December 03, 1998

TO: Division of Endangered Species, USFWS, Albuquerque, NM

FROM: Whooping Crane Coordinator, Aransas NWR, Austwell, Texas

SUBJECT:  Whooping Crane Census at Aransas

An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made
12/03/98 revealed the presence of 156 adults and 16 young = 172
whooping cranes.  The flight was made in charter aircraft with Tom
Stehn as observer and Tom Taylor, pilot.

Recap of cranes observed: (170*)

  Refuge   Lamar   San Jose   Matagorda  Welder  Other      Total
   57+4     4+1      34+2       45+5**     14+4          154+16=170*

* The GwG-YbY pair with a territory on San Jose was overlooked,
raising population estimated present to 172.

** Ties the record for most whoopers ever documented on Matagorda
Island.
 

Remarks:  An estimated 32 cranes have arrived since the last flight on
November 25, including four new family groups (nests 12, 21, 23, and
42).  Most cranes arrived with a Pacific cold front that barely made
it to the coast on December 1 before dissipating.  The Mustang Lake
family group arrived the afternoon of 01 December.

About 18 cranes are still believed to be in migration, aided by the
unseasonably warm weather in the central U.S.  Although most
territorial pairs are present at Aransas, two additional family groups
are hoped for (43/98 and 47/98), as well as about a dozen subadults.
Two more pairs (8/98 and 15/98) have arrived without the fledged chick
they had in mid-August.

The refuge has received two reports (on November 4 and November 25) of
a whooping crane with an injured leg in Dunham Bay at the south end of
Aransas.  We have been unable to locate this bird, and all 61 whoopers
seen on the refuge during today's flight were either observed walking
or standing on both legs.  Another bird with an injured leg has been
at Quivira NWR in Kansas since November 10.  Arrangements are being
made to have Kent Clegg try to nightlight capture this bird next week.
The arrival of banded birds documented on today's flight proves that
the Quivira bird is o/w- BWsp (1986 female) as reported.  The mate and
chick of this injured female are at Aransas, and possible re-pairing
behavior was observed 01 December.

A refuge prescribed burn of Unit 42E was carried out November 30.
Cranes have responded to the burn, with 8 whoopers documented present
on December 2 and nine observed on the burn during today's flight.
Approximately 70 % of the unit burned, with the remainder in standing
water.   The refuge is notably wet with water in all grass swales
throughout the oak brush habitat.  Bay and marsh salinities are
between 3 and 12 ppt.  Additional burns were carried out on Matagorda
Island.

Recent crab surveys and casual observations by others indicate the
blue crab population is abundant this winter.  USGS-BRD researcher
Mike Baldwin counted 1,010 crabs along his total 3,000 meter
transects.  This is about four times higher than his peak count last
winter.  Bay tides have finally dropped considerably, so that the
crabs are more concentrated in the marshes.