Whooping cranes begin arriving at Aransas Wildlife Refuge

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Nov. 9, 2013 at 5:09 a.m.
Updated Nov. 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m.

The whoopers are back.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge saw its first whooping crane Oct. 16.

Now, as the temperature cools, the migration is well underway, according to a news release from Wade Harrell, U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery coordinator.

At least 25 whooping cranes were counted along the marshes of Blackjack Peninsula, according to the release.

The whooping cranes are an endangered species. They winter and breed at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge before flying back to Canada for the summer.

Harrell, who works at the refuge, was out of town, but Nancy C. Brown, public outreach specialist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Southwest region, said the whooping cranes were a bit delayed.

"I think what's most significant is that they are coming in," Brown said.

While not a biologist, Brown said habitat conditions could be a reason why the cranes were delayed.

Last year, 279 whooping cranes were estimated to be at the refuge; 22 of those were estimated to be off-site.

Brown said the counts have been getting better each year, with a 4 percent increase each year for the past three years.

In the news release, Harrell said as more cold fronts move through their summer nesting regions, more whoopers will arrive in South Texas.

"No reports have been received of whooping cranes from the observation tower at the refuge yet, but it shouldn't be long before visitors can expect to see whooping cranes there," he wrote.

Aside from the annual winter crane population count, which begins in December, Harrell wrote about two projects also underway.

One is 40 remote cameras set up at freshwater ponds and dugouts on the Blackjack Peninsula and Matagorda Island to document whooping crane trends. The other is a winter evaluation of whooping crane habitats.

Both projects are being conducted by two refuge interns, according to the news release.

Also, the refuge's precipitation levels from July to October are near normal, with 14.33 inches of rain received so far.

And while the moisture has not offset the ongoing drought, according to the release, future rains will help fill and maintain the freshwater supply for the whooping cranes.



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