2020-03-15 My First Day At Aransas NWR

As I write this episode, I’ve been so involved taking pictures this past week that I buried myself under a ton of work to prepare them for my stories. I also had to honor a request to deliver images for a published report from the amazing February 2017, nineteen day science expedition I took aboard the Shogun to the remote Revillagigedo Islands off the coast of Colima Mexico.

This morning (Saturday the 21st) I’m finally ready to share my experiences here on the Central Texas coast. The CV-19 drama has got people crazy here, but probably not as crazy as back home in California. I plan to split the accounts of this past week into six parts: Day One at Aransas, Day Two at Aransas, Day Two in Rockport, Day Three on the Skimmer, Day Three in Rockport, and My Last Day in Corpus Christi.

Following is the first episode:

Green Heron - Butorides virescens
I drove to Aransas NWR late Saturday, but my first serious explorations were on Sunday, when I fell in love with Heron Flats. This bird was my favorite meetings this day.

I spent most of Friday the thirteenth driving from Crystal City to Corpus Christi Texas. Saturday and most of Sunday I hunkered down to process the images and spin the yarns from my stay at the Triple R (see my last blog). Sunday afternoon I drove the 83 miles north from Corpus Christi to the Visitor Center at Aransas, and I stopped on the way at Rockport, to visit the shore at Fulton Beach. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would come back three days later to board the Skimmer, a first rate birding tour boat. It was late in the day when I arrived at Aransas NWR, and I opted for a Clark Griswold visit that afternoon and drove out to look for a place to get gas and stay for the night. I ended up in Victoria Texas, 50 miles away. The drive gave me a chance to see a little more of this part of Texas.

Sunday I got up early and returned to Aransas. I drove through the reserve on what is called the Two Way Road, stopping to investigate each sideroad and pullout I could. The road ended at “Big Tree”, where an impressive tower has been erected that provides commanding views of the surrounding area, and where sometimes you can see Whooping Cranes, but this was not my day to have a good meeting with the cranes.

Near to the visitor center is a location called Heron Flats, where I spent most of my time while at Aransas. It is a short walk from the parking area to a raised platform with a view of a wide lush marsh that stretches out a half mile straight out to the seaway, and as far as the eye could see up and down the coast of Black-Jack Peninsula, where the reserve is located.

Next to the trail from the parking area was a deep quiet pond. Besides the resident alligators here, I found coots, gallinules, grebes, and Green Herons. Each of these made for interesting subjects for my camera, but the Green Heron for me, was the most compelling and cooperative.

Out on the marsh, mostly too distant for image captures, were hundreds of Blue-Winged Teal. The dozens of Yellowlegs I saw were mostly “Greater”, but I believe I saw one in the distance with a bill length equal to its head width (which would make it a “Lesser”).

I saw the ducks were courting and I enjoyed watching as a single hen with four suitors in tow, flew in and landed in front of me. The four males were attending the hen’s every move, and when she moved, so moved the drakes.

Pied-Billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
I captured this image at Jones Lake. It is one of my favorite pictures from this outing.

Herons of all kinds could be seen in the distance. I saw Great Blue, Little Blue, and Tricolored Herons. The egrets I could see were Great, Reddish, and  Snowy. Perhaps the biggest treat for me was a pair of juvenile Roseate Spoonbills that wandered close enough for reasonable images.

Two miles to my left, as I gazed over the marsh, and standing taller than the ten or so Great Egrets in their company, were two taller white birds I knew to be Whooping Cranes. Try as I might, I could not “will them” to fly in my direction. Pictures would be useless from here. In 20 million pixels, I might claim “See those six pixels? Those are cranes!” <sigh>

I left Aransas late in the day and drove to Austwell, just outside the reserve and found free parking provided by the city. This put me close enough to the reserve that I could get an early start the next morning and try my luck again with the cranes. (Spoiler Alert: I did better!)

I met a few other species this day, but the creatures I photographed here were Common Gallinule, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Gadwall, Redhead, American Alligator, Pied-Billed Grebe, Roseate Spoonbill, Northern Harrier, Blue-Winged Teal, White Ibis, Greater Yellowlegs, Red-Winged Blackbird, Turkey Vulture, Red-Tailed Hawk, White-Tailed Deer, Couch’s Kingbird, Great Egret, Song Sparrow.

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