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Wildlife Thrives in Aransas Refuge

By Shannon Blackburn - August 3rd, 2000

Situated on the Texas Gulf coast along San Antonio Bay, 70,504-acre Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, in Austwell, Texas, is host to an exotic assortment of wildlife, including: whooping cranes, javelinas, alligators, feral hogs, snakes and bobcats. A 16 mile one-way driving tour takes visitors through the refuge's grassland, oak thicket, freshwater pond and marshland habitats, providing excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

Six leisurely hiking trails totaling 4.3 miles are also available, but spring and summer visitors must bring insect repellent as the mosquitos are particularly abundant. No camping facilities are provided. At present, there is no charge for access to this National Wildlife Refuge.

Aransas has a well-deserved reputation as one of the prime birding locales in Texas; over 392 species have been cataloged. The refuge's most notable visitor is the endangered whooping crane, one of the rarest animal species in North America. A flock of over 150 whooping cranes winter at the refuge each November to March, providing visitors with a truly precious birding opportunity. During the spring and fall, especially from April to May, large numbers of migratory songbirds can be seen. Ducks and geese are present from August through March, and year-round birding opportunities exist for: spoonbills, ibises, herons and egrets. The 40-foot observation tower, located 5 miles down the tour road, is an ideal location for birding; located above the tidal marsh, the tower is equipped with two high-power spotting scopes to assist birders. Commercial boat tours are available for birding from the Intercoastal Canal; call the Rockport Chamber of Commerce for fees and availability.

The 1.4 mile Heron Flats Trail is full of numerous wildlife viewing opportunities. Do not assume that the only alligators in the refuge are those housed in the marked alligator pond at the visitor center. While hiking the trail, we inadvertently startled an American alligator; we never did discover where the creature was lurking, but its bellow was convincing enough. Further down the Heron Flats Trail, we met up with several javelinas. In addition to alligators, the existing freshwater ponds attract numerous bird species such as spoonbills and egrets. White-tail deer are abundant and easily seen from the tour road. I cannot recall viewing as many wildlife species in a single outing as we did on this short hike. Exercise caution, however, as you will be dealing with truly wild creatures; give the wildlife a wide berth and there should be no problem.

Trip Planner

Location: The refuge is located 35 miles northeast of Rockport. From Rockport, take State Highway 35 North to F.M. 744 East, then follow F.M. 2040 South to the refuge entrance.

Hours: The visitor center is open 7 days a week from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. The refuge day use areas are open year-round from sunrise to sunset.

For more information write to: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, P.O. Box 100, Austwell, Texas 77950-0100.

Or call: Ranger Station, (512)286-3559, Rockport Chamber of Commerce, (800)242-0071.


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