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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Citizen scientists wanted for counting Whooping Crane nests at WBNP

Citizen scientists
Whooping Crane sitting on nest. Note crane in center of photo. ©Parks Canada / Wood Buffalo National Park. (2016)

The Whooping Crane nesting season is well underway at Wood Buffalo National Park (WBNP) and things are looking positive while biologists are in the midst of the annual Whooping Crane nesting survey. This spring, they are able to conduct their survey using helicopters, while following safe Covid-19 protocols. So in the next few weeks, we hope to know their results and how many nests were observed within and outside the park.

In the meantime, there is something that you will be interested in doing. Counting Whooping Crane nests. Yes, you read that correctly!

Citizen scientists wanted

The Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS), Parks Canada (PC) and other organizations are working collaboratively to investigate the use of high-resolution satellite imagery to detect nesting cranes as an alternative method to monitor the breeding population.

Biologist are looking for volunteers (you!) to help them quickly review over 100,000 small satellite images through an online crowdsourcing platform to identify possible nest locations. Your results will be reviewed by biologists and will be used to identify, manage and conserve new breeding areas not previously identified and to refine methods to monitor and manage this endangered species.

Citizen scientists
Nesting pair of whooping cranes and nest with two eggs. © 2016 Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker (2018)
whooping crane images
Adult whooping crane incubating eggs. © Photo by Parks Canada and Canadian Wildlife Service – L. Parker (2018)

How to become involved

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.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
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Identifying, Protecting and Managing Stopover Habitats for Wild Whooping Cranes on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lakes

Abstract

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.

To read the entire paper, click here for full text version of it.

One of many stopover habitats evaluated

Stopover Habitats
Excellent “stopover roost site” for Whooping Cranes. Number “1” points out the glide path for Whooping Cranes landing on lakeshore. The site is clear of obstructions and provides a gradual slope into the shallow water. Horizontal visibility around the roost site is good. Number “2” points out the shallow water from 2 to 10 inches deep in roost area. Whoopers can feed on aquatic animal in the lake and forage on insects and grains in nearby fields.

***** 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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