Whoopers should be flying in soon

By by Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Oct. 22, 2011 at 5:22 a.m.

The whooping cranes haven't arrived yet, but they should be winging in soon.

"We know they're en route, and we've had some sightings reported along the way," said Denise Ruffino, the deputy project coordinator for the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

This flock of whooping cranes has migrated between Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada and Aransas National Wildlife Refuge south of Victoria for generations.

The only naturally migrating flock in existence, the birds were in danger of becoming extinct with only 15 birds in the flock in 1941. Since then, their numbers have come back. There were about 290 birds counted last year, a record.

The birds usually begin arriving in mid-October, but the unseasonably warm weather may have delayed their travels.

They may be facing some challenges when they arrive because of the severe drought that has gripped the state for the past year. The lack of rain makes the water in the bays more salty and decreases the food supply.

Ruffino said the birds should be able to adjust to find food, but fresh water is a concern. Employees spent the summer months inspecting various fresh water wells on the refuge to make sure they would be in good working order to supply the cranes and the other animals in the refuge with fresh water if it isn't available from the bays, Ruffino said.

The increased number of whoopers could prove problematic in the face of the drought, but Ruffino said the flock has grown gradually enough that the birds should be able to adapt.

It's hard to predict how they'll handle getting food and what they'll do, but a lot of that is handled naturally, Ruffino said.

"We're expecting them to begin arriving any day now," she said.



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