This whooping crane project, like any wildlife reintroduction, is nothing if not an exercise in connectivity; people connecting with the birds and more importantly, people connecting with each other. Like they say “It takes a village” and it is the glue of connectivity that holds the village together. If we get really lucky, some of those connections turn into friendships. And so when my good friend Scott Tidmus from Disney called up last week to say he and his wife Lynn were coming up from Orlando to visit, I immediately ran out and bought a lottery ticket.

As anyone knows, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund has been a great supporter of our work from the beginning. One year they even purchased three new, much needed wings for our ultralights, which quickly replaced “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” as my favorite Disney attraction. But that’s another story for another time. Anyway, Scott has been a manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom since it opened and has been our connection with “The Mouse.” To write a comprehensive description of Scott’s contribution to the project over the years as well as that of Disney would soon exhaust my little computer’s reservoir of ink, so suffice it to say I was glad to see him.

Scott’s wife, Lynn, has also been a great supporter of the project and has spent more than twenty years in the trenches of the public school classrooms…. conservation’s first line of defense, fighting the battle for awareness and appreciation of the natural world in her science laboratory for grades K through 5.

And like the good farmer, she works daily the fields of caring and hope, planting in her students the seeds of respect, responsibility, and stewardship… the harvest of which will, with luck, protect and sustain us all well into the future. For three years, Lynn’s students participated in our “Change for Cranes” program. She and Scott collected up used film canisters and passed them out to the students into which they placed their collected coins. Then each morning, the students emptied their canisters into a bucket at the front of the classroom. Lynn believed that there was no better way to connect the students to the natural world than by encouraging them to invest in it. She taught them that by doing so, they were investing in their future… and ours’. In those three years, the students raised several thousands of dollars for the Whooping Crane Project. Needless to say, we will never read about any of her students shooting a whooping crane.

And no discussion of the Tidmus family’s contribution to our whooping crane project would be complete without including the story of their oldest son, Sean, and his participation one rainy Sunday afternoon way back in 2010.  You see, the 2009 birds had returned and were beating the hell out of the 2010 chicks, kicking them out of the pen. This was particularly threatening when it happened every evening after dark. The only solution was to haze these marauding yearlings away. They were free to go anywhere else in the entire world they wanted… as long as it wasn’t the pen. For the next couple of days we attempted to haze these threatening intruders away but unfortunately my efforts more resembled a 2000 pound cow trying to lay eggs than an Olympic runner sprinting to the finish line. I had just returned from the pen where I had spent the afternoon singing my rendition of Disney’s ear worm, “It’s A Small World After All” with no noticeable effect when the “cavalry” arrived; Scott and his son Sean.

Now Sean just happened to be a member of the Florida State University football team right up the road in Tallahassee.  He played defensive linebacker and since “defense” was the order of the day, he was definitely the man for the job.  It didn’t hurt that he just happened to be in possession of a pair of legs which, when operated in concert with one another could outrun even the most stubborn and belligerent whooper alumni from the Class of 2009.

More quickly than a “Superman Suit-up” Sean crawled into a costume and was out on the sand flats hazing the white intruders away with all the quickness and speed of a running back racing for a touchdown. Scott and I watched from the pen with “Wow” smiles framed in the lenses of our hoods while whooper thought balloons filled the air, containing words like, “Who put the bat guano in Big Birds cornflakes, anyway”? It wasn’t long before the Class of 2009 became “Up, Up and Away’d” as Scott and I fought to catch our breath because of all the laughter we had struggled so hard to suppress. Meanwhile, the 2010 chicks gave a great collective sigh of relief and returned into the safety of the pen while Sean retuned to the blind, removed his costume and headed off down the path to the parking lot to call about a gig on Dirty Jobs.

The much anticipated weekend came and went in a blur like all great, much anticipated St. Marks weekends do; with hugs of greeting, trips out to the blind to see the birds, meals of local seafood, and the required long, all important life and death discussions concerning the state of the National Football League playoffs. These were followed by a visit with local veterinarian and great friend Dr. Norm Griggs while he struggled to repair the flag pole in front of his office, lunch with dear friends Tom and Teresa Darragh and their updates on the St Marks Photo Club activities, long pleasurable stories of past shared bird adventures and battles fought… some won, some lost, and ending with the hugs and waves of farewell, accompanied as always by promises of future reconnection. Then it was back to what passes for normal life… but with a serious “recharge.”

It is said you can judge the wealth of a person by the friends he or she has. Perhaps a species can be judged the same way. And if it can, then our whooping cranes are wealthy indeed… and so am I.

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  1. Ann Gillis January 28, 2017 11:11 pm

    Thanks for this lovely story. Almost felt that I was there too. I am grateful for you and for them.

  2. Catherine Wohlfeil January 24, 2017 9:16 pm

    The backstage tours presented by Disney’s Animal Kingdom led me to a knowledge of and appreciation for the Disney Conservation Fund. Both provide deeply felt inspiration for an appreciation of all this world holds if we only hold onto it. Thank you to Disney for that initial journey into awareness and respect for the environment. Over the years I’ve found that many of the heroes of conservation efforts on our planet wear mouse ears. Thank you.

  3. Elsie Sealander January 24, 2017 3:14 pm

    We need more people like Scot’s wife, Lynn. Education is the key to helping all wildlife, which includes the Whooping Cranes.

  4. Mindy January 24, 2017 12:27 pm

    Great comments for great friends Brooke! Kudos to Scott and Lynn and Sean for all they do for the Whooping cranes directly and for all the teaching to others and especially the next generations of crane lovers. Thank you!

  5. Marilyn Wanser January 24, 2017 9:06 am

    As always, Brooke, thank you for the wonderfully-written narrative. Yes, our precious whoopers have brought together many people from different walks of life. In contrast to “the news”, it reminds us of how many wonderful people there are on this earth. God bless you.

  6. Dora Giles January 24, 2017 8:48 am

    I believe in the “wealth” of friends also. I am very wealthy to have “met” craniacs from all walks of life and to learn to appreciate and love the Whoopers and the people who have dedicated their lives to the preservation and survival of these birds. Thank you is not strong enough to express my appreciation. Thank you, thank you, thank you.