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
Share

50th Anniversary of Whooping Crane International Partnership

50th Anniversary of Whooping Crane partnership

by Pam Bates, FOTWW

It is noteworthy that this year, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of an international conservation partnership intended to save Whooping Cranes – North America’s tallest bird species. They nest and fledge in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park in the spring and winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. They travel 2,500 miles (5,500 kilometers) two times each year between their summer and winter habitats.
Parks Canada is taking this occasion to highlight what their conservation efforts have accomplished. Friends of the Wild Whoopers has examined their achievements and they are indeed impressive and continuing to show progress.

Wood Buffalo-Aransas Whooping Crane flock grows

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.

Keizer emphasized that, “We are proud of our Canada-USA partnership, of our work and commitment to this endangered species and to the steady progress we continue to see. On this 50th anniversary” we want to share the results of our work with Canadians and our United States friends.”

Successful international stewardship

“This example of successful international stewardship is a model for cooperation amongst conservation groups in the preservation of endangered species that cross international borders” emphasized Friends of the Wild Whoopers President Chester McConnell.

Canada has a network of protected areas, managed by Parks Canada, that play an important role to mitigate the impacts of climate change by protecting and restoring healthy, resilient ecosystems and contributing to the recovery of species at risk. Wood Buffalo National Park is one of those protected areas. It is Canada’s largest national park with 11,070,000 acres and supports numerous wildlife 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
Share

Whooping Crane Update September 16, 2016

Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping crane family at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.
Whooping crane family at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.

Fall migration will soon begin and whooping cranes will start moving south out of their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP). It was a good breeding year in WBNP. Above average water conditions contributed to an estimated 45 fledged whooping cranes that will soon be headed to Texas on their first migration. We usually expect to see the first whooping cranes arrive at Aransas NWR in early October. The whooping crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas is about 2,500 miles in length and can take up to 50 days to complete.

Last fall, I outlined some of the places that whooping cranes stop to rest in migration. This fall, let’s take some time to look at some of the preliminary results from the whooping crane tracking study in regards to when, where and how whooping cranes perish. For years, scientists have thought that migration was the most dangerous time for a whooping crane, and hence the time period in which they were most likely to die. Our recent telemetry study is providing new information in this vein and is again reminding us that there is still much to learn in regards to whooping crane biology. Most of us don’t like to talk about death, but for a wildlife biologist, understanding more about mortality can help us improve management for whooping cranes and ultimately recover the species.

Tracking study and mortality:
From 2009-2014, a study led by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center marked 68 individual whooping cranes with GPS transmitting devices. This equates to about 20% of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population being marked. About half of the marked birds were marked as 1st year fledglings at Wood Buffalo and the rest as adults here on the wintering grounds. The information collected from these marked birds, consisting of 3-5 locations a day, 365 days a year, provides us an enormous data set that we are now starting to sort through. Once signals from the GPS transmitters indicate that a bird has quit moving, it is often a sign that the bird has died. We try our best to collect every carcass as quickly as possible once we have reason to believe the bird has likely perished. This is not as easy as it sounds, however, since GPS tracking technology still has a few glitches and these birds are often using remote and inaccessible habitat. Additionally, carcasses tend to degrade very quickly in the natural environment. Regardless, all collected carcasses are sent to the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) for necropsy and disease testing. The lab then provides us a report indicating likely causes of the bird’s demise.

Of the 68 whooping cranes we marked in the tracking study, we recovered the remains of 17 birds over a 4 year period (June 2011-March 2015). Here is a summary of what we have found so far:

When?

1) Whooping cranes are most susceptible to dying at a young age. Only 3 of the 17 birds we recovered were classified as adults (> 2 years old). Keep in mind that whooping cranes are long-lived birds (<30 yrs).

2) Mortalities occurred across all seasons and times of year. When we discuss whooping crane management, we often divide up a year into four distinct time periods (summering, fall migration, wintering and spring migration). Whooping cranes spend about 5 months of the year at summering locations (WBNP) and another 5 months at wintering locations (on and around Aransas NWR). The other 2 months of the year they are migrating between summering and wintering locations.

More than 85% of the marked crane deaths occurred in summering and wintering time periods, with mortalities roughly equal between each time period. Thus, less than 15% of marked crane deaths occurred during migration. So, cranes deaths are evenly distributed across the year. Previously we thought that migration was a particularly risky time for cranes, given the potential hazards they face in their long journey. But the tracking study doesn’t indicate that this is the case. Keep in mind that the tracking study was conducted during a drought period here on the wintering grounds, and we know from past research that winter mortality is higher during droughts. Past research likely underestimated mortalities that occur in summering areas due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of WBNP.

Where?

3) Mortalities occurred in places you would expect, with all of the summering mortalities occurring in Wood Buffalo National Park less than 20 miles from the primary nesting areas. Wintering mortalities occurred throughout our primary wintering range (5 on Aransas NWR and 2 on private lands). Birds died in South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska (suspected, no carcass) during migration.

How?

4) Of the 17 recovered carcasses, the NWHC reports could only determine cause of death for 4 birds because most of the carcasses were too decomposed and deteriorated. Of the 4 known causes of mortality, two were from predation, one from a bacterial infection and one from an injury. While past research has noted a number of mortalities from power line collisions, this was not a cause of death in any of the marked birds. Perhaps our work to decrease this impact over the years with partners such as the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee has made a difference!

I’ve kept this summary short and left out a number of details, but the information I have included here is from a book that will be coming out next year if you are interested in learning more. Here is the citation:

Pearse, A. T., D. A. Brandt, M. Bidwell, and B. Hartup. In Press. Mortality in Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping cranes: timing, location, and causes. The Biology and Conservation of the Whooping Crane (Grus americana), French, Converse, and Austin, editors. Academic Press.

For those that have an interest in the science of whooping cranes, keep your eyes out for future publications from the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners involved with the whooping crane Tracking Partnership. Additionally, we still have the Texas Parks & Wildlife video on this study posted on our website here.

When the whooping crane population started to crash in the early 1900’s, many whooping cranes were being killed by humans throughout their range. The picture of whooping crane mortality was much bleaker then than it is now. This ultimately led to the species being listed as endangered and extensive conservation efforts began taking place. We’ve made significant strides in recovering the species over the last 100 years, but we have a long way to go. Many of you have heard about the continued whooping crane poaching issues, particularly in our reintroduced populations. A recent article in Texas Monthly discusses a poaching case in Southeast Texas and our efforts to reestablish whooping cranes in Louisiana.

Waterfowl Hunter Outreach Efforts:
Given ongoing poaching issues, we are working closely with many of our partners to increase education and outreach efforts within the waterfowl hunting community. Day in and day out, hunters are our eyes and ears on the ground during the wintering season and they can be a tremendous help to the overall whooping crane recovery effort. Waterfowl hunters have supported wildlife and wetland conservation for years through their purchase of the federal “duck stamp” and are often the first to report problems occurring in wildlife habitat. We will be out in the wintering grounds during the next several months providing information to hunters on whooping crane identification and conservation. Additionally, our Law Enforcement Special Agents will be working during waterfowl season around Aransas NWR to educate hunters about the importance of whooping cranes.

Texas Whooper Watch
Be sure to report any Texas migration sightings via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512) 389-TXWWW (8999)

Current conditions at Aransas NWR:

Over summering Whoopers:
As we previously reported and was noted in a recent Victoria Advocate article, we had a few (3-4) whooping cranes that decided to stick around for the summer rather than make the long migration back to WBNP. While we don’t know for sure why this happens, we do know that it has happened in the past and is likely to happen in the future. We suspect that the birds that stayed were non-breeders, thus their hormonal triggers to migrate back to breeding and nesting areas in the spring may have been lacking. When this has happened in the past, birds may have been recovering from some sort of injury or illness. But the whooping cranes that stayed this past summer appear to be in fine health.

Food & Water Abundance:
Once again, whooping cranes will be arriving to lush conditions here in Texas. It appears to be another banner fall here on the Texas coast, with abundant food resources and wetlands full of fresh water. Our fire management staff has been busy using prescribed fire this summer to improve habitat conditions for whooping cranes and other wildlife, with around 3,800 acres on the Refuge burned so far in August and September.

Precipitation/Salinity:
The Refuge has received 6.8” of rain from July-mid September 2016, and the current forecast predicts that we will see more rain the latter part of this month and next. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently <10 ppt. and have remained low throughout most of the summer.

 

***** 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
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share

Wood Buffalo National Park UNESCO World Heritage Site threatened most often by oil, gas and mining

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada threatened most often by oil, gas and mining

Physical resource extraction accounts for 31% of threats against natural and cultural sites since 1985
By Samuel Danzon-Chambaud, CBC News

UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada threatened most often by oil, gas and mining
The world’s largest beaver dam in Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Parks Canada)

Mining and oil and gas extraction account for nearly a third of threats to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Canada over the last 30 years, according to the international organization.
A total of 75 threats against nine designated natural and cultural sites have been documented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s State of Conservation database since 1985.
Of those, 23 belong to a category called “physical resource extraction,” which consists of mining and oil and gas operations.
The next most common threat types are management and institutional factors (13), service infrastructure (10), transportation infrastructure (8) and buildings and development (7).

Most of the threats occurred between 2000 and 2013.
Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta was the subject of the greatest number those reports, with nine in total, followed by the Historic District of Old Québec and Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks, which each had eight.

To read the complete article, click here.

***** 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
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share