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Brownsville is situated right across the border with Mexico along the Rio Grande River and is one of the most populated cities in Texas. Although the poverty levels have been quite high in this area, it has seen substantial development recently due to manufacturing industry and a busy harbor.
Apart from the Mexican-American war history Brownville is quite famous for its wildlife refuges and bird sanctuaries. The ever-bustling South Padre island is just an hour away from this land of palms. Brownsville, although typically a small town, has an international airport as well as an impressive "University of Texas" campus.
Pay $3:50 toll and one can cross the bridge over Rio Grande and enter Mexico. Make sure you have visa though. The population of Brownsville is predominantly Hispanic and it does give you a feeling of visiting a different country when you are here. The google maps would suddenly start speaking the language of kilometers and people would try communicating in Spanish at shops and other public places.
Fort Brown Condoshares
RCI has been my provider of choice for holiday homes simply because of the convenience of booking and standardization of units. Fort Brown Condo shares is a typical condos setup, with a very beautiful location along a lake, giving the glimpses of typical Brownsville right from your gallery.
Although it’s not some kind of Silver Crown Property, it has its convenient location, peaceful atmosphere and scenic private bird sanctuary right in its own campus, where you get to watch black-bellied whistling ducks, muscovy duck, little black cormorant, snowy egrets as well as grackles.
Places to visit
Sabal Palm Sanctuary
An elderly woman, held from north and not quite comfortable with the hot and humid weather of Brownville, gave an interesting background about the sanctuary. The reserve is known for its thick grove of sabal palms, which take time to grow and need more care. The washingtonians are more robust and can grow in variety of climates. You would find this species along Brownsville skyline much more, than sabal palms.
Resaca is the term in Spanish for low land areas, that retain water flooded from the river. These Resaca’s became a steady source of water around "Rio Grade River" and a different ecology developed around these areas.
Sabal palm is a wonderful place for looking at this semi tropical land with palm groves and thickness of shrubs. This is a perfect place for butterflies and birds. A convenient photo blind helps in capturing ducks at one of the natural Resaca’s here.
Two of the very interesting and colorful birds were Great Kiskadee and Green Jay. Green Jay's would be easier to spot as they are regularly fed at one of the feeding stations while Great Kiskadee might catch your attention at one of the trails, if you are lucky. Some of the other interesting species out here are great kingfisher, baby horned owl, golden fronted woodpecker, couch’s kingbird, black-crested titmouse, clay colored thrush and least grebe.
State Parks and Wildlife Refuge near Brownsville
- Resaca de la Palma State Park
- Boca Chica State Park
- Sabal Palm Sanctuary
- Estero Llano Grande State Park
- Friends of Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
- Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge
- San Benito Wildlife & Nature Center
- South Padre Island Birding And Nature Center
Boca Chica Beach
Boca Chica beach is around 25 miles from fort brown condos. Turn right on Boca Chica boulevard from international boulevard and you would have an interesting ride into no-where with number of wetlands, salt pans around and vast expanses of flat land touching the horizon.
This beach did not seem that popular and the fog had blurred most of the view. Visibility was quite low and apart from few vehicles, not many tourists were seen at this beach. I did get good shots at some of the california gulls, herring gulls and dunlins here.
Be careful about the giant mosquitoes though. Make sure you carry your identity like passport, if you are not a US national, to establish your legal presence in US. This is because this shoreline is shared with neighboring Mexico as well.
Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge
Santa Ana wildlife refuge is state run wildlife refuge and went through several hands right from the original grantee and his son Cristobal Leal. A few hundred-year-old fence of ebony logs still stand around the a old cemetery. The narrow strips of lands along Rio Grande provided water access to all the land owners, explained the guide, who gave interesting account of the habitat and history of this refuge.
I would heavily recommend the tram tour to get some authentic information about the refuse and few interesting facts about flora and fauna of this region. We did get few glimpses of Harris’s Hawk and Texas Indigo snake during the tour.
At one of the spots along the trail, my tram guide took me for a short walk to show the Rio Grande River as well as the Mexican territory on the other side. There are security camera’s all along this park and do not even think about sneaking in, around the border.
Santa Ana has number of other animals like armadillos, white-tailed deer, jack rabbit, rats, ocelot, jaguarundi, bob cats, racoons and coyotes. The Harris’s Hawk is quite unique and interesting thing about this hawk is, he stays in a family and hunt in a group of 2-7 hawks, partly because of their medium size.
Santa Ana also has watch towers and a roap-bridge for bird watching, but make sure you reach early in the morning to capture all the wildlife activity. This area is quite huge and the Spanish moss cover much of the area giving it a unique look. One can follow the numerous trails here and get few glimpses of some of the wildlife here.
Glady's Porter Zoo
Glady's porter zoo is highly recommended experience of Brownsville, if you like wildlife. They have a huge variety of animals, reptiles, serpents and birds. The sections like Indo-Australia, Tropical American Rain Forest, Africa are quite engaging. The information boards on old world monkeys, new world monkeys, camels, tigers, elephants, mammals and waterfowl are quite interesting and useful.
The Herpetarium was stunning with a wide species of frogs, crocodiles, snakes, mice and other reptiles at display. The Asian bison, African giraffes and long horn sable antelope were some of the most noticeable species. They have a wide collection of monkeys and spider monkeys were quite cute. It was wonderful to meet a pair of pigmy hippos here.
Apart from the local birds like black-bellied whistling ducks, muscovy duck, black cormorant and snowy egrets, they had quite exotic collection of birds like macaws, parrots, flamingos, bald eagle and king vultures. A walk-through aviary allowed us to get little closer to few beautiful ducks, egrets, scarlet ibis, chachalacas, roseate spoonbill and capture few close shots. The zoo is quite well maintained and when it comes to the diversity of bird and animal species here, they seem to have covered every continent.
South Padre Island
South Padre island boasts the sunny side of this area with ample colorful buildings, accessible boardwalks, beautiful skyline lined with villas, pelicans, palm groves and restaurants along the jetty. This beach is at 45 minutes’ drivable distance from Brownsville and along the way, one would see ample spots to park your car, take out your fishing gear and enjoy some fun along the wetlands before reaching port Isabella.
Port Isabella is another fisherman town and harbor bustling with same energy and vibrancy. A picturesque bridge connects this port city with the Island and its fun watching the expanses of sea as one drives along this bridge.
South Padre is in fact a very narrow strip of land along the coast with two parallel roads along its length. One going along the board walk on the left hand as you enter the island from port Isabelle, while the other on the right is close to its beautiful beach. The place has numerous beach side activities and constant touristy attractions have flourished these islands.
Walk along the boardwalk, admire the wide shoreline, enjoy the hospitality at one of the restaurants, watch the pelicans along the jetty or soak yourself into the tranquility at the beach or hop along and explore the island in a beach buggy, there is no end of activities here.
Do not miss Fajita's from Bigo's if you are in Brownsville. They serve the best Fajita's in the town and have a very interesting antique look, giving a unique ambience to the place. The atmosphere is quite homely and you would see locals enjoying their family meals here.
A hot and humid countryside, with semitropical climate, American lifestyle blended with Mexican culture, lovely Resacas, one of the best zoos in USA, great food and vicinity to Mexican gulf and few beautiful beaches, Brownsville can be a great gateway especially during winters. There is lot to do here and if you love birds, then this place is a paradise, to get some of your best shots.