Greetings all!

The following report is forwarded with permission from Tom Stehn, USFWS biologist and US Whooping Crane Coordinator.

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An aerial census was conducted February 6-7, 2008 of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas.   The total number of whooping cranes located was 259.   The estimated size of the flock remains at a record 266 .   The flock consists of an estimated 144 adults, 83 subadults, and 39 juveniles.


Recap of cranes found at Aransas (259) on the February 6-7, 2008 flight:



Adults + young


  63 + 10


      4 +    1

San Jose

  63 +     8*


  73 + 12**

Welder Flats

  18 +    7


221 + 38 = 259

  *   High for the 2007-08 winter.             

** Record number.


The whooping crane survey was conducted in a Cessna 210 piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Logistic Solutions of San Antonio, Texas with USFWS observers Tom Stehn and Darrin Welchert.   The flight was conducted over two afternoons due to other contract commitments of the aircraft.   Census conditions were ideal both days with full sunshine and moderate winds.


I estimate that all the whooping cranes are at Aransas except for 1 juvenile presumably wintering with sandhills someplace in West Texas that was lasted sighted at Muleshoe NWR Nov. 27-28.   There have been no recent reports of any whooping cranes wintering with sandhills in agricultural lands around the winter area.   The Dewberry Island pair was overlooked on today’s flight, as were possibly 2 other pairs on Matagorda Island.   The large number of cranes on the Matagorda Island burn made it impossible to know if cranes had been overlooked on their Matagorda marsh territories or whether the cranes were using the burn.  


There is no evidence of any whooping crane mortality having occurred this winter.   However, the tour boat captains have reported seeing the Lobstick male showing an unwillingness to fly, although he is able to make short flights.   This crane banded as a juvenile in 1978 is approaching 30 years of age and is the oldest known-aged bird in the flock.   The old male is alert and eating well, so folks are continuing to observe it daily.


On the flight, crane locations indicated somewhat of a shift in habitat use.   A notable 41 whooping cranes were on prescribed burns (24 on Matagorda Island uplands, 17 on Aransas in wet swale habitat).   Fourteen cranes were in open bay habitat, a notable increase from the 2 seen last month in the bays.   No cranes were found at fresh water sources except for one juvenile seen taking a bath in a pond that was deeper and presumably of lower salinity than the adjacent salt marsh.   Three cranes were at a wild game feeder on Lamar on the Johnson Ranch.   The Mustang Lake family group was quite close to the refuge observation tower providing good views for the refuge visitors.


Photos were taken of Cedar Bayou which has now become silted completely shut.   It apparently became closed about the last week in January.   With Cedar Bayou now closed, it is even more important to continue pursuing getting the bayou dredged since it is an important passage for fish and crabs to complete their life cycle between the Gulf and the bay to raise bay productivity.   Since the bayou became closed, some of the cattle on San Jose Island have wandered across Cedar Bayou and have had to be herded back from Matagorda Island.


Locations of abandoned crab traps were marked on aerial maps and the information will be given to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.   That agency organizes a pickup of abandoned crab pots by the general public, scheduled this year for February 16.   The number of abandoned pots is much lower than in years past due to all the effort gone into the annual clean-up.


The next census flight will take place sometime in March.


Tom Stehn, Whooping Crane Coordinator
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Aransas NWR
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.