FINAL LEAD PILOT REPORT – EVER…

Today it was my turn to lead  the final flight into St Marks NWR. But just as the weather has robbed us of so many days on this migration, it also cheated me out my last opportunity to fly with birds – ever.

Instead of a BANG – 23 years of hard work and sacrifice ended with a whimper.

We took off this morning with very little hope of success. On a normal migration day, we would have checked the conditions and gone back to bed. But there were 6 young cranes and many supporters waiting on us – so we tried.

The airstrip is in the middle of a forest so it was fairly calm on the surface. But as soon as we cleared the tree tops, the cross wind hit and turned the trikes sideways. The air was rough and it took full force on the control bar to keep it level.

I climbed just to see how high we would have to get birds to reach smooth air but when I topped a thousand feet it was still rough. The wind was out of the northeast and the GPS told me it was blowing at 29 mph. When I turned back for the airport, I was covering ground at 14 mph.

We tied down the trikes, drove to the pen and began the sad process of boxing them for the last 25 miles. It is such a short distance, it will not hamper their ability to navigate back to Wisconsin and we will likely track them anyway.

So that’s it. Our careers as avian aviators has ended. The ultralight method was crucial to establishing the core population. We have a hundred birds migrating in the eastern flyway. The first in the area since the 1870’s. It will be the basis of our future work but right now most of us see looking back, not forward.

We will now change techniques to see if we can encourage better breeding, but it won’t be the same. It’s the proper thing to do but somehow it should have ended differently. There should have been clear skies, a colorful sunrise and a string of couragious birds off my wingtip. But nature doesn’t work that way and I should have known better…

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83 Comments

  1. Kate Crook February 10, 2016 7:12 am

    Joe, I am one of the lucky crainiacs! I met the team when I volunteered at the Merritt Island Bird festival. Our family also witnessed many flyovers in Benton County Indiana.
    Perhaps, as we followed your travels, we learned about dedication,tenacity,innovation and just plain love for those beautiful birds along the way.
    Many thanks to you and the OM team!!!!!!

  2. Kathleen Kaska February 9, 2016 11:48 pm

    Time to write that book, Joe.

    http://www.kathleenkaska.com

  3. Sharon Miner Cherry February 8, 2016 8:02 am

    As I read your final report today it floods me with the memories of meeting all of you and it brings a tear to my eye. The pure dedication, love and desire to save the whooping crane is so apparent. Your stop overs in Piatt County will always be remembered… My mom and dad truly enjoyed being a part of your journey as well. Although this part of the whooping cranes journey is ending I’m sure there will be many more avenues ready to be found to help. What better group of people to do it than your staff at OM.? Sending prayers to all and some hugs as well.?

  4. Patricia Wenzel February 7, 2016 8:15 pm

    It has been well said by many before me … thank you for the work you’ve done and for including all of us Craniacs. You’ll be missed but I, and I’m sure others, hope that we will be aware of what’s next. Good luck to all of you.

  5. Harold Cutler February 7, 2016 6:16 pm

    Joe, you’re a hero in all of this! the fact remains that through all these years of hard work, you’ve established a migratory population for better or worse, where none existed before, 100 cranes now move from the Great Lakes to Florida, and you did it. You proved that these are extremely intelligent birds that imprint on their parents and migrate with them..The black fly problem can be adjusted—They are now reproducing—one or two chicks a year, but that’s their rate. They don’t need a super high rate because they are at the apex.If the Fish and Wildlife Service has made a bad choice, then so be it. But the migratory flock` wouldn’t be there without you (I’m surprised that cattlemen are not trying to graze in Necedah Wildlife Refuge. Out here in the West, we are having a lot of trouble with these idiots who think that public lands belong to them. Our efforts to reestablish the Mexican wolves and to stop the slaughter of the bison in Yellowstone is driven by these Bundy idiots. Ted Turner has between 100000 and 200000 acres in New Mexico and they won’t let him release wolves on his property because they might kill a calf or a domesticated sheep. So, job well done! You can look at it and say I”I did that!”. Maybe you’ll have time to work with Revive and Restore to create new bloodlines from the dead whooping cranes in museums and restore some of their diversity?/

    Harold Cutler

  6. Kaathleen Fullin February 7, 2016 5:07 pm

    I am so impressed with the professionalism with which Joe Duff has handled what must be an extremely frustrating decision. The focus has always been on how to establish a wild, safe, migrating, breeding flock, and the posts by Joe Duff make clear that the focus remains there. I applaud the public stance being taken by OM, and look forward to following the news about how OM adjusts its strategies and involvement.

  7. KathJ February 7, 2016 4:15 pm

    “We have a hundred birds migrating in the eastern flyway. The first in the area since the 1870’s.” What an achievement. Instead of sadness there should be jubilation but the future prospect unknown without their help. It is all just too sad and I also fear for the WCs status in the following years. I am hoping an ad hoc group will form to ensure the survival. I have been following for many years now too, due to Cheryl N. It was through OM that many, many people are now more enlightened about these birds and this will hopefully keep them safer in future.

  8. Roberta February 7, 2016 3:12 pm

    So sorry it didn’t turn out like out like you wanted.

  9. Kelly February 7, 2016 2:24 pm

    We stumbled upon operation migration just this past year. It taught us a lot about whooping cranes and like many others we quickly felt a part of this journey. We had hoped to see them fly over and even pulled a red eye trip from Green Bay Wisconsin last weekend for a chance to see them. Although we were disappointed that the flight was cancelled we were happy to be there and have no regrets. We want to personally thank you for allowing us to experience this if only for a year. We realize there are reasons for the program ending but are hopeful that someday the program will be back. So thanks again to you and your entire team for investing so much and allowing us and whooping crane nation to be a part of something very special. We’ll be watching for what’s next…

  10. Rolando February 7, 2016 2:13 pm

    Our priest said today at Mass. If God takes you someplace. He’ll be there waiting for you. I certainly will miss your travels every year, but now the flock has grown they are ready to GO- Thank you for a job well done….. Time to sit and Enjoy the Grand-whoopers. Keep you all in my prayers.

  11. Laurie Odlum February 7, 2016 12:24 pm

    The OM team and their charges have inspired so many to do amazing things with their lives because of your undying courage and innovative spirits. This ending is just another crosswind in the lives of these great cranes and I am convinced with everyone focusing on better science the cranes will prevail.
    Some years back I travelled to Necedah to the festival and have been lucky enough to see a JV on the ground in south FL – both made my year! Sending along a big hug and THANK YOU FOR ALL THE YEARS OF DEDICATION!

  12. Charlotte “Chix Laces” Mullen February 7, 2016 12:00 pm

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Operation Migration for 15 exciting years of joy, hope, sadness, despair, and exultation! There will now be a hole in my heart that i am so thankful to say will be at least partially filled each time I see a whooping crane fly in the skies of Wisconsin. You have accomplished my greatest wish…to bring back these magnificent whoopers into our skies

  13. Jerry Woodall February 7, 2016 9:44 am

    Thanks to you and all of the team.

  14. Deanna uphoff February 7, 2016 9:03 am

    Oh Joe and team, I just don’t know what to say. You have fought the good fight. You have done everything in your power to get these whoopers to Florida and now they are here. Just not the way you hoped. Not the way you wanted it to all end. I am just so grateful for all you have done. I am thankful to have shared by watching the crane cam, seeing the birds in the blind and watching them fly into Piatt county. I pray for all of you as the future seems uncertain. But this I know. You are a strong team and will find a way to fight for the whooping cranes and the future of the its population. Thanks again for all you have done.

  15. M-Mercedes Panqueva February 7, 2016 8:53 am

    To Operation Migration Lead Pilot Joe Duff and the entire OM crew, all birds of a very special feather:

    I hear and feel your disappointment and wish your heart weren’t as heavy in the wake of the recent decisions and events. I wish it weren’t so for you and I hope that sadness and disappointment won’t linger in your hearts.

    You have kept the safety and wellbeing of those birds as your top priority, and expediting their release at the expense of a grand finale for us and the mission, is not only consistent with the way you’ve given your life to this mission, but it is most noble and laudable. In my mind, you have managed to accomplish something truly humanly extraordinary and I am very proud of having witnessed it in my lifetime.

    You have led the cranes and us thru wondrous journeys and discovery. Thank you for the years, the knowledge, the stories, the videos, and of course the wonderful last photos; for your dedication and what you have sacrificed to help bring Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction—no small fit at all and something only you can fully comprehend. Thank you also for what you have taught me and what humankind will continue to learn from your commitment and arduous work. Thank you for the opportunity to experience these magnificent creatures thru you, and you thru them.

    If I were a crane in need of human help, I would want no one but you near me.

    I feel nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for you and gratitude for the work you have done.

  16. M-Mercedes Panqueva February 7, 2016 8:43 am

    To Operation Migration Lead Pilot Joe Duff and the entire crew:
    I hear and feel your disappointment and wish your heart weren’t as heavy in the wake of the recent decisions and events. I wish it weren’t so for you.
    You have kept the safety and wellbeing of those birds as your top priority, and expediting their release at the expense of a grand finale for us and the mission, is not only consistent with the way you’ve given your life to this mission, but it is most noble and laudable. In my mind, you have managed to accomplish something truly humanly extraordinary and I am very proud of having witnessed it in my lifetime.
    You have led the cranes and us thru wondrous journeys and discovery. Thank you for the years, the knowledge, the stories; for your dedication and what you have sacrificed to help bring Whooping Cranes back from the brink of extinction—no small fit in these times of rapid change and great uncertainty; something only you can comprehend. Thank you also for what you have taught me and what humankind will continue to learn from your commitment and arduous work. Thank you for the opportunity to experience these magnificent creatures thru you, and you thru them.
    If were a crane in need of human help, I would want no one but you near me.
    I feel nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for you and the work you have done. You are birds of a very special feather.

  17. Edward Keiser February 7, 2016 6:40 am

    Some doc on Yahoo news said to say “I want to” instead of “I have to”… it’s supposed to make you feel better. So today’s my Monday.. and I “want” to go work in a noisy facility scrubbing toilets. But Joe… you Brook, Heather, and your amazing team… are what made us feel better. Inspiration, dedication, laughter, tears… we loved watching Operation Migration and wish you and yours the very best in your future endeavors.

  18. Bob Herndon February 7, 2016 12:28 am

    I’m so sorry that circumstances brought you to such an anticlimactic ending. Please know that you’ve inspired and enlightened many of us, with what you do, and your enthusiasm for how you do it, …for decades!. I’ve worked in conservation for almost 30 years, first, as a supervisor for a major zoo, and now in law enforcement for USFWS.
    I’ve always admired your work, and envied your job. I want to thank you for bringing Whooping Cranes back into our lives. Every year, I see a few as they migrate through my world (15 at once this year!!). Thankyou, Know that you have made difference, that’s so much more than most people ever get a chance to do.

  19. Mindy February 6, 2016 11:56 pm

    Thank you for this Pilot’s Report Joe. I know it must have been a tough one to write. I hurt for you and wish so much that you could have flown six birds into St. Mark’s on a perfect weather day…That there would have been a huge crowd there to welcome the crew and see the last flight…It would not have changed the decision of the partners we all hated to hear and accept, but it would have seemed somehow to bring a sweeter closure to the wonderful program you and OM began in 2001. The weather has not been a friend the past four months. Throughout the many challenges, you and the whole Team have just risen to the top and carried on bravely. No one will ever forget that. OM has gone above and beyond for the birds. Always the best for the birds. For the Whoopers first, before yourselves. And you did it with overwhelming success. No one will ever forget that, either. You are so correct in saying that “right now most of us see looking back, not forward”. We are holding on to what we have seen or experienced… oh, the memories! All the past years, the migrations, the sweet birds, this year a perfect summer of training at the marsh, great flights each day, the Beast, the precious colts and the excitement of seeing them take to the skies one more time. Now that is gone and we are so very sad. We don’t know what the future holds but we will be right here, steady in our commitment to support OM and tell everyone about Whoopers and wetland conservation. You have taught us so much. Every time a Whooper migrates from Wisconsin to it’s southern winter home, it tells a tale with it’s flight path, a testament to the sacrifice of OM. May they fly safely on and thrive! To all the Team members and volunteers, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have contributed to the Whooper species. And you have enriched me, as a human, in ways that cannot be spoken in words. You all rock!

  20. Peg Wiggins February 6, 2016 11:52 pm

    Thank you for all that you have done. History has been made. Over & out.

  21. Sonny Cohen February 6, 2016 11:46 pm

    Yay team. A win on so many levels.

    http://www.sonnycohen.com

  22. Becky Keaton February 6, 2016 11:43 pm

    There are a lot of us disappointed, but none so poignantly as all of you. A lot of us are sad we won’t get to see them fly one last time, but again, not nearly to the degree of all of y’all. Thank you for your amazing dedication, and for believing in something wholeheartedly.

  23. Juel February 6, 2016 11:15 pm

    Thanks for all you’ve done. As a Wisconsin and Tallahassee resident, I have followed this project for years. I’ll continue to support our whooping cranes, wherever they are. What an incredible amount of work and love you have shown to bring these beautiful birds to our neighborhood. Bless you!

  24. Nancy February 6, 2016 11:14 pm

    God bless you all.

  25. Kathy Butler February 6, 2016 10:57 pm

    I can’t even imagine the emotions that went on today. I pray all your work will pay off and cranes will multiply. Be proud Joe what you’ve accomplished here. Reintroducing a natural migration. wow
    Thank you for taking us with you on this amazing whooper trike ride. An adventure I will Never Forget.
    When I am with someone and I see a cranes – anywhere – I will tell people..I have an amazing story to tell you about Operation Migration.
    Final Lead Report-Ever..Yes..but lets see whats around the corner.

  26. Lu Duncan Frank February 6, 2016 10:50 pm

    To Joe and the entire OM team, you are the best! We will miss all of the hard work and dedication you have made to the conservation of these magnificent birds! You are an inspiration to us all and we thank you for everything you have done for them. You have made this your life’s work, and it will be interesting to see what the next adventure will be.God speed and God bless!

  27. Carol Berglund February 6, 2016 10:17 pm

    Thank you, Joe, for all you’ve done for us and the cranes! God bless you and the rest of the OM team and all the craniacs. We love y’all. Have a safe trip home. I’m sure you’ll find worthwhile things to do. Hope your back feels better soon. Take care!

  28. Dorothy Hahn February 6, 2016 10:13 pm

    You can be proud of all you’ve done over the years and I’m sorry you didn’t get to have the last flight go as planned. You’re work with the cranes has been deeply appreciated and will continue to be. God Bless all the OM team!!

  29. Catherine Wohlfeil February 6, 2016 9:58 pm

    Thank you Joe, and the Operation Migration team. A little over two years ago I sat in a blind and watched while a group of tiny wide-eyed whoopers ran eagerly in anticipation of one of their first flights of their life after fledging. They followed you, they followed the efforts of your team, they followed a dream. One that will live on in the memories and dreams of countless people who too have now become awakened to the beauty of these bewildering beauties that grace our skies. Without your efforts I never would have known this. Without your dreams this program never would have been possible.

    Believing something is possible is always the first step. That you’ve proved to us each morning you take off with these birds following you and trusting you. You’re currently at the forefront of what will instill momentum in the environmental movement. One hundred birds… a choir can’t be as beautiful as the sound of their call in the morning… If it had only been for one, it would have been a monumental task well worth taking.

    Perhaps gardens will always grow, but the courage required on a daily basis in tending that garden is indeed God’s best reflection of what man can be, wingtip to wingtip, and wingbeat to heartbeat joined forever.

    You say it should have ended differently. Maybe because it hasn’t ended yet….

    Any scientific venture cannot produce clear results without both a constant and a variable. By removing the constant of the release method which has proved to be the most effective, it will be impossible to accurately verify the results of any changes made in the selective breeding methods, rearing methods, or release methods. Continuing the ultralight flights until a viable method is discovered to promote the population growth desired is the only scientifically feasible way to prevent the loss of the 100 birds in the eastern flyway

    Thank you for all you’ve had the courage to do, the inspiration to believe it was possible, and the strength to follow it through. Whatever you choose, we, the supporters of OM, will always be with you.

  30. Nancy Bruins February 6, 2016 8:54 pm

    This operation will always be an amazing success to remember. Without OM this reintroduction would never have made it off the ground. You did great everyone!

  31. Kerry Brookman February 6, 2016 8:53 pm

    Weather and WCEP have been sadly confounding elements this past season for OM and Class of 15. From this day forward I hope for you fair winds and following seas.

  32. Rick Jones February 6, 2016 8:42 pm

    Since meeting Heather on the tower at Necedah in October, 2002, until today, reading Joe’s Final Lead Report, I became increasingly in awe of the dedication of the OM crew to their mission and to the birds. I agree that you all should feel an honest pride in what you’ve accomplished. While I join many followers in sadness at the end of the ultralilght phase of the reintroduction I also have hope that OM will continue in some way to aid in the ongoing establishment of an Eastern migratory flock. My thanks to all the team, past and present.

  33. Lynn and Jim Derck February 6, 2016 8:36 pm

    All wildlife reintroduction programs come to an end and OM has not been unsuccessful. You have planted many “seeds” that may over the years reap a bumper crop. Remember Romeo and Juliet…and to quote Jeff Goldblum, “Life finds a way”. Please keep the blog going so we can keep up with you all, the birds and the new and old developments. Thanks for including us on the journey.

  34. Kathy Terwilliger February 6, 2016 8:09 pm

    Safety first. While I am so sorry that you did not get the last flight … please know that all you have done, along with your great Operations Migration team, has been beyond awesome. St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and all the peeps that work there, volunteer there, and visit there, have benefited from this great adventure and learning experience. Thank you so very much.

  35. Mary Maxwell February 6, 2016 7:17 pm

    Thank you for all you and OM have done, for what you will continue to do. I am amazed – in awe – of your dedication and efforts.

    And thank you for sharing your experiences: success and disappointments with all us.

    Good luck!

  36. Nina Lewis February 6, 2016 7:14 pm

    I think that the future will be bright and chock full of opportunities. Time will tell. Love all the cranes and all of Operation Migration. In my heart.

  37. Lara Leaf February 6, 2016 7:10 pm

    No matter how it happened, congratulations on getting this cohort to their final winter destination. As you have often said, it’s all about the birds. And to paraphrase – Go on, make plans, it gives Nature a good laugh.
    While it is a grief to think about never flying with these valiant birds off your wing again, my complete laudations to you and the other pilots flying for so many hours over the years under such constant demanding conditions ,without a mishap. I don’t know how you managed it – flying in that costume, with the extremely limited vision of the head, keeping constant track of the location of the birds, keeping on route (I know you had GPS, but still), all the distractions of wind and temperature, keeping a lookout for other flying ‘objects’ or ground objects when flying low, body discomfort, all the changing on-the-fly decisions/choices to be made when the birds or something got ‘off track’, such as one or two birds not staying on the wing. Those rodeos must have been nightmares.
    Praise for all the ground crew – SO much to be done, not the least driving those trailers around. I could go on and on…..
    And thank you, all you Mods – you kept order when often chaos in the chatroom could have reigned.
    I have never, in my 65 years, known such a team putting so much constant effort and sacrifice and dedication into a project. To me, the OM team is the pinnacle Dream Team. It has truly been a privilege to witness your accomplishments.

  38. Sally Swanson February 6, 2016 7:05 pm

    On this bittersweet day, I want to hug you all and give thanks to your team for all that you have done for the survival of the Whooping Cranes. Whoop! Whoop! for the Class of 2015!

    http://operation%20migrataion

  39. Shirley Green February 6, 2016 7:03 pm

    PS I will expect a book, with lots of illustrations, on the ultralight program in the not-too-distant future.

  40. Carol Gianola February 6, 2016 7:01 pm

    Joe, all I can say, is look what your leadership has done for the Whooping cranes. Look what your leadership has done for the Whooping Cranes! Even 1-15 knew it when she hung on you. It will continue. If I have learned anything in my 69 years it is never look too far ahead when you are tired and hurting. Hugs and support always (()).

  41. Shirley Green February 6, 2016 6:58 pm

    Well, Joe, the major disappointment I’m feeling is that I didn’t discover the OM cam site until this fall, so had only one season to enjoy. What an adventure it was and I have come to think of all you as friends, folks I had morning coffee with every day. Now, I will be checking the FJ every morning for updates and maybe pictures from SM posted by Brooke. Please, enjoy family time now . I look forward to the fall and OM’s new role. God bless all of you.

  42. JeanFromLodi February 6, 2016 6:51 pm

    Sending love to the whole team. None of your collective time was EVER wasted. You’ve not only greatly improved the population of independent, migrating Whoopers, but you’ve also inspired thousands of children (and their parents) to realize that individuals can make a huge difference in the world. I’m so sorry for how this turned out…the new “policy,” the crushing disappointment of a lousy last day. But the seeds you’ve all planted will germinate, and good things will happen because of your example. I’m sure of it.

  43. Glenda may February 6, 2016 6:44 pm

    An amazing journey you and the crew have experienced technical, logistical, emotional, political…but the most precious and profound is the spiritual…you have witnessed the hearts and souls of another living creature and with YOUR heart and soul, have partnered and witnessed alongside them, every flap of the way. We are honored to have been just a small part of your journey. Love and good wishes to all as you carry on…

  44. Don Pollette February 6, 2016 6:41 pm

    Thanks Joe, Richard, and Brooke for putting 100+ birds in the eastern flyway. I live in Fl. and see sandhills every day. Perhaps fifty years from now people will be seeing whoopers every day , thanks to you Joe and your fellow pilots.

    http://operationMigration

  45. Tara Tanaka February 6, 2016 6:34 pm

    You did what you’ve always done – you put the birds first. The crowd applauded when they heard the decision – you made us proud and happy for the birds, not disappointed. Thank you Joe, and to every single person who participated since the beginning – you are all heroes.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/focused-on-birds

  46. Esther February 6, 2016 6:31 pm

    Thank you for all your years of devotion and hard work. I followed the migrations from the beginning because I lived near Baraboo, WI. It’s a sad time but I can understand that they weren’t learning parenting. Wish you could have had a chance to work that in with the flying somehow.

  47. Jane Maher February 6, 2016 6:29 pm

    I am grateful to have met several members of the OpMig Team in person, and to have attended Fest at Necedah more than once, and observed adult Whoopers in the wild there.. And I’ve seen departure flyovers when there were many gorgeous Colts and three ultralights guiding them. Hours with the Chatters and the Cams are irreplaceable. Thank you all, and may our White Birds fly high and safe.

  48. Laura Brown February 6, 2016 6:04 pm

    I’d like to think that all that wind was the applause from all of us craniacs to thank all of you for your dedication, creativity, and perseverance. It has been an amazing treat to follow these birds and to “fly” with you.
    Well done, all of you, and thank you.

  49. Craniachumbird February 6, 2016 5:44 pm

    Joe, I am heartbroken for you and the crew. I have followed you since 2007. I was so hoping you would get to have your last flight with the birds. I really enjoyed meeting you when you came to talk at BSBO’s banquet a couple of years ago. Praying for a safe trip back home for all of you. Thank you for all you have done so far for the Whoopers. This is not the end of the story.

  50. eugenia (aka CraneWatcher) February 6, 2016 5:32 pm

    I have this empty feeling just sitting here at my computer. I’m trying to imagine how heartbroken all of you must be — to have OM end and end as you say, Joe, with a whimper, not a bang.

    Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU to every one of you for all you have done over all the years!

  51. Kasie February 6, 2016 5:31 pm

    Joe, I had so wished that you could have your final flight, except that I really didn’t want it to be your final flight. Thank you for all that you and the rest of the team have done for the Whooping Cranes, and my very best wishes for the great work I know you will do in the future with these magnificent birds!

  52. Patti Hakanson February 6, 2016 5:21 pm

    All I can think of to say and it would never be “enough” to all of you for ALL the years you have done this-Thank You, How very bitter sweet a day this had to have been for you all 🙁 I am sorry that nature didn’t allow a final last “bringing home” flight… I pray that the future holds a new and fulfilling program that will help these wonderful birds survival. I wish each and every one of you nothing but the best and I know that somewhere, somehow all of the hard work and dedication is going to bring new promise for the cranes. It was my pleasure to meet you all, and see your heart felt work in action. May God Bless each and every one of you,and…..”Our” Cranes… <3

  53. ScubaNurse February 6, 2016 5:16 pm

    Thank you OM for all you have taught us about the beautiful Whooping Cranes. Your hard work and fantastic journal entries truly need to be put into a book… I sit here with tears and gratitude for all I have watched over the cams from eggs to St. Marks… I know there will be a new journey for the OM crew – be proud of what you have done

  54. P. Main February 6, 2016 5:15 pm

    Bless you and thank you for your commitment. Life tosses us curve balls sometimes, catch that ball and give it an underhand toss back or return that ball with flames coming from it. 🙂 I think I know which you would choose. Joe you have inspired so many in your works and can always be so proud of that. The entire OM Team can be proud, always! Again, thank you and God Bless.

  55. John White February 6, 2016 5:09 pm

    Yes, thank you OM for all you have done for the well being of the Whooping Cranes. God bless you and keep you in the palm of His hand for rest of your adventures in life.

  56. Veronica (shutterbug78) February 6, 2016 4:56 pm

    Congratulations Joe and all the rest of OM Team Jobs well done. Im going to miss the fly bys in Illinois. Every time I see a crane or hear the word I will always remember you all.

  57. Jean Roberts February 6, 2016 4:53 pm

    So so so sorry that this has to end and not in a positive way. Our grateful THANK YOU to all of the volunteers who sacrificed over the years!!!
    I hope that results of future migrations will be posted so we can see how they do on their own.
    I hope you all will get some needed time off. Thanks again.
    Jean Roberts

  58. Dora Giles February 6, 2016 4:52 pm

    I became a lover of whoopers 3 years ago when my brother told me about OM site. I will forever be sad that I was not able to make it to a fly -over or to WRM. If there are colts up there next year and there are blind visits, I definitely will do my best to come. All of OM crew, drivers of the Beast, and the mods have taught me not only about whooping cranes but about a lot of other wildlife that would stroll thru WRM. Thanks to the pilots especially for letting us fly with you on the wings with love for these fantastically beautiful birds. God bless each and every one of you and pray he keeps all of you safe in His hands.

    http://OM

  59. Dominique February 6, 2016 4:50 pm

    Your spirit still flies with them, that is what matters most.
    Much love to you all.

  60. susan February 6, 2016 4:49 pm

    I was so hoping you would have that chance to say goodbye in a more fitting manner to the “work of 23 years”. To watch the birds follow, to rodeo them around and then have them called down one last time.
    While the final leg wasn’t a winner, the work of 23 years still shows. There is indeed a wild population flying the eastern skies because of you and your team. Thank you is such a paltry acknowledgement of what your work has meant to the success of the Whooping Cranes, but it is all I have. Thank you.

  61. Tallycraniac February 6, 2016 4:39 pm

    Though most of us feel at least some of what you, Joe Duff, are feeling, we are happy that our birds are at last in their winter home. Here’s to no reports of more sad news – bobcat kindly stay away from these birds! And a safe return home to all of you, well, excepting Brooke and Colleen. I was hoping to see my first involved flyin after having joined training this year. Guess my memories of 2014 flyin will have to do. Thanks for bringing these beautiful birds to our attention. We will continue to watch over 11-09.

  62. Sue February 6, 2016 4:29 pm

    Surely there will be a documentary made of your adventures, featuring the OM team, not actors. Oh, I forgot, y’all are actors!

  63. Kay Huey February 6, 2016 4:28 pm

    Joe, for what it’s worth, today I’ve been mulling in a slightly different direction. Remember back at White River? Those birds stuck like “velcro” each time a trike took to the skies. They truly were a “dream team.” You had never seen the likes. Then came migration and the fall — and winter — of ill winds. Last year, the colts needed to be boxed for half the trip. This year, for a mere 25 miles. Regardless, something seems to be afoot with our weather. The colts know it. The future of whooping cranes needs people who deeply understand them, can adapt to adverse situations, and can find innovative solutions. I happen to think that you are the man to do it — with the considerable help of your wonderful crew.

  64. Patricia Ewing February 6, 2016 4:27 pm

    Thank you Joe and all of Operation Migration for the wonderful learning experience over the last several years. We will be seeing you again — I’m sure of it….

  65. Sue February 6, 2016 4:25 pm

    Ah, you make me want to cry. Is there chance of seeing the Whoopers if we drive up there? We have so much enjoyed your commentary and all the others who have written. Y’all have done a wonderful job taking care of the birdies and keeping us informed. If you see 9-13 at St. Marks tell him to come back to Paynes Prairie.

  66. Lisa Tart February 6, 2016 4:20 pm

    I still can’t believe it’s over-I am sad reading this post-but I know your work will continue somehow-and all of us supporters will be there with you! Thanks Joe!

  67. Barb February 6, 2016 4:19 pm

    Joe and Crew,

    Ever and Never are such strange bedfellows. Once said out loud, they seem to want to change and become: one more time. While this migration is over for this year, who knows the power of “Ever and Never” and what they will do tomorrow pushed onward with the abilities of men and women wanting to do more for the birds.. Nothing is ‘ever’ final. I so sad that this migration, while successful, has come to halt because of politics and the egos of our Government. Sad day indeed. Please keep your loyal followers of updates and news about the Whopping Cranes. Thank you all for your devotion to another living being.

  68. vannie zychowicz February 6, 2016 4:19 pm

    Thinks so much for putting these loveabl whooper in to our lives we will never for get the hard work you put into these cranes I have good memory and photo for all the pss years you was with us have a safe trip home hope to see you and the crew in the fouther

    http://facebook

  69. Elsie Sealander February 6, 2016 4:18 pm

    OM has a great many admirers because over the years they have seen the wonderful works the team has done. That can never be erased. So, many thanks for the team’s dedication to the Whooping Cranes. Carry On !

  70. Cheryl N. February 6, 2016 4:15 pm

    Welcome home, Class of 2015. May you live long and prosper as the wild birds you were meant to be. Thank you to the team for your dedication on this long, delayed journey. You have all made a difference. I will miss the ultralight program but I look forward to what you have planned to help the whooping cranes in another way. Thank you, Joe, for your leadership and courage to get this eastern flock to where it is now. I’ve been following OM since 2005 and wish all of you the very best.

  71. David NaDell February 6, 2016 4:07 pm

    I feel your pain, but this is the beginning of something new . Hope springs eternal . Sometimes it takes what we see as a catastrophe to get us to make a change for the better . May God bless you and all of the OM team .

    • colleen February 6, 2016 5:08 pm

      Wish you’d been here buddy!

  72. Big Daddy Lawler February 6, 2016 4:07 pm

    It has been an honor and pleasure to watch and report on OM for the past few years. Thanks to all of you for your commitment and dedication. It is not a week goes by that I don’t have some of my listeners ask about the Whooping Cranes. I am sad and disappointed that the ultralight flights have ended but on a happier note I am so glad I got to watch the last Alabama Black Belt flyover and hear the words of one of the ground crew “Best flyover ever”. Thanks for a wonderful adventure!! BDL

    http://Www.gettinoutdoorsradio.com

  73. Kelly Walker February 6, 2016 4:07 pm

    You’ve done something no other mortals will ever match. You’ve flown on the wings of hope. What a flight that must be! Thanks to OM, we still have hope. That’s a wonderful gift to us all. It is sad. But as it has been said; Don’t be sad it’s over. Be glad you were there. I am grateful for your work. Thank you for sharing the journey.

  74. Marilyn February 6, 2016 4:05 pm

    Your work will never be over and will never, ever be forgotten. You will find a way to continue your decades of dedication. There are those of us out in the world who will continue to be the wind beneath your wings. Let’s keep the whoop, whoop chant going forever!!

  75. Emilie February 6, 2016 4:05 pm

    I am heart-broken so your’s must be crushed. God bless you all.

  76. Linda February 6, 2016 4:05 pm

    Joe, thank you. You and the entire OM team have spent years going above and beyond for the cranes. The world owes you all a debt of gratitude for reestablishing an eastern flock.

    We will miss the reports. I do hope the team seriously considers compiling them into a book. You would have many avid readers.

  77. Meg Lunnum February 6, 2016 4:03 pm

    I think all of us who have followed the ultralights and the cranes for all these years, feel sad that the last flying leg was not to be. Maybe Mother Nature will be kind to the cranes and let them start investing in the future with chicks. Thank you to everyone.

  78. Dave Sapko February 6, 2016 4:03 pm

    Thank you Joe and the whole OM team for all the hard work over the years OM has been in business.
    We will miss every part, from the egg to the SMs Winter pen.

  79. Jeanne Huie February 6, 2016 3:58 pm

    My wishes were for a picture perfect day and a special ending, but as usual nature is a fickle companion. So instead of one special end day think of many special says and noble goals with a task well done. You and the OM team took on the almost impossible and proved it could be done! Wishing for happy days ahead. Profound thank yous!

  80. Larry Moe February 6, 2016 3:58 pm

    Thank you Joe for all of your hard work with Operation Migration. I just got started being interested in the project this past year and attended the Crane Fest in Princeton. My wife (Theresa Bultman) has kept me apost of happenings. I encouraged her to support OM and got to see her name on one of the trikes at Princeton. I have watched a few of the flights last year and this year. Good luck on your future ventures with the Whoopers !

    http://In%20the%20Field

  81. Cathy Page February 6, 2016 3:57 pm

    Hi Joe and the rest of the Operations Migration team,
    As a long term donor and supporter of OM, I really wish that you could have had one last flight with the birds and finish on a real high. However, as you said, is was not to be. Even so, I hope that you can celebrate your successes and not let this last day diminish all that you and your team have accomplished. I look forward to hearing how OM re-invents itself. Have a safe trip home.

  82. Beth Dobson February 6, 2016 3:57 pm

    Sending you huge hugs Joe, from a group of little students and their sad teacher in northern VT whom you have taught so much without having ever met in peson….