PORT ARANSAS – A visit to Port Aransas this week will be especially rewarding for Coastal Bend birders. We are fortunate to have numerous bird-related festivals throughout the year, and one of the most anticipated is the award winning annual Whooping Crane Festival. Its mix of interesting speakers with exciting field trips and workshops is hard to resist.

Activities begin on Thursday; on-site registration at the Port Aransas Civic Center allows entrance to all speaker sessions for a $20 fee. Trips, tours and workshops are priced separately.

The University of Texas Marine Science Institute will show off its recently opened Estuary Explorium. This interactive exhibit is designed to increase public awareness of the value and transitional nature of the estuarine environment. Jace Tunnell, director for the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve will present “A Bird’s Eye View of the Estuary Explorium” on Friday morning.

Another speaker I hope to hear on Friday is Cecilia Riley, executive director of the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Riley is a hero to bird species, and birders of the Americas. Her observations are certain to be insightful. Her presentation is “Conservation: Because Life is Better with Birds!”

Sammy King’s topic is “Revealing the Secrets of Secretive Marshbirds in Louisiana.” The secretive birds referred to are also common residents of the Texas coast, including rails, bitterns and gallinules. King will talk about the life history, nesting ecology, and habitats frequented by these often elusive birds.

Former photographer Joe Duff, founder of Operation Migration, heads the team of pilots that lead a new generation of whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida each year. “Ultralight Guided Migration of the Whooping Crane” will include stories of the challenges he and his fellow pilots have faced.

Other presentations pertaining directly to whooping cranes will be given by Mark Klym, Richard Zaidan, Wade Harrell and Joe Duff. George Archibald, co-founder of the International Crane Foundation, and two of his colleagues, veterinarian Barry Hartup and local biologist Liz Smith, will tell you “All You Ever Wanted to Know About Whooping Cranes.”

On Sunday morning, seasoned birders Joan and Scott Holt will lead a two mile walk through the Port Aransas Nature Preserve, formerly known as Charlie’s Pasture. The pace promises to allow for frequent stops to see birds and take photographs. Birding with this couple is always a privilege; among the many choices for wonderful field trips, this looks like an excellent one.

Proceeds from the festival benefit the conservation of whooping cranes through the International Crane Foundation. Additional information: 800-452-6278 or www. whoopingcranefestival.org.

Corpus Christi Caller Times

Phyllis Yochem, a Corpus Christi resident, has studied birds in Texas since 1960.