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Matagorda National Wildlife Refuge

small state map showing location

Austwell, Texas


INTRODUCTION

Matagorda Island is one of the five major barrier islands on the Texas Gulf Coast. It lies in Calhoun County in the heart of the Coastal Bend, 125 airline miles southwest of Houston and 55 miles northeast of Corpus Christi. The island is 38 miles long and varies from 3/4 to 4 1/2 miles wide. To the north it is separated from Matagorda Peninsula by Paso Cavallo; to the south it is separated from St. Joseph Island by Cedar Bayou. The sandy beach along the entire east side of the island meets the breakers of the Gulf of Mexico. The tidal flats on the quiet bayside lie about 5 miles off the mainland, across Espiritu Santo, San Antonio and Mesquite Bays.

Matagorda Island is a 5,000 year old ribbon of shifting sand atop the muddy slope of the continental shelf. Wind and waves deposit the sand and continually rework its contours; occasional storms wreak havoc with its smooth profile.

The salt tolerant and drought resistant insular vegetation is clearly arranged in zones oriented parallel to the long axis of the island. The wave-washed forebeach does not support rooted vegetation. Tough pioneer plants such as sea purslane, fimbry and goatfoot morning glory begin on the back beach. The 8-15 foot high ridge of primary sand dunes which borders the inland perimeter of the beach is clothed with beach croton, beach evening primrose and grasses, including tall picturesque clumps of sea oats. Behind the dunes, the barrier flat community stretches across the interior of the island. Although dominated by coastal bluestem and other grasses, the low ridge-and-swale topography supports a variety of herbs, trailing vines, sedges and wildflowers; some sites hold freshwater semi-permanently and may be ringed with a dense clump of salt cedars, an alien species introduced from the Middle East.

Within a quarter-mile of the bay the poorly drained, saline soils dictate a distinctive tidal flat vegetation. Here succulent, shin-high plants such as glasswort, saltwort, salt grass and sea ox-eye reign. A final fringe of smooth cordgrass occupies the brackish intertidal zone. Here and there a windrow of dead oyster shell is piled against the bayshore. Such low shell ridges support compact communities of sprawling mesquite, wild lime, elbowbush and Spanish dagger.

Matagorda is the only Texas barrier owned in its entirety by the public. After a long history of private ranching and an interlude as a practice bombing range during World War II, the island gradually came into Federal and State ownership. Since 1982, it has been jointly managed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area. The Nature Conservancy of Texas, a nonprofit conservation organization which facilitated protection efforts on the island, now operates, in conjunction with the two managing agencies, the Enron Matagorda Island Environmental Education and Research Center. The Center is located at the old Wynne Ranch Headquarters at the southern end of the island. For more information regarding the exceptional public education and research opportunities available through the Center, please phone 512/877-7024.

Visitors can reach Matagorda Island by private or chartered boat, or they may take the pedestrian ferry that departs from the TPWD dock in Port O'Connor on weekends and holidays. Once on the island, visitors must hike, bike or use scheduled shuttle vehicles. There are no concessions and no drinking water. The foregoing inconveniences are by design. The most cherished features of Matagorda Island are its isolation and its windswept, near-pristine ambience. Visitors are expected to meet the island on its own terms. We recommend that you contact the park about conditions and fees for ferry and shuttle before you visit the island (512/983-2215).

With increased public access, Matagorda Island is guaranteed to become one of the premier birding spots in Texas. Over 300 species of birds have been documented, including 11 species on the Federal or State endangered/threatened lists. The island's biggest calling is as a staging area for spring (March-May,peak April) and fall (mid July-October, peak August- September, depending on onset of cold weather) migratory shorebirds and for winter residents (November-February). In addition, the scant woody vegetation annually serves as a temporary haven for thousands of northbound passerines. On a good day in April, an observer can easily find more wood warblers, buntings, orioles, tanagers and thrushes in one clump of salt cedars on Matagorda than he is likely to see elsewhere for the remainder of the year. On even a humdrum day in the wintertime a lucky birder can anticipate seeing a dozen of the 37 species of shorebirds that use the island, many of the 16 species of waders known to occur in Texas, a variety of terns and gulls, Black Skimmers, American oystercatchers, White and Brown Pelicans, and half a dozen of the 18 documented species of ducks. A Whooping Crane, an Arctic Peregrine or a Short-eared Owl would raise the day out of the humdrum category; or if you are a beginner, perhaps a White-faced ibis, Sandhill Crane, Roseate Spoonbill, Eared Grebe, Horned Lark or a Seaside Sparrow would suffice. The island boasts them all.

Things slow down on Matagorda in the summertime, only 37 species of birds are known to nest on the island. But this is the season to observe nesting White-tailed Hawks, Black-shouldered Kites, Wilson Plovers and Least Terns and to see flocks of Wood Storks up from their breeding colonies in Mexico and to watch in disbelief at the buoyant agility of the Magnificent Frigatebirds. Now, or any time the weather turns turbulent, scan the Gulf for Masked Boobys, Northern Gannets, Surf Scoters and other temporarily displaced pelagics.

For the best birding first choose an active season, hope for reasonable weather and a benign sea, and crisscross the vegetation zones along any portion of the island that is convenient. If you have a target species, concentrate on its favored habitat and ask for tips at the Visitor's Center in the State Park. Whoopers are best seen in the tidal flats from the shuttle. Peregrines favor the beach and dunes. In foul winter weather, a shuttle jaunt to Paso Cavallo may turn an otherwise disappointing visit into a bonanza.

This checklist of 317 documented species was compiled by Dr. Wayne H. McAlister, Victoria College, Victoria, Texas. Nomenclature and organization are based on the A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds (6th Ed) as currently supplemented.

You may contribute to our knowledge of island birdlife by reporting sightings, with details, of uncommon, rare or unusual species to area personnel.


Please help us protect the natural avian communities in our parks by refraining from using playback tapes of bird songs. Frequent ue of these tapes disrupts nomrmal avian activity patterns, disrupts essential territorial behavior and may lead to nest failure. Thank you for your cooperation.


Contributors:

Jim Clark and Mark Koepsel, USFWS.  
Alberto Flores and Luke Thompson, TPWD.  
Roland Wauer and Mark Elwonger.

Legend

Abundance

c - common
u - uncommon
r - rare
i - irregular; not seen every year
x - recorded; accidental or status uncertain
* - confirmed nesting on island

Seasons

Sp - Spring - March-May
S - Summer - June-August
F - Fall - September-November
W - Winter - December-February


LOONS Sp S F W ___ Common Loon u - u u
GREBES Sp S F W ___ Least Grebe - - r r ___ Pied-billed Grebe* c - c c ___ Horned Grebe - - - r ___ Eared Grebe u - c c
TROPICBIRDS Sp S F W ___ White-tailed Tropicbird - - x -
BOOBIES & PELICANS Sp S F W ___ Masked Booby - x - - ___ Northern Gannet x - - x ___ American White Pelican c r c c ___ Brown Pelican c c c u
CORMORANTS Sp S F W ___ Double-crested Cormorant u i c c ___ Neotropic Cormorant r u r r
DARTERS Sp S F W ___ Anhinga x - - -
FRIGATEBIRDS Sp S F W ___ Magnificent Frigatebird r c u i
BITTERNS & HERONS Sp S F W ___ American Bittern u r r u ___ Least Bittern i - - - ___ Great Blue Heron* c c c c ___ Great Egret c c c c ___ Snowy Egret c c c c ___ Little Blue Heron c u c c ___ Tricolored Heron c c c c ___ Reddish Egret c c c c ___ Cattle Egret c c u r ___ Green-backed Heron u u u - ___ Black-crowned Night-Heron c c c c ___ Yellow-crowned Night-Heron u u u u
IBISES & SPOONBILLS Sp S F W ___ White Ibis c c c c ___ White-faced Ibis u r u u ___ Roseate Spoonbill c c c c
STORKS Sp S F W ___ Wood Stork r c r -
DUCKS & GEESE Sp S F W ___ Fulvous Whistling Duck x - - - ___ Black-bellied Whistling Duck* r - r r ___ Greater White-fronted Goose i - i i ___ Snow Goose u - u u ___ Canada Goose u - u u ___ Wood Duck i - i i ___ Green-winged Teal c - c c ___ Mottled Duck* c c c c ___ Mallard r - r r ___ Northern Pintail c - c c ___ Blue-winged Teal* u r u u ___ Cinnamon Teal r - - r ___ Northern Shoveler c - c c ___ Gadwall c - c c ___ American Wigeon c - c c ___ Canvasback r - r r ___ Redhead c r c c ___ Ring-necked Duck r - r r ___ Lesser Scaup c - c c ___ Surf Scoter i i i i ___ Common Goldeneye u - u u ___ Bufflehead c - c c ___ Hooded Merganser u - u u ___ Common Merganser - - - i ___ Red-breasted Merganser u - u u ___ Ruddy Duck u r u c ___ Masked Duck - - - x
VULTURES Sp S F W ___ Black Vulture u u u r ___ Turkey Vulture c c c c
KITES, HAWKS, EAGLES, OSPREYS Sp S F W ___ Osprey r r r r ___ American Swallow-tailed Kite x - - - ___ Black-shouldered Kite* c c c c ___ Mississippi Kite r - r - ___ Northern Harrier c r c c ___ Sharp-shinned Hawk u - u u ___ Cooper's Hawk r - r - ___ Red-shouldered Hawk x - - - ___ Broad-winged Hawk u - u - ___ Swainson's Hawk i - i - ___ White-tailed Hawk* u u u u ___ Red-tailed Hawk u u u u ___ Ferruginous Hawk x - - - ___ Rough-legged Hawk x - - x ___ Golden Eagle x - - -
CARACARAS & FALCONS Sp S F W ___ Crested Caracara* c c c c ___ American Kestrel c - c c ___ Merlin u - u u ___ Peregrine Falcon r i r r
TURKEYS & QUAILS Sp S F W ___ Wild Turkey* u u u u ___ Northern Bobwhite* c c c c
RAILS, GALLINULES & COOTS Sp S F W ___ Yellow Rail r - r r ___ Black Rail - - r r ___ Clapper Rail* c c c c ___ King Rail x - x x ___ Virginia Rail i - i - ___ Sora r - r r ___ Purple Gallinule r r - r ___ Common Moorhen* r r r r ___ American Coot c r c c
CRANES Sp S F W ___ Sandhill Crane c - c c ___ Whooping Crane u - u u
PLOVERS Sp S F W ___ Black-bellied Plover c r c c ___ Lesser Golden Plover r - - - ___ Snowy Plover* u r u u ___ Wilson's Plover* c c c u ___ Semipalmated Plover u u u u ___ Piping Plover u r u u ___ Killdeer* c c c c
OYSTERCATCHERS Sp S F W ___ American Oystercatcher u u u u
STILTS & AVOCETS Sp S F W ___ Black-necked Stilt* c c c - ___ American Avocet* c u c c
SANDPIPERS & PHALAROPES Sp S F W ___ Greater Yellowlegs c u c c ___ Lesser Yellowlegs c u c c ___ Solitary Sandpiper r - r - ___ Willet* c c c c ___ Spotted Sandpiper r r u u ___ Upland Sandpiper u - r - ___ Whimbrel u - i r ___ Long-billed Curlew c u c c ___ Hudsonian Godwit i - - - ___ Marbled Godwit r r r r ___ Ruddy Turnstone c r c c ___ Red Knot r - r r ___ Sanderling c r c c ___ Semipalmated Sandpiper r - r - ___ Western Sandpiper c r c c ___ Least Sandpiper c r c c ___ White-rumped Sandpiper r - r - ___ Baird's Sandpiper r - r - ___ Pectoral Sandpiper u - u r ___ Dunlin c - c c ___ Stilt Sandpiper u - r r ___ Buff-breasted Sandpiper r - r - ___ Ruff x - - - ___ Short-billed Dowitcher u - u u ___ Long-billed Dowitcher c r c c ___ Common Snipe u - u u ___ Wilson's Phalarope c - - - ___ American Woodcock - - - x
GULLS, TERNS & SKIMMERS Sp S F W ___ Pomarine - x - - ___ Laughing Gull* c c c c ___ Franklin's Gull r - r r ___ Bonaparte's Gull r - r u ___ Ring-billed Gull c u c c ___ Herring Gull u u u u ___ Gull-billed Tern u u u - ___ Caspian Tern c c c c ___ Royal Tern c c c c ___ Sandwich Tern c c c u ___ Roseate Tern - x - - ___ Common Tern r - r r ___ Forster's Tern c c c c ___ Least Tern* c c c - ___ Sooty Tern - x - - ___ Black Tern c c u - ___ Black Skimmer* c c c c
PIGEONS & DOVES Sp S F W ___ Rock Dove* r r r r ___ Band-tailed Pigeon x - - - ___ White-winged Dove r - r u ___ Mourning Dove* c c c c ___ Inca Dove r x r - ___ Common Ground-Dove r - r -
CUCKOOS & ANIS Sp S F W ___ Black-billed Cuckoo x - - - ___ Yellow-billed Cuckoo u r u - ___ Groove-billed Ani r r r r
BARN OWLS Sp S F W ___ Barn Owl* u u u u
TYPICAL OWLS Sp S F W ___ Eastern Screech-Owl - - - x ___ Great Horned Owl r r r r ___ Burrowing Owl r - r r ___ Barred Owl - x - - ___ Short-eared Owl u - u u
GOATSUCKERS Sp S F W ___ Lesser Nighthawk x x - - ___ Common Nighthawk* c c u - ___ Pauraque i i i - ___ Chuck-will's-widow r - r - ___ Whip-poor-will r - - -
SWIFTS Sp S F W ___ Chimney Swift r - r -
HUMMINGBIRDS Sp S F W ___ Buff-bellied Hummingbird - - i - ___ Ruby-throated Hummingbird u - u - ___ Black-chinned Hummingbird u - u - ___ Rufous Hummingbird r - r - ___ Allen's Hummingbird r - - -
KINGFISHERS Sp S F W ___ Belted Kingfisher c r c c ___ Green Kingfisher - - x -
WOODPECKERS Sp S F W ___ Red-headed Woodpecker i - i - ___ Yellow-bellied Sapsucker r - - - ___ Ladder-backed Woodpecker x - - - ___ Downy Woodpecker i - i - ___ Hairy Woodpecker i - - - ___ Northern Flicker r - r -
TYRANT FLYCATCHERS Sp S F W ___ Olive-sided Flycatcher r - r - ___ Eastern Wood-Pewee u - r - ___ Yellow-bellied Flycatcher x - x - ___ Acadian Flycatcher r - r - ___ Willow Flycatcher x - - - ___ Least Flycatcher r - r - ___ Eastern Phoebe r - r r ___ Say's Phoebe x - - - ___ Vermilion Flycatcher r r r - ___ Ash-throated Flycatcher r - r - ___ Great Crested Flycatcher r - r - ___ Brown-crested Flycatcher - - x x ___ Western Kingbird r - r - ___ Eastern Kingbird* c c c - ___ Scissor-tailed Flycatcher* c c u -
LARKS Sp S F W ___ Horned Lark c c c c
SWALLOWS Sp S F W ___ Purple Martin* u u u - ___ Tree Swallow u u u - ___ Northern Rough-winged Swallow u u u - ___ Bank Swallow r - r - ___ Cliff Swallow* u u u - ___ Cave Swallow* r r r - ___ Barn Swallow* c c c u
JAYS & CROWS Sp S F W ___ Blue Jay i - i - ___ Chihuahuan Raven x - - -
CREEPERS Sp S F W ___ Brown Creeper - - x -
WRENS Sp S F W ___ Rock Wren i - i i ___ Carolina Wren r r r r ___ Bewick's Wren r r r r ___ House Wren r - u r ___ Winter Wren - - - x ___ Sedge Wren u - u u ___ Marsh Wren r - r r
KINGLETS, GNATCATCHERS, THRUSHES Sp S F W ___ Golden-crowned Kinglet u - u u ___ Ruby-crowned Kinglet u - u u ___ Blue-gray Gnatcatcher u - u - ___ Eastern Bluebird r - r - ___ Veery r - r - ___ Gray-cheeked Thrush r - r - ___ Swainson's Thrush r - r - ___ Hermit Thrush u - u - ___ Wood Thrush u - u - ___ American Robin u - u u
MOCKINGBIRDS & THRASHERS Sp S F W ___ Gray Catbird u - u - ___ Northern Mockingbird* c c c c ___ Brown Thrasher u - u r ___ Long-billed Thrasher r - r - ___ Curve-billed Thrasher r r r -
PIPITS Sp S F W ___ American Pipit u - u u ___ Sprague's Pipit r - r r
WAXWINGS Sp S F W ___ Cedar Waxwing u - u -
SHRIKES Sp S F W ___ Loggerhead Shrike* c c c c
STARLINGS Sp S F W ___ European Starling* u r u r
VIREOS Sp S F W ___ White-eyed Vireo r - - - ___ Solitary Vireo r - - - ___ Yellow-throated Vireo r - - - ___ Warbling Vireo r - - - ___ Philadelphia Vireo r - r - ___ Red-eyed Vireo r - - -
WOOD-WARBLERS Sp S F W ___ Blue-winged Warbler r - r - ___ Golden-winged Warbler r - - - ___ Tennessee Warbler r - r - ___ Orange-crowned Warbler r - r - ___ Nashville Warbler r - r - ___ Northern Parula r - - - ___ Yellow Warbler r - r - ___ Chestnut-sided Warbler r - r - ___ Magnolia Warbler r - r - ___ Yellow-rumped Warbler r - u u ___ Black-throated Gray Warbler r - - - ___ Black-throated Green Warbler r - r - ___ Blackburnian Warbler r - - - ___ Cerulean Warbler r - r - ___ Yellow-throated Warbler r - r - ___ Palm Warbler r - r - ___ Bay-breasted Warbler r - r - ___ Blackpoll Warbler r - r - ___ Black-and-white Warbler u - u - ___ American Redstart u - u - ___ Prothonotary Warbler r - r - ___ Worm-eating Warbler r - r - ___ Swainson's Warbler r - - - ___ Ovenbird r - r - ___ Northern Waterthrush r - r - ___ Louisiana Waterthrush r - r - ___ Kentucky Warbler r - r - ___ Mourning Warbler r - r - ___ Common Yellowthroat r - r - ___ Hooded Warbler r - r - ___ Wilson's Warbler r - r - ___ Canada Warbler r - r - ___ Painted Redstart i - - - ___ Yellow-breasted Chat r - r -
TANAGERS & GROSBEAKS Sp S F W ___ Summer Tanager u - u - ___ Scarlet Tanager u - u - ___ Western Tanager r - r - ___ Northern Cardinal* u u u u ___ Pyrrhuloxia i i i i ___ Rose-breasted Grosbeak u - - - ___ Black-headed Grosbeak r - - - ___ Blue Grosbeak u - u - ___ Indigo Bunting u - u - ___ Painted Bunting* c c u - ___ Dickcissel c u u -
SPARROWS & TOWHEES Sp S F W ___ Green-tailed Towhee - - x - ___ Rufous-sided Towhee i - i - ___ Cassin's Sparrow r - - - ___ Rufous-crowned Sparrow x - - - ___ Chipping Sparrow r - r r ___ Clay-colored Sparrow r - r r ___ Field Sparrow r - r r ___ Vesper Sparrow u - u u ___ Lark Sparrow u r u u ___ Lark Bunting r - r - ___ Savannah Sparrow c - c c ___ Grasshopper Sparrow r - - u ___ Henslow's Sparrow - - - r ___ Le Conte's Sparrow r - - r ___ Sharp-tailed Sparrow r - - r ___ Seaside Sparrow* c c c u ___ Fox Sparrow - - - r ___ Song Sparrow r - r r ___ Lincoln's Sparrow r - r r ___ Swamp Sparrow r - r r ___ White-throated Sparrow r - r r ___ White-crowned Sparrow r - r r ___ Harris Sparrow i - i i ___ Dark-eyed Junco r - r r ___ Chestnut-collared Longspur x - - -
BLACKBIRDS & ORIOLES Sp S F W ___ Bobolink r - r - ___ Red-winged Blackbird* c c c c ___ Eastern Meadowlark* c c c c ___ Western Meadowlark - - - i ___ Yellow-headed Blackbird r - r - ___ Brewer's Blackbird r - r - ___ Great-tailed Grackle* u u - - ___ Boat-tailed Grackle u u u - ___ Common Grackle i - - i ___ Bronzed Cowbird i - - - ___ Brown-headed Cowbird* c c c c ___ Orchard Oriole u - u - ___ Northern Oriole u - u u
FINCHES Sp S F W ___ American Goldfinch r - r r
OLD WORLD FINCHES Sp S F W ___ House Sparrow* r r r r
Citation:

McAlister, Dr. Wayne H., Complier. August 1992.
Birds of Matagorda Island State Park. A field checklist.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Resource Management Section, Austin, Texas.


In 1983, the Texas Legislature created the Special Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Fund. This fund may be used for nongame wildlife and endangered species research and conservation, habitat acquisition and development and dissemination of information pertaining to nongame management. Money for this fund is obtained through private donations and sale of nongame wildlife art prints and stamps. This fund now gives Texans a unique opportunity to help support this state's valuable and sensitive nongame resources. Your individual contributions and purchases of nongame art prints and stamps will help determine the level of nongame conservation activities in Texas. For more information call toll free (1-800-792-1112) or contact:

                 Nongame Endangered Species Program
                 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
                 4200 Smith School Road
                 Austin, Texas 78744

For additional information contact:
                 Refuge Manager
                 Aransas/Matagorda National Wildlife Refuges
                 P.O. Box 100
                 Austwell, Texas 77950
                 Telephone: 512/286-3559

This resource is based on the following source:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1992.  A field checklist of birds of Matagorda 
     Island.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  1992.  A field checklist of birds of Matagorda 
     Island.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: 
     Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     http://www.npwrc.usgs.govmatagora.htm 
     (Version 22MAY98).

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