Jim read a post on Google from a man who saw 300 whooping cranes at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge on January 14th. These birds have a wing span of seven feet and stand 5 feet tall. I saw one as a child of eight years old. My father pointed to it and said, “get a good look because they are going extinct and you’ll probably never see another one.” Then it flew with the whoop, whoop, whoop sound of its wings. Unforgettable. I’ve learned since that the whooping crane was down to 65 pairs.
There is no camping at the refuge but the small town of Austwell has a City Park with camping. On-line information said it was closed. He called the City Hall and got an answering machine and no call back. Who knows? Maybe they are closed on Mondays. He found a private camp ground and got an answer. The woman told him, City Park is open; she charges $21 a night at her campground. The City Park was $24. Her husband is the Mayor and also the Postmaster. (He used to be the fire chief.) We laughed and laughed. We got there and no one was around at City Park to take our money. The town looked like poverty row, pretty vacant, with enough houses for 20 families. The sign above kind of tells the tale. We didn’t see anybody there, either.
The Wildlife Refuge, five miles from Austwell, seems to be the major income for the town. The area on shore is slightly swampy in places, with low brush and an occasional cactus.
Texas shores tidal flats follow the terrain of the land, which is flat and stretches out for half a mile or more. The birds were so far away, you could only view them with your binoculars. When you take a picture, you can’t be sure what is in it. In this one, a long beaked curlew, gulls, a few ducks. Not too exciting.
Other people had better binoculars and knew their birds. We saw the ardent bird watchers with camera lenses that weigh five to seven pounds. They carry tripods as well.
This heron was so far away, I couldn’t identify what it was. Disappointing after all the beautiful birds we saw at the National Shore at Port Aransas.
Even without the birds in sight, it was a beautiful day, and we couldn’t help but think how nice it is to be out scouting birds rather than sitting around with nothing to do. The little speck about center-far right in the photo is the pintail duck below.
We followed a loop trail around the refuge. We climbed this huge tower which put us above the tree line. The trees are oak and stunted. The view was a pleasure, so different from home. The woods have fox, javelina, a small type of wild cat, deer and other critters. One couple reported seeing a javelina on the trail.
A view from the tower pointing west. There is a heron sitting on a fence post that you can’t see without a binoculars.
Another pretty view.
This is what the birds look like with the camera from the tower. Two pelicans in the background can only be identified by shape.
The visitor center is very nice, with a video and a stuffed whooping crane. They said they have three pairs in the refuge right now, but, they were hiding from all of us. No one we met on the trail had sited one. We missed the major migration obviously. And, when we got back to Austwell, there still was no one there to take our money. So, we picked up and headed for Port Lavaca and stopped at a very friendly VFW for dinner, drinks and the night. Life is good.