Tag Archives: snowy egret (Egretta thula)

Tropical haven

There is a place where spring calls forth all the magic of the tropics …

White ibises (Eudocimus albus) flying overhead (2009_05_17_019243)

A place where white ibises circle overhead …

A great egret (Ardea alba) collecting nesting material in the understory (2009_05_17_019056)

A place where great egrets lurk in the understory …

A little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) perched on a branch (2009_05_17_019428)

A place where little blue herons keep watch at eye level …

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) perched in a tree (2009_05_17_019912)

A place where black-crowned night-herons peer back from their ligneous perches …

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) perching on a limb (2009_05_17_019767)

A place where snowy egrets observe the observers …

Close-up of a tricolored heron (a.k.a. Louisiana heron; Egretta tricolor) perched in a tree (2009_07_12_026569_n)

A place where tricolored herons remain vigilant even at rest …

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) standing in a tree displaying its mating plumage (2009_05_17_019354)

A place where cattle egrets display their beauty …

It’s amazing that this tropical haven rests just a few miles north of downtown Dallas.

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Photos (taken at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center campus in Dallas’s hospital district):

  1. White ibises (Eudocimus albus)
  2. Great egret (Ardea alba)
  3. Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea)
  4. Black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
  5. Snowy egret (Egretta thula)
  6. Tricolored heron (a.k.a. Louisiana heron; Egretta tricolor)
  7. Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

Crossing the river of fire

I stood atop the spillway dam and faced east, watching sunrise unfold like a warm blanket on a cold night.

The sun rising from behind riparian woods surrounding White Rock Lake (20081004_12985_fa)

Below me at the foot of the dam, oblivious—or at least uncaring—of my presence, a snowy egret (Egretta thula) raced back and forth searching for breakfast.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) hunting along the base of the spillway dam (20081004_13003)

Even as I watched the bird, a wee bit of movement beside me drew my attention to a long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) making its way along the concrete wall.

A long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) walking along the spillway dam (20081004_13011)

I became enamored with the gangly beast and its awkward, almost clumsy approach.  I scooted backward to keep it in view, which offered me a very close peripheral view of more movement on the wall.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13014)

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta).  A lot of them.  The whole column hugging the concrete seam in the wall.  The river of tiny six-legged creatures flowed mostly from the lake side of the wall to the fishery side where I stood.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13015)

I moved away from the wall and from the ants.  I dared not tempt a sting from these tiny giants.  Yet from a few steps away I once again saw the spider, then the ants, then the coming problem the arachnid would face: how to cross the river of fire that stood unwavering in its path.

A long-jawed orb weaver (Tetragnatha sp.) attempting to cross a river of fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) busy relocating their nest (20081004_13018)

Seeing the ants carrying pupae and larvae made clear they were relocating their colony.  The tendency of fire ants to attack first and ask questions never would no doubt be amplified with young being carried in the open to a new home.

Fire ants (a.k.a. red imported fire ant; Solenopsis invicta) relocating a nest on the spillway dam (20081004_13019)

It took the spider nearly five minutes to successfully cross over the streaming ants.  A few times a single ant would grab one of the spider’s legs when it came too close, and a few times the spider slipped and almost fell after trying to reach too far in a single step.

But who could blame it for wanting to avoid contact with the ants?  And trust me when I say that the spider’s gangly shape came in handy when crossing the river of fire.  Body held high above the danger, legs stretched as far as they could reach, thin legs and tiny feet needing little space to take hold.

A few of my favorite things #5

Birds in the water.  Beauty can be found in any environment, yes, but water has such dynamic personality.  And its ability to reflect that which resides above it makes it all the more majestic as a backdrop, an in situ mirror that adds more than a touch of real or abstract flavor.

Yet my fascination runs deeper than the water.  I believe it has something to do with creatures with wings who soar on the wind that in turn spend so much time in the water, so much so that evolution has granted them webbed feet, spatulate bills, long legs and liquid-straining pouches.  What a marvelous dichotomy…

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) wading in the shallows (2009_09_27_029522)

Snowy egret (Egretta thula)

American coot (Fulica americana) swimming by me (2010_03_06_050437)

American coot (Fulica americana)

Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) swimming away from me (2009_11_01_036416)

Pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)

Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis) swimming by me (2010_03_06_050489)

Ring-billed gull (Larus delawarensis)

American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) swimming toward me (2009_10_25_033970)

American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)

Male lesser scaup (Aythya affinis) floating in the water (2010_03_06_050444)

Lesser scaup (Aythya affinis)

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) wading into a creek (2009_09_05_028695)

Great blue heron (Ardea herodias)

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On a related note: The only nesters at the rookery at present are great egrets (Ardea alba).  But the time is now for the multitude of other bird species to arrive at this marvel that rests in the heart of the city.  The second major species has already made an appearance: anhingas (a.k.a. water turkey or snakebird; Anhinga anhinga).  I can’t wait to share this magic with you.  What a spectacle, what a mystery, and what a gift!

It has begun

Less than four miles/six kilometers north of downtown Dallas.  Nestled within the hospital district with towering university and medical buildings quite literally a stone’s throw away.  Surrounded by major thoroughfares and the constant din of automobiles and airplanes.  A motte only 3.5 acres/1.4 hectares in size.  Yet at the height of summer, it will host more than 70 bird species.

A great egret (Ardea alba) standing on winter grass (2010_02_06_049479)

Some species will travel hundreds of miles from their usual nesting territories just to play a part in what can only be described as the most powerful and profound example of opportunism in the whole of North Texas.  Thousands of nests will be built, thousands of eggs will be incubated, thousands of chicks will be hatched, and from late winter through early autumn it will be a place of unimaginable beauty and awe such that all those who see it will be left struggling to comprehend how it could be real.  And all this will take place in a grove of trees much smaller than your local supermarket.

A black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) perched on a branch (2009_06_20_024000)

I’m of course speaking about the colonial wading bird rookery that continues to thrive on the grounds of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center campus.  Older than the oldest records, all we know about the rookery is that it hosts a congregation of species so diverse and so vast that it engenders an otherworldly sense of reality, as though one has been transported to the most remote place imaginable where mystic creatures thrive.

A snowy egret (Egretta thula) hunting in the shallows (2009_06_01_021362)

Yet this is anything but remote.  The rookery lives in an urban jungle.  Six lanes of concrete surround it on two sides and multistory buildings and parking garages surround it on the other two.  Nevertheless they will come, the birds, and some will travel far outside their usual nesting territories just so they can join thousands of other pairs who will mate, nest, brood and rear young in a place that seems accidental at best.

A cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) resting in a tree (2009_06_13_023406)

Already the largest nesters, the great egrets (Ardea alba), vie for prime real estate, these giant birds wandering the still barren woods plucking up twigs and sticks with which to build a home for their newest generation.  Soon the black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), little blue herons (Egretta caerulea) and snowy egrets (Egretta thula) will join them.  Following quickly behind them will come the anhingas (a.k.a. water turkey or snakebird; Anhinga anhinga), the cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and the tricolored herons (a.k.a. Louisiana heron; Egretta tricolor).  And when it all seems too much, white ibises (Eudocimus albus) will arrive.

A tricolored heron (a.k.a. Louisiana heron; Egretta tricolor) standing in a tree (2009_07_12_026569)

Meanwhile, flycatchers, cardinals, grackles, woodpeckers, kingbirds, mockingbirds, jays, swallows, wrens, hawks, thrashers, sparrows, robins and a legion vast of species will settle in where space is available.  Simultaneously the opossums and woodrats and raccoons and snakes and tree frogs and other animals will begin making appearances.  The air will fill with insects, the ground will move with crawling things, and the transformation will be complete: the rookery will once again be alive, will be thriving, will be full of so much life that it boggles the mind.

A white ibis (Eudocimus albus) looking out from the treetops (2009_07_12_026496)

I will make every effort to visit regularly and document reliably this most fascinating natural wonder.  As I did last year, I hope to follow the progress of the rookery and observe its inhabitants as much as possible.  I hope you’ll come along for this journey through the wonderland of an urban rookery where life abounds, where magic abides, and where city dwellers can lose themselves in nature’s demonstration of alien life.  One cannot say they know birds in North Texas without visiting this place, for this place holds more bird species and more individual birds per square yard/meter than anywhere else in this region.

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[1] Great egret (Ardea alba)

[2] Black-crowned night-heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

[3] Snowy egret (Egretta thula)

[4] Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis)

[5] Tricolored heron (a.k.a. Louisiana heron; Egretta tricolor)

[6] White ibis (Eudocimus albus)

Competition for resources

So I’m watching a snowy egret (Egretta thula) as it hunts in the shallows.

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) fishing in the shallows (2009_07_26_027911)

Several times I blow the picture I’m trying to take because I’m laughing too hard to hold the camera still.  Why?  Because the lively bird continually engages in a hunting dance similar to what the reddish egret does.

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) trying to scare up fish (2009_07_26_027884)

Suddenly the wings spread and flutter a bit, the bird runs and hops and dashes madly from place to place, and then it stops abruptly and watches, waiting to see if it scared up a fish or two.

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) fishing in the shallows (2009_07_26_027877)

Back and forth it goes as it repeats this entertaining behavior.

Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) standing in the shallows (2009_07_26_027978)

Then along comes a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea).

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) chasing a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) (2009_07_26_027934)

The snowy egret doesn’t like the competition and gives chase, its plumage flared up as it fusses at the dark bird.

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) stalking a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) (2009_07_26_027973)

Not wanting any drama, the little blue heron moves away to give the snowy some room.  But the snowy follows…

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) watching a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea)(2009_07_26_027965)

And from then on, the little blue gets no peace whatsoever.  Each time it pauses, the snowy rushes over to harass it and make sure it doesn’t steal any fish.

Snowy egret (Egretta thula) following a little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) (2009_07_26_027964)

I watch this interaction for nearly 10 minutes.  Eventually, though, the little blue heron tires of the snowy’s bothersome antics and moves on.

Having secured its territory, the snowy flies away as well.

That leaves the great blue heron and the great egret to enjoy the bay all to themselves.