MIGRATION DAY #1 – Green Lake Co to Marquette Co, WI

The 2012 Cohort launched with OM’s lead pilot for today, Richard van Heuvelen, at 7:38am. CraneCam watchers got a great view of the flight as all six of the young cranes kept Richard company.

It wasn’t long before the pilots were able to make the decision that all conditions were a go to skip the first Stopover site and fly on to Stopover #2. Stop #1 is just 5 miles from the White River Marsh pensite; a distance that works well in the case of nervous cranes as they hit unfamiliar territory and want to turn back or drop out.

Stop #2 is 14 air miles from Stop #1, so in completing today’s migration leg, the six young cranes will have flown 19 miles. Touchdown was at 8:16am – Richard with five while Brooke is still about 8 or 9 miles out with #5. Quite a graduation ceremony for the Class of 2012!

A great way to acknowledge today’s achievement would be to become a MileMaker sponsor. Click here to support the Migration Team and Whooping cranes.

Check back here later today for the Lead Pilot’s report. (hopefully we can post before 5pm CST)

VOLUNTEERS HONORED

Operation Migration’s Volunteer of the Year Award was instituted in 2005 to recognize individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the organization on behalf of Whooping cranes. The award has been given annually since that time and announced and presented at the Annual General Meetings of the organization.

Past years’ winners include, Nancy Rudd, Wisconsin, Don & Paula Lounsbury, Ontario, Viola White, Illinois, Gerald Murphy, Florida, Walter Sturgeon, North Carolina, and most recently, Colleen Chase, Florida. For the second time since its inception, the recipients were a husband and wife team.

Named Volunteers of the Year for 2011 were David and Linda Boyd of Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

volunteers of the year

Linda & David Boyd are recognized for their volunteering and support of Operation Migration at the recent AGM.

Since 2009, David and Linda Boyd have been invaluable mainstays on the annual fall migration. David, a retired veterinarian, and Linda a retired marketing/PR professional, have not only utilized their career skills in a volunteer capacity, they have also trained and honed new skills. They have taken on tasks, that despite their adventurous natures, we suspect they never imagined themselves doing.

We have asked David to haul our big trailers; to assist with tracking cranes; to fill in as a crane handler; and a hundred and one other tasks – some of which he would no doubt have happily taken a pass on but cheerfully took on.

In addition to helping with education and outreach at flyovers, Linda, who assists with the sale of OM gear at flyovers, can now lay claim to merchandising and inventory experience. And those of you who followed last year’s migration will also recall seeing her make quite a splash in a canoe as a swamp monster.

The Boyds are indeed valuable assets to OM. The Whooping cranes can never appreciate all David and Linda do on their behalf – but every member of the Operation Migration crew certainly does.

C’mon Craniacs….Give A WHOOP! to let David and Linda know how much the tremendous support and all their efforts on behalf of Whooping cranes is appreciated.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

It was almost two decades ago when we worked with Columbia Pictures to make Fly Away Home. I remember that during one of our preliminary meetings, the producer was concerned that we couldn’t change the hatch dates of geese to better suit their shooting schedule. The availability of the Director or the actors did not change the fact that goslings are hatched in the spring, and even Hollywood could not get around that inconvenience. They were accustomed to getting another trained bear from Russia, or recreating the space center if permission was not granted to use the real one, but no amount of money could persuade a goose to nest in December. Timing is everything.

We face that same timing rule almost daily on this project. On many occasions, one more stop under our belt would have put us on the other side of a weather front and into gentle tail winds, but timing held us back and we sat for days in headwinds.

Usually the only date written in stone is when the eggs are laid, which dictates when the resulting chicks will be shipped to Wisconsin and when they will be ready to start the migration. We must balance that with when the weather usually turns nasty in the fall, but that’s a moving target.

The other anchor points we had to add this year are the requirements of our FAA exemption. The air-regulations are designed to cover just about every eventuality, but who could blame them if they didn’t anticipate the need to teach Whooping cranes to migrate using an aircraft.

The problem is that the only license available to fly for hire (get paid to fly) is a commercial certificate but that license is reserved for the pilots of passenger carrying airliners, or the freight aircraft of companies like UPS. There is no commercial endorsement to fly light aircraft like ours with a hang glider type wing. Additionally, those commercial aircraft are certified and held to a higher manufacturing and maintenance standard than the aircraft designed for recreation. That means there are no regulations that cover our pilots or our aircraft if you want to do more with them than fly for the pure joy of it.

The first factor the FAA must consider when issuing an exemption to the rules is that it must benefit the American People. Safeguarding an endangered species and providing an unprecedented educational opportunity answered that question nicely. The second consideration is safety and that’s why the FAA set some parameters to the exemption they granted.

One of those requirements was to identify our route so they could ensure we were not encroaching on controlled airspace, or flying over towns at low altitudes. A sectional chart is an aviation map that depicts all of the airports, airspace restrictions, navigation aids, flyways, air routes, and areas of military operations. They are so crowded with information that there is hardly room for landmarks like highways, towns, or even lakes or rivers. They are called sectionals because they are printed in sections and it takes nearly 40 to depict the contiguous States.

To lay out our 1285 mile route I used my computer and Heather’s help to stitch together nearly thirty images to create one long map stretching from Wisconsin to Florida. We don’t land at airports, so I used Google Earth to identify the small fields on the properties of our generous stopover hosts. I transferred those coordinates to the sectional chart and plotted the course, but first I printed it out and taped them together to make it easier to mark up the computer copy. All together it stretched for 17 feet across our office floor. When it was all complete, I had a computer file that was 22MB and too large to send electronically until I stepped it down to a useable size. Then I sent it off to the FAA with a list of stopovers and routes including coordinates.

My map, with circles and arrows on each one, moved through the channels at the FAA and came to rest on the desk of the manager of the Regulatory Support Division of the Sport Light Aviation Branch in Oklahoma City. Within one day we received approval of our proposed route. That is the kind of support we have learned is typical of the FAA.

The other prerequisite we must fulfill is to upgrade our pilot licenses from Sport Light to Private. This has not been easy, not because of the difficulty of the task but, again because of the timing.

A Private License is normally held by those who fly Cessnas and Pipers and the like. Until recently no category existed within the Private Licence program for the type of aircraft we fly. There is no reason it could not exist, but no one had pursued it. Naturally there are very few instructors qualified to provide a Private license on a trike. In fact, there are only two I know of. Fortunately, they are a father son team based here is Wisconsin. The problem is that they are very busy and so are we. According to the FAA rules, your instructor cannot be your examiner so the son did the training and the father did the flight testing.

Richard was able to park himself at the local airport with a good WiFi connection and study for several consecutive days, then he wrote his ground school test, logged the required number of hours with the instructor, and passed his check ride with the examiner. He is now qualified. Brooke was right behind him and we found out late yesterday that he had passed his flight test. Based on the high marks of his written test and the 2500 hours he has accumulated over the years, we had every confidence that would happen. He too is now a licensed Private pilot.

I, unfortunately, am running behind them both. I will write my written test this coming Friday and have yet to log the last three hours with the instructor which I need before my check ride. A little time and a couple of good weather days and I should be done. I have no valid excuses except an Annual General Meeting of our Board including an election of new Directors, five days of meetings with the WCEP Guidance Team to develop a five year strategic plan, a visiting film crew from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a Whooping Crane Festival, and some time spent back in Canada at the office and with my wife and daughter.

Fortunately we had already decided that we don’t need three pilots to lead six birds. This year we will take turns flying while the third pilot replaces Walter Sturgeon who normally tracks the birds from the ground. Walter has other commitments and won’t join us until later in the fall. That third, grounded pilot, will be me of course until I am fully licensed.

So all of this is a lead up to the question of when we plan to leave. It is supposed to be all about the birds, and we try to make that our motto, but sometimes logistics get in the way. We have yet to set up the pens at the first two sites, change the wing on Brooke’s aircraft, pack mine in the aircraft trailer, empty our rented hangar, winterize the White River Marsh pensite, pack everything we own into four motorhomes, gather the volunteers, and say our goodbyes. If the weather is good, we will target Friday, still two weeks ahead of our normal departure date. Timing is everything.

THE LAST WORD
Hangar flying is the term used to describe the social activity that takes place around many airports when the weather is too bad to be airborne. Those discussions are rife with stories of how restrictive the FAA is but that is not surprising considering they are charged with the safety of everyone who ventures into the air – from an innocent airline passenger on their way to visit family on the other side of the country, to the weekend aviator who flies his home-built around back pasture.

Henceforth I will take every opportunity to tell my FAA story of cooperation and understanding while they remained cognizant of their responsibility for the safety of this team and all those over whom we fly.

THANK YOU

CraneFest is over, but it left us with a doggie bag of wonderful memories upon which to feast for the coming days and weeks. What better nourishment can there be for those of us whose daily lives revolve around the cranes than this incredible display of support and enthusiasm for the very creatures we hold so dear.

So many familiar faces, long time supporters who blessed the occasion with a reunion like quality that turned the new faces into familiar ones almost instantly. In the end, the CraneFest was not just a celebration of the cranes, but a celebration of caring itself…a ‘Care Fest’. We are, after all, defined by what we care about, or perhaps, by what we don’t care about, and there is a special magic in finding one’s self in the company of those that really care.

But how strange it is in a way to meet the folks that live on the other side of that CraneCam lens…like Truman escaping the set of the “Truman Show,” or in this case, “As The Pen Turns,” and meeting the audience that lives just the other side of that portal. As it turns out, we are all players in each other’s lives, connected by our dear little Whooper chicks and by the connective tissue of technology coupled with our genetically programmed human need to connect, the connectivity that gives our lives meaning, that brings us together from near and far in celebration.

It must be said that there are times when what we do feels more like being at war than being at reintroduction, and that the foxhole in which we find ourselves is shallow and small. And so it is especially gratifying to drive away from the Berlin Conservation Club with the realization there are in fact many of us in this foxhole watching each other’s back, encouraging our efforts, rejuvenating our spirits, and insuring that all this effort and sacrifice will not be for naught.

How wonderful it would have been to have been able to invite the festival’s true guests of honor….the six little Whooper chicks; to allow them to walk through the festival, to meet all their supporters…their extended family… and see just how much they mean to so many.

“Hi. I’m #5. Nice to peck your acquaintance.” Would they understand it all? I have to believe they would, because beneath all those feathers and atop all those pairs of long delicate legs there is a collective intelligence far beyond anything we can comprehend – an intelligence, borne of tens of millions of years of evolution which surely contains within it the ability to understand and appreciate the spirit and the joy of CraneFest.

So, to all the folks that worked so hard to make CraneFest such wonderful success, and to all who came from all over the country to support it, to all of those who care so much about these birds, we say “Thank you” and “See you in Florida.”

2012 MIGRATION TO CONCLUDE AT ST MARKS NWR

For several years we have divided our flock of birds and led half of them to St Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, and the other half to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Florida. The purpose of this split is to lessen the chance of mass loss as happened in 2007 when an unpredicted storm hit the pen area and killed 17 of the 18 birds we led south that year. A division of the flock also reduces the chance of an avian disease wiping out the entire cohort, or a mass predation if a bobcat were to breach the pen. 

The staff and managers of both of these Florida refuges have worked very hard on behalf of the birds that winter there. They have built and maintained pens in isolated areas of the salt water marsh and provided staff to monitor them during their stay. They have promoted the project with education programs, and kept the public informed on the bird’s wellbeing.

We would continue this procedure because it is a good management policy but we only have six birds this year. The other factor to consider is that the birds likely have a better chance of survival and of making it back to Wisconsin if they are in a larger group. Both refuges provide good wintering habitat and we do not have a preference as to which is used, but it is hardly seems worth all the effort if only three birds go to each location. For that reason we stepped out of the discussion and let the refuge managers make the decision.

They determined that the best option for this year is to take all the birds to St Marks, but to maintain the facilities at Chassahowitzka in preparation for next year. One advantage we see is it will shorten our migration by a couple of hundred miles and an unknown number of days. The downside is we will not be able to do a flyover at Dunnellon-Marion County Airport as we have in the past – and we will miss seeing all our friends in Crystal River.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT – The Chase Charitable Giving voting period closed September 19th. We have to heartily thank the 1414 wonderful people who voted for Operation Migration to receive a portion of the funds Chase donated to this campaign. We ranked 160th which earned us $10,000! How great is that?!?

Now….why not WHOOP! it up with us? The 2012 Give a WHOOP! campaign is in full swing. Join your fellow Craniacs and make some noise in celebration.

2012 MIGRATION TO CONCLUDE AT ST MARKS NWR

For several years we have divided our flock of birds and led half of them to St Marks National Wildlife Refuge, south of Tallahassee, and the other half to Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Crystal River, Florida. The purpose of this split is to lessen the chance of mass loss as happened in 2007 when an unpredicted storm hit the pen area and killed 17 of the 18 birds we led south that year. A division of the flock also reduces the chance of an avian disease wiping out the entire cohort, or a mass predation if a bobcat were to breach the pen.
The staff and managers of both of these Florida refuges have worked very hard on behalf of the birds that winter there. They have built and maintained pens in isolated areas of the salt water marsh and provided staff to monitor them during their stay. They have promoted the project with education programs, and kept the public informed on the bird’s wellbeing.

We would continue this procedure because it is a good management policy but we only have six birds this year. The other factor to consider is that the birds likely have a better chance of survival and of making it back to Wisconsin if they are in a larger group. Both refuges provide good wintering habitat and we do not have a preference as to which is used, but it is hardly seems worth all the effort if only three birds go to each location. For that reason we stepped out of the discussion and let the refuge managers make the decision.

They determined that the best option for this year is to take all the birds to St Marks, but to maintain the facilities at Chassahowitzka in preparation for next year. One advantage we see is it will shorten our migration by a couple of hundred miles and an unknown number of days. The downside is we will not be able to do a flyover at Dunnellon-Marion County Airport as we have in the past – and we will miss seeing all our friends in Crystal River.

EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT – The Chase Charitable Giving voting period closed September 19th. We have to heartily thank the 1414 wonderful people who voted for Operation Migration to receive a portion of the funds Chase donated to this campaign. We ranked 160th which earned us $10,000! How great is that?!?

Now….why not WHOOP! it up with us? The 2012 Give a WHOOP! campaign is in full swing. Join your fellow Craniacs and make some noise in celebration.

CHECK THESE OUT

In a recent email received from OM supporter, John Outland of Florida he wondered if we had seen the arkive.org site featuring a slideshow of Whooping cranes. The photos are of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population and there are some great images. Click here to visit the site and view the slideshow.

OM Supporter, Kathleen Kaska (author of the Sydney Lockhart Mystery Series), has a new book out entitled, “The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story”. It will be available for sale shortly if it isn’t already. Here is a link to its description on Kathleen’s BlogSpot.

EARLIEST EVER TARGET DEPARTURE

After doing his usual computations, Joe set our target 2012 migration departure date as Tuesday, September 25.

What computations you ask? First he checks every year separately, counting the number of days from the hatch date of the youngest chick until the day each year’s migration started. Then he takes the lowest number of days and the highest number of days and adds those differentials to the hatch date of the youngest chick in the current cohort. The result is a projected date range for the cranes readiness for departure. From this range a target departure date is decided.

It all sounds reasonable until you factor in how the weather in the weeks leading up to the target date has positively or negatively affected flight training, and of course, what weather we experience on the hoped for departure date. In fact, in eleven years of ultralight-led migrations I think we may have only once managed to ‘get out of Dodge’ on the day targeted for launch.

The projected departure date in reality is as much a target for the migration crew to be ready to rumble as it is anything else. This is because in the end, regardless of any plan we make, the birds will be ready when they are ready, and the weather will be what it will be. That means that migration departure can only take place when readiness and favorable weather collide – and not before.

With the hoped for migration launch date imminent, I’ve added the usual links to Migration info to this webpage. See the column to the right for links to the Migration Map, the Departure Flyover Viewing locations, and the Timeline page showing migration progress each year since 2001.

THE SENSATIONAL SIX

Both the Give a WHOOP! and MileMaker campaign are chugging along thanks to many of you. BUT…there is still lots and lots and lots of room for WHOOPs! and MileMaker sponsorships.

We hope that the rapidly approaching migration departure time will prompt the folks who haven’t already done so, to WHOOP! or to become a ½, ½ or mile sponsor. Or, better yet – BOTH!

Below is a fabulous photo of 10-12 that was captured during a recent flight training session at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. WHOOPs and MileMaker sponsorships are key to getting the 2012 cohort (the Sensational Six) to their wintering grounds in Florida. Won’t you help?

Whooping Crane #10-12 in flight

#10-12 in flight over the White River Marsh SWA in Green Lake County, WI on August 31st

SEE YOU AT CRANEFEST?

The volunteers who have worked so hard to make the Whooping Crane Festival something special hope to see flocks and flocks of Craniacs in Berlin, WI on Saturday, September 22nd.
From the Berlin Rotary Club’s Pancake Breakfast to the exhibits, Education Corner, and OM’s Market place, there’s bound to be something for everyone. And don’t miss the Wisconsin DNR’s bird banding display. Snag yourself a bargain by bidding on one (or more) of the terrific items offered in the Silent Auction. Thanks to the Rotary Club’s Brat and Burger cookout and Mako Pellerin’s delicious homemade egg rolls an offer no one will go hungry.

Rest your feet and take in the afternoon presentations.

12:30 – 1:15pm Raptor Rehabilitation by Pat Fisher
Pat’s rehab work is conducted through the organization “The Feather” located in New London, WI and deals primarily with raptors, waterfowl, cranes, and songbirds. The programs ‘Fisher’ offers are “up close and personal” as she educates with birds ‘on the glove.’ The birds make learning a personal experience and are the best way to present wildlife education.

1:30 – 2:15pm Aerial Wildlife Surveys by Beverly Paulan
Former Field Supervisor for OM and now a pilot for Wisconsin DNR pilot, Bev describes her work flying transects over Wisconsin doing wildlife surveys of Wolves and Whooping cranes.

2:30 – 3:15pm The Archibald Adventures by Dr. George Archibald
Co-Founder, International Crane Foundation, and world renown crane expert, Dr. Archibald will share the story of his most recent crane adventure – in Mongolia!

3:30 – 4:30pm Flying with Birds – Saving a Species by Joe Duff
Operation Migration co-founder and senior pilot, Joe Duff has undoubtedly accumulated more hours in flight alongside more species of birds than any other human. With spectacular images as a backdrop, Joe will lead the audience through the story of this amazing project in a way that captivates the imagination as it raises endangered species awareness. Joe’s material, humor, and enthusiasm, more than do justice to the one-of-a-kind project which has been hailed as, “The wildlife equivalent of putting a man on the moon.”

There’s lots to do and see in the area so why not make it a weekend outing?!? Check out these ‘extra curricular’ activities.

 

BUILDING UP TO MIGRATION

September 11th is the anniversary of the date that poor Caleb and 1-11 re-enacted Hansel and Gretel through the back country of the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area. (Who played Hansel and who played Gretel is a matter of personal opinion.) This year it was too windy for the trike to get up in the air, so there was no worry about history repeating itself.

Monday however, was more productive. All the birds took the sky and stayed up with the trike for a good fifteen to twenty minutes. When the trike landed all of them were open mouth breathing pretty heavily in the heavy air. Around this age they should, ideally be flying for longer periods without getting tired – or at least, that’s the hope. We don’t want them panting like they just ran the marathon.

But with that said, they may not be as tired as they let on. 4-12 sometimes starts open-mouth breathing five minutes into the flight. But despite this, he obediently keeps flying (maybe in hope he’ll lock onto the wing). Perhaps it’s a similar story with the other birds.

On the other hand, we couldn’t start training until almost eight o’clock thanks to some pretty have fog, so by the time it lifted the air was warming up and the humidity was pretty high. Those conditions tend to sap some strength out of our birds once they’re in air. But whatever the problem is, it doesn’t seem that the birds have come down with something. Brooke, Richard, and I have each listened to the birds on several occasions and heard no rasps, wheezes or persistent coughs. If they had ‘asper’, we’d hear them struggling to breathe.

I think back to 28-09 who had such a bad case of asper, that we could hear him wheezing before we even got in the pen. Sadly, that bird had to be euthanized. Similarly, with gapeworm, they’d be panting and breathing heavy even when they’re just hanging around on the ground. Their mouths would always be agape (hence the name GAPEworm). But since that isn’t the case, the birds must be either out of shape – which isn’t likely since even for the fall season we’re still flying fairly often – or the weather was starting to get to them. A reasonable assumption; after all, it’s been a while since we’ve had picture perfect training weather. Of late it’s always either been slightly breezy, warm, humid, or foggy in the morning.

But on the other hand, we won’t always be flying in picture perfect weather on migration. On fly days we always take what we can get since beggars can’t be choosers. This is especially true if we’ve been down in a stop for two weeks, and mildly breezey/humid weather might be the best forecast we can expect for several sometime. If the birds are willing to try with us, even through less than optimum weather, the battle is already half-won. They’ve got the will. They got the talent. All they need is the staying power.

EASTERN MIGRATORY POPULATION UPDATE

In a report spanning August 7 to September 5, WCEP tracker Eva Szyszkoski advised that two cranes, 11-02 and 8-09, had been captured in August to have their transmitters replaced. Also captured for banding was W8-12. (Legend: NFT – non functional transmitter; * = female; D = Direct Autumn Release)

Estimated distribution of Whooping cranes at the end of the report period was:
Wisconsin – 97 (includes the 2 surviving 2012 wild-hatched chicks)
Michigan – 2
No recent report – 2
Long Term Missing – 3:

  • 27-07*NFT last reported in Kosciusko County, IN on March 13, 2011
  • 13-08 last reported in Juneau County, WI on April 6, 2011
  • 13-11D last reported migrating over NE IL on November 29, 2011

FALL BEAUTY ENHANCES FLIGHT TRAINING

Fall colors are beginning to contrast with the dry green of the forest, and the purple haze of shrubs against the yellow green marsh below stand out as wisps of fog glide past below the trike.

Wings flapping slowly the chicks climb with the trike – all six in a neat row off the left wing. Two of the birds, numbers 4 and 5, are open mouth breathing but have no trouble keeping up, so we continued on, flying north of the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area.

At three hundred feet above the ground we are getting a good view. Wisps of fog shadowing farmyards, the morning dew glistening off metal barn roofs and silos punching the sky are a reminder of days gone by.

Our six now almost white birds glide through the cool morning air behind the trike wing. They are doing well. The odd chick would come down below the wing, have a glance at the trike and oddly cloaked pilot, then go back up and rejoin the flock on the wing.

At one point, three of them went over to the right wing, occasionally looking over at the pilot as if to say “Is this all you got – where are we going?” Despite #4 and 5 still open mouth breathing they didn’t seem to be tired or in distress, so we continued on to the west in a wide slow arc. Then it was off to the south, swooping past pastures with black cattle peering up seemingly undisturbed by this odd spectacle of machine and nature flying in formation above them.

The close cropped pasture gave way to brown-green hay fields, then came yellowing bean and corn fields interspersed with lines and patches of ever changing forest. It’s amazing what one can see with peripheral vision, for I was mostly watching the progress of the young eager chicks.

At times they would try to get in front of the trike. This made it difficult to keep ahead of the lead birds while not leaving #4 and 5 behind. After forty minutes of flying we began a long and slow descent back to the training area. Purple willow, red dogwood, yellow golden rod, mixed with the graying poplar shrubs and crimson sumacs glided by below as we landed on the runway.

As I sat there on the ground with the birds basking in the morning sun under the wing, the beauty of the morning was not lost on me. The whole experience makes it all worth while. (photo by Doug Pellerin)

Richard van Heuvelen leads the young cranes on a training flight over White River Marsh

MUSINGS OF THE COACH

Flying back to the airfield after a morning’s training flight is a little like a high school football coach riding the bus back home after a Saturday away game – Only without the team. You sit, often more than a little spent, playing back in your mind’s eye every moment of the flight as the ground rolls out from beneath, almost unnoticed.

Meanwhile, the ebb and flow of the inner conversation plays on in the background growing ever louder like some post game press conference, eventually blocking out even the roar of the engine.

REPORTER: So how’d it go, Coach? No really! Cut the crap! What do you really think?

THE COACH: Well, the team did a good job out there this morning and the kids played their hearts out. That’s the kind of effort that makes the coaching staff proud. Their fundamentals were strong – good takeoff, nice climb out, outstanding focus at altitude while giving 100% on every flap. That’s what we like to see at this point in the season.

REPORTER: What about #5 dropping out early and sitting out the rest of the game on the bench. Is there anything to the rumors that he’s been violating curfew, texting young Sandhill cheerleaders, and staying out late partying at the local pond? And is it true that his sister, #7, is trying to talk him into going into rehab?

THE COACH: Rehab, Shmeehab! Now you listen here. I don’t like the way this conversation is going. Another question like that and this press conference is over! #5 is big and dominant and just the kind of player we need up front to anchor our line. Once he figures out the wing, learns a little finesse, and shakes this dumb habit of his of dropping down below the trike part way through the flight into the area of the field where it’s all work and no play and tires himself out so fast that his butt starts dragging so badly he has to fly back to the bench for a breather, he’ll be fine. He didn’t exactly major in Rocket Science in college now did he! Got a D in Basket Weaving if I remember correctly.

Just remember #10. Remember the eye thing, when all you guys were saying she’ll never make it cause she had that watery thing going on in her right eye and would never be able to catch a frog on that side? Now look at her. She flies like a home-struck angel and surfs the wing like it was her own personal surf board. Try watching one of those “Gidget” movies sometime and you’ll get the picture. And as for drugs? Don’t even go there my friend. There is absolutely no doping or steroid use going on. Sure, a little gape worm mojo every couple of weeks, a shot of minencin in the crane chow for good luck, and a couple of needle pricks for West Nile and Eastern Equine Encephalitis at the beginning of the season, but that’s it. If any of you guys want to subject the flock to surprise urine tests, bring it on… and you can take a poop sample while you’re at it…on the house.

REPORTER: Are you satisfied with #6’s progress? I mean, after all that trouble at Patuxent and all?

THE COACH: Glad you asked. #6 is this season’s turnaround player. Sure, there were times she was mean and refused to socialize with the other birds at Patuxent, but that was then and this is now. And buddy, now’s the only thing showing on my radar screen. She gets better every day and this morning she blew right past the rest of the players off the right wing to take the lead, then looked over at me as if to say, “Gimme what ya got!” Now that’s character and the kind of grit we’re looking for, especially in the fourth quarter.

And how about our not so little anymore #11. There’s a story for ya. She came into training camp an undersized little runt afraid of her own shadow and now look at her. It’s like she got bit by a hummingbird then injected with a lawn dart! She bobs and weaves all over the sky and now has the size to make her presence felt. You want to talk about attitude? She’s got it in spades!

REPORTER: But aren’t you a little concerned about her occasional wheeze in the pen and all that opened mouth breathing her big brother, #4 has been doing in the air?

THE COACH: What? You never had a sniffle? Trust me, pal, we’re on top of the situation. And if you would happen to take the time to notice, #4 has been flying really well lately, opened mouthed breathing and all. So if you want to do any of your bug friends a big favor, warn them not to go up flying anywhere near his opened mouth, at least not until they pay you back any money they might owe you. The bottom line is he’s really got some serious heart and in the end, that’s what separates the cranes from the herons.

Hey. You guys know the drill. As the season progresses and the morning temperatures cool and the air dries out to the point where your favorite coach is no longer sweating his deodorant into submission while wearing only a T Shirt under his costume up there, #4’s breathing should improve big time. Just remember, we’re a young team with no veterans back from last year, and our coaching staff is so old that the only thing we have to look forward to is senility. But don’t you sweat it ‘cause it’s like we say, “When the going gets tough, the tough get migrating.” We’ll be ready for the Big One come the end of the month – don’t you worry your little laptops about that.

Now fellas, I see the airfield just ahead, so if you’ll all excuse me, I’ve got to bring this press conference to a close so I can land this darn trike.

POST INTERVIEW NOTE
Minutes later, the trike landed and securely hangared, I was driving back to camp when I noticed an old man standing alone in the back of the conference room. He held up something in his hand, gave me a quick wave with it, then placed it carefully on the table before disappearing through the door.

Curious, I walked over to find a game program upon which he had written something. Holding it closer, I read his words he’d printed in big block letters, “THEY MAY BE NUMBERS 4,5,6,7 10 AND 11 IN THIS PROGRAM, BUT THEY’LL ALWAYS BE NUMBER ONE IN THE HEARTS OF THE FANS. GO WHOOPERS!”

Editor’s note… if you enjoyed this press interview with OM pilot Brooke Pennypacker AKA ‘The Coach,’ tell the world by Giving a WHOOP!, and if, like the old man in his story, the Class of 2012 is #1 in your heart – help them out by sponsoring a 1/4/ 1/2 or mile of their soon to launch fall migration.