Whooping Crane flock enlarges as Wood Buffalo National Park celebrates 50th Anniversary

by Chester McConnell, FOTWW

Partners celebrating 50 years of whooping crane conservation

Parks Canada and its partners, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), are celebrating 50 years of whooping crane conservation at Wood Buffalo National Park. This international conservation partnership began in 1966 when the fragile state of the world’s last whooping crane flock brought Canadian and American partners together to share their knowledge and work on joint species recovery efforts. This example of successful international stewardship is a model for cooperation amongst conservation groups in the preservation of endangered species that cross international borders.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Parks Canada explained that: “The Government of Canada is committed to preserving our national parks and contributing to the recovery of species-at-risk. There is much to celebrate in the progress that has been made over the past 50 years in the recovery of this beautiful and iconic bird and I am very proud Canada’s role in this international conservation effort. I applaud Parks Canada and its partners, both domestically and in the US, for their on-going efforts to save this species-at-risk.”

FOTWW supports efforts of Wood Buffalo National Park

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is one of several private groups that supports Wood Buffalo National Park and their efforts to protect and manage the only wild Whooping Crane flock on planet Earth. FOTWW joins with Wood Buffalo personnel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of outstanding Whooping Crane conservation. One highlight of the celebration is the hatching and survival of twin Whooping Crane chicks (Figure 1).

Wood Buffalo National Park

Figure 1. Only one Whooping Crane pair had twins that survived during the 2016 nesting season on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. The adult parents and twin juveniles are shown in the photo. The white Whoopers are adults and brown pair are juveniles. These Whoopers are now migrating towards Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Photo by John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Accomplishments at Wood Buffalo National Park

The accomplishments of Whooping Crane conservation are remarkable. Mike Keizer, External Relations Manager, Wood Buffalo explained that, “We have watched the Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping Crane flock grow from 48 birds in 1966 to 329 today.  In fact, there are almost as many chicks born this year as there were cranes in existence when this partnership began and when annual surveys began in 1966. The 2016 chick count in August 2016 found that 45 chicks were born in 2016. 43 Whooping Crane pairs had one juvenile each and one pair had two juveniles. Annual productivity was 0.57 juveniles per nest, well above than the 20-year average of 0.48 but within the long-term natural range of variation (Figure 2).

 

Wood Buffalo National Park

Figure 2. This chart depicts the number of Whooping Crane nest and chicks hatched on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada from 1992 through 2016. Note that there were 40 nest in 1992 where 17 chicks hatched and survived. Likewise there were 79 nest in 2016 with 45 chicks hatching and surviving.

Parks Canada and the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team

Parks Canada manages one of the finest and most extensive systems of protected natural and cultural heritage areas in the world, and is a recognized world leader in conservation.

Today, the International Whooping Crane Recovery Team oversees the cranes’ recovery. This group, made up of national, provincial, territorial, and state wildlife authorities and non-government organizations, works to preserve the ecological integrity of crane habitat, identify potential threats to the cranes, and foster research that builds a greater understanding of the species.

 

***** 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.

50th Anniversary

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

78 Whooping Crane Nests Located in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada

by Wood Buffalo National Park staff

A total of 78 nests were located during the 2016 Whooping Crane nest survey in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) and in crane habitat located outside the Park. The survey is a joint project between Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The 78 nests detected is the second highest nest count on record. 71 nests where located within WBNP and 7 nests were located outside of the Park. The highest nest count on record is 82 nests located during the 2014 nest survey.

Improved conditions on whooping crane nesting grounds

Nest numbers increased over last year’s count, when 68 nests were detected during the 2015 survey (the low number of nests detected during the 2015 nest survey is believed to have been related to the low water levels/drought in the nesting area). Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016 are shown in the graph below.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds

Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016

Over-the-bank flooding

Conditions on the nesting grounds were much wetter in 2016 when compared with the conditions observed during the 2015 survey. Water levels on the Sass River and Klewi River were noticeably high. Over-the-bank flooding was observed along the Sass and Klewi Rivers and replenishing waters into the neighboring ponds and wetlands.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds

Sass River – Whooping Crane nesting Grounds
John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds

Klewi River – Whooping Crane nesting Grounds John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

 

The survey was conducted over four days, May 19, 20, 22 and 23.  Poor weather conditions on May 22 prevented flying. The aircraft used during survey was an ASTAR 350 B-2 Helicopter.

Whooping Crane nesting Grounds John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

ASTAR 350 B-2 Helicopter
John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Personnel involved in the survey included:
– John Conkin, Wildlife Technician, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada
– Keith Hartery, Resource Management Technician, WBNP, Parks Canada
– John McKinnon, Ecosystem Geomatics Technician, WBNP, Parks Canada
– Katie McNab, Resource Management Officer,  WBNP, Parks Canada
– Howard Vigneault, Helicopter Pilot, Highland Helicopters6.

Observations

Interesting observations during the survey included a total 193 cranes observed over the 4 days. Occasionally the cranes standup and/or walk off the nest mound as we circle above and we get to count the eggs. A total 37 Whooping Crane eggs were observed at 19 of the 78 nests during the survey. 18 nests had two eggs, 1 nest had one egg. (We were unable to determine the number of eggs at the other 59 Nests).

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds

Whooping Crane sitting on nest. Note crane in center of photo. ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

We observed one pair of Whooping Cranes that were “dancing”. One group of 3 whooping cranes was observed. A lone adult Whooping Crane was observed being harassed by 2 “dive-bombing” red-winged black birds. Two black bears were observed in the nesting grounds. And, on the last day of the survey, a raven greeted us just before take-off, posing for a picture while perched on the tail of the Helicopter.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds

Greetings from Raven. John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

 

 friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo friendsofthewildwhoopers.org ***** 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.

friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

***** 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.