The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US Whooping Crane Coordinator.
CONGRATULATIONS to everyone involved in and concerned about this wonderful recovery effort! Each time the next delicate milestone is reached, it really crystalizes just how effective everyone's role is in helping the whooping crane rebuild its population. From biologists to educators to the sneaker net -- every role is important!
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An aerial census on 22 November, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 182 adults and 42 chicks = 224 total.
Recap of cranes present: (224)
adults + young
Refuge 57 + 12
Lamar 8 + 3
San Jose 38 + 9
Matagorda 59 + 14
Welder Flats 20 + 4
Total 182 + 42 = 224
Remarks: All whooping crane areas were covered during an aerial crane survey conducted November 22nd. Conditions were ideal with light winds and clear skies.
The total of 224 cranes is the highest count ever made at Aransas, with counts going back to 1938. In addition to the 224 cranes at Aransas, there are 8 cranes in migration still being monitored in Kansas, including one pair with two chicks. Thus, the current estimate for the size of the Aransas-Wood Buffalo flock is 232, 12 higher than the peak population of 220 last winter. The 42 chicks currently at Aransas is an all-time high, surpassing the previous high of 34 in 2004. A total of 6 sets of 'twins' are present, also beating the previous high of 4 sets of twins in 1958.
The total of 224 cranes located is an increase of 13 adults + 3 juveniles = 16 cranes since the last flight on November 15th. The new cranes are believed to have arrived with favorable migration conditions at Aransas November 15-16 and November 19-20. New arrivals included 3 family groups. Eleven cranes were located on the Lamar Peninsula including 2 south and 1 north of Holiday Beach close to Copano Bay. This ties the record for the most cranes observed on Lamar last set in the 2004-05 winter. One family group present last week on North Shell Reef on Matagorda Island was apparently not located on today's flight and most likely was overlooked. However, I cannot totally rule out that this family had moved to San Jose
Island or the refuge. If I can confirm their presence on the next flight, that will raise the number present to 184 + 43 = 227 at Aransas.
The ideal census conditions allowed us to concentrate on looking for color-banded whooping cranes. Eight more banded birds were confirmed present. A family group that is stained brown on the legs and bellies that may have walked into a pond containing an oily substance sometime during the migration was located on their North Cottonwood Bayou territory on Matagorda Island. One of the adults was banded YbY-Y in 1987 and was last observed on November 7th at Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in northern Oklahoma. This family was believed present at Aransas on the November 15th flight, but on that day we were unable to fly low enough to see the staining on the legs. Although the discoloration is clearly evident, it is difficult to see from the air as you're looking down on the birds. From my brief look from the air, the family seemed to behave just like any other cranes.
On today's flight, 3 cranes were sighted at fresh water sources and 4 were on uplands. None were on prescribed burns. Salinities have risen recently, measured November 20 at 25 ppt in the refuge boat canal and 29 ppt in the adjacent marsh. The upland use included a family group foraging on areas uprooted by feral hogs on Matagorda Island. They were located
very close to the dunes on Matagorda Island, the furthest away from the salt marsh I have ever seen cranes on Matagorda. Tides had dropped noticeably since last week, with 10 cranes observed in open water on today's flight compared to none last week. Most of the rest of the cranes are currently foraging on blue crabs and wolfberries.
Several territorial chases were observed as established pairs defend their territories and usually are able to keep all other cranes out of their territory. There appear to be a few territorial pairs that have not yet completed the migration, although this involves uncertainties as subadult duos usually seem to occupy these areas until pushed out.
My thanks again go to Pilot Dr. Tom Taylor who has come out of retirement to conduct crane flights this fall. Today's flight was a long day, but very rewarding!
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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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/
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX