Spring is here and a few Whooping Cranes from the wild flock have arrived on the nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park, (WBNP).
According to Rhona Kindopp, Manager of Resource Conservation, Parks Canada. “they have been hearing and observing a number of spring arrivals in the last week or two and one of their staff members reported seeing (and hearing) 4 whoopers flying as she walked home from the office!”
Kindopp states that they are getting signals from 12 cranes marked with transmitters, and those as of Tuesday morning were coming from North and South Dakota, Kansas and Texas, and central Saskatchewan. So the flock is still spread out along the Central Flyway and heading to WBNP.
Nesting Ground conditions.
Numbers regarding whether precipitation was significantly lower than usual this year aren’t available at this time but Kindopp says that the “snow disappeared very quickly this spring. March is usually our heaviest snow month, but the snow was quickly disappearing by mid-March this year.”
Friends of the Wild Whoopers will publish updates of the nesting ground conditions and any ongoing Whooping Crane chick reproduction and related activities when it is available.
Whooping Cranes nesting information
Whooping cranes usually arrive at WBNP during late April and May after migrating 2,500 miles from Aransas Refuge on the Texas coast. Each nesting pair locates their nesting site which is normally in the same general area as past years. Park records show that several pairs have nested in the same areas for 22 consecutive years. Soon after their arrival on their nesting grounds, they build their nest. Nesting territories of breeding pairs vary in size but average about 1,500 acres. Whooping Cranes guard their territories and nesting neighbors normally locate their nest at least one-half mile away. Vegetation from the local area is normally used for nest construction and they construct their nests in shallow water.
Eggs are usually laid in late April to mid-May. Normally two eggs are laid but occasionally only one and rarely three have been observed in nests. Incubation begins when the first egg is laid. Incubation occurs for about 30 days. Because incubation starts when the first egg is laid, the first chick hatched is a day or two older than the second hatched. This difference in age is substantial and creates problem for the younger chick. It is weaker than the older chick and has difficulty keeping up as the adults move around searching for food. The younger chick often dies due to its weakness. Records indicate that only about 10% to 15% of the second chicks hatched survive.
Importantly, the second egg plays an important role in providing insurance that at least one chick survives. From the time Whoopers begin egg laying until their chicks are a few months old, the family groups remain in their breeding territory. They feed there and don’t move long distances until after their chicks fledge.
Report any sightings
With a few cranes already on the nesting grounds, the majority of the flock is still migrating north. Parks Canada is requesting if you see any whooping cranes, they would love to hear from you! Contact the Park Office at 867-872-7960.
***** 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.
Bardwell Lake – another stepping stone in the Whopping Crane migration corridor
by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers
Bardwell Lake is an important link in a virtual chain of lakes within the Whooping Crane migration corridor. Bardwell has been visited by wild Whooping Cranes several times in recent years. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) believe that such visits are increasing due to two factors. First, some of the traditional sites where Whooping Cranes have stopped over to rest and feed have been eliminated due to changes in land use. Many thousands of wetland acres and small ponds within the Whooping Crane migration corridor have been converted to other uses. Likewise the increasing population of Whooping Cranes is using additional areas to stopover to rest and feed. They must stop 15 to 20 times to rest and feed during each of their two 2,500 mile migrations each year. They migrate to and from their Texas coast wintering grounds to their Canadian nesting area.
FOTWW is evaluating U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) lakes within the Whooping Crane migration corridor to assist in protecting and improving existing habitats and to encourage development of new stopover habitats. Bardwell Lake is about 45 miles south of Dallas, TX and has much potential for habitat improvements.
USACE and FOTWW tour Bardwell Lake
FOTWW Wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell visited Bardwell Lake to assess potential “stopover habitats” for Whooping Cranes. Martin Underwood, USACE – Environmental Stewardship (CESWF) made arrangements for our visit. Martin Underwood, James Murphy (Deputy Operations Project Manager, Trinity Regional Project) and McConnell traveled to Bardwell Lake. After discussing the natural resource objectives for Bardwell Lake with Lake Manager Jeremy Spencer, we made a tour of the lake property to examine the most likely places that would provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. FOTWW appreciates all involved with making preparations for an interesting, productive and enjoyable visit.
Bardwell Lake and Dam built for flood control and water conservation
Congress approved an act on March 31, 1960, authorizing construction of Bardwell Lake by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began in September 1963 with impoundment beginning in November 1965. The total construction cost was $12,630,000.
Built to provide flood control and water conservation, Bardwell Lake and Dam controls runoff from 178 square miles of drainage area. At conservation level the lake is 5.4 miles long, 1.2 miles at its widest point, and has a shoreline of 25 miles. The lake has a fee owned perimeter of 39 miles. The total fee simple acreage (government owned property) is 7,488 acres with 675 acres of flowage easement lands (private property the government has an agreement with the landowners to flood.) Of this total acreage in fee simple, 3,570 is water area and 3,918 acres is land area above the conservation pool elevation.
Although not a primary purpose for the construction of Bardwell Lake, recreation has increasingly become a major component in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ multiple use approach to managing our nation’s resources. Recreation and favorable fish and wildlife habitats are other beneficial uses derived from this lake and others like it, built and operated by the Corps of Engineers.
Much of Bardwell Lake’s shore area is developed for recreational use and Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” is not compatible in some of these areas. The lake is shallow but most is not shallow enough for roosting areas. Whooping Cranes normally roost in areas with a depth of 2 inches to 10 inches. Importantly, some very good stopover habitats are located on the north western and north eastern areas of the lake shore. FOTWW recommended that Whooping Crane stopover habitat management efforts should focus on these areas.
Whooping Cranes observed on Bardwell Lake
According to Lake Manager Jeremy Spencer four Whooping Cranes have been observed on Bardwell Lake in recent years. Based on information from a recent U.S. Geological Survey study, 58 radio-tagged Whooping Cranes provided data on 2,158 stopover sites over 10 migrations and 5 years (2010-14). Several of these stopover sites were in the general vicinity of Bardwell Lake. Whoopers normally migrate over or near Bardwell Lake during March – (April (northward migration) and during October in the fall…
COE lakes within the 6 state migration corridor may become even more important to Whooping Cranes in the near future because of their locations and quality of “stopover habitats”. Bardwell Lake and others that are located in the mid-section of the Whooping Crane migration corridor can be especially valuable. As the crane population increases the migration corridor may also expand in width.
The photographs that follow were taken on Bardwell Lake. They show some very good stopover habitats that need a small amount of inexpensive management.
Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is continuing its efforts to encourage government agencies and Indian Reservations to manage portions of their lands to help wild Whooping Cranes. Whoopers and many other wildlife species often use the same wetland habitats and specific adjustments to portions of selected wetland sites could be beneficial to many species. FOTWW focuses its efforts on protecting existing Whooper habitats, planning needed habitat improvements where needed and encouraging landowner/managers to support our efforts.
Benbrook Lake a nice surprise
Chester McConnell FOTWW’s Wildlife Biologist is currently visiting U.S. Army Corps of Engineer (USACE) lakes in the 7 state Whooping Crane migration corridor to evaluate habitats. McConnell explained that “Friends of the Wild Whoopers is evaluating lakes, small ponds and wetlands throughout the mid-west to help protect and improve “stopover habitats” for the Whoopers.” He revealed that, “During a visit to the USACE Benbrook Lake in mid-Texas, I had a welcome surprise. I visited the lake to evaluate its suitability as a place where wild Whooping Cranes could stopover and rest during their two annual migrations through Texas. The lake had some excellent habitat in several locations.”
During our interview, McConnell divulged that, “I pondered what I might observe during my evaluation of a lake in the south west edge of the densely human populated city of Fort Worth. It certainly didn’t seem to be a place that Whooping Cranes would use to stopover to rest and feed. Yet, I have had many surprises during my long career and I have observed many unexpected behaviors by wild critters. During my review of records prior to my visit, I had learned that some Whooping Cranes had actually stopped over on the lake. And during my on-the-ground evaluation of Benbrook Lake I was indeed surprised to observe that there were ample, good quality habitat sites with all the features that the cranes need to make a visit.”
McConnell’s evaluation revealed that, “Some of the habitat around Benbrook Lake is currently in excellent condition to serve as secure Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. However some of the potential habitats will not be useful because they are too close to developed areas and trees grow too close to the lake shore. Still, several such areas have potential and can easily and inexpensively be developed into stopover habitat. Importantly open landscapes near most favorable stopover habitats allow Whooping Cranes to easily locate the sites and provide ready observation of any predator threats (see photos below). The scarcity of tall bushes and trees close to these habitats provide easily accessible flight approach corridors for Whooping Cranes entering the area.
Based on information from a recent U.S. Geological Survey study, 58 radio-tagged Whooping Cranes provided data on 2,158 stopover sites over 10 migrations and 5 years (2010-14). Several of these additional stopover sites were also in the general vicinity of Benbrook Lake. And one Whooper has been recorded on the lake.
Whoopers normally migrate over or near Benbrook Lake during (March – April (northward migration) and fall during October – November (southward migration). They normally stopover to rest late in the afternoon and depart the following morning.
Benbrook Lake important to Whooping Cranes
USACE lakes within the 7 state migration corridor may become even more important to Whooping Cranes in the near future because of their locations and quality of “stopover habitats”. Benbrook Lake and others that are located in the mid-section of the Whooping Crane migration corridor are very important. As the crane population increases they will need more areas to stop over and rest and forage for food. Any Whooping Cranes that may stopover during their fall migration still have over 400 miles remaining to fly to their winter home on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf coast. And if they stopover while migrating north to their nesting area on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada, they have over 2,000 miles more to fly.
FOTWW was pleased to have the opportunity to visit USACE’s Benbrook Lake. The lake and surrounding land area has good fish and wildlife habitat and some excellent Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. We were pleased to learn that Whooping Cranes have already begun using the lake properties along with thousands of waterfowl, American egrets and other critters that need wetlands. FOTWW believes that Whooping Crane use of Benbrook Lake will continue and increase as their population continues to increase.
Benbrook Lake also allows a number of other uses of the land and waters including fishing, hunting, birding, camping and other types of recreational activities. Outdoor recreational activities are open to the general public.
Martin Underwood, USACE – Environmental Stewardship (CESWF) made arrangements for our visit. After discussing the natural resource objectives for Benbrook Lake, Mr. Underwood guided us on a tour of the lake property to examine the most likely places that would provide Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. FOTWW appreciates Mr. Underwood for making preparations for an interesting, productive and enjoyable visit.
On December 6, 2017, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) hosted a webinar with the topic being “Whooping Cranes in the Central Flyway — Relevance for Military and Civil Works Projects During Migratory Stopover” Aaron Pearse (USGS) and Wade Harrell (USFWS) were the guest speakers.
The presentation covered recent USGS and USFWS research on Whooping Cranes, the current status of the migratory population in the Central Flyway, and about opportunities civil and military land managers have to support whooping crane habitat in the central flyway.
After some discussion and a few questions and answers, Friends Of The Wild Whoopers’s (FOTWW) President, Chester McConnell, discussed the work that FOTWW has done and continues to do on military installations and U.S Army Corps of Engineers lakes.
The entire webinar, including a Power Point presentation was recorded and can be viewed below. To hear Chester’s talk, you can listen to it beginning at the 1:02:20 mark.
~ Pam Bates – 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. *****
Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.