Red Belly Writing School offers classes on a variety of topics related to fiction and non-fiction writing. It also offers a unique Creativity Workshop for adult creatives of all kinds (not just writers). 

The school is owned and operated by award-winning freelance writer & author, Mary O. Parker.  

Mary O. holds class outdoors whenever possible for many reasons, one of which is that doing so frees us to better connect with our creative selves. She believes that society's disengagement from the natural world has resulted in increased disengagement from authentic expression.  

 See the school's current list of offerings at

Professional wildlife & nature photographer & owner of Explore in Focus™, Jeff Parker holds many of his photography workshops at Red Belly Ranch.

Here, Jeff offers photo workshops on native Texas wildflowers, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Painting Buntings, backyard birds, & macro photography.  

Jeff also offers a Nature Photography Play Day at Red Belly Ranch twice a year. 

All of his events are geared toward photographers who are naturally curious.

Click on the "Join Me" tab on Jeff's website to see what he is currently offering.

About Red Belly Ranch

Nature-lovers, Jeff and Mary O. Parker own the slice of central-Texas post-oak savannah they’ve dubbed “Red Belly Ranch” and hold their respective instructional workshops & classes here.

Their small nature preserve is named for the Red-bellied Woodpeckers that make their homes here in abundance. These entertaining birds make great—albeit, vociferous—muses!

Two small ponds attract wildlife. What we see varies from season to season and according to the availability of water elsewhere, but Great Blue Heron, egrets, Whistling Ducks, and Red-eared Sliders visit often. So, too, do deer, foxes, turkey, opossums, and raccoons.

The ponds host a plethora of dragonflies, damselflies, and frogs of all shapes and sizes (and sounds!). Plenty of animal tracks decorate the ponds’ edges and make for fun photography abstracts (and guessing games --- "Whose is it?"). You might also spot cottontails and fox squirrels.

Birds abound! Eastern Bluebirds (late-winter), Painted Buntings (summer), Pileated Woodpeckers (year-round), Downy Woodpeckers (year-round), American Goldfinch (winter), Cedar Waxwings (winter), Barn Swallows (sprint), Tufted Titmice (year-round), Carolina Wren (year-round), Northern Cardinals (year-round), Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (summer and fall), Pine Warblers (year-round), Roadrunners (year-round), Blue Jays (year-round), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (year-round --- of course!), and more fly through these woods and small meadows.

In fall and spring we're especially blessed with butterflies (October rocks!). Monarchs, queens, and no less than 14 other species have been documented in our butterfly gardens. 

Season to season, year to year, you will find various plants in bud, bloom, or berry at Red Belly Ranch.

Loblolly pines, post-oaks, yaupon, eastern red cedar, toothache trees, honey mesquite, and at least two species of ash, help provide wildlife with shade, sustenance, and habitat. Each year brings a different mix of native grasses and forbs depending on the weather.  But we always have little bluestem --- a favorite! 

Red Belly Ranch keeps one photo blind up year-round, while others are put in place as needed for workshops or Nature Photography Play Days.

(MEMBERSHIPS: Mary belongs to the Texas Bluebird Society and the Native Plant Society of Texas. Jeff belongs to the North American Nature Photography Association [NANPA]. Both are members of the Bastrop Country Audubon Society.)

Red Belly Ranch in spring time

Red Bellied Woodpecker, photo by Jeff Parker


Red Belly Ranch is located 8 miles from historic downtown Smithville, Texas first certified "Film Friendly Community," where “Tree of Life” starring Brad Pitt and at least a dozen other films have been made. While visiting us, be sure and put aside some time to check out Smithville’s wonderful historic Main Street, including its unique collection of shops, as well as the Lost Pines Artisans Alliance.

Where’s Smithville?

On a map, connect the dots for the cities of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Smithville sits about in the middle of the triangle you formed by connecting those dots.

Travel Time:

FROM HOUSTON: About 1 ¾ hours
FROM SAN ANTONIO: About 1 ½ hours
FROM AUSTIN: About 1 ¼ hours
FROM DALLAS/FT. WORTH: About 4 ½ hours

The Red Belly Ranch is located 8 miles from historic downtown Smithville.
It takes about 15 minutes to drive to Red Belly from Smithville.
It takes about 25 minutes to drive to Red Belly from La Grange.
It takes about 35 minutes to drive to Red Belly from Bastrop.

PLEASE NOTE: Red Belly Ranch is a private venue and does not rent the site to private parties. Do you represent an Audubon Society, camera club, writing group, or other group related to what we do? Please contact us if you’re interested in a group rate.