East Texas Adventure: Part 1

Taking some time from my “real” job, I took a few days off to explore my local area here in East Texas. After driving several hundred miles over a four day period, I discovered a few things. 1) East Texas is a pretty diverse place; swamps, hills, forests, prairies, birds, snakes, gators! 2) East Texas has a lot of friendly people; many times I was approached by people, just to chat. And 3) even in East Texas, mid-June is not the time to be going out and hiking in the woods. Between the heat and the humidity, my clothes were soaked with sweat before 9am each day. Live and learn. Next year I must remember to do this in March, April, or even May rather than wait until the temperature begins to rise.

The first morning my plan was to visit the Caddo Lake State Park near Karnack, Texas. I woke up and arrived before the attendants were at work, so I filled out my admittance card and entered the park. I proceeded down to the boat dock area where I was able to see the peacefulness of the Big Cypress Bayou as the sun arose in the distance.



After scouting for any signs of wildlife and arriving at the conclusion that I was the only one here at this time, I was just about to move to another location when a helpful park official arrived and pointed me to the trails behind the boat ramp. I thanked him for the information and headed into the woods with two cameras in hand (one telephoto and one wide-angle).

The first thing I noticed was, “gee, it sure is dark in here.” The second thing I noticed was the amount of trees which have fallen from the recent rains and floods. Part of the trail was actually closed because a large tree had fallen and smashed a footbridge making that portion of the trail impassable.

Sure enough, once I got deeper into the trails it was far to dark for any decent wildlife/bird shots even if anything appeared, but I figured I needed the exercise anyway, and since my clothes were already wet with sweat from the high humidity I soldiered on, and I’m glad I did.

Deep in the woods, I came across some old work of the Civilian Conservation Corps from the 1930s which seem to be for the most part abandoned. While still a “feature” of the park, it does not appear that the camp sites and pavilion deep in the woods are being used at this date as they have been overgrown with moss and vines.



After walking about a mile or so, I made it back to my car and I headed to the park entrance. Now that the office was open I wanted to talk to the rangers and get some insight into the park. While there, I ran into the official who directed me to the forest trail and he asked how it was. When I mentioned that it was pretty dark he said, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” But again, no loss. There was still some interesting history to be found in that area.

The rangers pointed me to the fishing pier as a location for birds and other wildlife, although they said gators are rarely seen during the daylight. So, I headed there to see what I could see.

After getting my cameras out of the car I noticed… Squirrel!


Back to the search for birds. While not a plethora of birds, I did manage to see a few birds which I had never photographed, or even seen in person before. The first was just a flash of blue which I noticed in the cypress trees, hiding among the Spanish moss.


Not entirely sure what species of bird this was, I texted a photo to my friend John Tucker (also a photographer) who identified the bird to me as a Northern Parula. Not only had I never photographed one before, I had never even heard of this particular bird before. Score! That deserves another view.


About this time I was approached by a woman who noticed my cameras who informed me that her husband had recently bought her a new camera and she was trying to figure it out. She mentioned trying to find a class to take but I suggested that she could find a lot of information on sites like youtube to at least get her started. She thanked me as they boarded their canoe and headed into the bayou, never to be seen by me again! (cue spooky movie music) Okay, probably nothing bad happened, but I left before they got back. Still, sounds like a line from a horror movie though.  LOL

Focusing my attention back to the cypress trees on the shore, I noticed some movement and happened to catch a touching scene where a male yellow-billed cuckoo was presenting his mate with a bug for lunch, among other things. She accepted his gift and he flew away, but not before I got my very first shot of this species!


Sure, there were some branches in the way, but I couldn’t let my first shot of this pretty bird remain hidden on my hard drive. And when I turned around… Squirrel!


About this time another couple came by in a boat. As they approached, the man shut off the motor and they floated up to where I was on the pier. We had a nice chat about the area, and how much nicer it was than living in a place like the Dallas metroplex. I even learned that he was from close to where I live now in Overton, Texas–small world.

While we were talking, a bird began circling overhead and we could not make out what it was. We knew it wasn’t a vulture and we thought we saw a white head. I didn’t think that bald eagles were in this area in the heat of Summer, so I zoomed in and took a shot. As I zoomed in on the LCD on the back of the camera, I realized that what we were seeing was actually a Mississippi kite (yes, I had to sing the song as I spelled that). It was another nice catch to this fine morning.


As we finished our conversation the couple pulled away into the bayou, never to be seen by me again, (okay, last time I do that). Soon another couple came by to put a canoe into the water. As they paddled into the bayou, (nope, not going to do it), I noticed the calm of the scene playing out before me as they glided effortlessly through the black water. What a nice day.


Suddenly, I heard laughing behind me and I said to myself, I recognize that laugh! I turned and saw a belted kingfisher on the next pier over. I love the sound they make, even if it does sound like they are laughing at me every time I miss a shot of them. This one was kind enough to sit still long enough for several shots before continuing on his fishing expedition.


By this time I was getting hungry and decided to head to my next  destination, which was the Atlanta State Park near Atlanta Texas. Little did I know that that particular park was closed due to recent floods. Next time I should read the “alerts” section of their web page. On my way there however, I did pass a couple of scenes that made me pull over and make a photo. The first one was near Antioch Texas where I noticed this fire-station water tank which I felt was rather photogenic.


After that, I made my way through Linden Texas, which apparently is also known as “Music City Texas”. At this point I had never heard of this fact, but now, if I’m ever on Jeopardy and the question is asked, I’ll know. I learned this fact from a mural painted on the side of a building there, so I pulled into a church parking lot across the street and made another picture.


As I was getting back in my car a couple pulled up to ask me if the church office was open. I had to tell them that I wasn’t from there and had no idea, so they went to the door and I never saw them again! Okay, sorry, I said I wasn’t going to do that.

After this full morning, I grabbed lunch and headed to my next stop of Daingerfield State Park, near Daingerfield Texas, just as the rain started to fall.

Tune in next time to find out what I saw and photographed at that location!


All photos copyright of Michael Hampton 2016 and taken with the Canon 5DS-R or Canon 7D Mark II

On the Hunt

Recently I was asked, or rather challenged, by a friend at a local wildlife refuge to try and get a photo of a new critter that they suspect has been hanging out there.  So I agree and take a day off my “real job” to sit in the weeds and stare at dirt.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  A day out in nature will almost always beat a day stuck in a cube.

I headed out early on Friday morning, parked my vehicle, and began the mile hike to my spot.  It is early November, but did I get a nice cool day?  No!  As with the rest of the weather the past couple of years, we are pushing a record high for this day in November in North Texas.  I believe it got up to 89 degrees, and the sun was in my face all day.  On the other hand, I got a nice tan on my face as I was seated facing south from sun up to sun down.  I headed back out for a second try on Saturday and was able to stay until after sundown in hopes that the critter would come out then, but again no luck.  But does that mean I shot no pictures?  Of course not.

I caught this Great Egret on Friday morning while sitting there enjoying the early morning sun.  It flew past me over the marsh with the sun highlighting the wings and illuminating the feathers from behind.  A beautiful sight to see.


Several time that day I could hear and see a kingfisher flying over the marsh looking for a meal.  It was great watching it hover over the water and then diving down to catch a small fish.  Hard to catch it doing that with a big lens though.  That little thing is fast!  I was finally able to catch a shot of this Belted Kingfisher when it landed and tossed the fish into the air to swallow it whole!


And as I was leaving the area, I shared the trail with an armadillo.  It was walking right towards me.  Of course, they are mostly blind and rely on their sense of smell to warn them of other creatures.  I guess I didn’t have much of an odor because it walked almost right up to me.  I was able to lower myself to get a decent shot as it raised up on its hind legs as if to scare me away.  I remained calm and it went on its way without incident.


So, even if I wasn’t able to get a shot of the new critter, there will be other days.  New trails are being built now and I can’t wait to get out there and see what kind of critters I can spot!