Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Rio Colorado Loop

Rio Colorado Loop map

Rio Colorado Loop mapMatagorda County Jetty ParkAttwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife RefugeTexas R.I.C.E./ Pierce Ranch Waterbird Viewing SiteMatagorda County Birding and Nature CenterSouth Texas Project Prairie Wetlands

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More information:

  • Bay City Chamber of Commerce
    P.O. Box 768
    Bay City, Texas 77404-0768
    (409) 245-8333
  • Eagle Lake Chamber of Commerce
    408 East Main
    Eagle Lake, TX 77434
    (409) 234-2780

003.gif CTC 003 Matagorda County Jetty Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Continuing west on FM 521 to the intersection with TX 60 at Wadsworth, proceed south on TX 60 to Matagorda. The grasslands along FM 521 between Sargent and Matagorda offer a fine opportunity to see White-tailed Hawk, a south Texas specialty. The woodlots within the City of Matagorda have been planted with a variety of exotic trees and shrubs that attract neotropical migrants in spring and fall (be sure to check the feeders in town for wintering hummingbirds). This area is also an important part of the nationally renowned Mad Island Marsh Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Turn left (south) on FM 2031, and follow the Colorado River to the Gulf. There are numerous pull-outs along this road, and the marshes adjacent to this road support a wide variety of wading birds such as White Ibis, White-faced Ibis (look closely for Glossy in spring), and Roseate Spoonbill, as well as salt marsh specialists such as Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow. Walk out onto the pier in winter and scan the Gulf for Northern Gannet, scoters, or jaegers (in the summer, look for Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring over the placid Gulf waters). Gulls, terns, and shorebirds roost at the mouth of the river adjacent to the pier. In addition, the beach to the east is an excellent spot to look for Snowy and Piping plovers.

004.gif CTC 004 Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Travel north on TX 60 from Matagorda to Wharton, take FM 102 north to its merger with FM 3013, then take FM 3013 east to the refuge entrance (approximately 6 miles northeast of Eagle Lake). Attwater Prairie-Chicken NWR encompasses one of the most significant expanses of native grassland remaining in Colorado County. Established to protect a vestige population of Attwater’s Greater Prairie-Chicken, the refuge is home to many species of grassland birds that have become scarce with the conversion of the native prairies to agricultural uses. White-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk, Sprague’s Pipit, Sedge Wren, Grasshopper Sparrow, LeConte’s Sparrow, and Harris’s Sparrow are among the species that are relatively easy to find here in winter. A number of rarities have appeared here, including Least Grebe, Masked Duck, Zone-tailed Hawk, Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Say’s Phoebe. Access to the refuge is restricted.

Eagle Lake is host to a prairie-chicken festival each spring, so check with the Chamber of Commerce in Eagle Lake for the dates. In addition, the Attwater Prairie-Chicken NWR CBC is held each year in late December. Contact the refuge personnel if you wish to participate. Eagle Lake (approximately 2 miles south of the town of Eagle Lake on FM 102) furnishes quality viewing opportunities for waterfowl. Bald Eagles are frequently seen soaring over the lake in the winter.

Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 519
Eagle Lake, Texas 77434
(409) 234-3021

005.gif CTC 005 Texas R.I.C.E. / Pierce Ranch Waterbird Viewing Site

Suggested Seasons to visit: Fall (October) through early Spring (March)

Site open for day use only.

Return to Wharton, then travel southwest on US 59 (toward El Campo) to Pierce. Continue on US 59 past Pierce, then exit on Pierce West Road and travel south for four miles. The waterbird viewing sites are well marked and may be accessed from the roadside. Texas R.I.C.E. is a coalition of rice growers, conservationists, and interested groups and individuals who have gathered to “foster and strengthen relationships between the rice industry and other users and interest groups in the Texas rice-growing area.” The rice fields here are maintained throughout the waterfowl season for the benefit of roosting geese, ducks, cranes, and shorebirds. Also try visiting this area during October, when the rice growers are harvesting their second crop of the year. The rice harvesting machinery will often flush waterbirds from the rice fields as they cut the rice, and several species of rails (King, Virginia, Sora, Yellow) are relatively easy to see as they fly ahead of the harvesters.

005a.gif CTC 005A Matagorda County Birding and Nature Center

Suggested Seasons to visit: All seasons.

Site open for day use only.

Return to Wharton and take TX60 south to Bay CIty TX35 south 1.7 miles to the entrance. The Nature Center features an outdoor learning center and hummingbird/butterfly gardens. The ADA accessible trails, observation bridges and platforms provide access to wetlands, native grasslands, and bottomlands along the Colorado River. Future plans include an indoor learning center and interpretive displays. For more information, call (979) 245-3336 or visit the Web site of

006.gif CTC 006 South Texas Project Prairie Wetlands

Suggested Seasons to visit: Fall (October) through Spring (April)

Site open for day use only.

Return to the intersection of FM 521 and TX 60 and travel west two miles past the Colorado River to the South Texas Project. Park at the observation area. The 110 acre project consists of three seasonally flooded wetlands which host many species of wintering ducks and roosting geese. In spring, look for migrant shorebirds and other waterbirds. For a tour of the site, contact the Visitors Center (361-972-3611).

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