Close Encounters: Reptiles

The heavy cloud cover of yesterday is breaking up allowing for small pockets of sunshine. The temperature is hot, almost muggy. We are headed back to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge.

“Better get my camera ready,” I tell Ric. “Last time we saw that coyote just before the entrance.”

“Yes, and it was motoring! Not a chance you would have got a picture of it.”

Still, better ready than not.

It’s spring break, so there some families here, and as we pull up to the first lookout after checking in, a small girl announces that there is an alligator just below the deck. She isn’t kidding.

“Must be ten feet long.”

“Is it real?” I tease her.

She nods seriously. The alligator moves. No question here.

The proximity of the alligator to the parking area with no barriers in between is a little disconcerting. No one else seems worried.

We move on to the next pull-in area. Just beside the entrance to the short bridge over the water is a small alligator.

“Look, a baby!” I tell the kids approaching. “Do you think there will be more around?”

“Not a baby; a juvenile,” the dad says. “He’s old enough to leave Mom, so he could be alone.”

The man then proceeds to show me a video of a baby and explains that alligators have ten to twelve offspring, and the mother is never far from the little ones. I’m enjoying the science lesson.

Then we spot a bullfrog and by now there are two families plus me crowded around. The bullfrog doesn’t flinch.

“Cool,” I say and we all head for the next viewing area which is an inland lake.

Three Blue-Winged Teals fly in as we arrive, and then take off just as I set up for a shot. Otherwise, the area is home to many coots making their comical noises.

“No wonder they call old people ‘old coots'”, I joke; “’cause they’re noisy like these birds.”

“They sure are noisy!” a Dad agrees.

“No we’re not!” his kids protest, and we all laugh at the confusion.

At the observation tower, the kids offer to race me. When I explain that I’m slow, they say: “That’s okay”, and walk with me. Sweet kids. They share what they’ve seen so far – both have scavenger hunt sheets provided by the park.

“Where’s your paper?” the youngest asks.

Oh, I am missing my grandchildren.

From the top we can see a Great Egret, and in the far distance, viewable only through the scopes provided, two Whooping Cranes. We chatter our way back down.

The rest of the tour is by car, and as we slowly make our way through the refuge, Ric stops, looks in the rearview mirror, and reverses.

“What is it?”

“I think it’s a snake.”

I can see it in my side mirror – a distinct diamond pattern. Stretched out across the road, the rattler is soaking up the warmth of the pavement.

“Slowly!” I warn.

Just as I roll my window down, the snake slithers away and disappears in the thick brush.

At least I got to see one!

There are few birds on this outing, and apart from a beautiful kestrel, I don’t get any feathered images. But I do find wings – Black Swallowtails are everywhere!

Every time we’ve come to the Aransas Wildlife Refuge we see something different. Our time here is almost up. I hope we will find another chance to return.

Wildlife Refuge Take Two

The sun is shining and as we pull into the office area, a flash of bright red catches my eye – a vermilion flycatcher.  I hop out and aim my lens towards the bush where the bird has landed.  A swoop of large, mottled brown wings cuts off my view.  A kestrel settles in a higher tree.

“He likes to hang around here,” a woman emerging from the office says.  She also tells us that seven whooping cranes have been spotted on the grounds today.

Anhinga posing.

We skip over the first viewing point, as we’ve come with our friends and their two dogs, and it is not advised to take them to the alligator stops.  The heron trail offers a raised boardwalk, so we head there.  Just steps from the car, we notice two anhingas.  One flies away, but the other remains and poses.  

The boardwalk overlooks a smorgasbord of bird life – herons, egrets, and others.  Off the shore is what looks to be a white boat, but using the telescope we can see they are cranes – not close enough to photograph, but cool all the same.  A picture of three fluffy birds closer in, later reveals three juveniles, but the picture is poor quality.  

Wings carry me upward.

From here, we drive to the observation tower.  Butterflies flit about in the sun’s rays, keeping me company as I slowly make the ascent.  My body is protesting, and half way up I consider stopping, but the glimpse of a busy waterway propels me to the top.   

Pelicans, egrets, herons, ducks and white ibis forage below, and despite the fullness of the sun threatening to blind my shots, I do manage to catch this foursome skittering across the shallows.

A successful visit, ensuring we’ll be back again.