Monday: Return to Austin
The one thing I hadn’t seen up to that point were alligators. There are two resident gators at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, but they never came close enough for me to see them. And I was determined to see alligators. Especially since Hubby told me I wouldn’t see any in that part of Texas. He thought I was going to Corpus Christi. Since my itinerary was set, I didn’t give him many details of my whereabouts in advance.
I figured that Monday would be a good day to visit the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is about a two-hour drive from the tow of Port Aransas. I could have gone on Sunday, but didn’t want to waste the day with four hours of driving. But I had to leave my hotel really early (around 5:30 AM) so I’d have plenty of time.
I thought I’d get to see the sunrise. I was wrong. It was foggy again. Sigh…
I did get to see a wild boar, which really wasn’t all that exciting. They are an invasive nuisance, and aren’t very attractive. Besides, it was dark. Honestly, when I saw it, I thought it was one of those wooden pig profiles people use as yard art.
By the time I reached the proper entrance — Google maps sent me to the closed back gate! — it was getting lighter. I cruised through the refuge a bit, waiting for temps, which were in the low 50s, to warm up. Alligators are inactive when it’s cold.
There’s a nice 16-mile auto tour route, which I enjoyed. And there are some nice overlooks, too, where you can see various marshes and bays. The natural world intrigues me. I found it all very beautiful and serene, especially since I practically had the place all to myself.
But I really wanted to see the alligators. There’s a small alligator viewing area near the visitor’s center. Apparently they like sunning themselves on the banks at that spot. When there’s sun. But it was still cloudy, though the fog had lifted, and pretty chilly, so I wasn’t surprised that there were no gators were to be seen.
I then headed for the Rail Trail, one of two trails I’d planned to explore while there. The literature I’d seen described it as about a half-mile trail beside a reed-lined slough (aka marsh) where you can see waterbirds, particularly rails and bitterns, as well as alligators.
It was chilly enough that I had to wear the hood of my sweatshirt, and I don’t chill easily, so I didn’t expect to see any gators. Squawking, large birds quickly captured my attention anyway. Despite my tiptoeing very slowly down the grassy path — I was making virtually no noise — I was spooking these big-ass, long-necked, heron-looking birds that were hanging out in the trees.
I’d never seen those particular birds before. I think they were Anhingas, but I could be wrong. All I know for sure is that they are big — 50″ wingspan — and shy. No matter how quiet I was or how slowly I moved I kept spooking them. Before long, the entire flock of 50+ birds was airborne. They’d fly around in big circles over the area, and me. When they flew above me, all I could hear was the beating of their giant wings and a soft whoosh as they sliced through the air. It was pretty cool.
Convinced I wasn’t going to see any gators, I kept tiptoeing down the path hoping for a better look at those bashful birds.
I did manage to capture a decent image or two.
I kept looking into the slough, when the reeds would allow it. And I finally saw a gator.
He was pretty far down in the water when I spotted him, and slowly sank lower until he was gone.
I kept walking and looking and, sure enough, saw more. This is my favorite gator pic of the day.
It really would be easy to mistake the gators for logs or other floating stuff with them so low in the water.
The next image, captured at the end of the trail, will give you an idea how long this gator was. I’d guess 12 feet at least, maybe longer.
I never did see a rail, that I’m aware of.
Next up, the 1.4-mile Heron Flats Trail. See why I needed to leave so early? There was a lot to see.
My first view of this small pond along the trail yielded nothing. The next time the water came into view, I saw another gator. You have to look closely, it was really low in the water.
A few steps further on, I was excited to see a gator on the bank.
Did you see the other two gators in the water, right close to shore? I didn’t notice them until after I uploaded the image onto my computer. Three gators in one frame and I hadn’t even realized it. They appear to be lying in wait for something. Perhaps an unsuspecting whitetailed deer? Or maybe a wild boar? No pets are allowed on the refuge, and for good reason.
It was so quiet and peaceful walking along the trail between the pond, on my left, and the marsh, on my right. I had plenty of time, so I kept walking. I’m glad I did, too. Here’s some of the cool stuff I saw.
I thoroughly enjoyed the morning nature walk. But I still had miles to cover, so left soon after that.
I hadn’t gone far when I came to this railroad crossing.
The train was so long, there was a helper engine in the middle!
The further inland I traveled, the sunnier it got. So I was really able to enjoy the beautiful countryside and all of the wildflowers.
Texas really is beautiful in the Spring.
I saw more cows, too. Surprised?
Is that the cutest cow face ever?
I was tickled to spot another surf-and-turf ranch.
I’m telling you, there were wildflowers everywhere.
I was enjoying my ride so much, I re-routed onto more farm-to-market roads to enjoy more scenery.
I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather drive aimlessly through the countryside, taking in sights like that than sit waiting at an airport.
All that and I still made it to the rental car return about an hour and a half before my flight was scheduled to board.
It was really quite surreal being back in a crowded airport, going through security, etc., after a day like that.
Did you like the virtual ride-along? That’s the end of my journey through southeast Texas.
If you enjoyed these images, the rest of the pics can be seen on Flickr.