|As a child, Bill had always dreamed of flying with the
birds. In his teenage years he was denied the opportunity of learning to
fly in air cadets because of his colour blindness. Disappointed,
and not particularly interested in military life, Bill quit the cadets to
become an artist.
The dream would not die, however and Bill began his early experiments in hang-glider flight in the 1970's.
In 1985 Bill viewed the Genie award winning Imax film Skyward. This film featured close-up footage of Canada geese in flight that had never been seen before. Intrigued, Bill tracked down the well known Canadian naturalist and film maker, William Carrick and discovered that the geese from Skyward had been Imprinted on William and a boat. Imprinting is a phenomenon that was discovered by Nobel Prize winning Scientist Konrad Lorenz in the 1950's.
Lorenz observed that the first thing a gosling sees within 24 hours of hatching, it becomes attached to, and it believes that object is it's parent. This serves an obvious function in nature and explains why we see rows of geese and water fowl following behind the adult bird. Carrick had simply tricked the newly hatched Goslings into believing that he was their mother and they followed him everywhere. To shoot the movie they mounted the huge Imax camera in a boat and filmed the birds flying along behind.
Lishman became very excited at the idea of imprinting the birds on himself and his homebuilt ultralight, the Easy Riser. If the birds would follow Carrick in the boat, then surely they would follow him in the air. In 1986 Bill brought home a collection of eggs from Carrick's sanctuary and proceeded to become the tiny goslings' father.
The following was written by Bill's son Aaron
first year we raised the birds, we really didn't know what we were doing.
The tiny goslings became attached to dad and I and would be taken
on walks twice daily around the 100 acre Property on Purple hill. We dug a
pond for them and built an outdoor pen with a shelter to keep them safe
from predators. The Geese imprinted easily on us, as expected,
and would follow us everywhere. The Riser was another story. The
birds were afraid of the loud engine and could not be convinced to follow. They did not fear the quieter Honda
dirt bike, and as they
learned to fly they would do short flights up and down the runway behind
It was not until 1989 that the project
literally took off. We worked hard all summer wrangling the geese and
spending as much time with them as possible. Using an uncovered Easy Riser
frame, we chased, cajoled and coerced the little goslings into following
the skeletal plane up and down the grass airstrip. Bill had purchased some
high quality video cameras and there was always someone behind the camera
during these escapades. The birds started flying short hops in late June,
but the real riser was not ready!
After the initial success we raised another flock to see if we could duplicate our success. The techniques learned over the 3 years of experimentation paid off and we were once again successful teaching the birds to fly behind the aircraft.
One winter evening I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by dad. He had had a vision about migrating with the birds! This was going to be an incredible visual experience, flying with the birds over southern Ontario and the United States for several days, filming the whole while. If the migration experiment were successful the technique could be used to teach other birds who had lost their migration routes. We thought he was nuts! I went back to bed shaking my head and hoping this crazy idea would pass.
His vision did not falter and soon we had 27 little fuzzy goslings in our
care. Bill had been joined in this year's experiment by long time friend
Joe Duff. Joe was a well known photographer in Toronto and a fellow
ultralight pilot and enthusiast. Joe and Bill formed Operation
Migration, a non profit organization dedicated to re-introducing
endangered bird species to their native habitat. Their first migration
project took place in 1993 and is well documented in the Ultra-Geese
video. Fraught with problems there were several points when it looked like
the project would be a total disaster.
Since this first successful migration Joe and Bill have worked closely with the American and Canadian governments to continue their migration experiments. Granted Charitable status, and assisted by many unpaid volunteers, Operation Migration has continued it's research with ultralight led migrations and the re-introduction of endangered species. For an update on their current projects please visit their website.