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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December 22, 2004
An aerial census on 22 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. Two white-plumaged cranes seen on December 1st at Grulla NWR in New Mexico near the Texas border would be #'s 219 and 220 if they make it safely to Aransas. This is apparently the first-ever documented sighting of Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping cranes in New Mexico.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (197)
adults + young
Refuge 50 + 10
Lamar 7 + 2
San Jose 39 + 8
Matagorda 56 + 8
Welder Flats 16 + 1
Total 168 + 29 = 197
Remarks: The flight was delayed by morning fog so that complete coverage was not done on San Jose Island in the late afternoon. Visibility was fairly poor in the morning because of thick clouds. The skies cleared in the afternoon, but northwest winds gusting to 25 mph made for bumpy flight conditions. Tide levels were lower compared with one week ago, with refuge tides measured at 1.7 mlt on 12-20-04. About 60 % 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. Territorial cranes overlooked (n=8) included the Middle Pond, Jay Bird Point, and single adult families. This latter grouping of 1+1 has apparently moved off the refuge's Blackjack Point. Light conditions made it difficult to find cranes during the first 4 hours of the flight over Matagorda Island and Welder Flats. Crane numbers were down 10 on Matagorda Island compared with last week's flight, which probably reflected the poor visibility on today's flight rather than a change in crane use areas. One family group formerly believed to be the unbanded twin family was still present on the far north end of Matagorda Island.
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. 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), and 2 cranes were sighted on December 1st at Grulla NWR in New Mexico located on the Texas border. There have been no reported sightings of the white-plumaged crane that apparently resumed migration from the Quivira NWR in Kansas on December 10th.
On today's flight, bands were seen for the first time this winter on 2 cranes. A look at the feet of the Vinson Slough pair provided a glimpse of a metal band above the left foot of one of the adults. The mate of the South Matagorda radio pair was seen with a low silver band above the left foot.
A slight change in habitat use was noted on today's flight. On today's flight, 11 cranes were using open bay habitat. Eleven cranes were using a prescribed burn (Unit C5) carried out December 14th along the refuge's East Shore Road, and 2 cranes were using Unit C12 near the southwest tip of the refuge burned December 17th. Four cranes on Matagorda Island were using freshwater marsh habitat on Burn Unit B3 conducted July 28, 2004. Another nearby pair on Matagorda uplands right near the road south of panther Point was presumably foraging on wolfberries in dry saline marsh vegetation.
In other crane news, the single juvenile crane released into the wild into a flock of other whooping cranes in central Wisconsin successfully completed its migration to Florida. It was sighted at the Hixtown Swamp in Florida with one whooping crane it had apparently followed all the way from Tennessee. The 13 juveniles led by ultralight aircraft to Chassahowitzka NWR are being held in an exclosure next to the large winter pen where 5 older cranes are currently residing.
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