AMIGO - the FAMI Newsletter December 2020
Updates from the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and FAMI
Greetings to all our members and everyone who appreciates the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to restrict travel and many outdoor activities, but the Refuge is open for visitors. The Visitor Contact Station and Nature Store are still closed, but updates and current information are posted regularly on the FaceBook pages of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and FAMI.

The good news from the Refuge is that construction of the new Visitor Center to replace the old building damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017 is well underway. Here is a picture from November showing construction of the center, and a sketch showing how the finished building will look. Rebuilding of the maintenance shop, volunteer building and bunk house is also underway.

Below see the crane used for building the new Visitor Center (view from the Alligator Viewing platform).

Architect's sketch of what the new building will look like
Sketch of new building

To FAMI members who renewed their membership or joined recently – thank you! One benefit of membership is a discount on purchases at the Nature Store, and now that the online store Whoopers and Friends is up and running, you can shop for collectibles from the refuge (pins, hiking staff medallion, embroidered patch, decals, etc.) and other gifts and clothing featuring our favorite birds.

Members who did not see the recent notice about the website and need a reminder of the coupon code to get the 15% discount on purchases can contact the Newsletter Editor. (The code is sent with member activation notices, but the online store was set up after many members had renewed for this year).

Announcing the Annual Meeting of FAMI
January 16, 2021, 10:00AM.

This will be a virtual meeting, and further details about how to join the meeting will be sent nearer the date. The program will include a presentation by Rebecca Stapleton “A Year in the Life of the Refuge” using her artwork, notes, and journal. Rebecca is a talented artist, a Texas Master Naturalist, and a volunteer for USFWS at the refuge (an example of her journal shown below).

Rebecca Stapleton
Pollinator Garden

The FAMI pollinator garden at the Refuge is currently off-limits to volunteers and visitors as it is immediately adjacent to the worksite for the new building. So no workdays are scheduled, and when last seen the garden was getting happily overgrown with native plants, both welcome and unwelcome (sticker burrs!).

 As soon as we get approval to start work in the garden again, calls for assistance will be sent out. FAMI board member Linda Frank has a copy of the original plans for the garden and will use these to guide the restoration of the garden.
The Bald Eagles are back!
(Photo taken at the refuge earlier this year by Melissa Zieschang)
Bald eagles nest
There was great excitement last December when a bald eagle nest was spotted on the refuge, seen from the auto tour loop. This was the first time in decades that a nest had been seen on the refuge. In “Doc” Wayne McAlister’s Guidebook to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the last time a bald eagle nest was documented on the refuge was in 1971. Numbers of bald eagles declined through the 20th century due to shooting, development and depletion of the eagles’ habitat, and widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Following enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the bald eagle was listed as endangered or threatened in the lower 48 states. Since then, the numbers of nesting pairs have increased and the bald eagle has been removed from both endangered and threatened lists, but it is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. These laws prohibit killing or otherwise harming eagles, their nests, or eggs. A study by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported that the numbers of active bald eagle nest sites in Texas increased from 5 in 1973 to 156 in 2005, when the last aerial survey was done (Ortego et al, 2009)

Bald eagle nest sites are usually built in the largest tree available with easy flight access, a clear view of surrounding areas and near permanent water. Both male and female eagles build the nests using sticks collected from the ground or nearby trees, with nest building or maintenance of an existing nest starting from 1 to 3 months before eggs are laid. In Texas, the eaglets hatch in January and February and fledge when 8 to 14 weeks old. The adults bring a variety of fish, waterfowl, and small mammals to feed the young (McAlister). The large numbers of waterfowl overwintering around the refuge provides an abundant source of food for eagles to bring back to the nest.

The pair nesting on the refuge last winter raised one chick, and the nest will be closely watched again this season. To find the nest, drive approximately 5.5 miles from the start of the auto loop, and look to the left (binoculars and/or spotting scope recommended).

More reading/references:

McAlister WH and McAlister M; Guidebook to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Mince County Press, Victoria TX, 2006. (Available at the Nature Store and Whoopers and Friends )

Ortego B, Gregory C, Mabie D, Mitchell M and Schmidt D. Texas Bald Eagles, Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society, Vol 42, 2009.

Thank you for your support! Best wishes for the holidays and we hope that you can come and visit the refuge in 2021.

We do not list individual donors without permission, but we greatly appreciate everything we receive. You can contribute to our general fund or specify that you want your donation to go to a special purpose (link to donation page on FAMI website).
Thank you to everyone that donates by using the Smile program when shopping at Each purchase through the Smile program earns a small contribution to FAMI. You pay the same price for the same goods and services as you would using the standard Amazon portal. Please keep us in mind when you do your on-line shopping.

We love our volunteers, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer activities on the Refuge are suspended.

Technical assistance with the website and newsletter is welcomed, and please send any news, photos and articles of interest to FAMI members for future newsletters to the Newsletter Editor

Thank you!