Benbrook Lake, a surprise stopover habitat for Whooping Cranes in Texas

By Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is continuing its efforts to encourage government agencies and Indian Reservations to manage portions of their lands to help wild Whooping Cranes. Whoopers and many other wildlife species often use the same wetland habitats and specific adjustments to portions of selected wetland sites could be beneficial to many species. FOTWW focuses its efforts on protecting existing Whooper habitats, planning needed habitat improvements where needed and encouraging landowner/managers to support our efforts. 

Benbrook Lake a nice surprise               

Chester McConnell FOTWW’s Wildlife Biologist is currently visiting U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) lakes in the 7 state Whooping Crane migration corridor to evaluate habitats. McConnell explained that “Friends of the Wild Whoopers is evaluating lakes, small ponds and wetlands throughout the mid-west to help protect and improve “stopover habitats” for the Whoopers.” He revealed that, “During a visit to the USACE Benbrook Lake in mid-Texas, I had a welcome surprise. I visited the lake to evaluate its suitability as a place where wild Whooping Cranes could stopover and rest during their two annual migrations through Texas. The lake had some excellent habitat in several locations.”

During our interview, McConnell divulged that, “I pondered what I might observe during my evaluation of a lake in the south west edge of the densely human populated city of Fort Worth. It certainly didn’t seem to be a place that Whooping Cranes would use to stopover to rest and feed. Yet, I have had many surprises during my long career and I have observed many unexpected behaviors by wild critters. During my review of records prior to my visit, I had learned that some Whooping Cranes had actually stopped over on the lake. And during my on-the-ground evaluation of Benbrook Lake I was indeed surprised to observe that there were ample, good quality habitat sites with all the features that the cranes need to make a visit.”

Benbrook Lake

One juvenile and two adult Whooping Cranes. Photo by John Noll

McConnell’s evaluation revealed that, “Some of the habitat around Benbrook Lake is currently in excellent condition to serve as secure Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. However some of the potential habitats will not be useful because they are too close to developed areas and trees grow too close to the lake shore. Still, several such areas have potential and can easily and inexpensively be developed into stopover habitat. Importantly open landscapes near most favorable stopover habitats allow Whooping Cranes to easily locate the sites and provide ready observation of any predator threats (see photos below). The scarcity of tall bushes and trees close to these habitats provide easily accessible flight approach corridors for Whooping Cranes entering the area.

Based on information from a recent U.S. Geological Survey study, 58 radio-tagged Whooping Cranes provided data on 2,158 stopover sites over 10 migrations and 5 years (2010-14). Several of these additional stopover sites were also in the general vicinity of Benbrook Lake. And one Whooper has been recorded on the lake.

Whoopers normally migrate over or near Benbrook Lake during (March – April (northward migration) and fall during October – November (southward migration). They normally stopover to rest late in the afternoon and depart the following morning.

Benbrook Lake important to Whooping Cranes

USACE lakes within the 7 state migration corridor may become even more important to Whooping Cranes in the near future because of their locations and quality of “stopover habitats”. Benbrook Lake and others that are located in the mid-section of the Whooping Crane migration corridor are very important. As the crane population increases they will need more areas to stop over and rest and forage for food. Any Whooping Cranes that may stopover during their fall migration still have over 400 miles remaining to fly to their winter home on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf coast. And if they stopover while migrating north to their nesting area on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, they have over 2,000 miles more to fly.

Benbrook Lake

Figure 1. This photo on shoreline of north Holiday Park Day Use area is an excellent example of a “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes. It provides a flight guide path for approaching Whoopers to easily land on shore. The shore area is free of tall thick vegetation which allows the cranes to readily observe predators. The shore’s gradual slope allows the birds to wade into the shallow water (2” inches to 10” depths) to roost. Foraging for food is available in the shallow water along the shoreline and in the grass area on shore.

FOTWW was pleased to have the opportunity to visit USACE’s Benbrook Lake. The lake and surrounding land area has good fish and wildlife habitat and some excellent Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. We were pleased to learn that Whooping Cranes have already begun using the lake properties along with thousands of waterfowl, American egrets and other critters that need wetlands. FOTWW believes that Whooping Crane use of Benbrook Lake will continue and increase as their population continues to increase.

Benbrook Lake also allows a number of other uses of the land and waters including fishing, hunting, birding, camping and other types of recreational activities. Outdoor recreational activities are open to the general public.

Benbrook Lake

Photo by Klaus Nigge

Martin Underwood, USACE – Environmental Stewardship (CESWF) made arrangements for our visit. After discussing the natural resource objectives for Benbrook Lake, Mr. Underwood guided us on a tour of the lake property to examine the most likely places that would provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. FOTWW appreciates Mr. Underwood for making preparations for an interesting, productive and enjoyable visit.

Benbrook Lake

Figure 2. This shallow grass area could be a good place for Whooping Cranes to stopover and forage for insects and aquatic animals. Likewise, it is a good place for them to rest and roost. It provides flight guide paths from any direction for approaching Whoopers to easily land in the grass or on shore.. The shore area is free of tall thick vegetation which allows the cranes to readily observe predators. The shore’s gradual slope allows the birds to wade into the shallow water (2” inches to 10” depths) to roost.

Benbrook Lake

Figure 3. This photo shows an area that Whooping Cranes will not use as a roost site. The trees and bushes on the shore are too thick and tall. This site could be developed into a suitable “stopover area if, lake managers would cut back the trees near the shore back to a distance of about 100 feet. Fortunately however, Benbrook Lake currently has ample roosting areas for Whooping Cranes. Yet, as the Whooper population increases and additional habitats are needed, such sites are available for development.

Benbrook Lake

Figure 4. Holiday Park Campground area. This photo includes an open flight glide path and landing area. Once on the ground Whooping Cranes can detect any predators in the area. Then they can walk down gentle slopes into the shallow water area (2” to 10” depth). Foraging for food is available in the shallow water, grass areas and on shore. This is an excellent example of a “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes to use as a roost site. Farther along the shore there are other potential roost sites.

 

 

Share

Corps of Engineers Milford Lake, Kansas Stands Out as Whooping Crane Stopover Habitat

Milford Lake was one of the many U.S. Army Corps of Engineer lakes that Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) has visited and evaluated for possible whooping crane “stopover” habitat. As the largest man-made lake in Kansas, FOTWW is very pleased at what Milford Lake has to offer the wild flock of whooping cranes as they migrate along the Central Flyway. Read our report below to learn what we found about Milford Lake and its habitat. ~ Pam Bates, FOTWW

Milford Lake, a stand out as Whooping Crane Stopover Habitat

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is continuing its efforts to encourage government agencies and Indian Reservations to manage portions of their lands to help wild Whooping Cranes. Whoopers and many other wildlife species often use the same wetland habitats and specific adjustments to portions of selected wetland sites could be beneficial to many species. FOTWW focuses its efforts on planning needed management adjustments and encouraging their completion.

FOTWW evaluates Milford Lake, KS

FOTWW was pleased to have the opportunity to recently visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) Milford Lake in eastern Kansas. The lake and surrounding land area has good fish and wildlife habitat and some excellent Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. We were pleased to learn that Whooping Cranes have already begun using the lake properties along with tens of thousands of waterfowl and other critters that need wetlands and nearby agricultural fields to forage, rest and roost. Both USACE and Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWP&T) have joint management responsibilities on the lake and maintain ongoing agricultural programs to provide excellent, nearby foraging areas for Whooping Cranes and other wildlife.

FOTWW believes that Whooping Crane use of Milford Lake will continue and increase as their population continues to increase.

Multiple parties manage multiple wetland complexes

The USACE and KDWP&T have, with assistance from other parties, created and manage 10 wetland complexes with individual wetlands varying from 20 to 250 acres and totaling about 2,300 acres. These wetlands are regulated by water control structures, which allow for precise manipulation of the water surface and acreage. FOTWW was most gratified to observe the remarkable development and operation of these wetlands. Figures 1 and 2 are photos and maps of two of the ten wetland areas.

There are three stationary pumps and six floating pump structures to pump water from the Republican River to fill the wetlands. These wetland complexes provide manageable wetland habitat benefiting breeding and migrating waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds and other wildlife species. They also increase habitat diversity in the upper portion of Milford Reservoir by providing habitat in the form on aquatic vegetation, shallow water, food, nesting, and resting sites

The 10 wetland cells consist of earthen embankments, rock covered spillways and stoplog water control structures. KDWP&T personnel use pumps when necessary to maintain water depths of 1 to24 inches. The relatively new wetlands provide a consistent, quality habitat for migrating species and increased local populations of wildlife.

FOTWW appreciates the interest and cooperation of the USACE and KDWP&T officials. We are grateful to David Hoover and Ken Wenger of USACE. who led us on a tour of Milford Lake project and provided us with documents and photographs that assisted in our evaluation. And we are very appreciative of the tremendous work by Kristin Kloft, KDWP&T who manages and protects the wetland areas.

Milford Lake

Figure 1. Westar/Martin Wetlands Area contains approximately 135 acres and was constructed by Westar Energy. A permanent pump is located on this area and floods the seasonally cropped area. Historically this area has been farmed. The lower 46 acres has been removed from production and will not be managed as a moist soil unit.  The upper area will continue to be cropped.  A rotation of corn, milo and soybeans are the crops used by farmers

Milford Lake

 

Milford Lake

Figure 2. West Broughton Wetland contains approximately 140 acres. It was constructed by the Kansas National Guard. This cell is a “Youth Only” area for persons ages 17 and under. Special regulations apply for use. There is a permanent pump at the cell to flood the area for waterfowl and other wildlife that use aquatic habitats, A portion of the area is seasonally farmed. Normally, 1/8th-1/6th.  of the crop is left on the area as food for wildlife.

 

Share