Western Flock News

April 17, 2009
Back to Update
As you read reports from Tom Stehn and Brian Johns this week, look for:
  1. How will Tom know for sure how many cranes are still in Texas?
  2. What does Tom think might have caused a slightly early migration?
  3. Breeding birds are usually first to arrive, but which whooper does Brian think the first arrival might be?
  4. How does Brian describe conditions on the Canada nesting grounds?
Meet Tom Stehn
Whooping Crane Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Dear Journey North,
My census flight was cancelled by weather yesterday and rescheduled for April 21. But here's some news: We don't have a lot of whooping cranes here. After two days of unfavorable winds, the winds turned around to the east with clear skies. At 11:40 AM this morning, visitors reported and staff confirmed 2 whooping cranes in flight seen from the refuge Visitor Center, gaining height and heading NW. Only 2 were seen on the Aransas boat tour April 15. Our staff also saw 2 on Matagorda Island. We had ideal conditions (see wind map) for migration April 15-16. I expect some of the cranes still at Aransas left then, with mainly just non-breeding subadults remaining behind after this week. I'm totally guessing, but I'd say maybe between 20 and 40 are still here at most. I really have to fly over the refuge to get a total, and I hope that will happen April 21.

Last week I said the migration seems on the early side this year. If actually so, I wonder if that is related to the bad food winter at Aransas. What do YOU think?

Tom Stehn
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Austwell, Texas

Meet Brian Johns
biologist, Canadian Wildlife Service

Dear Journey North,
The whoopers are back in Canada!
On Saturday April 11 a single whooping crane was observed flying in a flock of sandhill cranes in southern Saskatchewan. This crane may have been the juvenile that was seen earlier on Nebraska's Platte River with sandhill cranes. (The sandhills migrate from their wintering grounds earlier than the whooping cranes and spend some time on the Platte River in Nebraska before continuing migration to their breeding grounds in Northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia.) Single whooping cranes are usually 1-year-olds that are now on their own until they meet up with other whoopers.

April 14 was a good day for migrating north — sunny and warm with winds from the south. Some of the breeding birds should be here any day now. There were no new sightings as of noon on April 15, but I expect sightings to start coming in by the time you read this report.

Most of the snow has melted from central Saskatchewan and a lot of small wetlands are available for the cranes to stop in overnight. The daytime temperatures on the breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park will be around 8C this week, and the snow will soon be gone. We are ready for the whooping cranes!

Brian Johns
Canadian Wildlife Service
Saskatoon, SK
Wood Buffalo National Park