The Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is a recent discovery for me!  I have lived in Allen for about 13 years now, and I knew of The Heard, and I had actually been there when Zach was very little.  We went to a birthday party there for a friend.

We spent our time in a little party room where they brought out some fun animals and taught the kids about them.  It was really fun.  But…because Zach was about 3 years old, we enjoyed the party, and then we left.

Little did I know, I had missed the most beautiful spot that is located within just a few miles of my house.  In a conversation I was having with a friend about bird photography, she mentioned that the Heard was a great place to spot and photograph birds.

I was instantly intrigued.  So, I looked it up on line, and over Christmas break, I dragged my entire family out there for a short hike (with my Canon 5D Mark IV, of course)!

We happened to pick a beautiful day to hike.  It was about 55 degrees and sunny.  Not too hot, not too cold!  And…not too crowded because we got there right as it opened.  I had my daypack all packed up and ready to go with my camera, a few bottles of water, some snacks, and we were off.  I was amazed when I first walked out the door of the little museum/gift shop.

How could such a beautiful place be so close to my home, and I knew nothing about it?  We set off on a path that would end up being about 2-3 miles round trip, and we would end up right back at the beginning of the path where we started.  That should be a good start for me and my crew.

Here we are – 1/2 way through our hike. There are lots of places to sit, relax, take pictures, and have a drink! We stopped many times along the way to enjoy our beautiful surroundings!

I was right.  At the end of the 2-3 mile hike, my kids were ready to play at the little log cabin village, check out the dinosaur statues, buy some popcorn from the little gift shop, and of course, find a little toy to take home with them.

However, I was hungry for more.  I could’ve stayed there all day with my camera, my backpack, and my bottle of water.  There were so many nice places to sit and relax.  Well, not with my kids in tow, but I can picture myself there while my kids are at school enjoying a nice, quiet hike with all the critters and birds running around.

You can find this inside the museum in the gift shop. What a wonderful woman with a great vision!

I became very curious about this special place, so I started reading up on it before writing this post.  Apparently, we owe this wonderful place to a woman named Bessie Heard.  She had a vision, and devoted most of her life to the people and the city of McKinney.

Her greatest contribution to this area is the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary.  Once you visit this magical place, you will agree.  And to me, it’s amazing that she was 80 years old when she decided to preserve a place for future generations to experience nature in such a wonderful way.

The Heard opened up on October 1 in 1967, and now there are more than 100,000 visitors each year.  Well…now there are 100,001 visitors – I will be frequenting this place often.  Sometimes with my kids, and sometimes without!

On the Heard Museum Website, I learned about their mission.  It said that the mission of the Heard Wildlife Sanctuary is threefold.

  • Provide the best possible habitat for native and endemic wildlife species
  • Train future land stewards and naturalists through habitat restoration and wildlife management
  • Preserve functional examples of pre-settlement Collin County ecosystems. In part, the sanctuary exists to restore human connection to the land

I was so surprised at how many programs were offered at the Heard Museum.  I was even more surprised that I had not utilized this place before now!  However, the good news is that now I know all about it, and I plan to use it to its fullest!

Some of the programs offered here include:  birding, birthday parties, animal presentations, canoe programs, night hikes, ropes courses, story times, and summer nature camps.  So many things to choose from.

As a bird enthusiast, and a lover of bird (and other) photography, I am especially interested in birding programs.  I think I’m going to start by going to enjoy one of their Second Saturday Bird Walks.

According to the website, monthly Bird Walks at the Heard The Heard Museum and Prairie & Timbers Audubon Society (PTAS) offer guided bird walks on the Heard Sanctuary. Walks begin promptly at 8 AM and last 1.5 hours (with optional extended time if some participants are interested).

If you come a few minutes late the group may have already started their walk so it is important to be on time. Walks are included in regular admission. These bird walks are intended to help beginning and intermediate birders with bird spotting and identification techniques.

There will also be plenty of opportunity for questions. Prairie, woodland, and wetland habitats are included in these walks.  These walks take place on the second Saturday of each month from September – June.  I’ll let you know how it goes once I decide I’m brave enough to try one!

We made this little friend as we crossed the bridges through the wetlands area!

I’m also intrigued by the Seasonal Night Hikes.  These take place a few times a year – once in the Winter, once in the Spring, and once in the Summer.  The website describes this as a time to explore the thrilling sights, smells, and sounds of night with Heard Trail Guides.

Night hikers will be encouraged to sharpen their senses to be able to spot signs of animal life and learn more about the inhabitants of the Heard.  This sounds like fun, but I hope they let you bring a flashlight!  I bet it’s totally creepy and cool!

The Night Hike I’m most interested in is the Owl Prowl Night Hike!  For this event, you can preregister and bring your whole family.  You will see a live owl presentation, and then you stay for a guided night hike through the sanctuary trails!  Cool, right?  But again, I’m hoping they’ll let me bring a flashlight!

They have the cages set up in a way that lets you get up close and personal with the animals!

Oh…I almost forgot.  My children’s favorite part of the entire place is the animals just at the beginning of the trails.  They take care of animals that are injured or animals that can’t survive in the wild.  They have quite an impressive collection, and if you come at feeding time, you can learn all about each animal.

The people who work there are always happy to tell you all about the animals – where they came from, what they eat, how long they will be staying, etc…  We learned a lot about the animals in the cages.  We happened to arrive right at feeding time.

All the animals were out roaming around playing with the trainers – waiting for some yummy food.  It was really cool to see it up close.  We didn’t even have to fight to get to a spot where we could see – we almost had the place to ourselves!

Look at this sweet animal! In a nice, safe place at the Heard – one of its legs was broken (and amputated) so getting around is difficult. So glad there is a safe place for these animals!

Having only been there now a couple of times, I have not had the chance to explore all the different trails, but I plan to try them all out before Spring!  After our first visit, with our general admission tickets, we went back to the check in desk immediately, and purchased an annual family pass.

Now I can go any time I want to, I can by-pass the line, sign in, flash my pass, and hit the trails!  What a great deal, right?

And if you’re interested in birds, this is the place.  Whether you are photographing them, or just an avid birdwatcher, get ready.  I was overwhelmed by the number of different birds I saw while hiking.  I got some great pictures, but when you have a very loud hiking party, capturing photos of them is very difficult.

Look closely, and you will see what I believe is a Yellow Rumped Warbler!  Of course, I’m not 100% sure, but I think that’s what he is.

My sweet little helpers would come running up behind me shouting “Mom…I see a bird.”  And off they would fly before I got the shot.  Oh well…there’s always next time, right?

If you haven’t been yet, I highly recommend checking it out.  If you are not from this area, I would certainly see what nature preserves they have around your home.  If you find a good one, please let me know.  Obviously, I need people to point these places out to me, since I’ve lived practically down the street from the Heard for many years without knowing what a wonderful little gem was hidden so close to me!

So the part that blows my mind is how beautiful the Heard is even in the winter months.  I cannot imagine the beauty when it’s spring time.  Everything will be green and flowers blooming.  I am so excited to be a part of this place!  Have fun, take some pictures, and let me know what your favorite part was.  If you’re brave enough to try the zip line, let me know how that is!  Until next time…

Here are a few more pictures from our first trip to the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary…

When you are on the trails, it’s like you are totally out of the city. You can’t hear anything but the wind blowing and the sounds of critters scampering around through the leaves!

Being able to get so close to the cages is wonderful. And…when we visited, all the animals were out and very active.

All along the trails, there are informative signs telling you all about the area you are in and the animals you might see along the way!

Here is one of the crazy animals we spotted on the trail – Zach! What a nut!

Another sign filled with all the information you need to know while traveling a particular portion of each trail!

All photos in this blog post taken with the Canon 5D Mark IV using the Canon 70-200mm zoom lens.  See below for links to get more information on both of these.