North Bay Sanctuary
Leaving Sinton on TX 188, travel east toward Rockport. At the intersection with TX 136, turn right (south) and travel to CR 93A. Turn left on CR 93A and go 2.5 miles until you come to a white gate straight ahead of you. Park on the grass on the left side of the road. The entrance to the sanctuary is the gate on the left.
The sanctuary is a 75-acre wildlife preserve that supports a wide array of South Texas wildlife. The combination of aquatic habitats, wetlands, grasslands, and brushy areas makes the sanctuary a haven for a diversity of bird species year-round. There are several maintained trails, and an elevated viewing platform that gives an "above-the-brush" view of the property. A 12-foot viewing tower allows viewers to check out the new prairie wetland project and to look across the fence at the larger wetlands containing an occasional Cattle Egret or Neotropic Cormorant rookery. A spacious photography/viewing blind allows visitors to get close to the action.
Return to TX 136, turn right and continue to the intersection with TX 188. Turn right on TX 188 and continue east, allowing for a stop at Port Bay. Scan the bay for waterfowl and wading birds, and inspect the mudflats for shorebirds. Continue east to the intersection with TX 35 Bypass, turn left (north), and travel for 1.6 miles to the entrance to Aransas Woods (on your right). Park at the gate and enter.
Aransas Woods is 140 acres of freshwater wetlands and Live Oak uplands with an extensive but primitive walking trail system. During "fallouts" coastal mottes such as Aransas Woods offer food and protection to thousands upon thousands of weary landbirds who might otherwise perish if forced to continue inland to the nearest contiguous forests. The site's observation platform overlooks a complex of grassland, oak motte, and shallow wetlands, making this site attractive to birds and other wildlife year-round.
Cape Velero / Port Bay Road
Enjoy two birdy drives along Cape Velero Drive and Port Bay Road. Travel to the intersection of FM 1069 and Cape Valero Drive, turning onto Cape Velero.
Birders are welcome in this subdivision. This 3-mile paved road winds through grassland and shrub areas before entering the marsh area. At the beginning of the road, a Great Kiskadee was regularly found for several years. Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese are often found in winter in the scrubby middle section of the road. In the marsh areas farther down the road, look for Clapper Rails, Virginia Rails, Northern Harriers, Osprey, Black-necked Stilts, and herons. Continue south on FM 1069 for 2.2 miles to Port Bay Road (on your right). Port Bay Road consists of grassy dry scrub habitat. Species of note in this habitat are Cassin's Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Vermilion Flycatcher, American Golden-Plover, Long-billed Curlew, Greater Roadrunner, Sandhill Crane, and White-tailed Hawk.
Return to TX 35 and head north, cross Copano Bay Bridge, and continue another 5.5 miles.
Cavasso Creek has a small boat launch on the south side of the creek's bridge. There is a pull off with good parking. This is a brackish estuary marsh with resident Clapper Rails and Seaside Sparrows. Herons and egrets are often found here year-round. Winter birds include Virginia Rail and Sora. All three grackle species have been found here.
Holiday Beach Pond
Head south back toward Holiday Beach on TX 35 until you arrive at a blinking light at Holiday Beach Blvd. and turn left. Head east on Holiday Beach Blvd., turn right onto St. Charles Loop W, turn left on Desota Dr., turn right onto St. Charles Loop E, and then turn right onto Lakeview Dr.
Holiday Beach Pond runs the length of Lakeview Drive and is a large freshwater pond that can host large numbers of birds. In the winter, large numbers of ducks can be found here along with Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. Both night herons are found here year-round. In the spring and summer Purple Gallinule and Least Bitterns are regular visitors. Wood Storks are also summer visitors. Aransas Pathways is planning to build two observation platforms on this pond in the future.
Goose Island State Park
Continue north on TX 35 Bypass until reaching its dead end at FM 3036. Turn right (east), and continue until the intersection with TX 35. Turn left (north) on TX 35 and continue across Copano Bay on the Lyndon B. Johnson Causeway. Turn right (east) on Main Street in Lamar. Continue straight ahead to Park Road 13 and the entrance to the park. Notice the live oaks within the esplanade as you approach the park. During a spring cold front these trees may be congested with migrant landbirds, and the groundings or "fallouts" that have occurred here on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula are legendary. Goose Island is uniquely located on the coast, both trans-gulf and circum-gulf migrants pass through the park. Travel straight to Lamar Beach Rd. at St. Charles Bay. Turn left (north), and proceed along the bayfront, halting periodically to view the rafts of waterfowl that crowd these waters. Check out the freshwater pond at the junction of 4th St. for bitterns, Anhingas and night herons. Be sure to check the open fields on your left; Whooping Cranes make Lamar Peninsula their over-wintering ground. The road will veer left (west) on 12th Street, and you will soon approach Big Tree, the live oak estimated to be around 1,000 years old (Whooping Cranes are regularly reported near here as well). Continue straight to Palmetto Street, and turn left to return to Park Road 13 and the entrance to the park.
As you pass through the park (be sure to ask for a bird checklist at the entrance) look for migrants in the live-oak thickets, and search the marshes for rails, Seaside and Nelson's Sharp-tailed sparrows, Sedge, and Marsh wrens. A 100-ft. observation pier juts out into the marsh on the west end of the island and a 1,600-ft. pier is on the east end. Walk the nature trail within the park to enjoy the scenic beauty of the bay and the wind-sculpted oaks that fringe the shore, or take a peaceful rest at the bird sanctuary on Warbler Way and watch the birds bathe at the water features.
Copano Bay Fishing Pier
Return to TX 35 via Main Street and turn left (south) toward Fulton.
The Copano Bay State Fishing Pier extends from the tip of Lamar Peninsula to Fulton, and may be accessed (for a fee) from the base of the Lyndon B. Johnson Causeway. Try walking the fishing pier with a scope, and scanning the bay for loons, grebes, and diving ducks. Directly across from the pier is a free site called Oystercatcher Point (southeast corner of the causeway) that you can scope as well for ducks, shorebirds, and wading birds including resident American Oystercatcher, Willet, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Tricolored Heron, and Reddish Egret. Watch over the causeway itself during spring and fall for migrating hawks. Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Osprey, and Swallow-tailed Kite (rare) have been seen traversing the bridge.
Howard Murph Memorial Park
Continue south on TX 35 to the intersection with FM 1781 and turn right; continue 2.6 miles and the park will be on your right.
This small park's stands of mesquite and ebony trees provide habitat for passerines. There is also access to Copano Bay and to a shell reef. Walk along the shore and scan for birds. This is a good sites for American Oystercatcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Roadrunner, Long-billed Thrasher, and Forster's, Royal, and Caspian terns.
Rockport Demo Bird Garden and Wetlands Pond
Continue south on TX 35 toward Rockport, and stop at the TXDOT highway rest area on the left (0.9 miles south of the intersection of TX 35 and FM 3036).
Park and walk around the hummingbird garden and walking trails in the adjacent live oak ridge. In early September tens of thousands of hummingbirds (predominantly Ruby-throated) pass through Rockport, and the community celebrates this event with their annual HummerBird Celebration. At this rest stop garden you may study hummingbirds and learn about the various native plants that attract them. Shore birds, migratory birds, and waterfowl are seen here. Enjoy the wetland demonstration ponds constructed to show the value of wetlands as a natural resource.
Rockport Beach Park / Rockport Harbor
Continue south on Business TX 35 for 1.4 miles, turn left on East Laurel and there will be a sign directing you to the Rockport Beach Park entrance at the end of the street.
Aransas Bay is on your right and Little Bay is on the left as you enter the park. This stretch of road is about a mile long. There are two bird islands in Little Bay. There is an observation platform along the loop at the end of the park road. During breeding season, this area supports hundreds of Black Skimmers, Least Terns, Tricolored Herons, and Roseate Spoonbills. In the winter, there is a large variety of species including Merlin and large flocks of Avocets. Common in spring and summer are Black Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird, and Wilson's Plover. As you leave the park, continue straight and turn left on Veteran's Memorial Drive which leads to Rockport Harbor. This is a semi-circle drive around the harbor. Because this is deep water habitat, Common Loons are found here most of the winter. Diving ducks also like the deeper waters of the harbor. They include scaup, Red-breasted Merganser, and Common Goldeneye.
Whooping Crane Boat Tours to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Rockport is also the base for several boats that visit the feeding areas of the Whooping Crane at Aransas NWR in the winter, and various nesting islands for colonial waterbirds in the summer. For the best views of Whooping Crane, it is advisable to go by boat (you may see Whooping Crane from the observation tower at Aransas NWR, but such views are normally distant). For boat trips to see birds, in season, contact the Rockport-Fulton Area Chamber of Commerce.
Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary
Continue south on TX 35, and stop at the Connie Hagar Wildlife Sanctuary (en route to the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary). Search for grebes, pelicans, and waterfowl (particularly Redhead). Continue south on TX 35, staying in the left lane. Pass through the Rockport business district on Loop 70 (Austin St.). Turn right on E. Market to continue on Loop 70; follow to S. Church. Turn left on S. Church, and continue until reaching the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary at E. First. Turn right on E. First, and enter the sanctuary through the entrance on your right.
On this site Connie Hagar and her husband, Jack, owned and operated a small motel, the Rockport Cottages, in the 1930s at a time when Hagar brought national attention to the importance of the Coastal Bend of Texas for birding and bird migration. This sanctuary, established and maintained by the Friends of Connie Hagar, supports migrants that stream through the oak mottes in Rockport. Although small at a little over 6 acres, the sanctuary contains a surprising assortment of habitats. Multitudes of vireos, warblers, grosbeaks, flycatchers, and thrushes may jam the woods during a spring grounding, and the bordering grassy fields are frequently packed with Dickcissels, assorted sparrows, and buntings (Painted included).
North Cove Harbor Wetland Sanctuary
Continue south on Austin Street through downtown Rockport. Turn right on Market Street, turn left on Bronte/Business 35 (at the light), and drive down Bronte/Business 35 for 1.9 miles. You will see a parking lot on the left with a sign for the sanctuary.
This is a 100-acre wetland with an 800-foot boardwalk that has a covered platform at the end. Site is dependent on tides and can be productive after rains, especially in the winter and spring. Shorebirds, wading birds, rails, and sparrows can be found here. From the sanctuary parking lot drive south on TX 35 for 0.4 miles and turn left into Cove Harbor for additional birding. There is a boat ramp and parking and it is a wonderful site for shorebirds. Take time to scope small islands in the channel as well.
Newbury Park Hummingbird Garden
When leaving the Connie Hagar Cottage Sanctuary, continue west on E. First to where it dead-ends at TX 35. Turn left (south) on TX 35, and travel to Aransas Pass. Entering on TX 35, continue into Aransas Pass to the intersection of TX 35 and Loop 90 and then veer right on Business 35 to Lamont (when approaching this intersection on Business 35, you may turn left on Lamont and continue straight into Newbury Park).
Within this small community park of coastal live oaks, the City of Aransas Pass is a hummingbird garden. Since tens of thousands of hummingbirds pass through Aransas Pass in migration, the hummingbird garden offers a relaxing and intimate place for watching and enjoying the smallest of our migratory birds. Also inspect the oaks in the park for migrant landbirds, particularly during spring cold fronts.
Ransom Road Navigation District Park
From Newberry Park, continue on Harrison Boulevard south to TX 361 toward Ingleside (don't take TX 361 east to Port Aransas yet) and turn left on Ransom Road (look for the sign to the municipal airport). Travel to the end of Ransom Road, and turn left into Ransom Road Navigation District Park.
The channel may be viewed from the observation platform, so look for loons, grebes, pelicans, and diving ducks. Search the wetlands here for rails and shorebirds. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available in the park.
Aransas Pass Community Park
Continue south on TX 361 a short distance from Ransom Park to Johnson Avenue, and turn left into the Aransas Pass Community Park (look for the ballparks).
This community park offers a view of Redfish Bay from the observation platform. A boardwalk into the adjoining grassy fields and wetlands is being planned, so keep an eye on this site over the next few years. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available within the park.
Live Oak Park
Continue on TX 361 to Ingleside and the intersection with FM 1069 (entering Ingleside, TX 361 will swing to the west toward Gregory). Turn left (south) on FM 1069 and continue to Sherry Street and the sign to Live Oak Park. Turn left on Sherry and enter Live Oak Park.
Carved out of a dense oak motte, the park is a community facility that provides outdoor recreational opportunities as well as a nature trail and is a small remnant of the extensive oak forest that once covered the coast bordering Redfish Bay. Walk the nature trail and notice the dense red bay understory that dominates this woodland. The deep leaf litter carpeting the forest floor is particularly attractive to thrushes, thrashers, and ground-dwelling warblers such as Worm-eating, Ovenbird, Hooded, and Swainson's (rare).
Aransas Pass Wetlands
Continue on FM 1069 to the intersection with FM 2725, turn left (north) on FM 2725, and travel to the intersection with TX 361. Turn right on TX 361, and continue north to the intersection where TX 361 will swing to the right (east). Turn right and continue toward Port Aransas. Before crossing the bridge, turn left at the sign into Conn Brown Harbor (left on the dirt road, right on the paved road that proceeds into the harbor). Conn Brown Harbor is best birded in winter; search the waters here for loons, grebes, diving ducks, and pelicans. Return to TX 361, and continue east toward Port Aransas.
The stretch of TX 361 between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas is bordered by Redfish Bay and associated wetlands, tidal flats, and sand spits. Stop periodically along this road (the Dale Miller Causeway) and look for waterfowl, shorebirds, loons, grebes, American Oystercatcher, Snowy Plover, and a wide variety of waterbirds. Sooty Tern has been seen feeding over these waters on occasion in summer. The causeway east of the bridge can be decent birding for beach and bay birds.