Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Gem in our own Backyard!

Deciding to take a break from everyday chores, I  invited my friend, Becky, to the Mineola Preserve. This is one of my all time favorite places to go. I had not been there in a while and could not believe the new ponds and trails that had been added. I congratulate the Mineola city planners, the state of Texas, Wood County officials and Texas Parks and Wildlife for their foresight in saving this important parcel of land for future generations.

Can you see the pavilion?
The preserve consists of 2911 acres on the Sabine River and is open from 7:00 a.m. to dusk every day. After you enter the gates and park, you will notice a covered pavilion, picnic tables and restroom area which is on top of the highest hill in the Preserve. This area, landscaped by the Wood County Master Gardeners, contains a sensory garden – one having plants that stimulate the senses. There is even a playground and a place to play horseshoes!

Steel truss bridge
photo courtesy of Becky Sheridan

A new aquatic loop and the Pullen Pond were built through contributions from Ozarka Brand Natural Spring Water, Texas Parks and Wildlife and local enthusiasts. A grant received by the city of Mineola was used to develop walking, hiking, biking and equestrian trails. A historic locally-constructed steel truss bridge has been added to the railroad walking trail. Here canoes and kayaks can be launched onto the Sabine River. This area was at one time home to the Hasinai Tribe of the Caddo Indian Nation. Much of the preserve consists of pristine wetlands which are on the west side (on the east side of Highway 69).

193 species of birds have been identified along with numerous butterflies and other creepy crawlies. Other critters include: opossums, bats, squirrels, voles, moles, shrews, gophers, armadillos, skunks, weasels, bobcat, cougar, rabbits, mice, rats, raccoon, otters, coyote, foxes, deer, feral hogs, beaver, nutria, longhorn and buffalo. 

From the vantage point of the pavilion you can see the wildlife corridors (senderos), created to draw the wildlife out into the open meadow to graze. This will be a great place in the spring or fall to see and photograph birds on the wing as well as deer, hogs, turkey, etc. A wonderful breeze was blowing and it was coolish.

Native Plant Area
picture taken last spring
We started out on the paved path and followed it down toward the beaver pond. Right off the bat we came upon two interesting things. The Wood County Master Gardeners have created a native plant and memorial garden and have labeled all the plants. There are even benches so you can sit a spell and take it all in. A little further down the path is a place to view bees working but the bees have been relocated. 

The paved path continued until it merged with an old railroad bed (built in the 1880's) that has been “paved” with decomposed granite which makes a great walking trail. The crunch, crunch of our footsteps did not drown out the birds or that other creepy noise we heard, which we determined was frogs. There are several boardwalks, hunting blinds and wildlife platforms built out into the ponds so that wildlife and waterfowl can be viewed undetected. 

Johnnie Bendy
Many of the trails and ponds have names. Later I found out that these names came from Mrs. Johnnie Bendy a retired Mineola educator who fished in the ponds and walked along the railroad track as a child. She is the primary resource for the preserve's history. Many of the names such as Bridge Bob, Goggle Eyed Pond, White Perch Hole and Turkey Island, all come from her childhood memories. 

Moi teaching animal tracking
Since 2005, the preserve has been home NatureFest which is held in May. The event includes exciting exhibits, hikes and activities including nature walks by Dr. Neil Ford of UT Tyler, The Creature Teacher, The Turtle Lady, The Butterfly Guy, kids fishing and kite flying, nature photography, tree identification hike, face painting, build your own bird-house, frog loggin (frog identification), nighttime owl prowls, chuck wagon dinner, cowboy campfire, storytellers and a look at the stars on Friday night with East Texas Astronomers. It is truly fun for the whole family. 

Check out the Mineola Nature Preserve – you, your family, your children and grandchildren will have a grand time at this GEM!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What Is That Yellow Bird?

Years ago, I was birding in the Big Bend area; Fort Davis state park to be exact. I was lucky enough to encounter a park ranger who was leading a bird identification class. The first thing the ranger had us do was to put our bird ID books away. Ack! He said by the time we all fumbled in our books, the LBB (little, brown bird) will have flitted away.

A lot of folks identify a bird by its color and that is OK when the bird is colorful. But depending on the season, many birds aren't in their breeding plumage and are very drab. Things to consider when trying to ID are: type of bill, facial markings, plumage patterns, shape, size, habitat, field marks, voice, call, activity and flying pattern. All must be taken into consideration to make a good identification.

Do as I say; not as I do.

I see a bird in the backyard and say to my hubby, “we have a yellow bird out here.” It was a pine warbler to be exact. I consulted a couple of books to be sure.


Pine warblers are small active birds with short pointed bills. Birds with thin, short, pointed bills are generally insect eaters. Warblers catch insects on the fly or creep along branches. In winter, they dine on fruits, berries, sunflower seeds and suet.

Can you see the eyering?
The Pine Warbler is about 5 ½” and both male and female have plain unstreaked bellies, dark legs, white wing bars and white spots on the corner of the tail. This little bird also has a “spectacled,” face with a pale eyering connected to a pale stripe in front of the eye. 

The male has a yellow throat and breast, indistinct black streaks on breast sides and is bright olive green on its back. The female is similar but paler with a buff yellow breast.

Unstreaked belly

See the side black streaks?

Undertail feathers

The undertail coverts (coverts cover other feathers) are white. Why do you need to know about undertail feathers? Because generally that is all you see when the bird is flying away. Speaking of flying, the pine warbler’s flight is strong and slightly undulating.

The nest is a cup of pine needles out on a limb of pine tree and the female lays 3-5 eggs that are whitish with brown speckles.

The song is a trill and the call is a sweet “chip.”

One of my books identifies the habitat of the Pine Warbler as pine forests. Well, duh!

What birds do you have at your feeders right now?