Port Aransas haven for birds, birders

Wading in the surf at the beach, a heron gobbles down its catch

Wading in the surf at the beach, a heron gobbles down its catch

The summer is the best chance to get a glimpse of some water birds that are only present this time of year. The gulf beaches and birding centers provide homes to both the full-time resident birds and those just passing through.

The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, a trail that ties together birding sites from Beaumont to Brownsville, passes through Port Aransas and five locations are sites on the trail here.

The Wetland Park is on State Highway 361, south of Avenue G., across from the U.S. Post Office. The basin is normally thick with waterfowl and shorebirds during wet periods and high tides.A gazebo, bench and a small boardwalk overlook the wetlands. Visitors are encouraged to record their observations on the chalkboard there.

The Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is at the south end of Ross Avenue, down the street from the Port Aransas Community Park. The facility has a 700-foot boardwalk with an observation tower that includes a viewing scope. Benches have been installed along the boardwalk for viewing and setting up scopes. At the entrance to the birding center, pollinator gardens and a freshwater drip attract songbirds near the picnic tables. Wading birds, shorebirds, ducks and more can be observed in the freshwater pond and surrounding marsh from the entrance area. Visitors also may catch a glimpse of some large American alligators that call the center home. Birding on the Boardwalk, a free guided birding walk meets at the entrance to the center every Wednesday at 9 a.m.

The I.B. Magee Jr. Beach Park and the south jetty, which extends for several hundred yards into the Gulf of Mexico, provides an excellent vantage point for observing a variety of open water and shoreline bird species. Gulls and terns often rest at the base of the jetty and shorebirds may be seen feeding along the beach. Resident brown pelicans and gulls may be seen gliding over the dunes and Gulf.

The Joan and Scott Holt Paradise Pond Birding Center is in the 400 block of Cut-Off Road, behind San Juan Restaurant. It is a permanent freshwater wetland and pond on Mustang Island. The park is recognized as an important stopover site for migratory birds along the Central Texas coast. The entrance includes a wooded area and a native plant pollinator garden.The boardwalk leads out into an area where one can find songbirds, waterfowl and more than 100 species of migrating birds. The invasive trees at this site have been removed and new native plants and trees continue to be planted.

The Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture is a 1,200-acre site. The extensive tidal flats provide feeding areas and habitat for shorebirds including endangered and threatened species. The shaded picnic area near the parking lot at the southern entrance on State Highway 361 is open. Trails are closed at this location. The entrance from Port Street is now open to vehicles. The area features a large pavilion, picnic tables and vault toilets. From the traffic circle, a 1/4-mile mulch loop trail leads visitors up Clay’s Hill.

The area also can be accessed from the Community Park on Ross Avenue, behind the pool. The cement trails weave throughout the property, feature gazebo overlooks and lead to the large pavilion overlooking a saltwater inlet near the ship channel. Those who visit are reminded to stay on the trails to keep from disturbing the wildlife. Free Guided Nature Tours leave from the Community Park parking lot at 8 a.m. every Saturday.

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