The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary

eBird Link

Highlights:
-Excellent wetlands boardwalk
-Old growth bottomland hardwood forest
-Restored blackland prairie

Trail Length:
-6.5 miles total, split in to multiple trails.

The Location

The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is a 289 acre non-profit preserve. Founded by Ms. Bessie Heard in 1967, the sanctuary opened when she was 80 years old. The property includes a small but quality natural science museum within the main building.

This is a popular spot for family weekend outings, so expect younger children in small groups to be scattered about the trails on Saturdays and Sundays.

The front counter and gift shop.

Birding Recommendations

The Heard wildlife sanctuary is wonderful place to explore in its entirety if you have the time, but for a walking route that hits all the habitat types with minimal redundancy, consider the following path optimized for birders:

From the main building take Laughlin Loop to the bottom of the hill and step briefly into the Hoot Owl trail. This is where the massive Burr Oaks grow and is a good spot to pause, watch, and listen. Woodpeckers and woodland passerines are a sure bet here.

Laughlin Loop Trailhead

Continue up Laughlin Loop, pass through the Animals of the World exhibits, and start on the Bluestem Trail. This will take you along restored blackland prairie and through a wooded area. The edge habitat where grassland meets woodland can be good for bird activity, so keep watch each time you transition from one to the other.

Along the Bluestem Trail.

The Bluestem Trail makes a T intersection with the Wood Duck Trail. Turn right. This will take you to a wonderful boardwalk over the wetlands.

Beginning of the boardwalk on the Wood Duck Trail.

The water levels here can vary significantly depending on season and recent rainfall. But unless it’s completely dried up, the wetlands always have something interesting to offer.

The boardwalk over the wetlands.

In winter months look for ducks hiding around corners and along vegetated edges. The second dead-end point along the boardwalk is a decent vantage point to try to look through the trees and spot ducks floating around in the inaccessible area of the wetlands. From early March through May, Great Blue Herons can be seen across the water nesting up high in the large trees.

Stay on the Wood Duck Trail and make your way back to the main building. Skip the Cedar Brake Trail, it’s often quiet and may not be worth your time unless you’re targeting sparrows in the winter. Part of that trail does gives access to a good grassy patch hidden at the back of the property.

Blackland Prairie after exiting the boardwalk.

Note that this recommended walking path is just over 2 miles in distance. Only doing the Bluestem and Wood Duck Trails would cut that down to 1.6 miles.

Overall, The Heard is a great place to bird because of its quality of old growth woodlands and well managed habitat, and its relative ease of access by clean and maintained trails. For birding enthusiasts, this would be a fun location to do a big day during peak migration. The McKinney Christmas Bird Count (usually the day after Christmas) always has a group that only birds The Heard and takes the whole day to cover the property. Joining the Christmas Bird Count can be a great way to gain access to otherwise off limits areas here.

The Hoot Owl Trail

Although it’s mostly skipped in the recommended birding path for this property, feel free to explore this .5 mile trail if time and energy permits. This trail is interesting because of its elevation change and overlook at the top. The view is partially obscured by trees, but this is actually a good thing for a birder, as it puts you up in the canopy with the birds. It’s also a great spot to watch for soaring raptors.

Bottomland Hardwood habitat

In spring months there are sections of beautiful wildflower blooms along this trail. After the peak elevation at the overlook, the trail descends down into the bottomland hardwood forest where the giant trees are hundreds of years old. This trail is great for an enjoyable hike, the only downside for birders is habitat doesn’t change much. The trees just get smaller at the top of the hill and larger at the bottom.

The Sycamore Trail

If woodland passerines or woodpeckers are your goal then this is a great trail. The bottomland hardwood forest provides the trail with almost total canopy cover throughout its entire length. A big point of interest here is the Perkins Sycamore, a massive 150 year old Sycamore tree. The nearby bench is a good spot to rest and watch for bird activity.

While there is no lack of quality of habitat on this trail, if maximizing your species list is the goal then committing to this trail may not be strategic, however enjoyable it may otherwise be.

Hours & Entry Fee

The entry fee is $10 for ages 12 and up, or $7 for those 60 and up.

Hours
Mon: Closed
Tue: 9am – 5pm
Wed: 9am – 5pm
Thu: 9am – 5pm
Fri: 9am – 5pm
Sat: 9am – 5pm
Sun: 1pm – 5pm

The Heard opens at 7:30am every second Saturday of the month.

From the gift shop, take the hallway to the often empty conference room to view the feeders.

Click Here for an online pdf trail map.

Last Updated March 22, 2019

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