Middle Texas Gulf Coast
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
One of my (many) favorite places to bird along the Texas Gulf Coast. It features several walking trails with marshes on one side and wooded areas with small ponds along the other, a driving loop, and an observation tour. Many people visit the observation tour hoping for a view of the whooping cranes that make their Fall/Winter home in the area, but sadly the whoopers are probably the last thing you'll see from the tour. What you really need to do is look for the birds that live in the trees around the platform. With the elevated position, it's a wonderful place to get those eye level shots of birds that are often hanging out in the upper branches. The walking trails, particularly the Heron Flat Trail, is a great place to see seasonal wrens and sparrows, egrets, grebes, and ducks feeding and just hanging out in a picture perfect location. Jones Lake (by the observation tour) is a great location for ducks, grebes, and hawks.
Goose Island State Park
This isn't a place I visit often because of it's proximity to some of my other favorite places, but it is a spot that's definitely worth a visit. The park is committed to developing its appeal as a nature tourism destination so has a lovely walking trail with a new bird viewing area at one and an older, more established one at the other end near the camping area. Both have feeding stations and water features and attract seasonal and migrating sparrows, warblers, cardinals, and other passerines. Additionally, Goose Island is on the coast so visitors have the opportunity to see some of the many shorebirds in the area. Check their Facebook page for regular guided bird walks.
Goose Island, Texas
Aransas Bay Adventures
As a photographer, there is no better way to experience the beauty and majesty of the whooping cranes than a tour with Captains Kevin and Lori Sims at Aransas Bay Adventures. Kevin and Lori not only know the area, but they've set up their boats specifically for photographers with several shooting platforms and small tour sizes to make sure that everyone can get that perfect shot. Not only that, but they know the area and are committed to conservation and the health and safety of the wildlife.
Linda S. Castro Nature Center
The community of Rockport has done a wonderful job of developing spaces that encourage nature tourism and one of my favorites is Linda S. Castro Nature Center. It's located on Highway 35 just past the airport heading into town, but is a bit off the road and signage hasn't been replaced since the hurricane so you have to pay close attention or you'll miss it. The center features a large pond that attracts a variety of waterfowl, three water features, and a covered observation deck. It's a great spot in the Fall, Winter, and Spring, but especially fabulous during Spring Migration.
Tule Marsh Demo Gardens
A little further down the Highway 35 heading into Rockport is Tule Marsh and Demo Gardens. It's across the street from a hike and bike trail so is easy to spot. It's a reclamation project that is a wonderful stop if you're in the area. There's a raised boardwalk that will lead you through the marsh, a viewing platform, and rock path that goes through a butterfly garden. It's not a large space but during migration it's definitely worth a visit.
Rockport Beach is one of my favorite birding spots on the coast. It's busy with people traffic in the summer months, especially on weekends, but in Fall, Winter, and Spring it's a great place with easy access to a variety of shorebirds. The highlight is during Spring when the Black Skimmers nest near the road and skim the harbor off the beach.
This little rookery is located on FM2678 about a mile south of the Mission River and a few blocks north of FM 136 near Bayside, Texas (28.173408, -97.210428). It's honestly one of those places you could drive by about million times and never notice, and during the none breeding months, there's not much going on in the trees and around the pond, but during the Spring nesting months, the trees are full of egrets and spoonbills and so close to the fence that you almost need to back off your focal length. There is a drivable path off of the highway and along the fence line making it easily accessible by car.
Port Aransas, Texas
Leonabelle Turnbull Nature Center
The nature preserves in Port Aransas are my "go to" spots for Spring Migration and are some of my favorite spots to shoot at. The community of Port Aransas suffered from a direct hit from Hurricane Harvey, a Cat 4 monster, in 2017, and the nature centers suffered some pretty severe damage, including the destruction of the boardwalk that extended into the marsh. Plans are in place to rebuild (hopefully with completion by summer 2019), and this location is slowly but surely being restored. All that being said, I feel like it's still one of the best spots for Fall and Spring Migration and photography on the coast. The tree line is low and shallow and the variety of species that visit the area rivals any other location. During the winter it's a great place for ducks and other seasonal visitors.
Port Aransas, Texas
The is another of my favorite photography spots with a great pond and boardwalk extending throughout the property! This preserve also suffered tremendous damage from Hurricane Harvey, but the managers are working hard to restore it. During the restoration process the decision was made to remove the invasive plant life that had taken over the area and replant with native trees and shrubs (thanks to a generous grant from Texas Ornithological Society) so the preserve is definitely in transition and will take a few years to completely recover. Still, it's a 5-Star pick for Fall and Spring migration along with wintering guests. I also recommend you refuel with a fabulous meal from the Mexican restaurant that's just in front of the preserve... some of the best food on the island!
Port Aransas, Texas
Port Aransas Jetty Park
This area is located on the beach in Port Aransas and is a popular destination for beach goers and fisherpeople so the birding doesn't tend to be fabulous, although there are always gulls, terns, sanderlings, ruddy turnstones, and a few pelicans and herons hanging around. But what makes this location such an interesting stop is the other sealife. If you're in the area stop by and take a moment to sit along the jetty wall and you never know what might pop up. Along the wall the Ridley Scott Sea Turtles will often bob up and down, and keep an eye on the channel for dolphins cruising around.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Hans and Pat Suter Wildlife Refuge
This is a lovely park with lots of trees and plants, hiking trail, boardwalk and a viewing platform that overlooks Oso Bay. During the winter it's a great place to see White Pelicans and during migration the trees are filled with warblers, buntings, and other migrants.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Hazel Bazemore Park
This park is famous for it's "HawkWatch" event each Fall. From the comfort and high position of the park's raised viewing platforms, visitors can watch the hundreds of migrating hawks as they pass through the area. This park has so much more to offer than just the hawks! There are several small ponds perfect for upclose and personal shots of wintering ducks and other shore birds; there is a fabulous boardwalk through a wooded area towards the back of the park, another boardwalk and viewing platform that extends over the marsh, and a hiking trail that weaves through the low hills.
Three Rivers, Texas
Choke Canyon State Park
If I lived closer to Choke Canyon State Park, I'm certain that I would probably give it more stars, but it's bit out of the way for me and there are places between it and where I live that I really enjoy, so I've only had a chance to explore the park on one occasion; however, I did like what I saw. There are actually two parks that compromise Choke Canyon SP, The South Shore Park and The Calliham Unit. The Calliham Unit features several nature trails and in the camping area close to campsite 109 (or in that general area) is a large bird viewing area with a water feature and feeding stations.
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