Crossing the Cumberland Plateau
Day 41: November 25, 2003

By Heather Ray, Operation Migration

This was not your typical day. In fact it can be called anything BUT "typical." This is one of those updates where I really don't know where to begin so I'll give you some of the ingredients and the outcome, and let you fill in the middle. It certainly won't be too far off the mark from what really happened anyway.

All sixteen cranes launched at 7:23 a.m. EST behind Brooke; At 8:10 a.m. Mark Nipper and Heather Ray are speeding side by side down either side of the grass runway toward the pen to convince the birds NOT to land; Richard van Heuvelen makes it over "the beast" [Walden Ridge, 2700 feet] at 8:15 a.m. with two cranes and heads on course to the Hiwassee wildlife refuge in Meigs County, Tennessee; Joe and Brooke continue to corral fourteen cranes and attempt to climb; Mark and Heather retreat upon hearing that four tired cranes have been given permission to land.

Brooke reports having six birds; Joe has four; Paula and Joe can't find Brooke; Joe heads on course; Joe's birds head in opposite direction; Brooke is located with his six cranes; Joe decides to fly chase for Brooke and help him get his six cranes over Hinch Mountain. Paula advises Joe's cranes did an about face and were attempting to catch up to him; Joe slows up. Birds catch up.

Richard arrives at Hiwassee with two cranes and drops birds to Dan Sprague and Jane Chandler (welcome Jane!) who are at the pen site waiting in costume to call the birds down. Brooke arrives shortly after with one bird; Joe soon after him with five... Three cranes continue southeast; Heather calls ICF's Lara Fondow, Anne Lacey and Windway pilot Mike Voechting, who thankfully were in Nashville, TN—and provides sixteen sets of transmitter frequencies. Paula & Don Lounsbury continue with three runaways, keeping visual contact with them, and radio contact with us until they near the nuclear power station near Watts Bar Dam.

F16 fighter jets arrive on scene. Paula and Don assume they are nearby because of the power generating station, and switch frequencies to attempt to explain their presence; Three runaways do an F16-freakout, recover and keep flying; Brooke provides headcount of cranes in pen at Hiwassee; Sara gives Heather band numbers of birds back in pen at Cumberland County; Heather provides missing crane (202, 206, 211 & 216) frequencies to Lara and Mike; Don and Paula head back to Cumberland County to refuel.

Dan and Jane set out to track by ground; Sara secures cranes in Cumberland pen and sets out with Mark Nipper and Charlie Shafer to give additional ground assistance. Mike and Lara report picking up signals on three of the birds, just south of the power plant. Dan and Jane find an open field. They throw on their white costumes, grab the vocalizer, and call birds down. These birds have flown for more than 5 hours

One crane, #216 still M.I.A. (missing in action) and believed to be in the vicinity of Hinch Mountain. Mike, Anne and Lara are heading north to track by air.

Results: Four will be trucked from Cumberland County. Eight arrived at Hiwassee refuge. Three will be trucked from 33 miles southeast of Hiwassee, and one crane will be trucked from wherever it is located. UPDATE: #216 located southwest of Crossville, TN. near large reservoir —should arrive shortly.


Try This! Journaling Question

  • Read the account of the 2002 crossing of the Cumberland Plateau and compare it with this year's account. Imagine you are one of the ultralight pilots. List questions you'd like to ask Joe, Brooke and Richard. Then list any suggestions for how you might try this leg of the flight next year.

Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).