Our idea was good, but our timing was less than fantastic. Like the rest of the country, we had a cold snap with temperatures 20 to 25 degrees below normal. Along with the chilly weather, there were winds up to 30 mph and lots of rain. But there is not much to complain about as the entire country was having cold, lousy weather. In fact, any time I wanted to feel a little warmer I would go to the Internet and check the temperature where my daughter lives in St. Louis or my brother's home in the Buffalo suburbs.
Separated only by a causeway over the bay, Port Isabel and South Padre Island are separated by time as well. Port Isabel is, in fact quite old, established as a town just after the Mexican revolution. It became an important port for cotton before the Civil War. And because of the importance of its harbor, the North and South fought over the town.
A typical Texas coastal town, Port Isabel has all the standard trappings, boat tours (see the dolphins), fishing trips and piers, restaurants, and, of course, gift shops. It is also very much a working town with a large commercial fishing fleet. It is a bit reminiscent of the small Maryland or Delaware coastal towns of the 1950's.
South Padre, on the other hand, is a new resort community at the tip of the barrier island. It is just three streets wide and has lots of high rise condos that line the beach. The main street is commercial with a tee-shirt store every other block, and restaurants in between. The street facing the laguna has the older buildings, while the Gulf side has all the new construction. South Padre, while sort of bright and shiny, feels like a town without a soul.
We took some time one afternoon and drove to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge which borders the Laguna Madre. Our plan was to take the 15 mile driving loop, but the road was closed to protect the refuge's ocelots. While ocelots are throughout South America, they are rare in the U.S., found only in the southern tip of Texas. There are only about 50 in all of Texas and 12 of them are in the refuge.
Instead of the driving tour we walked some birding trails close to the Visitor Center. Lucky us! We saw three birds you just can't see anyplace in the U.S. except south Texas (aka "The Valley"). Other-wise you must go farther south into Mexico or Central America.
The bird in the center is a Great Kiskadee, a flycatcher with a bright yellow breast. It has a bandit's mask on its eyes (like a raccoon), but the mask does not really show in my photo.
Finally is the plain (ugly?) chachalaca, a rather large bird that usually stays on the ground or very low branches. Seeing the chachalaca was especially exciting for me as I had never seen one before. Getting the photo was interesting as the bird was on the ground and very low branches in some very thick brush.
Thanks for dropping by!