November 13, 2002

An aerial census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas made  November 13, 2002 estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 147 adults + 14 young = 161 total.

Recap of cranes observed:

Refuge           49 + 6
Lamar              4 + 0
San Jose         26 + 2
Matagorda      47 + 5
Welder Flats   21 + 1

Total   147 + 14 = 161

Remarks: Clear skies and light winds provided perfect census conditions. All of the crane areas were covered except Indianola with 8.0 hours of flight time.

Eighty-three cranes completed the migration since the previous flight on November 06th.  The cranes were aided by good migration conditions on the coast on November 6-7, with excellent conditions November 12th when many cranes are believed to have arrived.  In the 2-week period October 31 and November 13, a total of 141 cranes have arrived at Aransas.  Even though arrivals initially were approximately one week later than average, the progress of the migration caught up in a hurry.

Status of migration:

Most of the flock has arrived at Aransas.  There could be as many as an estimated 20 cranes still in migration, depending on mortality.   Pairs believed to still be in migration are the Allyn's Bight and Jay Bird Point pairs with adults with metal bands, and the unbanded Lobstick pair.

Habitat:   Tides had dropped noticeably from the extreme highs last week and were at mid-levels.  On today's flight, some mudflats were exposed on San Jose Island in the Vinson Slough drainage that was about 50% dry.

Unusual Locations:

One crane was visible at the refuge's Mustang Lake observation tower. Hopefully, this was a subadult and not one member of the unbanded pair that was present last winter.  The Big Tree pair had flown west across Highway 35 to marsh south of Holiday Beach.  Two cranes were back south of the headquarters on the south end of Matagorda, a place frequented last year. A pair has returned to Dewberry Island near Port O'Connor.  A family group and a pair were seen on Long Island adjacent to the middle of Pringle Lake on Matagorda Island.  Cranes have occasionally been seen here in the past, but it is unusual.  At the end of the census, two cranes were first seen in flight and followed for 6 miles until they landed at Power Lake on Matagorda Island.  It is not known if these cranes were seen earlier, or whether they were migrants just arriving.  After the two cranes landed, we returned to see if they could have come from Long Island.  The family and pair were no longer there and were not located again, so it is possible the two in flight had been on Long Island.

Families:  Fourteen chicks so far have arrived at Aransas out of the 18 that were known to be present in mid-August.  The 14 families present include;

known pairs in Wood Buffalo
Pat's Bay (05/02, A-2)
Middle Pond (06/02, A-6)a
North Pipeline Flats (16/02)
North Cottonwood (20/02)
South M. I. (25/02,S-13)
Central Matagorda (34/02)

   a This family was not found in Wood Buffalo in August, and thus was the 18th chick in mid-August.

unknown pairs in Wood Buffalo

Mustang Slough South (unknown, could also be Mustang Slough)
Behind Lakeside (unknown)
Grass Island
Spalding Point
S. Pringle
South Shoalwater

The Boat Ramp New (nest 31/02) and Spalding Lake (44/02) pairs have arrived without their chick that were seen in mid-August.  I also believe the unbanded N. Sundown Bay pair (nest 45/02) is at Aransas without their expected chick.  Unbanded pairs that I'm unsure about whether or not they have arrived without their chicks are Middle Sundown Bay (29/02) and Power Lake (10/02).  Let's hope for a few more families.

- Tom Stehn

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