Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, 2010
It was good to see the changes, or most of them anyway, as we made our first birding trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. It was obvious that the drought had finally ended, or at least eased, a new viewing tower stood next to the old, and we saw Whooping Cranes!
As we checked into the visitor center, the volunteers asked us if we had mosquito lotion. Having some in the truck we purchased another bird book, a field guide, so that we wouldn't have to share a single copy.
Our first stop was at Jones Lake, where last year the lake had almost completely disappeared. With so much water we didn't spot any alligators, deer, or feral hogs but the rooting damage from the hogs was quite evident. We did see a pied grebe, and some greater scaup, all in all it was apparent that the water was allowing the wildlife to spread out and that the viewing might be tougher.
Driving on we reached the viewing tower and climbed the long ramp to the top. There, blocking our view was a new viewing tower, with no one on it! Whats this we asked? There was a man walking near the shoreline and we hoped he wouldn't scare the birds away, Some birders can be a bit selfish at times.
It didn't take long before Renita spotted two large white birds across the way and we were able to confirm them as whooping cranes. The spotting scope was a real help and we steadied it on the cement railing, which was like night and day in keeping it rock solid. We watched as they fed, unconcerned by a passing string of barges, pushed by a tug.
Moving the scope we were able to spot another whooper feeding further on the same peninsula but the bird was so far away that we really couldn't see much. There really weren't a lot of birds out, the time of day perhaps, and so we descended the ramp and walked out to another viewing trail.
Plastic ribbons blocked the entrance to the new viewing ramp,(stability problems perhaps?), and so we continued on spotting a willet, and a flock of marbled godwits.Their long bicolored bill was slightly upturned and it made it an easy identification
form the long billed curlews we had at the Bartel Islands.
We met another birder who asked us how many whoopers we had seen and she informed us that she had seen five, three adults and two juveniles. She also told us that there had been two near the tower, maybe they had been flushed by the man mentioned earlier.
We returned to the truck and turned onto the one way road. Stopping at the first turn out we watched as several green wing teal and northern shovelers fed. The mosquitoes swarmed us and we were reminded of Spirit Lake in Utah. They even attacked me with the bug spray I had generously applied!
We drove further when Renita,(Gator Girl), yelled at me to stop and back up, and sure enough a large gator was pretending to be napping in the high weeds. We drove and stopped but didn't see many other birds, some black vultures, some northern mockingbirds. Perhaps the recent deer and feral pig hunt had temporarily moved everything away from the roads, or maybe it was simply the much higher water.
The scenery along the eleven mile drive was so different then that the dry parched earth we had seen last year.
We stopped at the fishing pier and ate lunch before continuing on to the Heron Trail.
Several little blue herons posed, along with a great egret. Just a lazy day perhaps.We attempted to walk down the trail, but the mosquitoes swarmed us again and we didn't see any alligators,only their trails where they had sunbathed or perhaps waited to prey in unsuspecting deer or birders.
Our final stop was at the alligator viewing below the visitor center. No alligators posed but a American coot and a common moorhen fed greedily and several turtles basked on the far shoreline. It had been a good day, it always is when we spend the day together, and spotting the whoopers adding the icing on the cake! I think back to the long hours we worked to be able to retire early and sacrifices we made. I wish we had worked less but now is our payback and it s good. Clear skies.