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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Eyes on Texas

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Chihuahuan Desert vegetation—bunchgrasses, creosote bushes, cactuses, lechuguillas, yuccas, sotols, and more—covers most of the terrain. But the Rio Grande and its lush floodplains and steep, narrow canyons form almost a park of their own. So do the Chisos Mountains; up to 20 degrees cooler than the desert floor, they harbor pine, juniper, and oak, as well as deer, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife.

The National Park Service operates three developed front-country campgrounds: Chisos Basin Campground, Cottonwood Campground (near Castolon), and Rio Grande Village Campground.

The concession-operated Rio Grande Village RV Campground (with full hook-ups) is also located at Rio Grande Village.

A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through Aransas National Wildlife Refuge's grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. One of the rarest creatures in North America, the whooping crane is making a comeback from a low of 16 birds in 1941.

Each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh. Productive tidal flats provide clams and crabs for the whoopers to eat. These cranes can often be seen from the observation tower from late October to mid-April.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

A 16-mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through the refuge’s grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond, and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Additional activities include hiking, birding, picnicking, and fishing. Six leisurely hiking trails totaling 4.3 miles are available.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The chain of five missions that were established along the San Antonio River during the 18th century stands as a reminder of Spain’s most successful attempt to extend its New World influence and control. Representing both church and state, these missions were charged with converting the local Native Americans, collectively called Coahuiltecans, into devout Catholics and productive members of Spanish society.

More than just churches on the Spanish Colonial frontier, the missions also served as vocational and educational centers, economic enterprises involved in agricultural and ranching endeavors and regional trade.

Before the Spanish came, there were no horses in Texas and no gunfire, except for the raiding Apache. A vast frontier had never been touched by a wheel or felt the blade of an iron ax.

Among other contributions, the missions planted the roots of ranching in Texas. Indian vaqueros tended huge herds of cattle, goats, and sheep. They marked stock with branding irons like the ones used in Spain and Portugal as early as the 10th century.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 10 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.

—Davy Crockett

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50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

Continue reading →

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

Continue reading →

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

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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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Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 20

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Virginia State Parks Set Overnight Visitation Record

Let's Go RVing to Shenandoah River State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia State Parks celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011with contests, special events, and near-record attendance. They also hosted more overnight visitors than any year in history. Overnight attendance in state park cabins, campgrounds, and lodges increased three percent to 1,055,875, up from 1,022,698 in 2010.

“Year after year, Virginia State Parks continue to host record numbers of visitors,” said Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation State Parks Director Joe Elton.

The 2011 overall attendance of 7,836,246 visitors was the second highest in the state park system’s 75-year history, down slightly from the record-high attendance of 8,065,558 in 2010.

Because Virginia State Parks generally are in less developed areas, they remain an important economic stimulant in rural communities when millions of visitors spend tens of millions of dollars on local goods and services.

For more information about state park activities and amenities, or to make reservations in one of the 25 parks with camping facilities or 18 parks with cabins or family lodges, call the Virginia State Parks Reservation Center at (800) 933-PARK or visit virginiastateparks.gov.

2. The Ultimate RV

Check out this futuristic luxury recreational vehicle from Marchi Mobile. Taking a rather futuristic leap is an RV which offers luxury and comfort, along with flexibility of space. The slightly strange-looking RV is based on the strikingly futuristic truck designs of Luigi Colani. Like Colani’s trucks, the eleMMent RV sports some truly crazy looks and over-the-top parts.

The 38-foot-long, 13.5-foot-tall RV boasts around 500 square feet of usable interior area, making it larger than some apartments. The push of a single button causes a large “sky bar” to rise from the top of the vehicle, letting residents and guests party under the stars in style.’

Link here.

3. Snowbirds Can Vote By Mail

Lake County (Illinois) registered voters who spend part of the year outside of the county (usually winters) may enroll in the Snowbird Voting by Mail Program. Those enrolled will automatically receive an application for ballot by mail for the elections specified. Illinois law requires individuals voting by mail to complete an application for ballot before each election, and a ballot will be mailed to the voter only after the Clerk receives the signed application.

Visit the County Clerk’s VotingbyMail website to download a fileable Snowbird Voting by Mail Program enrollment form. Voters may also request a form by contacting the Elections Department at (847) 377-2406.

4. Lazydays Gator Fest

Lazydays in Tucson, Arizona hosts its first annual Gator Fest, a weekend of music, food, and fun. Meet the folks at Lazydays, see a live alligator up close and personal, check out new RVs, feast on BBQ, listen to live entertainment, and have a great time.

Beginning today (January 20) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., there is a ‘meet and greet’ manager’s reception for campground guests.

Tomorrow (January 21) 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Lunch to find out if gator actually tastes like chicken. Gator bites and BBQ chicken will be available. The live alligator will be there too, but it won’t be cooked. Take time to enjoy the RV displays, seminars, driving courses, and more.

Sunday (January 22) 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Car show begins at 9 a.m.–Corvette, Classic, Exotic, Land Rover, and Mustang.

Breakfast burritos will be served 11 a.m.; BBQ chicken lunch available from noon until 2 p.m..

Stay at our campgrounds for this event! We have a special rate of $69.95 for Friday and Saturday that includes breakfast for 2 on Saturday. Plus, when you pay for your Friday and Saturday night campsite you can choose to stay either Thursday or Sunday for free. Make your reservation at the Lazydays RV Campground now by calling (800) 306-4067.

Lazydays Tucson is located at 3200 East Irvington Road, Tucson, AR 8571

5. Whooping Cranes Wintering in Kansas

Wildlife officials say five whooping cranes are spending the winter in south-central Kansas. The five endangered birds have been on private land surrounding the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms State Wildlife Area.

Dan Severson, Quivira’s refuge manager, said in a news release Tuesday (January 17) that the birds include a family of three, one juvenile crane, and a single adult.

The birds usually stop in Kansas on their way to the Texas coast, but these birds appear to be settling in. Severson says it’s possible the birds are staying because of the ongoing drought, combined with a mild winter. He says that leaves a steady source of food and water in the area.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

Experience, travel—these are as education in themselves.
—Euripides

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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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Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 6

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. First RV Caravan into Mexico Reports No Problems

Let's Go RVing to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wagonmaster for the first RV caravan into Mexico this winter said there were no problems during the 25-day trip, according to a Caravanas de Mexico RV Tours news release.

“Everything went very well in our Colonial Mexico Caravane Soleil which began on November 12 and ended on Decemver 8,” said Serge Loriaux, director general of Caravanes Soleil. “We traveled more than 2,400 kilometers of roads surprisingly beautiful all along our route.”

The first caravan visited Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Santuario de Atotonilco, Queretaro, Tequisquiapan, Bernal, Patzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre, Tzintzuntzan, Uruapan, Isla Janitzio, Morelia, Villa Corona, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Melaque and ended up in Puerto Vallarta.

2. 16 Whooping Cranes Released in Louisiana

State wildlife officials have released 16 juvenile whooping cranes into the wild, the Associated Press reports.

The birds were delivered to the state on December 1 and were released last week in the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan (GAY’ dawn), according to a statement from the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

The cranes had been flown to the site in Vermilion Parish from a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife research center in Laurel, Maryland.

To read an earlier report on the arrival of the cranes in Louisiana, click here.

3. Nebraska Online RV Scam Revealed

Let's Go RVing to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Online ads for expensive recreational vehicles and campers at bargain prices in Nebraska appear suspicious, according to a report by WOWT, Omaha.

A website posted photos and provided an address in Grand Island, Nebraska. But a Google map search and Grand Island police indicate there is only a vacant lot at the address listed on the website.

A California woman believed there was a dealership and that her $20,000 down payment would lead to purchase of a motorhome. “On the website there were pictures of RVs with a sign in the background so absolutely I thought there was a big lot there,” she said.

Nebraska State Patrol Auto Fraud investigator Gene True said he couldn’t find any state license for Grand Island Truck and RV center. He said three buyers have filed reports that campers or motorhomes they purchased had not been delivered. True said one man drove to Grand Island from Oregon only to discover the dealership was not at the address on the website.

True said the victims have reported losses totaling almost $60,000, adding, “I’ve never heard of anybody getting their money back.”

4. California State Park Managers Want New Director

California state park managers said they have lost confidence in their director and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a replacement.

The 125-member California State Parks Peace Officer Management Association sent a letter to the governor’s office expressing disapproval of Ruth Coleman, who has been serving as state parks director for nearly a decade, the Associated Press reports.

Scott Elliott, president of the association, said there is frustration over how Coleman has handled budget cuts. A survey of the association’s members found that 93 percent have no confidence in their leader and want a new director, he said.

“Director Coleman is an honorable person, but she has been largely absent in making sense of the new economic realities,” the letter said. “We understand that there is some discussion within the administration regarding the director’s appointment process. Consequently, we wanted you to know our position.”

5. Montana State Park Reservations Online

Let's Go RVing to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana State Parks announced that the public can book campsite reservations for 2012 online at stateparks.mt.gov or by phone at 1-855-922-6768 for the summer season. The summer reservation season runs from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. The reservation window allows campers to plan their camping visit up to nine months in advance.

Montana State Parks reservation campsites include Bannack, Beavertail Hill, Big Arm, Black Sandy, Brush Lake, Cooney, Finley Point, Hell Creek, Lake Mary Ronan, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Logan, Makoshika, Missouri Headwaters, Placid Lake, Salmon Lake, Thompson Falls, Tongue River, Wayfarers, West Shore, and Whitefish Lake.

Basic campsite costs are $15 per night for residents and $23 per night for non-residents during the peak spring/summer season. The fee to reserve a campsite online or by phone is $10.

Each park holds back approximately 25 percent of its campsites outside of the reservation program, for first-come, first-served camping visits.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

Home Too

—On the front of a motorhome

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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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