Texas Gulf Coast Road Trip Bird Watching Port Aransas

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My first solo road trip to Port Aransas on the Gulf Coast of Texas was planned around the whooping crane festival in February. I didn’t see any whooping cranes but I did see plenty of brown pelicans in Port Aransas Texas.

When I visited the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in Port Aransas I was surrounded by some serious birders.

Although hurricane Harvey destroyed the boardwalk at the birding center in 2017, it is now rebuilt. Stronger. And better then ever.

In spring 2019 the new 700-foot boardwalk opened to the public. The new boardwalk goes from the birding center to Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie’s Pasture.

Returning for another road trip to the third coast in December 2019 I enjoyed revisiting the birding center in Port Aransas and other birding spots on the Texas coast.

My advice is to bring a good pair of binoculars when you visit the Gulf Coast. I missed out on a lot during my first visit because I didn’t have binoculars.

This year I invested in a pair of 10 x 42 binoculars. Not too heavy but they provide decent viewing for wildlife and birding.

It’s fun to watch the birds and other wildlife with binoculars. You feel so close, but get to maintain a safe distance so as not to disturb them.


Port Aransas Birding Center

Port Aransas Birding Center and observation tower on boardwalk completed in 2019


Bird sanctuary - Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center - Texas Gulf Coast

Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center in 2014


Set up with their professional camera gear - birders awaiting some action at Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center

Birders with high-powered camera lenses at Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center


Eastern Brown Pelican Endangered Species

The eastern brown pelican has been listed as an endangered species since 1970. The same year DDT was banned in the USA. The insecticide had a devastating effect on the populations of the brown pelican as well as large birds of prey such as the bald eagle.

DDT was used to control mosquitoes along the Texas Gulf Coast. Plankton absorbed DDT – fish ate the plankton – birds ate the fish – birds laid thin-shelled eggs that broke before the embryo could mature and hatch.

The pelican population has recovered substantially since the ban of DDT.


Pelicans Port Aransas Texas Gulf Coast - Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center

Eastern Brown Pelican at Port Aransas Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center


Brown pelicans have a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.45 meters) and a bill measuring in at 18 inches (46 cm) – along with a distinctive pouch they make an impressive sight. They look quite elegant while soaring through the air or floating on the water but when pelicans are on land they take on a rather comical appearance.


Pelicans Port Aransas Texas Gulf Coast - pelicans are common along the jetty and at Padre Island

Brown pelican in flight – Port Aransas Texas Gulf Coast


Brown pelican posing for the camera at Port Aransas Texas Gulf Coast - fishing and birding is popular along the coast

Brown pelican on the shore – Port Aransas Texas Gulf Coast


I love that the pelicans basically pose for the camera. They are chill and relaxed while hanging out on the jetty at Port Aransas.

It is fun to see the pelicans up close and have a look at some of their physical features like their large webbed feet.

We could all use this type of footwear during raining days…maybe in more fashionable colors though.


Hang out at the jetty in Port Aransas for a close up look at the brown pelicans

Webbed feet of brown pelican at Port Aransas Texas


Texas Gulf Coast - brown pelicans are abundant around Port Aransas - walk to the jetty for a close up look

Friendly brown pelican hanging out at Port Aransas jetty on the Gulf of Mexico coast


A pair of brown pelicans at the jetty - Port Aransas. Flocks of brown pelicans are common along the Texas Gulf Coast

A pair of brown pelicans at the jetty in Port Aransas TX


Padre Island National Seashore

I drove to Padre Island north seashore one afternoon to check out the birding situation there. It was windy and the waves were crashing into the beach. I saw several flocks of pelicans and other sea birds flying overhead but for the most part it was just me and the waves. I enjoyed a solitary walk along the beach.

The drive from Port Aransas to Padre Island National Seashore takes around 30 – 40 minutes.

Note if you want to drive to South Padre Island it is a much longer road trip. From Port Aransas it takes around 3 hours 15 minutes for the 210 mile (335 km) trip to South Padre.


North Padre beach - Padre Island National Seashore - Texas Gulf Coast

North Padre beach – Padre Island National Seashore – Texas Gulf Coast


I also took a boat from Port Aransas to San José Island (aka St Jos) just a few minutes away. I heard there was some good beach combing there.

Have a look at the most intriguing item that washed up on the beach – Portuguese Man ‘O War. Beautiful and most interesting to look at – but do not touch! The venom is still active for up to several days even after the organism has died. Fascinating creatures!


Texas Gulf Coast Road Trip


Summary of Texas Gulf Coast Road Trip

While I did not see the whooping cranes in Port Aransas I did enjoy my weekend getaway. I ate a feast at Roosevelt’s at the Tarpon Inn and walked miles along the beach to work off all those calories.

On my way home from Port Aransas I drove through Rockport so I could have a look at the oldest oak tree in Texas – known as The Big Tree.

Port Aransas is a popular destination for deep-sea fishing and bird watching. For more information about visiting Port Aransas check out the Port Aransas Chamber of Commerce website.

I will leave you with one last pelican photo. Several people took photos of this pelican while he posed for all of us. Such a friendly fellow!

Brown pelican Port Aransas Texas

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

12 Replies

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  1. Still find them odd birds, but your PHOTOS make them handsome. well, almost.

  2. ellen b says:

    I love photographing pelicans. You got some great shots. A great choice for the letter P!

  3. Laurie Kazmierczak says:

    Nice series…looks like you had a terrific trip♪

  4. Hildred says:

    Definitely need to be airborne to look elegant, but they do look friendly and even very attractive in an odd sort of way.

  5. Calling by from ABC Wednesday, what great Pelican photos.

  6. Thanks for sharing your day at Port Aransas. I enjoyed it vicariously through your photos. I wonder if at the end of the day, the pelicans gets together and brag about how many photos were taken of them.

    • Yes I think you are onto something – those pelicans all tallying up the photos taken of them each day! They really are such interesting photo subjects one can’t help but take photos of them!

  7. Reader Wil says:

    Your pelican photos are excellent! The first time I saw pelicans was in Australia.
    So in Indonesia they have pancakes! Well and here in Holland we have a lot of Indonesian meals, introduced by the former Dutch colonists, who came back in the Netherlands after WW II.
    Have a great week, Susan!

  8. Indrani says:

    A friendly model I will say :)
    Great series.

  9. Diane Westwell says:

    Wonderful photo’s of The Pelicans Susan, they’re all very good but I rather liked the first one most!
    They are the most sociable of birds yet look rather fierce with those great huge bills but, I reckon, are rather useful for filling up with lots of fish, to fill their fat tummies!
    We were swimming off the coast of Florida with our, then 15 year old daughter, when an enormous Pelican swooped down and landed next to her , I’ve never seen her move so fast. out of the water. Ian and I stayed in and the Pelican happily paddled along side us whilst we enjoyed our swim…quite an experience!
    We’ve all heard of ‘Swimming with Dolphins’ but with Pelicans ?
    Could be a new life enhancing experience !

    best wishes,

  10. Shady Gardener says:

    What fun to read your post! My husband and I visited Port Aransas a couple of years ago, with friends. Their mother/mother-in-law lives there and took us birding at that very spot!! I took photos but was not able to get the close-ups that you did!! (Even had I gotten close enough, it’s my camera… oh, well).

    • So glad you enjoyed reading it! You may not have the close-up photos but you have all the memories and that is the important part – it is such a peaceful place to visit.

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