Things to do at this stop:
This bridge with its bench is a pleasant place to pause and enjoy nature. It is shady and relatively cool in summer and is an excellent place for casual birding in spring and fall as warblers and other small birds forage through yaupon thickets nearby. Yaupon holly is probably the most common native understory tree in the Houston area. In spring and summer it supports a bountiful population of caterpillars and other insect larvae attractive to small birds. In fall and winter it produces abundant shiny red berries that help fatten robins for their spring migration.
The other small to medium sized trees with glossy dark green leaves are Carolina laurel cherry, more commonly known to us as cherry laurel. In spring it bears clusters of white flowers; in fall and winter, clusters of cherry-like black fruit. Following two massive droughts and Hurricane Ike, this prolific small tree has become a dominant understory plant, rivaling our yaupon for dominance. The leaves and seeds contain minute amounts of prussic (hydrocyanic) acid -- you can detect it as a maraschino cherrylike odor in a crushed leaf. The black, half-inch fruit is unfit for human consumption but it is a mainstay in the winter diet of robins and other birds.
Armadillos frequently create burrows beneath the trees on the hollow's upstream north bank to raise their four identical offspring. These animals forage throughout the sanctuary at night. We seldom see them in daytime, but find disturbed areas on trails or in leaflitter where they root around seeking insects and earthworms. They are creatures of habit, using the same pathways night after night; if you are sharp-eyed you may find one or more of these little "game trails" elsewhere in the sanctuary.
This is also your first look at the giant vines of our sanctuary's most common grape. The mustang grape has coarse dark green leaves that are fuzzy white underneath. The tough, dark blue skins of their abundant fruit litter the ground (and stain the bridges) in June, as birds and mammals alike feast high above. The tart fruit makes delicious jelly.
Directions to the next stop: