For decades, this property was a cattle pasture. Now, just seven years after restoration work began, it is one of the best birding sites on Mustang Island. The preserve’s 1,217 acres of tidal flats provide feeding areas and important habitat for shorebirds and endangered and threatened species, such as Piping Plover.
Visitors will find more than three miles of walking trails, a pavilion, boardwalks over algal flats, crushed-granite trails through the uplands, sites with covered seating, and two towers overlooking wetlands.
At the southeastern edge of the preserve lies the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center, which was established in 1994 and soon dedicated as a site on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. I was there at the beginning, when the only way in was across pallets that duck hunters had laid out to get to their blinds. We worried that putting a boardwalk through the cattails would frighten away the birds, but just the opposite happened: The birds became habituated to people on the boardwalk, allowing close observation and great photography. Tricolored Herons and Great Egrets often pose for pictures along the railings. Other photogenic residents include red-eared sliders, alligators, and dragonflies.
G. Joan Holt helped establish the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center and co-authored, with her husband Scott, the Birds of Port Aransas checklist.
Sand and mud tidal flats, freshwater marsh with cattails, salt marsh, uplands with large trees, and cultivated gardens.
Flat. Boardwalks wheelchair-accessible.
More than 320 species. Year-round: Least Bittern, Roseate Spoonbill, Crested Caracara, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-necked Stilt, herons, and egrets. Winter: Cinnamon and Green-winged Teal, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Merlin. Summer: Magnificent Frigatebird, Least Tern, Groove-billed Ani. Fall and spring: shorebirds, rails, 40 warbler species, grosbeaks, orioles, and buntings. Rarities: Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Black-whiskered Vireo, Lazuli Bunting.
When to go
Year-round. Early morning best for birding and photography, evenings for amazing sunsets.
Boardwalks, observation towers, pavilion, elevated platform, viewing scopes, checklist, restrooms. Guided bird walks every Wednesday at 9 a.m. Preserve and other Port Aransas hotspots will be featured during upcoming Whooping Crane Festival, February 25-28.
City preserve. Open daily, dawn to dusk. No fees. Entrance to Turnbull Birding Center is on Ross Ave. Port Aransas Shuttle stops at center. Bicycle racks and free parking. Free Port Aransas Ferry operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Visitors can also enter from Hwy. 361 near the Mustang Beach Airport.
At Turnbull Birding Center, check trees around picnic table for warblers and nearby cattails for rails. Bug repellant needed at times.