Ronnie Schaefer is a person who loves to be outdoors and in contact with wild things. He was born and raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada which is in the midst of an abundance of wild places and wild critters. Ronnie claims that Fort Smith is one of the best small towns in Canada and is the gateway to Wood Buffalo park. So he is contented. He feels fortunate to live in the area. One of Ronnie’s passions is whooping cranes. For the past 18 years he has been observing whooping cranes near Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. This is his hobby.
Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park is the nursery habitat where whooping cranes perform their courtship dances, build their nest, lay their eggs and hatch their chicks. According to Environment Canada, an estimated 300 whoopers made the 2,500 mile migration back from Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast to Wood Buffalo during April and May. A Canadian Wildlife Service official explained to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) that “This flock is the only self-sustaining, wild whooping crane flock on the planet and we need to do our best to protect the birds and their habitats”.
Ronnie told FOTWW that “I watch the whooping cranes as they migrate onto Wood Buffalo National Park. And then I drive out into the rugged terrain in my 4-wheel vehicle and set up an observation blind.” Ronnie explained that he does not want to interfere with the whoopers so he is careful not to get too close to them.
As part of his mission he also tries to keep other people from getting too close to the birds. He places signs in appropriate locations to warn people not to encroach near to the birds. Then, from his special location Ronnie watches some of the cranes perform their mating dances and build their nests.
Ronnie explained, “I focus my attention on whoopers that use the Salt River First Nation reserve lands downstream from Lobstick Creek. The Reserve is about 20 miles from Fort Smith.” According to his observations, the whoopers returned to Wood Buffalo from Aransas, Texas about 3 weeks ago. Soon thereafter they began nesting. He advised that 2 whooping crane nest can be observed from his observation site. The 2 nests are about 3 miles apart.
Interestingly, Ronnie told FOTWW, “ The original ‘famous’ Lobstick pair of whooping cranes actually nests near my observation site which is outside the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park. The pair has been nesting there for the past 18 years.” Also, he informed us that 2 offspring of the Lobstick pair had been nesting in the same vicinity for the past 3 years and that they had produced 3 chicks. Ronnie named the 2 Lobstick offspring “Snow flakes” and “Snowball”.
As part of his voluntary commitments Ronnie cooperates with officials of the Canadian Wildlife Service. He advises them about his whooper observation as well as providing information about potential problems in the area. During recent discussions with a Wildlife Service official Ronnie was told that 82 whooping crane nests had been counted as of June 4, 2014. FOTWW is waiting on the official report for final verification. 82 nests would be the largest whooping crane nest count ever made.
FOTWW is delighted to have linked-up with Ronnie Schaefer. He is one of those rugged individuals who is committed to the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock of wild whoopers and we need more like him.
by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers
***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****