Within a short drive of Houston lies one of the state’s finest birding locations, where nearly 300 species have been recorded. When I wander through the park’s towering oaks and restored prairie, I frequently forget that I’m in the sixth largest metro area in the United States.
Extensive loop roads and several trails provide access to the best spots. I visit almost weekly throughout the year, and the park invariably holds one or two surprises.
At low tide in spring, I can scope up to 20 shorebird species in the marsh, and just a few paces away, I can study warblers in the trees. During the colder months, I stand in the same spot and observe rafts of ducks; up to 20 species winter here. Along the edges of brush, marsh, and grassy fields, I often find Le Conte’s, Nelson’s, and Harris’s Sparrows. Male Vermilion Flycatchers frequently decorate the fence lines during Christmas.
New species show up consistently, since the park is situated ideally to funnel migrants along Crystal Bay. During a recent afternoon visit in October, I managed to see a Prairie Warbler, Western Tanager, and Eastern Whip-poor-will in two hours, adding three new species to the site’s list. Visit soon so you can see what else shows up. — Stephan Lorenz
Stephan Lorenz is a professor of biology at San Jacinto Community College. He wrote about Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula in our August 2011 issue.
Remnant prairie, overgrown weedy fields, open oak woodland, stands of pine, marshes, wetlands, and shorelines.
290 species. Year-round: Mottled Duck, egrets, herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawks, woodpeckers, songbirds. Spring: six species of vireo, 30 species of warbler, Painted and Indigo Buntings, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks, and orioles. Fall: Shorebirds, flycatchers, and up to 10 species of migrating raptor. Winter: 20 species of waterfowl, Winter, Sedge, and Marsh Wrens, 20 species of sparrow, including Le Conte’s and Nelson’s. Rarities: Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Harris’s Hawk, Little Gull, Couch’s Kingbird, and Western Tanager.
When to go
Year-round. September through May is best.
A 1,200-foot-long marsh trail and boardwalk. Several lookout points. Restrooms and picnic areas. Checklist available on website.
State historic site. No fees. Open daily 9-6, except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.
Bring a spotting scope for viewing open wetlands. Closed-toed shoes necessary for grassy trails. Mosquito repellent is a must. Carry water and sunscreen during the warmer months. In winter, scan the niches near the top of the San Jacinto Monument for roosting Peregrine Falcons.