Another day, another chance to see something new! I got up early. And by early, I mean 6am-ish. Early enough to be on the road by 6:30ish or so. For today’s adventure I wanted to head over to the very east side of Texas and check out some wilderness on the Sabine river that separates Texas from Louisiana. First stop on the trip was North Toledo Bend Wildlife Management Area just outside of Joaquin Texas. I found this by googling “Texas Birding Trails” and picked the North Toledo Bend Loop. Texas has set aside these areas all over the state, so if you’re in Texas and want to find a place to go birding, this is a great resource to start.
As I started down the trail, I saw a flash of yellow and wondered if it might be the fabled Prothonotary Warbler that many of my photography friends have been catching lately. While it remained in the shadows, I was able to catch this glimpse that was my first confirmed sighting of this beautiful bird.
Interesting note about this bird: according to Wikipedia, This bird is named after prelates in the Roman Catholic Church known as protonatarii, who wore golden robes.
Continuing on down the trail, I noticed that it was quickly shaping up to be yet another hot and sweaty day. I had one camera on a neck strap and my other camera on a hand strap. It did not take long for that hand strap to become soaked from the sweat running down my arm. Luckily my cameras are weather sealed fairly well so I didn’t have that to worry about but they’ll be due for a good cleaning after this vacation.
Walking on, I came across this red-eared slider turtle making its way down the trail. I gave it a wide berth so as not to scare it into the woods for the purely selfish reason of getting ahead of it to make a photograph. It didn’t seem to mind too much as it turned its head to give me its best side.
And yet a little farther down the trail I met up with this nine-banded armadillo. Kind of an unofficial symbol of Texas (although usually on its back beside the road), these things are nearly completely blind. If you are quiet and up wind, you can almost walk right up to one before it knows you are there. I heard this one rustling in the brush beside the trail and simply stopped and stood my ground while it made its way across the trail right in front of me. I stooped down quietly to take its photo.
Moving along down the trail, I saw yet another flash of yellow. Thinking it might be a second sighting of the earlier prothonotary, I quieted down and moved slowly toward the yellow bird. Once I was close enough, I realized that this was a completely different bird. yet another new one that I had not seen before. After asking my friends and looking on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that this is a yellow-breasted chat. Chalk up yet another new one for my list of birds photographed. Of course, as always with new birds, I am willing to be corrected,
As I continued down the trail, the temperature continued to rise, as did the humidity, to the point that the “feels-like” temperature felt like about 130°! Okay, that was my personal observation, not anything official from NOAA. However the sweat pouring from my body due to the rising humidity as I got closer and closer to the Sabine river was enough for my internal thermometer to register that I needed more water. Luckily I had brought a bottle with me in my back pocket. As I pulled it from my back pocket, I realized that I had already consumed the bulk of it and began to wonder if maybe I should have brought a second bottle along on this hike. It was then that I looked up and confirmed my suspicion…
As this turkey vulture circled overhead like some harbinger of doom, I decided to find a shade and sit down to observe the river for a while. I’m also thinking that a Camelbak might not be a bad idea for future Summer hikes.
After a Spring full of record setting rain all over East Texas, the river is still close to the top of its banks. You can also notice the nice puffy clouds as a testament to the high humidity, but they sure are pretty!
With the heat at this level, a lot of the wildlife has headed for shade or otherwise cooler areas, but there was the occasional egret or heron flying up and down the river looking for a cool spot or a meal of opportunity. This great blue heron flew by, probably looking for a nice shady place on the banks of the river to hunt for its lunch.
Speaking of lunch, it was that time so as the heat continued to rise, I headed back to the car to go find someplace to refuel my body, or that vulture just might be satisfied in a way that would not please me too well. Arriving back to the car I headed to Center, Texas, which is not in the center of Texas by any means, but it is close enough and they have a Whataburger which is a staple food here in Texas.
As a side note the town’s name goes back to around 1866 when an East Texas State Representative, Al Johnson, introduced a bill to have all county seats be as close to the center of the county as possible. The County Clerk, taking this measure literally, had the county surveyed to find the center of Shelby country and thus Center Texas was born. (Wikipedia) Hey, you never know when that information will come in handy. You’re welcome.
After eating lunch, I circled back to the WMA and spent a little more time there sitting in the shade and just observing the river flowing by. Not much else was happening, other than a grandfather trying to teach his grandson how to back a trailer down the boat-dock which was somewhat amusing to watch. So after making sure they got the boat loaded properly on their trailer, I turned the car towards home with plans to stop at the Martin Creek Lake State Park, near Tatum TX. There is an island in the park that has almost always provided something interesting whenever I visit.
Arriving at the park, I made my way to said island and the first thing I noticed was a rabbit. This was new. I don’t normally see those here, but this was my first visit this time of year. The interesting thing was that it just sat there. At first it was almost flat against the ground in the shade, possibly trying to stay cool. Maybe it was trying to be stealthy thinking I would not see it, but it was too late. I moved cautiously and lowered myself to be a better shot. With those ears though, there was no way I was not seeing it. It sat there while I captured several frames and then slowly hopped its way toward the trees.
Seemingly laughing at the rabbit thinking it could hide from me, I noticed this squirrel peeking over the top of a tree stump, being clandestine in its own way. But no, I saw it. The squirrel eventually climbed on top of the stump and spread out to relax in the shade. It didn’t seem very threatened by my presence.
Taking the trail that circles the island, I came across yet another rabbit. Looking around and seeing no knights or land littered with bones, I figured it was safe to proceed. This rabbit did not have “huge, sharp, pointy, teeth” as far as I could tell. This was a good thing since I was not carrying a holy hand grenade. All total, I must have seen about 10 rabbits on the island this visit. But would I get to see my favorite critter of the island this trip? I continue on walking stealthily through the woods and along the banks.
Three of the last four visit to this island I have seen a white-tailed doe. I’m not sure if this deer swam to the island or if it simply walked across the foot bridge while no one was looking, but I’ve ran across it almost every time I visit this island. I usually walk up on it before I even know it is there and end up startling the both of us.
Sure enough, as I round a corner and pop out of the woods into a clearing, I look across and the doe is there, staring at me while I’m staring at her staring at me. We lock eyes and freeze. I slowly raise my camera and began to take a few shots and then she gives me a chance at a doe action shot as she begins leaping through the high grass headed for the cover of the woods. What a beautiful animal! Not wanting to cause it any further anxiety, I headed in a different direction to let her be in peace. She provided me which a nice action shot and that’s all I could ask for.
As I head toward the foot bridge to leave the island, I came across yet another rabbit. This one was huge! If any of them were going to attack, this is the one. It just sat there as I slowly approached, watching me watching it, until it finally blinked first and hopped back into the brier bushes. That was a big rabbit!
Once back to my car, I loaded up and headed for home. Yet another nice day in East Texas and one more day of adventure left. It was about this time though that I noticed that my ankles were really starting to itch. Must have gotten into some chiggers that were immune to my Off. Oh well, not too bad (at least I thought at the time). I later discovered that these chiggers had really tore me up from by belly-button down to my feet. I don’t know if it was the fact that I didn’t have the Off with the higher deet content or the fact that the can had been in my car over a year and had lost its potency, but as the days wore on, my legs got more and more spots. At one point I counted over 50 unique chigger bites. Yeah, it was miserable, but still worth it. I do however now have a new can of Deep Woods Off with a higher deet level in the car and ready for the next adventure.
So that wraps up day three. Day four will be available shortly to stay tuned! More birds, and yes, gators!
All photos copyright of Michael Hampton 2016 and taken with the Canon 5DS-R or Canon 7D Mark II