Image Credit: Angie Mohle
August 11, 2012

Craning My Neck For A Spectacular Sight

I’m really not trying to come across as some weird environmentalist, because that’s really not my intent. I’m also not trying to focus solely on Texas interests, yet I seem to be. You know what “They” say: write what you know. I guess that’s what I’m doing. So, I am passing on to you one more bit of Texas wildlife information. You’re welcome.

I’ve complained about suburban sprawl and master-planned communities before, so I’ll be brief: They’re terrible for the native environment. I don’t want to discuss the carefully-landscaped greenspaces dotted with non-native trees that require ongoing care and water. Think back to “we invaded this habitat and raped it, rather than living in and coexisting with it.” This is related to that, yet again.

Image Credit: Angie Mohle

Southwest of where I live, there is a massive community being developed. It’s going to span (as of right now) 2000 acres of what was once ranchland and wetlands. There’s no doubt the houses are pretty, the amenities are compelling, and the ranchers must’ve made some money off the sale of the property. Unfortunately, they destroyed every bit of natural charm and ecology when they bulldozed and leveled everything with fill dirt.

When they drained the wetlands, they displaced turtles. It sounds stupid, I know, and people intentionally hit them as they cross the road, but my father taught me to respect wildlife – especially when humans are causing their struggles. So it’s my policy to always stop and help the little guys out before they become a hockey puck for a Michelin. Since the pumping and draining of the tanks, ponds, and streams began, I’ve saved probably close to 40 turtles. The new, visually appealing “waterscapes” with fountains in the center (that’s another rant entirely) can’t replicate the same ecology, so the turtles move in search of…I don’t know…whatever turtles look for. Most of them can’t get up the curbs, so I have a moral obligation – okay, it’s an OCD compulsion – to save them.

Image Credit: Angie Mohle

There were two major components of importance that have now disappeared. One was an accidental herd of fallow deer living in the acres and acres of scrub brush. They escaped from an exotics ranch many years ago following a storm and established their new lives across the highway. This realization came to light when the developers started bulldozing the habitat, pushing the fallow closer to roadways. At that point, many of the long-time locals said, “Oh! That’s where those escaped exotics went!” Unfortunately, I was unable to get any decent photographs of the skittish Cervidae but, trust me…it was a sight to behold! They were just fun to watch.

The continued development has cut down their habitat to probably one square mile. I made a phone call to the county’s wildlife biologist and the area game warden, telling them about the recent sightings. I figured they might want to make a few more visits around that area to establish more of a presence. Any less-than-moral jerk with a bow or rifle might have wanted to take advantage of that situation. However, I haven’t seen another fallow in over a year.

Another amazing contributor to the ecology is the Sandhill Crane. They migrate over the area to stop for rest and feeding. There used to be hundreds of them, much like the geese from a previous post on a smaller scale. The last few times I’ve seen them, they’ve been in flocks of about 25 to 50 at a time.

Image Credit: Angie Mohle

Sandhills are very large and often mistaken for Whooping Cranes. The majestic birds would draw crowds of people who would pull over onto the shoulder of the road to watch, listen, (always ask me a bunch of questions because they didn’t know what the birds were) and sometimes pass that information onto their children to teach them about wildlife. It’s funny how people always walk up to the guy with the camera.

Texas Parks and Wildlife television series has a great little video that shows a bit about the Sandhills. This YouTube clip features cranes from a different part of the state but it does show their migration patterns and identifies the coastal prairie as one of the flyways.

While there were wetlands in the area, there were also milo fields, cotton fields, and pasture in between the acacia bushes that gave the Sandhills the grains and seeds they prefer. They are omnivores, however, and I’ve observed them knee deep in the wetlands, probing their beaks into the marsh to get the little invertebrates and insects. Since so much of the farmland had disappeared, the small spots of seasonal marsh was almost all they had to find food.

I hunt, and Sandhills do have a season here in Texas, but I won’t shoot them. They seem almost too graceful to me. Plus, I really suck with a shotgun.

The images I took of the Sandhills trying to find room for themselves, amidst new construction and streets, were from January of this year. I suppose I’ll have to wait a few months to see if they have anywhere left to return to. Based on the rate of the new construction I see, that isn’t likely to happen. Much like the geese, I’m sure they’ll find somewhere else to go, and I sure hope I can find it.

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