DATE: Oct. 30, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 33/DOWN DAY 4
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Our motorhomes and travel trailers needed to be ‘nose into the wind’ this morning.

Looking at the imagery on the weather map very early this morning one could see the effects of Hurricane Sandy were being felt as far north as Canada and as far south as Florida. Aloft the wind was in the ‘yellow to orange zone,’ which translated, meant anywhere from 40 to 60 mph. And, even now, it doesn’t feel like it’s much less than that on the ground. The wind is ferocious.

The Jamboree motorhome had run out of propane during the night – brrrr, so out into the maelstrom I went. Wrench in hand, I was detaching the empty propane bottle to replace it with a full one when I heard a loud racket.

Peering around in the dark, I saw something big and white banging its way along the ground. It was the hard plastic hood that protects the two 30 lb. propane bottles on the front of the Sierra travel trailer when it’s on the road. There I was in my hoodie, pyjamas legs a-flapping, chasing it Charlie Chaplin-esque across the camp parking lot in order to capture it. (A sight that might have produced a video clip worthy of America’s Funniest Videos.)

Here in Piatt County it’s likely that anything not nailed or tied down will be found some distance to the south.


Chester McConnell recently posted news on the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Population of Whooping cranes on behalf of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA)

In his posting, Chester reported that the western flock of Whooping cranes are on the move southward. They have been spotted all along their migration pathway with reports of sightings of cranes from the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

Martha Tacha with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Nebraska said, “The Whooping cranes with GPS transmitters are on the move, with the bulk of these cranes in North Dakota and South Dakotka. Two are already in Texas. We know that one non-banded crane recently stopped over at a lake near Oklahoma City. While the early confirmed sightings have been single birds, there was a group of nine adult-plumaged Whoopers in northern North Dakota recently.”

To read McConnell’s full report, visit the website of the WCCA. To read the latest bulletin released by the Aransas NWR, click here.


DATE: Oct. 29, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 32/DOWN DAY 3
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Colleen Chase

I was going to write about the rain and wind we’ve experienced in Illinois. However, I’ve been waiting for a letter from the State Governor thanking us for single-handedly breaking Illinois’s drought! They owe us!  But, as everyone now knows, Friday was a heartbreaking day and that is what on my mind now.

Throughout the years I have learned one unalterable fact; Mother Nature can be cruel. Birds get sick, and accidents happen. Friday was one of those days.

From the beginning as I have followed this project, I tried to not get to know the birds by number, because I didn’t want to be heartbroken if something happened to one of them. I wanted to just love Whooping Cranes – not individual birds. That changed when the CraneCam came along.

There are times during the summer flight training period when I am on the CraneCam for as many as 15 hours a day. I am ‘driving’ the camera for some of those hours, and the rest of the time I’m just available to help other cam drivers if they have electronic issues.

I have a list of the birds’ numbers, gender, band colors, and their hatch dates taped to my computer for easy reference. You can’t help getting to know the personalities of the chicklets, and #10 was a character from the start.  She would sneak up on a napping chick and pull a tail feather. She liked to make a grand entrance. We loved watching the pilots coax her in or out of the pen.

Her nickname became the Diva. Even though being the next to youngest in our cohort, she was the whitest. We fell in love, and had a blast watching her and the other birds. So much for good intentions on keeping my feelings on a clinical level.

So… the second thing I have learned about life is that, even though there is always the risk of something happening to one we love, whether it is a person, a pet, or a Whooping crane, if we don’t take the risk, we miss the joy. Don’t ever quit taking the risk, because what is life without joy? Because there are happy endings, loving is worth the risk of heartbreak.

I hope each and every one of you see a White Bird in the wild someday as a result of what Operation Migration does. Ultimately, that will be the success; the happy ending.


DATE: Oct. 29, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 32/DOWN DAY 3
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

While the Eastern seaboard battens down the hatches in preparation for Hurricane Sandy’s landfall sometime today, with the wind picking up here in Piatt County we’ll be checking pen tie downs and top netting to make sure all is secure too as we spend a third day on the ground.


October 24th was a special day for some very special friends of Operation Migration and Whooping cranes. In a ceremony held in Madison, WI, Jane Duden of Journey North was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Office of the Governor of the State of Wisconsin.

Named as a recipient of a “Comeback Champ Award”, part of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Endangered Resources 40th anniversary celebration, Jane and Journey North were recognized for their assistance with recovery efforts of endangered Whooping cranes. Click to view the Award.

For years, Jane and Journey North (JN) have done a phenomenal job of gathering and posting info and photos, bios of chicks, and recording data on them as they mature. Since the Whooping crane reintroduction project’s beginning, the JN website has been a major outreach tool, reaching ¾ million students a year and is undoubtedly the biggest and best source of education material re Whooping cranes.

Executive Director Elizabeth Howard, along with Jane and all her colleagues at Journey North are to be commended for their success at lighting a conservation/nature consciousness and stewardship ethic among students and teachers. Their work is vital; educating youth – into whose hands we will eventually pass the torch to ensure the species continues on its ‘comeback trail’. Journey North is a non-profit organization funded by the Annenberg Foundation.

Following the award presentation Jane said, “Credit goes to and is shared with all my colleagues who ever had anything to do with helping – from proofreading to uploading photos. We greatly appreciate the work we do at Journey North being so generously spotlighted. Thank you! Everyone at Journey North is thrilled!”

IN MEMORY OF #10-12 – Entry 3

We have a second Memorial Match.

A long-time Craniac and OM Supporter from Wisconsin who wishes to remain anonymous has asked that we let everyone know she will match donations in memory of #10-12 up to $2000.

If you haven’t already responded to the initial Memorial Challenge Match initiated by Dan and Janet Harvey from Tennessee and Babs from Washington, this is your opportunity to make your contribution do double duty.

To participate in the Memorial Match you could Give a WHOOP!, or, become a MileMaker Sponsor, or, just make a donation in the amount of your choosing.

Thanks to everyone for their condolences and for the terrific response to the initial challenge match.




DATE: Oct. 28, 2012 – Entry 2 MIGRATION DAY 31/DOWN DAY 2
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Joe Duff

We try to take a scientific approach to our work with Whooping cranes. We go to great lengths to keep our birds wild for a number of valid reasons, but mostly because that is how they were meant to be. Whooping cranes don’t fit into the category of urban wildlife like the kind that frequents backyard feeders, or takes handouts in parks. Instead they cling to what little remoteness we have left them. They are the guardians of wilderness and their call ranks up there with the howl of wolves or the growl of bears.

It is a sad fact that whenever humans and wild animals interact, the animals generally get the short end of the stick. Of course there are exceptions to that rule and we hope that our project is one of them. We interfere with their natural lives of these birds. We manipulate their imprinting instinct and familiarize them with our aircraft, but it’s all for a greater good. In the end, our ambition is to establish a population of birds raised by wild parents in an area once inhabited by their ancestors. We can only hope the result justifies the means.

In the course of a season, from the time they hatch until they are released in Florida, we watch them mature and we gain insight into their personalities. Despite our attempts to remain aloof and to treat these birds with scientific detachment, we succumb to their individuality and we grieve when one is lost.

The pensite where #10 broke her leg is in a flat field in a shallow valley. The winds were strong out of the north and they carried the birds and trikes along at better than 60 miles per hour. At altitude the winds were smooth but close to the ground they rolled over trees and hills and created a turbulent layer than extended up a hundred feet or more.  When Brooke landed, his full attention was focused on getting down safely. The birds followed him in but he had little time to watch them land. As he secured his aircraft, he noticed #10 standing off alone and when he investigated he found she had a broken leg.

The rest of the team were spread over the 150 road miles between the stopovers. Richard had stayed with #6 who had dropped out and landed in a partly harvested corn field. He circled overhead and talked John Copper and me in, while Brooke continued on with the rest of the flock. When we had #6 in sight Richard left, but by then he was forty minutes behind Brooke. It took John and me over an hour to coax #6 out of the corn so when Brooke arrived at the landing site, he was all alone.

Initially #10 was walking, but that soon ended. She stood quietly on one leg with her head drooped. The wind was so strong that balancing was difficult so Brooke provided a wind block. When Richard arrived, Brooke lowered #10 to a sitting position then helped move the rest of the birds to the usual hiding place in preparation for the pen setup.

When John and I arrived an hour later, we carried the crate containing #6 to the middle of the field and released her. Then we led her to where the rest of her flockmates were waiting. Richard and John stayed with them while Brooke and I hurried to #10 who was still resting where he had left her. I picked her up while Brooke stabilized the leg. We put a hood over her head so she couldn’t see, and I drove the tracking van down. Brooke held her as we drove an hour to the University of Illinois in Urbana. Just as we were leaving, Colleen arrived with the pen. She then watched the birds while Richard and John set it up.

Dr. Julia Whittington is a professor of Veterinary Medicine at the Wildlife Medical Clinic in Urbana. She and a team of her students were waiting for us and it wasn’t long before #10 was sedated.  They x-rayed the leg and she showed us the multiple fractures above the left hock. The breaks were in the center of the bone and all the pieces were held in place by the skin so there was not a lot of realigning to do. There was also a large portion of solid bone above and below the breaks which Dr Whittington felt could be used as anchor points for pins. They agreed to try.

The University and Illinois, Wildlife Medical Clinic and Veterinary School looked to me like the Mayo Clinic for animals. They provide advanced medical assistance to any animal in need of care and use the cases for teaching. All of this service is free and we can’t thank them enough for their expertise and willingness to help.

If the surgery were successful, number 10 would stay at the clinic for four weeks. This would give the Recovery Team time to arrange for placement of the bird as a breeder or for education and display. We were even thinking it might be releasable. The bird would be held in relative isolation and visited once a day to have the dressing checked and cleaned. It would all be a negative experience for the birds and if no attempts were made to tame the bird it might have a chance. At least it would be an interesting experiment. We could re-socialize her in Florida and see if she made her way back in the spring.

All of this was optimistic speculation and of no use because number 10 died on the operating table when the surgery was almost complete. Dr Whittington told me that her students were all excited to work on this case and visibly upset by the outcome. Number 10 will be shipped to the USGS Animal Health Center for a necropsy on Monday.

We talked at length about how this could have happened. The break was consistent with a hard landing, but it is hard to believe that a bird could break its leg by landing wrongly. On the other hand, wading birds are precarious on the ground and those gangly legs are delicate. It would be like fitting ten foot tall landing gear on a Cessna. Landing, especially in strong winds, would put the greatest stress on their legs. We know that juveniles are not full expert flyers. We have seen them fly into trees and collapse on landing. Also, a few birds from this population have been found with broken legs. We have always suspected power line impact but maybe they were just caught in high winds.

When we left the Wildlife Medical Clinic we drove back to camp, although Liz’s motorhome was the only one there. Then John and I drove the 150 miles back to our starting point in LaSalle County and picked up the last two vehicles. Our day ended at 1:00 AM but it seemed like a month long.

I also want to thank Paul Kruse. He is the farmer who owns the field where number 6 landed. When John and I arrived there were no cars in the driveway. We assumed no one was home and took the liberty of driving into the field behind his barn. As we were suiting up, Paul walked out to meet us carrying a tablet computer and declaring that he just figured out who we were. My first reaction was to apologize for trespassing but in a truly generous style he welcomed us and wished us luck.

Number 6 was hiding in the tall corn. Walking through dried corn makes a lot of noise and the wind didn’t help. Each time we approached her, she would run along the rows. I stepped over a few rows so I wouldn’t be chasing behind her and tried to get in front. She would reverse her course and run towards John, but then step over a row or two at the last minute. We tried sitting still, hoping she would come to us, but then were forced to follow in case we lost sight of her in the 100 acre corn labyrinth.

I was worried we might not get her, but finally John put his hand on her back long enough for me to pick her up. I carried her to the crate. It was only then that we had a chance to speak with Paul and thank him for his understanding.



Whooping Crane Festival 2012 – It’s a wrap!

On September 22nd people gathered from far and wide to take part in the first day-long Whooping Crane Festival held at the Berlin Conservation Club in Green Lake County, WI. Craniacs arrived from Rhode Island, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Massachusetts, and even Ontario, Canada to make it an internationally attended event.

Our sincerest gratitude goes out to the Berlin Rotary Club and president Joel Gerth, and to Jimmy at the Flame Restaurant in Berlin – you’re the Best! We hope all the local businesses benefited from the extra people in the area for the weekend.

To each of the vendors who showcased and sold some of their wares – thank you. We appreciate your support.  For the speakers who shared their experiences, insight, passion and images with the crowded presentation room, thank you. To everyone that attended the Festival, we hope you enjoyed your day – We would love to see everyone again in 2013 and hope you’ll join us!

For those that took part in the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge tour on September 23rd, Horicon has extended a special offer of a complimentary one-year membership! For details please email: cjunksmith(AT) to learn how you can take advantage of this offer.

Organizing an event like this is no small feat and we must thank all of the volunteer’s for the months of planning and attending meetings that it took to carry it off. Your passion and dedication to Operation Migration and the Whooping crane is to be commended and appreciated more than you know.  Any non-profit is only as strong as the volunteer base it attracts and OM is truly fortunate to have an army of Craniacs at the ready.

Between the Silent Auction and the events that took place over the weekend, a total of just over $12,000 was raised, which will go a long way to helping us carry out our work this year.

Thank you all


DATE: Oct. 28, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 31/DOWN DAY 2
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

Up until 2008 the migration route turned east after our LaSalle County stopover and we crossed into Indiana. Over the years, we consistently encountered enough unfavorable wind to accumulate a significant number of Down Days and Indiana earned the nickname, ‘Windiana’.

Being in Illinois for 17 of 31 migration days so far, only 2 of which have been flyable, has us wondering if Illinois going to de-throne Indiana to take over the windiest state title. Hopefully it will let the cranes and planes go before we tag it with the nickname, ‘Illwindinois’.



Dan and Janet Harvey have decided to up their Memorial Challenge match in memory of #10-12 from their initial $1000 to $1500. Babs from Washington then chimed in to boost the Memorial Challenge even further with an added $500.

This brings the Memorial Challenge match to $2000 and is a wonderful opportunity for folks to express their regret at #10’s passing while doubling the value of their contribution and helping her classmates in the Class of 2012.

You could Give a WHOOP!, or, become a MileMaker Sponsor, or, just make a donation in the amount of your choosing.

The OM Team is grateful to everyone for their acknowledgement of this very sad loss.


DATE: Oct. 27, 2012 – Entry 1 MIGRATION DAY 30/DOWN DAY 1
FLOWN TODAY: 0 miles ACCUMULATED: 289 miles
LOCATION: Piatt County, IL REPORTER: Liz Condie

After making up some lost time by flying a double migration leg yesterday, the wind has taken back that small advantage this morning. Blowing strongly from the north, it has also delivered the first below freezing temperature of the migration.

BY THE NUMBERS by Julia Anthony

This reintroduction is a scientific project. The birds are wild. We are told not to pick favorites or try to think of them as pets. #10 was the tenth chick born at Patuxent this year. She was the fifth chick of six designated for the ultralight Class of 2012, and the second youngest.

When I was first introduced to the chicks #10 kept to herself in the wet pen. One of our tasks is to visually inspect each chick every time we enter the pen. I had to make an effort to seek out her in the wet pen to check on her. Usually she would shy away from the costumes, and I remember being so excited when she finally took a grape from me.

Later #10 developed into the best flyer of the group. Even #5 took a back seat to his smaller classmate. When the chicks did their first air pick up (meaning that the trike did not land and then take off again with the chicks, but instead just flew by picking up the birds on the run) it was #10 that lead the charge out of the pen, and who fearlessly took off after the trike.

One misstep ends one bird’s life and the Eastern flock gets one less crane. One less potential mate and parent crane now exists.

We now have 5 chicks in the Class of 2012. We also have thousands of broken hearts; mine being one of them.


Dan & Janet Harvey from Tennessee have issued a memorial match in memory of #10-12. This very caring and generous couple have agreed to match every contribution made in honor of this special crane up to $1000.

Make your contribution count twice – please Give a WHOOP! today. Simply log in to our new secure portal. (If you don’t already have an account, it’s very easy to set one up.)


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!