Archive for the ‘turtles’ category

Morningside Park: Sunbathing Turtles, Molting Mallards, Feral Cats

June 21, 2013

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All the rain we’ve had recently means the animals in Morningside Park are living the lush life.


Green, green and greener.

And the sunshine brings out sunbathers.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtle pile-up.

Turtles are everywhere, on the rocks and in the water.

Female mallard and turtles.

Female mallard and turtles.

Today, mallards and turtles are the dominant species in the little pond.

Cooling off.

Cooling off.

Now that the excitement of breeding season is over, male mallards are molting into eclipse plumage. Drab feathers replace the brilliant iridescence of breeding plumage.

Molting mallard.

Molting mallard.

Not every bird is on the same schedule. The head and neck of the duck below glitters and shines, although he is well into his molt.


Still breaking out the bling.

Each year during their molt, ducks lose their flight feathers, rendering them especially vulnerable to ground predators. What ground predators, you may wonder, do ducks have to worry about here in our urban park? Well, feral cats, dogs off the leash and, possibly, raccoons. Morningside Park’s feral cats have been more visible than ever this past winter and spring.

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It’s no coincidence that someone is regularly feeding the cats.


The spot for the feedings is right by the great stone staircase, on the cliff behind the pond. The pond and its surrounding vegetation draw nesting ducks as well as sparrows, cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, robins, night herons, egrets and many other species. The cats are beautiful animals, and I understand the impulse to care for them. I understand trapping, neutering, vaccinating, and releasing them. But feeding them? Given what we now know about the devastation to North American songbirds since cats were established in the New World, do we really want to be feeding them?

We know a lot about the negative impacts of feeding wildlife, and I was happy to see these signs in Morningside Park.

Please Don't Feed Waterfowl.

Please Don’t Feed Waterfowl.

The signs address intentional feeding. But inadvertent feeding, in the form of trash and dropped food, is what keeps our rodent population so healthy – and I’m not just talking about squirrels, like the one below.


Squirrels don’t need bakery rolls.

Our urban ecosystem works best without hand-outs. Let them forage for themselves.


What is this hatchling turtle?

September 21, 2012

Yesterday evening, as Esau the dog and I walked along the road in the last light of the day, we spotted a strange small shape almost under our feet.

hatchling turtle

Tiny turtle on the road

It is a tiny turtle, completely still, on the road.

Its strange eyes make it look almost like a child’s toy dropped carelessly from a stroller. Almost. I have that strange gathering of the insides that I feel when I see an animal unexpectedly. I pick up the little creature to see if it’s alive. It is.

I know it’s generally best to leave baby animals where one finds them. But I can’t leave it on the road.  And does it need water or land? I think it may be a baby snapping turtle, but I’m not sure.  Do snappers live in salty water? Because Mecox Bay is the only water around. It is brackish rather than full salt, as it is only occasionally open to the ocean. Most of the year, it is more like a salt water pond.

mecox bay at sunset

Whichever way you choose, Mecox Bay at sunset is gorgeous.

I bring the little turtle home and leave it on the deck while I go inside to look for a guide book that will help me identify it.

Beach house guide books, accumulated over the decades by family and renters.

There are books on flowers, trees, birds, mammals, sea creatures, sea shells, rocks and stars.  Not a word on reptiles. Well, the sea creature book has sea turtles, but I can tell this little guy doesn’t have a sea turtle’s flippers. So what are some identifying traits of the tiny turtle?

It is about half the size of my thumb.

tiny turtle

Tom Half-a-thumb

Or you could say it is probably about the size of silver dollar. Here it is next to a quarter.

Hatchling size

Small turtle.

It has huge, dark eyes. Or rather, the structure that contains the eye is huge and bulging. The eye itself is inside the bulge.

turtle eyes

Eyes like chocolate drops

The shell, or carapace is fairly flat, though rough, and ridged.  The color is a dark, earthy-looking brown. (The first photo, taken with my iPhone in fading light, does not accurately convey the deep mud color.)  The tail is very long and mobile. The little turtle does not seem able to retract fully into its shell.

small turtle

Look at that tail.

It has an impressive set of claws.

baby turtle

Long claws, tiny feet.

I do a quick google search, but find no satisfactory answers. I decide to leave it to make its own way in nature, placing it under a hedge in a protected spot. It just sits there and doesn’t move.

Dear readers, I’m sure some of you can easily identify this little guy for me.  Please leave a comment with your thoughts on what kind of turtle this is, and on what you think I should have done with it.

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.

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