New whooping crane count, method draw different responses from groups

Feb 21, 2013 | Corpus Christi Caller-Times by David Sikes | Related Press

Whooping crane fans are disappointed by a flock estimate below expectations, while many continue to grumble over how the birds are counted.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service puts the number of endangered birds in the last remaining flock of wild whooping cranes at 279. Followers of the flock, which include Tom Stehn, the service’s former whooping crane coordinator, suspect the true tally could be different.

Last year’s estimate put the population at about 270 birds, divided between the South Texas group and about 15 cranes outside the survey area. By most accounts this was low.

This year’s count also divides the cranes into two groups, those found in their traditional wintering grounds within the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and those lingering inland, well outside the survey area.

A newly implemented crane counting method called distant sampling used statistical analysis to estimate the refuge count at 257 this year, which includes birds found nearby. The aerial surveys were conducted in November and December, but crunching the numbers took about two months. The remaining 22 birds are scattered among inland locations.

Locals who object to the new method consider it controversial.

Read the entire article »