Cawwing All Wildlife Enthusiasts!
If watching feathers fly is your kind of thing . . . The Golden Triangle might be your kind of place.
Located as it is on two migratory flyways – Central and Mississippi – we get tons of visits from our feathered friends, plus the ones that hang out here all year. During the fall and spring migrations thousands of birds stop along the various waterways and protected areas to rest either before or after crossing the Gulf of Mexico.
Beaumont is bordered on the north by the Big Thicket National Preserve, legendary for its biodiversity. Further east the Sabine River flows past Orange and into the Sabine National Wildlife Refuge. Port Arthur might well be the prime location, situated on the banks of the Sabine Lake, bounded to the north by the Neches River, to the south by Taylor Bayou, with four different wildlife management areas just across the bayou including the McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. Regardless of whether you are in Beaumont, Orange, or Port Arthur, you’re within zero to thirty miles from some of the most active bird watching spots in the state.
Whether you love bird watching for its own sake, for the thrill of the hunt, or because you are a wildlife artist, there are practically infinite opportunities for you here. Any one of these locations could keep a person busy for years.
Created by the U.S. Corps of Engineers at the turn of the 20th century while constructing the Port Arthur Canal and the Sabine Neches Intracoastal Waterway, Pleasure Island is 18.5 miles of prime birding territory. Shorebirds, gulls, ducks and terns gather in the marshes and mud flats and can be seen from hiking trails around the island.
How to get there: Follow Highway 82 across the bridge on the southeast side of Port Arthur.
Sabine Woods Sanctuary
The Sabine Woods Sanctuary is an oak mott (that’s a fancy way of saying, “a buncha oak trees”) about 17 miles south of Port Arthur. Owned by the Texas Ornithological Society and maintained by the Golden Triangle Audubon Society, it covers 27 acres of oak woods, grassland, and swamp. Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, this sanctuary, along with several other nearby locations on this list, serves as one of the most important stop-over sites along the entire Texas coast during spring and fall migrations.
How to get there: Follow Highway 87 south out of Port Arthur to Sabine Pass. Continue on 87 west out of town. You’ll find the sanctuary north of the road about 4.5 miles out. Entry to the Sanctuary is free for members of the Texas Ornithological Society and $8 per person for non-members.
Sea Rim State Park
In the same general area as the Sabine Woods Sanctuary, Sea Rim State Park is an equally important stop for migratory birds. Composed of over 4,000 acres of marshland and shoreline, the park offers several unique opportunities. Visitors can canoe or kayak the park’s 1.79 mile easy trail or 9.59 mile advanced trail, earning the chance to see wildlife from the water rather than the shore. Boat rentals are available. The park’s walking trail, the Gambusia Nature Trail, opens onto the beach where shorebirds tend to congregate.
How to get there: Take the same route you would use to get to the Sabine Woods Sanctuary, but keep heading west about 6 miles. Can’t miss it.
Texas Point National Wildlife Refuge and the J. D. Murphree Wildlife Management Area are in the same general area.
Big Thicket National Preserve
According to the National Park Service, the Big Thicket National Preserve is host to almost 300 species of bird, with 74 calling the region home. Know your bird calls if you hope to catch some of the more elusive inhabitants hiding deep within the dense growth. Off Ramp has discussed the value of the Big Thicket to both conservationists and artists before (Spring – Summer 2017 • Vol. 3, No. 05) but it bears repeating. As the first National Preserve whose founding intention was preservation, the Big Thicket has an unbelievable amount of biodiversity and begins within a few hundred yards of Interstate 10 in Beaumont.
How to get there: While the park’s Visitor Center is at 6102 FM 420, Kountze, Texas, the Big Thicket is so, well, BIG that you’re in it pretty much anywhere north of I-10 in Beaumont.
Cattail Marsh Scenic Wetlands & Boardwalk
Cattail Marsh is part of Tyrrell Park and covers 900 acres of levees and ponds. A 520 foot boardwalk with two viewing platforms extends over one of the ponds. Home to over 250 species of birds, Cattail Marsh is a great place to bulk up your bird sightings or catch several different birds and other animals – including alligators and the occasional bobcat – on film at the same time. A live web cam feed monitors the marsh at all times, so check out the Cattail Marsh live web cam feed before you go to see what the weather is like and how much activity is happening.
How to get there: Exit I-10 at Walden Road and drive east. You’ll find yourself on Tyrrell Park Road after the light. Turn north into the park and you’ll find the wetlands at the back.
Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center
Conway may have lost his paradise, but you can find one smack in the center of Orange, Texas. Shangri La is a painstakingly maintained garden and nature center that sits in a preserved area of Adams Bayou. Well staffed and funded by the Stark Foundation, Shangri La has a focus on education that makes it one of the most friendly sites on this list for novice birders. The center runs various programs year-round that provide tours, information, and even equipment to participants. One of the highlights of the center are its bird blinds, which allow visitors to view the nesting grounds of its heronry at close range without disturbing the birds.
How to get there: Take Exit 877 off I-10 and turn south on N 16th Street. Drive about 2 miles and turn west on W Park Street. You’ll see the gates about a half mile down on the south side of the road.
Bird Watching Tips
Particularly during migratory seasons, many of these birds have probably been flying for hundreds of miles and they’re tired. Give ’em some space. Even a modest telephoto lens will keep you far enough away to be respectful.
Pay attention to signage in these areas. Some are for the benefit of the wildlife, and some are for yours. Nesting birds who are overly disturbed may leave their eggs defenseless, and nesting alligators overly disturbed may scare you senseless.
Dress for the occasion. Some of these locations are well paved, with boardwalks and gravel paths, but others have only primitive trails. You may need to prepare for mud and mosquitoes. Also, while Texas tends to be hot pretty much year-round, it pays to have a few outer layers available. A brief rain can drop temperatures by a surprising degree.
While you’re in the area, don’t neglect the collections of wildlife art inspired by the local prevalence of nature. The Art Museum of Southeast Texas and the Clifton Steamboat Museum in Beaumont, The Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, and the Stark Museum of Art in Orange all have collections of nature, wildlife, and western art.