The melody of wheezy whistle-like calls pulled my eyes upward in search of the Black-bellied Whistling ducks that broke through my daydream.The sound of my shoes crunching along the pebble strewn path, the throaty grunts and croaks of the nesting Great Egrets and Neotropic Cormorants, and the intermittent humming of the bees that flit from one honeysuckle vine to the next had lulled me into a pleasant state of serenity.
Embodying both the spirit of discovery and tranquility, Shangri-La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center nurtures the concept of a harmonious relationship with nature and man. Located in the historic Southeastern Texas town of Orange, nestled on the banks of the Sabine River, Shangri-La offers nature enthusiast an unhampered glimpse at the workings of mother nature. The transition from winter to spring brings about an opportunity for young and old alike to witness the nesting, mating, and hatching of the winged residents that have turned a manmade lake into a heronry. At about 15 acres and in the heart of the botanical garden, Ruby Lake plays host to more than 5,000 birds annually and as many as 17 species seasonally. Along with the Egrets and Cormorants mentioned earlier, Anhingas, Roseate Spoonbills, and a variety of ducks call Ruby Lake home. Built from cypress logs that lay at the bottom of the river for decades, the Bird Blind provides birdwatchers of all ages and mobility a chance to observe nature unimpeded. Reaching the blind and this sanctuary is much easier than one might imagine. Just a short stroll down a gravel path dappled with sunlight and flowers that branches off the main path running through the gardens will get you there. The path is expertly maintained and with a wheelchair ramp into the blind, no one is denied access to this natural spectacle.
You are offered your first glimpse of the secluded lake and it’s inhabitants off to the right as the winding path leads up to the bank where there lay a handful of turtles basking on a fallen cypress log. In this small alcove, there are a sprinkling of Great Egret nests amongst the cypress trees, but the truly impressive views come from within the Bird Blind, which is just a little further up the path. Located just next to a stand of cypress trees flocked in white with hundreds of Great Egrets and their nests, the blind presents the observer with views of new hatchlings still bobbing and bumbling, trying their best to gain control of their head, wings, and legs. Open Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5pm, there is more than enough time to grab a seat on one of the sinker cypress benches, refresh yourself from the water fountain provided, and watch the comings and goings one of the most majestic creatures to grace the waterways of the south. For more information on Shangri-La Botanical Gardens & Nature Center visit starkculturalvenues.org or call 409.670.9113.
Article contributed by: Jessica Pickett