I’m often discovering wonderful places so close to home when I’m out with my camera, and the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is another one of those wonderful places you should add to your list of places you need to visit!

Zach, my 4th grader, came home from school one day last week talking all about the “cool birds” he got to see at school that day.  He mentioned several kinds of raptors – falcons, hawks, and owls.  He was so excited about it.

Once I received some pictures of the birds from his teacher, I knew this was a place I needed to check out.  I am so glad I did.  The Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is so close to where I live.  It is located in Lucas, Texas – about a 15 minute drive from my house.

This is Pippin, a Red-shouldered Hawk.  Pippin’s story is a common one. In 2003, he was found flying around a neighborhood and when approached, he actually landed on the roof of a car wanting food. He is an ‘imprint’ which somebody raised and released thinking they were helping him. Pippin was very hungry because he did not know how to hunt. But now, he has become a wonderful education ambassador with BPRC.

It is on the edge of Lake Lavon, a place I have hiked several times, but had never noticed the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center.  Now that I know about it, I will definitely be going back.  Over and over again.  With my kids, and sometimes without my kids!

I’m also going to explore what else is available at Lake Lavon.  On their website, I learned that Lake Lavon is one of the largest lakes in north Texas spanning 21,400 acres with 121 miles of shoreline. This recreational lake is great for camping, fishing, skiing, relaxing, and recreational boating. There are numerous parks located around the lake all of which you can find detailed information on this site.

These parks are primarily operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. There are plenty of nice beaches, campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, and other outdoor activities all at a reasonable cost.

Here is a view of Lake Lavon from the BPRC. Beautiful, right?

I also checked out the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center Website, and discovered that they were about to have a morning with many of their raptors out and around the property with their care-takers there to educate visitors on the birds and their stories.

And even better, they encouraged people to bring their cameras for wonderful photo opportunities.

I was so excited.  A day set up for photographers to take pictures of and learn about their raptors.  Does it get any better than that?

So I began reading up on the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center and learned many interesting things about this place.  If you visit the Blackland Prairie Website, you can get all kinds of information, including dates of upcoming events, their partners, information on each of their raptors, and much more.

The center is named after the prairie that once covered over 23,500 square miles of Texas stretching between the Red River to San Antonio.  It is a rehabilitation & conservation education organization that specializes in fostering an understanding of how important healthy ecosystems are to birds of prey.

The Blackland Prairie Raptor Center’s Mission Statement is this:  Blackland Prairie Raptor Center is dedicated to environmental preservation through public education and the conservation of birds of prey and wildlife in their natural habitat.

In August of 2004, the center was incorporated as a nonprofit organization.  It is led by a group of individuals whose goal was to create a place where the people of North Texas could learn about and have an experience with birds of prey, in an effort to understand the importance of these birds in the environment.

This is SweetPea, and Eastern Screech Owl. SweetPea was found by a family who took her in as a pet and kept her in a rabbit cage. The family realized it was illegal to have her and took her to the appropriate authorities. She was in good condition, but as an ‘imprint’ she was non-releasable and transferred to BPRC in August 2004 as an education ambassador.

The property is approximately 70 miles northeast of Dallas, and they offer educational presentations to schools, camps and environmental groups, or just about anyone interested in learning about raptors.  In their first year, they reached more than 5,000 people.  Amazing, right?

Blackland Prairie Raptor Center signed a lease in 2007 with the US Army Corps of Engineers to use Brockdale Park (right next to Lake Lavon) to begin setting up and building what they envisioned for the center.  They are hoping to one day build a facility for their education raptors, and have a clinic for raptor rehabilitation.  They also would like to plan on a permanent education building that would be open to the public.

They had volunteers all around the BPRC with different birds out. You could get up close and personal for photos and questions. It was great!

So…back to the morning I headed over to the center for the photo opportunity.  As I pulled up, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was a little nervous.  Was I going to be in a classroom setting with a bunch of photographers chatting about cameras and birds?

Would there be anyone there that I knew?  Probably not, given the fact that I know very few people who are into birds the way I am!

I asked both of my kids and my husband if they wanted to join me.  They all said “NO,” especially when they found out that I was getting up early on Saturday morning to make it to this place by 7:45.  So…I was on my own to figure this whole thing out.

I got out of my car with my camera in hand, and was greeted by so many nice volunteers.  I filled out the needed paperwork, and was on my way.  It was set up in such a simple way – the birds were spread all around the property with their keepers.  Some were sitting in trees, some were sitting on logs, one owl was sitting on a little barn-like building, and I was free to roam the property at my own pace until 11:00 when the event was set to end.

I was in Heaven!  I was getting my steps in, because the property was quite large, and I was getting to photograph these beautiful raptors.  I was up close and personal!  It was very tempting to reach out and touch them all – yes…I was that close, but we were not able to do that.

This is one of their American Kestrels! Love these guys! I have not seen one of these out in the wild yet, but I am on the lookout!

But…I was able to get very close with my camera and get some wonderful photos.  In addition to getting to take photos of the birds, the handlers were so knowledgeable, and shared so much interesting information with us about each bird.

There is also some sort of back story to each of their birds.  Some of them were brought in because of an injury, others were brought in by owner surrender, and many other sad stories that made me so happy that this place is in existence to take care of these animals.  All of the keepers I spoke with seemed to love their job and their birds.  You could just see from the looks on their faces how happy they were to be doing this kind of work.

There was a gentleman there that I spoke with named, Erich Neupert, the Executive Director, and he was telling me all about the plans they have for the future of Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, and it sounds amazing.  I was talking to him about the beautiful hiking trails they have on their property, and how it would be so nice to come during the week to hike these trails with my camera and look for birds.  He said that eventually, they would like for the center to be open for public hiking.

This is just one of the beautiful trails on the property of BPRC. I’m excited that they will one day be open for hiking!

That would be great!  Another safe and beautiful trail to hike that is not too far from my home.  Here’s hoping they are able to raise the money they need to begin all of the projects they have in mind for this center.

If you are interested in donating, you can do so on the Blackland Prairie Website.  Every little bit helps!  And believe me, once you see this place and meet the wonderful people in charge, you will see that your money is going to a great place!

Another successful adventure in the books, and I’ve discovered another wonderful place that is so close to my home.  I’m excited to follow them on the Blackland Prairie Facebook Page so I can keep up with all the fun events they host each month.  If you get the chance, you should definitely check it out.  Well worth the drive out to Lucas!  Until next time…