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Mustang Island State Park

Come for the beach, stay for the birds.

By Elsa K. Simcik

From swimming to sailing to fishing to eating, there’s never a shortage of things to do in the scenic town of Port Aransas. If your clan is planning on heading to “Port A” this summer, you should definitely venture 14 miles south, to picturesque Mustang Island. Located on the island is one of Texas’ few beach state parks. You can’t miss the park; it’s more than 3,900 acres with a five-mile stretch of beach. And as you get a little closer, you’ll see that there’s more to this park than just sand dunes, saltwater and the great fishing the area is known for. There are all sorts of other creatures that inhabit Mustang Island, and some of the most interesting ones are in the sky above it.

The area could be called “the nest of Texas” for a good reason: Mustang Island has one of the highest bird counts on the Gulf Coast. Expert and amateur birders alike know that summer is not the most ideal time to spot birds. They usually prefer the migratory seasons of the fall and spring. However, even in the hot summer months you can spot plenty of birds on Mustang Island — both on the bay side and the beach side.

David Newstead, a waterbird biologist with the Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program and the president of the Coastal Bend Audubon Society, says that summer is the time when a lot of birds are breeding. “Most of the birds on the beach will be waterbirds that breed in the area,” he says. Visitors could expect to spot the brown pelican, snowy egret, tricolored heron, reddish egret, great egret, great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, white ibis, royal tern, sandwich tern, least tern and laughing gull. Newstead adds that birders may also see the snowy plover and Wilson’s plover.

And those are just the birds on the beach side. “On the bay side of the park is a different group of birds,” Newstead says. There you’ll have the mottled duck, seaside sparrow, willet and black-necked stilt. “The plovers also probably breed back there,” he says.

As you search for birds, you may want to put your binoculars down for a minute and listen. “You should be able to hear eastern meadowlarks singing in the coastal prairie grasses behind the dunes,” says Newstead.

If you make the excursion to Port Aransas and Mustang Island State Park, you might as well stay for a night or two on the park’s grounds. They’ve got plenty of campsites — even primitive ones right on the beach. It’s an ocean-front view you can afford. And if you’re into birding (or just curious), you can’t afford to miss it.

For more information on Mustang Island State Park call (361) 749-5246 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/mustangisland>.

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