Borrego Springs, CA

Friday, January 22, 2010

Flying over the marsh

Hunters were out on the marsh plunking away at waterfowl this morning, so Stephanie and I had to wait until noon to head over to the East Unit to do the salinity tests.  We didn't want them plunking away at two good looking chicks flying over the marsh! ;)

We headed south almost to the Intracoastal Waterway that is a shipping channel that runs all along the coast.  After unhooking the rope and chain, Stephanie quickly backed up the truck and trailer towards the channel and then slammed on the brakes.  The result....the boat slid off the trailer into the channel.  What a neat way to offload a boat.

Once we were both loaded, with Steph in front and me behind, we headed out over the "sea of grass."  The marsh is brown now since it's winter, but by March it will be a lush green.  Coots, sparrows, and pelicans took flight upon our approach.

Once we left the channel, I don't know how Stephanie knew where she was going.  This rear view gives you an idea of the mix of water and marsh grasses that cover 40,000 protected acres in the refuge.

We had five test sites to visit in this vast area.  When she miraculously arrived at the first site, I hopped down off of my perch to the bottom of the boat to do the testing.

I thought this was an interesting pattern looking through, under the seats.  That's the bridge to High Island in the distance.  It has to be high enough to allow all sorts of barges under it as they make their way coming or going to Galveston along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Here's my trusty pilot, Stephanie.  I hope you notice the life jacket and ear muffs.  The engine that propels the huge fan in back is very loud.  Ear plugs and muffs are a must!  Stephanie steers this boat with just a stick and gas pedal.  In order to get to these locations, we had to "jump" over two dikes.  That is very eerie.  Being an air boat, as long as we have enough momentum, we can just blast our way up and over the dikes.  The eerie part for me is the fast approach to the land where we don't slam into it, but buzz right over it.  She's a good driver, thank goodness!

At each of the five stops, I'd throw the probe over the side to get a reading.  Stephanie would slowly drive the boat around in a tight circle so that we weren't dragging the probe through the water, but getting the needed reading from an exact location.

All too soon, for me, we were done with the testing.  I climbed back up into my perch, and away we went back toward the landing area.  It's been three years since I've been out on the marsh in an air boat, so I really enjoyed this trip.  The last time I went out with the biologist and he gave me quite a tour.  It was at the very end of April; the marsh was vibrant green and thousands of birds rose into the sky in front of us.  I marveled at all the rails, black-necked stilts, and even short-eared owls that we kicked up. It was alive with life. It was interesting to me to note the contrast with the more dormant marsh of winter.

At one point on the way back, Steph slowed down to methodically ride over a different looking patch of vegetation.  We went back and forth over it several times, knocking it all down.  It turns out that this was a patch of cane.  Stephanie documented the GPS location of the patch.  I learned that cane is not a good thing to have in the marsh....an invasive species.  That patch and its roots will have to be ripped out by hand soon so it doesn't grow.

When we got back to the launch site, Stephanie dropped me off on shore so I could back the truck and trailer up closer to the channel.  You can see that my seat on the boat is quite a perch offering fantastic views!

If I thought getting the boat launched was easy, getting it loaded was just as easy.  Stephanie just lined it up, gunned the engine, and blasted it up onto the trailer without us ever having to get the trailer tires wet.  Pretty slick, huh?

What a good time I had today, and what a good way to help wrap up my volunteer time at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge!  I still have two days left to work, but this experience I'll remember for sure.

Thanks for stopping by....talk to you later,  Judy

No comments:

Post a Comment