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!

     

Share

COVID cancels annual surveys at Wood Buffalo National Park

Several people have asked Friends of the Wild Whoopers, (FOTWW) about the nesting and fledgling surveys annually conducted on the nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park, (WBNP). We now have an answer for those interested and asking.

We contacted the park and Rhona Kindopp, Resource Conservation Manager at WBNP informed us that unfortunately the regular summer surveys were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID. She stated that they will be looking forward to resuming whooping crane nest and fledgling surveys next year. She also mentioned that currently their colleagues at the Canadian Wildlife Service, (CWS) are conducting some monitoring of migration in Saskatchewan. If we receive any news or information from CWS, we will be more than happy to pass the news on to everyone.

We know everyone looks forward to the news and photos out of Wood Buffalo NP. So not to leave you disappointed we will share with you some photos taken during previous surveys. We hope you enjoy them as much now as you did when they were originally posted.

Wood Buffalo National Park
Whooping crane nesting habitat on Wood Buffalo. Photo by Klaus Nigge
Wood Buffalo National Park.
Whooping Crane habitat on Wood Buffalo National Park. photo by Jane Peterson WBNP
Wood Buffalo National Park.
Photo: courtesy of Parks Canada and John McKinnon
Wood Buffalo National Park
Two adults and one juvenile whooping crane. Photo: John McKinnon / ©2014 Parks Canada /Wood Buffalo National Park.

***** 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
Share

Whooping Crane “stopover habitats” on Lake Sharpe, South Dakota

By Pam Bates, FOTWW

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.

Working partnership

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

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.

Costs

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.

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.
Lake Sharpe
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.

fall migration
friendsofthewildwhoopers.org
Share

Whooping Crane Fall Migration – 2019

Fall Migration Underway

whooping crane fall migration
Whooping cranes in Saskatchewan during fall migration. Photo by Beryl Peake – 2018

Fall 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 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.

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, 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 fall migration
Whooping cranes in Saskatchewan during their fall migration. Photo by Kim and Val Mann – 2018

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 and 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
Share