Whooping cranes to benefit from USFWS water release

Kearney Hub

Releases expected to continue until May 10

Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 1:15 pm

KEARNEY — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started releasing into the Platte River water from its environmental account stored in Lake McConaughywhooping cranes
primarily to benefit endangered whooping cranes during their migration stopover in central Nebraska.

The releases started Saturday and are expected to continue until May 10. They should increase Overton-to-Grand Island flows to about 1,700 cubic feet per second.

That is the minimum flow in a dry year that USFWS officials believe is necessary to provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River. Such flows are not unusual at this time of year and are well-below flood levels.

All the environmental account water should be past Grand Island by around May 24.Whooping cranes use the Central Flyway to migrate to Canada for the summer. It’s the same route used by hundreds of thousands of other migrating birds, including around 500,000 sandhill cranes. They all stop in the Central Platte Valley in March and April to feed in area fields and roost overnight in the river.

The environmental account was established in 1999 and is managed by the USFWS to benefit four federally listed threatened or endangered species — whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeon.

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U.S. Whooping Crane Boss Reports on Research Efforts

 

Improved habitat conditions on Aransas NWR keeps more whoopers on the refuge.
Improved habitat conditions on Aransas NWR keeps more whoopers on the refuge.

Dr. Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator reports that whooping crane field tracking efforts resulted in 13 marked birds this winter. Harrell stated that “68 whooping cranes have been marked with GPS transmitters during the past four years. This is the last season of capture and marking of whooping cranes in Texas.”

Harrell explained that “GPS units are attached to a bird’s upper leg and record four to five locations every 24 hours. Information on the marked whoopers is uploaded to a satellite every two and half days. These data reveal migration routes, habitat use, nesting locations, and much more. Biologists in the United States and Canada will use results of this work to identify management and conservation priorities in both countries.”

Back on the Aransas Refuge this year some interesting changes were detected by Biologists. More whooping cranes were located in the primary refuge survey area and fewer individuals were documented outside the
primary survey area. Dr. Harrell pointed out that, “Long-term whooping crane followers likely remember that over the last couple of years many whooping cranes spent much of the winter outside of the primary survey area. This was likely due to a number of factors including overall population expansion and ongoing drought conditions.”

Harrell advised that “the differences in the whooping cranes geographic shift among years may be due to shifts in food resource availability. While it was still a relatively dry year, some timely rains this past summer and early fall may have contributed to greater food resource availability in area coastal marshes. This may indicate that whooping crane behavior is adaptable and individual birds are able to shift their habitat and food use in relation to local environmental conditions. It provides a continued hope that the whooping crane population is resilient in the face of fluctuating environmental conditions such as drought. Wintering in a variety of places across a broader geographic range reduces the risk that a single localized catastrophic event could cause extinction.”

To read more, go to: http://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147546801

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Oil Spill May Impact Whooping Crane Habitat

Houston Chronicle

“TEXAS CITY — Traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, which ground to a halt for three days because of an oil spill, resumed Tuesday as authorities prepared for a new cleanup effort on the Matagorda Peninsula southwest of Galveston.

Crews on some 70 vessels worked furiously before weather worsened Tuesday to skim as much oil as possible remaining from a collision in the channel Saturday that poured as much as 168,000 gallons of thick fuel oil into Galveston Bay.

Enough oil had been cleared to allow ships to begin moving again through the section of the Ship Channel affected by the spill. Barges resumed their journeys on the Intracoastal Waterway.

The wind and current pushed a portion of the spill into the Gulf of Mexico, where it was about 10 miles off the coast and moving south, said Capt. Brian Penoyer, captain of the port for Houston/Galveston. The oil is expected to land as tar balls on the Matagorda Peninsula, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said.

Patterson said crews were arriving in Mata­gorda County in preparation for cleanup efforts.

Bad weather with swells as large as 9 feet in the Gulf was expected to make recovery operations difficult Wednesday, said Richard Arnhart, an official with the Texas General Land Office oil response team.

The major cleanup operation is expected to continue for at least several more days, and smaller cleanup efforts will likely continue for weeks, Penoyer said.

Effect on coastline

The oil so far has soiled about 15.5 miles of coastline as a result of the collision between the Liberian-flagged bulk vessel Summer Wind and a barge carrying 900,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel oil. Because of wind and currents, the areas stained with oil were limited to the Texas City Dike, a small area on the western tip of the Bolivar Peninsula, Pelican Island, the Port of Galveston and the eastern end of Galveston Island.

None of the oil has penetrated environmentally sensitive marshes so far, authorities said. Nine dead birds have been reported. Eight soiled birds still alive were moved to a rehabilitation center in Baytown.

Skimmers have scooped about 165,000 gallons of oil-and-seawater mixture and crews picked up 852 bags of oily debris and sand, but it’s hard to know exactly how much oil is in the mix, Penoyer said.

More than 71,000 feet of containment boom has been placed to protect sensitive areas, and 232,600 feet of boom is ready for use. Some of that boom surrounds the 1877 barque Elissa, the official Texas tall ship, in its berth at the Texas Maritime Museum in Galveston. Oil in Galveston Harbor forced the postponement of the ship’s first outing after two years of repairs, said W. Dwayne Jones, Galveston Historical Foundation executive director.

The oil is also soiling the environmentally sensitive Big Reef area on the eastern end of the island, a habitat for birds that have just begun a migration across the Gulf from Mexico into the U.S.

Unseasonably cold weather may have kept the oil from affecting two types of endangered turtles, green and Kemp’s ridley, said Kimberly Reich, director of the Trophic Ecology and Sea Turtle Biology Lab at Texas A&M University in Galveston. Green turtles, which all but vanished before making a comeback in Galveston Bay, typically feed near the Texas City Dike, and the Kemp’s ridley nesting season normally begins about this time of year. But few turtles have been seen in the area, and Reich believes the cold weather may be keeping them away.

A few tar balls appeared on Galveston beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico on Monday and were picked up quickly. Craig Brown, chairman of the Galveston Park Board, said Seawolf Park on Pelican Island remained closed, but the beaches most frequented by tourists were open.”

— Friends of the Wild Whoopers explained that portions of Matagorda Island is a part of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The Matagorda Island Unit of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is part of long chain of barrier islands that extend down the Texas coastline. This rugged landscape is host or home to many amazing wildlife species, including whooping cranes, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, reddish egrets, alligators and coyotes.

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Texas Whooping Crane Wintering Area

3/25/14. The International Crane Foundation’s Texas Program is concerned about the Kirby Inland Marine oil spill that occurred in Galveston Bay, Texas on March 22 (learn more about the spill). If prevailing winds and currents drive the oil spill southwest along the Texas coast, there may be a possible landfall of spilled oil along Matagorda Island and adjacent bays later this week. This could potentially put the endangered Whooping Crane at risk. An estimated 304 Whooping Cranes maintain their winter territories on the central Texas coast (including Matagorda Island); this is the only naturally occurring Whooping Crane population in the world.

Although the cranes are beginning their spring migration back to Canada, many Whooping Cranes are currently at risk in the Matagorda/Aransas National Wildlife Refuge area from the immediate impact of spilled oil. And any long-term impacts will continue to affect this recovering endangered species.

 

To read complete article, click here. –>>  Texas Whooping Crane Wintering Area May be Affected by Oil Spill

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For anyone interested in possible impacts to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge from the Galveston oil spill. FOTWW has received the following information from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

“At this time the refuge has not had any impacts though we are monitoring the situation and trying to prepare for various possibilities. The oil spill incident is under the leadership of a Unified Command comprised of various local, state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have created a website to keep the public informed — www.texascityyresponse.com.

If you would like to receive that information via email, you can sign up https://www.piersystem.com/go/mailinglist/4703/

This is the best and most reliable source of information on the Galveston oil spill.”

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