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 05 April, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 119 adults and 18 chicks =137 total.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (137)
adults + young
Refuge 36 + 4
Lamar 1 + 0
San Jose 17 + 3
Matagorda 54 + 8
Welder Flats 11 + 3
Total 119 + 18 = 137
Remarks: The migration has begun in earnest. In all, 77 whooping cranes have started the migration, or 36% of the flock. An estimated 61 cranes have started the migration since the previous flight conducted March 29th. On today's flight, 4 cranes (2 pairs) were observed initiating migration at 10:30 am from the northern half of the refuge, spiraling up to 1,000 feet and heading northwest. A check later in the day in that area estimated 2 family groups had also started migration from the same general area. At least 10 of the estimated 61 cranes that have started migration in the past week departed during today's flight. Visibility was very good throughout today's flight, so a good picture was obtained of the wintering flock. The final estimated flock size for the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population in spring 2006 is 214.
Conditions for starting migration have been very good throughout the past week. Days especially notable for strong southeast winds gusting up to 30 mph were April 1 and 5. The only reports so far of whooping cranes in migration have been 7 cranes on the Platte River (2 singles, a pair, and a family). The pair and family have continued the migration, with the family re-sighted April 5th in South Dakota. One adult crane in the family is color banded Green on the left leg and an aluminum band above the "knee" on
the right leg. This family which winters on Long Reef on San Jose Island was sighted the morning of March 29th on its winter territory and was confirmed present on the Platte River in Nebraska on the afternoon of April 1st. That is a quick 4-day trip up to the Platte.
On today's census, crane movements to fresh water on the north half of the Aransas Refuge made it particularly difficult to obtain an estimate of the number of cranes present. A total of 14 cranes were sighted at fresh water on today's flight. Two cranes were in open bay habitat, 3 were on uplands (1 on a gravel road, 2 on a firebreak), and no cranes were on prescribed burns.
Observations of interest on specific cranes:
a) No cranes were visible from the refuge observation tower at 11 AM, but one crane was present at 4 PM. Perhaps the duo that spent most of the winter at Mustang Lake has migrated.
b) No cranes were present on the Big Tree Marsh on Lamar, indicating 2 territorial pairs have migrated. One subadult was present on the Newcomb Bend marshes south of Holiday Beach.
c) One family group from the north end of San Jose Island was observed flying 4 ½ miles across Aransas Bay to fresh water in a dredge material disposal area on the refuge's Bludworth Island. It's possible the family then initiated migration, although a complete search of the San Jose marshes was not done a second time to see if they might have returned to San Jose. A different family group on San Jose flew across Cedar Bayou to a dugout on the south end of Matagorda Island to drink.
d) Three cranes were seen at a windmill pond at Welder Flats., and 3 at a freshwater pond along the refuge's Boat Ramp Road.
e) Widowed female W-nil was by herself on her North Pipeline Flats territory. She has not re-paired this winter and may not nest this year, behavior commonly observed in female whooping cranes after losing a mate.
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