Gallery 9

Whooping Cranes

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The Whooping Crane is a clear example of how the federal government can actually do things right with endangered species.  These magnificent birds were down to a total of only 16 in the 1930's, having been nearly driven to extinction solely for their long white feathers that were used in women's hats.  Today only one self-sustaining wild flock remains,  breeding and hatching in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories Province of Canada and wintering along the central Texas coast in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas.  These are the tallest birds of North America, standing some 5-1/2 feet tall.  The February 2008 bird count as reported by Tom Stehn of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is as follows:

Adults + young

Refuge

  63 + 10

Lamar

      4 +    1

San Jose

  63 +     8*

Matagorda

  73 + 12**

Welder Flats

  18 +    7

Total

221 + 38 = 259

  *   High for the 2007-08 winter.             

** Record number.

 

 Their count did not exceed 100 until the 1980's, and only 50-60 remained as recently as the early 1970's.  Whooping cranes mate for life, but will take on another mate upon one of their deaths.  Two eggs are typically hatched but usually only one survives, although sometimes twins are raised.  Obviously this makes for a slow rate of population growth. The whooping cranes are thriving as best they can and it is great to see their numbers increasing, but they still face many threats - not the least of which are the increasing numbers of wind farms.  Although wind power sounds great as an alternative to hydrocarbon energy they often stand as perilous giant death chopping barricades to the migration routes of many bird species. 

 

The following photos were taken during a private chartered boat tour of the coastal marshes and wetlands of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge area.  The morning started out foggy and wet with a moderate breeze blowing the mist - requiring constant lens cleaning -  then quickly clearing to a bright sunny day.  There was very little time with optimum lighting conditions; first we were constantly wiping mist off our lenses and straining to get a decent exposure in the low contrast fog then we were battling the bright sun shining on  white birds and trying all we could to capture the feather detail.  It was an awesome experience to get to see such incredible wildlife in our own Texas backyard - I hope you enjoy them!

Tour arranged by Captain Kevin Sims at http://www.texasbirdingphotos.com/

 

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