Archive for August 2012

Dallas: City of Egrets, City of Herons

August 8, 2012

Dallas is, for me, the City of Egrets.

Snowy egret

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.

Sun-kissed Snowy.

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.

Largest turtle

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.

Damn, it’s hot!

August 6, 2012

 I over-walked the dog yesterday. Can you tell?

“Damn, woman, it’s hot. Have mercy and get a guy a drink.”

Home From Dallas, Celebrating NYC

August 4, 2012

I’m home!  After a wonderful month in Dallas, rehearsing and performing my play, NYC Coyote Existential (more on coyotes in Dallas in a future post), New York’s parks seem impossibly green. As I wrote in the play, the summer green of the Northeast can seem “almost hallucinogenic, layer upon layer of vertigo-inducing green, like something out of Apocalypse Now or H.P. Lovecraft, the color alive and sentient.”

Of course, everyone here in NYC is busy complaining about the heat. But hey, after a month in Dallas with one day after another of three-digit temperatures, well, I’m just not buying all the moaning. Sure it’s hot, and yes, it’s soupy.  NYC heat is like going a few rounds in a clothes dryer with a wet towel. Hot. But Dallas at 108 degrees is like walking straight into a giant pizza oven.

The biggest difference is that here in NYC, we walk everywhere, to the subway, to the supermarket, to the hardware store, so we’re actually out in the heat. Pretty much wherever you need to go, you walk to get there.

In Dallas, not so much.

Dallas is a quintessential American car city, where many people walk only from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned home to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned store to … well, you get the idea. So as long as the air-conditioning is working, you can avoid the full impact of that mind-boggling heat. The animals, of course, seek natural cooling sources, which means, first and foremost, water. Here, a mixed group of waterbirds cools off and feeds at the White Rock Lake spillway in East Dallas.

I’ll write more about Dallas and its animals soon. Right now, though, I’m celebrating NYC in the dog days of August.

On Thursday evening, as we drank margaritas on the roof of our apartment building, a fat, phenomenally red moon – the Sturgeon Moon – rose in the east, and a red-tailed hawk landed atop the school next door. The hawk perched in the deepening shadows so long that I wondered if it was going to stay all night. When it finally flew off, its wide wings caught the light of the moon and lit up for a split second like the wings of a predatory angel.

No, I don’t have pictures. You’ll just have to take my word.

Down in the apartment, a tiny green inchworm – more like a quarter-inchworm, really – clung doughtily to the kitchen faucet.

Tiny worm

It reared its unimaginably small head and seemed to be trying to figure out where to go. I put it on a nearby jade plant, where it will probably either die or gobble up my only plant before transforming into a moth ready to gobble up my winter clothes. But how did it get onto the faucet in the first place?

And on Friday, six flights down and one block east, a small but mighty ant carried a huge, winged, red-headed carcass (identification, anyone?) up and down a fence railing, the iron so beautifully rusted that it resembled wood.

In Central Park, the water has turned completely green with algae, and the willows appear to be melting in the midsummer heat.

A fat freckled fish lurks near the shore.

And this morning in Riverside Park, the wall leaners and sitters are out in force.

A dryad with her cat sips a cold drink and gazes at the passing world.

After a while, the nymph hoists the gigantic cat onto her shoulder

and heads up the hillside.

I am so lucky to be back in Manhattan, where dryads carry giant cats through the streets and parks.

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