Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough

Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough
Roseate Spoonbills on Big Slough

Sunday, December 5, 2021

A Visit to Sheldon Lake State Park

Sunrise on Sheldon Lake

Last Wednesday,  a friend invited me to lunch. I couldn't stand to not spend some time outdoors.  She hadn't quite decided on the time and place, so I texted her that I just needed an address and a time to meet her before I set off on about a thirty minute drive to a very urban state park. It is located just minutes out of Houston proper and was originally built to provide water for the war effort.  It has become a very valuable wild place in a mostly concrete area. It also was once a fish hatchery and still has ponds that are going wild. It provides important environmental education to school children as well as to aspiring master naturalists and the general public. 

I have fond memories of taking my inner city Outdoor Club there for a day of birding, fishing, and a cookout lunch of hot dogs and S'mores. I had only been able to raise enough money for half the binoculars I needed and the kids had to pair up to look at birds. I had to slow the volunteer from the Environmental Center way down as the kids were entranced by every bird, even the most common. We brought our own worms and the Park staff provided fishing gear. The pond had just been stocked, and the kids caught fish the size of their smiles.

This day, I started at the fishing parking lot, on the north side of the lake, squeaking in just in time to catch the last minute of sunrise through cypress trees standing in shallow water. Then the glowing cypress trees caught my attention, and I spent several minutes trying to capture their awesomeness.

Cypress at sunrise

The sun on the trunks caught my eye

A few minutes later, I was trying to figure how to detour around closed roads to get to the south side of the reservoir where I wanted to walk the bank fishing trail. A few minutes after that, I was back on track and approaching the boat launch parking lot. The light was still beautiful on the trees in the lake. A pair of fishermen were the only other people around here, although there were at least a dozen vehicles at the north end.  I walked the fishing path, stopping to frame pictures at each opening. I got down to the fishing pier and stopped to enjoy the views and to look for wildlife. 

I noticed a swirling cloud of birds, looking like gulls.  But when I put my camera on them, I found they were a huge gulp of double crested cormorants. (I had to look up the name for a congregation of cormorants. Isn't it appropriate?) 

A small part of the gulp of cormorants

The gulp landing
Then  they swirled down to land on the west side of the lake and began swimming towards me, then around me.  Mesmerized, I just kept snapping pictures. I picked out ones with the most action to share. It seemed the back birds would leapfrog through the air to land back in the water in front of the pack, only to have the last line of birds repeat this action. Two more small gulps flew in and joined in the fun.

The birds came close to the pier

They were still leapfrogging,  as they passed the pier, then began flying away.  The splashes
are from their little runs to get in the air.

They became a column of birds circling back to their start and disappearing into the sky

Finally there was only one

I was happy to see something was eating the invasive apple snails -mabe the limpkin?

A great egret flew in as I passed this tree

Another few minutes of driving got me to the entrance to the main visitor area. Again I had to stop as flying V after flying V came over the horizon.  Again I found each was a gulp of cormorants, There were at least ten gulps of them.

I took a stroll through the prairie to look for the pothole I had helped plant after staff located it in the old rice field by doing soil samples, then evacuating foreign soil. But I couldn't find it, and think the entire prairie is being taken back to a wet prairie and perhaps has engulfed it. 

The rest of the time, I wandered the wooded trails between the ponds, finding few birds, but a few lovely pictures.  Enjoy.

Lincoln sparrow

What passes for fall color in Texas

Nature's painting

A rare oak whose leaves have fall color

My favorite picture of a closeup of cypress needles

When all you need is one leaf to show all the colors of fall

My friend texted me to come meet her, so I started back, only to discover that tower was open. I raced up five flights of stairs to grab a picture in the now unforgiving light.  (I still have all those extra red blood cells I need to work in Colorado at 7500 feet.) Then I had a wonderful time and lunch with my friend and another mutual friend who stopped by to visit me in Colorado, changing from a virtual to a real friend.

The tower....

...Gives you a view of a good part of Sheldon Lake