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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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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An aerial census on November 26, 2002 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 160 adults + 16 young = 176 total.
Recap of cranes observed:
change from last week
Refuge 52 + 6 + 1
Lamar 4 + 0 0
San Jose 36 + 2 + 4
Matagorda 52 + 7 + 8
Welder Flats 16 + 1 - 7
Total 160 + 16 = 176 + 6
Remarks: Overcast skies, occasional light drizzle, and strong north winds made for very difficult census conditions, especially over Welder Flats and San Jose Island. All of the crane area was covered except for Indianola with 7.5 hours of flight time. No cranes had been reported this past week at Indianola where a pair wintered in 2001-02, so it is doubtful that a search of that area would have added to the total crane count.
An estimated six cranes completed the migration since the previous flight on November 20th. New arrivals included a 16th family group that could be the Shell Reef New pair. Present are 65 adult pairs that brought 16 chicks, along with 30 subadults. The estimated 65 pairs at Aransas is higher than the known number of breeding pairs in Canada in 2002 (50 pairs that nested plus 5 that failed to nest). Thus, the number of pairs at Aransas is probably an overestimate.
One bird with a drooping left wing was observed in a trio near the airstrip on Matagorda Island.
Status of migration: Most of the flock has arrived at Aransas. The only bird believed to still be in migration is a single that was 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. I do not have an updated report to know if that bird is still present in Kansas, although it was there last week.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Anyone in the field with any information on this bird, please contact Tom immediately!)
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. The current population of 176 at Aransas matches the peak population count during the 2001-02 winter. Thus, the population has at least remained the same size in the past year, with an increase over the 173 present in spring, 2002.
It is hoped that pairs still in migration are the banded Jay Bird Point pair, and a pair that last winter stayed at Mustang Lake. A pair has been seen off and on at Mustang Lake this winter, so perhaps the pair is present but is moving back and forth to Matagorda Island. The unbanded Lobstick pair has not arrived at Aransas, nor was it seen this fall at its traditional stopover in Saskatchewan. It is probable that at least one member of this pair died since the summer. The Lobstick male was 24 years old.
Habitat: Tides had increased noticeably (+ 1.04 feet) from last week, measured at 2.78 mlt on November 26. Only the marshes on San Jose still showed extensive mudflats. 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. Four cranes were located in open bay habitat on today's flight.
Unusual Locations: The Big Tree pair had flown west across Highway 35 to the marshes south of Holiday Beach where they had been seen several times
previously this winter.
Families: The most unexpected location on the census flight was the presence of a 16th family group near Shell Reef Bayou on Matagorda Island. We flew directly between all 6 family groups on the south end of Matagorda Island to ensure there was no duplication. The 15th family group was still present east of Cottonwood Bayou. No cranes were seen this week near Pringle Lake on Matagorda Island. Sixteen chicks have arrived at Aransas out of the 18 that were known to be present in mid-August. The 16 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
Spalding Point (or East Spalding Cove)
Shell Reef New
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