Nov. 21, 2009

Operation Migration

I first tried to photograph the Operation Migration ultralights & cranes back in October (thanks Sharona for getting me hooked on this little adventure).  I made two unsuccessful (and bone chillingly cold) trips up to Necedah (their rearing and training grounds as well as the summer home for the Eastern Migration population).  While I didn't get the desired opportunity to photograph them, I did, by chance, meet the CEO of the operation (Joe Duff) and had a very nice visit with him.   Not spectacular from a photographic standpoint, but a fun trip nonetheless - more info on that visit can be found here.


Earlier today, I had a chance to get out to a planned overflight area in Sheridan, IL and watch 4 of the young Whooping Cranes following one of the 3 airborne ultralights(*).  I was curious to see what such a formation looked like and learn what I could about photographing it.  Below is my 1st attempt to capture this unusual, but wonderful spectacle.


(*)The other 16 cranes in this year's "class" had "flown the coup" yesterday when they initiated a migration leg on their own :-) and the 4th ultralight had been used to catch up to them and herd them to their proper destination!  I find it fascinating that the instinct was so strong that they took off on their own and headed south even though they had no real idea where they were going.


This is what greeted us (me and the other 20-30 "craniacs") when we first arrived at the designated flyover location - fog.  Fortunately, it was patchy and relatively thin.  It seemed likely that it would burn off fairly quickly - and it did.


Doesn't that just look like a blast - I am so envious of these pilots.



(Clicking on an image below will bring up a larger version of it.)


Today's flyby made it look pretty easy (and fun).  I found it particularly interesting that the birds changed formations while enroute - I guess it makes sense, but I didn't expect so much change during a flyover that lasted about 2 minutes.  It was kind of like being at an airshow:  "Starting in the echelon formation and transitioning to...."


left echelon


"Ok, on my mark..."

transition... the traditional "V formation"

...and off they went.  It was pretty cool to watch these rare birds and innovative operation to teach them a migration route.



Just as they were passing overhead, I noticed that a United Airlines jet was passing by too (we're only a few miles from PLANO which is a common inbound fix for Chicago Approach) so I made an attempt to get all three flying forms into the frame.

Photographic lesson learned from today's outing: I needed even more depth of field (DOF) to get all the subjects in focus.  I had planned on some DOF and was shooting at F/10, but that really wasn't enough.  I'll need to try F/16 or F/22 in the future, and in  situations where the formation is coming straight at me, perhaps focus on a subject in the middle of the pack rather than the leader (in this case, the trike).  Oh well, maybe next time (but not too soon, given how long it took me to get this first chance to photograph the migration, my family would probably question my sanity if I started talking about a 'next time' right away ;-) ).


A lot of waiting punctuated by a brief burst of activity.

On this particular morning, we had to wait a little longer as a result of the fog.  Sunrise was around 6:50AM, and the flyby occurred a little after 8:15AM.  But even on a more 'normal' day, there is a lot of uncertainty and, if you're going to try to see the 'planes and cranes' sometime, (a) be patient, (b) be flexible, (c) make sure you're dressed adequately for standing around.   And be prepared to shoot if you're taking pictures - they go by fairly quickly.  From when I first saw them coming (I'm guessing about 1/2 mile out) to when they flew overhead, it was under 2 minutes (add another minute maybe if you follow them away after they fly over).


Something to do while waiting - see what else there is to photograph :-)



From a waiting area 10 days ago  - planes & cranes didn't fly that morning but at least some wildlife stopped by :-)

(remember the part about being patient and flexible)



Help support the restoration of the Whooping Cranes

Operation Migration is a not-for-profit organization that is working with various agencies to help restore the migrating population of Whooping Cranes.  To learn more about them, check out their website: - there, you can follow along on the migration, see some cool pictures and videos, and support this important effort through donations or by purchasing merchandise (including the movie "Fly Away Home" which they had a role in producing).