The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US 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, plus many volunteers and non-profit organizations along the way.
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 web site at https://ccbirding.com/
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An aerial census on October 29, 2003 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 45 adults + 4 young = 49 total.
Recap of cranes observed: (49)
adults + young
Refuge 22 + 3
San Jose 4 + 0
Matagorda 15 + 1
Welder Flats 4 + 0
Total 45 + 4 = 49
Remarks: Sunny skies and light south winds made for ideal census conditions. All of the crane area was covered in 6.4 hours of flight time.
The presence of 49 whooping cranes indicated that 44 cranes have arrived since the last flight on October 23rd. The arrival of most cranes was associated with a very strong low pressure system that swept across the Texas Coast on October 26th with north winds continuing through the following day.
The Lobstick adult pair was reported at Aransas on October 25th, just 8 days after leaving Saskatchewan. With strong south winds present October 25th at the refuge, it is possible the Lobstick pair actually arrived on October 24th. This pair has 2 chicks with them, the first set of "twins" to make it to Aransas since 1997. In the 7 years since the pickup of second eggs on the nesting grounds ceased, 2 pairs have now brought "twins" to Aransas.
The Mustang Lake pair that visitors can see at the refuge observation tower arrived the afternoon of October 28th. They first landed at Heron Flats Marsh and then are believed to have flown on to Mustang Lake.
Status of migration: An estimated 75% of the whooping flock is still in migration, with sightings in the past week distributed all the way from Saskatchewan, Canada, to Texas. Low pressure and snow in SK and the Dakotas October 29th should help whooping cranes continue the migration and make rapid progress. Texas currently has high pressure and the warmest temperatures in the nation which is forecast to continue for at least the next 4 days.
Refuge Management: A refuge prescribed burn of Unit C-15 next to St. Charles Bay was conducted on October 29th. In the past, burns of this unit occasionally received use by whooping cranes. This area had been roller-chopped to convert lands with encroaching running live oak brush back into coastal oak savannah prairie habitat.
Resource Issues: During the crane census, I recorded 970 commercial crab traps in or near whooping crane areas. A breakdown of trap distribution found 240 traps in cuts leading into crane marshes, and 730 in open bays or open lakes close to crane areas. This very high number of traps is present presumably because of abundant blue crab populations. However, trend data shows that the average size of blue crabs is declining on the Texas coast, a sign of a resource under pressure. It is unknown what impact commercial crabbing may be having on whooping cranes.
The pickup of abandoned crab pots the past two winters organized by Texas Parks and Wildlife has greatly reduced the number of abandoned "ghost" traps that continue to catch crabs, fish, and diamondback terrapins. Thousands of abandoned traps have been removed from the bays and marshes. On Matagorda Island, I counted 43 abandoned pots in the crane area, and 20 more at Welder Flats. This is a vast improvement over surveys done several years ago with hundreds of abandoned pots present. Congratulations to TPWD for organizing and participating in this cleanup.
- Tom Stehn
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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX