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 16 February, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at Aransas at 183 adults + 32 young = 215 total. An additional juvenile whooping crane is wintering with sandhill cranes in Matagorda County where it has been since early December. This is believed to be the same juvenile separated from its parents in the fall migration and reported in Colorado and Oklahoma in November. It was still present as of February 14th. This bird is thus the record 217th bird in the peak Aransas-Wood Buffalo population for the 2004-05 winter, and a record 34th juvenile to make it to Texas. One chick is believed to have died this winter at Aransas. The current estimated size of the population is 183 + 33 = 216.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (206)
adults + young
Refuge 47 + 11
Lamar 5 + 2
San Jose 43 + 10
Matagorda 61 + 8
Welder Flats 18 + 1
Total 174 + 32 = 206
Remarks: Visibility was generally difficult in the morning due to solid cloud cover. Lighting improved in the afternoon with full sunshine the last 3 hours while flying the north half of Matagorda Island and Welder Flats. The less than ideal conditions in the morning made it probable that a few suabadults were overlooked. All territorial cranes were located.
This flight documented the presence of 32 chicks at Aransas. Thus, my reports over the past 6 weeks indicating that 3 chicks have died this winter at Aransas are erroneous. Only one chick has died (one of the twin chicks). The family group at South Mustang Slough has reappeared, also seen on its territory on the Jan. 12th and Feb. 4th census flights. The single adult family group, last found on December 15th, has apparently re-paired and moved south of Long Reef on San Jose Island where it may have been present for several flights. New crane duos that appear to be territorial and are expected to nest in 2005 were located on Matagorda Island at East Bray and Shell Reef North. Including these new duos, the flock consists of 138 adults (69 pairs), 36 subadults, and 33 chicks.
Habitat use on today's flight had changed from that observed on the previous flight on February 4th. Fewer cranes (4) were on prescribed burns compared with 24 on the Feb. 4th flight. Cranes in open water (11) remained about the same (12) as the previous flight. Eight of the 19 cranes at Welder Flats were in open bay habitat. One adult crane on Matagorda Island was seen thrashing a 3-foot long snake. One adult male split off from its mate and chick on San Jose was walking towards a coyote about 50 yards away. The coyote was running away, probably in response to the airplane.
A whooping crane foods survey done by refuge volunteers on Feb. 15th indicated blue crabs were available (22 found in one hour of walking compared with only 6 found on the previous survey). Some crabs may have moved back into the marshes with the recent higher tide levels. A few wolfberries were also found. Hopefully more crabs will move into the marshes to provide a boost of energy needed for the spring migration and nesting period. Tide levels were measured at 2.3 mlt on Feb. 15th. All mudflats were completely covered with water throughout the census area, including San Jose.
Interesting crane locations noted on today's flight included four cranes found south of Holiday Beach (the Big Tree family group and one subadult). For the second consecutive flight, no cranes were located north of the old bomber base on the north end of Matagorda Island.
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