Our first activity was a walk around a lake where a lot of black vultures "hang out" this time of year.
Besides seeing LOTS of vultures, we saw an alligator sunning on the far side of the lake. We also saw quite a few turtles - covered in duck weed! Can you find 3 in this photo?
We saw ducks, ibises, and egrets. I'm not sure what these ducks are, but I'll try to figure it out.
Next, we went to the nature center to look around. It actually had lots of things to touch and see. One of my favorites was a leech in a tank! Then, we went upstairs to have story time with Ranger Sharon. She read a book called Waiting Alligators and gave us SO much information about alligators! She also had things for us to look at and touch, and a baby alligator to pet! Then, we went tree climbing. One of the family's had a lot of experience climbing trees and the kids were getting really high! Then, we went to a picnic/park area to eat and play. I took photos of these activities on my other camera, and I haven't downloaded them yet. So, you'll have to wait for photos!
Next, was one of our big activities of the day: a lady named Doris Magers from SOAR (Save Our American Raptors) was at the park to share about raptors (birds of prey) and how we can protect them. I was thrilled to volunteer to carry in the above owl!!! Unfortunately, I don't think anyone took a photo. This Great Horned Owl, a female named E.T., sits on a perch and I carried her, perch and all. I was really just in awe to be so close to such a magnificant bird.
Of course, I had to try out my new camera and I was sitting only a few feet on the second row. Alexandra was in front on the floor with some friends. The owl was just amazing!!! We all got excited, and disgusted, when it started looking like it was choking... and then spit something up. We thought, "Oh wow! An owl pellet!!!" But, it turned out not to be a pellet... and it smelled disgusting. Just had to share that info. ;-)
Aren't these talons amazing??? A lot of what Ms. Magers talked about was how people hurt these birds - both through shooting and by taking them from their nests and having them imprint on people so they can never be released into the wild.
Next, she brought out this little bitty Screech Owl. It's only 8 inches tall - and about 9 months old, but probably full grown.
Then, she brought out this beautiful bird... it's an American Kestrel or Sparrow Hawk. Isn't it amazing? (By the way, I fell even MORE in love with birds this day.) The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America - about the size of an American Robin and it is used by falconers.
The last birds she showed us was this bird I'd never seen before called a Crested Caracara. (By the way, I've realized that the photos look a lot different on different computers. On my laptop, this photo looks great. On my PC, this photo looks dark and hard to see.)
These birds are actually now found in the Houston area but are often mistaken for vultures when in flight! I would LOVE to see one of these out in the wild. The lady holding the caracara is Ranger Sharon, the lady who read to us during storytime and who also helped me set up our nature day. The caracara was flying back and forth from Ranger Sharon to a few others - including a couple of volunteers. I wish I could have caught this bird!!!
After the birding program, we went on a 1.2 mile hike around another lake where I was pretty sure we'd see some alligators. We ended up seeing about 7 - 3 of them were VERY close to the path and were almost too close for comfort. This alligator was lying just off the path with his tail towards the trail and his face in the water, covered in duckweed.
We also so quite a few turtles. This one amazed us by his size. If you can see, just to the right of him is a regular sized duck. He's about 1.5 times the size of the duck!
During story time, we'd learned about "gator holes." Well, someone pointed out a spot that looked like a gator hole with an alligator in it. Using my zoom on my camera, I could tell it WAS an alligator. Then, there was a second possible gator hole with an alligator in front of it. We really couldn't tell if it was another alligator or not. When I got home and downloaded my photos, I was excited to see that you could tell it was another, smaller alligator!