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

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

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



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

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


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


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







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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

THE TIN CUP CREW by Julie Anthony

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if there’s an app for that?

Down Day in Carroll Co., TN

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issue du Jour…

is FOG.

but once that clears it’s looking like a flight to Tennessee is quite possible. The pilots are enroute to the airport where our aircraft have been tucked away inside and will wait out the fog. As soon as it does clear they’ll be airborne to check winds aloft but at this point they shouldn’t be an issue.

UPDATE: Today’s lead pilot, Brooke Pennypacker launched with all five young cranes at 9:21 CT and they are currently winging their way into Tennessee!
As the team is expected to cross the halfway point in Tennessee today, one very generous supporter, who happens to live in Tennessee has issued a MileMaker challenge! She has offered to MATCH every MileMaker sponsorship to a total of 3 miles! Sponsor a 1/4 mile – it becomes a 1/2 mile. Sponsor a 1/2 mile – it becomes a FULL mile, and if you sponsor a full mile – it becomes TWO miles!

Visit the MileMaker page to take part in this very generous challenge!

And speaking of matching challenges – Another anonymous supporter has issued a Give A WHOOP! Challenge! Beginning today, each and every Give A WHOOP contribution (to a total of 50) will be DOUBLED!  WHOOP once, it becomes TWO. WHOOP 10 times – it becomes 20. To take advantage of this amazing challenge visit our new secure donation gateway and sign in using the login name/passcode you have created, OR if you don’t already have an account, click to create one.

Once inside, use the dropdown menu at the top of the welcome screen and select ‘Donate Give A WHOOP!’

Foiled again

The crew was hopeful of advancing into Tennessee this morning. Unfortunately it was not the case as small, pop-up rain showers kept, well, popping up along their intended flight path. They will have to wait to see what tomorrow has in store for them.



DATE: Nov 6, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 40
FLOWN TODAY: 63 miles ACCUMULATED: 516 miles
LOCATION: Marshall County, KY REPORTER: Richard van Heuvelen

First there were wisps of fog floating over the river below. Then rolling hills gave way to bigger and craggier hills. At times the chicks struggled to stay on top of the wing vortices. They were flung out and away from the wing, sometimes up or down, and then sideways at weird angles contorting themselves in crazy attitudes to stay with the wing.

Although the air was seemingly calm, something was amiss. Perhaps the dampness in the air was changing how the air was sliding off the wing tip, or maybe it was due to the wing stalling at a higher air speed. At any rate they were displaying great skill with their aerobatics and I watched them with intense interest and envy.

As the miles slowly ticked by we came upon a large factory spewing billows of steam way up into the sky so we climbed higher to stay above the resulting white  clouds. The intensity of the whiteness reflected off of the wing and the chicks, making them stand out against the gray sky with a stark almost iridescent glow.

As time went on we began a slow descent, and the chicks settled down for the final cruise to our next stopover site. After what seemed to be an eternity on this bleak gray morning, we landed on the harvested bean field and hid away while we waited for the ground crew to set up the travel pen.

After a migration leg of 63 miles, and reaching our second and last stop in Kentucky, we have to call today a great day.


DATE: Nov 6, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 40
FLOWN TODAY: 63 miles ACCUMULATED: 516 miles
LOCATION: Marshall County, KY REPORTER: Liz Condie

A morning that began with, ‘maybe we can fly’ turned into a successful flight and another migration leg behind us. Richard van Heuvelen was lead pilot this morning and his update will be posted between 4 and 5PM.

In the meantime, the Class of 2012 are all settled into their pen, and the pilots are enroute to a nearby airfield to hangar the trikes. Trackers John Cooper and Walter Sturgeon have followed them on the ground to pick them up and tote them to our campsite.

With the exception of David Boyd who is hauling the Sierra travel trailer behind the white diesel truck, the rest of the crew, Geoff, Julie, Colleen, and Linda, are all getting organized here at camp.

Today’s flight put us just 34.5 air miles short of the migration’s half way point. We’ll reach that mark about 65% of the way to the next stop in Carroll County, TN. In case you haven’t been keeping track, November 6th is 32 days earlier than the date on which we arrived here in Marshall County last year.


For many years researchers have pondered the complexities of avian migration. Exactly what natural stimulus triggers their departure remains a mystery, along with what navigation aids they use to find their way. But the birds don’t trouble themselves too much with questions of how and when. Instead they simply open their wings and leave.

For them there are no arrangements to be made, no long goodbyes, or doors to lock. Theirs is an uncomplicated existence. They have a built in transportation system. The two legs sticking out the bottom are perfectly designed for wading through the water where most of their food is kept, and two more appendages sticking out the sides that are ideally suited for avoiding winter. It is a far different story for us.

Maybe when we were assigned arms instead of wings, life became complicated for us. We can’t fly without special equipment and our man-made wings are far less efficient. And relying of reasoning instead of instinct has led to a whole raft of problems. To accomplish the same migration that they take for granted, requires much more effort on our part and a lot of extra paraphernalia.

To move everything we need and provide accommodation for the team we need two trucks, three motorhomes, and four trailers. Each of these vehicles requires service and repairs. If you remember an update I wrote a few months ago about the white van, some are more repair prone than others.

The most reliable of all of them is our tracking van. It is a 2001 GMC Safari van. It has all wheel drive, a six cylinder engine and a back tailgate that is just large enough to accommodate a crane crate. For some unknown reason General Motors stopped producing them in 2004.

Ours was originally purchased by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and we were able to borrow it for the first three years of the project. It was then decommissioned so we bought it at their surplus auction in the spring of 2005. It now has 200,000 plus miles on the odometer and it still keeps running. Mind you it is looking a little rough around the edges with missing interior panels and a few quirks like intermittent door locks.

Each year we try to budget to replace the tracking van but that is not easy. Modern minivans have a lower roof line and not enough internal space to hold crates, and full size vans do not have all wheel drive. Two advantages that are critical.

We’ve been constantly checking the want ads for a good replacement with lower mileage, but they are rare. We have even been known to stop people on the street to ask if they want to sell their vans, but we repeatedly get the same answer. “Absolutely not, in fact I am looked for another myself.”

I dropped my daughter off at school one day and followed the owner of a shiny black Safari back to the local funeral home where it was parked next to an identical van. His response to my question was the same. In fact he asked if ours was for sale. He has had both of his rebuilt because there are no other vehicles that work as well for carrying crane crates, or the recently deceased.

Once the birds are strong enough to possibly skip stopovers, we use the tracking van to pull the second travel pen trailer. That way we can have a pen set up a half hour after we land, wherever we end up. With the birds and aircraft making 40 miles per hour in a straight line, the tracking van has a tough time keeping pace while negotiating side roads, traffic and stop sign so it takes a lot of abuse.

One of these days it is going to give up on us so we have stepped up our search. One of our supporters has provided us with some funding to help defray the costs if we can ever find one. So if your neighbor has a nice looking 2004 vintage Safari with low mileage and no idea of what a treasure they own, do us a favor and ask if they want to part with it for a good cause.



DATE: Nov 5, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 39 / Down Day 1
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 453 miles
LOCATION: Union County, KY REPORTER: Liz Condie

As we checked the radar this morning we watched a storm cell moving toward us from the northwest. With what appeared to be favorable winds, Brooke and Richard launched to fly the several miles to the pensite. It was only minutes however before they decided a flight wasn’t doable and they turned and headed back to the hangar. So much for wishing…..


DATE: Nov 4, 2012 – Entry 3 MIGRATION DAY 38
FLOWN TODAY: 45 miles ACCUMULATED: 453 miles
LOCATION: Union County, KY REPORTER: Brooke Pennypacker

The ability to look into the future would really come in handy sometimes…like every morning before I get out of bed. But the closest thing I ever had to a crystal ball was a souvenir my sister brought back from her 8th Grade class trip to Washington. It was a little liquid filled orb containing the Capitol Building. One quick shake and I created a snow storm so severe that D.C. area schools had to close for a week. I could have made some serious money if only I had been more bullish on snow removal.

So much for crystal balls…..until yesterday, when Geoff showed the new Magic Eight Ball App he got for his smart phone. “Will #6 fly tomorrow?”, I asked. Geoff gave his phone a magic shake and held it an inch from my nose. “Most probably” it said. Cool! I followed with a few more questions in an effort to gauge its credibility, and back came more answers, all in the affirmative.  The app was obviously written by a politician, but no matter. I need all the optimism I can get.

And so it was with great confidence that this morning I gave the release sign to Geoff and Julie and throttled up down the runway as the birds blasted out of the pen in hot pursuit. Had Geoff shared his Magic Eight Ball App with #6, I wondered, for although she required some coaxing maneuvers early on, she was soon back in her groove as we headed off for Kentucky and our new “old Kentucky home”.

A slight tailwind pushed us over a landscape seemingly cloaked in a brown gauze which added a haunting quality to the effort as the sun tried in vain to punch through the clouds. This was the last of the Illinois flat, with its secure, benevolent, even welcoming fields; where a forced landing or a downed bird was more inconvenience than challenge for the ultralight.

I smiled when I passed over the motel where Bev and I spent a night those years ago when we were scouting the new route…a motel so dirty we crawled into bed fully dressed and when I attempted to trade in the wash cloth sized towel for a real one the little desk clerk just laughed and gave me another just as small. Surely there must exist a language somewhere where migration is defined as the collection of memories.

Soon we landed.  I “hid” the birds, walking them across the adjacent ag field to play while Richard, Joe and John put up the pen…and play they did, for the field has been recently plowed and the soft earth is the Promised Land to the chicks whose greatest pleasure in life, it would seem, is to probe their beaks deep into it. They follow their beaks back and forth with the intensity of an old man sweeping the beach with a metal detector; their prize the occasional spent shotgun shell or flattened plastic soda bottle which they snatch up in their beak, holding their trophy high with an almost comical pride as they strut and dance their little victories. I knelt down and enjoyed the sight of these little dramas, probably more than they do, while feeling a tinge of guilt at having such pleasure while the others work hard and fast to set up the pen.

All too soon the drama was over. I saw Richard on the rise motioning us that the pen is ready and we begin our return from the Promised Land.

At the airport, the camp is quickly established and the team goes off for breakfast. “Hey Geoff! Will we be flying tomorrow?” I ask. A magic shake of his hand and his phone is again an inch from my nose.

“Most Probably”.


DATE: Nov 4, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 38
FLOWN TODAY: 45 miles ACCUMULATED: 453 miles
LOCATION: Union County, KY REPORTER: Liz Condie

Following a successful flight, the cranes and planes are on the ground at our first stop in Kentucky. As of 9:39 AM, the Class of 2012 are safely away in their travel pen and the aircraft tucked up in their hangar. Tune back in this afternoon for lead pilot Brooke Pennypacker’s posting about this morning’s flight.