Greetings all! And on this day of Thanksgiving for the US ... CONGRATULATIONS!!! to all of the folks involved in the whooping crane restoration and protection projects in North America! A new record has been realized today with an all-time high number of whooping cranes reaching their wintering grounds at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas!! Kudos to Tom for his historic flight today -- that's a great way to work off all that turkey dinner!
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/
------------- begin report --------------
November 25, 2004
The Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population has reached a historic milestone. An aerial census on 24 November, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 181 adults + 32 young = 213 total.
Recap of cranes observed: (213)**
adults + young
Refuge 62 + 11
Lamar 2 + 1
San Jose 44 + 9
Matagorda 52 + 7
Welder Flats 21 + 4
Total 181 + 32 = 213
** a record total.
Remarks: Flight conditions were excellent with full sunshine throughout the day. Winds were west northwest at 16 gusting to 26 mph that created bumpy flight conditions. Tide levels were high, with all mudflats throughout the census area covered. A cold front had crossed the Texas coast very early on November 24th. This low pressure system had brought flooding rains to south Texas the previous two days, including 15 inches of rain in El Campo. Flooding was widespread, reported from Austin, San Antonio, Victoria and Wharton. A large amount of water hyacinth was observed on today's flight in the Victoria Barge Canal and bays close to Welder Flats, an indicator of very large inflows from the Guadalupe River.
The number of cranes present at Aransas is estimated at 213 and consists of 129 adults, 52 subadults, and 32 chicks. The record total exceeds the previous high of 194 reached by the population last winter. The 53 cranes found on San Jose Island is a record total surpassing the previous high of 50 set last winter. The population of whooping cranes has doubled in the last 18 years. The results of today's flight are the most satisfying experience I have ever had in my career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife. I made the count when the population broke 100 cranes in December of 1986, but that milestone was tempered by the death the week before of Aransas Refuge Manager Frank Johnson.
An estimated 23 white-plumaged cranes and 4 young have arrived since the last flight on November 16th. Moderate north winds shortly after November 16 and the very strong cold front early on November 24th would have allowed cranes to complete the migration. The four new chicks to arrive include one adult with one chick on Welder Flats; the Jay Bird Point family on San Jose (nest 32), and the North Pump Canal adults with two chicks on San Jose (nest 42/04). Both the one adult unbanded family and the twin family with color-banded adult RwR-YbY were reported in Saskatchewan this fall. This is the second pair of twin chicks to arrive from the five pairs sighted in Wood Buffalo in August and is the first time in at least 40 years that more than one set of twins in one winter have arrived at Aransas. They are the fourth set of twins to make it to Aransas since 1997. A pair of twin chicks was sighted on Matagorda Island on November 19th by USFWS Pilot Jim Bredy, but these are believed to be the twin family from Welder Flats sighted last week that had moved over to Vee Bayou on Matagorda and were back at Welder Flats on today's flight. Their identity at Welder Flats is unknown and may not be the Narrow Cove pair as first reported.
Pairs without chicks believed to have arrived in the last week include Grass Island, 'H', Tee Bayou, and Northeast Bray. Known pairs that have arrived without chicks they had in August (n= 18 known families observed in August) are from nests 4, 7, 10, and 18 (North Sundown Bay, South Sundown Isl., r-r, and Cottonwood Bayou A). Interesting locations on today's flight included the refuge's Blackjack Point family that was believed to be on San Jose Island. The Big Tree and Vee Bayou families were back on their territories having returned from off-territory locations on last week's flight. The largest group observed on today's flight was 4 subadult cranes with a fifth subadult located close by.
With the presence of 213 whooping cranes at Aransas, the migration is estimated to be approximately 97% complete. One whooping crane chick has separated from its parents and was last reported in northeastern Colorado on November 4th. A family group was reported the morning of November 21st at Quivira NWR in Kansas and may still be in migration. One white-plumaged crane on November 23rd was present at Cheyenne Bottoms in Kansas that is believed to be the third crane shot at by a hunting party near Quivira on November 6th. This bird is being monitored, looks okay, and hopefully will continue the migration. The one surviving crane of the two shot in Kansas on November 6th was shipped without incident from Kansas State University to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on November 18th. My thanks go to all involved in caring for this bird and making arrangements to get it transported on an aircraft operated by the State of Kansas.
Stragglers can continue to arrive at Aransas into December, with peak counts for the winter usually not made until mid-December. A few more territorial pairs are expected to arrive at Aransas based on having traditional winter territories that are currently unoccupied, including North Allyn's Bight, Middle Sundown Bay, North Lamar, and possibly Curve Bayou. The unoccupied territories could reflect spring to fall mortality, but also could mean a few cranes are still in migration.
Canadian Whooping Crane Coordinator Brian Johns and I visited the Eastern Ultralight Migration Team on November 19-21st. The team has through November 25th been pinned down by a week of bad weather in southern Tennessee. They have covered 697 miles in 47 days, but hope to make better progress when they get past the mountains and enter Georgia. All those who appreciate cranes should thank the migration team for the long, hard job they are doing. When at Hiwassee State Wildlife refuge in Tennessee, Brian and I observed 6 of the older whooping cranes plus the juvenile that was released solo into a group of older whooping cranes in Wisconsin. This solo bird has followed either whooping cranes and/or sandhill cranes to reach Hiwassee.
Following my trip to Tennessee, I tried to fly home on November 23rd, only to be stuck at midnight in Houston, Texas with the last leg of the flight cancelled because of thunderstorms. Renting a car, I was joined by 3 other stranded travelers and drove that night the 4 hours to Corpus Christi. I got home at 5 AM, slept hard for 1½ hours, then headed to Rockport to conduct today's flight. I have been doing this census for so many years that I apparently can find cranes when half asleep. Special thanks go to pilot and friend Dr. Tom Taylor for his wonderful job flying the Cessna 172 with 7.6 hours of air time on today's flight. A very systematic and accurate pattern was flown with use of a GPS unit to cover the entire winter crane range. The various parts of the winter crane range were flown in small segments to minimize the chance of counting cranes more than once that may have moved during the day.
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
------------- end report ----------------
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX