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April 2010 cover image 12 Hooked!

Park Pick: Bird Architecture

Village Creek offers a peek inside nature’s Easter baskets.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Set out piles of twigs, leaves and pine straw on a craft table, and what do you get? Kids with a new respect for birds!

“I don’t give them any instructions on how to build a nest,” says Amanda Adair, interpreter at Village Creek State Park, north of Beaumont. “Afterward, they usually leave with the idea that birds are smarter than they thought!”

This month, Adair will introduce more youngsters (and adults) to bird architecture during a spring program called “Nests: Nature’s Easter Baskets.” At the park’s nature center, she’ll show and describe different nest-building techniques, using examples found in the park. But, Adair quickly cautions that collecting bird nests is illegal. Her specimens are allowed through an educational permit.

Photo by Earl Nottingham

“The purpose of all nests is to keep eggs and babies safe and hidden,” she adds. “I talk about how some birds, like herons and egrets, use mud and feathers to make a nest while others weave cup nests from straw. Killdeer make a scrape nest, which is simply an indentation in the ground.”

Later in April, park staff will host an Earth Day Festival in partnership with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. At stations around the park, you can learn about snakes, birds, animal tracks, recycling and composting. Try out the recycling relay race and other activities, too. “Last year, kids made their own compost-in-a-cup,” Adair says. “Complete with their own earthworm!”

From worms to snapping turtles and armadillos, a rich diversity of wildlife and ecosystems merge at Village Creek State Park, which preserves 1,090 acres of fragile Big Thicket habitat. Only about 60 acres are developed, so bring hiking shoes or a mountain bike to see remote areas along the park’s eight miles of forested trails.

“Plus, we have the only public campgrounds in the Big Thicket,” says Jerry Rashall, park manager. Only primitive camping is allowed in the Big Thicket National Preserve, a federally owned system of nine land units and six water corridors that protects more than 97,000 acres.

Pleasant spring temperatures make April a great time to paddle Village Creek, a slow-moving stream that meanders for 69 miles to the Neches River. Local outfitters offer canoe and kayak trips along the scenic waterway that last from two hours to two days. Most people plan six- to eight-hour trips.

(Head’s up: Later this year, the park will acquire 1,400 acres through the Conservation Fund, a move that will add more trails and other recreational opportunities.)

“Nests: Nature’s Easter Baskets” is set for Saturday, April 3; Earth Day Festival is on Saturday, April 24. Village Creek State Park is about 10 miles north of Beaumont off U.S. Highway 69/96. For more information, call 409-755-7322 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/villagecreek.

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