I’ve made it to Texas. Yee-haw! The first thing I noticed as I touched down at DFW was how pretty the grounds are, at least for an international airport. Striking emerald swathes of short grass separating runways are actually broad enough to harbor birds, which explains why, in addition to expected species like Great-tailed Grackle and Mourning Dove, I spotted a number of meadowlarks. Based on the extensive white in their tails, I reckon (that’s Texan for “think”) they were Eastern Meadowlarks. The southwestern population of Sturnella magna is known as Lilian’s Meadowlark. Now that I’ve logged the Lilian’s, I’m ready for the AOU to grant these guys full species status. Guess I’ll have to contact my congressperson or something.
Though I landed in late afternoon, there was still enough daylight to warrant a quick birding excursion. Research revealed a promising locale just northwest of the airport. Grapevine Lake, or as the locals call it, Lake Grapevine, is an artificial nody of water said to attract an abundance of shorebirds and waterfowl. Fort Worth Audubon recommended following White Chapel Blvd to its terminus, which brought me to a sensational riparian habitat rich with live oaks and scrub bursting with birdsong. In fact, the very first bird to greet me was a Greater Roadrunner strutting around like a turkey. That’s a sure sign you’re not in New York anymore!
It was clear that, without a scope, I was ill-equipped to suss out all the species on the lake, though I did note distant Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and Forster’s Terns, my first terns of spring. But I’ve had enough ducks in the last few months anyway. The woods yielded species I see plenty of at home such as Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, American Crow, Red-tailed Hawk, and Blue Jay, but also fun birds like Spotted Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, and the most exquisite Blue-gray Gnatcatcher I’ve ever seen. The sparrows were superlative. Besides the towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, and even Lincoln’s Sparrows made the scene. The dominant sparrow, though, was definitely White-crowned. Because I see this species in large flocks so sparingly, I always try to turn the first winter birds, with their bright rufous crowns, into other types of sparrows. Not this time. I’ll get those other sparrows later in the week!
The warmth of the day, coupled with the surpassing pleasantness of Lake Grapevine’s fragrant, wooded bank, could only be described as intoxicating. Regrettably, the failing light made further investigation fruitless. However, two incidents that occurred as I was leaving really made my day. The first was a buzzy chickadee call. Initially, I thought nothing of it. Further listening caused me to wonder if Texas tits sang with an accent. Then I realized that Black-capped Chickadees don’t frequent the Lone Star State. What I was hearing, and subsequently seeing, was my life Carolina Chickadee. I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to spot this charming, but common bird.
When I first arrived at the lake, I noticed a distant flock of vultures circling the opposite bank. The massive grouping clearly contained many Turkey Vultures, but I suspected some Black as well based on profile. They were too far way, unfortunately, for me to detect the telltale white wingtips. As I headed back to the highway, almost but not quite sated from my taste of Texan avifauna, I came upon an intimidating gang of Black Vultures loitering on a radio tower. I’ve only seen the likes of such a mob, offering incredible views both in flight and repose, down in Belize. Such an encounter may not sound exotic, but it made me feel like I’ve arrived in a very special place.