Houston, TX

See Buffalo Bayou by Canoe

Betsy Denson

Canoeing on Buffalo BayouBetsy Denson

I have biked by Houston's bayous and I have walked by Houston's bayous - but until last week I had never been in one of the city's waterways.

During Spring Break I remedied that by renting two canoes from Bayou City Adventures for a two-hour trip starting out from Buffalo Bayou park.

According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, there are 26-miles designated as the first paddling trail in Houston. While Buffalo Bayou begins at Highway 6 and ends at Allen’s Landing, we just paddled to Shepherd Drive and back. TPW tells me that the water is not suitable for swimming but I knew that, although I forgot the hand santizer.

While most of the area we traversed was much cleaner than I thought, there was a large amount of trash near the park, but this was intentional. A net corralled garbage before it could travel further. I'm assuming the city comes to collect it periodically.

Trash trapped on the bayouBetsy Denson

It's a good thing too, because we observed a lot of wildlife that calls the bayou home.

A Muscovy duckBetsy Denson

We saw this fellow first and when I later Googled “Duck that looks like a turkey,” I came up with Muscovy duck, so I’m going with that. Wikipedia tells me that the Muscovy duck is native to the Americas and that wild populations have established themselves, especially in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and on Hawaii’s big island. The ducks are also found as far away as New Zealand and Australia.

There were plenty of turtles to be seen too which I expected. It was a beautiful day and we all craved the sunshine.

Turtle on Buffalo BayouBetsy Denson

I was surprised, however, by this prehistoric-looking creature. Another round of Internet research though brought me to an article from the Associated Press which seemed to offer an explanation.

During the past two years, [Eric] Munscher and his team have tagged 60 alligator snappers — officially Macrochelys temminckii — in an area no one expected to find them, along a nine-mile stretch of Buffalo Bayou.

Munscher leads the Turtle Survival Alliance’s North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group and says that the bayou offers the perfect habitat for what might be one of the largest alligator snappers anywhere.

“They lucked into the whole metro thing,” Munscher told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s a good habitat, surprisingly, with a riparian shelf where females can climb up and lay eggs.”
An alligator snapping turtleBetsy Denson

I did not have any trouble identifying the egrets which plucked their way along the bank, thrusting their slender necks forward to grab something good from the water.

Egret on Buffalo BayouBetsy Denson

The find of the day, hands down, was a five-foot alligator who slipped into the water when we saw it the first time but was sunning on the bank during our return trip downstream.

Gators in the bayou are not a common sight, so we considered ourselves lucky. And since there’s plenty for it to eat, besides us, we weren’t frightened. But this was a zoom lens photo for sure.

Alligator on Buffalo BayouBetsy Denson

In another month or so the banks of the bayous will be a riot of wildflowers, bees, and bikers. You can feel it coming — spring, and with it, possibility and new purpose. The perspective from under the bridges is much different than it is to the people in the cars overhead. It’s a perspective I’m glad I got to experience.

Bayou City Adventures gets a lot more business at their Discovery Green location where they rent boats for the lake there, but I think visitors would get a lot out of a bayou tour.

Cypress tree on the bayouBetsy Denson

“Nobody in their right mind would think of Buffalo Bayou as a refuge,” said former Houston zookeeper Jordan Gray of the alligator snapping turtles. “It’s not this pristine habitat like the Upper Trinity River, but that’s what makes it so cool, to find this gem of a population.”

I’ll bet it’s not the bayou’s only secret.

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