Today we welcome back Kathleen Kaska, author of the Sydney Lockhart Mystery series and the Classic Triviography Mystery series. However, today she’s not here to talk about her mysteries but about Rockport, Texas, the Birding Capital of North America; whooping cranes; and her non-fiction book The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, nominated for the George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history. Learn more about Kathleen and her books at her website and blog.
Migration: If It’s Good for the Birds . . .
On one my first visits to the small town of Rockport on the Texas coast, I disturbed a clowder of cats as I strolled along the harbor. Seconds later, a fog seemed to descend like a curtain over the fishing boats moored along the docks, and the line, “A fog comes in on little cat feet,” from Carl Sandburg’s poem, “The Fog,” echoed in my head. Since then, I’ve spent many weeks in this quaint coastal town. Every visit has been as magical as that foggy day.
Many of you know me as a mystery writer, but when I’m not plotting murder and mayhem, I’m out with my binoculars and my iPhone, opened to the iBird app. So it’s not the furry felines that draw me to Rockport every year, it’s our feathered friends, in particular the severely endangered whooping crane.
|The author (in white cap) out birding in Rockport, Texas|
Every October for tens of thousands of years, Grus americana, better known as the whooping crane, leaves the Northwest Territories in Canada and heads south to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport in Aransas County. Aransas County and neighboring Matagorda County are collectively considered The Birding Capital of North America. Between October and April, birds from all over the hemisphere descend on this area of the central Texas coast. Some stay for the winter; some refuel and continue south.
It should be no surprise that after my own numerous migrations to visit the refuge and to see my favorite bird, my passion for this severely endangered creature resulted in a book about its survival.
In 1942, there were only fifteen whooping cranes left in the wild. Many prominent ornithologists had written them off as a species destined for extinction. But because of the efforts of Robert Porter Allen, an ornithologist with the National Audubon Society, the species has made an unbelievable comeback. The key to saving them was discovering their only remaining nesting site, somewhere in the central Canadian wilderness, before development wiped it out. The story is a true race against time, an adventure for Bob Allen that lasted almost nine years. I like to say that my book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, can best be described as Indiana Jones meets John James Audubon.
Although there are almost six hundred whooping cranes in the wild today, their story of survival still continues. I recount those efforts toward the end of the book. Ever see the movie Fly Away Home? The story is based on an actual experiment to teach young cranes to follow ultra-light planes in order to establish a secondary migratory route. Operation Migration, described as wildlife conservation’s equivalent of placing a man on the moon, was started in 2001 and has resulted in more than a hundred whooping cranes now migrating from Wisconsin to Florida. The project is a continuation of Allen’s work, and the story of the pilots, research technicians, and volunteers is just as compelling.
Next time you find yourself on the central Texas coast in the winter, visit the refuge. Even if you’re not a birder, the more than 115,000 acres of coastal plains offers some of the best hiking around. Many of the hotels in Rockport and the neighboring town of Fulton are located right on the water. It’s not unusual to look out your window and see spoonbills, tri-colored herons, little blue heron, and most species of egrets flying by or feeding along the oyster reefs. And while staying in Rockport/Fulton, you’ll come to understand why the birds flock to the area. Not only is the weather enticing, you’ll have the opportunity to sample some of the best seafood in the country.
Find more information on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Rockport, Texas at these websites: http://www.fws.gov/refuge/aransas and
Elizabeth J. Rosenthal, author of Birdwatcher: The Life of Roger Tory Peterson, says, “Finally, Robert Porter Allen gets the credit he deserved for his tireless work on behalf of the whooping crane. Kathleen Kaska movingly recounts an adventurous life dedicated to the preservation of endangered birds when the odds were overwhelming against success. Kaska’s narrative reads like an adventure novel!”