A Nature Walk through Hermann Park

Wax myrtle is a tree that is eaten by the 5 species of exotic walking sticks that we have here in the Cockrell Butterfly Center, as well as some of our grasshoppers and other herbivores. Recently, while trying to catch dragonflies (don’t ask), I stumbled upon not one, or two, but tons of these trees in Hermann Park! They were all over the place between the Japanese Gardens and the Houston Zoo. Now, every week I have a nice walk down to that part of Hermann Park to enjoy these trees, and every time I go, it’s a different adventure! 

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
A handsome Wood Duck

Today I thought I would take my camera and document some of the great things I saw: vibrant wildflower plants, amazing wildlife and people enjoying a beautiful day. It’s a really nice way to get out of the office and I always look forward to what I’ll see. I love all kinds of wildlife, not just bugs of course!

Hermann Park is filled with so many different species, especially birds, many of which are ducks. The wood duck is just one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Their colors are amazing and they have such a distinguished look. These ducks nest in trees near water sources. The ducklings jump out of the nest, falling several feet to the ground without being hurt. Many people consider them the most beautiful water bird, and I can see why. This duck was not shy with the camera!

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
Great Blue Heron

Another bird that I am always happy to see is the Great Blue Heron. The first time I saw one of these take flight, I was so impressed. They are huge birds, but are so graceful and delicate. Seeing these majestic birds completely makes me forget that I’m in the middle of the 4th largest city in the United States. There were two of them today, hiding behind tall plants in the water. Luckily one came out of hiding for me! 

My visits have become even more special recently with the beginning of spring. Dragonflies and butterflies have taken to the air. Aquatic insects dart around the surface of the ponds, feeding fish, tadpoles and baby turtles. The babies are my very favorite part of spring! I’ve been lucky enough to encounter several ducklings on my last couple of visits. Their numbers have decreased, but the surviving ducklings are getting bigger and depending less on their mothers. I saw one today swimming by itself looking for food. It’s still pretty fuzzy and cute!

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1
A duckling – how precious!
Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

I was also able to photograph a dragonfly. If you’ve ever tried, you know it can be very frustrating! They scare so easily and it’s so hard to get up close. The key is definitely patience. Dragonflies are very territorial and will always come back to the same perch or one near it. If you keep at it, you will be able to catch a couple of shots of one.

Once I had gathered enough food for my insects and lollygagged around enough, I started to make my way back to work – but not without seeing the very familiar, adorable face of a squirrel. I’ve always loved squirrels for their cuteness and fun-loving personalities. They definitely have a way of helping me to forget about any stress. You can’t watch them without snickering a little bit. This squirrel seemed a little confused about what I was doing, but he gave me some really great poses.

Creative Commons License photo credit: emills1

I really should bring my camera every time, as today was actually kind of a slow day for wildlife. I’ve also seen nutria, red-eared sliders, box turtles, whistling ducks, sea gulls, bull frogs, and tons of insects! Hermann Park really is a gem. It is such a historically significant part of our city and it is filled with so many simple, wonderful things to do. I encourage everyone to get out every once in a while to enjoy nature wherever it may be. You never know what you will see and how it can brighten your day!

Happy nature watching! 

August Flickr Photo of the Month: Rice Paper Butterfly

Our museum is lucky enough to have talented and enthusiastic people who visit us every day – wandering our halls, grounds and satellite facilities, capturing images of the wonders on display here that rival the beauty of the subjects themselves. Thankfully, many share their photos with us and everyone else in our HMNS Flickr group – and we’re posting our favorites here, once a month. (You can check out the inaugural pick, “Leaf’s Eye View,” here.)

There are so many stunning images in the pool, it’s always tough to choose. This month’s pick, “Rice Paper Butterfly” by emmiegrn has stunning color, amazing focus and is can-you-believe-it close to one of our notoriously shy butterflies. Here’s what emmiegrn had to say about her shot – which includes her great advice for shooting butterflies yourself:

I have a membership at the museum and often make my way down there on weekday mornings when I don’t have to be at the office. I spend an hour or so shooting the butterflies. I’ve found that they’re calmer in the morning hours when it’s cooler and the children haven’t arrived to disrupt them. It’s easier to photograph them peacefully resting on leaves than chasing them all afternoon in the humid exhibit.

As far as the technical composition goes, I currently use a Canon 40D, but this photo was taken with my older Canon XT which goes to show that you don’t have to have a $5000 camera to take nice macros. My lens is the Canon 60mm f/2.8 using manual focus and has a Sigma Macro Flash which allows me to achieve even lighting across the subject and grants me the freedom to shoot with a deeper depth of field. This one was an f/13, which is why almost the entire shot is in focus. Sometimes I use extension tubes which makes me look like a CSI photographer, but you just can’t beat them for letting you work up close.

I would like to share one thing about photographing butterflies that I’ve learned the hard way, but this applies to pretty much all insects (especially dragonflies). You may think you’re being all slick by crouching down and slowly sneaking up on them and then wonder why they flutter away at the last second. Well, the answer is simple, you’re hunting them and they know it. I’ve found it’s easier to just walk on up to them and point the camera or find a spot that they like to perch and get there before they do. That’s not predator behavior and usually it won’t spook them.

2007_0611_134346bWow. emmiegrn’s shot of one of our Rice Paper Butterflies is amazingly close.

We hope this and all the other amazing photography in our group on Flickr will inspire you to bring a camera along next time you’re here – and show us what you see.