Birding a Barrier Island
We are very blessed in Texas to have so many types of habitat so close to each other. Where I live, three ecoregions come together, and within a 2-hour drive, there are 10 more. You can zoom in on this map to see the variety of ecosystems right around Houston.
From Houston Wilderness.
Because we have so much ecological diversity, and because we are on the Central Flyway for migration, we have a lot of birds here, both in number of species and numbers of individuals. 644 species have been recorded in Texas and my goal is to see them all!
The concept of formal birding trails started in Texas in 1996. We have 15 just on the Upper Texas Coast (the north-east part of the coast, towards Louisiana). You can see those all here, and the one we chose for this weekend was the Bluewater Loop (although like a lot of the routes, this one is only a “loop” if you turn around and go back the way you came). Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. provides maps, but to really find all the little parking lots and kayak launch areas and nature centers, I rely on a book called Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. It gives very specific directions, tells you what birds you are likely to see in a certain spot, and even lets you know where there are playgrounds and bait shops in case you are traveling with children or non-birders.
The Bluewater Loop is on Follets Island, which stretches along the coast, between the much more populated Galveston Island, and the very industrialized areas of Freeport.
Some people may find driving through the docks and refineries to be the very opposite of their dreams of ideal birding spots, but I don’t find it off-putting. After all, some famous birding sites are garbage dumps and sewage treatment plants, so I don’t mind industrial sites.
Some of the companies have retention ponds and nature trails on their property, and are well-known places to spot certain species. (Once, on a guided birding tour, our bus was pulled off onto the roadside near one of these ponds. A policeman approached and we thought we were going to be sent on our way, but he just wanted to be sure we knew that Yellow-headed Blackbirds were at a pond further up the road.) And there are plenty of places that your view is open ocean.
The different habitats on this long, thin island attract many different kinds of birds:
On the sheltered bay side, fine silts from coastal bayous fall out of suspension and form muddy flats that become vegetated both above and below the water line. Shorebirds probe for worms, clams, crabs, and shrimp that burrow into these rich sediments, and herons fish in the more open pools…
In contrast to the bay side, the Gulf’s pale sands sparkle just across the road…The Gulf’s beaches are a popular area for up to ten species of gulls and terns and several kinds of shorebirds. The beach flocks change with the seasons.
from Finding Birds on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail
We ended up getting 38 bird species in about 5 hours. For some people, that is their weekly bird walk, but I was unfamiliar with some of the species and took a lot of time to study them and get lots of photos, to identify later.
I really enjoy birding on the Texas Coast. There are people out and about everywhere you go, but they are relaxed and having a great time fishing or playing in the water. It’s so easy to find birds, you want to keep going and going. My only regret is that I didn’t even stop for a shrimp po’boy sandwich!