JOIN OUR LIVE CHAT SUNDAY – 1:00PM (EASTERN)

We’re hosting a LIVE Q & A chat on our CraneCam channel Sunday with OM CEO Joe Duff in the hot-seat and we hope you’ll tune in to watch and participate! Have a question for Joe about the Whooping crane reintroduction? Perhaps about Whooping cranes? How the project started? About the history of Operation Migration? The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership? Here’s your chance to ask Joe whatever you want!

The chat will begin at 1pm eastern time and last for one hour. To participate you will need to have a registered chat name so you can login to the chat on our Ustream channel. If you do not already have a ustream account, it’s very easy to create one. Visit: http://www.ustream.tv/new and click Sign Up at the top right of the welcome screen.

During the live Q & A session the chat will be operating in slow mode, which means each participant can post a question once every 60 seconds.  We will do our best to answer all questions but depending on the number of people participating we may not be able to respond to all within the one hour time frame.

So put you’re thinking caps on! Get those questions ready and jot them down – then join us on our Ustream channel at 1:00pm to chat live with Joe Duff.

COUNTING WHOOPING CRANES – Entry 2

The article below, penned by retired International Whooping Crane Recovery Team Chair, Tom Stehn, was just published by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association.

MY OPINION ON THE CURRENT WHOOPING CRANE COUNT METHODS
BY: Tom Stehn, Retired Whooping Crane Coordinator
Aransas Pass, Texas

The whooping cranes are back at Aransas, and the Refuge has started their winter whooping crane counts.  After I retired in the fall of 2011, count methods were changed from the complete census done for the past 61 years to a survey method using hierarchical distance sampling. I was told this was done for policy reasons, and that there were now too many whooping cranes to count them all. The latter statement is untrue. I successfully counted the cranes for 29 winters, including a peak of 282 whooping cranes, and feel a complete census will work with a flock size of at least 500. It may be that on some future date, it will be appropriate to sample the population rather than count all individuals, but I do not believe that date has yet arrived.

The new survey methods employ fixed transects flown at 1,000 meter intervals over four hours, whereas the census transects I used averaged ~400 meters wide and flights lasted approximately six hours.  It is incomprehensible how the new survey method that finds fewer cranes is considered better than an actual census.  To me, the more cranes you actually locate, the more you are going to learn.  Why settle for an “estimate” when you have the opportunity to count nearly every individual each time you fly?

For the first winter since the refuge was established in 1937, no peak flock size was obtained in the 2011-2012 winter using the new distance sampling methods. Yes, the cranes were more dispersed that winter due to minimal food resources at Aransas, and the Service had difficulty finding approved aircraft to conduct the flights. Even given these difficulties, I would have come up with a peak population estimate using my old census methodology.

Last winter, the new distance sampling methodology estimated 254 plus or minus 62 whooping cranes in the survey area. No one knew if the flock had increased or decreased in size from the previous year. This degree of uncertainty is simply unacceptable and useless for recovery management purposes.

I believe the census methods I employed had no more than a 2% error. I knew I was not off by much since the results were so consistent from week to week. The number of adult pairs on the wintering grounds always agreed closely with the number of nesting pairs found the following summer in Canada. I averaged finding 95% of the cranes on every flight, and multiple flights over the winter season allowed me to put together the jigsaw puzzle of the flock composition (adults, subadults, juveniles, territory locations, mortality, habitat use, etc). The new survey methods do not attempt to locate territories or detect mortality, two actions recommended in the Recovery Plan.

Because the new survey methods are unproven and stakeholders are skeptical, I believe it would be prudent to continue to use the old census method while experimenting with the new method.   Only when the new method is shown to be better should it be employed as the only survey methodology. I have written a letter to the Director of the USFWS and to the Director of Region II asking that they insure the flock gets censused this December before it is too late to obtain a peak count.  If you agree with me, perhaps you might write a letter.

Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, Email: RDTuggle@fws.gov
Director, Southwest Region USFWS
P.O. Box 1306
Albuquerque, NM 87103-1306

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Dan Ashe, Director
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240

Whooping cranes are too valuable and too endangered not to count them annually to monitor how the flock is doing and how they are being impacted by numerous threats (sea level rise, housing developments, long-term decline of blue crabs, drought, invasion of black mangrove, power line and wind tower construction in the flyway, habitat loss, etc).

For many, the whooping crane is considered the flagship species of the Endangered Species program.  Because of this high level of interest and scrutiny, an accurate count is of great interest, both nationally and internationally. We owe it to the American people, our Canadian partners, and other conservation partners to provide them with the level of accurate information to which they have become accustomed.

Although happily retired, I’m frustrated by the people involved with the count insisting that their new methods are “better” when results to date prove they are not. One can’t expect me to be objective, but on the other hand, I have as much knowledge as anybody of counting whooping cranes.

I urge the USFWS to utilize transects no more than 500 meters apart which will enable them to find a much higher percentage of the crane flock. Why not do a census using 500 meter transects one day and conduct a distance sampling survey at 1000 meter transects the next day to compare methods? Biologists can then decide if distance sampling is a useful tool. But at five feet tall and with nothing to hide behind, it is not hard to find nearly every whooping crane from the air.

Come on Fish and Wildlife Service; use the count methods that are the most effective.

JOIN US SUNDAY AT 1PM! – Entry 1

We’re hosting a LIVE Q & A chat on our CraneCam channel this Sunday at 1pm Eastern time with OM CEO Joe Duff in the hot-seat and we hope you’ll tune in to watch and participate! Have a question for Joe about the Whooping crane reintroduction? Perhaps about Whooping cranes? How the project started? About the history of Operation Migration? The Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership? Here’s your chance to ask Joe whatever you want!

The chat will begin at 1pm eastern time and last for one hour. To participate you will need to have a registered chat name so you can login to the chat on our Ustream channel. If you do not already have a ustream account, it’s very easy to create one. Visit: http://www.ustream.tv/new and click Sign Up at the top right of the welcome screen.

During the live Q & A session on Sunday the chat will be operating in slow mode, which means each participant can post a question once every 60 seconds.  We will do our best to answer all questions but depending on the number of people participating we may not be able to respond to all within the one hour time frame.

So put you’re thinking caps on! Get those questions ready and jot them down – then join us at 1 o’clock on Sunday on our Ustream channel to chat live with Joe Duff.

A Journey to Svalbard: the Kingdom of the Ice Bear

AN INVITATION FROM WALTER STURGEON
Arctic Waterfowl Expert and Operation Migration Director/Migration Team Member

I invite you to join me and Dave Davenport of EcoQuest Travel on a fabulous trip to Oslo, Norway and on to the Island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard Archipelago in the Norwegian Arctic.

This trip will allow me to share my previous experiences with arctic wildlife and explorations. Since 1981 I have made 20 trips to the Arctic/Subarctic, including  several summers in the Canadian Arctic doing waterfowl research. In my travels have followed and crossed the paths of many arctic biologists, naturalists and explorers, and I look forward to sharing tales of those adventures and my passion for the far north with you.

We will fly in and join our ship in Longyearbyen (pop. 2500), the most northern town on earth. Cruising through the archipelago as we circumnavigate Spitsbergen we will reach 81 degrees north, just 540 miles from the North Pole.  The island of Spitsbergen has a long history for its many whaling stations and as jumping off place for many of Arctic explorers looking for the Northern Sea Route.

The polar bear is king of the archipelago and we will see them as we travel on our ship through the islands. The diversity of arctic wildlife includes many sea and terrestrial mammals as well as arctic waterfowl like the king eider and the barnacle and pink footed geese who breed there. We will also see firsthand the effects of global warming which has accelerated the ice melt and altered the landscape.

Why not consider joining Dave and me on this journey to the northern end of our world. Click the link for a detailed itinerary and more info on what promises to be a sensational trip. Note – space is limited. More questions? Contact me via email: sturgeon2(at)embarqmail.com (replace ‘at’ with @)

ST. MARK’S NEW WINTERING VISITORS – Entry 2

A quick update on things at St Mark has our new “Floridian Flyers” comfortably adjusting to life in the top netted pen and anxiously awaiting their health checks and banding which will take place on Friday.

Walt Sturgeon stayed on a few days post migration to help with the transition before flying to Massachusetts to pick up our new tracking van. Scott Tidmus arrived from Disney to contribute a week of expertise and hard labor, his fourth year at St Marks, followed by keeper Gretchen Mueller. Disney’s Dr. Scott Terrell and his staff will arrive Thursday night in preparation for Friday morning health checks, and Eva Szyszkoski from ICF will also be arriving to do the banding.

Meanwhile, the chicks have grown visibly comfortable with the sights and sounds of life in the marsh and are anxious to take it to the next level….as are we. Their neighbors are also excited about the new additions to the marsh.

A flock of shore birds stand on the oyster bar and wait while three, big wild pigs root around on the periphery daily. Raccoon tracks reveal the comings and goings of those curious critters as fiddler crabs scurry about in excited disbelief. A couple of coyotes pass by in the darkness leaving in their wake a pile of scat as if to say, “There goes the neighborhood!”

All this while the bugs keep on buzzing, the trees keep on hissing, and the moon pops up and exclaims with delight, “Well now…what do we have here?” Soon the chicks will become part of the local scheme of things and that’s when the real fun will begin.

Fun for whom, I wonder.

Disney’s Scott Tidmus starts his 4th season’s stint helping out with winter monitoring at St. Marks NWR

Volunteer Migration Crew Member Walter Sturgeon lingers in Florida post migration to give Brooke a hand while he gets back into the swing of things.

Gretchen Mueller from Disney checks over the Class of 2012.

WHOOPING CRANE SHOOTERS SENTENCED IN INDIANA – Entry 1

Back in August we reported that the individual(s) who shot and killed Whooping crane #27-08 in early January of 2012 avoided a criminal trial by filing an Agreement to Plead Guilty for violating the Migratory Bird Act by Taking or Killing of a Migratory Bird.

In a recent Press Release following the sentencing of Jason McCarter and John Burke of Knox County, Indiana, USFWS announced the pair had been sentenced on November 21st for their involvement in the shooting. An Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer received voluntary information from a citizen concerning the possible shooting of the whooping crane which led to charges against McCarter and Burke.

The Whooping crane killed, a three year-old male (#27-08, was part of a nesting pair – mated with 8-09) was a member of the ultralight-led Class of was 2008. He was hatched and raised at the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland before being transported to Wisconsin where he participated in ‘flight training’ in preparation for his first migration south and learning the route by following OM’s aircraft.

According to the case report filed with the prosecutor, the Whooping crane had been spotlighted at night and shot and killed with a high-powered rifle. Read #27-08’s complete bio on Journey North’s excellent website. The bio documents his life from hatch to his summer flight training; his ultralight-led migration with OM’s pilots; and his life as a wild bird.

#27-08 was the third confirmed shooting death of a Whooping crane in Indiana. The first shooting mortality occurred in late 2009 when the first female in the reintroduced Eastern Migratory Population to successfully hatch and raise a wild chick (Wild 1-06) in the U.S. in more than a century was killed. Crane #17-02, the matriarch of this ‘First Family’, was 7 years old and in her prime reproductive years when she was shot.

In December 2011, male Whooping crane number 6-05 was found shot to death in Jackson County, IN. His carcass was found by a photographer near the Muscatatuck River basin about 40 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. The investigation into this killing continues and anyone with information is asked to call the Turn In A Poacher hotline at 1-800-TIP-IDNR.

Burke and McCarter were charged and sentenced in United States District Court, in Terre Haute, IN. As part of the plea agreement, each received three years probation during which time they are not allowed to hunt. In addition, they must perform 120 hours community service at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, and lastly they are required to make a $5000 donation to the International Crane Foundation.

FOR THE LOVE OF SHOES

Back at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Wisconsin as I was getting to know the chicks, #7 distinguished herself to me. Every time I encountered her she would play with my boots. I mentioned this to fellow volunteer handler Doug Pellerin, and he said that he had the same experience. This bird was fascinated with footwear.

Slowly the other ‘girls’ picked up this fixation, and when I went into the pen I had chicks picking on my laces and hammering on my toes. I finally realized that #7 must been watching Sex and City. Perhaps late at night after all the Craniacs had gone to bed, the video camera was being tapped into and all the girls were watching reruns.

What the actors ate, drank, and talked about were not interesting. But those shiny things they wore on their feet? Those were cool! Colors and straps, they could imagine them wrapped around their long skinny legs. What fun!

The next time I walked into the pen my boots clearly did not measure up. These were no Manolo Blahnik! The only hope was a complete makeover. I could see the thought bubble. “We’ll start with a nice sandal. The toes on these boots must go.” Then the hammering on the toes started. (They tried it on Colleen but as her boots were steel-toed, all they got was a twang and a sore beak.)

Next was the laces. “Laces are out! Straps yes, but laces? Yuck!” The silver bling (the metal rings that the laces go through) are nice they can stay!”

Clearly there was no redeeming my boots because they still worked on them every time I went into the pen!

CAST YOUR VOTE FOR IJAMS!!

Our very good friends at Ijams Nature Center near Knoxville, Tennessee are in the running for a $5000 donation. The contest, sponsored by The Trust Company, has three worthy local organizations competing for votes on their website.

Ijams is a member and visitor-supported nonprofit organization and is a long-time supporter of Operation Migration and Whooping cranes. You can help our friends at Ijams win $5000 by simply clicking the link and voting for them. No personal information is required. Just click here to vote for Ijams. You can vote once a day every day from now until December 9th.

You’ve helped OM before by voting for us, now we hope you’ll help out another terrific and deserving organization.

WOOD BUFFALO-ARANSAS POPULATION UPDATE

The most recent news from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge reported that, ‘The majority of the radio-marked Whooping cranes [in the Wood Buffalo/Aransas Population] have migrated to their wintering grounds on the Texas coast.”

There have also been sightings of cranes in Oklahoma and other points along the migration route as well as in other parts of Texas. Speculation is that milder winter conditions have led to a slower pace migration pace this year.

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) reported that based on a count conducted at their Wood Buffalo National Park nesting grounds in Canada, the western flock had grown to ~300 birds. According to the WCCA, the Wood Buffalo/Aransas Population has 34 juveniles, including two sets of twins this year.

The Aransas refuge advises that they hope to have preliminary estimates of the population size available when they file their next report. Click to read their full update.

Use this link to read about the science of counting birds.

The Aransas Refuge posts updates from around mid-October until the end of March. A report entitled, “The Aransas-Wood Buffalo Whooping Crane Abundance Survey” will be made available to the public in the spring after the cranes have left their Texas wintering grounds for thier nesting grounds in Canada and data collected has been analyzed.

Use this link to check for periodic updates and the refuge’s final report come spring. WHOOPING CRANE UPDATES.

NEVER TOO OLD TO LEARN

As I look back at this migration I am overwhelmed at how much I learned. Putting a pen up and taking it down are the least of it, but it sure tickled Julie and I to beat our own best times!  It felt really good to do it a few times and get into a rhythm and a routine. Every day brought new situations and challenges and therefore something new to learn. Thank goodness I like to learn!

The most fun, of course was learning how to care for the Crane Chicklets. Talk about a dream come true. Always stressful because every move has to be thought out, but always aware of what a rare opportunity it is to be around these beautiful birds and how blessed I was to be there. The least fun was trying to learn how to back up with the pen trailer… sorry about that door panel guys, I am still cringing!

We are never too old to learn. It’s what makes life interesting, makes us be better people and our world a better place!

In a conservation project education is everything. For Whooping Cranes to survive we need to spread the word that wetlands are critical, not only for Whooping Cranes but for many species.  Thanks to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Southern Company and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund this critical message is being spread far and wide!!  We can never thank them enough for all they do, but we can give it our best effort. Please drop them a note and tell them how much we appreciate them.

On a personal level, every time we tell someone about Whoopers and get them excited, we make a difference in the world.  One person at a time adds up to big change!  That person shares with another and so forth, and more and more people make the choice to save wetlands, preserve habitat, reuse, reduce and recycle.

If you live along the migratory path attached is a file you can print and hand out. It is great way for people to ID Whooping Cranes. Educating people is their best hope, hope to preserve habitat, hope  that people will recognize them, how rare and special and not shoot them, hope that they will not get too close while observing them to avoid habituating them to humans. Here is to hoping that 100 years from now Whooping Cranes won’t be special, that they will be everywhere and common place. What we do or don’t do now will make the difference.

BECAUSE OF, AND FOR MY MOM & DAD

I was asked to sum up my reactions to the experience of joining the 2012 migration. What a daunting tasks that is. Some things I will never be able to express, some are already fading, and others will remain clear images in my head for the rest of my life.

First I have to say that I couldn’t have made this journey without having had two wonderful parents. It was their love of nature and the outdoors that exposed me to the creatures of the wild and the beauty of their homes.

It was my Dad’s knowledge of tools and knots, that he taught me, that gave me a platform on which to learn what I needed to be useful on this project. It was my Mom’s skill at packing for a summer on the lake which made sure I had the right things with me. But it was their love and constant presence in my mind that I turned to when I was challenged, and/or frightened of failing in my tasks.

Migration is not for the faint of heart. You would not be tempted to experience it if you did not love the project and the birds. Therefore you can be sure that I felt every bit of the responsibility of caring for such special creatures.

The joy is being so close to the birds that you can see their reactions and believe that you can understand their thinking. The terror is in being so close to the birds that something you do could hurt them or influence their behavior negatively. The devastating death of 10-12 is countered by the satisfaction of seeing the five delivered safely to their winter home.

Migration is hard work. We set up pens and broke down pens, hitched and unhitched trailers every day. We hiked to pensites and after birds (luckily not too often). We filled water tanks and buckets and hauled bags of feed around. I drove the white van pulling our 32 foot aircraft trailer behind it from stopover to stopover. I learned what happens to such a trailer when a semi-truck goes flying by on the highway. (Not fun!)

Migration is also fun. We met some really wonderful people who allowed us on to their properties and often invited us into their homes. We ate and laughed with these incredible people. I saw small towns and villages throughout the route. We sampled different foods and savored local specialties. I also think that we visited a record number of different Wal-Marts.

What I have learned is that this is science the hard way. There is no way to experiment and very little lab work. It’s mostly trial and error on a large scale. They try something, and then wait five, six, maybe ten years, maybe never, before any results are known. Every action is scrutinized, criticized, and second-guessed. At all levels of the project there has to be compromise. Sometimes you have to accept someone else’s plan and you always have to respect everyone’s opinion. Above all else you must keep the project going, because to stop, is to fail.

The OM staff is just as incredible as you would image them to be. Each one of them has the best interests of the birds at heart. They sacrifice their own lives to make sure that the project and the birds survive. I will be forever grateful for their allowing me to participate in this year’s migration. I especially want to thank Geoff who was my right hand man for most of the trip and who always taught me things without criticizing me.

Lastly I would like to thank all of you reading this. Operation Migration could not and will not exist without your help and support. Now that I am once again a citizen of the world and no longer one of the crew, I can say that what happens next is up to US.

In my view these birds are a national treasure and like a Monet in a museum, it takes time and money to preserve our treasures for the future. We must spread the word, stay involved and fight for these birds and the habitat that they need to survive.

Money is of course needed but in addition there are other things you can do to help. Every part of the reintroduction is under threat. Write to your congressmen and ask them to fund the Department of Interior fully. The US Geological Survey wildlife research center at Patuxent is funded by the DOI. Cuts in spending threaten that program every year.

Support your local efforts to put more land under conservation protection and into refuges like St. Marks NWR in Florida and the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area in Wisconsin.

Last but not least reach out to your children and teach them well. If this project succeeds, it will be the next generation which will see that success. It is they who will need to ensure that the birds have the habitat and freedom to thrive.

My last word is, that contrary to a common cliché, you don’t always have to be careful what you wish for – because sometimes dreams do come true. Mine did! Thank you!

BIG WHITE BIRDS

Those that have been following our work for a couple of years may recall when two Whooping Cranes, specifically numbers 11-09 and 15-09* decided to make Leon County, FL their winter territory. These two started out as flockmates – both members of the Class of 2009. Two, of the twenty cranes we had that year. Both spent their first winter at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in neighboring Wakulla County and have returned to the area to spend winters ever since.

They arrived back to this same location on Tuesday of this week and Lou Kellenberger captured and shared these images of the two using his impressive camera lens.

Whooping cranes 11-09 & 15-09* returned to Leon County, FL this week.

We are not divulging their location other than county level for a specific reason and that is to protect these incredible birds. Too many times we’ve heard stories of people trespassing on private property to get ‘just that perfect photograph’ or get ‘just a wee bit closer’. Should you happen to encounter this pair, please give them the respect they need and deserve. Please do not approach on foot; remain in your vehicle if possible; do not approach in a vehicle any closer than 100 yards. Also, please remain concealed and do not speak loudly enough that the birds can hear you. Thank you…

Meanwhile back in Wisconsin, Wisconsin DNR pilot Bev Paulan flew the final survey flight of 2012 this week and reports finding only 11 Whooping cranes in Wisconsin. Bev went on to say 90% of all marshes are frozen, especially at Necedah, Meadow Valley and Mead SWA where it is closer to 100% frozen.

The lingering cranes in Wisconsin are: 3-11, 4-11*, 5-11, 6-11, 19-11, 9-10*, 24-09 and presumably his mate 42-09* all in Adams County with ~25 Sandhill cranes. And in Dane County; 7-11*, 10-11 and 12-11* with no Sandhills.

Huge thanks to the three DNR pilots who logged a lot of airtime this past year keeping tabs on the Eastern Migratory Population. Our appreciation goes out to Bev Paulan, Luke Wuest and Mike Callahan.

* denotes female

ON THE GROUND LOOKING UP

The aviation community is rife with one liners, smart-mouth comments and little gems of wisdom. My brother, the helicopter pilot, once told me that if God had wanted man to fly, he would have given him more money! He also said that you can make a small fortune in aviation, as long as you start with a big one.

One of Brooke’s favorites is, “I’d rather be on the ground wishing I was flying, than flying and wishing I was on the ground.” The “wishing I was flying” part is what I went through, until recently.

As part of our exemption, the FAA asked us to upgrade our pilot licences from Sport Light category to Private. That wasn’t difficult, but timing was an issue. The only instructor and examiner able to do that on the type of aircraft we fly is a father/son team from Wisconsin. According to the rules, your instructor cannot be your examiner, so the son flew off the hours we needed and prepared us for the checkride with the father. The problem was, that both of them have real jobs and one is an active airline pilot who does six day sojourns to Asia. Finding days when he was “in country” and so was I (coming from Canada) was not easy. Then we had to factor in the weather.

Both Richard and Brooke were able to complete the process before the migration began, but I was not. With only six birds (now five) this year however, we decided in the spring to use only two aircraft. That would leave another experienced person on the ground and reduce the size of the team we needed.

When the migration started my ambition was to take the first opportunity and complete my check ride, then to take my turn flying. The problem was that every decent flying day we had, was also a day we moved the birds one step closer to Florida. However, by the time we reached Kentucky, we were in a different weather pattern than the examiner in Wisconsin. A bad day here might be a good day there. At least that’s what I hoped.

What really made it all work was the generosity of John Cooper and David and Linda Boyd. All three are long time volunteers on our migration team. And as it happened, all three were available at the same time. That meant that I could relinquish my ground duties for a short time and finally get my check ride completed.

I rented a car and drove north 8 hours only to wake up the next morning to zero/zero conditions. In pilot talk that means no visibility and no ceiling height. In other words, you couldn’t see across the street. We drove to the airport twice hoping it might be better there, but instead we spent most of the day talking about flying and politics (it was election night). Finally, in the late afternoon, the conditions cleared and I passed my check ride with flying colours (excuse the pun).

For the three pilots that fly on this project, the reward for all the time away from home and the long hours is the opportunity to fly with the birds. It is hard to give up any chance to take to the sky with a string of birds trailing off your wing tip. I likely know that better than anyone, so I found it difficult to ground one of the other pilots just so I could have my turn in the air. This is supposed to be about the birds, not personal gratification so I grounded myself, at least for while, and it gave me an opportunity to see what the ground crew goes through each day.

When the team skipped two stopovers last week, the ground crew had to drive for four hours to catch up. I was driving our big pickup truck pulling our longest trailer when the electric brakes failed. Luckily I found an RV Center nearby so I stayed behind to get it fixed. We checked connectors, replaced the actuator, and finally, after 4 hours, ran a dedicated wire from the hitch to the brakes. That cured the problem. But by this time it was after dark and the team was waiting for their home away from home to arrive at the next campsite.

Not familiar with the roads, I made the mistake of following my GPS which took me down a narrow laneway on the opposite side of the airport from where our camp was located. Unfortunately this lane was a deadend, but not posted, a fact I discovered when I reached the end.

In the pitch black I had to back up a 32 foot trailer stopping every 50 feet or so to make sure I wasn’t about to hit anything or drop the trailer over the edge. I made a desperate attempt to turn around in a too narrow laneway and had to use four wheel drive to pull myself out of a muddy hole. Straight again, I continued my slow backwards progress until I reached a farmhouse whose owners came out with flashlights to check on the commotion on their normally quiet street.

Soon there were three neighbors shining lights in my eyes to make sure everything was under control. They generously allowed me to use a portion of their driveway and even a little of their lawn to turn around. Wedged between a tree, a fire hydrant, and a trampoline, I had an inch to spare and I thought the trailer was about to roll over when the wheels on one side tracked into a ditch.

We had started that day at 5:00AM and finished at 10:00PM. I spent most of that time looking up and wishing I was flying.

MAGIC!

Abracadabra Alakazam fly to St.Marks as fast as you can”…then Poof! We’re here!

Below, lines of parked cars and the flyover viewing crowd’s collective face looks up to enjoy the sight of birds and aircraft passing over head, the birds settle into their wintering site, we break down and load the aircraft, say our hellos and goodbyes, and then almost before it began, the performance ends, the circus folds up its tent and moves on out of town, leaving behind a blur of Kodak moments and a hangover of reflection overload for many of the human migrators.

But every closing door opens another, and new challenges are immediately exchanged for old, leaving a mere millisecond or two maximum for celebration as the migration fades into distant memory.

How sad it is that the rich and wonderful experience that is migration is so fleeting. But then the past must give way to the present for there to be a future, and it is a better future that we endeavor to create.

Meanwhile, the Class of 2012 begins a new chapter of their lives. They are, as always, in the present, and their present is the whole new world of St Marks. Soon they will have their health checks and sport new leg bands, and soon after that, they will experience an incredibly magical pallet of new freedoms and experiences.

One has only to sit back and enjoy the delicious imaginings of what lies before them and by so doing, share in some small way their experience. Such connections are gifts to be treasured.

Stay tuned.

Miles to go…

Guest Author: Babs, Seattle, WA

To all my wonderful craniac friends… Another migration is over.  The birds are safely at St. Marks discovering the delights of blue crabs and soon, the wonders of freedom.  Discovering ‘Life’ and all it has to offer.
 
If I might quote from a poem:
 
   “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep…”
 
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”
by Robert Frost
 
So what’s with the poetry, you ask?  Well, yes, the migration is done, but Operation Migration has ‘promises to keep’ to fully fund the entire migration. They truly have miles to go before they can ‘sleep’ and close the books – unfunded miles that must be paid. Then, they can take a deep breath or two (no more!) and start the planning for next year!
 
Let’s pitch in and help!  I made the delightful discovery that my employer provides matching funds for ‘charitable donations’ dollar-for-dollar!  And they include environmental organizations, and what could be more environmental than helping preserve a species?
 
Please consider not only donating, but checking to see if your employer will match you!  And this applies, at least for my employer, for both donations I will make and for donations I’ve already made.  It’s a win-win situation.
 
So let’s make this an ‘Employer Challenge’ Get involved!! MileMakers and WHOOPS!!!

Sincerely,
Babs

Many companies have programs through which they will “match” contributions made by their employees to Operation Migration.  Ask the Human Resources Officer where you work if there is a charitable Matching Gift program.  Hundreds of companies—large and small—offer this to their employees but if they don’t, you may want to ask your company to start a matching gift program.

In most cases your employer will match your gift dollar-for-dollar. In fact, many companies will match at a higher ratio, such as 2:1.

If your employer does offer this program, your Human Resources department should provide you with a matching gift form to send to Operation Migration along with your donation, or even after. The process for submitting a matching gift claim differs from company to company. Some require a completed paper form; others offer a quick and easy online system.

Our office will verify receipt of your gift and return the paper form, or complete the online form and submit it to your company for the matching amount.

So check this list to see if your employer is included, or visit your HR department if they’re not listed to see if they’ll double the good YOU do for Operation Migration!

And speaking of matching – On Friday we posted a special challenge from an anonymous Illinois supporter who offered to make a $1000.00 contribution to OM IF we could raise an equivalent amount. We’re thrilled to say that you came through and met this challenge!

Well it seems that there is now a friendly rivalry between a supporter in Michigan who also wishes to remain anonymous and last week’s generous donor from Illinois. The craniac in Michigan is also offering to contribute up to $1000.00 to help us reach our funding goal IF we can raise the same amount with your help. If you missed out on last week’s challenge and would like to take advantage of the Michigan Match, click here to contribute.