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Greetings all!

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: tom_stehn@fws.gov. 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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January 05, 2005

An aerial census on 05 January, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 183 adults + 30 young = 213 total.  The peak total at Aransas for the winter was 183 + 33 = 216.  Three chicks are missing and are believed to have died this winter.  I can only speculate about the reason for three chicks dying when conditions appear to be so good at Aransas. Perhaps it is a disease such as avian tuberculosis.  There have been no additional confirmed migration sighting reports since December 10.

Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (207)

                              adults + young
Refuge                          48 + 11
Lamar                                    3 +   1
San Jose                        43 +   9
Matagorda                 63 +   8
Welder Flats                    20 +   1
                     Total            177 + 30 = 207

Remarks:  Visibility was limited all day by a rapid buildup of haze on the windshield from the high humidity prior to a cold front that reached the Texas coast in the evening.  Skies were cloudy all morning, becoming partly cloudy by mid-day and sunny after 3 PM.  Winds were 10-20 from the SE with temperatures in the upper 70's.  Overall, viewing conditions were difficult for a majority of the day, so it was not expected to find all the cranes. However, all known territorial cranes were located.  Tide levels were much higher at 2.6 mlt compared with 1.7 mlt on December 20.lower compared with one week ago.  About 65 % of San Jose Island was exposed mudflats, perhaps more a result of strong southeast winds pushing the water off the island.

The flight confirmed the last flight's observations that 2 additional chicks have disappeared and have presumably died.  The refuge's South Mustang Slough pair was believed to be on a burn and their chick was not anywhere to be found.  The single adult family that had last been seen on the refuge's Blackjack Point was also not found for the second consecutive flight.  The chick is believed dead, and the location of the single adult is unknown and could be with other subadults.

Two cranes were on the far north end of Matagorda Island.  The family group formerly believed to be the unbanded twin family had moved south from the far north end of Matagorda Island to the south end of  Pringle Lake where it had been earlier in the winter.  Eight cranes were found on the refuge's Egg Point.  Present were the North Lamar and North Dunham Point family groups (both off of their territories), and a duo that could have been either subadults or the Grass Island pair.  The 3 groups of cranes were each about 100 yards apart without any apparent squabbling.  A crane duo reported on January 4 in marshes immediately east of houses on Belaire Street in Holiday Beach was not located and believed to have been overlooked.  During today's flight, two whooping cranes were reported by a refuge maintenance worker at the Myrtle Foster Whitmire Unit of the refuge located north of Welder Flats.  He was fairly sure of his identification. This area that cranes occasionally use will be checked out on upcoming flights.

Habitat use was similar to that observed on the previous flight two weeks ago.  Ten cranes were in open bay habitat.  Eleven cranes were using prescribed burns, including 5 in the refuge's Unit C5 and 6 on Matagorda burn B3 conducted last summer.  The 6 cranes were split into two groups; a family group in upland hog rootings, and a pair closely associated with a single in a freshwater swale.  A crab count conducted by refuge volunteers on January 4 located 25 crabs in 1.5 hours of walking.  Crabs have declined substantially from the fall, but are still available to the cranes.  In some winters, crabs are extremely hard to find in January.  Thus, the number found on the survey was encouraging.

Tom Stehn
Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas NWR
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950
(361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
fax (361) 286-3722
E:mail: tom_stehn@fws.gov
  
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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX
email: patty@ccbirding.com
web:  http://www.ccbirding.com/