This week we traveled to see family in Houston. While there, we visited two places that may be of interest to readers of this blog: Brazos Bend State Park and Mercer Botanic Garden.
Brazos Bend State Park is a 4897-acre park on the banks of the Brazos River in rural Fort Bend County, about 45 miles from downtown Houston. It contains prairie, bottomland forest, and various wetlands, and it is one of my favorite places to visit in the Houston area because of its varied wildlife.
The primary appeal of Brazos Bend–at least for our family–is the large population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). On a warm summer day, they are everywhere.
In the winter, we sometimes don’t see any, but this week was hot (95 F) and very, very humid–perfect weather for gator viewing. The kids stopped counting at thirty.
The rangers recommend that visitors stay 30 feet away from alligators. That can be difficult when they park themselves beside the trail.
Discretion is the better part of valor, and it is usually best to turn down another trail. Nevertheless, some people get a bit too close:
I prefer to trust in a good zoom lens.
In addition to the alligators, there is a lot of other wildlife in Brazos Bend. On past visits, we have seen armadillos and feral pigs, but this year all of our sightings were in and around the water. We saw three red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) laying eggs and a fourth lumbering across the path, probably on its way to build a nest or returning to the water after finishing. We didn’t bother to count the turtles in the water.
There were also a wide variety of water birds, including:
Just about the only animals we saw that weren’t aquatic or semi-aquatic were the golden silk spiders (Nephila clavipes) that had spun their webs along (or across) the trail in wooded areas.
We also saw some of the same animals a little closer to home. One morning, I strolled down to the spillway near my parents’ house, where the neighborhood lake drains into Oyster Creek. A handsome family of black-bellied whistling ducks was sheltering on top of the spillway.
Mama duck was keeping all of the ducklings tucked under her wings, probably because several herons were skulking nearby, ostensibly fishing but probably keeping an eye open for stray ducklings.
The herons flew away, complaining loudly, when eldest offspring and I walked down to see what we could see in the creek, and as soon as they were gone, mama duck let the babies out.
That’s probably enough photographs for one post. I’ll save Mercer Botanic Garden for another day.