Roving Reporter | "Canadians Locate 68 Whooping Crane Nests During Survey" by Friends of the Wild Whoopers

A preliminary count of 68 nests were located during the 2015 Whooping Crane nesting survey on Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada according to Sharon Irwin, Resource Management Officer. The nest survey was accomplished from May 25 to May 29. Survey data is then carefully analyzed to assure accuracy. “We do not count chicks as an official part of this survey, but after reviewing photographs taken during the survey, we were able to count six chicks” explained Irwin.

Adult Whooping crane on nest with chick, Wood Buffalo National Park. photo by Klaus Nigge

“The nesting habitat conditions are dry. The water levels in the ponds were lower than normal for this time of year. In other dry years, we have seen that this can force the cranes to travel further to forage for food and can make it easier for predators to access the nesting area” according to Irwin.

Young fledgling Whooping Cranes will be counted during August to determine the number that hatched and survived.

“An interesting development this year was a new nest at the Salt Plains area. The Salt Plains are in the Wood Buffalo Park but we have never had a nest in this area before”, reported Tim Gauthier, Communications Officer. The Salt Plains is not a Zone 1 Special Preservation Area like the core Whooping Crane nesting area. In the core area aircraft must fly over at a minimum of 2,000 feet above ground level and it is closed to people from April 15 to October 31. Although the pair could be seen at the Salt Plains, access is limited by a creek and wet, muddy ground that discourages people from going too close to the nest site.

Parks Canada is a world leader in conservation and as the whooping cranes are under their stewardship, they play a central role in the nesting survey and in the fledgling survey that takes place later in the summer according to Friends of the Wild Whooper. Gauthier reported that “Sharon Irwin, Wood Buffalo National Park Resource Conservation Officer took part in the whole survey, as did John Conkin, of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Other Parks Canada staff also took part at various times during the survey, as well as a photographer who joined us for half a day. Phoenix Helicopters provided flights for the entire survey.”

Locating the Whooping Crane nest is a tried and proven technique used by Parks Canada for many years. “We fly a grid survey over last year’s nest locations. If we do not find a nest on a grid search we then fly to the old nest site and fly ever widening circles around site. We also have recent locations for satellite banded birds to check” explained Irwin.

“Now, we must wait and hope that the young Whooper chicks will survive in large numbers and add to the last remaining original Whooping Crane population on earth” explains Pam Bates, Vice-President, Friends of the Wild Whoopers.

FOTWW’s mission is to help preserve and protect the Aransas/Wood Buffalo population of wild whooping cranes and their habitat. Friends of the Wild Whoopers is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.

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