The Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but my biggest fear in accepting a position with Operation Migration was event planning. I knew going into it that if the Board of Directors decided they needed to meet face-to-face, it would be my responsibility to make that happen. It’s one thing to plan your own trip, but to be responsible for flights, rental cars, meal planning, and lodging for up to 15 people was a project I feared. What if I booked flights on the wrong days? What if the lodging turned out to be a dump? What if a local constable backed into a rental car? Oh wait… that DID happen!

Heather and Joe were the advance scouts – they arrived on Wednesday, checked us into our giant condo-like clubhouse that housed 13 of us in 9 bedrooms and then headed to the Chamber office to retrieve some parcels we had shipped there. A few of us arrived on Thursday, and then everyone else came in on Friday.

Our first Festival event on Saturday was a boat tour to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where we were delighted by sights of wintering Whooping Cranes of the Western Migratory Population. In fact, we actually got pretty good views (and photos) of a couple of families, each with one colt still sporting some cinnamonny feathers. Heather and Colleen kept count – we saw a total of 49 Whooping Cranes on the tour! We also saw plenty of dolphins, ducks, and other birds on the trip, and had an opportunity to chat with Dr. George Archibald who happened to be aboard.

Colleen Chase and Dale Richter on the lookout for Whooping Cranes

Colleen Chase and Dale Richter on the lookout for Whooping Cranes

A family of Western population Whooping Cranes

A family of Western population Whooping Cranes

Hope, the ICF’s giant Whooping Crane mascot, was on the dock to greet us when we got back, but we had no time to spare as we had to hoof it a few blocks to our next event.

Hope, the ICF Whooping Crane mascot, greets us as we dock

Hope, the ICF Whooping Crane mascot, greets us as we dock

This was a luncheon that included a talk by Dr. Tom Stehn, retired Whooping Crane coordinator. He gave an informative and at times humorous talk about the 30 years he spent as a FWS biologist at the Aransas Refuge.

As much as I was starting to think a nap would feel really good, we continued on to our next event – the Whooping Crane Experts Round Table. With George Archibald as the mediator, the rest of the panel included Dr. Wade Harrell (FWS, WC Recovery Team Coordinator), Dr. Liz Smith (ICF), Dr. Sammy King (Louisiana Cooperative), Dr. Felipe Chavez-Rameriz (Gulf Coast Bird Observatory), and our very own Joe Duff. Some of you might have caught the discussion as it was broadcast on the CraneCam.

The Whooping Crane Expert Panel looks on as Joe Duff explains WCEP's 2016 plans

The Whooping Crane Expert Panel looks on as Joe Duff explains WCEP’s 2016 plans

We had time to “freshen up” at the clubhouse and then we headed out for a delicious dinner at The Venetian Hotplate restaurant.

Fortunately, I hadn’t booked anything for Sunday morning so we had much needed time for extra sleep and some R&R that included walks on the beach (where Heather found some very cool shells!), birding on the Leonabelle Turnbull boardwalk (can you say Wilson’s Snipe?), and shopping at the Festival Trade Show.

A Northern Shoveler, just one of the many cool birds at the boardwalk

A Northern Shoveler, just one of the many cool birds at the boardwalk

Back at the clubhouse a kitchen crew formed and put out a great “make your own sandwich” lunch buffet and then we got down to the business of the Board Meeting. So that we could meet all afternoon and then continue informal discussions on into the evening, we didn’t go out for dinner – we had a Texas BBQ catered by Mark Admire of Coastal Catering, complete with beef brisket, cowboy beans, potato salad, and coleslaw. Delish!

Our meeting continued all Monday morning and we finally wrapped up just in time for a lunch of leftovers. We had the afternoon free for biking, walking, resting, and even some laundry while Heather searched for a restaurant that could seat 11 for dinner. We just about took over a tiny restaurant called Roosevelts where we had a wonderful meal and were joined by Ann Vaughan, Executive Director of the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce. We couldn’t tell her enough what a great job they had done with their Festival and how much we were enjoying Port Aransas!

So, in the end I had nothing to fear – our Board and staff family is the nicest, most easy-going and helpful band of travelers you can imagine! We had such fun attending the festival together, we worked hard at our meetings, and in the end came away with an appreciation for how much more can be accomplished spending time together instead of just talking on conference calls. Next face-to-face Board meeting, I’m thinking the Hawaii Nene Festival!!! 😉

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  1. Chris Danilko March 4, 2016 9:16 am

    Job well done!

  2. John Gerend March 3, 2016 4:17 pm

    As the newest member of the Board of Directors, and having had the opportunity to participate in the board meetings in Port Aransas, I want to publicly thank Jo Anne for the terrific job she did organizing all the details for our stay in Port Aransas. How she does it all we’ll never know – not a detail was missed! I’m sure we all agree, Jo Anne and the OM staff is an amazing team to continue to lead us into the future!

  3. Jo Peterson March 3, 2016 3:42 pm

    Jo-Be, you did it! Hawaii sound great!!!

  4. Margie Tomlinson March 3, 2016 12:53 pm

    Oh, Jo B.! Am so jealous, but thank you for your report and coordination work. It sounded wonderful & oh, yes, the Hawaiian Nene Festival sounds great, too! Would love to go back to the Islands and see all the familiar birds from years ago, especially the Indian Myna. They are SO funny – remind me of Starlings. Thank you for all you have done for OM and us!

  5. Mindy March 3, 2016 10:52 am

    Thank you Jo Anne for the pictures and report on the Festival…sounds like you did a great job at planning!

  6. Ann Bracher Vaughan March 3, 2016 10:42 am

    It was our privilege and honor to have your board join us for our 20th celebration of the Whooping Crane Festival here in Port Aransas. Thanks to all of you for the outstanding work that you’ve done over the years, and we look forward to following and supporting your future endeavors!

  7. Shirley Green March 3, 2016 10:27 am

    Thank you Jo for the fine report. Sounds like fun and business to the nth degree. I think Hawaii is a super idea. I bet craniacs would help with funding!

  8. Richard P. Chase March 3, 2016 8:25 am

    Jo-Bel – Hawaii???? (See, sometimes it PAYS to be the coordinator!!

  9. Lara Leaf March 3, 2016 8:04 am

    It is wonderful to hear you all had a good trip to Port Aransas. Glad the meetings/talks went well. Especially glad you were able to get out and about!

  10. Leota Hopper March 3, 2016 7:12 am

    Sounds like a very eventful fun day! Jo-Anne, thank you for sharing the Aransas Whooping Crane Festival with us.

  11. Cynthia Wilkerson March 3, 2016 5:46 am

    Loved this post. Looking forward to seeing more of all of you in the future. Have fun in Hawaii. LOL