Add to the above, I saw two wild Whooping Cranes in Florida. But noooo... they didn't count for my life list either; Whoopers being recent re-introductions to the sunshine state. So! Texas, 2011 had to be my year for adding Whooping Cranes to my life list. Or so I hoped when I left Harlingen on Sunday night, heading north west on the Texas coast.
On Monday morning when I arrived at Aransas it was Deja vu time - well no wonder. In 1998 on arriving at the Aransas Visitor Center, I sheepishly asked the docents for a 'lady Ranger'. The were baffled as to why I requested a 'lady' Ranger at first. I told them, and after they laughed, they fetched one for me. The lady Ranger and I climbed into a broom closet so I could pull up my shirt and have her pull an embedded Lone Star tick out of my back. Deja vu? Yeah, well you don't forget that sort of mini-adventure in a hurry.
- the Aransas Visitor Center's former broom closet
Flash forward to 2011 and this visit, I was totally tick & chigger free. Sadly, on the birdie front, the news remained the same: no visible cranes that could be seen from the land portion of the refuge. Bugger! But this time, there were boats available for Crane tours. Hurrah! I headed south to Fulton Harbor where I caught a ride on the Skimmer.
The Skimmer's captain, Tommy, is himself a birder who knows what birders are looking for.
When all the birders were aboard, the Skimmer headed out of the harbor, and on the way, a small school of Bottle-nosed Dolphins tailed us, on the far side of the harbor break.
Soon we were out crusing along the coast of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in areas that can't be accessed without a boat - or fins.
The captain had his eye out, and inside of say a half hour, he spotted our first Whooping Cranes - my LIFER Whooping Cranes - lifer #600 for me!
What? You're saying there's nothing in that photo above? Can't you see the four little white specks? Those were live, walking, Whooping Cranes! Honestly - take my word for it.
Ok, I was disappointed the first look was of birds so far away, but the day was young. After checking out the cranes with spotting scopes, the Captain promised us better views and we were off again. He pointed out all sorts of coastal birds of wetlands as we sailed along. The Captain spotted Roseate Spoonbills. He shouted, "Hey! There are some Spoonbills! Who doesn't love a BIG PINK BIRD!"
I cracked up. He was right. Who doesn't love a giant, baby pink birdie?
One thing about the Skimmer, something special that most, if not all, of the other tour boats ca not do is - it can quietly lodge itself onto the sandy shore of little islets, turn off the engines and then... SHUT THE **** UP! That means one can happily bird without terrifying the birds with engine noises. Ahhh! Soon Captain Tommy has nestled the boat onto a sand bank and just beyond, were a pair of Whooping Cranes so close I could see the color of their eyes with my binoculars.
Aren't they majestic? They're HUGE! Larger than Great Blue Herons and I just adore their white feathery bussles, the height of fashion - if it were the 1800s. We sated ourselves watching the two cranes walk elegantly along, bent over, watching for a snack.
You may want to click on the photos for a larger look. After taking a good b'jillion photos of these birds, I looked overboard and noticed there were Moon Jellies floating around in the algaed waters around the Skimmer. You may as well know now - jelly fish get me all excited and squeally. Embarrassing really.
After nice long looks at the Whoopers, we were off again to see what we could see. There were loads of water birds. Fosters terns, numerous shorebird species, and humongous White Pelicans.
Captain Tommy took us to some islets, one of which had strange looking platforms, built so Herons - Reddish and/or Great Blue - could have places on which to build their nests. One such structure had a surprise on it - a Peregrine Falcon with piercing eyes.
Just opposite the isle of Peregrine, was a narrow strip of sand, and on it were American Oystercatchers. Here is a close up of one below. I love how the light shown right through its crayon orange bill.
Another bird that was a pleasure to see were dozens of Sandwich Terns. I only ever saw this species once before in Florida. They crack me up for this silly reason: they are called Sandwich Terns - and if you look carefully, you can see a big dab of mayonaise on the end of their bills, after all, we all like a little mayo on our Sandwich. Check out the third bird from the left, it's most obvious on its bill. Too cute! Click photo for a better look.
What a fun way to spend an afternoon, and to pick up one's landmark 600th ABA area lifer. After Aransas I returned to Harlingen and had another day worth of adventures. Then before I knew it, I was flying back to Sacramento for a rest up from my vacationing. Retirement is AWESOME I'm telling you!