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Our Team

Joseph Duff
Operation Migration Co-founder and C.E.O. 

Born in 1949 in rural Ontario, Joseph Duff developed an early appreciation for nature and a love of flying, earning his pilot's license while working in the Yukon Territories. Duff was one of Canada's leading commercial photographers, known primarily for his work with the world's major automobile manufacturers. After twenty years of operating a studio in downtown Toronto, he began to look for new adventures.

Joe joined Bill Lishman in 1993 and helped him conduct the first human-led bird migration. The two "artists turned naturalists" used two ultralight aircraft to lead 18 Canada geese from Ontario to Virginia. The success of this initial study led to the founding of Operation Migration the following year, and the making of "Fly Away Home" in 1995. For the film, Duff trained the "actor geese" to follow the aircraft, and worked closely with the production crew; even contributing some of the footage.

In the same year Joe led Sandhill cranes in flights around southern Ontario. Thereafter they began a series of experiment to determine if the technique could be applied to an endangered species.

Once the 1997 Sandhill crane migration was completed, Duff assisted Dr. William Sladen and Gavin Shire in the first ultralight-led migration of Trumpeter swans, which was carried out by Airlie Environmental Studies Centre in Warrenton VA. To address the problem of tameness in birds conditioned to follow aircraft, Duff worked with the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center to establish the innovative costume-rearing protocol used in a 1998 study.

He developed the protocol for the preliminary Sandhill-crane study and for the Whooping crane reintroduction project.

From 2001 to 2016, Joe headed the team of pilots and handlers that annually led a new generation of Whooping cranes on their 1200+ mile first migration from the introduction site in Wisconsin to the wintering grounds in Florida.

In early 2006, Duff led a team of pilots on an aerial survey conducted in Arkansas and Louisiana in search of the elusive Ivory-billed woodpecker.

His personal aircraft is on permanent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in 2008. In 2012 a second of Operation Migration's retired aircraft went on display in Conservation Station at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park in Florida and in 2018 a third aircraft was donated to the Experimental Aircraft Association for permanent display.

Joe has developed a keen interest in the science of migration and crane behavior, and has accumulated more hours in flight alongside more species of birds than any other human. Joe and his wife Diana have one daughter, Alex. The family lives in the small town of Port Perry, Ontario, the home of Operation Migration's headquarters.

Brooke Pennypacker
Pilot, Crane handler

An experienced ultralight pilot and mechanic, Brooke joined the OM flock during the 2002 training season. He first heard of Operation Migration when we were leading Canada geese and Sandhill cranes to Environmental Studies at Airlie Center in Warrenton, Virginia. He was one of a very few trike pilots back then. He became so interested in the project that he started working for Environmental Studies and eventually ran their Trumpeter swan reintroduction project, leading birds from New York state to Maryland - something not typically found on the resume of pilots.

Brooke joined us after Deke had his stroke and was no longer able to fly with us. He often wore a T shirt emblazoned with the caption, "A poor substitute for Deke" but it was more a testimony to his humor than his ability. 

Armed with a degree in English Literature, Brooke once panned for gold, fought forest fires, and floated down the Mississippi River on a raft while reading Huckleberry Finn. He was a saturation diver spending weeks at a time working in 500 feet of water and living in a compression chamber. He was a construction supervisor, a hydroelectric developer and retrieved crashed aeroplanes for a salvage company. How is that for a diverse career?!  

Brooke spends all summer at the White River Marsh State Wildlife Area working with the juvenile birds. After our annual migration is completed, he stays on in Florida to monitor the Class of the year over the winter and until their self-initiated return north in the spring.

Richard Van Heuvelen,
Pilot, Crane handler

Richard Van Heuvelen spent 28 years honing his skills as a creator of works of art in metal. He can bend steel to his own will the way you or I would fashion putty. His art is at once lifelike and surreal, as he captures the soft human form in hard plate or the gentle texture of feathers and fur in hammered alloy.

Creating sculptures used in the making of the IMAX films The Last Buffalo and Titanica is only one of his achievements. Richard built lifelike metal figures of athletes and dancers to adorn the Sculpture Garden at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

One of Richard's latest works includes five life-like Whooping crane sculptures commissioned by the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin. See examples of Richard's amazing work on his website www.thewoodenanvil.com

Richard's participation in Operation Migration dates back to the time when leading birds with aircraft was little more than a good idea. He worked as ground crew chief during the first migrations with Canada geese, and helped to assemble the very first aircraft and travel pens. He used his expertise to build aluminum propeller guards to protect birds, and trailers to transport the pens.

The same year Richard learned to fly, he worked daily with the crew during the filming of the Columbia Pictures hit movie, Fly Away Home. He built props for the film sets, aircrafts used in the flying scenes and sculptures featured as the work of lead actor Jeff Daniels.

During early studies with Sandhill cranes, Richard continued to lead the ground crew, occasionally filling in as back-up pilot. He officially joined Operation Migration's aircrew full time in 2002.

Richard comes from a family of 13 siblings and has 4 grown daughters of his own. When not engaged by OM, Richard spends his time at home in Ontario where he lives not too far from OM's main office. He also operates his business, The Wooden Anvil, from this location. All of these skills and experience make him an integral part of the team.

Field & Ground Crew

Jeff Fox,
Supervisor of Field Operations

Jeff has had a colorful journey that lead him to the Whooping Cranes and Operation Migration. After receiving his paramedic license in 2005 he hit the road for Texas to participate in the relief efforts after Hurricane Rita.

A few years later, he returned to school to earn his B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies at Lake Forest College. It was during this time that Jeff was first introduced into the world of cranes as an intern evaluating the effects of urbanization on fledging success in Sandhill Cranes in northeastern Illinois.

After finishing his undergraduate degree, he continued his urban crane research as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. In 2011 Jeff completed his M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences.

Jeff’s wife Mary has long suspected that his academic pursuits reflect an affinity for working with cranes more than anything else. She’s right – when Jeff was asked to join the team at Operation Migration he eagerly accepted.

Walter Sturgeon - Volunteer, Migration Crew Chief

Walt was born in Point Pleasant, WV in 1941 when there were 21 whooping cranes left on earth.

He graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and from the University of Rhode Island with a Masters Degree in Business Administration in 1971. For 38 years he worked in the nuclear industry, first as a Senior Test Engineer on nuclear submarines, then as the Manager of the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station, and finished his nuclear career as Executive Director of the NC Low Level Radioactive Waste Management Authority.

In January 2001 Walt took the position of Assistant Director of the NC State Museum of Natural Sciences where he is responsible for its day to day operation. The museum has 140 employees and attracts over 700,000 visitors a year. In this job Walt is able to pursue his life long interest in conservation of the world's wildlife and other natural resources on a full time basis.

Walt and his wife Gay maintain a captive collection of waterfowl and cranes for conservation, research, and public education purposes in Spring Hope, NC. Over the past 30 years Walt has made more than 20 trips to the Canadian and Alaskan arctic to do field research on waterfowl and cranes. He is recognized around the world as an expert on the biology of arctic nesting geese.

Walt has been President of the International Wild Waterfowl Association for twenty years and a Trustee and past President of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association for 15 years. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park and Eco-Center which opened in October of 2006 in Scotland Neck, NC. This non-profit facility is open to the public and provides education to all ages on the importance of maintaining our natural environment and conserving the world's wildlife.

David and Linda Boyd - Volunteers

Linda and Dave Boyd met while attending Michigan State University, (back in the days when MSU football teams went to the Rose Bowl). Dave holds a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from MSU, and Linda holds a B.A. in journalism from MSU, and a M.A. in interior design from the University of Minnesota.

They moved to Rhinelander, Wisconsin 35 years ago. There, Dave established a veterinary practice, and Linda worked in public relations at Nicolet Area Technical College, and later, she did marketing for the college.

They raised their family of three daughters and numerous pets in Rhinelander and are now retired from both work and childcare (except for two and soon-to-be three grandchildren). 

When not enjoying Wisconsin's beautiful north woods, they can be found in their camper van. They have traveled from Alaska to southern Mexico, from southern California to northern Maine, and places in between.

Because of their affinity for animals and love of nature and conservation, they are thrilled to be a part of the OM migration team. David will be driving one of our vehicles pulling a trailer, and Linda will be assisting with outreach and at flyovers. They look forward to contributing however they can to help with the reintroduction of the Eastern Migratory Whooping crane population.

John Cooper - Volunteer

John first joined OM's migration team in 2006 when he volunteered as a top cover observer/spotter. Knee surgery kept him away from the action in 2008, but he again joined pilot Jack Wrighter in the cockpit to fly Top Cover for the '09 and 2010 migrations.

John grew up in Lakeland, FL and claims an uneventful childhood, with one high point being his having made Eagle Scout. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1964 with a degree in Industrial Engineering and immediately began flight training with the US Navy. John flew A4F Skyhawk and A7E Corsair II aircraft during the Vietnam war. He flew 200 plus combat missions and made over 400 carrier landings, mostly on the USS Ticonderoga.

After active duty John stayed in the Naval Reserve but started flying for Delta Airlines. He retired from the Naval Reserve as a Navy Captain after 22 years, and had the pleasure of commanding an A7 squadron and also served as the Reserve Commanding Officer of NAS Cecil Field, FL. During John's 32 year career with Delta he flew 10 different aircraft, amassing some 20,000 flight hours. He served as a Lead Line Check Airman on the Boeing 727, 767 and 777, training pilots as they checked out on each new aircraft. John continue to fly, although now, in a Cirrus 22 single engine general aviation aircraft.

Although John's wife Jane was a Flight Attendant for Delta, they actually met at a ski outing in Snowmass, CO. Since their retirement, they have traveled to Europe extensively, and they spend time with their 4 children and 4 grandchildren. John's enjoys golf, tennis and backpacking. He volunteers each year at the Tour Championship golf tournament in Atlanta where he works as a troubleshooter for the Shotlink laser operators.

Colleen Chase,
Crane Handler

Florida resident Colleen Chase is a long time volunteer with OM. Between serving on the Board of Directors, driving our CraneCam, and acting as OM's shipper for its sale merchandise - among several other tasks that get tossed her way - it's hard to imagine that she has much time for anything else.

Colleen joined the migration team for the first time in 2012 and took to the experience like a duck to water. Her background is in the medical profession working as a lab technician before changing careers to become a dental hygienist.

Now retired, she loves to take time to explore refuges and conservation areas wherever she travels to  enjoy the birds and wildlife that live there. Colleen says her passion is volunteering and that working with Operation Migration is the most satisfying thing she has ever done.

The Office Team

Jo-Anne Bellemer,
Chief Financial Officer

Jo-Anne, or Jo, as she is usually called, grew up with a love of the outdoors, but didn’t know a lot about birds until she took a beginner’s birding class at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island in the late 1980s. As the proverb goes, that’s all she wrote! She honed her birding-by-ear skills on ASRI trips around RI and even as far north as the Connecticut Lakes at the Canadian border, but put the hobby on hold in the mid-1990s as her career in Information Technology became busier.

Jo heard about Operation Migration’s project while visiting friends in Homosassa, Florida, and eventually stumbled upon the CraneCam and chatting craniacs in 2011. Again, that was all she wrote! She became a volunteer camera operator and chat moderator, and spent hours chatting online about the chicks. She was also sent to the chat’s virtual “naughty couch” many times, but all in good fun.

Jo retired from consulting at the end of 2012 and, with the support of her family and friends, sent Joe Duff an email offering to volunteer for the up-coming migration. She says, “I told Joe I had pulled a SMALL trailer between Florida and Rhode Island, and next thing I knew, Joe invited me along and my assignment was to haul a 34’ cargo trailer!” The following year she handled outreach at flyover viewings and drove the Jambo motor home, sometimes in complete silence with the A/C on full blast to keep her crane passengers comfortable.

Jo says she is thrilled to have been hired by OM as CFO, especially as she is able to work from her home in Pawtucket, RI. Once a month or so, she spends a week working at OM’s office in Port Perry and enjoys visiting with her co-workers face-to-face.

Chris Danilko,
Office Administrator

Chris Danilko joined Operation Migration in 2001 and quickly became the mainstay of our busy office. A nature-lover who had avidly followed the accomplishments of Bill and Joe, she was a natural fit in the office.

Though Chris grew up in rural Ontario, her parents encouraged travel, and as a result she has had the opportunity to see many parts of the world. Her favorite destinations - Holland and Florida.

In 2005 Chris finally had the chance to visit Necedah and to not only meet the many people that make the annual migration happen. It also gave her a chance to put faces to the name people she exchanges emails with, or speaks to on the phone. She was taken by the beauty of the refuge and the majesty of the birds; something she says simply cannot be adequately captured on film. Adding to her first time experience was a spin in an ultralight with Joe. An experience she has not forgotten. 

Throughout her life Chris has filled many roles but she believes her most important one has been as a mother. She has raised three smart, successful children before moving to a fourth 'project' - Maggie the Golden Doodle. In recent years Chris has taken on a sixth 'project'... she is the doting grandmother of three grandchildren.

In her spare time (as much as working at OM allows), Chris loves to ski at the many small resorts scattered around southern Ontario. In summer she enjoys swimming in her backyard pool. Her friendly nature, sense of humor, and juggling skills make Chris an integral and indispensable member of the OM team.

Heather Ray,
Director of Development, Webmaster, IT Support, CraneCam Technology

An internet search for the Monarch butterfly migration routes brought Heather to Operation Migration in 1998. That was when we were still experimenting with Sandhill’s, and three years before we first flew with Whooping cranes. She began as an administrator but her talent and passion soon became evident. Like most of the alpha type personalities within our organization, Heather applied herself where it was most needed. She improved our funding campaigns, wrote creative website posts, developed her computer abilities and cultivated our audience through social media. 

Working for nonprofit organizations requires that you do what it takes to get the job done and Heather’s multiple talents were perfectly suited for that task. She learned the complexities of our remote live stream camera, and recruited the team of volunteers who drive it. Heather serves as our media spokesperson, maintains our image library, participates on several WCEP teams and has become proficient with the WCEP database.

In addition, she drives our big trucks, pulls large trailers, handles cranes, builds pens and is a well-published photographer. It is safe to say that if we had to replace Heather, it would take three or maybe four people.

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