|The twilight evening moon setting behind an Osprey (fish eagle) in the floodplains of Dallas, Texas January 2013|
The modest world of topographical study does not lend itself well to the open prairie of North Texas. Attempts at flattering comparisons to that of the Texas Trans-Pecos or rolling Hill Country fall flatter than the land itself. Most of what made this land so special to pioneers, why they settled here instead of the rough hewn rolling cedar hills further west is an answer lost to most. The grand prairie grass plains.
|Restored Tall Grass Prairie in Southeast Dallas County near the mouth of Ten Mile Creek and the Trinity River|
|Ten Mile Creek valley overlooking the South Creek Ranch's Red Angus herd with Riverbend Preserve in the far treeline beyond. Dallas County Texas.|
While the eagles featured in this post were often photographed inside the city limits of Dallas and inside the confines of Loop 12, the more remote areas of Southeast Dallas County afford the best chance to see one. Parkinson and Wolf Springs Roads seem to be the best option if one wishes to keep your sightings a car bound affair. For the more adventure seeking, one of the least visited Dallas County nature preserves sits right in the middle of this eagle rich countryside. A few months ago, Chris Jackson made a detailed report of his trip to the preserve and Lock and Dam #4. He has spotted numerous bald eagles inside the metroplex this winter including some around the south side of the Lewisville Lake Dam.
|Dallas/Ellis County line on Wolf Springs Road looking south into Ellis County. Dallas County portion is paved and abruptly ends at the county line. Trinity River is in treeline to the left, old Ten Mile Creek Channel is immediate right of photo|
River bottoms such as these are prime real estate in the winter for large birds of prey, the largest seen in Texas are eagles.The Trinity is often overlooked for eagles. The Colorado and Brazos to the south steal the thunder of North Texas when it boils down to the grit.
Why Southeast Dallas County Attracts Eagles
|Current Bird's Eye View of Ten Mile Creek where it enters the Trinity River north of Wolf Springs Road in Dallas County|
|1900 Map showing Ten Mile prior to channelization|
|USGS India Quadrangle noting old Ten Mile Creek Streambed|
|2012 aerial view of Wolf Springs Road with old Ten Mile streambed visible|
It's worth noting this century old project because the wildlife still seem to congregate along the old creek channels. This shift of streams greatly plays an integral role in the sheer numbers of animals in the area.
Smaller tributaries such as Bear Creek were also moved as a result of this project and funneled south to join Red Oak Creek near it's mouth with the Trinity River.
The Crested Caracara --The Sacred Eagle of the Aztec
|Crested Caracara beginning a gliding dive over Ten Mile Creek|
|Crested Caracara hunting over Ten Mile Creek near the Trinity River|
|Aztec Warriors as depicted in the Florentine Codex|
The Caracara has long been a sacred bird for the people of Mexico. Steeped in deep legends of the Aztecs of interior Mexico, the sighting of one had deep significance. The symbol of the Caracara is immortalized in the petroglyphs of Aztec pyramids across the region.
The most fearsome of Aztec shock troops the Eagle and Jaguar Warriors wore suits fashioned from the feathers of the Caracara. Called the cuāuhocēlōtl these soldiers were the most disciplined and during the Spanish Conquests of Mexico could fight the well armored Conquistadors on an even field.
|Crested Caracara hunting a field near Ten Mile Creek|
|Caracara with a snake in beak|
I find this story relevant because the Caracara seen in Dallas County hunting over the sunny but cool fields of Ten Mile Creek came up with a snake as a late afternoon meal. Seen pictured at right. This is most likely one of a mated pair that loiters up and down the river in this area over the last few winters with regular frequency.
These birds have the body and span of an eagle but tend to forage more on a wide array of carrion if the opportunity presents itself. It would be fair to say that the have the body of an eagle and the mind of the most depraved vulture. I have seen Caracara as far north as the old Progreso Farm location on Pemberton Hill Road in 2009-2010. The area was strewn with discarded animal remains at the time from a slaughterhouse operation. As a result the area was thick with carrion loving birds.
Caracara are actually listed as a Threatened Species under the Endangered Species Act. Much like the Wood Stork that ranges through this Dallas countryside in the summer months, the habitat threatened Caracara is listed not for the ranging birds from Mexico but those residing in Florida. At some point in the past a vast extinction event took place along the Gulf Coast between Florida and Texas separating the populations into two distinct groups. The Endangered Species Act contradicts itself in a few areas regarding species protection. Rather than separate the population into subsets, the species as a whole is protected.
Caracara are a somewhat rare sight in Dallas County. They are most often seen around landfills in Irving, Dallas, Mansfield. North of the DFW metro area they are very seldom seen. Maybe in coming years as this species population improves more will be seen towards the Red River.
The Bald Eagle -- The Trinity River Duck Hunters
|Ducks in flight over the Trinity River Wetland Cells|
|Juvenile Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in the Great Trinity Forest near the confluence of White Rock Creek and the Trinity River, Pemberton Hill, Dallas Texas, January 19, 2013|
Bald Eagles are rather punctual as a breed. Give or take a week they always seem to show up about when expected. It was disappointing not to see them last winter. The ebb and flow of winged wildlife is only tied to food sources and weather. Both in short supply last winter. A near normal spring and summer yielded more food and shelter this winter holding the ducks here in Dallas for a longer period.
|Adult Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) near the mouth of Ten Mile Creek and the Trinity River, Riverbend Preserve, Dallas County Texas, January 13, 2013|
Inside the city limits of Dallas eagles are seen much less frequently. Casual documented observations have been made at White Rock Lake in years past but they are very infrequent and the birds seldom stay long. The photos above show two common adaptations of Bald Eagles. The juvenile Bald Eagle was seen in the Pemberton Hill area on January 19, 2013. As is customary these oddball sightings always seem to involve Bill Holston a Master Naturalist and all around master hiker to boot. I being armed with a camera and he armed with binoculars, we both scratched our heads about the odd looking juvenile bird. It was not until a look through the images post hike I was able to see it was a Bald Eagle. It might have fooled us humans but the ducks pecking away at morning breakfast in the pond ahead of us knew what it was...........
|Ducks in a flooded Pleasant Grove field near the Trinity River, scattering at the sight of a juvenile Bald Eagle|
It can take years for a Bald Eagle to develop the hallmark white head. Seen in a photo above, that particular adult Bald Eagle was seen down near Ten Mile Creek, a healthy distance away over a grove of large trees. The great majority of the Bald Eagles in this area are merely transients and are not building nests in the Dallas area. The Great Trinity Forest has a very few scant trees that would even be capable of Bald Eagle nest habitat. The eagles seen in Dallas proper most likely commute from larger bodies of water like Ray Hubbard, Tawakoni and Richland Chambers where eagles reside in greater numbers during the winter.
|Great Horned Owl|
|Barred Owl near the Buckeye Grove|
Osprey -- Fish Eagle of the floodplain
|Osprey (Fish Eagle) feasting of a freshly caught carp in Dallas Texas under a rising moon|
|Fog rising among White Rock Creek's five story tall trees in the Great Trinity Forest, Rochester Park|
This particular species of bird is often seen diving head first towards water then using razor sharp talons to deliver a devastating blow.
Widespread across the globe, these birds live on every continent but Antarctica.
|Osprey clutching a carp on a cottonwood tree|
The Osprey in these photographs is an infrequent visitor along the White Rock Creek drainage. Being a unique bird to the area it's unknown whether or not similar sightings this past fall of an Osprey near the mouth of White Rock Creek are the same bird.
It seems that without reservation that the Trinity River Project faces problems far greater than most people realize. The mismanagement of this resource across a broad scale is starting to impact the natural wildlife that is just starting to make a toe hold back into the woods. No amount of money can create some of the sights down there. But for a price, you can destroy it.