Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (a.k.a FOTWW) is a 501c3 nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat.
We would like to educate those who have an interest in protecting this beautiful American bird, as well as bringing you the latest news on the Whooper.
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The numbers are in. This August, 24 whooping crane fledglings were counted in and around Wood Buffalo National Park.
Rhona Kindopp, manager of resource conservation with Parks Canada in Fort Smith, said while two dozen fledglings is a low number, “it’s still within the natural range of variation that we would expect from this species.”
Kindopp continued: “In some migratory bird species, productivity is influenced greatly by weather. This spring, in early June, we saw a significant increase in the amount of rain that we received locally.”
Kindopp stressed the weather may be just one contributing factor. “Another factor could have been local predation cycles. In other words, there may have been a greater number of predators in the area than in previous years,” she said.
Breeding pair surveys are done in mid to late May over 4-5 days with a crew of 2-3 made up of Parks Canada staff and Canadian Wildlife Service biologists. Breeding pairs normally use the same territory each year to build their nest and raise their chicks. Knowing where the cranes nest helps make locating the adults and juveniles a bit more successful. Following further examination of the data, this year there were 87 nests in and around Wood Buffalo National Park. Up one from the 86 nests that were originally reported in May.
The fledgling survey is done in between the end of July and mid-August. Fledglings are birds that have reached an age where they can fly. The technique for this survey is very similar to the breeding pair survey. The nest locations are known so that the staff can fly directly to the nest. If the Whooping Cranes have not been successful in raising a chick they may still be in their territory or they could be kilometers away. If a pair does have a chick, they are generally found fairly close to their nest.
Importance of surveys
Both the Nest and the Fledgling Surveys are part of the world-class restoration plan that has made the endangered Whooping Crane an international success story and symbol of species recovery and conservation. By counting the number of fledgling chicks, Parks Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and others gain important insights into the health of the world’s last remaining natural nesting flock of Whooping Cranes that contribute greatly to our ongoing stewardship of these magnificent birds.
WBNP and nearby areas provide the last natural nesting habitat for the endangered Whooping Cranes. The birds are hatched in and near WBNP each spring. After they fledge they migrate 2,500 miles to their winter habitat on, or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. During their 2,500 mile migration they stopover 20 to 30 times to rest, forage for food and roost during the nights. Then, the following April the total population returns to WBNP to repeat the reproduction cycle again.
Estimated Texas Wintering Whooping Crane Population Breaks 500
Survey accuracy improved with shift from December to February timeframe
The first winter after Hurricane Harvey ravaged the Texas Gulf Coast, an estimated 505 whooping cranes arrived on their Texas wintering grounds after migrating 2,500 miles from their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. Each fall the birds make their way back to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding habitats, where they spend the winter. Once they have arrived, wildlife biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey the birds by air and analyze population trends.
Biologists have completed analysis of aerial surveys of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population done last winter. A switch in aircraft the previous winter and a shift to surveying later in the winter when a larger proportion of the population had arrived helped improve accuracy of the counts. Preliminary data analysis indicated 505 whooping cranes, including 49 juveniles, in the primary survey area (approximately 153,950 acres) centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Austwell, Texas. An additional 21 birds were noted outside the primary survey area during the survey. This marks the 6th year in a row that the population has increased in size and the first time the population has topped the 500 mark.
“Breaking the 500 mark for this wild population is a huge milestone”, stated Amy Lueders, the Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “Seeing this iconic bird continue to expand demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can help a species recover from the brink of extinction. I have to credit our biologists and our partners and local communities who continue to invest so much time and effort to improve our ability to make sure future generations have the chance to marvel at the beauty of these amazing wild birds.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has implemented several small changes that have greatly improved the agency’s capacity to survey the birds. “After two years of testing a shift of our December survey timeframe to later in the winter, we believe our previous survey estimates were likely low given that not all the whooping cranes had completed migration by mid-December. We had indications of a later than expected fall migration over the last several years via migration reports and telemetry data. This is the first year that we have based our winter abundance estimate from a February survey timeframe rather than a December timeframe. It may seem like population numbers jumped more than usual, but in reality we are just capturing a more complete proportion of the population, with most birds having completed migration by early February” stated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Whooping Crane Coordinator Wade Harrell.
Harrell said biologists will continue to conduct flights in late January and early February for future surveys. He also stated that staff at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge continue to make progress in recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Harvey. “The good news is that the coastal marsh that supports our wintering whooping cranes was not significantly damaged by the hurricane and recovered quickly from any impacts, demonstrating how resilient intact wetland habitats can be.”
Whooping cranes are one of the rarest birds in North America and are highly endangered. Cranes have been documented to live more than 30 years in the wild. Adults generally reach reproductive age at four or five years, and then lay two eggs, usually rearing only one chick.
More information about the survey and whooping cranes can be found on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge website at http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Aransas/ or by calling the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Contact Station at: (361) 349-1181.
To read an in depth report of the survey results in PDF format, click here.
The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.
Two prominent water scientists say a debate over Canada’s largest national park has become politicized and industrial development is being blamed for changes it didn’t cause.
Brent Wolfe of Wilfrid Laurier University and Roland Hall from the University of Waterloo say B.C. Hydro’s Bennett Dam on the Peace River has had only a marginal effect on northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park.
After 20 years of research and nearly two dozen published papers, they conclude climate change has been drying out the world’s second-largest freshwater delta for more than a century.
And that there may be nothing anyone can do about it.
“What our research shows is that this landscape is overwhelmingly influenced by natural processes,” says Hall. “You’re going to end up wasting a lot of effort.”
Their conclusions are disputed by the author of a report done for the federal government, as well as by another leading researcher.
Wolfe and Hall criticize the 561-page study that was done in response to concerns the park’s environment has deteriorated, which potentially threatens its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The study concluded that 15 out of 17 measures of environmental health are declining in the area, mostly because of lower river levels and fewer floods to replenish lakes. It said industry and dams, as well as climate change and natural cycles, are behind the problem.
Wolfe and Hall say sediment cores in area lakes show that the Wood Buffalo region has been drying out since the early 1900s.
“All of our evidence suggests that drying began in the early 20th century,” Wolfe says. “We also have evidence that the flood frequency has been declining.”
Commissioners table windmill reinvestment zone after public hearing
Matagorda County Commissioners will readdress an ordinance on a reinvestment zone for Peyton Creek Wind Farm at a later meeting after tabling the issue Monday.
Representatives from the company E.ON Climate and Renewables, proposing the wind farm, said at a commissioners meeting two weeks ago that there wasn’t much controversy over their plans to build a 50-acre windmill farm between Bay City and Wadsworth.
That certainly didn’t seem to be the case at Monday morning’s public hearing because it was standing room only as the courthouse room was filled with people concerning the windmill farm.
“We have some specific concerns with the location of this wind farm,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Gretchen Nareff said. “We generally try to discourage companies from building in this area. The iconic endangered species of Texas, the whooping crane, have barely 450 individuals left in this population.”
E.ON announced plans for a 150-mega watt wind farm on the south side of the county more than a year ago that will contain about 50 turbines. Specifics are still pending on the model and size of turbines that will be selected after wind studies will be completed by the end of the year, E.ON Wind Development manager Nathan Yates said.
Yates also stated that biological impact studies would be completed by that time as to what the affect would be on birds in the area, a fear to the community known for its bird watching.
“We wanted you to know that we are highly concerned with how these windmills will affect birding and tourism in the area,” Bay City Tourism manager Heidi Martinez said at Monday’s public hearing next to Bay City Public Information officer Marissa Valentine. “We are a huge birding destination… something we are very proud of. Because of our central location for migratory birds, we have concerns about the specific location these windmills are to be placed.”