A Good Start
Getting airborne we were greeted by very calm conditions
and just a slight push from the northeast. Broken fog covered
of the valley, but we had plenty of room to make a safe departure
with the birds. I landed at the pen, motioned to the waiting
ground crew to release the birds, and took off with 17 birds,
who quickly formed on my wing. One bird was late leaving the
pen and Joe was able to drop in and pick up the straggler.
I was fully expecting to have to fly a few circuits in the valley
to gain the needed altitude to climb over the dam, but the birds
were flying quite strongly and we quickly were able to gain enough
altitude to clear the wall by just flying straight out on course.
It was a beautiful sight going over the top of the dam with 17
chicks in tow, the rising sun illuminating these beautiful birds
with an incredible backdrop of fog, water, and towering bluffs.
Had this been Indiana, this would have been the end of this write-up.
However, we are just entering Tennessee and a long climb awaited
us to get over the very hilly terrain that lies north of the
Air Turns Choppy
Just a few miles on course we started to get the first hint
of what kind of flight we were in for. It was windy aloft
rotors coming off the leeward side of the hills were making
it a turbulent flight and not allowing me to climb with
Gaps kept forming in the line, and the birds in the back would
drop down low, losing the benefit of the vortex that comes
off the wing.
With precious little altitude to spare to keep the birds on
the wing, I eventually had to allow 6 birds to drop off at
20 mile marker. After several tense minutes, Richard was able
to move in on these 6 birds and pick them up on his wing while
I continued to fly on with the remaining 11.
I was now able to initiate a slow climb through the turbulent
air while Richard struggled below me with his six birds who
were obviously worn out from trying to catch back up with me.
During one of the many encounters with turbulent air, I found
myself surrounded by birds. They were out in front of me on
either side, and two birds were flying just off the nose of
I gingerly backed out and away from these two birds then climbed
above them, all the while being tossed around in the unstable
air. During all of this excitement, six more birds dropped
back behind me, this time opting to drop down to Richard instead
waiting for me to pick them back up.
Now, with 5 birds on my wing, I was able to do a much more
aggressive climb and finally broke out of the rough air.
Terrific Team Effort
who now had a battle on his hands. He had 12 birds down
low in the turbulence and was struggling to climb them.
off his wing and quickly fell too far below him for him
to do anything about it. Brooke went down to pick up
was now riding the lift along the side of the hills — but
it was just way too rough and he had to climb out.
Richard continued to struggle in the rough air with his 11
birds, Brooke kept watch from above on the one
was slowly making progress south in a very jagged line.
I know that all of us were having thoughts of birds landing
on this very hilly and forested terrain. It would be very difficult
to locate the dropouts, much less be able to get to them.
Eventually we broke out of the hills though and found ourselves
over more hospitable terrain with actual fields to land
in, if the need
Richard was still struggling to climb with his 11. But
now he had smoother air to work with. Joe watched from
bird while Brooke lagged behind us, continuing to watch
the other lone bird slowly make progress southward behind
we had the field in view where our travel pen was setup.
began a slow decent from 3,000 feet, my five birds glad to
have a rest. At 1,500 feet, I was once again buffeted
in trashy air. With my trike pointed east into the wind I hung
as I descended towards the ground, my five birds spread
out above and behind me. At 200 feet above the runway,
it was time
worrying about the birds and concentrate on getting my
butt safely on the ground.
Finally! Safe Landings for All
Zooming down through the turbulence, I lined myself up
along the very narrow path that led to the pen, my arms
to cancel out the wild gyrations. I managed to keep the
shiny side up, pinned my windward wing to the ground, and
out of my trike and looked about. My birds were nowhere
It seems they decided to circle back to Richard, for when
I spotted him he had 13 birds with him, with another group
3 back behind
Richard was soon safely on the ground, followed by Joe
then Brooke. The lone bird that Brooke was keeping track
nearly half the distance without assistance from the trike.
After putting the birds into the pen and getting the perimeter
hot wire in place, we retired to the safety of some trees
a few hundred yards away. Our view of the pen blocked,
our helmets and in low voices recounted the wild journey
we had just made.