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 29 November, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas could find only 169 adults + 39 chicks = 208 total. No new whooping cranes were found on today's flight. This was what was expected since there had been no favorable migration conditions at Aransas since the previous flight on November 22nd. Numerous cranes were overlooked including the twin family at the Big Tree Marsh. The current flock size estimate is 190 adults + 45 chicks = 235. This includes 224 estimated present at Aransas plus 11 cranes still in migration. The 11 includes a twin family in Kansas and a one-chick family seen November 25th in northern Oklahoma at Salt Plains NWR. I still have a few gaps in the territorial distribution of cranes at Aransas, so I'm definitely expecting more cranes to arrive.
Census conditions were somewhat difficult with haze that kept building up on the windshield, and light conditions that kept changing from sunny to overcast. Thirty-eight cranes were observed in flight or having changed location during the census, so I struggled with finding all the cranes and preventing duplicate counts of the same birds. We will make search transects even shorter on the next flight to try to sort out crane movements that occur. I tried to focus on the status of territorial pairs and find all the family groups. Although some new information was gained, I wasn't able to find all the family groups so its possible one of the family groups reported last week was a duplicate sighting.
The marshes are getting salty, measured yesterday at 24 ppt, slightly above the threshold for when the cranes must seek out fresh water to drink. Ten cranes were found at freshwater ponds on the flight. Twelve cranes were found on uplands, 2 cranes on prescribed burns, and 0 in open bays. A crab count at Aransas done November 28th found numerous crabs and wolfberries, the food items the cranes are currently focusing on.
On November 27th, I drove to the Lamar Unit of Aransas NWR and observed a crane reported having arrived from migration with a limp. This limp is very noticeable, but the crane is covering ground as it forages and is alert. I could not see any break in the leg above the tibiotarsus, and the leg was held in the correct plane as the bird walked. The situation will be monitored.
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: 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/
Patty Waits Beasley
Corpus Christi, TX