Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
Day 4—Brazoria Bottoms
With half the trip behind them, the group was beginning to feel the late nights, long hours on the road, and lack of sleep as they started off under rainy skies. But while energy flagged, spirits did not. Ted, who has been birding almost all his life, still maintains the enthusiasm of a new convert.
As the rain ended, Ted pulled into the parking lot of Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson. This TPW facility is a high-tech saltwater fish hatchery, marine education center, and aquarium. It also is a stop on the GTCBT. Walking along a newly constructed boardwalk over the center's wetlands, the group saw an immature reddish egret, several species of shorebirds and a variety of dragonflies and butterflies. As they were leaving, Bob captured a marl pennant, a dragonfly known from just a few locales in Texas.
From Sea Center the travelers headed down the coast on FM 521. "This is great raptor country," Ted said of the surrounding open land, and moments later the first peregrine falcon of the trip appeared. They soon added a white-tailed hawk (a Texas specialty) and a crested caracara to the list. Another Texas specialty, actually a regional specialty since its range laps over into contiguous states, soon presented itself: an elegant scissor-tailed flycatcher.
Continuing down the coast toward Rockport, they stopped occasionally to examine large flocks of birds. By the time they crossed the causeway over Copano Bay, the wind had shifted to the north. Rain was beginning to fall as they settled in for the night.
Day 5—Neuces Strip
The group awoke to rain on day 5. A cold front had blown in during the night. By midmorning, when they finally set out, the rain had ended, leaving chilly temperatures and wind out of the north.
The Rockport area's most famous birds are the endangered whooping cranes that winter at nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. But for the last decade, another avian spectacle has drawn visitors from around the country. Each fall, a large percentage of America's ruby-throated hummingbirds pause in and around Rockport as they migrate to Mexico and Central America. Before the day was over, the travelers would see thousands of hummers.
They made a brief stop at the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, the site of cottages that Connie and Jack Hagar operated in the 1930s. Connie Hagar was a self-taught birder who moved to Rockport to be near the avian wealth of the Texas coast. She hosted countless birders, including some of the nation's top ornithologists, and made some significant discoveries herself.
From Rockport the trio headed to Aransas Pass and the Newbury Park Hummingbird Garden. Hummingbirds were everywhere, a sight Ted said isn't seen during the spring migration. From there they crossed on the ferry to Port Aransas. The temperature was 20 degrees cooler than the day before, and they made a quick stop to buy sweatshirts before visiting the Port Aransas Birding Center, where a boardwalk extends into a freshwater marsh. They saw American white pelicans floating on the water and a tricolored heron feeding in the shallows.
Leaving Port Aransas they headed south, and by midafternoon were in the fabled Nueces Strip, that piece of land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande. Rich in history, the Nueces Strip was disputed territory from the Texas Revolution to the Mexican War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo established the Rio Grande as the Texas-Mexico border in 1848, but it was many years and many conflicts before the region was tamed.
Mesquite, palms, and acacias began to dot the landscape as the group headed south, quite a contrast to the pines and hardwoods of day 1. Just before sunset they arrived at Sarita, population 400 and county seat of Kenedy County. Lesser goldfinches and eastern bluebirds perched on telephone wires, their warbles breaking the silence in the serene little town.
GORP thanks Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine for permission to use this article.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication