December 30, 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
12/30/98 revealed the presence of 161 adults and 18 young = 179
whooping cranes.  The flight was made in charter aircraft with Tom
Stehn as observer and Tom Taylor, pilot.

Recap of cranes observed: (179)

  Refuge   Lamar   San Jose   Matagorda  Welder  Other      Total
   65+5     4+1      33+2       42+6      17+4          161+18=179 

Remarks:  Even with ideal viewing conditions, only a disappointing 179
total cranes were located.  Total cranes present are two less than the
flock size of 181 last spring even though 18 juveniles have arrived at
Aransas.  Cold weather over Christmas should have brought most cranes
lingering in the Flyway down to the coast.  Thus, it appears that
mortality was high between spring and fall, 1998 (19 birds = 10.5% of
the flock).  

One injured whooper with a broken leg is still at Quivira NWR in
Kansas and is the 180th bird in the population.  It is feeding well on
corn and roosting on the frozen marshes.  One whooping crane subadult
has been staying with sandhills near Edna about 50 miles north of the
refuge.  However, it has not been seen in the last 4 days and thus it
is assumed for now to be one of the 179 birds seen on today's flight.

All pairs are believed present on their territories.  The bands have
not been seen on crane R-r/b, but an unbanded pair is present on the
territory, so the last band is believed to have fallen off that bird.

Recent cold weather over Christmas (low of 29 degrees) has lowered
water temperatures and caused crabs to be less active.  As a result,
the cranes are eating more wolfberries.  Whooping crane use of
prescribed burns has tapered off.  Too much standing water is present
on the refuge to burn additional units.  Three 14-acre test plots were
burned on Matagorda Island 12/29.

Interesting locations on today's flight were the return of the Mustang
Lake cranes to their territory, the movement of the Allyn's Bight
family to Blackjack Point, and the presence of the Willow Creek cranes
on Heron Flats.