Whooping cranes return to Texas next month-so what did Harvey leave them?

Corbett Smith, Staff Writer – Dallas News

Harvey

Brown Pelicans fish at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Austwell. Hurricane Harvey damaged the refuge, and staff is trying to get it in shape before the endangered Whooping Cranes and rare sea turtles return to nest.
(Irwin Thompson/Staff Photographer)

AUSTWELL — The panorama from the 40-foot observation deck at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is breathtaking. Stands of live oak dissolve to prairie grasses, which give way to coastal marshes en route to San Antonio Bay.

Look a little closer, though. There’s disorder amid the beauty.

A wooden platform has been blown or washed hundreds of yards away from its footing. A line of debris rings the brush along the service road, indicating the terminus of the storm surge. And nestled in the live oak grove, hundred-year-old trees with leaves stripped from their branches have been knocked over like bowling pins, their roots exposed.

“Nature’s resilient, and I know this area will recover,” refuge manager Joe Saenz said. “But the trees, once they’re gone, they’re gone. And trees here took a beating.”

The impact of Hurricane Harvey is everywhere — like it is in many places throughout Texas’ Gulf Coast. Here, the storm has placed the lone wintering ground for one of world’s most famous endangered species, the whooping crane, under threat.

The heart of the refuge, a 45,000-acre tract on the Blackjack Peninsula south of the tiny town of Austwell, is about 20 miles from the human tragedies found in Rockport, Port Aransas and Bayside. Harvey’s eyewall, bringing 130 mph winds, passed between those communities and the refuge more than two weeks ago.

Satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate a
good deal of beach erosion in another part of the refuge, on Matagorda Island, the barrier that protects the peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico. And as Saenz drives to the observation deck, he gestures to Dagger Point, a part of the shoreline that lost 20 yards from storm erosion.

Even so, things don’t look too bleak. At first glance, the marshes appear to be in good shape. And that’s crucial.

The marshes are the sanctuary for the whooping crane, and home to one of North America’s greatest successes in wildlife conservation.

To continue reading, click here.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

 

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Counting Whooping Cranes

Wondering what is involved with counting whooping cranes?

Each fall, the natural wild flock of whooping cranes migrates the 2,500 miles from their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter. They live on the Texas coast a few months of the year and they spend that time feeding in the remote wetlands of the refuge and surrounding area. So how do U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists estimate the number of whooping cranes in existence today? The answer: long hours in a small plane flying a grid and looking very, very closely at what is happening on the ground.

While the whooping cranes are in Texas, researchers conduct surveys by plane to gauge the status of the population. They fly several flights and while flying a grid pattern over the refuge, they have to be able to discern which birds are whooping cranes. Can you find the whooping cranes in the photo below?

Counting Whooping Cranes

Birds on the ground, viewed from the survey plane (original photo: Tom Stehn)

 

The data collected from the flights is used to calculate an estimate of the wild whooping crane population. If you would like to see more photos and read more details about how USFWS conducts their aerial surveys on the Aransas NWR, click here.

Counting whooping cranes is not an easy task and FOTWW thanks the USFWS for taking the time and going into detail on how the surveys are conducted.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

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