- Phenomenal coastal spring migration birding
- Boardwalk provides elevated views of marsh and shallow open water
- One of the top 25 eBird hotspots in Texas
Trail Length: 1 mile
Most first time visitors would never guess it pulling into the parking lot, but this tiny little birding center is one of the best and easiest places in Texas to experience spring migration. Winter birding is great too, with easy viewing opportunities of ducks, shorebirds, and raptors.
One thing that makes Leonabelle so special is how close birders are able to view passerine migrants in April and May. Native and bird friendly vegetation is planted along the sidewalk that connects the parking lot to the boardwalk.
Warblers, tanagers, and orioles in full breeding colors will move through these small trees and shrubs seemingly oblivious to birders standing 10 feet away. Some photographers with large lenses actually have trouble because their cameras won’t focus on objects that close.
While the birding here is good year-round, winter and spring months are by far the most exciting.
Early April – Mid May
The two distinct areas on the property are the native plant garden and the boardwalk. After getting out of your car head straight for the nearest patch of vegetation and watch for movement. As you slowly make your way toward the boardwalk you’ll be delighted with close up views of colorful neotropical migrants.
Once you approach the rear of the native plant garden you’ll see the entrance to the boardwalk. Before charging ahead to the tower, pause at the beginning of the boardwalk and scan the marshes to the right (northeast). This is a great chance to catch glimpses of gallinules, rails, ducks, and ibises. Alligators are sometimes visible as they sit motionless and sun themselves.
When you arrive at the tower, enjoy the sweeping views of the surrounding marshes. A spotting scope is especially useful here and will greatly increase the number of birds you’re able to identify from this vantage point.
The boardwalk continues on past the tower until it dead ends. Remember to also check the shrubby vegetation growing behind the boardwalk, as migrants will be darting in and out and you’ll be at the perfect height to see them.
Mid-November – Mid-March
Compared to spring and fall birding, the native plant garden will be less important for finding birds and the boardwalk will be more important. Neotropical migrants sometimes linger late into the fall season so the vegetation up front is still worth checking.
Once at the boardwalk get ready to start counting. Ducks can be present by the hundreds, floating on the open water and within the marshes. Raptor and gull diversity is high, so eyes to the sky.
As you walk the boardwalk remember to watch and listen for wrens and sparrows in the cattails. Overall, expect plenty of activity so go slow and keep doubling checking areas since the birds are constantly moving around.
A scope can be a great help picking through ducks and identifying birds in the marshy vegetation further away. Be sure bring it if you have one.
In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane 20 miles north of Port Aransas. With 130mph winds, it devastated Leonabelle Birding Center. 90% of the vegetation along the sidewalk was lost, and much of the marsh vegetation was flattened and cleared by strong winds. The boardwalk was heavily damaged and unsafe to walk on.
By spring of 2018 portions of the native plant garden had been replanted, just in time for migration. Restoration and rebuilding work continued into 2019. In March 2019 the new boardwalk was opened to the public. The new viewing tower is more spacious than the old one and can hold more birders at one time.
The surrounding marsh will take several more years to fully recover, but the birds don’t seem to mind too much. Bird numbers and diversity is still high. After being nearly destroyed and then partially closed for over a year, Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center is now able to once again delight all birders who visit.