April Is for the Birds

Hundreds of species pass through a strip of Texas coastline every spring. A festival celebrates their arrival.

America’s “Birdiest” Place—that’s what avid birdwatchers with the San Diego Audubon Society have nicknamed the strip of Texas coastline anchored by Corpus Christi. It’s a major migration route for hundreds of species—waterfowl to raptors to songbirds—heading north from central America and Mexico. April is peak time. It’s also just before the hot, steamy wet season sets in. To celebrate the return of the birds, the not-for-profit South Texas Botanical Gardens hosts the Birdiest Festival in America

This year’s event takes place April 22 to 26. It features casual lectures and small tours to local areas rich in bird life, such as Goose Island and Blucher Park. Part of the aim is to introduce people to the experience of nature tourism.

Especially exciting to the organizers of the event is the appearance of world-renowned artist and ornithologist David Allen Sibley as keynote speaker. His lavishly self-illustrated The Sibley Guide to Birds, first published in 2000, became the fastest-selling bird book ever. Millions of copies are now in print. The New York Times placed it in the category of Audubon’s Birds of America (1838) and Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds (1934), calling it a book that “changes the way people look at the world.”

“This is our fourth year,” Denise Housler says of the Texas festival, “and each year we’ve added more interesting programs.” She is volunteer president of the botanical gardens, a 182-acre reserve of native coastal scrub and grassland. “The nice thing is that the festival is new enough and small enough that it’s not intimidating. We welcome people from all walks of birding.”

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Beginners welcome.

Housler admits that she herself is by no means an expert birdwatcher, and she always learns something from many participants, who come from all over North America. She says that some enthusiasts show up every year with binoculars that have never even been out of their box. But they leave having seen and identified dozens of species of birds new to them—the beginning of their own “life list” and, quite literally, an eye-opening exposure to the abundance of winged inhabitants of the natural world. Last year, Birdiest Festival attendees identified 262 species.

Don’t have binoculars, a spotting scope, or fancy guidebooks? Just come on down for some old-fashioned south Texas hospitality, including a kickoff barbecue. Sign up for one of the tours led by expert birders who will introduce you to the area, show you what to look for, and, if you ask, recommend equipment that might be best for the birding you’d like to do.        

Birds Above, Shipwrecks Below

The fluvial deposits of sand, silt, clay, gravel, and rich calcium carbonate from the Pleistocene age that underlie Corpus Christi Bay and the surrounding land create ideal feeding habitats for birds. Outside the large, shallow bay are the gorgeous beaches of Mustang and South Padre islands. This national seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier beach in the world with 70 miles of coastline, hiking trails, dunes, and lagoons to explore on foot or kayak. Onshore, South Padre is a nesting home for the rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Offshore lie the remains of three wrecked Spanish ships from 1554. —T.R.P.