If you’ve been watching the national weather, you will have seen the giant system we are under. It’s big, and it’s not pretty, delivering windy conditions and very soon if it lives up to what the weatherman is promising, also lots and lots of rain.

In a message posted to our GuestBook today, Susan Van Den Bosch from Twin Lakes, WI expressed her appreciation to our migration property owners and stopover hosts. We have often said, but cannot say it often enough, without the kindness and generosity of these wonderful people there could be no ultralight-led migration as we know it. It is great that Susan and so many others are as grateful for and as understanding of the magnitude of these folks’ contributions as we are. Reproduced below is Susan’s GuestBook entry….

“Every year I am amazed by the families and communities along the migration route. At a particularly busy time of year they open their homes and families up to the OM team and birds for an unknown period of time on sometimes very short notice. While the families remain anonymous to those of us following on the net, I would like to say thanks and God Bless our migration hosts/communities for their support and dedication to the OM team and our precious chicks.

I have witnessed migration flyovers twice in recent years and have been welcomed into the communities near the flyover. The OM team makes an impression wherever they go and leave a lasting memory for all.”


We have strong winds aloft this morning. Indicative of their direction is the rising temperature. In contrast to the previous overnight temperature in the mid-twenties, last evening it was in the 40’s and forecast to rise to a high of near 60 degrees before the day is out.

During this and previous stops here in Russellville we’ve made some great friends. Among those are Harry and Belle, Dick and Joanna, Johnny and Brenda, Hudean and Janice, and Janet and Coy. This shout out is in tribute to the ladies mentioned here. They have been treating us to wonderful, homemade fare every day since we arrived, and we can all attest to their fine cooking and baking skills. What a warm, generous, and thoughtful group of people! We know how fortunate we are, and we are honored to have their friendship and grateful for their support.


The good news is our equipment issue has been resolved. The bad news is the weather tomorrow will certainly keep us on the ground. The prediction is for SSE surface winds and 20-30mph SSW winds aloft.

We will be watching the forecasts – both short and long range even closer than usual. If it appears we will not have a reasonable opportunity to fly in the next day or so, rather than pressing on, we will consider breaking to allow the crew to go home and to spend the holidays with their family and friends.


Guest Author:  Walter Sturgeon

Several years ago I was hauling the Nomad, predecessor to our Sierra travel trailer, with the white crew cab truck. All together the rig was more than 50 feet long with the turning radius of a train. While pulling it into a camp site over a rather narrow culvert I got the left side wheels too close to the edge. It had been raining, the soft ground gave way, and the trailer slid into a rather deep drainage ditch along a public road.

The trailer was hard aground on the frame on the left side with the wheels dangling in the air and sticking out into the road. Fortunately, we always carry lots of wooden blocks and planks that we normally use to level and chock the trailer wheels. It took all of those, plus the combined efforts of the OM crew, as well as a couple of local farmers with very big jacks and a standby tractor to extricate the Nomad. This was reported in the Field Journal on December 15, 2006.

Two days later, December 17, Bev Paulan our field supervisor on that migration was pulling the equipment trailer through a road construction area on I-75 near the Georgia/Florida border when trailer problems reared their ugly head once again. The road was scored for resurfacing and it was down to two lanes. Hauling the trailers over this surface was much like pulling them over 10 miles of rumble strips.

I was following behind Bev, driving the white truck pulling the Nomad. All of a sudden there was this excited voice on the walkie-talkie saying, “I’ve got a flat. Pulling over.” Luckily, because of the construction, there was a closed lane and also a breakdown lane protected from active traffic by a long line of orange barrels. We were able to get both our vehicles and their respective trailers well off the road.

I pulled off quite a distance ahead of her, grabbed the jack and handle out of the equipment box in the back of the white truck, and started to walk back. Bev on the roadside surveying situation. Much to our surprise both wheels on the duel axles on the right side were gone, rim and all, and the trailer was resting on the brake drums.

The rough road had created such a vibration that the lugs sheared off. Evidently, the first wheel had come off some time before, and because of the roughness of the road, neither of us noticed it. Unfortunately, no one thought to take a picture so my verbal description of the situation we found ourselves in will have to do.

To make an already long story shorter, I continued on to fetch some help, while Bev stayed with the rig enjoying the sunny warm day and caught up on some long neglected reading. One interesting side note to this story was that a supporter named Mark stopped to see if Bev was okay and offered her his gun for protection.
It wasn’t too long before I returned with Richard and Brooke, and after a trip to an auto parts store and a roadside repair, we were back rolling down the road again.

You well might ask why I am resurrecting these old stories. Well, this year at our Carroll County, TN stop where we camp at the local airport, there are some awesome drainage contours poured into the concrete parking area. Our own American Idol candidate, Caleb Fairbax, who is not just a pretty face but a skilled trailer-puller, managed to better both Bev’s and my trailer incidents.

Caleb managed single-handedly to get ALL four wheels of our equipment trailer off the ground at once. The picture of this feat is for your amazement and entertainment. When we got done shaking our heads, we all certainly had a good laugh at Caleb’s expense.

Fortunately, because it was originally designed for hauling cars the trailer has a strong frame under it. At the height of the problem on this migration day, it ended up looking like a well decorated covered bridge.

Most of the crew remembered our experience with the Nomad and we had it back on all four wheels in no time using jacks, blocking, and planks.

Caleb will probably be immortalized since none of our equipment has more than four wheels. Leave it to some young whipper-snapper to best us old veterans.

The common theme to all these incidents was that no permanent damage was done to any of the equipment. Considering the number of miles we log, the country roads we travel, the tight places we often have to pull them into, and the constant rotation of drivers, we have a minimum of difficulties and incidents.
mobile phone spy


Due to an equipment issue, the cranes, planes, and OM team will be unable to advance today.

Speaking of progress, or lack thereof, a comparison to previous years reveals that on this date in 2010 we were already in Gilchrist County Florida. However, in both 2008 and 2009, the only other years we’ve flown this more westerly route, we’ve been right here in Franklin County on December 17.


The weatherman was correct. We were on the receiving end of lots of rain last evening and overnight and there has been no let up whatsoever today. What ever is in the ‘atmosphere’ is even playing games with our air cards so our internet connection was coming and going until now.

Photos below taken by Walt Sturgeon of Joe Duff and Richard van Heuvelen leading the Class of 2011 into Franklin County on December 11.

Joe leading four cranes


Richard leading five cranes


As our intrepid Migration Crew Chief, Walter Sturgeon, would say, “It’s hard telling not knowing.”

That about sums up what we can say about the chances for a flight tomorrow. The winds both on the surface and aloft look about as light as they can be without being non-existent. The stinker is likely to be rain which the weatherman is predicting will be an overnight and all day affair.


With that good ol’ rock ‘n roll experience we had throughout the night it would be understandable if everyone woke up thinking we were back in Illinois. Anything not nailed down is blowing by in the 20mph southerly wind. At altitude the wind velocity is more than double what we have on the ground. We will be staying put again today.

“Individuals the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Whooping crane population began arriving on the Texas coastal bend and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wintering grounds in late October.

Habitat conditions appear to be somewhat challenging for Whooping cranes this year, specifically with regard to drought and salinity aspects. Salinity levels in the San Antonio Bay are currently 35.3 parts per thousand, resulting in many cranes frequently utilizing inland freshwater sources.

To date, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has received 14 inches of precipitation, which is approximately 23 inches below the annual average. In addition, harmful algae blooms, known as red tide, have occurred along the Texas coast. Red tide toxins can accumulate in fish, oyster, and clam populations in the bays, possibly causing illness and/or death to cranes and other wildlife consuming toxic seafood. Fortunately, there are no known reports of cranes dying from red tide in past outbreaks; biologists continue to keep a vigilant watch. Recent cooler temperatures have helped reduce red tide blooms.

The first Whooping crane census flight of the season was conducted on Thursday, December 8th, in response to confirmation of the first Whooping crane mortality discovered the previous day. One juvenile crane was found dead from unknown causes. The carcass has been sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI for disease testing.

The goal of the flight was to assess the general distribution and condition of the Whooping crane population. During the flight, biologists noted a significant number of cranes were observed in the uplands, as opposed to marshlands where they are typically found. Field observations have resulted in biologists finding evidence of wolfberry and blue crab remains in crane scat. It appears that cranes are utilizing some resources within the marsh.

A second flight to estimate the population will be scheduled for January. In recognition of extreme drought conditions along the entire Texas coast, refuge officials spent the summer planning for the return of cranes. This included initiating work to maximize freshwater output from existing wells located throughout the refuge.

The Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island NWR, a non-profit organization of volunteers dedicated to supporting the refuge in its goal of enhancing habitat and wildlife, have been instrumental in raising funds for converting windmills to solar pump energy. Prescribed burning, which can provide additional food resources for cranes lasting several weeks, has been planned for over 9700 acres. The refuge recently conducted its first burn of the season, consisting of 654 acres of Whooping crane habitat, and refuge officials observed immediate use by cranes.

After a successful nesting season, with approximately 37 chicks fledging from a record 75 nests in August 2011, biologists anticipate that the flock size could reach record levels this winter – possibly 300.”


It was a warm 53 degrees at o’dark thirty, the warmest temperature early morning temperature we’ve experienced since leaving Wisconsin in early October. With a dense fog advisory, a ceiling of 100 feet at our destination, and ESE headwinds at 5mph on the surface and 25mph SSW winds aloft it was ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for the cranes and planes this morning.

There will be no advancement along the migration trail today. The Class of 2011 and OM crew will be spending a third Down Day in Franklin County, AL.

Jointly sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company

The Operation Migration Education Team consisting of Gordon Perkinson and Christine Barnes, are offering presentations to schools along the migration route. (Within an approximate 30-40 mile radius) Their presentation lasts about an hour, and includes a PowerPoint show with video as well as a variety of interactive activities. Utilizing age-appropriate vocabulary and concepts, experienced educators Gordon and Christine engage and entertain students while expanding their science, math, geography, biology, and conservation knowledge. Optimum grade levels are 3 to 7, and groups size can range from 20 to 100.

If you, or someone you know is aware of schools or teachers you think would be receptive to an interesting and enlightening wildlife conservation presentation for their students, please let us know. Email (replace “AT” with @)


The other night our dinner hosts were asking if we all had favorites among the young cranes. Each of us had our own response for our own reasons, but my choice was #1-11

During our sixteen day layover in Illinois, #1 got into a minor altercation that left him with a little bare spot of missing feathers on the front of his neck. It has now grown back but the feathers came in white while the rest of his neck is still the fawn color of youth. This little white rectangle makes him look clerical and also easier to spot when we are flying. You may remember that #1 one was a problem at White River Marsh.

Whooping crane chicks fledge when they are 80 to 100 days old, and until the first time they lift off the ground, the function of their wings must be a complete mystery. I am not suggesting that they actually contemplate the purpose of appendages that fold up on their back and flop around when they run, but there must be a point when the penny drops.

Because of his age, #1 reached that “ah-ha” moment before all the other birds in his cohort. When they all ran down the runway after the aircraft, he was the only one able to follow it into the air. The rest of his flock-mates stopped at the end of the runway when their smaller wings wouldn’t carry them any farther. He soon learned to circle back and join them and it didn’t take long for that action to become habit. Later, when all the chicks began to fly, he soon learned that if he simply landed they would all come back, and in the meantime he could poke in the grass and chase grasshoppers. For him, flying began to mean a quick circuit around the pen and then an opportunity to forage until his friends came home, at which point he would go back into the pen just like all the rest of them.

During the first stages of the migration, he would land in a nearby field before being loaded into a crate for a bumpy ride in the van. Maybe that unpleasant experience convinced him there was benefit in sticking with the aircraft and it only took one completed migration leg before he had it figured out. Thereafter he became one of the best followers. But following just wasn’t #1’s forte. If turning back wasn’t working for him, he tried leading.

Each bird has its own flying characteristics and #1 preferred the lead. Instead of tucking in behind the wing, he liked to fly above it. Gliding a few inches above the tip, he would be carried along, but his presence there destroyed some of the lift on that side, and our aircraft would turn in his direction. The pilot would have to shift the wing the other way to balance the uneven load, and two arms and a lot of extra effort was needed to carry him.

To correct this annoying habit, I tried speeding up, slowing down, or even making a steep turn. That would cause all the birds to chase the wing and sometimes he would lose his lead position when they reformed. He would follow in the number 2 or 3 spot for a while, but it wasn’t long before he would work his way up to his favored location again.

All things that fly have a center of gravity or C of G. In an aircraft, it must be balanced in order to fly level. As an example, a Piper Cub, which has tandem seats (one behind the other) must be flown solo from the back seat only or it will fly so “nose down” that it will crash. Even birds have a C of G. Generally it is right at the wings, or the center of the lifting point. That’s why cranes must fly with the legs and neck outstretched while herons fly with the necks curved.

After my arms grew sore from carrying #1 one on my wing tip, I decided to try some behavior modification. I slowed very slightly until his body was ahead of the wing but his legs were still over it. Then I pushed up quickly, which raised my wing, caught his legs and tipped him off balance with his head down.

This upset in his C of G would cause him to plummet thirty feet below the wing before he regained balance and climbed back up. Our trike wings are made of fabric so there was no fear of causing injury and it only took a couple of tries at “Flipping the Bird” before he learned to avoid that annoyance.


The low ceiling started to lift, so Richard repeated his early morning test flight around 8:30am. He reported topping out at around 1600 feet and was only able to get up to about 22mph of speed. In fact it was virtually moments after his going aloft before the aviation radios squawked, “No way we can do this. We’re down.”

The team spent the next while returning trikes the the hangar and vehicles to their positions in camp so we could re-hook up again.