The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US Whooping Crane Coordinator.
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An aerial census on 09 November, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at Aransas as 115 adults + 14 young = 129 total. Approximately 235 whooping cranes are expected to arrive at Aransas this winter. Thus, an estimated 55% of the flock has completed the migration.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (126)*
adults + young
Refuge 38 + 5
Lamar 2 + 0
San Jose 30 + 2
Matagorda 36 + 4
Welder Flats 7 + 2 *
Total 113 + 13 = 126
* One family group was overlooked. Thus, an estimated 129 cranes are at Aransas (115+14).
Remarks: Excellent viewing conditions and light south/southeast winds were present throughout the day. Nearly all of the crane winter area was flown in a 7.5-hour census. The flight when combined with data from the past 2 weeks provides excellent data on what territorial pairs are present at Aransas and which pairs are still in migration.
An estimated 2 whooping cranes have arrived from migration since the previous flight on November 2nd. In the past week, there has been no weather favorable for whooping cranes to complete their migration to the Texas coast. A Pacific front pushing across the Flyway States north of Texas has allowed the whoopers to make some progress.
Reports of whooping cranes scattered throughout the migration corridor are still coming in, including a family group still in Saskatchewan on November 5, two birds on the Platte River in Nebraska November 3, and most likely 3 at Salt Plains NWR, Oklahoma on November 4. At the other end of the flyway, a single whooping crane was confirmed within the city limits of Corpus Christi, Texas November 4-6 about 3 miles south of the University. The bird was with sandhill cranes, utilized fields and pasture including a location where the landowner puts out feed for cranes, and presumably roosted in nearby Oso Bay. This single crane overshot the wintering grounds by about 30 miles and presumably will make a course correction. However, it also could be the 2004 juvenile that wintered with sandhill cranes near Bay City, Texas who has never been to Aransas.
Interesting crane locations on today's flight included 2 cranes that continued to use salt marsh south of Holiday Beach on Lamar. On Matagorda Island, the male in a one-adult family group seen 2 weeks ago in a group of 3 adults with 1 chick has apparently re-paired, with typical family group spacing with 2 adults and the chick observed on the past 2 flights. No cranes so far are visible from the refuge observation tower or refuge boat ramp.
Most cranes were found in salt marsh habitat. Six cranes were seen at sources of fresh water as marsh and bay salinities are high and approaching the level where cranes are forced to seek out freshwater to drink. Some
cranes were in dry, high marsh habitat feeding on wolfberries.
A flamingo was sighted November 5 by USFWS Special Agent Tom Mason on San Jose Island. Presumably this same bird, seen earlier this fall in Shoalwater Bay about 25 miles to the north, was color-banded on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula earlier this year as a juvenile. The flamingo was not seen on today's crane census flight. Agent Mason had been working the opening day of waterfowl season. Six airboats used for access to the interior portions of San Jose Island for waterfowl hunting were observed on today's flight. The growing use of coastal marshes for hunting, fishing and birding is increasing my concerns about whooping crane disturbance.
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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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/
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX