News Categories: Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center

14 Feb
By: Communications 0

Top Wildlife Photography Tips

Few activities are as rewarding or as difficult to master as wildlife photography.

For hours of waiting in the brush, a wildlife photographer may be repaid with only a glimpse of her subject and a few seconds to snap a photo – all while ensuring the photo is well lit, in focus, and aesthetically pleasing.

Wildlife photographers Connie and David Emerson of the Kingwood Photo Club know the struggles and rewards of wildlife photography better than most. The couple has photographed wildlife since the 1990s and mentored other photographers for more than a decade. Since retiring, they have traveled all over the world, from Africa to Asia, capturing photos of exotic birds, lions, and tigers. They also judge the annual Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center photo contest and plan to host a photography workshop at the park in August.

“Wildlife photography may seem intimidating, especially for beginners, but there’s no better way to improve your skills,” said Connie Emerson. “You never know what you’ll find.”
To help other aspiring wildlife photographers refine their skills, we created a list of the Emersons’ top tips below.

1. Practice Makes Perfect

Photographers can spend hours fiddling with composition, lighting, and focus. But it’s also important that they know their subject when capturing wildlife – and that requires practice.
“Start with squirrels,” said Connie. “Squirrels are something that will run if you’re not careful. You have to learn about the habitat of the animal you’re trying to capture and how to approach them.”

She encourages aspiring photographers to visit their local parks to capture ducks, birds, and dogs before moving on to more exotic animals at the zoo.

“The zoo is a great place to practice,” she said. “Even though they are in a cage, they’re still moving. Try to track them and figure out where they’re going. You’ll want to find the best light to get that glint in their eye.”

The Gulf Coast region also offers some of the best birding opportunities in the region. While bird photography can be difficult, those up to the challenge will find an almost endless supply of birds at Jones Park, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, Brazos Bend State Park, and almost any natural area in Galveston.

“Galveston is great for sandhill cranes, raptors, and coyotes,” said David Emerson. “Go during the spring migration in April. You’ll see birds that you can’t see at any other time of year.”

2. Know When to Go

Bird calls fill forests, coastal prairies, and marshes while signaling the beginning and the end of the day. Photographers who wake with the birds are treated to an abundance of wildlife, but those who hit the trails later in the day usually aren’t so lucky.

“You have to work around the animal’s schedule to be successful,” said David. “The best times to photograph wildlife are from sunrise to 10 a.m. and from 3 p.m. to sunset. You’ll hardly find any animals out around midday.”

Wildlife photography is also seasonal. Spring, winter, and fall are the best seasons for bird photography. In summer, birding winds down, but bobcats, foxes, butterflies, and dragonflies may still make an appearance.

“There’s always something to photograph,” said Connie. “Summer is when you can find all the babies at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. You can usually find something just by snapping photos from your car.”

3. Get the Right Gear

Almost everyone owns a camera of some kind, but photography as a hobby usually isn’t cheap. The best lenses can capture the details of a feather or an animals’ eyelashes from a distance, but they may come at a steep price – costing $1,000 or more.

Early on, photographers need to decide how much they are willing to invest and set realistic expectations based on that range. Detailed closeups of wildlife usually require a DSLR or SLR camera with a telephoto lens of 200 mm or longer to shoot from afar. Lesser cameras may not be able to capture the same quality and detail, but that may not matter for work that is primarily online, rather than print.

“You want to spend your money on your camera lens,” said David. “The camera body is important, but a quality lens will make an obvious difference in photo quality. The better the lens, the better your pictures are going to be.”

To save money, consider purchasing a used lens or renting lenses for special occasions. Purchasing a prime lens, or lens with a fixed focal length, may also be a good option for photographers on a budget. While they aren’t capable of zooming, prime lenses offer exceptional clarity and sharpness. These lenses are often lighter with less glass than a zoom lens, which translates into higher quality images. Choose wisely, though. Most wildlife lenses should have a long focal length unless you can get close to your subject. Prime lenses aren’t useful for every situation, so only commit to one if you intend to use it regularly.

Some nature photographers are happy using their cell phones. While cell phones don’t yet have the capability of a DSLR, the gap is rapidly closing. Apple iPhones now feature cameras capable of crisp, vibrant colors and shallow depths of field that rival more expensive gear.

And with the convenience of cell phone cameras paired with the popularity of online photo sharing, cell phones are becoming the tool of choice for many.
“You don’t have to go out and buy an expensive camera to be a photographer,” said Connie. “Even cell phones and point-and-shoot cameras can produce quality images, depending on your subject.”

If you’re shooting with a cell phone, choose a less challenging subject and focus on your composition. Photos taken with a little creativity can often rival more technically challenging shots.
Just make sure you understand your camera’s limitations. Cell phones lose quality in low light situations faster than DSLRs, so try to ensure shooting conditions are optimal. Stationary subjects work best. Look for interesting leaves, patterns, and flowers. Unless you can get extremely close, shooting birds and other wildlife with a cellphone usually won’t yield quality results.

4. Choose the Right Settings

Once you turn on your camera’s manual setting, a whole new world of possibility arises. Photos take on a more professional look when the photographer can control the depth of field, brightness, and focus. But if you aren’t yet familiar with your settings, photos can turn out dark, overly bright, or even blurry. Many photographers have regretfully set aside beautifully composed photos because of an out-of-focus eye or soft subject.

To avoid blur, the Emersons advise using a high shutter speed for birds and other fast-moving wildlife. If you’re shooting on a cell phone, target stationary animals.
“If you shoot birds, you want a shutter speed that is a minimum of 1/500 of a second,” David said. “To capture them flying, it needs to be 1/1000 of a second.”

Try setting your camera to aperture or shutter priority to maintain creative control while allowing your camera to adjust for slight changes in lighting.

It’s also important to use natural light. Using flash could scare the animal and almost always creates unflattering shadows and glare. When aiming, set your camera to continuous focus mode and focus on the animal’s eye to maximize sharpness.

“Wildlife is always moving, especially if it’s a bird,” he said. “If the subject moves, the camera needs to refocus.”

How to Participate in the Jones Park Photo Contest

Want to put your photography skills to the test? Submit your photo entry to the Jones Park annual photo contest. Printed submissions must be postmarked by Thursday, April 23, or hand-delivered to Jones Park by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 28. Digital submissions must be emailed to jjp@hcp4.net by Tuesday, April 28.

Winners will be announced on Saturday, May 2, at 1 p.m. Call for rules to enter or visit www.hcp4.net/jones/photocontest.
The Emersons will serve as judges for the competition and provide valuable feedback and tips for contest participants.

“The whole idea behind this is to have fun,” said Connie. “Get out there and practice, practice, practice, but have fun with it.”

The couple will also discuss year-round photography opportunities in the Houston area during their photography workshop at Jones Park in August. The class is perfect for anyone who would like to improve their photography without having to leave the area, Connie said.

“Many people don’t have the time and money to travel to exotic locations,” she said. “Well, you don’t have to. There are beautiful things all over the city you can photograph.”

Anyone interested in taking the class should contact Jones Park at 281-446-8588 in August. To view David’s work, click here, and click here to view Connie’s work.

Photo above: Courtesy Connie Emerson

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14 Feb
By: Communications 0

A World of Color: How to Make Natural Dyes

By Katrina Yordy
Historical Program Coordinator

It’s no secret that cheap, fast fashion has changed the clothing industry. While modern Americans throw away an estimated 81 pounds of clothing per year, the Texans of 200 years ago could rarely afford to purchase finished garments because of the immense amount of time and labor that went into fabric-making.
Families who desired fashionable, colorful clothing poured many hours and much effort into making their own fabric and clothing. Although the process was time consuming, families were often rewarded with beautiful and unique garments impossible to replicate on the assembly line. Because clothing was handmade and dyed naturally, each garment came out slightly different than the one before.

History of Plant Dyes

Throughout most of history, dyes came from plants and other natural materials. Natural dyes came in almost every color of the rainbow, but the brightest, most vibrant colors often fetched the highest price. In North America, the Cherokee highly valued a blue dye made from blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis), a native plant of central and eastern North America, and passed knowledge of the plant on to early settlers.

In Europe, some dyes became so valuable that they supported entire economies. True indigo (Indigofera tinctorial), a native plant of India, has a long and complicated history, with ties to the slave trade and the establishment of plantations in North America and the tropics. Despite being a superior dye, France and Germany outlawed indigo in the 16th century because it competed with native woad, a plant in the cabbage family used to make blue dye.

But progress couldn’t be stymied forever. By the 1860s, manufacturers gradually replaced natural dyes like woad and indigo with synthetic dyes made from chemicals, which gave rise to the modern textile industry. Unlike natural dyes, synthetic dyes required little processing, lasted longer, and produced a more consistent color.
Although natural dyes no longer dominate the fabric industry, groups of historians and craft persons have kept the skill alive. Rita Adrosko explains the appeal of natural dyes in her 1971 publication “Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing.”

“Craftsmen are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about this outdated and time-consuming process for one of the reasons that manufacturers rejected it: difficulty of standardization. Natural dyestuffs produce offbeat, one-of-a-kind colors. No two dye lots are identical, each having subtle differences due to impurities peculiar to the particular plant material used. Thus, the very characteristics of natural dyes that often made them the despair of earlier dyers appeal to today’s craftsmen searching for the unique.”

Natural fabric-dying has also been fueled by the widespread availability of materials. With a few kitchen scraps and household items, anyone can produce natural dyes at home.
Below, we’ve listed steps for producing your own natural dye. Learn how subtle differences in dye baths, from the temperature to the type of water used, creates endless possibilities in color.

 

How to Make Natural Dyes

Begin by filling a pot with water and measuring out an ounce of plant material for every ounce of fabric, yarn, or fiber to be dyed. Natural materials such as silk, linen, cotton, and wool will absorb the dye best. Synthetic material may absorb some dye but will be lighter. Make sure to wet your materials before adding them to the dyebath.
Refining your color requires a little chemistry and a love of experimentation. The metal of the pot, water hardness, plant material, and the type of fiber could all change the final color of the dye. For example, an aluminum pot will produce a lighter and brighter color than an iron pot.
When choosing plant material, look for items that contain an abundance of color. Some plants may need to simmer longer than other plants to produce dye. Most households have avocado and yellow onion skins available. Instead of discarding these kitchen scraps, use them to make pink or gold dye.

Avocado Dye

Avocado skins and seeds create a pink dye. The seeds contain a milky, tannin-rich liquid that exudes a lovely pink when simmered in water. Use about five pits per half-pound of material. Make sure to wash and dry the pits. Simmer them in a pot filled with enough water to cover the material. The seeds will knock into each other, causing the shells to peel off and crack open. The water then turns almost ruby red. Let the dye steep overnight before using.

Yellow Onion Skins Dye

Completely fill a pot with onion skins and water to produce a range of earth colors from golden yellow to reddish orange. The more onion skins you use, the richer the color will appear. Boil the skins for one hour or until the desired color is achieved. Boiling the skins longer will result in a darker dye. When the water reaches the preferred color, strain the onion skins and place them on a paper towel to dry. Onion skins can be reused until they reach a pulpy consistency.
Once the dye has been prepared, add the material and simmer it for at least an hour. To ensure a long lasting and vibrant color, add a mordant to the mix, which is a substance that binds the dye to the fiber. The best mordants are alum, cream of tartar, vinegar, and ammonia. The dye usually lasts longer if the fiber or fabric is soaked in the mordant for about 24 hours before being placed in the dye bath. Add vinegar during the process to brighten the color.
Once the fabric has reached the desired color, rinse it and hang it to dry. Remember, part of the appeal of natural dyes is the ability to customize colors and create unique pieces, so experiment until you find your perfect shade. Click here to learn more about making natural dyes at home.

See Early Texans in Action

You can learn more about the fascinating chemistry behind fiber-dyeing with historical program coordinator Katrina Yordy during Second Saturday Settlers on Saturday, April 11, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Yordy will discuss the art of creating natural dyes and give demonstrations. Volunteers with Second Saturday Settlers will demonstrate a new skill each second Saturday of the month in the Redbud Hill Homestead.

If you want to learn other pioneer skills, come see early Texans in action at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center. Pioneer Day in November will include costumed reenactors who will showcases early 19th century spinning and weaving, woodworking, blacksmithing, campfire cooking, and more. The event is one of the few in the region that focuses on the Texas Revolution and the lifestyles of early Texan families in period appropriate attire.

For more information, visit the Jones Park webpage here.

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14 Feb
By: Communications 0

Volunteer Spotlight: National Charity League

Serving the community brings a special kind of excitement to the hearts of many, especially when it’s alongside those you love.

That appeal is what drives many mothers and daughters to join the National Charity League, a volunteer organization created especially for mothers and their school-age daughters.

Although NCL chapters are active across the nation, their service at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center has proven especially beneficial. Darlene Conley, the director at Jones Park, said the participation of the Kings Trails, Kingwood, Livable Forest, and Lake Houston chapters of NCL has played an integral role in the success of many park events and programs.

“Their value is tremendous,” said Conley. “We would not be able to offer the same amount of great programming that we provide if not for their assistance.”

Maddie Dunleavy and her mother, Nora Dunleavy, have been members of the Kings Trails Chapter of NCL since 2014, when Maddie was a sixth grader. Volunteering together at Jones Park has been a special bonding experience for them and a way for them to spend time together in nature.

“I love volunteering at Jones Park because it was a place I loved to be when I was younger,” said Maddie, a senior at Kingwood High School. “I looked forward to going there, and it brought me so much joy. So it’s really nice to be able to give that same joy back to others through volunteering.”

Nora, who loves the outdoors, has truly enjoyed her experience volunteering with her daughter and watching her daughter’s love for nature and service grow.

“I’ve seen Maddie grow over the years, and her experience at Jones Park has helped her decide on an area of study,” Nora said of her daughter’s plans to go into marine biology. “Just being outside and in nature studying the plants and animals has really helped her to know what she wants to do.”

Throughout their years of service with NCL, the Dunleavys have served as camp counselors for Summer Nature Camp and participated in several of Jones Park’s featured events, including Old Fashioned Christmas, Homestead Heritage Day, and Tricks and Treats Among the Trees.

Maddie said those experiences will stay with her forever.

“This past summer, I volunteered as a counselor for Summer Nature Camp,” she said. “A younger girl in my group remembered me from being her camp counselor four years ago, the first year I was a counselor. It was great to see that I was able to make an impact on someone.”

Maddie will graduate from high school this year, which will make her an NCL alumna. But Nora will continue the tradition of serving at Jones Park with her son, Joseph Dunleavy, through the Young Men’s Service League, which provides philanthropic opportunities for mothers and their teenage sons.

Judith Lewis, the vice president of philanthropy for the NCL Lake Houston Chapter, said one of the primary goals of the organization is to provide new experiences for young women so they can explore a variety of careers, and Jones Park plays a huge role in achieving that goal.

“As mothers, we hope that when they are doing an activity, it will stay with them, and they’ll reflect on it,” she said. “To think about becoming a forest ranger or doing something environmental. That’s how Jones Park helps our girls become something that’s important to them.”

The mutual admiration Jones Park and NCL share only strengthens their bond.

“We know that when we volunteer at Jones Park, it’s appreciated, and they have shown to us that we are appreciated by the way we’re treated,” said Lewis.

Area NCL chapters will participate in upcoming events at Jones Park events, including NatureFest. The organization continues to look forward to serving the park and its many endeavors in the Precinct 4 area.

For more information on how mothers and daughters can join the National Charity League, please visit .

To volunteer at Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature, visit https://www.hcp4.net/parks/jjp/volunteer or call 281-446-8588.

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14 Feb
By: Communications 0

Take Me Fishing at Jones Park

By Jason Naivar

Hurricane Harvey was one of the most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history, leaving many Harris County residents to pick up the pieces. Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center was not spared, as the Nature Center took on almost 7 feet of water. In the aftermath, we discovered that our fishing equipment and aquatic education materials were damaged beyond repair. With angling being such a popular activity, we were saddened to learn that we would have to start from scratch. But as we soon found out, help was just around the corner.

The nonprofit organization Fishing’s Future has focused on bringing families and nature together through angling since 2007. Not only does angling create bonding opportunities for families, but it also helps relieve stress, feeds families, and instills environmental stewardship in younger generations. Fishing’s Future’s partnership with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation have helped it become one of the top aquatic education programs in the country.

Just days after clearing the Nature Center, two people referred us to Fishing’s Future in the same week. This is how I met Michael Scherer, the vice president of operations for Fishing’s Future and the Houston chapter leader. After a few meetings, we agreed that Jones Park would make a perfect First Catch Center because of its prime location and rich history.

Before our first event, Take Me Fishing, on Feb. 17, 2018, we were given a new TPWD Angler Education trunk with a full tackle box and 45 rods and reels, worth more than $2,700. Scherer was also instrumental in volunteer recruitment, social media posts, a fishing booth at NatureFest, and plenty of freebies to get the word out about angling at the park.

These are just a few of the benefits of being a First Catch Center. In the first year of the partnership, Jones Park has educated 123 students, with the support of 25 volunteers from TPWD and the Jesse Jones Park Volunteers.

We are honored to partner with Fishing’s Future for the enrichment of families and the ability to offer aquatic education to Precinct 4 residents. We sincerely thank them for their support and look forward to our future together.

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14 Feb
By: Communications 0

So You’ve Found an Orphaned or Injured Wild Animal…

John S. Carey, Education Programmer – Jesse H. Jones Park & Nature Center

Spring is a wonderful time for people to connect with the outdoors. The weather is inviting, and the natural world comes alive as winter melts away. Unfortunately, the season can be difficult for wildlife.

Although the bitter cold is gone and food is once again abundant, spring is a time of fierce competition for animals to reclaim territory, recover from months of starvation, evade predators invigorated by the warmer weather, and care for their young. It’s also a time when baby animals are particularly vulnerable. They may be injured, underfed, abandoned, and preyed upon, or they may wander into neighborhoods and back yards. Knowing when to intervene and what to do can mean the difference between helping the animal and hurting it.

If you see an animal you think needs help, reach out to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you. Wildlife rehabilitators, or “rehabbers,” are trained professionals who dedicate their lives to caring for injured, sick, and orphaned animals, with the goal of returning them to the wild. Untrained caretakers can cause more harm than good, and caring for wild animals without the proper permits can violate state and, if the species is endangered, federal wildlife laws. Be patient when reaching out to rehabbers, as springtime can be overwhelming for wildlife centers. When appropriate, rehabbers can offer advice and instructions on caring for wild animals or provide resources for finding another, less busy facility.

More than any other animal, young birds are taken out of the wild unnecessarily and cared for improperly, especially in the spring when fledgling birds are intentionally bumped out of the nest to roam. While the act may seem harsh, it’s a natural part of the bird’s life cycle essential for muscle development and preparing the bird to leave the nest for good. People who find these fledgling birds often assume they need help. The truth is, fledgling birds are indeed vulnerable and are frequently eaten by predators. However, this is part of nature’s cycle, and interfering with this important process interrupts the bird’s natural development.

If you see a bird with underdeveloped feathers learning to walk on its own, observe it for a while. Look for a nest in nearby trees and see if you can spot its parents flying overhead. If none of the above happens, then call a rehab center in your area. They will likely ask you to gently wrap the bird in a towel and place it in a box in a warm, dark place.

If necessary, warm half the box with a heating pad to create a warmer half and a cooler half. This protocol applies to most baby animals, except for animals with head trauma, such as birds that have struck a window. Heat will exacerbate the animal’s condition in this instance.

Inside the box, place a small, shallow dish of water no more than a quarter-inch deep, but do not attempt to feed the bird. Birds have specialized diets that vary among species, and feeding should be done only by a trained professional.

Another misconception is that if you touch a baby bird or its nest, the mother will abandon her offspring. For the most part, birds are committed and flexible parents. If you find a bird’s nest on the ground with intact eggs, it is perfectly fine to place it back in the tree. Usually, the mother will return quickly to tend to her young. Likewise, if you find a baby bird on the ground, attempt to return the bird to its nest and then wait for the mother to return. If the mother does not return, contact a rehab center.

Deer fawns are also often mistaken as orphans. It is common for the mothers to bed their young down in tall grass or other hidden areas while foraging for food. People who stumble upon fawns sitting perfectly still with no mother in sight might think something is wrong. While not always the case, true orphaned fawns usually display their panic by “bleating” or calling out for their mother. Fawns that are lying perfectly still, even as you approach them, are likely waiting for their mothers to return and are best left alone. If you find a fawn and are unsure if it has been abandoned, make sure to observe the fawn for several hours before intervening. If the mother does not come back in a few hours, call a rehabber.

Unfortunately, rehab centers often do not have the resources to send people out to capture wildlife. If you decide or are instructed that capture is necessary, be sure to have materials ready beforehand, including heavy leather gloves for animals like large birds of prey or raccoons. If you do not feel comfortable catching an animal, contact your local game warden to assist. Make sure to avoid any animal, especially racoons, exhibiting signs of rabies like walking around in the daylight, delirium, or aggression.

Helping care for sick and injured animals is a great way to support the natural world and the animal kingdom. If you are not a professional rehabber, doing your part may mean taking your animal to a professional.

One of the best rehab centers in the Houston area is the Wildlife Center of Texas, which serves a nine-county area. As part of the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the wildlife center rehabilitates thousands of animals that are released back into the wild each year. For more information, contact the Wildlife Center of Texas, 7007 Old Katy Road in Houston, by calling 713-861-9453. The facility is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During the spring and summer seasons, from March 1 to Aug. 31, hours are extended to 6 p.m.

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