Whooping Crane Stopover Study To Aid Species Recovery

In March, Friends of the Wild Whoopers reported on the need to learn more about resting/feeding sites along the whooping crane migratory route. (See Whooping Crane Tracking Study) In order to learn more about the Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population needs during migration, the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership began banding and tracking them in 2009. Banding of the whooping cranes has been completed and preliminary findings are currently being compiled. Many key areas have already been identified where the whooping cranes stop over during their 2,500 mile migration. Other useful insights “into this here-to-fore little-know world of whooping crane stopover habitat” are being studied.”

In their latest Newsletter, the Crane Trust offers us some more insight and details about the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership’s study.

 

Article from Crane Trust Spring 2014 Newsletter

Whooping cranes require suitable stopover sites to complete their spring/fall migration. Without them, the 5,000-mile journey would not be possible. Photo by John Conklin, Canadian Wildlife Service.

Suitable habitat for whooping cranes to stop, rest and feed during their spring/fall migration is critical for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population to complete its 2,500-mile journey each way. These stopover sites are the focus of a comprehensive ground-based study to improve our understanding of the specific habitats and locations selected by whooping cranes during their migration—and are vital for the species recovery. Above Photo: Whooping cranes require suitable stopover sites to complete their spring/fall migration. Without them, the 5,000-mile journey would not be possible. Photo by John Conklin, Canadian Wildlife Service. 

Measuring

Initiated in 2012 by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program and researchers from the Crane Trust and the US Geological Survey, the ground-based study was in full swing for the 2014 spring migration. To date, more than 250 stopover sites have been visited and characterized by researchers between northern Texas and North Dakota. The result to date is the most exhaustive aggregation of data ever collected on whooping crane stopover sites and their utilization by migrating cranes.  Above Photo: Maximum depth was one of over a dozen water-related measurements taken at sites where water was present. Distance to water, bank slope, land cover of nearest shoreline, and wetland classification were among the others.

Mapping

Individual stopover sites were located using GPS tracking data from the Whooping Crane Tracking Partnership’s telemetry study and were visited by one of three regional research teams. Each team spent roughly one day in the field for every two days in the office contacting landowners and collecting/inputting time-sensitive measurements. Key measurements and their application included 360° on-location photography, GIS mapping of habitat types and land covers, food types and availability, land cover and management practices, endangering and visually obstructive features, water characteristics (if present), and other variables.  Above Photo: The Crane Trust’s Ryan Joe creates GIS map of stopover site using field data collected this spring. The finished product will depict key features and habitats, providing a valuable reference for visual analysis.

Panorama

The precise arrival and departure times of the whooping crane(s) and their movements within each stopover site area were also recorded. Sites were visited after whooping cranes had departed, so as to not disturb migrating birds and to record observations and measurements as close to the bird’s departure as possible.  Above Photo: Habitat variations and similarities were observed throughout the migration corridor. The above photo was indicative of a stopover site in the Nebraska-central region.  

While complete study results aren’t expected until 2015, preliminary findings are already providing useful insights into this here-to-fore little-known world of whooping crane stopover habitat. When complete, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, the Crane Trust and other conservation organizations/agencies will be able to use this comprehensive data to better inform (and improve) habitat management practices and conservation strategies to aid the species recovery.

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

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Whooping Cranes near Regina, SK Canada

Whooping Cranes near Regina.

On April 21st, Friends of the Wild Whoopers posted a couple photos of a few whooping cranes spotted near Regina, SK, Canada. If you missed that update, you can click on this link Whooping Cranes Migrating Back to Canadian Nesting Grounds to view the photos.

FOTWW has been given permission to share this video of a few whooping cranes near Regina, SK, recorded on April 20, 2014. A very special thank you to Sask Birder for allowing FOTWW to share these rare glimpses of the wild whoopers with everyone.

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

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USFWS Whooping Crane Migration Update

Dr. Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator reports that most of the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock of whooping cranes is now on their way to their Canadian nesting grounds. The Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock is the only remaining self-supporting flock on planet earth.

Whooping Crane Migration Map
Whooping Crane current and former range and migration corridors.

Dr. Harrell advised that, “Whooping crane migration is well underway. We estimate that less than 20% of the population is still on the Texas coast wintering area and that number should quickly dwindle over the next week or so. A significant portion of the population appears to have made it across the border into Canada. Right now we have whooping cranes spread out from the wintering grounds nearly to the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park. Though the cranes seem to leave in mass, they actually have staggered departures and leave in small groups. This is important as it ensures survival of the species. If they were to all leave together and encountered bad weather or some other catastrophic event, it could put the whole population in jeopardy.”

Harrell also explained that GPS tracking of the whoopers continues. He described that “As of Sunday, April 21, four of the marked birds that we are actively receiving data on were still on the coast. Of those in migration, 12 were in Saskatchewan, eight in the Dakotas, four in Nebraska, two in Oklahoma and one in Texas. Based on this information and other observations, it is likely that more than 80% of the birds in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population are currently migrating north.”  See Wade Harrell’s full “whooping Crane Update report at: http://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147549010

For additional information about the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock migration go to: https://friendsofthewildwhoopers.org/whooping-cranes-migrating-back-canadian-nesting-ground/

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Whooping Cranes Migrating Back to Canadian Nesting Grounds

by  Friends of the Wild Whoopers

Whooping cranes are now well underway on their long 2,500 mile migration back to their nesting grounds. While some of the birds are still at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast, many are working their way northward to Canada. The birds are departing Aransas Refuge in good condition due to improved habitat conditions there. Soon they will reach Wood Buffalo National Park Canada where they will build their nest and raise their young.

“Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) received a report yesterday that four whooping cranes were spotted just outside of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Regina is the capital city of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan and is a stopover spot for the AransasWood Buffalo  whooping cranes before reaching Wood Buffalo National Park.

Today, FOTWW received another reported sighting from Regina along with two photographs taken this afternoon. The report read “From what we could see there were three adults and one juvenile feeding at quite a distance from the road. Due to the foreshortening of the telephoto lens, the birds appear closer to the city limits than they actually were.  The field is a few miles past the city limits.

Reports out of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and other places along the Central Flyway have been advising for the past couple of weeks that the wild whoopers have started their migration toward their nesting grounds in Wood Buffalo. Kevin Sims was out on the water yesterday and stated to FOTWW that “We managed to find eight  whoopers today. They were all very far out in the marsh. I was happy to see them it won’t be long now before they are all gone. Back to Wood Buffalo.”

During the past two weeks FOTWW has received a number of reports of whooping crane sightings near Platte River, Nebraska; Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira Refuge, Kansas; and Aulne, Kansas.

The two photos below are proof that they are almost home.

Whooping Cranes migrating back to Canadian Nesting Grounds. Regina, SK

Photo by Saskbird member.

 

Whooping Cranes migrating back to Canadian Nesting Grounds. Regina, SK

Photo by a Saskbird member.

FOTWW wishes to thank the Saskbird member for sending us the report and photos, and for Kevin who has kept everyone up to date this winter with his reports and photographs. Hopefully, we’ll have more reports and photographs, of the wild ones throughout the summer.

 

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