by Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

All but a few whooping cranes have made it back to Aransas Refuge, Texas from their nesting area in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada. The other birds are expected to arrive at their winter home on Aransas soon. Some are taking a respite at several locations, including Granger Lake, about 150 miles north of the refuge.

Sixteen whooping cranes migrating south towards Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas. Photo by: Mike Umscheid
(For posters of the photo click: http://www.mikeumscheidphotography.com/title.php?n=SixteenWhooping&m=poster

The 2,400 mile migration trek from Wood Buffalo to Aransas has taken place for thousands of years and is cause for celebration by us humans. We celebrate because whooping cranes are increasing in numbers after facing extinction in the 1940s – 50s. The total flock had reached a low of only 15 birds when we began serious efforts to rescue them from their dismal plight.

While the precise number of whoopers in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock is not known, estimates are that there are about 300+ today. The Whooping Crane Conservation Association reported in August that, during the 2012 nesting season, the flock produced 34 juvenile birds, including two sets of twins. 

Increases in the whooping crane population is fantastic news for humans who are attempting mightily to right a wrong and now protect this last group of naturally migrating whooping cranes in existence. For many years we destroyed much of their habitat and killed them for food and feathers without compassion.  Now, reformed human attitudes have resulted in promising plans and extraordinary efforts to restore the whooper flock to secure numbers.

According to the new U.S. Whooping Crane Coordinator Dr. Wade Harrell, Aransas Refuge biologists conducted the first whooping crane aerial survey of the season November 28, 2012, and the second survey is being flown on the 29th. Data analysis from the surveys is ongoing and several additional flights are scheduled to occur prior to December 17th. Most of the GPS radio-tagged birds have arrived, according to a release issued by Aransas National Wildlife Refuge officials.   An updated preliminary estimate of the current size of the whooper population is expected after the data analysis is completed in mid-December. (See news release at: http://www.fws.gov/nwrs/threecolumn.aspx?id=2147503362   )

Based on the first survey flight, the cranes appear to be evenly distributed on the Refuge from Lamar to south of Port O’Connor. Also according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, marsh conditions on Aransas look good, and whoopers are feeding on the abundant wolfberry crop and the plentiful blue crabs. Currently the habitat conditions on the refuge look good.

*  For copies of whooping crane poster click :  http://www.mikeumscheidphotography.com/title.php?n=SixteenWhooping&m=poster