Sunday, December 23 marked the beginning of our second week at South Padre Island KOA. In the morning we left the dogs behind and headed north up Padre Boulevard. Where the commercial property thins out, on the left hand side of the road after Sea Turtle Rescue but before South Padre Island Convention Center is the wonderful South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
The only structure nearby taller than the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center building is a water tower. Can’t miss it. Visitors are allowed in the tower. To get up or down from the tower, visitors can use an elevator or they can use the stairs and balconies wrapped around the exterior of the building. The advantage to the stairs is the views from the high perch.
Immediately south of the Birding and Nature Center is Sea Turtles, Inc a non-profit turtle rescue organization.
Immediately north of the Birding and Nature Center is the sewage treatment plant.
Surprisingly, the sewage treatment plant did not have an odor. Beyond the sewage treatment plant is the convention center.
Visitors must pay at a kiosk in the entry way between two sets of doors before they can enter the building. Emotionally, it feels like a subway turnstile. Once inside the building, the desk clerk looks at receipts and wraps wristbands around each visitor’s wrist.
The gift shop, also on the first floor, was pleasant. Stairs or an elevator gets visitors to the second floor to where there are museum displays.
Each floor’s elevator lobby has displays.
To gain entrance to the outside trails, visitors must come through the building. The outside trails/boardwalks are where wildlife is found.
A small butterfly garden is outside on the south side of the building. Butterflies are attracted by native plants like the turk’s cap below. This was the only butterfly species found, the same as at the National Butterfly Center in Mission Texas the previous week.
The best part about visiting South Padre Island Bird and Nature Center is the range of birds easily seen from the boardwalks and viewing stations outside.
Much of the time, this egret had its head tucked under its wing while he stood on one leg. He was caught looking around.
Different types of ducks are common. Some of the more colorful ones I hadn’t seen before. These two I had seen before.
I’ve seen these before too.
I don’t recall seeing any ducks that looked as creepy as the one above. The red eyes really do it.
The above duck, also with creepy eyes, is also new to me.
Egrets, like the one pictured above, are common in South Texas.
Roseate Spoonbills are why I wanted to return this particular bird and nature center. Five years ago, we were here at Christmas. There were an unusually high number of Roseate Spoonbills at this location. So many that the seashore looked crimson where they were roosting, a sight I would love to see again.
Linda’s reason for returning was to see alligators. This single alligator was all we found. That was enough to provide her with an alligator fix.
Along the shore, with the tide out, there were mostly gulls with a few other species thrown in for good measure.
The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center is recommended for folks who are interested in wildlife in general and birds in particular.
Late Monday morning (Christmas Eve Day) we met friends at Pier 19 for a late breakfast. From our table, a pod of dolphins could be seen playing in the water 150 feet away. That led to a discussion about our friends’ fishing trip the day before. Out on the water for four plus hours with a guide, they didn’t catch any fish. However, they were surrounded much of the time by frolicking dolphin pods and dive bombing pelicans.
Monday afternoon we took the dogs up to the Convention Center to walk the Laguna Madre Nature Trail.
Like the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center boardwalks, the boardwalks traverse wetlands full of birds. The same birds, the same wetland.
We did run into people who thought dogs weren’t appropriate on the boardwalks. They didn’t say anything but we did get the stink-eye. There is no signage addressing rules of any sort. I believe dogs are allowed but will not bring them again during busy times around holidays.
Back at the KOA, in the late afternoon all these tour boats showed up in the waters off our campsite and began going around in circles. Thinking about our dolphin brunch discussion, I ran and got my camera. I didn’t see any dolphins but I did get some cool tour boat pictures.
As the Dolphin 2 boat came around the Pirate Ship’s right side, the pirates fired both of their faux starboard cannons in a single salvo. Must have surprised the Dolphin 2 passengers. Even from shore, the cannon shots were VERY loud.
The tour boats circled around for at least ½ hour before dispersing.
Tuesday, Christmas Day, started out cloudy and mild, around 65 degrees.
We planned to cook our own Christmas feast inside the camper using the oven. On the menu, we had meatloaf (beef, low fat, low carb), scalloped potatoes (our version, high fat) and green bean casserole (lower fat).
The meatloaf and scalloped potatoes were cooked first and then laid on the stove top by the oven vent to stay warm while the green bean casserole baked.
We saved ½ of the meat loaf for Boxing Day. Plated, the feast looked and tasted marvelous!
We did decide to use less bacon and butter the next time we made scalloped potatoes.
Christmas evening around 6:00, it started to pelt rain as a squall moved through. We were walking the dogs at the time by Pier 19. On top of Pier 19, a beacon was revolving around casting a beam of light out into the distance like a lighthouse.
We hurried back to camp to get the dogs inside before they got soaking wet. Leaving Linda and the dogs behind, I went back out to take pictures. A strong wind was blowing the rain through the palm trees as the light beacon swung around in my direction.
On Wednesday, Box Day, we went to Sea Turtle Rescue and arrived 3 minutes before they opened. For the day after Christmas, not surprisingly, it was a madhouse. Too many children in sour moods make an unruly mob. Undeterred, we endeavored to see some rescued turtles.
After standing in line for 10 minutes, we tried to cram ourselves into the front building that provides temporary quarters for turtles being rehabilitated. quickly we realized it was a lost cause. We made our way out the back and headed toward the new building housing the permanent turtle residents.
The permanent resident Turtles are fed by hand. Food is tossed into the top of their tanks similar to how one might feed goldfish in a pond.
Resident turtles live in large tanks with side windows for visitor viewing. Think turtle zoo.
The permanent resident turtles have all had some trauma that prevents them from being able to survive on their own in the wild. Typically, these turtles have lost one or more limbs. The turtle below lost its left arm at the shoulder.
Turtles missing multiple limbs may need a prosthetic device. They may look crude but the big metal thing clamped to the next turtle’s back enables him to swim surprisingly well inside the tank. The turtle is missing both of its legs.
When the turtle swims, the prosthetic device comes across as a seventeenth century submarine fin. Prehistoric bronze age metallurgy. I’m not poking fun. It is totally functional and the turtle can really swim. Based on the information display on this turtle’s tank, it looks like this is a fifth generation prosthetic. Go team turtle go!
The new building also houses the gift shop. We bought a grocery bag. Using grocery bags helps keep plastic grocery bags out of the oceans where they do serious harm to wildlife including turtles.
We went back to the old building in the front. That building houses turtles that need rehabilitation so they can survive reintroduction to the wild. All the turtles except one had been released into the wild.
Butters (the turtle above) was found stunned out in Laguna Madre. The weather had turned cold and Butters being cold blooded like other turtles got cold enough that his body just shutdown. Rescued, Butters was brought into rehab and slowly warmed up. He is currently on antibiotics to get over an infection picked while stunned. He will be reintroduced into the wild after his infection clears and he is stronger. Butters is young. He is about ¼ the size of the permanent turtles.
Turtles and tortoises come in different sizes, shapes and coloring. Many are stunningly beautiful like the one above.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!