Hurricane Harvey and Whooping Cranes

Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (FOTWW) has had several inquiries about what effects Hurricane Harvey may have had to the wild whooping cranes’ wintering habitat on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The whooping cranes of the wild flock and their new fledglings are still in Canada on their nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park. Mike Keizer, Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada told FOTWW, “Hope all goes well in Texas. Glad the Whooping Cranes are still here.”

They won’t start their fall migration until the later part of next month and the first whoopers may arrive at Aransas for the winter right after the middle of October, with the remaining whoopers following until the middle of December, which is after the hurricane season.

What salt water from the storm surge that has gotten into the brackish bays will normally be flushed out with fresh flood water flowing in from upstream. Also with the predicted rainfall of 1 to 3 feet, the system should restore itself soon. It is too early to determine if there was any habitat loss and the priority now it to keep the area’s citizens safe, out of harm’s way and back into their homes and/or rebuilding.

Whatever the damage, if any, to the wild flock’s habitat, the flock will endure and survive as it has done over the years.

FOTWW and everyone is concerned about the refuge and surrounding area and our thoughts and prayers go out to all those citizens affected by Hurricane Harvey. We hope that there is no loss of life and little to no damage to property and habitat.

FOTWW will keep everyone updated as we get information.

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Wintering Whooping Crane Update, April 7, 2017


Wintering Whooping Crane Update
Wade Harrell, – U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping crane spring migration is in full swing. It has been another tremendous winter season here at Aransas NWR, but the whooping cranes are ready to get back up to Wood Buffalo National Park for another breeding season.

Whooping Crane Update

Whooping crane family flying over Aransas NWR. Photo by Chuck Hardin

As of yesterday, of 7 birds that have active satellite transmitters, 5 have departed Aransas NWR. Quivira NWR (Kansas) and surrounding areas seem to be a hotspot for stopovers this spring, with a group of 14 whooping cranes reported last week and a group of 8 reported this week as well as sightings of smaller groups. There have also been a number of whooping cranes reported in the Platte River in Nebraska and a number that have already made it to the Dakotas. Here in Texas, 2 marked whoopers were spotted on Ft. Hood Army Base this past week. The number of whooping cranes at Aransas will quickly dwindle over the next couple weeks. Spring migration is typically shorter in duration than fall migration, usually only taking about 30 days.

As soon as results from the Annual Whooping Crane Winter Abundance Survey are complete, we will post a summary on the Aransas NWR website.

Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

Whooping crane update

Whooping Cranes over Aransas NWR at sunset. Photo by Kevin Sims

Cranes have recently been seen from the observation tower on the Refuge, but it’s difficult to say how much longer they will remain. But there are many other interesting wildlife species to view at the Refuge now, including many spring migrating songbirds, so don’t hesitate to come out and enjoy other spring wildlife watching opportunities.

Texas Whooper Watch

Please report any whooping cranes you observe in migration in Texas to Texas Whooper Watch. We’ve had a number of people making use of the new Texas Whooper Watch I-Naturalist phone app as well, which is encouraging. The old saying “a photo is worth a thousand words” applies to reporting whooping cranes as well. Just be careful not to disturb or get too close the birds!

Habitat Management on the Refuge

Refuge staff burned 4 Units this winter, totaling 4,871 acres. This year’s winter season was challenging given that our cold weather windows with consistent north winds were limited and the latter part of the winter brought significant rains.

Precipitation/Salinity

The Refuge received 6.16” of rain from January-March 2017. Freshwater levels and food resources remained high throughout most of this winter season.  Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay stayed in the low teens (ppt) most of the winter, but recent rains in the middle portion of the Guadalupe river watershed have dropped salinities significantly this last week. Let’s hope we stay in a wet cycle for a bit longer.

***** 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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