Whenever the National Weather Service alerts the Valley of an approaching cold front, jackets and hot java are not the only preparations taken by area authorities and volunteers in the Bahia Grande area.
Along a stretch of Highway 48 where the Bahia Grande ebbs and flows with the tide, pelicans find themselves falling out of the sky whenever winds exceed about 20 miles-per-hour. The problem is not the birds, rather the qualities of the wind as they return northward to their roosts in the evening hours. Solid concrete barriers in the median and north shoulder of the high-speed roadway deflect winds and create a vortex of air which forces the birds to the roadway.
Authorities reported more than 40 kills near the Gayman restoration channel Monday evening.
Tuesday evening, emergency vehicles from the Texas Department of Transportation, Texas State Troopers, Port Isabel Volunteer Fire Department, and Texas Game Wardens alerted motorists to reduce speed in the area known for pelican problems.
Researchers from Texas A&M, backed by Tx DOT, rescued birds as they landed near or on the roadway. Tuesday, Stephanie Bilodeau exited the passenger side of a red sedan with a pelican in her arms.
Rescued birds are then sexed, measured and tagged before release on the north side of the highway. The information gathered has aided in the understanding of the environmental impact of the busy highway which connects Port Isabel to Brownsville.
This year the research team spent extra time with a calm bird rescued by Bilodeau. Lianne Koczur worked to attach a solar-powered transmitter to the pelican’s back, held on by a thin piece of brown ribbon in addition to the usual gathering of vital statistics.
Pelicans are forced to fly over the roadway because of the separation of their roosting and feeding areas. Pelicans sometimes dive into the water to capture fish; deeper waters can be found in the channels and bay area.
The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a message Monday, urging vigilance along the highway during the evening hours between 5 and 8 p.m. With the change of seasons underway, cold fronts will pass through often, landing these many birds in trouble every time the north wind blows.
Herald reporters Mark Reagan and Gary Long contributed to this report.
By Jason Hoekema Staff Photojournalist