Whooping Crane Whooping Crane

November 9, 2001
Day 24

Now in Tennessee! Crane #6 Lost in the Hills

Deke attempts to convince #6 to join up on the wing of his trike.
Photo OM

The six airborne cranes (and Crane #4 in a vehicle) left Adair County, Kentucky and crossed another border today. Five landed in Cumberland County, Tennessee--adding 75.3 miles to their trip after a flight of one hour fifty-nine minutes. However, Crane #6 broke off early on. Joe continued leading the other five on to Tennessee while Deke (flying Chase position) and Bill (flying Scout position) turned around to take care of Crane #6. Joe's flight log later told the story: "Once airborne we had a long hard climb to clear the ridge, so to give us more space, I turned down another valley. We followed its meandering until we had enough altitude to pass over top. Right from the start one bird fell behind and as we climbed hard, the distance between us increased. Deke moved in to pick him us as the rest of us cleared the ridge and headed on course. His lone bird turned back and Deke gave chase. Bill directed him and he maneuvered in and out of the valleys first picking the bird up on his wing and them losing him again as he tried to cross yet another hill. I listened to their radio conversation as five birds and I began a slow climb on course. The air was rough and bumpy and I had sympathy for Deke and Bill as they worked the bird down low. Paula circling overhead boosted my confidence but the air was rough and warm and we had 70 miles to go. Without Deke flying chase, a bird that dropped out would be on its own. I could not even wait to get a GPS fix on its landing site. The terrain below began to change and the fields between the ridges disappeared, replaced by more trees. We covered miles of thick forest with no place to land let alone hide birds. The predicted tailwind failed to materialize, and we plodded along at under 40 miles per hour.

"We began to smell burning wood and flew into a layer of smoke from a nearby forest fire. After what seemed like hours, our destination appeared on the horizon and Paula circled the field before landing. I stayed high to avoid the turbulence that we had finally cleared and started a long descent over the field. We circled twice before landing at the east end of the property; isolated from the hangar and all evidence of people. I walked the birds to a pond and they spent an hour foraging in the muck before it was time to hide them from the arriving ground crew. Another hour passed and I realized the crew would be late.

"We had passed from Kentucky to Tennessee in hilly country; what I could cover in 2 hours would take them 3 or more by road. I walked the birds back to the pond and waited until I saw the approaching truck, then moved them back to the hiding place until the pen was up. It was not until the birds were secured that I learned that Deke and Bill had lost #6 in the hills and ridges and they had returned to our last stop. Sara Zimorski from ICF and Dr. Glenn Olsen of Patuxent Wildlife Research Center took up the search and Bill and Deke were on their way in air that was now even rougher. When they finally landed the look on their faces told the story of the longest morning of their lives and it was mirrored by the look on mine."

Meanwhile, Don and Paula Lounsbury fly top-cover during each flight in their Cessna 182. They take off at first light in order to be overhead when the ultralights and cranes lift off. They fly on a parallel course above and to the side, keeping an eye on the ultralights below. From their vantagepoint, they can see other aircraft that may be approaching and can relay communications between air traffic controllers and ultralight pilots and the ground crew, if necessary. Today Paula and Don had a nerve-wracking time when Crane #6 broke away. Read how they handled a similar adventure that happened on this migration's October 19 flight:

Top Cover Pilots to the Rescue

Try This! Journaling Questions
  • How many miles to go until they reach their winter home?
  • Think about the roles everyone plays in helping this migration be a success. Lead pilot, chase pilot, scout pilot, top-cover pilot, veterinarian, biologist, crane handler (doubling as tracker when necessary), outreach team to talk with media--which role would you prefer? What qualities are necessary for someone to be a success at that role?

Map the Migration
Make your own map using the latest
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Journey North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible by the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).

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