Our plan for today is to try to make it out on the boat to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge which is to the north of Mustang Island. We had intended to go last Sunday and had driven the 25 or so miles to Rockport Harbour to board the Wharf Cat, arriving by 9.30 to make sure we got a place. Ha Ha..since we were the only passengers that day, needless to say the trip was called off. It was a beautiful bright morning, but a bitter wind and we decided to go on to Goose Island where Malc could fish for free. (You need license to fish in Texas, unless you are in a State park)More about the fishing expeditions to follow.
So once again we set off for our adventure - under quite menacing skies, with thunderstorms forecast and with the wind still strong enough to blow a light person off their feet... so we were OK! We already knew there were bookings for today and that the boat would sail, well, motor. Shane the first mate gave us a safety talk before we left; clutching a life jacket and somewhat uncomfortable with public speaking he said "If the boat sinks, walk to shore..." Well the waters are very shallow all around here, except for the deep water channel of course.
We opted for this way to visit the refuge rather than drive round it, which you can, because we had a birdman on board, no, not someone from Alcatraz, but a very knowledgeable local ornithologist. As we know next to nothing about Texas birds it made a good day, great.
The stars of the day were the Whooping Cranes
an endangered species of crane that migrates 2500 miles from Canada (bit like us really, except we didn't fly!) I have to say I became rather enamoured with these amazing birds. Not just because of the statistics, 5ft ish tall, 7ft ish wingspan weighing about 16lbs but because of their life style.
They mate for life, a life that can last up to 35 years, they come to this area in winter because of the food supply - plentiful blue crabs and the bright red, juicy wolfberries (not wimberries you note!) and really pretty much anything else they can find. They are territorial, so much so, that after that incredible journey, with stops on the way of course, they come back to exactly the same spot every year. At present they have about 3 acres for each family, told you there was plenty of room in Texas.
They spend their winter here, putting on weight ready for their journey home to nest and produce young, usually a single egg each time. The next bit I'm not so keen on, they will lay a second egg as a kind of insurance in case the first one doesn't make it. If both do, they ignore the second and feed the first. Conservationists are now collecting these second class citizens and rearing them to increase the population. So dedicated are they that dressing up in a white 'costume' with a glove puppet on their hand to simulate an adult crane is considered the norm!! They have even had to teach them to migrate by getting them to follow microlights, not sure if these were dressed up too.
They are not alone in the refuge; flocks of Sand hill cranes (remember Bosque del Apache?) White Ibis, pelicans, cormorants, herons, oyster catchers; a misnomer Ray tells us as they don't so much catch them as batter them! We saw over 20 different species, most of which I'm confident I could recognise again.
Although it remained very blustery all day, the sun was warm, the experience more than memorable, we returned to dock as semi experts on these here Whoopers.
You can hear them all "making whoopie" at this site: http://www.fws.gov/southwest/refuges/texas/aransas/whoopingcranes.html
Well. What a night. Actually I for one slept reasonably well last night, but poor old Malc had one of those never ending, tossing, turning nights when you think that you haven't slept a wink. Windy nights in the RV are something quite unique; the awning over the slide flaps like it's possessed, with accompanying demented noises and every now and then the whole vehicle shudders as if it's a toy that's being kicked by a clumsy toddler! But we survived.