For the Birds: Where to Watch the Fall Migration in and Around Houston

It's currently high time to see approximately 50,000 hawks — including the red-shouldered species — at Smith Point Hawk Watch.
It's currently high time to see approximately 50,000 hawks — including the red-shouldered species — at Smith Point Hawk Watch.

Though spring is prime time for watching migratory birds, there are plenty of birding opportunities in and around Houston during the fall migration season, which generally runs from now to early October.

Richard Gibbons, conservation director for Houston Audubon, recently told Houston Press the best places to currently peep birds. He also mentioned a few spots where death by mosquito – the not-so-good, best-to-avoid places – is going to be.

Generally speaking, Gibbons says, spring is ideal for bird watching — it’s like the birds “are going to a concert, where they’re staking out a spot and territory,” says Gibbons. “Plus, springtime is a much more compressed and concentrated migration, and it’s cooler and less buggy.”

That doesn’t mean that fall bird watching should be 86’d, says Gibbons.

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“One cool thing about birding is that it’s everywhere,” he says. “The difference is shifting your focus to what’s already right there — going outside for lunch, for example, and trying to figure out what a blue jay is doing. It’s actually quite relaxing and takes the focus away from your problems.”

THE BEST

Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s Smith Point Hawk Watch Sanctuary in Lake Jackson

Visitors to the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory’s 30-foot tall lookout tower will see broad-winged, red-tailed, red-shouldered, Swainson’s, sharp-skinned and other variations of hawks as well as Mississippi kites and peregrine falcons. “There are swirling kettles of hawks,” says Gibbons. “You can see ten species in one day and 50,000 hawks. Get there early.”

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Monday through Friday. 299 West Highway 332 in Lake Jackson. For more information, call 979-480-0999 or go to gcbo.org.

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary is the scene for marbled godwits.
Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary is the scene for marbled godwits.

Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary on the Bolivar Peninsula

Located at the tip of Bolivar Peninsula near-ish High Island, Bolivar Flats is a mixture of salt marshes, mud flats and beach that attracts thousands of birds, such as American avocets and marbled godwits. “Take the ferry (from Galveston) and watch the pelicans and the dolphins along the way,” says Gibbons.

Sunrise to sunset daily. Highway 87 and Rettilon Road on the Bolivar Peninsula. For more information, call 713-932-1639 or see houstonaudubon.org. A permit to park on Bolivar beaches costs $10.

Stingaree Restaurant and Bar in Crystal Beach

Watch birds and totally demolish Gulf seafood, all at the same time, at this venue, located on the second story of Stingaree Marina. The restaurant is known for barbecued crabs, which are boiled, dipped in insane seasoning and cooked to perfection in a broiler. Along with migratory birds, the eatery also offers killer views of the sunset.

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 1295 Stingaree, Port Bolivar. For more information, call 409-684-2713 or check out stingaree.com.

Houston Audubon Surveys

The Audubon offers monthly, open-to-the-public bird counts along the Gulf Coast or in urban settings that can range from a Hermann Park bird survey to expeditions at Archbishop Fiorenza Park, a flood-control site that boasts more than 50 bird species, such as bald eagles and ospreys.

For more information about Houston Audubon’s surveys, call 713-932-1639 or go to houstonaudubon.org.

Sheldon Lake State Park's stacked roster of birds includes the European starling.
Sheldon Lake State Park's stacked roster of birds includes the European starling.

Sheldon Lake State Park

The circa-1942 northeast Houston bird habitat recently introduced a birding program that showcases the park’s abundantly seen black-bellied whistling ducks, white ibis, ring-billed gulls and European starlings. “They boast a very impressive list of birds and such a varied habitat,” says Gibbons.

9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 14140 Garrett Road. For more information, call 281-456-2800 or check out tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/sheldon-lake. There’s no entrance fee.

NOT THE BEST (in the fall, anyway)

The Rookery

Located on High Island, the animal habitat attracts all sorts of colonial waterbirds, including herons, egrets, spoonbills and cormorants. In the fall, it's also a magnet for mosquito hell. (More on that below.)

Smith Oaks Bird Sanctuary

Also located on High Island (and close to The Rookery). Also not super-fun in the fall. “People come out running because of mosquitos and spiders,” says Gibbons. “We intentionally farm insects out there so the birds can eat.” 

Yikes.


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