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 23 March, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at Aransas at 182 adults + 32 young = 214 total. An additional juvenile whooping crane is wintering with sandhill cranes in Matagorda County. 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. This bird has not been seen since March 19th and thus could have started the migration. It reportedly still has noticeable brown juvenal plumage.
One chick from a former twin family has died this winter at Aransas. One white-plumaged crane has also died. The remains of that bird were found while hiking the refuge marsh behind Middle Pond on March 22. Only a pile of feathers and a few bones remained, and the area where found could have indicated predation by a bobcat. The current estimated size of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population is thus 182 + 33 = 215. The population consists of 142 adults (71 pairs and duos), 40 subadults, and 33 chicks.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (210)
adults + young
Refuge 45 + 11
Lamar 5 + 2
San Jose 45 + 10
Matagorda 65 + 8
Welder Flats 18 + 1
Total 178 + 32 = 210
Remarks: Excellent viewing conditions were present throughout the day with complete coverage flown. Numbers in various parts of the crane range were very similar to the last flight on March 9th (refuge -4, Lamar = +0, San Jose +1, Matagorda +2, Welder +0).
Today's census accounted for 210 out of the 214 whoopers at Aransas. Accounting for only 210 does not imply that the other 4 have migrated. I could have missed them, they could have been outside the area I searched, or they could be instances of winter mortality. Basically I'm concluding all 4 cranes are still here, but there is always a chance that some of the 4 are in migration. On today's flight, all pairs and families were believed to have been located, although it is possible the Grass Island duo has started the migration. However, since 210 cranes were located on today's flight compared with 211 located on the previous flight March 9th, there is no solid evidence that any whooping cranes have started the migration. There have been no confirmed migration sighting reports received.
In most years, cranes start leaving the last week in March. No sandhill cranes were seen on today's flight, whereas sandhills were still present on the last flight conducted March 9th. The juvenile cranes are showing very few brown feathers, making it hard to pick out some of the families. All of the juveniles have a little brown remaining on their heads.
A refuge prescribed burn was conducted (Unit C5) on March 22, but no cranes were sighted on this burn during three separate aerial checks. A refuge burn in Unit V4 was ongoing during today's census flight. No cranes were located on prescribed burns on today's flight, although one crane on the south end of Matagorda was literally just a couple steps off of a burn. Three cranes were on uplands at a game feeder on Lamar. Eight cranes were in open bay habitat, including 6 at Welder Flats and 2 on Matagorda's Pringle Lake. Two cranes were found northwest of the Lighthouse on the north end of Matagorda Island.
Crab counts done March 22-25 found moderate numbers of crabs in the refuge marshes. Many of the cranes seen on today's flight were not foraging on crabs. However, cranes have been observed feeding on crabs in March, whereas crabs were scarce in January and February.
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