The purpose of this course is to guide you around Connemara to various ecologically interesting locations using GPS coordiantes from your phone, iPad or other GPS enabled equipment.
If you don't have GPS, then you can still use the course by printing out this page and taking it with you. The markers on the map are only approximate and you may have to look a little harder for the identifying marks, but they are readily apparent once you get the hang of it.
If you have enjoyed this course and would like to see it extended, please send us an email at email@example.com
For this course you may use either the map at right or the descriptive text below.
||Target Information Area
||Wooden sign in parking area
|Information about Conservation Easements
|| This information sign indicates that the land you are standing on has been protected by the landowner as a natural area. As a challenge, look on the sign and find the two-word name of this special kind of land protection. Hint: one of the words in the name is a word commonly used in the environmental community to describe activities that save natural resources for our future generations. The reason for this land protection is to permanently conserve the natural features on this land from development. The protected lands include forested wetlands (observable along the gravel road ahead of you), and the wooded corridor along Rowlett Creek. This land protection also includes the grasslands on the floodplain of Rowlett Creek, all which act as vegetated buffer zones to protect the waters in the creek from water quality impacts from adjacent development.
||Metal Connemara Conservancy Sign near creek
|Rowlett Creek, Importance of creek, erosion over time, resulting environment, etc.
||The middle of the bridge over Rowlett Creek is a great place to stand and see the effects of water erosion. The water that runs under this bridge is on its way to Lake Ray Hubbard. After that, these waters will join other streams and rivers making their way South and East until they are finally emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. Most days, the water under the bridge is not very deep.Have a look and see. How deep do you think the water gets after a heavy rain? (Hint: Look at the side edges of the bridge and up in the trees and bushes for sticks and debris the water has piled there.) Look at the stream banks too to see signs that deep and fast moving water has been through here. You will see trees that have fallen in, some leaning at odd angles, and many with a lot of their roots exposed. Water has moved a lot of dirt and rock away from around the roots and eventually, even the big trees will fall in. Fast moving waters also carry dirt, debris and pollution from urban streets tooquickly into our local drinking water reservoirs without allowing time for natural filtration.
Many years ago, farmers’ plows permanently changed the natural water holding features that are characteristicof the Blackland Prairie. Before that, with far less runoff, this stream flowed much more gently and slowly. We know this is true both from written accounts and the fact that there are still some very old trees near the banks. As people continue to cover the ground with pavement and other surfaces that don’t permit rainfall to soak in, water that falls as rain moves ever more quickly into the creeks and streams as runoff. Water quality and availability is a major issue that will affect Texas in the coming years. Scientists and environmentalists are racing to develop solutions to runoff, erosion and water quality problems that will affect your future very soon. To find out how you can learn more about being a good steward of our water resources, contact your local Texas Agrilife Extension Service, and ask about the educational opportunities they have scheduled.
||Tree tagged # 178
|Pecan grove, significance of grove, information on trees, etc.
||The tree marked #178 is a pecan tree that is part of a pecan grove planted here years ago. The pecan (Carya illinionensis) is the state tree of Texas for good reasons! It is one of the most useful, versatile, beautiful and economically important trees around. Most people are familiar with the tasty pecan nuts that both people and animals love to eat, but other parts of the tree are useful too. The wood from pecan trees is hard and beautifully patterned, making it useful for furniture making. Settlers on the prairie frontier many years ago were glad to find pecans growing near the creeks that ran through the prairies. Most importantly, the nutritious nuts stored well and kept them alive during the coldest winters. With pecans supplying food for squirrels too, the settlers could count on squirrel meat for their stewpot. The pecan twigs, leaves and the outer nut husksalso contain lots of tannins, which the settlers used to make inks, natural dyes for hair and cloth, and astringent and antiseptic medicinal washes--long before commercial anti-fungals and antibiotics were available. Tannin solutions were also used in preparing (tanning) animal hides for use and sale. It wasn’t possible to make a quick trip to a local doctor or well stocked store like it is for us today, so having a pecan tree around to provide food, medicine, dyes, firewood and furniture made life just a little easier, and whether or not we use them in all the same ways the early settlers did, we can still appreciate their beauty and shade today.
||Trail by Large Bur Oak
|Bur Oak tree, significance of age and size, erosion of roots along creek bed.
||Look up! The very, very large tree you see here perchedright at the edge of the creek bank, is a bur oak, or mossy cup oak (Quercus macrocarpa). You may see some very large leaves on it with rounded lobes, and some astonishingly large acorns too. Look on the ground to find pieces of last year’s acorns. The acorns of a bur oak can be as big as golf balls! The rounded lobes on the leaves tell us that this is a member of the white oak group of oaks, and that its acorns will be less bittertasting and therefore more attractive to wildlife. Squirrels run to eat these as soon as they fall, burying the acorns from other less tasty trees for use later. Years ago, people ate lots of acorns for food too, preparing them in ways that removed the bitter tannins before use. Oak trees have strong, dense wood, great for furniture and firewood, but difficult to cut. One of the forgotten uses of huge old oak trees is their use as navigational landmarks for early travelers through this area. They could be seen from great distances, towering above the rest of the trees, and since they are usually found near water sources, provided the weary traveler with a convenient shady place to stop and refresh. The tree here is much older than anyone alive today, and other bur oak trees from Collin County have been found to bemore than two hundred years old. A stately giant of this size has more than a few hollow places and nooks that provide homes for animals building nests in and around the tree. Woodpeckers, opossums, squirrels, raccoons, owls, and a host of smaller animals take advantage of the food and shelter it provides. It may look quiet and peaceful to you right now, but if you could see all the creatures living in it all at once, it would look like a major metropolitan city, bustling with life and activity. Sadly, this grand old specimen may soon be only a memory. The creek below flows fast and furious after a heavy rain and has exposed most of the roots on one side of the tree already. One day, no one knows when, this giant will fall. Little can be done to stop water erosion of this kind once it has started, and although we are still looking for solutions, chances are not good that they will come in time to save this magnificent tree.
||Bird Box by Pecan Tree
|Lower meadow and motte of Pecan Trees, this can relate to the info regarding tree # 178.
||The nest box mounted near the pecan tree was put here to help out the eastern bluebird population that lives in the meadow. Bluebirds are cavity nesters. They don’t build their nests outside in the open. Instead, they prefer to find a handy hollowed out tree with just the right sized hole, at just the right height. They are also pretty picky about the kind of habitat they prefer. You probably won’t see bluebirds in the middle of the woods. They like to be out in the open, near big spaces of grass that isn’t too tall, but still at the edges where there are shrubs and small trees to sit in. Their brilliant blue backs and brick red chests aren’t the only things that are appealing about bluebirds. They eat a tremendous number of pesky insects and sing sweetly too. Bluebirds are year round residents in Texas, but habitat loss has meant trouble for the bluebird population. They really need those wide open spaces,with edge cover, near water, and with nest sites, to hunt and raise their families properly. Many of the placesthey used to live won’t work for them anymore. People can help keep bluebird populations healthy by providing nest boxes in suitable habitat--with all the sizes and heights just the way bluebirds like them--for the bluebirds to use. Once the boxes are installed, people need to check and make sure there is adequate protection from snakes and other predators too. One of the worst enemies of the bluebird is the very common English sparrow—an alien species that was not originally found in the United States. These sparrows, while not fussy at all, also like a hollow box to nest in, and will kill bluebird babies, destroy bluebird eggs, and take over the nest boxes when they can. If you own more land than a typical suburban backyard and want to try to attract bluebirds, information on all that bluebirds need is available on the internet.
||Small Tree by Wetlands Basin Drainage Ditch
||The shallow wetlands drained by this ditch were naturally formed on the floodplain of Rowlett Creek. During flood events, the area along the creek receives sandy and silty sediments carried by the flood waters, resulting in the buildup of levees along both sides of the creek. These levees act as barriers to trap water behind the levees on lower elevation areas, resulting in wetland depressions and wetland swales. These depressions and swales on the Lower Meadow are very shallow, but do hold water during wetter seasons. The ditch pattern seen on the Lower Meadow was built many years ago when farmers wished to drain these wet areas so that they could be farmed.
||Tree line along old fence line
|habitat along wooded fence line
||From where you stand, you can see a long slim line of trees and bushes that cuts across the Connemara Meadow Preserve and divides it into two sections. Chances are good that this line of trees represents the line where an old fence ran across the meadow. The farmer in charge of the land at that time may have wanted to keep livestock separate from crops, or maybe he fenced part of the land off to allow him to rotate his grazing stock onto different areas of the land. Rotational grazing allows the tastiest grasses to grow and recover from grazing pressures while cattle are off in a different section. Fence posts were often made of bois d’arc wood in this part of the state because of its famous ability to resist rot and insects even when it’s in contact with the soil. Sometimes, with enough moisture, one of the fence posts would even grow roots and sprout a bois d’arc tree where it was placed. Anywhere humans put a fencebirds like to perch on its fence posts and wires. While they’re sitting, they’re busy digesting their last meal of seed bearing fruits, and when they pass those seeds on through, they are planting the next generation of seed bearing plants right along where the fence runs. If allowed to grow unchecked, that old fence line becomes a row of trees like these. Fencerows with understory brush provide great habitat for birds, small mammals and insects, with plenty of cover to hide from the larger predators. Species that don’t like to live out in the wide open prairies can live here, promoting greater diversity of species in the Connemara Meadow Preserve. The lines of trees and brush serve another ecological purpose. As the wind comes whipping through, lines of trees slow it down making it lose energy, which means it’s less possible for the wind to carry away a significant amount of topsoil during the dry summer. Not only is the old fencerow one of the best bird watching spots in the Connemara Meadow, it’s a working soil conservation tool as well.
||Bird box in upper meadow
|Habitat on Upper Meadow
||The bird box is placed in the highest area of conservancy – the upper meadow. It is also situated in a drier part of the habitat than the areas below the treeline. The bird box is primarily for Eastern Bluebirds to raise their young, although other cavity nesters such as titmice, chickadees, wrens and may nest here. Starlings and house sparrows, a frequently seen bird in the Collin County area, are always a problem for Bluebirds. Both species are non-native, introduced from Europe, and present a challenge to local birds because they aggressively take over available nest sites. The plants that grow there survive and thrive in thedrier soil conditions. For agricultural purposes, the whole upper meadow has been terraced to prevent erosion, thus you will see the stair-like terraces visible from here.
|Habitat along Western Property Boundary
||Prior to the development of the conservancy preserve a large part of the land was used to run cattle. Bordering on the land were roads and fences. Sets of wooden stairs, stiles, were constructed to allow people to cross the fence without the risk of a gate that might allow the escape of the cattle. These stiles are left over from that time.
||Hardwood Trees Along Fenceline.
|Habitat along wooded Western Property Boundary
||Similar to Stop #7, the straight line of trees observed along the western boundary of the Meadow are a result birds. The “center” of this corridor of trees is an old rural gravel roadway. It is not uncommon to find similar lines of trees along old roadways where birds would roost on the fencelines and in the scattered stands of trees after feasting on tree and shrub seeds, then drop the undigested seeds in their poop. It is difficult to mow very close to fencelines, so trees will grow up along these corridors unless the farmers routinely cleared the woody vegetation. These wooded lines now form excellent habitats and cover for many forms of wildlife. This wide corridor of trees also creates a good visual block to the adjoining residential development. Some of the trees found along this wooded line include hackberry, cedar elm, soapberry, deciduous holly, American elm, and an understory of coralberry and vines. You can also observe new volunteer saplings of soapberry, cedar elm and red oak colonizing the unmowed areas adjacent to the existing treelines.
||Bluebird Box by Large Willow Tree
||N 33.085283 W 96.703383
||Wetland Swale and Willow Trees
||The Bluebird box in the lower meadow is placed in one of the wettest areas of the conservancy. Like other bird boxes in the conservancy, this box was put in primarily for Blue birds to raise their young. During times of rain or snow, the ground may be saturated and puddles will collect between the grass clumps and in the low areas. Animal trails crisscross this area indicated by indentations and, sometimes, an occasional footprint. Larger animals such as raccoons, possums and coyotes may successfully grab a meal here because the rodents, frogs and crawfish are more available in the area. These animals will eat nearly anything. Crawdad holes – which may or may not have "chimneys" – spot the landscape here. The vegetation reflects the wetter conditions favored by the several willow trees that border the bird box,and some of the grasslike sedges found nearby. Be sure to look closely at the nearby plants. Do you notice any differences from what you have seen in other parts of the preserve?
||Entry sign to Connemara Meadow Preserve
||N 33° 5'17.58"
||This metal sign marks the entryway to the Preserve. Volunteers have planted a wildscape garden around the sign as a demonstration area of native plants and other plants adapted to North Texas. Shade tolerant flowers, shrubs and grasses can be found at the north end of the garden. Look for plants such as scarlet sage, inland sea oats, red turks cap, and shrubs such as coralberry. The southern end of the garden receives a bit more light, and those plantings contain more sun tolerant flowers and shrubs. Look for plants such as gregg’s sage, Shasta daisy, blackfoot daisy, and shrubs such as red yucca and flame sumac.
||Metal Connemara Sign and Alma Pond
|| N 33.09147
|Pond Area by Alma Road
||There are many metal signs along the borders of the preserve. No signs or markers are allowed within the preserve. The pond at the given coordinates is present year round and is mostly maintained with water runoff from higher grounds to its north and west. It is very biologically active due to its timely drying, contracting, flooding, expansion cycles. The flora and fauna can depend on this regular pattern for growth, reproduction and carrying out a complete lifecycle.
The pond has a regular runoff that empties into Rowlett Creek a quarter mile away and this runoff supports other plants and animals in a totally different eco-zone from the pond and its margins.
This water is carried by Rowlett Creek to other parts of the preserve and provides ground water that supports meadow like plants and animals.