On a camping trip last fall, I savored a rare moment of peace and quiet beside the lake while my husband and children were on a hike.
As I watched the rising sun cause the lake to sparkle like fireworks, suddenly a majestic bald eagle swooped right over my head.
It felt almost scripted, like I stumbled into a patriotic music video.
Even all these months later, it still amazes me that I live in a forest that also houses our national symbol of freedom.
In fact, living in East Texas, I find myself constantly fascinated by the animals here.
Here’s a list of animals you can find in East Texas:
1. Bald Eagles
Benjamin Franklin thought it was silly to choose this species for our national bird. He said the turkey buzzard was a much better fit.
Obviously, he wasn’t there that day on the lake.
- Fun fact: Bald Eagles can dive faster than you can legally drive anywhere in Texas (except the speedway) – up to 100 miles per hour! I mean who’s going to pull over a Bald Eagle on the hunt?
- How to find them: If you want to see one, hit the lake this fall or winter.
2. Red Cockaded Woodpecker
If you’re imaging Woody Woodpecker, you’re right on. He’s a local celebrity. He’ll even sign his autograph on the eaves of your house if you let him.
Better be nice to him, though, these birds have been on the endangered species list since 1970.
- How to find them: You’ll can visit Woody in state parks in northeast Texas.
3. White-tailed deer
While you can find Bambi and his parents roaming most areas in Texas, not just the Piney Woods, I never get over how athletic these beautiful animals are.
I love watching them jump or climb through fences and gracefully navigate running through the trees.
- Fun fact: The jury’s still out, but it’s widely believed that whitetail deer can’t see the color red. Some game ranch managers herd the animals into barns lit with only red lights when they need to medicate or work with wild deer to keep them calmer. (Maybe that’s why they never seemed to notice my red car coming down the highway in college.)
4. Prairie Vole
Not all the animals in East Texas are my favorite.
This rodent greatly enjoys relentlessly digging up my yard. I’m pretty sure there’s a scale replica of the NYC subway system under there.
- Fun fact: Prairie Voles are as fascinating to scientists because they mate for life. They even raise the babies together. It’s so sweet, but I still kind of hate them.
- How to find them: If you want to see a Prairie Vole, y’all c’mon over. You take them all home as pets if you want. Free of charge!
5. Rafinesque big-eared bat
It’s not going to win any beauty pageants, but the Rafinesque big-eared bat is like a trainwreck you can’t look away from.
If a jackrabbit and a chicken wing made a gremlin and you fed it after midnight, I think it would look something like this bat.
- Fun fact: They eat mosquitos, so what they lack in looks they make up in usefulness. (I’d take an ugly bat or even a vole over a mosquito any day!)
- How to find them: Personally, I’ll be leaving any hollow trees I find alone, in hopes that it can house one of these helpful creepers in our mutual war on mosquitos.
6. Bull Frog
I knew my kids would fit in in East Texas when the highlight of a weekend visit here was catching bull frogs at dusk. They’re everywhere!
Don’t worry, we released them. Since bullfrogs can live 16 years, I’ll wait a while before I count us safe from a mental-anguish lawsuit, or however frogs seek justice.
While I have no desire to join in collecting them, it’s amazing to me that they are such efficient animals.
- Fun Fact: A bullfrog can easily jump 6 feet, and they will eat anything they can fit in their mouths, including snakes.
7. Blue-tail skink
This past weekend, I spent way too long on the ground near my back porch looking at a blue-tail skink.
I’m not really a person who enjoys lizards that much, but that tail is completely mesmerizing. Speaking of which…
- Fun fact: Young skinks swish their tail to distract predators, so they can just shed the tail and escape. It will grow back darker later. They also like water. This one was drawn to a little puddle my water hose left after I watered the garden.
- How to find them: Check your puddles for electric blue-tailed tiny lizards, and you can see why I didn’t notice my legs falling asleep.
8. Eastern flying squirrel
The idea of a rodent that can fly definitely makes my nope list, but these little guys are almost cute – almost.
The good news is it can’t actually fly. It has a flap connecting its wrists to its ankles that can catch the air. It uses its back legs to steer, and it’s tail as a brake – like a furry little skydiver.
- Fun fact: They can launch themselves 150 feet which I find a little unnerving.
- How to find them: They are nocturnal, so if you want to see a rodent fly, I’ll be inside asleep. But you go ahead.
Named for their short tail, these fuzzy felines call most regions in Texas home, especially East Texas.
It’s hard to see them in the trees, which gives them a great advantage in hunting and helps them keep their kittens safe.
- Fun fact: While they are notorious for snatching the neighbors’ chickens, they don’t generally bother humans. That is good news because they can run up to 30 miles an hour! (I’m not sure I could run 30 miles in a week.)
10. River Otter
In the waters of East Texas, if you’re lucky, you might spot a river otter.
They don’t float on their backs like sea otters, so they’re a bit harder to see.
- Fun fact: As you explore, you might find a warn-down area next to a pond, called an otter slide. River otters use this to always go in and out of the water at the same place.
- How to find them: They’re like my kids and leave evidence everywhere they eat, so look for fish bones along the side of the slide. You will probably find five-toed tracks there as well because otters don’t wear shoes.