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To find out where the birds are in their journey, look at the Migration Map.

Date:November 6, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Warm, bumpy but fly-able!
Flight Duration:1 Hour, 15 Min.


With no communication from the crew over the weekend, I was not able to post any news on this page. My apologies. However, I am now happy and proud to report that they have reached Florida!

I just spoke briefly with both Joe and Bill and they are now in Gilchrist County, FL., after a rather bumpy flight this morning which lasted 1:15. Joe said they had to stay very low, about 100ft. as at higher altitudes the air was just too warm and the SE headwind was horrendous. He said that his arms are very sore and Deke is walking around rubbing his own shoulders too. They are currently waiting for the ground crew to arrive to set up the temporary pen, so we couldn't speak for any great length as they were in the vicinity of the birds.

They will call as soon as the birds are in their pen to fill me in on the missing details of this past weekends activities and I will update all of you as soon as I can.




Photo Credit: Woody Marshall, Macon Telegraph

Date:November 4, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Field reports filed


Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2000: Our launch technique this morning worked about as well as any have. Deke waited at the end of the runway with his engine running and his crane music playing. I took off and circled to the east. When the birds were released they seemed confused and stayed just outside the pen. I did a low pass with my "music" playing to encourage them to fly. This worked and I told Deke the birds were off. He began his take off roll to line up with the birds, just off the ground. Again our timing was off and we flew along side by side with the birds far behind. Over the main part of the runway, I did a tight right turn and Deke turned left to head on course. This dividing of forces must have confused the birds and they continued straight ahead. Eventually, they decided to follow Deke and they too, turned south. Deke of course could not see the birds behind him and began a series of turns, both left and right, in hopes that they would catch him. Unfortunately, he was too far ahead and I moved in to pick them up on the wing.

They were eager for direction and soon settled in. Once we were up to altitude we changed leads and Deke moved in to take over. The birds are becoming used to this maneuver and lined up on his wing. Our destination was only 24 miles away and Bill had left early in an effort to find another location farther along. We had agreed to stop at Prattsburgh, if we did not hear from him and after 39 minutes, we circled the field. Don guided us in with his Cessna and then continued onward to check on Bill. Deke stayed with the birds and I walked out to locate our host.

This strip is very isolated and after a long, unsuccessful walk I headed back. Don returned but had to circle the field while I walked (I was too tired to run) back to my aircraft to use the radio. He told us that Bill had found a site 22 miles further south and he had permission for us to use it. He read off the coordinates and we prepared to take off. This process was a little awkward. Normally, we prepare for the flight, out of sight of the birds and we soon found out just how difficult it is to put on a heavy jacket and helmet while still in costume. Eventually, it all worked and we started our engines.

This excited the birds but not as much as when Deke took off. All I had to do was rev my engine and they were ready to follow. The rest seemed to do them good and we stayed very low in order to keep them flying in the cool moisture of a light morning fog. In another 30 minutes we arrived at the new site, guided in by Don and found Bill already on the ground. We landed in a less than smooth field and all the birds landed with us on the first pass. We walked the birds up over a hill and cut through a barbed wire fence to get into an adjoining field. When the crew arrived, they set up the pen on the top of a hill and we walked back with the birds. After they were inside we repaired the fence and began to look for the crew.

I am always surprised at how little we notice from the air as we circle before landing. From the ground, I had no idea where to find the entrance but eventually, we walked past a house and over a walking bridge to the top of the hill on the other side of the valley. In order to reach the farm where the trailers were, we had to pass through a horse corral. We were still dressed in our costumes and this upset the horses. Exhausted, hot and sweaty, we slowly lumbered across the enclosure and until we heard the sound of galloping hooves behind us. The remaining distance to the other side of the corral was covered in short order, despite our fatigue! That afternoon we enjoyed the company of Todd and Lynda and their family.

Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2000: Most of the media people returned this morning to film our departure and they began to arrive well before dawn. Our normal predawn meeting to discuss the days plan became an event with multiple cameras and a number of microphones. 

Deke and I positioned our aircraft next to the pen and once the birds were released we took off to the north. I started too soon and the birds were behind me as we flew down the runway. I tried to slow and as I passed the house my aircraft stalled and dipped down lower than I planned. This brought the birds closer to the house and the crowd that I would have liked but we soon recovered and headed south. Dan was upset by what he perceived to be a breach of the protocol, however, I disagree. Although I regret getting that close, media coverage is an important factor in the success of this project. We have to walk a thin line between restricting human contact and promoting the partnership. 

It is my feeling that any bird in North America will, eventually overfly people at some point and our birds are no different. All of the area we have covered is populated and inevitably, the birds will see humans from the air. That however, is considerably different from seeing them at close range from the ground. 

I am surprised at the number of days we have experienced that have been calm. I can't remember the last windy day we had. Calm makes for pleasant flying but adds little to our progress and an occasional tailwind would help.

Despite the calm, the birds seem to fly faster today. The air at higher levels was warmer so we made the entire flight at less that 200 feet of altitude. This kept us down in the light haze and the moisture helped cool the birds. We were flying over heavily treed terrain with little population so our low level did not endanger anyone on the ground. 

We believe from previous studies, that birds do not use landmarks as navigation aids and it is a good thing. With all the fog we have had and the low level of many of our flights the birds have seen little of the last three states.

Before take off, Don and Paula Lounsbury told us we would be skirting the Atlanta control zone and if we flew direct to our destination, we would be in restricted airspace, so we programmed a waypoint into the GPS and headed there first. We also had a problem with the coordinates for our landing site and had to re-enter them while in flight. All this confusion aside, this trip was one of our best. The fog was beautiful and flying low is always more fun. 

Bill scouted ahead and when he circled the field he noticed the large group of spectators that had gathered. He landed and asked them to all move back. They circled a tree that was next to the runway and blended in very well. We circled once and landed at the east end of the field. Deke stayed with the birds while I spoke to the owners and Bill flew on to check out the next site. We walked the birds along a wide forest lane to a clearing while the crew set the pen up in a field off the end of the runway. Once secure, we joined the rest of the crew with our hosts Doug and Bonnie. Doug is also a retired airline captain and the crew enjoyed his stories along with the dinner they generously provided that evening. 

We have met so many enjoyable people that I hope we can keep in touch with and this couple is at the top of the list. 

Monday, Oct. 30, 2000: Light ground fog started to form at dawn but it was not enough to delay our departure. Again we tried to pick the birds up in the air but our timing was off. We had to circle several times but eventually we headed south. No matter how awkward our take off, the birds are anxious to follow us and it only takes a few moments before we get organized. 

Just south of our location, we had to cross a ridge and we were forced to change course until we had enough altitude. Once past this obstacle, we continued our climb and leveled out at around 600 feet. The air was smooth and cool and the birds fell into line. There were a number of lead changes and several times the birds passed the aircraft so I increased speed by 3 or 4 miles per hour. This seemed to work better and all the birds lined up off the left wing and began to soar. They stayed in this position for most of the flight. 

Against the early morning sun we could see a small flock of song birds heading south. In silhouette we could not identify them but we were slowly overtaking them. Once they noticed us, we must have been perceived as a threat and their defense was to dive for the ground. They closed their wings and descended at an astonishing speed. In seconds they disappeared below us. 

This is the second time I have noticed this behaviour while flying and I wonder if it has been documented. Unfortunately, the birds are so agile and leery of us we could not get close enough to identify the species. The air began to heat up and our small tailwind diminished so we began a slow descent and arrived at our next location owned by "Bill", after 1 hour and 10 minutes. 

Once on the ground, our Bill, took off in search of the next stop and Deke and I found a remote corner of the property to hide the birds. The only place for the pen was half way down the runway and although we would have like to get it further away, we had no choice. That afternoon we were inundated by media including CNN and NBC as well as local TV and print representatives.

Sunday, Oct. 29, 2000: We took off from the field just outside of Hiwassee Refuge shortly after sunrise. We had hoped to get away earlier but delays are common with a large team. There is so much to organize that it invariably takes longer than we anticipate. As well, our days are long and despite the excitement of an early departure, our beds are often too comfortable for predawn ousting's. 

A number of people from the Tennessee DNR turned out to watch our departure. The pen was erected in a remote corner of the field and there was not a good place to position the aircraft on the ground so Dan and Rebecca released the birds and I tried to pick them up in the air. This is always difficult because we do not have communication. Dan carries a radio but cannot use it close to the birds. We have to rely on hand signals which don't always work from the air to the ground. 

Eventually the birds are released and they take off in our general direction. What follows is an aerial rodeo, as we maneuver the aircraft to intersect the birds. Communication between the pilots is critical and the one closest and moving in the right direction, takes the lead. In this case Deke moved in to take over while I did a 360 degree turn. This put us in a head-on situation but Deke, in his calm and efficient manner dropped down out of the way. I felt bad about asking him to move in and then cutting him off and I apologized later. I preach safety and then break the rules. 

Eventually, the birds formed on my wing and we turned south. We had another ridge to climb over but it was not as high as yesterday's. Once we gained enough altitude, we decided to skip an interim stop and head directly for "Riverside". This decision was based a our ground speed of 48 mph and cool air. Once committed, however, we had no choice but to make it, as we had to overfly a built-up area that offered little in the way of remote landing sites. In total we had 69.4 miles to cover but everything looked good. 

En route there were a number of ridges running north/south and we slowly climbed to fly above them. As we did so, our speed dropped off and it became warmer. 

Bill landed at our interim stop to pass on our regards and apologize for continuing on. When he took off again he stayed low and soon realized he could make better time at the lower level. Unfortunately, his radio was acting up and although he tried a number of times, he could not communicate this message to us until he was right below us. 

We began a slow descent and as predicted, our ground speed went up from 34 to 54 mph. This put us 22 minutes out but the birds were starting to show signs of fatigue. Ten miles short of our destination 2 birds dropped back and Deke moved in to pick them up. Two others joined them but it was obvious they were getting tired because he could not get them up to speed. It was not long before we were separated by five miles. 

We were just clearing the last of the ridges but we were getting bounced as the wind rolled over them. Don and Paula Lounsbury circled the field in their Cessna before landing and Bill, who was already on scene, turned back to lead Deke and his four birds in. I landed at the west end of the runway and when Deke arrived he descended quickly while his birds stayed aloft. We exited the aircraft and stood nearby so the birds could see us. Once they decided it was safe to land they came down like stones. 

When cranes need to loose attitude quickly, they drop their legs until they are almost standing, their wings work more like brakes and they begin to plummet. It is a fascinating display to watch at a few hundred feet up as they sail by us almost vertically. They will often look over at us as they pass wondering what is taking us so long. 

Once all the birds were on the ground, we walked them away from the building, through a ravine filled with brush. We had hoped to cross into the next field and have the birds fly over to us but they had different ideas. Two birds walked through the tangle and climbed a steep bank on the far side. After half an hour the remaining cranes finally decided to take to the air and cross the 50 foot crevice. 

We began to walk the birds the length of the field and shortly realized there was a passage through the trees not more than fifty feet away. Deke held the birds at the western end while the crew set up the pen. When everything was secure, we finally met our hosts, Bob and Eleanor. Bob is a retired Delta Captain and an ambitious restorer of classic aircraft and Eleanor can make a chicken salad to die for. Total flight time was 1 hour 23 minute and we covered 69.4 miles. 

Date:November 3, 2000-7:10pm
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Activity:A Casualty

Notes: It appears our Internet provider experienced technical problems today and as a result, our site was down for the most part. I apologize for any inconveniences encountered while attempting to access this page. Unfortunately, it is up again and I must report the following:

"When Dan and Rebecca entered the pen shortly after the experimental flock departed this morning, they found that one crane had died. The team believes this bird was somehow traumatized, earlier this morning and as a result, was fatally injured while inside the pen.

This is all we know at this point. Though regretful, the death of a bird does not affect the integrity of this sandhill crane migration study. It is not uncommon to have some loss in a scientific study."


Date:November 3, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Warm and Fly-able
Flight Duration:1 hour, 3 minutes


The crew departed Schley County, GA and the hospitality of Todd & Linda early this morning. Yesterday I reported that they had decided not to fly to the next location as they were not sure it was suitable for our needs. During the day, Dan, Richard & Joe drove ahead to get a first-hand perspective of this property and afterwards, agreed that it would be fine.

One of the concerns was its distance from their current stopover site. With 62 miles between the two sites, they wanted to ensure they had an alternate landing site, should anything happen. While driving the route yesterday, they were able to select a suitable location at the 38 mile point but as it turns out, it was not needed.

The crew and birds flew the entire 62 miles and are now situated in Dougherty County, GA.

Just slightly over 200 miles remaining.... Go Team Go!

Last week I introduced you to the stars of the migration, the "flock." This study would not be possible without the invaluable assistance of the human delegation.

In no particular order, here are the wonderful people that have dedicated time, hard work, and a great amount of passion to seeing this migration through to a successful conclusion:

The Ground & Flight Crew

Joe Duff: Team Leader, Lead Pilot, and co-founder of Operation Migration
Bill Lishman: Scout Pilot and co-founder of Operation Migration
Richard Van Heuvelen: Ground Crew Leader - Operation Migration
Gordon Lee: volunteer - Operation Migration
Deke Clark: Chase Pilot/Director - Operation Migration
Dan Sprague: crane biologist, Operation Migration
Rebecca Cohen-Pardo: Photographer/Deke’s better half-Operation Migration
Don Lounsbury: Cessna 182, Volunteer Top Cover Pilot/Paula’s husband-Operation Migration
Paula Lounsbury: Cessna 182, Volunteer Top Cover Pilot/Don’s wife-Operation Migration
Glen Olsen: Veterinarian (Bird Doctor) - USGS/Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
Barry K. Hartup: Veterinarian/Director of Veterinary Services, International Crane Foundation
Joan Guilfoyle: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Chuck Underwood: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Date:November 2, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Good, but...
Activity:Down for the day
Flight Duration:none


Bill reports that the team is staying put for the day. I asked him if it was due to foggy conditions and he replied, "well, no, its due to the fact that we do not have a suitable landing site to go on to." The next scheduled location seemed perfect, it was somewhat secluded, had a great turf landing strip, a few trees to provide a "blind" etc. The property owner was enthusiastic and a wonderful man. Unfortunately, there was just nowhere to seclude the birds, while the crew arrived to set up the temporary pen.

So, the team will spend the day scouting an alternate location using the Lounsbury's Cessna. 

The following was written by Joe and details the importance of these special requirements. I think it's suitable to include here today. Read on:

By far the most difficult part of this study is managing the experiences of the birds. It was difficult enough at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge when the pens were miles away from any human influence and the entire area was closed, but "on migration" our problems multiply. We need landing sites about every fifty miles. If we have head winds, like we have for the last few weeks, they are required at 30-mile intervals. Our shopping list for a stopover site is short but demanding. If we could custom build them, they would be at least a mile from the sound of traffic and out of sight of buildings or any other human equipage. They would be in open country with an upland feeding area and a lowland roosting spot, all beside a grass runway as smooth as a bowling green with a hangar just over the hill.

Somewhere close by, we would be grateful for electrical hook-ups for the trailers and a BBQ pit would make us fall in love. So far, we have been lucky and most of our stops have worked, with a few that have been exceptional. When you invest this much effort in protecting the birds from intrusion, you are often accused of over reaction, but there is logic to our caution.

Some biologists have questioned our prudence when we are not satisfied with areas that are frequented by wild sandhill cranes but wild birds have advantages that ours do not. The birds we raised are neither tame nor wild. Like any creature, they have a natural fear of the unknown but the rest is a learned response and our ability to teach them is severely limited.

During any crisis, a birds immediate reaction is one of either "fight or flight" with the latter, by far the safest. Just when to take to the air or how large a buffer zone is needed is learned from the actions of the adult. Acting as surrogates, we are the adults but are unable to take-off immediately at the first sign of trouble, or even to properly convey the message that there is reason for concern. If we lead our birds to an area that appears to be safe but a curious farmer or hunter gets too close, we have no option but to accept the intrusion, where a wild bird would fly off to a safer distance if only to return later; The actions that the wild bird teaches its young to keep its distance, while ours encourage tolerance.

Even though wild birds may be flushed from a landing site by the occasional trespasser, it can still be said that wild birds frequent the area, however, for our purpose it is unusable. Because we can only teach our cranes the bare minimum in human avoidance, we need to rely on their natural fear of all things unknown. Our only option is to ensure that all things human remain unknown and if this makes us cautious, we accept that label, as long as it keeps our birds wild.

Date:November 1, 2000-10:30am
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Activity:All sorted out...
Flight Duration:43.1 miles


I just spoke with "Linda" the somewhat surprised resident of the team's current location. She assured me that everyone has arrived, including the cranes, as she had just witnessed them land approximately 10 minutes early.

So, the entire team is together, (Heather breathes a cyber-sigh of relief). I asked Linda what was going thru her head when she heard, then saw Bill circling overhead in his trike early this morning. She replied "my first thought was that one of the deer hunters had gone out and bought one of these tiny aircraft and was fixin' to shoot deer from the air." It was hard for me to stop laughing when she told me this!

The crew is now 43 miles further south than they were yesterday at this time and in Schley, County, GA.

Date:November 1, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Activity:Another destination successfully reached (sort of)
Flight Duration:43.1 miles


What a fiasco! I'd barely taken off my jacket after arriving this morning, when the phone started. It was Joe, who, in a hushed voice, (as he was not far from the birds) informed me that they had landed at the next scheduled location but Bill, who was flying ahead of them did not realize this.

Joe didn't know if the ground crew had been notified that they had landed. No problem, I assured him, I'll contact everyone and let them know. I started dialing the many cell phones that are accompanying the crew on this journey and NOBODY was answering! Finally, after 7 attempts, I was welcomed by the not so welcoming voice of an electronic operator, who informed me in her very officious manner: "the cellular customer you are calling is unavailable" Well Duh! I KNEW that.

A frustrating few minutes passed when Bill called to let me know that he had found an alternate location 20 miles south of where Joe & Deke currently were with the birds. He left me the phone number of the surprised resident, but did not have the coordinates handy as they were on his GPS, outside, on the landing field with his ultralight. I assured him I would TRY (by this time I had lost my faith in the cellular network) to contact everyone again to pass on the message. Back to dialing the phones... Rrrrring, "hello", Dan? is that really you? "Hi Heather!" Okay, Dan, listen carefully, Joe and Deke are on the ground at _________ Bill has flown ahead and found another, alternate location, 20 miles south but hasn't given me the coordinates yet. At this point, Dan interrupts me and says, "hold on, Don is on the radio giving us coordinates", it turns out that Don Lounsbury has been in touch with Bill throughout this morning's flight and knew where Bill had landed. Whew! Finally, somebody knows where Bill is!

But wait! Dan, Does the rest of the ground crew know where the birds are? "Um, no, I don't think so." Can you try to reach Joe & Deke on the aircraft radio and tell them that Bill has found an alternate? "I'll try. If they have their headsets on, they probably heard Don report the location" And if they don't have their headsets on???? "Then I suppose the entire crew will arrive at the new location and Joe, Deke and the birds will still be at the old location?" Right, so try to find out IF Joe & Deke will attempt to fly to the new location OR do they want the rest of the crew to meet them at their current location? "Alright, I'll try."

Too add madness to mayhem, the phone rings again and it's the hosts of yesterdays stopover. They had not realized that I had sent a couple of faxes to the crew yesterday and only discovered them sitting in their fax basket, this morning, AFTER the crew had departed. They were calling from their mobile phone, while driving down the road, attempting to catch up with somebody from the ground crew to deliver the faxes. Too funny! 

So at this point, I'm not sure where anybody is, except that they are all in Georgia, somewhat scattered about, probably still trying to gather at the same location... Where ever that may be? 

Stay tuned.....

Date:October 31, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Ideal migration weather
Activity:Onward and UPward!
Flight Duration:42 miles


The crew departed Carroll County, GA at first light this morning and have just arrived at the next scheduled stopover in Pike County, GA. a distance of 42 miles "as the crane flies."

I've determined they have now covered some 790 miles since departing Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin on Oct. 3rd and have approximately 275 miles remaining before reaching the final destination in Florida.

This is the view from the pilots seat. These three cranes are "surfing" the wake of air, provided by the wing of the ultralight.

Date:October 30, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Flight Duration:70 miles


I attempted to update this page over the weekend from home but unfortunately, I was denied access thru our FTP server. Sorry for the delay.

The team has reached Georgia! Bill reported yesterday that they had flown two legs of the journey, under clear skies and with the assistance of a slight tailwind, they covered 70 miles.

They are currently in Floyd County, GA. No word yet as to whether they will fly today or not.

Joe managed to send me some updates (that I'm sure you've all been waiting for). Enjoy!

Oct 28, 2000: (Heather I have lost track of what day it is but I know it is Saturday and we are somewhere in Tennessee). Its the 28th of October Joe, giggle.

We have been flirting back and forth over the time zone between Central and Eastern and early morning wake up calls invariably elicit a long discussion of our current status. Half the clocks are an hour ahead and the other half are an hour behind and to add madness to the confusion we are approaching daylight savings time. We travel whenever the weather is good, weekends or not and the days are beginning to run together. Our only certainty is that this is October and we are somewhere in Tennessee.

This morning we departed Buck Creek after saying goodbye to Tom and his father Lester. Tom told me that his dad, at 76, is not feeling well. He has been hospitalized lately, awaiting an operation and last week expressed concern to his son that he was going to miss it. Confused Tom thought he was speaking of the operation but Lester assured him that "Hell, I'm not going to die, I'm going to miss the birds!" Tom made arrangements to get him home for a few days and we circled the bird’s overhead both on our arrival and this morning when we left. Thanks to both of them for the hospitality.

Buck Creek sits in the shadow of a high ridge that towers 1500 feet above the surrounding area. In light haze and with predicted tailwinds we took off and began the arduous climb. We had to turn west along the ridge to gain altitude before crossing over the Tennessee Valley.

Most aircraft rates of climb are calculated in the hundreds of feet per minute with ours able to achieve between 750 and 1000. Anything that climbs at less than 250 fpm is considered more of a “stone” than an aircraft, but our birds are only able to accomplish a sustained climb of about 100 feet every couple of minutes. This makes crossing a 1500-foot ridge in only a few miles painful but the birds were up for the challenge. They worked hard and with the wind at our back, as it lifted to pass over the ridge, so did we.

The air at high level was cool and calm and the birds lined up on the wing and began to surf. Soon most stopped panting and settled in to cover ground. After 50 minutes we crossed the Tennessee River and began a descent into Hiawassee State Refuge. It was unfortunate we did not have a location a few miles farther on, as we were at 2500 feet and could have begun a slow descent that would have carried us another 20 miles without undue stress on the birds. This was not the case and we circled several times before a rough touch down in a corn field that was, unfortunately, within sight of several farm buildings. Bill spoke to the manager and while we stayed with the birds he scouted another, more appropriate spot. He contacted the ground crew and redirected them to a private field three miles away.

After the pen was erected we took off with the birds and Bill led us to the new location. We landed on a much smoother surface and the birds were so in need of water we had little trouble getting them into their pen. Our total flight duration was 54 minutes but it was almost 5 hours before the birds were secured.

Oct 27, 2000 By sunrise the fog was light and the winds were finally starting to cooperate. More "cross" than a tailwind, at least they were not holding us back. Deke and I took off for the field and had time to fly around the area before Dan and Rebecca were ready. We avoided landing and after the birds were released, had to fly several circles, in order to pick them up. They seemed to have a better sense of intersection than us and usually after one turn they line up off the wing and are ready to get underway.

We flew directly over the heads of several spectators and media and were soon climbing to 500 feet. The air was calm and cool for a change and we averaged 37 miles per hour for the 52 minutes that the birds were airborne.

Paula Lounsbury circled the field in the Cessna 182 to give us a target and Bill pointed out where the pen should be set up. Deke and I landed at the northeast end of a long runway, in another perfect spot, completely isolated. We walked the birds to a pond before the crew arrived and the birds had a chance to bathe. Once all was secured, we flew back to the hangar area and passed over a beautiful lake and the most spectacular house I have ever seen. It was obviously under construction and I pointed it out to Deke.

We met with the property owner and our host, Tom and learned that the mansion we had admired was his. He build the lake in 1990 and has been working on the house since '95. He was kind enough to give us a tour and the inside was as impressive as the outside. Huge fireplaces, multi-variety hardwood floors everywhere and trim like you would find in a castle. Everything that was not hand crafted wood was stone. Back at the airfield, we marveled at his collection of aircraft and pushed ours into the massive hangar. Again, we have had the good fortune to find perfect habitat for the birds and meet great people who have welcomed us into their homes.

Oct 26, 2000 We had hoped to fly to Buck Creek Ranch this morning but as predicted our head wind was still with us, along with the obsequious early morning fog. I took off from the airport and set the GPS to see if the predictions were true and after only a short flight we stood down for the day.

Oct 25 2000 Parking the aircraft at a different location from where the birds are kept has some advantages. The short flight back gives us an opportunity to assess the conditions before the birds are released. This morning the GPS confirmed the headwinds that the forecasters predicted but the air was calm and cool so we attempted another air pick up. Deke was to lead today and he came in low over the ridge that was actually below the pen but by the time the birds came out and were ready to fly he was too far off and the birds stood around confused by our absence. I was higher up and by chance, in a better position, so I did a fast descending turn and lined up with them as they took off and circled to the west.

We climbed over the ridge and headed on course. If we can, and as a thank you, we like to fly the birds over the spectators gathered by the house and today they must have had a great view. Shortly after take off, Deke moved in to take the lead. He approached from my right and slightly low. As he came closer I could see the birds watching him. We refer to the digital broadcast we use as "music" and as the birds moved between us, he turned his music on and I turned mine off. As more birds moved over to his aircraft, I began a steep climb and crossed over behind him. Some of the birds tried to follow me but realized their efforts were wasted and they formed on Deke's wing.

Once the lead change was complete I began to film the spectacle beside me. The sun was a red ball on the horizon and the mist shrouded the mountains as the aircraft and birds, almost a single unit, drifted south. Our destination was the Jamestown airport and although it was a paved and active field we could not find an alternative in the area. We were resigned to using a less than perfect site just to get us past this mountainous region. Bill flew ahead of us to secure the landing site and was lucky enough to find a large field less than a mile from the airport. He landed first and called the ground crew. Deke and I flew a large circuit and landed in an isolated field a half-mile from the access road.

Once we were on the ground, Bill took off to scout ahead and Deke and I led the birds off to the west. We were only down a few minutes when we realized the entire area was used for horseback riding. We saw many riders on trails but most were at least a half-mile off. Deke left to find the entrance and returned after an hour to report that we had landed at East Fork Stables, a 12,000-acre property open to riders with over 100 miles of riding trails.

He spoke to the owner/president Ed Wiley IV and despite our unannounced arrival we were welcomed. They also assured him that the riders stayed on the trails and none were close to us. By luck, we landed in a paradise for birds, open uplands surrounded by forests. I offered to stay with Deke and help him watch the birds but in a whispered voice he told me the crew did not know where we were. I must have misunderstood and when I walked out to the aircraft and the area where the pen was to be set up, I could not see anyone. I picked a trail and started to walk thinking the crew were waiting for directions. Of the hundred miles of trails I covered at least 5 miles before turning back. I thought I would use the radio on the aircraft but when I turned the last corner, I saw the truck pulling out. The pen was already set up and if I had looked a little harder I could have saved myself a long hike. Once the birds were safely put away for the day, we took off and flew to the Jamestown Airport where the manager, opened the hangar for us free of charge. The East Fork Stable management donated parking spaces for our trailers and that night we had a campfire while we barbequed ribs.

October 24, 2000 The lower field at Holly Gate Farms is bordered by a river and the ever present fog shrouded the pen at sunrise. I had hoped to take off to the south and fly down the valley allowing us distance to gain enough altitude to cross the ridge. Unfortunately, that is where most of the fog gathered,. Instead, we took off north and passed Mike and Sue and friends standing on the cliff by the house. We turned hard to the south and surprisingly the birds stuck with us. We were now over most of the fog and we flew down the valley forcing the birds to climb at a rate that would drain most of their energy. We passed over a magnificent landscape of rivers and forests all hidden in early morning mist.

The air aloft was warmer than the air on the surface and this soon taxed the birds. After 35 minutes, they began to move around in a way we have come to recognize as a desire to land. Bill was flying ahead a spotted a field that looked promising from the air. Again, we landed up hill but the site was more rough that we expected. We dodged rocks and holes but managed to get all the birds and aircraft on the ground without incident. Bill stayed airborne to find the ground crew and Deke held the birds, while I walked out to talk to the owners. Unfortunately, all I found was a large dog and an access road so rutted our truck could not get in. I radioed Bill and he began to look for a more appropriate locations nearby. It took about an hour and a half to find an area, speak to the owners and organize directions for the ground crew. Deke and I spent most of that time clearing rocks off the ridge. We took off down hill and down wind but all the birds followed us the five miles to a very isolated but accessible site.

Bill stayed airborne in order to direct the crew in and must have flown a hundred circles in the sky overhead. Through a long chain of contacts Bill had managed to get permission to use a field owned by Todd and Robin Martin. They live in a new home at the end of a winding country road that meanders through beautiful Kentucky countryside. Robin told me it was Todd's ancestral home and we can see why he had to return. Despite our surprise arrival, they were very hospitable. Usually, when the ground crew arrives, Deke and I are busy tending birds at some remote end of the property but I have often wondered what the owners think when the trucks, trailers and motor homes start to roll in.

The field in which we landed was high on a ridge and we managed to walk the birds to a pond. We had to construct the pen at the entrance to the field because everything else was down hill and the grade was so steep we were afraid we would not get the truck back out. Once completed, the pen had a view of rolling fields of pasture and forests with nothing human visible. It was out of site and ear shot from our base camp and just the kind of location we hoped to find. There was a landing strip with real pavement just 4 miles to the north so we flew the aircraft out and tied them down for the night.

It took us 7 hours to cover 22 miles and tomorrow it is predicted to be hotter. Slowly but surely, we are scratching our way south.

Oct 23, 2000: Naturally, we awoke to ground fog but fortunately, the birds were penned high on a hill and we were able to get an early start. To avoid using the rough field, we tried an an "air pick-up." In other words; we fly low and slow past the pen, while Dan and Rebecca release the birds. It is difficult to predict how long it will take the birds to leave the pen and take off so it is not surprising that we misjudged the timing. I circled back and on the second pass the birds intersected us and we turned on course.

Our lack of fog did not mean there was any less moisture in the air and this fact became evident when the birds began to pant after only 15 minutes of flight. As well, early morning turbulence kept my wing moving and robbed them of their normal free ride. After 40 minutes #8 began to fall behind. In the past, I would have slowed to let it catch up but we have found that this only breaks up the formation. Instead, Deke moved in to pick it up and in doing so he descended 100 feet below me. Several other birds used the descent to take a breather and glided down to his level. Eventually he had 5 birds formed on his wing and seven were on mine.

They seemed to find their second wind and lacking an alternative site we nursed them on to Holly Gate Farms, our next stopover. By the time we arrived at 1 hour and 13 minutes later, the birds were obviously tired.

Mike and Sue own a beautiful property. Their home is built on a cliff and overlooks their 3,000 ft. runway. On either side are high ridges covered in trees the colour of fire. We had to make three circuits in order to lose enough altitude to land and the birds followed us in tighter and tighter turns until we touched down at the south end. We walked the birds to a shallow river and let them bathe while the crew arrived to set up the pen. After we move the birds into the pen a truck drove by along the river road but stopped when I ran through the water waving my arms. Because of the visual barrier the birds’ view of the truck was obstructed and the only violation of the protocol was the sound of the trucks diesel engine. The driver cooperated by waiting until we moved the birds several hundred yards away before he moved on. This was the same type of cooperation we received from Mike and Sue not to mention hook-ups for our trailer, the offer of accommodation for our crew and a dinner suited for royalty.

Oct 22, 2000: I honestly believe that Anna and Charles Holderman and family were sad to see us go. We have been here three days and learned all about harvesting tobacco but despite the beautiful surrounding and hospitality it is time to move on. The morning dawned foggy but it was more of a haze than the solid white fog we have been seeing. Our hope was to try to make "Holly Gate" which was 56 miles to the south but our departure was delayed until after 10 AM.

As the sun burned off the mist, it also started the thermals moving and the price we paid for waiting was a bumpy ride. Shortly after take off, it was evident that the birds were having a tough time. The air was so warm and laden with moisture that they began to pant. Many of them quickly fell behind and I was faced with the problem of slowing enough for the stragglers to catch up yet flying too slow for the lead birds. If this happens they begin to pass the aircraft and cut back and forth coming dangerously close to the wires the support the wing. After only 30 minutes the flock began to show signs of fatigue and #8 started a descent the indicated it had enough.

As fortune would have it, we were within a mile of a site Bill had mapped the day before. Deke moved in to pick up the exhausted bird as we turned north to begin a long, final approach into M & M ranch, owned by Mike and Monica, in Kentucky. I increased my descent rate in order to move away from the birds.

Close to the ground the air can be rough, so to avoid the possibility of hitting birds, we lose altitude faster that they can. Once we are on the ground the birds will circle a number of times but eventually land beside us. This portion of Kentucky is very hilly and the field we selected was a pasture. We made our landing rolling up-hill, allowing us to slow the aircraft before touching down. We use the remaining momentum to roll onto the top of the ridge and thus reducing the chance of damage from the rough surface.

Deke walked the birds to a pond at the north end of the field, while Bill spoke to our new hosts who were busy smoking ribs for guests they were expecting that evening. After the birds were safely penned, we flew the aircraft down to a lower field were the trailers were parked. We spent the next hour asking the local hunters to avoid the area were the birds were housed and many were very interested in our project. Mike & Monica graciously added us to their guest list and we enjoyed an evening of socializing.

Date:October 27, 2000-3pm
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Warm & Sunny
Activity:The "Stars" of this migration
Flight Duration:N/A


I thought you may be interested in finally meeting the real stars of this years migration. So with out further adieu... Introducing "The Flock"!

This picture comes to us courtesy of Barry Hartup, DVM, PhD; Director of Veterinary Services at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

This is a great photo in that you can see the cranes up close and you can also see what the temporary pen that I keep referring to looks like. Notice that on the left side the pen is open-fencing, which allows the birds a view of a "natural" vista. On the right side, it is constructed using Camouflage canvas, which acts as a visual barrier to anything "human" that may be in the area, such as a building or possibly vehicles off in the distance.

Notice the crane in the top left of the photo? He is mid-air in one of the famous leaps that cranes are noted for. Often, during courtship rituals, a bonded pair of adult cranes will perform an intricate "dance", where one partner will leap high into the air with spread wings then land gracefully and bow its long neck to the other partner.

Date:October 27, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Activity:Another "leg" accomplished!
Flight Duration::52 min.


At 9:30am, Bill called on his new cell phone to say that they had flown in "soupy" conditions with a slight tailwind this morning and have arrived in Cumberland County, TN. The cranes are doing "very well" according to Joe, who promises he will send me some updates today. His are much more eloquent than mine but then, he is right there, in the action.

The total distance covered during this mornings flight was 27.8 n miles. The flight team is now waiting for the ground team to arrive and set up the temporary pen to house the birds.

It is tradition for Bill Lishman to lose at least one cellular phone during migration trips such as this one. In keeping with this tradition...If anyone happens to find a Qualcom cell phone while out walking through the rolling hills of southern Kentucky, would they please use it to call me and I'll make arrangements to have it sent here to Ontario? Thanks!

Date:October 26, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Activity:Down for the day
Flight Duration:Zero


Bill reports that the team is staying put for today. Joe lifted off this morning to "test" the flying conditions and returned, reporting to the others that it was too rough to safely fly today. Yesterday afternoon, Bill flew the next leg to scout it out and stated there was nothing but forest between their current location and the next landing site, which means that IF the crew had to land in an emergency situation there are absolutely no suitable, alternate landing sites.

If in doubt, don't go up!

Date:October 25, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Weather:Cool and clear
Activity:Reaching Tennessee!
Flight Duration:25 N miles.


They've reached Tennessee! They crew departed their last Kentucky location under clear skies early this morning and after a 45 minute flight covering 25 miles, landed safely with the cranes in Fentress County, TN.

According to my calculations, they have covered 625 statute miles to date, which means they have officially made the halfway point of this long journey.

1:00pm-Joe reports in that they departed Kentucky at 8:12am and landed in Tennessee at 8:54am.  It was a pleasant flight with he and Deke switching leads at about the halfway mark.

This gorgeous picture was captured 3 days ago while the team led the birds over the wonderful Kentucky countryside in the early morning, golden sunlight.

Date:October 24, 2000 - 11:00am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Activity:Safe & Sound, on the ground.
Flight Duration:17.3 N miles covered.


I've just heard from Bill that they attempted to reach the next location in TN but had to land in a remote field a bit short of their goal. Bill wanted me to alert the ground crew of their location but to also advise them that he would be airborne again to scout out an alternate landing spot.

Update to the update: 11:18am

Bill just called and gave the coordinates of their "alternate" location. The birds and pilots are safely on the ground and the road crew is enroute to join them. I'll provide more information once the birds are in their pen and I hear from the crew but I have been able to determine they are still in Kentucky, approximately 2.3 nautical miles from the Tennessee State line.

Date:October 24, 2000 - 9:30am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Not sure?
Activity:Waiting & Wondering...
Flight Duration:N/A


I'm baaaaaack. I'm sure you've all been wondering WHERE the migration team currently is. I thought I'd post a brief update right away, then as time allows, and I wade thru the 100+ emails that arrived during my absence, I would post more a little later.

This is what I know: As of yesterday, Oct. 23rd, the team had made it to Adair County, Kentucky, which is the final stop in the Bluegrass state. I have not heard yet if the weather is "fly-able" this morning or not but if it was/is then the next landing location will be in Tennessee. I'll update as soon as I hear anything.

I had a fantastic time in Mission, Texas over the weekend and just arrived home late yesterday to much cooler temps. The butterfly's at the festival were plentiful and I saw many new species to include on my life list. The birding was AMAZING! Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Vermillion Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee's, birds that I would never see here in Ontario. I was even fortunate enough to witness a pair of Chachalaca's arguing over a piece of banana!

We attended seminars conducted by several authorities on birding and butterfly's such as: Paul Opler, John Acorn the Nature Nut, John & Gloria Tveten, Larry Ditto a superb wildlife photographer and Mike Quinn from the Austin Butterfly forum. It was a wonderful experience to actually go out in the field with these "experts" and to learn from them.

Enough about that... I did receive several email updates from Bill and Joe when I returned so read on...

Oct 20, 2000;

Head-winds were predicted again for today but only above 3000 feet. The air was calm so we planned to stay low and make as much distance as possible. We took off to the south and turned east immediately to avoid power lines. Once on course, the GPS told us our goals were a little optimistic.

Our destination was only 56 miles but over 2 hours away if we kept the birds down at treetop level. We knew the air that low would become rough before long and moving up would only slow our progress. Also the air was warm and that makes it difficult for the birds to cool themselves. After only a few minutes most were panting. We discussed alternatives and twenty minutes out, we began to search for possible landing areas. This is difficult to accomplish especially while we are leading the birds.

We must find an isolated area smooth enough for the small aircraft wheels and yet free of cattle and other livestock. I spotted a hilltop that had been cultivated and looked smooth. I asked Deke to do a low pass and check it out while I circled with the birds. Describing one field, among hundreds, over a radio is less than decisive and my directions failed to pin point the exact location I had in mind.

Deke and Bill checked out several but after three circuits, we managed nothing more than to stampede the cattle and confuse the birds. I headed back on course thinking we must have already worn out our welcome in this neighborhood but ahead of us loomed more hills and less likelihood of success. Don Lounsbury circled overhead, reporting the latest results of our constantly changing minds to the ground crew. At this point we were 24 minutes out and the pen was mostly dismantled. We decided it would be best for the birds to give up our small advance and return to the known security of the Holderman's.

While Don advised the crew to resurrect the pen they had just dismantled, we turned north and found we were only 7 minutes out. In a mad scramble, the ground crew collected all things "human" and quickly moved the truck and trailer out of sight. Dan grabbed a costume, in time to be waiting in the middle of the field for our arrival and before long the birds were out of hearing range and the pen was again ready for them.

It seems we are now paying dearly for the tail winds we enjoyed earlier. It is now day 17 and we predicted this trip would take 32 days. Unfortunately, we are not yet halfway, but then again ours is a human schedule, based on missed families and costs... It is not one that applies to birds.

Oct 19, 2000:

Although early fog was predicted, the Timmons property is high enough for it not to be an issue. Deke and I taxied to the south end and once the birds were released, we took off to the north.

We flew the length of the runway and over a small crowd of friends and media before turning south. Bill had scouted ahead the day before and found an interim stop at a farm outside of Springfield Kentucky. The trip was 34 miles but took an hour and a half in slight headwinds. The air was very smooth but the slow passage of county beneath us was discouraging and I think even the birds wondered at the logic of flying up-stream.

We passed over fields of horses and miles of white rail fence into a landscape of rolling hills and hardwood forests until 1 hour and 21 minutes later we circled the home of Anna and Charles Holderman. Bill led the birds across the field and down into the valley away from the aircraft and any sign of humans.

After securing the aircraft, Deke followed them and as he walked down the steep grade Bill glanced up to watch him approaching. The extra clothing under Deke's costume and the gait required to negotiate the hill, reminded Bill of a Tele-tubby out for a stroll in the country.

The Holderman's have lived here since the fifties and they area as kind and gentle as the Kentucky hills. We met their family who live on the adjoining property and were given a tour of their small tobacco harvesting operation.

Oct 13 2000:

We are scientists conducting a scientific study. This false bravado was presented only to prove we are not superstitious and despite the reputation of today's date, we bid our hosts goodbye and took off shortly after sunrise.

There are times when I wish a could see things from a different perspective. This morning was one of those times but I would not have given up my seat for the any other. Due to the heavy rains, the runway was still very wet. In fact we placed our pen at the wet end to take advantage of this, hoping it would help teach the birds to water-roost. All of this moisture also meant we had patchy ground fog that was mostly centered around the pen.

Deke and Bill took off first from the west end and as I taxied down to the pen, I passed through an area that was very thick with fog. Where the birds were kept the visibility was up to around 50 feet but when I turned around and prepared to lead the birds west, we faced a solid wall of white.

Both sides of the runway were lined with high corn and the fog sat in the middle like a dollop of whipped cream. Only 20 feet overhead the air was clear and the only threat the fog posed was the possibility of misty goggles and the reaction it might cause the birds.

As I gave Dan and Rebecca the thumbs up signal they released the birds. We were airborne and as we passed through the fog-cloud, the sight from the other side must have been inspiring. The rising sun backlit the fog in a red glow and we burst through at 10 feet off the ground with the birds in order off the right wing, we passed over the heads of our new friends and turned south.

The fog over the White River was higher and thicker and we had to turn east while we gained enough altitude to cross over. We made our way up valleys and over ridges until we leveled at 1000 feet in smooth air. Our tail wind was gone and we only averaged 27 miles per hour. We lifted off at 7:06 AM and the birds landed at 7:54 so it took us 48 minutes to cover 32 miles including a circuit or two around the field before the touch down.

At our highest level, I was able to watch the birds change lead a number of times. Number 4 always tries to steal the front position preferring to fly within inches of the wing tip. He is not aggressive enough to push his way in but has now discovered a new method of procuring the point. He speeds up and flies under the wing, very close to the cockpit as he passes the aircraft. He climbs up to fly on the pillow of air that is created in front of the wing and in a slow, gentle drift he slides down to the wing tip placing himself in front of the lead bird who has no choice but to take up the second position. This is ingenious and we applaud his initiative but it is also dangerous. Above the wing are a number of wires, critical to the structure of the aircraft, that can act as a trap for a bird that has become too cocky. I cringe every time he passes in front of me and hold my breath as he slides past the threat, getting away with it one more time. So when he is safely out at the tip, riding his favorite air, I hit him with the wing just hard enough to spoil his fun.

We circled to the south before we landed at Cherry Hill owned by Orville and Olivia Toler. On final approach, we passed over the heads of a small crowd gathered to witness our arrival and touched down at the far end of the runway out of sight and ear-shot of anything human.

Deke walked the birds to the north and when the crew arrived Dan relieved him. Once the pen was build we moved the aircraft away which caused the birds to get overly excited and they took off almost hitting some low power lines. Once they were safely in their pen, we retreated to the hospitality of Olivia Toler and her friends. As it turned out, we were her guests for the next three days and she could not have been more gracious. She and her friends fed and entertained us over the weekend and we enjoyed the countryside. Brown County shines at this time of year, outrageous colors, endless pristine forests, winding roads through quaint villages and people who are the heart and soul of the country.

Date:October 18, 2000 - 11:15am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Not sure?
Activity:Early fog lifted
Flight Duration:N/A


Just heard from Richard that the crew lifted off about 10 minutes ago to head to the first stop in Kentucky

I am departing for my own little migration trip to Mission, Texas in approximately 15 minutes. I will be attending the annual Mission Butterfly Festival and plan on enjoying some of the great birding in the Rio Grand Valley and maybe, just maybe, see some Whooping cranes at Aransas. I wanted to let everyone know that has been following along so that nobody is alarmed if there are no updates to this page over the next few days. I will return on Tuesday and so too, will the updates.

In the meantime, we have received numerous emails from some great people over the past couple of weeks and I thought it might be nice to include some comments from these, here in this section. Your kind comments mean a lot to all of us here as I'm certain they do to the crew as well.

Read on:

Mrs. G.G. writes: I am following your adventures with great interest. We live adjacent the Chassahowitzka preserve and we hail, originally, from the Minn.-Wisc. area. This is such an exciting story! We have several cranes that winter near our golf course and I think it would be wonderful to bring a whole colony of them to this area....not to mention the whoopers. Many thanks for the work you are doing and for sharing it with us.

The Boyer family writes: Yesterday, October 11th, I saw OM in the sky over Indiana, what a beautiful sight. OM is doing some great work, keep up the effort. Got to meet Mr. Lishman at Deford Airport in Carroll County - a fine gentleman. He experienced an "engine-out" (Cold Seizure) and made a beautiful no power landing and was able to get restarted and continue his flight. I hope that engine stays strong and doesn't cause him any trouble on the way to Florida. It was a pleasure to meet Mr. Lishman and Mr. Duff and to see Operation Migration come over Indiana.

And from Sherlie: I wanted to tell you how much I am enjoying following the crane migration and reading the diary. It is magnificent... Thank you for sharing it with us."

Thought you'd like to know I've been tracking your progress since Oct. 3. from down in Meraux, Louisiana - down below New Orleans. I'm a licensed private pilot and bird lover... so your trek is the best of both worlds to me. Good luck, I'll be following along on the internet as well as in sprit. Larry

Kathie writes: I am a science teacher at Almond-Bancroft Middle School in Almondd (central) Wis. I have introduced my students to your website and they are very interested and excited about the project. One question - was the "Fly Away Home" movie based on your experiences with leading birds on migratory sojourns with an unltralight. How cool!!!! My students were wondering. Thanks for making this information available to the public. What a great program!!! *ed. Note: Yes, Kathie, your students get a gold star for making the connection between Fly Away Home and our project. FAH was based on Bill Lishman's first flights with Canada Geese.

Jerry adds; I have been following the Sandhill Crane migration experiment with interest for the last week. The complicated logistics would be enough to worry about, so I doubly appreciate the update reports from headquarters, base camps and pilots. Even though I am only connected with this through the internet, I still find it very interesting. You must be very thrilled and excited with the day to day activities. *ed. Note: There is never a dull moment around here.

From the Citrus County Audubon Society: "Hi Heather, Bill, Joe and all the crew at Operation migration... Thanks for the great efforts and for the daily reports on the Sandhill Migration project. It is great to watch this exciting program unfold. We start each day with a check-in to the OM website to see how things are going. Keep up the good work... The prayers from all of us in Citrus County Florida are with you."

This note from Joanne Sprague, migration team member Dan's, wife: "Hi Heather! I can't tell you how pleased I am that you're documenting the team's daily flights in the field journal. Since he's "migrating," I'm not talking with Dan nearly as often as before, so it's really great that I have another way of keeping tabs on him and the project. He was really surprised last night when he called and I already knew about his day! So, thanks!" ed Note: you're very welcome, anything to help a wife keep up with her husband, especially one she's not seen in months. You're the best Joanne!

And from Sharon Wilkening, the Postmaster of West Brooklyn, IL., who actually witnessed the flight entourage: "It was wonderful. The only bad thing was that after waiting for almost 50 minutes in the COLD morning air at the end of Sue's driveway I finally saw some activity by the barns in the semi-light. One ultralight took off and circled once or twice and I tried to video it with my camcorder only to find out that the battery I had thought was fine, could not hold a charge. I managed to get a few seconds of the beginning of the flight and then just gave up on the camcorder and grabbed my binoculars so I could enjoy seeing them pass in front of me only about 1000 feet away. The sun had not yet broken the horizon and the sky had a golden glow with the birds and aircraft dark silhouettes against it. It was a moment to hold ones breath. When I got home from work today, I told my family what had happened but they all wanted to see what I had on tape. It was a poor substitute for what I had seen with my own eyes but the few seconds I had of the flight gave everyone a feeling of what I had witnessed. I am so happy to have been involved in your experience even in my miniscule moment of glory. Thank you all for your determination and hard work to try to make this happen."

Betsy from WI says: "WOW! First stop on my computer every morning - You're doing a great job of keeping us posted. And it looks like the flying team is doing a great job too! I'm wishing for Blue skies and a steady tailwind for the remainder of the flight."

And finally, from Dave our "silo climber" of a few days ago: "I suppose shortly after departure from Benoit's Joe and or Deke saw me, "the enterprising person on the grain bin" and instructed the rest of the crew to request a copy of the video I was shooting, while being buzzed by a couple of ultralights and a dozen cranes. I started editing tonight, and will finish when time allows. As I am a pilot and not a videographer the quality of the film is not tremendous, but the content is for me, spectacular. Ed Note: Too funny! I can't imagine what must have been going through your mind when you were "buzzed" by this strange mix of man/aircraft AND bird!?

Date:October 17, 2000 - 9:15am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Thick Fog
Activity:hurry up and wait
Flight Duration:N/A


Joe Duff just called to report that they crew is still in Scott County, IN, waiting for yet another fog to lift. Joe has been leading the birds with Deke Clark flying "chase" position since they departed from Necedah, WI. on October 3rd. Yesterday, he was not feeling well so he asked Richard Van Heuvelen to fly "chase" while Deke flew "lead" and Joe drove one of the many ground vehicles.

Richard gladly jumped into the pilot seat and (knowing him) had a blast, finally getting off the road and into the air where he is happiest.

IF the fog lifts later this morning the team is hoping to fly into Oldham County, Kentucky

I thought some of you may be interesting in seeing the costume that the pilots and handlers wear while in the company of the cranes. The costume is designed to mask the human form. Head, face and hands are all covered while wearing the costume. The baggy gray fabric extends to below the knee so that "legs" cannot be distinguished. Imagine wearing this garb during the summer heat that Wisconsin is known for.... Imagine trying to fly an ultralight dressed like this.... Don't forget! no talking, sneezing, coughing. Nothing "human."

The only voices they have heard are those of other Sandhill cranes, played to them through a hand-held CD player or loudspeakers mounted on the ultralights.

Date:October 16, 2000 - 3:30pm EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:overcast, low ceiling
Activity:1/2 of a "leg" accomplished
Flight Duration:N/A


When the fog of this morning finally lifted the crew departed the Toler residence and the great folks that had played hosts since last Friday. They had planned on flying to a location just slightly NE of Louisville, KY but it turned out the air aloft was "trashy" and they landed approx. 26 miles short of their goal.

The crew and the cranes are safely on the ground now in Scott County, IN.

Date:October 16, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray
Weather:Fogged in
Activity:Waiting for the fog to lift
Flight Duration:N/A


Bill Lishman reports that although the air is calm, they are socked in with a heavy fog. I suppose they could fly, IF they could SEE anything.

Will update if the fog lifts.

Date:October 14, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Activity:Flight updates - Oct. 12


Our luck could not last forever and the wind that had until now pushed us along, began to hold us back. We hoped to make Bluebird field today but once airborne; the GPS told us that although it was only 47 miles to the south, it would take us 2 hours to get there.

At low levels, the wind was from the south and we could only make 22 to 25 mph. We climbed to 800 feet and our speed improved marginally. Apart from that the air was smooth, the birds were attentive and most of the flight was spent studying the flying order. At one point, bird #4 dropped down below the wing and moved close to the cockpit. I flew along with this bird not more than 3 feet from me. Worried that his long legs would get caught in something, I tried to shoe him away. With my fingers extended I could feel his primary feathers touch me with each beat.

After 1 hour and 48 minutes, we circled the home of Sarah and Fran Balzer and landed on their grass strip. Standing water from a recent 6-inch rainfall covered the east end of the runway and we had to walk the birds off into the flooded area. After almost 2 hours in the air, standing in ankle deep, cold water was not our first choice of activities.

During this time, a curious neighbor drove his pick up truck out to greet us, probably wondering what we were doing, in the middle of a field, dressed in costumes with 12 cranes. I noticed him approaching and ran to intersect him. The birds all moved closer to Deke as I spoke to the driver. Once he understood, he left the area and I measured how close he had come at 150 yards.

I often wonder what lessons the birds learn from an encounter such as this. Perhaps they think I am a hero, charging at an approaching intruder and after a brief encounter, driving him off, despite the fact that he was five times my size…. Or maybe they just think that when I am wearing a costume, I run funny?

Date:October 14, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Activity:Flight updates - Oct. 11


We are always amazed at the generosity of aviators. No matter where we land the owners open their doors and welcome us in. From hangar space for the aircraft to electrical hook ups for the motor homes; no request is too much and despite their busy schedules they often take on the arduous task of preparing dinner for all 12 of our crew.

The Benoit’s are people like this and after only an hour on the ground our aircraft were safely inside, tucked under the wings of much larger crop dusters and we were off to enjoy lunch as their guests. Thanks to the hangar space, frost was not a problem the next morning and we got an early start.

Many reporters and photographers had begun to gather before sunrise and the scene of us pulling on baggy costumes over flying helmets was too much for them to resist. We felt like celebrities as the flashes went off in the pre-dawn light. Deke and I taxied down the runway and out of sight over a knoll to the pen. It must have been a quite a sight. First the waiting audience could only hear the digital crane calls that we broadcast, next came the sound of our engines as the birds were released, then we cleared the ridge only 300 feet away, barely airborne, birds and aircraft in perfect order.

We gained altitude and passed over their heads. Most of the spectators stood quietly close to the building so as to not pose a threat but one enterprising person had climbed a low silo and aircraft and birds passed just over his head before turning south and onto our heading.

After take off, several birds moved over toward Deke's aircraft and when he tried to pass them back to me, they all moved back to him. We refer to the digital recording we use as music and I switched mine off as he turned his on to further encourage the transfer. We slowly climbed to 1900 feet and took advantage of a smooth tailwind that had been following us for three straight days. Although we were still only flying at 35 mph the mass of air in which we were doing it was also moving south. The combined speeds added up to 55 mph over the ground and we cruised along, happily covering the longest distance.

Bill flew ahead as we approached Deford field and landed in time to ask the collection of friends and reporters to move back. Deke led the birds in to one of the perfect landings that we are becoming accustomed to now that the migration is progressing. We taxied to the far end of the runway and Deke stayed with the birds while I walked the area, looking for a secluded spot to lead the cranes to while awaiting the ground crews arrival. Unfortunately, there was not a good spot to be found. Francis Deford owns a beautiful property, however, its setting was a little too “urban” for the needs of our flock.

We checked the GPS and had a whispered discussion about how tired we thought the birds were before deciding to push on. The air was still very calm and we counted on our benevolent tailwind as we set course for the next location 27 miles south.

I took off first and positioned myself to the north to act as chase. Deke took off to the south with the birds and started a long, slow climb. Bill followed us but his engine quit on take off, forcing him to perform an engine-out landing. Once safely on the ground the engine seemed to work fine so after an extensive check and discussion with an aircraft mechanic who, by chance, had turned out to watch, Bill took off to chase us.

By the time he caught us we were cruising at 1500 feet and making 54 mph, with only 14 miles to go. We decided to avoid the runway at Larsh's Airpark and chose instead to land in a recently harvested Soya bean field to the north. This area was separated from the house by high corn, providing a perfect isolated spot to hold the birds until the ground crew arrived. After the pen was set up in another bean field, we used the aircraft to lead the birds over. As luck would have it, this left the runway free, allowing some recreational flying that evening. This was the longest flight the birds have ever accomplished at 90 miles in 1 hour and 46 minutes.

Date:October 14, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Activity:Flight updates - Oct. 10


Butler Hill marks a turn in our course as we head more east. As if by intention the wind has backed and is blowing in the perfect direction. The heaviest frost yet is cause for concern but the crew has it figured out; the engines of three aircraft are started and as they warm up, the wings are sprayed down with de-icer fluid.

Again Deke's radio became staticy shortly after take off. When the birds were released they flew off to the west and before I knew it, I had out paced them. Deke moved in to pick them up but couldn’t see them above his wing. I did a 360-degree turn to move in from the rear but lost sight of them in the early morning haze. Both Deke and I dropped down so we can look up at them silhouetted against a brightening sky.

Without guidance, they had circled back and we soon spotted them. I moved in and took the lead position, turning slowly onto our heading. We used the raising air to help push the birds up and after twenty minutes, leveled out at 2000 feet. This was the highest the birds had ever been but they didn't seem to notice and in the smooth air they settled in for the longest flight to date.

The GPS unit worked well and told us our course was 5 degrees south of the rising sun that was sending streaks of light over a sea of corn. There is a certain “mood” to migration that we have noticed in all our previous studies. The flock seems more attentive and alert and their endurance improves dramatically. They seem almost as excited, as we are to be on our way. Staring into the sun, Don Lounsbury, flying his Cessna 182 had difficulty seeing us. He inadvertently cruised 500 feet over our heads. I would not have even noticed except the birds, with their incredible vision, perceived him as a threat and attempted to hide under my wing.

Once he moved off to the south, they reformed on the wing and stayed there until we started our descent into Steve Benoit's field east of Kankakee, Illinois. We landed at 8:23 am; one hour and 29 minutes after lift-off. We had covered more that 83 miles with a strong tailwind. So far, our migration has been blessed and we have come more than 280 miles.

Date:October 14, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Activity:Flight Reports - Oct. 9


A heavy layer of frost again delayed our departure but the cold temperature made for perfect flying weather for birds. Surprisingly, most of our equipment seemed to function properly except Deke’s radio which developed severe static the moment we lifted off. Apart for poor communication our departure went as planned and we were soon on heading for Butler Hill.

It took about 5 miles to climb to an altitude where the air was smooth and with a steady tailwind we had a ground speed of over fifty miles and hour. We stopped our climb at 1800 feet and settled into the business of covering ground. The birds found their cadence and all began to surf on the wake of the aircraft. For long periods they hardly flapped their wings and I finally had the time to study their order.

Birds #4 and #5 were the first to learn to fly with the aircraft early in the season and have been dedicated followers ever since. Even in early training session when we would fly very low over the field, most of the birds would drop out to land but 4 and 5 would stick with us for that final circuit. I have often joked that they would probably follow us through a loop if we had the nerve to try it.

Now high above the cornfields of Illinois, it is these two birds that most often lead the flock, flying closest to the wing tip. Number 5 is one of our smallest birds but she still prefers the "point position." Not aggressive enough to force her way in, she flies beside the leader and waits for the opportunity to take over. I watched her for several minutes and then accelerated quickly to creating a 3-foot space between the end of the wing and the bird that had held the lead for most of this flight. Number 5 saw her chance and slipped into the lead position quickly, finding the perfect ride only 6 inches from the wing tip.

I have often noticed a gap further back in the flight order and today I realized that it is created by number 11. Even when this bird leads, it prefers to fly some 20-feet back. I am now confident that I can use the space in the formation to identify number 11.

In only an hour and ten minutes we started our descent into Butler Hill. We did a long sweeping turn from the east and land at the north end of the field, away from the houses and barn. Within an hour the crew arrived and while Dan kept the birds out of sight, the pen was assembled. Ray and Susan were gracious hosts and despite the pressures of harvesting 2500 acres they still managed to feed our entire crew.

Date:October 13, 2000 - 11:20am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Activity:Another leg completed
Flight Duration:~50 minutes


Whew! sorry for the delay in the update but it seems my computer is superstitious and felt that it should crash this morning (Friday the 13th) just to show me who is in charge around here. After reinstalling Windows, it appears to be cooperating.

I heard from Bill at 9am CST that they had indeed flown another leg of the route this morning. After a 50 minute flight, fighting a headwind all the way, they have arrived in Brown County, Indiana.

With the hosts of this landing strip planning a pot-luck gathering tonight for the crew and neighbors, I'm fairly certain they will not be going anywhere until tomorrow morning, if the weather holds. I can also say with certainty when they do depart, the ultralights will not be as light as they were today. They will have the added burden of a few extra pounds of home cooking on board.

Date:October 12, 2000 - 10:10am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:sunny, bright
Activity:Arrival in Morgan Co. IN.
Flight Duration:1:47


At 9am CST the flight crew landed in Morgan County, Indiana. Bill reports the time it took to cover the 43.1 miles from the previous location to be 1 hour and 47 minutes. To give you an idea of the effect a headwind can have; yesterday morning the flight lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes and they covered 85 miles.

The birds performed beautifully, flying in a long line off of Joe's right wingtip. While speaking briefly with Joe yesterday he remarked to me "this is the best flock of cranes we've ever had. I feel they would follow us anywhere we ask them to." Could the reason for this be that for the first time, we are actually communicating with the cranes in their own language?

Dr. Bernhard Wessling, in Ammersbek, Germany, has for the past several years been traveling the world recording the vocalizations of several species of cranes. After digitally analyzing the calls he has been able to distinguish what each unique call is "saying". Dr. Wessling provided this project with copies of these various calls in CD form and further, has provided the necessary P.A. system which is mounted on the frame of the ultralight aircraft. We are grateful to Bernhard for now allowing us to speak "Crane-glish"

In past studies the way the handlers and pilots would communicate with the cranes was to make a "Brrrrpppp" noise. Looking back I wonder if they thought we just had a bad case of indigestion?

Date:October 12, 2000 - 9:35am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:Clear, Headwind
Activity:Onward to next location
Flight Duration:Will update as soon as I have details


Well it seems that the tailwind that the flight crew has been benefiting from has turned around and is now a headwind... Something that ultralight pilots don't enjoy. Particularly Ultralight pilots that are leading cranes south to Florida.

The crew had every intention today of skipping another location, unfortunately thanks to this headwind that will not be possible, so they are currently flying another short leg of this long journey. This leg will take the cranes into Morgan County, Indiana.

The should arrive at this location shortly and I'll update as soon as I know the details

Date:October 11, 2000 - 11:15am EST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:Continues to be ideal
Activity:Onward & UPward!
Flight Duration:~1:45


Just heard that the air crew has landed in Clinton County, IN and is awaiting the arrival of the ground crew and the temporary pen. A total of 85 nautical miles flown today!

Date:October 11, 2000, 8:15am CST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Activity:Goodbye Illinois, Hello Indiana!
Flight Duration:1 hour 15 minutes


Bill reports that they have landed at the first scheduled stop in Indiana as of 8:10am, however, the birds are not fatigued and the weather is cooperative so they are going to head on to the next selected location further south.

After scrambling madly and dialing 7 cell phone numbers, I've finally alerted the entire road crew to continue on the the next location. I'll update as soon as I hear anything.

Date:October 10, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill Crane
Activity:Morning Flight
Flight Duration:1 hour & 30 minutes!


I just received a call from Bill who reports that the weather was perfect for flying this morning. The crew departed from West Brooklyn, IL at sunrise and were even able to bypass another scheduled stop. They flew for 1 1/2 hours today, again proving that the endurance of the cranes is increasing with each flight.

The distance they covered today was 83 nautical miles and they are now safely on the ground near Kankakee.

I've received quite a few email requests from people asking for more detailed information regarding the locations of each stop. The reason I cannot provide exact location details is because this flock of cranes was raised using a strict costume rearing protocol. As such, they have never seen nor heard a human. The crew has gone to great lengths to ensure that the birds do not have an opportunity to see people. This will greatly help them to remain as wild as possible yet still willing to follow the ultralight aircraft.

Date:October 10, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - Report from Oct. 7
Bird Species:Sandhill Crane
Weather:Cold & Calm
Activity:Morning flight to Stop #3
Flight Duration:~30 minutes


The forecast called for early morning winds to be 10-15 knots, increasing by 9 or 10 AM. With this expectation in mind the crew slept a little sounder thinking we would be imposing on the Dana's for one more day. But by sunrise the air was still we prepared for a departure. Maybe it was the incredible hospitality of our hosts or our reluctance to leave this beautiful spot but one problem after another delayed our lift off. A thick layer of frost began to form on the wings shortly after the sun came up and 2 gallons of de-icing fluid were needed to clear it. Deke's radio battery gave up in the extreme temperature and my propeller, although working the night before, would only allow the engine to produce half power. Again my GPS unit suffered from the cold and I could not read the screen. Don and Paula Lounsbury could not start their Cessna and had to stay behind in order to charge their battery. Bill took off first and circled to the north. Dan and Rebecca released the birds and we were airborne by 7:28. Despite the ample use of antifreeze the frost on Deke's wing began to reform. Unfortunately, it didn't become apparent until the birds were following me down the runway. Again my prop lost its adjustment and I had only half power.

Just to the south a beautiful ridge runs east and west and I had to fly parallel to it until I gained enough altitude to cross over. Several birds dropped behind and I turned east hoping they could intercept me. By this time the winds had started to pick up and Deke had climbed high out of the low level turbulence while he waited for the frost to clear off his wing allowing him to fly slow enough to take the lead. I kept my course getting bumped over the ridge and turned around in the seat looking for the slower birds. Deke descended to pick up the stragglers but still he was hampered by the remnants of frost and could not slow down enough for the birds to stay with him. He had to make several 180 degree turns but still managed to make some headway.

Meanwhile, I set course for Blue Mound State Park which can be seen for miles and where our over flight was expected by a crowd of well wishers who had gathered there at sunrise. I managed to gain some altitude and eventually reached 2000 feet where the air was smooth but very cold. I tried repeatedly to get my GPS to work and finally removed my glove in order to extricate it from the mount and stuff it in my coat, hoping the warmth from my body would help to warm it.

During this entire episode Bill was frantically trying to fly chase for Deke and keep tabs on his birds. He was the possessor of the only functioning GPS unit, so he was also trying to describe to me where the next site could be found. By this time Deke and I were about 5 miles apart with me much further south. Again I heard him announce another 360 degree turn to pick up birds. Bill had his hands full so I turned east on his instructions and again pulled off my glove to retrieve my GPS. A little warmth was all it needed and the screen glowed brightly as my freezing fingers punched in the identifier.

The wind was much stronger now and my ground speed was up to 64 miles per hour. Unfortunately, I had come too far and had to backtrack to the north. When I turned around my progress slowed to only 8 miles per hour. I descended low and my speed improved as I intercepted Deke and Bill to fly over our destination.

One bird was flying 100 feet behind Deke and the rest were a quarter mile back. Deke landed first and most of the birds came over to join the ones flying with me. The air was very rough so we let them fend for themselves thinking it was safer for them if they followed from a distance and all our efforts were required to get back on the ground. Both Deke and I landed with the least amount of roll out ever and all the birds descended around us.

Bill had parked his aircraft over the ridge and came running to our rescue as we fought to keep the aircraft from blowing away. We found a little dip and were able to park them out of the wind. We led the birds off to an isolated area to wait for the crew to set up the pen and suffered in silence as the frost bite left our fingers. We had come 30 miles in strong winds and overcome rough air and faulty equipment but most of our success is owed to the birds for sticking with us. They came through the test with flying colours!

Date:October 9, 2000 - 9:40 am CST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Bird Species:Sandhill Crane
Weather:The BEST!
Activity:Found them!, great strides...
Flight Duration:1 hour 10 minutes!


Finally spoke to someone! After contacting the gentleman at stop #4 and telling him to expect them to arrive at around 8am, it turns out that with the help of a tailwind the crew was able to fly over that scheduled stop and carry on the stop #5...

Bill Lishman reports that the flight lasted ~1 hour and 10 minutes with absolutely no signs of fatigue in the cranes. The weather satellite images for the central U.S. looks clear all the way to Florida.

When the cranes first started out on this migration trip, their flight endurance was only about 30-45 minutes. In our past migration studies Joe and Bill discovered that their endurance time increases greatly with each flight as they build they build their wing muscles. Of course a nice tail-wind courtesy of Mother Nature always helps.

Bill says they may even attempt an evening flight tonight...

Date:October 9, 2000 - 7:34 am CST
Reporter:Heather Ray
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:Cold but fly-able
Activity:progress is being made
Flight Duration:will update as soon as I hear anything


It's been a rather frustrating weekend for me as I've not heard a word from the crew since I last spoke with Joe on Friday. Nobody has been answering their cell phones... Upon checking the OM email account from home I did manage to figure out their whereabouts last night. I received several emails from people that had spotted them along the route and based on the information they provided, I determined that they arrived at stop #4 on Sunday morning.

I contacted that location about 15 minutes ago and was informed that the crew and the birds had just departed at shortly after 7am heading for stop #5. So even though I've not had any contact, I still know where they are! Isn't technology great?

I received an email from "Kathy" in Wisconsin who had been hoping she would be able to see them pass overhead on their way through. The following is what Kathy wrote: "It was great to see them fly over. Gave me goosebumps, or should I say "cranebumps"? We'd been up on the tower for 20 minutes or so and had a beautiful view of the countryside and the sky from all sides. Suddenly a group of crows raised a fuss in the trees below us, and we spotted a speck approaching from the north that we knew must be an ultralight. With the scope or binoculars we could count the cranes. Then they went directly over us! We waved like idiots. We didn't really think anyone could see, but we just couldn't help it. Then we wished them safe passage and went our separate ways. I like things like this that tie people together who live in separate places and may never even meet in person, but share a common interest. I think it's technology at its very best. Carry on..." Kathy

Thanks Kathy for your update and your well wishes. I'm certain they saw you waving!

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow "Canucks" who are currently in the United States working on getting this flock to Florida safely. I'll save you some leftovers... And a very happy birthday wish to road crew member Gord Lee!

I'll update with more information IF I ever hear from the crew?!

Date:October 6, 2000 - 6:30pm CST
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:Windy & cold
Activity:Update on missing bird
Flight Duration:N/A


Dan Sprague and Glen Olson DVM spent yesterday looking for the bird that dropped out of our migration during the first leg. Shortly after arriving at the location where it was spotted the previous day, they again received a strong signal. The bird was spotted in an upland stubble field in the company of two other cranes. The pair included one adult and one juvenile. It seems our bird has been adopted by the adult and has joined the small family group. Number 2 was very close to the wild birds and appeared calm. Dan attempted to approach the birds in costume and using a puppet and vocalizer but the wild birds flushed and our bird went with them.

It is interesting to note that his allegiance to the wild birds is stronger than to us, despite the short time he has spent with them. This gives us confidence that we made the correct decision. If we had more time and better weather it would be interesting to attempt to recapture the bird using the aircraft. It is possible that we could maneuver ourselves into the flight and divide the group. This, however, would be traumatic for the wild cranes.

Date:October 6, 2000 - 7:30 CST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Activity:None :-(
Flight Duration:0 minutes


Bill Lishman reports that it is to windy to attempt a flight this morning.

Date:October 4th & 5th, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:Perfect day for migrating!
Activity:Second leg of journey/mechanical problems
Flight Duration:~25 minutes


We have been blessed with calm air and a slow moving high-pressure system. Day two dawns cool and still. Our next leg is only 20.1 nautical miles and again we have a slow drift, which will help us along. Dan and Rebecca released the birds and we rose slowly over the magnificent rock formations of the Wisconsin Dells area. We turned south and crossed mist filled valleys and forests of indescribable colour.

We pass over a land formed by glaciers and smoothed by time until it had become some of the most beautiful in the country. The birds are strung out in a long line and seem more attentive than yesterday. Each one finds its place and seems to be content. The order rarely changes and it gives us confidence that we made the right decision about bird number 2.

Without any signs of fatigue in the birds, we circle our destination and cannot believe our fortune. We settle on a perfectly manicured runway and walk the birds to a shallow wetland to await the ground crew. The birds wade out to the deeper water and if you do not know what to expect their behavior can cause concern. They sit low in the water and begin to flap their wings, often rolling over. Occasionally, they lose their balance in this awkward position; their legs stick up in the air and their gyrations resemble a seizure.

This property is owned by Dick and Jane Dana whose achievements must be applauded. Artists of the land, they have restored indigenous species of fauna and flora and have promoted the natural beauty of the wilderness. As well, they have created a county home with a restored schoolhouse and a resurrected barn, its silo an observation tower and loft a luxury office. With horses in the paddock and dogs on the porch it is a picture of paradise with the perfect hosts. They could not have been more generous as we converged en masse. In total, we are a crew of thirteen, yet our numbers did not discourage them and we were all invited for dinner.

During this mornings flight I noticed that my aircraft was running fast. We normally cruise with the birds at an RPM setting of 4000. Mine reached 5,500 and once on the ground we made adjustments to my propeller. This revealed a damaged part and we would like to thank Ivoprop in California for understanding our problem and rushing us a replacement that arrived the next day. We often operate from less than perfect fields and over the years the propellers made by Ivoprop have proven to be almost indestructible. This minor repair has delayed our departure by one day but it will give us time to check on the status of our missing bird and enjoy the hospitality of the Dana's.

Date:October 2nd & 3rd, 2000
Reporter:Joe Duff - On location
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Activity:Packing up and first flight
Flight Duration:~30 minutes


Today was just another day for the thirteen sandhill cranes raised at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge and conditioned to follow the ultralight aircraft of Operation Migration; a short early morning flight, followed by a lazy afternoon of foraging in the mud. They settled into their routine, oblivious to the buzz of activity taking place just a mile away where a team of biologists, veterinarians, public relations people and pilots were preparing for the imminent great adventure. In the pre-dawn light at 6 the following morning the team began day one of a migration that would end 1250 miles to the south. Trailers were hooked up, gear was packed and the three aircraft were flown in from the nearby Necedah airport to the training area in the center of the pristine wetland. Deke Clark landed first and positioned himself at the south end of the field. Bill Lishman remained airborne and circled to the north. I landed and waited outside the pen door until all were ready and Dan Sprague released the birds.

Timing is critical during the take-off - if we go too soon the birds are left behind and may circle back, if we go too late they can get in front of the aircraft trapping us on the ground until the way is clear. This only means that the birds, lacking direction, will fly around in chaotic circles and land back at the pen. The entire procedure must then start again. Excited by the prospects of flying and stimulated by the digital recording of an adult crane brood call being broadcast from the PA system attached to the aircraft the birds rushed on to the runway with their wings partially extended. Once clear of the structure they jumped into the air but not before we started our take-off run, into a gentle wind and led them north in perfect order.

Deke took off behind me and as we turned to the south, he positioned himself between the birds and the pen to discourage any thoughts they might have about turning back. A long line of birds formed on the wing as we passed over the observation tower crowded with media and well wishers. Our GPS navigation system told us our first stop was 23.5 nautical miles away but a smooth tail wind pushed us along and added an extra 8 miles per hour to our flying speed of 35. We cruised along at 600 feet of altitude, enjoying the warm air caused by an inversion. In odd weather patterns the air aloft can be warmer than the air on the surface of the ground. This unusual condition results in a calm, whereby, the warm air that normally rises, is already above the cool air so nothing moves. Halfway along our first leg the birds began to show signs of fatigue. They opened their mouths as they began to pant and they splayed their feet to help cool themselves. I started a slow descent to bring them back into the cooler, denser air and the downhill ride was the break they needed. Lower down we lost our tail wind but had a better view of the countryside as we passed over Castle Rock Lake.

With nine miles left to go, one bird began to fall behind. He veered to the right and moved away from the aircraft. Deke, flying chase position, moved in quickly to pick him up but several of the other birds followed him. Now acting as lead for half the flock, he could not turn north to chase the errant bird. Bill who was scouting ahead, turned back to give chase and radioed to the ground crew the birds' position but by the time he reached us the bird was gone. Deke move ahead and once he was close, the birds following him moved over to join up with the rest of the flock and again we had a long cohesive line. Don Lounsbury, flying his Cessna 182 as our top cover, circled our destination field and landed ahead of us. Deke landed next and parked his aircraft at the top of a knoll at the south end of the runway. I circled once with the flock and they all landed next to us. Using pocket-sized digital recorders we walked the flock over the hill and away from the aircraft. Once the cranes were safely out of sight the ground crew moved in with the truck and trailer to set up the temporary pen. Once the feeders were stocked and the water trays full, the ground crew then retreated to the hangars and we were given the signal that the coast was clear. We led the birds back to the waiting pen and they happily settled in not giving a second thought as to how the pen magically appeared.

After the birds were safe and the aircraft hangared, we convened to discuss the missing bird now identified as number 2. Dan and Deke along with Richard Van Heuvelen and Glen Olson, the Veterinarian from Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, headed north with the tracking radio to attempt to find our bird. Several teams from Necedah involved in other studies, volunteered their tracking expertise and converged on the area where he was last seen. It was not long before they had a radio signal and Dan spotted the bird shortly before sunset, its sub-adult call distinguishable from the sixty or so wild cranes it was flying with. It was too late in the evening to retrieve the bird and we all met to formulate a plan. Upon reviewing its history, we realized this was the same bird that had caused us concern over the entire summer. Always a loner, it would often break away from the aircraft, many times taking other birds with it. On one occasion, it left the flock and headed back to the pen. We decided to let it go and I radioed a warning to Dan that it was on its way back. Dan reported that it had just flown overhead and kept going. It returned on its own but not for several hours. This kind of independent behavior should have warned us that he was not suited for this study. Every year we seem to run into this situation, one or more birds are too aggressive and will not follow the aircraft or are so submissive that they are afraid of it. These birds are normally removed and used as breeding stock or released with wild birds. The entire bird team will have to decide its future but we have agreed that it should not be returned to the study.

Date:October 5, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:overcast & cccold
Flight Duration:No Flight


Perhaps things were just moving along too well? Joe Duff reported to me yesterday afternoon that during the "picture perfect" flight of yesterday morning, "something just didn't seem right with his aircraft." He felt the rpm's were too high, so after getting the cranes settled into their temporary "travel" pen, he and Richard Van Heuvelen set about to determine what would cause this. After a short test flight down the length of the airstrip and getting the same higher than normal rpm's he and Richard began dismantling the trike. Once they reached the prop area, it was soon determined that all the cams on the prop were, in fact, broken.

They then spent the better part of the day with IVO-prop trying to not only get a new prop but then have it shipped overnight from California to their location in Wisconsin.

As a result, there was no flight this morning, however, if the courier gods are willing, they may get off the ground by tomorrow, that is if the weather gods allow us to.

Date:October 4, 2000 - 8:30 CST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill crane
Weather:cool, winds calm, slightly overcast
Activity:Arrival at stop #2
Flight Duration:~30 minutes


I received a call from Bill saying they had arrived safe and sound at the second location this morning at approximately 7:30am. Bill said "the entire flight was picture perfect"!

After checking the weather map first thing this morning, I had my doubts as to whether they would be able to fly this planned leg of the journey today. The report that I received was calling for light rain showers this morning, with a possibility of thunderstorms later today. I'm glad the weather reports were wrong!

The long range forecast for the State of Wisconsin is calling for snow showers over the next couple of days... Hopefully, these reports will also be inaccurate.

Date:October 3, 2000: 8:50 CST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill Crane
Weather:calm winds, patchy ground mist
Activity:Made it to the first stop
Flight Duration:44 minutes


Just received word from Bill Lishman that the crew and the birds have landed safely at the first scheduled location after a flight of 44 minutes. The flight crew was aided by a slight tail-wind. One leg of this long journey completed.... only 33 more to go!

When you plan on flying all the way to Florida in an ultralight at "crane speed" or 30 mph, every successfully completed leg of the journey is cause for celebration.

Date:October 3, 2000: 7:50 CST
Reporter:Heather Ray - OM Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill Crane
Weather:Slightly overcast, winds calm
Activity:Start of Migration!
Flight Duration:Will update as soon as possible


I just heard from Rebecca over a very poor cell phone connection that migration has begun! At approximately, 7:30am CST, the crew departed from Necedah as planned. Depending on weather conditions aloft, they may stop at the first scheduled location, which is 23.3 nautical miles from Necedah or continue to the second location, a distance of 37 nautical miles. I will keep you updated as soon as I receive information.

Date:October 2, 2000
Reporter:Heather Ray - Headquarters
Bird Species:Sandhill Cranes
Activity:Packing up!
Flight Duration:None


The entire crew, (both ground and air) is assembled at Necedah, Wisconsin, waiting for the weather to break. Deke Clark's "better half" Rebecca, reports that the crew took advantage of the windy conditions to get all the necessary vehicles packed up and ready to roll out at the first sign of good weather.

There are a total of eight vehicles in the ground-crew and three ultralight aircraft, a Cessna 182 and 13 Sandhill cranes that will make up the air-crew for this long migration to Florida.

With rain in the forecast for Wednesday, lets hope tomorrow brings the ideal weather necessary to start this trip.

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