By definition, a privilege is an honor granted or bestowed upon someone deserving. I’m not sure about the deserving part, but being allowed to work with birds for a good part of my life has been a privilege.
We started with common Canada geese and worked our way up the species list to less abundant Trumpeter swans, then Sandhill cranes and finally the icon of endangered avian species. The only thing we could aspire to now would be to soar with California condors or find the elusive Ivory billed woodpecker.
Whooping cranes have such celebrity that those lucky enough to fly with them are dragged along for the ride. As Robert Porter Allen said, “If we succeed in preserving the wild remnant that still survives, it will be no credit to us; the glory will rest on this bird whose stubborn vigor has kept it alive in the face of increasing and seemingly hopeless odds.”
The reward for hard work and long absence from home has always been to fly with the birds, but there are other benefits. Recently, Heather and I were privileged to spend an hour or so chatting with Dr. Jane Goodall. She was passing through Toronto on one of the 320 days a year that she travels to promote conservation. She spoke to 3500 people, two days in a row and was off to Washington DC before heading to Hawaii and then Africa. She told us that in the last 4 years she has flown on 385 airlines.
At 82, her stamina is incredible but it is her character that is most appealing. Since she flew with us in the back seat while we led Whooping cranes around Necedah, she has been a supporter of this project and a friend to the birds. She has helped us in so many ways but the most important is difficult to define. There is something in her kindness, her experience, her commitment and the generosity of her friendship that lifts you above the difficult times.
When things get tough you need a little Jane Goodall to help you though. Knowing her, at least a little, is like flying with birds.