Aerial Counts on Aransas Refuge Scheduled
By Chester McConnell, Whooping Crane Conservation Association
“Aerial survey flights to estimate the whooping crane population on Aransas NWR wintering grounds has been scheduled the week of January 23rd with the office of Migratory Birds within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Dan Alonso, Refuge Manager. Alonso also told the Whooping Crane Conservation Association that, “The aerial surveys will consist of 3 consecutive flights to increase the accuracy of the population estimate. We will post an update when biologists process the flight data.”
Whooping crane enthusiasts are elated with the news that census flights will soon begin. As late as last week Aransas officials had been not been able to secure a government certified pilot and aircraft to complete an aerial survey. Fortunately their diligent efforts resulted in getting the problem solved.
Aransas Refuge personnel have been doing their best under very trying circumstances. They drove the refuge roads in automobiles to count all whoopers within their view. On December 22, 2011 they observed 45 whooping cranes using upland and marsh communities. Coupled with one of the worst droughts in many years, red tides in bays along the Texas coast and low numbers of blue crabs (favorite food of whoopers), Aransas officials have had their hands full.
Despite potential threats this winter, whooping cranes continue to thrive and managers are doing everything possible to ensure their continued success. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge officials report that, “This has been a busy month for whooping crane activity since our last report in December 2011. Fortunately, the Refuge has received an additional 0.72 inches of precipitation but salinity levels remain higher than ideal.” The recent rains that came to Texas caused flooding in some areas but little of that fell on Aransas. Fortunately, temperatures have been higher than normal and whooping cranes have not had to face energy draining cold weather.
Refuge Manager Dan Alonso advised that, “We have continued to help alleviate the low food resources by adding to our prescribed burn totals. This week alone we have burned an additional 4,682 acres of whooping crane habitat. Biologists observed the whooping cranes eating acorns roasted by the fires and are seeing continued usage.”