GC: Visit Calhoun Loop migratory route for bird, flowers, more
April 3, 2012 at 4 p.m.
Updated April 2, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
The Gulf Coast is home to many different kinds of birds, ranging from migrant birds, to shore birds, to resident, or nonmigratory birds. What a better way to get acquainted with them than birding.
Birding can be an activity for all ages and requires just a few pieces of equipment, time and patience.
Texas Parks and Wildlife designated three separate areas within the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trails, including the Central Texas Coast Wildlife Trail, which spans from Bay City to as far south as Kingsville.
A closer look will reveal a local birding trail named after the county it's in: the Calhoun Loop.
Brent Ortego, a diversity biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, has been an avid bird watcher since 1974. He said birders - novice or amateur - need only equip themselves with a good pair of binoculars, a birding book and a checklist of the birds of the Southwest to get started.
"There will be a whole variety of birds associated with that area," Ortego said. "There are heron, egrets, gulls and a variety of shore and colorful song birds, in addition to tropical migrants and residents that breed in the area."
Around mid-April into May, birders and outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the bird and other offerings from Mother Nature.
"Spring migration can be very good in those areas," he said. "If there is rain, usually the wildflowers will be blooming and there will be some Indian paintbrush and Texas bluebonnets."
Parks and Wildlife Ornithologist Cliff Shackelford said the area hosts birds that are uncommon to areas, such as California and New York.
"There are hundreds of species that are possible to spot in the spring," Shackelford said. "Special birds like the reddish egret are ones that people come to Texas to see."
The Calhoun Loop includes six locations that follow the coast from the Port Lavaca Bird Sanctuary to the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area near Green Lake.
"It's all kinda designed in a sequence. You could do it all in one day or in a single afternoon, if you wanted," Ortego said.
Both Ortego and Shacklelford agreed that Magic Ridge, in between Magnolia Beach and Powderhorn Lake, is a special spot to visit.
"Magic Ridge is probably the best (on the Calhoun Loop)," Ortego said. "It's one of the better locations out there, but there are opportunities to view wildlife along the roadsides."
If planned accordingly, the trip to the loop may warrant birders a chance to watch the influx of tropical migrants.
"There will just be waves of birds flying through the brushes at Magic Ridge and the other locations," Ortego said.
Shackelford, who is based in Nacogdoches, said that Magic Ridge offers birders a great opportunity to see various species out of their normal territory.
"There is nothing more than a few feet tall," he said, describing the terrain as stunted scrubby brush. "It makes viewing incredible. I always love going there."
Birding can be a rewarding outdoor adventure - if you know what you're looking for.
"Take a pair of binoculars per birder - you never want to share binoculars," Shackelford said of the essentials. "But you can share a bird book or a field guide, which is like a bird-watchers bible."
With the help of the Internet and search engines, bird checklists can be found almost everywhere and birding books are available via bookstores, libraries or online.
Snacks and bottled drinks would be a great addition to tote along, as waiting may be a big part of birding. Shackelford said there isn't much more gear required for bird watching.
Some of the locations offer birders a driving or walking route on the loop. The routes are all connected and the Texas Parks and Wildlife map includes six to seven locations that are open for viewing birds.
"Every day is different," Shackelford said. "The whole point of the birding trail is to tell visitors, 'Hey, here are some publicly-accessible sites that are open to go visit.'"