Wildlife Photography in Rockport, Texas
An old friend of mine, Joe Des Rosier, runs the Blue Lagoon Lodge, down in Rockport, Texas. He invited me down to visit with thoughts of putting together wildlife photography tours, to add to his already popular fly-fishing tours. I had 24 hours to scout out a few possibilities. We ran into some challenges and learned a lot, but overall, it was a great trip.
The Texas coast is well known as a birding destination, and is home to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was set aside in 1937 to protect the marshlands favored by migratory birds and other wildlife. In 1938, there was only one migratory flock of whooping cranes with fifteen birds. Today, there are over 500 whooping cranes that winter in the Aransas Bay area.
While whooping cranes were high on my priority list, I was eager to see other large birds, and any other wildlife that presented itself. After settling in at the lodge, we hopped on the boat and set out. The very first photo I took was of this Great Blue Heron, only a few hundred yards from the lodge.
Click on any image to enlarge.
We saw heron in several other locations, as well.
We also saw a few sandhill cranes, with which I am familiar from my many trips to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I’m pretty sure the bird below is a juvenile Sandhill Crane. Any bird experts want to confirm or correct? Do so in the comments below.
We saw pelicans, egrets, ibis, and plenty of ducks. The hunting season for ducks had ended a week and a half earlier, which probably helped us get a bit closer to those birds than if we’d come in December or January.
Not far from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, we saw an Osprey sitting on a sign in the middle of the water. This time of year–and, well, ever since Hurricane Harvey–the water is pretty clear. From a high vantage point, you can easily see the fish in the water for several yards around. Seeing so many redfish near the boat kind of drove Joe crazy, because we were on a photo trip and we’d purposely gone out without his fishing gear.
There are dolphins all around the bay, wherever it’s deep enough. Several companies run dolphin watching cruises out of the coastal towns.
We came across one pod of dolphins that… well, let me back up. We came across this large circle of churned up, sandy water in the middle of the blue waters of the bay. There were about fifteen dolphins circling around, feeding, mating–we’re not quite sure, but they were active. One would occasionally jump all the way out of the water. I never got a good photo of them out of the water, unlike that time in Hawaii…
Of all my photos of the chaos, I was intrigued by the scars on this dolphin’s body and dorsal fin. (Click to enlarge.)
One of the most popular shorebirds is the roseate spoonbill. It is distinctive with its pink color and its long, flat, spoon-shaped bill. It was hard to get close to these birds, because they tended to be in shallow areas that were hard to get to with our boat. But Joe knew a place, and we were able to get relatively close to one group of birds shortly before I had to leave to return to Austin.
But of course, what about the Whooping Cranes? On the second day, we set out on glass-smooth water, at first light well before dawn, and went to the intracoastal waterway that passes along the national wildlife refuge. We found a few large birds of various types, but most were inland in the marshlands. After some time, we finally found a group of five whooping cranes, a few of whom were wading along the shoreline.
The shallowness of the water prevented us from getting too close, but Joe poled the boat along the shore long enough for me to get a few hundred photos of these endangered birds.
This was the first time I’d seen whooping cranes, and it was an awesome experience. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity to spend time along the Texas coast with an old friend as my guide.
Joe was able to get me places I couldn’t easily have gone on my own. I was surprised by how shallow much of the bay is. Joe’s skiff has a draft of about 7 inches(!), and there were several places we got stuck 50 to 100 yards from the shoreline. We motored long distances–such as across the bay–but when we got to each destination, Joe would pole us along. This helped us avoid disturbing the birds, but also helped us (try to) avoid getting stuck. When we inevitably did get stuck, off came his shoes and socks, and into the six inches of water he went. I’d sit on the bow to flatten the boat out, and he’d work us off the sandbars. It’s all part of the adventure!
As I mentioned at the top, Blue Lagoon Lodge might start running photo tours to complement their fishing tours. As I hope these photos have shown you, there’s great potential for that. Would you be interested in having Joe and me as your guides and instructors? We could go out on the water during the day, and come back to the lodge for editing sessions and photo critiques (not to mention great meals) at night. Comment below with ideas for what you’d like to see in a photo workshop.
Thanks Joe and Blue Lagoon Lodge for the 24 hours in coastal Texas paradise. I’ll be back soon.