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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bahia Grande Wetlands in South Texas

Harris's Hawk
Yesterday we visited the Bahia Grande, one of the largest wetlands restoration projects in America, and for a morning focused on life’s beauty rather than the tragedies in Japan and Kyle and Amanda Franklin’s air crash.

The Bahia Grande is a wetlands area that lies on both sides of Hwy 48 between Port Isabel and Brownsville, Texas. Once home to many species of marine life, the 11,000-acre area dried up as a result of the dredging of the Brownsville Ship Channel in the 1930s. When tidal waters could no longer flow into the area, the abundant fish and wildlife disappeared. In their place, the combination of wind and sand flats created health problems for surrounding communities.

Eastern Meadowlark

In recent years, Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge purchased more than 21,000 acres of land between the two cities. Over the next years, an amazing reclamation project began that took the cooperation of sixty-five governments (federal, state and local), government agencies, foundations, businesses, universities and schools. Today it shines as a testament to what can be accomplished by people and organizations working together.

The sand flats are gone, replaced by wetlands that provide a critical habitat to many species of wildlife. Since the newly dredged channel opened the area to tidal waters from the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, thousands of students and community members have volunteered their time in the replanting of native vegetation.

 Yesterday we discovered the results of that ten-year effort. The amount of re-flooded land and the islands that have already been reclaimed as wildlife nesting areas amazed us. Our group, members of the Bay Area Birding Group, counted many species of birds and waterfowl. We counted a couple dozen nilgai (a member of the antelope family imported from India and Pakistan into Texas years ago).

Abundant birds of prey, songbirds, shorebirds and waterfowl give visitors great viewing and photographing opportunities. You can sign up for the tour through the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge. It’s a tour that we highly recommend.


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