Wintering Whooping Crane Update
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 (http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Quivira/what_we_do/science/whooping_crane_sightings.html) 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 here: http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/wildlife_diversity/texas_nature_trackers/whooper-watch/
Be sure to report any Texas sightings beyond the known Aransas/Lamar area via email: firstname.lastname@example.org 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: https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/news/2014/oct/28/wildlife-advocates-enter-state-water-wars/.
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.
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The Matagorda Island Unit of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is part of long chain of barrier islands that extend down the Texas coastline. This rugged landscape is host or home to many amazing wildlife species, including whooping cranes, Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, reddish egrets, alligators and coyotes.