This alert is for any folks thinking of going to the Pike County flyover site to watch our departure – whenever that may happen.

Due to the unavailability of our usual stopover site, we had to quickly find a new pen location and campsite. Richard secured that for us only yesterday. As it is several miles from our previous location and we haven’t had time to scout the area, as it stands at the moment, there will not be an opportunity to view the departure flyover from our new location.

If we are unable to fly tomorrow and end up with a Down Day, we will scout around to see what we can find. Should we find something suitable – we’ll post the location here.


DATE: Nov 19, 2012 – Entry 3 MIGRATION DAY 53
FLOWN TODAY: 64 miles ACCUMULATED: 914 miles
LOCATION: Pike County, AL REPORTER: Brooke Pennypacker

The day began like most days lately; an episode of the old TV series “Twilight Zone” at 4am, just to give the day proper prospective, followed by BBC news radio….middle east rocket attacks, panda bear’s food supply, bamboo to disappear in thirty years due to global warming, and a Somali cruise ship comedian riffing on a trip to a “Somali Land” theme park.

This was followed by coffee and a computer weather check crap shoot. Then out to the trike for equipment checks and tie down release while enjoying the last opportunity for alone time as the first suggestion of dawn begins to peer over the horizon.

Then back to the camper for layering up clothes for the flight and listening to the blues CD which will serve as the flight’s ear worm. (Nothing smooths out the rough spots of a migration flight like a good old American blues ear worm). And before you can say “BB King”, Richard and I are in the air staring down on a thick blanket of fog hugging the earth out to the horizon as our GPSs stare up at us with a pitiful 20 mph ground speed indication.

Not exactly what the doctor ordered, for we are on the home stretch of migration and we can smell that sweet salt gulf water at St. Marks Refuge. So… we land to give the weather gods time to reconsider and perhaps toss a little sympathy our way.

45 minutes later we are in the air, make the difficult call to go. Soon after, the birds burst out of the pen and it’s “point your toe and off you go” as the trike climbs up and away. Swinging back around to pick up two stragglers I looked over at the home of our hosts where we have camped the past couple of days, and think of their incredible hospitality and how fortunate we are to travel this migration on a veritable magic carpet propelled and supported at every stop by the amazing kindness and generosity of our hosts – without whom this whole project would be nothing more than somebody’s good idea that never got off the  ground. Perhaps “Operation Thank You” would be an appropriate alternative.

The headwinds persisted but the birds were game and we ploded along, gaining altitude and clawing our way up to the altitude where Richard reported more favorable winds. 18, 19, 20,…! We’re up to 25 mph! I can hear our sonic boom as we leave a swath of broken windows in our wake as we crawled above the below. Then, at around 2,000 feet, things improved and we suddenly were filled with the hope we will in fact reach our destination –before Christmas…..of 2013!

About then a big Army helicopter appeared and one of the chicks goes super sonic, frightened out of her wits, and in blink of an eye has been reduced to a small white spot way out there in the sky. Off we went in pursuit as I noticed the chopper banking in our direction for a closer look.

No sooner do we catch up the the chick and reattach her to the group than another two light their afterburners and were gone. Wow! This could really be fun if not for the fact that it so wasn’t!  But soon they too are back in order as we began our descent to the field. Perhaps they just didn’t want to miss out on landing at the new stop which Richard found the day before when we discovered our old one wasn’t going to be available this year.

Whatever it was, we landed and proceeded with the usual routine of hanging out while the crew set up the pen. Jack, Walt and Richard had the pen up in no time and soon the birds were in it. We flew over to a farm building to tie down the trikes, and soon after that were sitting in an all you can eat restaurant doing some serious damage to our digestive systems and arranging for another tire repair on the Jambo.

Meanwhile, the theme from “Twilight Zone” played in my mind as I pondered the major question of the day……”Sweet tea or plain?”, the waitress asked. Man…do I hate trick questions!

Persistence pays off!

DATE: Nov 19, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 53
FLOWN TODAY: 64 miles ACCUMULATED: 914 miles
LOCATION: Pike County, AL REPORTER: Heather Ray

The team arrived safely in Pike County, AL this morning at 9:03CT, covering 64 miles in 1 hour and 23 minutes. It was an interesting flight to watch on the CraneCam. At many times throughout the flight, one crane kept moving in front of the trike. I’m not sure which bird it was but hopefully Brooke was able to get a look at its legband and will tell us in his lead pilot report, which should be posted later today.

One crane seemed rather impatient during this morning’s flight and kept attempting to lead the aircraft.


DATE: Nov 19, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 53
FLOWN TODAY: ? miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Optimisim was high for a flight this morning, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Both pilots launched shortly after sunrise and tested the air at a variety of altitudes. The speed over the ground registered anywhere from 15 to 30mph – but none sustainable on course. A large fog bank a few miles out complicated the matter, and after 5 or 10 minutes both trikes were back on the ground.

That was the ‘hurry up’ part of the morning. Then came the ‘and wait’ part. Pilots and ground crew moved into stand-by mode to wait and see if as the morning wore on, conditions would change sufficiently to allow a flight.

At around 7:40AM they decided to give it another try….and….we’re off. The Class of 2012 is aloft with lead pilot, Brooke Pennypacker. Pilots report ground speed is quite slow, so here’s hoping. Tune back in later for more news.


DATE: Nov 18, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 51/Down Day #2
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Once again the test trike took to the air, and once again it found a headwind so strong it would have made a flight to our next stopover mission impossible for the Class of 2012. We’ll spend a second day on the ground in Lowndes County.


Yesterday we received a great news in an email from OM Volunteer, Doug Pellerin. He and his wife Mako had travelled from their home in Fond du Lac to Necedah to attend their monthly photography meeting. Included in his email was the photo below.

As they drove through downtown Necedah, they spotted a new addition to the landscape. Right across the road from Rosie’s Café – a spot frequented in the past by OM’ers and many Craniacs – was the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership’s Donor Recognition Board.

Many will recall that for years the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) maintained a larger-than-life Donor Recognition Board in front of the old Headquarters Building at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge.

The Donor Recognition Board displayed brass nameplates acknowledging those individuals, businesses, and organizations whose one time or cumulative contributions to WCEP’s partner organizations exceeded $10,000. Each year, the WCEP partners updated the Board with more nameplates to recognize new contributors who had met or surpassed that level of giving.

When the Necedah refuge built its new facility they asked that the Donor Board be removed. WCEP’s Communications and Outreach Team hoped that the Board could be moved to another spot; perhaps to the trailhead leading to the Observation Tower, a highly visible location. The refuge was not in favor of that, and advised they didn’t have any other appropriate place for its placement.

As a result, the nearby Town of Necedah agreed to accept the Donor Recognition Board and to erect it in a prominent location in order that the community’s contributions and the well-deserved recognition of major donors to Whooping crane recovery would not be lost.

So that contributions of past and new donors would continue to be acknowledged, OM volunteered to create a ‘virtual WCEP Board’. While now ‘virtual’, the Donor Board is still updated annually (in April) and is provided to WCEP for viewing on their website as well as Operation Migration’s.

I’m confident I speak for all WCEP’s partners when I express boundless gratitude to those recognized on the Donor Board for their outstanding commitment and support of Whooping crane recovery – AND, to the thousands upon thousands of other dedicated and loyal donors who do likewise.

We are also endlessly grateful for all of the Necedah Lions Club members who, over the years, have done so much on behalf of Whooping cranes, and now to the town of Necedah for ensuring WCEP’s decade of work with Whooping cranes in their locale is memorialized.

Left to right: Mako and Doug Pellerin and Mary and Bob Vethe pose in front of the WCEP Donor Recognition Board newly erected in downtown Necedah, WI.


DATE: Nov 17, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 51/Down Day #1
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Liz Condie

The forecast ENE winds aloft materialized right on cue this morning. Because we are at the point where our flight path bends to the east to move us closer to the SW corner of Georgia, that wind direction translates into a crosswind/headwind. The test trike found we’d only be able to get about 17mph of speed. That’s not fast enough to reach our next stopover in a reasonable amount of time for either the birds, or the fuel limitations of the aircraft.

The photo below was captured by Sarah Jones at the Chilton County departure flyover.



DATE: Nov 16, 2012 – Entry 3 MIGRATION DAY 50
FLOWN TODAY: 46 miles ACCUMULATED: 850 miles
LOCATION: Lowndes County, AL REPORTER: Richard van Heuvelen

As the sun came up, heavy frost developed turning the black wing covers a shinny white. Once we shimmied the covers off the trike wings we were ready to go. As the trike lifted off, flecks of frost flew off the windshield, disintegrating in the warm morning air.

Once the ground crew opened the pen doors most of the chicks came out with only the slightest hesitation. This allowed the more laggardly birds to make their exit at almost the same time.

As a result, they all came on the wing as a group on take-off. We arced through the sky and were able to turn on course almost immediately. Ground speed increased slowly, and I found the best ground speed at about 2200 feet; not enough speed for a skip, but good enough to go one stop.

The birds followed well, although #4 and #6 struggled at bit at the rear of the line, breathing with their mouths open at times. Numbers 7 and 11 battled back and forth for lead position, even cruising ahead for most of the flight. This made it harder for #4 and #6 to keep up. The humid air and the temperature of ~12 degrees Celsius also made it more difficult for the birds at the rear of the line.

About 12 miles from our destination we encountered a cloud bank which made it necessary to drop down and fly the last few miles below it. The new pensite location was easily spotted and the chicks landed by the trike unflustered and no worse for wear.

Chalk up another great flight for the Class of 2012!


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?