Corps of Engineer lakes in Oklahoma being evaluated for Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”

By Pam Bates, Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping Cranes migrate 2,500 miles two times each year between their nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada and their Aransas Wildlife Refuge winter habitat on the Texas coast. During these migrations they must stop to rest and feed 15 to 30 times. Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is searching for areas to provide these essential “stopover habitats”. Stopover habitats are equally as important as nesting and winter habitats.

Fort Supply Lake

Fort Supply Lake in northwest Oklahoma is one of four Corps of Engineer (COE) Lakes that have recently been evaluated to determine if they have any existing or potential “stopover habitat” for migrating Whooping Cranes.  FOTWW visited the four lakes as part of its continuing efforts to encourage protection and management of decreasing habitat for migrating Whooping Cranes.

Despite heavy rainfall, flooding and high water levels in three lakes FOTWW‘s wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell explained that: “Our evaluation team continued towork in the challenging conditions. Fortunately COE and Oklahoma Wildlife Division (ODWC) personnel accompanied me and they were well informed about the lake’s habitats. So, together, we successfully identified some good stopover habitat sites.” Fort Supply Lake is just one of many COE lakes that FOTWW has, and will be evaluating. The Operation Management Plan FY 2014 thru 2018 covers information for the COE area of primary management responsibility. The “Wildlife Management/Hunting program” is described in a separate document prepared by ODWC. The lake was authorized under the Flood Control Act approved June 22, 1936. Construction of the lake was begun in October 1938 and completed in August 1942.  There is a total of 9,899 acres of project land and water. The lake covers 1,786 surface acres of open water. A total of 8,079 acres are used for wildlife management, recreation and project operations. Although the primary mission is flood control, important secondary benefits are water supply, recreation, and natural resource management. Importantly one of the natural resources needing the lake is the only wild population of wild Whooping Cranes remaining on earth.

Whooping Cranes observed at fort supply lake

FOTWW is aware that Fort Supply Lake, has been used by Whooping Cranes and we expect that to continue and increase. Both USACE and ODWC personnel have observed Whooping Cranes on the lake several times.

Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 1.  Two members of the team returning from a cruise around Fort Supply Lake to evaluate potential Whooping Crane "stopover habitats". Eric Summers, Assistant Lake Manager, Corps of Engineers (on right) guided the evaluation team on lake waters.  Eddie Wilson, Senior Biologist, Oklahoma Wildlife Division (on left) guided us on a tour of the wildlife management areas around the lake. These men are very informed about the lake and its surrounding wildlife habitats, vegetation and water levels. McConnell said “Their assistance was invaluable and greatly appreciated.”  Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 1.  Two members of the team returning from a cruise around Fort Supply Lake to evaluate potential Whooping Crane “stopover habitats”. Eric Summers, Assistant Lake Manager, Corps of Engineers (on right) guided the evaluation team on lake waters.  Eddie Wilson, Senior Biologist, Oklahoma Wildlife Division (on left) guided us on a tour of the wildlife management areas around the lake. These men are very informed about the lake and its surrounding wildlife habitats, vegetation and water levels. McConnell said “Their assistance was invaluable and greatly appreciated.”  Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma Figure 2. The short grass, shallow water and absence of trees and bushes in this photo cause it to be suitable for Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” during normal water levels. During our evaluation, abundant rain (8+ inches) caused the lake depth to be deeper than normal. Water depths vary occasionally due to abundant rain and long drought periods. Importantly, due to various shore configurations, when one area of a lake is not suitable, some other area of the lake will likely be suitable. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 2.  The short grass, shallow water and absence of trees and bushes in this photo cause it to be suitable for Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” during normal water levels. During our evaluation, abundant rain (8+ inches) caused the lake depth to be deeper than normal. Water depths vary occasionally due to abundant rain and long drought periods. Importantly, due to various shore configurations, when one area of a lake is not suitable, some other area of the lake will likely be suitable. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma Figure  3. This photo identifies a 3 to 4acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water“stopover  habitat” (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The vegetation in the area could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm as outlined can be constructed around the developed pond to hold shallow water for a “stopover habitat”. This small wetland would operate independently from the water levels in the lake. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 3.  This photo identifies a 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water“stopover  habitat” (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The vegetation in the area could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm as outlined can be constructed around the developed pond to hold shallow water for a “stopover habitat”. This small wetland would operate independently from the water levels in the lake. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 4. This photo and figure 3 reveals conditions at the 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water habitat for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The area vegetation could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm (Fig. 3) can be constructed around the pond to hold shallow water (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for a “stopover habitat”. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Figure 4.  This photo and figure 3 reveals conditions at the 3 to 4 acre site near the lake that could be developed into a shallow water habitat for Whooping Cranes and other wild creatures. The area vegetation could be treated with herbicide and burned when dry. A low level berm (Fig. 3) can be constructed around the pond to hold shallow water (3 inches to 6 inches deep) for a “stopover habitat”. Photo by Chester McConnell, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.
Fort Supply Lake, Oklahoma. Figure 5. ODWC operates the wildlife management and hunting programs on 5,418 acres ofFort Supply Lake. This photo illustrates one of their 21 food plots on the lake property. Whooping Cranes will forage for grain and insects in such plots.
Figure 5.  ODWC operates the wildlife management and hunting programs on 5,418 acres of Fort Supply Lake. This photo illustrates one of their 21 food plots on the lake property. Whooping Cranes will forage for grain and insects in such plots. Photo 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. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

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Friends of the Wild Whoopers’ President to speak at Fort Worth Audubon

Friends of the Wild Whoopers' PresidentFriends of the Wild Whoopers’ president, Chester McConnell, will be speaking this Thursday night, Nov. 8, 2018 at the Fort Worth Audubon’s monthly meeting. He will be speaking briefly about the biology of the only wild population of Whooping Cranes on earth. He will also explain the efforts by Friends of the Wild Whoopers to protect, improve and develop “stopover habitats” for these endangered birds.

McConnell spent most of his professional career of 54 years evaluating land use and stream projects, wetland protection, conducting wildlife research, monitoring populations and managing wildlife habitats. Since retiring, he has focused his time on Whooping Cranes, wetland protection and stream protection.

McConnell became interested in Whooping Cranes when he was in the 5th grade. He read a brief article in the Weekly Reader which explained that the Whoopers had returned to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. The article also explained that no one knew where the birds went to in the summer months.

McConnell eventually became a lifetime member of the Whooping Crane Conservation Association. He was appointed as a Trustee and served as President one term. He managed their web page and newsletter (wife was Associate Editor) for 14 years. Currently, McConnell serves as President of Friends of the Wild Whoopers, a private, non-profit group whose mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. He has evaluated potential Whooping Crane habitats on 21 military bases, 8 Indian Reservation and 14 Army Corps of Engineers lakes.

Friends of the Wild Whoopers now works under an official Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate all lakes within the 6 state migration corridor (TX, OK, KS, NE, SD and ND). Services to the military, Indian Reservations and the Corps have been performed at no cost to the recipients.

Time and Location of Meeting

The meeting will begin at 7:30 pm with a short 15 minute business meeting followed by McConnell’s presentation. Meetings are held in Everett Hall, Room 100, in the Research and Education (RES) building at the University of North Texas Health Science Center on 3500 Camp Bowie Boulevard (at Montgomery Street) Fort Worth TX 76107. Use Parking Lot 6 on Clifton Street. Enter the RES building ground floor at the northwest corner of Parking Lot 6.

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Wildlife service releasing water to Platte River for whooping cranes

Platte River
Whooping Cranes – Rowe Sanctuary Photo: © John Smeltzer

Whooping cranes are passing through Nebraska for their annual migration, and wildlife officials are helping them by releasing more water into the Platte River at Grand Island.

The release will provide and maintain adequate roosting and feeding habitat for whooping cranes on the Platte River, and is expected to continue through early to mid-November when the whooping cranes leave the region.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to release water from their Environmental Account beginning on Oct. 19. The cranes use the Platte River in Nebraska as a stopover site during their migration in the Central Flyway south to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas for the winter.

Read more here.

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Wintering Whooping Crane Update, October 1, 2018

Wintering Whooping Crane Update, October 1, 2018
Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Fall migration is upon us and we expect to have our first confirmed whooping crane in the area later this month! We have received a few unconfirmed reports of a few whooping cranes in Texas already, but have yet to receive a report with a photo or full description. If you have a question on whether the bird that you saw is a whooping crane or not, take a look here.  Many early fall observations of whooping cranes end up being American White Pelicans or Wood Storks, though both of these species usually arrive in Texas before whooping cranes and are often observed in larger flocks.

Cold and wet conditions early this summer contributed to a below-average breeding year in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP).  Eighty-seven nests were counted in May, producing an estimated 24 fledged whooping cranes (counted in August) that are now headed south on their first migration to Texas. It is likely that lower than normal chick survival was due in part to exposure to the wet, cold conditions. We know from historical records that we see a dip in chick recruitment and the population size about once a decade, and we may be witnessing that pattern again this year.

The Whooping Crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas NWR is about 2,500 miles in length and can take as many as 50 days to complete. Right now, 9 of 11 of the whooping cranes that are alive from recent marking efforts in summer of 2017 and last winter have moved south out of WBNP and are in Central Saskatchewan. Three of these birds were marked as juveniles at WBNP and 6 were marked as adults here at Aransas NWR. It is common for whooping cranes to spend a long period of time in Saskatchewan this time of year, “staging” for fall migration by foraging on abundant agricultural waste grains. Our partners with the Canadian Wildlife Service are actively monitoring whooping cranes in Saskatchewan now and have reported seeing several of our marked birds.

We have not received any migration reports from the U.S. portion of the Central Flyway yet, nor have any reports surfaced via eBird, Texas Whooper Watch, or other citizen science sites. Thus, it is likely that few, if any, whooping cranes have crossed the 49th parallel just yet. Once northern cold fronts become stronger, the pace of migration will increase.

Texas Whooper Watch

Be sure to report any Texas migration sightings via Texas Whooper Watch. For instructions on how to report, please refer to this website.

Current conditions at Aransas NWR:

Food & Water Abundance:

September was definitely one for the record books, with at least 17.54” of rain reported at Aransas NWR. This is around half of our average annual rainfall, and as you can imagine it has created fresh conditions in the coastal marshes and standing water across large portions of the Refuge. Since June, we have recorded 36.19” of rain and the National Weather Service 3-month outlook suggests that the fall weather pattern will continue to be wetter and warmer than normal. Generally, wet periods bode well for whooping crane foods in the marsh such as blue crabs and wolfberries.

Habitat Management at Aransas:

We were able to burn one large unit (3,780 acres) on Matagorda Island on June 15. The area we burned consists of upland prairies adjacent to coastal marsh areas that are heavily used by whooping cranes. By maintaining coastal prairie habitats in a relatively open, brush-free condition, we provide additional foraging habitat that would not normally be available to the whooping cranes. Summer burns are typically more effective at suppressing brush species in our prairies than winter burns, and thus are an important habitat management tool at Aransas NWR.

Refuge Celebration October 13:

I hope you will come join us at Aransas NWR on Saturday, October 13, from 9 am to 3 pm for the annual Refuge Day Celebration and participate in a number of free, family-friendly activities that we have planned – archery, fishing, kayaking, target shooting, live animal displays, arts and crafts, nature journaling, photo scavenger hunt, face painting, and more!

 

***** 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.

Wintering Whooping Crane Update
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

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