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 01 February, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present in the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock at 189 adults + 29 young = 218 total. This total includes one whooping crane in extreme South Texas in Hidalgo County, and one whooping crane last seen east of Pierre, South Dakota on January 3rd. One adult and one juvenile have died this fall at Aransas, accounting for a peak flock size of 190 + 30 = 220.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (203)
adults + young
Refuge 55 + 9
Lamar 6 + 0
San Jose 37 + 5
Matagorda 60 + 11
Welder Flats 16 + 4
Total 174 + 29 = 203
Remarks: Visibility was difficult throughout most of the flight due to overcast skies and haze. We had to make two extra landings to clean the haze of the windshield. With these conditions, I anticipated finding only about 90% of the cranes. This was the case with only 203 whooping cranes located. Two adult pairs and 10subadults were believed overlooked. All 29 family groups were located.
Interesting locations on today's flight included the following:
a) The single adult family first documented present December 21st apparently has re-paired. They were seen on today's flight as two adults
with the juvenile south of the refuge's Mustang Slough. They apparently have not carved out a territory.
b) The unknown family group first sighted this winter on San Jose was back on San Jose on today's flight. After spending November and early December on San Jose, they had moved to the refuge where they were located on several flights from Dec. 14-Jan. 11th. They also apparently do not yet have a winter territory which they defend.
c) A single subadult has started using the Big Tree marsh / Johnson Ranch area on the Lamar Peninsula. It has been seen at a game feeder along with the territorial pair. Today, the single was in the Big Tree Marsh and the pair was at the feeder on the uplands. A different single subadult continues to winter by itself in the marsh south of Holiday Beach on Lamar.
Food resources continue to be considered suboptimal for the whooping cranes. Late-December through mid-February is usually a difficult time for the flock. Tides have come up a little, but are still considered low. Thus, most of the blue crabs are in the deeper bay waters and unavailable to the cranes. One of the tour boat naturalists reported seeing the cranes catching only a few crabs, but also gigging flounder. The marshes on San Jose Island were particularly dry with large expanses of dry mudflats. The 42 whooping cranes located on San Jose is a drop from the 46 seen on the January 11th flight, and is believed to be a response to the amount of water available. The drought in Texas is continuing with rainfall deficits continuing into 2006.
Habitat use on today's flight included 18 cranes in open bays (compared to 61 on the January 11th flight), 15 on uplands, 3 on a green-up in a prescribed burn, and 6 near sources of fresh water. The upland use included 4 foraging in bare soil turned up by feral hogs, and 2 at a game feeder. No cranes were on prescribed burns conducted January 30th on the refuge (Unit C1), San Jose Island, and Welder Flats.
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: 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/
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX