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 06 December, 2006 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas found 181 adults and 43 chicks = 224 total. Note below that total flock size is estimated at 234.
Recap of cranes found: (224)
adults + young
Refuge 57 + 12
Lamar 8 + 3
San Jose 35 + 10
Matagorda 62 + 14
Welder 19 + 4
Total 181 + 43 = 224
Remarks: All whooping crane areas were covered during an aerial crane survey conducted December 6th. Conditions were fair with light winds, but skies were overcast making it likely that at least 5% of all cranes were overlooked. Even large white birds do not stand out well when light levels are low.
The presence of 4 more cranes at Aransas was documented on the flight. The family group with 2 chicks seen at Kirwin NWR in Kansas that apparently resumed migration on November 29th has made it safely to Aransas. This is the record 7th set of twins to make it to Aransas this winter out of the 8 sets sighted by the Canadian biologists in mid-August. However, I have no evidence that the family group sighted at Salt Plains NWR in Oklahoma on November 25th has made it to Aransas.
I have revised my estimate of number of chicks and total numbers in the population. Evidence from the last 2 census flights indicates I had counted twice a family group on the November 22nd flight. Thus, there are currently 43 chicks at Aransas.
Total flock size is estimated at 234. This estimate is derived from the 221 counted at Aransas on November 22nd plus 13 additional birds as follows;
2+2 at Kirwin NWR that arrived at Aransas the first week in December.
4+0 in central Kansas in late November
2+1 sighted at Salt Plains NWR in northern Oklahoma on November 25.
1+0 sighted in flight south of Bastrop, Texas on December 1.
1+0 A whooping crane has been in with sandhill cranes for about a month 15
miles northwest of the wintering area just south of Port Lavaca, Texas.
The total of 234 cranes is the largest whooping crane flock since counts began in 1938 when only 18 cranes were present at Aransas.
With salinities quite high at Aransas (measured at 24 ppt on November 28th), the movement of cranes to drink at fresh water sources made it more difficult to keep track of the birds. Eight cranes were found on today's flight at freshwater sources and 8 cranes were on a burn conducted December 5th on Matagorda Island. Eight cranes were in unburned uplands as follows; 3 in hog rootings, 2 at a game feeder, 2 on a shell road, and one foraging in upland vegetation on a very small island surrounded by salt marsh. Three cranes were in open bay habitat. The cranes were mostly in high marsh habitat foraging on wolfberries, or were in open water salt marsh ponds looking for blue crabs. A blue crab count conducted November 28th indicated blue crabs were still available in good numbers for the cranes.
One family group I refer to as the North Spaulding Point family on San Jose was found on the refuge's Bludworth Island. One pair that formerly contained banded bird R-YbY has consistently been staying on their traditional winter territory, but no bands have been observed. Perhaps the bands have fallen off since the summer.
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