DATE: Nov 16, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 50
FLOWN TODAY: 46 miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Click the link below to see some sensational photos by Frank Couch, a videographer/photographer with The Birmingham News. The second link has video and audio of OM’s pilots as they were in the air with the Class of 2012 passing overhead the Walker County departure flyover location.

Photos  |  Photos/Video 

Read the latest news about what’s happening at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and how it affects Whooping cranes.


DATE: Nov 16, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 50
FLOWN TODAY: 46 miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

How do you spell, “WooHoo”? If you’re shouting it really loud does it require more ‘o’s, as in WooooHooo? Either way that was the noise we all made when the news trickled back to us that the birds were on the ground in Lowndes County.

With the completion of today’s migration leg from Chilton to Lowndes County, AL we’ve put 77% of the journey’s air miles behind us. There were a few dozen folks at this mornings departure flyover viewing and we got an eyeful as Richard, with Brooke flying chase, flew overhead with all five of the Class of 2012.

Lead Pilot, Richard van Heuvelen’s report will be posted later today….you can expect it no later than 5pm.

We’re at the point on the migration route where we make a turn to the east to cut into Georgia. At the moment, the forecast shows we’ll have NE winds tomorrow morning, both on the surface and aloft. This means the planes and cranes are likely to have some cross wind, so it will likely take a test trike in the morning to get a read on airspeed and estimated fly time to make sure we can make it to our last stop in Alabama.

Only 1 Alabama, 2 Georgia, and 1 Florida stopover left before the big arrival event at St. Marks NWR. Track our progress via EarlyBird or the Field Journal and come and join the throng of Craniacs who will gather to celebrate the end of another successful migration. There’ll be lots of “WooHoo’s” that morning as well as some loud, “Whoop, Whoop, Whooping” greeting the Class of 2012 as they make their final migration appearance in the sky overhead.

If you haven’t signed up to receive our daily EarlyBird e-bulletin delivered directly to your email inbox, you can do so by clicking the link at the top to the right. Get the first news of the day…..EarlyBird goes out each morning the minute we have some indication of whether we’ll be flying or down.

AND… this day or any other day, don’t be shy about Giving a WHOOP! or becoming a MileMaker Sponsor. The migration may be drawing to a close but we still have to pay for it, and for that we need your help.

We’re almost 80% of the way there – but MileMaker is only 50% funded. Don’t be left off the MileMaker Sponsor’s honor roll. Please join your fellow Craniacs in helping out the Class of 2012 TODAY.


Something to WHOOP About!


The cranes are in the air right now and heading south!

This year the Give A WHOOP! campaign centers on several ‘milestone’ events which include; The 2012 Whooping crane chicks hatching; Their arrival at the summer training site at White River Marsh in Wisconsin; their first-ever southward migration; and when they are eventually released at their winter home in Florida. We hope you’ll will WHOOP! with us and help to commemorate these (and other) milestones!

Now that the Class of 2012 is almost at their winter home at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, we’re nearing the time when we will draw the name of another lucky milestone thank-you gift! The day when the five young Whooping cranes arrive at St. Marks we will draw the name of person who has WHOOP’d! in support of them to receive a beautiful watercolor print of a lone Whooping crane. This lovely print is definitely frame-worthy and measures 12.5″ wide x 23.5″ high. Click to see preview.

The biggest milestone in their life so far is quickly approaching – the time when they will reach their winter home for the first time and be wild and free…

Names of all the supporters who have WHOOP’d! in support of the Class of 2012 will be entered into the final thank you drawing, to be made on March 31, 2013. The recipient of this gift will receive a $50 certificate redeemable in the OM Marketplace; a watercolor print AND an incredible set of 8×42 Ranger binoculars courtesy of Eagle Optics

Have YOU WHOOP’d yet? Each $10 WHOOP will help us reach our goal and we’ll list your name on this page and enter you into the thank you draws as outlined above.

Help us celebrate the arrival in Florida by donating a $10 WHOOP!


DATE: Nov 15, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 49
FLOWN TODAY: 58 miles ACCUMULATED: 804 miles
LOCATION: Chilton County, AL REPORTER: Brooke Pennypacker

A thick overcast hung over the pensite as I began an aerial pick up. Two birds blasted out of the pen and headed skyward, while the other three hung back, seemingly undecided about their future. After circling and watching the two fliers head off to the east, I left them for Richard to pick them up while I went back in and landed at the pen for another try.

As I came to a stop I could see the birds were unsure about what was expected of them. They were staring at the handlers while I waved and shook my puppet trying to get their attention. Finally the light went on, they came out of the pen, and off we went into the air.

Aviator Joey Sanders from the Walker County airport with a local reporter onboard flew top cover above us scouting ahead to radio back with a winds aloft report. The ground ahead of us was covered with a thick fog and Joey routed us around it so we could safely continue our flight. That put Richard up front with two birds and me behind with three as we both searched for a tailwind that was never to be.

The birds enjoyed the flight, switching from wing to wing, flying ahead, dropping below, and dancing the skies with a great sense of jubilation.

Before we knew it we were descending to our next stop and the warm welcome that waited for us there from our Chilton County stopover host. It wasn’t long before we had the birds in the pen and the day’s migration leg was over. Then, we all headed off to perform the many duties that will fill the balance of the day.


DATE: Nov 15, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 49
FLOWN TODAY: 58 miles ACCUMULATED: 804 miles
LOCATION: Chilton County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

We put another notch in our migration belt this morning. Close to 9:00 AM the Class of 2012 was on the ground in Chilton County after flying a 58 mile leg from Walker County. Brooke Pennypacker was lead pilot today and the lay of the land at the pensite called for an aerial pick-up.

Initially it appeared only two of the cranes got the ‘come fly’ message, but in short order, the pilots had all five young birds in the air. By the time they were above our heads at the flyover departure viewing location, (what a great show!) Richard was in front with two birds, and Brooke, with three off his wing, was right behind.

The last time we were in Chilton County we reached here on December 3rd, and the year before that it wasn’t until January 5th after a weather delay both before and after a Holiday hiatus in Russellville, AL. So, for the time being at least, we still have a good number of days in hand.

Tune back in later this afternoon for Brooke’s lead pilot report.


DATE: Nov 14, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 48/Down Day #1
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 746 miles
LOCATION: Walker County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

The ground crew scurried to get in position and folks gathered at the Walker County departure flyover viewing location. Both pilots took to the air and flew to the distant pensite. All for naught. With the ‘burbbly’ air and the air speed indicating the flight would take almost 4 hours, it was a case of up, and then right back down.


For the majority of people, the chance of sighting a wild Whooping crane is rare. And, sighting more than two or three of them together on the ground much less in the air, is rarer than rare.

Some people have all the luck.

Click the link to visit the website of the WCCA and read the newest article by Chester McConnell. It features a picture taken by photographer Mike Umscheid of an amazing 16 Whoopers from the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population flying together over Quiviara National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas. What I wouldn’t give to have a poster-size print of that photo!!


DATE: Nov 13, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 47
FLOWN TODAY: 177 miles ACCUMULATED: 746 miles
LOCATION: Walker County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

At long last all the stars aligned. The ground crew’s cell phones were ringing with updates – one after another. First came the news that it was ‘a go’, then that we were skipping Hardin County, TN, and then that we were also skipping Franklin County, our first stopover site in Alabama. Adjust GPS, trade one Gazetteer for another, flip ahead several pages in our Migration Route Book. Then let out some ‘Yippee’s’.

It’s just coming up on 4:45pm CST and all but one of the ground crew have made it to Walker County. Joe is stuck in Muscle Shoals, AL with a brake problem on the Sierra Travel Trailer – still waiting for a verdict from that corner.

As for the air crew…Walter is at this moment driving Brooke and Richard back to the pensite where their trikes were left. It was too breezy to take off again after landing with the birds so they tied the trikes down to wait for the afternoon calm air to fly the few miles back to where they will be hangared for the night.

LEAD PILOT REPORT by Richard van Heuvelen

Frost glistened off the fields below shimmering reflections from the pivot near the pen. Geoff and Julie opened the pen doors and the chicks hesitantly tumbled out of the pen until they saw the approaching trike. They immediately sprang into the air, coming after the trike. As I circled around, like champs, they formed up on the wing.

Once they were on the wing, I turned to head on course for Hardin County, our second and last stop in Tennessee. The climb to altitude was slow but steady, and we soon found ourselves at 4,000 feet – and still climbing.

The birds were eager as all get out and it was difficult to stay ahead of them. It quickly became obvious that we would have a good chance to skip Hardin County and fly on to Franklin County, Alabama.

We continued to climb, and we were nearing 5,000 feet and still climbing as we passed our Hardin County stopover. The birds continued to fly strongly and be aggressive. Once we reached our Franklin County site in Russellville, it was again apparent that the Class of 2012 still had a head of steam so we turned on course for Walker County.

The air was smooth and by this time we were scooting along at 5,700 feet and doing 70 miles per hour ground speed. This was the highest we have ever flown with birds.

I began the descent to the stopover site 20 miles out, but were still at 3,000 feet when we got there and it took some time to get the birds to come down. Eventually the trike pulled away, descended the last 100 feet, and landed ahead of the birds. They touched down almost immediately after.

All in all a pretty great day with another 177 miles under our belt!!

In The Air Again!

The crew awoke to a beautiful day today in Carroll County, TN with winds aloft out of the north. Today’s lead pilot, Richard van Heuvelen is currently enroute to our next stopover in Hardin County, TN – some 67 miles to the south.

The CraneCam is streaming LIVE video of the trip so come on by and fly alongside all five young Whooping cranes as they learn this next leg of their first ever southward migration!

Check in later to see how the flight went and to read the lead pilot report.

UPDATE: The conditions provided enough tailwind to allow the team to skip our last scheduled stop in Tennessee so they are on their way to Alabama. UPDATE to the last UPDATE: They’re skipping another stop. Total distance covered today will be ~170 miles! Isn’t that a great reason to Give A WHOOP?


DATE: Nov 12, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 46/Down Day #4
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 569 miles
LOCATION: Carroll County, TN REPORTER: Liz Condie

Sometimes you just have to give the much maligned weatherman his due. The last few days have delivered pretty much exactly what he’d predicted – including the rain that began last evening and has continued into this morning

Now we’re hoping he can keep his good record going. The forecast is for the system we’re under to move off today and the WSW winds to make a swing around to come out of the WNW and then out of the north by tomorrow morning. If that happens, and winds aloft cooperate, we potentially could have a fly day Tuesday.



DATE: Nov 11, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 45/Down Day #3
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 569 miles
LOCATION: Carroll County, TN REPORTER: Liz Condie

Strong south winds on the surface and aloft have grounded the migration in Carroll County, Tennessee for a third day.


The Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s (WCCA) recent posting featured and article by Ron OUten, Regional Director, The Aransas Project (TAP). The article quotes Aransas Refuge biologist Brad Strobel as advising that USFWS plans to conduct more census flights this year than last when only three were made. They will also ‘potentially’ fly narrower transects than their current protocol of 1,000 meters. Read the full article here.

Below are links to some other recent articles that will be of interest to Whooping crane fans.


As of November 9th, the Eastern Migratory Population numbered 110 birds maximum, consisting of 57 males and 53 females. Also as of that date, 64 Whooping cranes remained in Wisconsin, 22 were in Indiana, 2 in Alabama, 5 in Florida, 1 in Michigan, and 10 were on migration at unknown locations. Two cranes have not been recently reported.

Four cranes are long term missing. They are: 27-07* since March 13/11;  13-08* since April 6/11; DAR13-11 since November 29/11; and 3-10* since February 22/12.

Several cranes were captured recently for transmitter replacement. Now sporting new transmitters are : females 9-03, 13-03, 16-07, 17-07, 26-07, 24-08, 25-09, and males 2-04, 3-04, and 3-07.

Tracking assistance for the information received in this latest report from WCEP Tracker Eva Szyszkoski came from Travis Stoelting (Indiana DNR), Dan Kaiser and John Pohl, and pilots Bev Paulan & Luke Wuest (Wisconsin DNR).


DATE: Nov 10, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 44/Down Day #2
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 569 miles
LOCATION: Carroll County, TN REPORTER: Liz Condie

The Class of 2012 and the migration team will spend a second day on the ground at the first of our two stopovers in Tennessee. Very strong winds at altitude coming out of the SSW are the culprit today.


DATE: Nov 9, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 43
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 569 miles
LOCATION: Carroll County, TN REPORTER: Liz Condie

After the aborted attempt to fly today, pilot Richard van Heuvelen reported that with the wind they encountered aloft it would have taken 7 hours of flying before the cranes and planes reached our next stopover site in Hardin County.

If what the weatherman is forecasting holds true, it’s likely we’ll be grounded here in Carroll County until at least Tuesday. We’ll still be up before sunrise hoping and checking of course, however, there is a front moving in that is so big it is unlikely it will miss us. By the first of the week it will be packing 50 to 60 mph winds, so…

THE TIN CUP CREW by Julie Anthony

On fly days we each have assigned tasks. One of my tasks is to go to the pen with Geoff and release the birds. On non-fly days the birds don’t seem to mind being in the pen. It is what they have always known. But on fly mornings the atmosphere is different and the birds know it.

On the mornings when we think we are going to fly we arrive early at the pen (usually 15 to 20 mins before sunrise). We only go into the pen to remove Dummy Mommy. We don’t touch the food or water. We remove the wire fencing and get the gate ready to open.

When everything is ready Geoff moves off to the runway and out of ear shot, so he can walkie the pilots to let them know that we are ready. In those few minutes I am left alone by the pen. It is the quiet before the storm.

Into that quiet comes #11. She steps up to the pen wall (which is made of a wire mesh on a frame) and paces along the side where I stand and where the birds will be released. She is now impatient with being a prisoner and she shows it by striding along the pen wall and rubbing her beak across the wire mesh. Much like a prisoner in an old movie clanks his tin cup across the bars of his cell to show his discontent, the birds do the same with their beaks.

It usually starts with #11. She has taken over the mantle of “most eager to fly” since her classmate #10 died. This morning she got two of the other birds to join her. #4 and #7 added their clicks to hers and I soon had a small rhythm section going. Back and forth they pace only pausing to move out of #4’s way (he is still bigger than #11 and #7 so they move around him). In the background #5 was doing a short run, jump, flap to which #6 responded in kind.

Suddenly all 5 birds freeze and turn their heads. I can’t hear it or see it yet but without a doubt the trikes are coming! Then the peeping starts. Each bird calls out to big yellow momma. The peeping gets faster and louder as Geoff runs back to his position and the trike touches down. The pilot gets himself into position and gives us the thumbs up. We pull open the gates and release the prisoners. They flash by us and then we are running for the trailer where we become the prisoners while our charges fly free!

Inside the trailer we take off our costumes in case we need to become swamp monsters but then we wait, trapped inside the pen trailer, waiting for word from the pilots that we can take down the pen. I wish then that I could release my pent up energy by rubbing my tin cup across some bars.

I wonder if there’s an app for that?

Down Day in Carroll Co., TN

Both Richard and Brooke got airborne this morning to check conditions because despite weather predictions, the actual conditions aren’t always in line with what the meteorologists tell us. This morning, however, they were accurate, as both pilots reported a ground speed of only 14mph on course to our next stop in Harden Co., TN.

The next scheduled migration is 67 miles to the south and at that speed it would take more than 4 hours to reach. Since each aircraft carries only enough fuel for 3 hours, well, now you know why the team will be spending the day on the ground.

We have a number of new people following us this year so I though it would be nice to again include this recent video produced by the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to showcase their support of our work over the years. Together with Southern Company (SoCo) and the Power of Flight grant fund, NFWF & SoCo have provided consistent funding to support our efforts. We hope you are as appreciative as we are for their support to make this reintroduction possible.


DATE: Nov 8, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 42
FLOWN TODAY: 53 miles ACCUMULATED: 569 miles
LOCATION: Carroll County, TN REPORTER: Liz Condie

After a very delayed start due to lingering fog, the Class of 2012 touched down for the first time in Tennessee around 11:30 AM. We passed the half way mark during today’s flight. Air mile-wise at least, the migration is half over!

The pilots waited for more than 2 hours before they could launch to fly the 11 mile back to the pensite. Lead pilot, Brooke Pennypacker got off with all five cranes, but due to the rough air, 3 quickly became tired and they began open mouth breathing. However they continued to chase the bouncing trike, and eventually they reached an altitude of calmer air and the birds were able to catch their breath.

They spent the flight dodging clouds – practically the whole trip. The clouds spooked the birds. That meant continually having to get the birds to form up again on the wing.

When they started the descent toward the landing field they encountered a lot of thermal activity and at one point the trike was climbing at a few hundred feet per minute. This was the birds’ first experience thermaling and they sure enjoyed it. While the trikes landed the birds continued to thermal and circled above the trikes until 3 of them disappeared into a cloud.

Brooke took off again and climbed up and rounded up 2 of the cranes that eventually left the thermal and joined the wing. He circled repeatedly until the other three also joined the wing and then began the descent. Soon all the birds were on the ground and Brooke hid with the birds while Richard, John, and Walt set up the pen.

Richard and Brooke the led the birds to the pen before flying off to the airport to hangar the trikes.

At 2:30 PM we still have vehicles and crew on the road….Walter and John are backtracking to Kentucky to pick up the Sierra travel trailer.