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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 October 23, 2003 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 5 adults + 0 young = 5 total.

Recap of cranes observed: (5)

adults + young
Refuge 3 + 0
Lamar -
San Jose -
Matagorda -
Welder Flats 2 + 0

Total 5 + 0

Remarks: Clear skies and light west winds made for ideal census conditions. All of the crane area was covered in 3.7 hours of flight time. Contract pilot Dr. Tom Taylor worked successfully to purchase a "new" re-built Cessna 172 airplane and get all required clearances after an accident damaged the former airplane at the end of August. The final inspection was completed this morning prior to today"s first flight of the season. My thanks go to Dr. Taylor for all his efforts getting this done in a very
short time frame.

Five whooping cranes all believed to be subadults were present on the wintering grounds, distributed as two duos and a single. The first 2 whooping cranes arrived on October 18th with a weak cold front that brought clear skies and northeast winds. This was just 2 days after the average whooping crane first arrival date of October 16.

Status of migration: Most of the flock is still in migration, with sightings in the past week reported mostly in North Dakota and Saskatchewan. Sandhill crane numbers are reported building up at Salt Plains NWR in Oklahoma where 2 whooping cranes were reported present this morning.

Habitat: Tides have dropped 0.8 feet from very high levels (3.4 mlt) last week. Conditions appear to be excellent for the cranes. Abundant summer rains have benefited the blue crab population, and marsh ponds have much growth of algae and seagrass. Wolfberry flowers are everywhere and fruits are starting to form. Extreme high tides and heavy rains in September combined possibly with effects from an earlier hurricane re-opened Cedar Bayou, the natural pass between the bays in the whooping crane wintering area and the Gulf. This should benefit bay productivity until the pass silts back in.

Work on a seismic survey on the southern half of Matagorda Island that started in mid-July was completed a few days before the first whooping cranes arrived at Aransas. The exploration involved over 7,000 shot holes. The company worked hard to be finished by this work cut-off date on the island. About a month of work remains in the open waters of San Antonio Bay, but methods have been modified so that no disturbance to the cranes will occur. The geophysical company worked hard to leave a minimal
footprint in crane habitat and did an excellent job. 

Research: Field work has begun on the inflow / blue crab / whooping crane study. This multi-year study with approximately 5 graduate students and 3 professors is headed up by Dr. Doug Slack at Texas A & M University. Plant and water sampling stations are in place, blue crab census methods are being worked out, and observation blinds are nearly constructed to do intensive observations of crane feeding ecology and disturbance. The study has received clearance in an intra agency consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

- Tom Stehn
Email: tom_stehn@fws.gov

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