Refuge celebrates new year, whoopers' success
Jan. 1, 2018 at 9:06 p.m.
Updated Jan. 2, 2018 at 6 a.m.
AUSTWELL - Richard Gonzales hugged a couple from Rockport bundled up in red, yellow and black fabric.
"This is my flock!" Gonzales shouted dramatically as a school bus idled nearby.
Noon on Sunday, Linda and Vic Ostrum braved the blustery weather to celebrate with 14 students from Corpus Christi ISD's Grant Middle School.
They had a lot to celebrate - the new year , the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge's 80th birthday and the continued success of the endangered species that spends half the year there: the whooping crane. The birds are now an estimated 431 strong.
And there was a cake and kazoos.
In 1937, by executive order, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the refuge. It was the 121st wildlife refuge in the U.S. and the second in Texas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased 47,261 acres with $463,500.
The money came from federal duck stamps, which must be purchased if one wants to hunt waterfowl and which now cost $25. Ninety-eight percent of the stamp cost goes toward creating spaces such as this one on the Gulf Coast, which spans 150,000 acres, said Laura Bonneau, the refuge's visitor services manager.
Bonneau led the students up an observation tower. A whooping crane was foraging below.
The students were part of the Science and Spanish Club Network, which Gonzales founded.
"We're developing the new generation of leadership and stewardship for the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, so that's Cuba, Mexico and the U.S. We took a multicultural approach to programming," he said.
The teacher who sponsors the class described it as rewarding.
"Because I see my little wallflowers, the ones who are quiet, the ones people don't pay attention to - they flourish," Yolanda Aviles said.
Her students agreed.
"I can help the community become a better place," said Gabriel Cuevas, a 14-year-old who counts among his accomplishments marsh planning and picking up litter from underneath Harbor Bridge.
Eventually, the whooping crane the students had seen earlier came even closer, perhaps mistaking a kazoo for the call of his mate.
"That never happens," Bonneau said.
"He must know it's a special day," one of the students replied.