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 30 November, 2005 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at Aransas as 185 adults + 29 young = 214 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 is the 215th documented in the flock this fall.
Approximately 235 whooping cranes are hoped to arrive at Aransas this winter. Thus, an estimated 91% of the flock has completed the migration. Peak flock counts are normally not obtained until December. However, I'm getting worried since there have been no recent reports of whooping cranes in migration and severe weather in the Flyway should have pushed the cranes south. The last report was of 2 whooping cranes in flight south of Canyon, Texas located in the Panhandle on Nov. 25th.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (214)
adults + young change from previous flight
Refuge 55 + 8 0
Lamar 4 + 0 0
San Jose 45 + 5 + 4 subadults
Matagorda 64 + 11 - 1
Welder Flats 17 + 5 + 1
Totals 185 + 29 = 210 + 4
Remarks: Excellent viewing conditions were present in the morning, but skies were dark in the afternoon making it much harder top find cranes. All of the crane winter area except for Burgentine Lake was flown in an 8.0-hour census.
An estimated 4 + 0 = 4 whooping cranes have arrived from migration since the previous flight on November 23. A Pacific cold front provided excellent migration conditions November 28-29.
Whooping cranes on today's flight were located in salt marsh habitat (199), open bays (10), and at ponds thought to be somewhat fresher than nearby salt marsh (5). Heavy rains that fell November 26 has freshened up the marsh somewhat. Salinities were measured at 20 ppt in the bays and 11 ppt in cut-off salt marsh on November 29. No whooping cranes were found on recent prescribed burns done on the refuge and at Welder Flats. Tides levels were low at 2.0 mlt, up 0.3 feet from last week's flight. Tidal flats on San Jose were dry over about 60% of the island. A crab count done Nov. 29 indicated blue crabs were still plentiful, although 27% reduced from levels one month ago. Wolfberries are currently abundant and are being fed upon extensively.
Three subadult whooping cranes were visible from the refuge observation tower, the largest subadult flock seen on today's flight. This sighting indicates that the territorial pair at Mustang Lake has not yet returned to Aransas. Other territories for which pairs have not yet returned are 'W' on San Jose, and the Middle Matagorda Island territory. The family group that last week on Panther Point was observed as 3+1 was back to a typical 2+1 grouping on today's flight. Three cranes were found on the extreme north end of Matagorda Island, the first documented crane use in that area since a single crane was reported present on November 12. A farm field with over 1,000 sandhill cranes located northwest of the refuge's Burgentine Lake was checked, but it was late in the day and some of the sandhills may have already flown to roost. Photographs were taken of the Army Corps of Engineers beneficial use of dredge material sites, seismic lines cut just west of the refuge's Tatton Unit, and the site of a proposed housing development by a crane territory near Port O'Connor. It seems like there are usually several activities going on in the crane area that requires involvement of USFWS.
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