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 29 March, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 172 adults and 23 chicks =195 total.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (195)
adults + young
Refuge 51 + 4
Lamar 7 + 0
San Jose 28 + 4
Matagorda 69 + 11
Welder Flats 17 + 4
Total 172 + 23 = 195
Remarks: A strong line of thunderstorms on March 28th brought rain to the Texas Coast and Hill County, the first significant rain for some areas in 4 months. The tail end of this disturbance provided dark, overcast skies during the morning of March 29th, making lighting conditions difficult to find all the cranes. In the afternoon, the winds strengthened and clear skies prevailed. Fewer movements of cranes to freshwater and prescribed burns made it easier to find most of the cranes.
With 195 whooping cranes located on today's flight out of the estimated 214 in the flock, this means that 19 cranes were either overlooked or have migrated. It is probable that in the morning's difficult viewing conditions, some cranes were overlooked. At Aransas, the following cranes were not located; Lobstick and Pats Bay families, the "H", "T" and Spalding Point pairs, and 3 subadults. Extra searching on today's flight was done for the Lobstick family group but they were not located. Traditionally, the Lobstick cranes are usually some of the first birds to migrate and traditionally get up to Wood Buffalo Park before most other cranes. However, it is still only the beginning of the whooping crane migration. It is estimated that between 10 and 19 whooping cranes have started the migration. Two whooping cranes have been confirmed present on the Platte River in Nebraska, so far the only confirmed sightings I am aware of.
Conditions are tough for the whooping cranes at Aransas right now, with few blue crabs to eat and high water salinity forcing them to fly inland to get freshwater to drink. Marsh salinities were measured between 28 and 38 parts per thousand, equivalent in places to ocean water. Crab counts conducted March 27-28 with more than 4 person-hours of walking the marsh located only 7 small crabs. That is a very low number compared to average crab numbers. The low number in the Aransas marshes is correlated with the extreme drought in this part of Texas over the past 4 months, providing harder conditions for crabs to survive. Habitat use on today's flight included 9 cranes near sources of fresh water, 8 standing on shell roads, 2 in open bays, and none on prescribed burns other than a pair that landed on a burn near a freshwater dugout, and 3 cranes standing on a burned roadside. Last week, 21 cranes had been found on prescribed burns.
Interesting locations on today's flight included the following:
a) A record 80 whooping cranes were found on Matagorda Island, breaking the previous high of 78 set December 21, 2005.
b) Widowed female W-nil was with two other cranes in the Middle Sundown\Bay territory.
c) Seven cranes were located on the Lamar Peninsula.
d) A subadult duo was visible from the refuge Observation Tower where they have been consistently throughout the winter.
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