Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

An entry sign at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Aransas National wildlife Refuge is a 114,657-acre property located on the Gulf Coast of Texas, on the west side of San Antonio Bay. The Aransas Migratory Waterfowl Refuge was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 31, 1937. The name was changed two years later.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge really came into prominence after 1941 when the Fish & Wildlife Service got behind efforts to save the extremely endangered whooping crane from extinction. Back then, there were only 15 Whooping cranes left on the planet. It's taken a long time but those efforts have paid off and the bird is well back from the brink of extinction. Still, every year in December Fish & Wildlife makes a survey of Aransas to determine if the number of mature whooping cranes is still rising or not.

The majority of the property is on the Blackjack Peninsula on the coast of Texas. There is also a unit of the refuge on nearby Matagorda Island (a barrier island just offshore). The island varies in width from 1/2 mile to almost five miles and reaches a maximum height of about 50 feet above mean sea level. The property is a rugged mix of sandy beach, muddy tidal flats, salt marsh and grassy uplands. Matagorda Island is relatively isolated with no public means of accessing the property. The Blackjack Peninsula is protected from the ocean action by the barrier islands. the property is lined by several shallow bays where strong onshore breezes push the bay waters onto a landscape that shifts from salt to brackish to freshwater as the elevation slowly rises. Inland from the marshes are open oak savannas and low sandy prairies where clumps of oak woodland dot the grassland. It's that mix of water, vegetation and habitat that attracts more than 400 species of birds to Aransas.

This is an area on the Central Flyway that sees hundreds of thousands of migratory birds fly in for the winter. Among the permanent residents of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge are alligators, white-tailed deer and coyotes. The endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle also uses the beaches of the refuge as a place to dig nests and drop eggs. The brackish waters of the refuge are teeming with shellfish and blue crab. The freshwater areas support turtles, frogs, alligators, snakes and other species. Also of note: there are so many birds because there are more mosquitoes. You'll want to have industrial strength bug spray handy for your visit.

The refuge is open for day use every day of the year. The visitor center is open Thursday through Sunday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The refuge offers a 16-mile auto tour route that is open every day from 1/2 hour before sunrise to 1/2 hour after sunset. Camping is available about three miles from the refuge, gas is available about 14 miles away in Tivoli.

A Whooping crane at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
One of the Whooping cranes at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center