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: email@example.com. 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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I have not sent out a flight report for over a month, mainly because whooping crane numbers at Aransas have remained the same. I have not been able to find all the cranes on the last several flights, and have not found more than the 194 documented earlier. Weather has not been good on recent flights, making it very difficult to do a complete census.
Blue crab numbers have been decreasing in the marshes, with some blue crabs moving back out into the bays and others getting eaten by the cranes. I could only find 2 large crabs when I hiked the marsh for an hour on February 9th. This is the time of winter that food can be limited for the whooping cranes, although I still think they are relying on crabs. Hopefully crabs will move back into the marsh as tides increase and the waters get warmer. The considerable whooping crane use of prescribed burns this winter is an indication of food being harder to find in the marsh.
On February 10th, I received a believable whooping crane sighting of a single white-plumaged whooping crane in flight with sandhills near Hays, Kansas. The white plumage and contrasting black primaries were in sharp contrast to the gray of the sandhills. Although the cranes were not seen on the ground, nor were binoculars used, the observer was a professional biologist (mammalogist) and very familiar with sandhills. It is possible one whooping crane may get to Nebraska early this year. I hope Nebraska birders are able to document this. Biologists on the Platte River report just a few sandhill cranes currently present, with much of the river frozen and covered with 12 inches of snow. Although juvenal plumage was not reported, there is the possibility the single crane was the whooping crane juvenile that may have wintered in an unknown location in Texas and was migrating north early with sandhills. We had a confirmed sighting of this juvenile in Saskatchewan last fall, then a possible report in November in North Texas, but no subsequent sightings.
My next flight at Aransas is scheduled for February 25th.
Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950
(361) 286-3559 Ext. 221
fax (361) 286-3722
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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX