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”!
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.