Wildlife Expo kicks off with alligator presentation
By DINA ARÉVALO
Port Isabel-South Padre Press
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge Manager Boyd Blihovde lifted up a young alligator for the crowd to see in the dimly lit auditorium at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center (BNC) Tuesday morning.
The small, thin creature, with its still-powerful jaws taped shut, issued a quiet chirp — the sort of call a baby gator makes when trying to get the attention of its mother. The gator was the star of a presentation the refuge manager was giving to a crowd of wildlife aficionados on the opening day of the Winter Outdoor Wildlife Expo.
A good number of people had turned out for the Expo’s very first presentation. “It’s a pretty good crowd,” Blihovde said afterwards.
“Seemed like everyone in the room wanted to ask something. That’s good, that’s an indication that they were really into that topic. In South Texas, it’s really cool, for me, being a herpetologist, that folks are really into alligators.”
It’s the second time he has spoken about alligators during the popular event. Each opportunity to speak allows him and other refuge staff an opportunity to, in turn, educate the public about the unique plants and animals that call the refuge home. WOWE gives refuge staff the additional advantage of reaching people who may not otherwise know about the refuge. “The WOWE visitor sometimes isn’t the typical Laguna visitor. There’s a lot of folks here who have never been to the refuge,” Blihovde said.
“Hopefully, they’ll take the next step, hike some trails at Laguna, go search for a pond that might have alligators or birds or try to find an ocelot, if they’re lucky enough,” he said.
Though native to other parts of Texas, alligators are not native to the Rio Grande Valley, Blihovde explained during the presentation. The best guess officials have for how they ended up here is that a well-intentioned wildlife worker may have introduced them to the region by releasing gators which had been kept in captivity.
Now, the refuge isn’t the only place they can be found. Any body of freshwater in South Texas could potentially be hiding the scaly, thick-skinned reptiles, Blihovde said. That includes the many resacas which dot the Valley, and the brackish waters that surround the Birding Center.
Just a few years ago, visitors began to notice the presence of one male alligator, which could often be seen sunning itself by the reeds that line the ponds and wetlands at the BNC. But, in recent years, more and more have been seen, including juveniles. Blihovde said he’s even helped BNC staff remove some of the creatures from the property.
The juvenile alligator Blihovde showed WOWE attendees, however, came from the refuge. It was undersized and emaciated when the refuge manager found it, a consequence of both the lack of rain over the past year, and the unusually cold winter.
“This alligator that I captured came from a pond that is now about the size of a large automobile, so that’s all the freshwater that’s left,” Blihovde said. “It’s not enough water to sustain fish and other birds and stuff, so the alligators are really just trying to survive in a den out on the refuge with no food,” he said.
In a rainy year, that pond would be about 10 feet deep and could cover several acres of land, he said.
After Blihovde concluded his presentation, the audience slowly filed back out into the Birding Center. Some folks took advantage of the cool, calm weather to birdwatch along the BNC’s boardwalks.
A kingbird flew by, with a brief flash of yellow belly showing. It was too quick to determine if it was a Couch’s kingbird or a tropical kingbird. Off in the distance, a pale blush of pink signaled the presence of a roseate spoonbill napping in mud.
And near the first bird blind stood one of the BNC’s most well-known residents, a blue heron which often stands patiently while onlookers take photos. He stalked among the shallow water with slow grace as people strolled past.
WOWE continues Friday and Saturday with a full slate of events from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day. Jonathan Woods returns with six opportunities for folks to catch his live raptor show. For more information, visit spibirding.com
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