No Go, Say Pilots. GO, Say Cranes!
(+0 Miles for 4 birds; +54.5 Miles for 16)

November 20, 2009: Migration Day 36

Roost Check. See today's questions!
Video Heather Ray, Operation Migration

This unbelievable day started as down-day #5 in LaSalle County, Illinios when the pilots ruled "no go" with fog at the departure site and high humidity (making breathing difficult for the birds when they are working hard). The landowner at the next location reported fog too. The pilots also feared having to land out somewhere on the first day of gun season for deer hunting. These were all good reasons to not try a flight. Later they let the birds out for exercise and got the surprise of their lives! Only four birds (903, 906, 907 and 924) came back when called. The other 16 took off and never turned back! The birds then had a half-hour headstart, but Richard took off, hoping to locate the 16 cranes flying in thermally air. He was following them in his trike with the tracking antenna, but had trouble catching up with them. Meanwhile, racing along the ground were two tracking vehicles. Flying with the top cover pilot in a faster Cessna was Walt with more tracking equipment. By the time the faster plane caught up with Richard and the birds they were almost 60 miles south. Walt spotted Richard at the same time he caught sight of the birds, flying in a perfect V-formation. Walt wrote in the Field Journal:

"Richard had actually passed the birds without knowing it and they were now following him at a distance. From their vantage point on the road below Brooke and Sharon spotted the birds at about the same time. "Between us, we led Richard to the birds and he was able to gather them up and get them on his wing. it took over an hour, but he led them another 20 miles west—into the wind—to our next stop in Livingston County. We circled over him and Brooke and Sharon followed below so the birds had a ground and air escort all the way. Bev, Chris and Geoff left camp and got to the new site about 20 minutes ahead of Richard. In full costume, they started setting up the pen. Bev was in the field and called them down at 3:15 pm. Richard had about a gallon and a half of fuel left in his tank. We have had a lot of exciting days over the past nine years of migrations but this is the first time that the birds decided to migrate without the ultralights."

CraneCam is LIVE each day from 6:30 to 10:00 a.m. and again from 3:30 to 4:30 in the afternoon, just before sunset. The TrikeCam is LIVE during flights (but not today's unexpected flight).

In the Classroom

  • (a) Click on the video clip above. You are watching the young cranes at their evening roost check. What words describe the cranes' movements?
  • (b-for-bonus) Edit your list to include the most descriptive words you know for describing the sights and sounds. A thesaurus can help you.
  • Migration History: If Operation Migration arrives in Florida with all 20 birds in the Class of 2009, this will be the largest ultralight-led migration in the 9-year project. The Class of 2005 also departed with 20 young birds. What happened to make it only 19 birds at the Florida arrival?

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure presented in cooperation with the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).