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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 11, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes in the flock at 169 adults + 24 young = 193.
Recap of cranes observed: (189)
adults + young
Refuge 46 + 9
Lamar 4 + 1
San Jose 39 + 6
Matagorda 59 + 6
Welder Flats 17 + 2
Total 165 + 24 = 189*
* Cranes possibly overlooked were the Jay Bird Point pair on San Jose and 1
Remarks: Flight conditions were good with bright overcast most of the day. It became darker for much of the census on San Jose before clearing during a final search on San Jose.
The number of cranes estimated present at Aransas is 192. From the peak winter population of 194, 1 juvenile is missing and presumed dead, and 1 whooping crane is on the Platte River in Nebraska. Thus, an estimated 3 cranes were presumably overlooked, including the Jay Bird Point pair on San Jose and 1 subadult. This estimate would increase by 1 subadult if the crane on the Platte turns out to be a juvenile that may have wintered away from Aransas.
Thirty-two subadults were located on the flight, with 15 found on Matagorda. The N. Allyn's Bight family was not located for the sixth week in a row. The chick is listed as missing and presumed dead. The adults are presumably being seen on the census, but cannot be identified due to not having bands and are not on their territory.
Habitat: Six cranes were seen in uplands, including 3 first seen in flight over a burn green-up north of Power Lake. A new prescribed burn done March 10th near Contee Lake had small sections still burning. Eight cranes were observed in open bay habitat, all at Welder Flats. Three of these were the Dewberry family opposite Fulghums. Cranes were in a variety of habitats, with less evidence of foraging on crabs. Thirty-five cranes in large unvegetated flats or open bays were presumably foraging on clams or other invertebrates (6 on the refuge, 10 on Matagorda, 8 at Welder Flats, and possibly 11 on San Jose). One crane was observed pecking at a mid-size fish. Tides were measured at 2.3 mlt on March 8, and still low enough to have some oyster reefs exposed in the bays. About 60 % of the flats on San Jose were dry. Cedar Bayou remains open to the Gulf.
Locations of abandoned crab pots were marked on maps during the census. Totals included 6 pots at Welder Flats, 16 crab traps on San Jose, and 61 on Matagorda Island for a total of 83. The number used to be in the hundreds before cleanup was worked on the last 3 years. The area looks so much better.
Notes: A metal band was seen on the right foot of the N. Dunham Point male, WbW-low silver, the first time the metal band was seen this winter.
The census on San Jose added uncertainty to estimated totals. Cloudy skies made viewing conditions less than ideal while over San Jose. Observer fatigue was also a factor since San Jose was flown at the end of the day (flight hours 7 and 8). Transects were flown across the island due to the sun angle. The Jay Bird Point pair may have been overlooked. The E. Spalding Lake family group was overlooked initially, but found later at the end of the time over San Jose. One adult of the Long Reef pair was seen chasing a pair believed to be "Fenceline". On the initial coverage, no pairs were present on the "H"or "W" territories. However, 2 pairs were found west of those two territories. A limited search at the end of the coverage found pairs both at "W" and "H", but none to the west.
The North Lamar pair was overlooked when checked at 1 PM, but found on their territory at 4:30 PM. Where had they been earlier? The Big Tree family was on their usual spot at the "brackish" pond next to the uplands. Later, they were on a dirt road near a game feeding station.
Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950
(361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
fax (361) 286-3722
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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX