Dallas is, for me, the City of Egrets.
And herons. Let’s just say, City of Wading Birds.
I realize this may surprise readers who don’t know Dallas. But during the month I recently spent there, I could almost count on seeing a heron or egret a day – and more, if I went looking for them. Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons, you name the wader and there’s a good chance Dallas has it. Even, to my own surprise, Wood Storks, Ibises and Roseate Spoonbills, none of which have I seen, but all of which have been beautifully photographed and documented in the Great Trinity Forest, within city limits, by DFW Urban Wildlife and Dallas Trinity Trails, two amazing websites.
Today, though, I’m talking about egrets and herons.
A lone Snowy Egret fishes here in White Rock Lake with the Dallas skyline as a backdrop.
This is where I would come to perform. Well, not right here, but inside the Bath House Cultural Center, just yards from the shore. Can you imagine a finer location to perform a play that explores urban wildlife?
Snowy egret hunkers down on a piling.
A Great Blue Heron stands on the dock with its wings spread.
Great blue heron pretends to be a cormorant.
The big bird stays in this posture, wings spread, barely moving, for at least 30 minutes. Cormorants sit with their wings spread to dry them, but I’ve never seen a heron in this position. A quick trip down Google Alley reveals that many bird species spread their wings as a way of gathering heat. Birders call it “sunning” or “sunbathing.” I find it hard – No, let me be honest. I find it, impossible to believe that any creature would need to warm itself up on a hot July afternoon in Dallas. It seems more plausible to me that it is drying its wings or even, somehow, using the posture to cool off by releasing heat. Any of my more knowledgeable birding friends care to weigh in?
Over by the spillway on the other side of the lake is another good spot for wader watching. A few Great Blue Herons fished among smaller birds.
Great Blue Heron with ducks
Great Blues are North America’s largest herons. They stand almost 4 feet tall with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. I’ve seen them in many places from Long Island to Portland, Oregon, and in habitats from freshwater rivers to salt marshes, and the sight is always thrilling.
Another Great Blue Heron.
And here is a Great Egret, another stunning creature.
Great Egret on the ledge.
Smaller and more delicate in build than a Great Blue, the Great Egret is still a big bird at over 3 feet tall with a 4-foot wingspan.
Let’s leave the spillway, shall we, and head into the park.
Step this way.
Ah, look! Something is coming in for a landing near the concrete edge of the manmade lake.
A blurry far-away photo, but it tells the story.
Oh, what is that? Some kind of heron. Way too small for a Great Blue, but not quite like any of the other herons I’ve encountered. Later, when I get home to my bird books, I’ll discover that this beauty is a Tricolored Heron, which is not very common around Dallas.
What a beauty.
Its landing zone turns out to be quite close to a Snowy Egret.
An intruder in Snowy territory
The Snowy, which had first dibs on this fishing spot, continues to hunt.
Look at that foot!
It appears willing to share its watery turf.
But it keeps a beady eye on the whereabouts of the intruder.
If this bird had visible ears, they would be pricked.
And whenever the Tricolored Heron comes too close, the Snowy moves swiftly and aggressively toward it.
Hoofing it. As it were.
Several times, it moves directly at the Tricolored Heron.
Snowy on the move
And each time, the Tricolored seems to quickly read a warning in the Snowy’s movements, and retreats.
“Back off, buster.”
A rower glides past in one direction as a few ducks glide past in the other.
Gliding on the water.
Nearby, an enormous turtle hangs in the water like an ungainly ornament.
It is easily the size of a huge platter. Not a dinner plate, a platter. Or perhaps a hubcap. Look at the circle below the water to see the edge of its shell. Turtles are common in all the streams, lakes and creeks in Dallas, but this is far and away the biggest I’ve ever seen.
Not as big as these feral hogs traipsing through the Great Trinity Forest with a flock of over 100 Wood Storks, courtesy of Dallas Trinity Trails.
Check back soon for more on the beautiful and charming Tricolored Heron, including video.