By Sarah Bloodworth
Spring and fall migration are prime time for Texas bird-watching, but don’t overlook winter. Winter birding offers not only relief from the heat of other seasons but also an opportunity to see new and rare feathered visitors to the state. It’s time to put on your woolen cap and bundle up with some beautiful birds in some of the best birding areas of Texas.
This refuge serves as the wintering ground for the only natural wild flock of whooping cranes, America’s tallest bird. Roseate spoonbills, herons and egrets also are present. Winter residents, permanent residents, lingering migrants and the occasional what’s-that-doing-here vagrant keep birders on their toes. Birders have tallied 405 species at the refuge.
This 7,664-acre park was established as a refuge for migrating and wintering birds and continues its legacy today, with habitats including short- grass prairie, marsh and woodlands. Visit the 300-acre Stewart Marsh to watch the world of waterfowl. You can find abundant species such as the Canada goose and a variety of ducks. In winter, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks and golden eagles also visit.
A subtropical birding paradise, this highly popular birding area has a wide variety of hot spots such as Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and Estero Llano Grande State Park. If you’re a lucky duck, you can spot rarities such as a masked duck or crimson-collared grosbeak in addition to resident species such as the plain chachalaca and Altamira oriole.
The Texas coast is on an hourglass-shaped migratory path called the Central Flyway that extends from Alaska to Latin America. This makes Galveston Island State Park a must-see birding spot, especially with its combination of beach, prairie and marsh. Herons, egrets, sandpipers, plovers, terns and gulls can be seen all year, while winter brings huge numbers of waterfowl such as green-winged teal along with migrants such as LeConte’s sparrow.
This park’s bird blinds offer comfortable seating and a fantastic view of bird species coming and going. You can spot winter birds along with the birds that typically make their home in the Edwards Plateau. Seed feeding stations lure in lots of wintering sparrows, a challenge for many birders because of their secretive nature and tricky IDs. The park is also home to one of the largest turkey roosts in Central Texas. Check the park website for temporary closures.