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Greetings all!

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

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An aerial census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas was conducted over 3 days (November, 14 , 16 and 17, 2007). The total number of whooping cranes located was 241. I estimate that more than 90% of the flock has completed the migration with hopefully 10 to 20 more whooping cranes still in the Flyway.

Recap of cranes found: (241)
|------------+--------------|
| |adults + young|
|------------+--------------|
| Refuge | 61 + 10 |
|------------+--------------|
| Lamar | 4 + 1 |
|------------+--------------|
| San Jose | 44 + 7 |
|------------+--------------|
| Matagorda | 72 + 10 |
|------------+--------------|
| Welder | 24 + 7 |
| Flats | |
|------------+--------------|
| Indianola | 1 + 0 |
|------------+--------------|
| Total |206 + 35 = 241|
|------------+--------------|

Methods: The whooping crane survey was conducted in conjunction with aerial waterfowl counts done on Texas coastal refuges. The twin-engine Partanavia aircraft was piloted by Jim Bredy with observers Patrick Walther and Tom Stehn, all of USFWS. My thanks especially go to Pilot Jim Bredy for his dedication to the crane work at the end of a long week of flying the waterfowl census. Cranes on Aransas and Matagorda Island NWRs were recorded during waterfowl counts done on November 14 and 16 respectively with excellent viewing conditions. Cranes were not counted on November 15th because of high winds gusting to 30 mph. Upon completion of the waterfowl counts, Pilot Jim Bredy returned to Rockport and cranes were counted the afternoon of November 17th on San Jose Island and Welder Flats. Viewing conditions were marginal on the 17th due to overcast skies and occasional drizzle. Cranes were presumably overlooked on San Jose Island.

Since the last crane flight conducted November 8th, there were no suitable migration conditions that would have allowed more cranes to reach Aransas until November 15th when a very strong cold front brought NNE winds 20-30 mph for one full day. The additional 30 cranes found during the census are all believed to have arrived behind the cold front on November 15th. Aransas Refuge was flown before the front, so additional cranes could be on
the refuge and not have been counted.

Results: The census provided a record-breaking count of 206 adults + 35 chicks = 241 total. This total includes one whooping crane present November 17th confirmed by a bird watcher in the rice country south of Port Lavaca and west of Indianola, Texas northwest of the crane wintering area at Welder Flats. The total breaks the previous peak count of 237 present during the 2006-07 winter. The 82 cranes on Matagorda is a record high, and the 31 cranes at Welder Flats tie the previous record high. The high number at Welder Flats is due to the record 7 juveniles wintering there. Although there could have been crane movements that resulted in duplication during the 3 days of census flights, it is also very likely that cranes were overlooked on San Jose Island due to the poor visibility on November 17th. Thus, the estimate of 241 is felt to be reasonable and probably a few birds lower than actually present.

A habitat survey done by volunteer Katherine Cullen on November 12 located enough blue crabs and wolfberries that these are currently the predominant foods being consumed by the cranes. Notable on the survey were numerous frogs, a critter usually not found in the salt marsh, but present this fall due to the extremely fresh conditions. Salinities are quite moderate at 8-10 ppt. I would expect the frogs to be a tasty morsel for the cranes. On the flight, no cranes were found on uplands, prescribed burns, or fresh water sources.

The 35 chicks currently present are an indicator of good survival subsequent to mid-August surveys done in Wood Buffalo National Park. Of the 13 chicks from pairs where both summer and winter territories are known, all 13 have made it to Aransas safely. A scavenged carcass identified as a juvenile whooping crane was found in Avonlea in southern Saskatchewan on October 16th. It is not known what the cause of death was or if the juvenile had been with its parents or had been alone.

Last week, a family group of 1 adult + 1 chick was found at Welder Flats. This week, the 1+1 grouping was located in front of the refuge observation tower on November 17th, but no cranes were in front of that same tower on November 14th. The week before, a 2+1 family group had been present at the tower. These observations indicate some moving around being done as pairs seek to establish territories. The 1+1 grouping observed is evidence that
an adult had died subsequent to nesting.

Notable sightings on the waterfowl counts included 1,600 sandhill cranes and 12,000 geese at the refuge's Burgentine Lake. Also, 2 flamingos were sighted in Baffin Bay south of Corpus Christi that have been staying on the Texas and Louisiana coasts the last 3 years. One of the flamingos (a greater) is an escapee from the Sedgewick County Zoo in Kansas, and the other bird (a Caribbean) is a wild-hatched flamingo from the Yucatan in Mexico.

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/