Aransas Wood Buffalo Population Update

Update on the Aransas Wood Buffalo Population of Whooping Cranes

The Unison Call – Vol. 27 No. 1

Breeding pair surveys in May detected 78 nests (an additional nest was inferred based on observation of a pair with offspring during August surveys), 15 of which were outside the area designated as critical habitat and seven of which were outside Wood Buffalo National Park; 18 pairs without nests were also observed. Surveys in August detected 45 juveniles; 43 pairs had one juvenile each and one pair had two juveniles. Annual productivity was 0.57 juveniles per nest, well above than the 20-year average of 0.48 but within the long-term natural range of variation.

The above are preliminary results from the Canadian Wildlife Service, contributed by Mark Bidwell.

Summary of Aransas Wood Buffalo Population Breeding Surveys for 2013-2016

Aransas Wood Buffalo
†Most nests ever recorded. *All family groups had a single offspring; **two families with twins; ***one family with twins; #20-year average is 0.48 chicks per nest. Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) 2013 data are from Harrell and Bidwell
(Oct. 2014), Report on Whooping Crane Recovery Activities; WBNP 2014 data are from Northern Journal (norj.ca), Sept. 1, 2014, quoting Mark Bidwell; WBNP 2015 data are from Bidwell and Conkin (March 2016), Recovery and Ecology of Whooping Cranes: Monitoring of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo Population during the Breeding Season 2015 Report. WBNP 2016 data are preliminary results from the Canadian Wildlife Service, with thanks to Mark Bidwell.

Aransas NWR winter counts are from ‘Whooping Crane Updates’ at the ANWR website. ‡Estimated numbers of birds outside the primary survey area in 2013, 2014, and 2015 were 6, 6, and 9, respectively. (95% CI means 95% confidence interval) — Ed.

***** 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.

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Whooping Cranes are on their way to Aransas NWR

Whooping Cranes migrating south

Last Week, six wild whoopers, one of them a juvenile, were spotted in a field northwest of Cheviot Lake, SK with hundreds of Sandhill Cranes and some Snow Geese. Our friend and supporter Val Mann from Saskatchewan sent us a couple of photos and her observation. Again, we thank Val for her fantastic photos of the wild whoopers.

“Kim and I were out on the grid roads in the central part of Saskatchewan yesterday looking for whooping cranes.  We had seen a report describing six whooping cranes in a farmer’s field earlier this week and wanted to see if they were still there.  About noonish, we saw three of the cranes, still in the area.  They were in the field with a number of sandhill cranes, over a mile from the road. The photos show the whooping cranes very far off in the distance – even for a powerful telephoto lens.”

Whoopers from Wood Buffalo National Park heading for Aransas NWR

Whooping Crane
Whooping Cranes somewhere in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy of Val Mann

Whoopers take flight

“About 45 minutes later, a very large flock of snow geese took to flight from a nearby slough.  As the snow geese approached the area with the cranes, the cranes stopped feeding and began to look skyward.   Shortly thereafter, the cranes took flight and flew towards a large lake just southeast of the field.”

Whooping Cranes
Whooping Cranes somewhere in Saskatchewan. Photo courtesy of Val Mann

***** 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.

 friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Put a Whooping Crane on it

Whooping Cranes dependent upon wetlands

The whooping crane is the tallest and one of the rarest birds in North American. It is dependent upon wetland habitat and the results of habitat loss and hunting diminished the population to less than 20 cranes by 1941. The United States is home to more than 330 wild whooping cranes, some of which have been documented using Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) conservation easements across the central United States.

Put a whooping crane on it
Put a Whooping Crane on it.

Conservation efforts by private land owners

Conservation efforts on private lands by farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners have played a critical role in the survival of the whooping crane. Together, they have created more than 6.7 million acres of prime wildlife habitat through Working Lands for Wildlife, (WLFW). The voluntary restoration and protection of wetlands is important in enlarging the habitat footprint available to the whooping crane and many other species. Wetland easements across the country provide a migratory corridor for the wild whooping crane population from North Dakota to Texas. These wetlands – big or small – serve as rest stops for cranes headed south.

Learn how you can create Whooping Crane wetland habitat

To learn more about how you can create wetland habitat on your property, Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (FOTWW) published an article last month showing you how easy it is. You can read “Whooping Crane Stopover Ponds/Wetlands Plans” here as well as download a printable graphic of the plan.

To read the article “Through Conservation, America’s Agricultural Producers Can Put a Bird on Working Lands” by Amy Overstreet, Natural Resources Conservation Click here.

 

***** 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.

 friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo friendsofthewildwhoopers.org ***** 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.
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78 Whooping Crane Nests Located in Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada

by Wood Buffalo National Park staff

A total of 78 nests were located during the 2016 Whooping Crane nest survey in Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) and in crane habitat located outside the Park. The survey is a joint project between Parks Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

The 78 nests detected is the second highest nest count on record. 71 nests where located within WBNP and 7 nests were located outside of the Park. The highest nest count on record is 82 nests located during the 2014 nest survey.

Improved conditions on whooping crane nesting grounds

Nest numbers increased over last year’s count, when 68 nests were detected during the 2015 survey (the low number of nests detected during the 2015 nest survey is believed to have been related to the low water levels/drought in the nesting area). Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016 are shown in the graph below.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds
Nest survey results for the period 1966 to 2016

Over-the-bank flooding

Conditions on the nesting grounds were much wetter in 2016 when compared with the conditions observed during the 2015 survey. Water levels on the Sass River and Klewi River were noticeably high. Over-the-bank flooding was observed along the Sass and Klewi Rivers and replenishing waters into the neighboring ponds and wetlands.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds
Sass River – Whooping Crane nesting Grounds
John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park
Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds
Klewi River – Whooping Crane nesting Grounds John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

 

The survey was conducted over four days, May 19, 20, 22 and 23.  Poor weather conditions on May 22 prevented flying. The aircraft used during survey was an ASTAR 350 B-2 Helicopter.

Whooping Crane nesting Grounds John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park
ASTAR 350 B-2 Helicopter
John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

Personnel involved in the survey included:
– John Conkin, Wildlife Technician, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment and Climate Change Canada
– Keith Hartery, Resource Management Technician, WBNP, Parks Canada
– John McKinnon, Ecosystem Geomatics Technician, WBNP, Parks Canada
– Katie McNab, Resource Management Officer,  WBNP, Parks Canada
– Howard Vigneault, Helicopter Pilot, Highland Helicopters6.

Observations

Interesting observations during the survey included a total 193 cranes observed over the 4 days. Occasionally the cranes standup and/or walk off the nest mound as we circle above and we get to count the eggs. A total 37 Whooping Crane eggs were observed at 19 of the 78 nests during the survey. 18 nests had two eggs, 1 nest had one egg. (We were unable to determine the number of eggs at the other 59 Nests).

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds
Whooping Crane sitting on nest. Note crane in center of photo. ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

We observed one pair of Whooping Cranes that were “dancing”. One group of 3 whooping cranes was observed. A lone adult Whooping Crane was observed being harassed by 2 “dive-bombing” red-winged black birds. Two black bears were observed in the nesting grounds. And, on the last day of the survey, a raven greeted us just before take-off, posing for a picture while perched on the tail of the Helicopter.

Whooping Crane Nesting Grounds
Greetings from Raven. John D. McKinnon / ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park

 

 friendsofthewildwhoopers.org logo friendsofthewildwhoopers.org ***** 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.
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org

***** 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.

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