Sunday, March 30, 2008

Shangri La Really Exists...In Orange, TX

Yesterday Michelle and I took the babies to the newly opened Shangri La Botanical Park and Nature Center in Orange. We'd heard great things about it and wanted to see for ourselves.

It was everything we hoped it would be and more. The landscaped grounds were beautifully integrated with the natural vegetation of the swamp. We had the babies with us in a double stroller, so rather than take a swamp tour we walked the main pathway which makes a long loop through the gardens and goes by a heronry blind. The timing of our visit couldn't have been better - the weather was perfect, the birds were nesting, and the azaleas were in full bloom. Also the gardens were not as crowded as the publicity had led us to expect.

Most of the nesting activity seen from the heronry blind involved Great Egrets and Neotropic Cormorants, but we also saw a few Roseate Spoonbills and distant Wood Ducks. From the blind I could hear the buzzing song of a Northern Parula coming from somewhere high in the cypresses.Inside the blind there were two large screens with live video of nesting egrets - the same nests you could see from the blind. It was like viewing the birds through a scope, but with lower resolution (unsatisfying picture quality in my opinion). What I found amusing about this arrangement was that to watch the action on the screens you had to turn your back to the heronry, so the viewer is choosing a virtual rather than actual view of the birds. A scope mounted within the blind could only be used by one person at a time, and I'm sure the video option was chosen as a solution to that problem. My question is, why go to a nature preserve to see birds on TV? Might as well stay home by your computer and watch birds via webcam.Here we see Bryce and Lucy responding gleefully to their first birding experience. Actually Bryce seemed to be more interested in the birds than Lucy, who preferred to study the odd people inside the blind.

Other birds seen while walking through the gardens included a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks and a few Broad-winged Hawks (the first I've seen this spring). The habitat looks like it should be good for Prothonotary Warbler and other woodland birds, but then it's still early in the season, and I would expect to find a greater variety of neotropical migrants in April and May.

I was also impressed by the ponds, fountains, sculptures, and greenhouses (particularly the Epiphyte House). Shangri La will be offerring free tours to school groups, and has the potential to bring much-needed environmental education and appreciation to Southeast Texas. I would recommend Shangri La Botanical Gardens to anyone. It's definitely worth the price of admission ($6.00 for adults). If you ever find yourself in Orange you should also consider checking out the nearby Stark Museum of Art, which has an outstanding collection of western and wildlife art. Orange is a small city, but for its size it certainly has some surprising cultural attractions.


At 8:28 AM, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

Thanks for sharing the information. We'll try out the gardens the next time we are in that part of the state.

Troy in Ft. Worth


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