- Brenham/Washington County, 888-BRENHAM, www.brenhamtexas.com
- Burleson County COC, (979) 596-2383, www.rtis.com/reg/somerville
- La Grange Area COC, 800-524-7264, www.lagrangetx.org
Washington-On-The-Brazos State Historic Site
From Brenham, take Hwy. 105 East for 14 miles, turn right on FM 1155 and follow to the park entrance. From Navasota, take Hwy. 105 West for 8 miles, turn left on FM 1155 to park entrance.
Known as the "Birthplace of Texas," this park was founded in 1916 to commemorate Texas' independence from Mexico. The 293-acre park includes the town of Washington (once the capital of the nation of Texas), a visitors center, Barrington Living History Farm, the Star of the Republic Museum, scenic overlooks of the Brazos River, a picnic area and a well-maintained nature trail. The site combines a unique opportunity to provide historical and wildlife-viewing opportunities to its patrons.
The nature trail extends through several habitats offering a diverse birdwatching experience. Follow the trail by the Beaver Pond, a hackberry thicket and a mixture of open grassland/prairie areas looping to a scenic overlook of the Brazos River. The shaded picnic area in the open understory of overhead pecan trees offers a great opportunity to watch birds and squirrels and provides additional viewing access of the Brazos River.
During the winter months, multiple species of sparrows can be observed along the nature trail, including Spotted Towhee and Fox and Harris's Sparrows. Bewick's Wren is present in the woodland areas. Infrequent observations of Pyrrhuloxia, American Bittern and Bald Eagle have also been made. The Beaver Pond draws aquatic species such as Wood Duck, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Common Goldeneye, grebes, cormorants and other pond ducks. Nesting and resident species include Mississippi Kite, Dickcissel and several species of buntings, vireos and flycatchers. Pileated Woodpecker can be seen year-round. During migration, birds observed along the Brazos River include vireos, warblers, tanagers and orioles, with Blue Grosbeak observed at the Barrington Farm area of the site. Look for neotropical migrants, including warblers, in the picnic areas along the nature trail that parallels the Brazos River.
(936) 878-2214 www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/washington-on-the-brazos
Chappell Hill/Brazos River Valley Trail
The site includes multiple roadway right-of-ways beginning at the intersection of Hwy. 290 and FM 1155 in Chappell Hill. From the Hwy. 290 and FM 1155 intersection, travel north 0.5 mile through historic downtown Chappell Hill to the FM 1155 and FM 2447 intersection. Turn right (east) on FM 2447. Red Gully Creek Bridge is 3.3 miles and New Year's Creek Bridge is 4.6 miles down FM 2447. Brazos River Rd. is gravel and is located after 5.6 miles and doglegs to the right. Where Brazos River Rd. again elbows to the right is the end of the site on this road. The end of the pavement on FM 2447 is 7 miles and represents the end of the site on FM 2447.
Spring and fall migrations release a river of neotropical birds through this area. The land adjacent to FM 2447 and Brazos River Rd. includes cropland, fallow fields and improved pastures. The trees along the highway right-of-way provide habitat for a diversity of birds. Because FM 2447 and Brazos River Rd. are lightly traveled, the right-of-way enables safe viewing from the shoulders. Two creek crossings along FM 2447 provide for viewing of resident Indigo and Painted Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissel, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-eyed Vireo and Summer Tanager during the nesting season. Rarities such as Black-bellied Plover, Wilson's Phalarope and Black Tern have been seen during fall migration.
In the winter months, look for raptors, meadowlarks and sparrows, with rare sightings of White-tailed Kite and Say's Phoebe. Summertime nesting residents include Orchard Oriole, Lark Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Parula, buntings, grosbeaks and Dickcissel. Look for nesting Mississippi Kites in historic downtown Chappell Hill and Wild Turkey in the rural areas. This site offers year-round birdwatching opportunities along quiet country roads.
Overlook Park: From Brenham, go north on SR 36 for 9 miles to FM 1948. Go left (southwest) on FM 1948 for 0.1 mile. Turn right (northwest) onto LBJ Dr. and follow it 0.6 mile to Overlook Park.
Nestled on the southeastern edge of Lake Somerville, Overlook Park offers access to the dam and nearby inlets as well as 70 acres of woodland habitat. Amenities include a picnic area, marina and campground.
Visitors to Overlook Park are immediately drawn to the lakeshore, which, depending on the season, can support muddy banks that provide habitat for migrating shorebirds. Scan the numerous snags that line the shoreline for perching Double-crested Cormorants and the occasional Osprey or wintering Bald Eagle. The shores also hold herons, egrets, a variety of migrant shorebirds including Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as sandpipers and Killdeer. You can also see cranes, fox, deer, bobcats and cougars.
The steady stream of Forster's Terns patrolling the open waters of Lake Somerville are joined by Ring-billed Gulls in winter and Franklin's Gulls during migration. Open water is also an ideal place to search for swallows. Barn and Cliff Swallows can be found skimming the surface for tiny prey and taking the occasional sip of water. Look for both species nesting nearby on structures near the dam.
The small patches of post oaks scattered through the park support breeding Painted Buntings and Inca Doves. White-eyed Vireo can be heard calling almost constantly in late spring and early summer. More open areas of parkland provide habitat for Eastern Bluebird and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Look for Red-bellied Woodpecker and Belted Kingfisher perched on the utility poles.
In spring, bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush grow in the open meadows. Other wildflowers include Spiderwort, Dayflower and Meadow Pink. The flowers attract a variety of butterflies, including Spicebush and Black Swallowtail. Dragonflies such as Red and Black Saddlebags and Common Whitetail can also be observed.
Yegua Creek Park: From Brenham, go north on SR 36 for 9 miles to FM 1948. Go left (south-west) on FM 1948 for 2.7 miles to Yegua Creek Park. Turn right and go 1 mile to the gate.
One of the highlights of a trip to Yegua Creek Park is the relaxing, quiet stroll along the interpretive nature trail. This easy trail takes the visitor through lakeside habitats found on the southern shores of Lake Somerville and includes a small section of native tallgrass prairie. Many of the trees and shrubs along the trail are identified, providing a good opportunity to learn about the native plants of the area. Birdsong fills the air in spring, when migrant White-eyed Vireo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo join the resident Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Wren. The area also hosts numerous species of dragonflies. The more open areas of the trail are great for spotting large butterflies.
Rocky Creek Park: From Brenham, go north on SR 36 for 9 miles to FM 1948. Go left (southwest) on FM 1948 for 5 miles to Rock Creek Park. Turn right and follow the road 0.3 mile to the gate.
Rocky Creek Park offers extensive access to the southern shores of Lake Somerville and features several great areas for wildlife viewing. Visitors can walk through the park on a well-mowed trail that runs through woods and fields, providing opportunities to see White-eyed Vireo, Painted Bunting and migrant songbirds. The park runs along a peninsula jutting out into the lake. On the western side of the peninsula the open waters of Lake Somerville hold numerous Forster's Tern and at times Franklin's Gull and migrant shorebirds. The eastern side of the peninsula is shallower and muddier with a large heron and egret rookery on the far bank. Here, hundreds of Cattle Egrets with lesser numbers of Little Blue Herons and Double-crested Cormorants gather. Black Vulture is also common here. Follow the peninsula all the way to the point and look for Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Eastern Kingbird fly-catching from the treetops. In winter, this is a great area to look for waterfowl and Bald Eagle. Look for Osprey year-round.
Lake Somerville State Park Complex
Nails Creek Unit: From the intersection of US 290 and FM 180 about 6.5 miles east of Giddings, go left (northeast) on FM 180 for 13.1 miles until the road ends into the park.
In the Post Oak Savannah vegetation region, Lake Somerville State Park includes a diversity of habitats, including lake, creek, pond, prairie, riparian and upland forest. These habitats are linked by 16 miles of multi-use nature trails, including a 1.8-mile accessible trail and the 13-mile horseback/hiking/mountain bike Somerville Trailway connecting to the Birch Creek Unit. The Somerville Trailway passes through dense stands of yaupon, post oak, hickory, blackjack oak and water oak forests, past scenic overlooks and water crossings. The trail has one of the best spring wildflower displays in the Texas state park system.
Nails Creek is located on the south shore of Lake Somerville along a major tributary to the Brazos River. Both Nails Creek and Birch Creek to the north offer a multitude of recreational opportunities such as camping, picnicking, boating, fishing, hiking, biking, backpacking and horseback riding.
In spring and summer, the peaceful cove lined with mixed oak and elm riparian forest hosts Painted Bunting, Carolina Wren, White-eyed Vireo and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Listen for the summer serenade of birdsong and cicadas. The quiet cove shoreline offers a front-row seat for viewing butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies feeding on the nectar of the large yellow blossoms of American Lotus flower. Enjoy watching the skill of Snowy and Great Egrets as they hunt along the shorelines. American White Pelicans, with their 9-foot wingspan, commonly fish and rest in the deeper waters of the lake during the winter, spring and fall.
For a list of these and the more than 260 species of birds seen here, pick up a field checklist of the Birds of Lake Somerville, which lists the birds of Lake Somerville and their seasonal abundance.
Flag Pond, located approximately 4 miles from Nails Creek Unit and 9 miles from Birch Creek Unit along the Somerville Trailway, provides wildlife-viewing opportunities in conjunction with a system of interpretive trails, nature study, outdoor classrooms and wildlife photography. The Flag Pond Nature Theater provides an excellent wildlife-viewing platform. Campgrounds for equestrians and backpackers are located along the trailway. Keep your eyes open for bobcat, white-tailed deer, raccoon and opossum.
Plant communities are diverse and include eastern plant species such as palmetto and Spanish moss intermingled with western species like yucca and prickly pear. Five species of oak including willow, post, water, live and blackjack, as well as American and winged elm and hackberry dominate the forest. Other species include mockernut hickory, red mulberry, Carolina laurelcherry and western soapberry. Vibrant wildflowers include bluebonnet, Indian paintbrush, buttonbush, Turk's cap, Texas prickly poppy and coreopsis.
Birch Creek Unit: From the intersection of SR 36 and FM 60 about 3.7 miles northwest of Somerville, go left (southwest) on FM 60 for 7.1 miles. Turn left (south) on PR 57 and follow 4.2 miles to the Birch Creek Unit of Lake Somerville State Park.
Located on the north shore of Lake Somerville and connected to Nails Creek Unit on the south shore by the 13-mile Somerville Trailway, Birch Creek Unit provides wonderful opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. The wide grass-covered banks and many lake access points make it ideal for swimming, fishing, viewing the large flocks of wintering waterfowl or quiet contemplation from one of the many secluded coves. In addition to the 13-mile trailway, several miles of nature trails wind through the prairie and forest linking many natural areas of interest to the campsites. Total trail mileage (including the trailway) is 19 miles with 13 for backpacking and equestrian use and the entire 19 for day hiking, mountain biking, birding and nature study.
Gently rolling fields of wildflowers and native grasses bordered by mature stands of mixed oaks and elms greet visitors. A closer look at the forest reveals resurrection fern, Spanish moss, ball moss and even long hair-like lichens draped from the branches of cedar elms. Roadrunners can often be seen along the forest and field edges while driving through the park. While meandering into the shaded forest, look for armadillo diggings and raccoon tracks along the trail. Visitors can also see gray fox, bobcat and white-tailed deer here. During the late spring and early summer watch for families of Carolina Wren, Chickadee and White-eyed Vireo foraging together with their hungry fledglings. While walking along the trail, listen for the call of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo. In the understory, visitors can watch green anoles and daddy longlegs perch on the American beautyberry and crawl along the bramble of greenbrier vines.
Up to 20 species of waterfowl spend their winters in large numbers here at Lake Somerville, often accompanied by Bald Eagle and Osprey. Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, and Northern Pintail are commonly seen. Great and Snowy Egrets, Green and Little Blue Herons and the occasional Wood Stork also feed in the shallows of the lake edge. Whatever the time of year, Birch Creek Unit is sure to reward the visitor with quality, close-up encounters with the natural world.
Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historical
From the Business 71 and Hwy. 77 intersection in La Grange, travel 3 miles south on US Hwy. 77 to Spur 92. Turn right (west) on Spur 92 for 0.25 mile to the park entrance on the right (north).
Located high above the Colorado River, the park includes 36 acres of unique natural habitats offering spectacular views of the meandering Colorado River, associated bottomlands and the city of La Grange. Facilities at the park include a nature and historical trail, picnicking and a small playground for the kids.
A monument and tomb serve as remembrance of the Texans who perished during the Battle of Salado Creek with Mexican forces and the ill-fated Meir Expedition during the mid-1800s. The historic Kreische Brewery, the first commercial brewery in Texas, and homestead are also located at the facility.
The uncommon habitat present represents the northern edge of the Oakville Escarpment, marking the boundary between the upland post oak woodlands and the grasslands of the Fayette Prairie. As such, the habitat is comprised of a blend of eastern species within the post oak woodlands/prairies and western species deposited from the Colorado River from the Hill Country. Vegetation series include little bluestem-Indiangrass and post oak-blackjack oak. While visiting, expect to see white-tailed deer, gray fox, White-eyed Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Texas alligator lizard. Migratory species include Pileated Woodpecker, hawks, Bald Eagle, wintering waterfowl, bluebirds, Turkey Vulture, caracaras, kites and American Goldfinch. The nature trail provides a shaded opportunity to view the songbirds and wildlife.
The edge of the park includes a 200-foot sandstone bluff that opens to spectacular views of the Colorado River. Two scenic overlooks offer impressive views of the brewery remnants and vistas of the city of La Grange and Colorado River.