NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Whooping cranes introduced to the wild in Southwestern Louisiana are the focus of intense research aimed at finding out where they go, what they eat and what else they do with their time.
Nobody has ever looked for such detailed information about how captive-bred whoopers live in the wild, said John B. French Jr., research manager at the U.S. Geographical Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland, where the cranes were bred.
“I’m really eager to see what they can come up with there,” he said.
The graceful cranes, which stand nearly 5 feet tall with a 7 ½-foot wingspan, are among the world’s rarest birds. Just over 500 survive, all descended from 15 that lived in coastal Texas in the 1940s, French said. There are now four flocks; the 250 or so birds that migrate between Texas and northern Canada make up the only natural and self-sustaining flock.
The smallest and newest is based at White Lake, the area near Gueydan where Louisiana’s last flock lived in the 1930s. Twenty-six whoopers have been released in two groups since early 2011. Fourteen are still alive, including two from the first group of 10. Another 14 are expected Nov. 28.
They, too, will be fitted with radio transmitters so researchers can keep tabs on their whereabouts and go out regularly to watch them. That requires a spotting scope so watchers can stay at least 200 feet away, said lead researcher Sammy King of the USGS Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit.
“The last thing you want to do is disturb the birds” or let them get used to people, he said.
King said Tandi Perkins and Vladimir Dinets, research associates with the LSU AgCenter and USGS, and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Sara Zimorski, do most of the field work.
If a transmitter stops moving, they must look for a carcass, both to learn what killed the crane and to retrieve the transmitter to use on another bird. After the record Mississippi River floods of 2011, one bird’s remains were found in a harvested cornfield in the Morganza Spillway, 80 miles from White Lake. A predator apparently dragged it into the standing corn.
That’s far from a distance record for cranes in this group. One flew into Arkansas for a day last summer, while another spent a day 150 miles away at Catahoula Lake, King said.
French said the flock that nests in Canada hatches 30 to 40 chicks each year, while captive birds at Patuxent and at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wis., produced 29 this year.
Three died before they could fly. A fourth — one of six led by ultralight plane on a migration route from Wisconsin to Florida — died on the operating table after breaking a leg on a landing in Illinois. The other five in that group reached their wintering grounds at St. Marks National Wildlife Reserve in Florida on Friday. Six hatched in Baraboo were released Oct. 29 at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin to join the flock, most of which was still in Wisconsin on Friday.
Perkins said most research about what whooping cranes do and eat has involved the Texas-Canada flock. The Wisconsin-Florida flock numbers about 100, with another 20 in a non-migrating flock that never really took hold in Florida. Like Louisiana’s, that one was considered experimental.
“There are really a lot of unknowns for this introduced population,” Perkins said.
She spends at least a day each week in the field, keeping notes on where the birds are, how they’re distributed, what sort of habitat they’re using and what they’re doing.
For instance, how much time do they spend in natural habitat compared to crawfish ponds and rice fields? Do they spend their nights in the artificial ponds or go to another pond? Whooping cranes roost on the ground, not in trees, and standing in shallow water protects them from some predators while they sleep.
King said predators have killed fewer than he expected so far, though that may change in two or three years. “Once birds start nesting they may be more vulnerable,” he said.
For now, the idea is to collect baseline information that can serve as a basis for comparison in the future.
That should help biologists figure out the best natural habitat, how many birds it can support, how habitat quality changes and whether birds raised differently act differently, King said.
Whooping cranes eat almost anything smaller than they are — snakes, turtles, fish, crabs, clams, crawfish, frogs, rodents, small birds, berries and tubers. Perkins said they spend 60 to 80 percent of the time foraging in fields.
“A good share of that is probing into the ground,” apparently for tubers, she said.
The cranes may eat a bit of farmers’ crops, though far less than the huge flocks of other wading birds that sometimes gather at farm ponds. But Perkins said every farmer she’s talked to has been interested, curious about whoopers’ history in Louisiana and elsewhere, and sometimes very helpful finding birds.
She said, “I have farmers texting me — ‘Oh, I don’t see the cranes. Did they move? I was concerned because we hunt — what will that do to the birds?’”
JUNE 20 Here's the transcript of the esteemed journalist Rush Limbaugh's recent spot on Sen. Elbert Guillory. Guillory's video explaining why all black folks need to go running right over to the GOP (and no, one of the reasons given is not that you can't get elected Lt. Gov. as a "D" in this state) is "amazing" and a "tear-jerker" to Mr. Limbaugh. Of course, he doesn't mention that Guillory thought enough of the D party to join it so he could get elected to the state senate. But Rush doesn't disappoint; he does manage to make the spot about him in the end.
JUNE 20 Here's a WBRZ investigative piece on a foundation in Baton Rouge that may have some problems. Like what, you ask? How about under-reporting income by $700K or having a member who gets contributions by telling folks about her mystical experiences? This lady says it all began 30 years ago when a bishop who died "spoke" to her from his coffin, letting her know that she was not "out of her head." Um, OK.
JUNE 20 Here's another analysis (or post-mortem, as the case may be) for Gov. Jindal's recent post in Politico. This time, it's from the editorial board of the LSU Reveille. The kids say there were some problems with the column; mostly, they were related to Jindal insulting his friends, his enemies, and everyone in between, including himself. The contradictions Jindal displayed weren't lost on these students -- or anybody else.
JUNE 20 This post by the editorial board of the Picayune congratulates former Saint Steve Gleason on the "inspiring" way the man has responded to a mean-spirited and just plain appalling skit on a radio station about him and ALS, the paralyzing and fatal disease he has. As usual, the editorial states, Gleason directed attention from himself and to the disease, which he says is misunderstood, underfunded and ignored. Maybe this will bring some attention to the disease, the board writes.
JUNE 20 The Advocate posts this story about the sudden death of James Gandolfini, the television, stage and film actor probably best known for his role as Tony Soprano on the HBO series. Gandolfini died while vacationing in Italy, the story reports. He won three Emmys for the Sopranos role, but also was honored with a Tony nomination for God of Carnage.
JUNE 20 Clancy DuBos writes here about the legal, financial and political quagmire that is NOLA law enforcement these days. Sheriff Gusman and Mayor Landrieu are facing off in federal court, and as DuBos says, the stakes are high. Gusman's prison is "a hellhole," DuBos writes, and Landrieu claims the books there are "deliberately unfathomable." Gusman says everything's hunky dory, but it would be better if he got more money from Landrieu. What a mess.
JUNE 20 Blogger Tom Aswell says Gov. Jindal needs to quit touring the country bragging about his "gold standard" of ethics reform -- because it just ain't true. Aswell gives us a lot of statistics on our dismal ethics record, including a long list of violations committed by our fearless leaders and political groups. Taken all at once, it's not a pretty picture, and certainly not a golden one.
JUNE 20 This post in the Picayune reports that a contractor pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme that involved fake bids and kickbacks. The contractor said he cut a deal with a guy working for Orleans Sheriff Gusman to submit fake bids so his real company could "win" work for the sheriff, the story says. The former sheriff's employee already has pleaded guilty, the story says. Meanwhile, Sheriff Gusman says he hasn't been contacted by any investigators.
JUNE 20 Here's a Huff Post blog by Jason Linkins, taking a few shots at Gov. Jindal for his recent Politico column. For instance, he takes issue with Jindal's advice that the GOP "stop the bedwetting," pointing out that there were certainly some Jindal-positive patches on those damp sheets. But the main gist of the column is that Jindal was singing one tune back in November, but he's using a different score now. Either way, it's hitting a sour note with Linkins.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to offer shares of its stock to the public for the first time.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.