ONWARD TO STOPOVER #3

Today’s lead pilot Brooke Pennypacker tested conditions aloft this morning and despite a slight headwind the team decided to give it a go! The cranes launched behind Brooke at 7:33 Central Time and Liz reported that all six cranes lined up perfectly.

They are traveling at ~18mph and have less than 40 minutes left in the flight so if you’d like to come by and fly along with the pilots and cranes, Richard van Heuvelen has the CraneCam on his chase aircraft.

DOWN DAY #2

At first we thought no guesswork was required this morning. It looked like it would be a ‘go’ – no waiting for sunrise and wondering whether today was going to be a flyday or a down day. Then came the sound of the wind rushing through the trees, rattling dried and dying leaves.

After a time the wind died down to a light breeze and encouraged, the team all started to get in place. Richard went aloft to test conditions. He had a nice push from the right direction, but as he turned his trike to get on course, we stood on the ground and watched him disappeared into the clouds before he had much altitude.

Standing staring skyward, crossing our fingers and wishing for the ceiling to lift didn’t work. The wind was moving the cloud bank relatively swiftly but a bank of fog rolled in behind it.

All this is to say we are spending a second day on the ground in Marquette County.

DOWN DAY #1 IN MARQUETTE CO, WI

It was a beautiful early morning for we earthbound creatures, but the same can’t be said for the winged critters. The mild temperature and very heavy humid air combined with too much wind conspired to give us our first Down Day of the 2012 migration.

Again note, our Marquette County stopover site is a cell signal/internet connection black hole. Apologies for past delay in posting – – and delays to come.

LEAD PILOT REPORT – Day One

Location: Marquette Co., WI

Note from Liz: We’ve been without an internet connection since moving to Marquette County. Until we move from this stopover site. Field Journal entries, Migration Timelines, etc will be updated as I am able to drive somewhere to pick up a strong enough signal for a connection. The same applies to our EarlyBird emails. Recipients of that e-bulletin are unlikely to see them in their Inbox at their usual expected time. Below is Richard’s Lead Pilot report re yesterday’s flight.

And so it begins. All six out of the gate and on the wing. With six birds keeping me company, I circled around to head on course we begin a slow climb hoping for more favorable winds. Then, as we left the marsh area, #5 did an abrupt turn to the left and headed back. The rest of us didn’t waver – we stayed on course.

We could not leave Brooke out of the party, so we left #5 to him. While Brooke worked on convincing #5 to follow him, the rest of us continue to climb out on course. Wisps of displaying fog floated by below temporarily obscuring the ever changing foliage, now almost at peak color. A small lake passes by below, still emitting wisps of fog.

Before long, the hill near the next stopover loomed closer and we began to descend. We flew over a stand of green pine trees standing in stark contrast to the the fall colors blanketing much of the rest of the landscape.

I walked the birds to the travel pen, and very shortly looked up to see Brooke with #5 appear in the sky overhead. The two circle the field and touch down safely.

We’re off to a good start with the entire Class of 2012 making the whole journey. Next job is to cover the trikes and head back to White River Marsh to break camp, tear down pens, and get one travel trailer down to Stopover Site #3 and the pen set up there in readiness for the next migration leg.

WHAT A DAY!

Location: Marquette Co., WI

The location noted above shows Marquette County, but in reality so far it is only the Class of 2012 that is settled in there.

Once the birds were made comfortable for their first experience in a travel pen, air crew and ground crew headed back from whence they came. The first stop was at the site we skipped, where the travel pen set up there yesterday was dismantled and loaded onto the travel pen trailer. Next stop was at the WRM SWA training site where the permanent pen and all the equipment had to be packed up and anything remaining behind, winterized.

Then the whole crew came back to camp where the serious unhooking, dismantling, and packing up got into full swing. Richard was the first to pull out driving the Flair motorhome, trailed by Geoff Tarbox and Julia Anthony in the Tracking Van hauling the travel pen pulled out of the skipped Stopover site. They will meet up at Stopover #2 where Richard will ditch the Flair, jump in the van with Geoff and Julia, and drive to Stopover Site #3 to set up the travel pen there in anticipation of the next migration leg.

David and Linda Boyd made a run to the hangar to exchange vehicles – the white van which pulls the aircraft trailer, for the white truck which pulls the Sierra travel trailer. Now that they’re back in camp, they, along with Bev Paulan who is using her time off to give us a hand (she also tracked for us this morning) will button down the inside of the Sierra and unhook everything before hitching up the white truck so it and the Sierra will be ready for the road.

Meantime, Brooke’s been dealing with all the garbage and re-cyclables we’ve collected this past week, and I’ve been trying to catch up on the flood of emails this morning’s action prompted, finishing up ‘work-work’, and buttoning up the Jamboree etc, etc.

Joe’s getting his trike wing off ready for storing it and his aircraft in the equipment trailer and then he’ll be leaving us for a couple of days to attend a special event in New York.

With every one almost ready to ‘hit the road’ for Marquette County, I’ll have to end this entry with a promise of some photos here soon and a warning that with all that has to be done today there’s a better than even chance there will not be a Lead Pilot report done for posting later today.

MIGRATION DAY #1 – Green Lake Co to Marquette Co, WI

The 2012 Cohort launched with OM’s lead pilot for today, Richard van Heuvelen, at 7:38am. CraneCam watchers got a great view of the flight as all six of the young cranes kept Richard company.

It wasn’t long before the pilots were able to make the decision that all conditions were a go to skip the first Stopover site and fly on to Stopover #2. Stop #1 is just 5 miles from the White River Marsh pensite; a distance that works well in the case of nervous cranes as they hit unfamiliar territory and want to turn back or drop out.

Stop #2 is 14 air miles from Stop #1, so in completing today’s migration leg, the six young cranes will have flown 19 miles. Touchdown was at 8:16am – Richard with five while Brooke is still about 8 or 9 miles out with #5. Quite a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2012!

A great way to acknowledge today’s achievement would be to become a MileMaker sponsor. Click here to support the Migration Team and Whooping cranes.

Check back here later today for the Lead Pilot’s report. (hopefully we can post before 5pm CST)

VOLUNTEERS HONORED

Operation Migration’s Volunteer of the Year Award was instituted in 2005 to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the organization on behalf of Whooping cranes. The award has been given annually since that time and announced and presented at the Annual General Meetings of the organization.

Past years’ winners include, Nancy Rudd, Wisconsin, Don & Paula Lounsbury, Ontario, Viola White, Illinois, Gerald Murphy, Florida, Walter Sturgeon, North Carolina, and most recently, Colleen Chase, Florida. For the second time since its inception, the recipients were a husband and wife team.

Named Volunteers of the Year for 2011 were David and Linda Boyd of Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

volunteers of the year

Linda & David Boyd are recognized for their volunteering and support of Operation Migration at the recent AGM.

Since 2009, David and Linda Boyd have been invaluable mainstays on the annual fall migration. David, a retired veterinarian, and Linda a retired marketing/PR professional, have not only utilized their career skills in a volunteer capacity, they have also trained and honed new skills. They have taken on tasks, that despite their adventurous natures, we suspect they never imagined themselves doing.

We have asked David to haul our big trailers; to assist with tracking cranes; to fill in as a crane handler; and a hundred and one other tasks – some of which he would no doubt have happily taken a pass on but cheerfully took on.

In addition to helping with education and outreach at flyovers, Linda, who assists with the sale of OM gear at flyovers, can now lay claim to merchandising and inventory experience. And those of you who followed last year’s migration will also recall seeing her make quite a splash in a canoe as a swamp monster.

The Boyds are indeed valuable assets to OM. The Whooping cranes can never appreciate all David and Linda do on their behalf – but every member of the Operation Migration crew certainly does.

C’mon Craniacs….Give A WHOOP! to let David and Linda know how much the tremendous support and all their efforts on behalf of Whooping cranes is appreciated.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It was almost two decades ago when we worked with Columbia Pictures to make Fly Away Home. I remember that during one of our preliminary meetings, the producer was concerned that we couldn’t change the hatch dates of geese to better suit their shooting schedule. The availability of the Director or the actors did not change the fact that goslings are hatched in the spring, and even Hollywood could not get around that inconvenience. They were accustomed to getting another trained bear from Russia, or recreating the space center if permission was not granted to use the real one, but no amount of money could persuade a goose to nest in December. Timing is everything.

We face that same timing rule almost daily on this project. On many occasions, one more stop under our belt would have put us on the other side of a weather front and into gentle tail winds, but timing held us back and we sat for days in headwinds.

Usually the only date written in stone is when the eggs are laid, which dictates when the resulting chicks will be shipped to Wisconsin and when they will be ready to start the migration. We must balance that with when the weather usually turns nasty in the fall, but that’s a moving target.

The other anchor points we had to add this year are the requirements of our FAA exemption. The air-regulations are designed to cover just about every eventuality, but who could blame them if they didn’t anticipate the need to teach Whooping cranes to migrate using an aircraft.

The problem is that the only license available to fly for hire (get paid to fly) is a commercial certificate but that license is reserved for the pilots of passenger carrying airliners, or the freight aircraft of companies like UPS. There is no commercial endorsement to fly light aircraft like ours with a hang glider type wing. Additionally, those commercial aircraft are certified and held to a higher manufacturing and maintenance standard than the aircraft designed for recreation. That means there are no regulations that cover our pilots or our aircraft if you want to do more with them than fly for the pure joy of it.

The first factor the FAA must consider when issuing an exemption to the rules is that it must benefit the American People. Safeguarding an endangered species and providing an unprecedented educational opportunity answered that question nicely. The second consideration is safety and that’s why the FAA set some parameters to the exemption they granted.

One of those requirements was to identify our route so they could ensure we were not encroaching on controlled airspace, or flying over towns at low altitudes. A sectional chart is an aviation map that depicts all of the airports, airspace restrictions, navigation aids, flyways, air routes, and areas of military operations. They are so crowded with information that there is hardly room for landmarks like highways, towns, or even lakes or rivers. They are called sectionals because they are printed in sections and it takes nearly 40 to depict the contiguous States.

To lay out our 1285 mile route I used my computer and Heather’s help to stitch together nearly thirty images to create one long map stretching from Wisconsin to Florida. We don’t land at airports, so I used Google Earth to identify the small fields on the properties of our generous stopover hosts. I transferred those coordinates to the sectional chart and plotted the course, but first I printed it out and taped them together to make it easier to mark up the computer copy. All together it stretched for 17 feet across our office floor. When it was all complete, I had a computer file that was 22MB and too large to send electronically until I stepped it down to a useable size. Then I sent it off to the FAA with a list of stopovers and routes including coordinates.

My map, with circles and arrows on each one, moved through the channels at the FAA and came to rest on the desk of the manager of the Regulatory Support Division of the Sport Light Aviation Branch in Oklahoma City. Within one day we received approval of our proposed route. That is the kind of support we have learned is typical of the FAA.

The other prerequisite we must fulfill is to upgrade our pilot licenses from Sport Light to Private. This has not been easy, not because of the difficulty of the task but, again because of the timing.

A Private License is normally held by those who fly Cessnas and Pipers and the like. Until recently no category existed within the Private Licence program for the type of aircraft we fly. There is no reason it could not exist, but no one had pursued it. Naturally there are very few instructors qualified to provide a Private license on a trike. In fact, there are only two I know of. Fortunately, they are a father son team based here is Wisconsin. The problem is that they are very busy and so are we. According to the FAA rules, your instructor cannot be your examiner so the son did the training and the father did the flight testing.

Richard was able to park himself at the local airport with a good WiFi connection and study for several consecutive days, then he wrote his ground school test, logged the required number of hours with the instructor, and passed his check ride with the examiner. He is now qualified. Brooke was right behind him and we found out late yesterday that he had passed his flight test. Based on the high marks of his written test and the 2500 hours he has accumulated over the years, we had every confidence that would happen. He too is now a licensed Private pilot.

I, unfortunately, am running behind them both. I will write my written test this coming Friday and have yet to log the last three hours with the instructor which I need before my check ride. A little time and a couple of good weather days and I should be done. I have no valid excuses except an Annual General Meeting of our Board including an election of new Directors, five days of meetings with the WCEP Guidance Team to develop a five year strategic plan, a visiting film crew from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a Whooping Crane Festival, and some time spent back in Canada at the office and with my wife and daughter.

Fortunately we had already decided that we don’t need three pilots to lead six birds. This year we will take turns flying while the third pilot replaces Walter Sturgeon who normally tracks the birds from the ground. Walter has other commitments and won’t join us until later in the fall. That third, grounded pilot, will be me of course until I am fully licensed.

So all of this is a lead up to the question of when we plan to leave. It is supposed to be all about the birds, and we try to make that our motto, but sometimes logistics get in the way. We have yet to set up the pens at the first two sites, change the wing on Brooke’s aircraft, pack mine in the aircraft trailer, empty our rented hangar, winterize the White River Marsh pensite, pack everything we own into four motorhomes, gather the volunteers, and say our goodbyes. If the weather is good, we will target Friday, still two weeks ahead of our normal departure date. Timing is everything.

THE LAST WORD
Hangar flying is the term used to describe the social activity that takes place around many airports when the weather is too bad to be airborne. Those discussions are rife with stories of how restrictive the FAA is but that is not surprising considering they are charged with the safety of everyone who ventures into the air – from an innocent airline passenger on their way to visit family on the other side of the country, to the weekend aviator who flies his home-built around back pasture.

Henceforth I will take every opportunity to tell my FAA story of cooperation and understanding while they remained cognizant of their responsibility for the safety of this team and all those over whom we fly.

THANK YOU

CraneFest is over, but it left us with a doggie bag of wonderful memories upon which to feast for the coming days and weeks. What better nourishment can there be for those of us whose daily lives revolve around the cranes than this incredible display of support and enthusiasm for the very creatures we hold so dear.

So many familiar faces, long time supporters who blessed the occasion with a reunion like quality that turned the new faces into familiar ones almost instantly. In the end, the CraneFest was not just a celebration of the cranes, but a celebration of caring itself…a ‘Care Fest’. We are, after all, defined by what we care about, or perhaps, by what we don’t care about, and there is a special magic in finding one’s self in the company of those that really care.

But how strange it is in a way to meet the folks that live on the other side of that CraneCam lens…like Truman escaping the set of the “Truman Show,” or in this case, “As The Pen Turns,” and meeting the audience that lives just the other side of that portal. As it turns out, we are all players in each other’s lives, connected by our dear little Whooper chicks and by the connective tissue of technology coupled with our genetically programmed human need to connect, the connectivity that gives our lives meaning, that brings us together from near and far in celebration.

It must be said that there are times when what we do feels more like being at war than being at reintroduction, and that the foxhole in which we find ourselves is shallow and small. And so it is especially gratifying to drive away from the Berlin Conservation Club with the realization there are in fact many of us in this foxhole watching each other’s back, encouraging our efforts, rejuvenating our spirits, and insuring that all this effort and sacrifice will not be for naught.

How wonderful it would have been to have been able to invite the festival’s true guests of honor….the six little Whooper chicks; to allow them to walk through the festival, to meet all their supporters…their extended family… and see just how much they mean to so many.

“Hi. I’m #5. Nice to peck your acquaintance.” Would they understand it all? I have to believe they would, because beneath all those feathers and atop all those pairs of long delicate legs there is a collective intelligence far beyond anything we can comprehend – an intelligence, borne of tens of millions of years of evolution which surely contains within it the ability to understand and appreciate the spirit and the joy of CraneFest.

So, to all the folks that worked so hard to make CraneFest such wonderful success, and to all who came from all over the country to support it, to all of those who care so much about these birds, we say “Thank you” and “See you in Florida.”

2012 MIGRATION TO CONCLUDE AT ST MARKS NWR

For several years we have divided our flock of birds and led half of them to St Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, and the other half to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Florida. The purpose of this split is to lessen the chance of mass loss as happened in 2007 when an unpredicted storm hit the pen area and killed 17 of the 18 birds we led south that year. A division of the flock also reduces the chance of an avian disease wiping out the entire cohort, or a mass predation if a bobcat were to breach the pen. 

The staff and managers of both of these Florida refuges have worked very hard on behalf of the birds that winter there. They have built and maintained pens in isolated areas of the salt water marsh and provided staff to monitor them during their stay. They have promoted the project with education programs, and kept the public informed on the bird’s wellbeing.

We would continue this procedure because it is a good management policy but we only have six birds this year. The other factor to consider is that the birds likely have a better chance of survival and of making it back to Wisconsin if they are in a larger group. Both refuges provide good wintering habitat and we do not have a preference as to which is used, but it is hardly seems worth all the effort if only three birds go to each location. For that reason we stepped out of the discussion and let the refuge managers make the decision.

They determined that the best option for this year is to take all the birds to St Marks, but to maintain the facilities at Chassahowitzka in preparation for next year. One advantage we see is it will shorten our migration by a couple of hundred miles and an unknown number of days. The downside is we will not be able to do a flyover at Dunnellon-Marion County Airport as we have in the past – and we will miss seeing all our friends in Crystal River.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT – The Chase Charitable Giving voting period closed September 19th. We have to heartily thank the 1414 wonderful people who voted for Operation Migration to receive a portion of the funds Chase donated to this campaign. We ranked 160th which earned us $10,000! How great is that?!?

Now….why not WHOOP! it up with us? The 2012 Give a WHOOP! campaign is in full swing. Join your fellow Craniacs and make some noise in celebration.

2012 MIGRATION TO CONCLUDE AT ST MARKS NWR

For several years we have divided our flock of birds and led half of them to St Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, and the other half to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Florida. The purpose of this split is to lessen the chance of mass loss as happened in 2007 when an unpredicted storm hit the pen area and killed 17 of the 18 birds we led south that year. A division of the flock also reduces the chance of an avian disease wiping out the entire cohort, or a mass predation if a bobcat were to breach the pen.
The staff and managers of both of these Florida refuges have worked very hard on behalf of the birds that winter there. They have built and maintained pens in isolated areas of the salt water marsh and provided staff to monitor them during their stay. They have promoted the project with education programs, and kept the public informed on the bird’s wellbeing.

We would continue this procedure because it is a good management policy but we only have six birds this year. The other factor to consider is that the birds likely have a better chance of survival and of making it back to Wisconsin if they are in a larger group. Both refuges provide good wintering habitat and we do not have a preference as to which is used, but it is hardly seems worth all the effort if only three birds go to each location. For that reason we stepped out of the discussion and let the refuge managers make the decision.

They determined that the best option for this year is to take all the birds to St Marks, but to maintain the facilities at Chassahowitzka in preparation for next year. One advantage we see is it will shorten our migration by a couple of hundred miles and an unknown number of days. The downside is we will not be able to do a flyover at Dunnellon-Marion County Airport as we have in the past – and we will miss seeing all our friends in Crystal River.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT – The Chase Charitable Giving voting period closed September 19th. We have to heartily thank the 1414 wonderful people who voted for Operation Migration to receive a portion of the funds Chase donated to this campaign. We ranked 160th which earned us $10,000! How great is that?!?

Now….why not WHOOP! it up with us? The 2012 Give a WHOOP! campaign is in full swing. Join your fellow Craniacs and make some noise in celebration.

CHECK THESE OUT

In a recent email received from OM supporter, John Outland of Florida he wondered if we had seen the arkive.org site featuring a slideshow of Whooping cranes. The photos are of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population and there are some great images. Click here to visit the site and view the slideshow.

OM Supporter, Kathleen Kaska (author of the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series), has a new book out entitled, “The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story”. It will be available for sale shortly if it isn’t already. Here is a link to its description on Kathleen’s BlogSpot.

EARLIEST EVER TARGET DEPARTURE

After doing his usual computations, Joe set our target 2012 migration departure date as Tuesday, September 25.

What computations you ask? First he checks every year separately, counting the number of days from the hatch date of the youngest chick until the day each year’s migration started. Then he takes the lowest number of days and the highest number of days and adds those differentials to the hatch date of the youngest chick in the current cohort. The result is a projected date range for the cranes readiness for departure. From this range a target departure date is decided.

It all sounds reasonable until you factor in how the weather in the weeks leading up to the target date has positively or negatively affected flight training, and of course, what weather we experience on the hoped for departure date. In fact, in eleven years of ultralight-led migrations I think we may have only once managed to ‘get out of Dodge’ on the day targeted for launch.

The projected departure date in reality is as much a target for the migration crew to be ready to rumble as it is anything else. This is because in the end, regardless of any plan we make, the birds will be ready when they are ready, and the weather will be what it will be. That means that migration departure can only take place when readiness and favorable weather collide – and not before.

With the hoped for migration launch date imminent, I’ve added the usual links to Migration info to this webpage. See the column to the right for links to the Migration Map, the Departure Flyover Viewing locations, and the Timeline page showing migration progress each year since 2001.

THE SENSATIONAL SIX

Both the Give a WHOOP! and MileMaker campaign are chugging along thanks to many of you. BUT…there is still lots and lots and lots of room for WHOOPs! and MileMaker sponsorships.

We hope that the rapidly approaching migration departure time will prompt the folks who haven’t already done so, to WHOOP! or to become a ½, ½ or mile sponsor. Or, better yet – BOTH!

Below is a fabulous photo of 10-12 that was captured during a recent flight training session at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. WHOOPs and MileMaker sponsorships are key to getting the 2012 cohort (the Sensational Six) to their wintering grounds in Florida. Won’t you help?

Whooping Crane #10-12 in flight

#10-12 in flight over the White River Marsh SWA in Green Lake County, WI on August 31st