Whooper Week: Help Track Whooping Cranes

October 19th, 2017
A whooping crane in quiet contemplation.

A whooping crane in quiet contemplation.

This is Passport to Texas…Whooper Week.

October brings mild temperatures and Whooping Cranes to Texas.

Mid-October is when they start coming back to Texas. So, it’s a great time to start looking for them.

Marsha May is a biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

They basically come through the central portion of the state. So, it’s that route between Canada and Aransas National Wildlife refuge.

Marsha oversees several Texas Nature Tracker projects, including Texas Whooper Watch.

Texas Whooper Watch started 2011, about the time we had that drought. Because we were seeing whooping cranes going to new locations that we had never seen before. They were showing up at Granger Lake; two or three hundred miles north of their natural wintering habitat.

If you catch sight of a whooper, join the growing ranks of citizen scientists: document your sighting with the iNaturalist app.

Citizen scientists with Texas Nature Trackers collect data using iNaturalist. You can use your smart phone to take pictures of things and that data comes back into iNaturalist; and that’s data that we can use for many different things.

More on Texas Nature Trackers and Whooper Watch tomorrow.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Whooper Week: Population on the Rise

October 18th, 2017
Whooper chick and adult in Canada. Image from Whooper Conservation Society.

Whooper chick and adult in Canada. Image from Whooper Conservation Society.

This is Passport to Texas’…Whooper Week.

Whooping cranes are headed to the Texas coast from their breeding grounds in Canada, and some of us might spot them along the way.

There’s this funnel that happens just to the west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area that these birds funnel through and then come down to winter on Aransas [National Wildlife Refuge] .

Whooping crane migration path.

Biologist Shaun Oldenburger says it’s not uncommon for the birds to “fall out” along their flight path.

Early October through late October, around the red River Region, some birds fall out there. And then make their way finally down to the coast. So, they start falling out there, but for the most part, all those birds will push to the coast at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge by November.

There will be more of them, too. During the last winter survey their population numbered 329 members.

20— This last year in Canada they produced 98 nests, which was a record. And of those 98 nests they had 63 birds fledge, which was an all-time record. And that was more than 15 birds over the previous record.

Whether you view the birds in transit… or at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge…

Just make sure you don’t disturb them, keep your distance, and enjoy your time viewing them.

Despite Hurricane Harvey’s impact on the coast, the Whooper’s wintering grounds is ready to support them.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Whooper Week: A Rare Bird

October 17th, 2017
Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America.

Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America.

This is Passport to Texas’…Whooper Week.

Whooping cranes may be one of the rarest bird species in North America, but they’re hard to miss.

When we look at whooping cranes, there’s really nothing on the landscape its size. We do have lots of Sandhill cranes here, wintering in Texas. But, the whooping crane is somewhere in the neighborhood of over five feet tall, and has a wing span of over seven feet. In reality, it’s mostly white, so they really show up on the landscape, and they’re very iconic. You can see them from a long distance. And when they’re flying, they appear to take up the sky. And so, they tend to be these iconic species that people are really drawn to.

Biologist, Shaun Oldenburger, says what really gives them away is their call. [Whooper call] Since the 1940s, we’ve gone from a low of 20 birds to 329 according to the 2015-2016 winter survey.

And so, that is pretty substantial over the 20 birds or so during the 1940s. And what is even more incredible is if you think about these birds is they have very high survival rates and very low reproductive rates. And so, they only nest once per season. They usually lay two eggs per year and nine times out of ten you only have one bird that is successful in fledging. When you look at that, it’s just really slow trying to bring the species back from the brink of extinction, and trying to bring those birds back to a recoverable level.

More good news tomorrow when Whooper Week continues.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Whooper Week: Protections Since 1941

October 16th, 2017
Whoopers at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Whoopers at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

This is Passport to Texas’…Whooper Week.

Pushed to the brink of extinction by unregulated hunting and loss of habitat, federal and state protections on Whooping Crane breeding and wintering grounds were enacted in 1941 to save the remaining 21 wild birds.

And we’ve steadily seen those whooping crane numbers come up farther and farther and farther. And currently now, when we look at Aransas national Wildlife Refuge on the coast of Texas, it is one of the major whooping crane birding spots in the world now.

Biologist, Shaun Oldenburger says the flock is currently 300 strong; it took a coordinated effort between the US and Canada to reach that number.

If we look back in the 1940s, the US Fish and Wildlife Service purchased Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – which was the major wintering grounds at the time for the last population that we had here in North America. Their breeding grounds also became a national park through Canada. Wood Buffalo National Park. And, also along through the migration corridor, there’s also been protections and closures of hunting seasons in the past, and just doing lots of activities and education to make sure that those birds succeed in spring and fall migration from their wintering and breeding grounds.

More about this iconic species tomorrow when Passport to Texas Whooper Week continues.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

TPW TV — Finding the Story

October 13th, 2017
TPWD TV Series producer, Don Cash.

TPWD TV Series producer, Don Cash.

This is Passport to Texas

Get ready for the 32nd season of the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV Series on PBS.

We start our new season the week of October 15th, and [we’ve] got some new stuff this year.

If you’ve never seen the show, or aren’t sure you’ll like it, series producer, Don Cash, offers this reassurance.

We like to call it a magazine format. We don’t just do one topic in a half hour show. We usually do three…or four…or five segments of different things in a show. So, if the first segment’s not that interesting to you, maybe the next four will be.

It is a show about people like you who love the outdoors.

We find stories by going out in the field and working on other stories. You go out, you meet somebody, they say: Oh, you should meet so-and-so; they’ve got this thing going. And by going out in the field and going to the parks and going different places – that’s how we find the stories. Now, sometimes, they come our way. Sometimes people let us know. But for the most part, we just find them when we’re out there traveling the state.

Such as when they discovered a woman in remote West Texas who creates habitat for birds.

I mean, you’ve got to be a special person to live by yourself out in West Texas, up in the back of a canyon, and do all this work on your own – and the welcome people to come in – and look at the birds that come into your place. So, that’s the thing that I enjoy about doing this.

We think you’ll enjoy it, too. The new season of the Texas Parks and Wildlife TV series on PBS begins the week of October 15.

Check your local listings.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.