Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Tres Palacios Loop

Tres Palacios Loop map

Tres Palacios Loop mapMad Island Wildlife Management AreaOyster Lake RoadCash's CreekBayshore DriveTrull MarshPalacios Waterfront and Texas Baptist EncampmentLookout PointPalacios Marine Education Center Nature TrailPerry R. Bass State Marine Fisheries Research StationOlivia / Port AltoFormosa-Tejano Wetlands

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More information:

  • Palacios Chamber of Commerce
    12 Main Street
    Palacios, Texas 77465
    (361) 972-2615
  • Mad Island Office: The Nature Conservancy of Texas
    4P.O. Box 163
    Collegeport, Texas 77428-016
    (361) 972-2559

007.gif CTC 007 Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve

Suggested Seasons to visit: Fall through Spring

Site access restricted. Call ahead.

From the South Texas Project, take FM 521 west to FM 1095, then take FM 1095 left (south) toward Collegeport and its intersection with Brazos Tower Road. Turn left (south) on Brazos Tower Road, and then left (east) on A-P Ranch Road. After two miles the gate marks the entrances to both Mad Island Wildlife Management Area (WMA), managed by TPWD, and The Clive Runnells Family Mad Island Marsh Preserve, managed by The Nature Conservancy of Texas (TNCT). Both of these sites are closed to the public, although access may be arranged through the managing agencies and organizations on special occasions. In addition to seasonal public trips into these properties, the Mad Island Marsh CBC is conducted each year in December. Contact TPWD or TNCT if you wish to participate.

008.gif CTC 008 Oyster Lake Road

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

From the intersection of A-P Ranch Road and Brazos Tower Road, continue west on Franzen Road. Turn south onto Oyster Lake Road. Oyster Lake Road continues toward Matagorda Bay for several miles as a gravel road. During most weather conditions this road is passable, but be cautious during heavy rain. Oyster Lake Road travels through an extensive salt marsh, and in winter many species such as Clapper Rail, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Seaside Sparrow may be abundant along the roadside. Scan the islands along the bayshore for American Oystercatcher, and watch for bay ducks such as Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, and Red-breasted Merganser. In migration the scrubby trees along the roadside may be swarming with migrants, and always remember to watch overhead for raptors and swallows. The rice fields that border the northern section of Oyster Lake Road (as well as along Franzen Road) may be packed in spring with migrant shorebirds such as American Golden-Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Baird’s Sandpiper, and White-rumped Sandpiper. Both Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes are ubiquitous in winter, and remember to examine each Snow Goose flock for Ross.’ As you return to Brazos Tower Road, you may wish to continue west toward Collegeport. Park at the end of the pavement and search the bay for loons, grebes, and ducks.

009.gif CTC 009 Cash’s Creek

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Return to the intersection of FM 1095 and FM 521, go west on FM 521 to FM 2853, then take FM 2853 south. The agricultural fields in this region of Texas (particularly rice) attract hundreds of thousands of cranes, geese, and ducks each winter (for example, over two million Snow Geese annually winter along the upper Texas coast between the Sabine River and Corpus Christi). Check the Snow Goose flocks carefully; Ross’ Goose is an increasingly common winter visitor to this region. Cash’s Creek crosses FM 2853, and the freshwater marshes along the creek can be viewed from the shoulder of the bridge. Cliff Swallows nest under the bridge in the summer. Search the grasslands along FM 2853 for raptors, including White-tailed Hawk.

010.gif CTC 010 Bayshore Drive

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter

Site open for day use only.

From Cash’s Creek Bridge (Site 9) proceed on FM 2853 1.3 miles south to Bayshore Drive (which parallels Tres Palacios Bay to Business 35/1st Street). The drive offers an opportunity to inspect Tres Palacios Bay and the bordering marshes for a variety of waterbirds. Look for Common Loon, Eared Grebe, and a selection of diving ducks such as Redhead, Common Goldeneye, and Red-breasted Merganser. The three species of scoters, as well as rarities such as Pacific Loon and Oldsquaw, are always a possibility in the winter.

011.gif CTC 011 Trull Marsh

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Enhancements: Parking, Boardwalk, Observation Platform At Trull Marsh.

This site extends for two blocks north of the intersection of Business 35 and Bayshore Drive, with Trull Marsh on the west and Brookings on the east of Business 35/1st Street. With the water beginning where the highway shoulder ends, ducks often dabble within a few feet of the cars that whiz by. Ducks such as Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and Bufflehead, and shorebirds such as Black-necked Stilt (nesting), Greater Yellowlegs, and Long-billed Dowitcher crowd the shallow lagoons. The observation deck at Trull Marsh places birders in the midst of an avian riot, with dozens of herons, egrets, ibis, shorebirds, and waterfowl vying in a feeding frenzy. Both sites will be enhanced for birding over the next few years, so be sure to track their progress.

012.gif CTC 012 Palacios Waterfront and Texas Baptist Encampment

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter

Site open for day use only.

The Texas Baptist Encampment is situated on a point of land (Hamilton’s Point) near the conjunction of East and South Bay Boulevards, and may be reached by continuing south 3 blocks on Business 35 from Trull Marsh and turning left on East Bay Boulevard. Park along Bay Drive near the fishing pier, and search Tres Palacios Bay for loons, grebes, pelicans, ducks (Common Goldeneye), gulls, and terns. Combined with Bayshore Drive (CTC 010), and Lookout Point (CTC 013), the time invested here in scouring the bay for waterbirds should be well rewarded.

013.gif CTC 013 Lookout Point

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter

Site open for day use only.

From Site 12, proceed west on Business 35 past the turning basins, then turn left (south) on Margerum Road toward Tres Palacios Bay. Park at the end of Margerum Road and scan the bay for waterbirds (as with the previous two sites). In addition, pay close attention to the various gulls that congregate around the fishing boats docked in the harbor. Bonaparte’s, Laughing, Ring-billed, and Herring are to be expected in winter, but each year a few oddities such as Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, and Black-legged kittiwake wend their way to the coast as well.

014.gif CTC 014 Palacios Marine Education Center Nature Trail

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

From the intersection of Margerum Road and Business 35, drive west 0.6 mile to Camp Hulen Road and go south 0.7 mile to the entrance gate. Park in the visitor’s parking lot, and walk the nature trail beginning to the left of the pier. At times in spring the scrub along the trail may be alive with migrant vireos, warblers, buntings, and orioles. Check the pond for wading birds such as herons, egrets, and bitterns, and walk out onto the observation deck to search Tres Palacios Bay for waterbirds. In the marsh around the observation deck you should find Clapper Rail, Seaside Sparrow, and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow (winter).

015.gif CTC 015 Perry R. Bass State Marine fisheries research station

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Go west on TX 35 from Palacios for 7.5 miles, then turn left (south) for 5.5 miles on FM 3280 to the Perry R. Bass State Marine Fisheries Research Station. Examine the prairies and marshes along FM 3280 for a variety of coastal grassland species such as Northern Harrier, Sandhill Crane, and Short-eared Owl (in winter), and scan the Gulf at the end of the road for loons, grebes, ducks, gulls, and terns. Shorebirds such as Ruddy Turnstone and Sanderling may be seen along the beach. During migration, the hedge and fence rows may be lined with migrants such as Eastern and Western kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Dickcissel.

016.gif CTC 016 Olivia / Port Alto

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Continue west on TX 35 to Carancahua Bay. Park at the boat ramp, and search the bay for ducks (Redhead, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser) and perhaps an Osprey or two. Although not a major stop on the Trail, the bay always has the potential to produce a surprise!

Continue west on TX 35 to the intersection with TX 172. Before entering the Texana Loop to the north, turn south on TX 172 toward Port Alto and Olivia. From the end of TX 172 south in Olivia, scour Keller Bay for loons, grebes, and bay ducks, and search the adjacent marshes for rails and shorebirds. Travel east from Olivia on CR 314 toward Carancahua Bay and Port Alto. This road transects thickets of Tamaulipan scrub that may be teeming with warblers during a spring fallout. Along this road you may also hear the skylark song of the Cassin’s Sparrow (summer only). Eventually you will reach the western shore of Carancahua Bay. Scan the bay for waterbirds, and at low tide shorebirds. Turn north and take M. Johnson Ave. toward Port Alto. The scrub along this road is home to both Bewick’s Wren and Curve-billed Thrasher, South Texas species that rarely range farther north along the coast. Return to TX 172 on Spur 159, checking the fields for Sandhill Cranes in winter and grassland shorebirds in spring.

017.gif CTC 017 Formosa-Tejano Wetlands

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migration

Site open for day use only.

Returning to the intersection of TX 35 and TX 172, travel north on TX 172 toward Ganado. Continue north 6.9 miles to the gate (left) of the Formosa-Tejano Wetlands. This 245-acre site, already a popular fieldtrip venue with local school groups, is owned by Formosa Plastics Corp. There are several distinct habitats including ponds, permanent wetlands, and coastal prairie, plus woodlands that attract neotropical migrants. During fall and winter, increased water depths are maintained for the numerous ducks, geese, large waders, and shorebirds that winter here. The site is divided into six units, four of which are west of TX 172. The northernmost of the western four is adjacent to a 100-acre reservoir that provides habitat for the American White Pelicans, Wood Storks, diving ducks, and other waterbirds. Parking is available at the north end of the sites west of TX 172 and the south end of the two sites east of TX 172. Continue north on TX 172 to Site CTC 018 to begin the Texana Loop.


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