"It comes close to being a hands-on experience," said Carol Ann Anderson, executive director of the Port Aransas visitors bureau. Visitors to the park may not be able to touch the wildlife, but they are treated to a close look. With its elevated observation deck, the walkway is an ideal spot for birders, photographers, school children, nature lovers, or folks just watching the sunset, Anderson said.
The $200,000 nature center, which includes a botanical garden maintained by the local garden club, was opened in October, 1995. The Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail stretches along 400 miles of Texas coast from Freeport to Kingsville. Other sites around Port Aransas are the jetties on the north end of the island, another boardwalk south of Port Aransas off FM361, Mustang Island State Park, and Shamrock Island.
Shamrock Island is accessible only by boat, but several of the fishing guide companies in Port Aransas are now offering tours to the island and other non-fishing trips. Anderson said one of the most exciting nature tours is the drag net tour from Woody's Boat Basin. The net is emptied into a tank on the boat to give passengers a marine science lesson before it is emptied back into the bay. The schools of dolphin that follow the boat seem to enjoy the trips as much as the passengers.
Of the 600 bird species found within the state's borders, 450 can be found along the central coast area. With cooler temperatures moving into Texas, more migratory birds will be passing through the coastal area. Behind the dunes from the popular beaches, barrier islands like Mustang Island and Padre Island are dotted with fresh water wetlands and marshes that attract wildlife.
Signs mark the route to the birding center on Ross Avenue off of Cut-Off Road, west of downtown. There is no admission for the boardwalk and it is one of the sites visited by the town's free trolley. Anderson said that on Wednesdays at 10:30am local birding experts give free tours of the park.
Labor Day to Memorial Day are considered the off season along the coast and prices are significantly lower and the weather is comfortably milder. The Port Aransas tourist bureau has put together a special package for birders; call them at 800/452-6278.
Coming up this weekend...
Celebration of Good Health at Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow links fine dining and fine wine for nutrition, Oct. 12. 915/379-5361
Kerr County Fair in Kerrville shows off the best of the county, Oct. 11-13. 800/221-7958.
Scarecrow Festival in Chappell Hill shows off the quaint village, Oct. 12-13. 409/277-1122.
Polka Festival in Shiner at American Legion Park keeps the music and food flowing, Oct. 13. 512/594-8812.
Texas Rose Festival shows off the flowers around Tyler, Oct. 17-20. 903/842-3887.
Harborfest honors the shipping business in Galveston, Oct. 19. 409/766-6119.