Tag Archives: anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)

The rookery – Part 2

It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility. (Rachel Carson)

A torrid sun simmers from a cloudless sky.  Moist air rests on the skin like wet cotton.  Where the shade of trees gives respite from the heat, it likewise proffers habitat for a handful of mosquitoes looking to feast on unsuspecting people.

Hover flies dance in dappled sunlight filtering through the treetops.  Ants march one by one.  A robin flits to the ground to feed its squawking child as a squirrel nibbles on a newfound treat.  From somewhere deep within the motte a blue jay screeches.

A cacophony of alien voices fills the area, a menagerie of languages reminding me of the cantina scene in “Star Wars.”  Birds as large as space ships and as small as stones seem anchored to the ground by eerie shadows dragged beneath gossamer wings.

All the while, the sound of automobiles rumbles from every direction…

When nature learns to thrive where concrete and steel have replaced grass and trees, the aware mind can discover great magic.  The spell cast by such places provides urbanites a glimpse of what has been forgotten.  The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rookery brings within the city walls a source of awe and power unlike any other place in the DFW metroplex.

The school reports annually to Texas Parks and Wildlife on the nesting season.  This is an excerpt from last year’s summary:

2008 nesting summary for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rookery

Multiply those numbers by two for an understanding of the total bird population before chicks are born.

A white ibis (Eudocimus albus) perched in a tree (2009_06_13_023014)

Although the UTSWMC rookery lies 300 miles/480 kilometers from the the Gulf of Mexico, it still attracts coastal species like anhinga, tricolored heron and white ibis.  They join year-round residents such as great egret, black-crowned night-heron and cattle egret, as well as summer residents like little blue heron and snowy egret.  But only the gregarious need apply: the solitary great blue heron and the secretive green heron visit only in rare cases, and neither would dare nest in the vicinity of such a boisterous crowd.

A brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) lurking in the understory (2009_05_17_019865)

Large birds account for the most obvious inhabitants even though smaller birds occupy the area as well.  Hawks also know of the UT Southwestern Medical Center rookery and the smorgasbord it offers, and it can be a sight indeed when a buteo sweeps in and captures a meal.

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) in thick foliage (2009_05_17_019677)

Already there is new life.  And death.  Nesting boils down to a numbers game: the more children you have, the more you can lose while still being successful at procreation.  Accidents, predation, disease, environment and competition take their toll on adults and chicks alike.  Thus is the way of things.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) in the treetops (2009_06_20_023922)

In this tiny plot of land surrounded by urban mayhem, habitat loss has given rise to adaptation.  So little natural space is left for such creatures.  That might explain the glut of species packed tightly together in the middle of the city, each vying for a chance at survival as seen through the eyes of future generations.

An anhinga (a.k.a. water turkey or snakebird; Anhinga anhinga) on its nest (2009_06_13_023050)

To again quote Rachel Carson: “Like the resource it seeks to protect, wildlife conservation must be dynamic, changing as conditions change, seeking always to become more effective.”  The birds in the rookery seem to understand this concept.  But do we?

[While I have sent multiple requests to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center asking for comments about the rookery, I have yet to receive a response.  I’m now utilizing the back door for that effort.]

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[1] White ibis (Eudocimus albus)

[2] Brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

[3] Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea)

[4] Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

[5] Anhinga (a.k.a. water turkey or snakebird; Anhinga anhinga)

[cross-posted to The Clade]