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Armand Bayou Nature Center - Houston

Updated: May 29, 2020

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the planning and anticipation that go along with big trips to new destinations. However, when traveling to new locations is infeasible (or with the current Covid19 outbreak, largely impossible), it can be similarly rewarding to seek out the hidden gems that are a little closer to home. The Armand Bayou Nature Center is one of those little gems in the Houston area, and I continue to enjoy each time we visit the park. In 2020, it’s more important than ever to explore your local parks (with proper precautions as each park requires).

We last visited the Armand Bayou Nature Center on a late February afternoon with a few hours available to explore. The cold chill of winter still hung in the air, but here in Houston that’s the perfect time to enjoy the local wetlands before the sweltering heat shrouds the lush vegetation in a cocoon of thick, insufferable humidity and mosquitos. From the parking lot, we headed down a short, gravel pathway flanked with bright green vegetation that extended up and over in a latticework of limbs and leaves. The pathway lead to a pair of squat buildings surrounded by deep, covered walkways. We headed up the sun-bleached wooden stairs and into the main office where we met a few friendly attendants overseeing the park that day. After a brief discussion about kayaking in the surrounding bayous in the future, we purchased our tickets and headed into the park. The wooden deck that surrounded the main office lead down to a series of long, narrow boardwalks that weaved through the surrounding vegetation, elevated a few feet above the ground in order to minimize impact on the delicate bayou environment. We followed the path until we reached a clearing where a small, murky lake opened up beneath our feet. The water was calm and quiet with a vibrant outline of dense vegetation. The golden hue of the sun stretched between the long blades of still dormant Water Irises, casting jagged shadows across the otherwise shimmering brown and green petals of the diminutive duckweed blanketing the surface of the water. While the water remained largely still, the air above the water was alive with countless dragonflies feverishly zipping around from point to point.

In coastal habitats such as the Houston area, water can bring both life and death. However, the native flora of the wetlands are uniquely adapted to this aquatic environment. The brackish waters of the Armand Bayou are flush with vibrant vegetation bursting defiantly from the murky water. All across the small lake, the green and red leaves of the Floating Primrose emerged from the depths of the bayou. The younger plants barely broke the water’s surface with small florets of new leaves, while more established plants stretched out into tangled webs along the edge of the bayou.

If you look carefully, you can see a fish swimming just below the water.

We transitioned from the boardwalk down to the gravel paths that weaved through miles of forested landscape. After hiking for a while, the fluttering of vibrant wings caught my eye as a Giant Swallowtail flew quietly into the trees above our heads. The rapid and largely unexpected movements of most butterflies make them difficult to capture, but with the chill of evening beginning to settle in, the Swallowtail finally perched upon the leaves of a broad Elm tree were it sat quietly in the glimmering sun.

The warm light of the evening sun set the Swallowtail’s usually yellow wings ablaze with an orange glow that accented the wear in the dark areas that the thin wings had sustained.

Along the ground, the remnants of a Fall long past lay strewn between the feet of the slender, barren trees above. Stagnant pools of clear water left over from a recent rainstorm suspended the memories of the past in a tomb of frigid water, though life still defiantly burst forth as it always seems to do.

Red tail hawks are native to the marshlands of the Eastern shores of Texas. They usually prey on the numerous mammals and fish that call marshlands home, but this young hawk had been injured such that it could no longer fly. Since hawks need to fly to eat, this injured hawk is currently cared for by the nature center.

Flanking the largely dry path upon which we walked, the tall trunks of leafless trees reflected in the calm pools of water still gathered around their roots. Staring into the depth of the reflection, it was easy to become momentarily disoriented.

Hurricanes often change the landscape of the bayou. The moist soil provides limited support for the large, tangled roots of young and established trees alike, and sometimes the weather gets the better of a tree, and it topples into the surrounding water as dying monument to the past. On this particular tree, a Great Egret stood watch over the bayou. However, a large turtle sat obstinately on the lower end of the log, keeping a watchful eye on the egret, perhaps challenging it for this prime perch. Equally as interesting though were the series of barnacles that dappled the bottom side of the trunk, which is generally an odd thing to observe on a tree, though it is a unique attribute around the bayou.

The turtle, having dispatched the hare, set its competitive gaze upon the Great Egret

Our path ended at a small dock extending off the side of an old storage building. The dock extended a short way into a wide curve in the Armand Bayou just North of its intersection with Horsepen Bayou. Our view across the water generally aligned with the late afternoon sun, which sent glistening rays of sunlight across the surface of the water and cast the remnants of old trees into a stark silhouette.

The few hours we spent hiking around the boardwalks and trails of Armand Bayou Nature Center were great, but it was finally time to head back to our car. With such a great nature area so close to home, we look forward to continuing to visiting often to experience all the wildlife and changes in season. As Texas moves to cautiously open back up, local parks will likely follow suit, so hopefully we will have the chance to go again soon.

© 2017-2020 Shaun C Tarpley

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