Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Roseate Spoonbills Wild Passage To The Great Trinity Forest

The dance of the Roseate Spoonbills in the Great Trinity Forest Dallas, Texas Summer 2014

One can only imagine what this place must have looked like ten centuries ago when the Caddo danced on this very spot. The soil here is ancient. Holding profound human history and insight into the lives they lead, their environment and culture. It is the first Dallas, the ancient civilization that commanded this part of Texas for centuries.

For the most part, the land here remains as rugged, heavily timbered and green as it was when King Solomon ruled the Israelites. The charcoal remains of the Caddo cooking fires tell us so. The natural seeps of abundant sub-surface water still flow here across the soft sand and underlying limestone outcrops. No longer fit for human consumption but interesting none the less.

Wild Mustang Grapes by the bushel at Joppa Preserve

The shelter and forage still found in the woods here could still support those human bands of yesteryear. The grapevines laden so heavy with fruit in July that the ground in many spots cannot be seen through all the fallen fruit. Vitis mustangensis the Mustang Grape is one of the most high climbing and heat tolerant varieties of grapes in the world. Disease resistant and bearing loads of fruit the grapes would be a real hit were they not so tart when raw.

Other more ready to eat fruit like the Purple Passion fruit can be found within arms reach.

Flowers of the Maypop Passion Fruit, Joppa Preserve July 2014

The plants Passiflora incarnata were given the name Passionflower or Passion vine because the floral parts were once said to represent aspects of the Christian crucifixion story, sometimes referred to as the Passion.

The 10 petal-like parts represents the disciples of Jesus, excluding Peter and Judas; the 5 stamens the wounds Jesus received; the knob-like stigmas the nails; the fringe the crown of thorns. The name Maypop comes from the hollow fruits that pop loudly when crushed.

Little Lemmon Lake and Roseate Spoonbills
The Texans of old knew this place. Caddo hunters had waded the river here. The old South Dallas legend exists of Spanish searching for their city of gold  and are thought to have dropped a battle axe in a creek within eyesight of this spot. Mexican and Anglo ox-men drove wagons this way. Freed slaves settled it and called it their own, a place called Joppa.

A newcomer expecting blight and a muddy river might be surprised by the diversity to be found here. A true melting pot of Texas nature at your feet. As one comes to appreciate the river here, the focus of nearly all those things one thinks of as truly Texan. A roadmap of twists and turns in the woods with surprises around every corner.

Few ever come to appreciate a place. A rare number have visited these places for many years. Then there is one, only one, known to me that is to have visited these spots for decades.

The Luminary, A Voice From The Woods -- Father Timothy Gollob
Father Timothy Gollob discussing the call of the Indigo Bunting and keen insight on decades of Roseate Spoonbill observations, Joppa Preserve, Great Trinity Forest, Summer 2014
He was looking my way with a smile, pointing with his arm extended to smudges of pink on the far end of a lake. From a hundred yards away the lone man in black, crouched among head high cattails, armed with a pair of binoculars was espying Roseate Spoonbills. I knew I had found Father Timothy Gollob.

Here among the jagged, rough and steep terrain of the river bottoms walks a Catholic Priest. For nearly half a century Father Tim has explored the river here. Noting not just the ebb and flow of the river but the countless bird and animal species that abound here. His church and his rectory home, Holy Cross Catholic Church sits just up the road from the river at Bonnie View and Ledbetter.
Father Timothy Gollob watching Roseate Spoonbills through his binoculars at Joppa Preserve

The Trinity River has served as Father Tim's cageless aviary where he has documented decades of bird activity and sightings. His hundreds of reports and sightings rank him among the most prolific birders in Texas history, a true legend in many outdoor circles. His work as a man of God for a half century in South Dallas overshadows his bird study and fishing tales. A man who many regard as one of the great Texas humanitarians and cornerstones of a city which he calls home. If you don't know him, you should.

In the field, his graceful hand whittled narrated account of the land here and his description of bird sightings is a true treasure of knowledge. His accounts of the erstwhile Sleepy Hollow Golf Course turned lower chain of wetlands provides a great back story to this area before it became a civil engineering project.

The stories of his sightings are weaved through Texas lore. Conversation that is very much that of the Deep South yet Southwestern. Something that is authentic Texan. His accent has a strong Texan flair to it, one decidedly North Texan in depth if there is still such a thing. Talk turns to the gravel pitted terrain of South Dallas County's Sand Branch and Jordan Valley area. Travels across hard scrabble ranchland south of Dallas on fishing trips. It is the chat that describes the narrative mastery of the woods. A picture of the Trinity and North Texas in microcosm that is so rare to hear in such humble words.

Jeff Lane riding at Joppa Preserve
Father Tim learned much of his birding craft from ornithologist and late University of Dallas Professor Warren M. Pulich. Pulich is considered the first resident professional ornithologist in North Texas. In the 1960s he authored the Birds of Tarrant County and later The Birds of North Central Texas. His groundbreaking work specialized in species like the rare Golden Cheeked Warbler. As Professor of Ornithology at the University of Dallas he led the way with many pioneering bird collection projects, many of which were from antenna strikes on local communication towers.

Often joining Father Tim is one of his parishoners, Jeff Lane, seen at right. Jeff's family has owned a metal plating company just up the street for the last eighty years. He will pick up Father Tim at his church, drop him off at a starting spot and meet up miles on the other side of the woods.

 Hurricane Alicia August 1983

Father Tim remarked that during a hurricane in 1983 that he observed Roseate Spoonbills off Loop 12 near I-45. He said that the birds appeared to have been storm blown to some extent maybe removed from the coast by the heavy winds and rain. I was able to look back through his bird reports, find the date and trace it to Hurricane Alicia which hit the west end of Galveston Island in August 1983.

The storm made a direct path up Trinity Bay and to Dallas where it hit much of North Texas with Tropical Storm and Tropical Depression winds and rain. An interesting observation on birds and weather.

Using the Trinity River Authority's river data, this area sits on mile 463 of the Trinity River. A grand distance from where the freshwater of the Trinity meets that of the salty Gulf of Mexico.

Reconnoitering For Roseate Spoonbills
A solitary Snowy Egret joined by four Roseate Spoonbills at Little Lemmon Lake, Joppa Preserve, Dallas, Texas
It is in the early evening, about when the sky goes to purple that Father Tim can be found on the river. The sky can appear enormous this time of day. The drone of rush hour dies away and the natural sounds of the woods take over the senses.
Heavy thunderstorm with pronounced anvil over Southern Dallas County as viewed from Little Lemmon Lake

Roseate Spoonbill landing at Little Lemmon Lake
Summer Saharan sands blowing in from Africa on the jet stream give the early summer of 2014 a pronounced rare shade of sky that is not often seen. A milky color of phosphorous tinged haze lingers over Dallas as a result.

Large storm cells often appear this time of year in the distance. Rarely do they make it into Dallas proper but provide a great background for photographing the sky. When the storms do come overhead the rain fires like bullets, chewing across the shallow water and into the tree canopy.
Changing light of an approaching storm mutes the light on the Roseate Spoonbills
The pink specks of birds some hundred yards or more away presented a challenge for getting some good photographs. The ever widening stretches of cracking mud playa between the birds and the shore offer no cover to get close. The setting sun to the west would put the birds in unfavorable light.

The solution to the issue was to hit the heavy mangled overgrowth to the northwest of Little Lemmon Lake where lush and belt high poison ivy abounds. It is one of the old indestructible realities it seems of getting some good shots. Going places no one else would think of going. The high winds of approaching storms and the very dense poison ivy provided a great approach towards the ten foot high cattails that ring the shore. Here, smashed down in the reeds I was able to get closer than ever before to Roseate Spoonbills.

The being close part is not so important as it is the relaxed and natural state of the birds. The acts of capturing the preening, napping and natural behavior far exceed those of action photos of spooked birds in flight.

The real trick is getting in and back out again without your subject ever knowing you were ever there. Doing so, for a couple nights in a row allowed repeat visits to where the birds were wading and resting.

Spoonbills At Their Most Vibrant
Roseate Spoonbills preparing for an evening of feeding at Little Lemmon Lake

The Roseate Spoonbills plumage for 2014 is the most vibrant in color ever to be seen among Great Trinity Forest Spoonbills. Famed birders like  Robert Porter Allen, likened the species to "orchids taking wing".

The absolute brilliant colors of orange, red, pink and red are offset under close review by a green hued head coloration only visible during breeding season. These are the apex of color in the North American bird world.

There are only two large pink hued birds in the United States, the Pink Flamingo and the Roseate Spoonbill. Natives of the sub-tropics, tropics and coastal areas, seeing either of the two species in the United States makes for a rare sight.

With a pink body and long, spatulate bill, the spoonbill is a marvel to behold. This coastal character even seems to wear a smile on its face.

Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja

Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja) , which share the same pink plumage and long twiggy legs as flamingos, are actually members of the ibis family. Generally smaller than flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills grow to a height of 32 inches with a wingspan of 50 inches, have shorter necks, and longer, spoon-shaped bills.

The Roseate Spoonbill is typically a far southern bird of the Americas, breeding in Southern Mexico and Central America. In the United States it is typically found only along the far southern Gulf Coast. During summer and early fall the birds move inland searching for food and habitat along marshes and shallow ponds.

Uncommon in North Texas, Roseate Spoonbills can be seen infrequently in the shallow drying ponds and swamps in the Great Trinity Forest. Spoonbills are traditionally coastal birds and are a regular sight along the Texas Gulf Coast. Rare to see them hundreds of miles inland in not only a prairie but also a densely populated urban environment.

Hunted to near extinction in the early 1900s, the Roseate Spoonbill population dwindled to only 100 breeding pairs in Texas by the 1930s. Their striking pink feathers were popular on women's hats and hunters from all over the United States competed for spoonbill plumes. Little did the buyers of such feathers know that the colors fade quite fast when removed from the bird.

Today, threats to Roseate Spoonbill populations come as a result of habitat loss. Even by 1979, their numbers had only rebounded to 2,500 birds in the wild. Currently their numbers have rebounded substantially enough to be removed from Federal protection as an Endangered and Threatened species.

Breeding populations are found along the south Florida coast from the Florida Keys north to St Joseph Bay, with some populations in northeastern Florida and along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The worldwide population is only 175,000 with 30,000 living in North America. Whittling down that number further, many of those 30,000 live in Florida, the Caribbean or along the Gulf Coast. It is estimated that there are 5,500 breeding pairs in the USA.

In Texas, the birds are still very much threatened as a population. The State of Texas is studying whether or not to declare Roseate Spoonbills as a state Threatened Species. This designation is a result of habitat loss and nesting areas across the state. In 2014 the farthest north in Texas a nest has been located is the Richland WMA southeast of Corsicana.
Trinity Forest Golf Course Construction clearcut exposes the old Loop 12 Landfill and in the far distance, the current McCommas Bluff Landfill can be clearly seen. Home of the future Byron Nelson Golf Tournament
Pocket ponds and unnamed seldom visited waterbodies exist around the footprint of the future Byron Nelson Tournament site known as Trinity Forest Golf Club. These casual waterbodies called pulse inundated wetlands serve as vital habitat for many bird species.  The shallow feeding areas of the Roseate Spoonbill is paramount to the species survival. Little Lemmon Lake and other pocket ponds and abandoned gravel quarries that dot this part of town serve as critical habitat for these wading birds.

A common theme in pulse-inundated wetlands are overbanking events from the flooding Trinity River.

The prey base like crawfish and minnows increase in abundance while the wetland is flooded and then become highly concentrated in deeper water refuges as water levels recede, becoming highly available to wading birds whose overall success depends on these concentrations.

The average lifespan of a Roseate Spoonbill in the wild is estimated at 28 years. During the course of its life a Spoonbill might have twenty solid breeding seasons and successfully raise young many of those years. It's rather remarkable to let your mind wander that these birds come back year after year. I have been seeing them every year like clockwork since 2007. Same individual birds.

 Video of Roseate Spoonbills at Joppa Preserve, Little Lemmon Lake

This was filmed at normal speed. The ability of the birds to filter feed through the water is astonishing.

Spoonbills consume a varied diet of small fish, amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, and some plant material. They feed in the early morning and evening hours by wading through shallow water with their bills partially submerged. As a Roseate Spoonbill walks it swings its head back and forth in a sideways motion. When the bird feels a prey item it snaps its bill closed, pulls the prey out of the water, and swallows it.

Here they are wading patiently in the shallows, nipping at fish, crawfish and snails with a long, rounded beak that gives them their name. With a super sensitive beak they can detect the smallest of watery prey.

It's so very hard to express the rarity of wildlife movement through the Great Trinity Forest in Dallas or tell in words or pictures what is really there. What makes it a special place like no other in North Texas is hard to show. So many birds down there look alike, so many other animals are of a secretive nature where one only sees faint footprints rather than the creature itself.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Super Moon and Meteor 2014 Over Dallas Texas

Super Moon over the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge July 12, 2014. Shot from the junction of the West Fork and Elm Fork of the Trinity River Dallas Texas
Far beyond the sights and sounds of the city, the unvisited confluence of the Elm and West Forks of the Trinity River join to form the Main Stem of the Trinity River. Far from any road, the 1/3-1/2 mile trip in Far West Dallas over dead headed wildflower fields of a 100 degree July summer evening makes for some tough travel.

Four miles away stands the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge which serves as a fitting backdrop for photographing the moon. Ideally, one wishes to find foreground objects close to the horizon that give the illusion of a giant moon. Hard to pull off in the summer, much easier in the winter months when the atmospheric conditions are often clearer on the horizon.
The orange colored moon as it rises through the humidity and haze shortly after 9pm
The moon rise for Dallas on July 12, 2014 was 8:46 PM local time. During the summer months it can take an extra few minutes for the moon to become visible on the horizon as it must rise past a field of vision often obscured by the haze and thick atmosphere.

Meteor over Dallas July 12, 2014
The unexpected meteor as it broke apart into pieces as it moved from the South-Southeast towards Dallas, July 12, 2014
It was just about the time that the moon became visible to the eye that a bright white light approached rapidly from the southeastern sky. I was shooting with a cable release at the time and could see the approaching light which I thought was an aircraft landing light for an airplane approaching Love Field.

It instantly struck me as odd as aircraft never land with the wind(to the southeast that evening). The lighted object broke into pieces, I swung my camera around and fired off some shots. The only one that came out half way decent was the one above, my camera speed was 1/30 of a second and too slow to catch much with the still wobbling tripod from readjusting the camera.

Meteors like this are fairly common and seen on a regular basis if you spend evenings outdoors. Combined with a full moon rise is pretty special and hopefully was seen by many in the DFW area.

Super Moon July 2014
Super Moon 2014 and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge as seen from over 4 miles away
Super Moons are a fairly new term to the modern lexicon. It occurs when the moon, in a less than circular orbit approaches closer to Earth than usual.  The scientific term for the phenomenon is "perigee moon." Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side ("perigee") about 30,000 miles closer than the other ("apogee").  Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon's orbit seem extra big and bright.I have photographed a number of Full Moons on the Trinity River here and Dallas and frankly cannot tell the difference between a Super vs Regular Moon if there is such a thing.

This Super Moon coincidence happens three times in 2014.  On July 12th and Sept 9th the Moon becomes full on the same day as perigee.  On August 10th it becomes full during the same hour as perigee which makes it an extra-super Moon.

Tracking moon rises and other astronomical events is easier than ever to track with with The Photographers Ephemeris a google map based app that gives times and locations of moon/sun events. It takes most of the guess work out of planning moon events to some degree.
BNSF Train moving across the Trinity River July 2014 as seen from the Commerce Street Bridge

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Big Spring's Rare Plants Roar Into The Record Books Of Texas Botany

Famed Botanist Julien Reverchon's Spermacoce glabra specimen collected August 1, 1902 at Buzzard Spring, White Rock Creek drainage in the riverbottoms of South Dallas. Part of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas herbarium collection. Photo courtesy Master Naturalist Jim Flood

It was a cool August 1st in the year 1902 that the world famous pioneer Texas botanist Julien Reverchon would have been found collecting plants by horseback in the sandy soil east of what was then Dallas. One of the plants he collected that summer day was that of the Smooth False Buttonweed Spermacoce glabra. 112 years later in 2014 and modern day North Texans are probably not familiar with the sight of the plant, one whose native habitat of swamps and wetland areas no longer exist in Dallas. Not a rare plant points east in the Mississippi Valley but exceptionally rarely seen in the Trinity drainage and especially Dallas County. A species thought to be extirpated, a local extinction due to habitat loss and lack of sightings. Reverchon's collection site, the once well known to every Dallasite, Buzzard Spring does not even exist. Destroyed through channelization, infill and development, the ancient swamp became urbanized and forgotten from memory.

Many contemporary Dallasites associate the name Reverchon with a park bearing the same name on the popular Katy Trail. Few know that the man behind the name forever changed how Dallas was viewed abroad as a growing town of refining culture and class. Julien Reverchon's observations and collections drastically changed how the North Texas landscape was seen and written about in late 19th century dissemination and publication.

The long lost Spermacoce glabra rediscovered at Big Spring 2014
Julien Reverchon (1837-1905) was a pioneer of the La Reunion colony in what is now West Dallas/Oak Cliff. Reverchon's family immigrated with La Compagnie Franco-Texienne to Texas in 1856. The eclectic colony of French, Swiss and Belgian immigrants settled in 1855 at La Reunion across the Trinity from Dallas. Within eighteen months the colony of artisans, musicians and philosophers was more of a marked failure than success. Julien's family led by his father Jacques Maximilien Reverchon arrived in 1856, seeing the less than stellar gains of La Reunion as a community, purchased land to the southeast from the Anson McCracken Survey near present day Davis and Hampton Roads.

It was here on the family farm, later coined Rose Cottage that Julien Reverchon began his study and collection of plants in Texas. At the time North Texas was still very much a frontier with Indian raids, cattle drives and true wilderness out the front door of any home on Main Street. The natural environs around North Texas were completely undocumented and explored to any degree. The rough hewn lines of surveyors marks on maps and the occasional fence were the only boundaries of note.

A bumblebee visits a Milkweed at Big Spring, Dallas, Texas as a summer thunderhead rapidly builds 5 miles to the north over White Rock Lake, July 2014
Unpeopled and undeveloped North Texas was land ripe for discovery. For the next fifty years, Julien Reverchon studied and collected the plants of Texas. His well documented excursions to West Texas with famous Swiss scientist Jacob Boll and Harvard's Asa Gray led to new plant species on every trip. Gray named the genus Reverchonia in Julien Reverchon's honor. Others in the scientific coterie bestowed Reverchon's work by naming species of aristida, diplachne and panicum in his honor. Botanist Charles Sprague Sargent of Harvard University and author of North American Silva named Crategus reverchoniia a type of local Dallas Hawthorne tree for Reverchon. The list goes on and on.

Thousands of plants were collected and distributed by Reverchon to universities of high standard at the time. These plants, many of which were unknown at the time became groundbreaking additions to collections being studied for pharmacutical and medicinal use. One such field trip to collect plants was August 1, 1902.
Closer view of the BRIT archived herbarium of Julien Reverchon, with notation "sands east of Dallas". Photo courtesy Master Naturalist Jim Flood
Bank of America Building as seen from Big Spring
As a resident of Dallas, Reverchon made numerous trips afar collecting plants but based much of his effort in Dallas County. Many of his collection site describe places known and unknown to current residents, White Rock Creek, Turtle Creek, Trinity River, Oak Cliff. Others are slightly vague in descriptor, like "rocky outcrop", "river bottom", "rocky soil".  In the case of the photo card at the beginning of the post Spermacoce glabra is noted in "sands east of Dallas".

The record of Reverchon's trip that day in August 1902 was immortalized in plants collected in the field. To preserve their form and color, plants collected in the field are spread flat on sheets of newsprint type medium and dried, usually in a plant press, between blotters or absorbent paper. The specimens, which are then mounted on sheets of stiff white paper, are labeled with all essential data, such as date and place found, description of the plant, soil and special habitat conditions.

Hurricane #2 track over Texas summer 1902
By Texas standards, the summer of 1902 was an abnormally cool and wet season with large tropical systems moving across the state with great frequency. In late June and into early July, Hurricane #2 which made landfall in Port Lavaca slowly ground across Texas dumping record rains on the Sabine, Brazos and Trinity River basins. The farm reports from that autumn posted record yielding crops of cotton and corn in North Texas.

Bumper crops parallel bumper conditions of native flora as well. A great period for documenting the water loving swamp plants of Dallas. Many of the plants that Reverchon collected were native grasses, sedges and plants that were studied for medicinal uses and agriculture.

Solving the puzzle of Buzzard Spring
The complete picture of what Reverchon collected that day in 1902 requires some detective work to trace. Scattered across herbarium collections in Texas, Missouri and Massachusetts the puzzle pieces were hard to pull together. When Jim Flood contacted me about his rare find at Big Spring of Smooth False Buttonweed and that Julien Reverchon had collected the same species at a vaguely described spot east of Dallas, the hunt was on for more information. The off-chance to tie the collected species together in the same creek drainage was a distinct possibility.

Lagow League sands, part of the Pleistocene (Ice Age) Trinity Sands formation in Dallas, Texas July 2014. Excavation at the corner of Lagow and Hatcher in South Dallas. Notice the fine sedimentary layers of sand laid down as a result of prehistoric Trinity flooding which once inundated much of Dallas. These sands hold vast reserves of fossils featuring tigers, bears, mastodons, antelope, sloths and many other Ice Age animals that once roamed Dallas.

Searching the herbariums across the country provided lists of species collected by Reverchon on August 1, 1902
I knew that the descriptor "sands east of Dallas" most likely meant an area not far from the city proper. Using different databases and searches I was able to find other plants collected the exact same day by Reverchon.
Allionia nyctaginea var. ovata (Pursh) Morong tag labeled by Julien Reverchon at Buzzard Spring, Dallas, Texas August 1, 1902 from Tropicos, botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org
What we have from Reverchon are his botanical tags cut from the original paper and pasted onto newer sheets. The tags contain brief notes on species collected, date, location, collected by whom and conditions under which collected. Keen observational powers and a systematic approach are what Reverchon is known for, his notes solved a part of the equation in 2014.

Allionia nyctaginea var. ovata (Pursh) Morong collected by Julien Reverchon August 1, 1902 at Buzzard Spring Dallas Texas herbarium plate from the botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org
Buzzard Spring once sat east of what is now Fair Park in what old texts describe as "swamp" or "marsh". The location today would be very near 32.774641,-96.741704 near the intersection of Spring Ave and Wahoo.

 Looking back through Reverchon's collection records he has visits to gather plants here at Buzzard Spring and the woods beyond dating to as early as 1876. Nearly three decades of regular visits to this spot, well documented through his collection. 1876 was a banner year for Reverchon discovering a dozen new plant species. Further work in the years to come added on that groundbreaking work.
Allionia gigantea Standl collected at Buzzard Spring by Julien Reverchon August 1, 1902 from the botanical information system at the Missouri Botanical Garden - www.tropicos.org
Walking those wooded slopes and fields, set only a few miles from what was then outside the city limits of Dallas one can only imagine what Reverchon experienced when looking for plants here. Buzzard Spring fed Wahoo Lake or Lake Wahoo, a natural water body known to 19th century Dallasites as a good fishing spot. This was a time before area lakes were built, even before White Rock Lake. Ponds and lakes did not exist to any degree at the time, Wahoo was a popular spot for residents.

The land was first settled by the Beemans who owned near continuous tracts of land between what is now Fair Park and the Trinity River Audubon Center. One recollection from the early settlement of Buzzard Spring comes courtesy of historian MC Toyer from a memoir passage of JJ Beeman describing the lake area in the 1840s. The blockhouse mentioned would be just south of present day Military Parkway on the west side of White Rock Creek and behind the Beeman Cemetery east of Dolphin Road:

John's family and mine lived in the block house until we built another house close by.  I had selected me a place about a mile southwest of the block house and built a house in the timber where there was a fine pool of water with plenty of fish in it.  By this time we had become somewhat careless and would venture further than we had before, so in order to be convenient to my work I built a camp and moved to the place before I built the house-- James Jackson Beeman, Memoirs.1886.

Buzzard Spring fed into what we now call the Great Trinity Forest, a vast urban bottom land that so few current Dallasites have seen with their own eyes. Some of the plants collected by Reverchon in this area no longer are known to exist in Dallas. Or are they? They have not been seen by anyone alive in generations and all but forgotten.

As Dallas growth marched east at the turn of the last century, Buzzard Spring and Wahoo Lake were filled in and dewatered. Gone forever.

Rediscovering Reverchon's Work Through Botany At Big Spring
An early evening thunderstorm drenches Big Spring leaving the Great Trinity Forest a foggy and steamy backdrop for photography May 31, 2014. Pictured hiking with his gear is Chris Rankin, a photographer who drove from the Bryan/College Station area to photograph Big Spring. He is walking up from Bryan's Slough, dwarfed by the large ash and willow trees that grow in the bottom

This photography event at Big Spring was through the North American Nature Photography Association one of the cornerstone initiatives to expose more people to the Great Trinity Forest
It remains one of the wildest places left in Dallas County. It has always been this way. Since before the Pembertons. Since before the pioneer Beemans. Since before the Caddo. Wild. Farther off the beaten path than anywhere else inside Loop 12. Farther from concrete anywhere inside Loop 12. Here among the outfall of  another natural spring outfall in the White Rock Creek watershed called Big Spring lies the ever growing realization that the land here offers a refugium for rare plants thought to have been lost in Dallas.
Spermacoce glabra in full bloom at Big Spring in the Great Trinity Forest July 2014
Bursting into bloom are the plants maybe just three or four people alive have ever seen blooming in Dallas. The Spermacoce glabra Smooth False Buttonweed is just one of a growing number of plants that simply are not found in this part of Texas with regularity.

Master Naturalist Jim Flood
It was Master Naturalist Jim Flood and Geoarcheologist Tim Dalbey who first found the plants during a weekly plant survey at Big Spring in late June 2014. Jim Flood is most well known as the trail steward for the Buckeye Trail in Rochester Park, about a mile as the ibis west from Big Spring. Jim's tireless work in the Great Trinity Forest often goes unappreciated and under-recognized.

It seems rather impossible for many to understand Jim's important contributions to the well-being of the Great Trinity Forest and how his foundation of efforts over the years will most likely serve as a launching pad for the future.
Spermacoce glabra Dallas, Texas July 2014

The work in rediscovering the lost plants of what Reverchon documented so long ago will be rewarded with a new herbarium collection card with Jim Flood's Big Spring Spermacoce glabra preserved in the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, right next to that of Julien Reverchon. Tremendous honor for the plant making it out of what many thought was extirpated status, honor for Jim Flood and Tim Dalbey and also an honor for Big Spring adding yet another special element to the land.

Eastern Bluestar Amsonia tabernaemontana at Big Spring 2014
A number of other plant species not traditionally seen in the area are also being found. Species in the Dogbane family like the Eastern Bluestar Amsonia tabernaemontana have been documented this spring and summer of 2014. Like the Buttonweed, these plants live in wetlands, marshes, ephemeral wetlands and wet meadows. This is another species identified by Tim Dalbey and Jim Flood in 2014 at Big Spring.

Biodiversity at 265+ plant species and counting
Master Naturalist and DFW Texas Stream Team coordinator Richard Grayson walking among the thigh high wildflowers at Big Spring in the bottoms. The Eastern Bluestar plants are just to the right.
Non-flowering Eastern Bluestar at Big Spring's large wildflower meadow 2014, Brett, Sarah, Aaron in the background 2014
 Expanding on plant species data is just one aspect of the work at Big Spring in 2014. Tasked on a whiteboard discussion at Dallas City Hall in late 2013, scopes of work were outlined for the new year. Historical designation, water quality testing, flora-fauna surveys and public access were cornerstones to be established and built upon.
Federal, State and Local government representatives at Big Spring for an en plein air discussion May 29, 2014. Left to right, Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist Brett Johnson, City of Dallas Asst Director of Trinity River Watershed Management Sarah Standifer, Corps of Engineers/UNT LAERF Aaron Schad
Aaron Schad discusses his research and observations to Richard Grayson and Tim Dalbey under the Bur Oak at Big Spring. Aaron has been contracted by the City of Dallas to develop a management survey of the aquatic environment at Big Spring. His work has found an interesting beetle species living in the spring water not found across the river.
Brett Johnson, Paul White, Aaron Schad, Sean Fitzgerald
Lots of meetings and discussions on the issues at hand. How best to develop a management plan for this unique area and how to maintain it for generations to come. The absence of human disturbance has left much of the ecological functionality of Big Spring intact indicating that preservation and management of the site should be somewhat of a “hands ‐ off” or “less ‐ is ‐ more” approach.
Left to right Aaron Schad from COE/LAERF, Brett Johnson from TPWD, Jennifer from Trinity Watershed Management, Paul White Enforcement Officer City of Dallas Stormwater Management, Geoarcheologist Tim Dalbey, Richard Grayson Texas Stream Team, Biologist Becky Rader, Sarah Standifer Trinity River Watershed Management, May 29, 2014

The limited human management will allow the natural processes to continue undisturbed. Continual monitoring and assessment of Big Spring will allow decisions to adaptively develop or hone site specific management.

From this eclectic mix of individuals a greater understanding of Big Spring has emerged and will continue to expand in the future.  Quarterly plant and wildlife inventories, water testing and future planned projects merely scratch the surface. The ability for these citizens to do things the right way, the first time is just what Big Spring needs.
Big Spring's back meadow, Clasping Coneflower Meadow in full bloom May 31, 2014.

The approach to managing the spring has been driven by a deep pool and knowledge base of experts in professional disciplines of science, education, archeology, history and engineering. Some of this work comes from the membership of the North Texas Master Naturalists who have been helpful as a guiding hand in future management plans.

Working More People Into The Fold

One of the many cornerstones laid with work this past winter were plans to draw more people into the mix at Big Spring and the Great Trinity Forest. It seemed like a simple idea to broaden the horizons of many who had never experienced the vast areas of the Great Trinity Forest, off the beaten path. How to do that is a bit complicated with larger groups.

Sunset over Big Spring after a heavy late day thunderstorm
The exposure for many Dallasites to the Trinity River is that seen through a car window at 60mph or from a visit to the Trinity River Audubon Center(TRAC). Lots of great views from bridges or from the TRAC trails but there is so much more beyond that.
Big Spring
Photographer Sean Fitzgerald suggested using the framework of a website called Meetup and a
photography organization called NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association. Through the website and the organization, Sean suggested cherry picking the very best weekends at the peak of bloom for sites around the Great Trinity Forest.
Barred Owl seen at the NANPA Photo-Hike Buckeye Trail

NANPA event in the GTF, checking out a Barred Owl
The first was the Trinity Audubon Center in the Great Trinity Forest, an after hours event in the golden hours before sunset. The second was a late March visit to the Texas Buckeye Trail in Rochester Park and the third was in May at a day long event at Historic Big Spring.

We had some candid discussions about how to best get more people aware and interested in the Trinity. If you look at what product is turned out every year for things like the Trinity River Photo Contest, you realize that the photographers and public in general have yet to really get down into the forest and experience the real nature that resides there. So much goes unseen and undocumented down on the river with only a few sets of eyes even visiting these grand places. It's a shame because vast stands of flowering trees and fields of wildflowers go to bloom without ever being enjoyed or visited.

These well attended events this spring exposed many dozens of people to the Great Trinity Forest and to places few have even seen before. Their photos, shown in a gallery of over 100 images Big Spring NANPA event highlight through the eyes of dozens, the beauty and nature at Big Spring. The main website is here NANPA Photography Group of North Texas.

The desire to preserve what’s authentic, what holds substance and what aspires to the whole shines through the experience of those who visit. The future looks brighter than ever for Big Spring. A picture is emerging of knowing a place intimately that only the giants of Texas history like Julien Reverchon ever knew. The pioneer spirit is still alive here. Those belonging to it more fully and to take responsibility for its preservation feel it in the work they do.

Ground fog developing in the pre-dawn light across the millions of wildflowers at Big Spring. Thirty second exposure in near total darkness at 5am.