Tag Archives: house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

The odd introduction

I recently addressed some of the many introduced species in Texas, including various deer in addition to blackbucks and aoudads.  It’s true that there are many nonnative mammals inhabiting the Lone Star State.

But what I want to address now is the odd introduction: the house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) perched on a reed (2009_11_26_042079)

This bird indeed is endemic to Texas.  In fact, Texas is the only place where the native territories of house finches and purple finches (Carpodacus purpureus) come close to each other.  Purple finches are an eastern species whilst house finches are a western species.

So to the chagrin of “purist” birders in North America, house finches are an introduced species everywhere east of the Rocky Mountains except Texas.  That’s right: if you don’t live in Texas and if you live east of the Rocky Mountains, house finches are a nonnative species.  To wit, you can lump house finches in with house sparrows (Passer domesticus) and European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris).

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) eating fruit (2009_12_20_045823)

Before the 1940s, house finches were resident only in Mexico and the southwestern United States.  But pretty birds don’t stay localized for long; people capture them and take them everywhere.  Then stupidity sets in and the birds wind up released.  So when “Hollywood Finches”, as they were called at the time, were deemed illegal east of the Rocky Mountains under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, what did owners and dealers do with them?  They released them, of course.

A female house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) perched on a branch (2009_11_07_037504)

According to scientific studies, house finches are shown to displace native purple finches in eastern North America.  In fact, they’ve also displaced house sparrows in some areas.  Sounds like pick your poison, or at least pick the lesser of two evils.

Most troubling, though, is the purple finch issue: purple finch numbers are declining throughout their territory, and evidence suggests that house finches and house sparrows are at least partly to blame (the two species have been documented as out-competing purple finches for food and nest locations).

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) perched in a tree (2010_04_03_052372)

So it goes without saying: if you live east of the Rocky Mountains but outside of Texas, and if you practice a “native first” mentality with regards to nature, house finches should be your enemy if you hate house sparrows and European starlings.  Otherwise you hate the native purple finch and you are hypocrite, cognitive dissonance notwithstanding.

— — — — — — — — — —

The next post in this nonnative series will be about a truly invasive species.  We’re terribly anthropocentric, so we call “introduced” species “invasive” since we don’t want to own responsibility for their presence.  But an invasive species is quite different from an introduced species: introduced means we’re responsible while invasive means the critters are responsible.  In the scheme of things, the vast majority of hated creatures are introduced, not invasive.  And some invasive species are loved, which is precisely the kind of species I’ll cover next.

And yes, I’m increasingly disgusted with nature purists.  How selective they are.  Shall I mention their dislike of brown-headed cowbirds and their attempts to kill this species in hopes of protecting other birds?  Shall I mention their disgust with house sparrows and European starlings whilst they pretend cattle egrets are A-OK?  Shall I mention their hate of rock pigeons while they ignore the hunting of mourning doves—deaths in the millions each year?  I’m only just getting started…

A sunny December weekend

I began today thinking it an appropriate time to compile part 4 of my winter visitors series.  Then I lost interest about three pictures into it and decided instead to revisit the spiders with part 3 of that series.  Having failed to relocate the first arachnid image before deciding it too much work for my lazy attitude, I thought perhaps I would toss out a few impressive images of a red-tailed hawk in flight, a gorgeous adult raptor who avoided me at all costs as I stalked the bird in its various perches but who still gifted me with an afternoon takeoff and upward spiral directly overhead.  For some reason, even that effort became tedious before it began.

And yet through all the floundering in ideas, I kept coming back to something less intentional, something less focused on the thought of the matter and more focused on a celebration of simple things.  This past weekend offered cold mornings and sunny springlike afternoons, cool enough to start the day with plenty of activity to get the blood flowing and comfortable enough by lunchtime to have the lizards out hunting insects and the turtles resting on sun-soaked logs.

In the midst of such comfortable December days, I find myself standing motionless in places where the ubiquitous stand like lighthouses, where stopping to see the commonplace feels like discovery made flesh.  At the woodland edge, in the depth of the forest, along the shore of a lagoon, atop a simple hill…  These places and more offer the open eyes a feast of beauty waiting to be seen.

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) hunts beneath riparian flora (2009_12_20_045635)

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) hunts beneath riparian flora.

A great egret (Ardea alba) stands like a beacon against a backdrop of russet and shadow (2009_12_20_045641)

A great egret (Ardea alba) stands like a beacon against a backdrop of russet and shadow.

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) indulges in the fruit of blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) (2009_12_20_046028)

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) indulges in the fruit of blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) and forgets to wipe his beak afterward.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) plays peekaboo (2009_12_20_046042)

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) plays peekaboo.

A blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) tries to play peekaboo and fails miserably (2009_12_20_046414)

A blue-gray gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) tries its hand at peekaboo.  It goes without saying this poor bird entirely missed the idea of the game.

A juvenile red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) holds a pecan in its beak (2009_12_19_045344)

A juvenile red-headed woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) captures a wily pecan.

A Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) pauses to look at me (2009_12_19_044881)

A Carolina chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) pauses to observe the observer.

[Update] I should have included in the original post that these photos are from White Rock Lake in Dallas.

Hiding in the shadows

Sometimes the most interesting things aren’t found in the light…

A pair of house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) stealing a kiss beneath the mistletoe (2009_10_17_031857)

A pair of house finches (Carpodacus mexicanus) stealing a kiss beneath the mistletoe

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) escaping the light of day (2009_09_06_028858)

A male Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) escaping the light of day

A female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing guard in her tree (2009_07_19_027165)

A female great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) standing guard in her tree

A blue-headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) watching me from within an impenetrable thicket (2009_10_24_033301)

A blue-headed vireo (Vireo solitarius) watching me from within an impenetrable thicket

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) enjoying the solace of a quiet stream (2009_06_06_022618)

A female northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) enjoying the solace of a quiet stream

A juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius) doing battle with an earthworm (2009_06_27_024880)

A juvenile American robin (Turdus migratorius) doing battle with an earthworm

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) facing one more sunset (2009_07_07_026166)

A swift setwing (Dythemis velox) facing one more sunset

The rookery – Part 3

Humans seem inclined to lens the world through vision focused on self.  Thus becomes the agony of aloneness, separation from the world that nurtures us despite our intent to destroy it and all it births.  Too long have people scampered about in hurried endeavors to own, to acquire, to master.  And in response to our anthropocentric ways, too many lives have been brushed from the face of the planet that will never again be seen.

Long before sunrise on July 23, 1998, the city of Carrollton, Texas, began work on what it dubbed “Operation Remove Excrement.”  Huge industrial lights invaded the darkness at 4:00 AM and a motte at the city’s Josey Ranch Park came to life with the sound of bulldozers.  By 4:30 AM as resident Jack Laivins drove to work, the sky above the trees roiled with billowing smoke.  Upon closer inspection, though, he realized the smoke was actually thousands of heron and egret adults circling in the night sky above the municipal park.  Carrollton had decided to raze an active bird rookery while parents and offspring remained in the nests.

The official cost was staggering: several hundred birds killed, many hundreds more injured, thousands forced to abandon the area—most likewise abandoning their young, and an entire breeding territory decimated at the height of migratory bird nesting.  The city’s reason?  They had received “numerous complaints” about the noise and odor.  The town claimed it studied the area for several months, took its time in planning the action, and needed no permission to remove inconvenient birds. 

Acting lawfully, responsibly and humanely explains why the devastation took place during the overnight hours such that it would be complete before daybreak.  Unfortunately for Carrollton, it could never be completed before citizens noticed the dead bodies, the orphaned chicks, the wounded animals left in piles of rubble, and the panicked adults searching desperately for their children.  Three days later, hungry and parched birds were still being pulled from twisted and crushed debris, many with broken wings or legs, many more with neck or spine injuries, and some with limbs nearly severed.

The Josey Ranch Park rests on land donated by Don Josey, father of Melissa Gribble, a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  The city’s sense of irony was fully intact.  They paid nearly $200,000 in rehabilitation costs and federal fines—an amount profoundly lacking under the circumstances.  And the public backlash reached international proportions as news of the incident spread.

The horror of Carrollton’s actions represents the worst of human society, a place where wildlife already pushed from most of its native habitat must face yet another harrowing obstacle course: trying to survive in those tiny plots of land still available whilst simultaneously hoping to go unnoticed by those who see such things as nuisances, inconveniences to be wiped from the planet’s surface.

Now leap forward to February 2009 at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center rookery in Dallas.

One-year-old little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) nesting for the first time as it transitions from the juvenile’s all-white plumage to the adult’s all-dark plumage (2009_05_17_019779)

After great egrets began arriving and building nests, maintenance staff decided to “landscape” around the tree grove that hosts a surprisingly diverse group of birds.  The school called it brush clearing.  Photos of the aftermath showed nests on the ground; saplings, snags and small trees felled; significant understory clearing; the pond wholly exposed to sunshine and human activity; and a lot of plant removal beneath and inside the drip line where birds actively roost.  Images also captured egrets wandering through a stark landscape that once hid them from prying eyes and predators.

Recently fledged male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) perched in a tree (2009_05_17_019810)

“They didn’t know the birds were there.”  Thus constitutes the brevity of the university’s response when asked about the incident.  Given the birds fly in and out of the trees on wings that span nearly six feet/two meters, and they make a great deal of noise during the breeding and nesting season, they could hardly go unnoticed.  After all, even the children at the daycare center across the street already had noticed the birds, small kids intoxicated by the exotic magic of the area where flying giants and colorful creatures spend many months from late winter through early autumn—and where these mystical beings have done so for at least half a century.

Male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) collecting insects for his chicks (2009_06_20_023983)

Many feared this represented a precursor to a Carrollton-like assault on the rookery.  Vocal citizens and organizations spoke up and the local media responded.  The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department got involved.  Yet I spent an insightful morning speaking to UT Southwestern administrators and walked away with an impression not of imminent doom but of palpable fear of bad press coupled with a sense of obligation and promise.

Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) chicks still in the nest (2009_06_13_023108)

“It’s about the birds, not the people.”  No other statement from university officials struck me like that  one.  The UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas has “officially” hosted the rookery on campus grounds since at least 1966.  Circumstantial evidence suggests the rookery existed as far back as 1959 and anecdotal evidence indicates herons and egrets have nested in the area since at least 1938.  Regardless of the exact date, fifty years of the school’s own records stand as significant tribute to the longevity of this urban wildlife haven.

Recently fledged black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) perched in a tree (2009_06_20_023813)

Dr. Charles Sprague, the first president of the university, asked that the birds be allowed to use the area for as long as they chose to nest there, essentially requesting of UT Southwestern that they respect and protect the site ad infinitum.  The school agreed.  Perhaps their readiness to accept that challenge stemmed from “knowledgeable sources” who claimed the rookery would self-destruct within ten years due to the volume of guano and the impact it would have on soil acidity and flora.  Contrary to that prediction, susceptible plants died while a host of other plants thrived—and the rookery goes on.

Great egret (Ardea alba) chick peering down from the nest(2009_06_13_023179)

An ongoing grassroots effort hopes to convince the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature to grant official recognition and protection to the rookery.  UT Southwestern appears inclined to host the birds, even if as an act of tolerance only, and as state property and a state organization the campus cannot blindly destroy the area without putting Texas in the position of having wiped out a long-lived nesting site for protected birds.

Nevertheless, many agree more can and should be done, especially in light of the greatest threat the birds now face, a relentless and insidious foe whose unimaginable power is matched only by heartlessness.  This adversary is responsible for the death of a great many birds this year, and the villain has caused the failure and abandonment of more nests in the rookery than has ever been seen before.  Even nests with chicks have been left to suffer under the skeletal hand of this monster.  The attacker remains bent on destroying what little of nature remains unscathed by the spread of civilization.

The enemy is at the gates.  You will come face to face with the ghoul in the final part of this series.

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] One-year-old little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) nesting for the first time as it transitions from the juvenile’s all-white plumage to the adult’s all-dark plumage

[2] Recently fledged male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

[3] Male common grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) collecting insects for his chicks

[4] Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) chicks still in the nest

[5] Recently fledged black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

[6] Great egret (Ardea alba) chick peering down from the nest

[cross-posted to The Clade]

All in a day’s walk – January 18, 2009

Sunday’s walk was punctuated with strong winds and bright sunshine.  As I’ve developed a great deal of respect for the wind and what it can do while I’m trying to take photographs, not the least of which is knock me on my butt, I tried to direct my walk toward those areas where gusty onslaughts would pose the least problems.

I headed out my front door and walked to the north shore of Sunset Bay to see if I could find my kestrel friend (which I did), and from there I wandered south to Garland Road, then west to the spillway and into the Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area.  Before I even reached Winfrey Point, however, I ran across some rather unique ducks.

A male bufflehead (Bucephala albeola) swimming away from shore (2009_01_18_004678)

Jenny once mentioned she walked at the lake and found herself in awe of the “baffleheads” swimming about near shore.

I corrected her on the name, and thereafter we both laughed uproariously in agreement that it probably wasn’t the ducks who were baffled.

I generally find buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) all along the eastern shore of the lake, and this time was no different.

As diving ducks go, they spend a great deal of time away from land where the water is deep enough for them to get below the surface and search for food, so getting close to one for a good photograph isn’t an opportunity that presents itself.

Add enough wind to create white caps that can hide in its troughs this small waterfowl and you can imagine the difficulty had with capturing an image.

An American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) skimming the water's surface as it lands (2009_01_18_004700)

No visit to White Rock Lake in winter can be complete without seeing the American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos).

Watching this one ski in for a landing was a delight indeed.

Having flown from the spillway where a great many pelicans remained engaged in a cooperative hunt, this one came in with direct aim at a cormorant carrying a fish.

The pelican pursued the other bird for a brief time, but the cormorant won.

A double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) carrying a small fish in its beak (2009_01_18_004766)

Having escaped the much larger pelican who had set its sight on a free meal, this double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) scurried away from the gaping maws with a daring bit of fast swimming, after which it was left in peace to enjoy its catch.

While the fish might seem small, a cormorant seen earlier held a much bigger prize: a catfish at least three times as large as this one.

When it comes to how these birds eat, one thing is true: Nothing is too big or too small, especially in winter when more competition fills the lake with hungry mouths.

By the way: Although cormorants swim low in the water, this one is more than swimming low; it’s in a trough between high waves pushed across the lake by blustery winds.  You’d normally see at least part of its back and the whole of its neck.  Not this time, though.

A pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) swimming in rough waters (2009_01_18_004782)

Childlike, pied-billed grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) are so small and delicate that I always think of them as juveniles tossed out into the wild to fend for themselves.

This one struggling to swim against the onslaught of wind and wave beckoned for help solely by its appearance.

Don’t you want to just swim out there and help it?  I know I did.

Photographing this species is one of the most difficult prospects imaginable.  At the first perceived threat, they dive underwater and swim for all they’re worth, often moving several yards/meters in a random direction.

When they dive, all I can do is watch the entire area in hopes of spotting it when it surfaces.  That’s assuming, I mean, that it surfaces within sight.  That’s not always the case.

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing on fallen bamboo at the water's edge (2009_01_18_004811)

Great egrets (Ardea alba).  Ubiquitous throughout the year along with a litany of other heron and egret species, these birds help define the essence of this lake.  I can’t recall a single walk along its shores that didn’t offer at least one encounter with this large, stunning avian creature.

Perched on a bamboo float drifting against the ground, this beautiful adult captivated me with its grace, its agility, its pure essence defined by majestic white plumage.

It tolerated so many humans who passed by unaware of its presence.  And a shame that was, too, for it remained there for quite some time, posing as it were, and anyone witnessing it from nearby was all the better for it.

At least until some nitwit let his dog chase the bird away.  That’s a travesty of this lake: Too many careless people with unattended canines, and I’ve seen more than a few of those free-running dogs kill more than a little of the wildlife that lives here.  Watching a mindless git pat his dog cheerfully as it holds a dead duck in its mouth is one of the more disgusting things you can ever see…

When I finally made it around the southern end of the lake to the Audubon park behind the spillway, I lost myself in dense woodlands and impassible marshes.  The Old Fish Hatchery Nature Area remains one of my favorite haunts at White Rock.  It provides year-round exposure to a plethora of nature’s marvels.  Here I’ve seen many species of owl, hawk, eagle, egret and heron, chickadee, warbler, thrasher, duck, goose and many other birds, not to mention opossums, raccoons, coyotes, bobcats, two species of fox, snakes and turtles and lizards galore, and a litany of other denizens most would be surprised to find in the heart of DFW.  Yet here they are and here they live.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) perched on a small limb while watching me (2009_01_18_004911)

The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a mouthy little bird.

This one cried ad nauseam from dry marshlands as I circled on the trails and followed it through naked trees and evergreen shrubs.

Many times it became nothing more than a voice in the forest, a chattering life leading me from one footstep to the next.

It never lost sight of me, I suspect, as each time I found it again it was staring at me, yelling at me even.  How delightful!

Because it lives here throughout the year, I fear I might take it for granted more often than I think (like so many other species that become mundane and ordinary).  What a shame that is.  This bird is such a joy to watch and hear.

A northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) high in the treetops (2009_01_18_004934)

As woodpeckers go, the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) remains an enigma.

Less evident than the red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers yet still more obvious than the yellow-bellied sapsucker, this species seems easier to find at backyard feeders than within its natural habitat.

Well, perhaps it’s more visible at feeders than it is within its normal habitat given the density of trees within which I’ve always found it, not to mention its marvelous camouflage.  A back yard is an easier viewing platform than is a forest overflowing with ligneous, verdant obstacles.

I stalked this poor female like a hapless teenager circling the block where my latest love lives.  I’m not sure she made the distinction between that and a general nuisance.

An American robin (Turdus migratorius) perched on a tree limb while watching me (2009_01_18_005031)

What can be said about American robins (Turdus migratorius)?

They live here all the time, digging their way through yards looking for worms in the morning and flitting about trees and shrubs searching for fruit in the evening.

I scared up a handful of these birds when I stumbled—literally—and fell into a dry marsh replete with doves, robins, squirrels, flycatchers and sparrows.

They never saw it coming.  Neither did I, especially as I brushed myself off and tried to act as though I meant to be in the dirt at that very moment.

Not even I believed as much.

A red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) and an unidentified turtle sunning themselves on a log (2009_01_18_005040)

Our winter has been anything but predictable.

Green anoles have come out of hibernation early to find insects scarce; some insects have arrived early to find the environment less than welcoming.

Some days are very warm; others are very cold.  Mostly it’s warm, and the lack of rain worries everyone.

One of the marshes offered a great deal of wildlife, but it also protected them with dense reeds and shrubs that offered only a small hole here or there through which I could see.

Nevertheless, a log near shore seemed almost busy with a red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta elegans) warming itself alongside an unidentified turtle.

I wondered about them, wondered about what the weather would give them, and wondered how they might survive this distressing and confusing deluge of this and that.

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) perched on a limb while watching me (2009_01_18_005056)

Pushing my way through a thicket that had overgrown the trail, a menagerie of birds hailed my arrival with all manner of insults.

They didn’t like me forcing my way through the natural fence that protected them.

Yet even facing into the sun, I recognized this house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) who perched on a branch and screamed at me from behind a cloak of blinding sunlight.

His mate, only a wee bit to my right, held her own from behind an impenetrable shield of branches I eventually turned away from.

Later, as I wound my way through trails that hardly seemed used in ages, I appreciated more and more the position the finches held.

My every effort focused on protecting my eyes and the camera lens from assault by the world’s bony fingers, yet the finches rested comfortably within those skeletal hands.

I left the nature area after wandering for hours, all the while never seeing the same trail twice.  I scampered back out into the bright sunshine and noisy city and returned the way I came, circling back around the south end of the lake toward home.

A male northern shoveler (Anas clypeata) swimming in rough water (2009_01_18_005064)

I marched along Garland Road with the lake sprawling out to the north with a host of waterfowl swimming in what looked like a large collection of flotsam.

Mixed in with the other birds was a handful of northern shovelers (Anas clypeata).

Although they hide quite well, this duck species can usually be found here in all but the hottest months.

Smaller than mallard ducks, they pass unnoticed for all but the careful observer.

I’m a careful observer.

They haunt the places where few go, skulk about in silence and shadow hoping no predator will notice.

I found this male swimming about with a few of his brothers and sisters.

Tired, my back aching from such a long walk, even I had to stop and take notice of this migrant.

A paddling of gadwalls (Anas strepera) swimming in rough waters (2009_01_18_005100)

The sun beating down on me, wind howling in my ears, my legs begging me to stop and let them rest, I stumbled along the edge of the lake many hours after I began my journey.

The flotilla of avians greeted my every step.

I noticed a paddling of gadwalls (Anas strepera) amongst the birds swimming and hunting.

Three males and two females all but escaped notice as they pretended to be detritus on the water, a bit of nondescript debris surfing the harsh waves.

The everyman of the duck world, these birds inspire me with their subdued colors.

A male ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) floating on rough water while a pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) preens behind him (2009_01_18_005109)

It goes without saying that almost every encounter I have with a ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is when it’s sleeping, usually large groups of them floating carefree with heads tucked beneath wings.

Finding this male swimming, his eyes open, excited me to no end.

That he and several others of his kind were so far away in rough water frustrated me to no end.

Thus is the curse of nature photography, I suppose.

And yet the other piece of the puzzle that enamored me of this moment is that another pied-billed grebe can be seen just behind the duck.

Oblivious to me since I was so far away and up high on a ridge overlooking the lake, for once the little critter didn’t vanish beneath the waves.

Instead, it just preened and floated along sans a care in the world.

A Forster's tern (Sterna forsteri) flying away (2009_01_18_005166)

When I finally made it back to Winfrey Point just south of Sunset Bay, I knew home was a few minutes away.

My feet had already started thanking me while my thirst had already started feeling quenched.

But as I walked through dry grass and listened to dry reeds play a woeful yet invigorating song as they danced in the breeze, I noticed a handful of birds flying back and forth along the shore.

I was facing south into the sun, yet even that didn’t stop me from recognizing the Forster’s terns (Sterna forsteri) hunting the shallows and occasionally skimming the water’s surface for a drink or plunging in to catch a small fish.

They spent most of the time cruising, though, passing me both coming and going as they repeatedly flew to and from territorial markers only they could see.

A female yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata) perched in the top of a tree (2009_01_18_005228)

I passed through Sunset Bay without stopping as the warm weather had beckoned crowds of people to the park.

Throngs jogged and rode bicycles, others picnicked, some meandered as though lost, a few walked dogs or pushed strollers, a handful jockeyed for positions along the shore where they could snap a few pictures, and many engaged in whatever activities would keep them from facing the tumultuous city hidden behind the enclosing woods.

Not wanting to be mobbed in the virtual chaos, I shoved off and let my feet carry me toward home by way of following a creek.

When a belted kingfisher flew by me at top speed, a blue-and-white blur recognized only by its call, I noticed a smaller bird as it landed in a tree nearby.

A female yellow-rumped warbler (a.k.a. myrtle warbler or Audubon’s warbler; Dendroica coronata), dressed in the myrtle form plumage, perched on a limb and watched the goings on with an almost sad indifference.

Projection notwithstanding, she sang a bit as I stood beneath her and watched, after which she went her way and I went mine.

I returned home by early afternoon and began the quest to do some chores, download and process the images from my walk, read a bit, and spend time with The Kids.

Oh, but wait!  You want to know about the encounter with “a creature rare in these parts that sent shivers down my spine for having seen it in the heart of Dallas“.

Let me tell you about that.

Near the beginning of my walk as I marched along the southeastern edge of the lake behind the arboretum, I noticed a large bird circling over the trees to the east.  The treeline was too near and too dense for me to see it clearly, but I could see it was large.

Probably a vulture, I thought given its size, yet the colors vexed me a tad.  With the bright sunny sky and where the sun was in relation to the bird and my viewing angle, I tossed off the issue as an optical illusion.

But I couldn’t take my eyes of the creature because its size and colors couldn’t be reconciled with any of the usual suspects, even if I considered the hues to be deceptive due to the sunshine and where I stood.

And something about the way it held its wings with the ends swept back a bit, not out straight like a hawk, eagle or vulture would do while soaring.

So I watched it as it circled nearer and nearer.  It seemed to be heading directly for my position, and I knew that would mean I’d have about three seconds to snap photos once it came out from behind the treeline.  After that, it would disappear into the bright sun.

Just as I realized my opportunity for a clear view would be extremely short, it finished its last arc and moved southwest.  Right over me.

An osprey (a.k.a. seahawk, fish hawk, or fish eagle; Pandion haliaetus) flying overhead (2009_01_18_004798)

I pressed the button as quickly as I could while the bird flew overhead.  The moment lasted a few seconds only, after which the massive creature vanished behind a curtain of bright light.

But I already knew what it was.

Ospreys (a.k.a. seahawk, fish hawk, or fish eagle; Pandion haliaetus) migrate through this area but don’t normally hang around long.  Seeing one is a momentous occasion since the lake is in the middle of Dallas proper.

An osprey (a.k.a. seahawk, fish hawk, or fish eagle; Pandion haliaetus) flying overhead (2009_01_18_004800)

Neither an eagle nor a hawk, ospreys fill a biological niche that no other creature fills.  It’s the only species in its family and genus, a bird of prey that inhabits all continents save Antarctica and that has no taxonomic siblings or cousins—only distant relatives.

An osprey (a.k.a. seahawk, fish hawk, or fish eagle; Pandion haliaetus) flying overhead (2009_01_18_004801)

This one had a wingspan of about two meters/six feet, so it was a fully grown adult.

After it disappeared in the sun’s brilliance, I had a new bounce in my step and an ear-to-ear grin on my face.  Others around me who looked up to see what I was photographing didn’t appear to realize what they had seen, or they just didn’t care.  Too bad.