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  • Archive for February, 2016

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    It’s been a very long time since I’ve dedicated a lot of time to writing about gardening here. For some reason I’ve felt like because the garden has been so messy and umkempt over the last year or so, that showing it to you in its messy state wasn’t the best idea. In retrospect I should have shared all of that messiness anyway. One part of blogging for me is the ability to go back and see how things were growing or what animals (birds) might have been coming through at any particular time period. The last year has been a lot lighter on that information. I recently tried to find some bloom information on our fruit trees and it was rather skimpy for last year. I had to corroborate the previous two years to get a good idea on what the timing for our current blooms are in comparison.

    Not only that, I really enjoy looking back over my garden photos. It reminds me of what beauty is to come and what we’ve had in the past. The daffodils are slowly fading from their prime, being replaced by hyacinths, and soon the wildflowers. It’s nice to know that there’s a great succession of blooms to look forward to for the next several months. Now, if we could only get some late summer and fall blooming flowers to get going in the right-of-way. Honestly, I’d love to have a smattering of native grasses in the right-of-way but while we can convince the town mowers to avoid our right-of-way during wildflower season, I’m pretty sure they have zero appreciation for native grasses! We actually do a good job of keeping that area maintained ourselves whereas much of the town/neighborhood lets the city handle that. But, sometimes we let it get wilder than I guess they would like and we’ll come home from work to find the area mowed.

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    An early wildflower, sneaking in before the bulbs are through.

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    A few nights ago I interviewed Erin from The Familiar Wilderness for my podcast and something that I really took away from it was to try to get back into learning just tidbits of information about whatever particular plant, animal, or landscape I’m looking at. Sometimes it is easy for me to be “Hey, that’s a pretty flower!” and take a photo and move on without really knowing more about it. So, this time I decided I’d see what I could find out about hyacinths.

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    I didn’t find a whole lot totally interesting about the plant other than typical how-to-grow information and where they are native to, the Mediterranean and Middle East, but then I looked at the taxonomy.

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    If your not familiar with taxonomy you might remember King Phillip Came Over For Good Soup from school—Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species. Of course there are ‘sub’ of some of these levels, but you get the picture. If you can’t identify something by Genus but can figure out a Family it belongs to, you are usually doing pretty good in getting yourself into a position to correctly identify it. That’s where I was totally stunned by hyacinths.

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    Their Family is Asparagaceae! Yes, they are related to asparagus! As is agave and yucca, and even plants such as the genera Cordyline and Dracaena!

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    It appears that a lot of these subfamilies and genera were once considered to be in the Liliaceae family and of course with better scientific knowledge and now genetic testing, taxonomy gets shifted around quite a lot. I find it fascinating that these species can be called cousins just a few steps back on the taxonomic scale.

    So, there you have it, something both you and I didn’t know….ok, maybe there’s a botanist out there reading this who did know that, but it certainly wasn’t something on my radar!

    Fascinating stuff!

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    If you’ve been around a toddler for any length of time you know that they are hilarious and silly but also extremely exhausting! Forest is no different and pair that with his insatiable appetite for being outside (I wonder where he got that from??) chasing him around the yard will get anyone 10,000 Fitbit steps! His favorite things outside include looking up at birds and airplanes flying overhead, dinging the wind chimes, and pulling flowers! I recently identified a weed that is prolific here, Japanese hawkweed, and it is blooming right now. Forest wants to have a handful of its flowers if he sees any blooming. I’ve been pulling the plants from our beds so a lot of them are already gone which means he’s moved on to wanting actual flowers we’ve planted, ranging from daffodils to the poppy that bloomed the other day!

    During week day evenings we try to sneak in a bit of time before or after dinner outside. When the time changes in a few weeks I’m sure we’ll be spending even more time outside before Forest’s bedtime and of course Chris and I will be outside after that, too.

    Forest is only a few days away from being 18 months old! He’s a pretty awesome little dude!

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    If there’s one place in Texas that might have tinges of Florida in it, it would be the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary. For starters, this is a very well managed tract of land protected by The Nature Conservancy. When we arrived at the park we saw that there had recently been a burn throughout many areas of the pinelands. It was hard not to imagine thickets of saw palmetto in the understory but of course this is where habitats diverge and reality hits that this is Texas, not Florida.

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    Chris had been to the sanctuary several years ago but it was my first time. He knew where a few important and protected species were located but when we scoped them out they had been burned through, so no vegetation was visible. Fire is an important aspect to this habitat so these species will be just fine and seeds will germinate later this spring.

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    Longleaf pinecones were quite abundant and it was quite fun to hold them in our hands and compare them to loblolly pine cones, and the much smaller shortleaf pine cones. You can see Chris showing the comparison between the shortleaf and longleaf pine cones in the last photo.

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    Opuntia humifusa var. compressa

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    In our explorations of the uplands, we walked on many sandy lanes that brought back several memories of hikes in Florida. We got a great calf workout squishing along in the sand!

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    At one of Chris’ check-ins with the pink flagging he did find a seedling white firewheel (Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri) growing.

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    Whoops, it looks like a rosy wolf snail was not able to escape the wrath of the fire! We have these native and beneficial snails in our garden at home.

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    When we reached the back of the property we came across a series of ponds. Chris mentioned that the carnivorous purple bladderwort, Utricularia purpurea, might be located in these ponds but we didn’t look very hard to find any. The toddler opted for a nap at about this time so we kept our sights on the trail instead.

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    As we wound our way back towards the front of the park we saw a sign for the Floodplain Trail. There hadn’t been a map of the trails posted at the entrance we came in at so we weren’t sure where we were going to venture off to. I’d imagined that it was going to be a half-mile detour but as we walked and walked I realized this was not going to be a small deviation! The Floodplain Trail was not used as often as the other trail, it was evident. A pathway was visible but it wasn’t wide and markings became difficult to follow on occasion. A few times we lost the trail completely.

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    We weaved in and around dry sloughs and came across this giant cypress tree! Now, imagine wetlands full of cypress trees this big 100 years ago!

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    Cardamine bulbosa

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    Now, here’s the tricky area we found where the flagging and markings on the trees disappeared. We found ourselves leaping over several small streams and one of them turned out to be dammed up. It was difficult to tell if it was the work of beaver or a natural logjam.

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    You can see the ponding here, behind the logjam in the far back right of the photo.

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    The Floodplain Trail eventually found itself next to Village Creek where we found paddlers on the water. We waved to the couple and a few minutes later they realized Forest was on Chris’ back because he’d started fussing. They were astounded that he was out there with us! We weren’t along the creek very long before we climbed up the ridge and were back on top in the upland pine habitat and about a half mile from the truck. It was a great afternoon and a wonderful park to explore! I wish there were more areas like that closer to Houston but in reality this isn’t that far away from the city to make a great day trip. We did not make it to the very far reaches of the sanctuary and I would love to return sometime to see those areas as well as to see some of the plants when they’ve recovered from the controlled burn.

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    So, I went back through my blog trying to find a post about Village Creek State Park. I only found this one but that post isn’t even specifically about the park itself. The first time Chris and I visited the park was sometime in the fall/winter of 2010. We drove down from San Augustine, Texas on a few days off from field work in Sabine National Forest. I think we visited in conjunction with a visit to the Big Thicket units down near VCSP, but either I didn’t take photos or I didn’t bother to blog about it. Kind of weird for me not to have written about that trip, this being a nature/outdoorsy blog and all!

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    Nevertheless, we found ourselves back at the state park last weekend. We did not have camping reservations for February but I had looked at the forecast for Valentine’s weekend about 10 days ahead of time and it was looking really good for camping. Hitting up campgrounds around Houston or the Hill Country would likely be hit-or-miss in regards to having campsites open. I suspected that heading to east Texas would reveal more open campsites. We waited until a few days out from the weekend to make the reservation in order to be sure the good weather forecast was going to stick.

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    There is only one campground at the state park with services, electricity and water, and another area with primitive walk-in sites of about 500 feet from the parking area. We like the sites with services just because it makes everything a little easier with the toddler, but we’ve had to do primitive sites before. No big deal. I have to say, the campground at this state park was very weird. Most people already complain about the lack of privacy between campsites in campgrounds, at least here in Texas and in some areas of Florida. I’m not sure how it works in other state parks around the country. But at VCSP you are really stacked up against your neighbor. I don’t know what they were thinking when planning the sites but there is little room for privacy. Now, if you are an RVer, and that’s about 90% of people in campsites with service these days, that’s probably no big deal. You can retreat to your RV for quiet! For tent campers, this set up is not ideal at all in this state park. Another very odd thing was that each campsite also came with tent pads. Great idea if you want to protect sensitive resources and prevent erosion, but not ideal for family sized tents in this era. 10×10 sites in the early 90s when the park was built were probably what was popular then and Texas Parks and Wildlife hasn’t adapated with the changing times. The tent pads were definitely not ideal for people like us who get giant tents! We were assigned a campsite and immediately didn’t like it because of the nearness to our neighbor. Driving through the rest of the campground to see if another site was suited better, we quickly found there weren’t many, really, that would work with our tent. In the end we went with the campsite we were assigned and set up our tent off the pad in the woods a bit. It felt a little like encroaching onto our neighbor’s side but in reality it was so far back that they weren’t going to be going that direction anyway.

    Aside from all of that, the park is really diverse and beautiful! We took a half day off on Friday so we’d have a little more time to enjoy the weekend and not feel rushed by getting out on Saturday morning instead. Because we had that bit of time, once we set up our campsite we took off down the Village Creek Trail and hiked a bit.

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    We came across the only snake we saw the entire weekend, a sweet little ribbon snake. Chris and I were surprised we didn’t see more snakes considering the weather was warming up and it was quite sunny. Perfect for sunbathing snakes!

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    The evening hike was restorative for all three of us and we hadn’t even gone very far, yet!

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    I started this post as a draft in May of last year and it has been sitting in my drafts folder since then. At that time I thought I’d impart what little wisdom I had with car camping with a baby, two whole camping trips, but never got around to writing my thoughts down. Since life is different now and I have a toddler I’ve opted to tailor this towards our current experiences with car camping, that with a toddler. Needless to say they are vastly different and yet still share similar qualities.

    My first tidbit of advice is going to be find yourself a lot of Patience. You’re going to need it.

    So far our experiences of camping with a toddler have been one experience of very early toddlerhood at about 13 months, and two camping excursions in toddlerhood at around 17 months old. For us, they have been vastly different because that first experience involved a non-walking toddler. The last two have involved a very active and exploratory toddler who wanted to walk everywhere.

    • Divide and Conquer
      With a very active toddler that isn’t easily to corral, you can pretty much guarantee that one parent is going to be doing the bulk of the setting up and taking down while the other is going to be the one to do a lot of the toddler wrangling. Sure, the toddler wrangling parent can help out here and there if the toddler is behaving in an appropriate manner (not shoving leafs, sticks and debris in mouth; not running into the road; not throwing a tantrum; etc…) but those appropriate manners might buy you a few minutes to help the other parent set up one side of the tent or to grab something out of the truck. Currently it seems that Chris is the main camp setter-upper-taker-downer. I help when needed but mostly I wrangle the toddler. Sure, this definitely makes getting camp set up and taken down take a lot longer than it used to, but remember the motto of parenthood: This too shall pass.

    • Gear
      A lot of the gear is similar to what I wrote about in Tips for Hiking with a Baby just because camping and hiking gear go hand-in-hand. One bit of gear that we had to figure out once Forest was eating table food was where he would eat at camp. During our trip to Martin Dies State Park back in October he was still able to hang out in his walker and utilize that as a place for eating. Without a walker we had to come up with another idea. Chris found this foldable highchair that has worked perfectly for us. It is easy to stash in the truck and the tray is easy to clean.

      Aside from that I wouldn’t say there’s much other gear that’s completely unique for toddlers to get other than a small camping chair. We learned that last month at SFA State Park when he wanted to sit in our chairs. On our way to the state park most recently we stopped by Academy and picked up a little camp chair just for him. He only sat it in a few times but it came in handy for those rare occasions he wanted to chill out for a few minutes.

      We still take our Pack-and-Play for bedtime and he comes into bed with us after his middle of the night wakeup. We upgraded our air mattress to a king size and that makes all the difference!

      Of course you’ll need all your typical toddler gear: plenty of toys, a stroller or hiking backpack, diapers and all associated accessories, etc. Something we will probably bring on our next trip is an iPad. We have a hand-me-down first gen iPad so I’m not sure what apps will really work. I’ve tried putting some apps for myself on there but most haven’t worked with the iOS that it currently operates on and the iOS isn’t upgradeable. But Forest seems to be switching to an early rising schedule these days (pre-dawn, pre-birds waking!) that doesn’t behoove getting outside of the tent at that hour. We made due with a bit of distraction with our phones or by having him play with the lamp and some toys, but it was a pretty tedious 45 minutes before dawn. I think an iPad with some games or videos might be beneficial to kill that time before the sun rises (and to appease our camping neighbors with a quiet toddler!). We’re not ones to let him watch the iPad or our phones generally, but I think this is an instance to break it out!

    • Keeping Them Busy
      Any parent of a toddler knows they are easily distracted but also have an incredible memory. If you show them one thing they are apt to want to repeat that action over and over again, no matter how banal it is to you. It’s exciting! and fun! and new! to them. Walk up and down the campground road and show them all of the unique campsites. Take them to a nature center if there’s one where you are camping. Look at leaves and sticks or scope out the natural area around the campsite. Look up and point out the skyscape, the trees in the canopy, planes or birds flying overhead. Let them explore the area around them.

    • Adjust Expectations
      Above all else, along with patience, adjust your expectations! Forest really enjoys being outside and it can be difficult to get him to switch tasks right now. There’s a lot of fit throwing (which is frustrating but hilariously adorable at the same time!) and defiance as that’s part of the learning experience of toddlers. But, you can still have a good time camping and doing things outdoors with toddlers if you are willing to be flexible and go with the flow.

    We have at least one more camping trip scheduled for spring but we anticipate going at least another time after that I would suppose. We’d tossed around the idea to go on a short backpacking trip, too, but we need to upgrade some gear for that. I desperately need a new backpack and we need a three person tent. Maybe that’ll be my next how-to post…backpacking with a toddler! HAH!

    Do you have any advice for camping with toddlers? If so, please share!

    1. Mercy Street on PBS. This is coming on after Downton Abbey for the next few weeks. I’m liking it but wishing it was longer than 6 episodes. I’m glad Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) is stretching his acting chops but disappointed they are dragging out the morphine addiction thing. Yeah, we know, Civil War + morphine = addiction. Good times!
    2. This Outlander Season 2 Trailer!

    3. Two podcasts: Native Plant Podcast and In Defense of Plants Podcast. Both are excellent!
    4. Overtone color conditioner! Y’all might remember my pink hair on the Appalachian Trail. I’ve wanted to redo it ever since but haven’t wanted to deal with some of the dye issues or having to bleach my hair. I stumbled across Overtone via another blog a few weeks ago and ordered up their trial sizes of Vibrant and Extreme pink daily conditioners. It was clear that the Extreme was what I needed for my dirty blonde/light brown hair if I wanted the color to show up. They recommend a weekly deeper color conditioner to keep it vibrant. I liked the results of the trial sizes so I bought the Extreme pink set. The weekly container really gave my hair the the bright punch I was looking for and then I followed up with the daily conditioner for several days. I opted to stop the daily conditioner midweek to see how long it took for my hair to fade out and what it looked like in that process. Plus, we would be camping over the weekend and I didn’t want to deal with the upkeep. So far the fade out still looks good and I have some light pink tinge. Keeping up with the daily conditioner would have kept the color going and of course I would have followed it up with the weekly ‘punch’ this weekend if that’s what I wanted.

      What I love about Overtone is that it isn’t permanent and I can have it for a week here or there, or do strips of pink in my hair. It’s really fun so far! No, I didn’t take photos but will be sure to take some in a few weeks when I go for pink again! I may do a video because I couldn’t find a heck of a lot on YouTube from others who had used it.

    5. Spring is right around the corner. I’m still not holding my breath that we won’t have any more freezes but Chris seems to think we’re going to escape unscathed. That said, greens are bolting, crocus are coming up and most of the daffodils are blooming. We’re still in the middle of trying to get the flower beds into shape. I’ve weeded two entire beds and need to finish the last three. Two of those last three aren’t bad and will be easy to manage. The other isn’t entirely horrible but has some rough spots. We intended to get mulch last weekend but Chris’ truck sprung a radiator fluid leak so it had to go into the dealership. Hopefully this week we can get to mulching!

    Got anything awesome going on with you? Oh, there’s a new podcast episode up at The Garden Path Podcast if you want to have a listen!

    We’ve never had good success with potatoes but that’s not going to stop us from trying yet again. We’ve gone with Red LaSoda potatoes in the past. This year we opted to go with Yukon Gold as an alternative. They were cut and cured in our kitchen for a few weeks and we finally got a chance to get them in the ground this afternoon.

    Forest, as you see, is getting more and more interested in being outside and exploring. He’s not quite able to be left to just play by himself in close proximity to us as he’s very fond of pulling plants he shouldn’t, and is also quite the plant label thief! He eyed a pile of fire ants near the pea bed and almost thought about sticking his hand in, too! But he’s becoming much more interested in playing in the garden while we work and really does enjoy being out there with us. I foresee a lot of time running around the yard not only in the coming months but in the coming years.

    You’ll see in a few photos that he picked up the small shovel and tried to dig in the dirt. I mentioned to Chris that Forest needed his own plastic one to play with and while Chris was out yesterday evening doing a few errands, he picked up one for Forest. It is now Forest’s new favorite toy in the house and it even took a bath with him last night! Chris tried to get him to help plant the potatoes but Forest was much more interested in pulling the potatoes out of the dirt instead so Forest and I opted to go to the backyard to play for awhile.

    The vegetable garden itself is doing rather well. There’s still weeds to be pulled and some transition that needs to happen in the garden to spring plantings, and I need to start eating more of the greens before they all start bolting. I noticed some of the Chinese cabbage is trying to bolt. Somehow we need to figure out how to integrate out winter vegetables into our diet a lot better than we do.

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    Wetlands. They are highly undervalued but very awesome ecosystems. It was in college that I pinpointed the fact that I really loved wetlands and decided to focus on them as part of my marine biology degree. Looking more deeply, it was salt marshes that I had an affinity for, something I grew up loving as part of family vacations to the Texas and Florida coasts. Of course from there I learned about freshwater wetlands, and with our living in Florida for 8 years we became wetland maniacs. Wetlands are happening places!

    With our camping trip a few weekends ago, we took to the trails the morning we were to pack up and head home. Most of the trails were closed for mud/unknown reasons. A lot of the trails were in and around a floodplain adjacent to the Brazos river. While there wasn’t any water in the floodplain at the current time, it was evident that water regularly flowed through the area. At the very bottom of the floodplain the watermarks on the trees were far above our heads, 10-12′ off the ground. That’s some serious flooding! Imagine paddling through the area instead of hiking…!

    Our explorations into the bottomland were thwarted a few times because of closed trails. It was frustrating because nothing was posted at the trailhead or park office stating which trails might be closed. We would walk down a trail for a ways and find it randomly closed. In the end, we still enjoyed the cool but sunny morning. Somehow we got on the topic of geocaching and randomly decided to see if we could find one with an app on Chris’ phone. We haven’t geocached seriously in 7-8 years. The ‘sport’ has definitely changed since then and we found the geocaching app behind a paywall for many aspects of the service. We were able to see that there were caches in the area and use the GPS on the phone to get close enough but I had to log into our account on the computer and figure out via the map which cache we ended up doing in order to log it. The best part of the caching experience was knowing our caching sense was still pretty good. An ammo can in the woods 8 years ago is still an ammo can in the woods today!

    And now for some photos!

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    Hackberry bark…Celtis laevigata

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    Normally we find trifoliate orange when we’re out exploring but we actually found an edible citrus growing next to the trail! What? Is this Florida? No fruit, though.

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    One giant cottonwood!

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    Two weekends ago when we went to Stephen F. Austin State Park just west of Houston, I got on Google Maps to see what other parks would be around the area. Close by was the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge, a place I had always wanted to visit but we’d never made it down that direction. Many of the trails were closed at the state park due to mud so when we packed up Sunday morning we headed over to the refuge to have lunch and see what we would see. There were several trails and a five mile scenic drive we could take.

    The refuge office was closed for Sunday but we we had lunch at the picnic tables near the park office. For being a fairly out of the way and not exactly a well known refuge, there were several other groups out there while we were there. The thought did not escape me that if circumstances were different there could be a bunch of idiots holed up here instead of in Oregon trying to reclaim ‘their’ land from the government (the people).

    Alas, the scenic road was closed halfway through so we only saw a portion of that, but we did get out and hike the Sycamore Trail, keeping our eyes open for prairie chickens in the meantime. Our hike provided no chickens. The only wildlife on that hike were some small birds and leaf cutter ants. After our hike we tried to drive the scenic drive but turned around when we saw the closed sign. Another truck who had turned in front of us snuck through after we turned around. Chris had been eyeing them, getting the vibe they knew something we didn’t…that they were regular visitors. Because we didn’t know the refuge enough to know why the road was really closed we didn’t sneak through like they did.

    So, no prairie chickens but we did see several northern harriers. I did my best to get some shots of them out the car window with the long lens. For the most part they are decent. I need to get that lens out more often!

    There’s an early morning event in April, I think, where they take tours out to see the prairie chickens leks, so that might be our best chance of seeing a chicken anytime soon.

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    (Look hard, the harrier is there!)

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    Being a non-birder, I’m not sure what this little dude(ette) is….birders???

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    Overall, it was a great place to visit. If we lived on that side of Houston I’m sure we’d drop in a lot more often just to see what birds are migrating through.

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