2021-02-08 South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center

Reddish Egret - Egretta rufescens
Reddish Egrets fared well in the mangrove lined shallows of Laguna Madre. There are wetlands that the South Padre Island Convention Centre (free access) and the Birding & Nature Center (admission fee required) share. My previous visits to the wetlands had been to the Convention Centre. On this day I would find out why folks pay money to see the marsh, when there is free access next door.

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center is part of a network of birding meccas in south Texas, collectively called the “World Birding Center”. It sits next door to the Convention Centre, which I love, and so I’ve not bothered to pay my fees to enter its grounds. On Monday, with my time in Brownsville winding down, I thought I should investigate this site, and see what all the fuss was about.

The Nature Center sports 5/8th of a mile of elevated boardwalks that traverse 40 or 50 acres of wetlands. A nearby water treatment facility discharges freshwater into the marsh, which eventually flows through a forest of Black Mangrove into the shallow waters of Laguna Madre. Habitats bordering both fresh and saltwater can support a rich biosphere where plants and creatures come together and build vibrant, living communities.

While here, I met the following life-forms: American Alligator, American Wigeon, Black-Bellied Plover, Black-Necked Stilt, Black Skimmer, Blue-Winged Teal, Caspian Tern, Clapper Rail, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Great Kiskadee, Green Heron, Laughing Gull, Little Blue Heron, Mottled Duck, Striped Mullet, Neotropic Cormorant, Northern Pintail, Pied-Billed Grebe, Reddish Egret, Redhead, Red-Winged Blackbird, Ring-Billed Gull, Roseate Spoonbill, Snowy Egret, Spotted Sandpiper, Tricolored Heron, White Ibis, Willet, and Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

One of my favorite moments on the marsh was meeting a Clapper Rail. In their ongoing effort to confuse birders and put their own stamps on the world we live, the AOS (formerly AOU) renamed our southern California Light-Footed Clapper Rail to Ridgeway’s Rail. In fact, they renamed all the former members of this clan, except those found here in coastal Texas and the rest of the eastern seaboard. We still call these birds Clapper Rails. [I had to look this stuff up!]

Other experiences I enjoyed were meeting adult Roseate Spoonbills, coming into their breeding attire. How different they are from the juveniles I met last spring along the Gulf coast! Watching Black-Skimmers at work on the water was also fun for me. I’ve not met them on clear, glassy waters while in Texas, like I have in southern California.

A couple of birds I would have liked to catch eluded my camera. One was a Mangrove Warbler that teased me with a brief appearance in the mangroves at the margin of Laguna Madre. Several of us waited in vain, hoping to get an encore. The other birds I saw were Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons that flew into the marsh and settled into a stand of cattails, taking up a position impossible to get a line-of-sight view <sigh>.

So was it worth the price of admission? Absolutely! Will I give up visiting the Convention Centre now that I explored these grounds? Not-a-chance! Would I visit here again? You bet!

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