PORT ARANSAS – For birders at the Port Aransas Whooping Crane Festival, the weekend is about more than the endangered 5-foot tall guest of honor.

On a whooping crane boat tour Friday morning, Ron Berg, of San Francisco, watched as more than a dozen roseate spoonbills flew overhead.

Berg refuses to be the kind of birder who keeps a list of the birds he’s seen. But that doesn’t stop him from making a mental note of the moment he sees a particular species.

The last time he saw a roseate spoonbill was Thursday morning and before that was some time in the ’70s.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was at the top of the list for Berg and his wife, who recently purchased an RV and began a journey through U.S. national parks.

“Whooping cranes are a big deal,” Berg said.

But birding isn’t a scavenger hunt to mark off each species, Berg said. The hobby is about appreciating the beauty of nature. For Berg, the admiration for avian species began when he saw humming birds as a child.

“They were like little jewels flying out of a bush,” he said. “The way they moved – like little windup toys.”

The hobby is also a way to get outside and meet people, said Jackie Farrell, of Galveston.

Farrell’s interest in birdwatching began in her backyard three years ago. Since then, she’s identified 347 bird species. No. 347 was a whooping crane she saw from the boat Friday.

But Farrell hasn’t kept count of the numerous friends she’s met from the hobby.

She came to the Whooping Crane Festival with one of them, a nature photographer named Mary Blackwell, also of Galveston, who she met a year ago.

While Farrell is a wiz at identification, Blackwell has more experience with photography. The two have come to enjoy learning from one another and the happy demeanor that most birders share.

“One thing I’ve discovered about birders is they smile a lot,” Blackwell said.

By Sara Sneath