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2021-02-28 Port Aransas Nature Center

Whooping Crane - Grus americana
Young Whooping Cranes cranes are mottled in a reddish cinnamon color, but by the time their first winter passes they are all white like their parents. Hurricane Harvey, in 2017, hit Port Aransas (Texas) hard. The beginning stages of rebuilding the Port Aransas Nature Center’s boardwalk began with a 1500′ footpath, but there are plans to extend it to about three miles.
Short-Billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus griseus
On my arrival there were only one or two dowitchers on the marsh. But later a large flock sailed in to join them.

The Port Aransas Nature Center had a popular boardwalk over the freshwater marshes on the property until 2017’s Hurricane Harvey dismantled it beyond use. Not ones to give up easily, Texans rebuild what nature breaks, and this boardwalk is no exception. There are about three miles of pathways planned, but the 1500 feet they’ve completed are enough to provide some lovely meetings.

The big treat for me was meeting a family of Whooping Cranes about 600 to 700 feet away, which is as close as I’ve been to them. They were walking away, while feeding in the fields near the entry point when I arrived, but I captured some worthwhile images before they ambled beyond reasonable camera range. I learned later that the pair have been coming to the marsh here for several years, but this was the first year they brought a youngster with them. Most of the Texas Whooping Cranes winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on Blackjack Peninsula, almost 30 miles to the north. With the population of these tall birds increasing (slowly), perhaps this pair wasn’t able to find a plot of their own with the main flock.

It was a good thing I got to the boardwalk early. The popularity of this place brought a growing crowd as the morning advanced, and it became increasingly difficult to maneuver into position where the views of the birds on the marsh were clear. But who could blame these folks? This is the best birding place in the region.

I cut my visit short of what I intended, when I began having difficulty getting my camera to autofocus. I traced the problem to the connection between my lens and the 2x extender I use. The front flange on the extender turned out to be the culprit. I carry a 2nd extender in the RV (somewhere), so I walked back to the van to fetch it. I didn’t find it where I thought it was, so I studied the faulty component and found the tiny screws securing the flange to the extender were very loose. I was in luck! After tightening the screws, I was back in business.

Before I headed back out to the boardwalk, a younger photo-enthusiast approached. He was parked next to me, and wanted to engage in a conversation, which I enjoyed. I learned he was a native to the area, but a military life had him moving all over the world. He was now living in Colorado, but I got the idea he intended to move back to the Texas gulf coast.

By the time we finished chatting, it was noonish. The thin cloud layer that greeted me in the morning was burning off and the crowds on the boardwalk congregated, seemingly more interested in conversing with each other than they were in the birds on the marsh. I took a few more shots to test out the repair I’d just done, then I wound up my visit, pleased with those birds I met, and happy to have found this lovely place. Aside from the enormous American Alligator that greeted me on my arrival to the boardwalk, I met and photographed American Avocets, American White Pelicans, Black-Neck Stilts, Blue-Winged Teal, Common Gallinules, Great Blue Herons, Green-Winged Teal, Laughing Gulls, Northern Shovelers, Short-Billed Dowitchers, White Ibis, and Whooping Cranes.

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