Sunday, February 5, 2012

Rain - finally

Listening to the rain patter on our aluminum roof is comforting, even after a sleep-depriving series of thunderstorms last night. Ever since we got here at Goose Island State Park, the impact of the long drought has been very evident. Little wetland areas along the trails are bone-dry and the soil is dusty. Yesterday, we saw six cardinals gathering near our water hose connection, taking drinks from a small leak.

One of the biggest concerns is about the Whooping Cranes that migrate here from Wisconsin. An AP release last month noted:

"The lack of rain has made estuaries and marshlands too salty for blue crabs to thrive and destroyed a usually plentiful supply of wolf berries. In addition, a long-lasting "red tide" — a toxic algae that blooms in salty water — has made it dangerous for the birds to eat clams, which retain the algae's toxin and can pass it along the food chain."

The refuge folks and local ranches are feeding the cranes to help them avoid starvation. Normally, there are a few in a field just north of the park where the owners provide feed. It is a popular spot for photographers and birders. This year, we counted 13 Whoopers and several Sand Hill Cranes.

Some have noticed more of a survival mentality as well. Usually, crane families are territorial - in fact, we have seen newcomers driven off by the host birds. This year, they all hang together - sort of a "times are tough" community. They've got a long road ahead of them to build up strength for the long haul north.

Of course, the diversion of fresh water by oil interests, a subject of a law suit by environmental groups, has exascerbated the salinity situation. The lawsuit was filed last year by The Aransas Project, a nonprofit group of local governments, advocacy groups and tourism-dependent businesses in the Coastal Bend, claiming the state mismanaged water in the Guadalupe River watershed, contributing to the record die-off in 2008-09 of 23 endangered whooping cranes.

This rain, while welcome, is just the proverbial drop in the bucket. I suspect that the drought will continue for some time and that the cranes will have to survive on handouts.

Photo of Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR by Fish & Wldlife Service

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