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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 January 7, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 169 adults + 25 young = 194. One crane was presumably overlooked, with the number of cranes located equal to 193.

Recap of cranes observed: (193)
adults + young Change from
11/12/03
Refuge 54 + 9 - 2
Lamar 5 + 1 0
San Jose 43 + 7* + 2
Matagorda 49 + 6 - 1
Welder Flats 17 + 2 0
Total 168 + 25 = 193 - 1

* The 50 cranes on San Jose is a record total for that area, surpassing the previous high of 48 recorded 12-31-03.

Remarks: Conditions were difficult, with cloudy skies throughout the day and light rain the final hour, making it difficult to see the cranes. Winds were moderate.

The 193 cranes located, one less than the 194 estimated present, was notable considering the difficult viewing conditions. Seven cranes found during the flight were considered duplications and were not counted. In all, 20 cranes changed locations during the census. Movements to and from the burn on the refuge created some chaos during the census. Also, one territorial family group displaced a trio of subadults on San Jose. After flying 2/3's of San Jose, a pair of cranes showed up and were joined by a single at a fresh water source. Since 2 of these cranes were not present earlier, I had to consider the two a duplication, although it is possible they were not which would have made the population estimate 195.

Habitat: Tides were up from last week, measured at 2.7 mlt on January 5th. About one half of San Jose still has exposed mudflats. Eight cranes were seen at freshwater sources during today's flight. Eleven cranes were observed in uplands on a refuge prescribed burn. No cranes were observed on burns done on San Jose Island on January 6th or older burns on Matagorda and Welder Flats. The difference in use of refuge burns versus San Jose burns presumably is because of the presence of acorns on the live oak brush refuge habitat which is absent on the barrier islands of San Jose and Matagorda. Zero cranes were observed in open bay habitat, presumably because of the higher tides. Almost all cranes were in open water flats and ponds, with crabs still believed to be their primary food source.

Notes: For the 3rd consecutive flight, the Allyn's Bight pair was not on their territory, but may have been encountered elsewhere on the census. Perhaps the metal band has fallen off 1 member of this pair, leading me to conclude that I am not identifying them. The N. Allyn's Bight family was nowhere near their territory, but were found 9 miles to the north on the north end of San Jose. The Mustang Lake pair was presumably on the burn, with a single subadult on their territory. The single-parent Behind Middle Pond family had the chick separated from the adult about mile apart. One subadult crane that was using marshlands near the mouth of Copano Creek had presumably moved to marshes south of Holiday beach, still next to Copano Bay.

- 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/