“Have a nice life”

Everyone has heard the story about the always troublesome, pot smoking, glue sniffing, light fingered kid named Jimmy who returned home from school one day to find his house completely vacant and a note on the front door from his parents saying “Have a nice life” with no forwarding address. Only the neighbors were witness to their leaving. I’m not sure if the story is true or if it simply falls under the category of urban legend. However, looking out from the blind into a pen where half the crane population has suddenly vanished as if in some old episode of “Twilight Zone” I think I know the answer.

“Have your birds left yet?” the dentist asked from behind the blinding light above the dental chair. “Today or tomorrow.” I replied through the gauze. “The adults anyway.  The chicks usually go later.” The question and answer flew out so quickly it took a few moments before I suddenly realized it was the first time this year that anyone had asked me the question. Usually, this time of year, I run and hide at the approach of even the smallest of children or animals knowing I am about to be assailed by this question for the gazillienth time. But I guess the complete absence of the question is just part of the natural course of a project once filled with so much hope and expectation but that is now relegated to the scrap heap of broken dreams and sad endings.

“The older birds just left with #2-15. The other five chicks flew back into the pen.” The migration sky above the parking lot hung crystal clear and blue as Colleen’s words came through the phone a half an hour later. (She arrived at the blind early so as not to miss the show) “It was awesome”!

The five remaining juvenile Whooping cranes at St. Marks NWR.

The five remaining juvenile Whooping cranes at St. Marks NWR.

Later that afternoon I was in the pen observing the remaining chicks but it was clear my presence was of little consolation. There simply wasn’t a hint of abandonment or sense of loss. Nor were there any “More Food for You, More Food for Me” touchdown victory dances. It was almost as though the older birds were voted off the island, as scripted as if on television. The chicks just poked around, not even noticing their absence. Not that there was ever any great sense of camaraderie between old and new.  Who likes getting bullied by the older kids anyway?

But it is interesting that in the end, Peanut, who was for most of the winter treated as a pariah by the older birds, went along in the first wave north.  And #2-15, surely dropped on her head at some point in her young life, followed also. She flew with the older birds on short flights now and then but never hung around with them. The question is, how long will she stay with them and will it be long enough to pass the migration legs she made in a box. Her satellite transmitter should give us a running log of her locations if the unit doesn’t fail, as did the one on #1-15 after just a couple of weeks or give periodic erratic readings like the one on 8-15. Time will tell.

And so the crane casino is open once again for business and let the betting begin. Will all the birds arrive in Wisconsin safely?  Will they arrive alone or in what combinations? When will the second group leave… and where will they arrive and how long will it take them to get back? Place your bets. And remember, this will be the last chapter in the very last ultralight led migration. Like with the Trump Casino in Atlantic City, it is all coming to an end.

I just wonder if Jimmy’s neighbors will be there to see it.

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  1. Madeline April 1, 2016 11:43 am

    “But I guess the complete absence of the question is just part of the natural course of a project once filled with so much hope and expectation but that is now relegated to the scrap heap of broken dreams and sad endings.”

    Dear Brooke, I’ve been struggling to find some words to convey my gratitude and respect for all the many many things you’ve done and all the amazing reports you’ve written. Please know that so many of us have been inspired by your words and your actions, pouring your heart and soul into the recovery. The empty ache in my own heart gives me just a hint of what you are dealing with. God speed to you, all the OM crew, and most of all, all the chicks and adults who are out there because of your dedication.
    Dare I suggest … can it still happen? Let Hope Take Wing

  2. thunder March 30, 2016 10:20 pm

    Brooke ~ I can not express enough how much I have enjoyed your posts. Thank you for them!

    Here’s to the last migration class that we now know took off on 3-30. With our chins up and smiles on our faces we watch them head up home.

    I am sorry this will be the last followed migration. OM you gave your heart and soul to these birds. You have to be so proud of these cranes. That last picture of the five in the pen is just wonderful.

    Just my thoughts. Back in WI standing on the runway looking up to the sky 2-15 says to 1-15, “Who was that guy anyway in that yellow flying machine?” 1-15 says “I really don’t know but I’m going to miss that yellow bird.” Then off in the distance they hear that familiar trike sound. They catch a quick glimpse of it disappearing into the marsh mist. 2-15 says “Whoever he is I can’t thank him enough.”

  3. Grandma March 29, 2016 8:28 pm

    Thank you for all of your posts Brooke, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading them. It is nice to be kept up to date on the birds heading north,..Appreciate your time and devotion you have given them over the years. I, along with many others hope to see this program to continue in some way. Thanks again for all you have done..

  4. Terry Johnson March 29, 2016 8:23 pm

    Brooke, your hard work, sacrifice and unwavering dedication have not gone unnoticed by by the crane community, nor by the so called activists who profess their support while playing the political card.

    I guarantee you that they will be rethinking their knee jerk decision one day when it may be too late to save these magnificent birds.

    At least you and the rest of OM will be able to sadly tell them, “I TOLD YOU”.

    Go in Peace and know that at least you tried.

  5. Catherine Wohlfeil March 29, 2016 7:53 pm

    Now is not a time of broken dreams and sad endings. Now is a time for planning, reformulating, building, and launching; there’s no time for delay. Follow the path of 2-15 (P.S. She wasn’t dropped on her head, she’s been craftily playing out the role of Columbo, and while being underestimated surprises all and is the first to lead the Way Home.) Fly now. And bring those birds… and flights… on Home.

  6. Kasie March 29, 2016 7:43 pm

    Like many others I am also very worried about #2-15. I hope and pray that she is not alone and that she will make it safely back to Wisconsin.

  7. Sue March 29, 2016 2:13 pm

    I was never interested in the “personal” lives of the aviary species……until I happened to see an article re. something called “whooping cranes”. Then I began to follow OM daily. I couldn’t wait to see how and where they were, and the remarkable devotion of the team! You opened your hearts to us all. I am so very sad to know the project may be coming to a close. I am trying to be optimistic and await your next emails. I have never seen such a “family”. I applaud you all and can’t thank you enough!

  8. Andrea Vickers Johnson, Alaska March 29, 2016 12:52 pm

    I still remain skeptical of the DOI/USFWS grasp of dedication to the birds they are entrusted to. The US Department of the Interior policy is this, let nature take it’s course; ie. “(DOI: we will take control of the EWC population again. Biologist in the field: well now, we work really well with the valuable knowledge of OM’s…interrupted by DOI: It’s not going happen).” Where the USFWS fails miserably, is protecting the bird at all. Remember, it was the USFWS that was responsible for the protection of the WC population to begin with? If a recent dialogue with OM was initiated, I have not read of it. The DOI/USFWS is still in phase one of choosing the right committee to figure out what to do? That means there was no plan in place when they ruled on their decision. Without the expertise of OM’s very capable hands on conservation, they will never understand the extended behavioral knowledge that will end with a successful outcome. Unfortunately, I see no other end than absolute failure on the part of the DOI/USFWS. Am I still angry with their decision to not include OM from the conversation and resolution to the parenting problems the birds face? Absolutely. My only solace will be a sick sense of satisfaction in seeing that in fact, the USFWS will require OM’s knowledge of the EWC population. I just hope it isn’t too late; because it is about the survival of the specie as a whole. In final, I would like to applaud OM’s (Joe Duff), speaking with grace in the face of great disappointment about the ruling of the DOI/USFWS. Mark my words Joe, your job isn’t done.

  9. anna osborn March 29, 2016 12:45 pm

    We will see the Texas flock in November if all goes well with them and with us. I will never forget you and your project which brought so much joy to so many, so much hard work to you. We are following the reports of the migration and hoping for the best for the traveling birds.

  10. Carol Giancola March 29, 2016 12:29 pm

    It is such a delight to see the colts in this photo. They have grown so much! Thank you, Brooke.

  11. Mindy March 29, 2016 12:22 pm

    Thank you Brooke! Love the picture! Sure hope you get to see the young ones take off and get to describe the details to us! 2-15 just sounds like she was ready to go. Sort of like 7-14 last year going early and with older cranes. I know this is all so bittersweet for you, knowing it is the last group. We all appreciate and love you and your hard work all these years…Blessings in your future…

  12. Sally Swanson March 29, 2016 11:59 am

    Thank you Judy Lorenz for saying what I have trouble putting into words. The birds are indeed magnificent as are the complete crew of Operation Migration. We all hope the birds make it back safely!


  13. Lara Leaf March 29, 2016 11:24 am

    Probably a relief for the colts. :/

  14. acwilliams March 29, 2016 11:12 am

    Brooke, I also want to thank you for your complete dedication to these wonderful birds…I will miss all of this more than words can express, but knowing there are whoopers flying around this continent of ours and all because of you and the gang, who made them your priority..And now the Rowe cranes will be gone for the summer and those birds are as beautiful and wonderful as the whoopers.. Take care and please let us know as soon as you can about the new direction y’all will be taking , when, where, etc…


  15. Sallyls March 29, 2016 10:02 am

    I hope that you and the others don’t completely give up. There are 100 some birds in a migrating flock that were not there when you began. Perhaps down the road it will be established that this was indeed a successful experiment in establishing a migrating flock. Perhaps some combination of wild adults mixed into the costume-led birds would help. I am sure you have more ideas than I do and for now are probably beyond disappointed and dejected, but you folks at OM HAVE accomplished so much!!!

  16. Leota Hopper March 29, 2016 9:40 am

    Thank you Brooke, it has been a wonderful adventure these last three years I’ve been watching and following you, Heather, Colleen & the rest of the OM group, list is long but just a few and they know who they are lol!!
    I will Not say it is the END, but will say ALOHA (Till We Meet Again) somewhere, someplace, sometime. The other 5 are taking their time, but will move on to explore with the others and maybe pair off.
    Yes, Only Time Will Tell!
    Thank you All for A Wonderful Adventure into the Operation Migration Trails!! Till Then

  17. Margie Tomlinson March 29, 2016 8:47 am

    Oh, “Crane Daddy”, Brooke, this is such a sad report from you. These old eyes are filling with tears while reading it. You have given so much to the dream! Bless you for all you have done! We will still hope & pray for the best for our Whoopers’ future wherever they roam, and wherever we may be, as well. Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts! (<3)

  18. Sue McCurdy March 29, 2016 8:43 am

    Thanks Brooke for another wonderful story. When will they be published? Do you know where 9-13 is? He spent his first migration with the Sandhills at UF and Paynes Prarie. To my knowledge he didn’t return this year. I hope he’s okay.

    • Heather Ray March 30, 2016 7:43 am

      Again, we do not know where 9-13 is.

  19. Elsie Sealander March 29, 2016 8:21 am

    Brooke, what is the latest on 2-15. We haven’t had a report on her progress since March 26th. At that point, 7-14 had parted and was in IL. 2-15 was in Indiana. Has she moved on or has something happened to her ?

  20. Shirley Green March 29, 2016 7:20 am

    Well, Brooke, now we continue to wait and see. Last fall was certainly a time of fun and frustration. I am so unhappy I discovered the OM site so late, one year only of the crane adventures, but grateful for the one season. Now I check in each morning for FJ postings and photos, like yours, and will enjoy wearing my new tee shirt this summer-all to remember. Thank you.

  21. Judy Lorenz March 29, 2016 6:17 am

    It has been such a privilege for me to follow these magnificent birds since Sept. 30 of 2015. I have shared their journey by reposting to my FB page and making people more aware of these birds. Thanks to all for all your hard work and patience.