First Whooping Cranes Arrive on Aransas Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Nov 10, 2011 | Whoopin Crane Conservation Association by Chester McConnell | Related Press

First Whooping Cranes Arrive On Aransas Wildlife Refuge, Texas

By Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association

A few whooping cranes arrived on the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on October 24 according to refuge employees. No official count has been made at this time but whoopers have been observed in several locations. One pair and a sub adult have been recorded.

The whoopers are doing what many of their species have done for millions of years, moving from their nesting grounds to their winter habitats. A record number of approximately 300 whooping cranes have departed their Wood Buffalo nesting grounds and are scattered along their migratory path headed towards their wintering habitats at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas coast. The Whooping Crane Conservation Association has received reports off whooper sightings from 17 cooperators telling of birds from Saskatchewan, Canada to Aransas, Texas. A few whoopers have not yet departed from Wood Bufalo.

Robert Russell, bird biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in St. Paul, MN recently reported that he Aransas-Wood Buffalo National Park (Canada) population of whooping cranes rebounded from 263 in the spring of 2010 to 279 in the spring of 2011. With approximately 37 chicks fledged from a record 75 nests in August 2011, the flock size may reach record levels of around 300 this fall.

While there have been many studies of whooping crane travels, wildlife biologists still do not know all they need to about migration routes. With more wind farms and other developments occurring in the migration paths, more precise information is needed. Twelve whooping crane juveniles were captured in Wood Buffalo National Park in August 2011 for attachment of radio-tracking devices, bringing the total number of radioed birds to 23. The radio signals are used to track movement of the birds. According to personnel of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge none of the 22 radio-tagged birds in the flock had arrived there as of Friday October 28.

Habitat conditions at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are fair. Park Ranger David True said recent rainfall of about 2 inches has replenished drinking water sources for the whoopers for the present. Other refuge personnel confirmed that about 20 ponds created by windmill pumps are available for the birds to drink. The whooping crane flock will also will benefit from prescribed burns across almost 10,000 acres of the refuge this year. Natural foods found on the burned areas supplement the primary blue crab diet found in the saline marsh areas. The prescribed burn acres make it easier for the cranes to find prey, and they feed on creatures that perish in the fires. While the current habitat conditions are improved, “More rainfall would be useful” according to Ranger True. Rainfall is essential to restore fresh water inflows to Aransas Refuge and create proper conditions for blue crabs and other aquatic animals used as food by whooping cranes.

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