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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December 15, 2004
An aerial census on 15 December, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 183 adults + 32 young = 215 total. The peak total at Aransas for the winter was 183 + 33 = 216. One of the twin chicks is believed to have died.
A chick separated in migration from its parents was sighted in November in northeast Colorado and in southwestern Oklahoma right by the Texas border. This is the 217th bird in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo peak population (183 adults + 34 chicks). A single white-plumaged crane still in migration, having departed Quivira NWR in Kansas on December 10th, would be the 218th member of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population if it makes it to Aransas safely.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (211)
adults + young
Refuge 47 + 12
Lamar 9 + 2*
San Jose 40 + 9
Matagorda 66 + 8*
Welder Flats 17 + 1
Total 179 + 32 = 211
* Record number.
Remarks: Flight conditions were perfect in the morning but became increasingly difficult as the afternoon progressed with dark clouds moving in over the north half of Matagorda Island and Welder Flats. The flight was smooth due to light northeast winds and low temperatures in the 40's and 50's. Tide levels were lower compared with one week ago, with refuge tides measured at 2.36 mlt on 12-15-04. About 50 % of San Jose Island was exposed mudflats and oyster reefs were exposed in the bays.
Not all of the cranes were located on today's flight. The 211 cranes located represent 98% of the flock at Aransas. The recent dispersal of the cranes from core use areas made it harder to find all the cranes. Also, light conditions made it increasingly difficult to find cranes during the last couple hours of the flight over the north half of Matagorda Island and Welder Flats.
No new cranes were found on today's flight. Stragglers can continue to arrive at Aransas into December, with peak counts for the winter usually not made until now in mid-December. Recent believable reports of whooping cranes in migration include a single southwest of Fort Worth, Texas in Comanche County on November 26, and a single 70 miles south of Amarillo, Texas on December 1. Perhaps the crane southwest of Fort Worth is actually the juvenile seen in Tillman County, Oklahoma on November 19th since it was only seen in flight from underneath where the brown is less apparent. Both singles were sighted in small flocks of sandhill cranes. A very believable "probable" sighting of 2 cranes in Oklahoma was made on November 29th about 30 miles northwest of Oklahoma City (near Kingfisher, OK). One single white-plumaged crane apparently resumed migration from the Quivira NWR in Kansas on December 10th.
Thirty-two of 33 chicks were located on today's flight. The number of cranes present at Aransas has apparently decreased by one estimated at 215. It is believed one of the twin chicks on Matagorda Island may have died. The Vee Bayou twin pair on Matagorda Island was last sighted by biological technician Colleen Satyshur on December 4th but was not found on the December 8th census flight. On December 10th, a family group was reported by a hunter on Bayoucas Island on the north end of Matagorda Island across from Port O'Connor. Today, a family group was found 1½ miles due north of the Lighthouse on Matagorda and is believed to be the same family group reported by the hunter. The plumage of the juvenile seems similar to that of the plumage of the Vee bayou twin chicks as per amount of brown present, but this is by no means definitive, more supporting my gut feeling and circumstantial evidence that one of twin chicks has died on Matagorda. I hope I am wrong and that the family seen today on the north end of Matagorda turns out to be a brand new family.
The 74 cranes found on Matagorda Island is a record total surpassing the previous high of 69 set last week. Most unusual were the 5 cranes found north of the Lighthouse on the north end of Matagorda Island. The 11 cranes on the Lamar Peninsula ties the record set back in November, 1997 for most cranes in that area. Two cranes were on the north side of the Cabanis Ranch by the bay just north of Goose Island State Park. On December 12th,13th and 16th, two cranes believed to be this same duo were feeding on crabs and snails in shallows right next to the road past the Big Tree. People were within 25 feet of this duo that would take a few steps away if someone moved towards them, but generally ignored a crowd that gathered with people waving their arms and honking a car horn. On today's flight, a duo next to the GIWW was within 30 feet of a whooping crane tour boat. These are remarkably close distances to be next to whooping cranes.
Other cranes on the Lamar Peninsula were a single located south of Holiday Beach and a duo located northwest of Holiday Beach about one half mile west of the mouth of Copano Creek, the furthest up Copano Creek I have ever observed cranes.
At Aransas, traditional winter territories that are currently unoccupied include Curve Bayou and Narrow Cove. Present in the Blackjack territory for the second consecutive week is one adult with a juvenile that earlier in the winter was at Welder Flats. Despite two excellent views of the feet of two cranes believed to be the Vinson Slough pair, no metal band was seen above the right foot of one of the adults. Maybe the band has fallen off since last winter.
A slight change in habitat use was noted on today's flight. Five cranes were using a prescribed burn (Unit C5) carried out December 14th along the refuge's East Shore Road. Nine cranes on Matagorda Island were using uplands on Burn B3 conducted July 28, 2004. This included one family group on hog rootings, presumably foraging on tubers. A pair plus one subadult formed a trio elsewhere on the same burn. Seven of the 18 cranes at Welder Flats were foraging in open bay habitat.
In other crane news, the crane shot in Kansas and shipped to Patuxent after surgery to re-pair a broken wing died December 9th. The migration team using ultralights to migrate 14 cranes from Wisconsin to Florida have completed their trip. They traveled 1,204 miles, made 21 stops, and took 64 days. One of the 14 birds died in Florida prior to reaching Chassahowitzka from a massive infection (possibly parasitic). Three of the older eastern migratory whooping cranes recently migrated all the way from Wisconsin to Florida in 4 days.
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