The birding world is atwitter with news of a rare sighting this week: a variegated flycatcher from South America has decided to spend a few of its vacation days on South Padre Island (the fall really is the best time to visit). The trip is likely a navigational error, but the small, masked bird, which sports a thin brown “moustache,” is the first of its kind to be spotted in Texas, which means birders will soon be swarming the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, where the little visitor has been hanging out.

Most of the birding I do is from my back porch, but I’m beginning to understand why a sighting like this one rouses serious birders to jump in a car or even a plane at a moment’s notice: given how beholden we are to schedules and timetables, there aren’t nearly enough spontaneous excitements in our lives. That said, although you could wait for a rare bird alert (this week’s was an American Birding Association Code 5), why not be the one out in the field who’s the first to spot the next scarcely seen avian wonder?

A chachalaca spied from a viewing blind at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, in Los Fresnos.
A chachalaca spied from a viewing blind at the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, in Los Fresnos.Photograph by Jordan Breal

As fall begins and the central flyway that cuts through Texas gets increasingly crowded with seasonal travelers, consider taking an excursion of your own (premeditated or otherwise) to one of the many birding destinations across the state. Though published in April 1999, Patricia Sharpe’s guide, “Wing Tips,” remains a valuable resource, with day-by-day itineraries for each of seven regions, as well as recommended books and resources. I’ve gone ahead and mapped out the sites she recommends for easy reference. Since Texas is the top birding destination in the country, there are plenty more hotspots to stake out, but these are easily accessible places to start (note: I’ve designated the Rio Grande Valley’s nine World Birding Center locations with orange markers).

If you prefer to flock together with birders of the same feather, you’ll want to add the following fall and winter events to your calendar:

November 2–6, 2016: Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival // Harlingen & various locations The SXSW of the birding world brings together hundreds of badge-wearing participants who come for the keynotes, workshops, seminars, and field trips, and stay for the camaraderie and networking.

Through December 17, 2016: “Flights of Fancy: Birds and Birding in South Texas” // Victoria This special exhibit at the Museum of the Coastal Bend intertwines various ornithological specimens and historical artifacts with American modernist Charley Harper’s wildlife art.

February 8–11, 2017: Laredo Birding Festival Professional guides will lead full-day field trips (some via kayak), along Laredo’s river front, creeks, trails, and private ranchland.

February 23–28, 2017: Whooping Crane Festival // Port Aransas First, read “Ruffled Feathers,” Sonia Smith’s recent story on the plight of two of the state’s endangered whoopers. Then, sign up for this annual festival, to learn even more from the whooping crane speakers and experts who give talks on current whooping crane conservation efforts and reintroduction programs. And, in addition to seeing the graceful birds for yourself during the festival’s various field trips, you can attend photography exhibits and painting classes too.

Various dates & locations: Texas Parks and Wildlife birding-centric events. From the Hawk Watch at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park to the weekly Birding Walk in the Park at the Davis Mountains State Park, these are ideal for the birding novices.

San Benito–based birding guide Michael Marsden looks out over Gator Pond at Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge.
San Benito–based birding guide Michael Marsden looks out over Gator Pond at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge.Photograph by Jordan Breal

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