Phyllis Yochem: Water vital to bird habitats
CORPUS CHRISTI – August arrived with a welcome companion — a morning of summer rain.
Water has been on the collective South Texas mind, with city restrictions going into effect as landscapes look increasingly parched. Water woes also affect the many species of birds that spend all or part of their year living on the Texas coast, including our famous winter visitors — whooping cranes.
In the words of Tom Stehn, retired Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, “Water issues are of great concern for whooping cranes. Data show that the health and survival of the endangered whooping crane flock is directly related to freshwater inflows from the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers.”
Stehn’s editorial discussing the recent ruling of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals appeared July 3 in the Caller-Times. The court overturned an earlier ruling holding the state liable for whooper deaths during the winter of 2008-09.
Responsible water management is at the heart of the issue. When salinity rises in bays and estuaries, the availability of the food and water resources the cranes depend on is diminished. Combined with challenges posed by additional habitat and environmental changes, the whooping crane’s inspiring return from the brink of extinction could face undesired setbacks.
What can you do to ensure that your grandchildren, and theirs, will have a chance one distant winter to see these stately and magnificent birds? Not in a zoo, but wading Texas coastal ponds, feasting on blue crab and wolfberry?
Do your homework, and speak up about what you learn. The International Crane Foundation and The Aransas Project are excellent resources. Volunteer to educate others. Donate time or money.
Most of all, be conscious of water usage; treat it like the precious and finite resource that it is. Replace a section of lawn with a xeriscape garden featuring plants that attract butterflies and birds. Fix a leaky faucet; install a drip irrigation system; turn off the tap when you brush your teeth. Make water conservation a habit for the present and the future.
The Hawk Watch got an early start this season, as watchers began manning the platform Friday at Hazel Bazemore Park.
Swallow-tailed kites usually are seen early in the season, and there are hopes for a record year for this species. Considered one of the most thrilling sights of birding, I’ll visit as often as possible to search the sky for this exquisitely graceful raptor. Slender Mississippi kites, tastefully colored in understated gray, have been reported over the prairies of Lavaca County and can be expected to pass through in greater numbers soon.
Phyllis Yochem, a Corpus Christi resident, has studied birds in Texas since 1960.
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***** FOTWW’s mission is to protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population
of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****