Day 102 – Lead Pilot Report – The Last Waltz

“Well, we’ve just enjoyed having you here so much, we can’t wait to see you next year,’’ the elderly lady said as I pumped the gas into her car from a tank beside her barn.  Just beyond, out in her pasture, our birds were roosting in their pen for the ninth night.  The evening wind blew cold and harsh but they were safe… just as I had been, with my camper tucked in her the barn, the one she and her late husband had built so long ago, and plugged into her electricity on the farm she and her son kept alive despite the economic realities and uncertainties all farmers face.  “Have to go to the bank today,” her son told me the day before, wearing a brave but resigned smile. “Crop yields were good this year but those prices were just too low.”

And that’s when I heard myself reply, “There’s not going to be a next year, ma’am. This is it.  They gave us the word this morning.”  There.  I said it.  And saying it somehow made it true.  We had known for months now it was coming and the cloud of its reality had hung heavily over us the entire migration. But denial is a wonderful friend. Karl Marx said religion is the opiate of the people. He was wrong. It is denial, which has been described as hope spelled backwards. Whatever, the words had a surprisingly bitter taste. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that,” the lady replied, ”but I just know you’ve had such wonderful experiences and they’ll be more waiting for you down the road.  That’s the way life is.”

The war may be over, but there are still battles we must fight as the next morning we readied our ultralights for the next leg of migration. Richard and I dressed against the low temperatures. It would be Richard’s first flight of the migration because of his sculpture commission in Canada delay and after almost thirty years of working on these bird projects, this would likely be his last. Joe would sit this one out, riding instead, in the tracking van with Jeff.  The past week had been especially brutal for Joe.

A small crowd of supporters began to form in the Georgia predawn as the two big crop dusting airplanes seemed to look on in silence at the edge of the airfield.

Two documentary film makers, heavy cameras at the ready, arrived to capture the effort. They had just finished a fantastic documentary on the tall pine forests of the southeast U.S. and the critical part this played in the country becoming what it is today. Their plan was to film our project for an entire year and we recognized them right away as two people who really cared.

Our trikes were safely housed in the hanger of a local crop duster who, in the last 10 days of our stay here, had become our friend. Crop dusting is the most difficult and demanding flying there is. Yanking and banking a heavily loaded airplane a few feet off the ground in the hot Georgia sun from sun up to sun down, day after day is nothing short of Herculian. Few of us ponder the thought, in our day-to-day lives, that without them and the farmers whose fields they toil above, we wouldn’t eat. Yet our societies heroes are sports figures messing about with balls of various geometries and Wall Street Wonders who grow rich producing absolutely nothing. Go figure!

Soon Richard and I are in the air, which greets us with lumpity bumpy, lift and drop suggestions of a difficult flight ahead. Still, we feel the pressure to go and it overcomes our foreboding. Colleen and Heather swing open the pen gates and the birds burst skyward for the first time in ten days. “Let the Rodeo begin!” the fates announced, and it did.  One step foreward and two back… the dance of our seemingly obligatory rodeo… as the birds got dutifully on the wing only to break off and head back toward the pen as the sweat began to soak through my layers of “Skywear”.  They didn’t seem to appreciate the choppy air or my encouraging words, “Hey girls… rough air is better than no air at all!”


To further enhance the adventure, these birds just don’t like to climb.  Like every person and every snowflake, every bird is different, each with its own form and personality. But every year’s class of birds is also different.  Some refuse to fly over major highways.  Some stick to the trike like Velcro and climb like scalded dogs. And some, like these little guys, just don’t like to climb. So climbing out of the trashy lower altitudes and over obstructions is a challenge. Then when you get them just high enough to escape the threats, they drop back down and down you have to go to begin the fight all over again.  Of course, sometimes you can’t really blame them.  I mean, following an ultralight in a trashy sky is like following a drunk, drugged, coffeed out, texting driver down the highway. And for the pilot, all you can hear are the words of the old pilot’s adage ,”It is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.”  And, of course, the hands of the clock always seem to barely move at such times. Then there is that new hurdle.  Somewhere way back in the recesses of your mind, you now know the war is already over, which adds to the challenge.

Like a frustrated school teacher who must teach to the slowest student, we must fly to the slowest bird… in this case, #11-15.  But his sometime lack of energy is understandable since because it’s not easy being the only male surrounded by 5 females.  I asked him one time how things were going and he replied, “Does the name Custer mean anything to you?”  Most of us guys, if we’re lucky and attached, wake up in the morning to only one “Honey Do List”.  He wakes up to five.  It’s a wonder the poor little fellow has the energy to walk let alone fly!   During the flight, he continues to drop and I drop everyone down to pick him up until it becomes clear that once again I must let him go and be picked up by the chase pilot… in this case Richard. Soon, Richard has skillfully picked him up from just off the deck and led him to a safe recovery point; in this case a landing strip where he is quicly boxed up by Joe and Jeff and loaded into the van for the trip to the pen.  Meanwhile, we press on the last 7 miles to the destination.

“Can you fly the birds over my mother-in-law’s house?” the kind and generous farmer who worked so hard to level and groom a landing strip for us between his pecan trees asked the week before.  “She’s 92 years old and it would mean a lot to her to see the birds.”  “I’ll sure try.” I replied.  And so we did, and landed more happily than usual at the strip he had so kindly prepared. The pen awaited, already set up the week before.

Any relief or fatigued satisfaction I might have felt was displaced with the magical sight of the birds standing so close to the trike they were actually rubbing against it, looking at me with an intensity I had never seen before.  Their collective gaze was so direct and connecting that I thought at first my helmet might have fallen off and they could finally see… after all these flights,  after all these years, who I really was.  I just sat in the magic of the moment, trying to savor it, to understand it, to cherish it.  It would likely be my last lead. And though there were two more flights to go, I recognized that this was the end of a very long chapter in my life.  I couldn’t help but get the feeling that somehow the birds knew it too. Then, the spell was broken by the words of the Robert Frost poem. “We have promises to keep. And miles to go before we sleep.”

But, as in Robert Frost’s poem, “We had promises to keep. And many miles to go before we sleep.” Soon, the birds followed me into the pen, the hot wire was run around it and Joe and Jeff arrived with the two boxed birds, #11-15 and #2-15 who was boxed prior to takeoff because of her propensity to lead the others back to the pen after takeoff. The two reunited with their friends as Joe and Jeff got back on the road and I got back into the air for the short hop over to a nearby landing strip.
There are milestones in every life when one can easily become lost in an overwhelming tsunami of reflection. Reflections are therefore best consumed over time in small bites if there is to be any hope of achieving true clarity and meaning. What is clear is that the birds possess the incredible power to connect and those connections form the foundation of all that we have experienced and achieved. Perhaps it all boils down to the words of the poet Robert Browning when he wrote:

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp… or what’s a heaven for.”
Time will tell.

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  1. Jane Maher January 26, 2016 10:45 pm

    A simple thank you, Brooke. And all the very best.

  2. Vicki Lambert January 26, 2016 5:17 pm

    Dear Brooke and Joe and Heather and Doug and Colleen and Thomas, and all of the crew:

    Please, please write books of your times with OM – the past, present and future.

    I have supported you all for years, and gotten so much learning and excitement from the project. I can’t tell you how sad I am that it seems now to come to an end.

    Sincerely and Gratefully,
    Vicki Lambert

  3. Terry Johnson January 26, 2016 1:23 pm


    I posted a comment on Doug’s report that I wish to share with all of you.

    Einstein said, “Strange is our situation here on Earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men – above all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness depends.” This also applies to your valiant efforts on behalf of the Whooping Cranes. It is evident that all of you at Operation Migration are the epitome of this wise quote, your happiness depends on the survival of this magnificent bird. I pray that you may continue, in some capacity, to preserve and maintain their existence. You have certainly found your “divine purpose”.

  4. vannie zychowicz January 26, 2016 11:48 am

    I really hope with all yours jurly being with the young whoer cranes it would be a great book you know every one would get one we are so pord of you and the crow for wonderful work you have did yous will be miss a hold lat


  5. Robert W. Stewart January 26, 2016 11:14 am

    Christopher Nixon in his post basically asks all the right questions and supplies good sense opinions that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) should listen to and heed unless there is a compelling reason to end Operation Migration (OM) that they have not shared with the public. However, apparently talking to certain individuals in that organization is like addressing a post.

    Since Operation Migration does not use Government dollars (I assume) it is not a drain on US tax revenues. The USFWS reports to American politicians who are ultimately their bosses. Reviewing the many comments from Americans citizens on this site my humble opinion is that it might be time that they go “political”. My experience in Canada is that politicians are always eager to help with causes that are in “the right” especially when it doesn’t cost taxpayers any money. If people in the States try this approach to extend the life of OM I wish them all the best. You will have science and the environment in your corner.

  6. Jen January 26, 2016 9:20 am

    Brooke, I wonder if you might like this poem by Wendell Berry I came across this morning:
    As soon as the generals and the politicos
    can predict the motion of your mind,
    lose it. Leave it as a sign
    to mark the false trail, the way
    you didn’t go. Be like the fox
    who makes more tracks than necessary,
    some in the wrong direction.
    Practice resurrection.

  7. Mary “Ray” Goehring January 26, 2016 8:42 am

    You have known avian nature in ways no other has known. You have not only flown with these white birds, you taught them how to migrate. Your knowledge is way too valuable to be cast aside. You are still very much needed by these birds and by the scientific world.

    This is not an Icarus story. No ending here. This story is a” to be continued”. There is far to much to learn about this very special species who looks us in the eye and tells us they deserve to be here too.

  8. Elizabeth Jones January 26, 2016 1:25 am

    What a beautiful moment!! Yes, the birds know and they were THANKING you for your love and dedication to them!! I’ll hang on to that one as well! Bravo!!

  9. Christopher Nixon January 26, 2016 1:13 am

    Dear Brooke,

    There is so much substance in this, your last lead pilot report (?). I concur with your assessment of how society in general misallocates energy/interest/funds and as to what is really important. My eyes are not dry at the moment as following the OM Field Journal has been the first thing on my mind when I’ve awaked each morning the past several months. I did my best to rally others for your Eagle Rare Life nomination. I unexpectedly got to go to the January 11th, Chilton County, Alabama flyover after attending the Wheeler NWR Crane Festival, and meeting Joe, JoAnne, and Heather. You and the cohort were a distance away once you cleared the trees, but at least I got a glimpse of your trike and the entire cohort following. It was really a dream come true to see OM in action – of particular significance knowing of the pending decision (prior determined decision). I hope to meet you in the future.

    I am so dismayed that the USFWS has terminated the ultralight led reintroductions. Having been given only a 15 year period to try and reestablish a migratory route that has been void of birds since the 1880’s is a short window of opportunity. I wish the decision had been to adjust other aspects of the reintroduction efforts rather than terminate the UL migrations.? Thanks to Joe, Heather, JoAnne, Colleen, Jeff, you, and all the rest for your dedication to this program. Your efforts, and the results were providing a ray of hope for the future to thousands of people as well as to the future of the Whooping Cranes. I wait to see what will be proposed by the USFWS to replace the huge hole in the reintroduction plans left by the absence of ultralight led additions to the EMP. I still believe the decision was premature. I believe the decision should have been 180 degrees in the opposite direction and that every colt available should have been allotted to line up behind your ultralight next year. I am all for establishing a nonmigratory Louisiana flock. But, I now question why that project was begun before success was attained with the EMP if getting the largest number of birds into the population is seen as one of the key necessities of successfully establishing a population. Why not devote all birds to one project, attain success in establishing that self-sustaining population, and then allocate all available birds to the next reintroduction project. Possibly I am missing something in this equation. Are any human reared captive birds going to be allocated to the Louisiana project this year or in coming years. If so, and they are seen to have enough reproductive potential to be placed into the Louisiana population, then why would those same birds not be just as likely to be reproductive in the EMP. Again, am I missing anything here? Are all the birds that are going to be released into the Louisiana NMP going to be parent reared in captivity? Are all the DAR birds to be released into the EMP to be parent reared in captivity? Is the practice of producing totally human reared Whooping Cranes, birds produced by eggs having been taken from the nest of captive birds or wild birds in order to be raised by costumed humans be terminated at this juncture? Or will they still be produced and never be seen as suitable for anyplace but a zoo collection. I hope to find out just what the “REAL PLAN” is.

    Most of all I hope that in this summer of 2016, there will be an unprecedented number of successful nest in the EMP, that the parents protect those nest, fledge young, and lead those young on their own to Florida in the fall/winter of 2016. Then our downcast faces could be replaced with smiles to know there is a reintroduction method that is successful and that there is a path forward for all the cranes you have taught to soar. Trying to be the optimist, or still addicted to the opiate of denial, I can’t let go of hoping the decision can be reversed by some means, by someone so that UL releases of adequate cohort size will be a part of the future. This UL program has inspired and captured so many people around the world, brought so many additional people to an awareness of endangered species, and is being copied and applied to the reintroduction of other rare species. It works and I hope the method is not abandoned all together.

    Most everyone is saying it is ultimately all about the birds. I could be more resigned to the decision by USFWS if I felt the decision were really all about the birds. The public has yet to be given any semblance of a convincing REASON for the decision – simply that it is “THE” decision – a decision unsubstantiated by available data. I for one believe this effort is more than just about this group of birds, or even this species. It is about numerous other migratory species that also need humans to get it right. It is about our species that needs to get this right and undue damage our species has inflected upon another species and our world. It is about a 92 year old woman getting to look to the sky and see Whooping Cranes, something that should have been her and everyone’s birthright. It is about future generations that need to be provided a world more intact.

    The unsuccessful Grays Lake and South Florida reintroductions provided much information that greatly contributed to understanding this species and crane biology in general. If you combine that knowledge base, with what has been gained from this UL led migratory training and imprinting, tweak rearing methods as to greater impart predator avoidance, bring more recent Wood Buffalo genetics into the EMP – when possible, use more USFWS funds and other funds to expand the educational efforts of the International Crane Foundation to get “Real Hunters”, hunters respected by the hunting community/lobby, into the education front of teaching hunter wannabes the ethics of hunting, correct hunting practices, correct species identification, while yet building the EMP population with birds currently being produced by captive rearing methods – that would be a real path, a plan. Captive rearing “may” have created potential epigenetic flaws in the current captive population – which is certainly possible but is unknown or unproven at this point. The captive birds possess the only genetics currently available other than Wood Buffalo Whooping Cranes. Some birds certainly have better genetics than others. But, they possess the limited genetics available. We know they all derived from only a stock of fourteen to fifteen individuals – a significant bottleneck. But, if desired traits can somehow be turned off by captive rearing, they likely can also be somehow turned back on. But, as for the migratory route training and conspecific imprinting – the ultralight led method has cleared that hurdle. Done.

    It has been stated that this reestablishment of an EMP of Whooping Cranes is the equivalent of putting a man on the moon. Well, there were setbacks, fatalities, and seeming failures along the way in that Apollo Program. But, the decision was not to terminate the mission, it was to make adjustments and get the job done. Terminating the most successful aspects of a program does not move the mission forward. What if Apollo had been terminated after those early fatalities and terrible setbacks? What would have happened to the future of NASA had apollo terminated that space program? It got men there and back just as OM has gotten Whooping Cranes there and back. Look at all the knowledge and successes on literally thousands of fronts, gains on thousands of unpredicted issues and applications, that might not have been attained had Apollo been terminated. Refusing defeat moved the program forward, and refusing defeat in this endeavor could open a similar floodgate in the world of preservation and restoration- the very world we depend upon.

    Now, looking back on my musings, I realize much of what I have written/questioned would be more correctly addressed to those in the USFWS who are making these decisions rather than to to you Brooke. I’m guessing you have been pondering these same questions for months now.

    Why am I so into this? To explain…..I believe my passion stems to my childhood, playing with a miniature plastic Noah’s Arch set of elephants, giraffes, apes, rhinos, lions, tigers, bears, ostrich, etc. and the sense of wonder of just how big and fascinating the world must be – filled with such creatures. Even if I thought I may never ever get to see those creatures in person, it was just a thrill to know they were there somewhere on this amazing planet. As I have matured and watched most all of those iconic creatures having been dragged to near extinction by poaching, habitat destruction, polluting, poisoning, and other actions of one species – ours, I hold tightly to each of the restoration successes, and even each small step made in the path to a species recovery – Bald Eagles, Peregrines, California Condors, whales, Grizzlies, and yes Whooping Cranes. In todays world, Operation Migration with such a visible presence using the UL method, something that the general public can see, join, follow on a daily basis, support financially, talk about, share, is of utmost importance. Though the UL method is the most successful tool thus far in rekindling the migratory instincts in captive bread waterfowl and cranes, OM is so much more than that. It is HOPE with wings.

    Sorry, I still need that hit of denial. Ahhh

    • Libby Blankenhorn January 26, 2016 8:33 am

      Magnificent. I hope you take a version of this letter and send it to whomever is in charge of the next phase – maybe President Obama himself, or at least the Secy of the Interior – as you have said so eloquently what most of us are thinking right now. As a biologist myself, it is hard to stomach the inadequate science and research that was applied by bureaucrats to THE decision. I hope they keep those ultralights in good shape, so that this folly can be redressed quickly. To leave nothing in its place was a horrible act.

      • David Baker January 26, 2016 3:45 pm

        I have started a petition with the Obama Administration to instruct the USFWS to continue ultra light guided migration until an alternative method with a proven higher level of success is developed.

        If we can reach 99,000 more signatures by Feb 25th, the administration promises to review the petition and provide a response. Please sign the petition and share either link by social media and email.

        • Libby January 27, 2016 5:45 am

          Wow! 100,000 in a month! Well, I have added mine! Thank you for trying!

        • Christopher Nixon January 27, 2016 2:24 pm

          Thanks for creating the petition. I have signed and shared it on Facebook.

    • Catherine Wohlfeil January 26, 2016 9:22 pm

      Well said.

  10. Carol Berglund January 26, 2016 12:47 am

    Ah, Brooke – you should write a book. This is all so sad and you and Joe are such great communicators. You all have worked so hard and long on this.Thank you.

  11. Susan gonzo January 25, 2016 11:53 pm

    I am feeling so sad about this amazing effort coming to an end. I hope the Fosh and Wildlife people have some plan up their sleeves not that operation migration is ending. Perhaps they could increase the penalty for shooting and winking whooping cranes, as recently happened in Texas. two of these wonderful birds gone for no reason

  12. Lynda Johnston January 25, 2016 9:53 pm

    Dear Brook, I will miss your reports, and OM.

  13. Catherine Wohlfeil January 25, 2016 9:50 pm

    To have flown with angels for these past years, to have guarded them, and guided them through storms, to have helped raise these children of God to seek their freedom and restore their spirit to the wetlands and skies above, you have inspired the rest of humanity to seek what they too can do, despite all obstacles, despite hardships, despite what appear to be limitless valleys and insurmountable windmills, know that in the faith of One greater than ourselves, this program will indeed go forward. It must.

    You are one of America’s heroes. And know that the fight for what we know true is not over. The birds already know this and as they look into your eyes, they speak volumes.

  14. thunder January 25, 2016 9:15 pm

    The Last Page –

    An amazing Operation Migration Trike is coming to a close.

    I will miss:

    the whooping cranes flying with the trike on migration.

    the Sunday live chats with Joe, Heather, Jobel and even Murray the migration mouse. I can not even begin to tell you how much I have learned from the Q & A chats. Thank you for your time with them.

    the beast with early morning spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I still say Grateful Dad was the best camera person at that marsh.

    the first day of setup, cleaning and mowing the runway. Yes, we did feel guilty just watching.

    the everyday training of the young cranes with yellow mother trike.

    the mods and chatters who love and care so much for these magnificent birds.

    dear friends here. We are family.

    I am sorry:

    that CERTAIN PEOPLE can’t or won’t bend to try to see the whole picture. Shame on you!

    for Joe Duff who must feel the weight of the world right now.

    and will miss the pilots reports. Joe gives wonderful detailed reports. He even sketches cranes on trike wings with heavy frost on them. I remember that morning. Brooke who would take us on an adventure. It was like reading a book that you didn’t want to ever put down. When FJ was posted in chat you could feel everyone running to read it. That’s right Brooke..I will miss your lead pilots reports.
    As in any good book they all have an end..but then one book closes and another starts. The Last to the next dance.
    To OM – Thank you for your time and devotion to the Whooping Cranes. I will never forget all of this and all of you! ~~~~~~

    With a heavy heart I pray the cranes can carry on this migration. I had to write this now because I know I couldn’t do it later.

  15. Kat Williams January 25, 2016 9:15 pm

    Brooke, this may be the end of a long chapter for you but so many of us pray you will continue ‘writing’ this marvelous and important book. Thank you for the report and heart felt words. Of course the cranes connected with you because they could sense something was bothering you – the ‘bird’ they trusted and followed – evidence of their own form of love and concern for one of their own. The flyover Sunday morning (perhaps the last one for me to attend), each of you, the love and concern by all for these beautiful birds, and the magical melody of their flight songs will stay with me always. Thank you so much for the many beautiful memories we all share. May God guide you and our beloved cranes always.

  16. John Christian January 25, 2016 8:02 pm

    Thanks Brooke… helped to end this chapter for OM with your prose. Now we all need to focus on helping to write the next chapter for OM. Your personal dedication, wit, passion, courage and abilities will forever define you for the rest of us. Thank you Brooke for being you.

    All the best

    John Christian
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Retired

  17. Trudy Brooks January 25, 2016 7:26 pm

    You all do have a nice way with your words and postings. I have enjoy this site for the last 3 or 4 years. I have only visited a few times, but it was always fun to watch. So what happens next? Is the total program gone? Or just the way the cranes find their way to Fl. Was all this private funding or some government deal. I am not sure how the project came to an end. You will look back and know that in some small way you all made a difference to the Cranes and each person that has followed the project.

  18. Dominique January 25, 2016 6:09 pm

    Your heart, wings and soul are in the right place.

  19. Stacy Iwanicki January 25, 2016 5:08 pm

    Okay, this time I’m crying. Thanks Brooke, and all of OM. For this and for everything. For the love of birds.

  20. Chris and Charlie Linnell January 25, 2016 4:52 pm

    A collection of these eloquent reflections is in order, Brooke. Often we’ve suggested a book assembled from your entries in The Field Journal. This “album” could be a compilation of these expressive vignettes as a testimonial to all you and the OM staff have accomplished. Perhaps it’s “The Last Waltz,” Brooke, but it’s not the The Last Dance.

  21. Sue January 25, 2016 4:02 pm

    You can feel the love and sadness in your every word. Thank you for all the joy you have given us.

  22. Reta January 25, 2016 3:54 pm

    Brooke, love for what you, Joe and the rest of the OM team do shows in every word you write. The reports from the team have made us feel as though we were along on every flight. I know those birds “talk it up” about the crew each time they are back on the ground together. How can you just let go. These have been your babies for what did someone say, 15 years. Know that we love you and as time passes and you sit in a rocker with a blanket across your lap you could all still be authors.


  23. Marianna Sadowski January 25, 2016 3:36 pm

    I am trying diligently to embrace that thought about “Do not mourn because it is over…..rejoice because it happened.” Magic happened here…..the birds, the crew, the trikes, the Craniacs, chilly mornings, chatting online with fellow supporters from all over, coming to feel as if we know each other personally (and perhaps at some level, we just do!) …….my oh my, it has been wonderfilled wonderful. Now it will be different, but I believe our bond will hold. That is the magic of OM and whooping cranes…..and humans.

  24. Kirsten Olsen-Doolan, Tallahassee, FL January 25, 2016 3:22 pm

    What a lovely article. You, and all the folks at Operation Migration, are very special

  25. Bobbie (piscesbobbie) January 25, 2016 3:15 pm

    I also am and have been reading every word since Saturday with tears streaming down my face. I want you all at OM to know what an experience this has been. You are a wonderful group of folks and also the Craniacs – what more can I say about them:) I will continue to follow you whatever your assignment is in the future with these wonderful creatures. Still, I must say, I don’t think they gave this ‘experiment’ enough time. I can always hope those that made the decision to stop the UL Program will see the error of their decision and let it continue. Thank you so very much!

  26. Carol Phillips January 25, 2016 3:14 pm

    Enjoyed this so much Brooke.

  27. Cheryl N. January 25, 2016 2:26 pm

    Brooke, my heart hurts for you and all the team. Thank you for your dedication, and for this lovely entry which sums up the journeys over the years so well.

  28. Kate Crook January 25, 2016 2:23 pm

    Oh Brooke, you and the OM team have touched our lives with many beautiful things. We have truly learned what devotion to a cause is all about and are better for it. We have learned about tenacity and firmed up our resolve to continue to support causes close to our hearts. We have learned more about whooping cranes and flying than we ever knew. For all these years together, Thank you!!!

  29. Carol Bell January 25, 2016 2:20 pm

    Feeling so sad. Thank you all for your sacrifices. You will all do bigger and better things in the future because of your love and commitment to these magnificent birds.

  30. M January 25, 2016 2:09 pm

    Thank you for allowing us to live vicariously through you and your experiences. It’s not just the monumental dedication and love you have for the cranes, but the stories about the interactions with the people around you that are lessons for all of us. Why, just yesterday I reminded my friend to use her library card instead of her credit card to scrape the ice from her windshield! Seriously, though, this chapter of your life has been incredibly meaningful, to the birds and the program, but also to those of us cheering from the stands. A simple thank you just doesn’t cut it. Every time I see our local Whooper, I am grateful for the wonderful things you have accomplished!

  31. Margie Tomlinson January 25, 2016 1:57 pm

    Beautiful report, Brooke (Crane Daddy) <3 ! Cannot keep a dry eye these past several days. You tell it so well. Never got to meet you & Joe and all the OM team up close at CraneFest in 2012. Have always had to watch from afar (like 2000 mi. away), but with the greatest admiration and appreciation. Hope for all the best for all of you and our wonderful, gorgeous Whooping Cranes. #2-13 was my girl and now what is to become of those nice new trikes? Thanks for the ride!

  32. Maggie Turk January 25, 2016 1:57 pm

    Guess reality is finally hitting me and it sure saddens me that the ultralight flights will no longer thrill all of us craniacs. I have been on board since the beginning and am thankful for all the thrills and spills of the flight training and migrations to Florida.Living in the USA I am thankful for many things from Canada but this has been at the very top of my list of priorities. Sometimes I do not appreciate the weather Canada sends us but after 84 years I have learned to live with that. Anyway ” thanks for the memories” and God Bless all of you in your future endeavors.

  33. Cyndi Routledge January 25, 2016 1:49 pm

    Thank you for your words, for your life and your dedication to these magnificent birds. I truly believe this is not the end only a revision, a new beginning. There’s much work to be done…there’s just a different way to do it now.

  34. Mollie Cook January 25, 2016 1:25 pm

    “So much of this story is still yet to unfold. Lay your head down tonight, take a rest from the fight, don’t try to figure it out.”
    Listen to your heart, believe in the ultimate mission & get ready to be amazed at what is in store for OM & Whooping Cranes. We have marveled at your accomplishments for this flock & there is much, much to be done. I have no doubts that OM will be the leader going forward & the Craniacs support you 100%

  35. Eileen January 25, 2016 1:06 pm

    I cannot imagine the thrill of a successful migration or the stress it must cause. Thank you for your diligence and dedication on behalf of these great birds! On behalf of “viewers” like me who learn so much from your efforts.

  36. Jill Morazzini January 25, 2016 12:51 pm

    I can’t imagine how all of you feel knowing how badly I feel. HUGS to all of you. And thank you so very much for loving these birds. I will be hopeful that OM will continue in some way. Brooke, you and your crew are so appreciated for what you have done for the Whoopers. Thank you thank you thank you for making me aware of these birds!!!

  37. christine heileman January 25, 2016 12:51 pm

    Well that definitely made me cry again! I am so sad to see this end like this. it has been such a joy to watch the cam and see the whooping cranes fly. now i will never get to witness it but i have so enjoyed it. You all are definitely loved and appreciated and i will sure support whatever direction OM goes into the future.

  38. Carol Craig January 25, 2016 12:46 pm

    Thank you Brooke & all at OM – with a heavy heart I read your words and cry. This shouldn’t have come to this but hopefully something else of great value to the cranes will come forward. I only hope you realize the wonderful things you have done for this cause and this can never be taken from you. I hope to meet you all in person one day – take care – peace, hope & love.

  39. Barbara Dobbs January 25, 2016 12:42 pm

    I cried reading this report. I have come to love your writing Brooke, since I found the OM site last October, heard about whooping cranes for the first time and have become an ardent fan, and supporter of OM. I hear OM have been living with the inevitability of this situation during this (I’m not going to say ‘last’) migration which I imagine has been really tough. I prayed all week for OM and FWS for the highest good, and am visioning something even better comes forward for OM and the birds. Thank you for bringing so much joy into my life with this project.

  40. Braveheart2665 January 25, 2016 12:42 pm

    Thank you so very much for all the work you’ve done over the years with these magnificent birds. I think it is such a tragedy that they are ending Operation Migration. It may not have brought the success they wanted but you tried and sometimes trying is better than not trying at all. We need a few more Bravehearts out there, the fight to save the birds must carry on . Thank you from the bottom of my heart

  41. Russell Allison January 25, 2016 12:41 pm

    I thought I was pretty tough until I read this report. I have been a follower of the Whoopers for many years. I have always laughed at your reports Brooke. I am about to bawl now. What a great group of people you are. I have met all of you and proud I am to have done so. Something good has to come of all of this . I will try to follow OM and see what happens. I love you all and God bless you.

    • Heather Ray January 26, 2016 5:31 am

      Stay tuned Rusty – we’re not going anywhere.

  42. Colleen Johannson January 25, 2016 12:40 pm

    Thank you Brooke, and everybody with Operation Migration. My heart aches for all of you and for all of us who have followed you these many years. I regret that I never made it to Cranefest to meet you in person, always thinking “next year.”

  43. Nadine Sassic January 25, 2016 12:38 pm

    The heartbreak I feel that a wonderful project has come to an end is beyond real. The tears of sorrow make it hard to type but I must. There needs to be a way for a volunteer program of such worth to be continued. Am I foolish to think that somehow the true message of this program failed to get through to those who can allow it to continue or has this world become a non-caring place? My question is what stands in the way of this volunteer program of people who love these beautiful creatures of God.

  44. peter smith January 25, 2016 12:27 pm

    I have felt so privileged to follow your mission. For a simple country doctor whose reading is mostly work related, you’ve been my Shakespeare, Brooke. I will never forget how you, and your beloved team, brought us into the magic world of these magnificent birds.

    I must go back and reread the various explanations given to us about what the plans are for this eastern flock. My own grief over this process has clouded my understanding of whatever “logic,” or politics, has been offered to explain this decision. Bird parenting aside (and I know that’s a very important issue), I can’t believe anyone has delivered birds with greater safety and success as OM. SO I must go back, read and reread,and try to understand both this decision, and the future of these birds, better than I do now.

    I will continue my modest support as long as your organization exists. So very few and have dedicated their lives for so noble a cause. I look forward to helping in any and every way I am able. You are a magnificent group. I am ever grateful.

  45. Lu Duncan Frank January 25, 2016 12:27 pm

    You have done your jobs well and continue to hold your heads up high! We salute you all for all of your hard work and dedication to these magnificent birds! There is a special place in all our hearts for you guyz! Fly on, proudly! ?

  46. Linda L January 25, 2016 12:15 pm

    I too am very teary eyed as I read this. Thank you so much OM for enriching my life for the past 4 years. Much love to all of you and I wish each of you the very best. Thank you!!!

  47. Karla Ritter January 25, 2016 12:10 pm

    Operation Migration has demonstrated to everyone how a combination of extreme dedication, hard work, and team effort can get just about anything done. (Keep in mind that, in 1985, Apple let Steven Jobs go too…)

    • CrabtowneMd January 26, 2016 8:23 am

      So true about the extreme dedication, and team effort. But I laughed out loud when you made your business observation Karla Apple reversed that decision rather quickly. There is HOPE

  48. Nancy Makowski January 25, 2016 12:04 pm

    Truly, Brooke, this is the most beautiful piece you have ever written! And…not the last! Something good will come of this!

  49. Nancy Bruins January 25, 2016 11:52 am

    Operation Migration is the linchpin in the effort to establish this flock and I think all will agree that it could not have been done without you.
    As they say…everything changes. But your efforts will not be forgotten. Every time we look at the re-introduced birds, OM and all of you who flew will be remembered. Thank you.

  50. Tom January 25, 2016 11:48 am

    This is your best report.

  51. Marje Lloyd January 25, 2016 11:31 am

    I have read many many of your reports over the years and I have laughed and marveled at many of them,this one saddens me so much, thank you brooke for caring for all our birds for so long and so well,Job well done, thank you so much,

  52. CrabtowneMd January 25, 2016 11:30 am

    Beautiful and so expressive. Once again, your way with cranes and words has touched the hearts of so many. Please take all the FJ’s and other writings and publish a book about all that OM stands for.
    Hoping mother nature steps in and the eastern flock at ST. Mark’s and WRM figure out the parenting bit and thrive. The whole team at Operation Migration have enriched the lives of so many with your dedication to the revival of Whooping Cranes.
    Thank you seems too little, but it is said with the utmost admiration and gratitude.

  53. Mindy January 25, 2016 11:26 am

    And now I am reduced to a puddle of tears again. The toothpicks of bravery I put up around me the past two days fail to defend against the onslaught of emotion while reading your report Brooke. I see a bit of the real you in the forest of words and my heart just breaks in two for you and the whole team. Reading your words, I can picture the birds standing there with that gaze that allows a creature to understand far more about humans than we have ever discovered, see them looking at you with that connection you cannot explain, except in your spirit, and I somewhat feel the pain of your unspoken reflections. We have all lost so very much the past few days, including Whoopers present and the ones to come. I wish I could change the decision of the FWS and turn back the time so things could be the way they were. I wish there was more time to see this class on camera, not to mention the next class, which now will never be. I wish I had discovered your amazing work more than 4 years ago. But I cannot change what is done. We must press on with the good that we can control individually. In whatever capacity you and the team fill for those wonderful white Whoopers in the future, I, and every Craniac, will be with you, stand behind you, support you, and tell everyone we come in contact with about Whoopers and ways we all can help them to survive. The OM Ultra Light-led program has played a pivotal role in awareness alone for thousands of people all over the world. Your “reach has already exceeded your grasp” Brooke. Every time a UL Whooper flies, forages, succeeds with a nest, leads another to a warmer winter place, returns to it’s summer home, calls to a mate, etc., and lives it’s free life as a Whooping Crane, your reach, and the reach and sacrifice of all the Operation Migration Team is very evident…..Soar on! Thank you for your love for them, for absolutely everything you poured out of yourself for the birds….We love you all….I pray for many blessings in your future…..

  54. Shirley Green January 25, 2016 11:24 am

    Well Brooke, you did it again! You’ve not only reported on the birds and their complexities, but you’ve given us another look at the wonderful hosts who’ve tried to make your stops so comfortable. Sometimes we tend to forget them and we shouldn’t. You also quoted from my absolute favorite poem, Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”. I promise to stay with OM and wait for it’s next chapter to unfold. Bless you for all you’ve done for our cranes. Promise to keep us updated on life at St Marks.

  55. Rebekah January 25, 2016 11:23 am

    So are they discontinuing funds for your program?

    • Heather Ray January 26, 2016 5:33 am

      Operation Migration and our work was not government funded. We raised the operating budget each year through donations from some pretty amazing people.

  56. Bob Gower January 25, 2016 11:20 am

    Wow! Wish I could have spent more time with the Team then I did. It was great to meet everyone of you. You are all doing fantastic work. I only hope one day our paths may cross again. Thank you for doing what you do!!

  57. Jeanne January 25, 2016 11:17 am

    Ah, Brooke, whar eloquent words…I don’t have enough thank yous for all you and the OM team have given. I hope future efforts include OM in the support of these wonderful birds. Safe travels, friends.

  58. Carol Giancola January 25, 2016 11:15 am

    Could hardly finish reading through my tears. Thank you, Brooke, for sharing that private moment between you and the cranes. I sensed something similar in this morning’s video with the cranes staring at the handlers in an endearing way. A soul moment. We have been blessed to share this point in time with these heavenly creatures.

  59. Cathi Stewart January 25, 2016 11:14 am

    You are amazing. Thank you for sharing in such a beautiful way.

  60. Ruth Mitchell January 25, 2016 11:05 am

    I am crying, like the others are, I am fairly new to this wonderful world, this is my 3rd year..but I have fallen in love with each and every one of you!!! Your dedication, your selflessness, your wisdom inspire me on a daily basis.
    Brooke, this may be your last “waltz” but you will master another dance, I have every faith in that!!! You will continue to live out your love and passion for wildlife…and for our magnificent Whooping Cranes. Thank you for every single moment, that you have shared with us, thank you for every single thing you have done to help these wonderful birds re-establish their place here on our earth. They could not have done it without you!!! God bless you Brooke…always!!!! <3

  61. Beachgirl75 January 25, 2016 10:54 am

    Thank you and your team for all you have done. It’s been an educational experience following you and these wonderful birds. As Dr. Suess said. “Don’t cry because it’s over. smile because it happened.” I find it hard not to do both. Bless you.

  62. Madeline January 25, 2016 10:53 am

    Brooke, “… promises to keep, and miles to go while we weep … ”
    Yeah, I know it is about the birds … BUT my heart aches … BUT … thanks so very very much for all you’ve done and for all your wonderful humorous reports … and, for ” … time will tell … “. If it’s this hard for me, I can only imagine how hard this is for all of you. But we will be here.

  63. Ann Manning January 25, 2016 10:39 am

    Brooke,your beautiful,skilled writing has brought me to tears. Thank you for all the years you have devoted to these amazing birds,and taking us all along on this wonderful journey with you and the OM team. I for one will never,ever forget my journey,and learning experience with OM . My four years of travel from egg hatch to the crane drop at St. Marks will last me a lifetime. Wish we could follow your next adventure in life. You are most certainly one of a kind,and we were all blessed to get to know you just a little bit. May your life continue to be blessed,and write that book. It would be a best seller for sure.

  64. Betsy January 25, 2016 10:37 am

    My heart is with you. Thank you for sharing your experience with all of us.

  65. Pat Kinser January 25, 2016 10:35 am

    I would agree with these ladies’ comments. I will so miss the flights. No more asking my early rising husband “if we are flying today.” God bless each of you. We will continue to follow the cranes however they are helped. It has been so wonderful. We have learned so much.

  66. vannie zychowicz January 25, 2016 10:34 am

    Think you so much of this report I really in joy reading it you all did fantastic job of raying these young whooper care yous truly be miss of the goury you gave us bring with you in your travel Take care hope we here from yous what is going on in your further


  67. ffmn January 25, 2016 10:33 am

    This Lead Pilot’s report will be printed off and added to the post-meetings post by Joe, and tucked into a memories folder. Thank you , gentlemen. (Don’t laugh, I refuse to think differently of the daring ‘young’ men on the flying trikes, trying to help Whooping Cranes NOT become extinct.)

  68. Marilyn January 25, 2016 10:21 am

    I will always remember the effort and dedication of so many to this amazing “operation”. Bravofgdd

  69. Sally Swanson January 25, 2016 10:17 am

    No words can expressed my feelings at this point. My eyes are too wet! Thank you, thank you to the wonderful Operation Migration! You are the greatest!


  70. Ann Gillis January 25, 2016 10:17 am

    Thank you for this beautiful report. Those who have crossed your path are far richer for having come in contact with you. I am hanging on every word. You and the team have, indeed, made THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH reality and you’ve helped those gorgeous whooping cranes. Can’t tell you how much you and the others are appreciated.

  71. Patricia Ewing January 25, 2016 10:13 am

    Oh my — reading this through teary eyes…. Thank you Brooke for all you have done and I’m sure what you will do in the future in some fashion with these beautiful birds….