A hawk watch on the shores of Galveston Bay in southeastern Texas, where raptors often fly low over the watch tower.
By Susan A. Heath | Published: 8/18/2014
Watching the fall migration at Smith Point is an incredible experience. I have seen the power lines along the road filled with Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and Eastern Kingbirds and the sky above the tower loaded with Mississippi Kites and Broad-winged Hawks as well as handfuls of Swallow-tailed Kites and Swainson’s Hawks.
Look closely; see those white and black dots high up? They are migrating Wood Storks, American White Pelicans, and Anhingas. And you simply can’t ignore the Magnificent Frigatebirds that glide back and forth all day. Does it get any better than this?
If you can tear yourself away from the tower, take a walk through the oak mottes (small stands of trees) because there’s no telling what you will find. Warblers, flycatchers, thrushes, vireos, grosbeaks, buntings — you name it, it can be there, and the possibility for a rarity is high. I am not a photographer, but if you are, then don’t miss Smith Point in the fall. No place is better for raptor photography. The birds come in low over the tower and often circle around, giving ample opportunity for photos. — Susan A. Heath
Susan A. Heath is an avian conservation biologist at the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, Texas, and the coordinator of the Smith Point Hawk Watch.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Coastal prairie with oak mottes.
Flat. Tower wheelchair-accessible. Visitors can view birds from parking lot. Rough trails through oak mottes.
Yearly average: 52,000 raptors. Broad-winged Hawk (70% of total), Mississippi Kite (9%), Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks (8%), American Kestrel (3%), plus Osprey, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Swainson’s, Red-tailed, and White-tailed Hawks, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Crested Caracara, and Swallow-tailed and White-tailed Kites. Eastern warblers, swallows, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, kingbirds, American White and Brown Pelicans, Wood Stork, Anhinga, Magnificent Frigatebird, shorebirds, gulls, terns, and waterfowl. Rarities: Hook-billed Kite, Cassin’s Kingbird, Rock Wren, Clark’s Nutcracker, Varied Thrush.
When to go
Fall. Raptor migration peaks in last two weeks of September. Passerine migration excellent from early August through October; pelicans, storks, and Anhingas in September; waterfowl in October.
24-foot hawk-watch tower. Portable toilet August 1-November 15. Closest amenities in Anahuac, about a 30-minute drive.
Hawk watch operated by Gulf Coast Bird Observatory within state-run wildlife management area. Tower open year-round; no fees.
Bring food, drink, sunscreen, bug spray, hat, sunglasses, binoculars, scope, camera, and enthusiasm.
For more info
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
23 miles from Smith Point on FM 563. Great for ducks and geese in winter; wading birds and alligators year-round.
38 miles from Smith Point on Hwy. 124. One of North America’s premier spring birding spots.