Welcome Friends

Friends of the Wild Whoopers,  (a.k.a FOTWW) is a 501c3 nonprofit conservation organization whose mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat.

We would like to educate those who have an interest in protecting this beautiful American bird, as well as bringing you the latest news on the Whooper.

Make sure you subscribe to stay informed. If you would like to contribute in any way, we would love to hear from you. Donations are always welcome to help with our expenses.

 

Whooping Cranes Are Making Their Way to the Texas Coast

Whooping cranes at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims.
Whooping cranes at Aransas National WIldlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Kevin Sims ©2014.

Nov. 4, 2021
AUSTIN — With the first sightings of iconic, endangered whooping cranes along the Texas coast being reported, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is reminding Texans to be on the lookout for these impressive birds as they move through the state.

Whooping cranes are the tallest, rarest birds in North America. Currently, there is a population of around 506 individuals. Thanks to coordinated conservation efforts, whooping cranes are slowly returning from the brink of extinction.

Whooping cranes make a 2,500-mile journey from their Canadian breeding grounds in northern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park to the coastal marshes of Texas each year. The migration south to Texas can take up to 50 days.

During their migration, whooping cranes seek out wetlands and agricultural fields where they can roost and feed. The birds often pass large urban centers like Dallas-Fort Worth, Waco and Austin. Though whooping cranes rarely stay in one place for more than a day during migration, it is important that they not be disturbed or harassed at these stopovers. As a federally protected species, it is illegal to disturb or harass these birds.

With sandhill crane and waterfowl hunting seasons opening and whooper migration in full swing, TPWD urges hunters to be extra vigilant. Whooping cranes are sometimes found in mixed flocks with sandhill cranes, which are gray and slightly smaller. With their all-white body plumage and black wingtips, whooping cranes may also resemble snow geese, which are much smaller and have faster wing beats. A video detailing the differences between snow geese and whooping cranes can be found on the TPWD YouTube Channel.

There are several other non-game species that are similar in appearance such as wood storks, American white pelicans, great egrets and others, but a close look will reveal obvious differences. More information on look-alike species is available online.

Wade Harrell, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Whooping Crane Coordinator at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), says the first of the season was a family group consisting of two adults and a juvenile on the Aransas NWR, along with another tracked bird that arrived in the Port O’ Connor-area, both on Oct. 29.

Harrell says typically most all of the tagged Whooping Cranes he studies are on the move in November as they head for their wintering grounds. The majority of the birds arrive on the Texas Coast in December.

Once whooping cranes arrive on their wintering grounds, many stay in the same general area. Younger birds, however, often haven’t paired yet and may wander a little off their usual flight path, using areas quite distant from the Aransas NWR area.

Harrell says due to the La Niña weather pattern forecast for this winter, the Southwest is in for a drier, warmer season. While this past summer was relatively wet and freshwater wetlands currently have water, a dry winter may require the use of freshwater wells on the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas to provide freshwater to the whooping cranes later in the winter. The USFWS is encouraging landowners to consider providing freshwater on their properties as well to aid the birds during their migration and wintering period.

The public can help track whooping cranes by reporting sightings to TPWD’s Whooper Watch, a citizen-science based reporting system to track whooping crane migration and wintering locations throughout Texas.  More information about Whooper Watch, including instructions for reporting sightings, can be found online and by downloading the iNaturalist mobile app. These observations help biologists identify new migration and wintering locations and their associated habitats.

Biologists remain optimistic that continued research and restoration work will ultimately lead to improved numbers of whooping cranes and say that new pending federal legislation, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA), could help in a big way. RAWA would provide the funding needed to continue the important conservation work that is vital for whooping cranes and other species throughout Texas. Learn how to help through the Texas Wildlife Alliance’s online toolkit. Texas Wildlife Alliance is a grass roots coalition formed to support RAWA.

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2021 Whooping Crane fall migration underway

Migration Underway

whooping crane migration
Whooping cranes near Saskatchewan. Photo by Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen ©2021

Migration of the only natural wild population of whooping cranes is underway. The Whooping Crane migration from Wood Buffalo to Aransas NWR is about 2,500 miles in length and can take as many as 50 days to complete. The flock is expected to migrate through Saskatchewan, Nebraska, North Dakota and other states along the Central Flyway over the next several weeks. The Wildlife Fish and Game and Parks agencies along the flyway encourage the public to report any whooping crane sightings.

If you should observe a whooping crane as they migrate along the Central Flyway, please report them to the proper agencies. We have compiled a list of agencies and contact information below. If you need help with identification, please click on our Whooper Identification page.

Canadian reports

Any sightings of Whooping Cranes in Canada:
Whooping Crane Hotline is 306-975-5595. That will get you to Wildlife Biologist John Conkin. Leave a detailed message for a callback.

Montana reports

Allison Begley
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, MT  59620
abegley@mt.gov
(406) 444-3370

Jim Hansen
MT Fish, Wildlife, & Parks
2300 Lake Elmo Drive
Billings, MT  59105
jihansen@mt.gov
(406) 247-2957

North Dakota

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices at Lostwood, (701-848-2466)
Audubon, (701-442-5474)
National wildlife refuges
North Dakota Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, (701-328-6300) or to local game wardens

South Dakota

Eileen Dowd Stukel; eileen.dowdstukel@state.sd.us; (605-773-4229)
Casey Heimerl; (605-773-4345)
Natalie Gates; Natalie_Gates@fws.gov; (605-224-8793), ext. 227
Jay Peterson; Jay_Peterson@fws.gov; (605-885-6320), ext. 213

Nebraska

Nebraska Game and Parks (402-471-0641)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (308-379-5562)
The Crane Trust’s Whooper Watch hotline (888-399-2824)
Emails may be submitted to joel.jorgensen@nebraska.gov

Kansas

Jason Wagner
jason.wagner@ks.gov
(620-793-3066)

Ed Miller
ed.miller@ks.gov
(620-331-6820)

Whooping Crane sightings at or near Quivira NWR should be reported to:
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
620-486-2393
They can also be reported to this email:  quivira@fws.gov

Oklahoma

Sightings can be logged online here

Matt Fullerton
Endangered Species Biologist
(580-571-5820)

Mark Howery
Wildlife Diversity Biologist
(405-990-7259)

Texas

Texas Whooper Watch also has a project in I-Naturalist that is now fully functional. You can find it here. You can report sightings directly in I-Naturalist via your Smart Phone. This allows you to easily provide photo verification and your location.

If you are not a smart phone app user, you can still report via email: whoopingcranes@tpwd.state.tx.us or phone: (512-389-999). Please note that our primary interest is in reports from outside the core wintering range.

Do not disturb and why reporting is important

Should you see a whooping crane during migration, please do not get close or disturb it. Keep your distance and make a note of date, time, location, and what the whooping crane is doing. If the whooping crane is wearing bands or a transmitter, please note the color(s) and what leg(s) the bands are on.

whooping crane migration
Whooping cranes near Saskatchewan. Photo by Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen ©2021

You may wonder why the wild life agencies are asking for these sightings to be reported. The reports are very helpful in gathering data and information on when and where the whooping cranes stopover, what type of habitat they are choosing, and how many there are.

With just over 500 wild whooping cranes migrating along the Central Flyway, odds are low of seeing a wild whooping crane. However, FOTWW hopes that someone reading this article will be one of the lucky few. If you are, please report your sighting so that these agencies and other conservation groups, including FOTWW can continue helping these magnificent cranes.

 

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Wood Buffalo National Park Whooping Crane Conservation Update

September 2021 Whooping Crane Conservation UPDATE

Whooping Crane Conservation
Wood Buffalo National Park

This summer has been another exciting and engaging one for Wood Buffalo National Park and all partners involved in whooping crane research and monitoring. Even with COVID-19 realities and mitigations across boundaries, conservation collaboration continues unimpeded. Innovation and adaptation have been the story of successful efforts to date.

What the Crane Spring Monitoring looked like

Each year, Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) and Parks Canada staff conduct aerial surveys over the extensive wetlands that the cranes nest in and call home for the summer. These surveys occur at the end of May for the purpose of locating nests and then again in late July to count the number of chicks fledged. COVID 19 prevented surveys from taking place at all in 2020 and in 2021 CWS was still unable to join Parks staff on the survey, but Park staff conducted surveys in both May and August and the results are positive.

Enter Citizen Science

As Whooping Crane nesting areas expand to regions outside of Wood Buffalo National Park and begin to cover a wider area, new techniques in monitoring are needed. This past summer, CWS, the Calgary Zoo and Parks Canada launched a new crowdsourcing project to test the viability of using satellite photos to find Whooping Crane nesting sites. This was trialed in 2020 and launched on a wider scale pilot in 2021. Working through Zooniverse (the world’s largest citizen science platform!) we launched a virtual volunteering project with people from around the world helping detect several new nesting locations that were not previously known to biologists.

By the numbers:

• 2095 citizen scientists
• 59,038 images
• 102 nests identified, including 4 new nests

50 Crane Chicks Seen During Survey Flights

Whooping Crane Conservation
Whooping crane nesting area at Wood Buffalo National Park. Photo by Jane Peterson / ©Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park. Click on photo to enlarge.

Parks Canada was back in the air again this August, searching for chicks and cranes amongst the extensive wetlands of the park. During this time, staff return to observe the nesting sites again and to count the number of chicks that can be seen. During helicopter surveys, at least 50 chicks were seen from the air. But the process of counting chicks amongst the thick wetlands of Wood Buffalo is far from perfect, and actual survival rate may be higher. At this time of year, the chicks are nearing the strength and ability to fly on their own. By the end of August or early September, they will be ready to begin the long flight down to Aransas!

The results:

This Whooping Crane population, the only self-sustaining one in North America, has seen a steady increase in recent years and now has as many as 500 individuals flying from Wood Buffalo to Aransas, Texas every year. 2021 was a terrific summer and marks the first time since conservation actions to conserve Whooping Cranes began that over 100 nests in total were counted, with at least 50% of the crane nests yielding surviving Whooping Crane chicks seen during survey flights. Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service are excited to continue seeing the species recover in the months and years ahead.

  • We still need help!

    Work on the crowdsourcing of thousands of satellite photos is still underway and help is still needed to continue sifting through these images on Zooniverse. Virtual volunteers can still sign up to take part, so be sure to visit and signup: Help Us Look for Whooping Cranes.

    Want to learn more about Whooping Cranes? Visit the Wood Buffalo National Park website!

     

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Record Year for Whooping Crane Nests at Wood Buffalo NP

Wood Buffalo
Nesting pair of whooping cranes and nest at Wood Buffalo NP © Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker Click photo to enlarge.

It was a record year for the 2021 whooping crane nesting season at Wood Buffalo National Park, (WBNP). Park and wildlife officials were able to observe 102 nests during their spring nesting survey. In 2017, a total of 98 nests were observed on the nesting grounds. The 102 nests were found using traditional flights and at least 4 of the nests were found using the crowdsourcing techniques, Zooniverse. This satelite imagery once perfected could become important with the surveys in the future and as of now is proving to be helpful when used along with the standard aerial surveys.

Zooniverse crowdsourcing project.

The crowdsourcing project is continuing and still needs virtual volunteers from near and far to sign into Zooniverse and take part!  If you’ve not had a chance, take a few moments to sign on or share this link with others who might like to learn more and study the Whoopers from space!”  https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/whcr-cr/whooping-cranes/classify?reload=0&workflow=18333

Conditions at Wood Buffalo NP

For the most part, Parks Canada operations have returned to fairly normal levels, with COVID-19 mitigations such as physical distancing and masking still in place. Park staff have been able to operate campgrounds, interpretive programs and hikes, the Fort Smith visitor centre and all the usual resource conservation work that comes with Canada’s biggest national park.

Overall it’s been a good summer—with not much extreme weather other than a really bizarre one week stretch which this area and western Canada almost never ever experiences. It’s been the worst forest fire season on record in some places, but the WBNP area of the NWT has been relatively mellow and fortunate this summer.

Become involved with counting nests

Want to get involved and be a citizen scientist and help out the biologists? Just go to Zooniverse. Once there, you can register, do a tutorial and once that is done, you are ready to begin your own nesting survey. Who wouldn’t want to participate doing that!

Zooniverse is the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research. This research is made possible by volunteers — more than a million people around the world who come together to assist professional researchers.

 

***** FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo
population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. *****

Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

whooping cranes
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

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