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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 December 10th, 2003 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 165 adults + 24 young = 189 total. Estimated present are 134 territorial adults (67 adult pairs), 31 subadults, and 24 juveniles.

Recap of cranes observed: (189)

adults + young
Refuge 47 + 9
Lamar 5 + 1
San Jose 36 + 6
Matagorda 59 + 6*
Welder Flats 18 + 2
Total 165 + 24 = 189

* The 65 cranes on Matagorda ties the record peak set last spring.

Remarks: Northwest winds from a low pressure system provided excellent census conditions with clear skies and moderate winds. All of the crane area was covered in 8.5 hours of flight time.

The population total of 189 breaks by one the previous all-time high population of 188 present in the fall, 1999. No new arrivals were documented this week. Presumably the better visibility allowed us to find four more cranes compared with last week's total.

Determining the final total of was made difficult by finding 20 cranes that moved during the census and were presumably all found in nearby areas. These movements occurred even though the census area is divided up into small areas to try to find all cranes in a given area before they move. Five of the cranes were moving from a freshwater source, and 5 moved to oak brush upland habitat to forage. Perhaps a higher census total may be found when the chaotic pattern from these movements becomes clearer.

Given the very good production year with 24 chicks making it to Aransas, I am concerned that today's total wasn't higher, indicating that mortality between spring and fall, 2003 was possibly above average levels. It is still possible a few more cranes may complete the migration, though there are no reports of cranes in migration. Based on earlier migration reports, a juvenile whooping crane may be wintering with sandhills in an unknown part of Texas. This juvenile was seen in Saskatchewan in early October, and in Young County, Texas on November 2nd. A note was posted on the Texas Birding Website to alert birders to this possibility.

Notes on Distribution: One subadult crane was located for the second consecutive week in marshes on the north side of the mouth of Copano Creek northwest of Holiday Beach. Cranes have occasionally been documented there in recent years. The habitat in that area looks excellent and is a probable expansion area for a pair in the future. The Dewberry Island family was located on today's flight back on their territory. It is believed that they have been located in the last few weeks on the north end of Shoalwater Bay. Thus, the North Shoalwater Bay territorial pair that last winter brought a chick has not returned this fall. The family group designated as Behind Middle Pond on the refuge has been showing unusual spacing, with either 1 adult or the chick up to 100 meters from the other family members. My guess is this indicates a re-pairing, possibly with the new mate showing some aggression towards the chick.

Status of migration: Excellent migration conditions that occurred December 5th and 11th would have allowed remaining migrants to reach the refuge. There have been no recent reports of whooping cranes in migration, although "stragglers" have been known to arrive at Aransas in mid-December.

Habitat: Nine cranes were sighted on today's flight at freshwater sources. Salinities at Aransas were measured December 8th at 16 ppt in the bays and 22 in the marshes. These levels are almost at 23 ppt when cranes are forced to seek out freshwater to drink. These high salinities explain some of the extensive movements observed on today's flight, especially around 9:30 AM when cranes tend to head for their first fresh water of the day. Tides were still moderately low, measured at 2.6 mlt at the refuge boat ramp.

On today's flight, five cranes were in oak brush upland habitat at Welder Flats. No cranes were on prescribed burns, with recent burns done on Welder Flats and San Jose Island. A refuge crab count conducted December 8th found numerous blue crabs in the refuge marshes. A few wolfberry fruits were still present, but were greatly reduced in number from three weeks ago. The wolfberry crop for 2003 is nearing its end.

- 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/



- 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/