It's winter once again and time when all Texans axiously await the annual visit of our fair friends from the North - Buffalo National Park, Canada, to be exact
No, we're not talking about snow birds or an RV caravan of Winter Texans coming from the Northlands. These friends are of the feathered variety -- the endangered Whooping Crane.
Each year this endangered species makes a difficult 2,700 mile trek from Canada to their wintering grounds at Aransas Wildlife Refuge in the Coastal Bend of Texas. The nearby communities of Port Aransas, Rockport and Portland play host to the whooping cranes and many other wonderous species of migrating birds for the winter.
Though the whoopers begin arriving to their winter digs each year about Mid-November, it is not until February that the entire flock is settled and can be counted officially. This count is the cause of celebration every year. But this year the numbers are giving wildlife conservationists much to celebrate.
The latest count puts the natural wild population of these magnificent cranes at 237 in number. It has taken most of the twentieth century to bring those numbers up. In 1941 there were only 15 of the birds in existence, just four nesting families away from extinction.
These increased crane numbers are due to a diligent and concerned public, wildlife conservationists and multi country governmental effort to save the species. The Whooping Crane's story is an inspiration for what can be accomplished when cooperation, humanity and diligence are demonstrated for a common goal.
"The whooping crane continues to mirror the success of endangered species recovery when man sets his mind to it. We have come a long way, but we do have a long, long way to go," says Tom Stehn, the national whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
This year, the nation's only natural wild population of whooping cranes reached a milestone. Stehn's mid-December census of the migratory crane flock at the wildlife refuge, where he is based, numbered 237. Combined with the number of birds in captivity in three special flocks raised for reintroduction to the wild and those in zoos, the crane population now numbers 518. This is the first time in more than a century that whooping cranes have numbered more than 500.
It is in their honor that the annual Celebration of Whooping Cranes is held in Port Aransas, Texas. The three day celebration, now in it's eleventh year, is schedules for Feb. 23-25 and promises to be one of the most exciting festivals yet.
Participants will have a chance to view these grand birds at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge north of Rockport through a host of unique tours, nature seminars and festival activities.
Though the star of the show is the Whooping Crane, visitors will be enamored of the large, varied and abundant wildlife of the region, including migrating bird, sea turtles and dolphins.
Visitors of all ages will enjoy the many other activities during the celebration. Nature is the theme of the free juried nature related trade show. Shopping is an event in and of itself at this festival. Just a few of the items available will be a wide selection of optics, paintings, photography, birdhouses, books, clothing and jewelry. One of a kind gifts for nature lovers will be displayed throughout the three-day event along with delicious goodies from local vendors.
Other activities include tours of the Animal Rehabilitaiton Keep at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, photography workshops and field trips, watercolor workshops, the International Crane Foundation's International Children's Art Exhibit, an annual beach dash, and much more.
'Whoop it up' with the whooping cranes and their many human friends at the Celebration of Whooping Cranes, Feb. 23-25 in Port Aransas, Texas.