Carry On…

The 2015 southward aircraft-guided Whooping crane migration is complete. It was the longest yet at 115 days due to rain. South winds. Politics.

Fitting perhaps, for as everyone now knows, it is the last.

18 years ago I first volunteered to work with Operation Migration. I had no idea what talents I could bring but they welcomed me. I had come from a radio background and what place in Whooping crane conservation might that even be somewhat helpful?

Back then, OM was still working with Sandhill cranes and I fell in love with them. Quickly.

I began writing posts about our work online and people became engaged. Interested. Craniac’s were born!

I’m often asked “what is your most memorable experience”? After 18 years, how can I possibly choose just one?

I had the opportunity to work with some incredibly dedicated and passionate people. The honor and privilege of working with some pretty amazing birds. To do something good for the environment. To try to undo some of the damage our predecessors unknowingly did to our natural world.

Our volunteers and supporters made this all possible. We could not have accomplished this without you. Your generosity, kindness and encouragement lifted spirits and instilled hope. Friendships were made. With you, we celebrated the successes and mourned with the losses.

To the many school teachers who followed along throughout the years and introduced this project to your students. They. Will. Remember.

And of course the Whooping cranes – Regal. Noble. Majestic. Magnificent.

Fly free my feathered friends. Live long. Carry on…

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  1. Maggie Turk February 9, 2016 3:43 pm

    Of course I write this with tears in my eyes and sorry I have not met you in person. Had an opportunity in 2014 at the banquet but I was just too timid to walk up to you and introduce myself and my husband. We sat at the table with Brooke and Bev and I was just bursting with pride to be so close to all these talented people and of course I did speak a hello to Joe and wished him well. I have been following the migration all 15 years and have learned so much along the way. Thank you so much for your complete dedication to these birds and I will try to look for them at the Horicon Marsh this summer.. I will always think of you as we travel through LODI, Wi. God bless all of you.

    • Heather Ray February 9, 2016 5:34 pm

      Maggie, you a Virgil must come to the 2016 festival! And be sure to stick your foot out to trip me as I’m running past you. Please!?

  2. Kathy February 9, 2016 9:13 am

    Still finding this very emotional here. Heather your a lady with many hats who kept us together here in chat. The one on one Sunday Q&A’s with all questions answered – who could of ever asked for more. You did everything in you power for these cranes. That in itself has to full your heart. Thank you for all the updates and pictures. We crazies peeps in chat will always be here for you.
    My 10 yr old granddaughter asked me “Where are the cranes?” I told her they are free now and on a new adventure.

  3. Lu Duncan Frank February 8, 2016 8:48 pm

    Heather and the entire team, thanks for everything you have done for these magnificent birds! You are truly and inspiration for all of us! Your unselfish dedication has made an impact on passing on the plight of these birds and your efforts to bring them back to the community are surpassed by none! I hope that this program can be resurrected in the future and that you all will be there to serve again (God willing and if you are up for it). Thanks for everything, it’s been a wonderful experience!

  4. Evelyn Horn February 8, 2016 7:53 pm

    I’m sitting at my computer. Crying.
    Evelyn Horn

  5. Catherine Wohlfeil February 8, 2016 7:46 pm

    You have a legacy of no regrets and have given hope to the future, for the cranes, the environment, and ourselves. There can be no greater good than that. May peace find you and inspiration guide you. Carry on…

  6. Diane McAllister February 8, 2016 7:30 pm

    Thank you for your hard work. Look forward to the next chapter, whatever that may be…

  7. Peter Smith February 8, 2016 7:06 pm

    Brilliant time with this incredible organization, Heather. Even though I’ve never met you (and only had one visit to Necedah, years ago- met a few great folks then), in each and every post you brought us craniacs into this magical world of the big white birds. For any readers who have not seen then, I wish that somehow, safely and without disturbing our flock, each craniac will get to see the birds up close. They ARE something to behold.

    I share others’ heartfelt gratitude to you, Joe, Brooke, Bev, Liz and the entire OM team for such an amazing experience, and especially your devotion to helping these animals. I am still eager to see what happens next, and hope that the effort to help whooping cranes is not lost here. My very best wishes. Thank you with all my heart, Heather.

  8. Patti Hakanson February 8, 2016 7:03 pm

    It was my sincere pleasure to meet you 2 years ago at St. Mark’s and last year as well, getting to see who does what, the dedication, the hard work, the joy and, the sorrows shared, and seeing 2 migrations come full circle to St.Mark’s is nothing short of spectacular… Beautiful people of OM, beautiful whooping cranes, something I shall not forget, thank you for everything over the last 15 years. You are one amazing gal, and you have an awesome group of people along with you in OM. Hard to believe this won’t be happening again 🙁 I am sure new and exciting things will be coming down the pike, God Speed, to you all, and “our” whooping cranes. <3 XX

  9. Kasie February 8, 2016 5:08 pm

    Heather, I truly admire your dedication. Thank you for all that you have done for the Whooping Cranes and for those of us who love them.

  10. lilbirdz February 8, 2016 2:59 pm

    Heather, you represent all that is finest about all of people of Operation Migration. You folks are dedicated, extremely resourceful, possessed of impressive stamina and an excellent sense of humor. I have enjoyed the four years that I’ve watched, and I’m proud to have supported your hard work. If these magnificent birds thrive, it will be because of you and the whole team. “Good on ya!”

  11. Elsie Sealander February 8, 2016 2:40 pm


  12. LynnS in MN February 8, 2016 2:22 pm

    Thanks Heather for all your hard work and devotion to the whooping crane cause throughout the years. I started watching the cam long ago when you were first sitting in the fields with the Beast on those cold, cold mornings! Such dedication! Best wishes to you and your glorious team.

  13. Laurie Rouleau February 8, 2016 2:09 pm

    Thank you for sending the lovely photos of the arrival. And thank you for all the work you’ve done to help the whoopers. I am sad to see the program end, but am confident that you will continue your good work for OM.
    Thank you!

  14. Carol Giancola February 8, 2016 1:29 pm

    Thank you, Heather, for being our link and for loving all cranes. God bless, always. Carol aka bogwalkers.

  15. westendoldbird February 8, 2016 12:07 pm

    I sit at my desk wondering what to say. For all the funny things that we learn about cranes and ourselves thru chat. It is your hard work that kept us in the loop. Even if that means going out in the rain to change a dead battery or fix our view. Showing, all of us the human side of OM. I thank you for all your hard work. God Bless

  16. PattiLat February 8, 2016 11:55 am

    Thank YOU, Heather for allowing all of us to become a part of the passionate adventure called Operation Migration. The byproducts of OM, improved environments, educational exposure to youth, (ultra lights hooked them), among others are phenomenal. The Field Journal, cams, meet-and-greets and chats have opened up a world of knowledge in conservation to people around the world. Thank you, Heather! Always with you. . . . . as you “carry on”.

  17. Mindy February 8, 2016 11:37 am

    Great post Heather…thank you so very much for all of the education, the dedication, the insight, the pictures, camera knowledge, migration miles, problem solving and so much more we never saw that you helped with behind the scenes, but most of all your amazing love and commitment to those beautiful white creatures called Whooping Cranes who won’t forget the “wee tume” who went with them and took care of them along the way. I know you will continue to work with them somehow. Blessings to you always…..

  18. Faye Lacefield February 8, 2016 11:25 am

    Thanks to you, Heather, and all the crew for your years of dedication to this project. We in NW Alabama felt a special bond as we followed your migration southward and hoped for a glimpse of the cranes. We were delighted to get to meet some of you and appreciate the life that you built around the support of this population. Many of our local teachers and students benefited from the education programs that you offered and expanded that from interest in this species to interest in nature in general. The crane festival at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is in its 3rd year, and it is attracting a wide following of folks wanting to see both the sandhills and the whoopers. Although I never saw the cranes in guided flight, we marked the success recently when we saw a whooping crane and 3 sandhills flying over our property. How exciting!

  19. Frank Christensen February 8, 2016 10:43 am

    EVERYONE involved with OM and every one of the allied groups are my HEROES!

  20. Don Pollette February 8, 2016 10:38 am

    Thanks Heather for all you have done with the Whoopers, its appreciated . We would like you to keep us posted on what you and OM are doing in the future if its possible thanks again.


  21. Richard P. Chase February 8, 2016 10:37 am

    It was a pleasure to meet you Heather (and all of the other Operation Migration staff/volunteers). I hope that y’all continue all of the great work that you’ve done and I hope that I’ll be seeing y’all sooner rather than later. 😉

  22. marie February 8, 2016 10:28 am

    What a fabulous journey this has been. Congratulations on seeing the cranes “home” and on making the hard (I’m sure) decision to drive the last leg. Will look forward to future writings and to the spring.

  23. Doug Pellerin February 8, 2016 10:23 am

    Very nice, Heather. Thank you for all your hard work, working with the magnificent whooping crane. Thanks to you and the rest of the team there will be whooping cranes in the wild for all of us to enjoy.

  24. Sue February 8, 2016 10:18 am

    We will miss you, the team, and the birds. The Whoopers are awe inspiring. I wish the class of 2015 a happy time at St. Marks and a safe return to Wisconsin. I know you will miss them. If you and the team decide to make an appearance at St. Marks we would love to meet you. We’re still looking for 9-13 to return to Paynes Prairie.

  25. Kay Huey February 8, 2016 10:15 am

    Beautiful words, Bringing back memorable times. Your unfailing support of such precious birds has been felt far and wide. I hope you also will continue to “fly free. Live long. Carry on.”

  26. Barb February 8, 2016 10:06 am

    I also wondered, what happened with the contest that we were all voting for a few months back. I remember that Brooke won on the number of votes, but a final decision was up the a Board of sorts. I hope that Brooke won the award. He certainly has earned it.

    Also, will this website continue to exist?

    • Heather Ray February 8, 2016 1:10 pm

      It sure will continue! Also, we should get final word on the Eagle Rare Life award in April.

      • Dominique February 8, 2016 3:40 pm

        Oh good! Please do let us know and keep in touch. Big hugs from GA.

  27. Cheryl N. February 8, 2016 10:06 am

    Thank you, Heather, for your communication skills, sense of humour and online friendship for many years now. I hope you will stay in touch with all of us somehow. I’m so glad you mentioned the teachers, and the next generation. Tears in my eyes here. I can’t think of what else to say now, except to tell you that you made a difference in this world.

  28. Bruce February 8, 2016 10:04 am

    My admiration and sincere thanks to you, Heather, and Joe, Brooke, and all the others who worked so hard and gave so much of your lives these past several years to Operation Migration. We must remember that the real goal here is the survival of a truly magnificent bird, the Whooping Crane. For the sake of those birds, I really hope that the right decision has been made and whatever comes next the Whoopers will flourish and increase in numbers. Again, thanks. By any measure you have accomplished much. Hold you heads up high and take pride in what you have done.

  29. Meg Lunnum February 8, 2016 9:59 am

    Thanks for always being ready with an answer to my questions. Maybe now is the time I get my crane tattoo!

  30. Sue Fogg February 8, 2016 9:53 am

    I join many others who may not post here to express great gratitude to you and everyone involved for all the love and work you put into supporting these wonderful creatures. Fly safe and soar til we meet again.

  31. vannie zychowicz February 8, 2016 9:53 am

    Thank you Heather for your hard work with OM it was a journey you took with them and the young whooper cranes will do in the future


  32. Margie Tomlinson February 8, 2016 9:31 am

    Dear Heather, You have done a fantastic job for OM and have shared so much of it with us Craniacs! Thank you! Merci Beau Coupe! (and please let by-gones be by-gones) Would still like to get a chance to meet you in person.

  33. Nancy February 8, 2016 9:02 am

    Thank you for your dedication and for your posts.

  34. Barb February 8, 2016 9:00 am

    Thank you for your dedication to the Whooping Cranes. Like a few other posted, I stumbled on this site last Fall while looking at other bird sites. And all it took to get me hooked was just one or two days of posts. So for the last 3 months or so, every morning was greeted with the anticipation of “What’s new” with the Cranes and their protectors. I hope there will be posting every so often as to what’s going on with the Cranes, and perhaps even posts of this year’s Cranes once they begin the trip North. Thank you to all of you.

  35. acwilliams February 8, 2016 8:47 am

    Gosh, Heather, It was hard enough when OM was over for the season but we always had next year…Sadly this is not the case and it will be really painful this Sept. when we won’t be getting up as early to see what is happening in the world of our cranes…we will miss this like an old friend, esp the flying part…what fun that was.. , but at least it is not the end of OM…I so look forward to the new OM and what it will hold for you guys who are just the best in the world…as long as there will be a website and y’all doing whatever you will be doing will have to get us through the year…can’t wait for OUR new adventure…


  36. Lara Leaf February 8, 2016 8:35 am

    Thank you so much for all you have done. You allowed the chatters to see and experience so much more than we normally would have, with your beyond-the-call-of-duty extra filming and communication. We always looked forward to you being involved with us, like a guiding light into the world of the OM Whooping Crane venture. I wish you all the best things life has to offer to you – hahah, you have already experienced one of them!

  37. Fern Culhane February 8, 2016 8:21 am

    Heather, I’m sure your co-workers are more aware than us readers of the many roles you have played in this amazing project across the years! I wish to acknowledge all the work that goes into this endeavor and thank you all for the cranes and the children who will carry our concerns and attitudes into the future!

  38. MMK February 8, 2016 8:21 am

    All of us respect and admire OM! Your work will be missed. Please accept my gradititute for all your dedication. Craniacs Forever!

  39. Carol Berglund February 8, 2016 8:16 am

    Thank you for all your great work!

  40. Jim L February 8, 2016 8:16 am

    To Joe, Heather, Brooke and all volunteers, when one door closes another opens, I share your bittersweet feelings. The creator has plans for us and the birds, our jobs are not finished yet. Keep going and thank you for a wonderful ride!

    Jim L

  41. Russell Allison February 8, 2016 8:02 am

    Heather I met you and the OM crew a couple of times. What a great bunch of people. I am so sad the end of the operation has arrived. I hope something good still can happen. I followed the operation for 10 – 15 years and was so happy at what was being done. Good luck in the future and I will try to follow what happens. Go Whoopers.

  42. Patricia Ewing February 8, 2016 7:53 am

    Thank you Heather for all you have done and will do in the future for OM, I have confidence that we craniacs will be seeing you and OM in the near future…. <3

  43. Beth Dobson February 8, 2016 7:17 am

    Well said Heather …… from a school teacher at a small school in northern Vermont….