|Adult male Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus; initiating a high speed 100+ mph hunting dive into the John Bunker Sands Wetlands|
Now it's a place where nature and state-of-the-art science collide on the Trinity River. Where the only crop grown is water. The byproduct is a unique habitat for wildlife rarely seen in North Texas. Home to eagles, bobcats, otters and hawks the spectacular vistas of the public-private partnership are a real gift to North Texans.
|John Bunker Sands Wetlands at sunset under a rising full moon, March 2013|
|Catwalk above the Wetland Cells|
|JBS Bald Eagle|
John Bunker Sands Website: www.wetlandcenter.com
East Fork Raw Water Project: http://www.ntmwd.com/re-use_info.html
Open first and third saturdays of the month, $5 admission 9am-4pm, open other times by appointment. A visitor center with displays, restrooms, classrooms and meeting room sits at the headquarters with a commanding hilltop view of the wetlands. Rocking chairs are free.
Bald Eagle nest is on far south end of property along a utility right of way. Directions to the nest can be found further down in this post.
Known mostly by Dallasites as the part of DFW where people congregate to buy fireworks for the 4th it makes for an interesting drive from Dallas. One can head back to Big D as an alternate route using Malloy Bridge or other old country roads that head back towards Wilmer and Ferris. The landscape is full of nameless odd little communities down that way. Peppered with front yards featuring long forgotten front yard plastic nativity shepherds, wind flapping textiles and old half taken apart motorcycles. Worth a look.
|Looking out over the wetlands from the visitor center|
How it works
The wetland processes 40-90 million gallons of water per day. The water is a mix of treated wastewater and water from the Trinity River discharged below Lake Ray Hubbard. Pumped in by a trio of 300 horsepower pumps from the river to the head of the wetlands. From there it's all nature and gravity at work inside the wetlands.
The whole process, start to finish takes 7-10 days. At the end of that time period, the water is so clean that it can be pumped back up into Lake Lavon for human consumption. Which is exactly what happens. Three, 3,000 horsepower pumps take the water out of the wetlands and pump the water up the Trinity in 43 miles of pipeline back to Lake Lavon where it can be reused for municipal water use. The amount of water cleaned in the Wetlands everyday is equal to the amount of water pumped out of Lake Lavon by the North Texas Municipal Water District.
|Hawk hunting the wetland cells|
|Master Naturalist Bill Holston left, Scott Hudson right, with wildlife viewing blind in background|
|Male Bald Eagle at John Bunker Sands|
This particular trip was in March 2013 when many of the birds of the polar north, land of the Midnight Sun were still in Texas.
|Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata|
|Male Northern Shoveler|
|American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos|
One of America's largest birds the American White Pelican has a wingspan of nine feet and is easy to identify by a unique black band running down the wings. Many think these are birds of the sea but in actuality are inland birds. Banded individuals in this flock suggest they summer in the far reaches of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana in the Yellowstone, Madison, Snake and Columbia drainages.
|Flight of pelicans over the John Bunker Sands|
|Pelicans fishing at John Bunker Sands|
|American Coots and Blue-Winged Teal|
|American Coot Fulica americana|
Coots communicate distress to each other by exposing their under tail coverts or displaying a swollen shield when alarmed by potential dangers such as hawks, airplanes, or predatory mammals. Similarly, aggressive displays are not restricted to avian intruders.
|Blue-winged Teal Anas discors taking flight|
|Great Egret Ardea alba|
|Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus|
|Northern Harrier (right foreground) jumping a pond of ducks, coots, cormorants|
Below, a White Faced Ibis flies over the wetlands, a rare sight for early spring the birds are more numerous in the summer months. Habitat loss in Texas has dwindled the numbers of this ibis species and is now afforded protection as a Threatened Species.
|White Faced Ibis Plegadis chihi listed as a Threatened Species, flies over the John Bunker Sands Wetlands|
|Flushed Northern Shovelers landing in a pond of lotus|
Eagles of John Bunker Sands
|Male Bald Eagle over John Bunker Sands|
There is something all together unique about seeing a Texas Bald Eagle. The aesthetics of the birds in flight, speed and resolute prowess tap into the human spirit that few other species can duplicate. If you have never seen wild Bald Eagles, this is your chance.
Bald Eagles are not hard to find they are just spread few and far between in North Texas. Knowing where to look and eyes peeled to the sky one can find them without much trouble. With wingspans of 7 feet they standout on a sky landscape like no other bird. Below is a map with aggregated sightings of Bald Eagles in and around Dallas County. The blue hot spots note 3 to 5 sightings and the orange hot spots note a dozen or more. Eagles frequent with regularity the tail races of Lewisville Lake and Lake Tawakoni during the winter months. The annotated map is from data compiled via http://ebird.org which is a great resource for sightings based on specific birds based on date and geographic area.
|Combined Bald Eagle Sightings in the Dallas County area Fall 2012-Spring 2013|
The Sand Branch Bald Eagles feed near the Wastewater Treatment Plant off Beltline Road near the impromptu community of Sand Branch. High fences and a somewhat chilled response of area residents dictates that a search for Bald Eagles in this area is best done with an organized group.
The easiest, most reliable and with near 100% certainty of sighting a Bald Eagle is at John Bunker Sands. A pair of binoculars and some eyeballs are all that is required. Asking around, checking and doing some homework, the only other Bald Eagle nest known in the Greater Dallas area is one on private land near Ennis. That nest is not accessible to the public and from what I understand is hard to see.
Google Maps link to site-
John Bunker Sands Eagle Nest Site
The nest is located at the far southern end of the John Bunker Sands property in a high power transmission tower. A series of fences and cattle pasture off-limits to the public keeps a healthy buffer between guests and the tower. 500 feet or so. That's about as close as one can get.
There are two ways to see the nest:
1. Visit the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center on the first or third Saturday of the month. Ask about the nest site and a staff member will tell you where to go. The southern perimeter fence is electrified in nature, most likely to keep cows from straying into the ponds.
2. Head south down 1389 and pull off the side of the road about 1/2 mile south of Martin Lane. You should be able to see the nest and female with babies especially late in the day as the sun will be at your back. There is a subdivision with new homes a little further to the south that gets fairly close to the tower but trees obscure the nest and 2/3 of the tower. If the male is on top of the tower it can afford a 400 foot vantage point.
I have done both. The nice hike on the John Bunker Sands Wetlands is very rewarding and a must do. If time is a limiting factor then the second option is a distant second. Usually I would not post the location of a nest site like this until long after the offspring have left the nest. In this case, the private property boundaries, fencing and location offer great restricted viewing without disrupting the nest site.
|Female on nest with baby eagles as viewed from the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center property line|
The abundance of other raptors in the area can make it hard at first glance to sort out which large bird is the Bald Eagle. The bird at right, a Crested Caracara was seen not 50 yards from the Bald Eagle nest site flying around. Known as the Mexican Eagle and featured on the flag of Mexico at a distance bears a striking resemblance to that of the Bald Eagle.
The Bald Eagle gained unofficial recognition as the American National bird in 1782 on the US seal. Since then it has become a defacto symbol of the United States.
|Male Bald Eagle over the wetlands screaming a cry|
As a general rule, Northern Bald Eagles will migrate down south for the winter months following their prey species as they go. Northern Bald Eagles rarely nest below the 40th parallel and as a result just visit here in Texas rather than mate. The Southern Bald Eagles live and breed below the 40th parallel with concentrations in the Gulf States, particularly close to open bodies of water.
|Male landing on transmission tower|
The high winds allowed for ground speeds of the male Bald Eagle to exceed over 100 mph. Much closer to 150 mph by my calculations.
Hunting for lunch
And not even five minutes later, lunch is served........