South Padre Island Loop
- South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 767-2373, www.sopadre.com
South Padre Island
From Port Isabel, continue east on TX 100 across the Queen Isabella Causeway to South Padre Island (SPI). Once on the Island, go north on Park Road (PR) 100/ SPI Boulevard to the end of the pavement and the undeveloped portion of South Padre Island. The beach is accessible at Beach Access #6, and at low tide a four-wheel drive vehicle may continue north to the Mansfield Cut. This stretch of beach has produced a number of rare gulls, terns, and pelagic species. Peregrine Falcons are common in winter and migration, and shorebirds such as Snowy and Piping Plovers are easy to find feeding along the water's edge.
South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center
Return south on PR 100 to Orca Circle and the SPI Convention Centre. Begin by walking around the convention center's native gardens. During migration these plantings can harbor impressive numbers of migrating birds. As you pass the south side of the convention center, be sure to enjoy The Whaling Wall #53, painted on the convention center by noted artist Wyland.
Continue to the Laguna Madre Nature Trail boardwalk that extends from the parking lot of the convention center to the Laguna Madre. The marsh here grades from fresh to salt and is an excellent place to see all of the regularly occurring rails. Virginia Rail and Sora winter in this marsh, and Clapper Rail is resident. Depending on the season, watch for Marsh Wren (year round), Swamp Sparrow (winter), and Least Bittern (summer).
Spi Birding and Nature Center
Be sure to visit the SPI Birding and Nature Center, SPI's World Birding Center site that is connected to the convention center by boardwalks but with separate parking and a small museum. Return to PR 100 heading south to the entrance to the SPI Birding and Nature Center. Observe the birds, butterflies and natural wildlife in coastal South Texas by exploring the center's bayfront boardwalks, seven bird blinds, and five-story tower with spectacular views of Laguna Madre, beaches and dunes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the town skyline. Also, be sure to visit the auditorium showing a short movie about the wildlife of the island.
(956) 243-8179 www.spibirding.com
Valley Land Fund Migratory Bird Sanctuar
Continue south on PR 100 to W. Sheepshead. Turn west (right) and continue to the Valley Land Fund sign. The Valley Land Fund owns six wooded lots in this area that have been improved for migratory landbirds. During migrations (particularly spring) these wooded lots on South Padre may be every bit as productive as High Island (UTC 051 _ 055) or Packery Channel (CTC 062). Casa Mariposa Boutique Guest House is located directly behind the Sheepshead lots for birders seeking lodging (956) 778-6095 (www.casamariposaspi.com).
(956) 686-6429 www.valleylandfund.com
SPI Gateway Project
Continue south on PR 100 to the Queen Isabella Causeway. The City of South Padre Island has constructed a trail to access the mangroves and tidal flats at the base of the causeway. This paved walkway traverses the flats on the south side of the causeway, curves under it, then crosses the flats on the north side to connect with a sidewalk system that continues north on the island. Shorebirds, gulls, and terns roost on these flats, making this trail system an excellent opportunity to study these birds. Parking is available in the cross street between the east and west bound lanes of the causeway approach by the statue of Padre Ball'. The exotic plantings in the median can also teem with migrants during spring and fall.
Isla Blanca County Park
Continue south on PR 100 to its end at Isla Blanca County Park. The entry fee covers a daily permit that includes Adolph Thomae Jr. County Park (LTC 022) and all other Cameron County parks. Once in the park proceed to the jetties at its south end, scan the offshore waters for pelagic birds such as Northern Gannet and Magnificent Frigatebird. These along with additional species such as Bridled Tern and Cory's Shearwater are better seen on a pelagic trip. Bonaparte's Gulls are regular here in winter.
As you leave the jetties, stop by the University of Texas_Pan American Coastal Studies Lab southwest of the Sandpiper Pavilion. Their aquariums and displays are open from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Return north on PR 100 to the Queen Isabella Causeway.
(956) 761-5494 www.co.cameron.tx.us/parks/isla_blanca.htm