Project Updates – 2009


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Whooping Crane Update – October 2009

October 2009 Population Status

As of mid-October 2009 we have at least 75 wild birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 45 males and 30 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. At least 65 whooping cranes are present in 10 Wisconsin counties, with at least two birds in Minnesota, one in Indiana, one in Michigan, and 6 others whose current locations are unknown. Two additional birds have not been detected since December 2008.

 

Map of Wisonsin and surrounding states with locations of whooping cranes identified.

2009 Ultralight Cohort

This year 20 young whooping cranes have been prepared for the fall migration, and the targeted ultralight departure date was October 10. Unsettled weather conditions since early October have meant that few days have been suitable for flying, delaying the migration. As of October 21, progress has been meager, with just over half of the birds having made the short flight to the first stopover site. Hopefully, we will soon see some days more conducive to flying, and make greater progress on the 1200+ mile journey. For daily updates on the progress of the ultralight cohort, see the Operation Migration web site at http://www.operationmigration.org/Field_Journal.html, or, to view the live video broadcasts via OM’s CraneCam and TrikeCam go to http://www.operationmigration.org/crane-cam.html

2009 DAR Cohort

Currently 9 DAR birds are being raised for release this fall. Some time within the next few weeks, they will be released in groups of two to three near suitable older cranes in or near the Necedah NWR rearing site. These DAR birds will be carefully monitored during the fall migration to track their locations and ensure their continued progress towards their wintering areas.

 


Whooping Crane Update – September 2009

September 2009 Population Status

As of mid-September 2009 there are approximately 78 birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 47 males and 31 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. Whooping cranes are present in at least 9 Wisconsin counties, and at least one bird is known to be in Michigan, one in Indiana, with the location of three others unknown.

2009 Cohort

We are currently preparing 30 chicks for the fall 2009 migration: 21 cranes for the ultralight project and 9 for the DAR project. This year’s targeted departure date for the ultralight birds is October 18, with plans to again split the flock between the two wintering sites at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and Chassahowitzka NWR. The DAR birds will continue their training until late fall, when they will be released in groups of two to three birds near older cranes in or near the Necedah NWR rearing site.

 

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Whooping Crane Update – August 2009

August 2009 Population Status

As of mid-August 2009 there are approximately 78 birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 47 males and 31 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. Whooping cranes are present in at least 11 Wisconsin counties, and at least 2 birds are known to be in Michigan, with the location of two others unknown.

All the birds from the 2008 cohort are currently at Wisconsin locations away from the Necedah NWR where they were raised, with all three of the 2008 DAR birds at a site in Columbia County, and another group of nine 1-year old cranes being found together in Dodge County.

Nesting

As noted in previous updates, 12 territorial pairs of Wisconsin whooping cranes built nests and laid eggs in 2009, with 11 nests located on the Necedah NWR, and one nest on private land off the Refuge. All 12 pairs abandoned their nests before the eggs hatched, and 5 of these pairs re-nested, with two pairs producing single chicks. Both of these chicks were eventually lost to predation prior to fledging.

Several field studies were conducted this year in an attempt to gain insight into the causes of nest failures observed over the past several years. Results of these studies are expected to be available in September. We are also reviewing the possible use of alternate release sites, such as Crex Meadows State Wildlife Area (SWA), Mead SWA, and Horicon NWR/SWA (see map below).

 

Map of Wisconsin and Michigan with whooping crane locations marked.

Whooping Crane Update – May 2009

May 2009 Population Status

As of mid-May 2009 there are approximately 79 birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 48 males and 31 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. Whooping cranes are present in at least 12 Wisconsin counties, and many of these are one and two year old birds engaged in their typical spring wandering. One bird traveled as far west as North Dakota, and then moved back eastward into Minnesota. Interestingly, this bird was most recently documented very close to another two wandering whooping cranes in southeastern Minnesota. Besides Minnesota, whooping cranes have also recently been sighted in Michigan and Illinois.

We have had an increased number of reports received via the Partnership Web Form, as more people use the site to report whooping cranes in their area. One group of 5 one-year-old whooping cranes has been reported by numerous members of the public, as they have wandered from Dane to Juneau Counties and most recently to Dodge County, Wisconsin.

Nesting

All of the 12 territorial pairs of Wisconsin whooping cranes built nests and laid eggs, with 11 nests located on the Necedah NWR, and one nest on private land off the Refuge. Between April 18 and May 3, all incubating pairs abandoned their nests.

This nest abandonment pattern is similar to what has been observed in the past few years. WCEP is investigating the cause of the nest abandonments through analysis of data collected throughout the nesting period on nesting crane behavior, temperature, black fly abundance and distribution, and food availability. At least two pairs have initiated nest building, so we’re still hopeful to have some reproduction this year. In 2006, a successful re-nesting pair initiated incubation on May 23rd and hatched two chicks on June 22nd.

 

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Whooping Crane Update – April 2009

April 2009 Population Status

As of mid-April 2009 there are approximately 82 birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 48 males and 34 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. Most of the birds have completed the northward migration, including 12 potential breeding pairs. All of the breeding pairs have established territories, most of which are located on Necedah NWR. As of April 15, seven pairs are incubating eggs on nests at the Necedah NWR in Juneau County, and one pair is on a nest in Wood County, Wisconsin.

 

Map that shows whooping crane locations as of mid-April 2009.

Spring Migration

The first apparent spring migration departures occurred in late February, and the first bird to arrive in Wisconsin was confirmed on March 8. As of April 15, at least 55 birds were back in Wisconsin, and no more than 4 were thought to remain in Florida. Some additional movements are expected in the weeks ahead, and we ask you to quickly pass on any sightings you receive.

Migration of 2008 Ultralight Cohort

The14 young cranes led to Florida behind ultralight aircraft all survived the winter, split between St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Chassahowitzka NWR. All of these birds came through the winter in good condition, thanks to the diligent care of the winter management team. All have now departed for Wisconsin, and their migration paths are shown in Map 2 (below).

The first of these birds to leave Florida were 4 of the 7 Chassahowitzka NWR birds which left the pen on March 24. Based upon data from a satellite transmitter on one of these birds, this group made it to Kentucky by the evening of March 25th, and to Illinois by March 29. One of the birds became separated from the group somewhere between Alabama and Illinois, and its current whereabouts remains unknown. The other 3 birds have gradually moved northward, and as of April 14 are in far northern Illinois in McHenry County.

The 7 birds wintering at the St. Marks NWR pen departed on March 30. According to satellite data from the transmitter on one of the birds, they were in Alabama on the 31st, and in Kentucky by April 2. As of April 14, five of these birds were in La Salle County, Illinois, about 80 miles southwest of Chicago. A sixth bird in Illinois suffered severe multiple leg fractures, and despite the best efforts of veterinarians at the University of Illinois, died of complications following surgery. The 7th bird became separated from the group, and was last reported by herself in Iowa.

The remaining 3 birds at Chassahowitzka departed on Saturday April 4, and as of April 15 were near Albany, Georgia.

2008 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Cohort

Of the surviving birds released using the DAR technique this year, all continued to associate with older whooping cranes throughout the winter. The four birds that spent much of the winter in Tennessee successfully migrated back to Wisconsin, arriving at Necedah by March 22. This group of birds subsequently moved to Columbia County, Wisconsin, where they remained through at least April 4. On April 3, one of these birds was found dead adjacent to an area road, possibly the victim of collision with a utility line. The remaining DAR bird that spent the winter in Florida has not been seen alive since January 26, and mortality is suspected.

Aransas-Wood Buffalo Wild Flock

The majority of whooping cranes in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock have already departed for their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories and Alberta, Canada. Over the course of the winter, the flock declined from a peak count of 270, including 38 juveniles, to the most recent estimate of 247. Mortalities included 7 adults and 16 chicks, or 8.5{3f72e8ded4d47acce7842a60e006ced52f5015bd23a49866b41b0e3eb0f030be} of the peak flock number. This is the highest level of winter mortality ever recorded for this population, and is largely the result of the extreme drought conditions that currently grip southern Texas. This does not bode well for reproduction in 2009, as food abundance on the wintering grounds has been shown to be highly correlated with reproductive success of the following nesting season.

 

Map of 2009 spring migration for whooping cranes tracked by satellite.


Whooping Crane Update – March 2009

Spring Migration!

Many whooping cranes have already begun spring migration, with the first bird confirmed in Wisconsin on March 8. In past years, we have had a large proportion of the population back in Wisconsin by the end of March. All birds are expected to begin migration over the next few weeks, and we ask that you quickly pass on any sightings you receive.

March 2009 Population Status

As of mid-March 2009 there are 85 birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 50 males and 35 females. Two other birds not included in the above total are missing and probably dead, but this has not yet been confirmed. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the map below. Approximately 1/3 of the population is currently migrating north, including at least 5 of the 12 potential breeding pairs.

2008 Ultralight Cohort

The14 young cranes led to Florida behind ultralight aircraft have been doing well in their winter quarters, with 7 birds at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and 7 at Chassahowitzka NWR. The birds will continue to be monitored throughout the winter, until they depart on their own for the migration back to Wisconsin. At that time, the Tracking Team will also leave Florida and closely monitor the young cranes on their first northward migration. Based upon our experience from previous years, we expect departure to occur some time in late March or early April.

2008 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Cohort

Of the surviving birds released using the DAR technique this year, all continue to associate with older whooping cranes. The latest information indicates four birds located in Tennessee, and one bird in Florida.

 

Map of whooping crane locations in mid-March.


Whooping Crane Update – February 2009

February 2009 Population Status

As of Mid-February 2009 there are 87 wild birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, consisting of 52 males and 35 females. The most recent known locations of all birds are shown in the first map below, with the exception of 10 at unknown locations and three birds that are suspected dead. There are currently 12 mated pairs that could potentially breed this year. The winter locations of these pairs are shown in the second map below, in Tennessee (4), Alabama (2), South Carolina (2), and Florida (3), with one pair’s winter location unknown.

2008 Ultralight Cohort

Subsequent to our previous update, the 14 cranes led to Florida behind ultralight aircraft completed their first migration. The 7 birds destined for the new wintering site at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) arrived on January 17, and the remainder of the young whooping cranes arrived at their wintering destination at Chassahowitzka NWR on January 23. Soon after their arrival, each of the two groups of cranes received health checks and permanent bands and transmitters. Each group of young cranes is doing well, exploring the habitats in the vicinity of their open pens. All birds will be monitored throughout the winter, until they depart on their own for the migration back to Wisconsin.

 

Map of whooping crane locations in February

2008 Direct Autumn Release (DAR) Cohort

Of the surviving birds released using the DAR technique this year, all continue to associate with older whooping cranes. The latest information indicates four birds located in Tennessee, and one bird in Florida. Another bird last detected with other whooping cranes in Florida has been missing since January 30, and mortality is suspected.

 

Map of the location of whooping crane potential breeding pairs.


January 22, 2009 – Arrival at Hapata

On January 22, 2009, the 2008 cohort of young whooping cranes destined for Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) arrived at their final migration stopover location at the Halpata Tastanaki Preserve.  Since 2006, the Whooping crane eastern partnership (WCEP) has utilized the Halpata site as an interim stopover location en route to Chassahowitzka.  The Halpata site was established to solve problems we had previously encountered due to older cranes visiting the pen at Chassahowitzka and causing trouble with the younger birds.

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Aerial view of the pen at Hapata Nature Preserve.

Chassahowitzka NWR has been used as the release site for WCEP whooping cranes since the beginning of the project in 2001. Chassahowitzka was selected because the pen site is not accessible by the public, naive juveniles can be effectively protected from predators, physical facilities are ideal, and movements of juveniles can be controlled because habitat conditions limit dispersal.  Because of tidal fluctuations, salinity, unstable or rocky bottom substrates, and general habitat dominance by needlerush, this area actually offers poor habitat for wintering whooping cranes.  Many returning older Whooping cranes routinely visit the pen site each year, but do not remain in the area and instead winter in other habitats located inland.  This pattern has been advantageous to the reintroduction by allowing this release site to be used year after year.

In the past, the new class of ultralight led young-of-year chicks sometimes arrived at Chassahowitzka while the adult Whooping cranes were still passing through during their fall migration. The activity and food at the pen site often encouraged the older cranes to stay, and they were at times overly aggressive towards the younger birds and interfered with their access to the food provided for their use. To address this problem, WCEP found a second site and constructed a new pen near Dunnellon 26 miles to the northeast of the Chassahowitzka pen site. This property is owned by the South West Florida Water Management District and known as Halpata Tastanaki Preserve. This site was established to hold the chicks until the older birds have left the Chassahowitzka pen or possibly as a new site where the birds would spend the winter if older birds remained at Chassahowitzka.

Halpata is now used annually as a holding site until older Whooping cranes have completed their fall migration and have settled on their winter territories; and if the older birds have completed migration prior to the arrival of the ultralight led chicks, Halpata is used as a stop-over on the way to Chassahowitzka.  The Dunnellon Airport which is just north of Halpata, has hosted an “Arrival Event” celebrating the completion of the ultralight migration and providing a great venue to observe the ultralights leading the whooping cranes on one of their last legs of their first migration into Florida.

It is estimated that the pen construction cost was $25,000, of which 80{3f72e8ded4d47acce7842a60e006ced52f5015bd23a49866b41b0e3eb0f030be} was through in-kind donations of materials and volunteer time (800 hours) from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, USFWS, Jacksonville Zoological Gardens and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

 


Whooping Crane Update – January 2009

January 2009 Population Status

As of mid- January 2009 we have 73 wild birds in the Eastern Migratory Whooping Crane population, and many have settled into their wintering locations. The most recent information indicates that as of January 14, there are 4 birds in Georgia, 7 in Alabama, 4 in South Carolina, 15-19 in Tennessee, and at least 31 birds in Florida (see map below). The rest of the birds in the population were at unknown locations or of undetermined status.

2008 Ultralight Cohort

Since departing on October 17, southward progress of the 14 cranes for the ultralight project has been slow. Following a break in the migration for the Holidays between December 18 and 28, the cranes continued their southward progress and arrived January 14 at a stopover in Jefferson County, Florida, where they were divided into two carefully selected groups. On the next flight day, one group of birds will be led to their newly constructed pen at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), with the remainder of the young whooping cranes proceeding onward to their ultimate destination at Chassahowitzka NWR. Each of the two groups of young cranes will be carefully monitored throughout the winter, until they depart on their own for the migration back to Wisconsin. To see the entries posted throughout the migration of the ultralight cohort, see the Operation Migration web site at http://www.operationmigration.org/Field_Journal.html.

2008 DAR Cohort

Of the six surviving birds released using the DAR technique this year, all are continuing to associate with older whooping cranes. As of January 14, four birds were located in Tennessee, and two birds are now in Florida.

Aransas-Wood Buffalo Wild Flock

The Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock is the only natural wild population of whooping cranes, and all whooping cranes are the descendants of 15 birds surviving in this population in 1941. Cranes in this population nest in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories and Alberta, Canada, and winter in and near Aransas NWR on the Texas gulf coast. The most recent winter census conducted January 8, 2009 estimated a peak flock size of 270 whooping cranes, including 38 juveniles. The 270 total is a record total, 4 higher than last winter. However, two whooping cranes have died at Aransas since the fall migration, leaving the estimated flock size currently at 268.

Florida Non-Migratory Flock

In 1993, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began releasing whooping cranes in central Florida in an effort to establish a non-migratory flock of whooping cranes. The establishment of additional populations of whooping cranes is identified as a primary recovery action in the International Whooping Crane Recovery Plan. Between 1993 and 2004, 289 captive-raised whooping cranes were released in central Florida, and in 2002, the first wild-hatched chick was produced. Between 1999 and 2008, a total of 68 nesting attempts resulted in 31 chicks hatched, and 9 fledged. Throughout the reintroduction project, this population has been plagued by high levels of mortality and low reproduction, and as of late summer 2008 there were 30 birds surviving in the population. In September 2008 the Recovery Team recommended that no further releases of whooping cranes be made into the Florida non-migratory population.

In a November news release, the Florida FWC indicated that the decision was based on “a variety of reasons, including problems with survival and reproduction, both of which have been complicated by drought. Additional considerations included shorter-than-expected life spans, scarcity of birds for release, project costs and the loss of habitat from development. The team felt that project resources and birds produced in captivity could be better used for other whooping crane releases as well as to maintain the captive flock”.

 

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