Excitement surrounds the first arrivals to South Texas of what is expected to be a record migration of endangered whooping cranes.
While fewer than 20 of the iconic 5-foot birds have been reported by casual observers and birders north of Rockport, officials with the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge estimate that about 25 percent of the flock, or 100 to 120 cranes, may already be in and around the refuge.
While a few had not left Canada as of this week, observers have reported seeing whooping cranes in every state along the Central Flyway from North Dakota to Texas, said the refuge’s Wade Harrell, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Based on what we’ve seen the last few years, it’ll likely be late December or early January before the entire population is in coastal Texas,” Harrell said.
The migration to Texas can take up to 50 days, with the population typically traveling in small groups and stopping to rest and refuel along the way.
Chester McConnell, president of the Friends of the Wild Whoopers nonprofit group, has been negotiating with military officials and Native American tribes along the flock’s migratory route to boost crane survival. McConnell’s goal is to partner with landowners to enhance wetlands along the Central Flyway.
This effort has resulted in unprecedented cooperation between the wild whooper group and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at suitable stopover sites in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, McConnell said.
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