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November 2013

Whooping Crane Update

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 Partnership, 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.
Last Updated: Mar 17, 2014
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