Tag Archives: white ibis (Eudocimus albus)

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)

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)

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]