Tres Palacios Loop
- Palacios Chamber of Commerce
Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, Clive Runnels Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve
From FM 521 and FM 1095, take FM 1095 south toward Collegeport and its intersection with Brazos Tower Road. Turn left (south) on Brazos Tower Road, and then left (east) on A-P Ranch Road. After 2 miles the gate marks the entrances to both Mad Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA), managed by TPWD, and The Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy of Texas (TNCT). Both of these sites are closed to the public, although access may be arranged through the managing agencies and organizations on special occasions. In addition to seasonal public trips into these properties, Mad Island Marsh CBC is conducted each year in December or on volunteer workdays. Contact TPWD or TNCT if you wish to participate.
Mad Island Marsh Preserve, The Nature Conservancy of Texas
Mad Island WMA
Oyster Lake Road
From the interception of A-P Ranch Road and Brazos Tower Road, continue west on Franzen Road. Turn south onto Oyster Lake Road.
Oyster Lake Road continues toward Matagorda Bay for several miles as a gravel road. During most weather conditions this road is passable, but be cautious during heavy rain. Oyster Lake Road travels through an extensive salt marsh, and in winter many species such as Clapper Rail, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Seaside Sparrow may be found along the roadside. Scan the islands along the bayshore for American Oystercatcher, and watch for bay ducks such as Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Merganser. In migration the scrubby trees along the roadside may be swarming with migrants, and always remember to watch overhead for raptors and swallows. The rice fields that border the northern section of Oyster Lake Road (as well as along Franzen Road) may be packed in spring with migrant shorebirds such as American Golden-Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Baird's Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper. Both Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes are ubiquitous in winter, and remember to examine each Snow Goose flock for Ross's. As you return to Brazos Tower Road, you may wish to continue west toward Collegeport. Park at the end of the pavement and search the bay for loons, grebes, and ducks.
Return to the intersection of FM 1095 and FM 521, go west on FM 521 to FM 2853, then take FM 2853 south.
The agricultural fields in this region of Texas (particularly rice) attract many cranes, geese, and ducks each winter. Check the Snow Goose flocks carefully; Ross's Goose is an increasingly common winter visitor to this region. Cash's Creek crosses FM 2853, and the freshwater marshes along the creek can be viewed from the shoulder of the bridge. Cliff Swallows nest under the bridge in the summer. Search the grasslands along FM 2853 for raptors, including White-tailed Hawk.
From Cash's Creek Bridge proceed on FM 2853 1.3 miles south to Bayshore Drive (which parallels Tres Palacios Bay to Business 35/1st Street).
The drive offers an opportunity to inspect Tres Palacios Bay and the bordering marshes for a variety of waterbirds. Look for Common Loon, Eared Grebe, and a selection of diving ducks such as Redhead, Common Goldeneye, and Red-breasted Merganser. The three species of scoters, as well as rarities such as Pacific Loon and Oldsquaw, are always a possibility in the winter.
This site extends for two blocks north of the intersection of Business 35 and Bayshore Drive, with Trull Marsh on the west and Brookings on the east of Business 35/1st Street.
With the water beginning where the highway shoulder ends, ducks often dabble within a few feet of the cars that whiz by. Ducks such as Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and Bufflehead and shorebirds such as Black-necked Stilt (nesting), Greater Yellowlegs, and Long-billed Dowitcher crowd the shallow lagoons. The observation deck at Trull Marsh offer birders views of herons, egrets, ibis, shorebirds, and waterfowl.
Palacios Waterfront and Texas Baptist Encampment
The Texas Baptist Encampment is situated on a point of land (Hamilton's Point) near the conjunction of East and South Bay boulevards, and may be reached by continuing south three blocks on Business 35 from Trull Marsh and turning left on East Bay Boulevard.
Park along Bay Drive near the fishing pier, and search Tres Palacios Bay for loons, grebes, pelicans, ducks (Common Goldeneye), gulls, and terns. Combined with Bayshore Drive (CTC 010), and Lookout Point (CTC 013), the time invested here in scouring the bay for waterbirds should be well rewarded.
From CTC 012, proceed west on Business 35 past the turning basins, then turn left (south) on Margerum Road toward Tres Palacios Bay.
Park at the end of Margerum Road and scan the bay for waterbirds (as with the previous two sites). In addition, pay close attention to the various gulls that congregate around the fishing boats docked in the harbor. Bonaparte's, Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring are to be expected in winter, but each year a few oddities find their way to the coast as well.
Palacios Marine Education Center Nature Trail
From the intersection of Margerum Road and Business 35, drive west 0.6 miles to Camp Hulen Road and go south 0.7 miles to the entrance gate. Park in the visitor's parking lot, and walk the nature trail beginning to the left of the pier.
At times in spring the scrub along the trail may be alive with migrant vireos, warblers, buntings, and orioles. Check the pond for wading birds such as herons, egrets, and waterbirds. In the marsh around the observation deck you should find Clapper Rail, Seaside Sparrow, and Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow (winter).
Perry R. Bass State Marine Fisheries Research Station
Go west on TX 35 from Palacios for 7.5 miles, then turn left (south) for 5.5 miles on FM 3280 to the Perry R. Bass State Marine Fisheries Research Station.
Examine the prairies and marshes along FM 3280 for a variety of coastal grassland species such as Northern Harrier, Sandhill Crane, and Short-eared Owl (in winter), and scan the Gulf at the end of the road for loons, grebes, ducks, gulls, and terns. Shorebirds, such as Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling, may be seen along the beach. During migration, the hedge and fence rows may be lined with migrants such as Eastern and Western kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Dickcissel.
Olivia / Port Alto
Continue west on TX 35 to Carancahua Bay. Park at the boat ramp, and search the bay for ducks (Redhead, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser) and perhaps an Osprey or two. Although not a major stop on the trail, the bay always has the potential to produce a surprise! Continue west on TX 35 to the intersection with TX 172; turn south on TX 172 toward Port Alto and Olivia. From the end of TX 172 south in Olivia, scour Keller Bay for loons, grebes, and bay ducks, and search the adjacent marshes for rails and shore birds. Travel east from Oliva on CR 314 toward Carancahua Bay and Port Alto. This road transects thickets of Tamaulipan scrub that may be teeming with warblers during a spring fallout. Along this road you may also hear the skylark song of the Cassin's Sparrow (summer only). Eventually you will reach the western shore of Carancahua Bay. Scan the bay for waterbirds, and at low tide, shorebirds. Turn north and take M. Johnson Ave. toward Port Alto. The scrub along this road is home to both Bewick's Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher, South Texas species that rarely range farther north along the coast. Return to TX 172 on Spur 159, checking the fields for Sandhill Cranes in winter and grassland shorebirds in spring.
Returning to the intersection of TX 35 and TX 172, travel north on TX 172 toward Ganado. Continue north 6.9 miles to the gate (left) of the Formosa-Tejano Wetlands.
This 245-acre site, already a popular fieldtrip venue with local school groups, is owned by Formosa Plastics Corp. There are several distinct habitats including ponds, permanent wetlands, and coastal prairie, plus woodlands that attract neotropical migrants. During fall and winter, increased water depths are maintained for the numerous ducks, geese, large waders, and shorebirds that winter here. The site is divided into six units, four of which are west of TX 172. The northernmost of the western four is adjacent to a 100-acre reservoir that provides habitat for American White Pelicans, Wood Storks, diving ducks, and other waterbirds. Parking is available at the north end of the sites west of TX 172 and the south end of the two sites east of TX 172.