Next weekend thousand of avid birders will descend on Port Aransas for the whooping crane festival. That's why we thought it would be a good idea to take a tour of the Aransas Wildlife Refuge this weekend. Whooping cranes as well as many other birds spend the winter here. This wildlife area went under preservation during the FDR administration and additional pieces of land have been added throughout the years. There is a viewing platform along the highway, but the best way to see the birds is by boat. We traveled deep into the park on one dredged channel, and the rest of the area looked like natural wetland. There were so many nooks and crannies. It made me think again of all the places the oil can get caught after a major spill like that caused when the Deepwater Horizon exploded. Right outside the preservation area, tugs were pushing massive ships loaded with LPG and the drilling of natural gas was being monitored up and down the coast. In the gulf petroleum extraction and marine life live side by side.
The whooping crane is endangered and the more we learned about its life, the more I am surprised that it is here at all. The bird is huge - five feet tall with a wing span of 7 - 8 feet. A crane would be hard to hide. It travels to Alberta, Canada to lay an egg or two and brings its young south for the winter. The cranes mate for life and travel in family groups, rather than flocks. The parents teach their children the flying route. When scientists first started hatching the eggs, the chicks would imprint on the humans that were feeding them and would never fly any distance on their own. Some success has been found leading teenage cranes with ultra light planes. A flock that was brought back into existence in Florida isn't replicating itself successfully, but the group here is hanging in and hanging on. An important winter food is the blue crab, which flourishes in brackish water, but the crab season has been poor this winter and this means that fewer eggs will be laid in Canada next spring.
We enjoyed the boat trip and the chance to see these rare birds in nature, but birding still has not caught on with us. The birds are often so far away, you can barely see them with binoculars. Today the captain of the boat knew exactly where to stop and look since these birds tend to be territorial, but animals go where they want and that may not be where you can go. Some of the folks on board consulted their books so they could tell one type of heron from another, but whether it has a orange beak or a yellow beak just isn't all that interesting to us. We'll stay out of the way of the birders next weekend.