Wildlife in the Flood Zone
Houston is flat as a pancake, geographically speaking. For my readers north of here, those in the square states, and my wonderful international subscribers, this may be new information. This is the coastal plain and blessed with soggy, clay-rich, poorly drained soils. Good for growing rice and McMansions as we have discussed before, but not so pretty good when it rains for days and days and days.
Our flooding isn't water coming from higher elevations; it isn't rivers out of their banks. It is simply too much water spread out over a wide, flat area with no place to go.
Texas is in the midst of a drought cycle, but it will end and the rains will return. It wasn't too long ago when local flooding seemed to be the norm. It works like this:
- it rains hard every other day or a couple of days in a row.
- the ground get 'saturated' and the creeks and bayous are full from the runoff
- then it really rains, several inches an hour for most of the day
- we are all marooned at work or stuck on the elevated freeways because the surface streets are flooded
- the news reporters are standing in knee-deep water filming guys in pick-up trucks getting stalled out in said knee-deep water
- the water finally recedes and some unlucky residents have to call their insurance companies.
I just Googled Houston Floods Go on, I dare you to click on that link.
Some of those images are from Tropical Storm Allison, which was a milestone flood for us. After that disaster, the Harris County Flood Control District finally got some money, clout and smarts and have improved our drainage greatly. And they did it in a way that gave us more parks, more greenbelts and ... most importantly, more places for birds!
So, all this rainfall (and it is normal for Harris County to have 48 inches per year) has to soak into the ground and/or make its way slowly to Galveston Bay and the coast. And all that area in the map above is urbanized; the population of the county is 4.2 million and a bunch more live in the surrounding counties. Lots of houses, streets and people to protect from flooding.
Project Brays is a giant flood control endeavor to minimize the flooding around one of the watersheds. The bayou channels have been widened, some of the bridges have been modified and
Four stormwater detention basins are being created that will hold approximately 3.5 billion gallons of stormwater and cover about 900 acres when completed. A stormwater detention basin is an area where excess stormwater is stored or held temporarily until the water level in the adjacent channel recedes and the stormwater can safely flow away. When full, detention basins often resemble lakes. When not holding stormwater, detention basins are large, excavated open spaces. Some basins are designed to have a permanent water level in their bottoms, and vegetation is planted to provide habitat, as well as improved water quality.
Got that? 3.5 billion gallons of stormwater....
Arthur Storey Park is one of those stormwater projects along Brays Bayou. It is about 10 minutes from my house and has hike and bike trails, some permanent lakes, a duck pond and a Tai Chi park. There are picnic areas and a children's play ground.
Here, let me show you an aerial view. North is always to the top in my maps.
In the map above, you can see Brays Bayou meandering through the residential and commercial areas; the permanent lakes are on the north side of the bayou, the south side has those 'retention' areas. Right now, there are some serpentine lakes, but most of the retention area is grassy meadows.
I haven't seen much of the park; I have been exploring the banks of the bayou and upper meadows for birds and bugs to show you.
Our bayous mostly have grassy slopes except near bridges where the sides are concrete. The level of water varies, but I put on my rubber boots and carefully navigate the slope, with a black trash bag stuck in my back pocket. It is really useful for sitting on the grass. No, you don't get in the water, just down at the edge. Lots of dragonflies in that tall grass.
There are usually Snowy Egrets and Great Egrets on the banks along with Great Blue Herons, Cormorants, and Tricolored Herons. Once in a while you can see Green Herons or Little Blues. All my favorite birds.
This guy was at the extreme range of my camera, but you can see he has caught a small fish. This is where patience pays off. You wait and wait and wait until he moves a bit closer. Or flies away.
Now, I was sitting directly across the bayou from this culvert so the Snowy Egret was in good range. You can tell he is a young one, look at the yellow stripes on his legs. Those yellow feet are in the water and he has caught a little snack. How many tiny morsels does it take to fill up a Snowy Egret?
Sometimes you get lucky and a bird is fishing on the same side of the bayou. This is the young Tricolored Heron I showed you few weeks back. The one where I edged closer and closer and didn't scare him away.
I think he is worth looking at again, don't you? I can't remember if he was getting a drink or if he missed his prey in this shot. Young ones are still perfecting their skills and generally are not as wary as the older birds.
On the south side of the bayou there is a small gravel road that leads to the spillway. Sometimes there are dirtbike riders on the concrete and in the grassy areas. At the entrance there are large fields of sunflowers where I look for dragonflies and butterflies. Recently I saw a flash of orange. Not a red cardinal, but bright orange and black. It was not a finch, in fact I was really puzzled. It was not a tangier or oriole.
What kind of bird do you think this is?
This is a male Orange Bishop. The females look a lot like sparrows, except they have very short tails. They fly around in small flocks and land deep in the brush. When they do perch out in the open, they don't stay long. Makes it very difficult to get a clear shot. Another birder told me they have been seen in Bear Creek Park. If you remember, that is where I got major lost and almost stepped on a Water Moccasin. I haven't been back there and do not plan to go again.
These are Weaver birds from Africa. You have probably seen them on National Geographic; they make those globe-shaped nests. Escapees have established small populations in Texas and California. Another exotic I have seen at Storey Park is the Nutmeg Mannikin. It is a pretty brown bird with a scale -patterned breast. The rumor is the Nutmegs got established due to the custom of some cultures to release a pair of songbirds at wedding celebrations for good luck.
I have been to Storey Park four times looking for both of the exotics. Two times I didnt see a thing. But, I don't plan to give up and I hope to show you some better photos soon.
Storey Park is a wonderful example of multi-purposed utility; the benefits of flood control combined with park land, greenbelts and wildlife habitats. Another stormwater detention site is being constructed upstream of Storey Park and it might be a good birding spot as well.
Have you ever been to Storey Park? Do you have a flooding story you want to share? Have you ever seen an Orange Bishop? Or one of those other exotics, the Monk Parakeet? I read they build stick nest condos in electrical transmission towers.
Let me know in the comments. Just click that little icon and log in as a Guest with any name you want. You don't have to do the Google ID or Facebook thing unless you want to.