Thirty-two whooping cranes fledged on Wood Buffalo

Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) officials reported today that 32 whooping crane chicks were observed during this year’s Whooping Crane Fledging Survey. Wood Buffalo personnel took to the skies during August 9-12, 2014 and completed their annual survey.  During the 4 days the team counted 32 fledged young whooping cranes.

WBNP officials reported that a total of 202 whoopers were counted, including the fledgling and nesting pairs.  Fledglings are birds that have reached an age where they can fly. The 32 fledglings were found in 30 family groups: 28 families with one chick and two families with two chicks. In addition to the family groups, the surveyors observed 6 groups of three whooping cranes, 43 groups of two, and 6 individual cranes.

Data from the survey are used to document the breeding success of the whooping crane population. WBNP’s preliminary analysis shows that the number of young fledged per nest is 0.39, which is lower than the 20-year average of 0.48, but is similar to last year’s rate, and within the normal range of variation. During the 2013 survey, 28 chicks were produced from 74 nests for a breeding success rate of .38 fledged young per nest. There were no nests with two fledglings last year.

Knowing annual breeding success allows Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other conservation partners to effectively manage issues related to the whooping cranes recovery. By counting the number of fledgling chicks, officials gain important insights into the health of the world’s last remaining natural nesting flock of whoopers which contributes greatly to the ongoing stewardship of these magnificent birds.

A record number of 164 whooping cranes had been counted incubating their eggs in 82 nests during the annual survey in June 2014.  This number surpasses a previous record of 76 nests in spring 2011.  These endangered birds all nest in and around WBNP, Canada. The whooper fledgling count is one of two annual surveys that are part of the world-class restoration plan that has made the whooping crane an international success story and symbol of species recovery and conservation. The mission of the survey was to determine how many chicks had hatched and survived to become fledglings since the nest counts were made in June.

Fledglings whooping cranes must be strong fliers so they can fairly soon complete their 2,500 mile migration with their parents to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, their winter home on the Texas coast. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, during March and April 2014 an estimated 300 whooping cranes migrated to Canada from their winter habitat on Aransas Refuge. The birds arrived on Wood Buffalo during April 2014 and began their nesting activities soon thereafter. The nesting whoopers cannot waste time because they must build their nest, lay and incubate their eggs and raise their young within 5 or 6 months. The juveniles must grow fast to be prepared for the 2,500 mile migration back to Aransas Refuge by November. Their Wood Buffalo nesting grounds freeze over early.

Figure 2. Scanning the wetlands below for whooping cranes. Photo of Sharon Irwin, Resource Management Officers at WBNP. (Sharon was the Survey Lead/Data Recorder for the Survey.) Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
Figure 2. Scanning the wetlands below for whooping cranes. Photo of Sharon Irwin, Resource Management Officers at WBNP. (Sharon was the Survey Lead/Data Recorder for the Survey.) Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park

WBNP Staff spent 4 days flying over the Whooping Crane Nesting Area in an attempt to locate the whoopers (Figure 2). Nesting pairs normally use the same territory each year to build their nest and raise their chicks.  In late-May, nesting locations are collected during the annual Nest Survey.  Surveyors use a laptop computer running mobile mapping software to record the nest locations. Knowing where the cranes nest helps make locating the adults and juveniles a bit more successful. Both the Nest Survey and the Fledging Survey are part of the world-class restoration  plan that has made the whooping crane an international success story and symbol of species recovery and conservation. By counting the number of fledging 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 that contribute greatly to our ongoing stewardship of these magnificent birds.

Figure 3. The Wood Buffalo nesting area used by whooping cranes. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park
Figure 3. The Wood Buffalo nesting area used by whooping cranes. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park

Adult cranes (Figure 4) are easier to spot because of their white plumage. Juveniles with their brown-orange plumage are more difficult to locate especially in colorful vegetation. Those involved in the aerial surveys must be careful observers and stay alert to spot all the nesting whooping cranes and their chicks in the vast wetlands of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Two adult whooping cranes spotted during aerial survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Photo by John McKinnon
Figure 4. Two adult whooping cranes spotted during aerial survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park

 The two mature whooping cranes in figure 4 are easier for experienced biologists to spot from the aircraft due to their white plumage. In contrast, the juvenile whooper in figure 5 is more difficult to spot from the air plane due to the color of vegetation and the bottom of the pond.

Figure 5. Two adults and one juvenile whooping crane spotted during aerial survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park.
Figure 5. Two adults and one juvenile whooping crane spotted during aerial survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. Photo: John McKinnon / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park.

by Chester McConnell, Friends 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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Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada Wildfire Update – June 20, 2014

The Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) portion of the Pine Lake Road, the Parson’s Lake Road and the Pine Lake Recreation Area remain closed to all visitation and traffic until further notice due to a wildfire currently burning out of control in the vicinity.

WBNP Fire 2 is located four kilometres north of Pine Lake and to the immediate west of the Pine Lake Road and covers 35,665 hectares. A Parks Canada Incident Management Team and additional Parks Canada fire crews are working with local WBNP Fire Management in managing this fire.

A burn-out operation was carried out by Parks staff June 17 which reduced the volatile fuel sources between the fire and key values at risk in the area, including the Pine Lake Recreation Area and Pine Lake Road. The northern flank of the fire has entered an area that burned last year, which has limited growth in that direction. A high volume sprinkler system has been deployed to the Pine Lake area to use for facility protection should it be required. Today’s Danger Level and Fire Status Map.

This fire poses no threat to the community of Fort Smith. Friends of the Wild Whoopers was advised that the fire presents no harm to the wild whooping cranes that are currently nesting in the area.

Wildfire in the distance.
Fire in the distance. Photo provided by John McKinnon. Parks Canada

FOTWW would like to give a special thank you to John David McKinnon of Parks Canada for providing us with this aerial photograph of WBNP.

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

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Wildfires Near Whooping Crane Nesting Area at Wood Buffalo

There are currently four wildfires in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP), Canada according to Tim Gauthier, Fire Information Officer. Wood Buffalo is the nesting area of the only remaining self-sustaining population of whooping cranes in the world.

“There is currently no threat to nesting whooping cranes on Wood Buffalo” according to Gauthier. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) learned that Fire 3 is closest to the whooper’s nest but presents no harm to the cranes. Fire 4 is ~35 km SE of the nearest whooping crane nesting area. Gauthier explained that the whooping crane nesting area is located in a vast wetland area and that any fires that do occur there would only burn small tree/brush borders around the wetlands.

wildfire status map at Wood Buffalo National Park Fire
WBNP Fire Status June 17, 2014. ~ Click on image to enlarge.

Gauthier provided FOTWW a bulletin that identified locations of the fires: “Fire 1 is located in the Caribou Mountain five kilometers to the west of Isidore Lake. It is currently 8000 hectares and moving to the west. It is being monitored. WBNP Fire 2 is located four kilometers north of Pine Lake and one kilometer west of the Pine Lake Road. A Parks Canada Incident Management Team has been called in to work with local WBNP Fire Management in managing this fire. It is currently 10,000 hectares. Fire 3 is a 200 hectare fire located approximately 10 kilometers south of NWT Highway 5 and 75 Kilometers west of Fort Smith. It is being monitored and currently poses no threat to any values at risk. Fire 4 is a spot fire located 20 Kilometers south of Highway 5 and 45 kilometers to the west of Fort Smith. It is being monitored.”

Weather

The long range forecast for the Wood Buffalo National Park region calls for drying conditions over the next several days and southerly winds. Temperatures are forecasted to be in the high twenties through-out the week. The high temperatures and low relative humidity have created extreme fire conditions.

Air Quality

There are currently no smoke warnings for the Wood Buffalo National Park region. For the latest update on air quality, please contact the WBNP Fire Information Officer at 872-0107. 

Visitor Services

For the latest information on Visitor Services, please contact the Visitor Information Centre at 872-7960.  

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

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Canadian Ronnie Schaefer and Whooping Cranes

Ronnie Schaefer is a person who loves to be outdoors and in contact with wild things. He was born and raised in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, Canada which is in the midst of an abundance of wild places and wild critters.  Ronnie claims that Fort Smith is one of the best small towns in Canada and is the gateway to Wood Buffalo park. So he is contented. He feels fortunate to live in the area. One of Ronnie’s passions is whooping cranes. For the past 18 years he has been observing whooping cranes near Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. This is his hobby.

Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park is the nursery habitat where whooping cranes perform their courtship dances, build their nest, lay their eggs and hatch their chicks. According to Environment Canada, an estimated 300 whoopers made the 2,500 mile migration back from Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast to Wood Buffalo during April and May. A Canadian Wildlife Service official explained to Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) that “This flock is the only self-sustaining, wild whooping crane flock on the planet and we need to do our best to protect the birds and their habitats”.

Whooping crane in Wood Buffalo nesting habitat. photo by Ronnie Schaefe
Whooping crane in Wood Buffalo nesting habitat. photo by Ronnie Schaefer. Click on photo to view full size.

Ronnie told FOTWW that “I watch the whooping cranes as they migrate onto Wood Buffalo National Park. And then I drive out into the rugged terrain in my 4-wheel vehicle and set up an observation blind.” Ronnie explained that he does not want to interfere with the whoopers so he is careful not to get too close to them.

As part of his mission he also tries to keep other people from getting too close to the birds. He places signs in appropriate locations to warn people not to encroach near to the birds. Then, from his special location Ronnie watches some of the cranes perform their mating dances and build their nests.

Ronnie explained, “I focus my attention on whoopers that use the Salt River First Nation reserve lands downstream from Lobstick Creek. The Reserve is about 20 miles from Fort Smith.” According to his observations, the whoopers returned to Wood Buffalo from Aransas, Texas about 3 weeks ago.  Soon thereafter they began nesting. He advised that 2 whooping crane nest can be observed from his observation site. The 2 nests are about 3 miles apart.

Interestingly, Ronnie told FOTWW, “ The original ‘famous’ Lobstick pair of whooping cranes actually nests near my observation site which is outside the boundary of Wood Buffalo National Park. The pair has been nesting there for the past 18 years.” Also, he informed us that 2 offspring of the Lobstick pair had been nesting in the same vicinity for the past 3 years and that they had produced 3 chicks. Ronnie named the 2 Lobstick offspring “Snow flakes” and “Snowball”.

As part of his voluntary commitments Ronnie cooperates with officials of the Canadian Wildlife Service. He advises them about his whooper observation as well as providing information about potential problems in the area. During recent discussions with a Wildlife Service official Ronnie was told that 82 whooping crane nests had been counted as of June 4, 2014. FOTWW is waiting on the official report for final verification. 82 nests would be the largest whooping crane nest count ever made.

FOTWW is delighted to have linked-up with Ronnie Schaefer. He is one of those rugged individuals who is committed to the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock of wild whoopers and we need more like him.

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

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

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