Josey Ranch Lake – July 2019

Last April when I walked around Josey Ranch Lake, there were grackles, coots and cedar waxwings.

The coots and cedar waxwings were gone, but the grackles were around – and noisy. The Great-tailed Grackles are probably the most noticeable bird at Josey Ranch Lake (along with pigeons) but what made them more interesting this time were fledglings – new enough that their parents were still feeding them occasionally. Note that the adults have yellow eyes that is indicative of Great-tailed Grackles rather than Boat-tailed Grackles (dark eyes). The juvenile grackle has dark eyes…but since a yellow eyed adult was feeding it, I expect it is a Great-tailed juvenile.

There were white feathers on the grass.

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And three kinds of white birds that I saw in the short time I was there: 1) a Great Egret. At first it was fishing in the water then strutted out onto the concrete walk. Those toes are long…and the feathers were ruffling in the breeze!

A resident 2) Mute Swan was on the lake. I didn’t see one in April, but they were probably there. I’ve seen one juvenile years ago, but I don’t think there have been any cygnets in the past few years.

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A 3) Snowy Egret preened and hunted in the shallows. The wind ruffled its feathers. It stayed in the water, so I didn’t see its yellow socks, but the beak and size are distinctive enough for the identification.

As I walked around the lake, I noted spider webs and shelf fungus. The cloudy day was not the best for photography, but the morning was my only chance to be there.

The high point of the morning was an accidently sighting of a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron. I wondered if it was the same one I had seen there in June of 2018. This one was in one of the smaller ponds near the lake. I was looking through the vegetation to see if there were any ducks on the pond when I saw it…the only bird in the pond. It didn’t seem to notice me. It was casually hunting the area; I didn’t see it catch anything.

Rookery at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

The rookery in the middle of Dallas – on the campus of UT Southwestern Medical School – is busy this time of year. I was there a little over a week ago and the egrets (mostly Great Egrets but some Snowy Egrets as well) were numerous and somewhat acclimated to people watching them. When we first arrived, there was a Great Egret on the ground retrieving a stick to enlarge the nest. And then we looked up in the trees and saw a lot of birds. I noticed the trees from the window of one of the nearby medical buildings where I’d taken my mother for a doctor’s appoint on a rainy day earlier in the week…and the birds were big enough to be noticeable from across the street. I’d worked in the area early in my career (about 45 years ago now!) and there had been lots of talk of cutting down the trees to expand the medical school; the protests back then saved the birds’ nesting area. The rookery has probably been there since the levies were built along the Trinity River and the trees cut down between the levies. The location of the rookery is not far outside the levies and has been active since the 1940s at least.

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There is a lot of bird interaction. I took this series that shows how spiky the feathers on the head can look. Were these Great Egrets having an argument over nest configuration?

Preening is also important for all the gorgeous breeding plumage.

There are Snowy Egrets around too – yellow around the eyes and yellow ‘socks’ on their feet. They are smaller than the Great Egrets but the distinctive features are easy to spot as well. They seemed relatively calmer than the bigger birds on the day I was there.

The Great Egrets provided the best portrait opportunities – with the tree and then zoomed in to almost fill the frame.

Sometimes they sit at the very top of the tree. Are they in sentinel mode when they do? Or maybe they are getting ready to fly out above the traffic and medical buildings and levy…to the river in search of fish for lunch. Soon the eggs will hatch, and the adults will be busy finding enough to feed the chicks.

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There is a small parking area on Campus (off UT Southwestern Drive) and a paved walkway back to a memorial area with a bench – perfect for people that want to enjoy the birds but not walk very far. There is also a loop mulch path that I’ll try next time I am in Dallas in the springtime. There are a lot of birds there from March through May…and some year-round residents. But the egrets – Great and Snow are the most numerous of the birds this time of year.