- Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce, (956) 944-2354, www.portmansfieldchamber.org
Santa Monica Wetlands
From the intersection of US 77 and TX 186 in Raymondville, travel east on TX 186 toward Port Mansfield. As you begin this trek, notice the resacas (oxbow lakes) that border TX 186 for the first few miles, and look for Least Grebe, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, Great Kiskadee, and various waterfowl in and around these lakes. Continue east on TX 186 to FM 1420 in San Perlita. Go south on FM 1420, and check the pond at 4.0 miles, and a wooded pond (bordered with willows) at 4.5 miles. This willow grove is often quite a productive spot for warblers and vireos during migrations. More extensive ponds may be found 7.2 miles from TX 186 on the east side of FM 1420. Migrating waterfowl are often seen at this location, including (rarely) Ross's Goose. Continue south on FM 1420 to FM 1018 in Santa Monica. Go east on the dirt road (or on the levee) for about 1 mile to the largest section of the Santa Monica Wetlands. All of these ponds are ephemeral, and in drought years will be completely dry. During wet seasons, however, they are incredibly productive; waterbirds such as Wood Stork, White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, and migrating waterfowl and shorebirds bring them to life. In addition, the open fields in this region have attracted Aplomado Falcons in the past (individuals released at Laguna Atascosa NWR as part of their reintroduction at the Refuge), so don't assume that every large falcon is a Peregrine.
From the intersection of TX 186 and FM 1420, continue east on TX 186 to the Sacahuistale Flats. The predominant grass in these flats is a Spartina, which is frequently burned to provide young, tender shoots for cattle. This grassland begins about 4.5 miles east of the intersection of TX 186 and FM 1420, and is the preferred habitat for Botteri's Sparrow. Scan shrubs and fence posts used by males in spring as song perches. In addition, the old mesquites that border the road between these flats and Port Mansfield are excellent habitat for many of the Valley specialties, including Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (rare).
Fred Stone County Park
Continue east from the Sacahuistale Flats to Port Mansfield and the intersection of TX 186 and FM 606. Go north on FM 606 to Fred Stone County Park. Check the beach for shorebirds, and the nearshore waters for gulls and terns. There are opportunities to launch or charter a boat to travel across the Laguna Madre to the Mansfield Cut (a boat channel cut through Padre Island).
Port Mansfield Nature Trail
Return to TX 186, and park near the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department boat ramp. The trailhead for the Port Mansfield Nature Trail is reached across from this parking area. The trail traverses an area of mixed coastal grassland and tidal flats. During summer, this is an excellent area to look for nesting Wilson's Plovers.