U.S. Fish and Wildlife Whooper Updates

  • Sunday, November 23, 2014 12:57 PM | Anonymous

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator


    What a difference a couple weeks make! On our last update we noted a somewhat delayed migration with only a handful of whooping cranes having made their way to the Texas Coast. Now, it appears that the vast majority of the population has made their way to Texas. Most of the 25 marked whooping cranes we are tracking via GPS leg bands arrived on the wintering grounds by Nov. 14. We have recent reports and observations from all of the traditional wintering areas on and off the Refuge such as the Welder Flats area and San Jose & Matagorda Islands. 


    Undoubtedly, the unseasonably cool weather that much of the central plains states have experienced over the last couple weeks contributed to the movement of whooping cranes and other waterfowl to southern wintering areas. We plan to start our annual aerial whooping crane abundance survey on December 3. This coincides with the historical peak abundance of whooping cranes on the wintering grounds. 


    Additionally, we are already receiving reports of whooping cranes using coastal areas that lie beyond the core “traditional” wintering areas, indicative of an expanding population seeking out new habitat and resources. A few of these expansion areas that cranes have been noted this past week include the Myrtle-Foester Whitmire Unit of Aransas NWR near Indianola, TX (pair) and at The Nature Conservancy managed Mad Island Marsh Preserve near Collegeport, TX (4 adults). It is noteworthy that the whooping crane use of the Myrtle-Foester Whitmire Unit is directly across Powderhorn Lake from the recent Powderhorn Ranch conservation acquisition, highlighting the importance of acquiring and protecting habitat for the expanding whooping crane population. 


    We also received a photograph of a single whooper using a freshwater wetland at Padre Island National Seashore on November 18. While occasional whooping crane use at Padre Island has been documented in the historical record, it has been several years since an observation has been noted there. 


    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

    Whooping Cranes are now being regularly observed from both the Heron Flats observation deck and the Refuge observation tower, so bring your binoculars and come on out to get a first-hand look at North America’s tallest birds along with a wide variety of other wildlife species!.


    New Facebook Page for Aransas National Wildlife Refuge!

    Aransas National Wildlife Refuge now has an official Facebook page! We’ll be posting updates about whooping cranes and other wildlife observations, management activities, and refuge happenings. “Like” us for timely information! 


    Texas Whooper Watch

    Texas Whooper Watch 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


    The public provided several reports of whooping crane migration this season, including a great photo of 8 adult whooping cranes migrating south through Milam County on November 9th. We owe a big thanks to Katherine Bedrich for the report and photo! This type of information helps confirm migration routes, timing and behavior so we better understand what whooping cranes need to continue increasing their numbers. 


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


    Food & Water Abundance

    The photo below taken by a Refuge remote trail camera shows a pair of whooping cranes departing from a recently rehabilitated well site (converted from windmill to solar pump) that provides freshwater to cranes and other wildlife species on the Blackjack Unit of Aransas NWR:For more information on the Refuge’s “Water for Wildlife” initiative, see our last whooping crane update. 




    Precipitation/Salinity 

    As we have stated before, weather conditions play a significant role in whooping crane behavior, including migration timing and habitat selection. Weather conditions may also change our Refuge management strategies for whooping cranes, such as providing freshwater from wells during times of drought. If you enjoy tracking local weather conditions, you might check out the South Texas Weather Journal provided by our partners at the National Weather Service. This edition discusses several local weather patterns that have the potential to impact whooping cranes here on the wintering grounds including timing of hurricanes, drought forecasts and tidal changes in local bays.

  • Monday, November 10, 2014 7:48 AM | Anonymous

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    While we reported back in September that we had a few earlier than expected whooping crane arrivals, it now seems that fall migration is shaping up to be a bit delayed this year. We have received several reports of whooping cranes still on the staging grounds in the Saskatchewan prairies this past week. There have been a few birds reported from traditional stopover sites in the US, such as Quivira NWR in central Kansas and Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma. Presumably the mild fall in the northern plains states is contributing to a somewhat delayed migration. Other waterfowl species (ducks & geese) appear to be following a similar pattern.

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge

    Whooping crane tour boats and Refuge staff have reported only a handful of whooping cranes along the marshes of the Blackjack Peninsula. We have had a couple reports of a pair of whooping cranes observed from the Heron Flats platform, although they aren’t there on a consistent basis. 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. Only 2 of 25 currently active GPS marked whooping cranes have made their way to the Texas coast and have been moving around area coastal marshes off-Refuge. 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.

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

    Food & Water Abundance:

    Reports by area guides and Refuge staff indicate that blue crabs and other whooping crane food items are a bit more abundant this year than in the past few years. Wolfberries (see photo) seem to be abundant in the marsh this year as well. A big thanks goes out to the Mid-Coast Chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists for completing a wolfberry planting in whooping crane habitat on the Refuge a few weeks ago.

    With financial and administrative assistance from San Antonio Bay Partnership and other partners, we were able to complete the rehabilitation and conversion to a solar pump of one old windmill site on the Blackjack Peninsula and a new well completion. We have game cameras established on these new watering sites and hope to share some nice wildlife photos in future updates. The Victoria Advocate published a news article about the “Water for Wildlife’ project that can be found here.

    Precipitation/Salinity:

    The Refuge received 13.42” of rain from July-October 2014, similar to that same time period last year although over 9” (70%) of the rainfall total occurred in September. This week’s rains will help continue to fill area wetlands used by whooping cranes. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 30 ppt. We do expect to see a dip in salinities in the next few days as water from recent rains in the Guadalupe River watershed reaches the bay.


  • Thursday, April 24, 2014 8:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    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.

    This will be the final Whooping Crane Update for the season. We expect to begin posting Updates once again next season and are considering other ways to quickly disseminate wintering whooping crane information.

    The final 2013-14 Annual Whooping Crane Survey will also be made available on this site within the next few months.

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge
    Cranes that could be seen from Heron Flats and the observation tower on the refuge appear to have departed. But there are many other interesting wildlife species to see so don’t hesitate to come out and enjoy other spring wildlife watching opportunities on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)!

    Texas Whooper Watch
    We have had a few reports of whooping cranes spotted in migration, including observations from Tarrant and Johnson counties in North Texas. While we didn’t have nearly as many whooping cranes use inland sites this winter, Texas Whooper Watch still provided vital information during both fall and spring migration. Please continue to keep watch for whooping cranes and send in your reports.

    Tracking Efforts
    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.

    Documented Mortalities During Winter 2013-2014
    This season we documented four whooping crane mortalities on and around Aransas NWR. The first mortality was an injured subadult that we captured and transported to the San Antonio Zoo for treatment.. Unfortunately that bird died 30 days into treatment. We collected an unmarked adult bird at a waterhole on the refuge, and the necropsy identified bobcat predation as the likely cause of death. Two additional marked birds died in February but, because carcasses were not located (only radios), necropsies could not be conducted. Thus cause of death is unknown but predation is suspected.

    Texas City 'Y' Oil Spill
    For those who have been following the news, you know that we had a significant impact from the Texas City Y oil spill on the Matagorda Island Unit of Aransas NWR and home to a large portion of the wintering whooping crane population -- and a number of other threatened and endangered species. Fortunately for the whooping cranes the oil did not make it through any of the Gulf passes or into the coastal marsh habitat used by whooping cranes. The oil that did hit was on the Gulf-side beach of Matagorda Island below the dunes. While there was no direct impact to whooping cranes as they don’t regularly visit this portion of the island, the Service was concerned that disturbance associated with the clean-up efforts may impact whooping cranes and other wildlife species. We worked closely with the Coast Guard, Texas General Land Office, and the responsible party to avoid and minimize clean-up disturbance impacts to the refuge’s natural resources to the greatest extent possible. Part of that work involves having numerous Service biologists and other staff members monitor cleanup crews and making sure best management practices are followed. We hope that clean-up activities are completed in the very near future and the Island’s wild inhabitants can continue their normal lives!  Learn more about the spill here.  
  • Monday, March 24, 2014 8:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    Field Tracking Efforts
    Thanks to Texas Parks and Wildlife for putting together this excellent video of the whooping crane tracking effort. See it here.

    The trapping team completed this field season with 13 marked birds this winter. This is the last season of capture and marking of whooping cranes in Texas. Sixty-eight whooping cranes have been marked with GPS transmitters during the past four years. Currently, 28 of those birds are still being actively tracked.

    The study was conducted by a partnership of researchers from multiple organizations using lightweight GPS devices to track individual whooping cranes of the Aransas –Wood Buffalo population.

    Efforts focused on putting tracking devices on adult whooping cranes captured on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge NWR, where the birds winter on the Texas coast, and on chicks at Wood Buffalo National Park, the birds’ nesting grounds in Canada.

    The GPS units are attached to a bird’s upper leg and record four to five locations every 24 hours, information that is uploaded to a satellite every two and half days. These data reveal migration routes, habitat use, nesting locations, and much more. Biologists in the United States and Canada will use results of this work to identify management and conservation priorities in both countries.

    The research partnership is made up of governmental and non-profit partners that include the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, Crane Trust, Parks Canada, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, and International Crane Foundation.

    Whooping Cranes outside the primary survey area:
    Long-term whooping crane followers likely remember that over the last couple of years many whooping cranes spent much of the winter outside of the primary survey area. This was likely due to a number of factors including overall population expansion and ongoing drought conditions.

    This year was different. Biologists detected more whooping cranes in the primary survey area and documented fewer individuals outside the primary survey area. This geographic shift among years may be due to shifts in food resource availability. While it was still a relatively dry year, some timely rains this past summer and early fall may have contributed to greater food resource availability in area coastal marshes. This may indicate that whooping crane behavior is adaptable and individual birds are able to shift their habitat and food use in relation to local environmental conditions. It provides a continued hope that the whooping crane population is resilient in the face of fluctuating environmental conditions such as drought. Wintering in a variety of places across a broader geographic range reduces the risk that a single localized catastrophic event could cause extinction.

    Between Texas Whooper Watch and the increasing number of birds marked with satellite transmitters via the tracking study, biologists are in a much better position to document geographic expansion of the wintering grounds. Conservation and restoration of high-quality whooping crane habitat in Texas needs to be emphasized in the future so the growing whooping crane population has places to forage and raise young successfully during the winter season. Protecting and conserving habitat that provides the resources the birds need on a broad, landscape-scale will help the population continue to grow and contend with ever changing conditions.

    The tables below provide the best understanding of birds that were outside the primary survey areas during the mid-December survey period. Keep in mind some birds may have been missed. Also, we cannot ever be completely certain that individual birds did not move between these locations and to/from the primary survey area during the survey flights.

    These are three different data sources that are used to document birds observed outside of the primary winter area during mid-December.

    Table 1: Texas Whooper Watch
    Birds documented outside of the survey area in mid-December via Texas Whooper Watch
     

    General Area Adults    Chicks    Total    Notes:
    Mad Island Area/Matagorda County 2 1 3 Observed several times in mid-December, including during the annual Christmas Bird Count.
    Robertson County 1   1 Observed multiple times throughout December and into early January with sandhill cranes.
    Total     4  


    Table 2: Tracking Study
    Birds documented outside of the survey area from Dec. 11th to Dec. 23rd via the tracking study
     

    General Area Adults   Chicks   Total   Notes:
    North Matagorda Island (secondary survey area) 1
     
    1 Marked as a chick in Canada in 2011. Detected via aerial secondary survey as well (see Table 3).
    Calhoun County 1   1 Moved outside primary survey area on Dec. 14, 2013. Reported as a pair, but unconfirmed. Marked as a chick in Canada 2012.
    Total     2  


    Table 3: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Survey
    Birds documented in the whooping cranes’ secondary areas on Dec. 12th & Dec. 17th via aerial survey
     

    General Area Adults   Chicks   Total   Notes:
    North Matagorda Island (secondary survey area) 1   1 *same individual reported in Table 2*
             

     
    * The data and results presented in this report are preliminary and subject to revision. This information is distributed solely for the purpose of providing the most recent information from aerial surveys. This information does not represent and should not be construed to represent any U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination or policy.  

  • Monday, March 17, 2014 8:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     

    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    Winter 2013-2014 Whooping Crane Survey Results 
    304 Wild Whooping Cranes Estimated

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has estimated the number of whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population present in the primary survey area centered on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Preliminary analyses of the data indicated 304 whooping cranes (95% CI = 260–354; CV = 0.08) inhabited the primary survey area (see map). This estimate includes 39 juveniles (95% CI = 32–47; CV = 0.10) and 116 adult pairs (95% CI = 100–135; CV = 0.08). Recruitment of juveniles into the winter flock was 15 chicks (95% CI = 13–17; CV = 0.07) per 100 adults. The precision of this year’s estimates was improved and achieved the target set in the protocol (i.e., CV < 0.10). Improved precision is due to increased observer experience and refinement of methods.

    During winter 2012–2013, 257 whooping cranes (95% CI = 178–362; CV = 0.19) were estimated in the primary survey area and during winter 2011–2012, 254 whooping cranes (95% CI = 198–324; CV = 0.13) were estimated. Examination of the 60-year trend in whooping crane numbers shows an increase with occasional, periodic declines. A continued upward trend in whooping crane numbers over the last three years was observed, and is consistent with the long-term growth trend.
     

    SurveyArea_520
     

    During winter 2013–2014, the primary survey area (approximately 154,000 acres) was surveyed seven times between 11 December and 23 December 2013. During the same period, the secondary survey area (approximately 101,500 acres) was surveyed twice to monitor ongoing expansion of the whooping crane’s winter range.

    The data and results presented in this report are preliminary and subject to revision. This information is distributed solely for the purpose of providing the most recent information from aerial surveys. This information does not represent and should not be construed to represent any U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination or policy. 

  • Thursday, December 05, 2013 10:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    Whooping crane migration is nearly complete, with all of the marked birds having arrived in Texas by early this week. The birds appear to be heavily utilizing the coastal marsh right now, which is probably due to abundant food resources.

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge
    Whooping crane tour boats and Refuge staff have been regularly reporting sightings of 25 or more whooping cranes along the marshes of the Blackjack Peninsula. Visitors should now be able to regularly see whooping cranes from the observation tower at the South end of the tour loop. This week a pair has been seen several times from the observation tower.

    Texas Whooper Watch
    We had several interesting reports during migration from Texas Whooper Watchers. Perhaps most interesting was a group of 19 whooping cranes spotted and photographed flying over Lake Waco on November 14th by Martin Kemper. Generally, whooping cranes migrate in smaller family groups. Perhaps as the population continues to grow, larger groups in migration will become more common.

    A single subadult whooping crane, marked in Canada as a chick the summer of 2012, was spotted with a group of sandhill cranes on and around Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge in mid-November. This bird spent considerable time in Wharton County last winter and has now moved into Matagorda County.

    A few other unmarked whooping cranes, including one confirmed family group, have been recently been spotted in Wharton and Matagorda Counties. They are using both agricultural areas and coastal marshes. This is a positive sign that whooping cranes continue to expand their winter range well beyond Aransas National Wildlife Refuge as the population expands.

    We have had several inquiries as to whether there has yet been any whooping crane use of Granger Lake this winter. The two marked individuals that used the Granger Lake area last winter have both been around the Aransas Refuge most recently. Other than a quick stopover by one whooping crane in October, we haven’t documented any use of Granger Lake so far this winter.

    Tracking Efforts
    We are currently tracking 26 marked whooping cranes, and they are all now on the Texas coast. We have one more field season left to complete for the GPS tracking study and plan to mark 10 additional whooping cranes this January at Aransas.

    Winter 2013-2014 Whooping Crane Research & Monitoring Initiatives
    Our survey pilot is set to arrive on Monday and we plan on resuming our annual whooping crane wintering abundance aerial surveys next week as soon as the weather allows. We will fly a minimum of six surveys the month of December and should have preliminary results later in the winter.

    Our new biological technicians have been traversing the state, recording habitat attributes at stopover sites that marked whooping cranes used during fall migration. A few of the counties they have visited include Baylor, Bosque, Childress, Hill and McLennan. They have documented a wide variety of habitat types that whooping cranes have used as stopover sites this fall, giving us new insight into preferred whooping crane habitat. Most of the stopover habitat evaluation for fall migration should be complete in the next few weeks and then the biological technicians will begin focusing on evaluating wintering locations.

    Food Abundance
    Significant whooping crane use of the coastal marsh thus far this winter indicates that estuarine food sources such as blue crabs are available right now. The Refuge's fire staff plans to burn a unit along the Blackjack Peninsula within the next week or so depending on weather.

    Precipitation/Salinity
    November was a dry month, with less than 1” of rain received at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 26 ppt.


  • Sunday, November 10, 2013 5:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    Whooping crane migration is well underway, with reports of birds still in Canada and a few arrivals here at Aransas. Overall, it appears migration may be a bit delayed this year. Mark Bidwell, whooping crane coordinator for the Canadian Wildlife Service, reported seeing whooping cranes still at Wood Buffalo National Park the last week in October with some snow already accumulating. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas, a traditional migration stopover location, reported their first whooping crane arrival on October 24. We had our first confirmed arrival at Aransas on October 16.

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge
    Whooping crane tour boats and refuge staff have been reporting sightings of up to 25 whooping cranes this past week along the marshes of the Blackjack Peninsula. We expect that we will have quite a few more arrivals as frontal passages become more frequent. No reports have been received of whooping cranes from the observation tower at the refuge yet, but it shouldn’t be long before visitors can expect to see whooping cranes there.

    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.

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

    New Signs at Area Boat Ramps
    Thanks to a partnership with Texas Parks & Wildlife, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, local navigation districts, International Crane Foundation, San Antonio Bay Foundation, Whooping Crane Conservation Association, Friends of the Wild Whoopers and Friends of Aransas and Matagorda Island Refuge, whooping crane informational signage has been installed at area boat ramps. This signage is intended to increase public awareness of whooping crane presence in the winter, explains how to identify whooping cranes and most importantly provides information on how to avoid disturbing them. Part of this project also involved directed outreach to local hunting lodges, providing them pamphlets and DVDs to help minimize the potential for accidental shootings. Next time you are out on the water, look for the new whooping crane signs at area boat ramps!

    Tracking Efforts
    The first marked whooping crane arrived on the Texas coast on October 16, a juvenile that was marked as a chick in Canada the summer of 2012. That bird has mostly been using the Lamar area so far, with a couple of forays onto the refuge. As of November 6, we have eight marked whooping cranes in Texas, with seven of those around the Aransas area. Based on this information and other observations, it is likely that around 1/3 of the Aransas/Wood Buffalo have arrived on the wintering grounds here in Texas. We expect that most of the rest of the population will arrive by early December. We have one more field season left to complete for the GPS tracking study and plan to mark 10 additional whooping cranes this January at Aransas.

    Winter 2013-1014 Whooping Crane Research & Monitoring Initiatives
    In addition to our annual winter whooping crane population survey, which will begin in early December, we have started two new winter research projects with the help of two refuge interns.

    The first project will be evaluating freshwater use by whooping cranes on the refuge. We have 40 remote cameras deployed at freshwater ponds and dugouts on the Blackjack Peninsula and Matagorda Island and will be documenting timing, frequency and distribution of whooping crane use of freshwater sites. This will help us focus our efforts on continuing to enhance freshwater resources for whooping cranes on the refuge.

    The second project we will be focused on this winter is evaluating habitat use by migrating and wintering whooping cranes throughout the state of Texas. Our interns will be collecting a wide variety of habitat parameters at sites that whooping cranes have recently used either during migration (i.e. stopover sites) or wintering. This project is an extension of a larger project that is occurring throughout the migration corridor in the U.S. from North Dakota to Texas. Our hope is that more detailed information about whooping crane habitat use will guide future conservation efforts, ensuring that whooping cranes have a place to call home as the population continues to expand.

    Food Abundance:
    Reports by area guides and refuge staff indicate that blue crabs and other whooping crane food items are a bit more abundant this year than in the past few years. Freshwater ponds on the refuge, while still not at the “normal” level, have at least some water available as compared to last year. We were able to rehabilitate two freshwater wells on Matagorda Island this past summer and have funds to complete several more thanks to financial assistance from several partner organizations. Our fire staff is currently gearing up to provide freshly burned areas throughout the winter for whooping cranes.

    Precipitation/Salinity:
    The refuge received 14.33” of rain from July-October 2013. While this is near-normal precipitation levels, we still haven’t fully caught up from the ongoing drought. A large rainfall event would help to fill and maintain our freshwater wetlands and freshen up the marshes used by whooping cranes. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay are currently around 28 ppt. We do expect to see a dip in salinities in the next few days as flooding from the San Marcos/Guadalupe Rivers reaches the bay.
  • Friday, May 03, 2013 7:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Yes, that's right - they are headed back north!  Hopefully fall conditions will be just perfect for them when they return!
  • Wednesday, April 10, 2013 8:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator


    Since whooping crane migration is well underway and we expect that most birds will depart the coast over the next couple weeks, this will be the final Whooping Crane Update for the season. We expect to begin posting Updates once again in early November. The final 2012-13 Annual Whooping Crane Survey will also be made available on this site within the next few months.

    Whooping Cranes on the Refuge:
    Birds are still being seen on the refuge, including the pair at the observation tower. All the birds from the Lamar area appear to have left. Based on the tracking data and incidental observations, it appears that the birds using the periphery areas of the winter range (i.e. Lamar, Granger Lake, El Campo, Welder Flats) have been the first to depart this year. Though the birds seem to be leaving 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 flock in jeopardy.

    Texas Whooper Watch:
    There have not been any sightings of birds reported through Texas Whooper Watch since the last Update. This is predictable. When headed back to Canada, the whooping cranes are in a hurry to get to their nesting grounds. They must get back in time to establish their territory, lay their eggs and give their chick(s) ample time to mature before they return to the Texas coast.

    Tracking Efforts:
    As of Monday, April 8, 14 of the marked birds that we are actively receiving data on were still present on the coast and 21 have begun migration. Based on this information and other observations, it is likely that greater than 50% of the birds in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo flock are currently migrating north. Of the 21 marked whooping cranes currently in migration, 14 are as far north as Nebraska and the Dakotas. It appears that late-season snowstorms may be slowing migration into Canada.

    Food Abundance:
    The refuge has completed the winter prescribed burn program, including 8,770 acres treated. The goal was to burn between 7,000 and 10,000 acres. The birds were documented feeding in the burned areas throughout the refuge this season. The use of prescribed burning as a management tool is particularly important during dry winters, providing extra resources when food items in the marsh may not be as abundant.

    Precipitation/Salinity:
    The refuge received 0.30 inches last Wednesday (April 3). The last significant rain event was on February 5, with most of February and March being extremely dry. Salinity levels in San Antonio Bay have ranged from 13 to 30 ppt. since our last update. We did have a dip in salinities around the first of the month after the bay and coastal marshes received needed freshwater inflows from a rain event in the upper portions of the Guadalupe/San Antonio watershed. Unfortunately, this freshening of the bay was short-lived and the salinity level in San Antonio Bay is currently 28 ppt, higher than the ideal for available freshwater and marsh food resources.

    Taking a look into the past as we consider the future:
    The following graphic shows the expansion of wintering whooping cranes on and around the Refuge over the past 55 years (1951-2006). As we have seen this winter, this expansion has now moved to a few inland locations such as the Granger lake area. This trend gives us hope that the species will continue on the upward trend. We look forward to continue learning more about the species so we can assist a multitude of partners in moving conservation efforts forward.

  • Thursday, March 21, 2013 8:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

    On the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge:
    • Spring migration has begun. If you want to come out and see some whooping cranes at the refuge, come soon. There is a reasonable chance to see a pair of whoopers at the 40 foot observation tower. While there are still a lot of cranes around the refuge, the numbers will soon start dwindling as the birds head back north.
    • We were sent pictures of a marked adult whooping crane that has been observed near the Big Tree area of Lamar. We have not been able to track the bird since September due to a broken antenna. Reports are that the whooper generally moves around with another adult whooper and a juvenile sandhill crane. The photo included in this Update is of that bird.
    From the Tracking partnership:
    • March 11: One marked 2 year old adult and one unmarked adult were spotted at Granger Lake. Data from the tracking partnership indicates the 2 year old (this is the bird that came up from Aransas in late January) started migration on the afternoon of March 12 and is currently near the Missouri River, along the Nebraska/South Dakota border.
    • It appears that the other cranes (8) that spent the winter in the Granger Lake area have begun migration as well. The marked family group from Granger Lake that we reported on last time is now in Central Nebraska, north of the Platte River.
    • The family group that spent the winter north of El Campo has begun migration and is currently in north-central Nebraska after making a quick stopover in Oklahoma.
    • As of March 19, none of the marked birds on and around Aransas Refuge have begun migrating.
    From Texas whooper watch, USFWS (Nebraska) and other observers:
    • March 6: Five adult whoopers and one juvenile were sighted at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in Kansas on Big Salt Marsh.
    • March 6-8: One adult whooper was sighted on the Platte River in central Nebraska, at Audubon’s Rowe Sanctuary.
    • March 7-13: One adult whooper was sighted on the Platte River in central Nebraska, downstream of Wood River.
    • March 13: Four adult whoopers and one juvenile were spotted on the Middle Loup River in Nebraska.
    • March 14: Two adult whoopers were spotted during an aerial survey in the Rainwater Basin of Nebraska.
    • March 14: One adult whooper was spotted at Quivira Refuge in Kansas.
    • March 15: A pair of whooping cranes were seen in the Mad Island Marsh area, Matagorda County.

    Precipitation/Salinity:
    The refuge has not had any significant rainfall since February 7, when 1.66 inches were recorded. This is the longest dry period we have had this winter and without significant rainfall in the future, the habitat conditions that whooping cranes encounter in Texas next winter will likely be poor. Persistent drought has reduced freshwater availability and maintained high salinity levels within whooping crane habitat on and around the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge this winter. Over the past couple weeks, the salinity levels in San Antonio Bay have ranged between 25 and 30 ppt, well above optimal levels. Unfortunately, much of the southern Great Plains, from north Texas through Nebraska, have also experienced significant drought. Stopover habitat for whooping cranes migrating back to Canada is likely sub-optimal this spring given the current conditions.

© Friends of Aransas & Matagorda Island NWR

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software