The Rio Grande Valley's Nature Site

Photos of South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center-WBC

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  The whole of Padre Island is ~130 miles long, and it is the longest barrier island in the world, separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Laguna Madre.  Padre Island is made up of North Padre Island, which is ~ 26 miles long and runs south from Corpus Christi's south jetty to the Padre Island National Seashore.  Padre Island National Seashore then begins south for an additional 70 miles to the artificial Port Mansfield Cut, where jetties were built in 1964, separating Padre Island into two parts. 

South Padre Island (SPI), in Cameron County, begins at the Port Mansfield Cut and goes south for ~34 miles, until it reaches the Port of Brownsville's north jetty.  The entire length of SPI is very narrow.  Padre Island had its first European settlement in 1804, when Catholic priest, Padre Jose Nicolas Balli, for which Padre Island was named, founded a ranch settlement ~26 miles north of the southernmost tip of SPI.  

In modern times, the population and businesses remained relatively low until 1974, when the four-lane, ~2.5 mile long, Queen Isabella Causeway (the longest bridge in Texas, by the way) was built.  Now, the Island is well known as a fantastic vacation resort, and "the" place to come for Spring Break.  Beach lovers and tourists find that South Padre Island has the whitest sands in all of Texas' beaches. 

Wildlife watchers have been coming to the Island for many years, in search of birds, primarily, and these nature-tourists come by the thousands.     

The ribbon-cutting for the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center-WBC was held on 9/26/2009, after a long delay due to Hurricane Dolly in 2008, and several million dollars having been spent on the Birding Center.  It is connected to the SPI Convention Center, which thousands of birders are familiar with, by almost a mile of boardwalk. 

The Center is on 50 acres of designed habitat that separates the shallow Laguna Madre from the Gulf of Mexico, and is a microcosm of SPI habitats:  dune meadows, both natural salt marshes and artificial freshwater marshes.  It has 4800 ft. (or 0.9 miles) of connected boardwalks, 7 shaded bird blinds, a five-story tall Birding Tower, fabulously landscaped water-features, and a beautiful Butterfly Garden. 

Inside, the Center contains a large, nature-oriented gift shop, a large meeting room, information desk, restrooms, elevator, and a grand staircase on the first floor.  Outside the first floor are several, beautiful, shaded, round tables overlooking the marsh; and this beautiful deck is the start of the boardwalks. 

On the second floor are the Center's offices, more restrooms, and absolutely spectacular nature-interpretive exhibits, as well as educational, interactive exhibits of the nature of the Island.  These remarkable exhibits are the best in all of the LRGV and rival any similar exhibits on the entire Texas Coast.  Just outside of the second floor is a deck and stairs that take you to the top of the Birding Tower (if you don't want to climb the stairs, the elevator is available). 

Fees are nominal and consistent with the other eight World Birding Center sites in the LRGV. 

The Butterfly Garden, all Boardwalks, and everything on the inside are handicapped-accessible.

Getting to South Padre Island and the Birding and Nature Center-WBC is easy.  From Harlingen, where the two U.S. highways meet, go south to the intersection of US-77S/US-83S and TX-100 (where TX-100 begins and goes east).  This intersection (11-12 miles south of Harlingen) is between  the communities of San Benito and Rancho Viejo.  Take TX-100 east for ~24 miles to the base of the Queen Isabella Causeway at Port Isabel.  You will have driven through the communities of Los Fresnos, Laguna Heights, and Port Isabel (obey the speed limits).  Continue east on TX-100 and the Queen Isabella Causeway, across the Laguna Madre to South Padre Island.  Turn left, and the now Park Road-100 (or P-100) becomes Padre Blvd.  Go ~3.9 miles north on Padre Blvd. (towards the tall, blue water tower) and turn left into the entrance of the Center.  That's it; couldn't be easier!

The Birding and Nature Center can be reached at SPI Birding and Nature Center, 6801 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island, TX 78597.  Phone:  956-243-8179.


The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is definitely a "must see" site, when you visit the Lower Rio Grande Valley. 


Port Isabel's Lighthouse Museum is near the base of the Queen Isabella Causeway and is a fun place to visit.  You can go to the top and get a great view of the Laguna Madre.  There are other, very interesting museums in Port Isabel.


When crossing the QIC, do, indeed, be aware that Brown Pelicans fly low over the bridge (as the yellow blinking lights warn).  Ospreys are often seen perched on pilings in the Laguna Madre.


Think about being in the left lane as you come across the QIC to the Island and slow down as you near the Island.  There are a couple of safe places to pull over, stop, and get out to search the landscaped vegetation for migrant birds.  Also, you will see that after you come onto the Island, and the road bends to the left towards the traffic light (where P-100 begins to be Padre Blvd.) the north-bound and south-bound lanes are separated by ~ 50 yards of landscaped esplanade. 

Consider tuning right at the traffic light and park at the strip-shopping center, walk back to the traffic light, and carefully cross the street to go bird the esplanade.  Most folks don't do this, but you can often see migrant birds throughout the landscaped esplanade.


After a short, less than 4 mile drive north, through downtown SPI, you come to the Birding and Nature Center on your left.  The blue water-tower is a good landmark as you near the Center.  Beside the Birding and Nature Center is SPI's water treatment plant (which supplies the freshwater inflow into the Center's northern marshes).  Just a few more yards north of this Entrance is the turn into the South Padre Island Convention Center.


As soon as you turn into the Entrance, you see how stunning the Birding and Nature Center is.  The beautiful building, landscaped water-features, white-railed boardwalks that start near the Entrance and go around the water-treatment facility towards the Laguna Madre , marshes on the left and right, newly planted trees and shrubs, hundreds of parking spaces, and the Convention Center to your right, all let you know that you have reached a very special place in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.


After you park, take a moment to walk to the beautiful Water-feature near the Entrance.  You might be surprised to see bathing warblers at the high waterfalls or the LRGV's native Buff-bellied Hummingbird.


On this visit,  a couple of Buff-bellied Hummingbirds were hawking insects on the Entrance Water-feature's back side.


Close to the entrance to the building, you see the back side of another stunning Water-feature.


The wide, paved walkway leads you over a bridge towards the entrance to the Birding and Nature Center.


Immediately to your left is the backside of the fantastically landscaped Water-feature, whose high falls drop into the pond.  A Northern Waterthrush was feeding at the falls on this mid-May visit.


Almost at the front doors of the Center and to your left, begins the Butterfly Garden, which is filled with native, butterfly and hummingbird nectaring plants.  Stroll towards the two resting-boulders and search for butterflies, watch for hummingbirds, and enjoy the calls of the waders and moorhens from the salt marshes.


At the resting-boulders, the Butterfly Garden bends to the west beside the Center and continues towards two more resting-boulders.  Butterflies are being seen on both sides of the wide, gravel path.


Be sure to make note of the many species of native plants.


Have a seat on the boulders, even this close to the feeder, and it is likely that Buff-bellied, Black-chinned or Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be seen.  Pause and search the flats for shorebirds and waders.


A view back towards the Water-feature.  By the way, there is another flower bed that has been planted for butterflies, just outside and to the right of the Center's back doors.  You can also walk south on the back Deck and look down into this Butterfly Garden.


As soon as you enter the front doors, you will see Restrooms (absolutely among the cleanest on the Island) and the Information Desk on your left.  Volunteers at the Information Desk can answer all the questions you might have and will direct you to the Gift Shop to pay the nominal entrance fee or show your passes.


Directly behind you on the First Floor, is the Grand Stairway to the Second Floor, the Gift Shop, Meeting Room, Elevator, and exits to the Boardwalks, and Patio Deck, which has many, shaded, tables and chairs to rest, eat lunch or just enjoy the fantastic view outside.  Interpretive materials are scattered throughout the First Floor.  Beautiful paintings and sculptures abound.

During our visit, a wedding was being planned.  I can just imagine how beautiful it would be to see the bride descending the Grand Staircase, and the wedding party enjoying the reception on the beautiful deck, outside.  With marshes being David's and my favorite habitats to visit, why wasn't the Birding and Nature Center here 44 years ago?


Be sure to go to the Gift Shop to pay the nominal entrance fee or show your Annual Pass.  Just the visits to the outside Water-features and the Butterfly Garden are worth the fee.


The Gift Shop is filled with nature-oriented and educational items.


The Meeting Room can sit over 130 people.  If you ask to view it, the Volunteers will play an outstanding video by LRGV videographer, Richard Moore, on the the birds, wildlife and ecology of South Padre Island.  It is well worth watching.


The stairs lead to the Second Floor; if you wish, you can take the Elevator, located near the rear of the Grand Stairway.


Near the doors to the outside is a large map of the SPI Birding and Nature Center.  Even in this small photo, you can get a good idea of all the Boardwalks and how they connect together.


Towards the north end of the Center and behind the stairs is the Elevator, which will take you all the way to the 5th floor of the Birding Tower.  The curved wall gives you great views of the outside.  Across from the Elevator is another door to take you out onto the Deck.  Notice the paintings on the wall.  You have to explore all the walls and nooks and crannies on all interior areas of both floors of the Center or you will never know if you missed anything.  The entire indoor area is amazing.  Let's go up to the museum and interpretive area on the Second Floor.


When you come up the stairs to the Second Floor, in front of you and slightly to the right is a Display Case of various old photos, antiques, etc.  Immediately to the left of the Display Cases along this north wall is a small nook with a water fountain; and to the left of the nook is the Elevator (across from the Elevator is the door to the outside Deck and stairs to the Birding Tower).  To the right of the Display Case, discussed above, is the door leading to the Interpretive Rooms.


This Montage is just to the right of the Stairway as you climb to the Second Floor, and immediately to the right of the doorway that leads into the Interpretive Rooms.  Down the hall are the Center's Offices and more Restrooms.


As you climb the Grand Stairway and reach the Second Floor, immediately to your right (or to the left if stepping out of the Elevator) is the large doorway of the Interpretive Rooms.


As you  enter the first room, you see that every wall in the room is filled with nature and ecology interpretation displays about South Padre Island.


It would be easy to spend well over an hour, just reading and taking-in all the material in this room, alone.


A lot of the materials cover the birds.


As you enter the next room, don't forget to look up!  Did you view the silhouette display (see previous photo) in the other room?


Talk about needing to spend a lot of time to cover all the information!


 The mural on the walls and all the display cases cover the entire ecology of South Padre Island.  The educational interpretation in this room is fantastic.


The center display case covers the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico off-shore of South Padre Island.  Anyone leaving these two rooms will be impressed and informed.


Going outside the door in front of the Elevator will take you to the Second Floor's Deck and the stairs that climb to the five-story Birding Tower.  The entire Deck offers a great view towards the Laguna Madre.  The Birding Tower gives you a 360 degree view of the Island, Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre.  Remember, you can always take the Elevator.


A view from the top of the Birding Tower to the Entrance to the Birding and Nature Center.


A look down onto the Water-feature that is near the Entrance.


A look west, towards the Laguna Madre and down onto part of the Boardwalk.


A view towards the southwest and the flats, as well as down onto the west end of the Butterfly Garden.


We have come back to the First Floor and gone out on the Deck.  There are several of these tables and chairs on the Deck, many of which can't be seen in this photo.


The First Floor's Deck is also an entrance onto the 4,800 feet (0.9 mile) of connected Boardwalk.  Again, everything at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is handicapped-accessible, including the Boardwalks.  Fortunately, No Pets are Allowed.


The Boardwalks are wide and are made of recycled plastics.  They are, also, visually appealing.


Much of the marsh at the Birding and Nature Center is freshwater marsh.  The marshes are due to inflows from the SPI water treatment plant, next door.  Freshwater marsh is the rarist habitat in Texas.


There are seven, shaded Bird Blinds along the Boardwalks.


A look back to the Birding and Nature Center.


This and other Bird Blinds reach out onto the Laguna Madre.  In winter, the Laguna Madre can be filled with waterfowl.  The Laguna Madre hosts 90% of North America's Redhead Duck population, during the winter.


Bird Blind #3 even has a potable water fountain!


The New Boardwalks tie into the Old Boardwalks that begin at the Convention Center.  Black Mangrove abounds in these marshes.  Always be aware that several species of rails can be found in SPI's marshes.


We are continuing to the Convention Center.


A view to the back of the South Padre Island Convention Center.


We have made it to the south side of the Convention Center.


Many thousands of birders have visited this small birding area.


The Water-feature at the Convention Center is the only fresh water available to the Convention Center's birds.


Immediately after stepping off the Boardwalk, a shaded Gazebo and the Convention Center's Butterfly Garden can be seen to the left.


The Butterfly Garden is, also, a great place to watch for birds.


We are going west, along the south side of the wooded strip at the Convention Center.  We wonder how many people have read this sign at the Convention Center's wood lot.  We hope people realize and  appreciate that all of the plants that are here, and along the north-south running bed across the street and just east of here are do to the donations of time, money, plants and efforts of Dr. Will and Gill Carter of Weslaco.


Looking west along the north side of the wooded strip.


Taking the sidewalk west and up will take you to the side door of the Convention Center.  If the Center is open, clean restrooms are inside.


At the southwest corner of the Convention Center are trees that border the marsh.  Don't forget to check this outside area, also.


Many birders forget to look in all the trees on the back side of the Convention Center.


A trip to the mid-back area of the Convention Center will take you to the covered area.  Go west from here to the Red Semi-circle.  Check the plantings all around the Semi-circle for birds and butterflies.


This is a view to the flats that are southwest of the Semi-circle.  You can see many shorebirds, waders, gulls and terns in this area.  Notice the Birding and Nature Center's Boardwalk and Bird Blind in the distance.


Your view directly to the west to the flats and Laguna Madre will provide you with more waders, shorebirds, gulls, and terns.


A look into the thicket from the southwest corner of the Convention Center. 


The southwest corner of the Convention Center provides often wanted benches to rest and view the birds.  Just around the corner is a men's restroom.  Just to the right of this light-blue wall is a women's restroom to use if the Convention Center is closed.


PLEASE consider making a donation to this non-profit organization.  It provides the many, many new plantings you see with memorial signs in front of them.   Many of you that have been to the Convention Center in the past are well aware how much damage to the trees and shrubs here were inflicted by Hurricane Dolly.  This fantastic organization is doing a lot to re-build this marvelous birding site.


There are several north-south plantings, located inside the circular drive, that lots of birders forget to check.  Many species of migrants can be found in this area, also.


Outside the one-way drive from the back of the Convention Center are many of the memorial plantings, mentioned above.  They WILL grow and be a wonderful addition to this internationally-known birding area.


A view back at the Convention Center's south side, which you see, when you come to the Convention Center's main birding area.


The South Padre Island Convention Center's Whaling Wall.  To the left of this part of the Convention Center is the main birding area and entrance to the Birding and Nature Center Boardwalk.


OOPS!  Our car is back at the Birding and Nature Center, and our feet are tired.  We can take "The Wave" back for free!  South Padre Island provides free bus transportation from the Convention Center all the way back to Isla Blanca Park and even to Port Isabel.  Just wave at "The Wave", and it will pull over, or go to any of the many bus stops located all along Padre Blvd.

There are, of course, other places on South Padre Island, where you can look for birds.  Let's take a look at a couple of them.  We are going to leave the Birding and Nature Center and go back downtown to the Valley Land Fund Lots.



The Valley Land Fund is the Lower Rio Grande Valley's premier conservation organization.  The VLF conducts the wealthiest nature-photo contest in the U.S., every other year; the winning photos from the contest are used to produce a book, which the VLF sells; proceeds from these wonderful books are used to purchase valuable habitats that both government entities and non-profits cannot afford to buy at the time these properties become available; the Salineño Birders' Colony in Starr Co., is owned by the VLF and staffed by USFWS volunteers, the Nature Conservancy's Chihuahuan Woods Preserve in Hidalgo Co. was purchased by the VLF, and these Sheepshead Lots are all examples of the efforts of the Valley Land Fund.

To reach the Valley Land Fund Lots from the SPI Birding and Nature Center-WBC, come out of the Nature Center's Entrance, turn right, and go back south on Padre Blvd. for about 2.8 miles until you reach W. Sheepshead St. (one street north of the Pizza Hut Restaurant, which is at W. Corral and Padre Blvd.).  Turn right (west) on W. Sheepshead St., drive ~ 50 yards, and the Valley Land Fund Lots will be on both sides of the street. 

The Queen Isabella Causeway/P-100 (Padre Blvd) intersection at the traffic light is 0.9 miles south of W. Sheepshead.  If you are coming from the south (again, watch for the Pizza Hut on Corral St.), then W. Sheepshead is the next street north of the Pizza Hut.



The south VLF Lot's southeast corner.


The south VLF Lot's middle.  Again, do not cross any VLF Lots' fences.  For a few years prior to Hurricane Dolly in 2008, the VLF lots were over-crowded with tall plants, and you could not see any of the water features here.  The salt water killed back a lot of the forbs, mostly Sea Ox-eye Daisy-Borrichia frutesscens.

Because of the salt water intrusion, and thanks to the efforts of Scarlet and George Colley, you can now view the drips and watch the birds bathe.  During Spring Migration, Scarlet and George (at their own expense) make sure that citrus is placed on both of the VLF Lots and at the Convention Center; also, they keep the hummingbird feeders filled and clean at the Convention Center and at these Lots.  Viewing of the birds at these Valley Land Fund Lots would not be what it is, without the wonderful volunteer efforts of Scarlet and George Colley. 

You can thank George and Scarlet by making a donation to The Gabriel Tree of Life Foundation's Trail of Trees and Tears (see info. on the sign at the Convention Center, 8 photos back).


The south VLF Lot's southwest corner.  There is a VLF Donation Box near this corner.  Please consider leaving a donation, so that the Valley Land Fund can continue providing habitats such as these.


Who knows how many species of migrating birds have visited the Valley Land Fund Lots!  One of the hardest things for an arriving neo-tropical migrant to find is water; safe water-features are found in both of the VLF lots.


Another water-feature inside the south Lot.


Directly across the street is the north Lot.


Standing along the rails and looking into this more open Lot, will reward you with some really neat birds.


The water-feature is almost due north of the kiosk, against the row of trees.


A view to the east from the north Lot (on the left side of the photo, notice the citrus that was placed for the Orioles by Scarlet and George)


A view towards the north.


A view of the north Lot's west side.

When we leave here, we will go south on Padre Blvd. to Isla Blanca Park and the Jetty, getting great looks at the Gulf of Mexico.


The Entrance to Isla Blanca Park.  There is a $4/car entry fee, here.  The Park is at the south end of Padre Blvd., 1.5 miles south of Sheepshead St.  If coming from the Queen Isabella Causeway, turn right onto Padre Blvd. and go 0.6 miles south.  After entering the Park, you will be on a one-way street.  Stay on this street for 0.6 miles and you will reach the base of the Jetty.


The beautiful, tall Statue of El Cristo de los Pescadores (The Christ of the Fishermen) is at the base of the Port of Brownsville's north Jetty, facing the Gulf of Mexico and welcoming returning fishermen and shrimpers.  When you reach the Statue, you can park at the Restroom area or in the Parking Lot just to the east of the Restrooms.


It is a very short walk to the Jetty, which is paved.  Walking out on the Jetty is fairly easy but be very, very careful, watching for slippery spots, algae, and waves that can strike the Jetty and knock you off.


Looking out into the Ship Channel from the base of the Jetty can often reward you with good views of loons and scoters.


 Again, be very careful going out on the Jetty.  It can be very slippery due to algae and water puddles; watch out for waves striking the Jetty, as they can wash you off the Jetty.  It is possible to see boobies, jaegers, tropicbirds and Purple Sandpipers from the Jetty.  Walk the beach for shorebirds, gulls, terns, waders, and ducks.  Stay off the dunes.


Another fun thing to do on the Island is to go birding by boat.  Scarlet and George can take you out into the Laguna Madre or even to the end of the Jetty to look for birds.  They can get you right to a Mangrove Warbler.  They are experts on Dolphin watching (Scarlet can tell individual Dolphins apart).  Contact them at www spinaturecenter (dot) com.