Birding in Port Aransas, Texas (Part 1)

While visiting my parents in San Antonio, we decided to take a short trip to the gulf coast.  I hadn’t been to the beach in several years.  The weather was perfect for a beach trip.  We stayed in Port Aransas, which is at the northern end of Padre Island and at the opening of the shipping channel that leads to Corpus Christi.

We took the back way in to Port Aransas, so we got to ride the ferry across the channel.  It’s a short ride on the ferry, just barely enough time to get out of your car and look for dolphins.  We managed to see a couple in the distance before we had to return to our car.


Dolphin in shipping channel at Port Aransas, Texas

There are lots of Brown Pelicans in Port Aransas.  They are so beautiful even in non-breeding plumage.  They love to hang out at the piers.


Brown Pelican


Brown Pelican


Brown Pelican

We had to wait a few hours before we could check into our hotel, so we headed straight for the beach.  To our astonishment, the place was packed!!!   We learned later their was a Harvest Moon Regatta that had been held that day.


Crowded beach in Port Aransas, Texas

We managed to find a spot to park the car that wasn’t too close to other people on the beach.  After sitting and having a snack and people watching, I decided to take a walk down the beach with Scarlett.  This was her first ever visit to the beach.  I figured since she loved water so much, she would love the ocean.  She HATED it! LOL!  To her it was hot, salty and the water chased her!   She did enjoy the walk down the beach though.  Lots of other dogs to see and everyone wanted to pet her.  She was constantly told that she was beautiful.  Of course, I had to agree.

I tried to get bird photos while walking Scarlett, but the beach was just too busy.  I did manage to get this heron relaxing on a sign post in the dunes.


Great Blue Heron

We were finally able to check into the hotel and get ready for dinner.  We had wanted to go to a place called Doc’s which is about 15 miles from our hotel.  It is located on the intra-coastal channel further south on Padre Island.  But when we got there, we saw the place was packed.  The wait looked like it would easily be a couple hours and it was already well after 7 o’clock.  So we turned around and headed back to Port Aransas.  As we turned around, I told dad to stop the car.  To my delight I got my first lifer bird of the beach trip – Black Skimmers!!!

The sun was almost set so I didn’t have much light.  And they were almost between me and the setting sun, so it was a challenge to get a photograph.  But I was thrilled to see them.  Such an unusual bird!


Black Skimmers

We ate at Virginia’s, which is a great restaurant right at the marina in Port Aransas.  Their food is delicious and the scenery can’t be beat.  By the time we got a table, it was dark outside.  We saw lots of boats coming in the for the night.  The one boat I had hoped to see was the Red Dragon Pirate Ship.  It came sailing in to the marina while we were eating dinner.  I had to reduce my shutter speed to very slow and had to take the photon while hand holding the camera – bad combination.  Plus, I only had a few moments in which to get a photo before it disappeared behind other docked boats.  I was surprised at how well my photo came out!


Red Dragon Pirate Ship

The next morning I woke up very early so I could go bird at a local wildlife refuge.  What a wonderful location.  They had built lots of boardwalks in the marsh area so you could get out in the cattails to look for birds and other delights.


Aransas Wildlife Refuge boardwalk

As soon as I stepped out onto the boardwalk, a heron jumped up on the railing squawking at me.  I couldn’t be more excited.  A lifer bird not 5 feet away!!!  It was a Tri-Colored Heron who was more than happy to pose for some photos in the gorgeous early morning light.


Tri-Colored Heron


Tri-Colored Heron

As I progressed along the boardwalk, I saw an opening in the cattails ahead.  I saw a high deck for viewing the extent of the marsh.  Whoever designed this place did a fabulous job.


When I got to the clearing, I saw a Common Gallinule grooming itself.  Gallinules have developed extra long toes so they can walk across the cattails with ease.  You can see those long toes well in this photo.


Common Gallinule

There were several grebes enjoying the morning as well as cormorants.


Neotropic Cormorant


Double-Crested Cormorant – love the feet! 🙂


Pied-Billed Grebe

At the end of the boardwalk I looked down into the cattails and was surprised to see an alligator!  He was snoozing in the shallow water.  It is difficult to grasp the size of this alligator in photos.  But he’s easily 12 feet long!  The locals call him Stinky.




There were lots of pelicans and avocets off in the distance.  I had to push the extent of my lens to get any photos of them.


White Pelican with American Avocets in the background

Too soon it was time to head back so I could get some breakfast and go to the beach with my folks.  The beach was almost deserted compared to the day before.  It was great! The weather was perfect, a light breeze off the water to cool things off some.

I tried to get Scarlett to play in the water, but she just wasn’t happy…as you can see by her expression and body language here.  I guess she’s a mountain girl through and through.


Scarlett was telling me she hated the beach

Mom tried to get her to play as well, but no luck.


Unhappy Scarlett with my mom

After playing in the water awhile, I decided to walk down the beach again.  I figured I would have a lot better luck this day getting birds.  And I was right.  Lots of birds out enjoying the relatively quiet beach.  I got several lifers!




Royal Tern in foreground – a lifer for me!


Forster’s Tern


There was one cranky Royal Tern – you can see him in the middle of the photo


Piping Plover – another lifer!


Ruddy Turnstone – yet another lifer!!!


Western Sandpiper


Willet – another lifer!!!

Dad flew his kites and there were other great kites flying along the beach as well.


Dad’s shark kite


Dad’s other kite



I loved this squid kite – it was easily 30 feet long


Beautiful kites!

After a full day at the beach, we returned to the hotel for a swim in their pool.  Dad decided to take a nap and mom and I swam.  Mom found a lizard that had fallen in the pool.  I was able to rescue it before it drowned.  🙂


Brown Anole – originally native of Cuba

After our swim, mom went to the room to clean up for dinner.  I took advantage of this and ran back over to the refuge.  It was such a great place!

When I arrived at the parking area, I saw about a dozen White Ibis feeding in the shallows.  Just beautiful!


White Ibis

I saw some hummingbirds feeding on the Mexican Paradise bushes.  I had a hard time getting a pic but managed one decent one.  Yet another new bird for me – Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.


Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

It was pretty quiet on the marsh that afternoon.  But I ran into some people that said just down the road, there are more boardwalks and some whistling ducks there.  I immediately jumped in the car and drove over there.  As soon as I walked to the end of the boardwalk, I saw and heard a whole bunch of them.  They actually whistle!


Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks – another lifer!

I looked around to see what else might be about.  I saw one other duck sleeping in the shade.  Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.


Cinnamon Teal – female

Time to go to get cleaned up for dinner.  I was hungry!

This post has become way longer than I expected.  So I will break it up into two parts.  Lots more great photos to come!


You never know what tiny treasures you might find on the beach…