Island yard offers respite for creatures great and small
Moving from 23 acres in Bryan, Texas, to three lots in Galveston meant a lot of scaling down for Charli and Jim Rohack.
Charli Rohack, who was born and raised in Galveston, moved back to her hometown with husband, Jim, four years ago after his semi-retirement.
The Rohacks chose a property in the Denver Court Historic District, which had some nice big palms, magnolias, crepe myrtles, rain and cypress trees and a pool. But there wasn’t a lot of landscaping.
Charli Rohack saw potential and could envision the tropical environment she wanted to create, not only for herself, her husband and daughter, Elisha, but for wildlife, too.
“It was important for me to have a property that could be a habitat for wildlife,” she said. “Especially for the birds, butterflies, lizards and other creatures.”
As a wildlife rehabilitator for 24 years, Rohack holds permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which has enabled her to rescue, rehabilitate and release countless injured and orphaned birds — mainly raptors — giving them a second chance at life.
Because most of the yard was basically grass with scant flower beds, Rohack got busy planting and adding ambience. The Rohacks installed a black wrought-iron fence across the front entrance and planted plumerias along the fence line.
“We had 25 to 30 of them all over the yard before Hurricane Harvey hit,” she said. “I had to cut several of them down, but the tall one out front did pretty well.”
A welcoming brick pathway leads the way to queen palms, white bird of paradise, pride of Barbados, hibiscuses of yellow, fuchsia and pink, and various pieces of nautical statues.
The side yard to the left leads to the pool area where Charli Rohack’s favorite desert rose plants reside.
“I’m not a big fan of roses, but do love these desert rose plants, which are not roses at all, but from the Adenium genus,” she said. “Their bright red blooms, succulent leaves and thick, gnarly trunks are impressive.”
A Zen-like garden follows the trail of a rock-lined miniature creek, which is actually a drainage system the Rohacks installed because of backyard flooding. Christmas cactuses hang in pots from the limbs of an enormous crepe myrtle with a twisted trunk and spreading roots. A schefflera, taller than the two-story house, looms large as do the many queen palms. Colorful Adirondack chairs and art objects surround the pool, waterfall and a newly installed palapa with tiki bar and cabinetry made of cedar, varnished to perfection.
Beyond the palapa is a grove of cedar trees, providing a bit of a forest atmosphere among all the tropicals. A table full of birdseed awaits a group of hungry pigeons, who wait patiently along the roof’s edge.
“I love pigeons,” Rohack said. “They served in the military and they are very smart. Right now, I have Hobo residing here — a pigeon who refuses to leave. We even took him to the East End Historical District to release him to the wild and he beat us home.”
The backyard is indeed the focal point of this tropical property where several enclosures act as temporary homes for injured raptors.
Lacy, a 1-year-old red-tailed hawk, is the current resident of a vine-covered hawk house surrounded by stag horn ferns.
“She was hit by a car in League City and found in the corner of a strip mall,” Rohack said. “We took her to Texas A&M in College Station, where they put seven pins in her wing, but they couldn’t guarantee she’d ever fly again. The pins stayed in for 10 weeks until Galveston veterinarian Lea Fistein removed them and now Lacy is flying well.”
Rohack will hunt with Lacy all winter, making sure she can survive in the wild before releasing her.
Sky, a previous inhabitant of the hawk house, was rescued, rehabilitated and released in a two-year period.
“The objective is to release,” Rohack said. “After Sky left, he came back for about two days, but I’ve not seen him since. He was a good hunter, so he could be anywhere.”
On rare occasion, rescues aren’t well enough to occupy one of the bird houses, so Rohack has no choice but to bring them inside. Such is the case with Solo, a 6-month-old screech owl.
“She was found under a palm frond in Bolivar as a tiny baby and had a birth defect in her wing,” said Rohack, who likely will keep Solo, who can’t fly.
But Solo now has a job serving as an educational ambassador and has visited Oppe Elementary School in Galveston on four occasions.
“We’re starting to do these educational raptor programs and will be working on getting more of them into the schools,” Rohack said.
Other indoor companions include Titus, a mixed-breed rescue dog, and two rag doll cats, Odie and Lokie.
“My yard and the birds are my therapy,” Rohack said. “I find it all very calming and feel totally connected with nature. It’s a good life.”