Sandwiched between the rush of spring-breakers in March and the arrival of beach-goers in June, there is another invasion of visitors to South Padre Island during the end of April and beginning of May. They may be much more discrete than rowdy, drunken college kids but dress just as gaudy and they don’t crowd the beaches with 4X4’s and umbrellas like the summertime tourists, preferring instead to lurk in the shaded protection of small patches of trees along the bayside of the island. I’m talking, of course, about the 41 species of wood-warblers that seek refuge at the barrier island’s two main migrant traps during spring migration – the SPI Convention Center and the Valley Land Fund’s natural area on Sheepshead Street. These small patches of habitat, each less than an acre in size, provide tired warbler migrants a welcomed way-station to rest and refuel for their long journeys ahead and offer birders some of the best migration-watching in the entire country.
I was lucky to be able to spend four mornings out at South Padre Island during my recent two-week trip to south Texas, and was blown away by the incredible diversity and overall flurry of activity on each visit. In total, I saw 21 species of warblers over the course of those four visits and an additional 6 species were reported on the island during my time in the region, but I never managed to turn them up myself. It’s hard to pick favorites when it comes to warblers, but my personal highlights were a Kentucky Warbler and a male Cerulean Warbler at Sheepshead, and multiple Worm-eating and adult male Blackpoll Warblers between the two sites.