Guest Author: Jeff Weingarz
So maybe the title got your attention if for nothing else blatant curiosity – why on earth is a saucy tabloid headline gracing the top of OM’s In the Field blog today? Well, it’s not what it seems – maybe to the disappointment of some and the relief of others!!! No, the reason is pretty straightforward – it’s been 10 years since I was introduced first-hand to the endangered Whooping Crane. Not that I wasn’t aware of Whooping Cranes and their status; my wife and I knew of Operation Migration and their work – but after several years of offers from fellow birders to take us up to Necedah, and then the tragic news of the Class of 2006, we *finally* made plans in 2007 for our first trip to Wisconsin.
We left our house in Illinois at 3AM; drove the 3 hours to Necedah, stopped at the Kwik Trip to get a little early morning caffeine, and by 6AM we were on the viewing platform at the wildlife refuge anxiously awaiting our first sight of these magnificent birds during their morning flight training.
I remember it like it was yesterday. We could hear the trike; but it was coming in low over the trees to our right; we weren’t able to see it until the last second when it flew over the platform (if memory serves correctly, Brooke was flying that day). And behind the trike were the cranes – in formation, struggling a bit to keep up with the trike as it was a little warm and humid that morning, but nonetheless we were just overwhelmed by the sight.
It just so happened that George Archibald from ICF joined us with some guests on the platform that morning; so we also had the opportunity to discuss and learn from him as well. Later during the visit we were able to meet many of the OM team for the first time, and with that memorable trip, my friends, was the beginning of what has been a 10 year love affair with our friends the Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration.
There have been so many stories and adventures over the years that it’s hard to keep track. Lost birds on migration; an entire group of birds deciding to go AWOL on their own and the OM team having to chase them down; trike, Cessna, truck, and trailer malfunctions; cold days, hot days, down days, good days and bad days – the list goes on and on.
I have learned so much – not only about Whooping Cranes, but about conservation in general – and the wonderful and knowledgeable people that my family and I have met along the way have broadened our lives considerably. But through it all, here is the takeaway I want all of us to consider – as I look back over the years and see the fruits of OM’s (and a lot of other organizations) labor, we now have an eastern migrating flock and adult nesting pairs – the vast scope of this accomplishment can sometimes be easily overlooked.
While there is so much more work to do to insure the continued protection and expansion of the eastern flock, all of us should take a moment and appreciate what has been accomplished. And I mean all of us – whether it be the Operation Migration team, all of the other supporting organizations of WCEP, or all of us as conservationists supporting Whooping Cranes and the environment in general through our daily words and actions. It takes a village, and in this case, more like a small city of people and organizations banding together to protect an animal species. But all of us as individuals should take pride in this accomplishment – no matter how small a role that you played, it has been absolutely critical to the success that has been achieved so far.
So in this 10th year of my love affair with Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration, I am honored to join the Board of Directors of this organization – it is my hope that I can contribute even more of my time to this fantastic organization as we move into a new phase of the program. With the recent announcement of the closing of Patuxent, we are faced with several unknowns moving forward, but please know that the team is continuing to focus its efforts to ensure forward progress. There will always be change – it is inevitable in any program; Operation Migration will use this change to look for opportunity and use it to the Whooping Crane’s advantage.
I want to leave you with a quote from a fellow and well-loved conservationist. Jane Goodall wrote this in her book “With Love” back in 1999, and I think it encompasses what every conservationist already knows:
“Every individual matters. Every Individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference”
So in closing, am I up for another 10 years of this torrid love affair? You bet.