The grand, majestic and endangered whopping cranes make their winter home on the Texas coast. Mustang Island and several sanctuaries in Corpus Christi are among the destinations where these beautiful birds frequent. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is their home as well as home to a multitude of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other species. Make a day of it and visit this sacred ground. Bring a sack lunch, camera, binoculars, and appropriate clothing.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 to protect the vanishing wildlife of coastal Texas. It is an ever-changing land and is still being shaped by the waters and storms of the Gulf of Mexico.
This 70,504-acre refuge is made up of the Blackjack Peninsula, named for its scattered blackjack oaks, and three satellite units. Grasslands, live oaks, and redbay thickets cover deep, sandy soils. Ringed by tidal marshes and broken by long, narrow ponds, Aransas is home for cranes, alligators, deer, and many other species of wildlife.
Slight changes in elevation help determine what plant communities exist. Rising above the marshes, grasslands are dominated by bluestem and other prairie grasses.
Today these areas are preserved and protected from invading scrub species through controlled burning. Mottes (a grove or clump of trees) of live oak and redbay growing in old sand dunes are stunted and shaped by prevailing gulf winds. These thickets form dense cover, providing shelter for deer, javelina, and feral hogs. Predators stalking the mottes are coyote, bobcat, and raccoon.
Strong winds push the bay waters over low-lying shores, forming brackish tidal marshes among the short, salt-tolerant vegetation. It is this habitat that attracts thousands of migratory birds. On their journey between North and Central America, warblers concentrate on the refuge from mid-April to early May. Mild winters, bay waters, and abundant food supplies attract over 392 species of birds to Aransas, including pelicans, herons, egrets, spoonbills, shorebirds, ducks, and geese.
The endangered whooping crane makes these same saltwater marshes their winter feeding grounds. Productive tidal flats provide clams and crabs for the whoopers to eat.
One of the rarest creatures in North America, the whooping crane is making a comeback from a low of 15 birds in 1941. Whooping cranes nest in Canada during the summer and winter at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The cranes can usually be seen from the Observation Tower from late October to mid-April. (For information about commercial boat tours to see the cranes and other birds, call the Rockport Chamber of Commerce at 1-800-242-0071.)
Moving inland, the water changes from salty flats to freshwater ponds. These ponds teem with life. Created by rain and ranging in size from puddles to lakes, they are a haven for alligators, turtles, frogs, snakes, and birds.
Things to do at the Refuge
You will find the refuge to be an excellent place for observing and studying wildlife and plants. The following facilities are available for visitors:
Ã¢Â?Â¢16-mile, paved tour road.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Wildlife Interpretive Center.
Ã¢Â?Â¢40-foot observation tower.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Several miles of walking trails.
Wildlife Viewing Tips
Ã¢Â?Â¢Dawn and dusk are the best times to see wildlife. In warmer climates, little is moving on hot summer afternoons or on windy days.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Observe from the sidelines. Leave “abandoned” young animals alone. A parent is probably close by waiting for you to leave. Don’t offer snacks; your lunch could disrupt wild digestive systems.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Cars make good observation blinds. Drive slowly, stopping to scan places wildlife might hide. Use binoculars or a long lens for a closer look.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Try sitting quietly in one good location. Let wildlife get used to your presence. Many animals that have hidden will reappear once they think you are gone. Walk quietly in designated areas, being aware of sounds and smells. Often you will hear more than you will see.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Teach children quiet observation. Other wildlife watchers will appreciate your consideration.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Look for animal signs. Tracks, scat, feathers and nests left behind often tell interesting stories.
A Few Simple Rules
Ã¢Â?Â¢Daily registration is required of all visitors.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Pets must be leashed.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Please observe speed limits and watch for wildlife crossing roadways.
Ã¢Â?Â¢All firearms must be unloaded and broken down and/or cased while on the refuge.
When You Visit
Ã¢Â?Â¢The Refuge Public Use Area is open from sunrise to sunset.
Ã¢Â?Â¢The Wildlife Interpretive Center is open daily 8:30 am – 4:30 pm.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Poisonous snakes are present; watch your step.
Ã¢Â?Â¢There is no public camping on the refuge.
Ã¢Â?Â¢Mosquito repellant is recommended.
Ã¢Â?Â¢There are no facilities on the refuge to provide food or fuel. Hopper’s Landing (3 miles) and Tivoli (14 miles) have the closest gas stations. Food, motels, and campgrounds can be found 35 miles away in Rockport, Port Lavaca, and Refugio.
Ã¢Â?Â¢For more information on environmental eduction, wildlife, or other activities, please contact the refuge at 361/286-3559 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteering at the Refuge
Volunteers are needed at the refuge to help with visitor services, trail trimming, building and grounds maintenance, construction, custodial duties, office help/computer work, Boy Scout coordination, and some biological work. (Year round)
Six trailer pads with full RV hook-ups are available for residential volunteers. Please contact the refuge for availability.
PO Box 100
Austwell, TX 77950