Here's the official USFWS news release on the new whooper record!
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: . 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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December 1, 2004
The Aransas-Wood Buffalo whooping crane population has reached a new record high. An aerial census on 01 December, 2004 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas estimated the number of whooping cranes present at 183 adults + 33 young = 216 total.
Recap of cranes observed: (201)*
adults + young
Refuge 61 + 11
Lamar 2 + 1
San Jose 32 + 8*
Matagorda 58 + 9
Welder Flats 17 + 2
Total 170 + 31 = 201
* The count on San Jose is grossly underestimated due to poor visibility.
Remarks: Flight conditions were good, but increasing clouds turned into heavy overcast by afternoon making it difficult to find cranes, especially on San Jose Island. Tide levels were high with refuge tides measured at 3.4 mlt on 11-30-04. However, about 30% of San Jose Island was exposed mudflats. A large amount of water hyacinth was observed on today’s flight in the bay near Matagorda Island, an indicator of very large inflows from the Guadalupe River. Highway 35 north of Aransas where it crosses the Guadalupe River was recently closed due to high water from recent flooding rains upstream but has re-opened.
The number of cranes present at Aransas is estimated at a record 216 and exceeds the previous high of 213 reached last week. The flock consists of 131 adults, 52 subadults, and 33 chicks. The Big Tree and Long Reef banded families known present were overlooked on today’s flight to account for 33 juveniles total. The 33 chicks are the most to ever arrive at Aransas. The 67 cranes found on Matagorda Island is a record total surpassing the previous high of 65 set in March, 2003. One family group (nest 08/04) found on their North Lamar territory has arrived since the last flight on November 24th. One of the adults is color-banded as YbY-RwR. Perhaps this was the family group reported at Quivira NWR in Kansas on the morning of November 21st. Cold fronts crossed the Texas coast November 24, 27, and 30 providing favorable migration conditions.
If there had been no mortality since last spring, the Aransas-Wood Buffalo population could have reached 226 (193 adults/subadults present last spring + 33 juveniles produced = 226). The current population of 216, plus the 1 bird currently in Kansas, and the 2 birds shot in Kansas, leave only 7 whooping cranes unaccounted for that could still be in migration. “Stragglers” can continue to arrive at Aransas into December, with peak counts for the winter usually not made until mid-December. Traditional winter territories that are currently unoccupied include Allyn’s Bight, Curve Bayou, and Narrow Cove. Thus, a few more territorial pairs could arrive at Aransas. However, it is probable that most of the 7 cranes unaccounted for are probable mortality between spring and fall. In recent years, annual mortality has been about 12 cranes per year. Territorial pairs documented present on today’s flight include N. Allyn’s Bight and Middle Sundown Bay.
With the presence of 216 whooping cranes at Aransas, the migration is estimated to be 99 % complete. One whooping crane chick has separated from its parents and was last reported in northeastern Colorado on November 4th. One white-plumaged crane is still present at Quivira NWR in Kansas that is believed to be the third crane shot at by a hunting party on November 6th. This bird is being monitored, looks okay, and hopefully will continue the migration. The one surviving crane of the two shot in Kansas was shipped from Kansas State University to the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center on November 18th. It is in “guarded” condition. It is starting to eat natural foods (smelt and grains) but has an elevated white blood cell count and slight raspy breathing. It is still receiving some tube feeding and is taking 2 antibiotics and antifungal medicine. My thanks go to all of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center staff involved in caring for this bird.
Interesting locations on today’s flight included the refuge’s Blackjack Point family that was believed to be on San Jose Island. One pair of twin chicks was back near Vee Bayou on Matagorda where they had been previously been reported on November 19th. They are apparently moving back and forth between Matagorda Island and Welder Flats. On today’s flight, the largest group observed was 4 subadult cranes on the refuge’s Sundown Island.
One swan was sighted on today’s flight in Espiritu Santos Bay just east of Charlie’s Landing (southwest of Port O’Connor, Texas). Swans are rarely seen on the Texas coast. A mute swan was reported near this area on October 5th and is presumably the same bird.
- Tom Stehn
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Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX