Archive for January, 2012

Citizens Help Monitor Whooping Cranes

Monday, January 30th, 2012

by Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

Excitement is rampant in many thousands of bird watchers when whooping cranes begin their migration from Buffalo National Park, Canada southward to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Birders get a high when they are lucky enough to spot an endangered whooping crane and add it to their life list of birds observed. To many it is the “crown jewel” of their observations. Such spotting’s are discussed at ornithology meetings, boasted about at cocktail parties and even announced at church. “Really, we are fortunate when blessed with seeing one of the approximate 300 whoopers in the last remaining wild flock” said Dorothy McConnell, Daphne, AL. Dorothy and her husband have traveled all along the 2,500 mile migration route to watch whoopers and other birds.

Many birders take their whooping crane sightings one step more. They report their observations on the Whooping Crane Conservation Association’s web site at http://whoopingcrane.com/report-a-sighting/ . The Association analyzes the reports, plots the sightings on a map and sends the reports to officials in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Reports are forwarded to either of two Service offices depending on whether the whoopers were spotted west or east of the Mississippi River. The reports by citizens are used by the Fish and Wildlife Service along with reports from its own team of federal and state spotters.

Western sightings are primarily from the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock with a few from the non-migratory experimental flock in Louisiana. Most the eastern sightings are from the Wisconsin-Florida experimental flock or the non-migratory Florida flock. The Whooping Crane Conservation Association received approximately 150 reports from citizens during the past five months. All of the reports are evaluated and assist the federal officials in their monitoring responsibilities.

Reports start arriving to the Association soon after the whoopers depart from Wood Buffalo NP. Approximately 15 reports were received from Canada during September and October. A month later reports arrived from North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Most of the recent reports have been from Texas. Just this morning Jorjanna Price sent a report of three whoopers in a pasture in  Refugio County, TX. This sighting was near Aransas Refuge, winter home of whooping cranes. Other reports came from Rebecca Alderson of two adult whoopers in south central Kansas; Rob Vinson spotted one adult bird in southeast Missouri; two other reports from Tracy Wisenburg of six whoopers and Byron Stone of three, both in Granger Lake, Texas; eight birds were reported at Thorndale, Texas by Nadine French; Chris Flannigan spotted two adult birds near Seadrift, Texas; and Darren Schlessinger observed three (2 adults and 1 young) north of Austin in Stillhouse Hollow Lake, Texas.

The Association has received some unusual reports. Several birders reported five whooping cranes on private lands near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheynne Bottoms State Wildlife Area in south central Kansas. These birds have been detected there since December 2011. Dan Severson, Quivira’s Refuge Manager believes that due to the mild winter and plenty of food, these birds may just remain in the area all winter rather that migrating to Aransas Refuge as usual.

The most unusual report that Whooping Crane Conservation Association has received was last week from Bill Riggs, Nebraska. Bill reports that he observed three whooping cranes (two adults and one juvenile) in the Platte River vicinity. Bill told the Association that, “I was driving along and spotted the birds  a little before noon. They were

Whooping Crane photos by Bill Riggs

still there when I came back the same route. I’ve been blessed to see whooping cranes several times, a few times one was traveling with the Sandhills.  But usually I see them after they’ve (whoopers) already headed on north. The whoopers seem more inclined to wait for warmer weather, around mid-April to start their own journey back north. If I hadn’t seen these myself, I wouldn’t have believed this. I first thought maybe they could have been Great or Snowy Egrets; I’ve seen both out there, but these look like Whoopers, two adults and one juvenile, slightly smaller with just a bit of rusty color left from the neck up.” On a return trip to the site, the whoopers could not be located.

Texas Climate News article – climate effects on whooping cranes

Saturday, January 21st, 2012
Texas Climate News
January 21, 2012 | A magazine about climate & sustainability
[ January 19, 2012 ]
Endangered: Texas water and whooping cranes that winter on the Texas coast
Aransas National Wildlife RefugeThe whooping crane – the tallest bird in North America and one of the rarest – is the leading symbol of wildlife-conservation efforts in the United States. In 1941, the species’ total population had dwindled to 15 cranes, discovered wintering on the Texas coast. The American Birding Association reported a species population of 599 last September, including 278 cranes in the group that migrates 2,500 miles between nesting grounds in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and wintering habitat around Texas’ San Antonio Bay, north of Corpus Christi.
By Michael Berryhill
In 1991 a blind, cave-dwelling salamander, two species of beetles, an eyeless crustacean and an inch-long fish helped change how Texas manages underground water. Using the federal Endangered Species Act, conservationists won a federal court order to protect these creatures by limiting the amount of water that can be pumped from the Edwards Aquifer.
Now a group of conservationists called The Aransas Project (TAP) is using the Endangered Species Act to challenge the management of surface water. The animal in question is no obscure salamander, but the most famous and charismatic animal in North America: the whooping crane.  If a federal judge rules in favor of TAP, the way Texas manages the Guadalupe River and its estuary, San Antonio Bay, will be fundamentally changed. The state may have to guarantee that enough freshwater is allowed to flow from the Guadalupe into San Antonio Bay to nourish the blue crab population, the primary food there of the whooping crane.
To read the complete article click on the link :                    http://texasclimatenews.org/wp/?p=4048

Aerial survey flights to estimate the whooping crane population

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Aerial survey flights to estimate the whooping crane population on their wintering grounds has been scheduled the week of January 23rd with the office of Migratory Birds within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The surveys will consist of 3 consecutive flights to increase the accuracy of the population estimate. An update will be posted once biologists process the flight data

Read the latest from Aransas NWR.

Aerial Counts of Whoopers Scheduled

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Aerial Counts on Aransas Refuge Scheduled

By  Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

“Aerial survey flights to estimate the whooping crane population on Aransas NWR wintering grounds has been scheduled the week of January 23rd with the office of  Migratory Birds within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Dan Alonso, Refuge Manager. Alonso also told the Whooping Crane Conservation Association that, “The aerial surveys will consist of 3 consecutive flights to increase the accuracy of the population estimate. We will post an update when biologists process the flight data.”

Whooping crane enthusiasts are elated with the news that census flights will soon begin. As late as last week Aransas officials had been not been able to secure a government certified pilot and aircraft to complete an aerial survey. Fortunately their diligent efforts resulted in getting the problem solved.

Aransas Refuge personnel have been doing their best under very trying circumstances. They drove the refuge roads in automobiles to count all whoopers within their view. On December 22, 2011 they observed 45 whooping cranes using upland and marsh communities. Coupled with one of the worst droughts in many years, red tides in bays along the Texas coast and low numbers of blue crabs (favorite food of whoopers), Aransas officials have had their hands full.

Despite potential threats this winter, whooping cranes continue to thrive and managers are doing everything possible to ensure their continued success. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge officials report that, “This has been a busy month for whooping crane activity since our last report in December 2011. Fortunately, the Refuge has received an additional 0.72 inches of precipitation but salinity levels remain higher than ideal.”  The recent rains that came to Texas caused flooding in some areas but little of that fell on Aransas. Fortunately, temperatures have been higher than normal and whooping cranes have not had to face energy draining cold weather.

Refuge Manager Dan Alonso advised that, “We have continued to help alleviate the low food resources by adding to our prescribed burn totals. This week alone we have burned an additional 4,682 acres of whooping crane habitat. Biologists observed the whooping cranes eating acorns roasted by the fires and are seeing continued usage.”

Aerial Survey Delayed for Whooping Cranes

Monday, January 16th, 2012

By Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

Has the number of whooping cranes currently wintering on Aransas National Wildlife Refuge attained the 300 population level as we have hoped? No one knows. Interested citizens from all over the United States and other countries have been waiting for months to learn if the record number of 300 birds was reached.

Aransas Refuge officials advised the Whooping Crane Conservation Association that, “For reasons beyond our control, we are not able to secure a government certified pilot and aircraft to complete an aerial survey but are working  diligently to alleviate this issue.”  So, as of January 16, 2012 no refuge-wide count of whooping cranes has been done . The Association recognizes the dilemma facing refuge officials and hopefully the problem will be solved soon.

The Association believes that it is essential for aerial surveys to be conducted on Aransas NWR to inventory the total wintering population of whooping cranes. There is no other practical method to gather the data needed. Aerial population surveys help determine the total number of whooping cranes, pair bonds, numbers of immature vs. mature birds, deaths of individuals, territory expansions, habitat utilization, water management needs and other general information to assist in the proper management of these endangered species.

The Aransas refuge staff is doing the best they can to get a partial count of the whoopers. They report that a survey by automobile was conducted on December 22, 2011 throughout the Blackjack peninsula of Aransas Refuge. A total of 45 whooping cranes were observed. Of course this does not represent the total population of whoopers because much of the refuge cannot be observed from roads. During their automobile road survey refuge biologists stated that whooping cranes observed at the refuge have bright white feathers indicating their overall body condition is good.

Despite potential threats this winter, whooping cranes continue to thrive and managers are doing everything possible to ensure their continued success. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge officials report that, “This has been a busy month for whooping crane activity since our last report in December 2011. Fortunately, the Refuge has received an additional 0.72 inches of precipitation but salinity levels remain higher than ideal.”  The recent rains that came to Texas caused flooding in some areas but little of that fell on Aransas.

Refuge Manager Dan Alonso advised that, “We have continued to help alleviate the low food resources by adding to our prescribed burn totals. This week alone we have burned an additional 4,682 acres of whooping crane habitat.  Biologists observed the whooping cranes eating acorns roasted by the fires and are seeing continued usage.”

One whooper chick was found dead from unknown causes on the refuge in December 2011. “The chick carcass was sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI last month and there were inconclusive findings on the intermittent report. We are awaiting the final report, which will include virology results” according to Vicki Muller, Wildlife Refuge Specialist.

The latest data from Texas Parks and Wildlife officials indicate that red tide is still persisting in the bays along the Texas coast but in lower concentrations. Biologists continue to keep a vigilant watch for signs of illness or disease.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texas Coast and Whooper Law Suit

Friday, January 13th, 2012

Texas Coastal Update 2011

This summary of Jim Blackburn’s newsletter provides an oversight of several issues concerning the bays and estuaries on the Texas coast and their link to whooping cranes. Hopefully you enjoy this update as well as the poems that are now required reading at the end.

Whooping Crane Litigation

Wow. I just finished a two week trial before Judge Janis Graham Jack in federal District Court in Corpus Christi, and I am still somewhat in a daze. It was the experience and event of a lifetime. I felt like I had been learning and practicing for thirty years for this case. I represent The Aransas Project (TAP), a non-profit group formed to protect San Antonio and Aransas Bays in an attempt to secure freshwater inflows for this important estuary. TAP filed suit against the Commissioners and the Executive Director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the South Texas Watermaster for violating the federal Endangered Species Act. We alleged that the TCEQ allowed so much water to be removed from the San Antonio and Guadalupe Rivers that the bay salinity was changed beyond what the drought would cause, leading to less food supply for the Whooping Cranes, altering the drinking water supply of the whooping cranes and ultimately causing the death of 23 cranes during the winter of 2008-2009. The trial lasted for about two weeks.

Fresh off the whooping crane litigation, I want to engage in a rambling discourse about Texas water law, an archaic system that must be changed if we are to ever save our bays and estuaries. Texas water law and practice killed Nueces Bay. Of that there is no doubt. Nueces Bay at one time was a flourishing estuary. It is now officially classified by the Bay and Basin Expert Science Team (BBEST) formed under SB 3, as unsound due to inflow alteration, whereas every other estuary on the coast is still considered to be ecologically sound. We have proven that we can kill an estuary. Now is the time to start saving some.

Texas surface water is owned by the State of Texas. Use of state water is authorized by Certificates of Adjudication and permits and by statutory exemption. Although we the people own the water, we don’t act like it. We as citizens need to become as concerned about the protection of our public property as we are about protection of private property.

To read Jim Blackburn’s entire newsletter click on the following file:  http://whoopingcrane.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Coastal-Update-2011-Whoper-Law-Suit-Blackburn.docx