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Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Volunteers at the South Padre Island World Birding Center

Yesterday we spent our first four hours as volunteers at the South Padre Island World Birding Center. Neither of us knows much about birds and we want to learn more.

What really surprised us on our first day was our fascination with the bird watchers - even more than the birds. On a cold and windy day, Tim, our well-informed guide, led a group of about 15 out along the 4800 linear feet of new boardwalk. Everyone bundled up against the wind and cold, carried their binoculars and cameras, and sought out birds.

Many different species -both resident and migratory - searched for food. The cold brought fish to the top of the water so food was plentiful.

However the experienced birdwatchers were the highlight of the day. They amazed the rest of us with their knowledge, their eye for different species and their enthusiasm. They not only recognized the species of bird, but they told us about their feeding and migrating habits. When we could hardly see a bird, one of them would be explaining its characteristic markings.

Tim brought along a telescope that truly gave us a "bird's eye" view. For example, we had seen reddish egrets before, but until we saw one through the telescope, we had no idea how long and beautiful its red feathers really were. They were so fine they looked like hair.

Tim is a Texas Master Naturalist. His knowledge and teaching ability enhanced the walk.

The center is one of nine World Birding Centers in the Rio Grande Valley. It is the newest; it opened last September. The facility is beautiful inside and out. If you visit the island, be sure to stop by.

A deck runs along the back of the building and provides a beautiful setting for lunch or a place to hang out and enjoy nature. If you go to the top of the building, the view of the bay and causeway are fantastic. I bet it's a great place to watch a sunset. By the way, after we braved the cold wind and climbed to the top, we found out there was an elevator. Guess it just wouldn't have been the same.

Inside we toured the facility, watched a beautiful video about South Padre Island and learned about our jobs. The facility houses an exhibit that showcases the nature - geology, plant and animal life - of the island and Laguna Madre Bay.

The Rio Grande Valley boasts the largest number of bird species in the US - over 500 species live in, migrate to or through, the Valley each year.

South Padre Island is one of the longest and least developed barrier islands in the world, The island provide habitat for 17 animal species of national or statewide conservation concern. The Laguna Madre, sheltered between the island and the mainland, is one of only five hypersaline lagoons in the world. The Laguna Madre is important for both commercial and recreational fishing and provides internationally significant habitat for birds, mammals, and fish nurseries.

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