When Bill Lishman sees a flock of Canada geese heading south, he can’t help but think an all-too- familiar thought: “Gee, I better go too.”
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Lishman’s first successful migration flight, when he helped 18 Canada geese on an 805-kilometre journey from Purple Hill, Ont., to Warrenton, Va.
The flight, which Lishman guided from his ultralight aircraft, inspired the 1996 film Fly Away Home, and was the genesis of Operation Migration, an organization that helps reintroduce endangered bird species to their native habitat by teaching them their natural migration routes through imprinting (which occurs when birds such as geese become attached to the first moving thing they see in the beginning hours of their lives.)
Lishman’s motivation for the flight, however, wasn’t solely for conservation. “My first interest was to see if I could get birds to fly with me,” he says.
Lishman, who retired from flight duties in 2007, admits that he misses the birds. “It’s very rewarding to be up there so close to them,” he says. “You’re flying at their speed and you appreciate the planet much better than when you’re stuck crawling on its surface.”