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Greetings all!

The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US Whooping Crane Coordinator.

CONGRATULATIONS to everyone involved in and concerned about this wonderful recovery effort! Each time the next delicate milestone is reached, it really crystalizes just how effective everyone's role is in helping the whooping crane rebuild its population. From biologists to educators to the sneaker net -- every role is important!

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An aerial census on 13 December, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 182 adults and 45 chicks = 227 total. Note below that total flock size is estimated at 234.

Recap of cranes found: (227)

adults + young
Refuge 62 + 13
Lamar 8 + 3
San Jose 29 + 9
Matagorda 65 + 16
Welder Flats 18 + 4

Total 182 + 45 = 227

Remarks: Flight conditions were ideal with sun, light winds and great visibility. Nearly all whooping crane areas were covered during an aerial crane survey conducted December 13th. The great visibility provided an excellent picture of the wintering crane population. One portion on the end of the crane range on San Jose Island was not covered due to lack of time. Observers on the flight were Tom Stehn and Darrin Welchert. This was the final commercial flight for Pilot Dr. Tom Taylor who is retiring at age 74. Dr. Taylor has conducted the whooping crane flights for the past 13 seasons and will now just fly for fun. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Taylor for coming out of retirement this fall to monitor whooping crane arrivals and document the presence of a record number of cranes at Aransas. Darrin Welchert spotted numerous cranes on the flight and was a big help.

Results from the flight helped firm up the estimated flock size of 234. Present are 130 adults + 59 subadults + 45 chicks = 234 total. The presence of 2 additional family groups at Aransas was confirmed on the flight. Prior flights had hinted at the presence of one or both of these additional families, but the picture had remained confused due to crane movements and possibly counting the same cranes twice. One of these two families was presumably the family group sighted at Salt Plians NWR on November 25th. There have been no reported sightings of cranes in migration since December 1st.

On today's flight, 227 cranes were located at Aransas. In addition, based on the previous known distribution, 6 cranes were believed to have been overlooked. Also, 1 crane is about 15 miles northwest of Aransas and is wintering with sandhills (last report from December 9th). Thus, 227 + 6 + 1 provides the estimated flock size of 234. The total of 234 cranes is the largest whooping crane flock since counts began in 1938 when only 18 cranes were present at Aransas.

With salinities quite high at Aransas (measured at 24 ppt on November 28th), the movement of cranes to drink at fresh water sources made it more difficult to keep track of the birds. Seventeen cranes were found on today's flight at freshwater sources and 6 cranes were on prescribed burns. A burn was conducted on the refugeā¬"s Unit C2 during today's flight. Eleven cranes were in unburned uplands as follows; 3 in beach sand dunes on Matagorda Island, 2 on a shell road on their way to fresh water, and 6 near game feeders on Lamar. Twenty-two cranes were in open bay habitat, including 7 foraging in the shallows along the GIWW at Welder Flats. This was a notable change from last week when only 3 cranes were in open bays. Most of the cranes were mostly in high marsh habitat foraging on wolfberries, or were in open water salt marsh ponds looking for blue crabs. A blue crab count conducted November 28th indicated blue crabs were still available in good numbers for the cranes.

Twenty-one cranes were documented changing location during the census flight. The North Spalding Point family on San Jose was found on the refuge's Dunham Bay. Two cranes were at the extreme north end of Matagorda Island north of the old military base. One new family group was located opposite the refuge's Rattlesnake Island. There was so much movement of family groups on the north half of the refuge that once all the cranes were plotted in that area, we flew directly between all 7 family groups in that area to ensure no duplication.

Tom Stehn
Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas NWR
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950
(361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
fax (361) 286-3722
E:mail: tom_stehn@fws.gov

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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: tom_stehn@fws.gov. 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
email: patty@ccbirding.com
web: http://www.ccbirding.com/