BlogTalk: “Friends of the Wild Whoopers”

This may just be a no-brainer, but it has come as a surprise to me. One of the unexpected pleasures of creating a blog is making new friends with other blogs and their bloggers. Sometimes I just want to share their stories, too, so I’m starting a new – “occasional” – feature here at “The Badger & the Whooping Crane” – BlogTalk.

This inaugural “BlogTalk” is all about Friends of the Wild Whoopers, a new blog (as of February 1, 2014) that is focused on the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population (AWBP). This is the only natural surviving flock of whooping cranes; these are the cranes that migrate between the Texas Gulf Coast and far northern Canada.

The Logo for Friends of the Wild Whoopers, designed by Pam Bates

The Logo for Friends of the Wild Whoopers, designed by Pam Bates

This post is about the blog’s two co-founders and their hopes and plans for it. This is also about my story of discovering their blog, and who they are. It begins one Sunday night in April when The Badger and the Whooping Crane received a nice compliment in the form of a comment. Included was a link to follow in case I wanted “some good history of the Louisiana whooper flock. . .” So I clicked, and was both surprised and delighted that Friends of the Wild Whoopers was where I landed.

But I was puzzled at first by a few little details – such as “who is writing this blog?” Though I couldn’t find a name associated with it, the commenter who had left the link to it had also left his name: Chester McConnell. This rang a bell.  Hadn’t I seen that name somewhere; maybe  on articles at the website of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association? A quick check there revealed that yes, I had. But the mystery remained: was Chester McConnell the human behind Friends of the Wild Whoopers?  I couldn’t tell.

This little puzzle was unexpectedly solved a few days later when a Google Alert for “whooping cranes” brought me to this article in the Victoria Advocate.  Sara Sneath, the environemntal reporter at this Texas newspaper, who writes occasionally about the whooping cranes that winter at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, had featured Friends of the Wild Whoopers in a news story.

Whooping cranes at or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy, "Friends of the Wild Whoopers")

Whooping cranes at or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy, “Friends of the Wild Whoopers”)

From Sara’s story I learned that “Chester McConnell first read about whooping cranes when he was in 5th grade.”  This was in the 1950s, she wrote, and an issue of The Weekly Reader magazine informed the young Chester, that there were only a very small number of whooping cranes left in the world and they were fighting for their very existence. It was a moment that set the boy on a lifetime course of actions to benefit the whooping crane species.

Now Chester McConnell was more than just a name I remembered from somewhere on the internet.  I learned that he’d had a career as a wildlife biologist, that, as he told Sara, he had “always made it my business to look up the whooping cranes when I had a chance,” and that he is, indeed, one of the partners behind Friends of the Wild Whoopers. I felt a lot of satisfaction in discovering this, and was grateful too, that someone so close to the whooping crane cause, had stopped to comment at this blog.

But that’s not quite the end of my “discovery” story. Less than a week later I found an email from the blog’s second partner, Pam Bates, introducing herself, and, noticing the similarity in our blog themes, she wondered if I could help with a technical question. I recognized Pam’s name right away, from the newspaper article, and was delighted to meet her in my email!

I knew from the Victoria Advocate story that Pam lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York where her interest in birds began with loons. Although she has never seen a whooper, her interest in them grew strong after reading about them in a news article in 2010. She joined the Whooping Crane Conservation Association soon after.  I asked her when she really knew she was “hooked” on the whooping cranes’ cause.  “Almost immediately,” she told me. “I always side with the underdog and if I can, try and make a difference, even if it is only awareness . . . because like so many, I didn’t know about that population.”

A family of whooping cranes belonging to the Aransas/Wild Buffalo population (photo by Chuck Hardin, courtesy of "Friends of the WIld Whoopers")

A family of whooping cranes belonging to the Aransas/Wild Buffalo population (photo by Chuck Hardin, courtesy of “Friends of the WIld Whoopers”)

Pam was talking about the Aransas/Wood Buffalo Population (AWBP) of whoopers; although they are the historic and wild, single surviving flock of whooping cranes, she feels (probably correctly) that the Eastern Migratory Population (the EMP  – those are “our” Wisconsin-based cranes) are the ones more often in news reports; probably because of the novelty of their origin – from captive population eggs – and their need to learn to migrate through a surrogate-parent program.

“The AWBP really doesn’t have any big groups out there in the public eye advocating and helping them,” she continued. “Knowing that, I knew that I had to do something  and was thankful to get to know Chester, who feels as I do.  Hence, Friends of theWild Whoopers was born.”

Pam explained that she and Chester have big plans for their new venture, hoping to expand beyond blogging. The goal, she said, is to “become a nonprofit, concentrating on establishing habitat and easements along the central flyway” as the whooping crane population grows.

Chester elaborated on the need for this: “There are now an estimated 300 birds in the population . . . So there has been a slow but sure increase. . . Over time the larger population is using more space at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and along the migration corridor.”

He explained in more depth the territorial nature of whooping cranes and their need for space.  Each pair can claim an average of 400 acres as their own, and they defend it from other whoopers to ensure they have ample food. Along the 2,500 mile migration corridor used by the AWB population – where the cranes stop to rest and feed everyday – towns, highways, and intensive farming fields are being developed and wetlands are being drained.

“While there are a number of wildlife refuges, privately owned wetlands, and open farm fields for the whoopers to stop on, there is a rapidly growing need for more secure areas that will be protected as whooping crane rest and feeding areas,” Chester continued “FOTWW wants to be prepared to help in the acquisition of these rest and feeding areas. We hope to have fund raisers in the near future to have dollars ready to assist . . .

“As Pam explained, we are relatively new but have big dreams,” he concluded.

To focus on this and accomplish as much as possible for these big dreams, Chester, has resigned from WCCA, a group he has served for decades – as president, as Trustee, as newletter editor.  He also built and has managed the group’s website for 14 years. But he feels so strongly the need to focus on the single Aransas Wood Buffalo Population, calling it ” the crown jewel of all whooping crane programs.  Were it not for this population, none of the others would exist.  It is composed of only wild birds and, importantly, has the gene pool necessary to maintain itself.”

As the focus at The Badger & the Whooping Crane is the reintroduction of a second flock of whooping cranes – one that nests and breeds in Wisconsin, I believe I’ve only mentioned the Aransas Wood Buffalo population one time – in a post in March: “Where the Birds Are.” But from time to time it certainly is desireable to talk about the bigger picture of the Whooping Crane species. Now, at times like that I’ll be looking and linking to -& will be grateful for – “Friends of the  Wild Whoopers” as the source of information about the many, many things concerning the AWBP.  


5 thoughts on “BlogTalk: “Friends of the Wild Whoopers”

  1. While hanging around Lamar, TX, I saw first hand how territorial the whoopers can be. Observing these magnificent creatures can be addictive and I already look forward to our trip to the Gulf Coast this winter. Always nice to hear of the efforts folks are making for the whoopers future survival.

    • Hi Ingrid,
      I, also, am looking forward to your return trip to the TX Gulf Coast ‘this winter’ (ooooh, those are hard words to type; winter just finally left Wisconsin yesterday!!) Anyway, I loved your personal discovery of the whooping cranes in January ’14, and know you’ll have more interesting things to say about them again.

      Now you know about “Friends of the Wild Whoopers” – Pam and Chester have tons of wonderful information about “your” birds – all the history, and all the news too – a good resource to know!

  2. Very nice article. My wife and I have traveled over 6,000 miles round trip to Rockport Texas, just to see the Wild Whooping Cranes. It being just south of Aransas Wildlife Refuge, it makes for a nice winter destination to escape all the rain, wind, and cold cloud covered day that we typically get in Bellingham Washington State. We have made this trip down to see the Whooping Cranes three times now, and have always been thrilled to see them in their natural environment. I have been in communication with Pam Bates since before she posted the FOTWW, and have submitted several pictures I have taken of them. You have posted one of them in this article. The Wild Whooping Cranes are amazing creatures, and deserve all that we can do to help them rebuild their numbers in the wild.

    Thank you for spreading the news about FOTWW.

    Chuck Hardin

    • Thank you, Chuck Hardin, for stopping by and sharing that, and thank you so much for the use of your photo! I was so happy to have access to the photo gallery at “Friends of the Wild Whoopers” and I am very sure they are always thrilled for the photos you and the others submit.

      What wonderful trips you’ve had to see the whooping cranes in the wild. Over the Memorial Day weekend I was on a field trip with the Wisconsin Natural Resources Foundation to Necedah NWR – the first time I’ve ever done anything like that, and it was very exciting to be at Necedah, knowing it’s home now, to nearly 100 cranes in the Eastern Migratory Population. I learned a lot and saw a lot but only saw whooping cranes in the far, far distance, through a telescope. I look forward to trying again, though! And I envy you (and my friend Ingrid who commented above) for all the cranes you’ve seen – but I’m also glad for you!

      • I was thrilled that you shared the story of the Wild Ones! They still have a long up-hill battle ahead of them. The rivers that empty fresh water in the the bays near Aransas Wildlife Refuge are under attack by big city’s and companies that are using the water to green up the city areas, by lawn sprinklers, and in irrigation. The fresh river water dilutes the bay’s so the water is less salty.

        This is where the blue crabs breed, and produce more blue crabs. The whole point of the Whooping Cranes to migrate to this area is because of the blue crabs. As the fresh water is diverted, and less fresh water inters into the bays, the water become more salty, and the number of blue crabs decrease. This is of great concern, as low crab numbers in 2012 caused a large die off in relationship to the total number of cranes. There has been lawsuits, and a temporary ban has been put into place to stop the cities from drawing anymore water than they already are. However there has been an appeal, and they are still waiting to see if it will be overturned. So their is still dire situations that threaten the faith of the Whooping Cranes. And when drought conditions in the lower and mid section of Texas takes it toll on city water, ranching, and irrigation systems, there will be more pressure to take more water out of the rivers.

        The problem comes down to weather you take care of people who need the water, or allow it to flow, so that the Cranes can survive. I know where my heart is, but I also know as water sources dry up, cities and governments will do what ever it takes to provide for the people living in the cities.


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