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The Hidden Gem in Texas Hill Country (It’s not even on Google Maps!)

Guadalupe river trail in texas hill country

Where the Locals Hang.

Do you ever wonder where the locals of a town actually go hiking?  I’m always tired of hiking the same trails as all the other tourists in towns I visit.  We happen to live in a pretty large tourist hotspot of Texas hill country (who am I kidding, all of Texas Hill Country is a hot spot!). Canyon Lake is where everyone comes to go tubing and fishing down on the famous blue waters of the Guadalupe river.  Many people also come to walk along the beautiful beaches and go sail boating on the giant lake our town is named after.  If you’re looking for something simple to do in the Hill Country, look no further.

Canyon Lake beach
The crystal clear waters of Canyon Lake

Enough of all the tourist talk. I’m writing this post about one of our MANY hidden gems around the lake.  Our nature walk – Guadalupe River Trail.  This short, 2.5 mile hike (start to finish), is one of the prettiest spots in the area.  This hiking trail is free to access and never really has many people on it (it’s not even on Google maps unless you know the exact name!).  It’s probably about a medium difficulty because the trails are dirt, not well kept, and the paths are steep in some places. You can find this trial right on the other side of our dam.  If you haven’t seen our dam, it’s not one to skip! It overlooks the lake and is absolutely gorgeous at sunset!  You can see all the sailboats from up high.

Guadalupe river trail in texas hill country

This picture was taken mid-winter, so you’ll have to excuse all the dormant foliage.

More about our trail

My favorite spot on this gorgeous walk along the Guadalupe river is this amazing cove under some boulders.  This little gem has its own microclimate where the water seeps out from the rocks and moss, algae, and other neat organisms thrive. I took my son’s school pictures in this spot, and they are probably my favorite to date. I’m not super comfortable posting full on facial shots of my son, so I’ll put one up of myself.

texas hill country views

There are bridges that you can cross, over hanging vines to monkey around in, and Spanish moss to enjoy!  This little walk is one of my favorite sanctuaries here in Canyon Lake.

Climbing on a tree in hill country

bridge in texas hill country

The birds! So many species of birds.  I haven’t formally gone birding in this spot yet, but I have casually seen several different neat species. Osprey regularly hang out in our giant Cypress trees that overhang the water. Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers flitter in and amongst the lower canopy of the trees, and not to mention the Great Blue Herons that are always hangin’ around fishing for their next meal.

There are tons of plants to observe here, including bald cypress trees, live oak, poison ivy, frostweed, turkscap, Texas persimmon trees, mustang grape vines and many more I couldn’t identify. Even in the dead of winter, life still goes on here since our temperatures are so mild.

I hope that you come around to the area and find this amazing trail.  It really is a neat place! If you come to see our beautiful town, please be kind and throw away any trash you may bring in with you. We have plenty of trash we have to pick up on a regular basis.  For more info on how to be friendly to our environment, and about some neat conservation programs that help with trash pick up, check out my post on conserving American White Pelicans.

hiking in texas hill country

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The American White Pelican: A Species worthy of Conservation

white pelican

The common occurrence

I have encountered numerous American white pelicans in my life; I don’t think I’ve ever been to the coast and failed to see one. These birds are absolutely everywhere down on the coast of Texas and the gulf (the only parts of the ocean I’ve ever visited). I’ve even seen these particular pelicans up in Montana and Colorado. Anywhere there are large bodies of water, white pelicans can almost always be found!  

I’ve noticed that many people overlook our most common species, so I thought I would highlight how neat our white pelicans are.

American White Pelican landing near the shore at Corpus Christi

The trip that stands out

When I think of the white pelican, one trip stands out from the rest. My first trip to the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society meeting in Corpus Christi; I was in my second year at WT in the Wildlife biology program. Since this meeting is a big deal to most in the wildlife field, there are many students who try to make the trip to wherever the meeting is held each year. Luckily, I secured a ride with my close friends, and we drove 10 hours to Corpus Christi, arriving at our hotel at 3 in the morning. We were completely exhausted and had a very busy weekend ahead of us!

After being in many different research presentations all day, my friends and I decided we needed to go birding (of course). We met up with Ashley Tubbs, an invaluable friend and incredible expert with birds and herps (reptiles and amphibians), and an exceptional photographer who has received many prestigious awards for her talents. She’s incredible. Anyway, she was kind enough to show us some hotspots for birding.  We were able to see a great number of species (many were new to me), including our endangered whooping crane population.

Did you know there are fewer whooping cranes left in the wild than there are giant pandas? Crazy, right?

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch any great photos of the cranes.

Pollywog pond was probably the coolest birding spot we went to;  I was able to see a large variety of birds in just a small area.  If you look close enough, you never know what kind of birds you can spot, especially in your own back yard.

pelicans

I saw these beautiful pelicans just off the shore, patiently waiting for scraps being thrown by the fisherman on the docks who were cleaning out their catch for the day. They were like stray cats waiting on their daily treat. You could tell the fisherman feed them on a daily basis. There were probably at least 10 white and brown pelicans gathered, not to mention all the gulls, fighting over the scraps being thrown out. It was quite entertaining to watch.

A little more information

white pelican
American White Pelican soaring over Corpus Christi

The American White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) is one of only two types of pelican that can be found here in the U.S.. There are obvious differences between the two species (one’s brown, the other is white, duh!). You shouldn’t have any issues between telling the two apart.

These guys are some of the many species of birds that breed up north, then migrate to the coasts during the winter months.

They mostly eat fish (of course!), but I have seen a video of one eating another bird! Animal behavior is a crazy thing.  Once you think you have an animal figured out, they go and surprise you!  Many people think that these birds carry food in their pouches, but they typically swallow any food they might have before they take off for flight.

pelican skull
My son holding up a pelican skull

Have you ever seen a pelican “flutter” its pouch?  This funny behavior actually has a purpose.  These guys get overheated very easily; “fluttering” is how they try to rid their bodies of excess heat!

I often think of pterodactyls anytime I see a species of pelican soaring across the horizon. If you have an active imagination, like I do, maybe you can see it? No? Maybe I’m just a crazy person.

Things we can do

If you spend very long on the internet there are tons of articles, pictures, and videos about how trashed out our oceans have become.  The trash in our oceans and waterways alone are causing pelicans and other animals to die off in great numbers.

There is a simple solution to this problem.  Pick up your trash, guys.  If you see trash, please pick it up (if it’s not hazardous). We always leave the beach with at least a handful or two of trash we find (if we don’t have a bag).  There are trash cans posted all over the place usually, if there isn’t, take a bag with you.  It’s really pretty simple.  But of course, anyone who is interested enough in nature to be reading this blog, most likely won’t be littering. So, really, I’m preaching to the choir here, right?

There are numerous non-profit organizations out there who spend the majority of their time picking up trash and making neat things with it for donations.  They spread awareness, and make a great deal of difference. Conservation efforts are  how I like to judge a non-profit agency.  What are they doing to ensure our wildlife lasts for generations?

The Ocean Conservancy hosts clean-ups every year.  To check out the impact that trash has on our environment, I highly suggest checking out their blog.  They have an astounding article on how much trash was picked up last year by volunteers (over 2 million pounds of trash has been collected since 1985).  It’s incredible.  Check it out here, and while you’re over there, think about donating to their cause.

Other ways to help: reduce, reuse, and recycle.  According to one of The Ocean Conservancy’s articles, in 2012 the U.S. recycled approx. 9% of their plastics, compared to the 30% in Europe, even China recycled 25%.  Come on, guys.  We can do better than that.  “A whopping 79% of all the plastics ever produced have now been discarded. Only 21% of plastics are still in active use.” Wow.

One way we have tried to help is our REDUCTION on plastic use.  I am actively trying to cut down on our plastic consumption altogether.  I try not to buy any products with plastic packaging by buying in bulk; we don’t ever use disposable plastics unless we absolutely need to, I cloth diaper (yes, disposable diapers have plastics in them), use glass whenever possible, reusable snack bags instead of ziplocks, ect.

It’s a hard change at first, there are a lot of steps to take in the process of becoming plastic free, but after a few years, we are probably 80% free of disposables in our house.  We recycle anything else that we can.  I would consider that a pretty good percentage considering that we have two kids.

What are you doing to help rid our environment of plastics?

Check out more tips on how to help out local wildlife.

white pelican

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Six tips on how you can help local widlife

Raccoon

How to help wildlife without being a biologist:

How can you help your local wildlife?  What a great question!  You don’t have to be a biologist to help out your environment.  There are so many ways to get involved in helping out with citizen science or just taking steps in reducing your carbon footprint.  I’ll try to point out some things that typically aren’t thought of when it comes to benefiting our wildlife and environment.Brown Pelican

1. DON’T FEED THE WILDLIFE

What?? “But those deer are my babies! I love having them in the yard day after day”.  Just don’t. Please do your research on how detrimental it is to feed the wildlife! We don’t kick up such a big fit about feeding the birds, BUT feeding deer, bears, gators, raccoons, foxes, ect. IS BAD.  DON’T DO IT, PLEASE!!!
You want to know why?? Okay, so here is a short lesson on why it’s bad to feed the wildlife.

The food we give them isn’t what they actually need to survive.  A lot of wildlife food out there (deer corn for example) is like feeding them junk food.  Plus, it makes populations go up, and the environment can’t naturally support it.  There is an amazing, delicate balance between animals and their habitat; it will only support what it can sustain! Awesome right? When you feed the wildlife, it screws up that balance. Plus, we don’t want to feed the animals “junk” right?
Raccoon
Feeding them makes them dependent.  When animals become dependent on humans, it’s not such a good thing.  This is when animals become nuisances. Think raccoons, bears, and alligators.  If you feed them, they start associating you with food.  You look no different than any other human, so they just think humans have food.  This is how people get injured!

Disease is more easily spread when animals are in close quarters with one another. When you feed the wildlife, there are more animals in one place than there typically would be.  The chances of disease goes up.  Think of big crowds of people compared to not being around anyone.  Germs are more likely to be present and spread.

Yes, it makes us feel good to feed the animals, they need us, right?  NO.  The wildlife does not need you, sorry.  It may feel all warm and fuzzy at first, but please just think of the consequences!

2. Bring your cats indoorscat

I’m going to step on some toes here (hey, you don’t have to read the rest if you don’t want).  I can’t tell you how many arguments I have been in that debate that cats hurt the local wildlife.  They do.  All my friends at this point are shaking their heads at me (I have an outdoor cat, but she is geriatric and I had her outside before I knew better; when I bring her indoors all she does is cry).  I know, I’m a hypocrite when I talk about this one.  But seriously guys, please don’t buy cats to be “barn cats”.  Do you know how many stray cats there are in the world anyway?  I have about 50 roaming around my neighborhood that belong to no one!! They are SERIOUSLY detrimental to local wildlife.  Why did you get the cat in the first place? More than likely to get rid of rodents, right? There are better ways.  Cats don’t just kill rodents, in fact, they kill more of everything else.  They are little killing machines.
And no, the programs that fix our neighborhood cats to just release them back are not doing any good whatsoever for populations.  Yes, they keep a few individuals from breeding.  But guess what?  Those cats still have to eat something.  Oh, you’re feeding them, well, that doesn’t help either, sorry.  Cats kill because they want to.  Oops, I stepped on more feet there.

 

3. Give out some money!

There are so many beneficial wildlife conservation organizations out there that need the money for research right now!  Especially since budgets are being cut on a regular basis for grants they need to do research.  Wildlife research is SO IMPORTANT.  We discover so many amazing things all because of research.  We learn how to FIX problems.  I will link some GREAT organizations down at the bottom of the post if you don’t know who to donate to….

Oh, and did you know… You don’t even have to actually give out money to benefit these organizations with donations.  Amazon Smile (smile.amazon.com) donates to whatever organization you choose when you make a purchase.  It doesn’t cost you ANY extra money!! How great is that?!

 

4. Don’t use DEETGreen tree frog

DEET kills our amphibians!  Not a whole lot as been said on this subject.  Amphibians have very permeable skin, and are very sensitive to chemicals. If you have DEET on you and it gets in the environment (like swimming in the river or handling a frog) there is a HUGE chance you are killing off frogs and salamanders. There are tons of natural choices for bug repellant, please don’t use DEET!

 

5.  Get involved!

There are a ton of citizen science projects out there for people who want to help out!  iNaturalist is one that is so much fun to get involved in. You can literally participate from anywhere in the world, and it is so beneficial!  You can also get help with identifying the wildlife around you.  Ebird is another great organization that does citizen science projects and uses data put in by birders.  Get a field guide, become familiar with your local birds, and start logging what you see!  Your local zoo might be having something fun to get involved with as well, you might be surprised! Zoos are actually great conservation resources.

 

6. Spread the wordtranspecos ratsnake

Let people know that killing our wildlife isn’t cool.  So many people love to say they want to help wildlife, but they are killing off our snakes!  Help spread the word that our snakes (even the venomous ones) are very beneficial!  Where there are more snakes in areas, there are less instances of nasty diseases like lyme disease! Who wants that nasty stuff around?! Not me! Snakes keep the rodent populations in check; therefor, reducing diseases that rodents help spread.

 

Great organizations to look into:

Turtle Survival Alliance
The Wildlife Society
American Bird Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
The Ocean Conservancy
The Orianne Society

There are many other awesome non profits that are doing great work too! I just love these guys!
Also, if you like any of my photography, part of my proceeds will go towards some of these organizations. So, get some pretty artwork, and give to a great cause as well!