The coastal ecosystem around Rockport supports abundant and diverse bird species while offering incredible access for bird watchers. Even non-birders find themselves grabbing for a guide book to identify a few of the hundreds of species utilizing the inland, transitional and coastal ecosystems.
The thing that really makes the area unique is the abundant access. You can hike, bike, boat and explore numerous areas with rich, protected habitat. The designated zones are designed to protect resident and migratory bird populations. Some areas are off the beaten track while others offer developed watch points and elevated stands for the perfect view.
Bird Watching Tours
Taking a tour is the perfect way to get started. Tours run by boat and on foot. The boat tours are especially popular and they are great for beginners and experienced folks alike. Some bird tours are small groups and others require a large group to fill a minimum number of seats in the boat. The tours focus on coastal areas where the famous Whooping Cranes frequent.
Within a few hours, you can often see 20-30 different species. Some days you will see many more and have the opportunity to check off a big chunk of the available species. Filling a checklist containing most of the species available however requires some intensive scouting and is not likely on a single bird tour. Plan for 300-400 species to see just about everything here. This is best attempted by year-round residents who can watch through all four seasons.
The Fennessey Ranch is one of the best tours available. They have half and full day options on a 4,000 acre ranch with diverse habitat. Spend a day on the ranch and a day on a boat tour to really see a large number of species.
Bird Watching Areas
The Great Texas Birding Birding Trail encompasses 10 different birding sites scattered across Rockport and the trail offers even more sites in the general Gulf Coast region. The trail is a great way to really cover some ground but it does require some driving to reach the various sites if you expand outside of the Rockport locale.
Aransas County as a standalone has access everywhere. The main trail system alone navigates miles of coastline and inland areas that traverse prime bird habitat. You can also launch a kayak off numerous bridges and public beaches. Aransas Bay is often tranquil, offering the perfect opportunity for kayakers looking to explore and bird watch in a quiet, natural place.
The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is a major attraction with a ton of open space. The 70,000 acres draws a large majority of the species available in the region, including whooping cranes. Goose Island State Park is another great spot that is a short 5-10 minute drive from Rockport. If you are really feeling adventurous, consider camping at the park. This will allow you to really capitalize on the magic sunrise and sunset hours when the birds are active and highly visible.
For the ultimate in convenience, take a pair of binoculars and hangout at the Rockport public beach. It’s a great spot to lounge, grill some food and watch the local birds right from the pristine beach.
As mentioned earlier, the Fennessey Ranch is also a great place to watch birds. Take a tour or do your own self guided bird watching on or around the ranch.
Additionally, the numerous trail systems located right next to town are perfect for bird watching. One short trail begins right behind the Walmart but it quickly enters live oak habitat where songbirds are prevalent. The Aransas Pathways trail system is also extensive and you can walk for miles or ride a bike along the waterfront. Utilizing a bicycle to cover ground while stopping to view birds and wildlife is a great approach to the trail system.
By the Season
Spring – Arguably the best time to watch birds in the area. Spring drives big migrations and you can rack up 100’s of species. The water, flooded marshes and the trees are full of life during the spring months. The weather is often pleasant as well and the crowds are low coming off the winter busy months.
Summer – Summer is great for the birds that hold over and nest here before migrating south in the fall and winter. Working the islands from a boat is your best bet during this time of year. Really watch the weather however and avoid the hurricane season. The days are also hot so focus your birding on early morning and late evening hours.
Fall – The fall is all about variety. More migrations occur and the marshlands flood, filling up with shorebirds. Birds of prey also work over fish and small game from the sky during the fall. Falcons, Osprey and other predatory masters are prevalent. The nights cool off during the fall and you can really have some perfect days on the water or the trails for bird watching.
Winter – The last of the migrating birds begin filtering out of the region and the residents take over their home habitats. Winter is stable and predictable with a good 100 plus species to view on a daily basis. Winter also comes with pleasant weather that is perfect for longer days outside, exploring the abundance of public lands and bird watching areas.
Species to Locate
Whooping Cranes – The cranes are a major focal point in the area and many of the tours are centered around spotting the beautiful whooping cranes. The big Aransas Wildlife Refuge is a great place to view the cranes. Many of the boat tours know where to view cranes as well.
Songbirds in the Live Oaks – The focus on water often leaves the songbirds overlooked. Take a walk inland through live oak habitat to find a variety of songbird species.
Species around Water – The water is loaded with beautiful birds. Pelicans, cormorants, herons, ibis, osprey, rails, sandpipers, plovers, gulls, egrets and more are waiting in and around the water. The gulls and pelicans will work the more open water but the species concentrate