For the last eleven years I have maintained that the word FRUSTRATION is commonly misspelled. It’s actually two words and should be spelled, W-H-O-O-P-I-N-G C-R-A-N-E. In fact, a number of other words should be spelled the same way but, most of them only have four letters.
Today was one of those WHOOPING CRANE days, but in all fairness, I can’t blame them. After staying in one location for more than a month, it is not surprising that they might have forgotten the art of migration. When Geoff opened the pen and Richard did a low pass, they all took off except number 10. He finally got airborne on the second pass but he didn’t stay long. He broke along with a few others.
I stayed high so I could assist Richard with a running commentary of where the birds were and which way to turn. A few would break and then cut the corner to catch him again. As he gathered them up and lost them, it started to get complicated and hard to keep track of who was where. Brooke chased #12 but before he could catch her, she landed in the middle of a forest only a half mile from the pen. Another two birds (numbers 3 and 4) landed in a flooded field a mile to the south. After a couple of low passes, it was obvious they were far too happy playing in the water to follow the trike.
Eventually Richard and Brooke collected a total of five birds between them and headed on course. With one bird in the forest, two in the water and one still missing, I turned back to help Geoff.
The birds in the water were not going anywhere so, after a cursory look for the missing bird, I landed in the field next to the forest. I followed a trail and soon found # 12, I led her out of the trees and over to the aircraft. She took off with me, but as I turned for the pen she turned the other way and landed back in the trees in the exact same spot. I flew back to check on the two in the water, but they were still ignoring me as I passed low overhead.
By this time Caleb and Gerald Murphy in the tracking van had zeroed in on the two, but they were up on a ridge looking down. They could see the birds in the distance but could not figure a way in. I talked them into a farmer’s lane and as they asked for permission to retrieve the birds, I went back to check on # 12.
I landed next to the forest again and walked up the same lane. # 12 followed me out and again we took off. As I circled back, another bird dropped into the formation with us (#10) but I had no idea where it came from. I led them both over the pen, but neither landed as I hoped they would. Instead, # 12 headed back to the forest while # 10 vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
By this time Brooke and Richard were having problems with the five they had headed south with. Eventually they landed with all of them, but they were in separate fields; Brooke with four and Richard with one. They were 10 miles away and needed help, so Caleb, Gerald, Geoff and I all met at the airport. We loaded up five crates and sent Gerald to meet Richard and Brooke. We recruited Hudean Wilson to go with Geoff to speak to the landowner at #12’s location, and Caleb headed back alone to retrieve numbers 3 and 4 from the flooded field.
I took off and talked Geoff into a field a mile to the east where number 12 was again in the forest. Then I flew south to help Caleb. The path into the flooded field must have been two miles long. It passed through several pastures, a herd of cows and over a stream. Once he finally got there, Caleb had to carry two crates down a long hill and tuck them into the trees so the birds wouldn’t get nervous when they saw them. I tried to find a place to land so I could help, but the terrain was just too hilly. I headed back to search for the missing # 10.
While circling, I heard Richard and Brooke over the radio. They were airborne again and struggling with birds. Theirs is an entire story on its own and I only heard snippets over the radio, but eventually they landed in another field where they managed to crate all five birds. Then Gerald brought them back to the pen.
While that was happening Caleb called to say that he had managed to get #4 in a crate, but that #3 realized he was next, and took off. Caleb had a strong signal from his transmitter so I headed south again to help him search. I found # 3 two fields over and talked Caleb in to retrieve him.
This is a complex story with many players and lots of locations, and I am running out of ways to say, “meanwhile back at the airport.” So, meanwhile back at the airport, Geoff and I took the truck and another crate to meet Caleb. We rendezvoused on a back road and transferred the two crates containing numbers 3 and 4 into the truck. Geoff headed back to the pen with those two birds while Caleb and I started to search for #10, the last missing bird. We kept getting an intermittent signal while we drove back roads for an hour.
We triangulated what we thought was his location, but couldn’t find a road to take us there. The only access seemed to be a railroad track, so we parked the tracking van and set out on foot with our costumes and a handheld receiver. We walked a mile and came across a trestle with a large sign that warned of extreme danger and a threat of prosecution for passing. We could hear the train horn in the distance so off we went, covering the railway ties two at a time. We clambered down the embankment while the train passed and then continued to follow the signal.
Meanwhile back at the airport, Richard had returned and landed to refuel. He took off again with a tracking antenna mounted to the front of his aircraft. By the time we reached the next road crossing on the railway track, Richard called to say that he had found #10 a mile from where we were searching, but at least in the same direction. We made the trek back to the van, and followed his direction to the bird. Brooke was also just arriving so he and Caleb collected # 10 and we all headed back to the pen with the last bird.
It was now 2:30 in the afternoon and all the birds were back where we started. It was an exhausting day and I spent most of it searching for birds and thinking of new euphemisms for Whooping crane.