Friday, December 22, 2023

The Whooping Cranes at Lamar, Texas, and a white-tailed kite

We, (Barb Dan, Renita, and I), decided to cross the Copano Bay Bridge and photograph the Whooping cranes that winter in Lamar, Texas. It’s a short drive from our rv park, (about nine miles), and friends had reported seeing as many as eighteen whooping cranes in the fields along St Charles Bay. The population of whooping cranes last year was five hundred and forty-two(about). Eighteen whooping cranes would be like seeing thirty grizzly bears in a day in Grand Teton National Park, (the most we have ever seen is eight). Usually, any whooping crane family controls about a mile and a half of territory and fights any others trying to fly in. So the question is, what’s going on?
The answer is of course the feeders. They are timed to release deer food which the whooping cranes also love. The whoopers wait by the feeders in several different areas. They also feed on cattle forage and are not bothered by the cows. They also try to chase away sandhill cranes, which are smaller, so the fields of Lamar are a busy place. Driving to Lamar we turned down fourth street.
A resident alligator laid in the backyard of a house, (and we later learned that as many as five warm up in the mowed grass). The cattails blocked our view of the first feeder. Turning left we passed eighth street and saw the whoopers. Pulling over we counted twenty of the huge cranes, besides a flock of sandhills. Twenty is the most we have ever seen in one day, and they seemed to tolerate each other.
We have seen the immature whoopers form large flocks of as many as eight, but these were not all what we call teenagers. There were at least two-family groups with a colt, this year’s hatchling. The colts still have many brown feathers and a brown head. A family usually has one of the adults watching for danger while the other adult and the colt feed. Besides looking for predators, (an adult whooping crane has been documented as killing a feral hog with a single blow of it’s sharp bill to the pigs head.
As we watched the whooping cranes, a flight of about thirty roseate spoon bills landed in the pond. Two others perched in a tree, and a long billed dowitcher landed near us.
At one point two of the immature whooping cranes headed to the herd of cattle, but an adult whooping crane ran them off and chasing them back. Next, wo more whoopers flew in and several of the whoopers lifted the heads straight up and let out warning calls.
The new whoopers didn’t care and landed a little distance away.
They then fed and slowly walked towards the others which is pretty unusual as the dominant birds will often charge the newcomers, raising their wings and even attacking them with their beaks, (unusual but we did, in an earlier blog, post a picture of such a whooping crane fight).
There were quite a few other birders on the roads and so we decided to drive over to Big Tree. Renita was driving slowly when I suddenly yelled stop as I saw a small hawk.
It had a white head, tail, and underside! It was a white-tailed kite, which are usually only seen further south. It was only the second time we have ever spotted one.
Walking around Big Tree we saw monarch butterfies,
(which are usually far south by this time and a swallowtail butterfly.
What a day! Twenty whooping cranes and a white-tailed kite. We also met and talked with other birders, including one who leads birding adventures three days a week. Anytime you can bird with an expert is an opportunity you should not pass up! So many endangered birds in close proximity is dangerous, One worries that they could easily spread the avian bird flu throughout the flock. One way to prevent this is to stop feeding the whoopers, with deer feeders. This would cause them to spread out and seek their normal food, preventing a disaster. Why doesn’t the US Fish and Wildlife and the Texas Game and Fish Department step up? Clear skies

1 comment:

  1. WOW what a show. Seeing that many at one time is fantastic. Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy the holidays.