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August 31, 1998

As I pulled out of my driveway this morning to come to work, I saw two Cosmos trikes in the air over my house! upon closer inspection I saw that the "lead" trike was being followed by a flock of 8 Sandhill cranes! When I got to the office I listened in on the radio to find that they had taken off from Utica, approximately 10 miles from Reader's field, then headed North to Seagrave and came back South to Readers'. The entire flight lasted 41 minutes, the longest flight to date with group "A". The other news around the office is that #203, the crane from last year that was sticking around the north end of Scugog Island has decided to drop in to see us! She's been here for about a week and is feasting on corn daily.

August 25, 1998

Teaching birds to follow an aircraft has its own special discipline and the term "early bird" takes on new meaning as the alarm goes off before the sun comes up. We peer out at a darkened sky hoping for that perfect calm before making the early morning call to rouse the crew for a training session with our flock of enthusiastic fledglings. It is now the dog days of August and the birds have been in Canada for over six weeks. The flock is divided into three groups and each one has to be worked daily when weather permits. There is a dominance structure to every flock from strongest to weakest, and each bird has to learn it's status. In flight, the largest birds fight for the lead and the smaller ones follow behind. It takes time for the birds to establish this harmony and these are the days when it is learned. As the summer progresses, we will build on our small group of "good followers" adding subservient birds to lead birds, until we have one cohesive flock. In the early stages before the sequence is decided, each flight results in chaos. Aggressive birds will break from the aircraft taking the flock in a different direction while the less assertive, are torn between two loyalties and will often simply head for home. This circling back to land near the security of the pen is a difficult habit to break and we have found that the best method is to transport them a few miles away by trailer. Once released, the only thing they are familiar with is the aircraft and they are then anxious to follow it. When they learn that the aircraft always leads them home, we can depart from the pen and fly in larger circuits until they are flying for an hour or two. On a recent flight, we stayed aloft for twenty-two minutes and landed them back at the pen. We released all the birds for the day to forage on their own and took-off to return the aircraft to our home base. After we pushed the plane into the hanger we noticed three birds circling high overhead. Initially, I was convinced they were Blue Herons but Deke pushed the aircraft out while I donned my costume for a quick take-off. David Woodhouse manned the radio to direct me up to the birds now soaring at 1500 feet. I could not see them because of the wing over my head and after a long session of what seemed like senseless directions, I was certain he was playing a joke, having me chase the sky for the shadows of wild birds long since departed. Then at 1600 feet, I spotted them behind me, trying desperately to catch up. I slow to their speed and they moved in to fly just off the wing and we headed back to the pen. We started our decent from 1000 feet and the birds on the ground took off to join us. Thirteen birds followed the aircraft in relative order as we circled the pen area and landed together. This was our best flight yet and a reward for the hours of work that have gone on before. We are now looking forward to the cool quiet morning of September after the order has been finalized and sixteen birds soar off the wing through the crisp autumn air. Worth the price of admission!

August 24, 1998

Very sorry!!! have had no time for updates at all!! The birds are flying well, following for approximately 20-25 minutes at a time. Will try to write a better update this week?

July 23, 1998

Joe & Deke head out with the cranes early. They took group "A" back over to Harley Davis' field (about 2 miles away, as the crane flys) They followed the ultralight all the way back to Reader's where their pens are!!! SUCCESS!!! Groups B & C, were flown from the north field at Reader's again (as they're the younger birds) and they both flew with the aircraft too! They are starting to sort out the dominance structures. What a difference over last year's cranes!

July 21, 1998

The cranes have two dominance structures, one occurs on the ground, and the other happens during flights. The birds need time to figure out their separate structures. Joe flew all three groups. Group "A" flew in perfect unison for approximately 10 minutes. This degree of success was not achieved until October last year, which proves that our change in rearing protocol, established at Patuxent, is a definate improvement. Group "B", flown from a field 1/4 mile away, broke up into 2 flights, one flying with the aircraft, the other following from a distance, then all landed with the aircraft back at the pen. Group "C" (the youngest birds) are not quite able to fly that distance yet, and their flight order has not been established, however two of them did follow the aircraft back to the pen area. The other 2 birds landed separately in a field north of the pen. Because this order of dominance needs to be established, it is best to let them sort it out outside of the pen, where a subservient bird cannot get trapped by the more aggressive birds. To accomplish this we let all the birds out of their pen for the day. When it was time to put them back for the night, 3 of group "A" were missing. By sunset, they had returned safe and sound. The next step is to try flying them from a greater distance.

July 19, 1998

At 6:30 am we set out for another flight..... the decision is made to take the birds to the north field at Reader's farm to attempt a shorter flight in familiar territory. We trailer them to the field and Joe is ready to take off. With the engine revving, Deke releases the birds from the confines of the trailer and they are off into the air following Joe!! Joe leads them around the ajoining fields for about 11 minutes and they followed beautifully! These young cranes are even learning the art of surfing in the wake of the wing! It is a glorious site and it's difficult to hold the video camera steady. Next we attempted a flight with group "B" and this doesn't go as well.... these birds are about 2-3 weeks younger than those in group "A".

July 18, 1998

We trailored the "A" group of 6 young sandhill's over to Harley Davis' field, approximately 2 miles away from Reader's where the pens are located. The logic behind this is that if we took them to an area they were not familiar with the chances that they would want to follow would be greater as the ultralight would be the only thing they were familiar with? There was very little wind and we wanted to attempt a flight with the cranes to see if they would follow in the air. Joe was flying lead and Deke flying chase. Things looked very promising at first, but the birds soon scattered when Joe flew over a forested area. He reported that the air was "trashy" over the trees and the young birds could not keep up. The birds decided to land on the other side of a nearby cornfield and we let them romp in a puddle before gathering them up in the trailer for the ride back to their pen. We'll try again tomorrow, weather permitting.

July 13, 1998

#203 made her way back to the boat launch at the north end of the island.

July 10, 1998

Too windy this morning to attempt a flight with the cranes ;-( recieved a call yesterday from a fisherman who had been up at the boat launch on a fishing excursion when he had a visit by way of #203 landing in his boat! She (203) made herself comfortable on his sweater, that he had laying on the seat of the boat and decided to stay. He continued on around the lake and when he came to St. Christopher's Beach she then decided to disembark. Perhpas she just wanted to see the sites from ground level for a change?

July 9, 1998

All 3 groups of birds are now getting into the air... Today was to have been the first scheduled flight with them, to see if they would follow the ultralight in the air as well as they do on the ground/runway, however, we are grounded by dense fog. The sun is starting to shine through now (8:30am), so we'll see what it's like in about an hour? #203 still hanging out around the North point of Scugog Island.

July 2, 1998

Had my first flight today!! Went up in the Maxair and what an amazing experience to be able to view the landscape from above! Bill & I flew over Reader's field and took some pics of Joe working the cranes. They seemed to follow well for a distance then broke off. Thinking that it was us in the air making them nervous we flew off so training could get back on schedule. Recieved a call that #203 is still up at the boat launch at the north point of Scugog Island.

July 1, 1998

HAPPY CANADA DAY!!! from the crew at Operation Migration.... The cranes have the day off today ;-)

June 29, 1998

Joe & Deke report that the birds did really well over the weekend. They run along after the taxiing ultralight with their wings stretched out. A report comes in the #203 ('97 crane) is still hanging out at the north end of Scugog Island. The other 5 cranes have been captured and are spending the summer at the Northwoods Exotic Ranch. They will be released in the fall to see if they initiate the southward migration?

June 26, 1998

BIG storm last night, played havoc with the cranes pen. 5 sections of the new pen got crumpled in the strong winds. The cranes, on the other hand faired well taking shelter in the covered sections of the pens. The ground is too soggy to taxi with the birds on the runway, so the day is spent making repairs.

June 22, 1998

Group "A" again got airborne and flew the entire length of the runway! Training is going very well compared to last year, when we were continually grounded due to rainy weather.

June16, 1998

The 1st group got airborne today!!! they were flying about 15ft. off the ground! This is group that consists of the older birds.

June13, 1998

Training officially started today. We decided to give the young cranes a two day break after their flight from Patuxent. The birds have been split into three smaller groups. There are two groups of five and one group of six birds. The training schedule consists of taxiing up and down the runway hoping to get them to follow. These birds are doing great!!! they are enthusiastic and get really excited when they hear the engine.

June 10, 1998

yeah!!! the new Sandhill's for this year's project have arrived safe and sound at the Ottawa airport. They were greeted by Fathergoose himself and Carlin (a biologist) from Patuxant. Carlin has been with the birds since their hatchdays and she will stay with us here in Ontario for about two weeks. Bill just called and despite a slight delay at the border with customs, he is on the way here with 16 young cranes! NOW the training begins! Pilot Deke Clark and wife Rebecca arrived yesterday from Maryland and all hands (cept me) are over at Reader's farm constructing pens for these new colts.

June 8, 1998

The new Sandhill's arrive in two days from Patuxant Wildlife Research Center (for a direct link to their site see our links page). Even before they hatched they listened to the sound of the ultralight engine 2x each day. After hatching they heard it 3x per day and by the time they were a few days old they were comfortable eating mealworms beside the actual ultralight. They are starting to follow very well and get really excited when the aircraft approaches them! Now we just have to get their pens built before Wednesday. The decision is made to use a camoflauge canvas as opposed to chainlink fencing. The Canadian Armed Forces is transporting the birds from Andrews Air Force Base to Ottawa for us. Many thanks!!!

June 7, 1998

Bill receives word that #203 has been hanging out around the boat launch on Lake Scugog! Now, he has the right idea!!!

June 6, 1998

Joe decided to release #201 & 202 from "house arrest" last Thurs. Today they were spotted at the golf course in North Oshawa.

June 2, 1998

#203 still MIA, no word on him since last week when he was spotted on Scugog Island.

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