The storm rolled in last night, and we listened to the joy of the sounding rain in the early morning.
After we picked up some fishing gear I'll use to pier-fish today, we hit the road forty miles north of the Rockport/Fulton area to the Aransas National Wildlife Reserve. The drive took us across Copano Bay, past crop fields and fields of palmetto and giant live oak groves. The closing fifteen miles through cropless fields permitted us to see numerous birds--kestrels and hawks and assortments of smaller birds.
The reserve has a remote feel, although in fact the very small town of Austinwill is almost next door. The admission to the reserve was the low price of five dollars per group. Helpful guides loaned us binoculars and told us about the drive and the trail. The park loop was a seventeen mile drive through the reserve, with frequent stopovers to see birds.
Birds, and in particular shorebirds from Canada, come to Aransas to over-winter. It's easy to see why--it's set in fields of grains and cordgrass next to a lovely bay.
We drove down the park road loop, and stopped at the heron flats trail. A nice couple who were leaving told us where to look to see a rather large alligator. The park guides had told us alligators were present, along with simple, commonsensical rules like "if one is in your path, turn around and go back". We were grateful for the heads-up, although, being from a part of Texas in which alligators are rare except in extreme wetlands, we had a lot of alligator consciousness even on a fairly chilly, overcast gator-dormant kind of day.
The alligator was huge. He was taller than I am, about fifteen yards off the trail, still and oblivious in that gator way. He was protruding from the small marsh-pond, and quite impressive. Cormorants, ducks, herons, and other shorebirds swam here and there, although none swam "there" by the alligator. The entire trail took the best part of an hour to walk, though somewhat muddy ground past close quarters with wetlands on both sides, except for one portion through a scraggle-wood of live oak and smaller trees. The yaupon holly trees were all in berry, which felt very Christmas-y. We passed a couple with modern digital cameras with huge telephoto lens, and I hoped that they got great close-ups of the impressive birds in the marshland near the bay. We took mostly memories, as my camera cost about as much as the lens cap on theirs, and my wife, traveling light, did not bring her impressive array of photographic equipment. I did bring my camcorder, and I believe I got some interesting vidoe to use in some future project. At another stop, birders with impressive huge telephoto lens took snaps of songbirds playing among the weeds of a lake, while other birders spoke in hushed tones about the activity of the terns.
We continued down the reserve road, where we saw a huge feral boar hog disappear into the brush, about whom we debated "hog or javelina?", the species choices in such matters. We stopped under a live oak tree grove, where hundreds upon hundreds of robins flew and played. An observation tower gave us an expansive vantage point of the lay of the marshes, with birds evident everywhere.
We went down the single-land park loop road, where we saw huge hawks on trees sitting in huge unfettered grasslands, as well as low-hanging trees filled with vultures.
We thoroughly enjoyed the reserve. We had in June visited a bird reserve just north of Winnipeg, where waterfowl were abundant. I felt that, having toured their Summer home up north, we now were seeing their winter home.
We made our way into the small town of Austinwil, population 167. A woman in a tiny home/shack sat on her front porch cooking bbq, while a dozen people populated a small fishing pier on what had by afternoon turned into a cloudy but glorious day on calm waters.
Ordinary middle class people could have homes which looked out on a bay which people in more popular areas would pay a million dollars to live. It was all a bit inspiring, because it confirmed one of my long-held views about how the way barely off the beaten path sometimes contains marvels.
We stopped by the Copano Bay fishing pier on our way back, a disused highway bridge which makes an extremely long, mile or two length of pier. I am debating whether to fish there this morning or to fish in the handy backyard or small pier of our 'resort', which features water just back of us. We stopped at a waterside bait shop where we got me some cut squid for today.
We dined on gumbo, grilled fish and shrimp and salad at Captain Benny's, a rather rustic but charming place, and then we went to see the movie "Night at the Museum",whose silly fun we rather enjoyed.
We are scheduled to go on a boat ride to the whooping cranes at Aransas today, as the cranes can be reached only by boat. We are winding down, though, and may opt for a more quiet afternoon, even we are aware at how once-in-a-lifetime as cranes, an endangered bunch, may be.
We have had a grand time here.