Your guide to birding Port Aransas!
Watch for low flying birds! Located in the Central Flyway, the island boasts hundreds of native and migrating species. Encounters with Coastal Bend nesting species such as the Roseate Spoonbills, Least Grebes, Reddish Egrets, Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, Bitterns and Rails bring birding enthusiasts back to this island sanctuary time and time again.
With six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail: the Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond, Port Aransas Nature Preserve, South Jetty, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, UTMSI Wetlands Education Center, and Mustang Island State Park, Port ‘A’ hosts many must-see lookouts for avid birders and wildlife photographers. Boardwalks and observation towers are built over wetlands with vegetation pockets specially designed to attract birds. The Birding Center, Wetlands Park, Paradise Pond and the Nature Preserve were designed to give birders the “up-close” ability to observe hundreds of species in their natural habitats. From the natural wetlands, inlets, and 18 miles of natural beaches and dunes to the rock jetties, piers and marinas, the island offers dozens of perfect vantage points to marvel at the magnificent migrating birds that consider Port ‘A’ the perfect rest stop.
Corpus Christi Pass (Nearby)
Season: All Season
Farther 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.
Joan & Scott Holt Paradise Pond
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 a unique, wooded 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.
Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center
Season: All Season
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 a quarter of 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!
Mustang Island State Park (Nearby)
Season: All Season
When 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.
The state park includes an entire barrier island ecosystem, encompassing dunes, coastal grasslands, marshes, and bayside tidal flats and sloughs. The beach may be particularly rewarding in winter for gulls, terns, and shorebirds (scan the Gulf for seabirds), and a walk in the coastal grasslands should uncover Sedge Wren and perhaps LeConte’s Sparrow. Look for nesting Wilson’s Plover along the beach and on the tidal flats in summer and Horned Lark among the dunes themselves. Campsites with hookups are provided in the park.
Packery Channel Pass (Nearby)
Season: Winter, Migration
From 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.
Padre Island National Seashore (Nearby)
Season: All Season
Padre Island National Seashore, one of the nation’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. Visitor’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 Kemp’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 Ridley’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.
Port Aransas Jetty
Season: All Season
The most popular place to view gulls, terns 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.”
Port Aransas Nature Preserve
The Port Aransas Nature Preserve encompasses 1,217 acres of undeveloped land in an area formerly known as Charlie’s Pasture, where early island residents once grazed their cattle. Located between the ship channel, the community park, State Highway 361 and Piper Channel, features at the Nature Preserve include over three miles of hike and bike trails, a pavilion, boardwalks over algal flats, crushed granite trails on the uplands, covered seating sites and two towers overlooking wetland areas around Salt Island.
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.
UTMSI Wetlands Education Center
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 Marine Science Education Center (361-749-6805) for current tour schedule information.
Season: Winter, Migration
The 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.