Whooping cranes are now well underway on their long 2,500 mile migration back to their nesting grounds. While some of the birds are still at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast, many are working their way northward to Canada. The birds are departing Aransas Refuge in good condition due to improved habitat conditions there. Soon they will reach Wood Buffalo National Park Canada where they will build their nest and raise their young.
“Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) received a report yesterday that four whooping cranes were spotted just outside of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Regina is the capital city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and is a stopover spot for the AransasWood Buffalo whooping cranes before reaching Wood Buffalo National Park.
Today, FOTWW received another reported sighting from Regina along with two photographs taken this afternoon. The report read “From what we could see there were three adults and one juvenile feeding at quite a distance from the road. Due to the foreshortening of the telephoto lens, the birds appear closer to the city limits than they actually were. The field is a few miles past the city limits.”
Reports out of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and other places along the Central Flyway have been advising for the past couple of weeks that the wild whoopers have started their migration toward their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo. Kevin Sims was out on the water yesterday and stated to FOTWW that “We managed to find eight whoopers today. They were all very far out in the marsh. I was happy to see them it won’t be long now before they are all gone. Back to Wood Buffalo.”
During the past two weeks FOTWW has received a number of reports of whooping crane sightings near Platte River, Nebraska; Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira Refuge, Kansas; and Aulne, Kansas.
The two photos below are proof that they are almost home.
FOTWW wishes to thank the Saskbird member for sending us the report and photos, and for Kevin who has kept everyone up to date this winter with his reports and photographs. Hopefully, we’ll have more reports and photographs, of the wild ones throughout the summer.
There are a number of success stories on species recovery associated with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) and in February 2011 they added one more. The department initiated a whooping crane re-population project that has been as challenging as any previous effort. Finally the project to reintroduce a whooping crane flock is experiencing some hoped for success.
A pair of the reintroduced whooping cranes has produced two eggs in the wilds of Louisiana for the first time in 70 years, the state LDWF announced on April 15. LDWF Secretary Robert Barham told the audience at the 13th North American Crane Workshop in Lafayette about the important occurrence in the reintroduction of the endangered birds to the wild.
Once widespread, the whooping crane population had plummeted to a historic low of just 15 known individuals in 1940-41. The decline was mostly due to hunting and the conversion of wetland habitat into agricultural fields. “This is the first time that a whooping crane pair has produced eggs in the wild in over 70 years on the Louisiana landscape,” Barham said.
The LDWF has been releasing whooping cranes into the wild in the White Lake area since 2011 in an experimental project. Since then 50 of the whoopers have been released, and 30 have survived. Twenty of the birds have died due to predation or natural health problems while 5 have been killed or wounded in shooting incidents.
For Louisianans, the sight of a whooping crane in the wild has been only a distant memory. The last record of the species in Louisiana dates back to 1950, when the last surviving whooping crane was removed from Vermilion Parish property that is now part of LDWF’s White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area. Now there is much hope for a restored flock.
Friends of the Wild Whoopers(FOTWW) believes that Louisiana may have the most favorable opportunity to reestablish a new population of whooping cranes. Why? Whooping cranes need wetlands. Wetlands make up most of the only remaining wild whooping crane’s nesting habitat in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada and most of their winter habitat at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas.
Coastal Louisiana embraces one of the most wetland-rich regions of the world, with 2.5 million acres of marshes (fresh, brackish, and saline) and 637,400 acres of forested wetlands. It contains about 40 percent of the coastal marshes in the coterminous United States. So, Louisiana has the necessary habitat which is a most important need for whoopers. FOTWW hopes for the best in Louisiana.
Historically, both resident and migratory populations of whooping cranes were present in Louisiana through the early 1940s. The massive birds inhabited the marshes and ridges of the state’s southwest Chenier Coastal Plain, as well as the uplands of prairie terrace habitat to the north. According to Dr. Gay Gomez, professor of geography at McNeese State University and Louisiana whooping crane historian, “Records from the 1890s indicated ‘large numbers’ of both whooping cranes and sandhill cranes on wet prairies year round.”
The Louisiana whoopers are not the only cranes in the wild. A self-sustaining wild population of whooping cranes migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Like those in an eastern migratory population, the Aransas group remains vulnerable to extinction from continued loss of habitat and catastrophes, either natural or man-made.
Multiple efforts are underway to reduce these risks and bring this magnificent bird further along its path to recovery. This includes increasing populations in the wild, ongoing efforts to establish a migratory population in the eastern United States and establishing a resident (non-migratory) population in Louisiana. The White Lake marshes and vast surrounding coastal marshes of southwest Louisiana was a positive factor in the decision making process that led to the experimental population approval.
The original wild Louisiana whooping crane population did not withstand the pressure of human encroachment, conversion of nesting habitat to agricultural acreage, hunting, and specimen collection, which also occurred across North America. Dr. Gomez’s research indicates “In May of 1939, biologist John Lynch reported 13 whooping cranes north of White Lake and that in August 1940, flood waters associated with a hurricane scattered the resident White Lake population of cranes and only six of the 13 cranes returned. By 1947, only one crane remained at White lake and in March of 1950, the last crane in Louisiana was captured and relocated to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas.”
The goal of the LDWF’s reintroduction project is to establish a self-sustaining whooping crane population on and around White Lake, which contains over 70,000 acres of freshwater marsh. A self-sustaining population is defined as a flock of 130 individuals with 30 nesting pairs, surviving for a 10-year period without any additional restocking.
Whooping cranes do not generally nest until 3-5 years of age, so the nesting success of the Louisiana flock is now entering that time period. The long-term goal of this reintroduction is to move whooping cranes from an endangered species status to threatened status.
Author Kathleen Kaska gives a slide presentation at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 16, at the Dungeness River Audubon Center in Sequim, WA about the work of Audubon ornithologist Robert Porter Allen, outlining his work on behalf of the whooping crane.
The presentation is dubbed, “The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.”
Allen led an adventurous life dedicated to the preservation of endangered birds when the odds were overwhelmingly against success. He journeyed into the Canadian wilderness to save the last flock of whooping cranes before encroaching development wiped out their nesting site, sending them into extinction.
Kaska is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, travel articles and stage plays, and recently completed “The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story.”
Published by the University Press of Florida, the book was released in September 2012 and was nominated for the George Perkins March award for environmental history. She will be available to autograph her book.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in physical anthropology, Kaska taught middle-school science for 25 years. She was a staff writer for Austin Fit magazine from 1998-2002. Her articles have appeared in Cape Cod Life, Marco Polo, Agatha Christie Chronicle and Home Cooking magazines. She is a frequent contributor to Texas Highways magazine.
Experts Fear Impacts of Oil Cleanup on Texas Gulf Coast|
April 11, 2014 | 9:45 AM
By Mose Buchele
MATAGORDA ISLAND, TX — Recovery efforts continue weeks after a barge accident in the Houston Ship Channel dumped tens of thousands of barrels of oil into Galveston Bay. That oil kills wildlife and damages the environment. But some are worried the cleanup itself could also disturb the ecosystem along the Texas Gulf Coast. Nowhere is that threat more apparent than in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Every morning this week, hundreds of workers have gone out to Matagorda Island, a part of that refuge, to try to remove the oil. On a recent tour organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the response team appeared to work with great care, gingerly scraping thin layers of oil-drenched sand away with shovels, then depositing it into nearby excavators for delivery into larger dump trucks. Over ten tons of sand has been removed so far.
Randal Ogrydziak, the U.S. Coast Guard captain who is one of the coordinators of the spill response, likens the painstaking process to shoveling a gravel driveway after a snow storm.
“You can think of it as the snow is the oil — not that thick — the driveway is the good sand underneath, and you just want to take bad stuff and get rid of that, and leave the good sand,” Ogrydziak says. “We don’t want to dig up the whole beach here. That’s not what we want to do.”
Ogrydziak’s concern that the cleanup could do “more damage than the oil” is not limited to the sand. This thin barrier island, like the rest of the National Wildlife Refuge, is not meant for people. Now it’s home to ATVs, bobcat excavators, dump trucks, helicopters, and hundreds of response personnel. They – and the oil – all arrived right as migratory animals are passing through on their annual trip.
“The oil spill could not have happened at a worse time,” says Nancy Brown, a spokesperson for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “You have these birds that have migrated literally across the Gulf of Mexico. They arrive here, they are exhausted, [and] all they want to do is get something to eat, get something to drink, rest, and then continue their migration.”
But Brown says if they’re constantly being disturbed by the cleanup activity, “they’re not only not eating, they’re wasting calories trying to get away.”
They can also be spooked from their nests by the activity, leaving eggs and young animals vulnerable to predators. Workers here say they’re doing their best by limiting trips to and from the island, being careful with vehicles, and enforcing a “flight ceiling” on helicopters so they don’t disturb the birds.
Of particular concern is the endangered whooping crane. This refuge is home to the only naturally-occurring flock of those birds in the world. Around 300 whooping cranes winter here, and many have not yet left for their summer grounds in Canada.
Right as the cranes leave, the Kemps-Ridley sea turtle arrives. That’s also an endangered species. It lays its eggs on the same beaches – now oily beaches – where the response crews are working with excavators and dump trucks to remove the oil.
Jeremy Edwardson, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist, says it will be difficult to measure the full impact of the spill and the recovery efforts.
“I don’t think we’ll ever understand it,” says Edwardson. “There’s some stuff to document and it’s easy to document. But there’s also the potential for oil to be here for years, so it’s possibly going to be an ongoing response.”