The Whooping Crane (Grus americana) is one of North America’s most endangered species. There is only one wild, self-sustaining migratory population of Whooping Cranes, the Aransas–Wood Buffalo population (AWBP). The birds of the AWBP migrate 4,000 km twice each year between their nesting grounds in northern Canada and their wintering grounds on the Texas Gulf Coast. During migration, AWBP Whooping Cranes must land at suitable ponds or wetlands to forage, rest or roost. The Whooping Crane Recovery Plan, developed by federal wildlife agencies in Canada and the USA, calls for the protection and management of Whooping Crane stopover locations within the migration corridor. Although major stopover areas have been protected, many other smaller sites remain to be identified. However, the Recovery Plan offers no specific entity to identify, protect and manage the latter. To address these deficiencies in information and activity, Friends of the Wild Whoopers partnered with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) within the AWBP migration corridor to share information about Whooping Cranes and their habitat needs and identify potential stopover locations on USACE properties that could be protected and managed for cranes. This partnership identified 624 potential stopover sites on 34 USACE lakes, principally in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, with commitments to manage the habitats as resources allow.
Last September, FOTWW and USACE officials visited Lewis and Clark Lake to assess potential “stopover habitats” for Whooping Cranes. Lewis and Clark Lake is one of the 35 USACE lakes that has been evaluated and is a major reservoir in South Dakota and Nebraska located on the Missouri River.
Last week, Nebraska Game & Parks Conservation Officer Jeff Jones working with the NRM Staff at the lake reported seeing three whooping cranes at the lake. Jeff also supplied the photos below that he took. Hopefully more whooping cranes will be spotted at Lewis and Clark as the migration from Wood Buffalo National Park to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge continues. We hope you enjoy these rare photos and if you would like to read FOTWW’s evaluation of the lake, please click here.
Whooping cranes at Lewis and Clark Lake. Photo by Jeff JonesWhooping cranes at Lewis and Clark Lake. Photo by Jeff JonesWhooping cranes at Lewis and Clark Lake. Photo by Jeff Jones
***** 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.
A big thank you to our friends at the Eastern Crane Bulletin. The September issue, featuring extensive coverage of Friends of the Wild Whoopers and our “stopover habitat” program, is now available online.
The Eastern Crane E-bulletin covers news about the Eastern Populations of Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, as well as general information about cranes and the continuing work for the protection of these birds and their habitats.
Friends of the Wild Whoopers (FOTWW) is continuing to work on its joint Whooping Crane “stopover habitat” with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The project involves the 7 state migration corridor within in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana. FOTWW has completed its evaluation of Lake Sharpe properties in South Dakota and our Wildlife Biologist Chester McConnell provided a summary of their findings and recommendations.
McConnell emphasized that FOTWW appreciated USACE personnel who accompanied us on our field evaluation. “They were well informed about the lake’s abundant habitats and management needs. So, together, we successfully identified many stopover habitats that needed only minor management” explained McConnell.”
Habitat threats continue
Today Whooping Cranes are facing continuing threats to their habitats. During their two 2,500 miles migration from their Canadian nesting habitats and their winter habitats on the Texas coast they must stop 15 to 30 times to rest and feed. Secure stopover habitats are needed throughout the migration corridor approximately every 25 miles. And more secure wintering habitats are needed along the Texas coast near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Currently about half of the population winters off the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge where they are not as safe. Continuous development along the coast is taking a serious toll on habitat.
FOTWW believes that the wild Whooping Cranes in the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population are capable of taking care of themselves with two exceptions. They need (1) humans to protect their habitats and (2) humans to stop shooting them. We firmly believe that the USACE can do much to protect and manage many “stopover habitats” within the migration corridor wetland habitats while other areas could be enhanced with minor, low cost work.
The USACE and FOTWW operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that allows FOTWW to focus on Whooping Crane habitat assessment and management recommendations on lands under USACE jurisdiction. We first need to determine if any suitable areas could be managed, or appropriately developed, to provide stopover habitats for Whooping Cranes. The next step would be to work to encourage appropriate management.
McConnell explained that “we have learned that USACE lakes within the 7 state migration corridor are very valuable to migrating Whooping Cranes. And we believe they are likely to become even more important to Whooping Cranes in the near future because of their locations and quality of “stopover habitats”. Lake Sharpe and others that are located in the Whooping Crane migration corridor can be especially valuable. As the crane population increases the migration corridor may also expand in width.
Lake Sharpe is just one of the 35 USACE lakes that FOTWW has evaluated. We are aware that Whooping Cranes have visited Lake Sharpe and we expect that to continue and increase. United States Geological Survey personnel used location data acquired from 58 unique individuals fitted with platform transmitting terminals that collected global position system locations. Radio-tagged birds provided 2,158 stopover sites over 10 migrations and 5 years (2010–14) using individual Whooping Cranes. Whooping Cranes were also observed in the vicinity of Lake Sharpe property several times.
Figure 1. Deer and other wildlife species often use the same habitats as Whooping Cranes.
McConnell explained that during migration Whooping Cranes often stop over on private lands, wildlife areas, lakes and some military bases. However, many private lands are being more intensively managed and face various forms of development. And some wetlands are becoming dryer due to global warming. FOTWW contends that lands and waters on USACE, military bases and Indian Reservations within the migration corridor can provide much needed relief. Some of these lands can be developed and/or managed to provide more stopover habitats for endangered Whooping Cranes. Importantly, habitats for the cranes also benefit many other species of wildlife and fish. So Whooping Cranes are compatible with other wildlife species using the same habitats.
The most expensive part of establishing or improving habitat is land cost. If projects can be accomplished on government lands and Indian Reservations, the cost would be relatively minimal. Importantly any habitat projects deemed to be incompatible with the mission of the agencies involved would not be considered by FOTWW.
FOTWW has completed habitat evaluations on 32 military facilities, 8 Indian Reservations and 35 USACE lakes within the wild Whooping Crane migration corridor. Most of these properties currently have some suitable stopover habitats but there is much more potential explained McConnell.
A look at Lake Sharpe
The following photos are a sample of the various examples of the Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” that we observed on Lake Sharpe.
Figure 2. Counselor Creek: This photo also on Counselor Creek was made after heavy rains and water levels were higher than normal. At normal levels the stream banks are much wider as indicated by the yellow arrow and would be useful “stopover habitats”. The vegetation on stream sides could be treated with herbicide to create wider open strips approximately 30 feet by 100 feet long. This would allow habitat openings wide enough the be useful to Whoopers during all but extreme high water levels.Figure 3. Good Soldier Creek. Focus on the water along the edge of the land area. The light color area is shallow water. Such areas are good foraging sites for the Whoopers. These areas are also prime roosting areas for Whooping Cranes. They like shallow water about 2 inches to 10 inches in depth to roost in. The 5 feet tall Whooping Cranes can defend themselves against predators in shallow water.Figure 4. Medicine Creek. This photo includes some excellent “stopover habitat” for migrating Whooping Cranes. The area is a safe landing site. Note the openness which allows the cranes to see in every direction and detect predators In addition this surrounding area has an abundance of plant seeds and insects for a food source. The cranes like such areas to spend several days to rest and feed.Figure 5. Medicine Creek. The area along the shore and 300 feet back is an excellent location for Whooping Cranes to land. Caution is needed however because of the fence (red marker) which could cause injure or kill Whooping Cranes that may crash into it during low flight. A management project should remove the fence or relocate it an additional 300 feet back from the water edge. Otherwise this location is excellent as a “stopover site” for the 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.