Back to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

written Thursday, January 15, 2009
Rockport, TX

This past Monday, the 12th of January, was supposed to be a nice day so we loaded up the bikes and headed north to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. You may remember that we were there a couple times last January — once to visit and take photos; and again to ride our bikes around the 16 mile loop that threads its way through the Refuge. This year’s visit was as much about getting out on the bikes and working up a sweat as it was about the wildlife.

From Aransas Wildlife Refuge

The day was perfect for the ride… very low wind, bright sun, low dew point, and temps in the 60f’s. A Ranger we ran into said they get maybe 10 days like this all year. And maybe because it was a Monday there were very few visitors. It felt like we had all 115,000 acres and 16 miles of roadway to ourselves.

This part of South Texas has been in extreme drought. There’s been very little rain. San Antonio usually gets about 34 inches of rain in a normal year, but only 13 inches in all of 2008. The rain that San Antonio didn’t get didn’t fill the rivers that flow this way toward the Gulf, which didn’t recharge the wetlands and marshes and tidal areas along the coast with needed freshwater for the life that’s come to rely on it. As a result the whole place is under stress. The brackish salt marshes are now much saltier. Freshwater wetlands and ponds have dried up — almost completely. Birds can fly to find the water they need. But ground animals have only so much range and while they can be incredibly resourceful, this isn’t a good situation. Everybody’s hoping and praying for rain.

From Aransas Wildlife Refuge
Most of the road through the park is a paved narrow one-way roadway. Submitting to an iconoclastic urge we decided to ride the road backwards — go the wrong way. Why? Well we’d see things differently than we did last year — we’d get a different perspective. And we’d be able to more easily see cars coming toward us than if they were sneaking up behind us. The roadway is narrow enough that we usually stop riding and get right to the edge of the road when we encounter a car, so seeing them coming from the front means less element of surprise and a bit more time to prepare. The road is posted for 25mph and most people are going slower than that, so speed isn’t a problem regardless of the direction of travel. It wasn’t much of an issue anyway as there were very few cars.

During our ride we saw Whitetail Deer, Wild Pigs, Coyote, Armadillos, dozens of species of birds, and even a few Alligators — small ones in a little water hole that once was a large freshwater pond. From a platform built high above the trees overlooking the shoreline of the Gulf and Mustang Lake we could also see a pair of nesting Whooping Cranes. This Refuge is one of the key wintering areas in the U.S. for the endangered Whoopers. There’s been a steady increase in the number of them that show up here every year, and in December an aerial survey counted 266 birds. But the drought has been tough on them too as their main food source, blue crab, is also suffering from the lack of freshwater.

We had a great ride, got some cool photos, soaked up a dose of bright sun, and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

T

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