A coyote emerges from the brush and crosses our path in a blur, his powerful limbs plowing through the watery fields as he disappears as fast as he’s come.
“He’s on a mission,” Ric laughs.
I am sorry I missed the shot – hadn’t expected to see anything this early into our sojourn. Today, we are returning to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, which has only just reopened after the government shutdown.
There is no sign of the Vermillion Flycatcher, nor the Kestrel that greeted us at the Visitor’s Centre last time, in fact; it is an odd day – the sun and clouds not quite able to determine who will hold court.
The birds seem equally confused about how to proceed today, as the first trail we follow is void of activity. Cobwebs strung across the way suggest that it has been a while since the songbirds have frequented this area. Maybe we are too early in the season.
The boardwalk that extends out into the lake reveals evidence of recent rains: the expanse of water much greater than on previous visits. Coots swim among the reeds, emitting their odd notes, and songbirds flit amongst the tall grasses. My reflexes are too slow today to catch the smaller birds, but I am enjoying the view. Across the way, a loud splash draws my attention. I can’t see the culprit, but I soon hear a distinct grunting noise. There must be pigs over there! Both Javelinas and feral pigs take up residence in the park – the former native inhabitants, and the latter an invasive species.
We drive further along, keeping an eye out for the source of the grunts, without any luck. At the turning point, where the observation towers look out over the Whooping Crane sanctuary, I direct Ric to stop so I can use the facilities.
“Lots of birds out there today,” a woman says indicating the ground level boardwalk that spans the adjoining marsh land. She is right! White Ibis, Willets, and Roseate Spoonbills gather in numbers not far from the path, actively foraging and grooming in the shallow waters. To date, most of my spoonbill photos have been of sleeping birds, so I am excited. The spoonbills do not disappoint this time.
Just beyond the pink performance, deer graze and rest. We feel as if we’ve hit the jackpot.
From this point, the rest of the park is a driving trail. We spot a few buzzards in a tree, and at one pull-in site, a possum lumbering along the road. I hear the grunting of pigs again, but still do not see anything. The croaking of frogs is the loudest sound. Must be mating season.
We find the kestrel sitting atop a barren tree, and he’s happy to pose for our cameras. I love the unique designs on this small bird of prey.
A little further along, I note a dark shape in the long grass, and ask Ric to stop, not sure whether it is beast or rock. It moves and soon another figure joins it before the two of them disappear into the brush. Feral pigs! I realize it too late to get any pics.
The rest of the drive is quiet, and when we return to the trails section of the park it is already near dusk. A lone grebe glides atop a glassy pond, and a small grey bird flits about, camouflaged by the greyness of branches without leaves.
A herd of deer grazing bid us farewell as we leave, unperturbed by our cameras – as curious about us as we are about them.
We stop for one last picture just outside the refuge gates – a caracara sporting my favourite colour.