March 11, 1999

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 3/11/99 revealed the presence of 164 adults and 18 young = 182 whooping cranes. The flight was made in charter aircraft with Tom Stehn as observer and Tom Taylor, pilot.

Recap of cranes observed: (172*)

Refuge Lamar San Jose Matagorda Welder Other Total

56+4 4+1 34+3 44+6 16+4 154+18=172

* The refuge's Willow Creek pair was overlooked in heavy rain squalls. The population remains estimated at 182 at Aransas and 1 bird on the Platte River in Nebraska = 183 total.

Remarks: Visibility was very poor in the morning due to light showers. Despite finding only 172 cranes, all cranes are still believed to be on the wintering grounds. The Willow Creek pair was assumed overlooked in bad weather. The Cedar Bayou pair on San Jose was not on its territory, but the number of cranes on San Jose remained constant at 37. Thus, this unbanded pair may have been one of the duos in Upper Vinson Slough, or else could have started the migration. The Shell Reef New family and Grass Island pair on Welder, overlooked last week, were both located on today's flight, proving at least 181 cranes were present last week. This is a strong indication that no mortality has occurred this winter despite not reaching peak counts on census flights in January and February.

Numbers and distribution of cranes on today's flight were similar to the previous flight. Two cranes were observed holding either small snakes or eels. Perhaps eels have moved into the salt marsh with recent increases in tide levels.

Interesting locations included the following;

The Big Tree family was far from their territory in saltmarsh at Newcomb Point south of Holiday Beach. Last week, they also were roaming at the mouth of Copano Creek. One subadult was located for the fifth consecutive flight on Dewberry Island near Port O'Connor. Adult female RwR-YbY was with one other bird, but singles were also in the vicinity. A group of 7 subadults were present on San Jose Island. A duo was again present south of Pringle Lake. The N. Sundown Bay was apparently on Rattlesnake Island. The Boat Ramp pair was in marsh near the mouth of Mustang Lake. Two subadult trios were in saltmarsh on Bludworth Island.

FMI please contact:

    Tom Stehn
    Whooping Crane Coordinator
    Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
    Austwell, TX