Houston Audobon Society: Edith L Moore Nature Sanctuary

440 Wilchester Blvd, Houston, TX 77079

I visited this nature sanctuary location for the second time today.  We wanted to go check on a geocache we hid in there together about sixteen months ago.  When we hid our cache, it was the only one in this little wooded oasis of 17.5 acres in West Houston, in the Memorial area.  Now there are three more, and we found those other three today while out there.

We also brought our new field guide for birds, and tried to identify the ones we saw.  Even though our field manual (National Wildlife Federation’s “Field Guide to Birds of North America”, 2008 version) is broken up into bird family sections and has great pictures, it is hard to use it to identify on the fly.  I was trying to flip through quickly to find the one we had in the sights with the binoculars.

We spent about an hour or two walking around out there, looking down for caches and up for birds.  On the way out, we picked up some literature at the cabin, some that had upcoming events on it and one that listed the common birds found at the park.  This last one helped confirm some of our sightings.

Species seen at park today:  Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee.  Possibly Inca or Mourning Doves, since that is what the sheet lists as residents of the sanctuary, although both J and I feel, after comparing our field guide pictures to what we saw, that the doves we saw by our geocache were Eurasian Collared Doves.

The trail that leads to our particular cache was actually closed, although the trails leading to the other three are actively open.  This trail, and pretty much the whole back part of the park, is closed mainly due to dead trees from this year’s drought.

This history of this little nature sanctuary is interesting.  The property was purchased in 1926 by Edith Moore and her husband.  They hand built the cabin and structures on the property, and raised pigs there.  When Edith, now a widow, was close to the end of her life in 1974, she did not want the family farm to be swallowed by the city, as everything else around had been.  So she willed the property to the Aubodon Society, with the promise that they would retain the original structures and allow nature to live freely there.

More information on the Houston Aubodon, special programs, and the sanctuary can be found here:  http://www.houstonaudubon.org

I Spy

Last week at work, I saw an unusual bird hanging out in the mid-foliage range in our little mini-forest that borders one side of the property.  It was striking in appearance, and of course I wanted to solve the mystery of what it was, since birds have been on my brain lately.  Without a field manual, I was reduced to googling bird websites and images until I found a bird that looked like what I saw.  

The image that matched the most was for a prothonotary warbler.  However, the websites I was reading about this bird on suggests that our area is not within the typical range for this one.  So I started to think I was chasing another “zebra” and investigating other similar looking warblers.

However, I did learn something interesting about this bird while I was snooping around online.  This little bird was central in a House of Un-American Activities trial as evidence of Alger Hiss being a spy.  Also, it helped a certain junior senator named Richard Nixon climb his way up the political ladder.

Apparently what needed to happen in the trial to help convict Alger Hiss was to link him to a man named Whittaker Chambers.  Nixon and his team were trying to prove a link between Hiss and the Communist Party.  Chambers had fingered Hiss as a spy for the Communist Party, but Hiss denied any involvement and any knowledge of Chambers.  Finally, after some days of back and forth involving cars and pseudonyms and whatnot, it was Hiss’s quick admission of his seeing the prothonotary warbler, and Chambers telling Nixon about the sighting the day before, that helped link them together.

After a second day review of birding websites, I found one that had an interactive map for different species with sightings colored in in various parts of the world.  For this species, there was a clear band of sightings going from Sugarland to Pasadena, of which my work is right in the middle, so I think after all, I too might have had an unusual sighting of this bird.

Maybe I shouldn’t run off and tell everyone about it, though.  After all, that evidence could be used against me in a court of law. 😉

Taking In Lake Texana

This past weekend, we went camping at Lake Texana State Park and had a great time.  This park is about two hours southwest of Houston, off of Hwy 59 in Granado.

We wouldn’t normally go camping back to back weekends, but this trip was a special one.  We had committed ourselves to helping with the boy scout troop of a co-worker of mine, members of which were working on their geocaching merit badge.  Some of the boys had not heard much about geocaching, and some needed help with certain items on the the requirement list.

Example of Lake Texana Geocaches

Our family of four helped out by giving an hour long introduction to geocaching, as well as loading the troop’s donated GPS units with the 17 caches in the park we wanted to find.  After the talk and explanation of how to use the units was over, we headed out on a hike with this troop to find some of the ones we loaded for them together, so we could give them helpful hints along the way.

There were about eleven boys in the troop, plus three adult leaders, myself and J, my two boys, and three of our dogs along for the trek.  We started on the Bobcat Tracks trail near the park headquarters, and headed north.  Eventually, we came to a turnoff for the Alligator Cove trail heading southeast, then hooked up with the southern end of the Texana Trail.  Caches we found along the way included:    Bobcat Track,   Matthew 7:7, Corner Post, Gimpy’s Cache, Big Man Pig Man, TxGCC11 Texana, Ha Ha Charade You Are, Head Down a Pig Bin, and R U A Texa”CAN”.  It was a lot of fun watching new people get all enthusiastic about the game.

Before the last cache, my co-worker had to turn the younger boys further on down the path to complete a five mile hike requirement.  My little boy and some of the dogs were worn out, and so we stopped here for the day, after 2.5 miles and about two hours worth of hiking around.

After this, we went back to the campsite.  The boys and I wandered down to the waters edge and looked at animal tracks, trying to figure out the stories of the wildlife who passed this way. On our walks to the bathroom, we got to see some of this wildlife for ourselves: a few armadillos and white tailed deer.

The lake had shrank considerably since last time J was here (this was our first time here).  He asked a ranger, who said the lake was at 30% capacity, following this year’s drought.  Normally, the waters would have been up to the platform edging of our campsite, but now we had more than 500 feet of marshgrass and sand to explore. A short time later, we grilled hamburgers, played Uno, and roasted marshmellows over the flames of the camp stove J gave me for Christmas (burn ban was in effect, so sadly, no campfire) for our s’mores. After a couple of s’mores and Sasquatch sighting stories, the boys were ready to lay down in their tent for the night, and I in ours.  A barred owl or two called in the night as we nestled in our sleeping bags for the night.

The morning arrived wet with dew and mist.  Birds came fluttering around the campsite, making little bird tweets, calls, and coos.  We cooked a warm breakfast of bacon, spam, , warmed tortillas and eggs while a brave cardinal fluttered close by, watching.  A Carolina Wren sang a morning song for us in the brush. J spied a Forster’s Tern dive into the waters for a fish and awed.

My favorite part of the weekend, the part I keep replaying in my head, happened after breakfast.  The boys and I went down to one of the fishing piers, hoping we could drop a line in there (no such luck), and as we started to walk up the pier, a huge bird, which had been perched on the pier railing, took off and flew right past us, then swooped down into the marsh grass below for a kill.  It was a beautiful specimen of a red shouldered hawk, a dark red along the body, with sharp black and white striped wings.

We had seen a great number of hawks on the way in to the camp, and we are still not sure what kind they were.  Road hawks, maybe, red tails or coopers hawks possibly, and one we stopped to take a long look at I am almost certain was a ferruginous hawk, but this was the most amazing of all of them.  My only regret is that J didn’t get to see it, as he is the one who would appreciate it even more than I did.  I was being annoyed for petty reasons and had not invited him, necessarily, to join the boys and I down at the pier.  Because of my petty selfishness, he missed out on an experience that certainly would have burned in his memory the way it has in mine, and for that I am sorry.

I was also sorry that we didn’t bring rain gear with us when we went on another geocaching hike a short time later.  We found a few more caches, but more than half a mile from the trailhead, it began pouring down rain.  Our idea of letting the tents dry out in the morning sun proved to be futile, as we ended up having to pack wet gear in a hurry to get home.

What I am not sorry about, though, is insisting we go on this campout, even though it meant missing an annual geocaching party that J and I have not missed in the several years we have been caching.  I am also not sorry we went to this park – for Lake Texana is full of natural wonder, birding pleasures, awesome geocaches, and now, fond memories.

Huntsville State Park

We celebrated New Years Eve weekend at Huntsville State Park, located in (you might guess) Huntsville, Texas, which is about an hour drive north of Houston.  This park joined the state park system in 1938, yet much work remained in the park at that time.  Most of that work centered around the building and then re-building of the dam, which caused the two creeks in the area to combine to form what is now Lake Raven.  The park officially opened to the public in 1956.

This park encompasses 2083 acres and offers visitors recreational opportunities that include fishing, hiking, biking, boating, canoeing, some swimming, and horseback riding (provided through 2E Stables).  And also, geocaching!  This was what we were there for, of course, and we found six of the remaining eight caches in the park we had not found yet while there for this campout.  Most of those were ammo cans hidden along a trail that require a little bit of a hike.

Here are some photos displaying the natural beauty of this park:

We arrived at the campsite Friday night, set up and then spent some time around the campfire with our friends who were already there.  Saturday, I made up some breakfast burritos on my new campstove, composed of eggs, sausage, cheese and tortillas.  As a group, we ended up taking a four mile hike along the Chinquapin Trail and finding some caches.  This hike had us all sore afterwards, but probably not as sore as Brian, one member of our group, who took a spill down the spillway.  The best part of this hike was a sighting of a bald eagle flying over the lake.

That night we had a potluck dinner, the highlight of which was the crockpot lasagna made by our friend Diane.  In the morning, we made some eggs and Spam on our stove, and also I finished cooking the black eyed peas I had started the night before, haha.  They were actually quite good, even though I cooked them oddly.  I ended up taking a horseback ride with one of the girls in the group this morning.  My horse was named Festus and he was a nice ride, if the boy in front of us had not been a very whiny unattended seven year old, we would have had a great ride.

We also went for another hike, down the other section of the Chinquapin.  This park did not offer First Day Hikes like some of the other parks, but we enjoyed making our own.

After this, it was time to break camp and head home.  We were pretty exhausted and we still had to stop by my parents house for gift exchanging.  It was a great group outing and I am sure we will go back to that park again.