Friday, April 10, 2009

Very bad times for Whooping Cranes in central flyway

I have extracted salient portions of the annual crane season at Aransas NWR in Texas:

"The tenth aerial census of the 2008-09 crane season at Aransas was
conducted April 7, 2009 with USFWS observer Tom Stehn in a Cessna 210
piloted by Gary Ritchey of Air Transit Solutions of Castroville,
Texas. . . .

Today's flight tallied 103 adults + 6 juveniles = 109 total. Thus, 56% of
the flock has started the migration. Whooping cranes have been confirmed
on April 2nd as far north as Nebraska. I expect a considerable number of
cranes will start the migration in the next week. Conditions should be
ideal for departure with very strong southeast winds forecast for Aransas
April 8-9. . .

Mortality

Today's flight provided evidence of 2 additional mortalities, with total
winter mortality now estimated for the winter at 7 adults and 16 chicks
totaling 23 whooping cranes, a loss of 8.5% of the flock that was a record
270 in the fall. In the last 20 years, the current winter ranks as the
worst in terms of mortality, ahead of 1990 when 7.5% of the whooping cranes
(11 out of 146) died at Aransas. The 3rd worst winter in 1993 showed a
4.9% loss at Aransas (7 out of 143). Mortality in the 2008-09 winter (23
birds) can be added to the 34 whooping cranes that left Aransas in the
spring of 2008 and failed to return in the fall. Thus, 57 whooping cranes
have died in the last 12 months, or 21.4% of the flock of 266 present at
Aransas in the spring, 2008.

The 2 additional mortalities confirmed on today's flight that had been
reported earlier by volunteers and staff . . . .

Overall, these continue to be some of the worst conditions I have ever
observed for the cranes at Aransas, with some birds looking thin and with
disheveled plumage. The refuge is continuing its program of supplemental
feeding with corn. A moderate response by the whooping cranes has
continued. The cranes are getting somewhat of an energy boost by catching
fiddler crabs just prior to migration.

By Tom Stehn - Aransas National Wildlife Refuge"

Read the full report and find additional crane information too. SeEtta

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Great Blue Herons engaged in breeding

Though I have continued taking some good bird pics, I have wanted to move to a higher level with a high quality and longer telephoto zoom. I finally took the big step and my new Canon EF400mm 5.6 USM lens arrived today. I had to go try some bird pics so I drove to a herony where I have been frustrated as I hadn't been able to get very good pics because I won't risk disturbing these nesting birds by going too close even though I stay in my car to reduce disruption. So I took several pics of a small group of Great Blue Herons that were either on the nest or still building nests. Then I stopped to watch and give them a break from the noise that the electronics in digital cameras make. I was closely watching a pair that were standing very close together in their partially built nest. Then one of the herons mounted the other to engage in breeding.
I had my camera with the new lens still leaning on my window so I was able to quickly shoot a number of pics of them as they copulated. These pics start with the male mounting the female then several pics during copulation which only lasted about 20 seconds. Read here about bird copulatory behavior. Several of these pics enlarge nicely so try double-clicking on them. SeEtta