Hurricane Harvey’s track went through Fulton Harbor, tossing small boats and loose gear but MV Skimmer rode out the winds safely with minor damage. Known for birding tours each winter since 1987, this favorite excursion boat is continuing to welcome guests aboard. Captain Tommy Moore has been the personality, as well as the boat operator since he purchased the Skimmer in 2003. Using the sound system which is audible on both decks, Capt. Tommy stands behind the wheel on the upper deck while he is either giving safety instructions, sharing bits of history or identifying the birds which are close to the boat as it travels the inshore waters.
Capt. Tommy’s best friend is a biologist and he said they have hunted and fished together many years. “He (his friend) knew most of the birds so I learned identification of many that way”, said the Captain. “I learned the rest after I began the trips. I wasn’t a birder until I turned pro. I was just an outdoor enthusiast.”
As the passengers boarded the Skimmer, all of the seats filled up quickly. Following the required boat safety “Welcome Aboard” speech, Capt. Tommy made his way to the upper deck to begin the tour. As the Skimmer made her way out of Fulton Harbor, some of the guests walked to the front of the seating area to choose binoculars available to use on the trip.
A few continued on, climbing the ladder to the top deck for an open-air atmosphere, even though the day was cool.
One of the passengers said she has lived here two years and had never seen a whooping crane so she came just to see these protected cranes. Another passenger said she moved to Corpus Christi a year ago from west of Austin and had“ heard about this trip forever and finally decided to do it.
Ben had his own binoculars and said he was from Kansas. He came to Texas three weeks ago by himself for a “birding vacation”. He said he started on the Rio Grande River then visited Padre Island, the King Ranch and now was here for this Whooping Crane and Coastal Birding Tour.
Two sisters were celebrating their mother’s 81st birthday with her by taking the tour together. One came from San Antonio and the other from Lampasas to visit their Corpus Christi hometown and their mother. Beth Hahn accompanied a group of 14 residents from Brookdale Trinity Towers Retirement Community in Corpus Christi. She had been on a whooping crane tour about 15 years ago when Capt. Tommy had first begun his operation on the Skimmer and knew her group would enjoy an afternoon on the water.
“Captain Tommy Moore is very personable, very knowledgeable and entertaining so this is quite a pleasant adventure.” ~Beth Hahn
As Capt. Tommy opened up the throttle along the planned route, he told his guests where they were… Carlos Bay, Intercoastal Waterway, Mesquite Bay… while he was constantly scanning the water and horizon for birds.
When he spotted any bird, the first thing the passengers heard was, “Look at two o’clock” or ‘Look at 10 o’clock’, then the bird would be identified. All heads would turn, binoculars would be raised and cameras would start clicking.
It might be an egret, blue heron, pelican, loon, tern or osprey. Dolphins were also spotted along the way.
Then, finally the star of the tour – the whooping cranes.
Capt. Tommy slowed the Skimmer and idled in shallow water to allow the best view and photo opportunities. After ample time, his voice rang out loud and clear, “Everyone that is standing up, hold on to something. We’re going to back up in shallow water and we might stop abruptly!”
As the Skimmer began the trip back to the harbor, conversations began again.
“I grew up in this area and I’m embarrassed I’ve never seen some of these birds.”
Louise Grayson, one of the Trinity Towers residents, said she wanted to come see something she had not seen before, and as far as she was concerned, it was very worthwhile. Her friend Donna Smith said she came to see the whooping cranes but she saw some other birds, too. “I saw a blue heron like ones I used to see all the time when I lived in Ingleside and I really miss that,” said Donna. “I’m getting to see a whole lot of birds I’ve never seen before. It’s a real joy to be out here.”
Bill and Betty Menard from the Grand Rapids Michigan area, said right now in Michigan it’s about 10-15 degrees so they came to spend the winter where it was warmer. “We also like birds and like to see different ones,” said Bill, “and the whooping crane is one we don’t have (in Michigan).”
After the Skimmer was tied up, Capt. Tommy secured the boarding ramp then said farewells to his passengers as they disembarked. He then took a few minutes to share the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the excursion business.
“Tourists are a little short but we are having an “OK” season,” he said. “The birders are coming anyway. Although we are short of hotel rooms and places to stay, it’s just a short drive from Portland. But, we do have restaurants and a few hotels and great shopping and great wildlife watching!”
The communities of My Coastal World may still be in midst of finishing the demolition of damaged properties and rebuilding others, but they are OPEN FOR BUSINESS.
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