Monday, January 14, 2008

Whooping Cranes!

Ever since I was a child, I have read about whopping cranes and their slow comeback from near extinction. So here I am in Rockport and it turns out that it is only about 15 miles to the Aransas National Wildlife Refure. The refuge is the wintering grounds of over 200 whoppers. So it was a no brainer to take a whopping crane tour, 40 bucks each. It turned out to be money well spent!
We got up early and arrived at the tour headquarters at 7 am, a trip of about 5 minutes from our house. After buying tickets, we loaded aboard the Skimmer, with 16 other excited birders, and left port heading across Copocano Bay. The trip took about 30 minutes and we entered a protected and man made area that was constructed to provide additional habitat for whoopers. No whoppers yet as the grasses haven't taken hold, but the guide said that they have good hope for the new site. After a few minutes we continued on, into the intercoastal, which borders the refuge, and promptly stopped near a family group of whoppers! It was amazing! We were less than 100 yards away watching a rare family of whopper twins and parents catching and eating blue crabs like there was no tomorrow! Didn't matter what size, big or small crab was all eaten. The parents would whack the big ones with their beak and then hold them for the greedy youngsters,(the youngsters are 5 feet tall and can be recognized by the brownish makings on their heads.) We enjoyed the spectacle for about an hour, trading binoculars, snapping images, and simply watching. A pure joy.
As we watched, the guide pointed out bird after bird, and it was all I could do to identify them and write them down on the list provided,(I ended up with 43 different birds, of which 14 were new on my life list!). As we watched the cranes, barge traffic went past and the cranes seemed totally oblivious, of course I am too when I am eating crab.
After an hour, the tour traveled farther and saw many more birds and crane families. Lots of spoonbills, in their breeding color, herons nesting in January, and osprey after osprey with fish clutched in their talons.
Renita was as amazed as I was. It was truly a special moment for us and a trip which we will go on again. Clear skies.

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