The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and National Whooping Crane Coordinator.
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.
Anyone wanting to contact Tom about the report or the whooping crane projects can reach him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Other information, including archived copies of these reports, can be found at the Texas Whooping Crane home pages at http://www.electrotex.com/aoc/. (Please link to the Texas Whooping Crane pages through the AOC main home page, as the URLs for the special site pages may change over time as updates and reviews occur.)
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An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made
January 21, 2000 revealed the presence of somewhere between a
record 185 and 191 whooping cranes.
Recap of cranes observed: (170)
Refuge Lamar San Jose Matagorda Welder Other Total
90+11 2+0 13+0 26+2 24+2 155+15=170
Remarks: This census flight was done by pilot Huey McDonald of
Victoria Air Charter in a Cessna 172, with Tom Stehn, observer.
Visibility was fairly poor throughout the day due to overcast and
humidity that continually formed on the windshield. A thorough
census effort was completed (7.2 flight hours)
Only 170 total cranes were located on the flight. Crane numbers
found in all areas were less than the last flight on January 4,
most likely a result of the poor viewing conditions. Only 15
family groups were located, the same total as the last flight. A
family group was reported January 11th on the Powderhorn Ranch
north of Welder Flats, which may account for one of the families
not located on those two flights. Only 13 whoopers were found on
San Jose Island. This compares with last winter when around 35
whoopers were typically found on San Jose. This indicates a large
difference in habitat conditions between winters.
The cranes are flying extensively to use prescribed burns and
upland freshwater sources. On today's flight, 40 cranes were on
prescribed burns, 23 on unburned uplands, and 2 whoopers were at
freshwater. A record 38 cranes were found on one refuge
prescribed burn (Unit 41E). This included a single flock of 32
cranes in an area about 1/3rd the size of a football field, the
largest concentration of whooping cranes I have ever observed. No
whooping cranes were found on Unit 41W that was recently burned.
The cranes are apparently finding what they need on 41E which is
closer to the salt marsh.
The lack of blue crabs in the marsh and the extensive prescribed
burning program on the refuge has resulted in cranes from other
wintering areas leaving their territories and utilizing the refuge.
The 101 cranes located on the refuge is only one less than last
flight's record high. Sixteen of the 50 pairs and families present
on the wintering grounds were NOT located on their territories,
indicating the large amount of movement this winter. The radio
family from south Matagorda Island was first observed in flight
over the Service Road on the refuge and landed near Long Lake. The
Long Reef pair from San Jose was across two bays on Lamar. An
adult with a single chick was not located, but could easily have
been in the chaotic groupings observed on the refuge. On the
previous flight they had been on San Jose.
Food resources have been marginal throughout January. A shift away
from feeding on crabs is indicated by the 22 whooping cranes found
on the census in open bay habitat, aided by moderately low tides.
An additional 19 cranes were found in the open waters of Mustang
Slough, Redfish Slough, and Long Lake, waters similar to open bay.
One whooper on San Jose was seen holding a large hardhead fish.
On January 13, one whooping crane was reported in agricultural
fields north of the refuge close to county road FM 774 and may have
been acting sick. Efforts to subsequently locate this crane have
- Tom Stehn
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Corpus Christi, Texas