Refuge tram tours taking new route this season

HARLINGEN — Call it making the best of a messy situation.

Construction activity inside Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge has forced officials to alter the usual route for the popular tram tours, but this will also open new areas of the refuge for wildlife viewing.

The seasonal open-air tram tours begin today and will be offered each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from now through March. The cost is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for anybody under 16.

Road contractors have been busy for months overhauling Bayside Wildlife Drive to construct an out-and-back stretch of road which eventually will re-open to motorists.

Until then, however, the road work means the tram route has to adapt, and that means new experiences when it comes to wildlife viewing, said Boyd Blihovde, refuge manager.

“Almost definitely it would be a new sight for almost everybody because it’s really difficult to get into these areas being that you would have to bike or hike to get out there,” he said.

“One of the big things that people will be able to see is the edge of the lake, Laguna Atascosa, the actual lake,” he added. “And there’s water in there, so it looks nice right now. Then we actually go right over a bridge that goes over Cayo Atascosa, the creek that flows out of it.

“Because of that, you get even more wetland views than on Bayside Drive,” Blihovde said. “You’ll get to see a lot of fish in the water, it’s been really clear, and when we go over the bridge there’s always gar and mullet and wildlife most people don’t get to see.”

The usual tram tour is three hours of exceptional wildlife observation, including white-tailed deer, nilgai antelope, and dozens of bird species in both thorn scrub and coastal prairie habitats.

While ocelots, being nocturnal, are unusual sightings during the tram rides, the occasional mountain lion has been observed.

Blihovde recommends all passengers bring binoculars for wildlife viewing.

“We do let people borrow them, sign them out with an ID, but definitely there are a lot of long-distance views for birds and things so that would be a good idea to bring them,” he said. “The bookstore sells water and things like that, but you might want to bring food or lunch because there are picnic tables.”

This year reservations for the tram tours are required. They can be made by calling the refuge at 956-748-3607 ext. 111.

Habitat Tours

TIME — From 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

TRANSPORT — Open-air tram

DAYS — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday beginning Nov. 10 through March

COST —$4 for adults (16-plus), $3 seniors (62) and under 16 free (cash or check only)

RESERVATIONS — Are required and can be made by calling 956-748-3607 ext. 111.

Bird Walks

TIME — 1 to 2 p.m.

TRANSPORT — Easy walk around the visitor center; wheelchair accessible

DAYS — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

COST — Free with entrance fee

WHERE — Meet in front of the visitor center after checking in; no reservation necessary

Bird Tours

TIME — 8 a.m. to noon

TRANSPORT — Small bus

DAYS — Begins Nov. 20 and will be held on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday

COST —$4 for adults (16-plus), $3 seniors (62) and under 16 free (cash or check only)

RESERVATIONS — Are required and can be made by calling 956-748-3607 ext. 111.