Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

After my walks this morning, the four of us decided to take a drive to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, then to come back and grill some of the shrimp we bought last week.

The weather was supposed to be warm today, but a cold front is on the way, scheduled to arrive tonight. Many of our families and friends are socked in with very cold weather! It won't get that cold here, probably down to the high 30's or low 40's tonight, followed by a chilly day tomorrow. I'm really hoping to see some rain, as it's very dry here.

As we started out, not far up the road, I spotted some roseate spoonbills and asked Mark to stop and turn around. They were quite a distance from us, but we took pictures anyway. Those little pink dots on each side of the picture are the spoonbills, fishing.

We caught this great blue heron flying in front of the spoonbills:

We continued on our way north on Highway 35. Just a couple of miles on the north side of Copano Bay Bridge, I spotted 2 large white birds a little ways off the road. I once again asked Mark to stop and turn around. I couldn't imagine they were anything but whooping cranes by their size and color, but I also couldn't imagine seeing them so close to the highway. Sure enough, there were 2 whooping cranes in a field, about 300 yards away. We all got out and started taking pictures. While we were there, a woman in a pick up truck traveling south turned around and stopped to look at them too. I talked to her, and she told me the cranes are having a very hard time finding food this year. The bay is too salty for one of their food sources, blue crab, and because of the drought, the berries that the cranes eat are also scarce. She said it's not too unusual this year to see the "whoopers" in different places.

While the woman and I were visiting, the cranes sensed our presence and began their distinctive calling. In a few moments, they flew off:

What an awesome sight!
Finally, we arrived at the refuge and stopped at the visitor's center. I could tell right away that we were going to see the sad effects of the drought, as the places where we saw a pond and marshes right by the visitor's center last year, are now dry and dead looking.
We went in and looked around in the center, paid our entrance fee and headed out. Not far into the loop, we noticed that the air was getting very smoky from fires off to the south, and the clouds were getting thicker. The drought became very real and very evident when we stopped at Jones Lake, only to find no lake, only a small mudhole! We saw turkeys, deer, armadillos, buzzards, alligators, and a few small birds as we drove along.
At the end of the loop we came to the ramp that leads to the observation tower:

From the tower, we could see another pair of whooping cranes, but they were way too far away to get any pictures. We also saw several wild hogs, also too far away for pictures.
On the way out of the refuge, we got a good look at this hawk:

By this time, we all realized we were getting very hungry, so that was the end of our birding and wildlife adventure for the day. We headed back to the rv park to put together a delicious dinner of grilled shrimp, baked potatoes and vegetables.
What a day!


Sandra said...

Wow! Whooping cranes, you're so lucky. Gordon is going to be very, very jealous!

Debbie and Rod said...

GREAT pictures Ellie. I can't wait till we can go back again.

Debbie & Rod

Joe and Sherri said...

Great pictures...hope you do get that rain soon. I know it must be sad to see the birds and animals without their water and food supply.

Joe and Sherri