What follows are some notes about some favorite places to visit. We’ll focus on places that offer a chance to see some great species, including herps and other kinds of wildlife. The focus is on protected spots where you can look but not collect. Sadly, we’ve had the experience of sharing a particular locality, only to find collectors descending on the place and scooping up specimens in ways that may not be sustainable. We want to share places that people may discover and enjoy, but not in a way that can harm that place and its wildlife.
Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge
First is a place that I’ve been visiting off and on for over forty years, the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge (in earlier years, the Greer Island Nature Center). Located on Lake Worth in northwest Tarrant County, the refuge contains over 3600 acres of cross-timbers woodland, prairie, bottomland forest, and wetlands. Over 20 miles of primitive trails lead visitors through these habitats, and so there are opportunities to “lose yourself” in this place without frequently bumping into other visitors. FWNC&R has a friendly and knowledgeable staff and they regularly lead walks or canoe trips on the refuge. The city charges $5 for adults and $2 for children to get in, but don’t let that hold you back (a trip for fast food would cost more than that). Their website is http://www.fwnaturecenter.org/
LBJ National Grasslands
This is a patchwork of protected sites northwest of Decatur, Texas, with over 20,000 acres of crosstimbers and grasslands (see map LBJ-Natl-Grassland-map). There are numerous small ponds or little potholes that may support frogs and water snakes (though many of them have dried up in recent years with the drought). The patches of grassland are mostly small and some are taken over with thickets of plum or sumac. There are ridges with blocks and chunks of limestone, and other places with sandy soil. A network of trails winds through a large segment of the grasslands, and it is possible to hike for hours, spotting birds or seeing the occasional coachwhip or Texas rat snake. The area has a fair diversity of amphibian life, with leopard frogs, bullfrogs, gray treefrogs, Strecker’s chorus frogs, narrow-mouthed toads, and Woodhouse’s toads. Some portions of the grasslands may have a few canebrake (timber) rattlesnakes, and the broad-banded copperhead is a very common snake there. The copperheads are mostly seen moving about after dark. There is no fee to visit the grasslands, but do pay attention to fencelines and signs indicating which areas are public (managed by the Forest Service) and which are private property.
Southwest Nature Preserve
A small (58 acre) patch of crosstimbers woodland with several ponds, just south of I-20 in Arlington, at Bowman Springs Road (http://naturallyfun.org/southwest-nature-preserve). It’s not so small that you cannot briefly lose yourself in these oak woods with trails that circle around and climb a sandstone ridge. For a sample of what the “crosstimbers” are, this is a great place. One of the ponds has a boardwalk and small fishing pier for catch-and-release fishing. I wrote a little about this last fall in “Thanksgiving” and I am looking forward to seeing what reptiles and amphibians emerge as spring progresses. There is no entrance fee.