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This region is among the nation's premier bird-watching destinations, and the best spot for birding here is the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge (tel. 361/286-3559; http://southwest.fws.gov). More than 300 species of birds have been spotted here, but the whooping crane, which winters here from November to April, is the big draw.

In addition to birds, the refuge is home to about 30 species of snakes (only four are poisonous), turtles, lizards, and the refuge's largest reptile, the American alligator. Mammals commonly seen include white-tailed deer, javelina, wild boars, raccoons, eastern cottontail rabbits, and nine-banded armadillos. Also present, but only occasionally seen, are bobcats and opossums.

A 16-mile paved auto tour loop meanders through a variety of habitats, offering access to a 40-foot observation tower, a boardwalk that leads through a salt marsh to the coastline, and other viewing areas. The refuge has nine walking trails, ranging from .1 to 1.4 miles, a picnic area, and an impressive Wildlife Interpretive Center with information, exhibits, a bookstore, and administration offices. There are also seasons for hunting and saltwater fishing access. Camping is not permitted.

The refuge is located about 36 road miles northeast of Rockport via Tex. 35, FM 774, and FM 2040. It's open daily from just before sunrise to just after sunset; the Wildlife Interpretive Center is open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm. Admission to the refuge costs $5 per vehicle ($3 if there's only one person). Binoculars are available to borrow at the Wildlife Interpretive Center. Insect repellent is recommended year-round.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.