The Great Blue Blog: Behind-the-Scenes Shooting Virtual Tours
Friday, March 23, 2012

Aransas NWR, TX: Whooping Cranes

I spent the day exploring Aransas National Wildlife Refuge including a boat trip out of Rockport, TX on the Skimmer. The target species for the day was the Whooping Crane and I was able to get some video of the cranes during the boat trip on the Skimmer. I've included a video clip below.

Whooping Cranes from the Skimmer at Aransas NWR

Video of Whooping Cranes at Aransas NWR

After hearing that the best way to see the Whooping Cranes on their winter territory at Aransas NWR was by boat I made a reservation for a 1:00pm trip on the Skimmer out of Rockport, TX. In the morning I made a trip from Rockport, TX up to the Aransas NWR Visitor's Center and Refuge Tour Loop in Austwell, TX. I didn't have a lot of time so after visiting the Visitor's Center I drove directly to the Observation Tower at the end of the two-way section of the loop road. 5 Whooping Cranes had been reported from the tower the previous day and I found 3 Whoopers. The cranes were identifiable but very distant so I didn't bother trying to videotape or photograph them. After that I visited a couple other stops along the two-way road as I headed out of the refuge and saw 5 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, 2 Little Blue Herons, a White-eyed Vireo, 2 American Alligators, and a Green Anole.

I returned to Rockport in time for the 1:00pm trip on the Skimmer and joined around 25 other people that had come to see the Whooping Cranes. The boat travelled across Aransas Bay to the Intercoastal Waterway along the Blackjack Peninsula and Aransas NWR. We saw numerous waterbirds along the way, Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, Royal Tern, etc. Our first sighting of Whooping Cranes was a distant view but the Skimmer stopped so everyone could get their first look at this highly endangered species.

We proceeded on up the Intercoastal Waterway and came upon a pair of Whooping Cranes that were feeding close to the shore of an island and the captain eased the boat up against the shore so the boat was stable for people to get comfortable looks at the cranes without worrying about their footing. We were within 100 yards of the birds so the views were quite spectacular. The Whooping Cranes favorite food on the refuge is Blue Crab, but due to a lack of rain this year, the crabs were missing from the pools on the refuge because the crabs require more fresh water than was available to survive. So instead of feeding in the pools this year, the cranes have been feeding in the grasses and scrub. In the above video you can see one of the cranes catch a snake and swallow it whole. Later in the video you can see one crane display as 2 pairs of cranes interact. You then see one pair of cranes, and then the other, fly off.

The number of Whooping Cranes on Aransas NWR was in the mid-200s this year. The wild population of Whooping Cranes is currently estimated at over 400 birds. This is after the wild population was reduced to 22 birds in 1942. All the Aransas cranes migrate to their breeding grounds in Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada.

Map of Rockport, TX and Aransas NWR

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