2019 Whooping Crane Spring Migration Underway

by Pam Bates

Spring Migration Underway

Some of the birds in the world’s only remaining wild population of Whooping Cranes have begun their annual migration back to their nesting grounds in northern Canada. Staff and visitors at the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge counted 29 of the birds on Monday. The others will follow soon. They are repeating an event that has been going on for thousands of years. Following good conditions during the winter season on their Aransas National Wildlife Refuge winter grounds, the Whoopers appear to be in healthy condition. So, as the remaining Whoopers join the early birds and depart on their 2,500 mile migration to Canada’s Wood Buffalo nesting grounds there is hope for a successful reproduction and nesting season.

Traveling in small groups the Whoopers are expected to begin arriving at the Wood Buffalo National Park nesting grounds during late April and May.

Migration
                                                          Whooping Cranes in Flight. Photo by Charles Hardin.

Report your observations

Friends of the Wild Whoopers ask the public to report any Whooping Cranes they see along rivers, wetlands and fields. Report your observations to the wildlife agency in your state.

Nebraska reports

If you see a whooping crane in Nebraska, please report your whooping crane sighting to Nebraska Game and Parks (402-471-0641), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (308-379-5562), or The Crane Trust’s Whooper Watch hotline (888-399-2824). Emails may be submitted to joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov.

North Dakota reports

If you see a whooping crane in North Dakota, please report your whooping crane sighting to, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701) 848-2466, or Long Lake, (701) 387-4397, national wildlife refuges; the state Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701) 328-6300, or to local game wardens across the state.

Oklahoma reports

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation is asking for your help in logging the migration path of the cranes. Sightings can be logged online here or by calling Endangered species biologist Matt Fullerton at 580-571-5820 or wildlife diversity biologist Mark Howery at 405-990-7259.

Texas report

Texas Whooper Watch also has a project in I-Naturalist that is now fully functional. You can find it here. You can report sightings directly in I-Naturalist via your Smart Phone. This allows you to easily provide photo verification and your location. If you are not a smart phone app user, you can still report via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512) 389-TXWW (8999). Please note that our primary interest is in reports from outside the core wintering range.

Give them their space and importance of reporting

Should you see a whooping crane, please do not get close or disturb it. Keep your distance and make a note of date, time, location, and what the whooping crane is doing. If the whooping crane is wearing bands or a transmitter, please note the color(s) and what leg(s) the bands are on.

You may wonder why the wildlife agencies are asking for these sightings to be reported. The reports are very helpful in gathering data and information on when and where the whooping cranes stopover, what type of habitat they are choosing, and how many there are.

With just over 500 wild whooping cranes migrating along the Central Flyway, odds are low of seeing a wild whooping crane. However, FOTWW hopes that someone reading this article will be one of the lucky few and if you are, please report your sighting so that these agencies and other conservation groups, including FOTWW can continue helping these magnificent cranes.

 

***** 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.

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FOTWW President to speak at Nebraska Crane Festival

Nebraska Crane Festival
Sandhill Crane. Photo by Virginia Short

Friends of The Wild Whoopers’ (FOTWW) President Chester McConnell will be a speaker at Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival 2019 program on Saturday, March 23rd between 10:00 and 10:50 AM. This year’s Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival, taking place March 21-24, 2019, brings together hundreds of crane lovers from around the country to Kearney, Nebraska. Visitors will get to interact with a wide range of environmental speakers, take part in incredible birding trips, and, best of all, experience the world’s largest gathering of Sandhill Cranes and maybe even a rare sighting of endangered Whooping Cranes!

McConnell will be discussing Whooping Crane biology and habitat needs. FOTWW has been working with military bases, Indian Reservations and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for the past three years to identify and evaluate existing and potential “stopover habitats” on their properties. FOTWW believes that “stopover habitat” is a necessary but virtually ignored part of the overall effort to save endangered wild Whooping Cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population.

Once habitats have been identified, FOTWW prepares detailed plans for each property explaining how they should be developed and protected to provide essential “stopover habitats” for migrating Whooping Cranes. Whooping Cranes migrate a distance of 2,500 miles two times each year between their nesting habitat on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada and their Aransas Refuge winter habitat on the Texas coast.

During each of the two annual migrations, the Whooping Cranes must stop to rest and feed 15 to 30 times. FOTWW believes that the wild population is capable of taking care of itself with two exceptions. These Whoopers need man to protect their habitats and to stop shooting them.

Clicking here will take you to the total Audubon’s Nebraska Crane Festival program agenda.

We hope to see you there!

***** 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.

 

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Indian Reservations in the Dakotas have abundant Whooping Crane “stopover habitat”

by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Indian reservations in North Dakota and South Dakota are providing huge amounts of “stopover habitat” for migrating wild whooping cranes. As Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) wildlife biologist, I visited six of the reservations to evaluate numerous “stopover habitats” and to provide management recommendations”.

Indian reservations eager for FOTWW’s visit

I contacted the Great Plains Region Indian Headquarters to explain FOTWW’s whooping crane stopover habitat project. Regional Headquarters endorsed our efforts and furnished contact information for natural resource personnel on individual reservations. Natural resource personnel were then contacted on each reservation and FOTWW’s project explained to them. Each reservation wanted to be part of the project and invited FOTWW to visit them.

The reservations FOTWW visited collectively have approximately 2.6 million hectares of land. There are approximately 1,000 permitted range units and 6,000 farm/pasture leases on 7 reservations. The permitted areas and farm/pasture leases are managed under reservation guidelines which are largely useful to wildlife. The headquarters reservation biologist (each reservation has a biologist) advised that there are over 1,700 potential stopover ponds/wetlands on the reservations within the whooping crane migration corridor.

Goals for visitation

I made visits to each reservation: (1) to provide training for personnel about whooping crane stopover habitat needs, (2) to evaluate the habitats and (3) to make habitat management recommendations. Based on FOTWW field evaluations and accepted whooping crane habitat features, reservation natural resource personnel estimated that approximately 75% of the 1,700 ponds/wetlands could provide good stopover habitat, although some may require management criteria.

FOTWW was very impressed with whooping crane stopover habitats and their management on all reservation sited that we visited. We were also pleased with the cooperative attitude of all personnel that we met with.

Potential benefits of livestock

Finally, during the field trips, FOTWW detected an activity of livestock that is potentially beneficial to whooping cranes. As noted above, whooping cranes do not use wetlands as stopover sites where tall, dense vegetation closely surrounds the pond shore, where predators may be lurking. Around some ponds, we observed that livestock had grazed and trampled the vegetation when reaching a shallow area where they can safely enter the pond’s edge to obtain drinking water (Fig. 4). This resulted in unobstructed shore areas that would allow whooping cranes to use these ponds as stopover sites. Whooping cranes favor these same types of shallow areas with sparse vegetation to enter ponds to roost. We observed this phenomenon of vegetation trampling by livestock on numerous wetlands, especially in North and South Dakota. Thus, livestock pond water resources could incidentally provide additional suitable stopover habitat for whooping cranes.

Evaluation progress

FOTWW has now completed whooping crane stopover habitat evaluations on all suitable military bases and Indian Reservations within the migration corridor. Management recommendation reports have been provided to all areas visited.

Currently, we are evaluating Corps of Engineer Lakes within the migration corridor to locate, protect and manage stopover habitats for the only remaining wild Whooping Crane population on Earth. This work is being accomplished under a Cooperative Agreement with the Corps.

Indian reservations
Figure 1. Map showing Indian Reservations in North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Indian reservations
Figure 2. Cheyenne River Indian Reservation Sioux Tribe, S.D. Pond / wetland useful as a stopover habitat for by Whooping Cranes. Young men in photo are in a tribal work-study project. FOTWW taught them about the features that make ponds/wetlands to be good stopover habitats. They learned rapidly and will be the future managers of the natural resources on the reservation.

Indian reservations
Figure 3. Spirit Lake Reservation, (Fort Totten) N.D. This reservation has many good stopover habitats. Flight glide path is clear of obstructions for Whooping Cranes to land near roosting sites. There is no tall grass or woody vegetation around most of this lake. Shore area is shallow with areas 5 to 10 inches deep for roosting sites. Sloped are gradual or gentle into lakes / ponds where water is shallow. Little or no emergent or submerged vegetation in lake at roost areas. There is extensive horizontal visibility from roost site so predators can be detected. Lake is 300 or more yards from human development or disturbance such as power lines. Foraging fields with grain crops and insects within one mile of stopover area.

Indian reservations
Figure 4. Pond with cattle grazing on Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, South Dakota. Note that vegetation around portions of the shore is short (A) and cattail invasion (B) has been restricted due to livestock grazing. The shallow area (C) within the pond would provide suitable roosting sites for whooping cranes.

 

***** 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.

 

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KAW LAKE, OK – Whooping Crane “Stopover Habitat”

by Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

So, as the New Year of 2019 arrives, what is Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) doing for the Whooping Cranes? We are continuing our major project to protect and help manage “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes. Yep, not sexy but it is the most important need of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population which is the last remaining wild whooping cranes on Earth.

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo wild Whooping Cranes can take care of themselves with two exceptions. They need man to help protect their habitat and for people not to shoot them.

FOTWW wildlife biologist Chester McConnell visited several lakes in Oklahoma recently to evaluate the potential for “stopover habitat” for migrating wild Whooping Cranes. One of these was Kaw Lake.

Our visit to Kaw Lake

Well, it rained for three days causing the lake to be in flood stage 8 feet above normal pool. So the high flood waters prevented a complete evaluation of potential “stopover’ habitat for the Whoopers. Not to be out done, FOTWW’s McConnell and Corps of Engineers Kaw Lake personnel did the best they could under the circumstances.

With the assistance of Hutch Todd, Kaw Lake Biologist and Peat Robinson, Kaw Lake Manager, FOTWW studied satellite photos made during past years when the lake pool was at normal pool level.. Using this process, we were pleased to learn about the three excellent potential sites that can be protected and managed to provide some important “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes.

There appears to be few stopover habitats for Whooping Cranes on Kaw Lake’s main pool but the upstream river that flows into the lake has many sandbars that have some good sites (Figures 1 and 2). The lake’s main pool shore areas are mostly steep with abundant trees growing close to the lake edge. These conditions do not lend themselves to stopover habitat for Whooping Cranes.

FOTWW’s McConnell advised that, “We did identify three areas with good potential stopover habitat. These are important and we encourage Kaw Lake personnel to protect and manage them carefully. The three stopover areas can provide diversity to stopover habitats for endangered Whooping Cranes and many waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and other wildlife species that need wetlands.”

Location of existing “stopover sites”

The photos (Figs. 1 and 2) illustrate three potential “stopover areas” on Kaw Lake and upstream where endangered Whooping Cranes can rest, forage and roost during their two annual migrations. The size and configuration of these stopover areas vary with the levels of lake water. When the photos in this report were taken, water levels were “normal”. Flight glide paths to the shore areas are available from different directions for approaching cranes. The shore areas at the three sites need some management to clear bushes, trees and other obstructions. Horizontal visibility from the shore and water roost sites allows Whooping Cranes to detect predators that may be in the area. The shore and lake edge at the three sites has some gradual slopes and some water depths of 2 to 10 inches available during “normal” lake water levels. The water is clear and supports abundant aquatic life. Foraging is available on USACE property and in numerous nearby agriculture fields. In addition there are wild foods in adjacent managed grasslands and wetlands that provide an abundance of insects, wild seeds and other wild food.

Recommendations

FOTWW recommended that the Corps of Engineers and OWDC managers should focus on protecting all potential stopover sites that we identified. These areas currently appear to have good “stopover habitats” with safe roosting features and nearby agricultural landscapes that provide foraging opportunities.

FOTWW sincerely appreciates the interest and cooperation of Kaw Lake and Tulsa District personnel and other officials of the Corps of Engineers who cooperated with us and provided documents that assisted in our evaluation. And a special thanks to David Hoover, USACE who arranged our field trips to four lakes in Oklahoma.

Kaw Lake, Oklahoma
Figure 1. This photo is a close up of the sandbar in Figure 3. It shows the current open area (white) where Whooping Cranes could stopover and the trees that need to be cleared.

Kaw Lake, Oklahoma
Figure 2. The sandbars in this photo are several river miles upstream of the larger sandbars in Figure 3. Marker number “1”is a wide sandbar clear of vegetation. Whooping Cranes could land here and locate shallow water available where they could roost. The sandbar at marker number “2” can also be developed into another good stopover site if the shrubs and trees identified by the arrows are cleared by cutting, burning or spraying with an appropriate herbicide.

KAW LAKE, OKLAHOMA
Figure 3. The sandbars at the head of Kaw Lake can serve as an excellent “stopover habitat” for Whooping Cranes during their migrations. The island formed as upstream banks of the Arkansas River eroded and the sand washed downstream until it met with slack waters of the lake. At this point the sand dropped out of the river water column to form the island. These islands will need management to control growth of trees and shrubs. These can be controlled by spraying with appropriate herbicides or mechanical means.

***** 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.

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