Lake Livingston, I presume? Birding and boating in the East Texas pineywoods

We wrapped up our spring break vacation last weekend with a visit to the pineywoods of East Texas and the cute little lake house that belongs to my sister and her partner. This is the view from their yard.

Located on the Kickapoo Creek side of Lake Livingston, about an hour’s drive north of Houston, their weekend getaway is a light-filled cottage with a wraparound porch, a cushy hammock suspended between a tall pine and a pecan, a fishing dock, a couple of kayaks, and a pontoon boat for puttering around the lake. The weather was perfect—sunny and in the upper 70s, and at night it was just chilly enough to enjoy roasting marshmallows and making s’mores around the firepit.

Their pontoon boat was a new purchase since we’d last visited, so we were excited for the chance to go out on the water. Lake Livingston is a fairly shallow, man-made reservoir, with an average depth of 23 feet. With a number of “islands” of flooded-out trees, swampy thickets, and tall pines, the lake is a great place to bird-watch. My sister photographed bald eagles fishing at dockside recently, and huge flocks of pelicans migrated through a few weeks ago.

Alligators live here too, as in all southeast and northeast Texas lakes. My daughter went kayaking with C. after lunch, staying close to the bank as they paddled around the cove. She soon spotted a big gator in the water, and they turned around and paddled right out of that area. But I imagine there are plenty you don’t see, stealthy as they are. During one of their early visits, they told us, an alligator stalked their dog as it played near the water, tracking the pet’s movements with only its eyes visible above the surface. They scared it off and soon had a bulkhead constructed along the shore, which they hope will keep alligators from coming into their yard (which is fenced on both sides all the way down to the bulkhead).

Unless they’re fed, though, alligators aren’t naturally aggressive toward humans. People who live with them don’t ever seem to worry too much about them. People swim and ski in the lake, including my sister and C. I don’t believe I’ll ever swim with the gators, however.

I hoped for a gator sighting from the boat, and a photo op, but they eluded me this time. Still, we saw lots of beautiful great egrets (pictured) and great blue herons hunting along the shore.

They’re fairly tall birds, and when they take off their wingspan seems enormous.

We also spotted cormorants flocking in trees on marshy islands…

…along with great blue herons, who were carrying sticks to build their nests.

This one perched atop a pine tree seems to be preparing for the crane kick.

The great egrets were busily nesting too and sporting their breeding plumage—wispy, ornamental feathers along the back and green on their faces.

Such a gorgeous bird!

We had a lovely, relaxing time at Lake Livingston. Thanks for your hospitality, sis and C.!

Upcoming: Lawn Gone! talk and book-signing, this Saturday
Hey, Texas Hill Country peeps! Please join me this Saturday at 10 am at Backbone Valley Nursery in Marble Falls for my talk, “Lawn Alternatives for Central Texas” and a Lawn Gone! book-signing. I don’t know about you, but since it’s bluebonnet season, I’m going to take a little wildflower-peeping drive while I’m out there.

All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

13 Responses

  1. Jenny says:

    Thanks for taking me to a place I have never visited. Glad you all stayed safe from those alligators. I would never swim there either! Beautiful bird photos especially the one of the egret taking off. Good luck with the book signing.

    Thanks, Jenny. I’m looking forward to the talk and to visiting a new nursery! —Pam

  2. Mamaholt says:

    Hey! My (red)neck of the woods.

    I went on a nature hike at Martin Dies State Park last week and saw EIGHT baby alligators in some muck. Couldn’t spot the mama, but you know she was close. They were super camod in the mud. Sweet spot your sister has.

    Ooh, I’m glad you didn’t run across a protective mama gator! Love your comment “(red)neck of the woods”—hee hee. —Pam

  3. Alison says:

    What a great place for a vacation! Sounds like you had a fun time. You got some great pictures of the birds.

    We did have a lovely visit. Sis is lucky to be able to enjoy this a few weekends a month. —Pam

  4. Great pics of the birds. I’m glad you skipped on pics of the gators.

    Really, Kris? Well, in case you change your mind, I do happen to have a few gator pics—and more bird pics—on this post from our trip to the Everglades. Just sayin’. —Pam

  5. Shirley says:

    The bird photos are beautiful and the alligators seem more numerous than when I was a kid visiting east Texas lakes like this one.

    Glad you and your family enjoyed the trip.

    It’s a beautiful time of year in Texas, and I was happy to get to visit two different parts of our state this spring break (including San Antonio). —Pam

  6. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What a wonderful place to be able to relax. Love seeing these birds. I don’t usually think of TX and alligators. Interesting things we learn reading blogs.

    Alligators are native to east and south Texas, Lisa, and even parts of central Texas, where I live. They were hunted out and pushed to remote areas at one time, but they’ve made a big comeback since then. I keep hoping they’ll never make it into Austin’s own Lake Travis and Lady Bird Lake, but we’ll see. —Pam

  7. YIKES! I just learned something new about Texas – there is a lot to learn about Texas isn’t there!!!??? I did not know there were alligators here! Okay so what parts of Texas have alligators and I will be sure we will NOT ever camp there ;) No…but seriously…

    Um, Heather? You’re living in alligator habitat in San Antonio. No kidding! OK, the San Antonio and Austin areas are considered marginal for alligators, but check out this pdf for a map of where to find gators in Texas. —Pam

  8. jen says:

    @heather Texas has just about everything, including jaguar in the most southern parts. My dad grew up in Houston and he saw Alligators there as a boy.

    That’s right, Jen, plus black bears in west Texas and making a comeback in the Hill Country. No grizzlies though. —Pam

  9. peter schaar says:

    Dallas County has an Open Space preserve in the southeastern part of town on the Trinity River bottoms with dense stands of dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and a healthy native population of American alligators. The record gator found there was 14 feet long!

    I’ve heard about the Dallas gators, Peter. They have really moved in up there! —Pam

  10. Jason says:

    Wow, what a beautiful spot! Not sure about kayaking with alligators, though.

    It would be fine, Jason. Alligators aren’t like their aggressive cousin, the crocodile. Keeping one’s distance and not habituating them to humans (no feeding) are common-sense practices for those who live with them. —Pam

  11. Kim says:

    Had a great time, Sis! Come back any time.

    All right, we’ll be there this weekend. :-) —Pam

  12. PAM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Holy Toledo! I had no idea!!!!!!! TEXAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    :-) —Pam

  13. Les says:

    I know enough about Texas to know that there were gators. I also know I would never, ever swim or ski where they were present. I might kayak though.

    You don’t always know, Les. My husband remembers swimming in a northeast Texas lake when he was a young Boy Scout. The Scouts had spent the whole day on the lake, racing rafts, swimming, etc. That night they shined their flashlights out at the lake and saw dozens and dozens of eyes out in the water reflecting the light. —Pam