From Rodeo to Roundup: October 23, 2006
By Joe Duff, Operation Migration
are creatures of habit. I am sure they woke in the morning expecting
to spend the day foraging in the muck just
like they have spent the last week - until they heard the sound of
our engines. Maybe they were content in their pen and familiar with
their surroundings and the sound invoked annoyance instead of the usual
excitement. Maybe when the gates were opened they were not all that
crazy about following Richard’s aircraft into the cold bleak
sky. That would explain why so few of them wanted to participate.
There is a makeshift runway cut into a pasture next to the pen
to allow us to launch the birds directly from the enclosure.
Richard took off
to the west, and although the birds appeared to make an effort to
follow, the line was strung out for at least a 1⁄4 mile,
and several birds simply landed.
We circled, corralled, and intercepted, but there were too many to
gather so Richard landed with a few birds on the main runway a hundred
yards to the west, and waited of the rest to join him. We radioed
the ground crew to don their swamp monster costumes to flush the
that had landed next to the pen. Eventually they too joined Richard
on the big runway. With all the birds away from the pen and concentrating
more on the aircraft, they all took off and we headed for the ridge.
This 800 foot obstacle is only a few miles to the south and forces
the birds to climb hard to clear it. Half way up they began to break
off and Richard had to turn parallel to the ridge to collect the
drop outs. When they all formed on his wing he would try again, but
his long line of bird had dwindled to only few.
Four broke off and I chased them, but before I could catch up, they
landed in a field. I circled and called the ground crew but they
were too busy dealing with the birds that were now returning to the
Our top cover pilots Don and Paula Lounsbury were soon on station
and able to watch the birds while I headed east to find Richard.
Meanwhile Brooke was collecting a few more, while Chris was still
on the ground draining his fuel. Apparently over the last few days
rain, some of the moisture collected in a fuel tank and his engine
refused to start. He had to empty the tank, flush the carburetors
and replace the fuel filter before he could join us.
I found Richard farther to the east still struggling to clear the
ridge. He was down in a valley and suffering the abusive winds that
over the top. After a few more circles he finally had enough altitude
to turn on course. Unfortunately three birds could not keep up and
I tried to collect them.
Richard headed south while the three birds and I made it to the crest
of the ridge. They were spread out so far that I could not collect
them all, so I decided to land and gather them together. The field
I chose was covered with 10 inch high grass matted in wet snow. It
was smooth enough, but I had to use full power just to taxi the trike.
I sat for 15 minutes to let the birds catch their breath when I saw
Brooke fly right over head with 7 birds on his wing.
Richard was a few miles ahead with 4 birds and Brooke was on course
with seven. I had three but was still stuck in the field. Don and
Paula were circling 4 others, and Chris was still cleaning his fuel
When all my birds appeared to have recovered I took off to the east
and circled back to let them catch me. Number 604 and 619 each found
a wingtip and climbed with me, but number 602 was unwilling or unable
to follow and landed back in the field.
I headed on course and radioed GPS coordinates to Don and Paula -
who relayed them to Chris, who, after a champion effort, was back
air. With only two birds I was able to climb steadily and eventually
reached 2500 feet.
Richard was up at 1500 feet, but Brooke was struggling to get his
birds above a few hundred. At 2500 feet, I had picked up a good tailwind
and was covering ground at 50 to 55 miles per hour. Meanwhile Chris
had given up trying to encourage 602 into the air and instead landed
next to him. He tried to get the bird to follow him but eventually
had to abandon it to the ground crew who would load it into a crate
and drive it to the next stop.
Now free of 602, Chris headed on course and Dona and Paula went looking
for Brooke. They found him sitting in a field with all 7 birds ten
miles from our destination. I flew high overhead while Richard was
almost at the pen site. A mile from Stopover #4, one of his birds
decided to land on its own, so Richard landed with the other 3 and
into the pen. Then he headed back to collect the errant 611.
I circled down from 2000 feet as I approached the pen site, while
19 miles out, Brooke was again forced to land. Each time he landed
let the birds rest, he lost more on the take-off and Chris would
try to collect them.
Richard flew to where we keep the aircraft and tied them down against
increasing winds. Then we recruited our landowner host to drive us
north. We were headed for the last known coordinates of one of Brooke's
drop outs, 614, when we saw him (Brooke) flying over head. He was
on his way to the destination with 4 birds in tow.
Eventually Richard, our landowner and I rendezvoused with Charlie
Shafer who was driving the Wisconsin DNR van and tracking birds with
antenna sticking out the roof. We were able to locate 620 and loaded
him into a crate. He joined 623 who was already riding in the back
of the van. The crated birds were approaching their limits of confinement
so we headed back to our destination. Once these two birds were safely
in the pen, Richard and Charlie headed north to try and find 614
while Brooke, Chris and I headed south to Stopover #5 to set up the
During all of this effort the rest of the ground crew back at our
last location were collecting birds that never really got started.
crated them and returned them to the pen. Eventually 6 birds were
crated and loaded into our small motorhome and Marie Brady drove
That meant the crew was now able to disassemble the pen and prepare
the camp to move south.
Unfortunately our trailers and motorhome had been sitting in wet
soggy grass for the last week and several were stuck. This added
an already very long day. Eventually Charlie and Richard found number
614 and delivered him to the pen.
By 6:30pm or so, all the bird were finally at the new site. It was
a very long day for all of us, and a very testing one for some of
our inexperienced crew. Quite a day. But in the end, all the birds
safe; all the crew uninjured; and all of the vehicles are reusable.
Now, on to the next challenge.