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 whooping crane census of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas was conducted on 27 February, 2007 by Pilot
Fred Roetker of USFWS-Migratory Birds with observer Tom Stehn in an amphibious Cessna 206 based out of Abbyville, Louisiana. My sincere
thanks go to Fred Roetker for his willingness to make the trip down from Louisiana and help out the whooping crane recovery program.
The census found 145 adults and 35 chicks = 180* total. Total flock size remained estimated at 237. Recap of cranes found: (180*)
| |Adults + young|
| Refuge | 58 + 13 |
| Lamar | 6 + 3 |
| San Jose | 42 + 10 |
| Matagorda | 39 + 9* |
| Welder | -* |
| Flats | |
| Total | 145+35 = 180*|
* Not all areas flown.
Remarks: Sea fog rolling in to the crane area over the barrier islands cut the flight short after about 3½ hours. The following day, fog
made it impossible to finish the survey. Areas covered in about 3½ hours of flight time were Aransas refuge, Lamar, San Jose Island, and
the southern third of Matagorda Island. Fog limited coverage slightly on the latter two areas, but most of the cranes were located before
the fog started moving inland from the Gulf.
Census flights in 2007 have been limited to one a month due to the increased cost of certified aircraft. The priority for this flight was
to look for any juvenile mortality that may have occurred. Experience has shown that juvenile mortality would have a greater chance of
occurring in adult pairs with 2 chicks. On the flight, 5 of the 7 sets of "twin" juveniles were located. One set was overlooked in spotty
coverage of their territory due to fog, and one twin family located on Welder Flats was not searched for at all. Thus, it looks like all 7 twin families have so far survived the winter.
Although the entire crane area was not covered, some interesting observations were made to help keep track of crane movements. In addition to Matagorda's Airport family, one (and possibly two) extra families were found on the northeast tip of San Jose Island where a total of 16 cranes were present. Likely present was the Northeast Bray family group from Matagorda, the first time I've had a strong indication that they were probably on San Jose. The 16 cranes present in a fairly small area on San Jose were believed to have been brought to that part of the island by the prescribed burn done nearby on the south end of Matagorda Island. One San Jose family (North Spalding Point) continued to spend the winter on Aransas across the bay from San Jose.
On Matagorda Island, the family group that it is believed to have gotten oiled plumage in the fall migration was not located for the second consecutive flight. However, sea fog was rolling in and the search for this family had to be ended without searching uplands and a nearby prescribed burn. Finding this family will be made a priority for the next flight scheduled for mid-March.
On Lamar, two family groups and a subadult duo were all found on the Johnson property and the adjacent salt marsh that was recently donated by the Texas Nature Conservancy to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. One of the subadults earlier in the winter had a very bad limp, possibly from a dislocated hip. A report from February 23rd indicated the limp was much improved but still noticeable. On Aransas, an "unknown" family group was once again found on Long Lake.
Habitat conditions have been fairly good for the cranes this winter. In February, lots of cranes were observed in open bay habitat,
presumably feeding primarily on clams. On today's flight, 8 of the 180 cranes were in open bay habitat. Five were on a recent prescribed
burn and 2 on an old burn, both burns located on Matagorda Island. No cranes were on a recent prescribed burn on San Jose. No cranes were
located at sources of freshwater, an indication that the bay salinities ranging between 16-20 ppt are just below the threshold when cranes are forced to seek out freshwater to drink.
Whooping Crane Coordinator
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