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 12 April, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 32 adults and 3 chicks = 35 total.
Recap of cranes observed on the flight: (35)*
adults + young
Refuge 17 + 1
Lamar 2 + 0
San Jose 2 + 1
Matagorda 8 + 1
Welder Flats 3 + 0
Total 32 + 3 = 35
* Visibilty was fair throughout the flight with some high clouds present.
Remarks: The majority of the whooping crane flock has started the migration right on schedule. During April 5 - 12, an estimated 102 whooping cranes (47.7% of the flock) left Aransas. During that period, most days provided suitable weather for migration except when a low pressure system brought strong northwest winds to Aransas on April 8th. That front crossed the coast quickly, with groups of whooping cranes reported starting the migration on April 9 and 10. So far, sighting reports of whooping cranes have been received from as far north as North Dakota.
Only an estimated 35 whooping cranes (32 adults + 3 chicks) are currently estimated to still be at Aransas. Thus, 83.6% of the flock has migrated. None of the birds remaining at Aransas are color-banded. Thus, all 21 of the banded cranes (9.8%) of the flock have migrated. Remaining at Aransas are 2 family groups, 28 subadults, and 1 chick all by itself. The chick was present on its parents' territory on San Jose Island. Whooping crane juveniles normally separate from their parents either shortly after arrival on the nesting grounds, en route in the northern parts of the migration, or occasionally separate at Aransas. Presumably the parents started the migration and the juvenile had no idea what was going on or perhaps just wasn't quite ready to migrate, so it stayed behind. Based on other instances of this happening, I fully expect this juvenile will head north in the next 2-4 weeks and successfully return to the Canadian nesting grounds. It will presumably even show up on its parent's nesting territory, but will be driven off by the parents who will not tolerate last year's chick.
As many as 18 whooping cranes may still be seen from the whooping crane tour boats. A higher percentage of cranes had remained on the refuge than in any of the other crane areas. On today's flight, 2 suabdault cranes were visible from the refuge observation tower, and 2 cranes were on the Big Tree Marsh at Lamar. Three single cranes were all widely separated at Welder Flats. The two family groups present (Pipeline family on the refuge and Lighthouse family on Matagorda Island) were both on their territories. The largest groups of cranes seen on today's flight were three different groups of 3 subadults. No cranes were seen on today's flight at sources of fresh water or on prescribed burns. Two cranes were in open bay habitat.
Other bird sightings of note;
a) The numbers of white pelicans at Aransas has also greatly decreased in the last couple of weeks. The migration of whooping cranes and white pelicans migrating at approximately the same time across North American leads several people to report large flocks (20+ birds) of whooping cranes when what they are seeing are really white pelicans. The two species look amazingly alike at a distance, both large white birds with black wing tips and an identical spiral flight pattern in migration. Whooping cranes usually migrate in small groups of up to 8 birds, but frequently migrate as singles, pairs, or family groups.
b) An estimated 100+ mottled ducks were seen at fresh water dugouts on San Jose Island. This concentration must be indicative of movements of the species along the Texas coast.
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