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Whooping Cranes ~ Aransas NWR – Coastal Bend, Texas

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The Whopping Cranes


Aransas NWR/Wood Buffalo NPC

Aransas NWR ~ FB

Day one was a tease with overcast, cloudy conditions and, until the end of the day, the birds, five feet tall all white, excepting black wing tips and red capped heads, stayed at a distance. Shooting from a floating platform in the wind and the elements was a new experience. I found myself low on the new learning curve that first day.

Captain Kevins Simms of Aransas Bay Birding Charters managed to be in the right place at the right time.

He was able to predict the birds behavior, cuing us for the upcoming flight or display.


The second day was a glorious day of shooting from start to finish. Lots of different lighting, most of it good. The birds, of all sorts, but especially the Whooping Cranes,  were more accessible and demonstrative.

The Oyster Catcher antics and behavior display at the end of the day was exceptional.

Once in a lifetime.

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus organized this exceptional photography tour. Jeff communicated a lot of pertinent natural history on the spot as it was happening and being observed. He also was adept at predicting bird behavior and cuing us as a group.

It took quite a while to process the number of images captured over the two day experience as well as to process the new learning that occurred.

An exceptional experience.

Sign me up for next year!


The Whooping Cranes were omnipresent, whether they were center stage or not. This was their ancient winter feeding and roosting grounds. This was their annual time to raise a colt, rarely two. There was a palpable primal energy in the presence and continued existence of these grand birds.

Birds whose breeding numbers had dwindled to just over a dozen:


“Aransas Nationa Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to protect the Texas wintering grounds of the Whooping Crane. The flock you’ll see here travels an amazing 2,500 miles each year down from the Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada, and is composed of descendants of the last wild flock (which according to many sources had fallen to a mere 16 individuals by1942). The birds were officially listed as “endangered” on March 11, 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. In 2012 (the last year for which exact stats are available), the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock (as it’s commonly known) numbered 279 – up from an estimated 245 in late 2011. (They now estimate, rather than directly count, the flock size; the 2014 estimate is stated at 304. The 2017 number is approximately 350.)”

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus

“‘Whoopers’ as they are affectionately called, can live up to 24 years in the wild. Adults weigh about 15 pounds. As North America’s tallest birds they stand up to 5 feet tall and have 7 1/2 foot wingspans. They are monogamous, typically forming life-long connections with mates. The birds are ground-nesters and both parents contribute to the raising of the young. The juveniles that you will see are about 6 months old and, while they can fend for themselves, you’ll often see them ‘begging’ their parents for food.

That food, often includes protein- and fat-rich Blue Crabs, unique animals in their own right.”

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus

“Due to high amounts of protein and fat, Blue Crabs make great food for Whooping Cranes.

Compound eyes on top of the head allow Blue Crabs to see in almost every direction at once. The crustaceans have five pairs of legs (one doubles as a set of pincers), which they can regenerate within two molts if one is lost in battle.

It takes Blue Crabs 18-20 molts to reach adulthood. Females mate just once in a lifetime, upon reaching the final molt. When arriving at her ‘terminal molt’ a female Blue Crab signals her reproductive availability with the release of a pheromone. Unlike females, male Blue Crabs mate often. After fertilization, the male protects the recently-molted females until her new shell hardens. When ready to spawn she will fertilize her eggs with stored sperm before placing them on tiny hairs  on her abdomen, where they remain 14-17 days. About two months later, hatchlings begin resembling adult Blue Crabs; however, in spite of the fact that females produce an average 2-million eggs, only one or two of them make it to adulthood.”

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus

“This tour takes place in a coastal wetland environment. Coastal wetlands – also known as ‘tidal’ or ‘estuarine’ wetlands, or ‘salt marshes’ – are where fresh water empties from rivers and meets the ocean (in this case the Gulf of Mexico). Texas has roughly 2,00 miles of estuary-bay shoreline.

The degree of the water’s saltiness (it’s brackishness) dictates what kind of animals can live there. Some coastal wetlands have more salt in them than others. Unfortunately, Texas now faces a problem whereby not enough freshwater is making it downstream to our Gulf estuaries. Due to statewide population growth more and more freshwater is being used and/or kept upstream. Freshwater inflows are crucial to maintaining bay and estuary health and the lack thereof has upset the delicate salt/salt-free balance that many coastal wetland species need to survive. Conservationists are especially concerned for the Whooping Cranes that reside each here winter.”

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus

Thank You Jeff Parker

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Captain Kevin Simms ~ Aransas Bay Birding Charters

Aransas Bay Birding Charters ~ FB

Jeff Parker ~ Explore In Focus

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Expanded Image Gallery Link : Aransas NWR ~ Winter 2017

Past Aransas NWR area blog posts:

Birds of a Feather

Duck Itch ~ Port Aransas Birding Center

Port Aransas Preening

Cap’n Tommy’s Whooping Crane Tour ~ Fulton, Texas


Categories: Uncategorized
Posted by bigdawg on February 13, 2017

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