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: email@example.com. 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 31, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes at Aransas to be a minimum of 145 adults + 22 young = 167.
Recap of cranes observed: (167)
adults + young
Refuge 34 + 7
Lamar 4 + 1
San Jose 38 + 6
Matagorda 52 + 6
Welder Flats 17 + 2
Total 145 + 22 = 167
Remarks: Flight conditions were excellent with sunny skies and light winds.
The number of cranes estimated present at Aransas is a minimum of 167. A maximum of 26 cranes (13.5 % of the flock) are believed to have started the migration, including the following territorial cranes; Lobstick pair with their twin chicks, Mustang Slough, N. Sundown Bay, Middle Pond, North Dunham Point, Jay Bird Point, South Matagorda, Shell Reef Old, and South Cottonwood. In total, an estimated 9 out of the 69 wintering adult pairs (13%) have initiated the migration. The Lobstick family is the only family to have migrated. Although not located on last week's census flight, the Lobstick pair with their twins was reported back on their territory two days later on March 26th. The Grass Island pair, not found last week, was present this week and thus had also been erroneously reported as having migrated. Since a few cranes are generally overlooked on any given census flight, it is likely that about 20 cranes (10% of the flock) have started the migration. Most of the 20 plus cranes are believed to have departed March 26-28 when strong southeast winds blasted across the Texas coast.
Recently, there has been only one confirmed sighting of one pair of whooping cranes at Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma on March 28th.
A pair on the refuge's Mustang Slough was seen in spiral flight at 10:30 AM. The cranes got as high as 700 feet but did not seem to be making any progress to the north, so we broke off following them and resumed the census. An hour later, we observed the St. Charles Bay family group take flight from the mouth of Copano Creek and spiral up to 1,500 feet after which we lost sight of them and quickly decided to resume the census. Again, they did not seem to be making much progress to the north. In both cases, winds were west northwest (between 290 and 310 degrees) and unfavorable for migration. With the cranes needing to migrate at a heading of approximately 330 degrees, the light winds of less than 10 mph were a head wind. In the afternoon, the winds switched from the south at 10 mph. Had the cranes somehow sensed the wind shift and started migration, or were they simply restless and doing some pre-migration soaring? I believe the latter is more likely.
Habitat: A cold front that brought northeast winds March 29-30 to the coast lowered tides by 0.6 feet, measured at 2.3 mlt on March 30th. On today's flight, 12 cranes were seen at freshwater, a result of seeking out drinking water with the marsh salinities measured yesterday at 22-24 ppt. Two cranes were on a prescribed burn on San Jose. Three cranes were standing on an upland shell road. Two cranes were in open bay habitat.
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