On a brisk morning in late March, we caught our first-ever glimpses of endangered whooping cranes––the rarest of all cranes and among the oldest living bird species on earth––feasting on blue crabs in the brackish marshes of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
We spied the snow white birds, marked by coal black wingtips, a patch of red skin on their heads and an impressive seven- to eight-foot wingspan, on Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures’ Whooping Crane and Coastal Birding Tour.
The best time of year to see the only natural wild flock of whooping cranes, which fly 2,500 miles from Wood Buffalo National Park to their wintering grounds on the Texas coast at Aransas Refuge, is from December to February. Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures operates its popular whooping crane tours from Nov. 1 through early April, according to Capt. Tommy Moore, who has been running the tours since 2003.
“We guarantee the whooping cranes and the great blue heron, but other than that, you never know what you’ll see,” says Moore as he navigates the white, double-decker vessel, Skimmer, through the bay.
Even after the estimated 500 whooping cranes start making the trip back to their Canadian nesting grounds, there are plenty of other birds to see.
“We typically see 30 to 60 different species of birds and other animals on a single trip,” says Moore.
Riding along with the seasoned captain and around two dozen other bird enthusiasts on the chilly spring morning, we see pink-hued roseate spoonbills, four or five different species of duck, some raptors, a crested caracara and red-tailed hawk, some wading birds, egrets, tricolored herons, two great blue herons and an osprey. We also witness several playful dolphins (a favorite sighting for our kids, ages 6, 9 and 12) splash in the wakes.
“These are Atlantic bottlenose dolphin,” Moore tells us. “And the funny thing is, for anyone who grew up around here, their parents told them those weren’t dolphin. That they were porpoise.” But despite what he was told as a kid, Moore says he always knew they were bottlenose dolphin––something he credits to watching lots of “Flipper” episodes during his childhood.
Once the whooping cranes have left for the season, Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures pivots to an array of other tours. Right now is a great time to experience the natural coastal beauty on Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures’ Aransas Bay morning dolphin watching cruises, spring rookery tours and evening sunset cruises along the calm waters surrounding San Jose Island. Private charters are also available, and if you want to set out on your own, Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures also rents paddle boards, kayaks and golf carts perfect for exploring on land or water. This summer, Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures will be running an educational kids adventure day camp in June for first through fifth graders.
“We use the boat like a school bus and load them all up and take the kids out to discover fun things,” says Moore.
Learn more or book a tour at www.whoopingcranetour.com.