Great Texas Wildlife Trails

La Bahia Loop

La Bahia Loop map

La Bahia Loop mapAransas National Wildlife RefugeLion's/Shelly Park (Refugio)Goliad State ParkColeto Creek Reservoir and ParkRio Vista Bluff RanchFennessey RanchMission River FlatsBlack Point (Bayside)Egery FlatsWelder Park (Sinton)Rob and Bessie Welder Park (Sinton)

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More information:

  • Goliad Chamber of Commerce
    P.O. Box 606
    Goliad, Texas 77963
    (361) 645-3563
  • Sinton Chamber of Commerce
    2818 W. Sinton
    Sinton, Texas 78387
    (361) 364-2307
  • Refugio County Chamber of Commerce
    P.O. Box 127
    Refugio, Texas 78377
    (361) 526-2835

037.gif CTC 037 Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

No single location along the Texas Coast captures the traveler’s imagination more than Aransas NWR, the winter home of the Whooping Crane. To reach the entrance to the refuge, continue south on TX 35 until reaching the intersection with TX 239, then turn left (east) and follow the signs through Austwell. The wildlife interpretive center (located near the entrance to the refuge) contains a well-stocked book store, and a number of valuable reference books and field guides may be purchased here (don’t forget to ask for a map and bird checklist as well). Although famed for wintering cranes (best seen in the refuge from atop the observation tower along the Tour Loop Drive), Aransas NWR is better known among birders for its exceptional variety of resident and transient birds (the number of species seen within the refuge is now approaching 400). Look in the shallow waters along the margins of San Antonio Bay (as well as from the Jones Lake viewing platform) for Roseate Spoonbill, Reddish Egret, both ibis (White and White-faced), and a variety of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. The oak woodlands along the birding trail immediately past the Heron Flats parking area are especially favorable for migrant landbirds. The Turk’s Cap along Heron Flats Trail is an excellent spot to see Buff-bellied Hummingbird from late spring through fall (ask the wildlife interpretive center staff for the most recent sightings). Search for wading birds (ducks, grebes, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen) and alligators along Heron Flats Trail and from Jones Lake Platform as well. Wildlife along the tour loop becomes active (and therefore visible) in early morning and late evening, with Crested Caracara, Javelina (Collared Peccary), and Nine-banded Armadillo among the species that will sally forth from the brush to feed in open fields and along the shoulder. The refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset; the wildlife interpretive center hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
P.O. Box 100
Austwell, Texas 77950
(361) 286-3559; (361) 286-3533

038.gif CTC 038 Lion’s / Shelley Park (Refugio)

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migration

Site open for day use only.

From TX 35 and FM 774, travel west to Refugio. Search the power poles and brush along the road for raptors. Crested Caracara, White-tailed Hawk, Harris’s Hawk (rare), and a rich assortment of Red-tailed Hawks are usually present. Continue on FM 774 across US 77 and into Lion’s / Shelley Park. Lion’s / Shelley Park is situated on the Mission River, and the bottomland forests here often swarm with migrant landbirds in spring and fall. Riparian woodlands such as these focus the migrants since the surrounding terrain (coastal prairie, now mainly either agriculture or brush) is generally inhospitable to forest species. Carefully look along the Mission River for Green Kingfisher, a South Texas specialty that is seen here regularly.

039.gif CTC 039 Goliad State Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open daily. Developed camping available. Fee charged.

From Refugio, take US 183 north toward Goliad, and continue until reaching the entrance to Goliad State Park (on US 183 just south of Goliad). Goliad is among the most hallowed of Texas cities, with the Mission Espiritu Santo, the General Zaragoza birthplace, the grave of Col. James W. Fannin and his soldiers, and the Presidio la Bahia indelibly imprinted on the pages of Texas colonial history (and in the memory of every child who studies Texas history). A visit to Goliad State Park, therefore, presents the rare opportunity to simultaneously experience human as well as natural history. Goliad is situated within a transition zone, where broad ecological influences join at a biological juncture. Nature trails in the park traverse a selection of upland and bottomland habitats, and during an early morning walk an observer will be confronted by an eclectic mix of eastern, western, and south Texas thorn-scrub species. Camping facilities are provided in the state park.

Goliad State Park
P.O. Box 727
Goliad, TX 77963
(361) 645-3405

040.gif CTC 040 Coleto Creek Reservoir and Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter

Site open daily. Developed camping available. Fee charged.

Travel east on US 59 from Goliad to the entrance to Coleto Creek Reservoir and Park (approximately 12 miles southwest of Victoria on US 59). Coleto Creek Park is a multi-use facility operated by the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority. The park contains camping and picnic sites, restrooms, nature trails, and a variety of other day-use opportunities. Birding is generally best around the reservoir itself, so scan the lake for Bald Eagle, Osprey, waterfowl, grebes, and cormorants. Almost any inland reservoir in Texas may lure an odd gull, grebe, or duck in the winter, so search the lake carefully.

Coleto Creek Park
P.O. Box 68
Fannin, TX 77960
(361) 575-6367

040a.gif CTC 040A Rio Vista Bluff Ranch

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons (Call ahead for reservations)

Site access restricted. Call ahead. Fee charged.

Over 350 bird species have been recorded on the ranch. Habitats include cypress swamp, coastal prairie wetlands, mesquite savannah, lakes, ponds and riparian woodlands along the Guadalupe River. Wildlife, includeing deer javelina and alligators, is abundant on this historic working ranch. Facilities include hiking trails and observation stands, some of which are wheelchair accessible. Be sure to stop by the McFaddin Café in McFaddin to learn more about the rich ranching history of the area and experience great food in an historic setting. Call (361) 645-3458 for reservations and directions or email snipes10@viptx.net.

041.gif CTC 041 Fennessey Ranch

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons (Call ahead for reservations)

Site access restricted. Call ahead. Fee charged.

Return to Refugio, then take FM 774 east 2 miles to the intersection with FM 2678. Turn right (south) on FM 2678, travel 4.6 miles south to the entrance of the Fennessey Ranch. The Fennessey Ranch is private, and visitation must be arranged through Fennessey Ranch Nature Tours. With an array of habitats (inland marsh, riparian woodland, coastal grassland, thorn-scrub brush), the Fennessey supports an equally prolific and diverse birdlife. Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Mottled Duck nest in the marshes (along with Least Bittern, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, and Marsh Wren), and Masked Duck has appeared here in the recent past. In winter hordes of sparrows seem to litter the grasslands, and Sprague’s Pipits often “rocket” out from underfoot when hiking through the fields. The riparian forest along the Mission River is a vector for migrant landbirds moving inland in spring (and toward the coast in fall), and in migration the trees vibrate from the sound of hummingbirds feeding on turk’s cap and hawking insects. A winter’s sunset at the Fennessey Ranch, skies choked with tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes, geese, and waterfowl, evokes the spirit of the Texas coast.

Fennessey Ranch Nature Tours
P.O. Box 99
Bayside, TX 78340
(361) 529-6600

042.gif CTC 042 Mission River Flats

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Continue south on FM 2678 toward Bayside. The road crosses the Mission River, and the Mission River Flats may be birded (with caution) from the shoulder. In late summer and early fall Wood Storks may be seen here, and waterfowl flocks in the winter may be prodigious. Low water levels in spring may expose vast expanses of mudflats, and migratory shorebirds will concentrate in the shallow waters (also look for American Avocet here in winter).

043.gif CTC 043 Black Point (Bayside)

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons, especially Migration

Site open for day use only.

Continue south on FM 2678 (which becomes FM 136 immediately south of the Mission River) to Bayside. Inspect the flats south of Bayside for pelicans, herons, egrets, waterfowl, and shorebirds. These shallows are especially attractive to Reddish Egret, and at low tide thousands of shorebirds may crowd the exposed flats (test your prowess with “peeps” here). Notice that Bayside is perched upon a bluff overlooking Copano Bay. During migration hawks ride the updrafts from this ridge, which offers an advantageous spot from which to see raptors such as Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawk, all three falcons (American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine), and Northern Harrier at eye level. Bird this area in fall during the passage of cold fronts or northers to enjoy the peak raptor movements.

044.gif CTC 044 Egery Flats

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Continue south on FM 136 from Bayside to Egery Flats, turning left (east) after leaving the causeway onto Egery Road. Search the flats along the road for herons, egrets, and waterfowl, and the salt marshes for Clapper Rail, Seaside, and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow. During low tides a broad selection of shorebirds, including American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Curlew, Black-bellied Plover, both dowitchers, Dunlin, and Least Sandpiper will frequent the acres of exposed mudflat. The shallow waters of Egery Flats attract all of the resident terns, so look in warm months for Caspian, Royal, Sandwich, Gull-billed, Forster’s, and Least here. Black Terns may also be seen here in migration. Watch the marshes in the evening for flights of Roseate Spoonbills going to roost, and listen for the squawk of Black-crowned Night-Herons as they fly out to the flats to feed each evening.

045.gif CTC 045 Welder Park (Sinton)

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Continue south on FM 136 to the intersection with TX 188. Turn right (west) on TX 188, and continue to Sinton and US 181. Welder Park (not to be confused with the Rob and Bessie Welder Park) may be reached off US 181 on N. Rachal in Sinton. From the intersection with N. Rachal, turn right (look for the sign to the Wayne Hitt Law Enforcement Center). Continue on N. Rachal across Chiltipin Creek to the entrance to the park (700 North Rachal Avenue). Old Welder Park (along with Oyster Lake Road near Palacios and Live Oak Park in Ingleside) is a rare find in this age of bird hotlines, field guides, and the Internet: an outstanding birding site that is rarely birded. Welder is tucked away in a remote corner of Sinton, and the park is now closed to vehicular traffic in order to ensure its sanctity and solitude. Park at the entrance and stroll into the park. As with Lion’s / Shelley Park in Refugio, Welder is a magnet for migrating landbirds. The immense trees along the creek may harbor flocks of migrants in the spring, and be sure to walk along the edge of the creek to find the two waterthrushes, Prothonotary Warbler, or Common Yellowthroat. Check the densest underbrush for skulkers such as Worm-eating, Hooded, and Mourning warblers. Adjacent to the park entrance is mesquite scrub, and a brief stop at the fence’s edge may uncover a number of species (such as Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and Bewick’s Wren) that may not be seen within the park itself.

046.gif CTC 046 Rob and Bessie Welder Park (Sinton)

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Rob and Bessie Welder Park is located on US 181 N approximately 2.5 miles north of Sinton. Within this multi-use facility (approximately 300 acres), the City of Sinton has recently dedicated about 45 acres to remain as a natural preserve. Enter the park, and stay to the right past the ballparks until reaching the parking area for the nature trail. The trail loops through an area of open grasslands with scattered trees, and eventually passes by an observation platform overlooking a densely vegetated pond. Look in the cattails for Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren, and in the trees surrounding the pond for migrant landbirds. As this nature preserve ages, the habitat, as well as the birding opportunities, will only improve.

The Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation is located approximately 8 miles north of Sinton on US 77. The refuge is open to the public each Thursday at 3:00 p.m. Contact the Welder Wildlife Foundation for a bird checklist and information about public access.

Welder Wildlife Foundation
P.O. Drawer 1400
Sinton, TX 78387
(361) 364-2643

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