Whitney Lake – Corps of Engineers’ Jewel for Whooping Cranes

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” are increasing in importance on Corps of Engineer lakes according to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW). Chester McConnell, FOTWW’s wildlife biologist explains that, “due to numerous land use changes on private lands, many wetlands and ponds that once served as Whooping Crane habitat are being drained and converted to other uses. So the large Corps of Engineer lakes are being used more and more by the cranes.”

Mostly, during migration Whooping Cranes “stopover” on lakes, natural wetlands and small ponds on private farms just to eat and rest overnight. Like humans on a long trip they just need a small place to briefly stop, feed, rest and then continue their journey. Importantly, Whoopers are compatible with other wildlife and briefly share their habitats. Ensuring that sufficient areas with the proper conditions as stopover sites are available is important for the survival of the species. Sensible practices applied by conservation interest can help reduce potential morality that occurs during migration.

FOTWW’s evaluations continue

FOTWW is continuing its evaluations of Corps lakes to identify areas with good Whooper habitat; habitats that need improvements; and areas that can be developed into good habitat. McConnell reasons that: “Corps lakes are federally owned and, if we can design projects that do not interfere with the Corps mission, then projects that help endangered Whooping Cranes should be authorized. Land cost are the major expense in such projects and using federal lands would eliminate that cost.”

Whitney Lake visited

McConnell visited Whitney Lake on April 12, 2018 to assess potential habitats for Whooping Cranes. Michael Champagne, USACE – Natural Resources Specialist, Fort Worth District made arrangements for our trip. Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger led us on a tour of the lake to examine all potential places that could provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office participated in the tour. We discussed the natural resource objectives for Whitney Lake and needs for management (Figure 1).

Whitney Lake

Figure 1. Brandon Mobley, Natural Resource Specialist, Fort Worth District Office (on left) and Nickolus Mouthaan, Park Ranger (right) joined Chester McConnell, FOTWW during evaluation of “stopover habitats” on Whitney Lake. These men are standing on a broad expanse of grassland adjacent to a large lake inlet in H-10 Hunting Area. This is an excellent area to serve as “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes. Any cranes choosing to stopover here would have a wide glide path to land on the lake shore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water which is 2 to 10 inches deep in the roost area. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good and allows the Whoopers to spot any predator that may be lurking nearby. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.

About Whitney Lake

Whitney Lake was authorized by the Flood Control Acts of August 18, 1941 to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, water conservation for domestic and industrial uses, recreation and other beneficial water uses. The lake is located along the county lines of Hill and Bosque Counties on the main stem of the Brazos River. It encompasses a total of 49,820 acres and has a flood capacity of 1,372,400 acre-feet of water. At elevation 533 feet above Mean Sea Level (MSL), the normal pool level, the lake covers 23,560 acres and has a capacity of 627,100 acre feet.

Approximately 13,500 acres of government-owned land surrounding the lake are dedicated as natural areas. Primarily used for flood storage, this land is also intended for low impact public use with a minimum of facilities provided. The lake’s large size and diverse habitat support a number of native and introduced species of fish. The lake is a common stopping, resting and feeding area for Whooping Cranes, ducks, geese, shore birds and other waterfowl. This same land is primarily where FOTWW has recommended projects to increase benefits for Whooping Cranes (Figure 2).

Whitney Lake

Figure 2. This shore area on Whitney Lake is clear of obstructions and vegetation is short due partially to fluctuations in lake water levels. Any nearby predators could be easily detected. The water is shallow (2 to 10 inches) making it an excellent roost area. Overall it is an excellent Whooping Crane “stopover site”.

 

***** 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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