Lobstick Whooper Remains A Mystery

Editor’s Note: During April 2012 a whooping crane was murdered in the vicinity of Miller, South Dakota. At the time there was speculation that the dead crane was one of the famous Lobstick pair. The speculation continues. Captain Tommy Moore operates a tour boat in the vicinity of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and believes he knows the Lobstick pair is alive. I contacted Tom Stehn retired Whooping Crane Coordinator to inquire. Luckily, Tom was going out the next day on Captain Moore’s boat and wrote me the following report. Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association, Web Administrator.

by Tom Stehn, Retired Whooping Crane Coordinator                                                               

Tom Stehn photo by Matt Rainwaters

On December 19th, I rode the whooping crane tour boat named the Black Skimmer to help with the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge’s Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Our group counted over 9,300 birds of 77 different species, but I didn’t see the bird I wanted to see most. The Lobstick whooping crane pair was not on its territory! We did spot 35 other whooping cranes, but I missed seeing what might be the oldest known aged whooping crane in the flock.

The Lobstick male was banded in 1978 as a 3-month-old chick in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. After pairing up and successfully raising a chick in 1982, the Lobsticks continued their prolific breeding to become one of the most productive pairs in the flock. They have brought 17 chicks to Aransas in 31 years of nesting, and twice pulled off raising two chicks. Unfortunately, they have not made it to Aransas with a chick for the last three winters. The Lobstick male would now be 34, assuming he is still alive. His bands have fallen off, but voice printing multiple years ago of the male’s unison call had shown the same bird was present.

Who is this – could it be? (digimarcopyright)

The pair continues to nest on Lobstick Creek just outside of Wood Buffalo National Park and defend the same territory on Aransas. They are often the first pair the whooping crane tour boats see. In the 2008-09 winter, the Lobstick male had difficulty flying for a spell, and the following winter we weren’t sure if he was present as the pair roamed more and was seemingly absent on several flights and boat trips. However, Captain Tommy Moore to this day continues to sight a crane pair on the Lobstick territory with a very large male that sometimes approaches the tour boat that could be Lobstick. Tommy thinks Lobstick is still alive. I don’t know for sure, but I’d like to think that 34-year-old old codger is still patrolling its Aransas territory as it keeps a glaring eye out for blue crabs and other cranes foolish enough to intrude on his territory. I didn’t see him the other day, but the refuge had recently done a prescribed burn, and I bet Lobstick had been on that upland area looking for roasted acorns. Other species of cranes have been known to live in captivity for over 80 years, so don’t count old Lobstick out.