Tracking Wildlife on the Bayou

Boys Scouting Part III

September 20, 2016

Boy Scout Paul Hung rallied his troop for the third floating inventory of the banks of Buffalo Bayou on a recent Saturday morning. Hung is documenting the tracks of wildlife as an Eagle Scout service project, and his fellow scouts in Sam Houston Council Troop 55 are helping.

Hung and other scouts have so far found over 130 tracks of animals including raccoon, beaver, possum, coyote, grey fox, bobcat, great blue heron, egret, otter, nutria, wild boar, and others. The tracks are being plotted on a map, and the information will be published as a pamphlet with the help of Save Buffalo Bayou, which is the beneficiary of the project.

Anyone who wishes to donate to help Paul Hung publish his Buffalo Bayou wildlife pamphlet can do so here.

Some of the animals found on Buffalo Bayou in Houston.

Illustrations of animals found on Buffalo Bayou that Boy Scout Paul Hung plans to use in his wildlife track pamphlet.

About a dozen Boy Scouts and adult observers gathered with their Boy Scout wooden canoes at the Memorial Park boat launch at Woodway Sept. 10. It was a steamy morning, and they planned to paddle past Memorial Park and the Hogg Bird Sanctuary all the way to Lost Lake in Buffalo Bayou Park. Hung handed out clipboards and gave instructions for identifying and photographing the tracks and recording their location using a compass app on a cell phone. Nearby was the wooden box, built and recently installed by Troop 55 Boy Scout Saswat Pati, containing reusable bags for picking up trash on the bayou.

 

Boy Scout Paul Hung at the Woodway boat launch giving instructions to the volunteers from Troop 55.

Boy Scout Paul Hung at the Woodway boat launch giving instructions to the volunteers from Troop 55.

Invaders! But No Mosquitoes

The group then commenced carrying their canoes down the hill through the lush, tall grasses and wildflowers that have appeared on the bank since our last visit. But something looked ominous, not right. The harmony was gone. Alas, it turns out that in addition to native amaranth, sedge, smartweed, and ground cherry that have recently installed themselves on the lower bank, invasive Johnsongrass has also settled in there. Perhaps the Memorial Park Conservancy will do some ecological conversion on the bank of the bayou and remove the Johnsongrass. Already the native plants seemed to be struggling amongst the colonies of thick tall grasses.

  • Carrying wooden canoes to the bank of Buffalo Bayou. Photo Sept. 10, 2016
  • Before clearing: Looking downstream from boat launch at Woodway on Buffalo Bayou with stand of mixed grasses and reeds, including invasive Johnsongrass, on left. Photo Sept. 10, 2016

 

Some of the adults, who started spraying and handing out mosquito repellent, were surprised to learn that there are no mosquitos on the bayou. Mosquitos do not breed in flowing water, and in any case they have plenty of predators down on the bayou, including damselflies, dragonflies, catfish, frogs, and bats.

After observing the tracks of a heron, raccoon, and some big cat under the Woodway bridge, the group set off downstream on a current that was slightly higher and faster than expected. They planned to meet geologist-naturalist-river guide Tom Helm, leader of our floating geology classes, who had started out earlier paddling his own canoe upstream from Lost Lake in Buffalo Bayou Park. (Because he can, that’s why.)

  • Members of Boy Scout Troop 55 headed downstream to inventory animal tracks on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Photo Sept. 10, 2016
  • Geologist Tom Helm explaining to Boy Scouts the creation of a new channel in Buffalo Bayou. Photo by Janice Walden, Sept. 10, 2016.

 

Rain Interruption

Paul later reported that despite the rain that interrupted the survey trip around midday, the trip was very productive. The Boy Scouts were prepared for the rain, of course.

Paul wrote in a thank you note to his colleagues: “During the first half of the day before it started raining, we were very productive. We found 64 tracks including raccoon, squirrel, coyote, nutria, great blue heron, egret, duck and turtle. Imagine how many we could’ve found if it didn’t rain!”

Stay tuned for the finale.

Epilogue

Nine days later a park maintenance crew mysteriously had cut down the  wild growth, including groundcherry and other native plants, along the concrete ramp and on the bank below the Woodway Bridge, leaving behind clumps of dead grass to wash into the bayou and exposing the eroding bank to more erosion. But the invasive Johnsongrass was still there.

Mowing by Memorial Park maintenance leaving clumps of dead grass on bank above boat launch. Photo Sept. 19, 2016

Mowing by Memorial Park maintenance leaving clumps of dead grass on bank above boat launch and invasive Johnsongrass untouched. Photo Sept. 19, 2016

Mowing of wildflowers and native grasses along concrete ramp leading to Buffalo Bayou boat launch in Memorial Park. Photo Sept. 19, 2016

Mowing along concrete ramp leading to Buffalo Bayou boat launch in Memorial Park. Photo Sept. 19, 2016

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