Concerns Mounting About Effects Of Oil Spill On Whooping Cranes

Concerns Mounting About Effects Of Oil Spill On Whooping Cranes

by Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) concerns are intensifying about the oil spill that occurred March 22 in Galveston Bay, Texas. Tar balls from this spill have now come ashore on Matagorda Island which is a part of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. And the refuge is the winter home of the only remaining wild flock of whooping cranes on the planet. The whoopers are endangered species and should receive the utmost consideration.

After viewing videos of the oil removal videos recorded on South Matagorda Island, Texas on March 31, 2014 FOTWW became alarmed (View on ). The large number of personnel and equipment involved in the cleanup is impressive but serious caution is appropriate as the operation moves onto Aransas Refuge. The size of the operation and techniques needs to be carefully reconsidered when cleanup begins on the refuge portion of Matagorda Island. Whooping cranes and other endangered species must now be the top priority.

 National Seashore Park Oil Cleanup whooping crane
Crew members work to remove oil and reduce impact to the beaches of National Seashore Park April 1, 2014. Machinery was provided by Miller Environmental Service to help sift together any materials containing oil that may have washed up ashore. Crew members worked in large groups to help clean the beach efficiently. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class

 FOTWW contacted Nancy Brown, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to get an update on the oil spill. An official from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were officially appointed  to the Unified Command on April 2, 2014. Ms. Brown advised that, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is on the ground trying to determine how best to remove and transport oil off Matagorda Island.

Approximately 4 miles of Matagorda Island beach received significant amounts of oil. Basically the beach area is four miles long and 30 yards wide.  That portion has about 75% of oil on it but the coverage is inconsistent. The impact goes up to the high tide mark and not into the dune system.

Brown continued that the Unified Command was continuing to consider methods to remove the oil off the island with minimal impacts to wildlife and their habitats. She emphasized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would have monitors in place and travel with clean-up vehicles to document any impacts to whooping cranes and other species of wildlife.

FOTWW requested Ms. Brown to ask the Unified Command to consider leaving the oil in place on the beach for two weeks to allow time for the whooping cranes to move north on their normal migration. Currently most of the tar balls have been covered by sands washed by on the beach by Gulf of Mexico waves. Based on reports from flyway observers, less than 25% of the whooping cranes have departed from Aransas Refuge. FOTWW believes that the disturbance to the whoopers caused by the oil clean-up operation may be more of a problem than delaying clean-up activities for 2 weeks.

According to the “Texas City “Y” Response” news release, “Wildlife officials report an increase in the number of oiled and recovered birds from the Matagorda / Padre Island area. As of late Monday night 43 deceased animals were in possession of wildlife experts including a mix of loons, herons, terns, shorebirds and others. There are no reports of harmful impacts on Whooping Cranes in the area. Two deceased fresh water turtles were brought to the center over the weekend. Medical analysis will make an ultimate determination regarding the causes of death. Persons who observe any impacted wildlife should not attempt to capture or handle them but are urged to call 888-384-2000.” The Unified Command has made minimizing impacts to wildlife and the refuge landscape a top priority. They are using hand crews and UTVs in an effort to minimize disturbance to shorebirds and other wildlife

The March 22nd Galveston Bay toxic spill continues to threaten bird life and sensitive habitats along a growing stretch of the Texas Gulf Coast. Tar balls nearly the size of softballs have washed ashore on Mustang Island, roughly 200 miles south of the site of the spill. Critical dangers remain for birds and sensitive Gulf habitats.

whooping crane

Last week, Capt. Randal Ogrydziak, deputy sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi advised that on Wednesday, a 15-mile patch of oil was seen offshore near the Matagorda pass. Heavy sea began breaking up the patch during the night. Six- to 8-foot waves churned the oil, breaking it up into globs ranging from the size of a basketball court to a fist.

“So that’s all rolling in the surf zone and coming up on the beach and stranding, which is good. Let’s keep it in one place,” Ogrydziak said. While the heavy oil is predicted to stay put – where responders will begin a cleanup – the oil sheen may move farther south, he said. Endangered whooping cranes on Matagorda Island are on the bay side, opposite from where the oil is washing up, Ogrydziak said. “They’re not being impacted by the oil at all,” he said.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, also an endangered species, are expected to reach the island next month. “By May, I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to get the oil off the beach, and the turtles can come in and do what the turtles have to do,” Ogrydziak said.

A Texas City “Y” Response news release reported on April 2, 2014 that “Oil spill response plans for today center around continuing efforts to collect oiled sand and debris from impacted shoreline along South Matagorda and Mustang islands and parts of the Padre Island National Seashore. While high tides may limit areas accessible for safe activity by work crews, “Aggressive work will continue wherever and whenever possible,” according to Matagorda Command Post Incident Commander Randal S. Ogryzdiak.

“Plans for today call for approximately 389 response contractors to continue their good work along the shores in conjunction with federal and state wildlife agency personnel who are on alert for sightings of distressed birds and marine life, “said Incident Commander Randal S. Ogryzdiak. “ I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made to date and am confident we’re moving steadily in the right direction.”

Yesterday, response crews removed approximately 32,900 pounds of oiled sand and debris from shoreline on south Matagorda and Mustang islands and at the Padre Island National Seashore. Since shoreline recovery efforts began, approximately 71,350 pounds of oiled sand and debris has been removed.

Oil on North Padre Island seems confined largely to tar balls in certain areas. Vehicular traffic in the Padre Island National Seashore remains closed to traffic at this time although pedestrians still have access to the area.

Incident Command Rapid Assessment Teams continue their reconnaissance of shoreline and ocean from the Colorado River to the Rio Grande River in Brownsville, TX, which covers approximately 225 miles of south Texas shoreline and comprises two-thirds of the Texas coastline.

Members of the Unified Command are scheduled to participate in an informational session to take place on Thursday, April 3, at the Port O’Connor Elementary School, 508 Monroe Avenue. The session will begin at 6:30 p.m. and allow attendees’ access to officials from a variety of federal, state and local agencies, including the United States Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife, NOAA, Texas Department of Health Services, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

FOTWW seriously urges the Unified Command to consider leaving the oil in place on the Matagorda Island beach for two weeks to allow time for the whooping cranes to move north on their normal migration. Currently most of the tar balls have been covered by sands washed by on the beach by Gulf of Mexico waves. Based on reports from flyway observers, less than 25% of the whooping cranes have departed from Aransas Refuge. FOTWW believes that the disturbance to the whoopers caused by the oil clean-up operation may be more of a problem than delaying clean-up activities for 2 weeks.



Whooping cranes to benefit from USFWS water release

Kearney Hub

Releases expected to continue until May 10

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:15 pm

KEARNEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started releasing into the Platte River water from its environmental account stored in Lake McConaughywhooping cranes
primarily to benefit endangered whooping cranes during their migration stopover in central Nebraska.

The releases started Saturday and are expected to continue until May 10. They should increase Overton-to-Grand Island flows to about 1,700 cubic feet per second.

That is the minimum flow in a dry year that USFWS officials believe is necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River. Such flows are not unusual at this time of year and are well-below flood levels.

All the environmental account water should be past Grand Island by around May 24.Whooping cranes use the Central Flyway to migrate to Canada for the summer. It’s the same route used by hundreds of thousands of other migrating birds, including around 500,000 sandhill cranes. They all stop in the Central Platte Valley in March and April to feed in area fields and roost overnight in the river.

The environmental account was established in 1999 and is managed by the USFWS to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered species — whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeon.



U.S. Whooping Crane Boss Reports on Research Efforts


Improved habitat conditions on Aransas NWR keeps more whoopers on the refuge.
Improved habitat conditions on Aransas NWR keeps more whoopers on the refuge.

Dr. Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator reports that whooping crane field tracking efforts resulted in 13 marked birds this winter. Harrell stated that “68 whooping cranes have been marked with GPS transmitters during the past four years. This is the last season of capture and marking of whooping cranes in Texas.”

Harrell explained that “GPS units are attached to a bird’s upper leg and record four to five locations every 24 hours. Information on the marked whoopers is uploaded to a satellite every two and half days. These data reveal migration routes, habitat use, nesting locations, and much more. Biologists in the United States and Canada will use results of this work to identify management and conservation priorities in both countries.”

Back on the Aransas Refuge this year some interesting changes were detected by Biologists. More whooping cranes were located in the primary refuge survey area and fewer individuals were documented outside the
primary survey area. Dr. Harrell pointed out that, “Long-term whooping crane followers likely remember that over the last couple of years many whooping cranes spent much of the winter outside of the primary survey area. This was likely due to a number of factors including overall population expansion and ongoing drought conditions.”

Harrell advised that “the differences in the whooping cranes geographic shift among years may be due to shifts in food resource availability. While it was still a relatively dry year, some timely rains this past summer and early fall may have contributed to greater food resource availability in area coastal marshes. This may indicate that whooping crane behavior is adaptable and individual birds are able to shift their habitat and food use in relation to local environmental conditions. It provides a continued hope that the whooping crane population is resilient in the face of fluctuating environmental conditions such as drought. Wintering in a variety of places across a broader geographic range reduces the risk that a single localized catastrophic event could cause extinction.”

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Whooping cranes spotted near Aulne, Kansas

Peabody Gazette-Bulletin


Staff writer

Those traveling down Quail Creek Rd. near 140th Rd. may have noticed some large strange looking white birds. Those who noticed the birds for what they were could not get home to get their cameras fast enough.

There are only around 600 wild whooping cranes according to Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, nine of which stayed to rest in a disked milo field near Aulne. The landowner, Eugene Just, had sowed oats in the field.

“If they are eating the oats, I won’t have any oats left,” Just said.

Local bird enthusiast Lloyd Davies of Marion said the birds stopped to eat grain as they made their yearly migration from Texas to Canada.

“They basically make a jaunt from Texas to here, fatten up, and fly the last leg north,” he said. “Since there are only 240 in this flock and only 500 in existence, it’s pretty rare.”

He said most of the flock will travel to the sand hills outside Kearney, Neb., where they will stay for nearly six weeks before completing their trip to Canada.

The cranes were still near Aulne Tuesday, but Davies said they will only stay for a short period before continuing their trek north. Trackers on many of the birds help researchers inform local birdwatchers where the cranes are located.

Davies said this is the first time he has seen the birds in Marion County, but he witnessed three or four outside of Manhattan a couple of years ago.

He noticed that several of the birds were banded and thought they were juveniles, which he said is a good sign of population growth in the right direction.

Mike Carroll of Marion said he was on his way home from church when he saw the cranes in the field.

“My first guess was they were a swan or a crane; they were just too tall for snow geese,” he said. “I saw Lloyd’s post on Facebook and had to go back out there with the camera.”

Carroll returned to the field with his brother-in-law to take photos of the birds.

“I felt quite privileged to have seen them,” he said. “It’s like the first time you get to see one of the eagles at one of the lakes. It’s just really cool.”

Carroll said he is not an avid bird watcher but found the cranes to be too good of a photo opportunity to pass up.

“I just find it interesting to see different birds not generally seen here,” he said.