Life at the center

Wildlife Wednesday: The Frogs Have Emerged!

Wildlife Wednesday: The Frogs Have Emerged!

With warmer temperatures and recent rain events, frogs are once again making themselves known in the park. We’ve been hearing them call, and last night we spotted a few of them calling and mating in the center fountain pond. Here’s a look at 3 of the species of native frog that we see most commonly in the park.

Gulf Coast Toads (Incilius nebulifer) are the most commonly seen yard frog in our area, that’s because, like most toads, they are

terrestrial and comfortable in leaf beds and gardens around the house. They’re also the most commonly seen frog in our park, found underneath rocks, logs, and boardwalks.

After heavy rains in warm weather, toads emerge and make their way to still freshwater in ponds, ditches, and temporary puddles to breed. The males call to the females with a loud continuous nasal trill (listen here). If the male is successful in attracting a female, the female allows him to engage her in a mating embrace (called “amplexus”). The female then lays her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. The leave the eggs behind, and offer no further parental care. Toads lay their eggs in long gelatinous strands, unlike other groups of frogs that lay their eggs individually on vegetation or in large glob-like masses.   

Eastern Narrowmouths (Gastrophryne carolinensis) have emerged from under logs and their underground borrows to sing their nasal sheep-like Mehhhhhhhh calls (listen here). These small arrowhead-shaped frogs feed mostly on termites and ants (and their larvae), thus the small pointy mouth. They spend most of their time under cover or underground, and really only become noticeable after heavy rains.

Another frog that one hears calling in the park occasionally is the Green Treefrog (Hyla cinerea), the only treefrog we really see in the park. Despite the name, these bright green frogs are found mainly in reeds, grasses, and other vertical vegetation along the edge of freshwater ponds and marshes. During warm Spring and Summer months the males sing a raucous chorus of nasal KWAK KWAK KWAK calls (listen here). We tend to hear and see them in the pocket prairie and along the edge of the Cypress Pond at the South end of the park.

If you’re willing to endure the rain and a few puddles, come out and see if you can find some our common frogs around the park!

Feel free to write me, if you have any questions about local frogs or any other wildlife:


See you soon,

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Photographs: Gulf Coast Toad  (Toadies1 | Wikimedia, all others – Eric Duran, Nature Discovery Center); Eastern Narrrowmouth (Wandering Herpetologst | Flickr); Green Treefrog and Toad tadpoles and eggs (Eric Duran, NDC)




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Rainforest Exhibit – Now Open in Discovery Rooms

Visit the Central American rainforest at the Nature Discovery Center! Discover the diversity of plants and animals in the rainforest, relate rainforest plants to products we use, and learn about indigenous neo-tropical rainforest peoples. Large painted panels, twisty vines and tropical plants will transport you to a tropical oasis full of fun learning opportunities!

Participate in fun activities including :

  • Starting your own tropical band
  • Put on a puppet show
  • Build a Mayan temple
  • Learn about rainforest layers
  • Investigate rainforest products
  • Discover rainforest plants and animals
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Wildlife Wednesday: Birds Nesting in the Park

Wildlife Wednesday:  Birds Nesting in the Park

Spring is a time when flowers bloom, deciduous trees re-leaf, and the insects emerge from their winter hiding places. It’s also the time of year when we notice birds nesting and laying eggs. Today, during our hikes with students and birdwatchers, we noticed 3 sets of birds nesting in the park.

Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) actually started nesting here in mid-winter, as they have for several years. Owls have to train their young to hunt, so they start the process of nesting earlier than other groups of birds, so they can spend more time getting them ready to live out in the world on their own. Our owls are most likely deep into the process of incubating eggs. Screech Owls are small, and a eat a wide variety of smaller animals (such as small snakes, lizards, birds, large insects, and spiders). In the evenings, you may hear them singing soft trills, whinnies, and less commonly, screeches, from the trees around the park.

They nest in tree cavities, like abandoned woodpecker holes and hollow branches. In our park, they raise their young in nest boxes, made specifically for them. We currently have 3 pairs of nesting Screech Owls in the park, and with 2-4 young per nest, we could end up with 12 young owlets fledging out this year!

Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperii) have been nesting in the park for 3 seasons now. These thin agile hawks, specialize in hunting other birds in wooded areas. You can often see them sitting on a tree branch, pulling apart and eating a White-winged Dove or an American Robin. They are also conspicuous by their call, a loud high pitched KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK KEK echoing out through the canopy of the trees.

They start courting and mating in late winter, and construct their stick nest high in a tree in late winter/early spring. It appears that the Cooper’s Hawk pair in our park have finished their nest, and are now incubating eggs.

Finally… the Purple Martins (Progne subis) have returned to Russ Pitman Park! We did see a few, here and there, in mid-February, flying over the park, but this week we noticed them returning to the colonial Purple Martin house next to the playground. They appear to be entering the nest holes and setting up shop. So far we have seen 3 pairs of North America’s largest swallows here. Today (3/22) they were very active, fluttering above the South end of the park, singing and catching insects on the wing. Purple martins are active and able hunters of dragonflies, flying grasshoppers, and other insects that go high up into the air.

We invite you to come out, and look for all 3 species in the park. If you need help finding them, a helpful naturalist can give you direction.

Thanks, and see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Above Photos: Screech owls by Roland Groenenboom, Cooper’s Hawk by Don Jewell, Purple Martin by JJ Cadiz | Wikimedia


photo by Teresa Connell                                        Photo by Sean Sun                                      Photo by Mike Carlo, USFWS              

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The Gateway Project

  • The Gateway Project is committed to preserving the character of the historic Henshaw House and surrounding grounds while providing for its current function as a premier science and nature education facility. By creating a more open and inviting physical presence for the center and making needed repairs, Gateway renovations will enhance our ability to serve the needs of all visitors. 

In November 2013, City of Bellaire residents voted for a bond referendum for $500,000 to be used for improvements to the Henshaw House and Russ Pitman Park, operated by the Nature Discovery Center. Generous funding from community groups and foundations totaling $760,000 also transformed the Gateway Project dream into a reality. 

To purchase an engraved brick, check out the Donor Brick Campaign page.

Gateway Phase One – Complete

Phase One of the Gateway Project, the renovation of the 1925 Henshaw House that serves as the nature center, was successfully completed in spring 2014. This included new interior and exterior paint, new wall coverings, new blinds, new office furnishings, refinished floors, and much, much more!

Gateway Phase Two – Underway Now

Phase Two will create a bright, fresh, and welcoming feeling in the one acre surrounding the Center by renovating animal enclosures, adding a new outside restroom, redesigning the native landscaping, and building new sensory gardens.

The redesigned animal enclosures will provide enlarged space for our outdoor animals in a more natural environment making viewing more accessible for kids of all ages. The new restroom will help us better accommodate large groups. The deck of the new outdoor bathroom will feature a trough sink at child height that will allow 4 kids to wash their hands at the same time, and added bathrooms will reduce strain and wait time for our three current restrooms.

The Center will remain *OPEN* to visitors throughout the project, which is expected to be complete in March 2017. Save the date for our renovation reveal event “Gateway to Nature” on Saturday May 6th at 10am.

Thank you for your patience as we make exciting changes to serve you better!

Landscape Architects: SWA Group
Contractors: Horizon International Group, LLC.

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Winter Break Camp Registration is Now Open!

Winter Break Camps entertain kids while they learn about animals, habitats, and the natural world around them through crafts, games, outdoor exploration, animal encounters, and more!  And they give parents a much needed break too! Sign up for individual days or for them all.

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