Wintering Whooping Crane Update: November 7, 2016

Whooping Cranes arriving at ANWR

Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping Cranes

Whooping Cranes begin arriving at ANWR. Photo by Kevin Sims

The first fall whooping crane arrivals on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were reported earlier this week on Wednesday, November 2nd by Kevin Sims. He reported seeing 3 pairs on the Blackjack Peninsula. Two adults were also seen from the Aransas NWR Observation Tower on November 6th.  I expect that we will have quite a few more arrivals after the next few frontal passages.

As of November 2nd, all 9 whooping cranes with active GPS transmitters were still in Saskatchewan. Other migration reports from the rest of the Central flyway have started trickling in, with reports from all the states from North Dakota to Texas. Whooping cranes are currently spread out across their range, all the way from their northern breeding grounds to their southern wintering grounds. Another mild fall in the northern plains states appears to be contributing to a delayed migration, seemingly a bit behind even last year’s fall migration.

There have been a few whooping cranes reported from traditional stopover sites in the US such as Quivira NWR in central Kansas and Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma. For those of you that use Facebook, both of these refuges have pages where they report whooping crane sightings.

Texas Whooper Watch

Texas Whooper Watch is up and running and has done a great job in getting the word out on whooping migration to the public this year. Take some time to check out their website.

Texas Whooper Watch also has a project in I-Naturalist that is now fully functional. You can find it here. You can report sightings directly in I-Naturalist via your Smart Phone. This allows you to easily provide photo verification and your location. If you are not a smart phone app user, you can still report via email: or phone: (512) 389-TXWW (8999). Please note that our primary interest is in reports from outside the core wintering range. If you have questions on where that is, please refer to our primary survey frame map that can be viewed in last winter’s abundance estimate summary here.

Food & Water Abundance: 

Whooping cranes experienced above average water levels and excellent breeding habitat conditions in Wood Buffalo National Park this past summer. Similarly, this past summer in Texas was above average in regards to rainfall, but October has turned hot and dry. This is starting to negatively impact freshwater wetlands at Aransas NWR. We are hoping for some additional precipitation this month.


The Refuge received 7.9 inches of rain from July to October 2016 (Matagorda Island RAWS), about 3 inches less than that same time period last year, with 5.7 inches of this season’s rain occurring in August. Freshwater wetlands on the Refuge are starting to recede.  Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 18 parts per thousand and rising.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.


Friends of Lydia Ann Channel sues over Channel project

By:  Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Friends of Lydia Ann Channel (“FLAC”), a non-profit conservation group in Texas has filed a federal lawsuit against several officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“USACE) for violations of several federal laws including the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”), the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).

FLAC’s legal Complaint claims that USACE’s rushed authorization of the construction and operation of this mile and a half long industrial barge facility within the Lydia Ann Channel. Barges using the channel will be accommodating hazardous materials in the middle of one of the most ecologically and recreationally significant waterways along the Texas gulf coast. The barge facility may threaten known endangered species habitat, interfere with and displaces public recreational activities such as fishing, swimming, hunting, boating, and birding, and constitutes a threat to both navigation and to public health and safety.

Lydia Ann Channel

Barges on Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

The Lydia Ann Channel and the affected shoreline of San Jose Island are located within Redfish Bay State Scientific Area, directly adjacent to the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. These two areas are home to or immediately adjacent to known habitat for at least eight federally-listed endangered species: whooping crane, piping plover, rufa red knot, Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle, green sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, leatherback sea turtle and loggerhead sea turtle.

FLAC’s legal Complaint

According to FLAC’s legal Complaint, USACE’s authorization of this facility, and the resulting activities and work associated with its operation are substantial and pose a direct threat of harm, injury and death to individual whooping cranes and other endangered species in direct violation of Section 9 of the ESA.

The Lydia Ann Channel and San Jose Island have been used by the public for decades for recreational purposes, including fishing, hunting, swimming, boating, crabbing and wildlife photography and observation.

Whooping Crane Flock affected

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane flock is the only natural wild flock of whooping cranes remaining in the world. The current population of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock is currently estimated to be only 310 individuals. This flock winters in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and nearby areas in Aransas County, Texas, including San Jose Island, which is immediately adjacent to the barge facility and the petrochemicals and hazardous materials stored there. Whooping cranes have been documented in the vicinity of San Jose Island for the last five years.

The Complaint claims that USACE was clearly put on notice by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that there were federally listed sea turtles in the proposed project area. In addition, even the most basic review of available scientific information would have made it obvious to the USACE that other federally-listed species, specifically whooping cranes, piping plover, and rufa red knot were also in the action area of the proposed project.

FLAC is asking the Federal Court to declare the construction and operation of LAC Moorings’ barge facility unlawful and set aside the action that USACE in authorizing. A map of the project can be found by clicking here.

FOTWW voices their concern

Friends of the Wild Whoopers, a conservation group, commented that: “It seems that a “guerilla war” has been declared on the natural resources of the Texas coast. The Lydia Ann Channel project is just one of several projects and/or government regulatory decisions made during the past several years that are seriously damaging to the natural environment. Such continual chipping away at coastal resources will eventually upset the natural balance so long enjoyed by millions of citizens. logo

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.