Driving north from Padre Island on Hwy 361, you quickly reach the next barrier island, Mustang Island. On the northern tip of this island lies the colorful town of Port Aransas. There are quite a few restaurants, condos, ice cream colored beach houses, and RV parks here, so it looks like a popular area for vacationers and snowbirders. It is also a birdwatching hotspot, so naturally we had to check it out.
We visited two birding areas in town. First stop was the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Center.
They say there are alligators here, but this is the only one we saw.
There's a long boardwalk leading to an observation tower and pond just filled with bird life, especially ducks. We had a blast checking them all out -- don't think we've ever seen so many ducks in one place before! Most of them were actually hunkered down along the reedy pond edges resting or preening, not swimming around in the pond. Good binoculars and a zoom camera are a must here.
Here are some of the birds we were able to identify. Barry got some great shots, don't you think?
Our next stop was the Port Aransas Nature Preserve at Charlie's Pasture. We didn't see nearly as many birds here, but we had a nice three-mile walk on the boardwalk and path to the lookout tower on tiny Salt Island. We identified Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Savannah Sparrows, Buffleheads, a Reddish Egret, and a few others too far away to ID. None of the bird photos were great, so we'll just share some general scenery images. It was a very peaceful place and only a few other folks there.
On the way back to North Padre Island, we were getting a bit peckish after a long afternoon of birding so stopped in and picked up a veggie pizza at Padre Pizza to take back to the condo for dinner. Most of the veggies were hidden under the huge amounts of cheese. It really hit the spot!
We've been having some sunny and warm weather here on North Padre Island since the "polar vortex" has moved on -- and good riddance! Beach walks, bike rides, watching birds, and a bountiful German bakery are four the "B"s we've been enjoying lately. It's a tough life, but someone's gotta live it!
We're just a block from Whitecap Beach, a great place to walk and watch birds, despite the ubiquitous pickup trucks driving up and down. They really mess up the sand, so you are limited to walking right at the shoreline.
There were thousands of dead starfish littering the shoreline. Barry suggested the die-off may have occurred due to the unusually cold conditions towards the beginning of our time here. I think he's probably right. It was very sad to see.
Although it's pretty breezy here, Barry has been a cycling machine, riding nearly every day.
I haven't gotten out quite as often but have enjoyed several good rides, including a 40-miler yesterday, when we rode into the Padre Island National Seashore for the first time. Prior to this we've ridden up to the entrance and turned back. Park Road 22, the only way to get to the park, has a wide shoulder and traffic is relatively light this time of year, but it's rather bone-jarring on a bike without suspension, closer to chip-seal than silky smooth asphalt. So it wears us out a bit to ride but is worth it in the end.
This time we paid the $5 each to get a week's entry pass into the park. It was definitely worth seeing. There's a nice visitor's center, rest rooms (always welcome on a long bike ride!), a small campground, and a beautiful stretch of beach. Padre Island is the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world -- who knew? It's definitely beautiful.
4WD vehicles are allowed to drive 20 miles south on the beach after the pavement ends, but there's no bridge or ferry over to the very popular South Padre Island. To get there, you have to go back inland and south on the highway, and it's over three hours driving time from Corpus Christi!
The sand is packed down at the beginning of the beach where the paved road ends, so we were able to ride a little bit even on our road bikes, but a beach bike would be fun here.
There were a couple of small RVs parked here...what a place to camp this would be, with the sound of the waves breaking all night long!
South Texas is a well-known birding destination, and even though we haven't even hit many of the "official" hot spots yet, we've been able to do plenty of casual birding along the beach and ponds near the condo we're staying in and have already added several new birds to our life lists.
We walked over to the nearby German bakery yesterday for the first time.
The selection was amazing! Here is what we came home with to reward ourselves for our long bike rides. Several different strudels, a slice of plum cake, a pumpkin seed "coin", and more. Of course a lot of this bounty went into the freezer for later, but we sampled a few. Excellent!
All in all, life's pretty good here on the Texas coast in January!
We really got lucky booking a condo on the south Texas coast during this unprecedented arctic blast that left almost nearly everywhere else in the US suffering from record or near-record cold. We had a couple of days with wind chills in the 20s, but the lowest recorded temperature was in the 32-33 range, much warmer than just about anywhere else we could be -- especially Kansas City. It has been quite windy most days, and the sun has been playing hide and seek, but the seven-day forecast is looking really good -- highs in the 60s and 70s!
We did get out on a nice bike ride along the Park Road to the Padre Island National Seashore a few days ago before the arctic blast hit. We started out in tights and jackets but quickly stripped down to shorts and short sleeves.
Barry met another cyclist while he was riding solo, and it turned out that he and his wife were staying in their 5th wheel at the RV park by the beach. They invited us to come by and see their rig and talk to them about RVing, while they picked our brains about Belize! It was great to meet some interesting folks who are also out traveling.
We've gotten out to the beach for a couple of walks, though not as many as I expected because of the biting wind. I was disappointed to discover that motor vehicles are allowed to drive on the beach here, but because of the time of year, traffic is light.
There's a small "no cars allowed" area by the pier that is probably packed on warmer weekends.
We found an inexpensive, authentic Mexican restaurant within walking distance of where we're staying right here on the island. Excellente!
We've also been enjoying the closest, huge grocery store, H.E.B. Plus. Prices are great, and there are a lot of organic and healthy choices.
We're looking forward to heading to some of the many birding hotspots in the area -- just waiting on warmer, dryer, and less windy weather. Looks like that will be coming along very soon, so stay tuned!
Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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