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Big Thicket, Texas
October 2015

How best to describe my experience with in the Big Thicket National Preserve? Would it make sense if I said it was a great and interesting place with a wide diversity of trees, plants, insects, and herps that I had a wonderful time discovering, yet I probably would never go back?

We went to the Big Thicket area to meet up with friends to camp and explore the area together. While there we camped at Martin Dies Jr State Park, Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Unit, and Village Creek State Park all relatively close to each other.

Martin Dies Jr State Park

By the time we arrived at the state park, it was several hours past dusk. The campground was pretty empty, even with its 200 sites. We chose a screened-in shelter site because of its close proximity and view of the reservoir/marsh, which we hoped to explore in the morning. A night hike along the roads revealed many nine-banded armadillos rustling in the leaf litter. They seemed oblivious to us standing less than 10 feet away. If they caught whiff of us, they would dash back into the woods. Using our headlamps, we spotted the eye shine of several raccoons and a few white-tailed deer. A southern flying squirrel squeaked and chirped from a tree trunk until I finally got very brief glimpse of it. In the marshes and slough, we could spot the red eye shine of alligators floating in the waters.

The morning’s alarm clock was the loud burble from a Carolina Wren sitting immediately outside of our shelter. The shelters bordered the reservoir, a large marsh grown in with lily pads, lotus and hyacinths. Herons, egrets, coots, and gallinules picked through the wealth of aquatic prey. Only had enough time to hike a few of the trails through the forest of loblolly pine and oak, while glimpsing the cypress trees growing in the slough.

We returned to the state park at the end of our camping trip to take advantage of the canoe rentals. We paddled through the cypress filled sloughs and among the lotus and lily pads in the reservoir. We spotting a few alligators, which seemed tame and not at all wary of us, sunbathing turtles, and an anhinga.

Big Thicket National Preserve

The first thing anyone will notice when looking at a map of the preserve is how fragmented and spread out it is. All together the preserve is huge (over 100,000 acres). But being scattered, it amounts to a lot of edges, which butt up against ranches, house, oil rigs, major roads, strip malls, chemical sprayed lawns, etc. These fragments can only support a limited amount of wildlife and also becomes more difficult to manage the remnant fire dependent longleaf pine forests. I have to admit the preserve is better than nothing and am thankful it didn’t succumb to another development, golf course, or clear cut. The scraps of lands do offer a small haven for some flora and fauna and for the nature lover to enjoy.

We camped three nights at the Turkey Creek Unit - the only unit at the time that wasn’t open to hunting. Although the unit stretches 18 miles north to south, it is very narrow is some sections. Hiking around I never got the impression that we were in the wilds or away from civilization (constantly reminded by the sounds of roosters, chainsaws, barking dogs, and gun shot). There are no established campgrounds on the preserve so we just “hiked” in our camping gear. There are plenty of previously used camping sites along the Turkey Creek trail and near the bisecting roads. We set our base camp among the dry leaves of the elm, maple, and madrona and spent the days hiking the trails.

The forest was fairly dry. The most obvious evidence was the lack of water in the cypress and tupelo swamps. Perhaps it was the scarcity of moisture that we didn’t see an abundance of wildlife - very few amphibians and reptiles. Besides the plentiful population of gray squirrels, we saw no other mammals. One perk to the lack of water was the near absence of mosquitoes and other biting insects (though I did find one tick on my bag - thankfully not attached to me). Bird life was also quiet with the peak of fall migration probably over. I did, however, see one beautiful male Hooded Warbler.

Carnivorous plants were still on view on the Pitcher Plant and Sundew trails (though both carnivorous plants were found on both trails). Interestingly the sundews seemed to enjoy being run over, and thrived in the tracks of the pipeline road.

Despite its scattered pieces, the Big Thicket holds a lot to treasure and is worth preserving. Its sad to think of all that was lost with the decision to carve up the pineywood wilderness to industry all those years ago. The Big Thicket now is just a small fractured remnant of what was.

Village Creek State Park

We traveled south from the Turkey Creek unit of the Big Thicket to Village Creek State Park, where we set up camp for a couple of nights at the walk-in sites. As with Martin Dies Jr, there weren’t many people staying at the campground during the week. We scored great campsites overlooking the creek, where many red-earred sliders and map turtles hauled themselves up on the logs (no alligators though - apparently the spring fed creek is too cold for them).

The sloughs at the park still contained water. And with easier access to the creek (unlike at Turkey Creek), we were hopeful to find more amphibians and reptiles. Indeed hiking along the sloughs and around the cypress swamps produced a couple of broad-banded water snakes, eastern ribbon snakes, and several cottonmouths. Bronze and southern leopard frogs were also numerous along the waters edge.

Hiking up to the tupelo swamp in the morning, we could hear distant cries and squawks of Great Egrets. As we approached the swamp, we could see them through a screen of trees - a dozen of these great birds wading in the shallow water. They all took flight upon seeing us - their great broad white wings pumping hard to lift them through the cypress and tupelo branches. In the dappled sunlight, they circled above the swamp in a great mass. Each one was a beacon of bright white in contract to the tan and orange forest and the pool of murky brown below. As they flew off, we could hear their cries of outrage at their interrupted breakfast of fish, frog and snake.

Birding was slightly more productive at Village Creek. On the Yaupon loop trail, where the park is actively managing the forest with prescribed burns and tree plantings, we saw a small group of Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Bluebirds and Indigo Buntings (in their plain winter plumage). Where there more birds here because of the successive forest that was attractive to these birds or is it was easier to spot them in the open?

While Turkey Creek had its share of human sounds, the noise at Village Creek was a whole level above and beyond. A factory or plant near the pipeline that runs along the south edge of the park continuously (day and night!) ran a loud motor. We saw the plant when hiking the Yaupon trail, which is 1-2 miles away from the campsites. In addition to the motor, there’s the obligatory gun shots (but come on - it wouldn’t be Texas if we went a day without hearing the discharge of firearms), train whistles, chainsaws, lawnmowers, and of course the barking dogs. Peace and quiet is definitely not the thing to seek at this state park, but maybe that can be said of the entire state as well!

All consider, this trip was wonderful made only better by sharing it with friends. We saw plants and critters new to us. I saw three life birds (unfortunately not the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which doesn’t have an established colony in the area) and enjoyed experiencing a new environment. I know there was much we missed and much we didn’t even know we missed, but I really don’t need to go back.


Pictures (click on thumbnail)

Bird List
Greater White-fronted Goose M
Wood Duck M
Pied-billed Grebe M
Neotropic Cormorant M
Double-crested Cormorant M, B
Anhinga M
Great Blue Heron M, V
Great Egret M, V
Snowy Egret M, V
Cattle Egret R
Little Blue Heron M
White Ibis M
Black Vulture M
Turkey Vulture M, B, V
Northern Harrier M
Red-tailed Hawk B
Bald Eagle M
Common Gallinule M
American Coot M
Spotted Sandpiper V
Killdeer M
Wilson's Snipe M
Eurasian collared Dove R
Rock Pigeon R
Mourning Dove V
Yellow-billed Cuckoo V
Eastern Screech-Owl B, V heard only
Great Horned Owl V heard only
Barred Owl M, B, V heard only
Belted Kingfisher M, B, V
Red-bellied Woodpecker M, B, V
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker M, B, V
Downy Woodpecker M, B, V
Northern Flicker M, B, V
Pileated Woodpecker M, B, V
American Kestrel M, B
Peregrine Falcon M
Eastern Phoebe M, B, V
Empidonax sp. B
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher R
Blue Jay M, B, V
American Crow M, B, V
Carolina Chickadee M, B, V
Tufted Titmouse M, B, V
Brown-headed Nuthatch M, B, V
House Wren B, V
Carolina Wren M, B, V
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher V heard only
Ruby-crowned Kinglet M, B, V
Hermit Thrush M
Eastern Bluebird V
Gray Catbird V
Brown Thrasher M, B, V
European Starling R
American Redstart V, 1 female
Hooded Warbler B, 1 male
Pine Warbler B, V
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle) M, B
Clay-colored Sparrow B
Northern Cardinal M, B, V
Common Grackle M
Great-tailed Grackle R
Indigo Bunting
Coyote B, V heard only
White-tailed deer M, V
Raccoon M
Nine-banded armadillo M
Eastern gray squirrel M, B, V
Southern flying squirrel M, V
bat B
mouse M
American alligator M
Mississippi map turtle B
Red earred slider M, V
Broad-banded water snake V
Blotched water snake V
Cottonmouth V
Brown snake V
Eastern ribbon snake B, V
Green anole M, B, V
Fence lizard B
Five-lined skink B
Ground skink B, V
Blanchard's cricket frog M, B, V
Green tree frog M
Gray tree frog B
Spring peeper B
Southern leopard frog B, V
Bronze frog V
Bullfrog B, V
American toad B, V
Blooming flowers
Bladderwort M
Water hyacinth M
White water lily M
Maximillain sunflower M
Showy flameflower B
False foxglove B
Purple lobelia B
Kansas gayfeather B
Bahia B
Parafoxia B
Swamp sunflower B
Cardinal flower V
Yellow bell V
Ohio spiderwort V
Texas sleepy daisy V
Gulf fritillary
Common buckeye
Eastern tailed Blue

Martin Dies Jr State Park M
Big Thicket National Preserve B
Village Creek State Park V
Dallas and roadside south R


Martin Dies Jr State Park
Big Thicket National Preserve
Village Creek State Park


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