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Archive for May, 2010

When the City of McAllen voted to keep its old-growth forest on Saturday, May 8, it voted to keep its birds!  Here are just some of the dozens of species that find habitat in the garden.  All photos were taken in the McAllen Botanical garden. 

Baltimore oriole. Photo by Marissa Latigo.

Golden fronted woodpecker. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Cedar waxwings. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Summer tanager. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Brown-crested flycatcher. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Indigo bunting. Photo by Stefanie Herweck

Couch's or tropical kingbird. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Immature Harris' hawk. Photo by Stefanie Herweck.

Cardinal. Photo by Marissa Latigo.

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By Carol Goolsby

I just found out that 20 million supporters of the bond are all meeting underground at this very moment chewing on a celebration party if McAllen proceeds to build a tennis center at the Botanical Gardens! Alarming news! Perhaps it’s 20 x 20 million! (Impossible to count.) They’re our leaf cutter ants! They come out in force and defoliate all of our yard trees. They systematically cut and carry leaves into their underground chambers to feed a fungus colony hiding in the soil, which then their entire colony proceeds to eat. Above ground, urbanites watch vexed as the leaves slowly disappear from their trees and enormous mounds build up in their yards.

Leaf cutter ants with leaves (wikipedia)

Ever wonder why cutter ants aren’t doing the same damage in the botanic garden? Does anyone know which one of our soon to be displaced noble native animals is keeping them in check there…and where that animal actually LIVES in that forest? (We used to have tons of these natural predators around the Valley, standing on guard…right outside the cutter ant mounds…waiting to gobble them up.) Does anyone know?

This point sits idle and invisible at the crux of the debate: the lack of understanding of ecosystem, its members, and the consequences if we disturb its balance….the lack of education. How many people do we even have left who actually KNOW what’s supposed to be living here. How many native animals of this town can YOU name? List the birds. List the butterflies. Then try to name the plants, not just the trees, but the shrubs, the forbs, and the grasses…the lichens, the molds, the mollusks, the annelids. (“The what?” you ask.) Then draw the lines connecting them all to one another. How much do you even know?

In the long run, places like the Botanic Garden are a storehouse of answers. Biological, natural answers to urban pest problems in the future, whether they are invasive weeds, overzealous ants, or alarming numbers of grackles on the electric wires up and down 10th Street. Answers to reestablishing a balance in nature can only be found in whatever patches of intact ecosystem we have left–answers that will be our best alternative to continuous use of more and more control chemicals, inside our homes, and outside in our yards.

We could build a Tennis Center on the Botanical Garden and then put out signs about the animals and plants that used to be native to McAllen….  Or we could just not squeeze them out, and instead save those animals and plants, by preserving the Botanical Garden, a natural area housing knowledge that could improve our quality of life far into the future.

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By Stefanie Herweck

It was around dusk when a group of us were walking out of the McAllen Botanical Garden.  We had stopped by the tallest trees in the canal to talk when a grey hawk (Buteo nitidus) flew over the trees and wheeled around us overhead chased by a smaller bird.  The grey hawk is a light colored bird, and seemed to glow in the last light of the setting sun.  I was very excited, as I have only seen grey hawks a handful of times.  And of course, each time it has been far away from the city, either walking in a refuge tract or canoeing on the Rio Grande.

Grey hawk photo from wikipedia

It wasn’t hard to determine how the bird drama played out.  As we stood under the trees and talked about the hawk, feathers began to rain down over us.  White down was drifting through the air like snow, brown tail and flight feathers were whirligigging down faster.   This was a completely mundane and common thing in  nature.  Just another meal for a raptor, just the end of a short life for a nestling.  But for us, in the middle of the city, about to get in our cars and drive home as the streetlights and store signs flickered on, it was a magical event.

We need to preserve access to these kinds of experiences.  As our world gets more crowded, as our city gets more built up, we should ensure that people have a place to encounter the magic of nature and a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.  We should ensure that our children grow up learning about the natural world that makes human civilizations possible.  And we should provide space for the natural world and its creatures to live and to flourish.  Even in the city.  Especially in the city.

The city’s plans would almost certainly entail clearing the large trees out of the drainage canal on the east side of the Botanical Garden.  Concrete parking lots and tennis courts will require the most efficient drainage possible, which means cutting down these towering trees and creating a concrete drainage ditch.  The towering trees in the canal where the grey hawk made his meal may be some of the tallest in the city.  I am also not familiar with any other place in McAllen where there is mature riparian habitat.  Once it is gone, the grey hawk, which prefers high roosts and riparian forests, will be gone.

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