PORT ARANSAS — Head south this weekend for the 25th annual Whooping Crane Festival, a celebration of the magnificent endangered species and its return for winter nesting at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge , along the Gulf Coast.
Known as one of the oldest living bird species on Earth, these elegant cranes have a wingspan ranging from seven to eight feet. It is the tallest bird in North America at nearly five feet tall and the average lifespan is over 30 years.
Whooping cranes – named for the call they make with a mate – are almost entirely white except for black wingtips and facial markings, black legs and feet, and a bare patch of red skin on top of the head. The chicks are cinnamon brown in color and grow up to an inch per day during their first summer of life.
These birds were said to have been endangered in 1940 when there were only 15 left. With the protection of the Endangered Species Act, they have made an impressive comeback and now number around 600. They spend the summers in northwestern Canada and central Wisconsin, and head south for the winter to coastal Texas and the southeastern United States.
Every year since 1996, the coastal town of Port Aransas has hosted the Whooping Crane Festival, which spans four days and features guest speakers, birding tours, boat trips, nature tours , photography workshops, trade show and more.
This year, a number of expert speakers are scheduled, including:
Sara Zimorski, who led an effort for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in 2010 to reintroduce and establish a whooping crane population in the state after an absence of more than 60 years. She will provide an overview and update of the existing population and discuss areas of success and issues with birds that remain problematic.
Hillary Thompson, whooping crane biologist at the International Crane Foundation, leads a capture team and coordinates the release of the young birds. His topic of discussion is Twenty Years of Reintroduction of Migratory Whooping Cranes.
Dr. Roberta Bondar, the world’s first neurologist to go into space. Aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 1992, she conducted experiments for 18 countries in the first International Microgravity Laboratory, precursor to the International Space Station. For more than a decade after her spaceflight, she led an international research team working with NASA on neurological symptoms seen after spaceflight and their links to neurological diseases on Earth. The topic of his discussion is Survival Corridor: A View of the Whooping Crane’s World from Space to Earth.
Several other guest speakers are scheduled for the event which begins Thursday, February 24 with a whooping crane boat tour from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. A bird and nature boat tour is from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. 30, followed by sunset. Wine, Bird and Dolphin Watching Tour 4:30-6:00 PM, Whooping Crane Reception at Port Aransas Museum of Art 6:00-8:00 PM, and Public Lecture 7:00-8:00 PM
On Friday, day two activities include activities such as a birding and nature tour at King Ranch; boat trip with the whooping crane; island birding and nature bus tour; Whooping Crane Migration Presentation with David Brandt; workshop on camera settings for bird photographers with Kathy Adams Clark; bird watching and nature boat trip; lecturer Dr. George Archibald of the International Crane Foundation; boat trip for photography and birding with Kathy Adams Clark and Dr. Scott Holt; sunset wine, bird watching and dolphin cruise.
Days three and four (Saturday and Sunday) will offer many of the same activities, plus the Fennessey Ranch Birding and Nature Tour; Shorebird Field Trip with Gary Clark; Workshop on Treatment Tips for Bird Photographers with Kathy Adams Clark; and Birds and Brews with Mikael Behrens and Ray Dillahunty.
Port Aransas is located approximately 300 miles south of Killeen near Corpus Christi.