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: email@example.com. 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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TO: Division of Endangered Species, USFWS, Albuquerque, NM
FROM: Whooping Crane Coordinator, Aransas NWR, Austwell, Texas
SUBJECT: Whooping Crane Census at Aransas: January 04, 2000
An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made
January 04, 2000 revealed the presence of between 185 and 191
whooping cranes. The flight was made in charter aircraft with
pilot Hugh McDonald and Tom Stehn as observer.
Recap of cranes observed: (183)
Refuge Lamar San Jose Matagorda Welder Other Total
92+10 4+1 19+1 28+1 25+2 168+15=183
Remarks: This census was done with pilot Hugh McDonald of
Victoria Aviation Services in a Piper Aero low-wing aircraft. Mr.
McDonald was certified for low level flights by the Office of
Aircraft Safety on January 3rd and will be doing the crane flights
for the rest of the winter.
Visibility was excellent, although high winds made flight
conditions choppy. An electrical problem with the aircraft limited
flight duration to 4 1/2 hours.
A record number of cranes is estimated in the flock, somewhere
between 185 and 191. Only 15 family groups were located on today's
flight, indicating at least 6 cranes may have been overlooked. In
addition to the 183 whoopers located, 1 whooper is in Kansas and
one is near Lubbock, Texas, bringing the total to a record 185.
The population exceeds last winter's record high of 183.
The 102 cranes located on the refuge was a record high. The lack
of blue crabs in the marsh and the extensive prescribed burning
program on the refuge has resulted in cranes from other wintering
areas leaving their territories and utilizing the refuge, with
several families missing from their saltmarsh territories. The
radio family from south Matagorda Island was located on the
refuge's Burn Unit 37 south of the Boat Ramp Road.
The cranes are flying extensively to use prescribed burns and
upland freshwater sources. On today's flight, 14 whoopers were at
freshwater, and 5 cranes were on prescribed burns.
An adult with a single chick was located on San Jose Island. It is
not known if this is a newly arrived one-adult family that had been
sighted during the fall migration, or an indication of mortality on
the wintering grounds. The adult and chick were not in a known
Banded birds identified on today's flight for the first time this
winter were G-r/w (1981), appearing as nil-low silver. RwR-YbY is
still 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
Blue crab numbers declined in December and are currently at very
low levels, with no crabs found on a walking count on December 30.
A shift away from feeding on crabs is indicated by the 44 whooping
cranes found on the census in open bay habitat. An additional 19
cranes were found in open waters of Mustang Slough, habitat very
similar to open bay. The wolfberry crop is just about over, with
only two berries sighted on a crab count December 30. 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.
The next census flight is scheduled for January 21.
- Tom Stehn
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Corpus Christi, Texas