The campsites are huge and separated by beautiful live oaks and dense shrubbery. There are also campsites right on the waterfront, but although we enjoy biking and walking along the bay, we prefer the privacy of the wooded sites. As soon as we set up camp, we unload our bikes and spend a good part of everyday biking. It’s a little over a mile from the wooded campsite area to the bay, and the mile-long bayfront is anchored by a marsh at one end and a fishing pier that extends a more than a quarter-mile out into the bay on the opposite end.
The birding is fantastic: white ibis, reddish egrets, great egrets, great blue herons, curlews, willets, and ruddy turnstones roam the tidal flats searching for food, while white and brown pelicans, osprey, and black skimmers scoop up fish in the bay. In the marshes, black-crowned night herons and Virginia rails, both ordinarily reclusive, make an appearance.
We also bike outside of the park, on miles of peaceful winding roads that border the bay. This is where the ducks hang out (although they float right in front of a duck hunting camp, which makes no sense at all.) Pintails, redheads, widgeons, and teal seem oblivious to their plight; or perhaps staying in front of the camp is a smart choice since the hunters head for the marshes.
The Rockport-Port Aransas area is a prime wintering territory for whooping cranes, which not too long ago were almost annihilated. Amazingly (and with a lot of effort), they were brought back from the brink of extinction, and more than 400 cranes now make their way to the Texas coast late every fall. We tried our best to see them in 2009, even going on a boat trip where we hoped for a viewing. We managed to see two on that expensive little journey, and they were very far away.
We debated about again taking our chances on a boat trip to see the cranes and were discussing it our second day at Goose Island as we biked along the bay. Passing by a small pond, I saw a couple of large white birds, and kept on biking, thinking, “Wow, those great egrets sure look big.” Eric stopped, trained his binoculars on the birds, and called to me. Two beautiful whooping cranes stood next to the pond, only 200 feet from where we stood. Better yet, as we continued to bike, we found another eight cranes gathered in a nearby field. One pair even had a young one, much smaller and with cinnamon-colored plumage.
Even the parking-lot birds here are exotic. In the town of Rockport, near the pretty little beach, it’s a sure thing that you’re going to encounter dozens, if not hundreds, of black skimmers. They nest in nearby fields and are perfectly content to hang out in the sandy parking lot near the beach.