Greetings all!

The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US 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, plus many volunteers and non-profit organizations along the way.

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 web site at http://www.ccbirding.com/

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November 20, 2002

An aerial census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas made  November 20, 2002 estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 155 adults + 15 young = 170 total.

Recap of cranes observed:

Refuge           51 +  6
Lamar             4 +  0
San Jose         32 +  2
Matagorda        45 +  6
Welder Flats     23 +  1
  Total  155 + 15 = 170

Remarks: Clear skies and light north winds provided perfect census conditions.  All of the crane area was covered  with 8.0 hours of flight time.

The cranes were aided by good migration conditions on the coast November 15, 16 and 19.  Nine cranes completed the migration since the previous flight on November 13th.  New arrivals included the Allyn's Bight pair (nil-hs, nesting area K-11), and an unknown family group found east of Cottonwood Bayou that was being chased by an adjacent territorial pair. If this family group remains east of Cottonwood Bayou, I believe it was a brand new nesting pair in 2002 since no duo was present last year in that location.  A duo was present on the Jay Bird Point territory on San Jose, but no band was present on the foot of the male.  Perhaps this was the territorial pair with the band having fallen off since last winter.

Not yet identified is an unbanded duo that stayed near Indianola, Texas last winter.  A duo was heard but not sighted at Indianola on November 18th by expert birders.  No cranes were present at Indianola despite a ground search on the 19th and an aerial search on the 20th.  Perhaps this duo flew on to the normal wintering grounds.

Status of migration:

Most of the flock has arrived at Aransas.  There could be as many as an estimated 10 cranes still in migration, depending on mortality.   The only bird known to still be in migration is a single near the northern border of Kansas.  This could be the injured single that was seen on the Platte River about 100 miles to the north on November 10th.

It is hoped that pairs still in migration are the banded Jay Bird Point, the unbanded Lobstick pair, and a pair that last winter stayed at Mustang Lake.  Peak counts at Aransas are normally obtained in December or even January as a few stragglers always seem to arrive later than most of the flock.  Thus, I hope the population will show a small increase from the 173 present in spring, 2002.

Habitat:   Tides had dropped noticeably from the extreme highs two weeks ago, recorded at 1.74 mean low tide on Nov. 18, an average medium-low tide for winter.  On today?s flight, some mudflats were exposed on San Jose Island in the Vinson Slough drainage that was about 65 % dry.  The cranes are feeding on wolfberry and crabs, with many sandhill cranes in the salt marsh also taking advantage of the abundant number of wolfberry fruits.

Unusual Locations:

The only unexpected location on the census flight was the presence of a 15th family group east of Cottonwood Bayou.  No cranes were seen this week near Pringle Lake on Matagorda Island.  Two cranes were sighted by Pilot Tom Taylor on November 16th just south of Mud Island in Redfish Bay, a few miles south of the regular crane area.  This sighting was considered "probable" since he did not drop below 800 feet and get low enough to be 100% positive.

Families: Fifteen chicks so far have arrived at Aransas out of the 18 that were known to be present in mid-August.  The 15 families present include;

Known pairs in Wood Buffalo
Pat's Bay (05/02, A-2)
Middle Pond (06/02, A-6)a
North Pipeline Flats (16/02)
North Cottonwood (20/02)
South M. I. (25/02,S-13)
Central Matagorda (34/02)

   a This family was not found in Wood Buffalo in August, and thus was the 18th chick in mid-August

Unknown pairs in Wood Buffalo

Mustang Slough South
Behind Lakeside
Lakeside
Grass Island
Spalding Point (or East Spalding Cove)
Inlet
East Cottonwood
S. Pringle
South Shoalwater

Pairs present without their chicks seen in August

Boat Ramp New (nest 31/02, banded crane YbY-y/g)
Spalding Lake (44/02, banded crane R-YbY)
N. Sundown Bay pair (nest 45/02, unbanded)
Middle Sundown Bay (29/02, unbanded)
Power Lake (10/02, unbanded)

- Tom Stehn

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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX
email: patty@ccbirding.com
web:  http://www.ccbirding.com/

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