On a gorgeous, sunny winter morning, our family joined a "behind-the-scenes" guided tour of the Houston Audubon Raptor Center, home to many rehabilitated birds of prey. Mary Anne Weber, Education Director, along with two other Audubon staff members, conducted the tour for us. Appealing to all age groups, everyone in the family absolutely loved it. It was a relaxed, fun, fascinating experience appealing to both seasoned birders and those just starting to learn about them. Throughout the year, the education center offers 90-minute tours to school group and adults.
Staff members provided us with an overview of the critical importance of birds for our environment. We learned about migration, including the fact that the Greater Houston area contains some of the most important migratory stopovers in the world. We also learned about opportunities to participate in Audubon Bird Surveys around the Houston area, in areas such as Fiorenza Park or Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve, some of my own personal favorites. Also, we were greeted with a spread of pastries, fruit and a coffee / hot chocolate station, which was an unexpected but much-appreciated bonus.
After the lecture, we had close-encounters with a Barred Owl, Great-horned Owl, Barn Owl, Screech Owl, Turkey Vulture, Mississippi Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Red-tailed Hawk. Mary Anne and the team highlighted information about many of the individual animals. For example, the Turkey Vulture is a recent addition from Montana. We also met a few snakes and a rehabilitated Purple Martin who had flown into a window and sustained long-term injury. Our three boys particularly enjoyed meeting a bright orange-and-yellow patterned Corn snake they could touch, named "Mac n Cheese". Lastly, the boys enjoyed meeting tarantulas and were allowed to touch different types of tarantula fur - certainly a memorable highlight.
The Raptor and Education Center grounds, full of native plants and water sources, offers a great backdrop for birding, too. In fact, it is considered an eBird hotspot, with a current species count of 108. We spotted a flock of boisterous Monk Parakeets high in the treetops, an adorable Carolina Chickadee and the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the season!
From Houston Audubon:
The Houston Audubon Raptor and Education Center at Sims Bayou is a picturesque 1.1-acre sanctuary located in historic Park Place on the original channel of Sims Bayou. The center contains a log cabin, barn, gazebo, gardens, pond with native plants, and seasonal wetland trails that afford a unique opportunity to experience nature in a dense urban setting. It is located next to Charlton Park and the upcoming Houston Botanical Garden.
Across the bayou, construction crews could be seen busily working on Houston Botanic Garden, slated to open in Fall 2020 and expected to soon become a major attraction for the City of Houston. In 2015, Mayor Parker and the Houston City Council approved a lease agreement to transform the 132-acre Glenbrook Golf Course into a botanic garden. Funding for Phase 1, a $35-million project that covers about 15 acres and includes a children’s discovery garden, an edible garden and entrance from Park Place Blvd. with wetlands and an oak collection, is very close to completion. We look forward to visiting later this year!