Today it was my turn to lead the final flight into St Marks NWR. But just as the weather has robbed us of so many days on this migration, it also cheated me out my last opportunity to fly with birds – ever.
Instead of a BANG – 23 years of hard work and sacrifice ended with a whimper.
We took off this morning with very little hope of success. On a normal migration day, we would have checked the conditions and gone back to bed. But there were 6 young cranes and many supporters waiting on us – so we tried.
The airstrip is in the middle of a forest so it was fairly calm on the surface. But as soon as we cleared the tree tops, the cross wind hit and turned the trikes sideways. The air was rough and it took full force on the control bar to keep it level.
I climbed just to see how high we would have to get birds to reach smooth air but when I topped a thousand feet it was still rough. The wind was out of the northeast and the GPS told me it was blowing at 29 mph. When I turned back for the airport, I was covering ground at 14 mph.
We tied down the trikes, drove to the pen and began the sad process of boxing them for the last 25 miles. It is such a short distance, it will not hamper their ability to navigate back to Wisconsin and we will likely track them anyway.
So that’s it. Our careers as avian aviators has ended. The ultralight method was crucial to establishing the core population. We have a hundred birds migrating in the eastern flyway. The first in the area since the 1870’s. It will be the basis of our future work but right now most of us see looking back, not forward.
We will now change techniques to see if we can encourage better breeding, but it won’t be the same. It’s the proper thing to do but somehow it should have ended differently. There should have been clear skies, a colorful sunrise and a string of couragious birds off my wingtip. But nature doesn’t work that way and I should have known better…