Whoopers continue to arrive at refuge

Nov. 11, 2010 at 5:11 a.m.

Last week's cold snap sent more whooping cranes winging south, with 70 arriving at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, according to ground surveys, said Tom Stehn, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services whooping crane coordinator.

"All of those strong north winds we got, the birds just ride down on those, and they've really started coming in," wildlife refuge coordinator Vicki Muller said.

The whooping crane flock that winters at the refuge is the last naturally migrating flock in existence.

The flock summers in Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. They have been migrating between these two places since the Ice Ages.

Now, as winter closes in, the flock is leaving Canada to return to Texas.

The flock in Aransas and Refugio counties lost some birds during a drought in 2007, Muller said, but the birds are well on their way to recovery.

The flock has grown from 265 birds last year to about 290 birds this year, a record number for the flock, Muller said.

Habitat conditions in the refuge continue to be favorable for the cranes, Muller said. She said the whooping crane habitat is in a good position to support the larger flock.

"The habitats look excellent this year. The bay is in excellent condition, there's plenty of blue crab in the bay for them to eat. Conditions are excellent, and we're looking forward to a good year for the whooping crane," Muller said.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is busiest during the whooping crane season, and as the cranes continue to come back, Muller said even in advance of the cranes' return, the refuge has seen an increase in visitors.

Things will be busy at the refuge until the cranes leave in March, Muller said.

An aerial survey has not been completed yet, Stehn said. Once they do the survey, they'll have a firmer grasp on the number of birds that have arrived in the park.

Meanwhile, the birds continue to alight. Of the 10 birds fitted with radio transmitters that are used to track, six have returned to the refuge so far.

As the temperatures continue to drop and winter creeps closer, Muller said the rest of the flock should arrive soon.



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