The weekend before Christmas we headed down to the Rockport area in hopes of seeing and photographing Whooping Cranes, the tallest birds in North America. These amazing birds almost became extinct last century, with their number falling to fewer than 20 individuals in the 1940s. However, a concerted push to save the species has succeeded and the population is now over 600 birds.
We had seen Whooping Cranes several years earlier on a visit to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge but on that occasion we saw only a couple of birds and they were too far away to photograph.
On this trip we arrived at Aransas NWR after midday on Saturday and decided to try the Heron Flats Trail, as a few Whooping Cranes had been seen in that area the previous day.
After passing an alligator sunbathing at the edge of a pond, we came across several Pied-billed Grebes. Nice birds, but not what we were looking for.
Next up were several white morph Little Blue Herons, some Great and Snowy Egrets, and a Reddish Egret. Then a Great Blue Heron struggling to eat a large snake it had caught.
Then we spotted a group of large birds much farther out near the sea. Cranes! But as we got within binocular range, we saw these were not the Cranes we were looking for but instead were Sandhill Cranes, a little smaller and much grayer than Whoopers. Still, very beautiful birds in their own right.
Dee drew my attention to two white birds in the distance. Yes! Whooping Cranes! Unfortunately, there was no way for us to get nearer to them and the birds gradually wandered off.
We spent the next couple of hours driving the refuge's auto-loop, where we saw several hundred ducks - Scaups and Redheads - and a group of Roseate Spoonbills.
We also saw another couple of Whooping Cranes, but these were even further away than the ones we had seen earlier.
After a picnic lunch we left Aransas and drove down to Rockport, where we were had reserved a motel room for the night.
Our final bird sighting of the day was of American White Pelicans, Neotropic Cormorants and Caspian Terns on a fishing jetty in front of the motel.
My plan for the following day was to do an early morning tour of some local birding sites and then to head over to Lamar, where a group of Whooping Cranes had been hanging out for several days. Surely there I would finally get some decent photos!