the Tracking Van With Bev
Bev Paulan's Nov. 8, 2009 entry in Operation
Migration's Field Journal
us what it's like to be in the tracking van on migration. How
is the van equipped? How many people go? What's the best part?
What's not? Here's
tracking van is an important part of the road caravan that travels with
the migration. The van carries
equipment for the birds;
- crates for boxing birds
that drop out;
- a medical kit prepared by the veterinary team;
- GPS / mapping software
on a laptop computer;
- an aircraft
radio to maintain contact with the pilots, and
- two people, with
In 2009 it was decided to have two people in the tracking van at
all times. It is a good idea for two reasons. There's help to crate
birds if needed, and it is safer. Trying to drive,
at the same time, over roads that can be hilly and winding
is not easy!
Also new for this year is having me in the van. I am always with the
team, but this year we have a change in our staff person from Patuxent
WRC every two weeks. Because I've been riding along since the beginning,
I have a better idea which birds follow and which do not, which bird
to drop out, or which more likely to insist on flying alone with its
Another bonus to having me in the van under the pilots is my expertise
in airspace navigation. I can call ahead, if needed, to give Air Traffic
Control towers a "heads up" that trikes and birds
(What?!) will soon invade their airspace. I can also call to check
local airport weather conditions further ahead on the route.
how windy (or not) our destination is helps in making a “shall
we skip?” decision if we have good tailwinds or the birds are still
flying strongly and the trikes have enough fuel.
. .or Hardest?
This job is either the easiest or the toughest. It all depends on how the birds
are following. It's easy when all the birds follow the entire trip. But on my
first migration (2004), half the birds decided not to
when we took off one day. It was easy to track down most
of the birds. But one bird kept tracker Charlie Shafer out until dark. He had
to navigate through the bluffs and hills, dead-end roads, and thickly forested
find the chick. Eventually he found the wayward chick, crated her up, and got
her into our Green County pen well after sunset.
Landing at Winnebago County, IL
Photo Bev Paulan, Operation Migration
the Best Part?
For me the best part of riding or driving the tracking van is obvious. I get
to see the show from up close and underneath. Whomever is driving can sometimes
get us where the trikes would fly right over the van. I rarely,
if ever, have seen this view. It is breathtaking!
As we continue driving under the flying trike, I couldn’t
take my eyes off the chicks. One long line was straight as an arrow one
it would undulate, almost like an inflight version of crack the whip. This
shifting continued periodically for the entire flight. I never tired
it. I just hope the birds keep behaving well and I am able
to remain just a passive participant in the tracking van!
or Discussion Questions
- How are each of the items on the equipment list important? What other
things would be good to have aboard?
- Would you like to be a tracker with Operation Migration? Why
or why not?
- One of
the ultralight planes also carries a tracking antenna to pick up
radio signals. How do trackers and pilots work as a team? Read more
and Retrieving: Help from Two-way Radios and Marsh Music