Shared from the 11/25/2023 Houston Chronicle eEdition

100 years of appreciating, preserving wildlife

Houston Outdoor Nature Club to mark occasion with a celebration


A northern flicker, of the red-shafted form, perches on a post.


Male ruby-crowned kinglets raise their crest when they get agitated.


The white-lined sphinx moth is a diurnal moth that feeds like a hummingbird.

Photos by Kathy Adams Clark/Contributor

The Houston Outdoor Nature Club, which conducted the first area Christmas Bird Count, is celebrating its 100 year anniversary.

Kathy Adams Clark/Contributor

The 100th anniversary celebration of the Houston Outdoor Nature Club will be held at the Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary on Dec. 2.


What: 100th anniversary celebration of the Houston Outdoor Nature Club on Dec 2.

Where: Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary at 2001 FM 945 S.

Activities: Meet members of the ONC, learn about the importance and preservation of the unspoiled 700-acre wilderness sanctuary, walk the trails, see plants, trees, birds and other natural features of the once expansive East Texas forest.

Fees: Free to all ages. The sanctuary is also open to visitors on the fourth Saturday of each month when the gates open at 10 a.m. Outdoor Nature Club membership dues are $20 for individuals, $30 for families.

The Houston Outdoor Nature Club invites nature lovers to celebrate its 100th anniversary at the Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary, north of Cleveland.

In April 1923, Dr. R.A. Sell, Mrs. Robert Kerr, Miss Mabel Cassell and Joseph Heiser Jr. began organizing the club. Their goal was to engage people in studying and preserving the Houston region’s incomparable natural heritage of plants and wildlife. The budding club would cooperate with other national conservation organizations; it joined the then-named National Association of Audubon Societies in 1924. Outdoor Nature Club members conducted the Houston area’s first Bird Census on Dec. 21, 1924, during National Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Historical records of the 1924 Houston count from Audubon archives show four people participated, although their names aren’t listed. The pioneering Houston birders tallied birds within a count circle 15 miles in diameter, as prescribed by National Audubon, with the center of the circle in present-day Baytown. The circle has remained near the original Baytown location during Christmas Bird Counts every year since.

Those four Outdoor Nature Club members recorded more than 40 bird species on that first count, including such winter residents as northern flickers, brown creepers and ruby-crowned kinglets. Think about that small group of people conducting the count without modern-day bird identification field guides, 21st-century binoculars or digital cameras with telephoto lenses. Instead, they used clunky binoculars and recorded bird observations with detailed written field notes.

But the ONC was not just a bird club. Its members were an eclectic group of nature enthusiasts studying native plants, trees, butterflies, moths and seashells.

They also advocated for nature preservation, leading them to write letters endorsing legislation establishing Florida’s Everglades National Park. Meanwhile, they worked with the National Audubon Society to set aside Texas’ Vingt-et-un Islands in Trinity Bay as a bird sanctuary for roseate spoonbills, which at the time were endangered. The birds had suffered a steep population decline due to being slaughtered by the “feather trade” for women’s hats during the 1800s.

The ONC chose the spoonbill for its symbol, which led to an ornithological monthly publication named The Spoonbill.

During the 1950s, the ONC began creating nature study groups such as the Ornithology Group, the Botany/Entomology Group, the Conchology Group, and the Photography Group. The only group remaining today is the Ornithology Group.

Email Gary Clark at . He is the author of “Book of Texas Birds,” with photography by Kathy Adams Clark (Texas A&M University Press).

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