La Bahia Loop
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
No single location along the Texas coast captures the traveler's imagination more than Aransas NWR, the winter home of the Whooping Crane. To reach the entrance to the refuge, continue south on TX 35 until reaching the intersection with TX 239, then turn left (east) and follow the signs through Austwell.
Although famed for wintering cranes (best seen in the refuge from atop the observation tower along the Tour Loop Drive), Aransas NWR is better known among birders for its exceptional variety of resident and transient birds (the number of species seen within the refuge is now approaching 400). Look in the shallow waters along the margins of San Antonio Bay (as well as from the Jones Lake viewing platform) for Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, both ibis (White and White-faced), and a variety of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. The oak woodlands along the birding trail immediately past the Heron Flats parking area are especially favorable for migrant landbirds. Search for wading birds (ducks, grebes, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen), Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, and alligators along Heron Flats Trail and from Jones Lake Platform as well. Wildlife along the tour loop becomes active (and therefore visible) in early morning and late evening with Crested Caracara, Javelina (Collared Peccary), and Nine-banded Armadillo among the species that might be seen feeding in open fields and along the shoulder.
Lion's / Shelly Park (Refugio)
From TX 35 and FM 774, travel west to Refugio. Search the power poles and brush along the road for raptors. Crested Caracara, White-tailed Hawk, Harris's Hawk (rare), and Red-tailed Hawks are usually present. Continue on FM 774 across US 77 and into Lion's/Shelly Park, situated on the Mission River.
The bottomland forests here often swarm with migrant landbirds in spring and fall. Riparian woodlands such as these focus the migrants since the surrounding terrain (coastal prairie, now mainly either agricultural or brush) is generally inhospitable to forest species. Carefully look along the Mission River for Green Kingfisher, a south Texas specialty that is seen here regularly.
Goliad State Park and Historic Site
From Refugio, take US 183 north toward Goliad, and continue until reaching the entrance to the park (on US 183 just south of Goliad).
Goliad is among the most hallowed of Texas cities, with the Mission Esp'ritu Santo, the General Zaragoza birthplace, the grave of Col. James W. Fannin and his soldiers, and the Presidio la Bah'a indelibly imprinted on the pages of Texas colonial history. Goliad is situated within a transition zone where broad ecological influences join at a biological juncture. Nature trails in the park traverse a selection of upland and bottomland habitats, and during an early morning walk an observer will be confronted by an eclectic mix of eastern, western, and south Texas thorn-scrub species.
Branch River Park
Take US 183 into Goliad and turn left (west) on US 59/TX239. Turn left (south) on Commercial Street, go 0.2 miles to Fannin St. for on-street parking along the park.
From a mix of live oaks, hackberry, and anaqua trees to bottomland habitat of mostly pecan trees mixed with a few oaks, cedar elms, and hackberry within the 100-year floodplain, this park offers great diversity. The southern edge of the park property is formed by Snake Creek, a small perennial creek that supports lush growth of native shrubs and grasses, near its convergence with the San Antonio River. Keep an eye out for migratory and resident birds including turkeys, mockingbirds, Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, hawks, and hummingbirds. The 4-acre park abuts the west trailhead of the 2+ mile Angel of Goliad Hike and Bike Trail that tracks along the north side of the San Antonio River, and extends east through Goliad State Park and on to the historic Presidio La Bah'a. Free public parking is available at the trailhead, as well as along the streets bordering the park on the west and north.
Barnhart Q5 Ranch & Nature Retreat
Return to US 59 and turn left (west) to Berclair (16 mi). Turn right onto FM 883 and drive 8.2 miles to the ranch on the north (right) side of the road marked by a bright green gate and large hanging sign with ranch's donkey logo.
Visit a Lone Star Land Steward Award-winning ranch whose management practices focus on wildlife with special attention to birds. Spring and fall migrations bring seven species of hummingbird, Wood Storks, buntings, orioles, Green Jays, and more. Enjoy observation blinds at each of eight water sources, 17 miles of hike and bike trails, stargazing platform, horse stables (bring your own), and guest housing for 1-20.
Coleto Creek Reservoir and Park
Travel east on US 59 from Goliad to the entrance to Coleto Creek Reservoir and Park (approximately 13 miles northeast of Goliad on US 59).
Coleto Creek Park is a multi-use facility operated by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. The park contains camping, nature trails, photo/wildlife viewing blinds, and a variety of other day-use opportunities. Birding is generally best around the reservoir itself, so scan the lake for Bald Eagle, Osprey, roseate spoonbills, waterfowl, grebes, and cormorants. Almost any inland reservoir in Texas may lure an odd gull, grebe, or duck in the winter, so search the lake carefully.
Return to Refugio, then take FM 774 east 2 miles to the intersection with FM 2678. Turn right (south) on FM 2678, travel 4.6 miles south to the entrance of the Fennessey Ranch. The ranch is private, and visitation must be arranged through Fennessey Ranch Nature Tours.
With an array of habitats (inland marsh, riparian woodland, coastal grassland, thorn-scrub brush), the ranch supports an equally prolific and diverse birdlife. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Mottled Duck nest in the marshes (along with Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, and Marsh Wren), and Masked Duck has appeared here in the recent past. In winter hordes of sparrows seem to litter the grasslands, and Sprague's Pipits often _rocket' out from underfoot when hiking through the fields. The riparian forest along the Mission River is a vector for migrant landbirds moving inland in spring (and toward the coast in fall), and in migration the trees vibrate from the sound of hummingbirds feeding on turk's cap and hawking insects. A winter's sunset at the Fennessey Ranch, skies choked with tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, geese, and waterfowl, evokes the spirit of the Texas coast.
Mission River Flats
Continue south on FM 2678 toward Bayside. The road crosses the Mission River, and the Mission River Flats may be birded (with caution) from the shoulder.
In late summer and early fall Wood Storks may be seen here, and waterfowl flocks in the winter may be prodigious. Low water levels in spring may expose vast expanses of mudflats, and migratory shorebirds will concentrate in the shallow waters (also look for American Avocet here in winter).
Continue south on FM 2678 (which becomes FM 136 immediately south of the Mission River) to Bayside.
Inspect the flats south of Bayside for pelicans, herons, egrets, waterfowl, and shorebirds. These shallows are especially attractive to Reddish Egrets, and at low tide thousands of shorebirds may crowd the exposed flats (test your prowess with "peeps" here). Notice that Bayside is perched upon a bluff overlooking Copano Bay. During migration hawks ride the updrafts from this ridge, which offers an advantageous spot from which to see raptors such as Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, all three falcons (American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine), and Northern Harrier at eye level. Bird this area in fall during the passage of cold fronts or northers to enjoy the peak raptor movements.
Continue south on FM 136 from Bayside to Egery Flats, turning left (east) after leaving the causeway onto Egery Road.
Search the flats along the road for herons, egrets, and waterfowl, and the salt marshes for Clapper Rail and Seaside and Nelson's Sharp-tailed sparrow. During low tides a broad selection of shorebirds, including American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Black-bellied Plover, both dowitchers, Dunlin, and Least Sandpiper will frequent the acres of exposed mudflat. The shallow waters of Egery Flats attract all of the resident terns, so look in warm months for Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Gull-billed, Forster's, and Least here. Black Terns may also be seen here in migration. Watch the marshes in the evening for flights of Roseate Spoonbills going to roost, and listen for the squawk of Black-crowned Night-Herons as they fly out to the flats to feed each evening.
Continue south on FM 136 to the intersection with TX 188. Turn right (west) on TX 188, and continue to Sinton and US 181. Welder Park (not to be confused with the Rob and Bessie Welder Park) may be reached off US 181 on N. Rachal in Sinton. From the intersection with N. Rachal, turn right (look for the sign to the Wayne Hitt Law Enforcement Center). Continue on N. Rachal across Chiltipin Creek to the entrance to the park (700 North Rachal Avenue).
Welder is tucked away in a remote corner of Sinton, and the park is now closed to vehicular traffic in order to ensure its sanctity and solitude. Park at the entrance and stroll into the park. Welder is a magnet for migrating landbirds, and the immense trees along the creek may harbor flocks of migrants in the spring. Be sure to walk along the edge of the creek to find the two waterthrushes, Prothonotary Warbler, or Common Yellowthroat. Check the densest underbrush for skulkers such as Worm-eating, Hooded, and Mourning warblers. Adjacent to the park entrance is mesquite scrub, and a brief stop at the fence's edge may uncover a number of species (such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Bewick's Wren) that may not be seen within the park itself.
Rob and Bessie Welder Park
Rob and Bessie Welder Park is located on US 181 N approximately 2.5 miles north of Sinton.
Within this multi-use facility (approximately 300 acres), the City of Sinton dedicated about 45 acres to remain as a natural preserve. Enter the park and stay to the right past the ballparks until reaching the parking area for the nature trail. The trail loops through an area of open grasslands with scattered trees, and eventually passes by an observation platform overlooking a densely vegetated pond. Look in the cattails for Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren and in the trees surrounding the pond for migrant landbirds. An additional site, the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation, is located approximately 8 miles north of Sinton on US 77. Contact the Welder Wildlife Foundation for a bird checklist and information about public access.