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Rescuers work to save pelicans along highway

Whenever the National Weather Service alerts the Valley of an approaching cold front, jackets and hot java are not the only preparations taken by area authorities and volunteers in the Bahia Grande area.

Along a stretch of Highway 48 where the Bahia Grande ebbs and flows with the tide, pelicans find themselves falling out of the sky whenever winds exceed about 20 miles-per-hour. The problem is not the birds, rather the qualities of the wind as they return northward to their roosts in the evening hours. Solid concrete barriers in the median and north shoulder of the high-speed roadway deflect winds and create a vortex of air which forces the birds to the roadway.

Authorities reported more than 40 kills near the Gayman restoration channel Monday evening.

Tuesday evening, emergency vehicles from the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas State Troopers, Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department, and Texas Game Wardens alerted motorists to reduce speed in the area known for pelican problems.

Researchers from Texas A&M, backed by Tx DOT, rescued birds as they landed near or on the roadway. Tuesday, Stephanie Bilodeau exited the passenger side of a red sedan with a pelican in her arms.

Rescued birds are then sexed, measured and tagged before release on the north side of the highway. The information gathered has aided in the understanding of the environmental impact of the busy highway which connects Port Isabel to Brownsville.

This year the research team spent extra time with a calm bird rescued by Bilodeau. Lianne Koczur worked to attach a solar-powered transmitter to the pelican’s back, held on by a thin piece of brown ribbon in addition to the usual gathering of vital statistics.

Pelicans are forced to fly over the roadway because of the separation of their roosting and feeding areas. Pelicans sometimes dive into the water to capture fish; deeper waters can be found in the channels and bay area.

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a message Monday, urging vigilance along the highway during the evening hours between 5 and 8 p.m. With the change of seasons underway, cold fronts will pass through often, landing these many birds in trouble every time the north wind blows.

Herald reporters Mark Reagan and Gary Long contributed to this report.

By Jason Hoekema Staff Photojournalist


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SPI Fishing Days Expo returns to the convention center

The hottest spot for fishing this weekend will be at the South Padre Island Convention Centre.

That’s where anglers will be catching some great deals during the second annual SPI Fishing Days Expo on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 20-21.

“It’s a fishing consumer show,” event director Angie Juarez told the Coastal Current Weekly. “We’re trying to provide an opportunity to shop for all your fishing gear under one roof.”

The show will be inside the convention center and will feature more than 40 vendors. Event organizers promise a great selection of many popular fishing brands.

“We will have vendors providing items such as gear, fishing apparel and more,” Juarez said. “And the vendors are both regional and local. There will be a few other things going on [here], so it’s an opportunity to go shopping and be entertained. We hear a lot of people telling fishing stories.”

Part of the purpose of this South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau-sponsored event is to illustrate how the Laguna Madre area is a year-round fishing destination, whether fishing along the surf, jetties, pier or boat.

Along with shopping, the event will include seminars from various fishing guides and experts, such as Brian Barrera of DOA Lures. Local guide and photographer Danno Wise will speak on Topwater Tactics for Trophy Trout, for example.

Sponsor boat dealers include The Sportsman, Dargel Boats and Bayside Marine. Boggus Lincoln will be showcasing the latest Lincoln Navigator.

There will be a Cornhole tournament, a raffle, and a Kids Zone for the children to play.

“We want people to know that even though this weekend’s weather is not ideal for fishing, it’s ideal for fishing shopping,” Juarez said.

The expo is open Saturday, Oct. 20, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 21 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5, though military and first responders will be charged $3. Children 12 and younger are admitted for free. Paid admission includes a wrist-band, which can be used to return Sunday if it’s still intact on the wrist, Juarez said.

For more information, log on to www.SPIFishingDays.com. On social media, look for @SPIFishingDays on Facebook and Instagram.


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HalloWings to spread its wings again on South Padre Island

October is the peak season for monarch migration in the Rio Grande Valley.

But there’s more aflutter than passing butterflies this month when Hallowings Across South Padre Island returns for a three-day celebration featuring children’s activities, live entertainment, guided tours and more.

The fun begins Friday, Oct. 26, with a Boo Bash Movie Night at the South Padre Island Convention Centre. Halloween crafts begin at 6:15 p.m., and the movie (“Hocus Pocus”) starts at 7 p.m. Light refreshments will be provided. This event is free.

Also Friday, Oct. 26, the second annual Winged Gala will be from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the SPI Birding & Nature Center, where the HallowWings weekend truly spreads its wings. The vent will feature live music, fine art, beer and wine tasting, and more. Tickets for this event cost $65.

On Saturday, Oct. 27, the HalloWings Festival continues when doors open at 9 a.m. at the SPI Birding & Nature Center. Along with vendors, attendees can also expect events such as Breakfast with the Monarchs, music from Leslie Blasing, UnLITTER Trashion Show, Illusionist Richard Blake, Mariachi Sol Azteca, Guided Bird Walks, Nature Film Showings, Monarch Talks, Butterfly Walks, Live Butterfly Tent, Food Trucks and more.

There will be a Native Plant Garden Crawl from 2 to 3:30 p.m. for $10 a person at the Native Plant Center, 6809 Padre Blvd. Admission to a Happy Hour and Shrimp Boil from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. will cost $20, also at the Native Plant Center.

HalloWings concludes Sunday, Oct. 28 with events such as Breakfast with the Pirates and more. For more information, log on to www.spibirding.com.


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Life on the Boardwalk: A Rare Visitor from the Caribbean

Late September and early October is a prime time for birding on South Padre Island. The seasons are shifting and birds are on the move! Birds are leaving their breeding grounds and most are migrating from northern latitudes to warmer climates in the tropics, riding south on the early and mild cold fronts of the season.

These northern breeders are the birds that we are accustomed to seeing pass through South Padre Island, but September and October are also a peak in tropical weather activity and a time when the Rio Grande Valley bears storms coming up from the tropics carried by the strong southeast winds that also occur during this season. These winds can sometimes bring with them birds from latitudes below us or birds straight out of the Gulf waters.

The winds and the weather can be erratic during this time of year as the earth tilts, and if you are a bird flying on the sake of the powerful push and pull of the shifting winds, it’s easy to get turned around and disoriented. Because of South Padre Island’s location on the map, it makes for a perfect resting place for a castaway bird.

Such is the case of a bird that was discovered here in the front gardens of the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center on Wednesday, Oct. 3.  While talking to Diego, SPIBNC groundskeeper, under the shade of a tree in our front gardens, he directed my attention to the tree. “Mira esa Paloma,” he said as he pointed into the branches directly above us.

I responded with, “Diego, that’s not a regular pigeon!”

He had just spotted Texas’ third record White-crowned Pigeon! A bird ranging from the tropical waters of the Caribbean! The closest this species is seen from SPI are the Florida Keys, Cuba, or the coastal southern tip of the Yucatan peninsula hundreds, if not a thousand miles, away!

As a naturalist, these are the types of sights that make my heart race and send me running for my camera with sandals clanking all the way up the stairs to my office! How did this bird get here? Did it just fly across the Gulf of Mexico?!

All of the elements that I described in the beginning still don’t exactly explain how this bird got to our gardens and where it came from. That will remain a mystery and that mystery is what gives so much wonder and intrigue to a sighting like this! A curveball from Nature!

Word quickly spread about this extremely rare visitor and birders from across the RGV soon arrived for a look. The next day people from different parts of the state started to arrive, as well, from cities like Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Galveston to name a few.

Although this is the third sighting on record of this species in the state, it is the first record that has given Texas birders the opportunity to chase and get a look at. It’s been great to see so many people enjoy this bird and the camaraderie that it has produced.

Although the bird is lost, it did find a good place that sort of resembles home. This species inhabits coastal areas where they roost in mangroves and fly to feed in stands of fruiting trees. As of now, the bird seems to have found a nice roosting site in a dense tree where it feels safe and has developed a liking to the berries of the many Possum Grape Vines that climb up the trees and vegetation in the garden. There is no telling how long the bird will stay, but in the meanwhile, it will continue to dazzle visitors!

By JAVIER GONZALEZ


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It’s Personal: Walk for Women attendees share how breast cancer has affected them

They say it takes a village, but in this case, it takes an Island, to help those fighting breast cancer in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

For 15 years now, a large contingent of dedicated volunteers on South Padre Island have worked tirelessly to provide financial aid and support to individuals afflicted with breast cancer. What started as a small group of friends coming to the aid of a dear friend in her battle against the disease, has since evolved into a weekend of celebration, remembrance and fundraising to help numerous men and women conquer breast cancer.

Ana Maria Leos was once a donation recipient from Walk for Women (W4W), and though she doesn’t speak English, she expressed her gratitude via translation by her niece, Patricia Rogers. “I appreciate how much this event helps women with cancer,” said the sweet, elderly woman, her lined face breaking into a shy smile as she shared her thoughts.

Leos’ family travelled from Nashville, Tennessee to participate in this year’s fundraiser, with her son and grandson making their yearly donation of a pair of tickets to a Dallas Cowboys football game. Their family’s donation alone raises $4,000 for W4W.

By PAMELA CODY


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Favorite annual SPI event this weekend

As you’re walking along the beach this weekend, you might come across an array of sculptures in all different sizes created by people from the Unites States and other countries around the world such as Canada, Latvia and the Netherlands.

Sand sculpturers Walter “Amazin’ Walter” McDonald and Lucinda “Sandy Feet” Wierenga created Sandcastle days 31 years ago to shine light on the sculpting features of the Island’s sand and to highlight the importance of protecting coastal shores.

This year, 10 artists have been vigilantly designing, carving and chiseling buckets of sand into various sculptures, all in the hopes of winning this year’s “Masters of Sand” competition.

Yesterday, while working on her piece, Wierenga said with each and every year, Sandcastle Days keeps getting bigger and better.

For the past four days, she has been creating a sand sculpture with a subliminal message embedded into her massive six-foot tall creation.

“ It looks kind of Mayan or Aztec,” Wierenga said while describing her sculpture. “It’s really a calendar and it says ‘vote on 11-06-18’ because we’re trying to get people to get out and vote this year.”

Harlingen residents, Richard and Rosie Loya have been visiting Sandcastle Days for the past 10 to 15 years. Yesterday, while on the beach, they said their favorite part about the event is being able to see the creative talent of people from around the world.

“ I think that’s what makes it unique because it’s not just local talent,” Richard said. “It’s pretty neat because it gives everyone in the Valley an opportunity to see stuff that you normally wouldn’t see.”

Joris Kivits traveled from the Netherlands to participate in the “Masters of Sand” competition for the first time.

When Kivits began creating his sculpture, he said he didn’t really have a plan or an idea of what he was going to make.

He just knew he wanted to make something fun and so he titled his sculpture “Don’t Give Me that Look.”

For Kivits, sand sculptures are similar to a theater production.

“ You can enjoy it as long as it’s there, and then the memory and pictures are all that remain,” he said.

Today and tomorrow, sand sculptures will be offering free workshops to anyone who’s interested in creating their own masterpiece.

Participants will be able to learn how to carve cat and baby sea turtle sculptures, learn how to use sand carving tools and will also be given a quick course in hand stacking.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff Writer


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Speed limit on Gulf Boulevard at South Padre Island lowered to 25 mph

The South Padre Island City Council unanimously approved lowering the speed limit on Gulf Boulevard this week.

The city council approved Councilwoman Theresa Metty's proposal to lower the speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour on the road that runs closest to the beach on the east side of the island.

Steven Schaefer lives on South Padre Island and remembers when Gulf Boulevard didn't have a bike and pedestrian-only lane.

"I think the biggest safety concern was before, they put these white posts in here, there was a lot of problems," Schaefer said.

Although Schaefer believes the road is safer, city councilwoman Metty feels the road should be safer.

In a statement to CBS 4, Metty said, "Moving traffic is just inches way from parked cars, where I've seen small children emerge from between parked cars, leaving almost no reaction time for vehicles to stop."

She adds that she would have liked to see the speed limit lowered to 20 miles per hour, but the council is not allowed to do that.

"We have issues on busy weekends, primarily and during the summertime," said Brian Bell, the general manager of one business along Gulf Boulevard. "You'll get just large amounts of people [around Gulf Blvd., so] the lowered speed limit makes a lot of sense."

Bell also believes the road has become safer with the added bike lane, but he says there are still drivers that go over the 30 mile per hour speed limit.

South Padre Island Spokeswoman Nikki Soto tells CBS 4 the day in which the speed limit will change on Gulf Boulevard is still pending.

by Santiago Caicedo


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Fall Beach Cleanup is Saturday on Island

No beach can stand on its own when it comes to litter.

This Saturday the Cameron County Parks Department is hosting its annual Fall Beach Cleanup on South Padre Island which will stretch five miles from Beach Access No. 2 to Beach Access No. 6.

“Plastic bottles, trash bags and cans — once in a while we’ll find a diaper,” said Blanca Macias, Adopt-A-Beach coordinator for the parks department.

Macias said last year 1,800 volunteers showed up to clear trash from one of the most popular beaches in Texas.

Parks officials say no volunteer group is too big or too small, and that as an incentive, Schlitterbahn is offering one-day admission for two persons at $40 for volunteers good for Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 15-16. Volunteers need only show the wristband they will be issued Saturday to activate the deal.

After the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to noon, hot dogs, chips and cold drinks will be available gratis for the beach clean-up volunteers.

“We provide gloves, we provide a data card that people can tally what they find out there, and then of course we provide the trash bags for them,” Macias said.

For more information, or to pre-register, call Macias or Edgar Yada at 956-761-3700.


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Sea Turtle Inc. to create aquatic murals on tanks

Beginning on Wednesday, local artists will begin creating an aquatic mural series for Sea Turtle Inc.’s new educational complex.

The murals will be painted on the sea turtle tanks that house the nonprofit’s non-releasable sea turtles. These residents serve as educational ambassadors to their species and have their forever home at Sea Turtle Inc.

“The murals will bring our visitors closer to the underwater environments in our area and enhance their educational experience,” executive director Jeff George said in a press release. “All of the turtles at Sea Turtle, Inc. have unique stories to tell, and the art commissioned for the turtles will be another impactful educational tool.”

There are five resident tanks which will be completed in phases. The first tank that will be painted is home to Gerry, an Atlantic green sea turtle who has made several television appearances. Gerry’s 56,000-gallon aquarium mural art will be completed in one week.

By ALANA HERNANDEZ Staff writer


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Rescuers warn of fishing line dangers to turtles

Patrollers on ATVs spent the summer searching the entire beach for nesting sea turtles.

However, these aren’t the only turtles they keep an eye out for.

Every so often, they also discover sea turtles in desperate need of help, like the ones that are entangled in fishing line and are unable to free themselves from it.

At least 115 marine species are impacted by entanglement, including mammals, turtles, birds, fish and crabs. For air-breathing animals, such as the green sea turtle, entanglement can prevent them from being able to swim to the surface, causing them to drown.

Fortunately for turtles, the help they need can be provided by the local sea turtle hospital, Sea Turtle Inc.

One such case was discovered by ATV patroller Steve Fowler. As he was on his 64-mile search up-and-down the beach in May, he happened to come across Great Scott, a green sea turtle who is now one of Sea Turtle Inc.’s latest patients.

Great Scott was found lethargic, sitting in a high tide line with an injured front flipper and tar on his shell.

Sea turtles don’t come out of the water unless they’re sick, nesting or injured. So, the Sea Turtle Inc. patroller knew it wasn’t normal for the turtle to be sitting there and he immediately took Great Scott to the facility.

On arrival, patients are given antibiotics, X-rays, blood tests and sometimes even CT scans when needed. Great Scott came into the facility with a variety of issues, so he’s a patient that especially needed these thorough examinations.

Based on Great Scott’s weight, veterinary technicians determined the turtle was less than 5 years old. Green sea turtles like Great Scott don’t reach sexual maturity until they’re around 20 to 25 years old, so veterinary technician Nina Nahvi ruled out nesting as one of the reasons Great Scott was out of the water.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel also noticed Great Scott only has a nub for a right front flipper.

Nahvi determined Great Scott’s injury was not caused by a predator attack because his flipper looks clean and rounded. If it had been caused by a predator attack, it would have looked like the limb was torn off.

This indicated the turtle’s injury was most likely the result of entanglement.

“Now, I don’t know necessarily if it’s entanglement in fishing line because sometimes turtles get entangled in onion sacks or other marine debris,” Nahvi said. “However, by the looks of it, it most likely has something to do with humans,” she added.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say they see a lot of turtles come into the facility with injuries due to entanglement or with fishing hooks in them.

Within the past couple of weeks, the nonprofit rescued two sea turtles entangled in fishing line at the jetties at Isla Blanca.

Those two turtles survived. However, not all of them do.

Unfortunately, the nonprofit has also found several dead turtles entangled in fishing line in that area within the past few months.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say they “see tons of fishing line” every time they walk onto the jetties to rescue a turtle.

“People are not picking up after themselves or practicing good habits out there,” Nahvi said. “They’re disposing of their lines and I don’t think they realize there are endangered or threatened animals out there that could very easily get entangled in that line.”

“It’s not just sea turtles. Any animal like sea gulls and pelicans could also get entangled in that line,” she added.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel say there’s “a simple solution” to this problem. Gathering and appropriately disposing of hooks, bobbers and fishing line could help prevent more sea animals from getting injured.

“We try to do the best we can to educate the public,” Nahvi said. “However, it’s going to require people as a whole to start caring about the ocean.”

Although Great Scott had several issues when he first arrived to Sea Turtle Inc., his health is beginning to show signs of improvement. Nahvi said he is finally gaining weight and is “continuing to work on his buoyancy issues.”

Nahvi recently increased his water level to encourage diving. Every morning, Great Scott dives down to the bottom of the tank to take a bite out of his high calcium shrimp and mackerel diet.

Sea Turtle Inc. personnel posted on their Facebook page that “Great Scott’s issues should resolve with the help of medications, supplements and Vitamin D from the sun.”

In due time, Great Scott will eventually be released and be able to return back to his home in the ocean.


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