Sabine Woods: A Magical Place
Meet Dania Sanchez, one of our favorite local birders. On any given day, you can find her at Sabine Woods with her camera or talking to locals about her love of birding and photography. Nature has fascinated her since she was little. She’s read Thoreau’s “Walden” five times. Surprise, she just became an enthusiast during lockdown, when so many turned to nature. Read about her journey toward nature – we hope it happens to you!
Sanchez says she came upon a “magical place,” the oak mott of Sabine Woods. The local Audubon Society maintains this birding hot spot for Texas Ornithological Society. It’s the first land birds see as they migrate across the ocean and Gulf of Mexico in spring. They’re hungry and stay a while to feed, rest and continue north. Spring migration draws colorful warblers that attract birders from all over. The birds migrate back in the fall.
One With Nature in “Hidden” Woods
“Never would I have imagined that a deep wooded piece of land in Sabine Pass would become the one place I can feel like I am myself and one with nature,” Sanchez says.
She reached out to the Audubon Society, showed up at the woods, paid her dues and “the rest is history in the making,” she says. That day birders were prepping the sprawling area – full of dipping oaks, ponds and drips and mulberry patches – for migration and shared stories, but Sanchez was not immediately “sold.”
“I was not impressed and still didn’t get the big deal. I’ve seen birds before, every day in fact especially at the grocery store parking lot and the local landfill. But it’s not until you experience it that you will understand why visitors from all over the world visit this hot spot we love to call Sabine Woods,” she said.
Even finding the area can be tricky. Headed to Sea Rim State Park? Look to the right, before you get to the beach entrance. If you blink, you could miss Sabine Woods. Just look for the sign on the gate, Sanchez says.
“There are countless trees, native plants and flowers attracting beautiful butterflies of all colors and sizes.”
“As I watched my steps it all started with an armadillo to my left, then a garter snake followed by the sounds of a bull frogs all around and across from me a racoon taking a nap on a tree. As you keep walking further you will feel something is watching you: the alligators, rabbits and the turtles. I felt like I was in a zoo without cages or guardrails. It felt so adventurous and risky, and I’ve never been so close to or seen an alligator in its natural habitat,” she says.
“Bigger Than Myself”
The woods opened up to Sanchez. “I felt something I have never felt before, welcomed like I was a part of something bigger than myself. A week later I show up with my camera and a lot of curiosity,” she says.
On a cold, overcast day, she felt peaceful.
“A few birders from up north were there and drum roll please, a blue bird on a rock drinking water. I have never seen a blue bird and I did what you should not do. I ran to take a picture of it and scared it away. The birder across from the pond looked at me like I had committed a crime. This was my quick crash course and lesson on birding etiquette, he walked away and I was left there at Howard’s drip disappointed, ashamed and alone again. Ten minutes later I heard chirping and here comes one blue bird, two blue birds, three blue birds. Wait is that a yellow and blue bird? Oh no a yellow and black one!”
“In the dark gloomy little pond cartoon like birds big and small dropped in. They were so colorful they glowed with happiness as they bathed and politely took turns to splash in the cool water of Howard’s Drip. Did I die? Am I in Heaven? Have I become Port Arthur’s Snow White or Cinderella? It’s like they came to comfort me and tell me it’s going to be okay. I didn’t have much experience with my camera, but I took the shot. When I got home and brought up the picture on my laptop, I knew my life would never be the same. Realization struck. I am a birder or maybe a bird paparazzi, and I just experienced my first Spring Migration!
“A year later I have learned that these birds, in combination with our local native wildlife, fill Sabine Woods with hundreds of pitches and melodies throughout the year,” Sanchez says. “This wooded habitat is no longer scary– it is astonishing and breathtaking. Busy wings fluttering left and right up and down, climbing, foraging, perching and most importantly recovering from one long flight. They indulge in the delicacy of berries, insects, worms and a good bath; true definition of a resort on the Gulf of Mexico for wildlife.
The best way I can describe it is Christmas lights of all colors lighting up the trees around me. I don’t know which bird is male or female or which one is migratory and which one is not, but I know that there is someone there always sharing stories and educating us on the wonderful world of birding in Port Arthur, Texas.
Sanchez says she previously thought of birds in parking lots, back yards and on power lines. Now she considers her outdoor excursions as exercise, relaxation and therapy.
“Sabine Woods has taught me how to observe better, take my time and be patient as there is so much beauty around us.”
“Today I can tell you that my face shines with a huge smile at the sight of a warbler, I giggle with joy when I spot a Baltimore oriole and do a little dance when I come across a painted bunting. My heart might skip a beat if I spot any grosbeaks. Nothing compares to what I have lived at Sabine Woods, because it never disappoints,” she says.
No birds? You might see a butterfly, or a baby armadillo at the corner of your eye without even knowing that right above your head rests a Chuck-Wills-Widow or a Great Horned Owl. For those that are now curious too, I would like to invite you to take advantage of this beautiful experience. Whether you are a local, a world known photographer, an enthusiast or an official birder, I guarantee you will come across something that will inspire you and bring a smile to your face.
Join the Flock and Visitor Tips
Bring your friends, children, grandchildren and share this wonderful experience today help us welcome these migratory birds and wildlife to our little neck of the woods and wave goodbye to them at the end of the day as they continue their journey to their destination up north. Another important element I would like to share is that volunteers and Audubon members as well as the Texas Ornithological Society work hard every day to maintain the integrity of this natural habitat so here are a few things to know if you decide to stop by and enjoy this experience. Here are Dania’s suggestions for enjoying Sabine Woods:
- Pick up your own trash; there are no cans
- During migration season, portable potties are available
- Bring lunch, good hydration and mosquito spray
- Wear light colored clothes, long sleeve, loose pants, and insect repellent of your choice and even mosquito nets for your face might help.
- We do not feed birds or wildlife here as you may see on some other parks.
- Be courteous of photographers, birders, and respectful of the areas that are roped to protect the wildlife. To visit for one day, it is $10 a person, or free with an Audubon or TOS membership.
- We trust you to use the scan code at the front to pay your fee. If you wish to become a Golden Triangle Audubon member and want to visit us more than one day you may benefit as your membership allows you to come all year long and it is covered by your annual fee.
- Parking might be challenging, we are trying to work with sponsors and community leaders to help improve the parking situation so please be safe on the highway and early bird gets the worm and parking spot.
Whether you like migratory birds, local birds or shore birds we welcome you to Sabine Woods every day of the week Sunrise to Sunset. Happy Bird Migration 2023 in Southeast Texas and don’t forget to visit Port Arthur!
You Can Bird Port Arthur, Too!
We’re part of the Central and Mississippi flyway, meaning spring and fall migration is photo and memory worthy. This area has woods, coastline and marsh habitat that draws shore birds, wading birds and warblers. Download our free guide and look around at some of our habitats here.
Dania Sanchez is an ambassador for the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce and is a passionate advocate for conservation and the outdoors. She is currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in Industrial Technology. For more about Dania, her birding adventures and photography inquires, follow her here.