The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) recently released its 2012 annual grants, awarding more than $1.8 million to 75 conservation projects around the globe including $130,000 to Florida based projects and $33,000 to Operation Migration!

Wildlife in east Central Florida will benefit from grants awarded to wildlife projects studying and protecting dolphins, manatees, Whooping cranes, gopher tortoises, and right whales. Since its beginnings in 1995 DWCF has donated nearly $4 million benefiting 257 programs from 59 organizations in Florida.

This year, six projects supporting the conservation of Florida wildlife were selected, including: The Sea Turtle Conservancy; The University of Florida; Marine Resources Council of East Florida; The Wildlife Foundation of Florida; The Coral Restoration Foundation; and The Ecostudies Institute.

“Disney’s commitment to protect the planet and help create connections between kids and nature around the world in 40 countries is amazing,” said Dr. Beth Stevens, Senior Vice President, Disney Corporate Citizenship, Environment & Conservation.

“We are grateful to the many scientists, educators and community conservationists who devote their lives to conservation and are very proud to work with our guests, fans, employees and cast members to help ensure a better future for our planet.” Through its grants program, DWCF is helping to preserve habitats, protect endangered species, foster kids’ connections to nature and ensure future generations can enjoy wildlife and wild places.


The team will be spending a second day planted firmly on the ground in Green County, courtesy of strong winds aloft out of the south-southwest. Total distance traveled remains at 85 miles.

I thought it might be nice to visit with the cranes once more so with permission from Tom Schultz to share this with you, please sit back and enjoy this video captured by Tom during a training flight on Sept. 25th at the White River Marsh. The link for the second video, also shot by Tom, captures their departure from their summer home on Sept. 28th – as they embark on their first-ever southward migration behind pilot Richard van Heuvelen.


A message from Doug Pellerin…

I would like to thank Joe Duff for giving me the amazing opportunity to work with the birds. Being with those fantastic young whoopers was fun. I really did not consider it work. My fun and excitement started the day Joe and I picked up the birds in Oshkosh. The birds were shipped from Maryland to Oshkosh in boxes, and the whole trip, the young whoopers were making peeping sounds from the airport in Oshkosh to the pensite at the White River Marsh. It was comical and exciting. I will never forget the experience.

I really enjoyed feeding them grapes and minnows over the summer and they appeared to love every one of them. Geoff and I were amazed how quickly they grew and changed! It’s nice to know that they’re happy and healthy. It’s a great feeling and it was a great memory…One of many….I must say the many pictures I posted on my Facebook and the website doesn’t do them justice, they are even more incredible and beautiful in person.

I would also like to thank Geoff for all his help and support and Brooke, and Richard for the wonderful experiences and great memories. I can’t wait until next summer.

(Ed. note: Doug, it is we who thank you for the numerous early morning drives from Fond du Lac to the pensite (and hour each way) and for your patience and dedication in educating everyone that arranged to visit the viewing blind to learn more about Whooping cranes and our work)


Location: Green Co., WI

The team has been waiting since 7am for the fog to clear. It has finally lifted at their location in Green County, WI but further to the south and on their planned flight path it is still foggy.

UPDATE 10:30am CT: The wall of fog is still parked in the area to the south so the team will be standing down for the day.


With light northeast winds on the surface and an expected little push from favorable winds aloft, hopes were high for good flight conditions this morning. Camp emptied out as the ground crew clambered into vehicles to get to the respective places. Brooke, and today’s lead pilot, Richard, stripped the wing covers off their trikes, and pushed them from their overnight tied down spot onto the grassy runway. In short order, engines revving, they took off for the pensite less than a mile away. At 7:25am Richard and all six birds were up and away.

Geoff, Julie, and Colleen were pensite/ground crew today, while David and Linda Boyd manned the tracking van. Joe’s been away on business, but will be back with us tonight to re-join the migration in the morning- which hopefully will make another advance. All things being equal, I should be able to post Richard’s lead pilot report some time between 4 and 5 pm this afternoon. Below is a gorgeous photo captured by Bev Paulan of yesterday’s departure from Marquette County.


The trike launched into the morning sky still hazy with high humidity. Fumbling with the sound system I could not get working so I landed in a nearby harvested bean field the lose wire was quickly reattached and the trike was once again airborne. As the trike approached the pen the sound of the brood call came on and Geoff and Julie hastily opened the pen panels to let the birds out confused by the lack of aircraft they all just stood there momentarily but then they heard and saw the trike fly by and five of the chicks launched leaving number 5 behind in the pen.

However they were scattered across the recently harvested cornfield trying to catch the trike circling low over the field around a stand of trees and past the pen a second time, number 5 seeing the trike launched right out of the pen. As the others caught up to the trike number 5 flying ahead of the trike turned towards it and both 5 and the pilot had to make evasive maneuvers to avoid collision. But number 5 gracefully rose up turned right and settled on the left wing.

Meanwhile three chicks settled on the right wing and two chicks joined number 5 on the left. We rose up the field across the road to the west and slowly turned on course. The chicks jostled for position eventually all of them settled on the left wing with number 5 taking the free ride in the lead.

The fall colors flew by below orange red purple green and yellow. Farm fields interspersed with forest cropland terraced in alternating grains and hay winding in stripes along hillsides. At 2500 feet ASL the chicks gracefully followed in a neat line still on the left wing with 5 on the lead often out of sight above the wing once in a while his head would appear in front of the wing glance at the pilot mocking him then disappear again above the wing in effortless motion. But the second most rearward bird was open mouth breathing and occasionally the two birds in front and behind would also be breathing hard most likely due to the high humidity this morning. The ground speed slowed down from 50 to 42 miles per hour with one to three birds struggling to keep up. There would be no skipping today as had been hoped for.


Location: Columbia Co., WI

Brooke Pennypacker was lead pilot today but is currently away setting up the pen at our next Stopover site in hope we will be flying again tomorrow. I was in the tracking vehicle this morning, so I will give you my version and Brooke will owe me big time for filling in for him.

The winds were buffeting from all directions this morning, but that was likely due to the large forested hill overlooking our stopover location. It is hard to get a fix on just what is happening above until you actually take off and have a look for yourself, so that’s what Brooke did.

We call it taking your turn as the ‘wind dummy’. You get airborne, fly on course, and slow the aircraft to bird speed. First you check the GPS which tells you how fast you are travelling over the ground. That lets us know whether we have a head wind and are in for a long ride, or if the wind gods are in our favor and push us along. Then you check the smoothness of the air to see how much benefit the birds will derive from the wing. When it is smooth they can tuck in behind the wingtip and get pulled along in the slip stream. When it is rough, they must make so many corrections in their speed and position that they hardly get any assistance at all. That means they work harder and can’t fly as far.

Brooke found a strong headwind but smooth air, so the plan was to launch the birds and see how far they got. If they couldn’t make it, they could always turn around and let the wind push them back at twice the speed.

All the birds took off in perfect order and began a slow climb. Slow is the operative word because throughout the flight, they were only making 18 to 20 miles per hour. David Boyd, Colleen Chase and I tracked them from below, but had to stop several times to let them catch up. We pulled into a rest stop on the highway and the sight of all three of us staring skyward was too much for a trucker who asked what we were doing. We gave him a hurried explanation before hitting the road again leaving behind another enthusiast.

All six birds stayed on Brooke’s wing throughout the flight, and eventually they began a descent towards the harvested corn field where the pen was waiting. Richard flew ahead and landed to give the birds a target, just as #5, always the contrary one, left Brooke and climbed above him heading in the general direction of Richard. Brooke circled a few times and then and landed, while #5 took his own sweet time coming down. It was almost like he wasn’t ready to quit and wanted to check out the new neighborhood before accepting the new stopover site.

With new stuff to poke and prod, it took Brooke and Richard twenty minutes to coax them into the pen, but by 9AM it was all over. It was the perfect morning, short but effective, without the headaches of last season.

Thanks to an early migration launch and two great flights, not only are we ahead of last year in terms of behavior of the birds, we are now 26 days ahead last year’s timeline. Knock on wood.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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)


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.