By JIM FOSTER
Special to the Parade
While I stood quietly on a fence line, the three large birds paid me no attention as my camera clicked away at the approaching birds. One of the birds wore both a red and blue bands of a tracking equipped crane. These were a family of whooping cranes feeding in a field.
Their population reached a low 21 birds in the wild in the 1940s and again in 1954. The only remaining wild population now nests in northwestern Canada and spends the winter foraging in the wetlands and uplands of the central Texas coast.
Last year, 283 were counted in Texas. This past summer there were 37 chicks fledged in Canada. Now biologists think that the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population might hit the 300-bird milestone in Texas for the first time this winter.
Whooping cranes are the tallest birds in North America, standing nearly five feet. They are solid white except for black wing tips that are visible only in flight. They fly with necks and legs outstretched. During migration they often pause overnight to use wetlands for roosting and agricultural fields for feeding, but seldom remain more than one night.
Whooping cranes always migrate in small groups of fewer than four or five birds, and at times are seen roosting and feeding with flocks of the smaller and much more numerous sandhill cranes.
The whooping crane has made a remarkable comeback, primarily due to protection from unregulated shooting and habitat conservation, the species still faces daunting obstacles, especially in the 2,400-mile migration path traversed each spring and fall. Two-thirds to three-fourths of the annual mortality in the population occurs during the approximately nine weeks the cranes may spend in migration each year.
Radio-marked birds detected in Texas earlier this fall are two of 22 birds being tracked in a study being conducted by Felipe Chavez-Ramirez of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory designed to help better understand habitat use and sources of mortality during migration.
Even on the wintering grounds, where private and public landowners in the stretch of coast between Port Aransas and Seadrift have collaborated to help protect whooping crane habitat.
Of course, thanks to the misinformation promoted by Al Gore, some weaker minder biologists blame climate change on their slow recovery and as a future problem. It must be remembered that our climate has been changing for millions of years. Believing man has anything to do with it is vanity at its best and a real tragedy at worst. Messing with Mother Nature has backfired too many times, so let’s do what we can and not mess with what we can’t.
Anyone sighting a whooping crane can help by reporting it to TPWD at (800) 792-1112 ext. 4644 or (512) 847-9480. Sightings can also be reported via e-mail at email@example.com. Observers are asked especially to note whether the cranes have colored leg bands on their legs.
Editor’s Note: To see more of Jim’s writing and photography, visit www.fosteroutdoors.blogspot.com/. If you have comments or news for Jim Foster, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.