Documenting Wildlife Tracks and Weird Nature Stuff
April 6, 2016
We went out with Paul Hung and his band of intrepid Boy Scouts last week to document wildlife tracks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou.
We saw a lot of interesting things, including footprints of mysterious creatures behaving in puzzling ways, some strange yellow liquid, and flying seat cushions nesting in the trees.
This was the second outing for Paul and his teen-aged colleagues from Boy Scout Troop 55, Sam Houston Area Council. For his Eagle Scout Service Project, Paul proposed documenting the wildlife on the bayou as it flows along the southern edge of Memorial Park. Save Buffalo Bayou is the beneficiary, and we hope to publish Paul’s results as a pamphlet.
Fortunately the flow was very low, less than 200 cubic feet per second, which is about base flow in the bayou when it hasn’t been raining. The Army Corps of Engineers assured us in advance that the reservoirs in the dams upstream were empty, and barring any unforeseen weather event, the water would be low enough for us to see plenty of activity on the mud and sand of the banks. Which we did.
Paul was well organized. He handed out clipboards, small rulers, and post-it notes, and instructed his fellow scouts to use these with the GPS app on their cell phones to take photos and number and record the size of tracks. The group was divided into pairs in canoes. A few adults went along too, including Richard Hung, father of Paul, and Troop 55 Assistant Scoutmaster Janice Van Dyke Walden.
There were tracks everywhere. Creatures crawling, slithering, hopping and tiptoeing across the sand, burrowing, strolling, turning about and flying away; digging holes, chasing each other, stepping and sliding in and out of the water.
The most impressive tracks we saw were a series of long dragging tracks up and down a sandy bank leading to some very large holes apparently dug out with large claws.
No one in our group could say for certain what this was but we had a lot of ideas:
1. Turtles laying eggs. (But the holes were not covered.)
2. Alligators digging up and eating turtle eggs.
3. Hatched turtles sliding into water. (But eggshells missing.)
4. Hatched baby alligators. (Eggshells still missing.)
5. Beavers eating alligator or turtle eggs. (But beavers are herbivores.)
6. Raccoons eating alligator or turtle eggs. (Very likely. Maybe we overlooked the raccoon tracks.)
7. Alligators eating alligator eggs.
We also came across a puddle of bright yellow liquid in the sandy bank. It didn’t seem to be coming from a storm drain. It didn’t smell. It had a deep reddish-orange edge.
Stumped about this also, we later asked geologist Bill Heins, one of our super-duper experts, about the bright yellow puddle. Heins responded in an email that he’d seen this too. He believed it was “natural stuff” and called it amorphous organic matter (AOM) derived from leaf litter. “The AOM may have complexed with red clay,” he wrote.
So to our list of weird liquid stuff naturally produced by decomposing organic matter, we can add bright, clear, yellow puddles in the sand to the rainbow-colored oily sheen in the smelly mud that we’d observed on previous bayou visits.
Here and there along the banks we observed flying seat cushions nesting high in the trees. These migrating adult brown outdoor cushions have been hanging around since at least the Memorial Day 2015 flood.
Tracks Everywhere Except in Buffalo Bayou Park
Paul’s summary of the trip:
We did not find as many tracks as we did the last trip, but we did document about 50 tracks this time. The first trip, we found raccoon, beaver, coyote, great blue heron, and white egret. We discovered new species this trip, such as wild boar, nutria, armadillo, and cormorant.
Wildlife was prevalent around the Memorial Park/River Oaks Country Club/Bayou Bend areas. There is a bend in the Bayou just before Shepherd Drive. Once you pass this bend, it is clear that there is no evidence of wildlife on the Bayou.