Mustang Island is a coastal barrier island with a unique and complicated ecosystem dependent upon sand dunes. Coastal dunes are the product of wind-deposited sand anchored by sparse mats of vegetation. The height of well-vegetated dunes may reach 35 feet, though 15-20 feet is average. The dunes are capable of reducing the destructive might of hurricane-driven waves and protecting bay and mainland areas. In some areas, inland and bayside dunes occur, which are generally smaller but spread over larger areas than the primary beachside dunes. The vegetation holding the dunes in place is comprised of drought-resistant species such as sea oats, beach panic grass and soilbind morning glory. Studies have shown that these plants and their progeny can collect enough sand to build a 15-foot dune in three years.
The island animal community is dominated by rodents such as pocket gophers, spotted ground squirrels, grasshopper mice, rice rats and cotton rats. Other small mammals include opossums, raccoons, striped skunks, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits and armadillos. A small population of coyotes are present, as well. Large numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds are common, as well as several species of hawks and a large variety of songbirds, most of which are migratory. An estimated 600 species of saltwater fish inhabit the waters along the coast.
Aplomado Falcon chicks to be released at Mustang State Park
The colorful Aplomado Falcon is regaining a foothold in parts of Texas where they disappeared more than a half-century ago. In early July, 2012, biologists will begin releasing captive-bred Aplomodo Falcons to the wild for the first time at Mustang Island State Park to take advantage of additional habitat that the endangered birds of prey need to survive.
“We are delighted to have Mustang Island State Park as a partner in this recovery effort,” said Bill Heinrich of The Peregrine Fund, an Idaho-based conservation organization focused on birds of prey. “The park helps fill in a gap in habitat between falcon populations that are already well-established and self-sustaining in South Texas.”
Since 1984, The Peregrine Fund has released Aplomado Falcons in wide-open grassland areas that provide native food and shelter. They are raised in captivity at The Peregrine Fund’s World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho.
When chicks are about a month old, they are flown to the release sites by LightHawk, a volunteer aviation group that donates flights for conservation projects. Fast flights on private aircraft are the best way to ensure that the chicks arrive with little stress and in good overall health, Heinrich said.