Friday, January 27, 2017

Goldfinches return to my yard

I was happy to see goldfinches return to the feeders on this 50-degree day in late January. They are a welcome addition this time of year. I think the sweetgum tree draws them to our yard.

More competition for the squirrels.

Attacking a seed ball still hanging on.

Picking seeds out of the deck cracks.

I curse the spiky sweetgum balls when I step on them, but goldfinches like the seeds.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

When a neighborhood sinks, a nature center rises

Class with seine net.
Something I wrote for TMN-Galveston Bay Area chapter's newsletter.

The story of the rise of Baytown Nature Center also is the story of the fall of a popular waterfront neighborhood and the triumph of nature.

I have heard the BNC story several times. It’s part of the experience for ninth-graders participating in the Back to the Bay field trips.

When the students hear how about 300 homes once stood where they are tossing cast nets and doing water testing, they take another look at their surroundings.

On the drive into BNC, as Burnet Bay comes into view on the right, there is an inground swimming pool jutting up at the shore. Take the trail to Wooster Point and find a shelter built on a home’s foundation. The pink floor tiles of the bathroom are still visible

These landmarks are reminders of BNC’s history.

During the mid 1930s, a cattle rancher’s land was sold for development. Humble Oil thought the site would be a great place to build its executives’ homes.

During 1962, Baytown annexed Brownwood subdivision, which was in a beautiful setting with linked peninsulas surrounded by three bays, Crystal, Scott and Burnet.

However with the influx of industry and residents, there came problems. Groundwater was pumped out for use by nearby plants and other developed areas, which caused subsidence.

As the land sank, flooding during the high tide seasons became a problem. The switch to surface water stopped subsidence, but the land loss was irreversible. Tropical storms and hurricanes caused more damage.

Residents tried to hang onto their beloved homes, but ongoing flooding and evacuations became their reality from 1967 to 1981. Many decided to leave.

Then devastating Hurricane Alicia hit in 1983. The hurricane wiped out the neighborhood with storm tides up to 10 feet high. (video)

Longtime residents were heartbroken when the area was declared uninhabitable and utilities to the peninsula were cut off. Some homeowners filed lawsuits. During the next 10 years the homes, foundations and streets continued to crumble while legal issues were sorted out. It was wild area for squatters, dumping and nature.

Eventually the city of Baytown obtained the land with a plan to turn the area into a natural preserve.

In 1995 the Baytown Nature Center opened with 65 acres of tidal wetlands, freshwater pools and forested areas. Most of the initial funds were for a mitigation site as part of the French Limited Superfund cleanup project. Houses were bulldozed and the streets became part of the trail system.

During the next 10 years channels were dug and lined with smooth cordgrass. An observation hill was built and trails were added (and continue to develop).  BNC expanded to 450 acres.

Today school groups of all ages visit regularly. The smaller peninsula at the front of the park is open to fishing although there are warning signs about toxins that may be in the fish.

Petrochemical companies surround BNC and Ship Channel traffic glides by.  The San Jacinto River Waste Pits SuperfundSite is upstream.

Yet most agree that thanks to environmental regulations the water is much cleaner than it was in the 1970s and wildlife has made a comeback.

Fishing is prohibited in the channels cut into the larger peninsula to protect the wildlife.

Hikers and bicyclists share the trails. In addition to the wildlife and wildflowers, photographers can find a great view of the San Jacinto Monument. North America’s smallest butterfly, Western Pygmy Blue, likes the glasswort (Salicornia spp.) along Arkokisa Trail.

Birders find everything from Roseate Spoonbills to Eastern Screech Owls. The past couple of years a Grooved-bill Ani has stopped by. BNC is one of the few locations in Harris County that the Nelson’s Sparrow and Seaside Sparrow can be seen during the winter months.

BNC is still susceptible to flooding. In 2008 Hurricane Ike flooded BNC with 13 feet of water.  A lot of debris had to be cleared. The playground and other structures were rebuilt with the knowledge that nature continues to shape BNC’s future.

** BNC, 6213 Bayway Drive, is open daily, except Christmas and days of extreme weather. Admission is $4 for adults and $1 for seniors and children.

BNC's Brownwood Pavilion

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

First color of the new year

Find the bloomer.
See that patch of pink in the dark pot next to the pink pot?  Meadow Pink!

The mild weather may have this Meadow Pink a bit confused, but we welcome our first color of the new year in the forb inventory for Sheldon Lake State Park.

When these plants get a bigger, they will find new homes in the prairie as part of the native plant restoration project.

Pink Meadow pot.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Today's walk at BNC

A Great White Egret shook its feathers when I came too close. Then it flew away.
After a low in the 30s and three days of rainy weather, the sun came out.

With the temp at 50 F, it was a great day for a quick walk after our regular Friday Mexican food lunch.

Immature human stare down with an immature Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.
Monarch finds a sunny place to warm himself.
Fluttery Dogface butterfly finally ...
... let's me see her open wings.
Looks like this mockingbird has a low opinion of me.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Morning entertainment at Bayland Park

Pelicans wait for the fishing boats to return.
This week's adventures as a water monitor at Bayland Park for Galveston Bay Foundation.
  • As I walked toward the dock, a guy was standing at the side while his buddy backed the boat into the water. "Curb!" the guide shouted. The driver stuck his head out of the window, "Huh?" "Curb," the guide repeated much quieter. The driver seemed unhappy. "I can see the curb! I'm not even close!" I was walking along the curb side, and the driver was right. He had plenty of room.
  • A guy who drove a beat-up van stopped by to ask what I was doing. I explained I was just taking measurements. He said, "Oh, I thought you were homeless like me and trying to catch some shrimp." He didn't catch anything with his cast net. He said it was too cold. I wondered if he lived in that van. Down by a river.
  • As I was counting drops during the dissolved oxygen test, an opossum strolled about 30 feet away.  I couldn't stop the test to get out my phone for a pic. It ambled  along the top of a ridge before going into a ditch.
  • The last time I was out at Bayland Park I lost my license and debit card, which I had stuffed in a pocket with my keys. A fisherman had found the debit card when I returned to search, but the driver's license never turned up. My mother, who was visiting during this mini-crisis, sent me a 15-pocket travel vest so I could keep cards, keys and 13 other things secure and tidy. Thanks, Mom!
This new sign is about dredging from Morgan's Point to Exxon.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Long-tailed skippers in my viewfinder

Recently I had a cataract removed from my right (focusing) eye, and it has been a revelation. I feel like I have super vision.

This morning I stalked a couple of Long-Tailed Skippers to practice my new focusing skills.

These skippers are common in our area. They are about 2 inches long and like a variety of flowers. They are pretty, but I understand gardeners and farmers growing beans consider them pests because the caterpillars like to eat vine legumes.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

A field trip with extra spit

The 82-foot tower provides a great view.
When you get to the top of the John Jacob Observation Tower, what do you want to do?

If you are a sixth-grade boy, you probably want to spit at the ground.

I was one of the herders for kids on a hike through Houston's Sheldon Lake State Park. Most of them couldn't wait to climb the stairs to the top of the observation tower.

The group also enjoyed getting muddy while helping plant in the wetlands.

On the walk we also spotted a broad-banded water snake in a display pond loaded with frogs. Yes, one boy wanted to spit on it to see if  it would move. To be fair there were others who wanted to poke at the snake with a stick, drop a pebble on it or touch it.

One kid, who was kind of joking, said, "Miss, I saw on TV that you grab them behind the head."

I guarded the snake to keep it undisturbed until the field trippers left.

"No, don't spit on the snake."