Located on the Upper Texas coast, northeast of Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula is essentially a washover bar separating Galveston Bay to the north, from the Gulf of Mexico to the south. At the southern end is the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary, 1,146 acres consisting of coastal beach with mudflats and this is the prime birding spot on the peninsula. The beach was extensively damaged by Hurricane Ike in Sept. 2008, but is recovering well. Other nearby spots on the tip of Bolivar Peninsula (all west of Retillon Rd) are also birdy, including French Town Road, Fort Travis Seashore park, ferry landing at tip of peninsula. Horseshoe Marsh and Munday Marsh Bird Sanctuaries are also nearby.
The Bolivar Peninsula is on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, site nos. UTC 56-60. See External Links.1
Long species lists are turned up here each month. For example 100 species were seen in 4 of the last 12 months. Minimum number of species was 73. Each monthly count was only over a 3 hour period in a relatively small area by less than 10 participants.
Birds you can see here include:
Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Ross's Goose, Canada Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal,Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, King Eider,Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Eared Grebe, Wood Stork, Magnificent Frigatebird, Northern Gannet, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, American White Pelican, Brown Pelican, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Cattle Egret, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Bald Eagle, White-tailed Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Black Rail, Clapper Rail, King Rail, Virginia Rail, Sora, Purple Gallinule, Common Gallinule, American Coot, American Golden Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Wilson's Plover, Piping Plover, Snowy Plover, Killdeer, American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, American Avocet, Spotted Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Lesser Yellowlegs, Upland Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Long-billed Curlew, Hudsonian Godwit, Marbled Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper,White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson's Phalarope, Wilson's Snipe, Bonaparte's Gull, Laughing Gull, Franklin's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, American Herring Gull, Least Tern, Gull-billed Tern, Caspian Tern, Black Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Royal Tern, Sandwich Tern, Black Skimmer, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Burrowing Owl, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Wood Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Horned Lark, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, House Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Carolina Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, American Robin, Gray Catbird, Northern Mockingbird, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, American Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Black-and-white Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Common Grackle, Boat-tailed Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow
329 species reported from Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary (see External Links)
Coyote, bobcat, racoon, possum, spotted ground squirrel, kangaroo rat, nutria, American alligator, Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and several other snakes, various reptiles and amphibians, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, butterflies, dragonflies and many other insects.
History and Use
In 1816 the Bolivar Peninsula was named for Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the Venezuelan military and political leader.
The Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary was first established in the late 1980's, with the permission of Galveston County. The beach was closed to vehicles with the building of a vehicular barrier. Over the years more land was acquired and the sanctuary is now 1,146 acres in size. The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network recognizes it as a site of hemispheric importance, and National Audubon Society and Birdlife International, as an Important Bird Area.
Areas of Interest
- Every third Saturday a species count occurs at Bolivar Flats, sponsored by Houston Audubon, which is an excellent way for visitors to learn from local experts. It begins at 8am at the ferry landing.
- During Spring migration (mid-March to mid-May) there are volunteers at Bolivar Flats, with spotting scopes, to help visitors with shorebird identification.
- Horseshoe Marsh Bird Sanctuary
- Rollover Pass
Access and Facilities
You can drive right up to the ocean's edge on the flats themselves but take care not to get stuck in the mud.
- From Houston take I-45 South to Galveston. In town I-45 turns into Broadway. Follow Broadway to Seawall Boulevard. Turn left on Seawall. Turn left on Ferry Road to the terminal (ferry is free of charge). You will exit the ferry on Hwy. 87. Follow this for 3.7 miles to Retillon Road. Turn right and drive to the beach. Turn right on the beach and drive on the beach to the vehicular barricade where you may park.
- From Fifth Street in High Island, turn left onto Hwy. 124. Go to the stop sign. Turn right on to Hwy. 87 and it is about 25 miles to Retillon Road. Turn left on Retillon and drive to the beach. Turn right on the beach and drive on the beach to the vehicular barricade where you may park.
- Driving along the beach is free, but parking permits are required if you intend to park anywhere on the beach. To visit the shorebird sanctuary, you must park at the vehicular barrier and enter the sanctuary on foot. The permit fee is $10 a year and permits are available from most stores and real estate agents on the peninsula, or by contacting the Galveston County Parks Department in advance of your trip: Galveston County Parks Department, Tel: 409-934-8100. See the Galveston County website for more information.
Houston Audubon Society
440 Wilchester Blvd.
Houston, TX 77079
Email: [email protected]
- Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary
- Horseshoe Marsh Sanctuary
- Mundy Marsh Bird Sanctuary
- Link to bar chart of 329 species seen in the Bolivar Flats area (per eBird)
- Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail - Bolivar Loop
Content and images posted by bernerjc and HelenB
bernerjc's review top spot on the Upper Texas Coast for shorebirds. free. Only downside is hard to get to from Galveston /Houston. Must take car ferry which is fast in winter but requires long waits in the spring/summer during middle of day