December 17, 1998

TO: Division of Endangered Species, USFWS, Albuquerque, NM

FROM: Whooping Crane Coordinator, Aransas NWR, Austwell, Texas

SUBJECT:  Whooping Crane Census at Aransas

An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made
12/17/98 revealed the presence of 160 adults and 18 young = 178
whooping cranes.  The flight was made in charter aircraft with Tom
Stehn as observer and Tom Taylor, pilot.

Recap of cranes observed: (176*)

  Refuge   Lamar   San Jose   Matagorda  Welder  Other      Total
   57+3     6+1      34+3       44+7**    17+4          158+18=176*  

* Two subadults were apparently overlooked.

** Breaks the record for most whoopers ever documented on Matagorda   

Remarks:  The number of cranes at Aransas is disappointing since it is
still below the record 182 present last winter.   Two new family
groups (nests 15 and 47) have arrived since the last flight on 03
December.  Estimated present are 160 + 18 = 178 whooping cranes (102
adults, 58 subadults, 18 juveniles).  The two family groups presumably
arrived with a Pacific cold front that brought north and northeast
winds to the coast December 10-17.

The Mustang Lake family group, not on its refuge territory, was
located on Matagorda Island interacting with the Middle Matagorda pair
near Panther Point.  This helped reach a record high of 51 whoopers on
Matagorda, breaking the previous high by one.

A few cranes (especially some subadults) are still hoped to be in
migration since the weather has remained generally mild in Kansas,
Oklahoma, and Texas.  An adult female with a broken leg has been at
Quivira NWR in Kansas since November 10.  The broken leg presumably
caused the female to separate from its mate and chick that are at
Aransas and appear to be re-pairing.  Efforts by Kent Clegg using
nightlighting and helicopter propwash to capture the injured female
were unsuccessful.  The refuge staff is trying to get the female to
come to bait to allow capture with alpha-chloralose.  The injured
female is feeding well and flying strongly and the leg is showing a
little improvement. 

A refuge prescribed burn of Unit 32 was carried out December 8.  Less
than 50 % of the unit burned due to the very wet conditions at
Aransas.  Crane use of this burn has been light, but some crane use
has continued on Burn Unit 42E.  A few whoopers have been documented
on prescribed burns on Matagorda Island.

Bay and marsh salinities are between 6 and 8 ppt.  A very high number
(336) of blue crabs was counted during an hour-long walking census on
December 15.  Bay tides have remained lower, so that the crabs are
more concentrated in the marshes.  The wolfberry crop is nearing its
peak, although total number of fruits appears to be below average this
year.  Food resources are currently plentiful for the whoopers. 
Combined with the mild temperatures and low salinities, conditions are
excellent for the wintering population.