Whooping Cranes Migration to Texas Underway

Endangered whooping cranes have begun their annual 2,400-mile fall migration from Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada to southern Texas.

Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)
Whooping Cranes fly with long necks and long legs fully extended. Wingbeats are slow and steady. (Source: TPWD)

As the rare birds approach the Lone Star State, a citizen science initiative is inviting Texas residents and visitors to report whooper sightings, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.

Texas Whooper Watch is a volunteer monitoring program that is a part of TPWD’s Texas Nature Trackers program. The program was developed to help the agency learn more about Whooping Cranes and their winter habitats in Texas.

Since beginning their slow recovery from a low of 16 birds in 1942, whoopers have wintered on the Texas coast on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Recently though, several groups of whooping cranes expanded their wintering areas to include other coastal areas and some inland sites in Central Texas.

This year, some of the whooping cranes from an experimental flock in Louisiana spent most of the summer months in Texas, and the Whooper Watch volunteers were able to provide valuable information about these birds to TPWD, Louisiana Game and Fish, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

This year biologists expect Whooping Cranes to start arriving in Texas in late October or early November.

The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)
The wingtips (primary feathers) are black in Whooping Cranes, but black does not extend all the way along the wing edge to the body. Wingspan is 7-1/2 feet. (Source: TPWD)

Texas Whooper Watch will also help improve the accuracy of surveys on the wintering grounds, as the growth of the flock has made traditional census methods more difficult.

Whoopers usually follow a migratory path through North and Central Texas that includes cities such as Wichita Falls, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, and Victoria.

During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night. The typical sighting (71 percent of all observations) is fewer than three birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller sandhill crane.

Whoopers are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. The cranes are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched.

Citizens can help by reporting sightings of whooping cranes and by preventing disturbance of cranes when they remain overnight at roosting and feeding locations.

Sightings can be reported to whoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999). Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs. Volunteers interested in attending training sessions to become “Whooper Watchers” in order to collect more detailed data may also contact the TPWD atwhoopingcranes@tpwd.texas.gov or 512-389-TXWW (8999).

Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)
Adult birds have bodies that are pure white except for a red patch on the head and a black “mustache.” Juvenile birds will have rusty feathers with the white. (Source: TPWD)

Details

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of over 545 national wildlife refuges spanning the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aransas NWR was originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…”

The Refuge is world renowned for hosting the largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes each winter.

The 16 mile auto tour loop is open.

Phone: (361) 286-3559

Website: fws.gov

Worth Pondering…

It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.

—Tom Stehn

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Flip, the Stranded Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Returns to Texas

A juvenile female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle named Flip by her rescuers will soon be returning home to the Texas coast.

Flip will be transported by plane to Houston, Texas. After her arrival, SEA LIFE Dallas aquarists will transport Flip to ARK (Animal Rehabilitation Keep) in Port Arkansas, Texas. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest and rarest sea turtle species and one of the most critically endangered species.

Flip was found injured and cold, stranded on the shores of Monster (near The Hague, Holland) by visitors to the beach, on December 10, 2011. She was weak, wounded, and had sand in her eyes.

Animal Rescue transported Flip to SEA LIFE Aquarium Scheveningen to begin a long rehabilitation process.

SEA LIFE aquarists treated her injuries and washed the sand out of her eyes. Flip started to swim later that day. She weighed 1.84kg (4 pounds). Flip was estimated to be two years old and she turned out to be female.

On January 9, 2012, the vet started extensive research regarding Flip’s health. X-rays were taken. This medical research determined that Flip did not have a long lasting injury and can be returned to her natural environment as soon as she is strong enough.

Two days later Flip had started eating for the first time since being rescued.

A short time later (January 21), several international partners started working together to bring the endangered sea turtle back home to the Gulf of Mexico.

Members of the Dutch media watch Flip the sea turtle, who was found stranded on the shores of Holland. Two Sea Life aquariums and other agencies brought her to Texas. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

Travel documents for Flip’s release were submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who required several months to process the application.

Flip received a chip in her neck on April 2 to enable identification following her release. She continued to eat well and her health remained stable.

Flip continued to grow rapidly and by early May she weighed 3.38kg (7.45 pounds). Medical research showed that Flip is female. Although Flip is a boy’s name, SEA LIFE Scheveningen continued calling her Flip. At this point she gained enough strength for her journey home and her release.

By June 25, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gave SEA LIFE Scheveningen the permit for Flip’s release in the United States. SEA LIFE was now able to start the application process with the Dutch government for Flip’s transport to the United States.

Flip’s health continued stable; her weight was now over 4kg (8 pounds)—more than double the weight she had at her arrival at SEA LIFE Scheveningen.

Flip is set to fly non-stop from Amsterdam to Houston and is expected to arrive in early November.

She will then be transported by the SEA LIFE Aquarium Grapevine team to the Port Aransas Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), where a health assessment will be conducted and she will be given time to acclimate to the Texas climate before being released back into the Gulf of Mexico.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about two feet in length and weighing up to about 45kg (100 pounds).

The adult Kemp’s ridley has an oval top shell (carapace) that is almost as wide as it is long and is usually olive-gray in color. The carapace usually has five pairs of costal scutes.

Each of the front flippers has one claw while the back flippers may have one or two.

Kemp’s ridleys feed mostly on crabs, but their diet also includes marine invertebrates and plants, especially when they are young. Crab species consumed varies geographically. In south Texas, Kemp’s ridleys consume a variety of crab species.

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is one of the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching about two feet in length. (Source: Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium)

The Kemp’s ridley’s range is mainly in the Gulf of Mexico, but immature turtles, probably carried by the currents, often appear along the Atlantic coast, as far north as New England and Nova Scotia. Adults occur primarily in the Gulf of Mexico.

Historic nesting records range from Mustang Island, Texas in the north to Veracruz, Mexico in the south.

Worth Pondering…

In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Sengalese poet

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Endangered Whooping Cranes Winding Down Unusual Year

It’s been an unusual year for whooping cranes in Texas and the endangered species’ spring migration is the latest example.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

Researchers report several whooping crane families initiated their spring migration nearly a month earlier than usual, with some birds having already reached South Dakota, according to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) news release.

Texans are asked to report sightings of these large white birds as they progress along their migration route northward from the coast through Central Texas and the Wichita Falls area.

After a winter distribution that surprised biologists and kept birders enchanted with unprecedented sighting opportunities for one of North America’s most ancient bird species, the unusually early start of the migration to nesting grounds in Canada does not surprise TPWD biologist Lee Ann Linam.

“This winter seemed to produce a ‘perfect storm’ of mild winter weather, reduced food sources on the Texas coast, and crowding in an expanding whooping crane population, which led whooping cranes to explore new wintering areas,” Linam said.

“Those same conditions have likely provided the impetus for an early start of their 1500-mile spring migration.”

Texas provides wintering habitat for the only self-sustaining population of whooping cranes in the world. Traditionally, whooping cranes spend December through March in coastal wetlands on and near Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, between Rockport and Port Lavaca.

Whooping cranes migrate more than 2,400 miles a year. (Credit: Canadian Wildlife Service)

In recent years whoopers have slowly expanded their winter range—usually using coastal marshlands adjacent to already occupied areas.

However, in 2011-12 whoopers made significant expansions southward and westward of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and one whooping crane apparently spent the winter with sandhill cranes in upland habitats near El Campo.

Even more significantly, nine whooping cranes, including six adults and three chicks, spent most of the winter near Granger Lake in Central Texas, and one family group of whooping cranes only traveled as far south as Kansas before heading back north to spend most of the winter in Nebraska.

The unprecedented shifts may be indicators of both bad news and good news for the Texas flock, which is thought to now number about 300 birds, according to Linam.

“We are concerned about the health of our coastal estuaries and long-term declines in blue crabs, one of the traditional primary food sources for this population of whooping cranes,” she said.

“At the same time, these cranes seem to be showing adaptability as the increasing population may be causing crowding in traditional habitats and drought may be producing less than ideal habitat conditions. I think it’s a good sign that whooping cranes are exploring and thriving in new wintering areas.”

This winter, birders and wildlife watchers in Texas have helped the state track some of the movements of whooping cranes, and Linam is asking Texans to be on the lookout for whoopers during the spring migration, which may extend through mid-April in Texas.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet tall. They are solid white in color except for black wing-tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night.

Whooping cranes mate for life. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

They nearly always migrate in small groups of less than 4-5 birds, but they may be seen roosting and feeding with large flocks of the smaller and darker sandhill crane.

Anyone sighting a whooping crane can help by reporting it to TPWD at 1-800-792-1112 x4644 or 1-512-656-1222.

Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs.

Related Stories

Worth Pondering…
In the end, we only conserve what we love.

We only love what we understand.

We will understand what we are taught.

—Baba Dioum, Sengalese poet

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Feds Petitioned to Regulate Wind Industry

American Bird Conservancy (ABC), the nation’s leading bird conservation organization, formally petitioned the U.S. Department of the Interior to protect millions of birds from the negative impacts of wind energy by developing regulations that will safeguard wildlife and reward responsible wind energy development, according to a news release.

The nearly 100-page petition for rulemaking, prepared by ABC and the Washington, D.C.-based public interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein & Crystal (MGC), urges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to  issue regulations establishing a mandatory permitting system for the operation of wind energy projects and mitigation of their impacts on migratory birds. The proposal would provide industry with legal certainty that wind developers in compliance with a permit would not be subject to criminal or civil penalties for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

The government estimates that a minimum of 440,000 birds are currently killed each year by collisions with wind turbines.

In the absence of clear, legally enforceable regulations, the massive expansion of wind power in the United States will likely result in the deaths of more than one million birds each year by 2020. Further, wind energy projects are also expected to adversely impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat, and another 4,000 square miles of marine habitat.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The petition highlights the particular threat from unregulated wind power to species of conservation concern and demonstrates the legal authority that FWS possesses to enforce MBTA regulations and grant take permits under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The petition also provides specific regulatory language that would accomplish the petition’s objectives, identifying the factors that would be considered in evaluating a permit for approval, including the extent to which a given project will result in adverse impacts to birds of conservation concern and species that are under consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

ABC is filing this petition because it’s clear that the voluntary guidelines the government has drafted will neither protect birds nor give the wind industry the regulatory certainty it has been asking for. We’ve had voluntary guidelines since 2003, and yet preventable bird deaths at wind farms keep occurring. This includes thousands of Golden Eagles that have died at Altamont Pass in California and multiple mass mortality events that have occurred recently in West Virginia,” said Kelly Fuller, Wind Campaign Coordinator for ABC.
“The status quo is legally as well as environmentally unsustainable.  The federal government is seeking to promote “a smart from the start” energy sector in a manner that is in violation of one of the premier federal wildlife protection statutes. ABC’s petition seeks to bring wind power into harmony with the law as well as with the needs of the migratory bird species that the law is designed to safeguard,” said Shruti Suresh, an attorney at MGC, the law firm that prepared the petition with ABC and that has brought many legal actions enforcing federal wildlife protection laws.

The petition is available online here.

ABC supports wind power when it is “bird-smart”. A coalition of more than 60 groups has called for mandatory standards and bird-smart principles in the siting and operation of wind farms. The coalition represents a broad cross-section of respected national and local groups. In addition, 20,000 scientists, ornithologists, conservationists, and other concerned citizens have shown their support for mandatory standards for the wind industry.
“ABC’s petition would safeguard more than just birds covered by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It proposes a model rule that would allow the government to consider impacts of wind farms on all bird species, as well as bats and other wildlife,” said Fuller.

Poorly sited and operated wind projects pose a serious threat to birds, including birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, hawks, and owls; endangered and threatened species, such as California Condors and Whooping Cranes; and species of special conservation concern, such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Tricolored Blackbird, Sprague’s Pipit, and Long-billed Curlew.

The petition asserts that, by allowing the industry to police itself, FWS has permitted widespread disregard for legal mandates the Service is entrusted to enforce.

Roseate Spoonbill at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When 200 birds were caught in a freak ice storm in northern Alberta, and landed on Syncrude’s oilsands tailing ponds, Greenpeace was all over the story calling the bird deaths reprehensible. Thousands of birds are killed annually by wind farms, allegedly a more environmentally friendly source of energy, and Greenpeace is conspicuously silent.

Is it okay to butcher countless birds, create noise pollution, and make beautiful scenic areas ugly—all for the sake of green energy?

You be the judge.

Related

Worth Pondering…
There is nothing in which the birds differ more from man than the way in which they can build and yet leave a landscape as it was before.

—Robert Lynd, The Blue Lion and Other Essays

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Whooping Cranes Wintering in North Carolina

Biologists recently confirmed the presence of a pair of whooping cranes outside Hayesville, marking the first time the birds have been documented wintering in far-western North Carolina, reports Blue Ridge Now.

The nearly extinct whooping cranes' usual path of migration lies to the west. These birds were in Indiana. (Credit: Steve Gifford, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest species in the world, with a current estimated global population between 525 to 550 individuals, which is divided into four main groups. All wild whooping cranes are part of a western population that migrates between Canada and coastal Texas and now numbers approximately 300 (to read an earlier story on the current status of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whoopers, click here).

The male and female whooping cranes spotted this month near Hayesville are part of an eastern North American flock that saw chicks raised in captivity relearn migration routes by following ultra-light aircraft, the Charlotte Observer reported.

In 1999, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, and private individuals formed the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) to restore a migratory flock to eastern North America. This carefully managed and heavily monitored eastern flock began with a small group of captivity-reared birds and has grown to more than 100 individuals, including the pair found in Clay County, according to Blue Ridge Now.

The Western North Carolina sighting of whooping cranes was reported through the WCEP website on December 9 by Paul Hudson of Hayesville.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

Jennifer Davis, of the International Crane Foundation, joined Hudson and confirmed his sighting after finding the birds foraging in a soybean field.

“With Jennifer’s great tracking abilities and my local knowledge, we found the birds again and got to view them from a safe distance. They lifted their giant wings and displayed while calling, which echoed across the valley,” Hudson stated in a news release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “What wonderful creatures they are, and I got two chances to see them in the wild. How cool is that?”

Since the rare birds were first spotted by Hudson, at least two other people have reported seeing the birds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

The cranes are a male/female pair, and biologists anticipate they’ll mate when they return north in the spring, noted Blue Ridge Now.

“It’ll be fascinating to see if these birds remain in Western North Carolina,” said Billy Brooks, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist who has spent years working with whooping cranes. “There are a lot of factors that play into that—not only human disturbance, but also whether the habitat has what they need to over-winter.”

Like all members of the 100-bird eastern flock, the cranes wear identifying leg bands. Whether the pair stays in North Carolina will depend on their finding suitable habitat and solitude, biologists said. Any eager birdwatchers should stay at least 600 feet away and remain concealed from the birds, experts said.”There are definitely concerns about people getting close to the birds,” Gary Peeples of the Fish and Wildlife office in Asheville said by email, the Associated Press reported.

“Any human presence that is viewed as a threat could push the birds to continue their journey.”

When young cranes of the eastern flock fly south for the first time from breeding grounds in Wisconsin, they follow older cranes, closely related sandhill cranes, or ultra-lights as far south as Florida. In later years, the birds are on their own.

Whooping Crane yearling. (Credit: whoopingcrane.com)

The male spent last winter in southeastern Tennessee after flying south from the bird’s breeding grounds in Wisconsin. Biologists expect the North Carolina pair to mate once they fly north in the spring.

Details

Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP)

Organized in 1999, the Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP) is a group of agencies, non-profit organizations, and individuals, formed to restore a migratory population of whooping cranes to eastern North America. There are currently 96 whooping cranes in the Eastern migratory population as a result of WCEP’s efforts.

Seventy years ago, the once-widespread species was on the brink of extinction as a result of hunting and habitat loss. Only 16 birds remained by 1941.

Website: bringbackthecranes.org

To report a crane sighting or learn more about the project, click here.

Worth Pondering…

Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.

—Jovenel

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Whooping Crane Arrival at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Most of the estimated 300 whooping cranes of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population have now arrived on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast, the Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) reports.

Whooping Crane yearling. By the time they reach one year of age, they are difficult to distinguish from their parents. Only a few brown feathers remain on the head and neck. (Credit: whoopingcrane.com)

The whoopers began arriving on the Texas Coastal Bend and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge wintering grounds in late October according to Dan Alonso, Refuge Manager. Regrettably the refuge habitat is suffering from the long drought that affects most of the state of Texas. “Habitat conditions appear to be somewhat challenging for whooping cranes this year, specifically with regard to drought and salinity aspects” advises refuge manager Alonso.

Salinity levels in the San Antonia Bay are currently 35.3 parts per thousand, resulting in many cranes frequently using inland freshwater sources according to refuge officials.

“To date, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge has received 14 inches of precipitation, which is approximately 23 inches below the annual average” according to Alonso.

In addition, harmful algae blooms, known as red tide, have occurred along the Texas coast. Red tide toxins can accumulate in fish, oysters, and clams in the bays, possibly causing illness and/or death to cranes and other wildlife consuming toxic seafood. “Fortunately, there are no known reports of cranes dying from the red tide in past outbreaks but biologists continue to keep a vigilant watch. Fortunately cooler temperatures have helped reduce red tide blooms”, refuge officials say.

Aransas biologists made their initial plane flight of the season on December 8 to check out the first whooping crane mortality discovered on Aransas according to a refuge report. One juvenile crane was found dead from unknown causes. The carcass has been sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin for disease testing.

Whooping cranes mate for life. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

Aransas officials say the goal of the first flight was also to assess the general distribution and condition of the whooping crane population. During the flight, biologists observed a significant number of cranes in the uplands, as opposed to marshlands where they are typically found.  Field observations have resulted in biologists finding evidence of wolfberry and blue crab remains in crane scat. It appears that cranes are utilizing some resources within the marsh.

A second flight to estimate the crane population will be scheduled for January 2011 according to refuge personnel.

Recognizing the potential problems associated with the extreme drought conditions along the entire Texas coast, Aransas officials spent the summer months planning for the return of the whoopers. This included initiating work to maximize freshwater output from existing wells located throughout the refuge. And the refuge has had some valuable assistance from the private sector.

The Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island National Wildlife Refuge, a non-profit organization of volunteers are dedicated to supporting the refuge in its goal of enhancing habitat and wildlife. They have been instrumental in raising funds for converting windmills to solar pump energy. This conversion is intended to provide a more reliable fresh water supply for wildlife.

Whooping Crane adult with red crest. The red on the head of adult whooping cranes and sandhill cranes is actually skin. The feathers are reduced to tiny hair-like structures. The size of this red “comb”, and the color intensity, can be “adjusted” by the bird, to be used as a signaling device—indicating to other cranes its place in the social hierarchy, and its “mood”. (Credit: whoopingcrane.com)

Refuge personnel are also planning to prescribe burn over 9,700 acres to provide additional food resources for cranes. The refuge recently conducted its first burn of the season, consisting of 654 acres of whooping crane habitat. Refuge officials reported that the cranes made immediate use of the prescribed burned areas.

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association believes that Aransas officials are doing everything within their capabilities to compensate for the “challenging” habitat conditions on the refuge. Mother Nature has dealt Aransas Refuge and most of the state of Texas a serious blow with the long term drought.

After a successful nesting season, with approximately 37 chicks fledging from a record of 75 nests in August 2011, biologists anticipate that the flock size could reach record levels this winter, possibly 300. The large whooper population will now face degraded habitat conditions and hopefully they will overcome the taxing situation.

Details

Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA)

The Whooping Crane Conservation Association (WCCA) is a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1966.

Address: 8803 Pine Run, Spanish Fort, AL 36527

Website: whoopingcrane.com

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is one of over 545 national wildlife refuges spanning the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Aransas NWR was originally established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 as a “refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife…”

The Refuge is world renowned for hosting the largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes each winter.

The 16 mile auto tour loop is open.

Special Notice: The observation tower is currently being replaced. Construction is underway, and is expected to last until the end of the year.

Phone: (361) 286-3559

Website:fws.gov

Worth Pondering…

It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.

—Tom Stehn

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Louisiana Receives Second Group of Whooping Cranes

A second group of juvenile whooping cranes was delivered December 1 to White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) in Gueydan as part of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) species’ restoration project.

Notice the feather coloration, the juvenile in front has little brown left but the bird on the left is still quite brown. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

“Our biologists will continue their work to establish a non-migratory population of whooping cranes in coastal Louisiana to assist with this endangered species recovery effort,” said Robert Barham, LDWF Secretary.

Sixteen whooping cranes were flown to southwest Louisiana on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) aircraft from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel, Maryland, according to a Monday (December 5) news release.

The White Lake location in Vermilion Parish is the site where 10 whooping cranes, the first cohort in the long-term restoration, were released in March. That group of birds marked the first presence of whooping cranes in the wild in Louisiana since 1950.

“This is an impressive project launched by the Louisiana Department of Fisheries and Wildlife to bring the whooping crane back to this part of its historic range and marks a bold step for its ultimate recovery,” said Cindy Dohner, USFWS Southeast Regional Director. “We are excited about their work and proud of our partnership with Secretary Barham and his agency as we continue working together to bring this majestic bird back to Louisiana.”

LDWF continues to work cooperatively with USFWS, USGS, the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and the International Crane Foundation to bring the species back to the state. Project funding is derived from LDWF species restoration dedicated funds, federal grants, and private/corporate donations.

“The USFWS Migratory Bird Program is honored to participate in the efforts of adding additional birds to the group of reintroduced wild whooping cranes to Louisiana.” says Jerome Ford, Assistant Director, Migratory Birds Program.”Our pilot biologists were thrilled to contribute by using their Kodiak planes to ensure the whooping cranes’ safe arrival.”

Female whooping crane foraging in a pond. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

The whooping cranes Louisiana receives are designated as a non-essential, experimental population (NEP) under the provisions of the Endangered Species Act. This designation and its implementing regulation were developed to be more compatible with routine human activities in the reintroduction area.

Of the 10 cranes released in March from White Lake, three have survived and continue to be tracked by transmitter devices attached to each bird. Two cranes were killed by predators, one was euthanized due to illness, two are missing and unaccounted for, and two were shot and killed on October 9 in Jefferson Davis Parish. LDWF Enforcement Division agents have charged two juveniles, who were alleged to have been involved with the two crane deaths.

Anyone who spends time in the marshes and rice fields of southwest Louisiana should welcome the opportunity to see these magnificent birds. Although whooping cranes in Louisiana are considered an “experimental, non-essential population” under the Endangered Species Act, they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and cannot be pursued, harassed, captured, or killed.

Waterfowl hunters should be accustomed to seeing large-bodied, white birds with black wing-tips, such as white ibis, white pelicans, and wood storks, which must be distinguished from the legally-hunted snow geese.

Mature whooping cranes are equally identifiable as they stand five feet tall and have a wingspan of seven to eight feet. Easily identifiable characteristics of whooping cranes in flight include black wing tips and fully extended neck and legs, which extend well beyond the tail. Standing whooping cranes also exhibit the bustle of rump feathers more pronounced than other large white birds.

Related

Ten of the 16 chicks can be spotted in this photo. (Credit: Jane Chandler, Patuxent)

Details

White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA)

White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area (WCA) is located in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana. The contiguous unit is 70,965 acres, located along the western boundary of Vermilion parish; it is bounded on the south by White Lake the northern boundary is 7.4 miles south of Gueydan at the south end of Highway 91. Lafayette is 32 air miles northeast and Lake Charles is 40 air miles northwest. The southern boundary of White Lake is 17.5 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico. The property averages 12 miles from east to west and 9 miles from north to south.

Phone: (337) 479-1894

Website: wlf.louisiana.gov/refuge/white-lake-wetlands-conservations-area

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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Whooping Cranes Face New Crises

The whooping crane, the majestic bird slowly making its way back from the brink of extinction, is returning to the Texas coast in record numbers, with as many as 300 expected.

Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

White with black wingtips and crimson crowns and standing five feet tall, the cranes started to arrive in Texas in mid-November, with the rest expected by Christmas. They are part of the only self-sustaining flock in the world. The number of cranes dipped as low as 15 in 1945, and they were declared endangered in 1970.

This could be a hard winter for the endangered species, however, because a severe drought has left the marshes saltier than usual and without the abundance of plump blue crabs the birds like to eat, the San Antonio Express News reported yesterday (December 4).

Working in pairs, the cranes can be seen all along the shores of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, rooting through the mud and coming up empty.

These conditions are made worse by a toxic algae bloom in the Gulf, known as red tide.

This year’s bloom is so severe that even humans on shore are getting headaches and running noses. Fish are floating belly up across the bays and can be seen along the shoreline.

Cranes’ diets include few fish. But if the cranes have to eat a lot of dead fish to stay alive this year, they too could die, according to Dan Alonso, manager of the Aransas refuge.

“It’s killing birds as we speak,” he said about other seabirds that have been collected after dying from eating tainted fish.

Even in the bait shops, fish are dying because of the toxic water circulated through tanks. The blue crabs are so scarce that their tanks sit empty, and commercial fishermen have taken most of their pots out of the water, according to the newspaper.

“San Antonio Bay has just turned off this year,” said Leslie “Bubba” Casterline, owner of the Casterline Fish Co. and an Aransas County commissioner. “It’s almost sterile.”

Whooping cranes mate for life. (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

Without heavy rainfall, the cranes may not find any crabs between January and March, following the deadly pattern of three years ago, Blackburn said.

“The only thing I have seen them eat is dead fish,” said Tommy Moore, who gives daily boat tours to see the cranes out of Fulton.

These conditions could bolster a federal lawsuit filed by a San Antonio group against the state of Texas over how much water is needed to sustain the species.

The outcome of the case, which goes to trial today (December 5), could further limit the allocation of water in the basins of the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers and ultimately affect San Antonio water and energy customers, the San Antonio Express News reported.

The drought, the worst one-year event on record, has decreased the flow of fresh water from the rivers into the marshes and bays where the cranes congregate for the winter before flying 2,500 miles back to their summer breeding grounds in northwestern Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park.

Some biologists say the conditions in Texas this year remind them of late 2008, which was the beginning of the deadliest winter on record for the flock.

As many as 23 cranes perished then, nearly 8 percent, which was the largest die-off ever recorded, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those deaths prompted the suit against the state in federal court.

That suit, which pits environmentalists and the local governments and businesses of Aransas County against the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and water suppliers, will be tried in Corpus Christi, about 40 miles from the refuge, according to the newspaper.

A whooping crane feeds in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. (Credit: Jerry Lara/ express-news.net)

The Aransas Project (TAP), an environmental coalition, has accused the state of putting the cranes in harm’s way with its management of the fresh water flowing into the birds’ habitat.

“The future of the whooping crane hangs on the outcome of the trial,” said Jim Blackburn, the Houston attorney for TAP. “Federal intervention is the only chance for its long-term survival.”

The TCEQ, which governs the rights to the state’s fresh water, and other water providers are fighting to maintain the status quo, saying there’s no evidence of major losses caused by a drought three years ago.

Blackburn thinks what is needed is a holistic re-evaluation of how the state allocates water rights in the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers, which supply the vast majority of the fresh water to the estuaries and marshes where the cranes feed.

That also would help protect the commercial and recreational fishing industries, on which the economy of Aransas County depends.

But more water for the bays would mean less water for upstream users.

Related

Worth Pondering…

It’s now in its second year; it’s no longer a juvenile. But this one particular whooping crane doesn’t know where Aransas is. Its parents never showed it.

—Tom Stehn

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