Texas is well endowed with a diverse selection of wildlife trails that easily take the bird watcher from shimmering coast to grasslands, dramatic canyons to expansive desert and chenier woods. Its size and diversity makes the real birding challenge picking between the offerings; there is at least one state wildlife trail close to every major urban center, each of which includes a number of different good bird watching stops.
But in addition to the long list of noteworthy wildlife trails there are some stand-out birding hot spots in this state that merit special mention. Places like Big Thicket National Preserve, in the path of two major flyways, and Padre Island National Seashore, where nearly half of North America’s bird species have been sighted, are both prime birding destinations. Try Mustang Island State Park and Sabine Woods on the coast for a selection of migratory birds and resident shorebirds, or venture up north to Palo Duro Canyon, the “Grand Canyon” of Texas for desert and woodland species. The larger of the state’s two national parks, Big Bend, boasts bird species seen nowhere else in the nation but it’s a little off the beaten track. For those sticking close to the city, try Mitchell Lake Wetlands Refuge near San Antonio for habitats frequented by desert and shorebirds, raptors and waterfowl.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park:
This state park stands in as a Texan Grand Canyon, notable both for its scenery and its wildlife. The canyon rim is short grass prairie, but the 120 mile-long canyon floor is wetter, supporting trees and a further range of species. Watch for woodland birds like flycatchers and woodpeckers in the canyon, Wild Turkey and Roadrunners on the rim.
Mustang Island State Park:
This island and the associated 3,954 acre state park off the Texas coast boasts some of the best birding in the state. Gulls and terns dive over skittering shorebirds along the park’s stretch of beach, interior grasslands shelter Sedge Wrens and Horned Larks hide out in the dunes. There’s also a birding center in Port Aransas that offers access to freshwater marsh frequented by waterfowl, shorebirds and the likes of Roseate Spoonbills; winter is the best time to visit.
Padre Island National Seashore:
Seventy miles of undeveloped beach make the protected stretch of Padre Island National Seashore a favorite with wildlife lovers. Almost half of all North American bird species pass through this area over the course of each year consequent to its location on the Central Flyway, an important migration route, including 13 threatened or endangered species. Watch for the likes of kestrels and coots, kingfishers and pelicans, warblers, herons, hawks, storks and a number of other bird types.
Big Bend National Park:
Edged by a “big bend” of the Rio Grande to the south, Big Bend National Park ranges from desert and canyons to arid mountains which play host collectively each year to more than 400 avian species, including some birds rarely spotted elsewhere in the nation. Look as you explore for the likes of the Lucifer Hummingbird, the Mexican Jay, the Mexican Duck and the Colima Warbler, the latter most often sighted between March and September.
Texas Ornithological Society Sabine Woods:
During migration, there may be no better place to bird watch on the Texas Coast than at this stand of chenier woods (in this case, live oak). Early fall brings hundreds of hummingbirds, while in spring migratory species like tanagers, orioles, warblers and thrushes crowd the treetops; look for pelicans, herons, egrets, ducks and cormorants in associated marsh or pond, with an eye out for hawks circling overhead.
Big Thicket National Preserve:
Two major migratory flyways pass over this national preserve making it a fine place to spot more than 180 bird species between March and May. Keep your binoculars trained on the underbrush for a glimpse of the Brown-headed Nuthatch and Bachman’s Sparrow, or a Red-cockaded Woodpecker knocking around in the trees.
Mitchell Lake Wetlands Wildlife Refuge:
In the San Antonio area the don’t miss destination for birders is this wildlife refuge, which runs from lakes to mudflat via grassland and brush. Look for for roadrunners, hawks and the Blue Grosbeak but also egrets, herons, and the occasional Roseate Spoonbill. Call ahead for access.