Top birding spots on the upper Texas coast
1. East End Lagoon, Big Reef Nature Park. A 684-acre tract of natural coastal prairie is east of Seawall Boulevard along Boddeker Drive near Apffel Park in Galveston.
What you might see: Shorebirds, birds of prey and migrating birds. Black skimmers, terns and piping plovers nest along the beachfront, while red-winged blackbirds rest in the tall grasses. Egrets and herons fish in the lagoon.
2. The Corps Woods Nature Sanctuary. This heavily wooded area is near Ferry Road and the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters in Galveston. Take a right onto state Highway 168 to the parking area.
What you might see: During spring migration, abundant tanagers, orioles, buntings, warblers and vireos. Year-round this is a good place to see night herons.
3. Offatts Bayou. Best viewing is from parking areas on the west side of 61st Street in Galveston.
What you might see: Loons, grebes and diving ducks in winter, and eared grebes and red-breasted mergansers from late winter to spring.
4. 8 mile Road, Sportsman Road. Travel west on Seawall Boulevard and turn right on 8 Mile Road for excellent water, marsh and grassland birding. Look for birds all along the way to West Galveston Bay or turn right on Sportsman Road in Galveston.
What you might see: Shorebirds such as yellow legs, dowitchers, small sandpipers and plovers, hawks, ducks, clapper rails, osprey, egrets, herons, belted kingfishers, sandhill cranes, sparrows, shrikes, ducks and roseate spoonbills.
5. Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve on Eckert Drive between 11 and 12 Mile roads. Parking area is next to a boardwalk. This is one of Galveston’s premier birding spots.
It has freshwater ponds and marshes and a large oak motte with water features to attract birds, especially during migration.
What you might see: During migration, many species of warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, shorebirds and buntings can be observed. The preserve has many resident birds such as ducks, wrens, egrets, herons, owls, warblers, woodpeckers, hawks, gulls and terns.
6. Galveston Island State Park, 14901 FM 3005. Drive west on Seawall Boulevard, which becomes FM 3005. The state park provides a sample of all the habitats found on the island. It includes 2,000 acres reaching from the Gulf of Mexico to West Bay.
What you might see: All-year-round wading birds, and for summer or winter, birds that prefer open prairie and wetlands. Ted Eubanks has compiled a checklist of birds seen at the park. Ask for a copy at the park’s Nature Center.
7. West End: Dos Vacas Muertas, San Luis Pass Flats. Dos Vacas Muertas is a small preserve with salt cedar trees and a freshwater pond. Take FM 3005 west. The entry for Dos Vacas is just before Sea Isle. San Luis Pass is about 2 miles west in Galveston.
What you might see: Pelicans, sandpipers, gulls, avocets, herons, egrets, raptors, sparrows, grebes and loons. Colonies of terns nest at San Luis Pass.
8. Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. Bolivar Flats on Bolivar Peninsula combines salt marsh, mud flats and beach habitats. So rich is the bird life, that it has been designated a Globally Important Bird Area. From Galveston, take Broadway to Seawall Boulevard. Turn left on Seawall. Turn left on Ferry Road to the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry terminal. You’ll exit the ferry on state Highway 87. Follow this for 3.7 miles to Rettilon Road. Turn right and drive to the beach.
What you might see: A huge variety of species, including: gulls, terns, pelicans, herons, egrets and spoonbills.
9. High Island: Boy Scout Woods, Smith Woods and the Rookery. Houston Audubon Society has four nature sanctuaries at High Island, including Boy Scout Woods, the headquarters, which is staffed by volunteers during peak spring migration, and Smith Oaks, which is home to the Rookery. There is a minimal fee to visit, which helps with the cost of maintenance. Take the Galveston-Bolivar Ferry and continue on state Highway 87 through Crystal Beach to High Island.
What you might see: The U-shaped island in the middle of Clay Bottom Pond at Smith Oaks has become a favored roosting and nesting place for thousands of water birds. In the spring and summer, herons, egrets, cormorants and spoonbills build their nests and raise their chicks on the predator-free island.
10. Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, 4318 FM 1985. This 34,000-acre coastal marsh and prairie borders Galveston Bay.
What you might see: Egrets, bitterns, hawks, kites and eagles. Storks, pheasants, turkeys, falcons, ibises and spoonbills, cranes, plovers, stilts and avocets, ducks, geese, swans, sandpipers, rails, gallinules and coots.
11. Texas City Dike and Levee Loop. The Texas City Dike is a great birding experience about 20 miles from Galveston. Take the Texas City exit on Interstate 45 and continue on state Highway 146. Turn right on Texas Avenue, left on Bay Street Road, and then right on Texas City Dike Road.
What you might see: Brown pelicans, willets, laughing gulls, Forster’s terns, waders and black skimmers. In winter, you also can see loons, grebes and bay ducks.
Sources: Alice Anne O’Donell, Greg Whittaker and Julie Ann Brown