With a little luck and good timing, it is possible to spot endangered whooping cranes and admire one of the biggest Coastal Live Oak Tree in Texas. This time of year they are both just a few miles north of the coastal art and fishing community of Rockport/Fulton.
Endangered Whooping Cranes
On previous trips to the coastal bend, my husband, Jimmy Smith, and I have seen whooping cranes in the same marshy field. The whoopers migrate 2,500 miles in the autumn from Wood Buffalo National Park in the Northwest Territories of Canada. They return north in the spring to nest.
“The population of the Wood Buffalo–Aransas wild migratory flock has increased to an estimated 505 birds as of 2018,” according to Parks Canada. “This is the highest count yet for this wild migratory flock since their near-extinction in the early 1940s” when the count was down to 15. “The population increases about four-percent every year,” says Whooping Crane Biologist Rari Marks with the International Crane Foundation (ICF).
The ICF works worldwide to conserve cranes and the ecosystems, watersheds, and flyways on which they depend. “In the Texas program we work with partners and landowners to conserve and restore whooping crane habitat,” says Marks. “We support efforts that ensure freshwater inflows maintain high quality habitat in Texas coastal bays.” In addition, the ICF works “to reduce mortality of cranes from shootings through public awareness and outreach.”
Cranes return to these salt marsh tidal creeks and ponds partly because of abundant food sources including tasty blue crabs. “They will forage in adjacent salty prairies,” reports Marks. And, “will eat almost anything that moves like snakes, frogs, crawdads, snails, dragonfly larvae, and fish.”
The Big Tree
While I have seen “bigger” trees, this Coastal Live Oak is pretty darn impressive. It is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old, with a circumference of 35 feet and a crown spread of 90 feet. It stands about 44 feet tall.
Known locally as “The Big Tree,” it is part of Goose Island State Park in Lamar, Texas. This tree is one of the largest in the nation.
Other local wildlife include white-tailed deer, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. Throngs of migratory birds are attracted to the nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.
Follow general directions on Highway 35 to the Texas Goose Island State Park, about 10 miles northeast of Fulton/Rockport. Just north of the Copano Bay bridge, turn east to the park. Continue straight ahead to Lamar Beach Road, then turn left. Immediately before this road bears left to The Big Tree, you will see a field with a large pond. On many days between autumn and spring you may spot a few whooping cranes. Bring field glasses and a camera with a long lens.