Friday, December 14, 2012

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

This park is about 100 miles from where we are currently parked.  It was largely a boring trip, we passed by miles of flat Texas cropland.  From what we could tell, some of those acres of land were cotton fields.  We were determined to visit the refuge while in this area because it hosts the largest flock of wintering whooping cranes in North America with over 250 birds.  By mid-April they depart in pairs or small family groups for a hazardous journey 2,400 miles north to nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in Northwest Territories, Canada.  Here in Texas the birds face many dangers with the presence of oil tankers and deadly oil spills as well as natural disasters.  There are intensive efforts currently underway to establish a new non-migratory in Louisiana, where the species once nested.  They were once nearly extinct, from a low of 15 in 1941 to over 500 cranes in North America today.  Aransas National Wildlife had been created in 1937 to protect whoopers on their wintering grounds along the Gulf of Mexico.  Our first stop at the refuge was in the visitor's center where we talked with rangers there to learn the location of the cranes.
 We found the cranes on the first trail which we took, in a marsh along the Heron Flats Trail.  Whooping cranes mate for life, and it seems that we found a family group.  The brown-colored crane is a juvenile.  The adult has a snow-white body accented by jet-black wing tips and red and black heads with long-pointed beaks.  Fascination with the cranes stems from their loud vocalizations and elaborate courtship rituals which strengthen the bonds between the males and females.  There is supposed to be other abundant wildlife in the refuge,  however we found very little other than the cranes.  John noticed a kingfisher sitting on a pier.
He was a good distance from us, however I am sure we identified him correctly because of the ragged crest on his head and his slate blue breast.  He also has a white ring around his neck.  Many of the trails in the park were not accessible to us because they are closed off for repairs.  We drove on the 16-mile loop trail, which we needed to do at a very slow speed because of the presence of many white-tail deer.
The pair above stood staring at us so long that I was able to snap a few pictures of them.  I am sure that they have lost their fear of humans and would be shot very soon if they lived anywhere else outside of the park!  Today we are leaving our beach-side rv park and moving our rig closer in to Corpus Christi.  I took a quick walk out on the beach this morning and found several shore birds feeding in the water.  Previous mornings the beach had been devoid of any such activity.  I was also thrilled to find a jelly fish that had just washed up out of the ocean.  On first glance it looked like a lady's fancy bonnet.  It did not take very long before sea gulls were pecking on the gelatinous surface of the fish.

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