Friends of the Wild Whoopers’ supporters have first ever FOTWW outing
by Charles Hardin
December 7th, 2015 was the first ever gathering of the Friends of the Wild Whoopers. Though just a small group of five individuals, we five became the first organized group, acting as an extension of the Vice President of FOTWW, Pam Bates.
Our morning started 30 minutes before sunrise, where we meet with our Captain and fellow friend of the wild whoopers Kevin Sims, who operates Aransas Bay Birding Charters. Kevin was born and raised here in the lower part of Texas known to many as the Coastal Bend Area. It was with Kevin, his boat the Jack Flash, and his extensive knowledge of the bays and channels that we began our long awaited outing. We were not disappointed, Kevin knew just where to take us. On a day that started off with an early crescent moon over a bright star, I knew we would be in for a great trip. With Whooping Cranes, Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Osprey carrying fish, to Coyotes, and dolphins. This was such a memorable trip; one I hope will be repeated year after year, by FOTWW members and friends.
Friends of the Wild Whoopers outing comes to life.
Having sent out an invite by way of Facebook to those I had become familiar with while posting in the Birds of Texas website, and by reading and looking at various bird species they had photographed, and posted online, and knowing that they also had become followers, or friends, or members, of the FOTWW Facebook page, that I sent out the invite. Once sent, quick responses started coming back, saying they just needed to know a date and time, and they were all in.
At first we had a total of eight, who agreed to go, but trying to find the perfect date for all to attend, was as in any get together, a bit of a struggle, and in the end only five could make the set date agreed upon. So was the beginning of the first ever FOTWW outing. We all went to the FOTWW website, and ordered Friends of the Whooper shirts. To many, wearing shirts or sweaters with the common emblems was just a way to show they belonged to the group. But more importantly, the money proceeds from the shirts goes into the FOTWW’s account to be used to help offset the work being done by fellow members who have been traveling, and researching potential flyway stop-over points for the cranes’ yearly migration. It is hoped as more people join FOTWW, that enough money can be raised, to go toward the purchase of vital areas of land that the cranes require, as their numbers slowly increase.
To actually see a wild Whooping Crane is no small feat. Many folks come down to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge with the idea, that seeing a bird that is near 5 feet tall can’t be all that hard. But once here, they soon become aware of the difficulties of ever seeing a wild Whooping Crane, let alone on getting any usable picture of one to show to friends and families once they get home. The land area of Aransas NWR is vast, with only a small portion allotted to visitors. Many of the cranes spend their time out side of the refuge, flying into neighboring cattle ranches and farms during the mornings and daylight hours to feed on bugs, seeds, and Wolf-berries, only to return back to the refuge to spend the night. The owners of these private lands are thrilled with the fact that the only wild whooping cranes are coming to the farm lands and pastures, and do what they can to help protect them. It is because of this, that they do not appreciate visitors wanting to get close trying to get pictures of them, and clogging up roads, or climbing over fences.
My wife and I first visited back in 2008 and it came with the surprise of how hard it was to get close to a wild Whooping Crane. We found driving around in the Lamar area, just north of Rockport, gave us the best chance of seeing one. But even then the wild cranes kept their distance as they still do today. They tend to remain in the center of fields and farm land, as far away from the roads as possible. And now, nearly eight years later, the roads have become busy with people just wanting to get a glimpse of this magnificent bird.
As population increases, so does traffic
Because of the congestion, that is beginning to cause farmers, and cattle land owners heartburn during the winter, services that take people out by boat, into the bays that are part of the Aransas NWR, to view and photograph the cranes are becoming so important.
There are two Bird Charter companies that I am aware of, that offer this service, The Skimmer, that is large enough to carry several dozen people, and the Aransas Bay Birding Charter, that is much smaller, with a capacity of only six, but who’s boat the Jack Flash has been designed with photography in mind and the need to set up tri-pods, for their long range lens. Even though the Skimmer can carry a lot more people, it’s draft limits it to deeper water, whereas the Jack Flash has only an 18 inch draft, and affords the capabilities to float into more shallow waters, getting the passengers closer to the cranes for better pictures. Aransas Bay Birding Charters under the piloting of Captain Lori Sims, Kevin’s wife, has expanded their capabilities with another boat, the Lady Lori, to keep up with increased business. I believe, as the endeavors of FOTWW to bring the struggles of the only remaining wild whooping cranes to public awareness that the need for such bird charter business will increase.
Viewing Whooping Cranes in their habitat
For one to see, and get an understanding of the Whooping Cranes, one really needs to see them as they forage for food in the wild openness that is called Aransas NWR, and not from the window of their car peering out into private farm land and pastures. It is because of the nature of the Whooping Cranes needing plenty of space between them and other crane families that push them from off the refuge, into the neighboring properties. This is not their natural tendency, but a reaction to their needing more wild areas in which to forage, as their numbers increase.
So to those who may read this, and who want to visit, and see the wild Whoopers first hand, or want to photograph the Whoopers, I suggest you contact Aransas Bay Birding Charters if you want to use a camera with tri-pod, or a bridge camera with super zoom. Or to view with binoculars or bridge cameras with super zoom, to use the Skimmer. Both can be found by googling birding charters in Rockport Texas. To fully understand what it means to be free and wild, and to get as close as possible without disrupting true nature at its finest, using these services are your best choice, and will help keep the local area roads of Lamar usable for the folks who work and live there.
Great pictures were taken on our first organized outing, and I hope it is just the beginning as more and more people join FOTWW, who can help by donating to FOTWW by joining, or by ordering FOTWW shirts, and sweatshirt, or by cash donations.
Friends of the Wild Whoopers supporters sporting their FOTWW shirts
Nothing happens unless someone steps up, so a big thank you to Pam Bates, for your, and other members hard work, and efforts to bring the awareness to, and the need to help the only remaining flock of wild Whooping Cranes.
Proud member and supporter of Friends of The Wild Whoopers.
***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.