FINAL LEAD PILOT REPORT – EVER…

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…

PREDICTING…

I wish I had something more definitive to tell you but at this point, while winds for the morning will be from the north, it appears they may be a tad stronger than we’d prefer but they may just be smooth.

If this is the case, we’ll be putting the aircraft up to check for ourselves at sunrise (7:24 am ET). Richard and yours truly will be at the pen ready to call the birds down. Colleen and Cindy will be ready to release the cranes from the Leon County pen.

Jeff will be in the tracking van, ready to follow below and Brooke and Joe will be the pilots. Jo-Anne will be at the San Marcos de Apalache park in the town of St. Marks to give everyone a play-by-play.

IF we do succeed in guiding the Class of ’15 the final 24 miles to their new winter home, once they’re secured everyone will head over to the St. Marks Refuge headquarters to answer any questions visitors may have.

We’ll also have one of the aircraft on display so be sure to check it out!

IF we don’t fly, the team will still gather at the headquarters and then we’ll participate in the St. Marks Wildlife & Heritage Outdoors festival.

We hope to see you there! Here’s a link to a map so you know how to get from the flyover location to the refuge: Directions

Now – everyone cross your fingers and hope for smooth & calm northerly winds for tomorrow morning…

St. Marks NWR WHO Festival

2016 marks the centennial of the Convention between the U.S. and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds. The Migratory Bird Treaty and three others that followed-with Japan, Russia and Mexico, form the cornerstones of efforts to conserve migratory birds that migrate across international borders.

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge will recognize the story of 100 years of migratory bird conservation at its annual Wildlife Heritage & Outdoors (WHO) Festival, to be held on Saturday Feb. 6, 2016.

Activities for all ages will take place at this year’s festival and include live music, live animals, and a great line-up of exhibitors.

Festival hours are: 11am to 4pm. Click for location and directions or to read all the details.

Sadly, Another Loss

Last week we received news that there had been another crane predated at St. Marks NWR. This time it was 9-14 – a slightly older (by two days) sister to 10-14, whom was predated January 1st.

Both were heavily scavenged but tracks in the area indicate a bobcat was the culprit in both cases.

The team is taking advantage of the downtime this week to attempt to capture the bobcat and release it elsewhere.

The evening of the same day we received this news brought a PTT hit for female Whooping crane 3-14. She, along with male 4-12 had been at the winter pen area and had been associating with both 9-14 & 10-14.

The location of the hit indicated she had moved north by approximately 80 miles and was very close to where we were at the time so Jeff, Cindy and I ventured out with the radio receiver and antenna.

A quick email to St. Marks trackers confirmed we were indeed looking for two Whooping cranes as 3-14 and 4-12 (dubbed the Royal Couple) have continued their close relationship since arriving at St. Marks and both were not present in the area when the remains of 9-14 were discovered.

Within a few minutes of arriving in the area, we found them both. We can’t help but wonder if they may have witnessed the predation of 9-14 and decided it was time to leave the area…

IMG_5164

Male Whooping crane 4-12 on the right and female 3-14 on left in south Georgia. Photo: H. Ray

Day 109 – Test Trike

Winds on the surface and aloft are from the southeast. On the surface, they’re light at 4 mph and aloft a bit stronger.

With only a 23 mile flight to get the cranes from Leon County to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the pilots feel it’s worth putting the trikes up to check conditions firsthand.

IF they find it too breezy to risk a flight, the cranes will not be released and we’ll have to wait for another flyable morning. This decision, however, cannot possibly be made until they are airborne.

If you’d like to take the chance to come out to the public viewing area, the Arrival Flyover event and viewing site is at the San Marcos de Apalache Park in the town of St. Marks. South of where Hwy 363 (Woodville Hwy) intersects Coastal Hwy 98, 363 becomes Port Leon Drive. Follow Port Leon Drive to the end, turn right onto Riverside Drive/Old Fort Road and watch for the Arrival Signs on your left. You will be directed to parking. Google Map

Please keep in mind there is nothing at all we can do about the weather 🙁

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