March 12, 2011

3/10/11 - Aransas NWR

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the winter home of about 400 different kinds of birds, plus javalinas, deer, bobcat and alligators.   

It's north of where we're staying in Rockport--you have to cross a long causeway (the old highway has been turned into a verrry long fishing pier), then drive way out in the country through lots of bare cotton fields that go clear to the horizon and beyond. There were some big fires burning on the horizon, but we never did figure out what they were. I thought maybe clearing fields?

After the usual stop at the Visitor Center, we drove through the park, looking for birds and alligators. There are some walking trails through the sloughs and salt flats and oaks, so we went looking for birds. Mostly we didn't see them. ("Did you see that bird?" "Where?" "There—that little one!" "No, I didn't see it. What was it?" "A brown one."  "Where is it?"  "I don't know--it flew away...")

We did see white egrets and ibis, pink spoonbills, some herons and pelicans and an osprey in a treetop eating a fish. Plus others that I haven't a clue what they are. The seagulls here are different than the ones on the west coast. They have one that's black & white called a "laughing gull" that really does sound like someone laughing! And it's just as obnoxious as any other gull.

We had lunch at an oak motte overlooking San Antonio Bay. (Yes, I had to look it up: motte is a southwestern term for a grove or clump of trees in open country.)

About 250 of the Whooping Cranes remaining in the world winter at the refuge. Most of them are out on some islands nearby and you get the best views if you go on a boat tour (pricy), but the ranger told us that sometimes you can see them from the observatory tower at the refuge. We climbed the long ramp up to the tower and way, way down on the shallow waters of the bay, we saw some. There's a big telescope at the observatory (free for a change!) so we watched them move around for a while. Apparently within a few weeks, they'll head north to their breeding grounds in Canada, so we were lucky to be here right now.  Pity one of us doesn't have a telephoto lens.  (There are whooping cranes in this picture--you may have to squint to see them!)

We finally saw a couple of alligators—a big one and a smaller one—on the shore of Hog Lake, just as we were starting the auto loop tour through the marshes and savannah. That's where we saw the osprey too, eating a fish that was still flopping around.

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