When did you first learn about Whooping Cranes?

by C. McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

“When did you first learn about Whooping Cranes?” This is a question that I have been asked many times. Possibly someone has also asked you that question.

I first learned about Whooping Cranes when I was reading the Weekly Reader, a small newspaper made available to students in our grammar school. I was in the 5th grade during the late 1940’s. Our teacher assigned us to read the paper for an hour after which we would discuss what we read.

While reading I came across a brief article which explained: “About 20 Whooping Cranes have arrived on their annual visit to the Texas coast. These large birds will spend the winter on the coast and then depart about April next year. No one knows where they come from or where they will go. Their destination when they depart is a mystery to federal and state wildlife authorities”.

The next year I read a similar article in the Mobile Press Register newspaper. These two articles really caught my attention and have stuck in my mind throughout the years since. Best I can remember, I read only a couple more articles until I entered wildlife school in 1965 – 25 years later. And even then, in the early 1960’s there was little information about the cranes. It wasn’t until 1955 when it was discovered that Whooping Cranes nested in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. I saw my first wild Whooping Crane in 1994 at Aransas NWR.

How many know about Whooping Cranes?

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Crane Family Photo by Klaus Nigge

In our nation today only a small percentage of citizens have ever heard about Whooping Cranes. How do I now that? Well, I occasionally make presentations to conservation groups about Whoopers. Normally less than half in attendance know what a Whooping Crane is. And during general conversations with people they inquire about my interest. I tell them that I have been involved with helping Whooping Cranes for about the past 20 years. And most people question – “a Whooping what?” But, when thinking it through, it’s easy to understand.

Most U.S. citizens do not live near where Whooping Cranes nest or where they spend the winter or along the relatively narrow migration corridor in the central US. And then there are so many other things to be interested in that Whooping Cranes are far below the radar for most folks.

Importantly, however, those of us who are interested in the magnificent endangered Whooping Cranes are passionate about them. So, now you know my story. What about yours?

Let’s hear about your first encounter.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers would like to hear from you. If you will tell us about your first encounter with Whooping Cranes, we will place all such reports on our web page. So let us hear from you. You can write about your experience in the following “Leave a Reply / Comment” space below or send us an email at admin@FOTWW.org

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo

***** 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.


First Ever, Friends Of The Wild Whoopers Outing

Friends of the Wild Whoopers
Charles Hardin, FOTWW member and supporter

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
Photo montage of Aransas NWR wildlife. Photo by Charles Hardin


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

Friends of the WIld Whoopers
First outing of the Friends of the Wild Whoopers at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. From left to right front row: Charles Hardin, Elaine Brackin Lorrie Livingston Vit Lowrie,, Cissy Beasley, Lori McCullough Sims. Back Row: Laurie Sheppard, and Kevin Sims

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.


Charles Hardin.
Proud member and supporter of Friends of The Wild Whoopers.

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo

***** 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.


Gift for that hard to buy for person

With the holiday season upon us, we begin to think about that perfect gift to give our family, friends, relatives, and loved ones. There is always one or more people on our list who are next to impossible to buy for. They either have everything they want, don’t want anything, or just go out and buy what they want when they want it.

We have the gift for that hard to buy for person

So what do you give to “that” person this holiday season? Why not consider making a donation to FOTWW in that person’s name and we’ll send you a FOTWW T-shirt or sweatshirt, (depending on your donation amount) so you can give to them. They receive a nice T-shirt or sweatshirt and the donation goes to a good cause, helping us continue our work with protecting the Whooping Cranes and their habitat.

We are offering the shirts to those who make a donation to our cause. For a minimum donation of $29.00, you will receive a beautiful free high-quality T-shirt with our logo on the front and custom artwork on the back. If you also like our free cozy sweatshirt with custom artwork, a minimum donation of $36.00 is requested. A small flat-rate shipping fee of $7.00 will be added to each donation to help cover shipping costs.

Quantities are limited and we will not be reordering until January 2016. You may want make your donation now if you want these shirts as Christmas gifts.

Gift Description.
Our T-shirt and Sweatshirt designs were created to celebrate the beauty and resiliency of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population of wild Whooping Cranes.

To receive your gift(s), select your size and click on “Donate”. You can choose to donate with PayPal, a bank account, and debit or credit card.

Want to donate by check or money order? Please read below.

Gift Whooping crane t-shirt
T-shirt FrontClick on photo to enlarge. – This “Gildan” 100% Cotton, pigment dyed short-sleeve T-shirt has the FOTWW logo on the front, left side and a one of a kind painting of Whooping Cranes flying on back. Available in adult sizes: Small to XX-Large. Color: Light Blue


Gift - Whooping Crane T-shirt
T-shirt BackClick on photo to enlarge. – This “Gildan” 100% Cotton, pigment dyed short-sleeve T-shirt has the FOTWW logo on the front, left side and a one of a kind painting of Whooping Cranes flying on back. Available in adult sizes: Small to XX-Large. Color: Light Blue


Gift FOTWW Sweatshirt
– Click on photo to enlarge. – This “Gildan” sweatshirt has a beautiful embroidered image of a Whooping Crane flying across a wetland. Available in adult sizes: Small to XX-Large. Color: Sand


To send your donation by check or money order and to receive your shirt(s), please print out and send your FOTWW Donation/Shirt Form along with your donation to the address on the form.

Make check or money order payable to: “Friends of the Wild Whoopers” and mail it to the address on the form.

Postage and handling anywhere in the U.S. is $7.00. Canada and other nations will be determined by Postal service. Please send us an email at admin@fotww.org

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo

***** 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.


One Chosen: The Spirit Of Living Creatures

 by James C. Lewis

Book Review by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers                                       

One Chosen is an interesting book of fiction about the first experimental project involving a flock of juvenile Whooping Cranes that learned to migrate by following an ultra-light plane. The young Whooping Cranes learned to fly and followed the ultra-light for 800 miles on their first migration from Montana to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

One Chosen: The Spirit of Living Creatures by James C. Lewis
One Chosen: The Spirit of Living Creatures by James C. Lewis

To write his book, Jim Lewis appears to have transformed himself into a juvenile Whooping Crane to tell their story from their perspective. Notably, while the book is fictional, it is based on scientific facts.

The book begins with Firstborn, the main character, telling the story about himself and other cranes being hatched. Twenty-one additional chicks hatched into Firstborn’s family. From the time they were hatched, the young Whooping Cranes faced numerous problems and lots of happy times. Fortunately, “The Spirit of Living Creatures” guided Firstborn who, in turn, became the wise leader of the flock.

The author describes numerous details about the crane chicks from what they ate, attacks by predators and learning to fly following an ultralight plane called a Dragonfly. Learning to fly following the ultralight was a huge, dangerous challenge for the young birds. Life was not boring for the Whoopers. They learned something new every day. One of the most interesting and complex experiences was how and when the young Whoopers learned that their “Mom” (trainer) was not a Whooping Crane and instead was a man in a costume.

On their 800 mile migration, the young birds faced many challenges that are common to wild migrating Whooping Cranes as well as to the men who lead them. Occasional stormy weather, bitter cold and snow caused some serious problems. And flying over mountains with strong downdrafts was extremely dangerous. While flying behind the ultralight plane the Whooping Cranes faced aerial attacks by eagles and hawks. And when they landed each night they had to be aware of bobcats, coyotes and other predators. Several of the young Whoopers were killed while others became separated from the flock. The men who led the cranes on their migration likewise faced many challenges and dangers and hard work attempting to protect the young birds.

Finally the migrating Whoopers reached their Bosque del Apache Refuge destination. There they had to learn many more things. The refuge had an abundance and variety of new foods. They had to learn to roost in water near sandbars in the Rio Grande and in ponds and marshes within the refuge. Importantly they had to learn to live with many thousands of other birds like sandhill cranes, ducks and geese. The young Whoopers learned well for the most part. Even so, three more were killed. One by a bobcat and two by human hunters in a peanut field adjacent to the refuge.

Finally spring arrived and the remaining whooping cranes began their migration back north to Montana. One major difference was that they migrated on their own, in small groups and stopped to rest at various places. Firstborn and his new mate Raham returned to the Montana valley where their migration began and here the story ends.

Those humans who first conducted the migration experiment were pleased to know that their techniques were successful. Their hope is that what they learned would help assist in keeping whooping cranes from becoming extinct. To purchase a copy of the book, click on the following link:    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1518708242?ref_=cm_rdp_product_img

Reviewers view: The book is based on the first experimental project, where Kent Clegg, uses an ultralight plane to teach pen-reared Whooping Cranes how to migrate. Jim’s book is family oriented and without the violence, sex, monsters, witchcraft and similar trash written for youth today.