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 April 7, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes at Aransas to be a minimum of 93 adults + 16 young = 109.
Recap of cranes observed: (109)
adults + young
Refuge 29 + 5
Lamar 2 + 0
San Jose 17 + 5
Matagorda 34 + 4
Welder Flats 11 + 2
Total 93 + 16 = 109
Remarks: Flight conditions were excellent with sunny skies and light winds during 5.7 hours of flight time. A small number of cranes may have been overlooked since transects were flown wider than usual and not all sections of marsh were covered as thoroughly. However, most of the cranes present were believed to have been located.
The number of whooping cranes at Aransas is a minimum of 109. An estimated 58 whooping cranes have started the migration since the last flight on March 31. One third of the family groups are in migration (8 out of 24). Thirty-three of the 69 wintering territorial adult pairs are in migration (48%). The 84 cranes total having started migration is 43.5% of the flock.
Territorial pairs still present that are being intensively studied by TAMU are the unbanded Pipeline family group, the N. Pump Canal pair, and possibly the Blackjack pair. The N. Pump Canal pair was originally sighted in the adjacent territory to the north, but then returned to their territory. The Blackjack pair was on Dunham Point, although this also could have been two subadults. The Boat Ramp pair has migrated.
I believe we are in the middle of a peak whooping crane departure period at Aransas. I expect a significant number of cranes to have departed prior to my next flight on April 14th. A group of 3 cranes was confirmed at Salt Plains NWR in Oklahoma on April 7, and an unconfirmed sighting of 2 cranes east of Blanco, Texas (approximately 50 miles north of San Antonio) on April 5. I have received reports that most of the migratory Florida whooping cranes have started the migration, with some having already returned to Necedah NWR in Wisconsin.
Habitat: The Aransas refuge recently received substantial rains, with much of the mudflats observed on today's flight covered with water. No cranes were observed at fresh water sources, uplands, burns, or in open bay habitat. The cranes are presumably feeding heavily on crabs prior to migrating. Crab counts completed on April 1 found high numbers of all size classes of blue crabs in the marshes.
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