Corps of Engineers’ Bardwell Lake is another stepping stone in the Whooping Crane migration corridor

Bardwell Lake – another stepping stone in the Whopping Crane migration corridor
by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Bardwell Lake is an important link in a virtual chain of lakes within the Whooping Crane migration corridor. Bardwell has been visited by wild Whooping Cranes several times in recent years. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) believe that such visits are increasing due to two factors. First, some of the traditional sites where Whooping Cranes have stopped over to rest and feed have been eliminated due to changes in land use. Many thousands of wetland acres and small ponds within the Whooping Crane migration corridor have been converted to other uses. Likewise the increasing population of Whooping Cranes is using additional areas to stopover to rest and feed. They must stop 15 to 20 times to rest and feed during each of their two 2,500 mile migrations each year. They migrate to and from their Texas coast wintering grounds to their Canadian nesting area.

FOTWW is evaluating U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) lakes within the Whooping Crane migration corridor to assist in protecting and improving existing habitats and to encourage development of new stopover habitats. Bardwell Lake is about 45 miles south of Dallas, TX and has much potential for habitat improvements.

USACE and FOTWW tour Bardwell Lake

FOTWW Wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell visited Bardwell Lake to assess potential “stopover habitats” for Whooping Cranes. Martin Underwood, USACE – Environmental Stewardship (CESWF) made arrangements for our visit. Martin Underwood, James Murphy (Deputy Operations Project Manager, Trinity Regional Project) and McConnell traveled to Bardwell Lake. After discussing the natural resource objectives for Bardwell Lake with Lake Manager Jeremy Spencer, we made a tour of the lake property to examine the most likely places that would provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. FOTWW appreciates all involved with making preparations for an interesting, productive and enjoyable visit.

Bardwell Lake and Dam built for flood control and water conservation

Congress approved an act on March 31, 1960, authorizing construction of Bardwell Lake by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in September 1963 with impoundment beginning in November 1965. The total construction cost was $12,630,000.

Built to provide flood control and water conservation, Bardwell Lake and Dam controls runoff from 178 square miles of drainage area. At conservation level the lake is 5.4 miles long, 1.2 miles at its widest point, and has a shoreline of 25 miles. The lake has a fee owned perimeter of 39 miles. The total fee simple acreage (government owned property) is 7,488 acres with 675 acres of flowage easement lands (private property the government has an agreement with the landowners to flood.) Of this total acreage in fee simple, 3,570 is water area and 3,918 acres is land area above the conservation pool elevation.

Although not a primary purpose for the construction of Bardwell Lake, recreation has increasingly become a major component in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ multiple use approach to managing our nation’s resources. Recreation and favorable fish and wildlife habitats are other beneficial uses derived from this lake and others like it, built and operated by the Corps of Engineers.

Much of Bardwell Lake’s shore area is developed for recreational use and Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” is not compatible in some of these areas. The lake is shallow but most is not shallow enough for roosting areas. Whooping Cranes normally roost in areas with a depth of 2 inches to 10 inches. Importantly, some very good stopover habitats are located on the north western and north eastern areas of the lake shore. FOTWW recommended that Whooping Crane stopover habitat management efforts should focus on these areas.

Whooping Cranes observed on Bardwell Lake

According to Lake Manager Jeremy Spencer four Whooping Cranes have been observed on Bardwell Lake in recent years. 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 stopover sites were in the general vicinity of Bardwell Lake. Whoopers normally migrate over or near Bardwell Lake during March – (April (northward migration) and during October in the fall…

COE lakes within the 6 state migration corridor may become even more important to Whooping Cranes in the near future because of their locations and quality of “stopover habitats”. Bardwell Lake and others that are located in the mid-section of the Whooping Crane migration corridor can be especially valuable. As the crane population increases the migration corridor may also expand in width.

The photographs that follow were taken on Bardwell Lake. They show some very good stopover habitats that need a small amount of inexpensive management.

Bardwell Lake
Figure 1. This photo taken on the northeast side of lake illustrates a sample of a long expanse of open shore with a gentle slope into shallow water. The entire Bardwell Lake is shallow but the northeast side has over a mile of mostly open shore with a gradual slope into shallow water. The shore has some areas where trees are too close on the shore and need to be cut back so Whooping Cranes have an open glide path to a safe landing shore area.
Bardwell Lake
Figure 2. This photo depicts another section of shore on the northeast side of Bardwell Lake. Note that the shore is open with a gradual slope into very shallow water. This area of Bardwell Lake could be improved as a Whooping Crane stopover site if the bushes were cut back with a rotary cutter (Bush hog) a distance of 150 X 200 feet. The water is shallow all along this section of the shore. Much of the water is in the 2 inch to 10 inches depth range which the cranes need for roosting sites. Foraging for food is available in nearby agricultural fields.
Bardwell Lake
Figure 3. This photo was made on the northwest portion of Bardwell Lake. The water is shallow (one foot and less) in most of the area shown in this photo. Also much of the shore area is open with a few scattered trees. While this area could be a good stopover area currently, it can be improved by removing the few scattered trees on the shore. Much of the lake shore of the northwest arm of the lake is similar to this.
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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.

 

 

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Whooping Cranes in the Central Flyway

On December 6, 2017, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hosted a webinar with the topic being “Whooping Cranes in the Central Flyway — Relevance for Military and Civil Works Projects During Migratory Stopover” Aaron Pearse (USGS) and Wade Harrell (USFWS) were the guest speakers.

The presentation covered recent USGS and USFWS research on Whooping Cranes, the current status of the migratory population in the Central Flyway, and about opportunities civil and military land managers have to support whooping crane habitat in the central flyway.

After some discussion and a few questions and answers, Friends Of The Wild Whoopers’s (FOTWW) President, Chester McConnell, discussed the work that FOTWW has done and continues to do on military installations and U.S Army Corps of Engineers lakes.

The entire webinar, including a Power Point presentation was recorded and can be viewed below. To hear Chester’s talk, you can listen to it beginning at the 1:02:20 mark.

~ Pam Bates – Friends of the Wild Whoopers

***** 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.

whooping cranes
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Corps of Engineers Lakes Being Examined As Whooping Crane Stopover Habitat

By Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Many have asked us how the Friends of the Wild Whoopers’, (FOTWW) “stopover habitat” program is doing. We can say that since we started our program that it has been met with overwhelming interest and many positive accolades. What we are happy to see is that the military, reservations and Corps of Engineers are very enthusiastic and eager to provide suitable and healthy habit for our wild whooping cranes as they migrate along the Central Flyway.

stopover habitat
Whooping Crane stopover habitat with one juvenile and two adult Whooping Cranes. Photo by John Noll

FOTWW is hard at work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to protect and improve Corps’ lakes for Whooping Cranes “stopover habitat”. During their 2,500-mile migration from Canada to Texas the Whooping Cranes must stop and rest 15 to 20 times. Unfortunately this important habitat is being lost due to developments of various kinds. So FOTWW sought the Corps help. The Corps has over 100 large lakes in the migration corridor that wild Whooping Cranes use two times each year. So the Corps agreed to help and a Memorandum of Understanding has been developed between them and FOTWW.

Whooping Cranes have completed their fall migration from Wood Buffalo nesting area to Aransas Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. They normally stopover an average of about 10 to 20 times during their journey. They need to rest and feed occasionally during the 2,500 mile trip. Some of these birds stopover on Corps’ lakes and FOTWW believed many more will use the lakes once more habitats have been improved.

Corps lakes as potential stopover habitat

Chester McConnell, President of Friends of the Wild Whoopers’ is currently traveling to Corps lakes and making evaluations of their potential as stopover habitat. To date, he has visited Benbrook Lake, Lavon Lake Bardwell Lake and Granger Lakes in Texas. In Nebraska, he visited Harlan County Lake. And in Kansas he recently completed visits to Wilson Lake, Kanopolis Lake and Milford Lake. McConnell explained that he was pleasantly surprised at the currently excellent quality of some lake properties. And, he followed, “I believe that much more habitat can be greatly improved at very low costs.” FOTWW is committed to continue their cooperative project with the Corps to provide more habitat for the endangered Whoopers.

Stopover habitats already evaluated

FOTWW has already completed evaluations of Whooping Crane habitats on 31 U.S. military bases and 8 Indian Reservations. All had some good habitats but many needed improvements. FOTWW prepared evaluation reports with recommendations for improvements where needed.

Some of the wetland pond habitats on military bases and Indian Reservations will require minor management to suit the needs of Whoopers but the managers are up to the task advised McConnell. Military bases are legally required to have natural resources programs and the stopover project is completely compatible with the laws. Project leaders do not request base officials to do anything that would interfere with the military mission of the bases.

“Stopover places are just as important as wintering and nesting areas because Whooping Cranes can’t fly the entire 2,500 migration corridor in one trip,” McConnell explained.

Won’t you please consider helping?

If you would like to help us continue this on going project, would you please consider becoming a member/friend or making a donation to help our efforts and some of our expenses? You can either become a member/friend or you can send us a donation by check or PayPal. Please click here .

FOTWW is an all volunteer nonprofit organization and no one receives a salary, so all of your contributions go to help the only natural wild flock of Whooping Cranes remaining on earth.

Won’t you please consider helping us so we can help them?

Endangered, there is still time, but extinct is forever!

THANK YOU!

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