Thursday, March 29, 2012

Whooper Watch Training Session Offered

Crane Trust Monitors Endangered Whooping Cranes

Wood River, Nebraska—The Crane Trust has re-activated its Whooper Watch™ program to enlist the public's help in monitoring whooping cranes as they migrate through Nebraska to their nesting grounds in Canada.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America, standing nearly 5 feet tall. With fewer than 300 whooping cranes in the last wild, migratory flock, it is also among the rarest, explains Dr. Mary Harner, Director of Science at the Crane Trust.

"The Whooper Watch™ program is a great opportunity for the public to get involved and help us spot, observe and learn more about these rare and magnificent birds during their migration," says Harner. "There are so few whooping cranes to be seen, the more eyes we have watching for them the better."

Unlike sandhill cranes, which typically spend 3-4 weeks staging in the Platte River Valley before continuing on to their nesting grounds in the north, the whooping crane uses the area as a brief stopover to feed and rest for a much shorter period of time, sometimes only for a day or two.

"The stopovers are short, but they're critical for the species' survival," says Harner. "Having the right habitat for them to feed and rest safely when they do stop is critical for them to breed successfully in Canada."

Whooping cranes spend the winter from November to March along the Gulf Coast of Texas at or near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Each spring from late March to late April, the whoopers migrate through central Nebraska to their breeding grounds in northern Canada at Wood Buffalo National Park—an extraordinary 2,500-mile journey for a bird that weighs 14-17pounds and has a wingspan of approximately 7 feet.

The Whooper Watch™ program utilizes a toll free Whooper Watch™ number for watchers to call when a whooping crane has been spotted. Watchers are asked to report key information when they call, which launches a team of scientists to confirm the sighting and later document specific features of the stopover location. The program is strictly for spotting and recording locations of whooping cranes.
All sightings and locations are confidential and are not released to the public, so as not to risk disturbing the birds. It is vital, Harner adds, that watchers NOT disturb or influence the birds in any way.

The whooping crane is protected under the Endangered Species Act. Should someone be fortunate enough to spot a whooping crane, Harner stresses these important cautions:

1) Never approach a whooping crane
2) Stay in the vehicle or established viewing area while observing the bird(s)
3) Observe from a distance of at least 2,000 feet (approximately 0.4 miles)
4) Avoid flushing the birds or causing them to alter their normal behavior

The public is invited to two important presentations on the whooping crane and other endangered migratory species immediately prior to the Whooper Watch™ training session on Saturday, March 31, at the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center:

1) At 1:00 p.m., U.S. Fish & Wildlife Biologist Martha Tacha will give a public report on the status of whooping cranes and other endangered migratory species along the Platte River.

2) At 2:15 p.m., Crane Trust Director of Science Dr. Mary Harner will report on the first-of-its-kind telemetry study of whooping crane breeding, wintering and migratory ecology. For the telemetry study, the Crane Trust is working in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

3) Immediately following Dr. Harner's presentation, Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center Program Manager Dan Glomski will conduct a training session for people interested in being part of the Whooper Watch™ program.

The Crane Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and maintenance of critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds along the Platte River. The Crane Trust recently acquired the Nebraska Nature & Visitor Center, which serves as an important gateway for the world to this extraordinary ecosystem.


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