DON'T FLAP AROUND AND MISS THIS!
Get your binoculars and checklists ready! The Coastal Bend is the only spot in the United States where the endangered whooping crane can be viewed at close range, and the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce celebrates this astonishing natural wonder with an annual festival honoring these grand birds. In addition, an awesome array of wintering migratory birds flock into the wetlands and onto the Texas shorelines of Mustang Island in Port Aransas and birding tours by land and sea are highlights during the festival. Make your plans to attend the Whooping Crane Festival from February 25-28, 2016.
Visitors of all ages will enjoy the many festivities during the celebration. Nature is the theme of the free trade show featuring numerous, unique vendors. A wide selection of optics, paintings, photography and one of a kind gift items for the nature lover in all of us will be featured.
Other activities include presentations from world-renowned speakers at The University of Texas Maine Science Institute, photography workshops and a variety of field trips.
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The natural area's extensive tidal flats provide feeding areas and important habitat for shorebirds and endangered and threatened species such as the piping plover. There are two entrances to the Preserve: the end of Port Street and off State Highway 361 near Mustang Beach Airport. To keep the preserve unspoiled, certain environmental rules apply.
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From SH 361 at the ferry landing, take a right on to Cut Off Rd. and turn right when you see the sign. Set on two acres surrounded by giant Black Willows and native prairie, Paradise Pond is the only freshwater wetland on Mustang Island. A 'secret hot spot' that fills with colorful songbirds each spring and fall, more than 100 species of Neartic-Neotropical migratory birds have been observed in this little oasis. Birds seen include Swainson's, Golden-winged, Chesnut-sided, Worm-eating and Cerulean Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-billed Cuckoo and so on. Don't forget to check the chalkboard at the entrance to the boardwalk: the day's sightings are often noted.
The Wetlands Education Center, an educational resource for the citizens of Texas and a "living laboratory" for students and scientists, is a 3.5 acre salt marsh surrounded by sheltering dunes. An extensive boardwalk system and observation platforms allow people to walk around the marsh area without disturbing the environment. Explore the marsh and learn how plants and animals adapt to life in this wet, salty habitat during biweekly guided walking tours. Tour days and times change seasonally, so please contact the UTMSI Visitor Center (361-749-6805) for current tour schedule information.
Season: All Seasons
From SH 361 at the ferry landing, take Cut-Off Road to Ross Avenue and follow the signs to the Leona Belle Turnbull Birding Center. This birding facility attracts birds and birders alike. The boardwalk stretches nearly a mile over the shallow, brackish water and allows for close observation of many birds. From the observation platform look for waterfowl (Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Cinnamon Teal), grebes (Least included), heron and egrets, cormorants, shorebirds (such as Black-necked Stilt) and flaming pink Roseate Spoonbills, the Port Aransas city bird. The parking area and land along the boardwalk are planted in native species, so be alert for landbirds during migration. Keep your eyes open for the resident American alligators Boots and Bags! Guided tours take place every Wednesday at 9:00am. Free viewing scopes.
Season: Winter, MigrationThe Port Aransas Wetland Park, located on SH 361 across from the new Post Office, is a joint project of the City of Port Aransas, TXDOT and TPWD. The boardwalk and observation platform overlooks a wetland basin that may be thick with a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds during rainy periods. Unlike the ponds at the Birding Center, this site is ephemeral. The park itself has been landscaped to establish a native dune community, and during migration the scrubby vegetation and grasses may attract a number of migrant landbirds.
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Season: All SeasonsPadre Island National Seashore, one of the nationâ€™s most popular national parks is located approximately 22 miles south of Port Aransas and is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Visitorâ€™s center is open daily except December 25. Features include a bookstore and exhibits, restrooms, rinse-off showers, first-aid and campsites. Park rangers offer a variety of interpretive programs throughout the week including beach walks, deck talks, junior ranger programs, family programs and star gazing parties.
Padre Island National Seashore is the only area in Texas where nests from five species of sea turtles have been documented. Turtle patrols for the endangered Kempâ€™s Ridley sea turtle and others species are conducted from late April through mid-July. The National Seashore is also one of the few places people can see newly hatched Kemp Ridleyâ€™s released back into the Gulf of Mexico. Located on the Central Flyway, a major migratory route for birds, about 380 species of birds have been documented within the park. Much of the beach is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle and it is impossible to drive the entire length of the island. Nominal entry fee.
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Season: All SeasonsWhen driving south along Mustang Island, cut back to the beach whenever possible to look for gulls, terns, and shorebirds. A Lesser Black-backed Gull returned each winter for over a decade to the beach near Port Aransas, and Glaucous Gulls are seen here with some consistency in early spring. At high tide, check along the beach for small flocks of Piping and Snowy plovers, as well as Red Knots. Mustang Island State Park is located on SH 361, approximately 14 miles south of Port Aransas.
Season: All SeasonsThe most popular place to view waders and shorebirds is at the South Jetty located at the northern tip of I.B. Magee Beach Park. The jetty extends several hundred yards into the Gulf and furnishes an excellent vantage point from which to look for a variety of open water species. Gulls and terns often rest at the base of the jetty and shorebirds may be seen feeding along the beach. Scan the Gulf, particularly in winter, for species such as Northern Gannet, Bonaparte's Gull, and Jaegers and in summer for Magnificent Frigatebird, Masked and Brown Booby (also seen at times perched on rocks of the jetty itself) and Sooty Tern. Brown pelicans can be seen year round. Day use is free, with a fee for overnight camping.
Birding tours out to deep water are available, and at times (particularly in the fall) a number of pelagic species such as boobies, shearwaters, and jaegers may be seen. The island hosts immense numbers of nesting herons, egrets, pelicans and spoonbills in the summer, not to mention our always present "seagull residents."
Season: Winter, MigrationFrom Port Aransas, a right at the intersection of SH 361 S and PR 22 takes you toward Corpus Christi. After a short distance turn right into Packery Channel County Park. The park offers another view of Packery Channel, and the birds normally associated with the "bocas" are present here. As you enter the park, however, notice the oak mottes to your right among the private houses. These woods attract landbirds in migration and birders from Corpus Christi consider this to be one of their most fruitful spots in spring. Walk along the public roads (do not trespass) and examine the trees for migrants. A number of rarities have been discovered here in the past, including Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird and Black-whiskered Vireo.
Season: All SeasonsFarther south along Mustang Island toward Corpus Christi, you will cross several hurricane wash-over sites. These inlets or passes have been cut through the island by the scouring action of past tropical storms and are a relatively common phenomenon on coastal barrier islands. Corpus Christi Pass slices across the island south of Mustang Island State Park and the bayside flats here are the wintering haunts of such species as Piping Plover and Long-billed Curlew. Search the inlet waters for waterfowl (such as Hooded Merganser) and look for nesting Snowy Plover in late spring.
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