For generations, visitors have flocked to the Texas Gulf Coast for fishing, swimming, surfing, camping, and boating. In recent years, however, a growing number of visitors have come to the coast in order to view the hundreds of bird species found there. If you’ve never seen a roseate spoonbill, peregrine falcon or whooping crane, you should take the time to tour the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.
Regions of the Trail
Stretching from the Texas/Mexico border at the southern tip of Texas to the Texas/Louisiana boundary on the northeast Texas coast, the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail is divided into three regions and encompasses 308 wildlife viewing sites, which range from wildlife refuges to state parks, from urban kiosk parks to unimproved nature trails. Each of the regions – Upper, Central and Lower Coast – has unique features and attracts a diverse variety of bird species.
What to See in the Lower Coast Region
The Lower Coast portion of the Trail is the most ‘tropical.’ Encompassing the southernmost portion of Texas, the Lower Coast Trail provides 16 loops. The Arroyo Colorado Loop stretches from the city of Harlingen to the shores of the Laguna Madre Bay. Contained within this loop is the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to species such as green jays and chachalacas on a year around basis and serves as a stopping point for migratory species such as painted buntings and summer tanagers.
The LANWR offers a variety of terrain, from bay shore to fresh and saltwater wetlands to cactus covered prairie.
Another popular loop within the Lower Coast portion is the South Padre Island Loop. In addition to five designated viewing areas, including the Laguna Madre Nature Trail, local guides George and Scarlet Colley offer both walking and boat tours through Fins 2 Feather Tours.
Roseate spoonbills, which resembles pink flamingo with ‘scoop’-shaped bills, and are among the species you can expect to see while touring the South Padre Island Loop. Birds of prey, such as ospreys, are also common sights. In fact, one of the most impressive sight for any outdoor enthusiast is watching an osprey swoop down and pluck a fish from the bay’s surface with its powerful talons.
What to See in the Central Coast Region
Although many of the species found along the GTCBT are obscure to those who are fervent birders, even casual birders can appreciate whooping cranes – and that’s just what you’ll get to see if you visit the La Bahia Loop on the Central Coast portion of the Trail. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which anchors the La Bahia Loop, is a short drive from Corpus Christi and is the winter home for hundreds of endangered whooping cranes. Once facing extinction, whooping cranes have made an impressive comeback. And, the ANWR provides excellent viewing of the only migration population of whooping cranes in the world.
In addition to taking a ‘do-it-yourself’ tour of the ANWR, visitors may want to consider booking a trip with Rockport Birding and Kayak Adventures. Although whooping crane sightings are limited to the winter months, there have been more than 400 bird species documented in the area, ensuring each visitor has an opportunity to view a variety of species regardless of the season.
What to Expect in the Upper Coast Region
If you happen to find yourself in Houston, you certainly don’t want to miss taking in the nearby Clear Lake Loop, which is one of the most unique on the Upper Coast portion of the trail. Anchored by the impressive 2,500-acre Armand Bayou Nature Center, the Clear Lake Loop allows birders to view species in a variety of habitat, from coastal wetlands to hardwood forests – all within the shadow of the fourth largest city in the nation.
Finding Other Wildlife Trails in Texas
From one end of the Texas coast to the other, birders will find a number of great vantage points and birding adventures by following along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Beyond the Coastal Trail, Texas Parks & Wildlife has a number of “Great Texas Wildlife Trails” throughout the state.
Essentially, there is a wildlife trail in every region of the state. And, considering how expansive and geographically diverse the state of Texas is, visitors have an ability to see quite a variety of wildlife by visiting the different regional trails. Depending on the region, travelers touring the Great Texas Wildlife Trails have the ability to encounter everything from alligator to mountain lions, beavers to ocelots and everything in between.