Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Birds, Bugs and Blooms

At the end of August, my husband and I went birding at the new Trinity River Audubon Center in Dallas. We had heard of this new center and its environmentally sound building techniques and thought it would be a neat place to see some new birds.

The center, which celebrated its first anniversary Oct. 10, features an innovative nature center, a delightful gift shop and several trails that wind through towering wildflowers and small ponds. The building itself is LEED-certified and is the first such "green" building to be constructed by the Dallas Parks and Recreation Department. The site was formerly an illegal dump and has been reclaimed by the city of Dallas to become a showpiece of environment-friendly design. It is only eight minutes south of downtown Dallas and is open six days a week.

Adjoining the property is the Trinity River, bordered with tall, native trees. All in all, it sounded like a good place to see some wildlife.

Unfortunately, we didn't see that many new birds. The highlight of our trip was seeing a large flock of wood storks flying away over the parking lot as we drove up. We got there early and hoped to get in some good bird watching before the day got warm and the birds went into hiding. Unluckily for us, the center's employees flushed the storks right before we got there. We had never seen these rare birds before, but I guess seeing them on the fly is better than not seeing them at all.

We did see some other interesting wildlife, however. The beautiful pink wildflower, above, stopped me in my tracks. Commonly called Indian Blanket or Firewheel, Gaillardia pulchella is brilliant in Texas starting in April and is also the official state wildflower of neighboring Oklahoma.

We did see a small flock of egrets right before they got spooked and flew into some trees.

I also saw some magnificent yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia). These large, colorful spiders may seem frightful, but they are actually harmless and weave huge webs with amazing zigzag streaks down the middle. These spiders are sometimes seen in the countryside of north Texas but are rarely seen closer to town.

We saw a lot of yellow wildflowers along the paths.

And we saw a cute little blue Anisoptera dragonfly alighting on the boardwalk.

One of my children has been fascinated with bugs and other creepy-crawlies since he was a toddler, and he now is quite an expert on insects and spiders (so much so that his teachers call on him to identify and remove bugs from the classroom when needed). Thanks to him, I have become much less squeamish and ignorant about insects. In fact, now I help him spot interesting new insects on our walks, and then later we research what types they were. My favorite bug web site is You can upload your insect photos for identification, and experts will tell you what you saw.

Before we left the Audubon Center, we spied evidence of raccoons in the mud along the edge of a pond. Their little handprints are so cute.

If you'd like to visit the Audubon Center, bird sightings there vary according to time of day and time of year. You can see which birds have been spotted at the center by looking at the center's eBird link. I highly recommend logging onto eBird to log the birds you see whenever and wherever you go bird watching. The eBird web site is a great way to help scientists study bird populations throughout the United States. Even if you are an amateur birder, your information is welcomed and appreciated!

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