Kleb Woods

20150506_093808A generation or so ago, mothers were recommended to stay in for a “period of confinement” after their babies were born.  Well, I don’t deal well with captivity.  My forays into the world were initially limited to the immediate neighborhood, then surrounding neighborhoods, but by four weeks into this “period of confinement”, I was ready to explore further away from home. This is how, four weeks and some change after birth, Sebastian and I went out for our first foray into the wilderness.

In this case, it was a bit of urban wilderness on the west side of Tomball, a 99 acre park called Kleb Woods.  I sacrificed the last two hours of sleep that baby and I usually get after the older kids leave the house for school to drive about forty minutes away to this park.  Despite being a few minutes late, I managed to join up with a small group of dedicated bird enthusiasts participating in the weekly Wednesday bird walk.

I do not regret the lack of sleep, for I learned a lot in the few hours I spent out there.  Sure, the mosquitos were bad, but I had a net that went around the car seat portion of our super duper off-road stroller to keep them off the baby, and a can of Off! for me.  I think he was a little more protected than I was, because there were no bites on him afterwards, but my shoulders did have several (despite the spray and a shirt).  A small section of the trail had a thick coat of mud, and the others in the group mentioned that my stroller might not be able to hack it.  I just smiled and told them that we had the best stroller on the market for that kind of terrain, and in fact the BOB Revolution did handle that mud like a champ, not even slowing down the slightest.

20150506_093933That morning, I learned so much from listening to and observing the other birders as much as the birds we found.  While I was with the group, I recorded seventeen species of birds in my journal that were new for my list this year, mostly in the warbler family.  One of the ladies in the group, who seemed very skilled despite only birding for a year and a half (I think that is what she said), was able to pinpoint the various calls of different species and point them out for me, then describe what set them apart from other similar species.  It was watching how they found the birds visually and getting a feel for it myself that was most helpful to me.  I will find just a few birds on walks myself because I hadn’t gotten a feel for how to really watch, wait and find them like these people were doing.

20150506_093855We spent some time on this particular stretch of trail, which reminded me of a time out in this park with my other children.  I had taken them out to this park when my second child was about the same age as Sebastian was now, but the day had been hotter and I was a little less prepared, and I had gotten concerned that the children were overheating.  I  remember rapidly pushing the stroller back to the car with a sense of urgency, and making a promise to myself that I would not put my kids in that kind of a situation again, where I pushed us past reasonable limits for my own personal desires.  This day, one of the ladies commented that she wished she was Sebastian, being pushed around and protected by a mosquito net like that.  There was no risky element of natural danger at this time.  When Sebastian woke up and began indicating he was hungry, I asked a mother of home schooled children who had joined our group about the nature center in the park.  She told me how nice it was on the inside, and indicated it might be a good place to feed him (which is what I was steering the conversation towards).

Sebastian and I split from the group and spent some time checking out the nature center before I slipped into the education room to feed him.  Afterwards, I thought I might rejoin the group or perhaps find a few geocaches, but shortly after putting him back in the stroller and walking down the path, Sebastian told me, in his way, that he was still hungry and that stop had not been enough.  I found myself sitting on a bench on the side porch of the center, feeding him again, guarding his precious little noggin from mosquitos, and watching ruby throated hummingbirds chase each other away from the feeders outside.

We ended up running out of time, and then running down the trail, as the skies opened up right as I was leaving the center.  I haven’t bought a rain cover for this stroller yet, and despite a cover that comes up on the stroller itself and one on the car seat that is attached via an adapter, there is about a two inch gap to the outside world that opens up right where he sits.  I covered the gap with my stroller blanket and hoped he was not getting wet.  By the time we covered the third of a mile back to parking, I was soaked to the bone with a cool, refreshing rain, but luckily, he stayed completely dry.

That morning in the park brought my total for the year up to 92 species of birds seen, which was a good jump. The best moment of the morning was when we had all stopped for a while to watch some action in the bushes at the bend between the long open stretch in the photo above and the parking lot.  The other girls were identifying the birds we were seeing, but then I spied one that looked different.  “Oh, I see one with a black head and orange sides – which one is that?” I asked the lead girl.  “Oh, that is probably that Blackburnian Warbler we saw”.  I insisted this bird looked different, and she responded that I was probably just seeing him from a different angle.  I was firm that it was not the same bird, and described it to her again, and she said, “Well, do you think it was an American Redstart?” and showed me a picture.  I was sure that was it, but could tell she did not believe me.  A couple minutes later, one of the other ladies said, “Oh, I see it, it IS the Redstart!”  Then everyone got a good look, and the lead girl turned to me and said, “Congratulations, you found your first warbler!” and seemed genuinely happy for me.

It’s the little victories these days. I did feel like I gained a little confidence that morning.  However, I found a few birds later that I kind of wished she was still with me for, to confirm my identifications.  Mostly got from this walk is that I enjoyed the education I got from other people like this.  This was the first bird walk I had been on (where we actually found some birds).  After this, I found some information on a few more walks that I could go to over the next few weeks while I am home.  I am going to try to go back to this park for more walks.  I am thinking this will be a good outlet to feel a little more free from the stifling captivity of being a temporary stay at home mom, and I will get a good education to boot.

Baytown Nature Center

bnc 1This past Saturday, we drove an hour or so southeast to visit the Baytown Nature Center.  Our geocaching friends were having a brief flash mob down there, hosted by “Baytown Bert”, and we were curious about the two hour wilderness survival course hosted by the park (free with the $3 entry fee) afterwards.

Despite the unpredictable nature of the weather the past month, it ended up being a beautiful morning to spend outside.  I had been to this center once before, but Jason hadn’t, and we enjoyed exploring it with the kids.  The center boasts 450 acres of wetlands, hiking and biking trails, and is an official site on the Gulf Coast Birding Trail.  Some 200-300 species of birds visit the park during the year.  It is surrounded by three different bays, and within site of refineries and a well-known memorial of Texas Independence (see below pic).  Can you guess what memorial that is?bnc 4


After greeting our friends, my youngest went off to play on the playground, which was surprisingly appealing in its nature theme.  After this, he became engrossed in the survival class, led by Chrissie (spelling?), an employee of the park.  She engaged the class in exploring different uses for common items found in hiking packs.  After going through safety advice and suggestions at how to use these items in her pack, she broke the class up into small groups and presented them with an imaginary scenario in which they had to figure out how to survive with a specific list of items.  She had Kaleb in her group, and he was coming up with some good answers to her questions.  I thought it was so cute how into this class my eight year old was, but the older guys in our group were cold and ready to move on with our day, so I had to pull the youngest away from Chrissie and move him along to the next activity.

bnc 3After this, we stopped to find a handful of geocaches on the way out.  On the way to the first one, we saw a beautiful Osprey perched out on a pole along the bay.  He was particularly striking, with a splashy white and black face.  At the next cache stop, near the butterfly garden, we saw him again flying majestically through the air above us, searching for prey.  At another stop, as we looked out over the wetlands from a gazebo up on a hill, we heard him crying out, and then spotted him perched in a tree near the water.

We also watched a Royal Tern dive into the water in the bay in a search for food that fascinated us for a while.  I saw a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing by the water’s edge, its breast the solid white (no spots) that characterizes the winter plumage of this species.  Brown Pelicans flew above the water, and cormorants shared pier posts with Laughing Gulls.  We also observed brown headed cowbirds, common grackle, a Loggerhead Shrike, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, an d heard Red Winged Blackbirds.

We ended up with six cache finds in the park on our way out, with several left on the map unfound for a future return trip.  Lunch time hunger drove us out of the park, and we ended up stopping for greek food on the way home in downtown.  All of us really enjoyed the park (although the teenager spent most of the time listening to his music on his earbuds and just tuning us all out, which is so typical of these years).

This park fascinated me with its juxtaposition of the natural beauty up against the backdrop of oil refineries in the distance.  It reminded me a bit of how I used to think Houston was an ugly city, but I have actually learned to find the beauty in its natural places, and have gained appreciation of how both can exist over time.  Like Houston itself, Baytown Nature Center is a place worth a deeper look.

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Houston Arboretum Hike

HA.1Sunday morning, we joined some geocaching friends at the Houston Arboretum for a little hike and social opportunity.  I thought maybe we would see some birds and take some pictures, but we did little of those things.  I saw a hawk which I actually think was a Broad-winged Hawk in retrospect.  There was a little cluster of birds in a tree that I suspected were Cedar waxwings, because they had the little crown going, but their breasts were a golden color from underneath.  I had a little discussion with amberita13 about whether or not that was an accurate ID, because she thought they would be gone by now.  I did see some birding reports over the past week of people who were still seeing them, and fendmar seemed to agree that the atypical weather patterns this year might have kept them around longer than usual.
HA.2 There were actually a lot of cool little spots along the trails to spend some quiet time observing nature, like the slick backed turtles sunning themselves on logs on the pond, or the multitude of butterflies that floated around us as we walked.  ha.3 We walked for about an hour and a half.  We kind of had the place to ourselves, because technically the Arboretum was reserved for a private event, but they allowed us to come in from nine to eleven.  We found a few caches as a group.  It was fun how we all went together at first, but then there was a debate on whether to pursue a high terrain cache or a low one, so our group split.  We went to the high terrain one.  After this, we happened to find our group again at the next cache, even though the groups went different directions on the trail.  Lucky for them, because they were stuck not finding the cache, but then our group made the save.  We all took some group photos and everyone was just really enjoying each other, the weather, and the location.   I want to say we walked along all except the orange outer loop on this map.  The Discovery Room and other facets inside the building look like they will be very appealing to the children, on a day when the arboretum is truly open.  Maybe next weekend?  There was also a patch of wildflowers near Memorial Park that I want to get pictures of the kids in.  I picked up a schedule of events, and posted many of them over to the left here in the side column.  I want to go back and spend more time there with the kids.  It was truly an awesome place where wilderness meets civilization.  ha.5

Paul D. Rushing Park

This morning, we contemplated the choices for adventure for the day, and chose to take the new bikes out to a local park to do some geocaching and look for more birds.  Originally I thought to try to get back out to WG Jones and finish the Presidential Series before it is all archived (one last back piece to go), but there was a threat of rain and J didn’t relish the thought of the long drive out there.

Paul Rushing Park is only about 20-30 minutes away, and has had significant improvements since the last time I was there (back in like 2008  – a whole lifetime ago).  This park boasts 232 acres, with cricket fields and softball fields.  There is also a dog park, with sections for large and small dogs.  The most exciting improvement has been a hike-and-bike path that goes around a little chain of lakes, encompassing 100 acres of the park.  This path has multiple overlooks with bird blinds and benches to while away time looking at the multitude of ducks that flock to this park.

paul rushing parkEarly last summer, chefkimmo and TXSunflower hid about fifty caches in and around the park, and we decided we would find some of these today.  J and I have been riding our new bikes around the neighborhood at night, but this is the first time we have taken the youngest out on a group biking adventure since he started riding without training wheels last year.

My son really wasn’t too crazy about riding in the grass, preferring to stay on the path and getting a little bit nervous about us not being on it. J let him find a cache on his own with the GPS and that seemed to keep him interested for a while.  Although he was a good helper with geocaching, he lost interest after a while and started to ask to go home. Plus, we were getting hungry.  Therefore, we ended up just finding the caches on the eastern-most side of the park, saving the rest for another day.

We were out there for about two or three hours, and saw several interesting birds.  There were also many more birds I failed to identify, in the interest of time.  Some of the caches were really hard to find, and required me to participate equally in the search.

Likewise, some of the birds were really hard to identify.  I think I am getting better but I have a long way to go before I could call myself a birder.  After some research, I determined that the ducks that I saw out on the water today included American Coots and a few Gadwall, Wigeon, and possibly a Blue Winged Teal pair.  The birding checklist for the park suggests Pied Billed Grebes should have been more abundant than the coots, so maybe I was also seeing those, although I didn’t specifically notice them, so I am not counting that species.  I am going to have to go back.  I did see some white geese, which from the list I would have to say were the Great White-Fronted Geese.  The most exciting bird find was in the smaller pond by the back left corner – a Long-Billed Dowitcher.  We also saw a group of nutria back there, most likely a mom and her babies.

As we made our way through the chain of lakes, past the softball fields and dog park, down the road again, and back to the first parking area near the cricket fields to find the caches in that first section before heading out, I saw a flock of birds feeding in the field that included Brewer’s Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds.  I think I saw one Red Winged Blackbird in that group, too, which was a little odd.

We also flushed a lot of sparrows out of the grass as we rode, most likely Savannah and Field Sparrows (already counted for this year), and most likely meadowlarks as well, although I didn’t specifically see them.  Those are commonly reported for this time of year there.

On the way home, we stopped at the Katy Rock Shop, which was a really nice little shop, and a fun place for the little one and I to find some treasures for our collection.  Our rock collection drives J nuts, but it is something the little one is interested in.  His dad lives near a place where there is a lot of natural rocks that are great for collecting, and we came home with many of these during our visits up there and have them in a little decorative basket.  Today, he helped me chose a purple agate from Brazil for my collection, and he chose a pyrite cube from Spain, as well as polished stones of golddust, amethyst, and opalite.  Then we went out for burgers and shakes at our favorite “greasy spoon”, Sam’s Deli Diner.

On the way home, we spied what initially appeared to be vultures up on some bare branches, but something seemed different and J turned around for us to get a better look.  Sure enough, they were different…not actually vultures at all but a pair of Crested CaraCaras.

This reminded me of a story from last week, when I was in South Florida.   There was this professor I was really interested in talking to, and my friend thought she was doing me a favor by pointing out to him that I was also interested in birds.  I knew from his conversation earlier that he was an ACTUAL birder, and not a novice like me, so I had not wanted to bring up this point of confluence, because I felt I would just embarrass myself.  He asked me if I had seen the CaraCara earlier that day on the drive in, and he was so excited about it.  It was a huge deal, and I had learned that week that it was also a huge deal to this guy from Missouri.  I didn’t know how to say, without seeming like a braggart, that oh, we see those all the time around where I live!  Not really ALL the time, but they are pretty common birds and I really just did not understand why these guys were freaking out about them until later, when I looked at their range in the bird book.  Here, and there  – that is pretty much it!  See the map:


We also stopped at a light long enough for me to observe that the doves in the trees were not the white-winged and mourning doves that are so common in our neighborhood, but were in fact the eurasian collared doves.  That brings our identified species up to 73 for the year, about 11% of Texas’s reported 638 total species.  Long way to go, but it has been winter and we haven’t necessarily gone out of our way to find birds.  Plus, we aren’t that good at it yet.  The good news is that spring migration is coming, and so we should be seeing more birds very soon.

Paul Rushing Park is located at 9114 Katy Hockley Rd, Katy, TX