© Don Jeane

Friends of

Aransas and Matagorda Island

            National Wildlife Refuges

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Whooper Updates

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  • Friday, April 07, 2017 12:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     

    Wintering Whooping Crane Update, April 7, 2017
    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.

     

    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 fall, 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

    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. 

  • Thursday, December 15, 2016 5:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     

    Wintering Whooping Crane Update, December 15, 2016

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

     

    We completed our annual whooping crane abundance survey this week, flying nearly six surveys. Unfortunately, we were plagued with poor flying conditions throughout the survey period. Of the nine days we had pilots and planes available, only five days (Dec. 9, 10, 11, 13, 14) offered safe enough conditions to fly. Of those five days, only two days (Dec. 9 and 13) had good flying weather most of the day, allowing for complete surveys. Fog, rain, low ceilings and high winds all contributed to poor flying conditions. Fortunately, we had two pilots and planes from our Migratory Birds program and four observers available, allowing us to fly more than one survey a day.

     

    Once again, Terry Liddick, pilot/biologist from our Migratory Birds program, served as a pilot, flying a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cessna 206. This year Phil Thorpe also served as a pilot, flying a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wheeled Kodiak. Observers were Wade Harrell, Jena Moon (Refuges Inventory and Monitoring biologist), Doug Head (Refuges Inventory and Monitoring biologist) and Stephen LeJeune (Chenier Plains Refuge Complex Fire Program). Doug Head (Refuge Inventory and Management biologist) served as survey coordinator.

     

    Data management and analysis once the actual survey is complete is a significant effort conducted by multiple staff members, so we won’t have the final results to present for a few months. But, I will share some general post-survey observations:

    We observed whooping cranes using four units of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Blackjack, Matagorda, Tatton and Lamar) and 3 Texas coastal counties (Aransas, Calhoun and Matagorda).

     

    Overall, habitat appeared to be in good condition with adequate freshwater resources. Northern portions of the primary survey area (Welder Flats, Matagorda Island Central) appeared to have much more standing freshwater than southern portions of the primary survey area (Blackjack, Lamar-Tatton), presumably due to higher rainfall totals over the last couple months. Coastal marshes had higher than normal water levels due to high tides in the early part of the survey; however tides fell to normal levels this week.

     

    We observed significant amounts of water hyacinth, an invasive freshwater plant, floating in San Antonio Bay, presumably having been flushed out of the Guadalupe River after the last flood event in November. Rainfall in November and December has provided positive freshwater inflows into local estuaries.

     

    This year we did not have as many large group sizes (>8) of whooping cranes in our primary survey blocks, so it is possible that many of the subadult groups we observed in the past few years have successfully paired.

     

    We observed at least one family group that included two juveniles (i.e. commonly referred to as "twins").

     

     Due to poor flying conditions, most of our secondary areas did not get surveyed, but we did have one survey over the Mad Island and Matagorda Peninsula secondary areas. The Mad Island secondary survey area had one family group and two additional adult whooping cranes detected.

     A family group of whooping cranes was reported in a rice field near Garwood, TX on December 8th. This area has had whooping crane use the last several years and is well outside (north) of our survey area.

     

    While coastal salt marsh was the most common habitat type that we observed whooping cranes using during the survey, we observed whooping cranes using a wide variety of other habitat types as well, including freshwater wetlands, upland prairies and shrublands, agricultural fields and open-water bay edges.

     

    There are several opportunities for visitors to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to view whooping cranes in publically accessible areas this winter. Whooping cranes have been consistently sighted from the Heron Flats viewing deck, the observation tower and the tour loop near Mustang Slough. We consistently observed a family group of whooping crane in the Mustang Lake salt marsh in front of the observation tower, so you have an excellent opportunity to view whooping crane behavior with a juvenile in tow in their natural habitat.

     

    I want to note that the annual whooping crane abundance survey is a collective effort, with the pilot and observers in the plane only serving one small role within the overall survey. I want to personally thank Joe Saenz, Aransas NWR project leader, for serving as overall manager of the effort; Doug Head, Refuge Inventory & Monitoring biologist as survey coordinator; Josie Farias, administrative staff at Aransas NWR, for assisting with logistics and dispatch; and Grant Harris and Matthew Butler from our Refuge Regional Office Inventory & Monitoring Team for survey protocol development and data analysis.

     

    We will be flying some additional surveys in February in order to complete our survey of secondary areas and train new observers.

     

    Habitat Management on Aransas NWR:

    No prescribed burns have taken place yet this winter; however, we are planning for prescribed burns on the Blackjack Unit, Tatton Unit and Matagorda Unit of Aransas NWR this winter.

     

    Recent Precipitation/Salinity around Aransas NWR:

    November precipitation: 2.57" @ Aransas HQ

     

    December precipitation (as of 12/15): 2.62" @ Aransas HQ

     

    Salinity at GBRA 1: averaging around 13 parts per thousand

  • Monday, November 07, 2016 3:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wintering Whooping Crane Update:  November 7, 2016


    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

     

    The first fall whooping crane arrivals on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) were reported earlier this week on Wednesday, November 2nd by Kevin Sims. He reported seeing 3 pairs on the Blackjack Peninsula. Two adults were also seen from the Aransas NWR Observation Tower on November 6th.  I expect that we will have quite a few more arrivals after the next few frontal passages.

     

    As of November 2nd, all 9 whooping cranes with active GPS transmitters were still in Saskatchewan. Other migration reports from the rest of the Central flyway have started trickling in, with reports from all the states from North Dakota to Texas. Whooping cranes are currently spread out across their range, all the way from their northern breeding grounds to their southern wintering grounds. Another mild fall in the northern plains states appears to be contributing to a delayed migration, seemingly a bit behind even last year’s fall migration.

     

    There have been a few whooping cranes reported from traditional stopover sites in the US such as Quivira NWR in central Kansas and Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma. For those of you that use Facebook, both of these refuges have pages where they report whooping crane sightings.

     

    Texas Whooper Watch

     

    Texas Whooper Watch is up and running and has done a great job in getting the word out on whooping migration to the public this year. Take some time to check out their website.

    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. If you have questions on where that is, please refer to our primary survey frame map that can be viewed in last winter’s abundance estimate summary here

     

    Food & Water Abundance:

     

    Whooping cranes experienced above average water levels and excellent breeding habitat conditions in Wood Buffalo National Park this past summer. Similarly, this past summer in Texas was above average in regards to rainfall, but October has turned hot and dry. This is starting to negatively impact freshwater wetlands at Aransas NWR. We are hoping for some additional precipitation this month.

     

    Precipitation/Salinity:

     

    The Refuge received 7.9 inches of rain from July to October 2016 (Matagorda Island RAWS), about 3 inches less than that same time period last year, with 5.7 inches of this season’s rain occurring in August. Freshwater wetlands on the Refuge are starting to recede.  Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 18 parts per thousand and rising.


     

  • Saturday, September 17, 2016 2:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

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

    Fall migration will soon begin and whooping cranes will start moving south out of their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP). It was a good breeding year in WBNP. Above average water conditions contributed to an estimated 45 fledged whooping cranes that will soon be headed to Texas on their first migration. We usually expect to see the first whooping cranes arrive at Aransas NWR in early October. The whooping crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas is about 2,500 miles in length and can take up to 50 days to complete.

    Last fall, I outlined some of the places that whooping cranes stop to rest in migration. This fall, let’s take some time to look at some of the preliminary results from the whooping crane tracking study in regards to when, where and how whooping cranes perish. For years, scientists have thought that migration was the most dangerous time for a whooping crane, and hence the time period in which they were most likely to die. Our recent telemetry study is providing new information in this vein and is again reminding us that there is still much to learn in regards to whooping crane biology. Most of us don’t like to talk about death, but for a wildlife biologist, understanding more about mortality can help us improve management for whooping cranes and ultimately recover the species.

    Tracking study and mortality:

    From 2009-2014, a study led by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center marked 68 individual whooping cranes with GPS transmitting devices. This equates to about 20% of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population being marked. About half of the marked birds were marked as 1st year fledglings at Wood Buffalo and the rest as adults here on the wintering grounds. The information collected from these marked birds, consisting of 3-5 locations a day, 365 days a year, provides us an enormous data set that we are now starting to sort through. Once signals from the GPS transmitters indicate that a bird has quit moving, it is often a sign that the bird has died. We try our best to collect every carcass as quickly as possible once we have reason to believe the bird has likely perished. This is not as easy as it sounds, however, since GPS tracking technology still has a few glitches and these birds are often using remote and inaccessible habitat. Additionally, carcasses tend to degrade very quickly in the natural environment. Regardless, all collected carcasses are sent to the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC) for necropsy and disease testing. The lab then provides us a report indicating likely causes of the bird’s demise.

    Of the 68 whooping cranes we marked in the tracking study, we recovered the remains of 17 birds over a 4 year period (June 2011-March 2015). Here is a summary of what we have found so far:

    When?

    1) Whooping cranes are most susceptible to dying at a young age. Only 3 of the 17 birds we recovered were classified as adults (> 2 years old). Keep in mind that whooping cranes are long-lived birds (<30 yrs).

    2) Mortalities occurred across all seasons and times of year. When we discuss whooping crane management, we often divide up a year into four distinct time periods (summering, fall migration, wintering and spring migration). Whooping cranes spend about 5 months of the year at summering locations (WBNP) and another 5 months at wintering locations (on and around Aransas NWR). The other 2 months of the year they are migrating between summering and wintering locations.

    More than 85% of the marked crane deaths occurred in summering and wintering time periods, with mortalities roughly equal between each time period. Thus, less than 15% of marked crane deaths occurred during migration. So, cranes deaths are evenly distributed across the year. Previously we thought that migration was a particularly risky time for cranes, given the potential hazards they face in their long journey. But the tracking study doesn’t indicate that this is the case. Keep in mind that the tracking study was conducted during a drought period here on the wintering grounds, and we know from past research that winter mortality is higher during droughts. Past research likely underestimated mortalities that occur in summering areas due to the remoteness and inaccessibility of WBNP.

    Where?


    3) Mortalities occurred in places you would expect, with all of the summering mortalities occurring in Wood Buffalo National Park less than 20 miles from the primary nesting areas. Wintering mortalities occurred throughout our primary wintering range (5 on Aransas NWR and 2 on private lands). Birds died in South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska (suspected, no carcass) during migration.

    How?

    4) Of the 17 recovered carcasses, the NWHC reports could only determine cause of death for 4 birds because most of the carcasses were too decomposed and deteriorated. Of the 4 known causes of mortality, two were from predation, one from a bacterial infection and one from an injury. While past research has noted a number of mortalities from power line collisions, this was not a cause of death in any of the marked birds. Perhaps our work to decrease this impact over the years with partners such as the Avian Power Line Interaction Committee has made a difference!

    I’ve kept this summary short and left out a number of details, but the information I have included here is from a book that will be coming out next year if you are interested in learning more. Here is the citation:

    Pearse, A. T., D. A. Brandt, M. Bidwell, and B. Hartup. In Press. Mortality in Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping cranes: timing, location, and causes. The Biology and Conservation of the Whooping Crane (Grus americana), French, Converse, and Austin, editors. Academic Press.

    For those that have an interest in the science of whooping cranes, keep your eyes out for future publications from the U.S. Geological Survey and other partners involved with the whooping crane Tracking Partnership. Additionally, we still have the Texas Parks & Wildlife video on this study posted on our website here.

    When the whooping crane population started to crash in the early 1900’s, many whooping cranes were being killed by humans throughout their range. The picture of whooping crane mortality was much bleaker then than it is now. This ultimately led to the species being listed as endangered and extensive conservation efforts began taking place. We’ve made significant strides in recovering the species over the last 100 years, but we have a long way to go. Many of you have heard about the continued whooping crane poaching issues, particularly in our reintroduced populations. A recent article in Texas Monthly discusses a poaching case in Southeast Texas and our efforts to reestablish whooping cranes in Louisiana.

    Waterfowl Hunter Outreach Efforts:

    Given ongoing poaching issues, we are working closely with many of our partners to increase education and outreach efforts within the waterfowl hunting community. Day in and day out, hunters are our eyes and ears on the ground during the wintering season and they can be a tremendous help to the overall whooping crane recovery effort. Waterfowl hunters have supported wildlife and wetland conservation for years through their purchase of the federal “duck stamp” and are often the first to report problems occurring in wildlife habitat. We will be out in the wintering grounds during the next several months providing information to hunters on whooping crane identification and conservation. Additionally, our Law Enforcement Special Agents will be working during waterfowl season around Aransas NWR to educate hunters about the importance of whooping cranes.

    Texas Whooper Watch
    Be sure to report any Texas migration sightings via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512) 389-TXWWW (8999)


    Current conditions at Aransas NWR:

    Oversummering Whoopers:
    As we previously reported and was noted in a recent Victoria Advocate article, we had a few (3-4) whooping cranes that decided to stick around for the summer rather than make the long migration back to WBNP. While we don’t know for sure why this happens, we do know that it has happened in the past and is likely to happen in the future. We suspect that the birds that stayed were non-breeders, thus their hormonal triggers to migrate back to breeding and nesting areas in the spring may have been lacking. When this has happened in the past, birds may have been recovering from some sort of injury or illness. But the whooping cranes that stayed this past summer appear to be in fine health.

    Food & Water Abundance:
    Once again, whooping cranes will be arriving to lush conditions here in Texas. It appears to be another banner fall here on the Texas coast, with abundant food resources and wetlands full of fresh water. Our fire management staff has been busy using prescribed fire this summer to improve habitat conditions for whooping cranes and other wildlife, with around 3,800 acres on the Refuge burned so far in August and September.

    Precipitation/Salinity:
    The Refuge has received 6.8” of rain from July-mid September 2016, and the current forecast predicts that we will see more rain the latter part of this month and next. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently <10 ppt. and have remained low throughout most of the summer.

  • Tuesday, April 19, 2016 9:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Whooping Crane Survey Results: Winter 2015–2016

     

    329 Wild Whooping Cranes Estimated

     

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed aerial surveys of the primary survey area centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to estimate the abundance of whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population. Preliminary analyses of the survey data indicated 329 whooping cranes (95% CI = 293–371; CV = 0.073) inhabited the primary survey area (Figure 1). This estimate included 38 juveniles (95% CI = 33–43; CV = 0.078) and 122 adult pairs (95% CI = 108–137; CV = 0.071). Recruitment of juveniles into the winter flock was 13 chicks (95% CI = 12–14; CV = 0.036) per 100 adults, which is comparable to long-term average recruitment. The precision of this year’s estimate achieved the target set in the whooping crane inventory and monitoring protocol (i.e., CV < 0.10).

     

     

    Read the full report: WHCR Update Winter 2015-2016.pdf
  • Tuesday, March 29, 2016 1:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     

    Wintering Whooping Crane Update, March 29, 2016

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    Whooping crane spring migration has begun. It has been a tremendous winter season here at Aransas NWR, but the whooping cranes seem to be ready to get back up to Wood Buffalo National Park for another breeding season.

    As of this morning, of 11 birds that have active satellite transmitters, 4 have departed Aransas NWR. The 4 marked cranes are spread out from Central Texas to South Dakota. Reports received over the last few weeks from states in the migration corridor indicate 31 whooping cranes have been spotted in migration from Kansas to South Dakota. The number of whooping cranes at Aransas will quickly dwindle over the next few weeks. Spring migration is typically shorter in duration than fall migration, usually taking about 30 days. 

    We have posted the 2014-2015 Whooping Crane Recovery Report on our website. As soon as results from the Annual Whooping Crane Winter Abundance Survey are complete, we will post a summary on the Aransas NWR website as well. 

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

    Cranes were recently seen from the observation tower on the Refuge, but it’s difficult to say how much longer they will remain. There are many other interesting wildlife species to view at the Refuge now, though, so don’t hesitate to come out and enjoy other spring wildlife watching opportunities!  Our Rail Trail bridge has recently been rebuilt, and it’s been a great spot to see young alligators, bullfrogs, and colorful fish.

    Texas Whooper Watch

    Please report any whooping cranes you observe migrating in Texas to Texas Whooper Watch.  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!

    While we didn’t have nearly as many whooping cranes use inland sites this winter, Texas Whooper Watch still provided us vital information during migration. Please continue to keep watch for whooping cranes and send in your reports.

    Habitat management on the Refuge

    Refuge staff burned 8 units this winter, totaling 5,822 acres. This year's season was difficult in terms of meeting objectives due to smoke management and weather windows. The season started off very wet from the effects of the above average rainfall in calendar year 2015 and the anticipation of a predicted wet winter from El Nino conditions. The wet conditions persisted into early January and then rapidly changed. The predicted El Nino event never materialized for January/February and many dry fronts came through South Texas resulting in conditions outside of prescription with relative humidities in the teens.

    Units burned in January and February continue to exhibit excellent wildlife response. Crane units 6 and 7, along with the burns on the south end of Matagorda Island, showed prolonged whooping crane use with over 40 individuals counted on single burn units at times.

    Precipitation/Salinity:

    The Refuge received 5.53 inches of rain from January-March 28. Freshwater levels and food resources remained high throughout this winter season.  Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 10-12 parts per thousand.

  • Friday, December 25, 2015 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

     

    We successfully completed our annual whooping crane abundance survey last week.  We flew 6 surveys, beginning on Monday, December 7 and ending this past Thursday, December 17, 2015. We did have several weather-related delays such as lingering fog, so we feel extremely fortunate that we were able to complete the 6 survey flights that our whooping crane abundance survey protocol requires. Once again, Terry Liddick, pilot/biologist from our migratory birds program, served as pilot, flying a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Cessna 206. Observers were Wade Harrell and Beau Hardegree (Coastal Program Biologist, Corpus Christi FWS office). Doug Head (Refuge Inventory & Management biologist) served as ground survey coordinator and Diane Iriarte (Refuge biologist) served as data manager.

     

    Data management and analysis once the actual survey is complete is a significant effort conducted by multiple staff members, so we won’t have the final results to present for a few months. However, here are some general post-survey observations:

     

    We consistently observed whooping cranes using 4 units of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Blackjack, Matagorda, Tatton and Lamar) and 3 Texas coastal counties (Aransas, Calhoun and Matagorda).

     

    Read the full report. 

  • Wednesday, November 04, 2015 5:54 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wintering Whooping Crane Update, November 4, 2015

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator


    We reported earlier in September that the first whooping crane had arrived here on the Texas coast this fall. This single adult bird was spotted by tour boat guides on 19 September on San Jose Island. Just this past week, we have received several reports of whooping cranes still on the staging grounds in the Saskatchewan prairies of Canada, and a radio marked family group is still in Wood Buffalo National Park. As of today, only 1 of 13 whooping cranes with active radio transmitters has arrived here on the Texas coast. So, whooping cranes are currently spread out across their range, all the way from their northern breeding grounds to their southern wintering grounds. The mild fall in the northern plains states appears to be contributing to a delayed migration, our partners at the Northern Prairie Research Center in North Dakota estimate that migration of cranes and waterfowl is about 2 weeks behind schedule.


    We received a report of a single adult whooping crane observed at Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge up the coast from Aransas, this past week. Brazoria NWR has excellent coastal marsh habitat and has had a few other whooping cranes visit in the past few winters. Refuges on the mid and upper Texas coast provide important habitat for a growing whooping crane population.


    There have been a number of whooping cranes reported from traditional stopover sites in the US, such as Quivira NWR in central Kansas and Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma. For those of you that follow Facebook, both of these Refuges have pages where they report whooping crane sightings.


    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

    On 26 October, our Refuge Law Enforcement Officer reported the first whooping cranes of the season on the Refuge, a pair observed on the Blackjack Unit. Whooping crane tour boats and Refuge staff have reported only a handful of whooping cranes along the marshes of the Blackjack Peninsula, including 9 whooping cranes reported yesterday. I have not received reports of whooping cranes from the observation tower at the Refuge yet, but it shouldn’t be long before visitors can expect to be able to view whooping cranes there. I expect that we will have quite a few more arrivals after the next few frontal passages.


    Texas Whooper Watch


    Texas Whooper Watch is up and running and has done a great job in getting the word out on whooping crane migration to the public this year. Take some time to check out their website here.


    Be sure to report any Texas sightings beyond the known Aransas/Lamar are via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512) 389-TXWW (8999).


    Food & Water Abundance:

    While whooping cranes experienced dry conditions on the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park this past summer, they will be arriving to lush conditions here in Texas. It appears to be a banner fall here on the Texas coast, with seemingly record blue crab numbers and wetlands brimming to the top with fresh water.


    Precipitation/Salinity:

    The Refuge received 11.10” of rain from July-October 2015, similar to that same time period last year although over 8” (75%) of the rainfall total occurred in September & October. Nearly all freshwater wetlands on the Refuge are full and native grasses and other vegetation is as dense as we’ve seen it in years. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 20 ppt. We do expect to see a dip in salinities in the next few days as water from recent flooding in the Guadalupe River watershed reaches the bay.


  • Friday, February 27, 2015 7:24 AM | Anonymous member

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

     

    It continues to look like a banner year in terms of habitat conditions, with the Refuge having a greater amount of freshwater on the landscape than we have seen in several years. Fall and winter rains are slowly moving us in the right direction. Whooping Cranes have responded to these conditions by spending more time in the coastal marsh, foraging on the relatively abundant blue crabs and other food resources. While we have still seen some Whooping Crane use of inland habitats this year, that trend is definitely down from the peak of the drought 2 seasons ago.

     

    Visitors to the Refuge and those observing Whooping Cranes from boat tours have been in a good position this year to observe use of the traditional coastal marsh habitat. We’ve had some outstanding weather lately, and I encourage everyone to come out and visit us before the Whooping Cranes start heading back North in late March. Many of you will be happy to know that we have reinitiated our Refuge bus tours for February and March. Tours are first-come, first-served, and visitors must register in the visitor center the day of the tour. The schedule is as follows:

     

    Thursday, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

    Friday, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

    Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

    Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

     

    Information on Whooping Crane Death Being Sought

    The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Texas Parks & Wildlife are seeking information about the death of a Whooping Crane. The carcass of the bird was found on January 4. For more information, please see the press
    release
    .

     

    Training Surveys & GoPro Video

    We were able to fly some training surveys on January 5-6 with our new Refuge Biologist Keith Westlake and Ecological Services biologist Frank Weaver. We are still working through the best way to utilize GoPro Camera technology in our survey efforts, but have some clips of how things look 200 feet above the marsh. We’ll be uploading the survey clips on our Facebook page, so check it out in the coming week.

     

    GPS tracking study & other Whooping Crane observations

    While we have not done any additional marking of Whooping Cranes this winter, we are still consistently tracking 20 GPS marked Whooping Cranes for this study. They also have bi-color bands on the leg opposite of the leg with the transmitter. If you happen to see a marked bird, please report it to us with as much information as you can (i.e. Red/Black left leg, GPS right leg, location, other birds in the same area, etc.)

    Whooping Cranes outside the traditional wintering area that have been reported to Texas Whooper Watch include a single adult bird associated with a group of Sandhill Cranes in Eastern Williamson County, a pair of adult Whoopers near the town of Refugio, and a pair of adults with 2 juveniles in Northwest Matagorda County,

    Habitat Management on Aransas NWR:

    The Refuge successfully conducted 3 burns this winter, 2 on the Blackjack Peninsula along East Shore Road (primary Whooping Crane habitat) and one on Matagorda Island. Total acreage burned was more than 12,000 acres.

    Recent Precipitation/Salinity around Aransas NWR:

    December precipitation: 2.95” @ Aransas HQ

    January precipitation: 2.85” @ Aransas HQ

    February precipitation (as of Feb. 22): 0.93” @ Aransas HQ

    Salinity at GBRA 1: averaging around 24 ppt

     

     

  • Saturday, December 20, 2014 7:54 AM | Anonymous member

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

     

    We successfully completed our annual whooping crane abundance survey last week, flying surveys on a record six consecutive days, beginning on Monday, December 8 and ending this past Saturday, December 13, 2014. Rarely do we get that many consecutive days of suitable weather for surveys, so we feel extremely fortunate that we were able to complete the 6 survey flights that our whooping crane abundance survey protocol requires. Once again, Terry Liddick, pilot/biologist from our migratory birds program, served as pilot, flying a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Cessna 206. Observers were Wade Harrell, Beau Beau Hardegree (Coastal Program biologist, Corpus Christi FWS office) and Diana Iriarte (Aransas NWR biologist).


    ·        Data management and analysis once the actual survey is complete is a significant effort conducted by multiple staff members, so we won’t have the final results to present for a few months. But, I will share some general post-survey observations:

    ·        We consistently observed whooping cranes using every unit of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (Blackjack, Matagorda, Tatton, Lamar and Myrtle-Foester Whitmire).

    ·        We observed larger than average group sizes (>8) of whooping cranes in several of our primary survey blocks, with these groups consistently observed in the Blackjack and Welder Flats primary survey blocks. These large groups often contained more than 1 family group.

    ·        We consistently observed 3 family groups that included 2 juveniles (i.e. commonly referred to as “twins”).

    ·        One pair of whooping cranes was consistently detected from each of 3 of our secondary survey areas (Holiday Beach, Powderhorn Lake (Myrtle-Foester Whitmire Unit) and Matagorda Island North)

    ·        We detected whooping crane pairs both further south on San Jose Island (southern portion of primary survey area) and Matagorda Island (northern portion of primary survey area) than in the past few years.

    ·        While coastal salt marsh was the most common habitat type that we observed whooping cranes using during the survey, we observed whooping cranes using a wide variety of other habitat types as well including freshwater wetlands, upland prairies and shrublands and open-water bay edges.

    ·        Overall, habitat appeared to be in better condition than the past few years. We observed a significant amount of freshwater and green, lush vegetation in upland areas.

     

    Several of the observations noted from last week’s survey point to an expanding whooping crane population that is exhibiting a wider range of behaviors than we have observed in the past. This “change” is to be expected as larger populations tend to have greater genetic and behavioral variability than smaller populations do. This wider range of behavior is a positive step in the long road to recovery for this endangered species, as larger populations with more behavioral and genetic variation tend to be more resilient to environmental changes than small populations. While the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population is still relatively small (about 300), it has roughly tripled in size over the last 30 years.


    This year we were also able to capture some survey video footage with GoPro cameras mounted to the outside of the plane. These are wide-angle cameras that we are hoping will help us continually improve our survey methods as well as have some video of annual changes in habitat. Over the next few weeks, we will be sorting through some of the survey video and will work to share some clips in future updates.


    I want to note that the annual whooping crane abundance survey is a collective effort, with the pilot and observers in the plane only serving one small role within the overall survey. I want to personally thank Greg Birkenfeld, acting Aransas NWR project leader, for serving as overall manager of the effort, Diana Iriarte, Aransas NWR biologist, for serving as our go-to data collection technology and data management specialist, Susie Perez and Josie Farias, administrative staff at Aransas NWR, for assisting with logistics and Grant Harris and Matthew Butler from our Refuge Regional Office Inventory & Monitoring Team for survey protocol development and data analysis.


    We will be flying some additional training surveys in early January in order to get 2-3 new observers up to speed and ready to start collecting data for next year’s survey.


    Habitat Management on Aransas NWR:

    Unfortunately, weather conditions haven’t allowed us to conduct any planned prescribed burns on the Refuge yet, but our fire crew continues to look for the right weather window. We have plans in place to implement prescribed burns on both the Blackjack Unit and Matagorda Unit of Aransas NWR this winter.


    Recent Precipitation/Salinity around Aransas NWR:

    November precipitation: 4.38” @ Aransas HQ

    December precipitation (as of 12/16): 0.68” @ Aransas HQ

    Salinity at GBRA 1: averaging around 28 pp

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