The barrier island’s habitats transitions from sandy beaches to dunes to broad tidal mud flats tucked bordering the Lower Laguna Madre. The brackish marshes and freshwater ponds bordering the dunes are replenished by rain, an important freshwater source for many species. South Padre Island is extremely important for many reasons, including its significance to nesting Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. They are the most endangered of the five Gulf sea turtle species and every summer they come to the Island to lay their eggs in the warm sands. Peregrine falcons, on their migration to and from South America, ‘stage’ here – the majority of the peregrine population stops at one time or other on the Island to refuel during their long migration. Many neotropical migratory birds ‘fall out’ on Padre Island. During spring migration, when the birds are headed north, an occasional cold front will set in and the winds will shift. The birds migrating across the Gulf of Mexico find themselves flying into strong winds, which requires a lot more energy. South Padre Island is often the first land the exhausted birds see and they ‘fallout’ here to rest, replenish and continue their migration. With the help of The Nature Conservancy, the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge now includes a significant amount of habitat on South Padre Island. In 2000, The Nature Conservancy acquired 24,532 acres on the north end of South Padre Island, including more than eight miles of beachfront that were ultimately transferred to the refuge.
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The refuge’s location and habitat make it a haven for butterflies and moths -- and those who enjoy seeing them! October and November offer the best times to enjoy the refuge’s butterflies, a documented 130 species.