Survival on Galveston Island

Gary Houston

When we first purchased a home in West Beach in early 2008, we had no idea of the wildlife we would get to observe. We have an acre, located in a community surrounded by un-developed lots and fields and back up to a large pond that has high-tide access to the bay. We see all kinds of birds, turtles, fish, crabs, coyotes and alligators…yes, alligators!

Our pond contains a large, female alligator we’ve nicknamed “Allie.” How do we know she’s a “she?” Well, following a brief encounter with a visiting gator this past June, she built a nest across the pond from our house. We don’t think any of the baby gators survived the large birds that camped out during hatching time and she no longer stays close to the nest. But we confirmed with Texas Parks & Wildlife that it was a nest and she was building it at the appropriate time in mating season.

Allie comes to visit our bank quite often, laying still and catching crabs for snacks. She always appears when I cut grass on the bank or do some other noisy work along the pond’s edge. I think she is as interested in watching us as we are her. She doesn’t bother us and will occasionally lie on our bank to sun. She’s fascinating to watch and has become quite a conversation piece for our visitors.

Alligators go into hibernation each fall when water temperatures drop below 70 degrees, but just before Ike hit, she disappeared early. Obviously, her instincts were to hibernate early that year. We thought she was washed away by Ike, but in April of 2009, she reappeared in the pond, covered with mud, swimming all around.

Last spring, we cleared our pond bank of all plant growth to allow our yard grass to grow to the water’s edge, to give us a clear view of the pond. During that time, we had a multitude of black birds hang out looking for bugs, minnows or baby crabs. Allie spent a lot of time laying a few feet from the bank, either curious of what we were doing or hoping for a quick meal. Thank goodness we weren’t on her menu!

At one point, a female black bird ventured too close to the water’s edge, Allie lunged and caught her on her left wing! The wing detached and the female bird ran into the high grass in the field next door. We figured she probably wouldn’t survive and we wouldn’t see her again.

However, a few weeks later, she reappeared, living within our yard and inside the fence around our pool! She roosts at night in the oleanders in the flower beds, drinks fresh water from our pool and has an un-ending supply of bugs in our yard. She is always around now, and earned the nickname “One-Wing” for obvious reasons.

She can’t fly, but has developed great skill in chasing down bugs, running and jumping from bushes to the fence. We’ve caught her several times up on our second story deck, pretending she can still fly and getting a “bird’s eye” view of the yard. She hops down the stairs as fast as she can to get away, but when we are lounging by the pool, she has no fear of hopping by us while searching for bugs.

When I leave the garage door up, she ventures in there to find whatever bugs might be hiding.

I’ve walked in on her many times as she scatters out, leaving “white spots” for me to clean up. She’s always around now, and occasionally we leave some bird seed out for her. She’s a delight to watch!

It’s a unique gift we’ve been given to observe these two, Allie & One-Wing, and two remarkable stories of survival on Galveston Island.

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