Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rare, Threatened and Endangered Species of Joppa Preserve

"Our city life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it. We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground"--Walden by Henry David Thoreau

The trees that ring Lemmon Lake serve as a backdrop to one of Texas liveliest wildlife theatres. You can hear the nervous laugh of the wading birds, the howls of coyotes, bark of the tree frogs and the deep hoots of owls as the sun sets. The towering cottonwoods ring the lake at a distance not just as silent sentinels but also a place for the Wood Storks to observe the show from the cheap seats.

Separated from the Trinity River only by a gradual sandy beach and a 100 year old levee, Lemmon Lake supports a wide variety of wildlife giving it top billing to unique species and a watery wild kingdom.

Vast array of Texas wading birds at Lemmon Lake. Wood Storks, Herons, Egrets, White Ibis, White-Faced Ibis

Originally built as a private fishing lake in the late 1800s, it was purchased in the 1980s by Dallas County and then leased to the City of Dallas under a 99 year agreement. The purchase price was $500,000. $400,000 came from the county and $100,000 came as a private donation from the late Bill Barrett a well known Dallas businessman and philanthropist.
Summer sunset over Lemmon Lake at Joppa Preserve July 2011

Since the 1980s, the lake has sat idle, partially silted in and has now become more of a marsh estuary than a lake. Plans as recently as 2001 have called for a dredging and reworking of Lemmon Lake including a division of the lake into two cells for better water management. The neglect and lack of any access to the lake has actually benefited some of the rarest and most endangered birds in the United States.

Passed in 1973 and reauthorized in 1988, the Endangered Species Act regulates a wide range of activities affecting plants and animals designated as endangered or threatened. By definition, endangered species is an animal or plant listed by regulation as being in danger of extinction. A threatened species is any animal or plant that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future. A species must be listed in the Federal Register as endangered or threatened for the provisions of the act to apply.
The Act prohibits the following activities involving endangered species:
  • Importing into or exporting from the United States.
  • Taking (includes harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, trapping, killing, capturing, or collecting) within the United States and its territorial seas.
  • Taking on the high seas.
  • Possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, transporting, or shipping any such species unlawfully taken within the United States or on the high seas.
  • Delivering, receiving, carrying, transporting, or shipping in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of a commercial activity.
  • Selling or offering for sale in interstate or foreign commerce.

The Rare: The Roseate Spoonbill (Ajaja Ajaja)

A rare sight 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 site 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.

This species feeds in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging its bill from side to side as it steadily walks through the water, often in groups. It feeds on crawfish, water beetles, tadpoles, insect larvae and very small fish other wading birds ignore.

Texas Roseate Spoonbill at Joppa Preserve

Flight of Roseate Spoonbills

 The Threatened: The White-Faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)

Texas Parks and Wildlife has listed the White-Faced Ibis as a Threatened Species due to loss of habitat in their range. The White-Faced Ibis population is in slow decline as a result. The federal government is awaiting additional information on them before deciding if they should be given federal status as an endangered or threatened species.

Similar in appearance to the Glossy Ibis, the White-Faced Ibis can be identified by their red eyes, reddish legs and reddish feathers. In mating season, the White-Faced Ibis will develop a white ring around their face. The White-faced Ibis frequents marshes, swamps, ponds and rivers. Like the spoonbill, they prefer small aquatic insects, fish, worms and frogs.

In the Dallas area it can best be described as a casual species, just flying through to points elsewhere. I believe the dry Texas weather in 2011 has concentrated many of these coastal birds into the North Texas since the area has seen more rainfall than other parts of the state.

White-faced Ibis at Lemmon Lake

Federally Threatened White Faced Ibis at Joppa Preserve July 2011

White-Faced Ibis and White Ibis will often fly in flocks together as seen in the photo below.

Flight of White Faced Ibis(dark colored) and White Ibis(white) over Lemmon Lake

The Endangered: The Wood Stork (Mycteria americana)

Although they are listed as an Endangered Species in the United States, the birds are given threatened status in Texas. The Endangered listing applies to Wood Storks who live and breed east of the Mississippi in the Deep South and Florida. Wood Storks are still afforded the protections of Endangered Status here in Texas but since they do not breed here they are given a threatened designation. Wood Storks were once hunted for their feathers and have also lost much of their habitat to swamp draining in Florida. In Texas, the Wood Storks migrate north in the early summer from Mexico to take advantage of drying lake beds and the abundance of fish found in them. There have been only a handful of sightings in the DFW area of Wood Storks. Lemmon Lake is special in that so many can be seen at one time. Wood Stork sightings are more numerous further to the south in the Houston and Corpus Christi areas where the habitat lends itself to Wood Stork feeding tactics.

Wood storks are large water birds that stand 2-4 feet tall and are the only stork in North America. They have wingspans as wide as 5 1/2 feet. They are mostly white, but have a black tail and many black feathers under their wings. Storks are related to ibises, herons and flamingos. They have no feathers on their head and neck, so the black skin underneath shows. This makes wood storks the only tall water birds with black, bald heads. Since they have no muscles attached to their voice box, they are very quiet birds.

Wood Stork in flight preparing for landing

Wood Stork

Wood Stork roost on Trinity River south of Loop 12

These waders feed on minnows in shallow water by using their bills to perform a rare and effective fishing technique. The stork opens its bill and sticks it into the water, then waits for the touch of an unfortunate fish that wanders too close. When it feels a fish, the stork can snap its bill shut in as little as 20 milliseconds an incredibly quick reaction time unmatched by it's prey.

The storks prefer to employ this technique in isolated pools created by tides or falling freshwater levels, where fish congregate en masse. In some areas, such as Florida, breeding begins with the dry season that produces these optimal fishing conditions. Watch the video below, filmed at Lemmon Lake in July 2011 to see how they feed.

Video featuring hundreds of Wood Storks in flight and feeding at Lemmon Lake inside the Joppa Preserve. Also seen in the video are egrets, herons, white faced ibis, white ibis, glossy ibis, roseate spoonbills and cranes:

 Video below of coyotes yipping in the reeds on the far side of the lake. Within 2-3 minutes the coyotes approached the birds on the shore and the water creating a brief exodus to the air

Wideshot view of Lemmon Lake. Wood Storks are in treeline avoiding the 104 degree heat

Lemmon Lake Wood Storks

Notes and location on Joppa Preserve:

Lemmon Lake is a known American Alligator habitat.

American alligators normally avoid humans, but they can become perceived as a nuisance when they establish territories around people. As human populations in Texas continue to expand, there have been an increased number of encounters between people and alligators. Alligators have been known to prey on pets and must be treated with caution. Alligators can be surprisingly quick on land and are capable of running quickly over short distances. I have not seen alligators in Lemmon Lake but have seen one in Little Lemmon Lake, a smaller body of water directly to the north. There is also an active population of coyotes that hunt during the day and a population of Feral Pigs. Please exercise caution if you plan a visit.

Access does not come easy to Lemmon Lake. Ringed by triple canopy trees, some wetlands and a belt of sawgrass 50 yards thick it can be hard to find a way in. I would suggest parking at River Oaks Park or Simpson Stuart Road. From there walk down the paved Trinity River Trail till you find a place for entering the woods. Glimpses of the lake can be seen from the trail. Another more adventurous idea would be to launch a canoe from the Loop 12 Boat Ramp and take the river down to the Wood Stork roosting area, then take-out near Simpson Stuart Road.

Great Trinity Forest Trail at Joppa Preserve


  1. My name is Leon Washington. I'm an old resident of Joppa and believe I talked to you this summer from the tailgate of my pickup. Very fine photos the very best I have ever seen taken of our river. You are very brave to travel to Lake Lemmon. Only some strong young man can do that. The only thing better than your photos is getting to talk to you in person. Talking with you about Leadbelly and T-Bone Walker really brought back some memories. Thank you.

  2. I visited Lemmon Lake again this time and this time entered at the south end. I was shocked. All the open water is gone. I was able to walk out into the middle of the lake and take pictures. I could have crossed the lake. There is a patch of water left on the north end with some birds. I have some long shots of a couple of spoonbills still at the lake in a small piece of water at the extreme southeast corner of the lake. I did not see any Wood Storks. There are still some White Faced Ibis there. Lemmmon Lake is almost completely dried up. It's sad. Gerald

  3. Addendum: I visited the lake yesterday July 15 at 4pm. Question: What would be your best guess where locally the birds might go if the lake totally dries up?

  4. Thanks for the update Gerald! Hard to say where the birds went. In the summer of 2010 I saw some Wood Storks and Spoonbills just south of Hwy 175 in a drying pond, the address would be about 1600 Tune Avenue:

    The small body of water just south of there is where I saw them. That small lake had dried by late June of 2010. I have not checked to see if its currently dry. As of mid June 2011 it was holding alot of water.

    There is also another body of water north of 175 in the Roosevelt Park area, rectangular in shape that might be a good candiate. There is a trail there in the 2300 block of Moonlight, that gives you access.

    A few other places they might be include the pond west of the Trinity Audubon Center, off the property. It would be directly west of their building a few hundred yards.

    North of Lemmon Lake, across Loop 12 is the Wetland Cell Chain of Lakes. I have seen a number of white ibis, egrets and herons here but nothing really interesting of note. The water is kept ata constant level and as a result the ambush birds like the Wood Stork and Spoonbills seem to stay away. Excellent spot in the winter though.

    Make a mental note of Lemmon Lake for next fall and winter. I have seen some Bald Eagles that winter in that area.

  5. Thanks for the great info. This has been my first experience exploring this area so I really appreciate these leads. I love to photography everything from maco bugs to birds. I got a great shot of a Spicebush Swallowtail while I was walking off of the bike path at Lemmon Lake. I will update on this blog any birding infor in this area. Incidently I photographed a Green Heron and a Mississippi Kite at the little pond in the Audubon Cedar Creek Preserve.

  6. Gerald,

    The evening of Saturday the 16th, I saw a number of Wood Storks just north of Loop 12, about 1/2 mile north of Lemmon Lake. They were visible from Loop 12. Both in the water and roosting in trees along the river. Video is here:

    This area can be easily reached by parking at the Loop 12 boat ramp parking lot on eastbound Loop 12.

    Since the area is currently being mowed, the lakes are easy to walk around for the most part. The lakes extend in a chain from Loop 12 to I-45. I have only seen the storks in the southernmost cells and in the first 1/3 mile of trees lining the river. Seems like they became more active after 7:30pm when the weather cooled a little. I did not see them earlier, around 5pm when I went through the area towards I-20. I only saw them later in the evening towards dusk when I came back through.

    I also checked Lemmon Lake. Fewer birds and no storks or spoonbills. Still a couple hundred wading birds but nothing out of the ordinary.

  7. A short update from 1600 Tune Ave. Not what I expected. The exit off of 175 S. dumps you into almost an instant park on Tune. The street is blocked and unused. What looks like nice streets on the map are actually weed overgrown (in places) asphalt with no standing structures anywhere. I went straight down Tune and down toward the lake through some old junk infested ravine area. The lake here at the east end is chocked with reeds and brush areas. I saw only a couple small areas of water. Going west down Bush St. you walk past Roxana and south to the south side of the little unnamed pond. The water is open and a Great Egret was patroling the north side of the pond. The road goes further west and south and dead ends. An overgrown old road goes south from the dead end which looks like it will go to the lake. Didn't have time to explore it today because of all the walking involved. Interesting abandoned area.

  8. Gerald,

    Over the past year, the gate to access that area has usually been open. Guess they must have closed it. That area was once called Roosevelt Heights. Prone to flooding, the city bought out the homeowners and bulldozed the homes. It became somewhat of an illegal dumping ground. Last year, the pond held a large number of wading birds. I was last there in June and there were a few birds but not many. The water still had not receded enough to attract the storks or spoonbills.

  9. Went back to 1600 Tune area and walked to the west side of the lake about 6:30 am. There was a lot of water visible but only a few birds. The water appears still too deep for the waders. There was a family of Grebes and a couple of Great Egrets. Incidently they have mowed the old straight north south passage that runs on the west side of the lake and continues south.

  10. Checked out the area just North of Loop 12 by the Trinity and the long forked lake early on Saturday morning July 23. No storks that we could find. There were a great number of Cattle Egrets in the grass and some herons in the little ponds but no Wood Storks. We hiked as far as the hill next to the residental area going north.

  11. Gerald,

    There have been a large number of egrets there since late spring. I think they are eating the grasshoppers in the grass. Last Saturday evening, I did not see a single bird in that whole area. Too hot. I have no idea where the Wood Storks might have gone.

    From the crest of that hill you get a rather commanding view of the lakes. Great place to remember for the winter when the waterfowl arrive from the north. There can be thousands of ducks in those lakes. Just park where Fellows Lane dead ends at the gate.

    Thanks for the heads up about the mowing near the lake off of Tune Avenue. Last time I was there the weeds were very high. By this time last year that lake had dried. It was a good spot to see wading birds for a couple weeks, last summer.

  12. I visited the Trinity River Audubon Center on Saturday morning. I asked about Wood Storks and Spoonbills. Apparently they have had some Spoonbills in the hidden lake west and north of the main building. You have to take an old road trail north and then cross a little meadow to the lake. It is possible to get quite close to the birds there without spooking them. There were about a dozen Ibis/Egret/Herons and a bunch of Kilderes and Least Sandpipers. There was one solitary Tricolored Heron. Got some good pictures of him.

  13. i'd love to explore on a hike sometime with you. drop me a line.

  14. Thank you so very much for the information you provided to us. We are from Tokyo, Japan and visit relatives in Beford, Texas in July. We go to the area near loop 12 where you said there were storks and saw very many. We are so happy still that we saw spoonbill, egret and wood stork. Me and my wife saw 50 wood stork! We also see many many snakes, two pigs and one alligator! Do all have poison in Texas?

    Thank you for your website, it make our trip one for a lifetime.

    Thank you,

    Mr Suzuki and wife

  15. Sarah and Jon HigginsSeptember 2, 2011 at 6:01 PM

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