Regular readers will recall when last week, Brooke Pennypacker wrote about our adventures last year when we left Columbia County in an attempt to make it to Green County. His post was titled “Crazy Person.” Brooke spoke of landing short of our destination, only to encounter a group of students who were out on a class trip that day.
We received the following last evening and encourage you to read it to see just how much of an impact that day’s adventures had…
Dear Operation Migration,
I want to begin by saying “Thank you” to all of you for the amazing work that you do. My son and I have been following your work over the past several years. We are often learning new information about whooping cranes, and are in awe over your continuous dedication to your work. I really appreciate your efforts to keep the general public informed of your work and the progress of the yearly training and migration with your use of the crane cam, Field Journal, fly overs, and now the recent addition of the Sunday afternoon live chats. The fact that you are willing to pull us in and allow us to be a part of your world is truly remarkable.
That being said, I hope you don’t mind me sharing a story. I felt compelled to write to you after reading Brooke’s “Crazy Person” entry in the Field Journal. I really loved reading his humorous perspective on the events of that day.
As I mentioned, my son as been following along with me. He is currently ten years old, but for as long as I can remember he has had a big heart and awareness for animals, plants, and conservation. In May of 2013, we visited our local zoo for their International Migratory Bird Day event, as we learned that members from Operation Migration and International Crane Foundation would be there. It was at this event where we met Doug Pellerin and spoke with him for a bit about his role with Operation Migration. Doug let my son try on his helmet and crane puppet, and I took a photo.
Fast forward to fall of 2013. As a means of encouraging students to write on their own time, my son’s classroom teacher set up an internal writing system where students could write about and share their own thoughts and topics of interest with members of that class. My son chose to share his knowledge of whooping cranes and Operation Migration. He described the training, the trikes, the migration route, and the flight cam. He included the picture of him wearing Doug’s helmet and crane puppet, and even provided a link to your web site for all in his class to read and learn about. He later took this blog and turned it into an informational piece of writing that was also shared with his class.
Being from an area in between migration stops #3 and #4, I pay particular attention to arrival and departure dates of these stops. I recall the day you left Columbia County for Green County last year. While I am not a chatter on-line, I did try to look in at the chat every so often to see if there was any indication that the cranes made it to their next pen site. I recall reading several comments throughout the day that cranes had dropped out at various locations, and I could not wait to get home from work to see if there was any updated information. I did receive an update, however, not in the way that I had expected. My son gave me the first hand news in the car ride home from school that day.
My son had gone to school that day with the excitement of heading out on a class field trip. The trip was actually planned for a week prior, but was rescheduled due to, well…poor weather–an issue I assume you all know quite well. That morning, four classrooms of students made their way out to this great Conservancy just outside of town to study the geography, geology, history, and culture of this area of Wisconsin. I have to say I felt like a bit of a “crazy person” for having the fleeting thought that maybe, just maybe, if my son looks in the sky when he is out in that field, he might catch a glimpse of a couple of trikes with whooping cranes following close behind.
My son was working with a small group of students on a side project pertaining to the Conservancy, and thus were off investigating with a chaperone in a separate area from the rest of the students. Soon, their attention was drawn to the sky. There was a small airplane flying overhead, but it isn’t all that unusual to see and hear small planes in this area with the local airport not too far away. But, as they took another look they realized they saw more than the small airplane. Can you imagine the awe in these kids and their chaperone as they saw Brooke and 4 whooping cranes float from the sky and land literally right in front of them? My son saw it happen, but couldn’t believe it was real. He looked to the sky again, and that small plane was still overhead. They all froze…not with fear, but with wonderment. My son recalls Brooke holding up and waving his hands, which was the clear signal to stay back. They slowly retreated and made their way back to the rest of the group.
Upon returning to the group, they could not contain their excitement. As my son describes:
“We ran back to find my teacher and tell him that we saw the cranes and the ultralight, and that the pilot told us to stay back. Some of the other kids wanted to see what was going on, so we walked back over and tried to hide in the trees at the top of the hill. I could not believe that this was real! Now my class can see what I have been sharing with them about Operation Migration. My teacher, the students, and the naturalist were so excited! I thought that it was so cool and I couldn’t wait to tell my mom, but I thought it would be cool for the other kids to know about Operation Migration so that they could learn about a bird that is endangered, and also I know that a lot of other kids like animals.”
When the class returned to school, they followed up with a discussion on the morning’s events. The classroom teacher followed up again with his students the next day, discussing Operation Migration and allowing students to ask questions and talk about this incredible experience. It definitely was made clear to students and parents alike what a rare and unique opportunity this was for all. My son was aware that Brooke was the pilot with those 4 birds, and thus providing the class with the name of said “crazy person.”
While I listened to him tell this story with complete amazement, I have to say I was also a bit nervous for the birds, hoping the students stayed out of sight and kept their voices down. Yet, I was so overjoyed that these students were able to see first hand the work that you do. These students left that field trip with a lesson like no other.
Even a year later, my son recalls that moment in the Conservancy as so surreal. Now, it’s a new school year, new students, and new teacher. My son’s class was instructed to write a short informational piece as an in class assignment. He chose to write about Operation Migration once again. He loves to write, so no, he wasn’t taking a shortcut from last year’s work. He just knows how important your work is and wants to share it with others.
So, Brooke, we don’t really think of you as a “crazy person.” In fact we are so grateful for what all of you do. It is amazing to see how much dedication, perseverance, and coordination it takes to do the work that you do. Thank you for opening your world to the rest of us; for sharing your stories, for letting us watch you in action, and for your overall commitment to the importance of whooping crane conservation.
Here is a link to a newsletter from Pope Farm Conservancy from fall of 2013 that featured a brief article on Brooke’s landing with the birds: https://popefarmconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/News-Updates-for-Friends-of-Pope-Farm-Conservancy-Nov-2013.pdf
We are hoping the weather improves soon, so that you can continue on with this year’s migration!
Anna Bechner and Ethan