Greetings all,

Hope your holidays were all safe and happy. This report fell to the bottom of the Christmas stocking and nearly got packed away for next year!

The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and National Whooping Crane Coordinator.

Where applicable, CWS stands for Canadian Wildlife Service; USFWS is US Fish and Wildlife Service. Crane monitoring involves cooperative efforts and support by both countries.

Anyone wanting to contact Tom about the report or the whooping crane projects can reach him via email at: tom_stehn@fws.gov. Other information, including archived copies of these reports, can be found at the Texas Whooping Crane home pages at http://www.electrotex.com/aoc/. (Please link to the Texas Whooping Crane pages through the AOC main home page, as the URLs for the special site pages may change over time as updates and reviews occur.)

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An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made
December 13- 14, 1999 revealed the presence of between 183 and 188
whooping cranes.  The flight was made in USFWS aircraft with Fred
Roetker pilot/biologist, Jennifer Sanchez and Tom Stehn as
observers.

     Recap of cranes observed: (181)

       Refuge   Lamar   San Jose   Matagorda  Welder  Other      Total
        84+9     1+0     21+1        32+4      26+3          164+17=181


     Remarks:   Census conditions over the two days were excellent.  My
     sincere appreciation goes to Migratory Bird pilot Fred Roetker who
     brought an amphibious airplane from Louisiana to do the census.

     A record number of cranes is estimated present, somewhere between
     183 and 188 whoopers.  The 93 cranes located on the refuge is a
     record high, and the total population equals or exceeds last
     winter's record high of 183.

     The cranes are flying extensively to use prescribed burns and
     upland freshwater sources making it difficult to get an exact count
     of the population.  When doing the census over saltmarsh
     territories, cranes may be 1-2 miles inland at freshwater dugouts.
     When the dugouts are checked, the cranes may have returned to the
     marsh.  On this flight, 15 cranes were at freshwater, and 25 cranes
     were on prescribed burns.  Adding to the chaos were two cranes on a
     refuge prescribed burn that were trying to chase 14 other cranes
     off of the burn.

     Two additional family groups have arrived since the last flight on
     December 4th, with a total of 17 chicks now present.  Pair 26/99
     has arrived without a chick.  This is the third instance of
     mortality of a juvenile since August surveys were done in Wood
     Buffalo National Park.  The identities of the two newest family
     groups are unknown since they were on upland areas or associated
     with prescribed burns and not near any saltmarsh territories.

     Banded birds identified on today's flight for the first time this
     winter were RwR-YbY, R-GwG, YbY-RwR, W-YbY, Y-R (1986), R-Y, and
     YbY-Y.  RwR-YbY is in a trio with two unbanded cranes in the same
     territory and group size as last winter.  This is unusual since
     this adult female was at nest 33/99 and should not tolerate a third
     crane in her winter territory.  Crane Y-R (1986) has lost its color
     bands and now appears as nil-high silver.

     Blue crab numbers have declined greatly in November and the first
     half of December and are currently at very low levels.  This is
     indicated by the 40 whooping cranes found on the census in open bay
     habitat, an indication of a shift away from feeding on crabs.  The
     wolfberry crop is past its peak, but some berries are still present
     in the marsh.  Food resources are expected to be marginal this
     winter; thus the emphasis by the refuge to conduct a full
     complement of prescribed burns to make the abundant acorn crop
     available to the cranes.  Burn Unit 37 was burned December 13th and
     had 6 whooping cranes on the burn the following day.

     Unusual were the 11 cranes near Little Devil Bayou in St. Charles
     Bay.  They are presumably finding clams at this location, and also
     may be attracted by the nearby burns and freshwater sources in the
     "J" canal.

     I expect that practically all of the whooping cranes have completed
     the migration to the wintering grounds.  My next census flight is
     scheduled for January 4.

        - Tom Stehn

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Good birding!
Patty Beasley
Corpus Christi, Texas