Roving Reporter | "Aransas Bird and Nature Club Hears Crane Reports" by Jeanette Larson

The Aransas Bird and Nature Club (ABNC) held its first meeting since April 2017 on Wednesday, January 18, 2018. Those in attendance learned that ABNC received a number of donations after Hurricane Harvey. Funds were generally earmarked for projects that support the Aransas County ISD's birding club (ABCN purchases binoculars for the kid birders) or for habitat restoration at the various birding sites in the county. Additionally, the Texas Ornithological Society has given the club a grant of $6000 to improve and enhance the Tule Marsh East/Demo Garden. FEMA will fix the broken roof on that pavilion but ABCN president, Debra Corpora, reported that the club will build sections of privacy fencing and construct a bird drip, as well as restore lost understory.

Nikki Davis, ICF
Dr. Liz Smith, ICF
Corpora also reported that most of our resident birds perished in the storm. While migratory birds probably avoided the area, local birds had nowhere to go. Although the population was virtually decimated, birds are now moving into Rockport from other areas as they realize territory is available. Claudia Dorn reported that the annual Christmas Bird Count saw only 139 species, down from the previous year's 176. The Christmas Bird Count is an annual occurrence to inventory bird populations across the country. Volunteer citizen scientists do the count.

The main presentation was from Dr. Liz Smith and the staff at the International Crane Foundation (ICF). Although their offices in Rockport were destroyed, the Foundation is working out of Corpus Christi to continue their work with the whooping cranes. In the past year the local staff also grew from one person to four. This has allowed "incredible support" for multi-year projects.

Nikki Davis, Ecosystem Scientist, reported on her landscape study. Thankfully, the whooping cranes were not in Texas when Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport. However the hurricane seriously compromised their landscape. Davis reported that there is a need for approximately 140,000 acres to sustain 1000 whooping cranes. Suitable habitat is available in our area if the cranes will go there. She discussed the salination levels in freshwater ponds, post-storm. The Foundation surveyed 23 freshwater ponds in the habitat area and found high levels of salt. It's unclear whether the ponds affected by Harvey's storm surges will flush out. Salination levels are currently near the level where the cranes won't be able to drink.

Dr. Smith shared historic information about the crane population, especially in the Lamar Peninsula. She also talked about a study to find out where the cranes roost at night. Overall it has been a good winter on the Peninsula, according to Dr. Smith, with increased crane population observed. The organization is finalizing a website application that will allow the community to get real-time reports on studies and crane activity.

The Bird and Nature Club meets monthly at the Aquarium Education Building and the public is invited.

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