Whooping Cranes at White Lake

I saw my first whooping crane in Louisiana last Saturday, ten birds that were brought in from the captive breeding program in Patuxent, MD. They are in a temporary holding pen at White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area, a beautiful refuge of marsh in Vermilion Parish. It's almost 71,000 acres. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries oversees this area and is a partner with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in this Whooping Crane reintroduction program. In 2004 while working on my Marsh Mission project I got to see how productive and beautiful this marsh is.

I saw my first whooping crane, Grus Americana, in 1973 from the deck of Captain Brownie Brown’s wooden, pink tour boat. He was a real character. At that time there were only a total of 70 whoopers in the world, 51 wild birds and 19 in captivity. The endangered species act was passed that year and I have been interested in studying these rare animals ever since.

According to Dr. George Lowery’s book Louisiana Birds, the last native Whooping Crane in Louisiana was captured in the marsh near White Lake March 11, 1950. There were thirty-eight total birds of this species in the whole world that year. Nationwide their numbers dropped to an all time low of twenty-three in 1953. Since then they have been on slow but steady climb up to more than 500 birds with 382 of those in the wild as of 2009. All because of successful conservation efforts of the USFW Service and many others.

Bob Love, Coastal and Non-game Resources Division Administrator, of LDWF is heading up the effort to restore a population of America’s tallest bird to its historic habitat in southwest Louisiana. He tells me it’s been a full time effort for a year and a half to get the paperwork and infrastructure set up for this release last week. Many of his cohorts have assisted, especially the staff of Rockefeller refuge. Rockefeller was the number one reason the alligator became one of the most successful comebacks of wildlife in America. Tom Hess has been on the staff there for years and has been very instrumental in helping the comeback of the brown pelican and bald eagle in Louisiana. Tom was there on Saturday to put radio collars on the juvenile whooping cranes. I have known Tom and Bob since the early 70’s when I took a few courses in LSU’s wildlife management grad school.

I watched the ten birds from a blind about 100 yards away; the biologist do not want the young birds to imprint on humans. They have been fed by puppet heads that look like adult cranes and are cared for by biologist wearing crane suits. All efforts are to give these birds a chance to make it in the wild and adapt to their new but historic home near White Lake.

Bob looks at this release as a gift to the residents of Southwest Louisiana and another reason to take care and restore our subsiding wetlands. I think and hope this could be a magic nugget that gets us over the hump to do that, save our wetlands, not only for the whooping crane, alligator, egrets and wood ducks, but also for the wonderful people of coastal Louisiana. If you want to help the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Foundation has a special fund for the whooping crane project. Private funds are needed. To donate please visit: www.wlf.louisiana.gov/lwff and be sure to note on your gift: The Whooping Crane Fund


Japanese Magnolias

Boom, a burst of pink and purple brightens the streets of Baton Rouge.  The Japanese Magnolias are ready to erupt any day now in these wild colors contrasting starkly with the browns and grays of winter vegetation. Soon, you will be able to see some of my favorite trees on Highland Road.  The bloom is late in my book, as I have seen them pop out as early as January 8th in warmer years.  South Louisiana has had two cold winters sandwiching a hot dry summer of 2010. Pretty weird that we had no freezes or frost in the winter of 2008/09, then about 20 last year and are working on 20 this year too.  These have been cold hard freezes for the south; my birdbath has had an inch of ice on it five times this winter.  Last year we had two 5 inch snows.

Weather though is one of my tools. As a nature photographer weather along with light makes or breaks a photograph. A colleague of mine says that there has been a picture taken of everything in nature. (Except for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker) I won’t totally agree with that, but you do need some spectacular light and great technique to get a different rendition of a great egret or a grove of bald cypress trees. Rain, wind, cold or snow makes it hard on the cameras and the body, but that’s when you need to be out there working the many beautiful habitats of Louisiana.  

Finally some color is on its way. Get ready for spring.
Be sure to also check out the WEATHER photo album I recently posted at my Facebook page: HERE