This posting would usually by an entry written by today’s Lead Pilot, Brooke Pennypacker. But today has been anything but a ‘usual’ day.

It started with a long awaited flight after 13 days on the ground in LaSalle County. All six cranes were flying beautifully when they cruised overhead of the folks gathered at the departure flyover viewing site in the little town of Sheridan. And I mean cruised, as most of them were getting a free ride behind Brooke’s wing. (Photo compliments of Chris Linnell)

As I motored along the highways and byways toward Piatt County, the first news I received is that one bird had dropped out and landed. Joe and John Cooper in the Tracking van were racing to its location, and after quite some time, managed to safely crate the bird for transport.

Further along the road my cell phone buzzed again. The call display said it was Brooke, and it struck me as very unusual to have a call from him post-flight. And unusual it was as he wanted me to contact the closest avian vet clinic on our migration veterinarian list.

The long and short of it was that #10 had broken its left femur and Brooke wanted to get her medical attention stat. Having skipped a stopover, crew was ‘all over creation’ so I quickly became communication central as we tried to make arrangements and coordinate everyone’s locations.

With everyone on the road enroute to Piatt County, only Brooke and Richard were on site there – and of course their aircraft was their only means of transportation. Texts and calls to Joe and John went unanswered as they were still out in a corn field trying to corral their downed crane. Thankfully, Joe and John, with the dropped out crane in the Tracking Van got on the road and soon arrived on scene. Once that bird was released to join the rest of its classmates, Brooke and Joe departed for the vet clinic with #10. We learned a few hours later that despite everyone’s best efforts, she unfortunately died on the operating table.

It’s going 6pm and I’m alone in camp while Brooke is off doing the evening roost check. Richard and Colleen have gone to pull the pen we’d previously set up at the stopover site we skipped. The rest of the crew are either enroute here, or enroute back to LaSalle to pick up vehicles that were left behind there. In addition to being a sad day, and a trying one, it will be a long one before it is all over.



DATE: Oct. 26, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 29
FLOWN TODAY: 114 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Wow.. was it good to jump start the migration again. 14 days after arriving in LaSalle County we are finally on our way again. How much ongoing progress we will make remains to be seen. Not wanting to count our migration legs before they ‘hatch’, but the weatherman is forecasting more potentially flyable days.

Tune in later this afternoon (between 4 and 5pm) for Brooke Pennypacker’s Lead Pilot Report.

With the planes and cranes in the air today, it would be great day to help the Class of 2012 reach their Florida winter home by becoming a MileMaker sponsor.


DATE: Oct. 25, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 28/DOWN DAY 13
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Anything not nailed down is likely to be ‘relocated’ this morning in the very gusty SW 35mph winds. Stepping out of the motorhome this morning was sufficient to blow away (pun intended) any thought of being able to fly today.


Davin Lopez, Whooping crane coordinator with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Joan Garland, International Crane Foundation Outreach Coordinator, will be on The Larry Meiller Show live on Wisconsin Public Radio from 11-11:45 Oct. 31 on these WPR Ideas Network stations or online.



DATE: Oct. 24, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 27/DOWN DAY 12
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Being promised an unseasonably warm summer-like day is no consolation for being stuck in one place for going on two weeks. I think everyone’s caught up on their personal chores now – everything from laundry to communications with friends and family all taken care of. To a person… everyone is just itching to GO!


Some of you may not be aware but I have worked in and around the entertainment industry for over thirty years. My last job was as a stagehand at a casino. Our main job was to load the musical acts that performed there in and out.

When you go to see a concert you see the talent perform with the band surrounded by lights, effects and sound. What you don’t see is the staff of roadies, local crew, managers, drivers, ushers, security etc. that it takes to put a performer on stage and the effort that it takes to move that show to the next location.

A show on the road is made up of many individuals each with a specific job. Each person is largely responsible for one single task. Occasionally they may be asked to cover for someone else, but on a whole, their job is to complete their specific task quickly, correctly and safely.

One of the unsung jobs is that of the tour bus driver. It is his job to drive the crew and talent to location, to clean and service the bus, and then sleep during the day. He won’t be needed again until the show is over and the trucks loaded. Then he packs the weary crew and talent into the bus and while they sleep, he drives them to the next location.

Operation Migration is out on tour but that’s where the similarity ends. The only constant thing we have is our migration route. Everything else is subject to change. Unlike a road show where most people have one job, at OM everyone wears multiple hats – and they change daily. I expected Joe, Richard and Brooke to take care of the birds, fly the trikes, and meet and educate people, but I was amazed to watch them change the brakes and oil on a motor home, fill propane and water tanks, cook dinner, and countless other tasks.

One of the biggest differences is that at the end of a fly day, after we have flown the birds and broken down the pen and set it up again, we still have to move all of the vehicles to the next stop, set them up, eat and sleep. There is no tour bus or tour bus driver to tuck us in. Everything must be taken care of by one of us.

My friends in the industry would be very amused to know that I have finally been dragged out on tour, but horrified that we are on the road without a tour bus!


DATE: Oct. 23, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 26/DOWN DAY 11
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

It’s like having a recurring bad dream. Today will be the 11th spent on the ground in LaSalle County. If it hasn’t been rain, thunderstorms, southerly winds, or fog, each day it’s been a combination of some or all of these. Today is one of those days when we’ve got them all.

Volunteers Help Clean Up Aransas Refuge 

Just two days before the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s shoreline was to be closed in preparation for the return of the western population of Whooping Cranes, Mission-Aransas Reserve volunteers and Aransas Heritage 4-H students braved wind and water to clean up the refuge shoreline. Click the link to read the report in the Rockport Pilot.  



DATE: Oct. 22, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 25/DOWN DAY 10
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Except when there are south winds that old saw unfortunately doesn’t apply because heaven knows we have the ‘will’.

Rain sprinkled over night but the morning arrived with clear skies filled with twinkling stars. As dawn approached, what was complete calm gradually evolved into a warm breeze. Warm being the key word as it foretold its direction.

ST. MARKS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE 24th Annual Monarch Butterfly Festival

The St. Marks NWR annual Monarch Festival is coming up October 27 at the Refuge! Mark your calendar and take in what promises to be a great day.

Visit the exhibits and see butterfly tagging and monarchs on the wildflowers at the lighthouse. Enjoy a hot dog or a Bradley’s sausage dog for lunch and then shop for T-shirts, books, mugs, jewelry, or toys in the Nature Store in the Visitor Center.

As in the past, this event will be filled with the wonder of folks of all ages charting their own “migration,” making butterfly crafts, talking with monarch butterfly researchers and other exhibitors, and learning about landscaping to help all pollinators.

There’ll be a photo booth, tours and much more, and all programs are free after refuge entry fee. If you are within driving distance don’t miss out on the fun!


DATE: Oct. 21, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 24/DOWN DAY 9
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

A beautiful, clear and crisp migration morning is marred only by southerly winds. Frustrating.


In 2010 we received an email from Kathleen Kaska, a teacher, writer, and supporter of OM. Kathleen wrote to let us know that she had signed a contract with University Press of Florida to write a book about Robert Porter Allen, the ornithologist who helped discover the Whooping crane nesting site in Wood Buffalo National Park in 1955, and that the last chapter of her book would tell the story of OM.

Kathleen’s book, “The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story” is now out. The book is described as, “…timely, and will capture the hearts of anyone who appreciates wildlife conservation and enjoys a true adventure story. The Robert Porter Allen story is characterized as, “Indiana Jones meets John James Audubon.”

A percentage of royalty earnings from the sale of the book will be donated to Operation Migration and the Tavernier Science Center.


DATE: Oct. 20, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 23/DOWN DAY 8
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Via a Newsletter received Thursday, October 18th from the Friends of the Louisiana Whooping Cranes, we learned the latest stats on the Louisiana non-migratory population of Whooping cranes.

Of the 26 Whoopers reintroduced in Louisiana – ten in 2010 and sixteen in 2011 – fourteen still survive. The Friends newsletter reported that the two surviving 2010 cranes continue to remain alone, but that a group of seven of the surviving 2011 chicks continue to travel together.

The Louisiana flock will double in number around the end of November when the six male and eight female cranes currently being raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland are shipped to the White Lake release site.


I have been honored to be able work on the CraneCam since it came live in July of 2009.  It has been a joy to watch the cranes grow from cinnamon chicklets to big, beautiful fledged cranlets each season! Educating newcomers and seeing them get excited about Whoopers and wetlands has been a high point in my life. I feel like I have planted seeds that are sprouting, because every person that cares about Whoopers tells someone else! Many species will benefit when we save wetlands!!

I have met people that will be my friends forever in the CraneCam Chat. People I have met online and gotten to know, care about the same things I do, they laugh when I do, and sometimes we share tears together. It is so special to have like-minded friends, and I am eternally grateful them.

When migration starts, we all get to watch the cranes fly as if we were in the trike with the pilots! It is an awesome experience, sometimes scary, sometimes funny. Sometimes I watched through my fingers “I CAN’T LOOK… BUT I HAVE TO LOOK,” while on the edge of my seat.

This year I am with the crew and helping in new ways. (Talk about honored.) I knew that I would miss my buddies in the ‘chattery’. That is no surprise. What I did not realize was while being part of the ground crew, how much I would miss the CraneCam.

This last leg to LaSalle County was really stressful for me! The wind picked up not long after the cranes and planes left. We tore down the pen, pulled it out of the field, got water dishes and foot baths washed, the pen trailer hooked onto the vehicle I was going to tow it with, and got a taillight issue resolved.

By then I figured the guys and cranes would be on the ground. I texted Heather who told me they were still 40 miles out.  Oh my goodness! At that point they had been in the air about two hours. As I headed off to the next stopover site I wondered about the long flight time, so  I asked my husband, a new Craniac, to text me when they were safe on the ground!

I miss not having internet every day, but on fly days it’s even worse not having that tool to know just by looking what’s going on. Makes that Cam invaluable!!

It’s different here on the ‘other side of the fence’ learning to use new tools and missing the old ones!


DATE: Oct. 20, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 23/DOWN DAY 8
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles
LOCATION: LaSalle County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Our optimism for a flight today dissipated faster than the fog that blanketed us, and it was only further downhill from there as we watched and felt the wind pick up with the west northwesterly component vanishing to be replace with wind straight out of the west.

All the crew paced around the hangar as we waited and waited. At first there was reluctance to let go of hope for a flight, then came the, ‘maybe we can still do it’, before resignation set in and we had to finally call it another Down Day.

Richard entertained the CraneCam viewers for a few minutes, while the rest of us stood in the hangar cracking jokes and zapping each other with one-liners, trying to smile and laugh our way through the disappointment.

Check back here later today for other Whooping crane news as well as an entry authored by Colleen Chase.


DATE: Oct. 19, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 22/DOWN DAY 7
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles
LOCATION: LaSalle Co, IL REPORTER: Brooke Pennypacker

As those of you who follow the migration know, the lead pilot on each migration leg is responsible for writing an update describing the flight to be submitted to Liz for posting on the webpage by 4 o’clock…or is it 5?

It is my turn to lead the next flight leg, but I have recently come to the realization that by the time that good weather day finally arrives, I may be too old to actually fly let alone construct more than a few cohesive sentences.

It has nothing at all to do with the fact that I had to get my Pilot’s License from AARP instead of the FAA or, that airport managers insist I park my trike in a Handicapped Parking space at the airport despite my protests that I still have the “Right Stuff.”…I just can’t remember where I put it.

But to be on the safe side, I am submitting my lead pilot report a little early in the hope that the fates will read it, feel guilty, and bless us with a decent fly day. Well…one can hope.

As Geoff and I walked down to the pen for the evening roost check yesterday, it was, as Yogi used to say, “Deja vu all over again,” and as we approached the pen, there he was, Father Time, sitting fat, dumb, and happy up in a tree stand. “You again,” he asked? “You guessed it, how could you tell,” I replied. “Those dumb costumes, Bucko. How do you think?”

It never ceases to amaze me how something someone says to you can start your mind to thinking about all kinds of stuff, and I soon realized it was the eleventh straight year I had walked down that path to the bird pen.

As Geoff entered the pen to commence the chores, I rested my back against the pentrailer and gazed down the runway – which was soon transformed in my mind’s eye into a darkened stage upon which past dramas played out.

Like the time before the hanger was built and we had to drop our wings flat on the runway and tie them down to protect them as best we could from sudden high winds. One night, we went to a supporter’s for dinner leaving our then intern, Mark Nipper, and a motorhome to stand watch.

Suddenly a squall hit, there came the emergency call for help and we arrived in the driving rain in time to see Mark laying spread-eagled on top one of the wings as the wind broke its lashings and turned it into a bucking bronco. We rushed to Mark’s aid like a gang of rodeo clowns attempting to save a cowboy in distress, and before you could yell, “Eight Seconds,” we had the wing re-secured and the completely soaked and shivering Mark back in the motorhome to recuperate.

No rodeo cowboy ever deserved a silver belt buckle more than Mark did that night, for he saved the wings…and the migration. Mark later married Angie, another of our great interns and I am confident they are living happily ever after.

Then there was the time we let the birds out of the pen for a little exercise as was our protocol at the time since we had not flown in over three days. We had done this many times through the years and never had the chicks not returned to the pen after their little workout session.

Never, that is, until this one particular day. At first all went as expected. Up they went, circled a few times, then a few of them landed. The others continued to circle above the field. Then, as if called by some invisible voice, away they flew towards the horizon until they were gone.

Our crew was short-handed at the time, but everyone jumped into action; Walt and our host in his aircraft, Richard in his trike, Sharon from Patuxent and a crazy white-haired driver in the tracking van….all giving chase while Bev and the rest of the crew drove down to the next stop to put up the pen which our host at the next stop had dragged across a muddy road and gully with his tractor early that morning in the off chance we could fly that day.

The details of this adventure would take more words than this maybe someday lead pilot has time for, but by the end of the day, the birds were safely in their pen at the next stop and I was left with a feeling of pride at my great fortune of being a part of such a great crew.

There are, of course, more great memories, and of the days before cell phones and laptops and facebook and webcams, when migration was the same as it is today…only different. The faces of all the wonderful people that made it, and continue to make it all possible come to mind, and one can only marvel at how fortunate we have been over these many years.

“Thanks for all the help,” Geoff said as he exited the pen and woke me from my memories. Then he added, “I know, I know. You stop for flashbacks!”

Remembering Father Time, we looked up and waved our puppet heads at him as we started down the familiar path back to camp. “See you next year….older, and maybe even a little wiser.”

“One can hope.”


DATE: Oct. 19, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 22 / DOWN DAY 7
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles

It’s been a week since we arrived in LaSalle County, making this the longest time we’ve ever been held in place at this Stopover. The previous record – which we’d rather not have broken – was set in 2004 when we waited here six days for favorable winds/weather.


Babs, from WA, has put out a challenge out to all Craniacs to come up with 5 MileMaker miles. You can help meet her challenge by sponsoring a 1/4 or a 1/2 or a full mile (or all 5 miles of course – smile). She will cheerfully match all sponsorships up to 5 miles.

In Babs’ words, “Let’s go!!! Let’s get our six chicks to Florida!!

Click here to take up Babs’ challenge.


DATE: Oct. 18, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 21 / DOWN DAY 6
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 175 miles

(Testing new header above for use during the migration as suggested by supporter and blogger Eileen Hale.)

Lashed by rain and set rocking ‘n rolling by wind, camp will have some drying out to do this morning. Rain, followed by a steady diet of wind out of the south, continues to prevent any progress on the 2012 migration. Having been held in place at our second stopover location in Illinois for the sixth consecutive day, the team is more than anxious for the winds to drop down and swing around to come out of a favorable direction so we can be on our way.

With the earlier start to the 2012 fall migration (September 28th departure) we can’t help but wonder how long this year’s journey will take. The shortest migration concluded after 48 days in 2001, and the longest (excluding the curtailed migration in Alabama in 2011) took 97 days in 2007.

2005 was the first year the migration was ‘broken’ into two segments when, on our arrival in Marion County, FL on December 13th, we were asked to stand down until the adult cranes moved through the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge area. The Class of 2005 were held in a pen at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve as of that date until we received the all clear and the pilots returned to Florida to lead them the last leg giving that season’s migration a January 12th finish.

The stand down waiting for White Birds at Halpata Tasktanaki was repeated in 2006 and again in 2010 when we arrived December 19th and December 15th respectively. OM pilots returned in the new year to finish the ’06 and ’10 migrations on January 12th and January 15th respectively.

The 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 migrations were broken with a hiatus for all but a ‘crane caretaking team’ to give migration crew an opportunity to travel home to spend the holidays with their families.

Hopefully, the September start for this year’s migration – the earliest ever, and the decreased distance to cover – 1101 air miles (to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge) versus 1285 air miles (to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge) will help to make it one of the shorter ones, and with luck take us back to the days of  pre-xmas finishes.

But first, we have to escape the clutches of southerlies here in Illinois!


Did you figure out the equation? 5 DAYS ‘UP’ + 15 DAYS ‘DOWN’ = MIGRATION DAY 20.

Southerlies continue to stall migration progress with wind 15 to 20mph on surface and double those numbers aloft. Stepping outside you can almost taste the moisture in the air so it appears the weatherman will soon make good on his promise to deliver rain.

INTO THE WIND by Julia Anthony
This week has us grounded in Illinois by wind, a lot of wind! Sunday we even had a tornado warning. Geoff knocked on the trailer door and told me to come into the hanger. There we watched some ugly black clouds fly by and the wind sock dance and twist in the wind and rain. About two o’clock the weather slacked off so Colleen and I headed to the pen to see the birds.

We checked the cranes over and handed out grapes. They showed no problems or stress. We had to replace the wet food in their feeders and then we refilled the water buckets.

Just as we were finishing Colleen tapped me on the arm and pointed to the west. Another large black cloud was rolling in. Right on cue the winds picked up. The birds started to jump into the wind. They spread their wings and leapt. It looks like a fun game! But the cloud looked ominous and I whispered to Colleen that I thought we should stay there in the pen until it passed.

We were both worried about leaving the chicks, but we shouldn’t have been. As the wind got stronger all six chicks turned their heads into the wind and moved to the front of the pen. They stood there all together while the wind swirled past them. Colleen and I were much worse off. We huddled by the trailer as it creaked, groaned and rocked. Dummy Mommy (the plastic model crane) danced on the end of her tether.

When the clouds and wind passed Colleen and I finished our chores, checked the hotwire fences, and tightened the ropes on the visual barriers. We walked away and I was very reassured that, young though the birds might be, they knew what to do in a storm. Just huddle together and turn your face into the wind!


For the 4th day, the 2012 Migration will be held to the ground in LaSalle County, IL. Strong winds out of the south are the culprit.

An article in a newsletter from the Suzuki Foundation attempted to answer the question of why we should care about saving all species.

Hundreds if not thousands of plants and animals besides the Whooping crane rely on wetlands for their survival. If habitat loss threatens the survival of the Whooping crane, it surely threatens the survival of other species as well.

Beyond the fact that allowing any species to go extinct because of our activities is a pretty sorry indicator of our ability to manage our affairs, the health of wildlife populations can give us a pretty good indication about the health of many of our wetland ecosystems. And when one species goes extinct, the effects cascade throughout the ecosystem.

It’s just not good enough to wait until a creature has all but disappeared and then scramble to try to bring it back. When we harm one animal, or the ecosystem on which it relies, we affect everything that is connected to it, including ourselves. What kind of animal are we that put our economic and political agendas ahead of the very survival of another species?

The Spotted owl’s fate for instance should tell us something about ourselves. One study found that one quarter of the plants and animals that share the spotted owl’s old-growth habitat in B.C.’s Lower Mainland are at risk of disappearing, including tailed frogs, coastal marbled murrelets, northern goshawks, and fishers.

So, what we should be doing? We must ensure wetlands and other wildlife ecosystems are not lost, but kept pristine and protected or we risk the loss of more species of plants, animals and birds.”