Eagle Count 2020

Bald Eagle

Three teams of 17 volunteers met at 7 am at the Sabine County Courthouse in Hemphill on January 11, 2020 to conduct the Annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Count at Toledo Bend. The temperature was a balmy 69 degrees Fahrenheit as we set out, but the line of thunderstorms that passed quickly through the area several hours earlier brought a front that dropped the temperatures to 49 before we concluded about mid-day. In all, the teams counted a total of 53 Bald Eagles and four nests. 

After the Bald Eagle began to recover from near extinction following a ban on the use of DDT, the National Wildlife Federation began sponsoring these counts nationwide to monitor their populations. Volunteers from the Longleaf Ridge chapter of Texas Master Naturalists have conducted this survey for the last several years along the entire western side of the Toledo Bend Reservoir and reported their findings.  

Since this monitoring project began, the conservation status of the Bald Eagle has changed from Endangered to Threatened, and then was finally removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. They have recovered from the DDT threat, but now they face a new danger from mercury and heavy metals like lead. Eagles are now dying from lead poisoning after ingesting game carcasses containing lead shots or fish containing lead sinkers. This is a real threat in East Texas where hunting and fishing are so popular. Lead-free ammunition and sinkers are available, but there is a lack of education to promote them.

Footbridge Removal at MDJSP

Removing footbridges at MDJSP

A group of volunteers had an easier than expected time removing worn out footbridges at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park on January 8. Park staff brought in a tractor and Garry Lamoreaux brought his, too! The hardest work was attaching the large pieces to the tractors and the drivers backing them out of the winding trails.

Sharon and Linda Dig

Sharon and Linda Dig

There was a little bit of hand work that could be done, though. We managed to dig out some posts, rake where the tractors left little trenches from hauling, cut some shrubs out of the trail and carry pieces to piles. Everyone had a great time.

The footbridges were getting a little creaky and weak in places, so rather than going to the expense to replace them periodically in the future, small culverts will be installed in low places along the trails.

Green End Up!

Longleaf in Candle Stage

While lots of folks were putting Christmas trees up in their living room, volunteers from Longleaf Ridge were putting Longleaf pine seedlings in the ground at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary between Kountze and Silsbee. This beautiful 5,654-acre habitat filled with native plants and wildlife, with Village Creek coursing along one side of it, is part of a comprehensive effort to protect and restore the longleaf pine ecosystem on the West Gulf Coastal Plain. Longleaf pine forests are among the most rapidly disappearing habitats in the southeastern United States. Some 90 million acres of longleaf pines once stretched from Virginia to Texas, but only about three million acres exist today. 

Receiving Instructions to PlantThe Nature Conservancy has protected this unique natural area of the Big Thicket since 1977 when Temple-Eastex Inc. donated the first large tract to them. Staffers, Shawn Benedict and Wendy Ledbetter talked to volunteers about the reforestation efforts, and gave them simple instructions on how to use a dibble to drive a hole in the ground, drop in the seedling, and pack the ground to get all of the air pockets out. The most important thing to remember, Shawn said, is “the green side goes up!”

We loaded up in every available space of their 4-wheel drive trucks and headed out to the site. First time planter, Richard Peters (our new Vice-President!), was dibbling and dropping in seedlings like a pro in just a few minutes. “This is easy!” he said. Lanny and Brenda Marshall teamed up together and worked at a rapid pace. 

Veteran planter, Keith Stephens, is an expert dibbler, but he didn’t care for the stooping required to drop the seedling in a the hole. “Oh, that’s painful!” Keith likes to joke, but he never misses one of these opportunities to help bring the longleaf back to its native habitat.

We were joined by other volunteers from the Golden Triangle Sierra Club, our sister chapter from the Sabine-Neches, and our friend, Adrian Van Dellen, President of the Black Bear Alliance.  Adrian will be the featured speaker at our March 10, 2020 meeting.

Many thanks to Lori Horne, who tirelessly and anonymously coordinates these events, and always shows up to work. We will see you at the next planting!


Longleaf Tree Planting

Historically, longleaf pine communities dominated the southern and central areas of Angelina National Forest on the hilly and droughty sandy soils. In the 1900s, excessive harvest of the overstory led to a decline in the longleaf pine present and increasing the loblolly pine representatives across the forestland. The goal of the Angelina and Sabine National Forests is to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem through loblolly pine plantation conversion to longleaf pine. When they asked for volunteers to help, Longleaf Ridge Texas Master Naturalists answered the call in force.

Ten of the thirteen volunteers who showed up to put longleaf seedlings in the ground on November 16 represented Longleaf Ridge. They were joined by Ellen Buchanan with the Golden Triangle Sierra Club, Adrian Van Dellen of the Texas Black Bear Alliance, and a conservation minded attorney all the way from Cut ‘N’ Shoot who showed up to help us out.

After proper instruction on utilizing the dibble, a metal bar to poke a hole which receives the seedling, we began working on a 64 acre tract in Angelina County that had been mechanically prepped last summer for the restoration efforts.  We teamed up, with one person stepping off the designated space, then plunging the hole, after which the partner dropped in the seedling and the ground around it was pressed snug.

Our new secretary, Brenda and her husband, Lanny Marshall won the cutest couple of the day award, holding hands from the moment of arrival throughout the process. Allegedly, this was just Lanny trying to keep Brenda from tripping in the rough terrain or getting tangled in the blackberry vines.

Other volunteers joining in the fun on this perfect weather day, were Claire and Doug Boutte, Phillip Hight, Sue Singletary, Fred Lyons, Lori Horne, Keith Stephens and Laura Clark.



Dam to Dam Pedal & Paddle

Launch at Bevilport

Seven volunteers helped launch and welcome at the finish line kayakers participating in the Dam to Dam Pedal & Paddle event sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Three entrants paddled from the Highway 63 bridge to Bevilport, and 23 paddled from Bevilport to the boat launch behind the Dining Hall at Martin Dies, Jr. State Park.

Brenda Marshall

One of those kayakers who made the 8 plus mile trip from Bevilport to Martin Dies, and who came in third place by the way — was our very own Brenda Marshall! Everyone cheered her victory.

A great time was had by all.



National Publics Lands Day Cleanup

25 Bags of trash picked up

A dozen volunteers from Longleaf Ridge Texas Master Naturalists scoured the steep, overgrown slopes below Sam Rayburn Reservoir on Saturday morning, September 14, to celebrate National Public Lands Day by picking up trash. Lori Horne coordinated the event with Abigail Bobette, the Corps on Engineers Park Ranger, who was absolutely thrilled with the resulting 25 bags of garbage in their dumpster instead of on the banks of our beautiful lake at this popular fishing site.

Don Fralick picking up trash

Don Fralick

“It’s a shame when you can sit down and pick up trash,” remarked volunteer Don Fralick as he perched on a guard rail working on a pile. “Oh, I’ve already broken my picker-upper!” lamented Joanie Kochanek, as she was trying to retrieve a glass beer bottle half buried in the sand. All of the volunteers had fun making this public area more presentable, but there was of course, the underlying wish that that everyone who visits would pack out their own trash, making this work unnecessary.

This event was part of our Trashoff Challenge! It began July 26 and will end November 5, 2019. Pick up anywhere in Jasper or Newton Counties. Take before and after pictures, and be sure to get a picture of your participants and how many trash bags you picked up. The goal is to see who or which team picks up the most trash!

Trashoff Challenge!

Trash picked up at Hidden Shores

On Saturday, July 27, 2019, the litter on Hidden Beaches bathed in morning sunlight for the last time. Six Master Naturalists trundled toward a halfway point on the road connecting Ebenezer and Letney Parks, where they were equipped with gloves, grabbers and trash bags. Some of them didn’t fully know it yet, but that was the day they would bring an unsightly pile of trash to its doom. At the meeting point, a trail from the road leads through the Angelina National Forest to the Sam Rayburn shoreline – a popular secluded spot for equestrian trail riders, beach seekers, and rogue campers. Unmanaged apart from occasional monitoring by law enforcement, the Hidden Beach’s popularity has adversely affected its beauty. Trash has littered its shoreline for months or longer, crowned by an enormous pile of cans and bottles stacked on top of an old burned log. Trash on Hidden ShoresThis particular pile had evoked much shaking of heads and even some angry Facebook posts. Danielle Horton, Marissa Hudgins (with her children Lucas and Laree) and Jackie Kopycinski had first cleaned up the parking “area” (not much more than a clearing by the road) in late June. A month later all three returned, joined by Joanie Kochanek, Richard Peters, and Nick Coco with his daughters Adaiah and Ella. Since it was the last refreshing morning of a mid-summer cool front, barely any bug spray was needed. Hibiscus moscheutos (swamp rose mallow) bloomed along the trail. The month’s worth of trash in the parking area was dispatched into bags within minutes. The team began working quickly down the lakeside trail that sloped toward the beach. Halfway three white ringed longleaf pines appeared to be in-habited by RCW’s despite all the foot traffic in the area. The trail ended at a cliffside and split into sever-al paths to the beach, and soon the group de-scended upon the legendary pile of trash. The gasps and groans of initial shock were replaced by strategy talk as the team worked to eliminate the pile and surrounding litter. The sun began to climb and with less shade on the beach, the air began to feel oppressively like July again. With full bags accumulating, the team began to wonder how they were going to get the heavy load of bags back uphill to the parking area. They hauled the bags up to a level area and counted sixteen 39-gallon bags and one styrofoam ice chest. Richard Peters expertly maneuvered his van down the sandy trail and back to retrieve the bags, and the walking group followed him back to the parking area. They only heard him bottom out a couple of times, and they agreed that anyone else would have gotten stuck in sand for the rest of the day. 

Cleaning Trash Hidden ShoresAs the team dispersed, Danielle grabbed the last two bags so she, Richard and Jackie could drop them off in the Ebenezer Park dumpster. Their work made a big step in restoring Hidden Beach from a shameful eyesore to a sparkling, secluded haven. 

Photos and article submitted by Danielle “Doc” Horton

They have set a high bar! Are you up to the challenge????

Congratulations Class of 2019!

We are so proud of our eighteen new volunteers in the Longleaf Ridge Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists! It was a fun class, and we have gained a great deal of talent.

2019 Class Boykin

Exploring Catahoula formations at Boykin Springs

2019 Class Fish Hatchery

Visiting the Fish Hatchery

2019Class Trail Between Lakes


Enjoying Potluck Meals


Learning about Invasives!

Boykin Red-cockaded Woodpecker Nesting Site

Looking for Red Cockaded Woodpeckers

Exploring the Old Sawmill


Siecke State Forest Field Trip

Siecke Field Trip

We had eleven hikers for the field trip to the historical E. O. Siecke State Forest on May 25th. Originally called State Forest #1, the original 1,722 acres were acquired in 1924 and much of the property was cut over and severely burned. Reforestation began immediately. An additional adjacent 100-acre plot was purchased in 1946 for tree improvement and silviculture (the growing and cultivation of trees) research. 

In 1926, the first fire lookout tower in Texas was constructed by TFS personnel; the first pine seedling nursery in the state was established; the agency began a silvicultural research program; and the first operational planting of slash pine was also conducted. The tower and remnants of the first slash pine plantation exist today. 

We walked the trail that Forester Ben Plunkett has designated to be a future nature trail for public use. We have been asked to scout the area and design informational trail signs to educate visitors about the sights that they are encountering along the trail. A convergence of ecosystems, the trail, rich in flora and fauna, incorporates hard-wood bottomland, piney wood savannahs, and sundew bogs. 

It will be an awesome location for family outings. It’s an honor to be a part of this plan and to become a segment in the impressive history of E. O. Siecke State Forest. 

Five Mile Prairie in the Rain

Hike to Five Mile Prairie

A group of our hardcore students and veterans braved the weather forecast this morning and ventured out to Five Mile Prairie for the second field trip of the 2019 Class. As the caravan arrived, the weather was gloomy but the raindrops had not began to fall yet.

Longbract Wild Indigo

Longbract Wild Indigo

As we headed out, the ground was wet and boggy in places from rainfall the previous two days, but the tiny Arkansas Leastdaisy, Chaetopappa asteroides,  still smiled, covering patches all along the way.  Moving further in, the purple blooms of Englemann’s Milkvetch, Astragalus distortus var. engelmannii,  provided a contrasting ground cover with the daisies, and light rain began to fall. We saw stunted Blackjack Oak, Quercus mirlandica,  and Post Oak, Quercus stellata, that are characteristic of shallow soil overlaying the Catahoula formation in this area. We spotted several blooming Longbract Wild Indigos, Baptisia bracteata, along the way.

Schoenolirion wrightii

Schoenolirion wrightii

Finally we arrived at the treasure we were looking for. A healthy population, perhaps hundreds, of Schoenolirion wrightii greeted us.  This flower is only found in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas. Its habitat is disappearing, and it is listed as globally vulernable. Louisiana lists it as Critically Imperiled and Arkansas as Threatened. The common names for this species of concern are Texas Sunnybells or Wright’s Lily, named after botanist and naturalist, Charles Wright, who discovered the plant during his surveys of present Jasper, Angelina, Tyler and Newton counties while he lived on the Neches River and taught school in Zavalla, Texas between 1837 and 1840. Afterwards he moved to Town Bluff and stayed several years before heading further west on botanizing ventures.

The rain began to set in then, and we slowly circled our way back until thunder began to rip the clouds directly above us. No one complained, but the pace quickened a little, and none protested when we reached the road and decided against venturing to our second planned site, Black Branch Barrens. We will reschedule a trip there, perhaps in the fall when the spectacular Nuttall’s Rayless Goldenrod, Bigelowia nuttallii, covers the barrens.

The brave but soaking souls who get kudos for weathering today’s field trip were Fred and Elke Lyons and their dog, Julia McCormick, Cathy and Lonny Carrell, Jacki Kopycinski, Roger Goldsberry, Heather Goodman, Jerry Clark, Janette Johnson, and Georgia Purdy led by Keith Stephens and Laura Clark.