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 23 November, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at Aransas as 181 adults + 29 young = 210 total. Numbers counted are approaching last winter's record peak population of 217. One additional whooping crane is in extreme south Texas in Hidalgo County near Hargill. This is believed to be the 2004 juvenile that had separated from its parents last fall and had spent the 2004-05 winter with sandhills near Bay City, Texas north of Aransas. It has never been to Aransas but may be brought to Aransas when it is older and gets a mate.
Approximately 235 whooping cranes are hoped to arrive at Aransas this winter. Thus, an estimated 90% of the flock has completed the migration. Last year at this same time, 98% of the cranes had completed the migration, so this year's migration is not quite as advanced. It is hoped that about 2 dozen more whooping cranes are still in migration, although there have been no recent migration reports.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (210)
adults + young
Refuge 57 + 8
Lamar 2 + 0
San Jose 41 + 5
Matagorda 65 + 11
Welder Flats 16 + 5
Total 181 + 29 = 210
Remarks: Excellent viewing conditions and moderate southwest winds were present throughout the day. All of the crane winter area was flown in an 8.0-hour census.
An estimated 14 + 2 = 16 whooping cranes have arrived from migration since the previous flight on November 17th. Moderate winds and clear skies provided excellent migration conditions daily during the past week. On today's flight, color bands were read on several adult pairs and one family that had arrived in the last week.
The total of 29 chicks that have successfully completed the migration is very encouraging since 31 chicks were estimated to have fledged in August on the nesting grounds. Survival of juveniles appears to be high. However, it was disappointing on today's flight not to encounter a second set of twins that had been anticipated.
Whooping cranes on today's flight were located in salt marsh habitat (182), open bays (15), on a shell road (2), and at sources of fresh water or ponds thought to be somewhat fresher than nearby salt marsh (11). No whooping cranes were found on recent prescribed burns done on the refuge and at Welder Flats. Tides levels had dropped 0.8 feet since last week's flight due to the north winds, leaving bay and lake edges as exposed mud and oyster reefs exposed in the bays. Tidal flats on San Jose were dry over about 50% of the island.
Interesting crane locations on today's flight included 8 cranes on the refuge's Bludworth Island. The largest subadult flock observed was 5 birds together on the refuge. A pair of cranes was visible from the refuge observation tower that had been first sighted on November 20th. One newly arrived family located on Panther Point consisted of 3 adults and 1 juvenile. I do not know where they may try to establish a territory or how to explain the unusual grouping of 3+1. No cranes were found on the extreme north end of Matagorda Island, although one crane had been confirmed present in that area on November 12. A farm field with over 1,000 sandhill cranes located northwest of the refuge's Burgentine Lake was checked, but no whooping cranes were present. Five airboats were sighted on San Jose Island and 1 airboat was traveling through the refuge on the GIWW thought to be transporting duck hunters.
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