As I headed south on Thursday afternoon, my intention was to go into Brownsville, get a room, and check out the mouth of the Rio Grande at Boca Chica. Sometimes, the angel on my shoulder can gently get me to change direction. When I got to the turn-off to South Padre Island, a whisper told me to turn left and go over the bridge. I did so, and was rewarded with an affordable motel room at Island Inn, and visits to both the western, or Laguna Madre side of the island, and to the eastern, or Gulf side.
South Padre Island was detached from the rest of the barrier island by the dredging of Port Mansfield Channel in 1964. It’s relative isolation spurred economic development as a beach resort. The presence of condominiums along the Gulf side increases the risk of hurricane-induced damage, both to the structures and to the sand dunes that lie in from the shore.
The island is nonetheless captivating, though, and I spent about an hour Thursday afternoon , and two hours on Friday morning, taking in the SPI Birding Station and Wildlife Sanctuary and its attendant boardwalk, which takes the visitor out onto platforms overlooking serene Laguna Madre, on the bay side of the island.
Birds, fish, crustaceans and four American alligators, may be seen below the boardwalk, at work and at play.
The facility is a five-story wonder.
Here is a view of the Boardwalk, which juts out into Laguna Madre. There are 7 viewing platforms and 8 sections of Boardwalk, overlooking both bay and marsh.
Pintails like both marsh and bay.
Alligators have found their way to South Padre. A family of four is here now, with more eggs preparing to hatch.
Great blue herons, gallinules and egrets top the list of shore birds who enthrall birders by the dozens.
The glistening bay may be appreciated, both at eye level, and from the fifth floor lookout.
With all of South Padre Island’s natural wonders, the greatest and dearest wonder is the strength of its people. The community has organized a Memorial Park, just north of the Birding Station. Great local leaders, and lost youths, are commemorated here.
Among the fallen, Alyson Marie Knight, 18 at the time of her passing, stood out to me.
I trust the people of this beautiful island may always have Alyson’s stars to hold.
Next, Day 8, Part 2, Andy Bowie Beach Park and Boca Chica