and keep this necessary program in place. Sending prayers of hope your way!

  11. Lo January 20, 2016 10:25 am

    I hope you have the data to show that the ultra light program is a efficient,and successful method to continue conservation of the cranes.

  12. elizabeth johnson January 20, 2016 12:19 am

    Seeing the flyover at Crystal River in 2003 made me a lifelong craniac. I’ve watched and worried and soared with you via the website since. I’ll be deeply saddened if the experiment is over. Thank you all for your unflinching good humor, dedication and efforts. You’ve done good, and there are whoopers in the eastern flyway because of you. Didn’t expect to see that in my lifetime!


  13. John White January 19, 2016 11:42 pm

    You can add my name to the list of those pulling for you and praying that the right decision is made for you to be able to continue this program. You all are so good and patient with the birds and the people involved. Will be waiting for your return to finish this years trip and to start the process all over again.

  14. Catherine Wohlfeil January 19, 2016 9:05 pm

    May angel’s breath be beneath your wings and know that what this turns upon is not only the birds, although that would be more than enough, but also encompasses the future of the environment, the air we breathe, the green spaces of this planet, for if our outlook and focus lies only in what is economically expedient, if we indeed fix our future on a fulcrum of cost, we must bear the responsibility for its end. People, old and young, rich and poor, of all backgrounds, have a need at this turning point in history for a sense of purpose and meaning. Dreams matter, ideals matter, hope matters. If this project, with its wings of man leading the wings of these angelic birds, provides the focal point for that hope, allow it to continue. Let this project reign as the turning point on which we can all agree. Let’s make this the fulcrum of our hope, the future our awakening, the epitome of our passage from separation to unity in the passion entailed in the grasping from the edge of extinction not only these noble birds, but also the passion and compassion once found in ourselves. May God’s strength guide you and allow you to open the bridge over which the people will find that hope.

    Take with you the images of Peanut, the little train that could; Tibby (#2) (James Tiberius Kirk, the scientist and seeker of the flock); and Sly (#1) (Sylvester Stallone, the one who would go through all obstacles to bring the flock through). Then as God’s pilot, bring the flock home.

    • CrabtowneMd January 20, 2016 8:55 pm

      You have put it so eloquently Catherine. Today’s world needs more dreams, ideals, and hope. Watching the care and expertise the OM team demonstrates gives life to hopes and dreams and inspires many to become more involved in all things environmental. For the school children who watch the young colts develop through OM, the message of growth and hope is immensely important. As another commenter stated, it appears to many that the DAR method is the experiment that should end and not the ultra-light method of crane rearing. Hoping and praying that the OM team is allowed to continue contributing to the re-establishment of these magnificent birds.

      • Catherine Wohlfeil January 21, 2016 6:52 pm

        May they fly into the future unfettered by limitations of any kind.

  15. Kat January 19, 2016 7:23 pm

    Because of the OM family of devoted volunteers my mother was blessed with seeing her beloved cranes at a flyover before she left us to fly forever among angels and cranes. Because of all of you her grandchildren and great grandchildren may also see this beautiful sight. Joe, your heartfelt words leave little else to say. I thank you all for everything you have given to the cranes and to all of us with your unselfish acts of love and kindness. My prayers are with OM and each of you individually. God be with you and may He open the hearts and minds of WCEP so they can see how crucial your work is. Just makes it even more important to be there Sunday morning.

  16. Peter Smith January 19, 2016 5:33 pm

    I am joining my fellow craniacs in expressing again my unconditional support for your mission. I learned about OM years ago, and it has continued as my most important charity focusand personal interest. I have written to WCEP leaders before (entirely on my own initiative), and it astounds me that given all the data, and all the real day-to-day advantages of the ultralight migration (versus Direct Autumn Release [DAR], for example- daily protection and securing of the birds, showing them the safe stops along Deke’s Way) the WCEP leadership isn’t giving OM ALL of the colts each spring. We used to have 20-30 birds in our flock. I know there are many contributing factors to lower colt counts, but as a person who also supports and has great respect for the Intl. Crane Foundation in my home state of Wisconsin, I think DAR is what should be stopped and OM’s bird count expanded. I welcome my friends here to contact me for more information if you’re interested in making your opinion known to the decision makers. Good luck Joe and team. Wishing you the very best.

  17. Tricia Latham January 19, 2016 3:31 pm

    I am praying that the program will continue. My classes follow the birds every year. I have tried (unsuccessfully) to see the ultralight and the cranes each year. I don’t even know what else to say. I am hopeful and trying to not cry.

  18. Tot J. Gillis January 19, 2016 2:51 pm

    If I can help in any way, let me know! You know I will always have your back! GO OPERATION MIGRATION! My mother and I LOVE YOU ALL!! We will do anything possible to help!!

    Tot J. Gillis

  19. Ann Gillis January 19, 2016 2:25 pm

    Thank you for the insight. The world is better because of the work you’ve been doing for whooping cranes. The publicity and the education regarding the need for wetlands, etc that you and all of the OM team has made possible is PRICELESS. We are grateful for you and I will not believe this Operation Migration project has to come an end.

  20. Madeline January 19, 2016 2:13 pm

    Joe and all the OM team, past and present, You all have my agreement to indulge yourselves. With all my aching heart and biased mind, I do hope that the powers that be will follow your suggestions for continuing to increase the eastern migratory population. My heart aches when I see that, despite your incredible sacrifices, year by year, the total population does not increase. I will continue to support whatever you believe and can get permission to do to improve. Surely now is not the time to give up. Godspeed! Fly safe! And know that we are “out here”!

  21. Kasie January 19, 2016 1:31 pm

    I truly believe in the mission of the OM team, and I so admire your dedication. I pray that the aircraft-led migrations will be allowed to continue.

  22. Junebug January 19, 2016 1:30 pm

    It’s so sad to think this might be the last migration I will follow. I hope it is decided at the meeting to continue the program. I have been following the cranes since the beginning. My favorite crane was 2-07. She was slow on the first flight but she showed everyone on the next flight. She surprised everyone by being first back. No dilly-dallying along the way for her.

  23. Charlotte “Chix Laces” Mullen January 19, 2016 11:13 am

    What more can be said ? My heart aches for the possibility of this program ending, but it soars every time i see a whooper flying in the skies over Wisconsin. Thank you all for all these precious years…and KEEP YOUR PRIMARIES CROSSED for a good outcome of this meeting.

  24. Harriet Hunter January 19, 2016 10:56 am

    No one should ever underestimate the value of the hope that follows on the wings of your ultralight each year. Generations of us are behind you and await you in the cold morning fields where even if just for a moment our hearts can soar with the cranes and our dreams for the future follow them on the breeze into the horizon.

    • Mindy January 19, 2016 8:14 pm

      Very well said Harriet….I agree

  25. Craniachumbird January 19, 2016 10:47 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with the OM team. You are all amazing in what you do. I truly hope that OM can continue their efforts to save the whoopers so that my grandchildren can experience the wonder of seeing these beautiful birds and hearing their voices echoing over the fields.

  26. Grandma January 19, 2016 9:44 am

    Reading these eloquent comments expressing my own true thoughts and feelings leave few words for me. I can say tears are blurring my eyes as I think of all of the OM team and the future of the “Whoopers”. You will continue to be in my thoughts this week and thank you for all you have done so far!

  27. Cheryl N. January 19, 2016 9:18 am

    I have my wings wrapped around the team, hoping for a positive outcome at the meeting.

  28. Greg Bielski January 19, 2016 9:08 am

    There is not much more that can be said. I believe strongly in the power of positive thinking and I’m positive the ultra lite program will be continued.
    Another point is no one ever wants to get on Heather’s bad side.
    Sure glad we have Joe and the OM team representing us.

    • Heather Ray January 19, 2016 9:13 am


    • Heather Ray January 19, 2016 9:13 am


  29. Suzy Rob January 19, 2016 9:00 am

    My heart aches reading this…please know the entire team and your decisions are wholly supported here! Praying this aircraft guided migration continues… <3

  30. M January 19, 2016 7:59 am

    I hope that you are able to persuade the decision makers to continue the migration program. Your hard work and dedication is so appreciated. Go to this meeting knowing that you have the love, support, and encouragement of so many who fully believe in the importance and great value of your work.

  31. thunder January 19, 2016 7:57 am

    I hate those long nights of worry. If anything it means how much you really CARE! This ship will not got down with out a fight. We are all here behind you Joe Duff! “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.” You are a strong, enduring and fully engaged team. Give’em *** Joe! Turn your face to the sun and all of the shadows fall behind you. We are so proud you all at OM. Shine on and stand TALL!

  32. Ruth Mitchell January 19, 2016 7:49 am

    I have been thinking of you all…and praying that the outcome of this meeting will be positive for Operation Migration…even if some changes are in the wind…I pray that you will be able to continue the wonderful work that you have done for so long. Know that you are loved and appreciated.

  33. Barbara Dobbs January 19, 2016 7:48 am

    This project has brought me joy beyond words these past weeks since I discovered it in October, after seeing sandhills and starting to research cranes. Before that I had never heard of Whooping Cranes. I have loved seeing and learning about their behavior, their habitat the requirements of these majestic birds, and the commitment of the crew to these birds is incredible.

    I can appreciate the difficulty of the decision of whether or not to fly at this time, and the emotional physical and mental stress for OM people at this time.

    My prayers are with you, for an outcome for the highest good of all, both humans and cranes and will be through this week. I also put it on a prayer list which thousands round the world pray to.

    • Mindy January 19, 2016 8:16 pm

      Wonderful Barbara!

  34. PattiLat January 19, 2016 7:47 am

    Dearest Joe and our OM Team,
    So kind of you to write this impassioned letter filled with integrity and intelligent decision. We are all with you on this mission to the north and will be with you when you return south on Sat.

    Regardless of the outcome of the WCEP meeting, the monumental work and accomplishments of OM in saving the WC stand. Keep this in your heart. As we will keep you in our hearts, forever, win or lose.

    See you for a Sunday flight for our 2015 colts and once in St. Mark’s anxiously await the new 2016 chicks. It can’t go any other way. Godspeed!

  35. Linda Spyhalski January 19, 2016 7:33 am

    Even though I am not sitting next to you during this fight I hope you know you are in my heart and thoughts. You have given so much time, energy, and emotion to these amazing birds and do not deserve even the threat of closing down. You are not alone in victory or defeat. Craniacs fight together, cry together, and yes we rejoice together! Bless you for all you have done and prayers continue hoping you can continue!

  36. Lindi Allen January 19, 2016 7:26 am

    Praying all goes well and OM will go on as it has. We know how much this means to you and everyone involved. We all care about the birds and the team too.

  37. Janet Westlake Bradford ON (CanadaJanEH) January 19, 2016 7:22 am

    I have great confidence that this meeting will confirm the absolute necessity of continuing the Ultralight assisted migration. There must be the continuation to reach a number that will produce the self sustaining flock. This is volunteer based and public funded organization. This technique to use ultralight aircraft is now used all over the world to help endangered species. Just today I read this article on National Geographic where the ultralight is used to assist the northern bald Ibis. This technique must continue for the population to have a chance to increase. They are just beginning to reproduce. Give these Whooping Cranes a chance for survival and benefit from OM team’s efforts. All Positive Thoughts for you during these meetings.

  38. Lynn Driessen January 19, 2016 7:12 am

    Joe, our hearts and spirits are with you and the team. I have faith that OM will continue to play a pivotal role in the recovery of the Whooping Crane population. Thank you for your incredible dedication and for giving us craniacs the opportunity to share in this awesome endeavor. OM Strong!

  39. Lara Leaf January 19, 2016 7:10 am

    It is heartbreaking that this magnificent organization’s future will be decided by people who most likely have no real knowledge of all you have really done. If only they could, for even one day, be put in your shoes to see the scope of this project. I can only hope they have souls that will catch a whiff of inspiration from all of you there. My thoughts and best wishes will be with you.

  40. ArtistLady January 19, 2016 7:06 am

    Sending positive thoughts and prayers that the OM program will continue.

  41. Mindy January 19, 2016 7:00 am

    We are standing with you Joe and with all the OM team and with all of the beautiful white creatures that fly back and forth today between Wisconsin and the Southeast… Whoopers who carry on your work just by doing what you taught them. They are proof that OM works! Praying for all of you. I know it will be a tough week. We will all be here when you return. (((Hugs)))

  42. Carol Giancola January 19, 2016 6:55 am

    I love your total honesty, Joe. Whooping cranes need OM and all its supporters! I support as much as I can and pray even more. Godspeed..Will be waiting

  43. Lin Greenhalgh January 19, 2016 6:51 am

    Our hearts and prayers are with you all. Thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do. You selflessness is an example to all of us.

  44. Patricia Ewing January 19, 2016 6:48 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with you Joe & the whole OM team that the decision to continue the aircraft-led migrations will prevail in these meetings. OM has done a magnificent job over the years with these beautiful birds and I hope the powers that be in those meetings see that….