When you say Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, most birders think of Whooping Cranes — this stretch of the Gulf Coast serves as a winter haven for the last free-flying flock of the stately and highly endangered birds. But the brackish waters teeming with fish and blue crabs are only one facet of the rich and diverse habitat mosaic that the refuge offers.
Mild winters, plentiful water, and an abundant food supply attract more than 400 species of birds throughout the year. While the Whooping Crane is undoubtedly the highlight of the winter months, other water birds including Reddish Egret, White and White-faced Ibis, Mottled Duck, and Purple Gallinule also feed in the rich bay and the fresh-water lagoons further inland. In migration, the oak woods provide critical habitat for neotropical migrants traveling the Central Flyway. The sandy prairies and scrublands are hunting grounds for White-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, and other raptors. Rare treats like Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Masked Duck, Painted Redstart, and other surprise visitors from southern climes are always a possibility!
The refuge is also rich in other wildlife, including the critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the vivid but dangerous Texas coral snake, the collared peccary (or javelina), and that iconic mascot of the American southwest, the nine-banded armadillo. But no matter what you see, keep one ear open — for you never know when the haunting whoop of a near-vanished species will echo across the marsh.
Thanks to the USFWS for providing data and images.
Have you birded this refuge? If so, tell us about it in the comments: