Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
The white prickly poppies are in full bloom when we arrive at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in early May. Against a clear blue sky, the temperature is rising, but the spring flowers bring relief, at least in a visual sense.
This is my first visit to this particular refuge, yet it feels familiar. In my experience, the refuges share a stillness that sets them apart from the world we come from. For those who seek a temporary escape from the noise of daily life, this is the place to come.
We’re offered a warm welcome by a retired couple at the Visitor Contact Station where we stop to pay the small entrance fee. Conveniently, this also allows us access to the field of poppies, which naturally means the cameras make their first appearance.
Across the road, we park next to some picnic tables and have an early lunch before going for a walk on the nearby Rail Trail. There’s a foot bridge across a long but narrow pond and as we look around, the animals seem to reveal themselves one by one. They’ve been there the whole time of course, but it’s amazing how camouflaged they are while they remain still. Wildlife viewing is always about patience. Except perhaps when it comes to the white ibis. The bird easily draws our attention and in that first sighting teaches us to watch for subtle movement. The water ripples below the bridge and we see a small alligator slowly drifting. Having now established its patterns and colors, it doesn’t take long before we discover another nearby. Along the bottom of the pond, a blue crab moves, visible through the surprisingly clear water. Expanding our search perimeter, we see a soft-shell turtle, obviously well aware of our presence. Among the reeds, there are several gallinules, more heard than seen. Life is all around us, but we have to adjust our pace to see it.
A little father down the road, we park by the Heron Flats Trail and plan to walk a little. There’s an observation platform here from which we gain enough elevation to view the surrounding wetlands and San Antonio Bay in the distance. Out there, among the grasses, the water will be teeming with life, mostly safe from human trespassers. We’re in the open now, as we continue the walk. My parents seem completely at ease as the heat haze shimmers about their legs. I always feel like I shrivel and wilt just a little. No matter—it’s not a long walk. I keep an eye out for animals, but they seem to have taken cover. There’s only the occasional sounds of insects, and even they remain mostly out of sight. The only movement comes from the dozens of butterflies flitting about an enormous rambling lantana.
The air conditioner brings relief when we return to the car to continue our sixteen mile auto tour. At Jones Lake, we pull over and walk onto the observation deck. A few birds wade nearby, but they’re so well camouflaged, it’s difficult to get any decent pictures. In the distance, something moves. It’s a large animal, either dark brown or black. I take a picture with the telephoto lens and zoom in, hoping to identify it. It’s a wild pig, the first one I’ve seen—first one in Texas, in any case.
Our next stop will be a memorable one: a forty foot tall observation tower overlooking San Antonio Bay and the wetlands that line the shore. The rise consists of a series of gently sloping ramps that lead up through the tree canopy. The views of the surrounding landscape are incredible. In the distance, barges and ships pass while recreational fishing boats lie at rest. We even spot a couple of people fishing, standing in the water quite some distance from shore.
Walking over to the railing and looking down at the trees, I discover lots of movement. Little birds flutter and jump from branch to branch, some of them quite colorful. Of course I become obsessed with getting a picture to remember them by. These scenarios seem always to become exercises in frustration, but at least I manage to get a good one.
We have a choice now that we’ve reached the end of the refuge’s two lane road. We can return the way we came or we can take the one-way road inland. For the sake of seeing something new, we choose the one-way road. There are areas along the way where visitors can pull over and park the car, but there are no trails. The scenery along this route must be enjoyed from the car. I do however get out a few times to take pictures of the many wildflowers lining the road.
Our visit to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was the first stop on an itinerary that would take us south along the coast of Texas. We chose a motel in Rockport and made that our home base. My next post will be about this very enjoyable though small town.