NWF Picks: Top Wildlife-Watching Spots

Jan 17, 2011 | National Wildlife Magazine by Laura Tangley | Related Press

From coast to coast, many of the special places NWF has helped protect also provide exceptional opportunities to view wild animals: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

On the Texas coast, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is famous for hosting the continent’s largest wild flock of endangered whooping cranes—and the only flock that still migrates. Each fall, these magnificent birds, now numbering around 250, set out from nesting grounds in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park and fly 2,500 miles to wintering grounds in the refuge. At Aransas, “the cranes depend almost entirely on the adjacent Guadalupe Estuary for their food, primarily blue crabs, wolf berries, clams and insects,” says Norman Johns, a water-resources scientist in NWF’s Austin-based South Central Regional Center. For many years, ensuring adequate flows of freshwater into the estuary—essential for maintaining appropriate salinity levels and delivering critical nutrients—has been one of the center’s highest priorities. In 2007, pressure from NWF and other groups led to landmark state legislation establishing a formal process to protect these inflows, which are threatened by the state’s rapidly growing human population.

To get a look at North America’s tallest birds—which stand 5 feet tall with 7-foot wingspans—visit Aransas between mid-October and March. Visitors can usually spot a pair or family from the observation tower; ask at the visitor center about the most recent sightings. To see larger numbers of cranes, take a boat trip out of Rockport. Several companies offer tours that may be reserved in advance.

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