Archive for the ‘Wood Buffalo Updates’ Category

Whooping Crane Recovery Update

October 5, 2010

October 2009 to September 2010


The Aransas-Wood Buffalo population (AWBP) of whooping cranes rebounded from 247 present in the spring of 2009 to 263 in the spring, 2010. With 46 chicks fledging from a record 74 nests in August, 2010 the flock size should reach record levels this fall expected somewhere around 290. Threats to the flock including land and water development in Texas, the spread of black mangrove on the wintering grounds, the long-term decline of blue crab populations in Texas, sea level rise / land subsidence, and wind farm and power line construction in the migration corridor all continued to be important issues.

Two whooping cranes captured at Aransas and nine in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) were fitted with GPS transmitters and tracked by satellite. Crews visited migration stopover sites after the birds were present to gather habitat use data. This project is being carried out by The Crane Trust headed up by Dr. Felipe Chavez-Ramirez. It is funded by the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, The Crane Trust, and the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center. The tracking is the first done on the AWBP in 25 years and is a top research priority of the Whooping Crane Recovery Team! Since the 1950s, 474 AWBP whooping cranes have died, with 37 carcasses recovered, and cause of death determined in only 17 instances. With the loss of 21.4% of the flock in the 12 months following April 2008, it is imperative that we learn more about whooping crane mortality.

Based on opportunistic sightings, the Cooperative Whooping Crane Tracking Project documented 103 confirmed sightings of whooping cranes in the U.S. Central Flyway during fall, 2009 and 52 sightings in spring, 2010.

A study by Dr. Ken Jones at the University of Georgia genomics lab to better describe the genetic composition of the captive flock got underway in September, 2010. The new genomics technology will derive genetic information from 454 single nucleotide polymorphisms, a substantial increase from the 12 loci used in the past on which most of our genetic decisions involving whooping crane pairings are currently based.

Planning efforts continued for the proposed reintroduction of a nonmigratory flock of whooping cranes at White Lake, Louisiana. White Lake is where the last whooping crane nest in Louisiana had been found in 1939.

Production in the wild from reintroduced flocks in 2010 was somewhat disappointing, though better than last year. In Florida with improved water conditions, 8 of the 9 remaining pairs nested and hatched 4 chicks, but only 1 chick survived to fledge. In Wisconsin, 12 pairs nested, with 3 first nests and 3 re-nests incubated full term and hatching 7 chicks. Two chicks fledged. Nest abandonment consistent with the presence of black flies continued to be a major hurdle for the reintroduction at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

The captive flocks had a very good production season in 2010. Twenty-four chicks entered the migratory reintroduction program in Wisconsin, and 11 chicks are being formed into a cohort for a possible nonmigratory release in Louisiana in February, 2011. Three chicks of high genetic value were held back for the captive flocks.

Flock sizes are estimated at 263 for the AWBP, 119 for the WI to FL flock, and 25 nonmigratory birds in Florida. With 167 cranes in captivity, the world total (all located in North America) of whooping cranes is 574, up 38 from one year ago.

The full report can be read here…

Whooping Crane Recovery Update: October 2009 to September 2010

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Here They Come

September 29, 2009

The first migrating whooping crane was sighted in North Dakota last week (Sept 24). It departed the Wood Buffalo nesting grounds in Canada recently. The crane is now on its 2,400 mile journey to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. We hope that all the whoopers have a safe migration because of the unusually high mortality in the flock this past year. And hopefully the recent rains in Texas have had a beneficial impact on whooping crane winter habitat.

Fledging Whoopers Decline While Habitat Improves

August 31, 2009

Brian Johns, Wildlife Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service reports that: “Kathy St. Laurent and I completed surveys for fledgling whooping cranes and found 22 family groups, each with a single young. Habitat conditions were excellent with water levels higher than I have ever seen them at this time of year. In order to achieve these high water levels a much higher than average amount of rain fell during June (113.6mm or 2.5 times normal) and July (86mm or 1.5 times normal). Although the rain was welcome it came at a time when the young were still vulnerable to cool wet conditions and may have contributed to the lower than average survival of chicks to fledging age (0.35 chicks/nest vs 0.47). The high water levels will however, ensure that spring 2010 conditions are favorable. Given the number of young produced this year and the number of adults and subadults that were lost last winter, the population will decline in 2009.”

UPDATE – Wood Buffalo National Park/Aransas Refuge Whooper Nesting Report

June 30, 2009

Lea Craig-Moore, Canadian Wildlife Service reports that, ” The June chick surveys were conducted June 16-20 in Wood Buffalo National park by Jim Bredy and Tom Stehn from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Lea Craig-Moore from the Canadian Wildlife Service. A total of 52 chicks were seen from 62 nests (61 nests had been found in May, and one additional family was found in June). Two chicks were seen at ten nests, one chick at 32 nests and 18 nests had no young. Two nests were still being incubated on the last day of surveys. This year’s June production is 0.84 chicks per nest which is on target with the long term average of 0.8 chicks/nest.”

Lea also advised that, “Water conditions were excellent in May but have dropped over the month due to negligible precipitation. August surveys are scheduled to begin about the 18th.”

I flew for 2.3 hours on June 30th and did NOT find any whooping cranes at Aransas.

Surveys done June 16-20 in Wood Buffalo National Park documented 52 chicks, including 10 sets of twins, hatching from the 62 nests.

During the last census report from Aransas National Refuge in Texas, several
whooping cranes were still there. Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator,U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service recently reported that, “I flew for 2.3 hours on June 30th
and did NOT find any whooping cranes at

Whoopers Busy in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada

June 1, 2009

Brian Johns, Wildlife Biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service reports that, “Lea Craig-Moore and Kathy St. Laurent have completed the whooping crane breeding pair surveys in Wood Buffalo National Park and surrounding area. Habitat conditions were good, with water levels being higher than normal. The spring was slightly later than average and the northern portions of the nesting area still had a number of snow banks and some frozen wetlands.

In total 61 nests were discovered, only 5 fewer than the all time high of 66 in 2008. Another 22 pairs of cranes were observed, half of which have likely bred in previous years and the remainder were subadult pairs. Lea, Tom Stehn and Jim Bredy will be conducting the hatching success surveys in a couple of weeks and I will send an update after those are completed.”

Deadly Winter for Whooping Cranes

March 10, 2009

By Anton Caputo – Express-News

The severe drought gripping Texas is turning a promising year for the endangered whooping crane into the second-deadliest on record.

Eighteen of the majestic birds have died in their winter home on the coast this season, likely because of food and water shortages caused by the record drought, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Manager Dan Alonso said.

The 18 birds represent almost 7 percent of the flock’s population this season. The highest mortality rate on record was 1990 when 7.5 percent of the flock died while wintering in Texas.

The desperate situation has prompted wildlife biologists to break a “wildlife management taboo” and put out corn and water to help the birds make it through the winter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also is making efforts to more stringently enforce its no-crabbing rules within the 115,000-acre confines of the refuge. That’s an attempt to save the dwindling population of blue crabs for the whooping cranes.

“That is what we are presently doing to help the whooping crane get back on their feet or at least keep any more from dying,” Alonso said.

San Antonio Express-News

The cranes will migrate within the next month on their 2,400-mile journey to their summer home in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.

Standing 5 feet tall, the whooping crane is one of the most iconic and endangered birds in the world.

Habitat loss and hunting nearly wiped out the species in the past century. The number of cranes dipped to as low as 15 in 1945and the crane was declared endangered in 1970.

But a concerted effort to bring back the birds has been successful. Last year, there were 500 whooping cranes in North America for the first time in a century. And the Texas flock, which is the last wild migratory flock in the world, hit a record 270 this season before the die-off.

Most agree that the record-setting drought afflicting Texas is behind this year’s high mortality. But one dead bird also tested positive for a virus that has been detected in a captive whooping crane flock in Florida. It’s the first time the virus has appeared in the wild Texas flock.

“They are running a number of tests to determine what else might be present,” Alonso said. “There could be other issues out there that we are not aware of.”

Many have pointed directly to the drought’s impact on the state’s blue crab population as a likely cause of the strain on the whooping crane flock. Alonso said many of the areas surveyed in the refuge that typically contain blue crab were devoid of the critters this year. Blue crabs, which can make up as much as 85 percent of the bird’s diet, require a freshwater inflow in the coastal estuaries for a healthy habitat.

Norman Boyd of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said blue crab numbers have been running low in the Guadalupe estuary since the mid 1990s, and he cautioned against blaming the current lack of fresh water solely on the downfall of the whooping crane’s favorite food. The state is investigating a number of possible causes, he said, and over-fishing may be one of them.

“Make no mistake, freshwater inflows are very important to crabs, but it’s hard to pin down a one-to-one relationship in our crab catch rate and freshwater inflows,” Boyd said. “Our catch rate has dropped off during the past decade and we’ve had wet years since then and we don’t see the crab population spiking during those wet years.”
Portions (c) 2009 San Antonio Express-News. All rights reserved.