Some time back we visited some friends on South Padre Island, Texas., known for many things, including good birding spots. Like so many other places with a beach the natural environment has been bulldozed, paved, and covered with condos, T-shirt and surf shops, water parks, and seafood restaurants. But of course the plethora of brochures available at the local visitor’s bureau, chamber of commerce, and foyer of condominiums advertise the amazing wildlife and outdoors of South Padre Island: dolphin watching tours, bird watching, parasailing, fishing, kiteboarding, and boating. Part of the rest of Padre Island, a 113 mile barrier island, is reserved as the Padre Island National Seashore which, unfortunately, we didn’t get to visit.
South Padre Island is a resort town in Cameron County, Texas. The population was 2,816 at the 2010 census. The town is located on South Padre Island, a barrier island along the Texas Gulf Coast accessible via the Queen Isabella Causeway from the town of Port Isabel. South Padre Island is named after José Nicolás Ballí (Padre Ballí), a Catholic priest and settler.
South Padre Island is a crucial first landfall – a lifesaver – for birds making an arduous cross-Gulf migration from Southern Mexico and northern Central America. Especially after a spring storm, wooded lots of the island teem with an eye-popping rainbow of warblers, tanagers, orioles and thrushes. Wetlands harbor a range of shorebirds and waterfowl, while endangered species such as the Brown Pelican, Piping Plover and Peregrine Falcon may be found here as well. There is a bird watching center on South Padre adjacent to several acres of wetlands where we saw Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, Great-tailed Grackles, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibises, Willets, Long-billed Curlews, Redheads and other species we have not seen in a long while. They all seemed habituated to human activity.The nature center offers more than 3,300 linear feet of boardwalk, five bird blinds, and a five story tower with spectacular views of the Laguna Madre, beaches and dunes of South Padre Island, The Gulf of Mexico and the South Padre Island skyline. The auditorium features movies and the Nature Gift Store is available for the usual kitsch. The center showed a 20 minute video extolling the nature of South Padre. The visuals were pretty good but the narrator spoke so fast and loud and non-stop I thought it was a commercial for a Ronco Veg-o-Matic. Nature films ought to have a few moments of silence so that the viewer can absorb the scenes in peace.
The birding center had a boardwalk that meandered through much of the 50 acres of wetlands. It was worth the $5.00 they charged. You can also visit the dolphin center and sea turtle center for $3.00 each. Reasonable prices and these centers do good work in educating the public. But I always find it ironic that we humans wipe out the habitat and then create parks, reserves, and rescue centers to preserve and protect what is left. We got it backwards.