Matagorda / Rio Colorado Loop
Take FM 457 south from its intersection with FM 521 in Matagorda County. Explore the coastal grasslands and marshes along FM 457 approaching the coast (White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier, Sandhill Crane in winter).
Scan the beach for shorebirds (Black-bellied Plover, Piping Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling). The bottomlands along Caney Creek, immediately southwest of Sargent, accommodate a rich woodland avifauna. Many of the eastern woodland species, such as Pileated Woodpecker and Eastern Bluebird, may be found in the forests along this waterway. This site is a great jumping off point for birders wanting to explore the Upper Texas Coast Birding Trail. PLEASE, ONLY BIRD CANEY CREEK FROM THE PUBLIC ROADS.
Matagorda County Jetty Park
Drive west on FM 521 to the intersection of Texas 60 at Wadsworth, proceed south on Texas 60 to Matagorda. The grasslands along FM 521 between Sargent and Matagorda offer a fine opportunity to see White-tailed Hawks. The wooded lots within Matagorda have been planted with a variety of exotic trees and shrubs that attract neotropical birds in spring and fall. This area is also an important part of the nationally renowned Matagorda County– Mad Island Marsh Christmas Bird Count. From Texas 60 in Matagorda, turn left (south) on FM 2031, and follow the Colorado River to the Gulf.
There are numerous places to pull off the road, and the marshes adjacent to the road support a wide variety of wading birds such as White Ibis, White-faced Ibis (look closely for Glossy Ibis in spring), and Roseate Spoonbill, as well as salt marsh inhabitants such as Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow. Walk 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. Stop by Matagorda Bay Natural Science Center adjacent to Jetty Park for information on birding or the Matagorda area. The center features a free interactive exhibit hall illustrating the ecological and economic importance of the Colorado River to the region. The center also hosts community programs such as kayaking, beachcombing and live animal presentations to introduce visitors to the marvels of Matagorda.
Attwater Prairie-Chicken National Wildlife Refuge
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. The refuge hosts the Attwater's Prairie-Chicken Festival each spring during the second weekend in April. In addition, the Attwater Prairie-Chicken NWR CBC is held each year in late December (contact refuge 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.
Texas R.I.C.E. / Pierce Ranch Waterbird Viewing Site
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 4 miles.
The waterbird viewing sites are well marked and may be accessed from the roadside. The rice fields here are maintained throughout the waterfowl season for benefit of roosting geese, ducks, cranes, and shorebirds. Also try visiting this area in October when 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.
Matagorda County Birding and Nature Center
Return to Wharton and take TX 60 south to Bay City. Take TX 35 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.
South Texas Project Prairie Wetlands
Return to the intersection of FM 521 and TX 60 and travel west 2 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. Site is a good place to look for Least Grebe, Cinnamon Teal, and Bald Eagle when flooded. For a tour of the site, contact the Visitors Center (361-972-3611).