SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS

Whooping Crane Drives Rockport Artist

Nov 25, 2009 | San Antonio Express-News by Lynn Brezosky | Related Press

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 1384

Warning: preg_match_all(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 700

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 707

Warning: preg_match_all(): Compilation failed: invalid range in character class at offset 4 in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 700

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in /nfs/c02/h05/mnt/46206/domains/thearansasproject.org/html/wp-content/plugins/lightbox-plus/classes/shd.class.php on line 707

ROCKPORT — Artist Ruben Sazón’s colorful studio sits amid the sun-washed fishing shacks of Rockport Harbor’s sparkling water.

Enter, and be immersed in a particular motif — the majestic but endangered whooping crane, the last native flock of which makes its winter home a boat ride from the studio.

A case holds his jewelry creations, including the silver and gold “soul mate rings” engraved with images of the crane that in cultures around the world is a symbol of love and fidelity because it mates for life. Sazón calls these his trademark; he was inspired after reading that the Egyptian hieroglyphic for crane meant “spirit” or “soul.”

Easels hold painted images of cranes in their elaborate courtship dance. Then there is the growing library of Sazón’s research into the bird, including National Geographics starting from 1959 about the whooping cranes’ fight for survival. A map on the wall has pins marking the hometowns of people who have stopped in to see, chat about and take home his works.

Sazón’s real name is Ruben Villarreal Aiken. Now 49, he was raised in Corpus Christi and was mostly self-taught. “I started thinking, people come from all over the world to see this rare bird, yet when I went out I could not find a whooping crane in any silver or any gold. I thought, this is really interesting. We have no whooping cranes in the backyard of where whooping cranes come.”

The story of the whooping crane, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is one of mankind trying to save a species that by the 1930s was all but extinct, the victim of unregulated hunting and settlers draining their feeding grounds.

At about 5 feet, the whooping crane is North America’s tallest bird. Fossil evidence suggests the cranes were once scattered in a range that extended from Canada south to Mexico and from Utah to the Atlantic Coast. But by 1938, there were only two small flocks: the one that wintered in the newly created Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and a nonmigratory flock in Louisiana. By 1949, storms had destroyed the Louisiana flock and the Canada-to-Texas flock was down to 15 birds.

Discovery of the remote Canadian breeding grounds in 1954 allowed scientists to artificially raise chicks from eggs that wouldn’t have hatched otherwise, including at the San Antonio Zoo. Ultralight planes with large white “wings” have been used to teach them a new route from Wisconsin to Florida.

Habitat protection and hunting restrictions meanwhile have helped the Aransas flock rebound. Tourists from around the world come to glimpse them, often on charter boats leaving from Rockport. In 2008, there were 270 birds.

But there have been setbacks. Drought in Central Texas last year hurt the flow of fresh water into the estuaries of the refuge, leaving water too salty for the blue crabs and wolfberries that make up much of the cranes’ diet. Refuge staff last year used deer feeders and corn to keep the cranes from starving.

Read the entire article »