Archive for October, 2011
By Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association
A few whooping cranes arrived on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on October 24 according to refuge employees. No official count has been made at this time but whoopers have been observed in several locations. One pair and a sub adult have been recorded.
The whoopers are doing what many of their species have done for millions of years, moving from their nesting grounds to their winter habitats. A record number of approximately 300 whooping cranes have departed their Wood Buffalo nesting grounds and are scattered along their migratory path headed towards their wintering habitats at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. The Whooping Crane Conservation Association has received reports off whooper sightings from 17 cooperators telling of birds from Saskatchewan, Canada to Aransas, Texas. A few whoopers have not yet departed from Wood Bufalo.
Robert Russell, bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in St. Paul, MN recently reported that he Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) population of whooping cranes rebounded from 263 in the spring of 2010 to 279 in the spring of 2011. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size may reach record levels of around 300 this fall.
While there have been many studies of whooping crane travels, wildlife biologists still do not know all they need to about migration routes. With more wind farms and other developments occurring in the migration paths, more precise information is needed. Twelve whooping crane juveniles were captured in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2011 for attachment of radio-tracking devices, bringing the total number of radioed birds to 23. The radio signals are used to track movement of the birds. According to personnel of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge none of the 22 radio-tagged birds in the flock had arrived there as of Friday October 28.
Habitat conditions at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are fair. Park Ranger David True said recent rainfall of about 2 inches has replenished drinking water sources for the whoopers for the present. Other refuge personnel confirmed that about 20 ponds created by windmill pumps are available for the birds to drink. The whooping crane flock will also will benefit from prescribed burns across almost 10,000 acres of the refuge this year. Natural foods found on the burned areas supplement the primary blue crab diet found in the saline marsh areas. The prescribed burn acres make it easier for the cranes to find prey, and they feed on creatures that perish in the fires. While the current habitat conditions are improved, “More rainfall would be useful” according to Ranger True. Rainfall is essential to restore fresh water inflows to Aransas Refuge and create proper conditions for blue crabs and other aquatic animals used as food by whooping cranes
Now that the wild, migratory whooping crane population has rebound from a low of 15 birds in 1941 to 279 in the spring of 2011 the whooper population situation is much improved. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size will hopefully reach record levels of around 300 this fall.
Whooping cranes were on the brink of extinction during the first half of the past century (1900 to 1960). Then with a major public relations effort by the Whooping Crane Conservation Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received reinforcements to initiate a successful management program. While the whooper population is on the rebound, current threats to the flock are also increasing. In Texas threats to whooper habitat include land development, reduced freshwater inflows, the spread of black mangrove along coastal areas, the long-term decline of blue crab populations, sea level rise, land subsidence, and wind farm and power line construction in the migration corridor. While the Canadian nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories Canada are relatively safe, the migratory whooping cranes must have both their summer and winter habitats which are about 2,400 miles apart.
The Whooping Crane Conservation Association has initiated a habitat protection program to improve the winter habitats in the vicinity of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. James Lewis, Association Treasurer reported in “Grus Americana” (May 2011 issue) that the Whooping Crane Conservation Association approved expenditures of $$286,750 to acquire three tracts of private land currently used by whooping cranes. The three sites are located within the lands designated as Critical Habitat wintering areas along the Texas coast. These lands are considered essential to the conservation and recovery of whooping cranes.
According to Lewis, “Association Trustees believe it is important to do everything possible to protect these sites from residential and commercial development and to preserve them for future use by whooping cranes.” Lewis wrote that, “A majority of the funds committed for these acquisitions came from bequest to Whooping Crane Conservation Association from two women. Laurae A. Brinkerhoff of Green River, Wyoming and Elizabeth F. “Betty” Overton of Pueblo, Colorado. The Association accepts donations for whooping crane habitat acquisition on their web page at: www.whoopingcrane.com .
For many years, only one small flock of whooping cranes teetered between survival and extinction. That population now uses nesting habitats in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada and winter habitat at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. Massive drainage of wetlands during the 1800s to the 1960s and hunting by early settlers escalated the decline of whooper populations. Ambitious recovery efforts were needed to save the species.
Projects to protect the one remaining wild flock and to create new populations were put in motion and began the whooping cranes’ long journey to recovery. There are currently three other experimental whooping crane flocks in addition to the wild Aransas-Wood Buffalo naturally migrating group. There are 105 whoopers in the Wisconsin to Florida ultra-light aircraft-led flock, 20 non-migratory birds in Florida and 5 non-migratory in Louisiana.
Another 157 cranes are in captivity, making for a total population of 566 birds. The whoopers in captivity are used for research and to supply young birds for the experimental populations.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Enforcement Division agents have identified two juveniles for their alleged role in the illegal shooting of two whooping cranes in Jefferson Davis Parish.
Scientists believes that there were around 15,000 Whooping Cranes at the time Europeans first arrived in the Americas. Only a few centuries later, around 21 remained. Most were lost during the Great Plains hunt that occurred from 1850 to 1900…
9/19/2011 2:13:00 PM
What’s a whooping crane worth?
by Neil Case
Two men in Indiana shot and killed a whooping crane and were caught. The whooping crane is an endangered species. As such, it is protected under the Endangered Species Act, a federal law. These men were taken to federal court, found guilty and fined. One dollar each! They were also ordered to pay legal fees and court costs of $550.
A man in Texas shot and killed a whooping crane and was caught and taken to federal court. He was fined $120,000 and sent to jail for six months. Seven men in Kansas, a hunting party, shot and killed two whooping cranes. They were fined a total of $23,586 and given two years probation each.
So is a whooping crane worth one dollar or is it worth $10,000 or more? Someone who kills a bird or other animal officially listed under the Endangered Species Act may be fined up to $100,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. But the whooping crane killed in Indiana was a bird of a “nonessential experimental population.”
These birds are raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the International Crane Foundation. Subsequently they’re taken to Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, taught to follow ultralite aircraft as they learn to fly and led by ultralites to Florida in the fall. It’s an attempt to establish an eastern population of whooping cranes. Raised in captivity, led by ultralite aircraft to a winter grounds in Florida, these birds return on their own to Wisconsin in spring and eventually, it is hoped, they will mate, nest and raise young, then adults and young will migrate to Florida for the winter.
Whooping cranes and other endangered species are protected by law because they are rare.
In addition to being few in number, whooping cranes are striking birds, over four feet tall with a long neck and legs, white with red on the forehead and up onto the top of the head. Once they nested from northern Canada into the northern plains states and in some of the Gulf Coast states. The northern birds migrated south in the fall and all of them wintered along the Gulf Coast.
Today, naturally occurring wild whoopers nest in Wood Buffalo National Park, northwest Canada and winter along the coast of Texas in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Every winter, thousands of people visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge hoping to see a whopping crane.
Capitalizing on the number of people who visit Texas to see whooping cranes in winter, the nearby town of Port Aransas has a Whooping Crane Festival every winter. People who attend can hear lectures about whooping cranes, see videos and take a boat ride into the waters of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where they are almost certain to see whooping cranes and usually one or more of their families, including a pair of adults and an immature bird.
A federal judge in Indiana assigned a value of one dollar to a whooping crane. A federal judge in Texas assigned a value of $10,000 and a judge in Kansas assigned an even higher value. Motel owners, restaurant owners, and souvenir shop owners in Port Aransas, Texas undoubtedly agree with the higher assessments since their businesses flourish in winter when visitors come to the area to see whooping cranes. There are other people, I’m sure, who wouldn’t care if the whooping crane became extinct.
So what is a whooping crane worth? Carrying the question further, what are the swallows and warblers feeding on insects worth, the sparrows and finches eating and scattering seeds, vultures providing roadside sanitation, hummingbirds pollinating flowers, hawks preying on mice and other small animals, robins eating wild cherries and passing the seeds, blue jays burying acorns? Aside form such practical considerations, what’s it worth just to be able to see a whooping crane or any other bird?
The Whooping Crane Conservations Association whoopingcrane.com attempts to assist in the education of hunters to help prevent the killing of endangered species such as the whooping crane. We are attaching an “identification” aide prepared by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries department to further assist hunters in identification. The Louisiana article includes photos of large birds similar to whooping cranes. Some are illegal to hunt while others are legal. Hunters need to know the difference. If you are a hunter and are not certain of the identification of the bird you are aiming at, please don’t shoot. Better safe than sorry. Click on the following link:
For even more identification help, go to the Whooping Crane Conservation Association web site at http://whoopingcrane.com/whooper-identification/
Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird conservation Updated: September 29, 2011 – 5:26 PM
Update on Whooping Crane population as distributed by Robert Russell, bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in St. Paul.
The Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) population (AWBP) of Whooping Cranes rebounded from 263 in the spring of 2010 to 279 in the spring, 2011. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size should reach record levels of around 300 this fall. Threats to the flock in Texas including land development, reduced freshwater inflows, the spread of black mangrove, the long-term decline of blue crab populations, sea level rise, land subsidence, and wind farm and power line construction in the migration corridor all continue to be important issues.
Twelve Whooping Crane juveniles were captured in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2011 for attachment of radio-tracking devices, bringing the total number of radioed birds to 23. The radio signals are used to track movement of the birds.
Ten captive-raised Whooping Cranes were released in February, 2011 at White Lake, Louisiana where a wild non-migratory flock had resided up until 1950. Seven of the birds were alive after the first seven months of the project.
Production in the wild from reintroduced flocks in 2011 was again very disappointing with no chicks fledged in Florida or Wisconsin. Incubation behavior in Florida and nest abandonment in Wisconsin continued to be the focus of research. Data collected so far in Wisconsin indicates that swarms of black flies play some kind of role in a majority of nest abandonments.
The captive flocks had a good production season in 2011. Approximately 17 chicks were raised in captivity for the non-migratory flock in Louisiana, and 18 chicks are headed for Wisconsin (10 for the ultralight project at the White River marshes, and 8 for Direct Autumn Release at Horicon National Wildlife Refuge). Approximately four chicks of high genetic value were held back for the captive flocks.
Including juvenile cranes expected to be reintroduced this fall, flock sizes are estimated at 278 for the breeding flock in Canada, 115 for the Wisconsin to Florida flock, 20 nonmigratory birds in Florida, and 24 in Louisiana. With 162 cranes in captivity, the total world population of Whooping Cranes is 599.
Below is a pair of Whooping Cranes photographed last summer at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.