Gibbons Creek / Reservoir / Carlos Lake

Bert Frenz, 1998-99

Gibbons Creek is my favorite place to bird within a short drive of College Station. The diverse habitat, ranging from duck ponds and a large lake to marshes, prairies and woodlands, offers a great variety of bird species. In winter, I often see more than 70 species in a single day and on several occasions have seen over 80. The Gibbons Creek Christmas Bird Count, which centers on Hwy 30 between Carlos and Roans Prairie, routinely exceeds 100 species and reached 118 in 1987 and 113 in 1995. Gibbons Creek Reservoir offers Bald Eagle, Osprey, hundreds of Black Vultures and American White Pelicans and thousands of Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants. The reservoir has offered unusual sightings of Red Phalarope, Red-breasted Merganser, Eared and Horned Grebes, Common Loon and many more rarities.

From Texas Avenue, head east on University Dr. past the Hwy 6 bypass. Turn right onto FR 158 (East) and continue as it combines with Texas 30. Continue east on 30 for about 14 miles until you reach the one-store town of Carlos. Turn left on to FR 244 North and drive only 0.2 mile; then turn right to the entrance to Gibbons Creek Reservoir. You will come to Carlos Lake about a half-mile along the reservoir access road.

Carlos Lake is actually a large tank upheld by an embankment that also forms the road, but unlike many Texas tanks this body of water provides excellent habitat for waterfowl. In summer it harbors Wood Ducks and occasional rare ducks such as Gadwall seen one 4th of July. In fall, White Ibis linger along the shore.  In winter it supports hundreds of ducks including Ring-necked, Lesser Scaup, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Green-winged Teal (in the swallow water at the far right end), Northern Shoveler, Ruddy Duck, Canvasback, Northern Pintail and sometimes Redhead. Pied-billed Grebes swim among the ducks and herons frequent the shoreline. If you arrive at dawn or stay till dusk you have almost a 100% chance of hearing Great-Horned Owl during one or both of the twilight periods. The small woods on the left, just beyond the dam, is a good spot for passerines, including an occasional Golden-crowned Kinglet. The area is posted by TMPA, probably more for the benefit of hunters and fishermen, but you can get permission from the agency to enter the area. At the shoreline next to the woods you can find Swamp Sparrow and usually Marsh Wren. Look for a wide variety of sparrows in the open field and in the cleared off land between the woods and the road. Combining the various Carlos Lake habitats, it is fairly easy to list nine sparrow species in under one hour.

Continue on the road, turning right after the high fence (locked on Wednesdays) and go to the fee station managed by TMPA. Usually birders do not have to pay the entrance fee, but the policy seems to change on the whim of whichever attendant is on duty. Past the fee station, drive slowly along the dam. If the water passing over the outlet is low and the concrete base is exposed, shore birds often congregate at this spot. In migration it is a good source for sandpipers, including Least, Western, White-rumped, Baird’s and Pectoral. From the dam you can see Least Sandpipers, American Pipits, and Spotted Sandpipers at water’s edge and get a good perspective of open water species such as American White Pelican, Bonaparte’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Forster’s Tern and usually one to three Osprey. Among the thousands of cormorants on the reservoir, perhaps 80-90% are Double-crested and the rest are Neotropic. At the corner where the road bends left, a few Mallards are winter residents. To the right, hawks frequent the open fields, most notably Northern Harrier and American Kestrel. At the wooded picnic area on the left look for woodpeckers, including Red-headed, Red-bellied, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Northern Flicker. Pileated Woodpeckers can be heard and sometimes seen at the woods beyond the boat launch and open field that supports differing bird life depending on the water table. When dry, look for Grasshopper Sparrows and listen for Western Meadowlarks. When wet, you can find Le Conte’s Sparrows, Sedge Wrens and Common Snipe. In either condition, the predominant species is Savannah Sparrow. The open bay adjacent to the field is one of the best spots to find a Bald Eagle soaring high above the water.  If you have a canoe or boat, you have a good chance of finding Red-headed Woodpeckers along the shoreline.

TMPA manages thousands of acres in the vicinity of Gibbons Creek Reservoir, much of which was used for strip mining in the past, but now is contoured, planted and has many small lakes added. The area is a haven for Nutria, Alligator, Racoons, dozens of Anhinga and Northern Harriers, hundreds of White-tailed Deer and Feral Hogs, thousands of ducks (adding Cinnamon Teal, Hooded Merganser and Wood Duck to the winter list) and thousands of Savannah Sparrows. Access to this area and its spectacular wildlife is restricted, but can sometimes be arranged for field trips through permission of the environmental department of TMPA. Rio Brazos Audubon Society usually sponsors a field trip in December of each year and the area is included in the annual Gibbons Creek Christmas Bird Count.

Species List

Common Loon, Pied-billed Grebe, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, American White Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Cattle Egret, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Greater White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Mississippi Kite, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, Northern Bobwhite, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Common Snipe, American Woodcock, Red-necked Phalarope, Franklin's Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Forster's Tern, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Barn Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Belted Kingfisher, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Pileated Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Blue-headed Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Barn Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Red-breasted Nuthatch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Carolina Wren, Bewick's Wren, House Wren, Winter Wren, Sedge Wren, Marsh Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, Northern Mockingbird, Sage Thrasher, Brown Thrasher, European Starling, American Pipit, Sprague's Pipit, Cedar Waxwing, Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Parula, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, Summer Tanager, Spotted Towhee, Eastern Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Le Conte's Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln's Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow White-crowned Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Western Meadowlark, Rusty Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Common Grackle, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Purple Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow.  (171 species).