Counting Whooping Cranes

Wondering what is involved with counting whooping cranes?

Each fall, the natural wild flock of whooping cranes migrates the 2,500 miles from their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter. They live on the Texas coast a few months of the year and they spend that time feeding in the remote wetlands of the refuge and surrounding area. So how do U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists estimate the number of whooping cranes in existence today? The answer: long hours in a small plane flying a grid and looking very, very closely at what is happening on the ground.

While the whooping cranes are in Texas, researchers conduct surveys by plane to gauge the status of the population. They fly several flights and while flying a grid pattern over the refuge, they have to be able to discern which birds are whooping cranes. Can you find the whooping cranes in the photo below?

Counting Whooping Cranes

Birds on the ground, viewed from the survey plane (original photo: Tom Stehn)

 

The data collected from the flights is used to calculate an estimate of the wild whooping crane population. If you would like to see more photos and read more details about how USFWS conducts their aerial surveys on the Aransas NWR, click here.

Counting whooping cranes is not an easy task and FOTWW thanks the USFWS for taking the time and going into detail on how the surveys are conducted.

***** 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.

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Wintering Whooping Crane Update, April 7, 2017


Wintering Whooping Crane Update
Wade Harrell, – U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping crane spring migration is in full swing. It has been another tremendous winter season here at Aransas NWR, but the whooping cranes are ready to get back up to Wood Buffalo National Park for another breeding season.

Whooping Crane Update

Whooping crane family flying over Aransas NWR. Photo by Chuck Hardin

As of yesterday, of 7 birds that have active satellite transmitters, 5 have departed Aransas NWR. Quivira NWR (Kansas) and surrounding areas seem to be a hotspot for stopovers this spring, with a group of 14 whooping cranes reported last week and a group of 8 reported this week as well as sightings of smaller groups. There have also been a number of whooping cranes reported in the Platte River in Nebraska and a number that have already made it to the Dakotas. Here in Texas, 2 marked whoopers were spotted on Ft. Hood Army Base this past week. The number of whooping cranes at Aransas will quickly dwindle over the next couple weeks. Spring migration is typically shorter in duration than fall migration, usually only taking about 30 days.

As soon as results from the Annual Whooping Crane Winter Abundance Survey are complete, we will post a summary on the Aransas NWR website.

Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

Whooping crane update

Whooping Cranes over Aransas NWR at sunset. Photo by Kevin Sims

Cranes have recently been seen from the observation tower on the Refuge, but it’s difficult to say how much longer they will remain. But there are many other interesting wildlife species to view at the Refuge now, including many spring migrating songbirds, so don’t hesitate to come out and enjoy other spring wildlife watching opportunities.

Texas Whooper Watch

Please report any whooping cranes you observe in migration in Texas to Texas Whooper Watch. We’ve had a number of people making use of the new Texas Whooper Watch I-Naturalist phone app as well, which is encouraging. The old saying “a photo is worth a thousand words” applies to reporting whooping cranes as well. Just be careful not to disturb or get too close the birds!

Habitat Management on the Refuge

Refuge staff burned 4 Units this winter, totaling 4,871 acres. This year’s winter season was challenging given that our cold weather windows with consistent north winds were limited and the latter part of the winter brought significant rains.

Precipitation/Salinity

The Refuge received 6.16” of rain from January-March 2017. Freshwater levels and food resources remained high throughout most of this winter season.  Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay stayed in the low teens (ppt) most of the winter, but recent rains in the middle portion of the Guadalupe river watershed have dropped salinities significantly this last week. Let’s hope we stay in a wet cycle for a bit longer.

***** 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.

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