Twenty-one years ago I sent an email to Bill Lishman, inquiring about volunteer opportunities. It was the fall of 1997 and months went by before I received a response. You see, at that time, Bill and Joe were actually on migration and without email access.

I believe it was January 1998 when Bill responded and asked me to meet for lunch. Little did I know, this would lead to a 20-year career.

When I look back over the years there are many highs and lows, and thankfully, the highs outnumber the lows.

I was fortunate to work with the most endangered crane in the world. I held them in my hands. They counted on me to do so without harming them. It was an honor and a privilege and I will be forever grateful.

I worked alongside some of the most dedicated people I will ever meet. Weekends were just two additional work days. Whatever it took to get the job done, we did it… Placing the well-being of the Whooping cranes at the top of the priority list – always.

I am thankful for their friendship – in the past, present and I hope, well into the future.

As an organization, Operation Migration was fortunate to have some generous, caring supporters that helped us fund our work and we succeeded in establishing a migratory flock of Whooping cranes in an area they had been wiped out more than a century ago. No small feat and I hope you are proud and will continue to be a loud voice for the Whooping crane and other species that cannot speak for themselves.

This is what gives me hope these birds will survive.

Thank you – for everything…

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  1. Fran Beardsley December 31, 2018 5:20 pm

    Heather, thank you so much for this and all of your informative and entertaining Field Journal entries over the years. Thank you everyone for all your hard work and dedication. We have all learned so much and will miss the updates and knowing where the whooping cranes are and that they are safe.

  2. Jeannie Ulrich December 31, 2018 4:27 pm

    Thank you to all of the Operation Migration crew, Chatters and Craniacs. Through you all I have learned so much about Whooping Cranes, wetlands, our environment and even myself. We have had great fun laughing together in Crane Chat. And because of your work I have made trips to places I probably would not have gone to (St Marks Wildlife Refuge for the “final fly-in” and Cranefest in Princeton WI this September). And with the help of the Operation Migration Crew and fellow Craniacs, I got to see live Whooping Cranes in flight with my own eyes and hear their unison calls! Thank you all.

    I wish the OM crew the very best in their endeavors and pray that we will cross paths again in the future. You have meant so much to me and all of us Craniacs!

    I agree with Jean Pringelmiller, Charlotte Mullen, and Faye Pittman, there is a wonderful book in all the OM stories and photos and truly hope that it happens. Please let me know if it happens or if there is anything I can do to help. (Kickstarter?)

    Blessings to all.

  3. Dorothy Nordness December 31, 2018 1:09 am

    I just sent my “thank you for everything, I miss you like crazy” note to the info@operation-migration.org email account which I hope still exists. Let me know if it does not get there.

    And thank Jo for sending the names of the organizations that we can send money to for continued support of the whooping crane recovery efforts. They will never match you guys, tho.

  4. Catherine Wohlfeil December 30, 2018 9:49 pm

    As we come to the end of this noble endeavor, may we become aware of the courage it sometimes requires to take that first step. The power to envision the future, or what could be the future, is derived not from within ourselves but from our dreams; not from our knowledge of the outcome sought, but from our faith and our resilience in the face of storms, cold windy mornings, rain and snow that never ends, and the inevitable flat tire on the highway of life. Our “power” comes from believing in someone or something greater than ourselves and holding fast to that heartfelt course that we knew was ours on that first morning when we saw the birds rush out in eager anticipation of… flight.

    May your endeavors grow and from them be born things greater than you dreamed possible when you took that first step.

    And may the Almighty guide the birds on their life path to follow the horizon of hope, the anticipation of health, and the depth of the grand understanding that comes from long life.

    Lean into the wind little ones, spread your wings, and fly. Follow that invisible bird that leads you into the sunrise of a new dawn. Fly….

    • Glenda May December 31, 2018 11:45 am

      Beautiful, just beautiful…

  5. Cheryl N. December 30, 2018 6:03 pm

    Heather, thank you so much for sharing your life-changing journey since you made that phone call. You have updated us so well in the Field Journal and with live video camera while the whoopers of the year and the team were on migration. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  6. Glenda May December 30, 2018 4:07 pm

    The unique, intelligent, and caring people who devoted their hearts and minds to the Cranes for so many days that became years, are nothing short of amazing. We are humbled and grateful that this internet age has also provided so many more of us with this window with which to share your active compassion. Thank you, so very much.

  7. Babs December 29, 2018 10:06 pm

    Heather …

    And I have to thank *you* and all the totally wonderful and dedicated people at OM. That thanks is not only for all you did for the whoopers, but for giving me the opportunity to be a small part of the program .. for which I will be forever grateful. To be able to contribute to the goal of preserving a species, meet people who, without a lot of fanfare, showed what’s possible .. gave me a sense of hope, too.

    Wishing the best to all OM’ers … and to the wonderful group of craniacs whose giving spirit and enthusiasm, too, helped it all work. You were a delight to be with! Gonna miss ya all…..


  8. MARIANNA SADOWSKI December 29, 2018 3:52 pm

    I sure do miss following the fall migration…..the updates, the videos, the comments, and the FB quips from the Chicklets. My gosh, it was SO fun. Your dedication (all of you who made up the OM Team) has been astounding and the world is a better place because of it…..being a part of your gang of supporter has been a real gift in my life. Thank you……so much. <3

  9. Faye Pittman December 29, 2018 3:03 pm

    Thank you, HeatherRayOM, for working your ‘OMagic’ (as Cathy coined the phrase) in so many ways: For the countless Field Journal entries, For the countless Journey North entries, For making the Crane Cam available to Craniacs all over the world and long hours making sure it was functioning properly and had drivers to give us all those wonderful tours, For the countless tears shed over lost whooping cranes, For never giving up hope that this valiant effort WOULD SUCCEED despite all odds but most of all for being a friend. THANKS FOR THE RIDE!!!!!!!!!!!

    Forever grateful,

  10. Cheryl Murphy December 29, 2018 12:36 pm

    Heather, you and the rest of the Operation Migration team have been the “hope” for these great white birds. Thank you for your dedicated work and life sacrifices and for being our friend and mentor. We will continue to be a voice for the Whooping Cranes and other endangered species. And, we will miss your wonderful sense of humor and great spirit.

  11. John Christian December 29, 2018 12:20 pm

    Thank you Heather….life is filled with beginnings and ends and what we do in between is what really matters. And you have done what mattered and helped put new life on the earth. May the wind be at your back on your next beginning!

  12. Sue Merchant December 29, 2018 11:43 am

    And thank you – for everything…

  13. Kasie December 29, 2018 10:41 am

    Thank you for all that you have done, Heather, and for giving us hope.

  14. Luella Frank December 29, 2018 10:40 am

    Thank you all for everything you’ve done for these magnificent birds! You have given so much and we will always remember that!

  15. Jean Prigelmiller December 29, 2018 9:20 am

    Thank you Heather, Joe, Bill, Brooke, Colleen, Jo-Bel and all the other amazing folks that worked, volunteered, donated or wrote letters to support OM. What an amazing vision and journey. I await books on your adventures filled with all the discoveries and crane wisdom you gained over the years….. and photos too. Your dedication and efforts are truly appreciated by many.

    • charlotte mullen December 29, 2018 11:47 am

      I thoroughly agree, Jean. All the beautiful photos and adventures that OM has made over the years really needs to be made into a gorgeous book for all to remember those hours and hours and hours of working and waiting

      • Faye Pittman December 31, 2018 12:12 pm

        Would love a copy. Please notify me when available. And if needed, willing to volunteer services (limited as they are) to help make this a reality!!!!!

  16. Jane Maher December 29, 2018 9:20 am

    Love, and a hearty commendation!

  17. Kay F Huey December 29, 2018 9:17 am

    Thank you, Heather. I so appreciate all that you and everyone else who have been a part of Operation Migration have done and, although a little more quietly, continue to do to help Whooping cranes thrive.

  18. Timo Rissanen December 29, 2018 8:46 am

    Thank you, Heather.


  19. Cathy Fouche December 29, 2018 8:14 am

    Thank you for sending that email all those years ago, and all you have done since, Heather.

  20. Christy December 29, 2018 7:56 am

    Thank you, Heather.