Kathy and I have made a number of trips to S. Padre Island, near Brownsville, TX. The purpose of these trips was to fish the fabulously rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Laguna Madre. We would make these trips in the fall, between our summer rafting season and the winter ski season.
We’ve spent weeks at the Isla Blanca County Park campground, on the southern tip of S. Padre Island, or staying in a motel in the nearby town of Port Isabel. On days when we chose not to fish (often because of bad weather), we would go bird watching/nature walking at some of the parks and wildlife refuges in the area, which includes the Laguna Atascosa and Santa Ana NWRs, Gladys Porter Zoo and more. This area (both the Gulf Coast shoreline and wetlands and the Rio Grande Valley) is considered a bird watchers’ paradise, with seabirds, wading birds, ducks, raptors and songbirds, some of which can be seen in few or no other places in the US. Migrations of butterflies also show up in the area. The Rio Grande runs through Brownsville, and enters the Gulf of Mexico not far downstream. It isn’t very “grande” at the “boca”, called Boca Chica. And for a year or two in the early 2000s , it didn’t have sufficient volume to push aside the sandbars and make it to the sea.
Santa Ana NWR is located on the Rio Grande, upstream of Brownsville, and south of McAllen.
The Laguna Atascosa NWR is located to the inland side of the Laguna Madre, opposite S. Padre Island. At the north end of the refuge is the town of Arroyo City, which is located on the Arroyo Colorado, which drains into the Laguna Madre.
The Gladys Porter Zoo is located right in downtown Brownsville.
One can drive on the wet sand of the beach (on the Gulf of Mexico) from the city of S. Padre Island north, approximately 25 miles to where you are stopped by the Mansfield Cut.
There’s lots of bird and other life to be seen along and near the north jetty of Brazos Santiago Pass, which is where the southern end of the Intracoastal Waterway exits to the Gulf, and where shipping enters the Brownsville Ship Channel. The Isla Blanca County Park campground sits next to the base of the jetty.
The mouth (or “boca” in Spanish) of the Rio Grande is found 8 miles south of S. Padre Island. You get to the beach from Brownsville, and then drive a few miles down the beach, hoping not to get stuck in the sand. On our one occasion there, we had a four-wheel drive vehicle. The Rio Grande is disappointingly narrow and shallow where (and when) it crosses the beach and enters the Gulf. Shipping once used the Rio Grande to get to Brownsville!
Kathy and I are thinking of returning to SPI this coming fall. If so, I intend to keep fishing fever somewhat more at bay, and spend more time with bird photography. There are a few birds, in particular, that we’ve seen but which I failed to photograph. Stay tuned!