Cows helping Whooping Cranes

by Chester McConnell, FOTWW

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is continuing its project to encourage development and management of stopover habitats for migrating Whooping Cranes. We have visited military bases, Indian Reservations and some private lands within the six state migration corridor (TX, OK, KS, NE, SD and ND). Our mission is to provide advice to land managers about how to develop and/or manage existing ponds/wetlands to be useful as roosting/feeding sites for migrating Whooping Cranes. The cranes must stopover approximately 15 to 20 times during their 2,500 mile migration between Canada’s Wood Buffalo nesting area and their wintering area at Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast.

Some management relationships discovered

During our field trips to the various sites we have learned about some management relationships that we had not been aware of. We learned that livestock, including cattle and bison can make some ponds/wetlands more suitable as stopover areas. Livestock normally walk around ponds until they reach a shallow area where they can safely enter the ponds and drink. As they are moving around they are also grazing and trampling vegetation on pond shores. Whooping Cranes use these same shallow areas with sparse vegetation to enter the ponds to roost. We observed this relationship on numerous ponds/wetlands especially in North and South Dakota.

Whooping Cranes avoid certain sites

Whooping Cranes do not use ponds/wetlands as stopover sites where tall, dense vegetation closely surrounds the pond shore. They avoid sites anywhere they would have to move through dense vegetation where predators may be lurking such as shown in Figure 1.

Whooping Cranes

Figure 1. This pond’s shore area is covered with a dense growth of cattail vegetation. Whooping Cranes will not attempt to use ponds with these conditions. When selecting a pond where they can roost for the night, the cranes glide in (Fig. 2) and land on the shore. Then they walk into a shallow area of the pond and roost where they are safer from predators. Predators such as coyotes and bobcats can hide in dense vegetation and jump on Whoopers and kill them.

Whooping Cranes

Figure 2. Whooping cranes gliding onto shore of nearby pond. They will observe their surroundings to look for danger. Then they will walk into a shallow area of the pond to roost for the night. Because of their long legs and 5 foot height, they can defend themselves against predators while roosting in water. Whoopers landng by Diane Nunley

Fortunately, around some ponds, livestock have grazed and trampled the vegetation while getting a drink and grazing the more succulent vegetation (Figure 3).This results in more unobstructed shore areas that allow Whooping Cranes to use ponds as stopover sites.

Some concern has been expressed that livestock cause shoreline erosion and contamination of the stock dams/ponds that results in some murky, dirty water. While this may have some merit, FOTWW did not detect any serious problems. We carefully observed the water in the ponds visited and could clearly see the pond bottom in shallow areas. We also firmly believe that the advantages of the stock dams/ponds far outweigh any disadvantages. Use of the ponds/wetland water resources by numerous species and many thousands of individual wild animals has caused the military and Indian Reservation’s habitats to be much more productive.

Some ponds in excellent condition

Some of the stock dams/ponds on the areas visited are currently in excellent condition to serve as secure Whooping Crane stopover habitats. And some other ponds/wetlands could easily and inexpensively be developed into good habitats. However others are not useful for Whooping Cranes because cattails, bushes and trees are thick along the shore areas. On these latter ponds FOTWW recommends that they be managed for other wildlife species that prefer dense vegetative cover.

Importantly, FOTWW contends that it is not necessary or desirable to modify or manage all ponds for Whooping Cranes but rather focus on a subset with the best ponds and surrounding landscape characteristics. Open landscapes including pasture and crop land allows Whooping Cranes to easily locate the ponds and provides ready observation of any predator threats.

Whooping Cranes

Figure 3. Pond with cattle grazing on Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, South Dakota. Note that vegetation around portions of the shore is short (A) while cattail (sp.) invasion has been restricted (B) due to livestock grazing. The shallow area (C) within the pond would provide roosting sites for Whooping Cranes.

***** 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.

wind farm


Lydia Ann Channel and Whooping Cranes

by Chester McConnell, FOTWW

Corps of Engineers continuing to accept comments concerning Lydia Ann Channel

The Galveston District Corps of Engineers is continuing to accept comments concerning the Lydia Ann Channel project, a mooring facility where barges can be staged (parked). The barges are mostly filled with toxic chemicals waiting to be unloaded along the Texas coast near Corpus Christi. The project has a disastrous history from a regulatory respect and Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is attempting to help correct the problems.

What if one or more of the barges spills its contents during a hurricane or a large ship sailing into one of them? That is a major concern. A spill could contaminate Gulf of Mexico waters and wetlands for miles along the Texas coast. Such spills could easily effect the Aransas Wildlife Refuge if tides and water currents forced the chemicals eastward.

Major concerns with the Lydia Ann Moorings project

One of FOTWW’s major concerns with the Lydia Ann Moorings project is its potential adverse impacts directly on Whooping Cranes and on their habitats on Aransas Refuge and surrounding private and government lands. The cranes are endangered species and only about 350 remain. They spend six months during fall-winter season on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge which is near the proposed mooring project. Whooping Cranes commonly travel all around in the vicinity of their primary habitat on Aransas Refuge. They have often been observed near the Lydia Ann Channel Moorings project.

Because of the location of the project, numerous identified and unidentified impacts and the tremendous controversy associated with this project, FOTWW firmly believes that the moorings (large metal pipes) should be extracted and removed to a more acceptable location. FOTWW supports the USACE’s letter that stated “The only option to protect Lydia Ann Channel, surrounding waters, fish, and wildlife, is the removal of the mooring structures and restoration of the shoreline”.

If the project is not halted and the site restored then we strongly believe that an Environmental Impact Statement pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act must be prepared. Threatened and/or endangered species or their critical habitat will definitely be affected by the work and future use associated with all of the alternatives proposed. Importantly, consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service should be initiated to assess the effect on threatened and endangered species.

Lydia Ann Channel

Lydia Ann Channel

Lydia Ann Channel public comment deadline March 2nd

Click this link to get information about commenting to the US Army Corps of Engineers in opposition to the barge mooring facility:

Let them know, by March 2nd, how you feel about having YOUR public water taken over by a small group of Corpus Christi investors – Lydia Ann Moorings,LLC

For more in-depth information about the Lydia Ann Channel controversy, click on:   Click here to read the Removal and Restoration Plan


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