Another volunteers tour with this one being to Bahia Grande (Big Bay). This tract is one that is managed by Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, our sister refuge, which is about an hour and a half drive from Santa Ana NWR. There are three refuges that make up the South Texas Complex. The third one being Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR.
Bahia Grande is currently a closed tract to the public, but there are some great plans in the future for this tract of land. We were fortunate to have as our guide, the refuge manager, Leo Gustafson, to give us the tour today. We are standing on one of the bridges that was built with stimulus money, spanning one of the new channels which allowed water into yet another area.
Bahia Grande is the largest estuary restoration in North America. In 1930 when the ship channel was created, this area was cut off. It became a dust basin!!! That created a lot of problems...not only from dirt blowing across the roadway making it difficult driving, but to making people sick. BUT the wildlife suffered too. In 2005, with the help of many partners, a pilot channel was cut allowing tidal water to flow once again. There will eventually be a bigger and deeper cut. This cut can be seen off highway 48 between Port Isabel and Brownsville. Now we have WATER and things are really looking good.
The property was acquired in 1999 and has 21,763 acres with the wetland being 10,000 acres in size.
Here we are looking down one of the new inside channels. This was the day we had wind gusts of 56 mph!!
We saw a lot of Nilgai. The largest Indian antelope. They were brought over here by the King Ranch for hunting purposes in 1930. Both sexes have horns and the male can weigh up to 800 lbs. They have become a problem.
We had lunch at Pelican Island Restaurant where the food is really yummy. You dine while you look out on Laguna Madre where the old railroad trestles can still be seen today.
After a stop at the necessary room, we got seated.
Decisions, decisions, decisions...not for me...it's always fried shrimp!!!
Mark, clowning around...the beer is on its way. Notice the bins even when eating. Mark and Joanie are avid birders and lead our bird walks at Santa Ana.
One last picture. This one is of the old railroad trestle crossing the Bahia Grande on its way to Brownsville. The trestles were made of cypress and are still standing!! The island in the background is Bird Island where there have been many nesting shorebirds and there will be once again when the time comes.