December 27, 2012

Whooping Crane Update

Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Coordinator

Whooping Crane News:
We have been seeing the whooping cranes moving about extensively within the coastal areas. It seem as though the birds may finally be settling in for the winter.

From Texas Whooper Watch and other observers, the following has been reported on whooping cranes outside the winter survey area:
• As of Dec. 17, five birds (one family group and one pair) have been spotted near Granger Lake near Austin, Texas. We are not sure if the three additional birds previously spotted have moved on.
• Three birds have recently been sighted using private land north of El Campo.
• In Matagorda County, participants in the annual Christmas Bird Count did not report seeing any whooping cranes using coastal marsh. The two pairs of birds using the area were last spotted on Dec. 10.

Surveys & Monitoring:
To date, we have completed seven survey flights (November 28, 29 and December 5, 12, 13, 14 and 17). This will conclude our aerial flight surveys used to estimate the number of cranes found on the primary areas of the wintering grounds. Over the next several weeks, we will be working to compile and analyze the data collected and expect to provide an estimate on the number of cranes by late January.

The December 13 flight included fly-overs of the secondary survey areas (North Matagorda Island, Powderhorn Lake and Guadalupe Delta). Two pairs of cranes were seen using the coastal marsh in these areas.

Satellite Tracking Study:
The U.S. Geological Survey, International Crane Foundation, Gulf Coast Bird Observatory and other partners have marked a total of nine whooping cranes as of December 17. The trapping team plans to resume work the week of January 5 to finalize the winter trapping and marking efforts. Currently, nearly 40 marked birds in the flock are being tracked.

Relatively dry conditions persist around the refuge. Since the last update we have received less than 1/4 inch of rain. Long term forecasts are now calling for continued drier than normal winter conditions. Salinity levels for San Antonio Bay have ranged from 26 to 30 parts per thousand this past month.

Food Abundance:
Whooping cranes seem to now be focusing on blue crabs in the coastal marshes. A prescribed burn consisting of 4,520 acres was conducted on Matagorda Island on December 18 with immediate crane use.