By Eric Duran
Now deep into winter, many of our birds have left, the reptiles are in their winter sleep, and insects have died off. Those changes, combined with frequently chilly temperatures and less greenery and color mean winter is not a time when most people think of going out to enjoy nature. However, there are still plenty of things to see out in the parks and in your own backyard. As a matter of fact, many animals head to Bellaire, West University and the rest of the Houston area in winter to escape the colder winters up north.
For many creatures, we are the proverbial “Let’s head south for the winter!”
Red Admiral butterflies can be found in and around Houston periodically throughout the year, but in late fall and early winter, we get a large influx of these colorful and active insects. As colder weather arrives up north, they migrate to our area to spend the last of their days, mate and produce young. The eggs are laid on stinging nettles and other closely related plants.
The adults will pass away in the winter, and the offspring will emerge as adults in spring. They then migrate back to the habitats in the orth, where their parents came from. Look for Red Admirals in your own yard or here at Russ Pitman Park, fluttering near the trails.
There are a few species of native owls in the area, and you can see them throughout the year (Screech, Barn, Great-horned, and Barred Owls). The Short-eared Owl, though, can only be seen here during the winter. These captivating raptors breed on the Northern plains and travel here to pass an easier, relatively temperate winter in our more grass-covered parts of town.
They tend to be more day active than most other owls, and are found hunting and roosting near the ground around dawn and dusk. Look for them especially on farm roads around the Katy Prairie and on roadside fence posts near Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch prefers coniferous forests of the far North and Rocky Mountains, but they often disperse to other parts of the country in winter. They don’t usually come this far south, but some years we experience what is called an irruption. This occurs during years with particularly good environmental conditions. The birds have been so successful with reproduction and raising young that their normal wintering grounds simply cannot contain them, and they spread out a bit more.
If you have large trees in your neighborhood, you may see them near your home or at a birdfeeder, if you’re lucky.
We encourage you to grab a pair of binoculars and head over to Russ Pitman Park on a clear day to see if you can spot some our winter birds and butterflies. We would also enjoying having you on one of our free monthly Winter Bird Walks at noon on Wednesdays Jan. 9 and Feb. 6. Call us to find out more at 713-667-6550, or visit our website at NatureDiscoveryCenter.org.
Duran is the staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.
Featured in Essentials Magazine/Wired to Nature, January 2019