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Whooping Crane Migration Update: December 30, 1998

Disappointing Whooping Crane News From Aransas
Although Tom Stehn's most recent aerial survey located 179 whooping cranes at Aransas NWR, this news was disappointing because over 190 cranes were expected to arrive this fall. Tom suspects that mortality was high between spring and fall 1998 (19 birds = 10.5 percent of the flock).

Here is Tom's report:

To: Journey North
From: Tom Stehn

Whooping Crane Census at Aransas

Whooping Crane Coordinator
Tom Stehn

An aerial census of the Aransas NWR and surrounding areas made 12/30/98 revealed the presence of 161 adults and 18 young = 179 whooping cranes. The flight was made in charter aircraft with Tom Stehn as observer and Tom Taylor, pilot.

Even with ideal viewing conditions, only a disappointing 179 total cranes were located. Total cranes present are two less than the flock size of 181 last spring even though 18 juveniles have arrived at Aransas. Cold weather over Christmas should have brought most cranes lingering in the Flyway down to the coast. Thus, it appears that mortality was high between spring and fall, 1998 (19 birds = 10.5% of the flock).

Recap of cranes observed: (179)




San Jose





# of Cranes:








One injured whooper with a broken leg is still at Quivira NWR in Kansas and is the 180th bird in the population. It is feeding well on corn and roosting on the frozen marshes. One whooping crane subadult has been staying with sandhills near Edna about 50 miles north of the refuge. However, it has not been seen in the last 4 days and thus it is assumed for now to be one of the 179 birds seen on today's flight.

All pairs are believed present on their territories. The bands have not been seen on crane R-r/b, but an unbanded pair is present on the territory, so the last band is believed to have fallen off that bird.

Recent cold weather over Christmas (low of 29 degrees) has lowered water temperatures and caused crabs to be less active. As a result, the cranes are eating more wolfberries. Whooping crane use of prescribed burns has tapered off. Too much standing water is present on the refuge to burn additional units. Three 14-acre test plots were burned on Matagorda Island 12/29.

Interesting locations on today's flight were the return of the Mustang Lake cranes to their territory, the movement of the Allyn's Bight family to Blackjack Point, and the presence of the Willow Creek cranes on Heron Flats.

Tom Stehn
Whooping Crane Coordinator
Aransas NWR, Austwell, Texas

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