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: email@example.com 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.
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.