Monday, July 6, 2009

Nature All Over Houston (or how I wore my family out over the weekend)

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~Rachel Carson

This is going to be a whirlwind tour of my 4th of July weekend. Since we couldn't go camping because the truck is in the shop, I made other plans to get as many of our Nature Challenge Missions done as possible. (if you follow the link to the nature challenge, we're in some of the pics for the kick off day at Discovery Green)

Friday July 3rd

We visited Shangri La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center in Orange with my mom and niece and nephew. This place is amazing. Gorgeous gardens, boat tour, friendly volunteers and one of the most eco friendly facilities in the world. The carpet is made from corn fibers. Building materials are from recycled sources. The plastic "boards" are made from recycled milk jugs.

"Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center is the first project in Texas and the 50th project in the world to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's Platinum certification for LEED®-NC, which verifies the design and construction of Shangri La reached the highest green building and performance measures.

As one of the most earth-friendly projects in the world, Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center offers a glimpse of how people can live in harmony with nature. "

Got to take a ride on Adams Bayou in an electric pontoon boat. Here is Charlie with his cousin.

Adams Bayou. Definitely a place to canoe in the future.

A cypress tree that scientists determined is 1230 years old. Beautiful.

While on the boat we got to see the elusive pileated woodpecker.

One of the best parts of Shangri La (in my opinion) is the heronry where roseate spoonbills, cattle egrets, great white egrets and anhingas all nest. The trees were covered in nests! You can see spoonbills and cattle egrets in this pic.
A family of great white egrets. The one on the right is the mom and the other two nagging birds are the kids. LOL Nature mimics human dynamics.The kids had a mission to complete: to find benthic macroinvertebrates. Whew! That's a mouthful. benthos=bottom macro=can see with naked eye invertebrates=no backbone Did I mention that it was 103 degrees?
Got our sticker and went to mom's house. But I wasn't ready to call it a day yet...not when there are geocaches right down the road! There is a very old sawmill that's been around since the early 1900s. I've always wanted to check it out but when I found out that there was a cache inside I just had to go!
So we arrive at the old sawmill. It looked really creepy and there were bars on the window. It's supposed to be haunted. oooooooooooooo. I looked inside and saw that there was a tent set up inside! Someone was staying there.
We decided to leave because we didn't know if the campers were friend or foe. Darn, I hate to lose a cache. :(

But wait! There was a geocache right around the corner. After bushwacking through waist high blackberry vines with mega-thorns we found the cache hidden in some roots. Charlie was brave enough to reach in and retrieve the goodies. And that was enough for 1 day.

Saturday July 4th

Mission: Big Thicket National Preserve

But before we start the mission I took the family on a hunt for another geocache. Unfortunately my GPS could not get a good signal because of the tree coverage. I could stand in one place and the thing would be showing one direction then another. We were all over those woods.
The boardwalk on the Sundew Trail.

Yeah! Found a bunch of pitcher plants. They attract bugs into the pitcher and then digest them. Yum.

Also found the carnivorous sundew plant. Mission complete. It was so much fun too. :)

Before we left Chuck spotted this unusual lizard. We asked the rangers at the center but they could not identify it either. It looks like a type of spiny lizard. I'll update when I get a positive identification. Cool looking critter!

UPDATE: From naturalist Eric Duran of The Nature Discovery Center in Houston:

"This is a Northern Fence Lizard (Sceloporus u. hyacinthinus). They are common lizards in the eastern 3rd of the state, and are found through the mid south to the mid Atlantic region. Insectivorous, they frequent open piney areas mostly, and are excellent climbers. You have photographed a male, as it the males with ornate blue underbellies. This coloration is used in displaying fitness to other males, and in courting females."

Sunday July 5th

We're home and it's time to get an early start on those missions.
Stop by Bay Area Park and saw this snowy egret fishing. Yes, he was literally fishing. He used the bread that people tossed to the geese (which attacked Chuck) and would wait until fish came near and then get a snack.

At Armand Bayou Nature Center we were to take the Prairie Trail and learn some interesting facts about the prairie. It was SO hot.

Next, Sheldon Lake State Park. Our first stop was to observe the solar panels and how much energy they were producing. Wish our homeowners association would let us put up some solar panels.

There were several trails between experimental lakes (not experimental like "hey let's add pine-sol to the water and see what happens to the frogs" but good experimental)

The ponds were filled with beautiful flowers, fish, frogs, turtles and birds. Again, very hot day.

Next Mission: Nature Discovery Center

Beautiful park with ponds, prairie section, herb garden and birds. There are lots of trails and it's just a great place to stop and relax and watch nature at work. Very peaceful.

Rachel is drawing critters in a small pond. There were a lot of tadpoles swimming around.

Monday July 6th

Got started early on our missions.
Mission: Sims Bayou Urban Nature Center

I really wasn't expecting much from this small center where it's best to call to make sure that it's going to be open. But I knew that this was going to be my favorite when there was a rooster named Scooter on the front porch to greet us.

I used to have chickens as a kid and I miss them so much. That is pure bliss on my face in the picture. I couldn't get enough of that rooster. He is happily spoiled here where he goes inside the air conditioned center whenever he wishes and sometimes gets macaroni and cheese as a treat.

He followed us around outside and we all fell in love with him.

The kids had to answer several questions about the different eco systems represented. Here they are observing mosquito fish at a pond.

Before we left we got to meet their resident screech owl. It is so darn cute!

And a very large iguana named Melvin. It's really a "she" but they just found out when she started laying eggs.

Mission 2 of the day: Jesse H. Jones Park

They happened to have their African spur thigh tortoise out for some sunshine. She was going around exploring and eating grass.

At a small pond were fish and beautiful flowers.

The trail we walked to complete our challenge. This was the most intense mission with several questions to answer along the way.
The dragonflies were larger than most I've seen before.
The kids with huge cypress knees.
We were thrilled to see a pair of downy woodpeckers along the trail.
It was a fantastic weekend! We got 7 missions completed. Only 5 left and a scrapbook to complete.
This being the 4th of July and the celebration of independence, I've decided to declare my own independence. From the scale! I'm not going to weigh in at all for the month of July.
My weight has been freaking me out with the ups and downs and I'm just sick and tired of it. With the heat the way it is, I retain more water than usual when I am out hiking and doing nature stuff. And since I am outdoors a lot right now I am not going to let the scale's highs and lows continue to rule my emotions. Take that, Scale!
I'll be eating healthy foods and exercising like crazy though. We'll see how it goes. :)
Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. I have a lot of blogs to catch up with.


  1. Wow! What an awesome post... I love what you did! Such a worthy way to spend the weekend.

  2. Beautiful pics, Kelly :) That screech owl was adorable!

    I think you missed your calling; you should be a photographer for National Geographic!

  3. Your pictures are great! What a great way to spend the holiday weekend!

  4. Your weekend sounded so fun!

  5. I'm always so amazed by your nature photos and your adventurous spirit. Your weekend looks awesome, and, although I would likely have whined about the heat, I wish I'd been there!

    I also have to applaud your approach to the scale this month. I'll look forward to seeing how it goes. I've been working darn hard lately, but with little payoff, so I'm trying to keep it all in perspective myself and not let it rule my mood. The scale is not the boss of me... or of you!

    Now I want a pet screech owl. So adorable!

  6. Looks like you had a fantastic weekend! Great pictures. Speaking of National Geographic Marisa, I had only seen a blue bellied lizard once before. I know a dr who travels on a boat tour with National Geographic photographers to the Sea of Cortez annually. It was on his trip in 2006 that he too captured a pic of a blue bellied lizard. Thought it was interesting that we might have them right here in Texas too!

    I don't know if this link will work but:

    Oh, and I tried to "green" a couple of my smoothies over the long weekend. You really couldnt taste a difference! ;)

  7. The paste of the link for some reason dropped part of the word Cortez ?!

    Or try his "home page" then click on Sea of Cortez 2006. You may find all his pics interesting, I know I do.

  8. What a fun time you all had! I am impressed that you don't let the brutal heat stop you from seeing and doing everything outdoors!

    So glad you are giving yourself a break from weigh-ins. The way a stupid number can make or break your day is horrible...I understand completely. Eat sensibly, exercise normally and drink lots of water and I'll bet you will be happily surprised when you weigh in on August 1.

  9. Yay youre back~you've been missed!

    Seriously, your family could be an ad for REI or National Geographic with the adventures you take.

    Me and the scale arent being friendly to each other either. Once I get back from NYC, I'm going to war with the freaking scale!

  10. Yeah, Maris is right! We have some great wildlife here, even had a visit from a Great White Egret couple this weekend, but you would never know it from our pictures. I think I am going to search your blog to see if you mention the type of camera you are using!

    And I also think that is a good call with the scale and the month of July!

  11. I'd love to take credit for the photos but they are taken by Chuck. That's why I'm in some of the pics. :)
    It's a Canon EOS 20d.

    Melisa, thanks for that link. It certainly does look like our fella. I'm going to submit the photo to a naturalist in Houston to get a positive id on him. It sure could run fast too! He was on a tree in the Big Thicket woods of East Texas.

  12. Gorgeous pictures! I love that cypress tree, and the dragonfly! You're a really talented photographer. It looks like such a fun weekend. Geocaching sounds so cool!

  13. Wow great pics!! You and your family are definitely the MOST active family I "know." If you carried a pedometer I think you'd be getting hella steps each day (ooh do you, by the way?)

    Good luck in your battle with the scale!! I got my battle to fight too :>

  14. You have the coolest life and get the most amazing photos!!!! I'm just all kinds of impressed. Tell Chuck he's quite the photog. Glad you are going to give the scale the cold shoulder for a month.
    Path to Health

  15. GREAT pics, Kelly! Wow, you weren't kidding about wearing them out. You covered a lot of ground.


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