FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

Whooping cranes, snowbirds invade Texas Gulf Coast

Jan 11, 2010 | Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Art Chapman | Related Press

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There are two migrations occurring along the Texas Coastal Bend; one is virtually invisible unless you know where to look, and the other is in front of you on the interstate.

The first, which began in early November and will continue through March, is the annual flight of the whooping cranes, those tall, lanky, once nearly extinct birds that somehow make an incredible 2,500-mile trek from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast every year.

From now, until the end of March, the cranes will reside at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, two-by-two. The birds are known to mate for life, but they will take on another partner should one of the pair be lost. Their arrival on the coast is a major event for bird watchers around the world. It’s not that the birds are so majestic (though they stand more than 5feet tall and have a wing span beyond 7 feet) but more because of their remarkable story.

They are an endangered species that once numbered in the thousands. But by 1938, the wild flock had been reduced to only 18. Over the years, with careful management and government protection in Canada and the United States, the population of this flock has grown to nearly 250.

This flock comes from Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park; there is another group that migrates from Wisconsin to Florida. It is the Texas flock that is best known and the one closest to extinction.

An estimated 8,000 visitors come each year to the Rockport-Fulton area to see the returning birds. Already this year, the “whoopers,” as the bird followers are called, say they’ve seen 22 juveniles nesting at the refuge. There is hope that this year the number of birds will fly above the 300 number.

Those “whoopers” are among the second migration heading for the Texas coast. They are part of the “Winter Texan” assault — thousands upon thousands of Midwesterners who are fleeing the numbing cold of Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas.

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