Southeast Texas may seem like it only has two seasons – summer and less humid – but fall is a welcome reprieve from the hot, hot heat even if it’s just for a few weeks. That said, fall for birders is heaven. Migration season lasts from August through November peaking in mid-October. According to the Houston Audubon Society, this is when the real snowbirds head south for the winter along the Central Flyway passing through our area on the way to Central and South America. Intent on hugging the coast, we’re one of their last havens to soak up resources before their long journey across the ocean so you’ll often see unexpected visitors making landfall. Here’s where to keep your eyes on the sky as you try to spot rare and exotic species from hawks to hummingbirds.
Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge
Home to hundreds of thousands of birds you can see on a drivable car-loop, the 34,000-acre coastal marsh and prairie habitat is a year-round birding hotspot near along the Gulf of Mexico. Neotropical migration brings thousands of shorebirds like Swallows and Sandpipers. Smith Point is a fantastic place to catch the fall hawk migration and they have an official raptor count on site.
High Island is the area’s most well-known birding spot, which you may even recognize from the movie, The Big Year. Set on the Bolivar Peninsula, there are four bird sanctuaries in the area, the two most popular being Boy Scout Woods and Smith Oaks (the largest), which is also home to a rookery. Numbers are highest during a fallout, which occurs when a fast-moving cold front comes in so keep your eye on the forecast, as well.
Earning the highest designation in the world as a “Globally Important Bird Area,” Bolivar Flats produces the most consistent phenomenal birding in the area with impressive concentrations of shorebirds resting and nesting year-round. Visitors are encouraged to walk along the beach to observe pelicans, gulls, roseate spoonbills, sandhill cranes, herons, and osprey in their natural habitat.
Cattail Marsh and Tyrrell Park
Beaumont’s pride and joy, plenty of great birding can be done right in town, too. A wetlands education center and marshland, the Cattail Marsh boardwalk and covered gazebos are home to over 275 species like egrets, ibis, and doves, while dozens of other rare and endangered species have also been spotted. Raptors frequently fly overhead and a bald eagle’s nest is fascinating to observe.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
A private botanic garden and nature center, the 250+-acre nature preserve has been free to the public since reopening after Harvey. Comprised of both forests and swamp, they have a wonderful rookery with views of 5,000 nesting herons and egrets across Ruby Lake.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Head north and you’ll be privy to many different species than the coast. Called the “biological crossroads of North America,” the Big Thicket has 10 distinct ecosystems that are a mix of swamp, forest, plains, savannas, and sandhills. The dense tree cover makes birdwatching a bit more challenging so it’s helpful to know some chirps and calls.
Angelina National Forest and Sam Rayburn Reservoir Dam
One of just four national forests in Texas, Angelina skirts the shore of the Sam Rayburn Reservoir and Dam. A winter habitat for the bald eagle, the area is also one of the few places in the Southeastern United States to see the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and the uncommon Bachman’s Sparrow.
Sea Rim State Park
Set along the Louisiana border, Sea Rim State Park is an interesting habitat that blends salt marsh, sand dunes, and the Gulf. As such, there are higher than average numbers of wading birds like heron, ducks, and egrets. While extensively damaged from the hurricane, it’s still a remote natural paradise and a great place to get off the grid.
Another private bird sanctuary owned by the Texas Ornithological Society and operated by the local Audubon chapter, Sabine Woods is one of the few areas of coast that have a Chenier Plain, higher ridges that migratory birds are drawn to. Hundreds of hummingbirds, mostly Ruby-throated, swarm the thickets in early fall, while White-tailed Kites are also common migrants.