Armand Bayou 4/27/17

April storms, fresh wildflowers, and imminent blue skies greeted us the few days we were at Armand Bayou. Armand bayou provides our crew with many projects and educational opportunities for it is one of the largest natural spaces inside an urban area in our country. Our PT was directly across an extremely active Rookery, where we were able to witness juvenile Great Blue Herons build their wing muscles by flapping them while poached on the structure. White Egrets would skim right over our heads and Roseate Pink Spoonbills sat deep in the rookery protecting their young. Deer would scatter around us, hopping from one spot to the next, and we even got to sneak a peek at an indigo bunting

The project was classic conservation work. We were helping close out an area where we previously fell large diameter sweet gum trees. That mostly consisted of chopping up the larger pieces of lumber into smaller ones which we would then transport into a nearby forest. This was to allow a large tractor with a batwing brush cutter to safely mow over the prarrie without destroying the equipment.

While half the crew was working on that the others with helping me fell medium sized tallow trees as well as trim the larger trees canopies to prevent them from creeping into the road. This was one of the projects where sensitivity to rare and even endangered wildlife was a key priority. The team clearing road corridor was right near the active rookery and many birds don’t like loud noises, especially blaring chainsaws. So during our breaks we would pause, gaze at the home of 100’s of birds and hopefully wait for something rare to fly over us.

Other than  our standard work day, we did get to experience some of the common challenges we come across performing conservation work. And when you work in a coastal tall grass prairie you realize that if you step off one side of the main road you will sink, sink deep, and sink even deeper. Well, one of the UTV’s didn’t make it back from the worksite. It was buried deep, in a slick-muddy pile of gunk that was so soft that you leg could sink all the way to your knee, a fellow crew member, and my bigfoot sized field coordinator tried to push it out of the mud, and with my bosses strength we could pretty much lift the thing out of the mud, but because the mud was so soft, the frame was underneath the terrain thus preventing all the tires from spinning.

At that point we were in a large pickle and all hands on deck were required. The team that was out in the prarrie was called in to help get us unstuck. The whole team was helping now. Three on the front, two on each side, and the lightest member was driving. We all worked together and got the machine out of its sticky situation. Even though much of our afternoon was sacrificed in order to help a machine, we got to experience some of the challenges in working around sensitive habitats. Getting stuck is like a right of passage for conservation work. And the more experience you have getting unstuck the easier life will be for you in the future.


Coastal Crew

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Aplomado Falcon Habitat Restoration

Near Brownsville, Texas there is a National Historic Park called Palo Alto Battlefield. The original site for the first Texan Mexican war.

It is a coastal arid prairie, located near the Mexican border. which is  a key part in the recovery of the Aplomato falcon. (It is a little known bird of prey.) 

They specialize in eating birds, insects and sometimes take young pack rats. It is one of the rarest birds in the lower 48 states, rarely seen above the border of Mexico. The last breeding pair in the United States hasn’t been seen since 1956. now after much effort there are around 60 breeding pairs currently in the Palo Alto Battlefield park. 

However, the Aplomato falcon is in a delicate situation, as the mesquite tree is still taking over the prairie which is home to a startlingly diverse ecosystem. This bird has few predators, including the great horned owl. 

Larger birds of pray such as Great Horned Owls can and will out compete the smaller Aplomato falcon in prey resources, they also have been known to prey on young falcons, dropping the already low seven percent survival rate to less than three percent. 

Most Owl’s can’t survive on an open prairie, so as the trees slowly take over, the other birds of prey, such as the Great Horned Owl will move with them. It Is hard to believe that the mesquite tree is the greatest threat to the Falcons very existence. 

We chose to handle the devastating toll in this situation by using herbicide to wipe out the mesquite trees from their non-native range. due to the hostile environment it lives in they adapted to have large thorns with mild toxicity. Which allows them to grow for hundreds of years. The older trees even grow up to fifteen to thirty feet tall. 

For the first five to ten years they grow rapidly then they grow much slower. The trees can’t be cut down as they will just grow back. To combat this We used an oil based herbicide that adheres to the bark of the tree and is then absorbed into the roots. The process takes anywhere from ten to thirty-six days depending on the size of the tree. 

The longevity of the mesquite tree makes it much more difficult for the Aplomato falcon to survive here in this desert like environment. This is why it is so important to preserve this irreplaceable species. So as the Texas conservation corps it it our sovereign duty to protect this increasingly rare bird and all creatures big and small who inhabit this one of a kind ecosystem. 

Thank you to the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park for allowing my team to work there. 

Thank you to the Texas conservation corps staff for giving us the opportunity to work in an amazing environment. 

Thank you to my roommates Lyric, Micah, and Abby for helping with grammar and other issues in the blog. I couldn’t have done this without them. 


Anthony Rodriguez – Coastal Crew


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