Upper Texas Gulf Coast
Matagorda Bay Jetty Park
This lovely park is situated on Matagorda Bay and sandwiched between marshes and the Gulf of Mexico. Hands down the best time to visit is in the winter when the crowds are low and the birds are plentiful. There is a long observation walk that extends down the beach and towards the ocean and lots of walking paths along the shore, ponds, and beach area. Be sure and pay attention to the marshes along the road leading into the park as they are full of wading birds.
Quintana's Neotropical Bird Sanctuary
A note on the stars for this one. If it's Spring Migration YOU MUST VISIT THIS SPOT AND IT GETS 100 STARS, but if it's any other time of year, there's just not that much to see that you can't observe in other places along the coast. During migration you will probably see more photographers than regular birders because it is just such a wonderful set up to get up close and personal with your subjects. The brush line is low and shallow, there is one blind and several water features, and they've just installed a new 4-story observation platform. It's also worthwhile to walk down to the nearby park and other vacant lots as during migration the entire area is a migrant trap so you never know what you'll find... plus you won't have to jockey with other photographers for the best position.
Lafitte's Cove Nature Preserve
I like this location a lot and have spent hours walking the boardwalk and trails. It has two ponds and a walking trail that meanders through a wooded area with a nicely maintained water feature with benches. Year round you can find shorebirds and ducks on the ponds that, because of the smaller size of the layout, allows for nice photography opportunities. During Spring migration it's a migrant trap so the area is filled with warblers, vireos, tanagers, buntings, and other species looking for rest and food after their long flight. If I had one complaint about this location it would be that the water feature is in an area that is overshadowed by trees making it dark so sometimes shooting there can be a challenge. The preserve is actually larger than just the walking areas, so be sure and drive the streets around ponds on both sides of the main entrance.
Little Blue Heron
This road is famous among birders who visit Galveston. It's a few miles long with shoreline on one side and marsh on the other. The marsh runs the whole length of the road and from your vehicle you can capture up close and personal photos of herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, cormorants, ducks, loons, and other seasonal birds. Probably one of my favorite places to visit when I'm in the area. Be sure and drive slowly up 8 Mile Road on your way there where you can often see raptors, kingfishers, and other water birds.
This is a location I shoot at a lot when I'm in Galveston. It's located a few miles down from the Seawall and although it's a public beach, driving isn't allowed on this small stretch so the crowds are generally small, consequently, it's a nice place to find a variety of shore birds including willets, plovers, egrets, and sandpipers. Additionally, there's an undeveloped area between the beach and the road with a pond and brushy habitat that is home to raptors, kingfishers, and other feathered beasties. If you're visiting, take a walk towards the seawall and next to the campground is another undeveloped area that's worth exploring.
High Island/Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary
This birding location and the others in the area are set up specifically for birders but not necessarily for photographers. And, although they are migrant traps, I find them all to be difficult locations to photograph around. With that being said, the rookery at High Island is something that everyone should experience during spring babymaking time, from March through May. The rookery area is located around a lake and during spring the trees are filled to capacity with herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants, and anhingas. Along the edge is a trail and several platforms offering photographers a convenient and comfortable place to set up. Definitely worth a stop.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
I just love this place! Anytime of year I just love it! The refuge is quite large and features a variety of habitats making it a great, all day, destination! Near the visitors center is a pond with walking trails that extend around it and through some marshy, wooded areas. Raised platforms make exploring the area safe and easy. A road through the refuge will take you along fields where a variety of raptors can be seen and an Oakmont along the main road features a newly installed water feature. The highlight of the park is definitely Shoveler Pond Auto-Tour Loop. This 2.5 mile loop gives photographers great and upclose views of wildlife on both sides of the road. The refuge is a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.
Port Arthur, Texas
Sea Rim State Park
Sea Rim State Park is quite a trek from where I live so I've only had the chance to visit it once, but it was so worth the stop! As far as state parks go, it's on the smaller side, located on the beach with marsh areas along one end. The marsh has a long boardwalk that meanders through it and is a great for photographing water birds at low vantage points. Our visit coincided with Spring Migration and the place was teaming with wildlife, but I'm not sure how it would be during other times of the year, but definitely worth a stop during migration. If you're in the area, Sabine Woods is just down the road and also worth a stop.
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