"Bird Migration" Rockport by kyoub

Rockport Travel Guide: 9 reviews and 15 photos

Whooping Cranes

Some of the most majestic birds on the planet congregate each winter just off the narrow road to a cavernous barbecue restaurant that calls itself "the Redneck Emporium" on a spit of salt marshes stretching into the chocolate-colored waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Standing five feet in the shallow water, occasionally opening their wings to a span wider than that of an F-150 pickup, these are whooping cranes, part of a population that still numbers fewer than 500 after slowly making its way back from the brink of extinction. They arrive here, at Aransas Bay in Texas in tight-knit family units after flying 2,400 miles from their summer home in the Northwest Territories of Canada.

On a chilly, overcast day last month, the Wharf Cat, a motorized catamaran, moved through the marshes, stalking the cranes. Inside its well-heated cabin and out on its deck, about 15 men and women, wearing sweatshirts and windbreakers, stood scanning the shallow waters.

Most were novices on their first crane-watching tour. But some, toting high-tech binoculars and birding guides, were "craniacs," water-bird groupies drawn here for the thrill of seeing - or seeing once again - a truly exceptional bird.

Catering to craniacs is relatively new for Port Aransas and Rockport, the small Texas towns near the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge not far from Corpus Christi. The more typical trip into the marshes a few decades ago would have carried hunters seeking other, more common waterfowl, for other, more traditional purposes. But Texans have learned that there can be more money in whooping cranes and other unusual birds - and in the people who will travel thousands of miles to see them.

The crew on the Wharf Cat included the skipper, Danny Gross, who has been piloting boats in the area since the 80's; Ray Kirkwood, a crane expert; and Timothy Snyder, who was simultaneously reading a Mickey Spillane paperback, serving beer or coffee and keeping an eye peeled for all kinds of interesting birds. He spotted, for example, the black skimmer, about the size of a crow but with a black-tipped, bright-red bill - "kinda like Toucan Sam," he said in the twang particular to this nook of the Gulf Coast.

It wasn't until an hour and a half into the four-hour trip that boat and crane confronted each other. Mr. Kirkwood pointed them out, and a hush came over the catamaran.

Out in the marsh grasses stood a family of cranes, feet planted firmly in shallow water. Squinting through binoculars, the craniacs brought them clearly into view. The two adults, nearly as tall as the people watching them, were sheathed in white plumage. On their faces were black markings and higher on their heads was a bit of reddish coloring. With them was a single juvenile, looking small and vulnerable as its parents stood watch above the water.

Whooping cranes - the tallest North American birds - are the family type. They mate for life and can live 25 years or more in the wild. These parents never veered from the side of the young one. The cranes stood aristocratically on their long narrow legs, except when their omnivorous instincts led their olive-gray bills into the water in search of crabs, clams or crayfish.


Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Saved from extinction
  • In a nutshell:A joy to see
  • Last visit to Rockport: Feb 1998
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (4)

Comments (4)

  • sourbugger's Profile Photo
    Nov 24, 2008 at 3:53 PM

    yet more delights for twitchers

  • Pawtuxet's Profile Photo
    Nov 9, 2008 at 6:27 AM

    We have herons and egrets...but I'm still trying to lure in the hummingbirds. Might see 1 or 2 in my garden, but I'll keep on planting! I imagine seeing a lot of them during migration must be amazing.

  • matcrazy1's Profile Photo
    Feb 12, 2007 at 12:03 PM

    Great introduction. Tropical storms? I know what's that since I travelled through southern Alabama and hit it driving interstate (tons of waters!) - luckily there was an exit to motel where I immediatelly stopped.

  • deecat's Profile Photo
    Nov 29, 2005 at 11:44 AM

    What a perfect introduction. I marveled at your descriptions and insights! Sounds and looks like a place that I would relish.


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