to the Rescue
We started our flight late, waiting for the fog to burn off. We only had 20 miles to fly and were not expecting problems. These birds have flown for 100 mile legs and this seemed like an easy hop. Unfortunately, we underestimated the effects of warm air on our flock's endurance and five miles short of our destination, #6 dropped back. He was soon joined by our lead bird, #1 and the two of them began to fly at tree-top level. We were passing over a large forest and Deke was moving in to pick them up when they spotted the only open field and headed in to land. Deke followed them but quickly realized the plowed surface was too rough and landed in the next field over. He shut down his aircraft and scaled a barbed wire fence to reach his charges and led them to the shade of a row of trees.
Once they stopped panting, he led them through a gate and back to his aircraft. Bill had landed and he lent a hand to hold the birds while Deke prepared to depart. By now the sun was higher, the wind had begun to blow and he had to use full power to avoid the turbulence on take-off. He lost track of the birds and Bill who still had to get to his aircraft, was not yet able to communicate on the radio. Deke climbed higher and began a circle search when he spotted the ground crew parked on a side road ready to lend a hand. They were able to tell him that the birds had caught a thermal and were climbing high above him. Deke powered up and at 1500 feet, finally found his birds, soaring on a rising column of air. He moved into position, they formed on his wing and he started a long, slow descent to join me and the rest of the birds at our destination. During the entire episode, not one person came out of the many houses around the area, nor did a car drive down the road that ran along the field's perimeter. We were lucky today, as we have often been. We managed to get the birds closer to their winter home without exposure to humans. The more people like Deke that we have on our team the more luck we seem to have.
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