Dallas: City of Egrets, City of Herons

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.

Explore posts in the same categories: 2012, Birds, In the City, Seasons, Summer, turtles, Wildlife/Natural History

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14 Comments on “Dallas: City of Egrets, City of Herons”

  1. Mr. Mantooth Says:

    Lovely to read about your Snowy Egret in hot Dallas now in cold NY with a chill up my spin. The Snowy Man hoofing it looks like Samuel Beckett.

  2. Wild_Bill Says:

    This was fun and once again you’ve shown me a completely different side of urban areas. We are not lucky enough to have snowy egrets here, too far north and inland, but we do have great blue herons and green herons, and very occasionally little blue herons.

    Thanks. This was great!

  3. Lovely selection of waders … including the four footed variety! Feral hogs … pastures always greener on the other side?

    • Yes, but those feral hogs are quite a problem now in some surprising parts of the US as they apparently disrupt the habitat and negatively affect many native species, including ground-nesting birds. I believe they are mostly releases from hunting stock, but maybe one of my Texas friends knows more about them. Pretty amazing, though!

  4. Barbara Says:

    That turtle is a huge snapping turtle – one of Ontario’s species at risk – I’ve seen a female that was about a foot and a half across, followed by a giant that was about two and a half or three feet across – like a dinosaur! Great photos and the video with the sounds of the swamp – all amazing. Thanks for the great visit to Dallas – I had no idea there were so many birds who depend on water – had no idea there is water in Dallas. Great post!

    • Thank you, Barbara, for enlightening me on the turtle! I know people on Cape Cod who have seen truly dinosauric snappers on the dirt roads back in the national forest areas. I always used to get a little frisson when I’d swim out to the middle of one of the Cape’s deep kettle ponds, knowing there were snappers in there who might take a fancy to my toe.

  5. Rebecca Says:

    Doesn’t surprise me at all. I go to Houston occasionally to visit family and have seen Tricolored Herons and White Ibises in a concrete-lined canal (or “bayou” as they call them there) in a very built-up suburban area.

    • Yes, in Dallas, too, I would see birds fishing in a completely bleak and desert-like concrete culvert. Always seemed strange. As for the Tricolored Heron and White Ibises, I would expect to see them down near the Gulf but hadn’t realized how far inland they come.

  6. I have heard that sunbathing might serve a debugging, or deparasitizing, function too. But I could be totally wrong there for birds. I know that’s a possible function for turtle sunbathing at least. Love the pictures of the Snowy Egret!

    • Oh, deparasitizing is a fascinating possibility, Kelly. Hmmm. Would love to know more. Anyone?

      • Turns out there are tons of papers out there about birds and how they deal with ectoparasites. Sunbathing is one theory. The link below leads to a review of papers that gives a nice summary of where the research stands (at least in 2004).

        Click to access BC6.pdf

        Scientists don’t seem to know what about the sunbathing works – heat, uv radiation, or other. In keeping with the incredible complexity of nature, I would guess it’s both, and more that we haven’t considered. Uv certainly would do a number on bugs of the bacterial kind.

        Perhaps it’s time for an episode on ectoparasites! I love parasites!

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