Mustang Island Loop
- Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce/Tourist Bureau
(361) 749-5919 or (800) 45-COAST
Port Aransas Nature Preserve
Continue on TX 361 to the ferry landing. After crossing on the free ferry (enjoy the Bottle-nosed Dolphins and Brown Pelicans during the brief trip), disembark the ferry and turn right on Cut-Off Road. Make an immediate right on Port Street and continue to the Port Aransas Nature Preserve.
Three miles of hiking/biking trails pass through coastal prairie, wooded uplands, and tidal saltflats. Viewing towers provide elevated views of saltwater wetlands and a panoramic view of the preserve. The preserve is home to numerous species of resident waterbirds such as Reddish Egrets, Roseate Spoonbills, American Oystercatchers, and Long-billed Curlews. Bird diversity is highest during spring and fall migrations when neotropical migrant land-birds and shorebirds can be abundant. Many migrating species overwinter here and winter visits can produce Grasshopper Sparrow, LeConte's Sparrow, and Sedge Wrens in the grasslands, while the wetland areas hold good numbers of shorebirds like Marbled Godwits, Dunlin, Piping Plovers, and Long- and Short-billed dowitchers, as well numerous ducks such as Mottled Ducks, Northern Pintails, and American Widgeon. Close views of nesting Snowy and Wilson's plovers and Horned Larks in early summer can be rewarding.
Joan & Scott Holt Paradise Pond
From the Port Aransas Nature Preserve, return to Cut-Off Road and turn right. Go .02 miles and turn right at the sign for the pond; proceed to parking area.
This 2-acre park is a spectacular "migrant-trap" nestled in the city of Port Aransas. The small freshwater pond is surrounded primarily by black willows that provide feeding and resting habitat for numerous neotropical migrants. The site includes a hummingbird/butterfly garden at the entrance and includes a boardwalk and decks provide easy access to see birds under a mantle of trees. Bird diversity is highest during the spring and fall and the boardwalk provides remarkably close viewing of numerous empidonax flycatchers, vireos, warblers, tanagers, grosbeaks, and buntings. The pond's water level varies with rainfall; a full pond during wet periods provides food and shelter for Blue-winged Teal and nesting habitat for Black-bellied Whistling Ducks while drips into two small pools provide great views of bathing warblers during dry spells.
Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center
Turn right to continue on Cut-Off Road and make a hairpin turn onto Ross Ave., which dead-ends at the birding center.
This birding facility is a vivid example of what a community can do to attract birds and birders alike. The boardwalk extends into a freshwater marsh associated with the adjoining wastewater treatment plant. Little fresh water is available for much of the year on barrier islands such as Mustang, and these ponds offer a consistent supply of water for a wide variety of wetland species. The boardwalk here allows for close observation of many birds. Walk to the observation platform and look for waterfowl (Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Cinnamon Teal), grebes (Least included), heron and egrets, cormorants, shorebirds (such as Black-necked Stilt), and flaming pink Roseate Spoonbills. The parking area and trails to the boardwalk are planted with native species, so be alert for hummingbirds, warblers and other songbirds during migration. Keep your eyes open for the resident American Alligators "Boots" and "Bags!"
Port Aransas Jetty
The Port Aransas Jetty is located at the far east end of Cotter Avenue on the beach.
The jetty extends for several hundred yards into the Gulf, and furnishes an excellent vantage point from which to look for a variety of open water species. Gulls and terns often roost at the base of the jetty, and shorebirds may be seen feeding along the beach. Scan the Gulf, particularly in winter, for species such as Northern Gannet, Bonaparte's Gull, and jaegers, and in summer for Magnificent Frigatebird, Masked and Brown booby (also seen at times perched on rocks of the jetty itself), and Sooty Tern. Day use is free, with a fee for overnight camping. It is possible to ride as an observer on a fishing boat out of Port Aransas. The snapper boats travel out to deep water, and at times (particularly in the fall) a number of pelagic species such as boobies, shearwaters, and jaegers may be seen. Contact the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce for information about nature birding tours in the bays and offshore.
Port Aransas Wetland Park
Return on TX 361 S to Cut-Off Road. Continue south on TX 361 for 0.3 miles from this intersection to the Port Aransas Wetland Park (look for the sign on your right). The wetland lies on a natural tidal flat along TX 361.
The observation platform overlooks a freshwater basin that may be thick with a variety of waterfowl and shorebirds during wet periods. This site is ephemeral and during migration the scrubby vegetation and grasses attract a number of migrant landbirds.
Mustang Island State Park
Mustang Island SP is located on PR 53 (TX 361) approximately 14 miles south of Port Aransas.
As you travel south along Mustang Island, cut back to the beach whenever possible to look for gulls, terns, and shorebirds. Glaucous Gulls are seen here with some consistency in early spring. At high tide check along the beach for small flocks of Piping and Snowy plovers, as well as Red Knots. The state park subsumes an entire barrier island ecosystem, encompassing dunes, coastal grasslands, marshes, and bayside tidal flats, and sloughs. The beach may be particularly rewarding in winter for gulls, terns, and shorebirds (scan the Gulf for seabirds), and a walk in the coastal grasslands should uncover Sedge Wren and perhaps LeConte's Sparrow. Look for nesting Wilson's Plover along the beach and on the tidal flats in summer and Horned Lark among the dunes themselves. Campsites with hookups are provided in the park.
Corpus Christi Pass
As you proceed south along Mustang Island toward Corpus Christi, you will cross several hurricane wash-over sites. These inlets or passes have been cut through the island by the scouring action of past tropical storms, and are a relatively common phenomenon on coastal barrier islands. Corpus Christi Pass slices across the island south of Mustang Island State Park, and the bayside flats here are the wintering haunts of such species as Piping Plover and Long-billed Curlew. Search the inlet waters for waterfowl (such as Hooded Merganser) and look for nesting Snowy Plover in late spring.
Continue south to Packery Channel which divides the island.
The bayside flats at Packery Channel may retain thousands of shorebirds at low tide. Search the flocks for Marbled Godwit, American Oystercatcher, and Long-billed Curlew. Ruddy Turnstone, Black-bellied Plover, and Snowy Plover often scurry along the edges of the pass, and watch for diving ducks, loons, and grebes in the clear waters of the channel.
Padre Island National Seashore
Continue south on TX 361, and turn left (south) on PR 22 to Padre Island National Seashore. A visit to the pristine Padre Island National Seashore (along with Matagorda Island) is unrivaled among Texas barrier island experiences. Continue along PR 22 to the entrance and visitor's center (approximately 10 miles).
Ask for a bird checklist, as well as a map of this 133,000-acre park. The national park extends south for over 80 miles to Port Isabel, and most of the beach is accessible only in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. From the visitor's center, it is possible to drive approximately 5 miles beyond the end of the paved road before encountering soft sand. Peregrine Falcons pass through the park by the hundreds in fall, and migrant landbirds swarm the scrubby vegetation in the spring. Gulls, terns, and shorebirds line the beaches, and a variety of raptors (White-tailed Kite, White-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk in winter) may be seen perched on the power poles along PR 22. Also try Bird Basin Road, which can be reached 2.6 miles north of the visitor's center as you leave via the park entrance road (look for the signs on your left as you depart the park). In the marshes along this road you may find gallinules, bitterns, and shorebirds, and nesting colonies of colonial waterbirds (herons, egrets, terns, Black Skimmer) may be seen by scope from the end of the road.
Packery Channel Park
Return north on the park entrance road, and turn left (west) on PR 22 toward Corpus Christi. After a short distance turn right into Packery Channel County Park.
The park offers another view of Packery Channel and the birds normally associated with the area are present here. As you enter the park, however, notice the oak mottes to your right among the private houses. These woods attract landbirds in migration, and birders consider this to be one of their most fruitful spots in spring. Walk along the public roads (do not trespass), and examine the trees for migrants. A number of rarities have been discovered here in the past, including Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Gray Kingbird, and Black-whiskered Vireo.