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Greetings all!

Awesome report!! Congratulations to everyone who has had a part in the North American program to recover the whooping cranes!

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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Summary: My census flight at Aransas on December 17th tallied 194 whooping cranes, presumably the highest total of whooping cranes at Aransas in 100 years. This was 5 more than the record high of 189 announced last week by USFWS-Region II. The new arrivals included one additional family group, bringing the total of chicks to 25. This excellent production,
combined with average mortality between spring and fall, accounts for the increase of 9 birds over last winter's total of 185.

Report: An aerial census on December 17, 2003 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 169 adults + 25 young = 194 total.

Recap of cranes observed: (194)

adults + young Change from
12/10/03
Refuge 49 + 9 + 2
Lamar 5 + 1
0
San Jose 39 + 7 + 4
Matagorda 60 + 6* + 1
Welder Flats 16 + 2 - 2
Total 169 + 25 = 194** + 5

* The 66 cranes on Matagorda is a record total for that area,
surpassing the previous high of 65 recorded last week.

** The 194 cranes is presumably the highest total at Aransas in the
last 100 years. It surpasses the previous high of 188 in the fall of
1999, and is a notable increase from the peak of 185 cranes present
last winter.

Remarks: Conditions were perfect. Light west winds provided smooth flying with cloudless skies throughout the day. All of the crane area was covered in 8.0 hours of flight time. It was fitting to be flying today on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk.

New arrivals from last week (5 cranes) included the N. Allyn's Bight family group and 2 subadults. This family is unbanded and of unknown identity in Canada. The 194 cranes present is close to the 195 cranes predicted based on the number of fledged chicks in August (27) and average adult mortality between spring and fall. It is unknown whether today's total of 194 will
be the peak for the winter, or whether approximately 1- 4 more cranes may be accounted for. The 194 cranes consists of 135 adults, 34 subadults, and 25 chicks.

On today's flight, the Allyn's Bight pair was not on their territory, but was assumed to have been encountered elsewhere on the census. The count came up 2 subadults less than last week north of Power Lake on Matagorda and 2 subadults less at Welder Flats. Seven additional subadults were found this week on San Jose. Subadults move around between different parts
of the crane range, with numbers expected to vary somewhat from week to week in the different areas. Eleven cranes were known to have changed locations on today's flight compared to the more chaotic pattern of 20 cranes last week. Most of these were actually observed in flight.

Status of migration:

Low-pressure systems that reached Aransas on December 13 th and 16th provided good conditions for crane migration. The winds on December 16th were particularly strong from the northwest up to 30 mph most of the day. It is estimated that at least one family group completed the migration in the last week. There have been no confirmed reports of cranes in migration
in the past two weeks, though one unconfirmed report was received of 3 whooping cranes in flight over Austin, Texas on December 15th.

Habitat: Tides were as low as they've been this winter, with about 50% of San Jose Island showing dry mudflats. Oyster reefs were exposed crossing the bays. A slow rain of 0.6 inches on December 12th and 13th helped coastal conditions that had not had much rainfall in the past month. Perhaps this rain kept the cranes in the salt marsh, with no cranes found
at freshwater sources. On today's flight, only 2 cranes were in open bay habitat. Notable today was the presence of cranes in small open water ponds, where they are presumably searching for crabs. During the flight, two cranes were observed holding crabs. With the wolfberry crop winding down for this year, the cranes are relying more on crabs, accounting for
their presence in open water ponds. Three cranes were on a prescribed burn on the south end of Matagorda Island next to Cedar Bayou. These 3 cranes plus one other nearby adult were presumably the Cedar Bayou pair and two subadults. One adult was seen chasing the 2 subadults vigorously in a long flight. The 2 subadults landed on a sandflat next to the burn about 1/3rd mile away from the Cedar Bayou pair.

Notes: The Behind Middle Pond family was seen as 1 adult with 1 chick. No other adult was anywhere nearby. This past weekend, this grouping had been reported as 2 adults, with the chick very widely separated and on its own. Presumably the adult, presumably widowed during the summer or early fall, has reunited with its chick.

- 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/