Report on Whooping Crane Recovery Activities

**** Friends of the Wild Whoopers has reviewed this important report and recommends it to viewers of our web page. One section emphasized the importance of conservation and restoration of more whooping crane habitats in the state of Texas. According to the report: “… biologists are in a much better position to document geographic expansion of the wintering grounds. Conservation and restoration of high-quality whooping crane habitat in Texas needs to be emphasized in the future so the growing whooping crane population has places to forage and raise young successfully during the winter season. Protecting and conserving habitat that provides the resources the birds need on a broad, landscape-scale will help the population continue to grow and contend with ever changing conditions.” (page 5) ****

Whooping cranes on Texas coast where they live during winter.   More secure, quality habitats will be need in Texas soon to meet the needs of these endangered birds.
Whooping cranes on Texas coast where they live during winter. More secure, quality habitats will be needed in Texas soon to meet the needs of these endangered birds.

Report on Whooping Crane Recovery Activities (2013 breeding season-2014 spring migration) October 2014

By Wade Harrell, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, US Fish & Wildlife Service
and Mark Bidwell, Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator, Canadian Wildlife Service

Executive Summary
Whooping cranes are one of the most rare, highly endangered and intensively monitored bird species in North America. The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (AWBP), which breeds in northern Canada and winters in Texas, is the only remaining wild, self-sustaining migratory population of whooping cranes.

In summer 2013, surveys of the AWB detected 74 nests (May) and 28 chicks (August) resulting in an average number of chicks fledged per nest (0.38) that was lower than the long term average of 0.48 but within the long term natural range of variation.

In winter 2013 (Dec) the peak population size of the AWB on the primary wintering grounds was estimated as 304 birds (95% confidence interval [CI] 260–364) and additional birds were located outside the survey area. Whooping cranes faced challenging conditions due to forest fires during the 2013 breeding season and continued drought during the wintering season.

Several projects were undertaken by a variety of agencies to monitor and investigate the ecology of the AWBP population, including the continuation of an initiative to mark individual birds with satellite transmitters to track their movements during the annual cycle. By the end of 2013, 68 whooping cranes had been marked on the breeding and wintering grounds and 40 marked birds were continuing to provide data.

In addition to the AWB, other populations of whooping cranes exist in Wisconsin, Florida, and Louisiana due to the efforts of many government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, including the captive breeding centers where whooping cranes are reared for reintroduction. By the end of 2013 there were approximately 148 birds in reintroduced populations and 161 birds held in captivity.

To read the entire report click on: Whooping Crane Recovery Activities.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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Wintering Whooping Crane Update

Wintering Whooping Crane Update, November 7, 2014

by Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

While we reported back in September that we had a few earlier than expected whooping crane arrivals, it now seems that fall migration is shaping up to be a bit delayed this year. We have received several reports of whooping cranes still on the staging grounds in the Saskatchewan prairies this past week. There have been a few birds reported from traditional stopover sites in the US, such as Quivira NWR (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/what_we_do/science/whooping_crane_sightings.html) in central Kansas and Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma. Presumably the mild fall in the northern plains states is contributing to a somewhat delayed migration. Other waterfowl species (ducks & geese) appear to be following a similar pattern.

Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

Whooping crane tour boats and Refuge staff have reported only a handful of whooping cranes along the marshes of the Blackjack Peninsula. We have had a couple reports of a pair of whooping cranes observed from the Heron Flats platform, although they aren’t there on a consistent basis. I have not received reports of whooping cranes from the observation tower at the Refuge yet, but it shouldn’t be long before visitors can expect to be able to view whooping cranes there. Only 2 of 25 currently active GPS marked whooping cranes have made their way to the Texas coast and have been moving around area coastal marshes off-Refuge. I expect that we will have quite a few more arrivals after the next few frontal passages.

Texas Whooper Watch Texas

Whooper Watch is up and running and has done a great job in getting the word out on whooping crane migration to the public this year. Take some time to check out their website here: http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/texas_nature_trackers/whooper-watch/

Be sure to report any Texas sightings beyond the known Aransas/Lamar area via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512) 389-TXWW (8999)

Food & Water Abundance:

Wolfberry
Wolfberry

Reports by area guides and Refuge staff indicate that blue crabs and other whooping crane food items are a bit more abundant this year than in the past few years. Wolfberries (see photo) seem to be abundant in the marsh this year as well. A big thanks goes out to the Mid-Coast Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists for completing a wolfberry planting in whooping crane habitat on the Refuge a few weeks ago.

With financial and administrative assistance from San Antonio Bay Partnership and other partners, we were able to complete the rehabilitation and conversion to a solar pump of one old windmill site on the Blackjack Peninsula and a new well completion. We have game cameras established on these new watering sites and hope to share some nice wildlife photos in future updates. The Victoria Advocate published a news article about the “Water for Wildlife’ project that can be found here: https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2014/oct/28/wildlife-advocates-enter-state-water-wars/.

Precipitation/Salinity: The Refuge received 13.42” of rain from July-October 2014, similar to that same time period last year although over 9” (70%) of the rainfall total occurred in September. This week’s rains will help continue to fill area wetlands used by whooping cranes. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 30 ppt. We do expect to see a dip in salinities in the next few days as water from recent rains in the Guadalupe River watershed reaches the bay.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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Whooping Cranes, On the Right Track.

“Follow along as biologists track Whooping Cranes at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Using satellite GPS technology the team hopes to help protect this endangered species.”

This is an excellent informative video, recently released by Texas Parks and Wildlife. It lets the public learn something about what is being accomplished to learn more about the endangered whooping cranes. Friends of the Wild Whoopers is so glad that this research is being done on the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock because there is such a large need to better understand this last remaining self-sustaining population.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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Is the Whooping Crane migration late this year?

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

To some, the southward migration of Whooping Cranes seems to be a bit later than usual this year. Four whoopers were early birds and reached Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in mid-September. Now that was early! But in spite of human interests, nature has a way of setting its own schedule. Then,  yesterday (10-23-2014), Aransas Bay Birding Charters boat captain, Captain Kevin Sims spotted 8 Whoopers on Aransas Refuge. So, it appears the Whoopers are now arriving on Aransas Refuge as nature plans.

Normally autumn migration begins in mid-September, with most Whoopers arriving on the Aransas wintering grounds between late October and mid-November. So, actually it appears that the whoopers may just be on schedule. Occasionally, a few stragglers may not even arrive on Aransas until late December.

Some Whooping Cranes still on Wood Buffalo National Park nesting ground on Oct. 8, 2014. Photo credit: ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park/ John McKinnon
Some Whooping Cranes still on Wood Buffalo National Park nesting ground on Oct. 8, 2014.  Note the two Whooping Cranes in the pond. Photo credit: ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park/ John McKinnon  — Click on photo to enlarge.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) talked today with John McKinnon about the migration. John is the Environmental Technician for Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), nesting area of Whooping Cranes. He told FOTWW about a helicopter flight he made over parts of the WBNP nesting grounds during October 8 – 9. The flight involved another project but he also kept on the lookout for Whooping Cranes. John advised that he observed 24 whooping cranes (21 adults and 3 juveniles) on the area that he flew over.

McKinnon also related to FOTWW that food was still plentiful on Wood Buffalo which tends to hold the Whoopers on the park. He also explained that the ponds on Wood Buffalo are now freezing over and he believes this will cause the remaining Whoopers to soon head southward on their 2,500 mile migration.

Whooping Crane pairs with young are commonly among the last to leave the WBNP breeding territory. Whoopers migrate south as singles, pairs, in family groups, or as small flocks of 3 to 5 birds. They migrate during day time and make regular stops during their 2,500 mile migration to feed and rest. Larger groups of up to 20 sometimes use the same stopover location, primarily on harvested agricultural fields.

Whoopers departing WBNP often make their first stops in northeast Alberta or northwest Saskatchewan, about 300 miles southeast of their departure area in WBNP. They usually reach the autumn staging grounds in the north-central portion of the Saskatchewan agricultural area on the second day of migration although weather conditions affect distance and direction of travel.

The first stop over for most of the cranes last for 2 to 4 weeks in the large triangle between Regina, Swift Current, and Meadow Lake. While there they feed on waste grain in wheat and barley stubble fields and roost in the many wetlands available. The remainder of the southward migration from Saskatchewan to the Texas coast wintering grounds is usually fairly rapid, depending on weather conditions. If the Whoopers catch good weather conditions they can complete their migration from south Canada in a week.

With the facts in mind, we must be patient for the Whoopers to reach Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.  And, importantly, if we want wild Whooping Cranes to thrive and continue their migrations we must do more to save their habitats. To help we urge you to become a “Whooper Friend” or to donate click on:  Become a “Friend” of the Wild Whoopers.

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat
. *****

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