An aerial census March 21 at Aransas found 172 whoopers at Aransas. One
whooper is on the Platte River in Nebraska. One whooper was unaccounted
for on the census flight.
My flight report follows:
An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made 21 March,
2002 estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 159 adults + 14
chicks = 173. One additional whooping crane is on the Platte River in
Nebraska (# 174). One adult and one chick have died from the winter's peak
population of 176.
Recap of cranes observed: (172a)
Refuge Lamar San Jose Matagorda Welder Flats Indianola
42+5 6+1 34+2 56+5b 18+1 2+0
158 + 14 = 172
a The one crane not located could be dead, in migration, or simply
overlooked on the flight.
b Record all-time high of 61 on Matagorda Island, exceeding the 59 cranes
present Feb. 21. Subadult cranes had moved over from the
refuge to Matagorda to increase the total.
Remarks: Census conditions were excellent throughout the day with clear
skies and moderate winds. All areas were covered except the upper end of
St. Charles Bay. The cranes were definitely moving more, making it more
difficult to keep track of the cranes.
It is clear that the migration has not started yet except for the single
whooping crane confirmed March 20 on the Platte River in Nebraska. All
families and pairs were located along with an estimated 30 subadults. The
subadult duo on San Jose with one crane with an injured left wing was
located not too far from where last seen two weeks ago. A family group on
Matagorda last week seen as 1+1 was back with typical spacing as 2+1.
Unusual Locations: The two "Indianola" cranes were located on today's
flight in salt marsh on the Alcoa property next to the Myrtle Foster
Whitmire Unit of the Aransas NWR west of the town of Indianola. The refuge
is currently managing this property that is slated to become part of the
refuge. The North Lamar pair had flown west and was at the mouth of Copano
Creek. The banded North Dunham Point pair was located on San Jose Island,
but returned to their refuge territory in the afternoon. The Mustang Lake
pair was still staying at the North Pump Canal. The North Pump Canal pair
(RwR-YbY) was still on San Jose Island.
Habitat: Tides have risen with oyster reefs in the bays partially
covered and most of the mud flats on San Jose covered with water. Crane
use has diminished in open bays (3)and large lakes (6). Most cranes were
in vegetated marsh. Both blue crabs and fiddler crabs are believed to be
available and being preyed upon, with the whoopers in the higher dry marsh
presumably seeking fiddler crabs made active with the warmer temperatures.
A crab count March 19 indicated some crabs still in the marshes for the
cranes. On today's flight, no cranes were on prescribed burns. Five
cranes were observed flying to freshwater to drink. Salinities have
remained around 15 to 16 ppt in the bays and marshes.