March 6, 2003

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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An aerial census on March 06, 2003 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at
169 adults + 15 young = 184 total. This is one less than the  peak population for the 2002-03 winter.  One chick was not located and is believed dead.

Recap of cranes observed: (183)

                 adults + young
Refuge              46 +  5
Lamar                6 +  0
San Jose            41 +  2
Matagorda           55 +  7
Welder Flats        20 +  1
            Total  168 + 15 = 183

Remarks and Conclusions: High overcast skies throughout the day provided fair census conditions.  Smoke from a prescribed fire on private lands north of the refuge hindered visibility on a portion of the refuge crane area.  All areas were covered in 7.9 hours of flight time.  Transects were spaced close together because of the reduced light.

A total of 183 cranes was located.  This was 2 less than the estimate of 185 for the peak population of the 2002-03 winter.  One of the missing cranes was the S. Mustang Slough juvenile.  Its unbanded parents were present on their territory, so the juvenile was declared missing and listed
as the first mortality documented this winter.  The carcass was not located and cause of death is unknown.  The other missing crane was a subadult and was presumably overlooked.  Given the lack of sunshine, it was surprising that only 1 crane was believed overlooked.  The actual number of cranes
observed on the flight was 185.  However, a pair of cranes south of Shell Reef Bayou was initially not present but found later, and was considered to
be the Shell Reef Old pair that changed locations, although this was outside the territory of the Shell Reef Old pair.

Comparisons with the January 8th flight when all 185 cranes were located:

....................... March 03 ................ January 8th ......... Change
San Jose........... 41 + 2  = 43 ............ 41 +  2  = 43 ........ 0
Refuge/Lamar .... 52 + 5  = 57 ............ 54 +  6  = 6  ......... - 2 subadult, - 1 juvenile
Matagorda ........ 55 + 7  = 62 ............ 54 +  7  = 61 ........ + 1 subadult,
Welder Flats ...... 20 + 1  = 21 ............ 20 +  1  = 21 ........ 0

Totals      168 + 15 = 183   169 + 16  = 185  -2 (-1 subadult, -1 juvenile)

The similarity with the January 8th flight provides confidence of the total population size.  The 62 cranes present on Matagorda breaks the all-time
high by one bird.

Habitat:

On today's flight, no whooping cranes were in open bay habitat, on prescribed burns, at fresh water sources, or on uplands.  Most cranes were
in water, with others very close to water.  Most cranes are believed to be foraging on crabs.  Fourteen cranes were observed in open water in Shell
Reef Bayou on Matagorda.  They may be foraging on calms, though some were close to vegetation and could have been seeking other prey.

Specifics / Interesting Locations:

Two subadult cranes continued their use south of Holiday beach on the Lamar Peninsula.  A subadult with an injured wing was still present in a duo by
the southern Matagorda Island airstrip.  The wing was only drooping partially although all primaries were completely visible.  This bird has been observed in flight and appears to fly normally.  A duo of apparent subadults was present southeast of Pringle Lake on Matagorda Island.  Only occasionally are wintering cranes found this far north on Matagorda.  The chick that had separated from its parents on Matagorda was for the second
week in a row closely associated with a subadult.  A family group was found just northeast of Fulghum's Fish Camp at Welder Flats, slightly outside its
normal territory.

- Tom Stehn

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